Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bottin - Horror Disco Interview

Bottin's 'Horror Disco' album will be in stores by the 17th of this month, on the ever reliable Bear Funk. Bottin's sound is distinctive and intricate, very Italian and really delicious. The sampler ep released back in June really peeked my interest and the subsequent post drew attention from Bottin himself, he offered me the chance to ask him a few questions as I clearly knew very little about him. Here then is that interview...

I've read that a Farfisa Syntorchestra synthesizer was pivotal in the making of your new album, my question is, where had you heard one before or heard about them? and can you explain your fascination with rare synths?

I had never heard one or heard about one before. My friend Bob Benozzo (now an established latin pop music producer, by the way) had it, it was once given to him by a family friend and was sitting in his garage ever since. He never really used it and then gave it to me a few years ago. Now I know the Farfisa Syntorchestra was used by prog music legends like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, but mine is actually a different model, one which never made it out of Italy I think. It's nothing fancy - only a cheap sounding combo organ with a monophonic synth section.

The thing with vintage synths is that most people go after the well-known, expensive, big-sounding models. Personally I find that powerful synths sometimes tend to clog the mix, they were made in times when you could only have a small number of channels in multitrack recording. So the fatter the individual sounds, the better. Whereas, now anybody can record a virtually unlimited number of layers and great things can be done even with tiny-sounding synthesizers. They have a lot of personality, especially when they're cheap: they tend to be unstable and sometimes wonders can happen. I firmly believe that serendipity is much more important than inspiration when making music, particularly dance music.

Clearly you are a fan of old spacey and horror soundtracks, was this the result of seeing the films? or was it through digging? what is it that excites you about those films and their soundtracks?

All the kids born in Italy in the late seventies like myself grew up watching Japanese robot cartoons. All the original themes were replaced by Italian bands (so that the Italian TV music publishers could collect all the money deriving from the national tv broadcasts) and many of them had space disco and funk arrangements since they were recorded in the late 70's or early 80's. Some even had vocoder and heavy synth parts.

The late seventies in Italy is also where we had the first local tv networks. Before, there were only only 2-3 channels of public national tv. An army of local tv station sprouted. All through the 80's those minor channels were showing mostly those Japanese cartoons during the day and "B" movies at night, very many sci-fi and horror flicks. I think local stations didn't have the money to purchase big films, so they showed "B" movies from the 70's as the rights were cheaper. All the Italian horror masters got airtime in those years. Now it's almost impossibil to see a Fulci or Bava movie on TV. Of course I wasn't really aware of the musical characteristics of the soundtracks to those films, but somehow that music got under my skin. While making the album I did some digging, I researched many Italian movies, giallos, slasher movies, cheap sci-fi flicks that I thought I would need to watch. Often I released that I had seen them already when I was a kid.

How did you come to work with Douglas Meakin?

It's all connected! Douglas is originally from Liverpool, then he moved to Italy in the 60's (he was touring with his band and he met his wife here). Later on he ended up writing and singing very many of those Japanese cartoon themes I mentioned before. He's quite famous in Italy for that and still plays many gigs perfoming those songs. Then by accident I found out he had also singing in Claudio Simonetti's disco projects, Easy Going, Crazy Gang etc. He was left uncredited most of the time but I knew his voice from the tv songs! Some friends of mine in Venice have a fun band called La Mente di Tetsuya (Tetsuya's Mind): they are a cover band and they only play those japanese cartoon songs. They once invited Douglas to sing with them so I met him and told him I was very into the stuff he did with Simonetti and proposed to make a disco track together. I sent him an instrumental demo, he wrote the lyrics himself and came back to Venice to record it. He's truly an amazing vocalist, very precise yet passionate - he was one of the most active session vocalists in the 70's and 80's, he sang in thousands of records and rarely got credit for it. He said they would pay him by the hour.

How did you get into Disco? and what aspect of Disco excites you most?

I don't know exactly how I got into it. It was maybe a backwards process in researching where the music I like was coming from. As a teenager I was into jazz and acid jazz, I played piano and keyboards in bands. Later I listened to house and started djing.

What I like about disco is that whereas most house and techno mostly rely on beats and rhythmical elements, disco was and still is a more complex blend of rhythmical, melodic a harmonic elements, with often great orchestration. It's not just heavy banging, there are different layers to it and different ways to listen to it. It's music that was done by musicians, not by djs. Sometimes they overdid it and soaked the good funk elements in heavy strings arrangements or excessively soulful vocals. Other times they made masterpieces that still sound more modern and more adventurous than contemporary electronica. I think that dance music should still be made by proper musicians and then sampled, re-edited and played out by djs.

To my ears, there is no doubt your sound is Italian, can you explain what makes Italian Disco so
different to Disco from anywhere else?

I don't have a specific idea, I guess it's hard, being Italians, to highlight the features of Italian Disco. I could tell you that American Disco is more soulful and it's funkier because, obviously, it developed from funk and soul.
Of course Italian music was never firmly rooted in African American music. Classic Italian pop music has always relied on strong, touching melodies. It's derived from opera I guess. Italian producers were producing Disco because it was profitable at the time. While they were trying to imitate the american sound, most Italian disco producers were classically trained or coming from prog rock, not funk or soul. They all went to the conservatory, Celso Valli, Mauro Malavasi, Claudio Simonetti.

How long did the album take to record?

A little over two years.
What are some of your favorite Horror Disco tracks by other artists?

'Fear' by Easy Going,
'Telephone Computer' by Crazy Gang (both by Simonetti),
Hot Ice's version of 'Theme From Friday the 13th' by Harry Manfredini
'Planet "O"' by Daisy Daze and The Bumblebees.

Thankyou so much Guglielmo for this. Now all that remains is for you to check out this truly excellent album. You can hear soundclips on Bear Funk's site and will be able to buy it in all good record and cd stores by next weekend... essential!!


Rob said...

The Farfisa Syntorchestra synthesizer is now going to be a whole lot more popular. Great effects. Tremendous synth.

chris keys said...

looking forward to hearing it more ...

Mark 0 zero said...

Horror disco for Masterpiece

christopher.tubbs said...

Wicked interview! I just interviewed him for Heads Down actually... In not quite as much detail. Blog's looking great mister.

Iain said...

Good and insightful interview!