This interview and post is dedicated to Mr. Mod and Mr. Ismine, whose Italian ties precede them this summer! Enjoy Italy to its fullest, whenever you are able to visit it, my friends!
AN INTERVIEW WITH MARCO FASOLO
of the band JENNIFER GENTLE
Please enjoy the following email interview with Marco Fasolo of Padova, Italy’s fantastic psych-rock band Jennifer Gentle!
Jennifer Gentle – I Do Dream You
(Valende, 2005 SubPop)
How would you describe the sound of Jennifer Gentle i.e. when you first began playing – is the sound now, originally how you hoped that the band would progress?
Marco Fasolo: I think there was a progression through the years. I hate the idea of “growing up” as a band (the first album sounded really raw and naive in a way that I still find appealing) but obviously things change. Now I’m more in control, but my aim is always the same, trying to do something that can please me as a listener.
How and when did the band get picked up by SubPop?
One of their A&R’s bought a CD collecting our first two albums and
got in touch. Frankly, it was a great moment for us, because all of sudden we understood there was someone out there listening to our music. This also gave us bigger opportunities in terms of touring and promotion: we never thought about having a “career” when we started. We just wanted to record some songs.
Do you feel like your first release on SubPop (Valende) was a critical success in terms of the direction that you wanted the band to go, as well as in getting your music out to a wider audience/fan-base?
It certainly feels as though Valende is more your pop album, because of how it’s split into songs – whereas the material after that has gone into even further experimental musical territories – I feel like it’s less about the song when I hear tracks from your new album The Midnight Room – and more about the dreamy feeling and quality of the music.
I like Valende, but for this album I was interested in exploring
something different. I wanted it to be more sonically coherent and more
focused. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but those on The Midnight Room are more “compositions” than classic pop songs: everything was carefully built to get a particular feeling, trying at the same time to keep it as fresh as possible. This doesn’t mean we are going in a more experimental direction: actually, I’d really like our next album to be shamelessly pop and accessible.
Jennifer Gentle has already sold out of certain LPs – The Sacramento Sessions and A New Astronomy in particular – was this just because it was a shorter run for an album, or do you think it sold out because of the success of Valende?
Both of these releases were pressed in a limited number of copies, so probably that’s the real reason they sold out quickly!
A New Astronomy was recorded mostly on a four-track, and was quoted as being “probably the most eccentric and out-there Jennifer Gentle release to date.” Do you feel as though this is the case – or does The Midnight Room eclipse this now?
A New Astronomy wasn’t intended as a proper album: it was more like a scrapbook containing quick ideas to be developed later. It is much more traditionally “psychedelic” than (the) Midnight Room, but in some ways it influenced our last album, at least in terms of attitude. For what it’s worth, right now I feel that The Midnight Room is my best album and I’m really proud of it.
Jennifer Gentle – Electric Princess
(The Midnight Room, 2007 SubPop)
It’s been reported that most of your lyrics and song subject-matter detail and deal with your dreams and/or nightmares – what’s been the strangest dream that you ever had that inspired you to write a song? What else inspires you to write?
Our music deals with the usual issues: fear, happiness, beauty,
having fun. I’m just trying to have a personal take on these things.
What has it been like growing up in the Italian music scene – where you grew up or where you were based while playing music? Did the bands in the city you lived inspire eachother or did the music come about because of other things?
For various reasons, Jennifer Gentle have never been part of a
national or local scene. When we started, very often we were ridiculed and considered terminally out of fashion: we just kept doing our thing, and now things are a bit different. There are a couple of artists who are kindred spirits, and there is a growing sense of community– but we are still on our own.
Your music seems very deeply rooted in 50s rock n’ roll, blues, freak-out, ghostly lyrics, 60s and neo-psychedelia, death, and darkness – who are some of the groups or people that have inspired you to make the kind of music that you do?
It’s a long list! I like a lot of different artists, like Syd Barrett, the 13th Floor Elevators, Buddy Holly, the Johnny Burnette Trio, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Lord Sutch, Black Sabbath, Sparks and early-Queen. All this music has been important and definitely permeates what I’m doing.
Joe Meek (publicity shot)
There is a tribute song to legendary 60s producer Joe Meek on your album A New Astronomy – in “Me & Joe On the Moon” (an instrumental) and your band is also in the process of recording the music for a documentary being made about his life – how did you become involved with this?
We’ve been contacted by Palmdoor Pictures about doing the soundtrack, and we are obviously very happy to work on it. Joe Meek is a personal hero, he was a great producer with this weird, sometimes quiet dark life; he’s a great subject for a documentary.
Do you feel as though you’ll be stepping into the shoes of Joe Meek himself while writing the music for this documentary? Will you be channeling what you think that he would like to hear in his own documentary?
I’m just trying to record music actually able to fit the mood of the
scenes. Some of the score is quite minimal, but there are also more
Meek-sounding little pieces, sort of goofy rock n roll à la Telstar.
Tell us about The Sacramento Sessions LP. Where was it recorded in Sacramento and how did it come about?
It’s a limited LP released by an Italian label called A Silent Place. Side A is a long improvisation recorded live at KDVS in Davis, Side B is just me freaking out with tape manipulation and treated vocals. I’m told Julian Cope liked it a lot! We like to release from time to time music not strictly related to the song format: in 2002 we released a really loud live album recorded with Kawabata Makoto of Acid Mothers Temple, one of our best experiences so far.
What has been the most surprising reaction to your music so far? What has been your favorite reaction?
I’m just happy to have my music released and to play here and there. Very few Italian bands can do that, so we feel proud of what we’ve been able to achieve. Also, it’s strange to meet these people from other countries who seem really into what we’re doing – it’s great.
What have your tour experiences been like, being so far away from home – playing in China, traveling the world?
We like touring, playing abroad – especially because Italy can be
sort of frustrating sometimes. We’ve been in China twice this year, and the concert we did in Kunming has been the craziest of our whole career: we played in front of hundreds of screaming fans, during the encores (despite the security) there was a little riot! Some guy grabbed my mic and started singing while all around people were getting crazy. It was totally unbelievable.
You’ve gone through a lineup change, losing drummer Alessio Gastaldello – who is the new drummer, and have you added any other new members since you first began? Also, what’s the whole group dichotomy like in Jennifer Gentle? Is there a lot of clowning around – or is it all just business?
The new line-up is fantastic, I’m really happy to be out on tour with them. We just added Paolo Mongardi on drums and Andrea Garbo on guitar, while Liviano Mos (keyboard) and Francesco Candura (bass) are playing with Jennifer Gentle since 2005. We just reached a good chemistry, and we also clicked on a personal level: basically, touring with JG means trying to play good shows and have a lot of fun while on the road.
Tell us about who created the band’s album artwork – do you think that this imagery fits the new material’s sound well?
In the past, I always made the artwork for our albums, but this time I really had no time, so Jeff Kleinsmith at Sub Pop did it instead. We asked him to do something with a sort of Italian aura, and I think he did excellent work. There’s something Fellini-like in that image, and I guess it fits the music well.
Tell us about Ectoplasmic Studio. What’s your favourite thing about this place?
The best thing is that I can record whenever I want without having
any problems with neighbors, etc. I recorded all of our previous albums in basements or garages, sometimes it could be terribly unnerving. The new studio is a bit isolated, but it is exactly what I was searching for.
Because The Midnight Room was recorded at Ectoplasmic Studio as a solo project, do you feel as though it was difficult to translate the songs into a full-band project – and are there any songs that definitely require a full band for effect?
No, because I wrote all the songs thinking about their live rendition. These pieces definitely need a band to be played: it’s not something you can strum with an acoustic guitar. They’re based on the instrumental interplay, that’s why it is so important for me to have the right people in the band.
JENNIFER GENTLE, A Discography:
(Cover images from Left to Right)
2001 I Am You Are
2002 Funny Creatures Lane (rerelease w/Empyrean Records ’07)
2002 The Wrong Cage: Jennifer Gentle And Kawabata Makoto Live
2005 Valende **
2007 The Midnight Room **
2007 A New Astronomy **
2007 Sacramento Session 5 of 3
** available and linked on Amazon.com
Joe Meek information on Wikipedia:
Jennifer Gentle on MySpace: