Interview With Johann Sebastian Punk

What attracted you to the area of music you work in? What would young you be listening to as you grew up?

If I could run the time machine and get back to my teens, I would certainly avoid listening all that experimental, avant-garde stuff I was into at that time. Apart from The Beatles, that I consider the most surprising miracle of the 20th century (just like penicillin or the transistor), I used to listen to the most obscure, complicated and unbearable music possible. I miss a missed ignorance. Now I’m much more a pop songs guy — but the damage is done. That’s why Johann Sebastian Punk has both a melodic and an experimental nature, it is the result of a tension between my dark side and my shiny side. It’s an attempt at making the blizzard and the brightest sun coexist in the same landscape.

What is your local music scene like? How do you think you fit in (or why don’t you think you fit in, in your case!)?

I simply can’t fit in it as my ideas are too voluminous and the receptacle could lamely contain a gnat. Could you name a significant Italian band or performer that emerged lately? I bet you can’t, and I can’t either. Current Italian independent scene clichés are diametrically opposed to my creative proposal. I asked some independent label guys to stick my album out but they told me it was too risky as it was too complex and controversial. They’re so ignorant and narrow-minded, they can’t even understand what my music is all about. They don’t know that Art comes from suffering. This people never suffered in their life. These jinxed vermins’ unwritten rule is “Understatement. Be polite. Be simple. Be ugly. Be stupid”. The alternative scene operators, in Italy, claim to refuse the Italian stereotypes. They feel so educated and liberal and do all they can not to appear boisterous, but they eventually look so provincial. Their aesthetics is so demure. The music is always simple, shallow and deprived of any cultural element. To do well in Italy you always need to flatter the hip influential guys, but I’m not a brown nose – I want to see them all blowing up.

What alternatives did you consider before choosing Johann Sebastian Punk as a name?

I have considered using my real name, but I thought the music I was making couldn’t represent my creative personality fully. Now I’m slightly getting tired of the Johann Sebastian Punk name, but I still think the moniker expresses quite well what my aims are: putting the Western music tradition codes together and making a collage of lost, trailblazing forces in argument with the retromaniac, conservative present.

You’ve got a huge concert lined up – what would be your dream venue?

The Royal Albert Hall, with that amazing pipe organ, may please my ego. Packed, please

Tell us about how you go about creating your music, from initial idea to completion. What equipment do you use?

There is not a standard process. My daemon knocks at my door and I always let him step in. Usually, music comes first. Then I approach my piano or my guitars to get the harmony out of the melody I’ve got in my mind. Then I record it digitally putting electric guitars (my Gibson Les Paul Back Lady or my Fender Telecaster Paisley), bass and drums. Then I write the arrangements for all the ancillary instruments. I start from string and brass sections, then I add synthesizers or tape keyboards (I love the sound opportunities given by Mellotron, Moog Modular, EMS Synthy AKS, Emulator II, Buchla Thunder, Fairlight CMI) and unconventional instruments. I’m totally enamoured of string instruments mostly coming from the Eastern Europe and Asian world: psaltery, dulcimer, zither, guqin, guzheng, swarmandal. Then I work on the sampling and on the manipulation of every single sound. Once I’m done, I call friends who can play instruments I’m not able to play (asking them not to play too well! I like to maintain a “punk” attitude) or borrow instruments I don’t have from here and there. As regards the lyrics, I start singing in fake English. I think every non-English person goes “Sgraw beesh, Tannin’ lish, Cockolees, Tandhum wizz” and then lay the real words upon the fake ones. Sometimes I keep them. No one in Italy would ever notice it.

Although you have used session musicians on your new album, have you considered forming a band rather than remaining as essentially a solo artist?

I already do. Of course, I would love to go onstage with a chamber orchestra, lots of percussion, electronic devices, brass section and so forth. For now, I have to settle for my actual three-piece band. I used to have a five-person band but the low fees obligated me to downsize the personnel. We were a pure rock’n’roll squad, now it’s turned into a more technologic trio. Still, the show is intense and outrageous, thanks to my shameless, histrionic scene attitude. As the financial situation gets better, more musicians will join the band, and my personality will follow along, expanding itself.

Tell us about the inspiration and making of the videos which accompanies your tracks

My videoclips were all made by friends of mine. I have let them do what they thought was best, not to set limits to their idea of my creative world. Sometimes I was pretty happy with what they’ve done, sometimes I didn’t like the result at all, but I’ve never found fault with what they did. After all, I’m not a video-maker. I’m a music man: I give you the sounds, you give me the images.

What would be your ultimate aim in the industry?

Let’s be serious: I’m not really that good at anything but making music. Tragically, I have very little time to spend on music making as I’m compelled to do regular, mediocre (always underpaid) jobs to pay the rent, the bills and the vices. My aim is to be in the industry, to live off music activities. I have a hulking mass of musical ideas. I could be a songwriter for other performers, I could be a soundtrack composer, I have both a pop music and a art music profile. Please allow me to do it, I’m not asking that much.

Is there anything you would like people to know about your current release?

It’s very hard to answer such question. There’s at least a million things I would like to tell the world about my music. For now, I would like people to know that this release has nothing to do with the records they may find around. It is conceived to be listened cautiously. It does not have a coherent “architecture”, but it’s full of surprises, hidden unpredictable solutions and it delivers emotions that can’t be felt with a summary listening. People should be aware of the fact they are approaching a piece of history that’s only looking for the recognition it deserves.


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