Interview with Enrico Merlin and Valerio Scrignoli
Valerio … I know Enrico already, shall I ask a couple of questions directly to you?How was born your interest about guitar? With what guitar do you play and have played before? What is your music background? (Okay, there are three questions actually)
Valerio: A sister’s friend played the guitar, I was about 10 years old and the passion that still lasts I started in those days.
I usually plays Fender, Telecaster and Stratocaster, sometimes a Jaguar. I also have craft guitars that I use when I play jazz.
I started listening to music at home, Italian pop music, Beatles and Rolling Stones. I still remember being gone (carried by my father’s hand) to listen to the concerts at Parco Lambro … I have to say that since then I have always listened to so many music, of all kinds. Living in Milan I was able to attend hundreds of live concerts of the most important jazz and international rock groups. Even today, as a professional musician, when I can, I go more than willingly to enjoy a concerts of my colleagues.
How did start this idea of.. reinterpreting the Area? I use the term “reinterpret” because I think that talking about “cover” with you two is absolutely out of place …
Valerio: My companion, Viviana Bucci stimulated this project, she was a friend of Gianni Sassi (a recordman and the author of some of the texts played by the Area). We had recently gone to listen to a concert by Enrico Merlin in Milan. We didn’t know Enrico but after that concert we proposed to form this duo. One of the most exciting experiences of my music career.
With Enrico we soon established a crazy feeling, sharing a common creativity that allowed us to go into the notes of the Area with freedom and, I dare say, lightness. I have always considered the Area as the best Italian group ever, it’s my absolute favorite. I never get tired of listening again and even now, as I think and write these questions, I’m listening to their double cd “Concerto Teatro Umano”.
Enrico: Yes, and I was very honored, although at first I was a bit worried about the idea of dealing with such complicated music and to which I was linked from my adolescent listenings.
The first record I heard was “Maledetti”. I was overwhelmed. Powerful, subversive, ironic, impossible to hold in a definite genre. At that time I was mostly attracted to Jazz, but I came from the Progressive, so the Area summed up my ideal of “making music”.
What do you think is their contribution to Italian music?
Valerio: In a word: revolutionary. Because they were the first to join genres that were (and unfortunately still) ghettoized in their definitions. They were able to blend them with a creative and unique originality. A revolutionary and dense revolution of meanings, they have gone beyond music.
Enrico: There is no doubt that the Areas were the most important Italian band on the international scene, as I also supported in my book “1000 dischi per un secolo” (ed. Il Saggiatore), an unpredictable sound explosion! Inspired by the Anglo-American Jazz Rock, paying tribute to the music of the electric Miles Davis, the Area’s approach has reshaped the shapes exploring new musical territories, creating unprecedented and effective sound panoramas.
Do you think their musical “lesson”, their professionalism, discipline, and integrity have left signs back and … maybe… heirs?
Valerio: they certainly left signs and also important. Heirs … I do not know. Nor Enrico and I can be regarded as their heirs. Maledetti is a record that wants to open a music chink in what we’ve called “Music Area.”
Enrico: This is a difficult question to answer, not so much on the signs as on the inheritance. Before this question there should be another even more uncomfortable one: what does “legacy” mean? Personally, I always hated replicas, coverism, and the attitude of absolute subjection to a model. Art, in all its forms, is fueled by stimuli, sometimes even pretensions. To reward the great innovators you can not (or should not) just reproduce their music. You have to enter intimacy with their language and write new poems, new tales, new novels … Otherwise it’s just another form of interpretation of a given text. If, therefore, “inheritance” means becoming conceptual continuity, even before stylistic, then I must say that it’s the final user who has to trace possible rivulets, tributaries and developments on the basis of its sensibility. Talking about epigones unfortunately in Italy we are specialists. Fortunately the music of the Area, in that sense, has been plundered less than others (apart from someone who covers Stratos, perhaps without even listening to Leon Thomas or Blind Willie Johnson), perhaps because of its structural and executive complexity.
How did you “manage” your two guitars within the project? Usually one plays the accompaniment part and the other one the solos, sometimes exchanging, but in your case it seems to me that you have been able to “invent” most complex roles, at some points of the record you reach the counterpoint …
Valerio: Yes, the good thing to play with Enrico is that we have a perfect complementarity. We are not interested in “who plays the solo?” … we let us go, we adore to create always new stimuli. What we are interested in is the result. And then, in every takes we have a lot of fun.
Enrico: Valerio is an amazing partner! No fatigue. It’s my musical alter ego. We are like Yin and Yang; Each one is complementary to the other, but contains one part of the other. Already at the first concert every now and then we burst into laughter for what happened unpredictably.
Reinterpreting their songs was more a question of improvisation or composition? I try to explain myself better … have you reinterpreted them working more on improvisational work or on reconstruction / deconstruction of a compositional type?
Valerio: We worked on melodic and rhythmic cells but at the same time we left a great space for improvisation.
Enrico: So, the preparatory part was to identify the songs we wanted to include in the repertoire. At that point we met for two full consecutive days with guitars and all the sound equipment. In the late afternoon of the second day, we watched each other at the same time exclaiming: “We have it!” Now after a dozen concerts we realized that the approach chosen – that is, as Valerio says – to identified the characteristic microaspects of each composition to be exploded in the act of playing them – brought us, and continues to carry us, in unexplored territories. I could say that by now Maledetti – Area Music is an autonomous sound organism that feeds itself through experience and sensitivity. We are only the way through which it manifests itself. In Cagean optics, the more we get out of it and better it works.
Who designed the cover of Maledetti? And how did you ever choose that picture?
Valerio: The Maledetti album is produced by Musicamorfosi Associazione which is an important reality in Milan (Italy) that produces artists and festivals. From a few years it started also a small record production. They are very careful about image and communication. Viviana, my companion, worked with them and was her suggestion to use the beautiful illustrations by Andrea Pedrazzini, already collaborator of Gianni Sassi, to whom the project is dedicated.
Enrico: Exactly! Andrea Pedrazzini is a genius! I can only say this. I knew him earlier for his De Bestiarium Naturis, a work beyond the good and the evil. When Viviana suggested the idea, I was excited. And I remember asking her: but do you really think he can be interested and accept this? The result is in your hands.
In the end … who is the most Cursed of you two?
Valerio: this is a real race!
Enrico: Yin and Yang, Yin and Yang!