I am very pleased to present to you Progulator.com’s recent interview with a man who I consider to be one of the absolute key players in prog during the last two decades (and most certainly at the forefront of RPI today): Mr. Fabio Zuffanti. Having spun out album after album with numerous bands such as La Maschera di Cera, Hostsonaten, Finisterre, L’Ombra della Sera, and many more, I have come to have a deep respect for the quality of work that Fabio has been involved in, as well as his incredible artistic vision. To top it off, he managed to release one of the top albums of this year with MdC (you can read our review of it here), has recently put out a DVD of the live stage production of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and is hard at work on a new solo record. Many thanks go out to him taking the time to talk to us a bit about what he has been up to lately.
PROG: I understand that you have a new solo album coming out next year which contains many styles. What can we expect to be different on this album than in your previous body of work?
ZUFFANTI: Well, I think that this will be a very important album that will synthesize many experiences. Next year I will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my musical career and in this album I decided to try to put together the ones that are the various musical worlds that been features of my career. In a few words the album will contain music that will be a sort of mix between the music of Finisterre, Maschera di Cera, Hostsonaten, my previous solo albums and many more of my musical experiences. But there will be also many new elements, especially a certain jazz-rock touch that came out in a natural way and that, for example, is close to certain things of Area (the famous Italian group of the seventies).
However, I prefer not to anticipate too many things not to limit the taste of surprise in those who will listen.
PROG: You mentioned in a Youtube video that your new project is a concept album based around the work of Michael Ende. In what ways has he influenced your new album in terms of sound? Will this album be a rock opera?
ZUFFANTI: No, it will not be a rock opera. It’s a concept album with seven songs disconnected from each other but share the same issues. The inspiration was given to me from the book of short gothic-surreal stories “The Mirror in the Mirror” by Michael Ende. A book that I discovered when I was eighteen and that I always adored. There was many years that I thought to dedicate an entire album to this fantastic book and now the time has come. Since this book was always a great source of inspiration to me it seemed right to celebrate it right now that has come the twenty years of my career. It ‘s like a full circle.
PROG: Would it be possible to reveal who are the musicians participating on your new solo album? I am very curious because I understand that Riccardo Barbero is playing bass, an instrument we usually associate with you. With Riccardo on bass, what instruments will you be playing on the new record?
ZUFFANTI: The musicians involved in the album are Saverio Malaspina (drums), Paolo Tixi (drums), Enzo Zirilli (drums), Riccardo Barbera (bass, double bass), Laura Marsano (guitars), Emanuele Tarasconi (keyboards), Gian Marco Pietrasanta (flute, sax) and Fabio Biale (violin), Simona Angioloni (backing vocals). I’ll take care of the short vocal parts and will play some keyboard.
I decided for the first time to entrust the bass to another musician because I wrote for this record things really complicated and I wanted that to play in them there were valid musicians to whom I could entrust all my ideas without fear. The musicians that I have chosen are in fact monsters skill with their instruments, many of whom come from jazz and they are giving to my music a particular touch, different from my other works. As a bass player I’m not bad but I’m not at the level of Riccardo and for this record I really wanted a musician much better than me to let him play the most difficult things that I have composed. I also decided to use three different drummers depending on the songs; Paolo Tixi is harder and rocky, Saverio is on the border between rock and jazz and Enzo is a true jazz musician. When you’ll hear the pieces you will realize why these decisions.
PROG: Let’s talk a little about Hostsonaten and the new DVD, Alive in Theater. I must admit that unfortunately I still have not been able to get a copy, however it looked very promising based on the clips that you showed. The sound seemed very huge, even compared to the original album. How has the feedback been on this new release?
ZUFFANTI: The DVD was released only a few weeks but the early feedback is very positive and I am very happy with this work. Unlike “Merlin – The rock opera,” my previous musical-theatrical work, which I had not had the opportunity to film in a professional manner, this time I wanted from the start that the show was filmed and released. Staging things like that is beautiful but also very complicated and expensive, so even if we never have the opportunity to represent it at least remain this beautiful testimony.
PROG: What was the hardest part of putting together live theatrical performances of Rime of the Ancient Mariner? What was the most rewarding aspect of this endeavor?
ZUFFANTI: One thing is to take five musicians in the studio and record an album, another is to manage more than thirty people, including singers, dancers, extras and musicians. Luckily I found in Susanna Tagliapietra a talented director who has provided his knowledge and his organization because everything could happens at best. I have rehearsed the musical parts with the musicians and Susanna the theatrical parts with the cast. Once both parties were ready we have united it. At the beginning it was not easy but luckily after a while everything went well and music and theater are fused to the fullest. The thing that made me more pleasure, at the end of this great work which took four month, was to see the theater full and people enthusiastic. It is not always easy to succeed by presenting a new work but we did it. Unfortunately for carrying around such a thing it would take a big production that would want to invest some money. We’ll see what happens in the future…
PROG: What inspired you to do a stage production of Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Can we expect more rock operas from you in the future?
ZUFFANTI: I’ve always liked the musical and rock operas such as “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Tommy”, “The Wall”, etc … so as soon as I had the chance I tried it myself. The first was “Merlin – The rock opera” in 2000 and last year “The Rime …”.
“The Rime…” was not born with the intention to be brought into the theater. But after the release of the album I thought it would be nice not to just a concert but rather to present it in the theater with sets, actors, choreography, etc … The meeting with Susanna Tagliapietra has made that this dream come true. In this period I’m working with Susanna to a new musical-theatrical project based on the movie “The Dead Poet Society” that we want to stage next year.
PROG: Let’s talk briefly about Le porte del domani, an album which many of us, including myself, consider to be an absolute masterpiece on the level of the great Italian prog albums of the early 1970’s. What were the biggest challenges in creating a sequel to Le Orme’s classic record? What types of things did you do in order to ensure that Le porte del domani would be a true sequel in terms of music and lyrics and not only in name?
ZUFFANTI: “Le porte del domani” was a big challenge for Maschera di Cera, because we did not know how the prog audience could react in front of a “snub” of this kind. It ‘s the first time that a group dares to touch one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of rock trying to give a personal sequel. Surely we have risked big because if we wasn’t more than confident that everything was good for us would be the end. Luckily the disc is doing well and nobody had anything to say about our choice.
I really love “Felona e Sorona” of Le Orme and, to tell you the truth, I have not had to work hard to compose this sequel. It was enough to imagine, as listener before as musician, what I would have liked to hear in an album like this and then write it all. I also used some small musical call from le Orme’s masterpiece but the bulk of the music is 100 % Maschera di Cera. The thing that makes me more proud of this project is that we managed to do it without distorting at all what we are musically. This was the biggest win.
PROG: I’d like to close off with a couple of personal questions that I believe will interest our readers. First off, if you look back in time 20 years, what were you doing and could you see yourself where you are now?
ZUFFANTI: These days twenty years ago I was preparing for recording a demo of two songs with my band, Finisterre. In those years a lot of things have happened, I made a lot of records exploring and experiencing throughout many genres. Of course, many things still must be a realized and a lot of goals are to be achieved, but I am happy with all the choices that I made. I hope in the coming years to be able to do even more!
I’ll talk about this and many other things in a book that will be published in the same days of my new album. A sort of diary written almost daily that tells of the genesis and making of the new album, of twenty years of music, thoughts related to the life of every day, encounters, past and future projects…
PROG: What was the first album you bought and how have your musical tastes evolved up until today?
ZUFFANTI: The first was a Franco Battiato album called “Patriots”, in 1981, when I was 13. During the years I was always (and still I am) hungry for new music and new styles and I was always looking for things that could move me. I love prog but also experimental music, electronics, postrock, psychedelic, pop, folk and many more. All this has helped me evolve as a person and as a musician.
PROG: If you could put a band together of players from the 70’s from any prog group, combining them, mixing and matching them together, and have them play a concert in your backyard, what players would you put together?
ZUFFANTI: Interesting question. In reality I think that every musician and every band is something unique. It is not always true that combining musicians from different bands leads to a good result.
However, to play the game I would say:
Robert Wyatt: vocals
Robert Fripp: electric guitar, mellotron
Brian Eno: treatments
Patrizio Fariselli: electric piano
Vittorio Nocenzi: moog
Hugh Banton: hammond organ
David Jackson: flute, sax
Chris Squire: bass
Phil Collins: drums
Among other things, I think that a band like that would sound very similar to my next record. :)
PROG: Any last words you have for our readership?
ZUFFANTI: Only thanks very much for your attention about my music. I hope you’ll like my new album!
PROG: Once again, thank you so much. You’re contributions to the prog scene have been marvelous and we’re extremely excited to hear your upcoming works.
ZUFFANTI: Thanks again Matt.