If there’s a name to be associated with Italian prog nowadays, Fabio Zuffanti certainly would be that name. His massive output of quality albums, ranging from bands such as la Maschera di Cera to Hostsonaten, as well as his work with up and coming bands like Unreal City, prove that he is a musical mind to be reckoned with in our day. I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Zuffanti recently to discuss his latest solo record, La quarta vittima. Make sure to check out Progulator.com’s review of La quarta vittima this coming Wednesday, and enjoy a look into the album ahead of time!
In our last interview you said that your new record, La quarta vittima, would “synthesize many of [your] experiences.” Do you mind talking about some specific sections of the album and how they are representative of the 20 years in your music career?
I think that more of particular sections where you can find some reference or another the similitude comes out from moods. For example, I find many scattered references to a Finisterre album of 1996 called “In limine”, especially the jazz-prog moments. Or other moments that recall the symphonic-dark “Il grande labirinto” by La Maschera Di Cera (2003) or “Winterthrough” of Hostsonaten (2008). I would say that these are the main references, mainly because the albums I mentioned are among my favorites of my discography so perhaps it is natural that the references have come out.
I’d love to hear you discuss a bit of how “The Mirror in the Mirror” plays into the lyrics you’ve done for your new album. Could you discuss some of your favorite lyrics from some of the tracks on your new album and how they relate to Michael Ende’s work?
All the lyrics of “La quarta vittima” refer to “The Mirror in the Mirror,” a book that I love and that over the years has been a great source of inspiration for me. The book consists of various short stories and the seven songs of the album are references from seven of these stories. The first song, “Non posso parlare più forte” (“I Can Not Talk Louder”) refers to the first story of the book where a man (or a monster) lives locked up in a maze without knowing how and when he arrived. “La certezza impossibile” (“The Certainty Impossible”) is about a bridge that was built without ever reaching the other side. Despite this, trades (and also weddings) happen with the people who live on this other unknown side. All this can be accepted as “real” only when you are certain of their impossibility. “L’interno di un volto” (“The Interior of a Face”) is about a man who returns home after years of absence and find his house haunted by strange beings with the body of a mouse and human head. In “La quarta vittima” (“The Fourth Victim”) a truculent group of butchers suddenly finds themself at the home of a person who hear them sing the nursery rhyme “Prendi la vittima/Immola la vittima/Chi non sacrifica/Diventa vittima” (“Take the victim/sacrifice the victim/who does not sacrifice/becomes victim”). “Sotto un cielo nero” (“Under a Black Sky”) is the description of a lifeless ghost town. On “Il Circo brucia” (“The Circus Burns”) the protagonist is in search of the way of wake up from this dream that we call “reality.” But what other dream (or nightmare) will he find when he wakes up? Finally “Una sera d’inverno” (“A Winter Evening”) is connected to the first song. A man wants to enter the labyrinth to kill the monster that lives in it but a woman tells him that if he will kill the monster he himself will become the monster.
These are direct references to the book but every song has also another more personal meaning that I wanted to transmit with my lyrics. “Non posso parlare più forte” and “Una sera d’inverno” talks about the people who make us fear, the “different ones” that we want to eliminate because we are afraid to see in them a hidden reflection of our soul that we don’t want to show to anyone. “La certezza impossibile” is about the will to reach goals that people claim to be impossible but that, within us, we are confident that we can achieve with the power of our will. “L’interno di un volto” describes people that try to suck all our energy venting all the time about their problems and complaining to someone else, rather than confronting them directly, then “La quarta vittima” talks about sacrificing the friendship of these people and turning them away. Finally “Sotto un cielo nero” and “Il circo brucia” talk about waking up from nightmares and facing reality with our own strength.
On this album you worked with three drummers: Saverio Malaspina, Paolo Tixi, and Enzo Zirilli. What song sections from the album do you consider characteristic or exemplary of each drummer’s style?
Rox Villa, co-artistic director and owner of the Hilary studios (where the album has been recorded), at some point in the work recommended me to use different drummers depending on the songs. I liked the idea so we decided to involve Paolo Tixi for the two heaviest songs (“Non posso parlare più forte” and “Il circo brucia”), Enzo Zirilli for the more jazzy song (“Sotto un cielo nero”) and Saverio Malaspina for the other four. Saverio is in fact a sort of mix between the powerful touch of Paolo and the jazz touch of Enzo. It’s the first time that I use different drummers in a record but this experiment was the right one because in the album there are different styles and moods so use these three great different musicians have has added a little something extra in terms of emotions, in my opinion.
You previously mentioned that Emanuele Tarasconi would be handling some keyboards and that you would also be doing some keyboards as well. To help us better visualize the band, could you give us some examples of what keyboard parts on the album represent his playing in which ones are yours?
I played just some little keyboards part, mostly pads, loops and samples. The great work on keyboards were done by Emanuele (that played all the pianos – acoustic and electric – Hammond organ and Moog) and Rox who played the Mellotron and some other devices as the “Space echo”, a wonderful box that can elaborate the sounds to make it very “spacial.” Apart from Emanuele and Rox there has been a special contribution of Alberto Tafuri, a very important Italian producer in the pop field as well as a talented jazz musician, that played pianos, synths and Hammond on “Sotto un cielo nero”.
To continue this line regarding keyboards, Emanuele Tarasconi also plays for a band called Unreal City. Do you mind telling us a bit about your relationship to this band, how you discovered this band, and what you enjoy about them?
Unreal City sent me their demo at the end of 2012. I’ve listened to it and, also if a I found it a little immature from many points of view, I recognized in the music of this young band something that interested me; a certain mood, some chords changes, some melodies… All this intrigued me, even if the demo was not played and recorded in the best way. I thought that it would have been nice to work to make their music more mature and focalised. So we got in touch, I offered them to record their debut album at the Hilary Sudios under my artistic direction and publish it with Mirror Records, the label that I run.
I was very pleased to be working with the Unreal City because they are very intelligent guys who know how to listen to advice and put it into practice. I think their debut album is a great work that is born from an intriguing mix of my input and from other by Rox and by the whole band. I am sure they will have a great future because they believe strongly in what they do and they do it well!
Let’s talk about a few of the tracks on La quarta vittima. First, there’s this really fantastic jazz section on “Sotto un cielo nero.” Can you tell us a bit about what inspired this section and how it developed in the recording sessions with these musicians?
On “Sotto un cielo nero” there’s two jazzy moments: the first one (from 3:03 to 4:36) was inspired to me by the soundtrack of the Italian horror b-movie of the seventies “Tutti i colori del buio,” written by Bruno Nicolai. I wanted to create a theme that could be jazzy but also with a strong dark-gothic melody, just like one of the theme of the soundtrack. The second jazzy moment (from 4:52 to 7:05) is an improvvisation. I decided the chords in which the musicians had to move and the rhythm but I left them full freedom to interpret the whole. In particular I find that the piano solo by Alberto Tafuri in this song is something otherworldly. The first time I heard it I was speechless. It is one of my favorite moments on the album.
As a follow up to the last question, was there a particular way that you visualized the jazz sections throughout the album, or did you give the musicians a lot of liberty to improvise?
In the first section I wrote all the parts for all the instruments (except for some flute improvisations), in the second part, as I said, I’ve decided only chords and rhythm, the rest is all done freely by the musicians with only a few small suggestions from me. I love to hear my music interpreted in the details by the musicians but I love also give them the freedom to play what they want. This is maybe also a possibility for them to discover new way to express themselves and play. And if this happens also thanks to my inputs this is a great thing, for them and for me.
The title song, “La quarta vittima” is a very diverse track. Could you tell us a bit about this song and why you chose to make it the title track?
This song arrived as the last one in the writing sessions. Originally there was another song that had to be put on the album instead of “La quarta vittima” but I was not conviced by that song. So I started to write another thing. I’d just listened to “Inca roads” by Frank Zappa and it inspired in me this nearly-instrumental song full of strange rythms and changes. I wanted to break my barriers and try to write something more difficult than usual. So “La quarta vittima” was born, that probably is the more complicated song I’ve ever written; some of the musicians have really gone crazy playing it in the recording sessions. I’m very satisfied and proud of it, especially because thanks to this song I exceeded my limits as composer. I’m a self-taught composer and it’s not simple to write things like that not knowing how to write music but I’ve done it, with study and perseverance (and a good music software :). It’s the impossibile that became possible! I see this song as a little intermission between the first and second part of the album; it’s an ironic song with also some little hidden message… I’ve decided to entitled it with the same name of the album because the short lyrics talks about a “victim,” because this is the most “futuristic” song on the cd and because maybe this “futurism” could be one of my directions for the future.
My personal favorite track on the album is “Una sera d’inverno.” I felt like the mood was extremely delicate, the use of tension is masterful, and the whole piece is full of feeling. What does this piece mean to you as a final statement for the album and your treatment of Michael Ende’s work?
Fist of all I LOVE to finish my albums with an epic song. Personally when I listen a prog album with a great finale my estimate of this grows. Especially if it is a concept album the last song may not be one like the others, itmust be the great epilogue! For me usually the last song of the album is the most important, as a composer and as listener.
“Una sera d’inverno” is linked, as I said before, to the first song of the album “Non posso parlare più forte” and also to the idea of the front cover where the murderess kills the victim (the monster, the different one… ) and then in the inside cover we see him go away and the body is gone. This is because the victim has became the murderess, as the lyric says (“Colui che vuoi uccidere non lo raggiungerai, perché quando lo avrai trovato ti sarai trasformato in lui” – “You will not reach the one you want to kill, because when you’ll find him you’ll be transformed in him”). The crescendo part is a musical theme in 5/4 that repeats always the same and that I liked to see develop and grow with an orchestra that gradually became more powerful. Originally I thought of an ending with the orchestra alone but Laura Marsano proposed to me to insert the guitar solo that has helped to elevate this piece to the upper echelons. I think here Laura plays a solo among the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. With such an ending like this I can be more than satisfied with the album!
What song on the album is your favorite to listen to? Which was your favorite to write and record? Why?
The favorite to listen is “Una sera d’inverno,” the favorite to write had to be “La quarta vittima.” I think I have already explained why :)
What were the most memorable moments in the creation of La quarta vittima as an album?
There was a lot of memorable moments. During the recordings when I heard this series of fantastic musicians playing my music and during the mix when Rox created the sound and the album was really born. One for all, as I’ve already said, the moment when Alberto Tafuri made me hear for the first time his piano solo on “Sotto un cielo nero,” incredible!
So, let’s talk a bit about the tour your planning for United States next year. What details can you reveal at this time about the tour, the musicians, and the setlist?
When I finished the album the first thing I’ve thought was to play it live. Unfortunately many of the musicians that have played in it already had their band and/or other commitments, so I’ve decided to form a brand new band.
The first musician who showed interest for this new project was Paolo Tixi (the only one among those involved who also played the record) which is also the drummer of the band Il Tempio delle clessidre, active in Genova, the city where I live. Then it was the turn of the young keyboardist Giovanni Pastorino, a real wizard of the electronica and computers. The others who have been added were Matteo Nahum, guitarist also with la Maschera Di Cera and Martin Grice on flute/sax, a true living legend with Delirium, one of the most important Italian progressive band of the seventies. Once put it on the band I started to work with my staff to find concerts and in a little time we fixed dates in Italy (april 5, la Casa di Alex, Milan), Belgium (april 26, Prog Resiste Convention, Soignes) the Netherlands (april 27, Boerderij, Zoetermeer) and Canada (may 18, Terra Incognita Festival, Quebec City) and we are still working to find other ones. At the gig in Canada we’d like to follow a few gigs in the United States and Mexico. We’re working on this but at the moment I do not have any news to reveal. I hope that something comes out soon. In concert we will perform the album in its entirety plus a few pieces of Finisterre and Hostsonaten. I can’t wait!
Are there any future albums or collaborations coming up for you in the near future? We’d be excited to know about your upcoming musical plans.
I’m sorry but for now I have no other musical plans, at this moment the only important thing for me is to promote the album in all ways and play live as much as possibile. One beautiful thing are the concerts in Japan that I’ll do with Maschera Di Cera and Hostsonaten on April 12 and 13 in Tokyo. I’m very excited for this and for the other concerts, it’s a great goal for these 20 years of music.
To close off the interview I would just like to thank you from the heart here at Progulator.com, both for your willingness to share a bit with us and our readers, as well as for the great music you’ve done over the years. Is there anything else you would like to add to the interview that might be of interest to our readers?
Simply a great thank for this interview and for the attention towards my music, to you and to all your readers. These were 20 years full of exciting moments but when you decide to live only with the music (expecially this kind of music) the things sometimes can be difficult. Thanks to the passion and interest that I feel from people like you I’ve found the reasons to continue to propose my music everywhere until now. So thanks again, I’m ready for other 20 years and more!
Stay tuned this Wednesday for Progulator.com’s full length review of La quarta vittima!