Interview by Arianna Govoni
Tim Burton is indeed one of the biggest and most appreciated film director and American producers of all time! Movie after movie, this amazing artist has bewitched both kids and grown up people thanks to some of the greatest and priceless movies ever. Who didn’t fall in love with Edward Scissorhands‘ kindness and bashfullness or didn’t get involved in Alice In Wonderlands‘ adventures or, again, who didn’t get identified with Willy Wonka‘s innocence? These characters, always appreciated by kids and adults, are now brought to life by the Italian THE SPLEEN ORCHESTRA. The project, born as a tribute to the greatest American director, now reveals its story to Femme Metal Webzine and it brings us in its own universe throughtout a journey made of performances, music and poetry that recall the most important movies ever created by Burton’s mind. Here we go with The Spleen Orchestra.
Hi guys and welcome to Femme Metal. It’s a great pleasure hosting this chat with you. How are you doing?
Paolo: We’re working on a bunch of new things, we have a brand new album, a new lineup, we’re doing pretty fine!
I’d like to start out our chat talking about The Spleen Orchestra. A project who, to me, is very curious and intriguing. Over the years you’ve managed to gain more interest from both the audience and the press, this is a project who pays tribute to Tim Burton. How did the idea of tributing this great director come to birth, since you manage to relive, indeed, his magic in a more cine-theatrical context, so to speak?
Sguancia: The idea came from a friend who managed the music schedule in a little town of Brianza. We got enthusiastic from this proposal and we immediately started studying some song from “Nightmare Before Christmas”. We made our debut on December 26th 2009 and the evening was called “Nightmare After Christmas”. Since then we started this artistic path that no one could ever imagine.
Initially this proposal has been thought in order to be just one show, since then the thing became bigger and bigger. What has pushed you to make it stronger?
Paolo: Supported by the great enthusiasm for filling the venue, we realized that this group of artists had the potential to give a follow-up to such a project, so we’ve started working on it. It grew and without even noticing, next year we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Spleen Orchestra.
From something who was born randomly, a big interest popped up and it gained a lot of attention from the audience but also from the local promoters who did want to rely on you! If I’m not mistaken, a couple of years ago you’ve also announced a cooperation with the Italian agency Barley Arts. How did this cooperation develop?
Paolo: We had a sort of experiment with Barley, an experience that formed us but that also reached to an end. Sometimes it doesn’t count how big a house is, but how comfortable you feel in it, Barley Arts is indeed a big reality but we preferred coming back to our manager Rosaria.
Since 2012 you’ve changed some band member: for example, we find now Camilla as the female singer of this project. How did you find her?
Paolo: For us was kinda normal to change some member and to start cooperating with different musicians who contributed to enrich this project. For what it concerns Emily, we’ve made some audition but I would say that we had a huge luck in finding her.
As you know, I had the chance to see you on Feb 9th on the occasion of the latest Nerd Show edition in Bologna (Italy). What can I say? I’ve been pleasantly surprised because your live performance (since it’s a real show) is not only based on music, but also on acting. Regarding this matter, did you have some particular study? If so, which ones?
Paolo: I am completely a self-taught person. I can say that the world of poetry, performance and dubbing that belong to my education have also affected my work in The Spleen Orchestra and so also the opposite thing happened as well.
Sguancia: Musically, I’ve began when I was 15 years old, I’ve started studying the electric bass guitar, an instrument that also nowadays accompanies me in some different music project that are kinda rock. Concerning the singing, I’ve started when I was 20 with the first classes and right after I’ve continued this path as a self-taught person. Concerning the acting, I did not attend any school, sincerely I haven’t been intrigued by this as an artistic subject, but from 10 ten years now I’ve completely changed my mind.
Emily: Even if I didn’t take any class, I’ve always liked the idea of mixing theatricality with music. Concerning singing, I’ve started a self educated person since I was 14 with my first metal band, right after I’ve taken some lyric/operistic class and I’ve challenged myself with different kinds of music, like gospel, jazz, acoustic and funky. I’ve gratuated at NAM in Milan and I currently teach.
How important is the theatricality and the music in your live performances?
Sguancia: Both require a precise and constant study. During the performances I tend to focus more on my vocals, because some song are technically very complicated (mainly the ones from Nightmare Before Christmas) where the arrangement offers a continuous change in the notes and in the vocal interpretation. The concentration on these aspects is indeed essential, when I act, instead, I tend to improvise on some scenic mechanism I’ve setted previously.
Emily: I think that the singer should also be an actor somehow: it’s necessary being able to act in order to communicate the meaning of a song at its best, also when the song itself doesn’t reflect what we feel; for example, I did enjoy the moment when the priest does his own interpretation in the gospeel music, even if I’m not a believer.
The make up and the costumes also play an important role for you. How much work is needed for all these little details? Who is the responsable for your outfits that allow you to bring on stage all the characters of Tim Burton?
Paolo: The costumes have been created by both Chiara Turati and Alessandra Marina, who did manage to create excellent outfits with an incredible attention to the details, re-newing them and adding some details time after time. We never stop working on the costumes’ development and on some other aspect of the show, like visuals, arrangement and the direction.
Paolo, you are a poet and you have such a great curriculum vitae! I saw you a couple of weeks ago and I have to say that you add indeed something to the performance you offer on stage. You manage to tell a story in such a deep way, in order to encourage the onlooker to follow your performance more carefully, to stay focused on the development of the story itself which is told also through the visuals and the songs themselves. What are the feelings that accompany you everytime you go on stage?
Paolo: Burton’s world is a world of left-out people, of freak people. Since the beginning ours have been a way of celebrating a sort of ceremony where we share the differences, the dark side but also the happiness of the diversity with our audience. For us – but also for everyone out there – is very important to meet people after our shows, having a dialogue with them since they share the same magic.
Which is the movie and the character from Tim Burton’s movies you feel more connected to and why?
Sguancia: Without a doubt I feel more connected to Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s a masterpiece! I find some different similarity with Jack, the first one I come across is indeed the “damned Routine”. My constant research of news, in fact, pushes me to some situation that doesn’t depict me and I realize this just right after, but afterall everyone makes his/her own mistakes!
Emily: I have to say that the female characters from Burton’s movies do not depict my persona. Edward, indeed, is very similar to me because, like him, I feel as an alien in a place where everybody feels normal. Growing up, then, I felt more connected to Beetlejuice because, even if he’s weirdo and odd, he doesn’t care about what is surrounded by and he keeps on being what he is.
As you know, Tim Burton is very often associated to the great Danny Elfman. What are the soundtracks you feel more connected to, the ones that give you the shivers down your spine?
Sguancia: Shivers down my spine sistematically come with “Ice Dance”, but also Big Fish’s theme touches me within, since it’s one of my favourite movies ever. Everytime that I reach the end of the movie, in fact, I cannot keep the tears and of couse, as I mentioned earlier, all the songs from Nightmare Before Christmas.
Emily: The soundtracks I prefer the most are, without a doubt, Big Fish and Ice Dance for a strictly musical matter.
How much of Tim Burton we can find inside yourself? If we think to some of his well-known characters, like Edward Scissorhands or Willy Wonka, just to mention some, we could say that a lot of people may identify themselves in them. The first one because was considered diverse and unable to have a relationship with people, the other one because he was suppressed by his father since he was a kid, his father didn’t allow him to do anything so he closed his childish soul inside a grown-up body who is still blocked in his childhood, so to speak…
Sguancia: Considering the characters you mentioned, I feel very closed to Willy Wonka, a character that I interpret during our shows. I have to say that in the real life I have huge difficulties to be a grown-up man, because I think that the life of adults and the family mechanisms are boring. I indeed prefer living and dreaming as a child, this makes me happy and peaceful. Logically every now and then I’m forced to act like a serious and loyal person, but as soon as I can, I escape in my childish world.
Reconnecting to the question I asked earlier, what is the dimension where you give your very best? Do you prefer the smaller venues, where you have to reduce the space and your setlist as well, or are you more connected to bigger places, where you can offer a bigger performance?
Sguancia: I don’t know what to choose… indeed I enjoy the smaller venues, because there’s the contact with people (I like to see people’s faces when I sing), while the show you play in a theater or in a public square in front of so many people is rousing, it gives me the energy and I wouldn’t ever want to leave the stage.
Emily: I don’t have any preference but I do really like a lot the theater, I like the context that you create with the audience that is seated and the atmosphere.
Maybe I am the one who’s dreaming right now but have you ever talked about this tribute of yours to the great Tim? It’s true that it’s great to dream about everything, but it has been told that some band have been noticed by the people who affected them and they also got a huge feedback from them! Did you ever think, for example, to send some clip to this movie director or, why not, something that could furnish proof of your incredible tribute?
Paolo: We’ve tried to leave some trace in different occasions, it’s something that scares us a bit, but it also intrigues us. We’ve always tried to excite and respect Burton’s poetry aspects and Elfman’s music, but we don’t know how they could value our work. It’s a sort of dream that you don’t know if you want it to come true or not, because you’re afraid of being disappointed.
A few months ago you’ve released your self-titled album. Could you tell us how did you develop it artistically and how did the ideas of this record depict you the most? What has pushed you to unleash a studio album in order to accentuate your homage to Burton?
Simone: After years of live shows, we did need to get a sound. We’ve worked on the arrangements that we brought onstage, working basically on the sound. We’ve started from the vocals and then we added the essential parts in order to have some song that could offer a message. In “Sally’s Song”, for example, we’ve focused the arrangement on the meaning of the lyric, leaving the vocals in the whole first part that brings an epic opening supported by a classic and also very simple guitar part when the male singing appears in the finale. We’ve recorded a lot of sounds, like trash cans, spray canisters (for the rhythm of “Mr Bau Bau” we’ve recorded the sound of a broomcorn) in order to integrate the pop/rock arrangements with a cinematic idea of the sound. Releasing an album is a matter of identity: The Spleen Orchestra exists and it has a sound.
You’ve also cooperated with the great Italian singer Loredana Berté. What could you tell about the work you’ve done with her?
Paolo: Loredana is a female artist who splits the audience; you can love her or you cannot. We indeed love her. Working with her was extraordinary, we were in an amusement park, we couldn’t ask anything better!
Sguancia: I am one of those people who don’t appreciate her behaviour, but I admire her career and her scratchy voice.
Which are the commitments that will keep you busy from now on?
Paolo: We’re working with the director Rico Sirignano for the renewal of the show, but also for a brand new live show and a shorter version of the performance in order to give the accessability of the show in a more restrained places. We also have a new videoclip out for the promotion of our first record, we can say that it will be a very hectic season.
I’d like to thank you for this spot. In order to see you back again onstage, I give you a huge hug and I offer you the chance to share the final words with whoever is going to read this interview of ours! Cheers!
Sguancia: Thank you and thanks to all Femme Metal Webzine readers. Keep in mind that it’s useless to understand something, you have to imagine it!