The idea for Nosound came to Giancarlo Erra in a vision. Now well into their second decade, they have carved a niche for themselves within modern progressive music and are imminently to release their fifth studio album, Scintilla. TPA’s Professor Mark and Mel Allen took the opportunity to ask Giancarlo about his approach to music and the thought processes behind Nosound.
Hi Giancarlo, thanks for taking the time to talk to TPA.
The new logo for Nosound, the ear connected to the heart, is an interesting way to interpret the idea or concept behind the band’s name. Is Scintilla – “the spark” – going to reflect the sound of the heart or feelings? I always thought the concept went beyond the human to include the natural music that flows all around us. That is the way I had envisioned songs like Kites or From Silence to Noise.
Scintilla is definitely centred around heart and feelings, and the new logo indeed is simply reflecting this in the visual part, but honestly I think with Nosound it was always this way. All albums are based on real life experiences, very much linked to feelings and inward looking. Songs like Kites and From Silence talk about childhood and relationships, I’m a very pragmatic person in that sense so I’ve never seen Nosound as being about something that is not very much down to earth, the very human and at the same time very personal experience of feelings.
If anything is different in Scintilla it is the way all this is presented: in a musically more direct way, more bare bones if you like, surely simpler, shorter, getting rid of anything that is not needed to illustrate and carry this message of human feelings. Something that was always there, but that I’m happy that I have now found a way to express it even more in a way that I like.
In your ‘Scintilla Diary’ on Facebook you discussed your move from Italy to England. Describe the genesis of the decision to leave and how the changes have led to artist growth.
It was a quite simple one, because Sol29 and Lightdark were made when I was in Italy, they were selling well but surely being there was not helping. First of all because the kind of music that is popular in Italy (either in mainstream or not) is quite distant from my more minimalist, nordic if you want, approach. With Lightdark we arrived at Kscope, and I knew my future and the future of Nosound was well away from the Pavarotti, Bocelli, Le Orme or PFM country, because that music was never part of my taste and surely was not part of Nosound. After playing once in Norwich for the Burning Shed shop I fell in love with the city, and so thanks to Burning Shed and the fact that they were also the official online store of Kscope, us and many others, I ended up and am still happily in Norwich.
This album has a different sound compared to the rest of the Nosound catalogue. What are the highlights of this new sound that emotionally drew you to make the progressive alterations without dynamically leaving behind the core value of your past work?
I think that if, as an artist, you always write music only where you really ‘have it’ (the good idea), and so you’re not a slave of economic or audience constraint, then change is naturally evolving from one thing to another, sometimes less, sometimes more (like with Scintilla). Sadly, too many artists nowadays take the ‘change’ as the base of a new album, they impose it on themselves as a starting point, and I think this is where you lose the purity of art and you go into something else. I think Scintilla followed the progression of the previous albums, but did a bigger and bolder jump in the direction that was set already by albums like A Sense Of Loss, towards a more cinematic singer/songwriter approach; fewer instruments, shorter songs, all about the core ideas and not all the superfluous stuff around it that very often then becomes the idea itself because there was actually nothing. As I always say, it is easy to cover nothingness with great musicianship, but that is not the same as having an idea. I never had and was never interested in any great musicianship (although I play almost every instrument!), because I always liked the simplicity that only great ideas have.
This appears to be a very personal album, having read the Facebook posts regarding the songs, did you find the process of writing and recording therapeutic in any way?
Yes, I always say that writing is the only way I really know to communicate emotions, either to others or to myself. The interesting thing is that doing it through music means that it becomes ‘safe’ because it’s indirect with others, and much more direct and personal with myself, and that’s what really helps. All Nosound albums are very personal, I don’t like writing about invented characters or others’ stories, because they would not feel like ‘mine’, and so the inspiration behind them would not be as potent. Also, if you want to write about feelings and human nature, you can’t really be 100% true and honest unless you write about yourself, because being human is something so personal that we never know completely the point of view of others. I need a deep and strong personal involvement as a condition to write what I feel is artistic, and I discovered indeed that it’s also therapeutic, that’s why I write mainly for myself.
There is some beautiful cello on Scintilla which appears to wrap itself around the songs, was this planned or did you give Marianne De Chastelaine full freedom to express herself?
This time I gave Marianne complete freedom, I only had one request, a part I wrote and I wanted her to play, about the rest I liked the idea of giving her full freedom to decide what and if to play, or not. After almost 8 years of collaborating, we know each other very well and I know somehow my music always resonates deeply within her. Giving her complete freedom was also more exciting, as I didn’t know at all what to expect, and this is something I love. I’m a control freak very often, but I move from one extreme to the other, and so I also often like to be surprised, in particular when I trust (artistically speaking) the person I’m working with.
As an amateur photographer, I know you have a good eye for snapshots. What are your favourite subjects and locations?
I don’t know to be honest, I have used a camera since I was a kid, a bit like keyboards and guitar, so to me it just feels something natural I use to see and illustrate the world around and inside me. I suppose with photography it’s the same for me as with music: a professional photographer once called me a ‘street photographer’, and that is probably the best term I can think of. I like to get people and situations in those short passing moments when something deep is going on, so I was never interested in things like portraits or landscapes or architecture or stuff like that. Like with music I always refused any training and I wanted to go freely with my own way, learning from others but my own way, naturally filtering what interests me and leaving all the rest for the ones who want to be ‘technically’ aware. I play exclusively by ear, I take pictures or shoot videos purely by ‘imaging’ the result in my head in the moment I see things with my eyes, very simple. I’m terrible at leisure photography, I just cannot, if a friend or my family ask me to take a picture I’m just unable. I have to do it when the world or the subject is unaware of it, to get the pure essence of it and nothing ‘prepared’. As I said, it is like with musical ideas…I’m not interested in ‘creating’ ideas in the studio, it’s too easy to do with good musicians and computers, I’m interested in that idea that comes suddenly from nowhere.
Describe a Nosound live performance experience.
Despite what many think, I enjoy much more playing on stage than being in the studio. Studio work is fascinating, intense, but for me and the way I think about musical ideas, it is a kind of solitary and introverted experience in the songwriting phase, and then when it is about recording with the band it is work of precision and beauty, but still much different to live gigs. Live gigs have two magic things happening. First of all there’s the audience, that magic link between you and them, that connection that when it happens is even more magic with music because it is always so personal to me that it is an incredibly strong experience to feel that I’m sharing such deep emotions with others: everyone in his own way, but all together. There’s also my personal and emotional involvement, because in the studio you need to be more ‘precise’, it is a recording, while on stage you’re just ‘in the song’ and in the moment, there’s no escape, and it’s not rare for me to have my voice breaking because what I sing is so personal that I go back into that place and moment, immediately. Last but not least there’s the interaction with the band obviously, I don’t like bands using backing tracks and clicks, I like to re-arrange the music with the band so that we can actually play it all live, without any backing track. That gives you a sense of urgency and a freedom that is the essence of a true live gig instead of a “half-playback” (or even more than half) gig.
Will you be touring to support Scintilla?
Surely we want to tour Scintilla, but we have no definitive plans at the moment (yet!). We’d love to bring it to some festivals, and make a few special nights in small theaters where this music can be really enjoyed, around Europe and possibly US as well this time. We’re trying to find the right way to do so, and we hope to have more definitive news soon. While rearranging previous material is always a bit of a challenge to strip it down to something playable by 5 elements on stage, all the new material will be easier to present live as it is on the album as it was already thought and structured in a much more minimalist way, so I’m personally really looking forward to being on stage soon again.
The question everyone is asking, and I want to know too, will there be another Memories of Machines, or collaboration with Tim Bowness?
Yes there will be, the only problem is that both Tim and I are very busy with our own projects, but we already took some steps to finalise the long awaited re-press of our first album, to be available again soon in physical and digital formats (and with several extra things added!). Then we already have some ideas about direction for a new MoM, but at the moment I have no precise plans in terms of time.
What circumstances led you to work with Vincent Cavenagh of Anathema?
We met with Vincent quite a few years ago during one of the gigs we played with Anathema, and after the gig we started talking about our own music projects, and it was clear we shared many things. We kept in contact but we were both very busy, until about a year ago when he was not on tour with Anathema, and I was finishing Scintilla. I knew there were a couple of things that would fit perfectly his unique vocal style, and we met again as I also introduced him to the organiser of the Starmus festival as I thought they were a perfect band to play there! We met a few times between London and Norwich, recorded some stuff and it all fell into place very nicely. A turning point for both of us, I think, was when Vincent noticed In Celebration Of Life, and only then I told him the story behind it and we discovered we were both involved in it, and decided that was something we were going to do together for Alec [Wildey].
Which other musical talents would you like to work with in the future?
Not sure, I really think that today there’s a bit of a ‘market’ and too often collaborations are just ways for the ‘famous’ one to get some more money, and for the unknown one to hope for some more sales, so I’m usually very picky as my music is so personal that I really want to only work with people that I feel can share with me the inspiration behind it and actually add to it, not just in musical terms but in terms of personal experiences. That’s the only reason why during the years I have had the honour to work with talents like Tim Bowness, Chris Maitland, Vincent Cavanagh or Andrea Chimenti. For the future some names would be Sigur Rós, Ólafur Arnalds, Björk, just to name a few.
What music is on your playlist from 2016?
Too many to list here! Actually because so many people ask me about this, I’m about to prepare a Spotify playlist of that. Personally, I like much more discovering new music than listening to the classics, I think there’s so much good music around that it would really be a waste to always listen to the same things instead of discovering new things. And we live in a time when services like Pandora, Spotify, Last.fm, Apple Music, etc. make it very easy to discover new things based on other music I like. There’s nothing like discovering a new artist or album every week, and then going hunting to find the vinyl or some kind of limited edition I can treasure in my own collection. Some of the names would be ones that I would like to collaborate with, plus other things like Solstafir, Tenhi, Clint Mansell, Max Richter, and two masterpieces we’ve seen this year: Blackstar [David Bowie] and A Moon Shaped Pool [Radiohead].
What is next for Nosound?
Well at the moment it is all the promotion for the new album, and then hopefully some live performances. In the meantime I have plans to finish the work on the Memories Of Machines reissue, and I have almost another album of material ready for a new Nosound, not directly connected with Scintilla but more of a ‘consequence’ to it, and I’m eager to start working on that to be honest! There’s some more edgy stuff and some more soft and acoustic ones, so moving a bit further towards the extremes of our own scale. But for now all attention is on Scintilla, as I truly believe it’s a new start for Nosound, and one that will bring us in some very new and interesting directions.
Thanks you for your time Giancarlo and we look forward to seeing where Nosound goes next.
[You can read TPA’s review of Scintilla HERE.]