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Interview with Tommaso Colliva / Calibro 35 (english version)

Calibro 35
Interview with Tommaso Colliva (Calibro 35)
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau for Paris DJs - november 2011)

Calibro 35 is an italian four-piece band (Luca Cavina on bass, Enrico Gabrielli on keyboards, Massimo Martellotta on guitars, Fabio Rondanini on drums) created in Milan by mastermind Tommaso Colliva. A great fan of 60s and early 70s italian soundtracks (polizieschi - the italian thrillers - and gialli), Tommaso noticed that everybody pretends to know italian soundtrack, but no one really plays nor document this music anymore. Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai excepted, who else than diehard collectors remember Gianni Ferrio, Stelvio Cipriani or Gianni Mazza? Most of the time polizieschi or gialli were minor movies, but the music indeed was major (A-music for B-movies!). Here comes Calibro 35, playing this repertoire the hard and funky way, and composing new material in the manner of the forgotten masters of the genre, recording three albums so far (Calibro 35, Ritornano Quelli di... and RARE), released in Europe by Ghost Records and Nublu in the US by. Besides, they've just collaborated on Adrian Younge's new project Something About April performed by Venice Dawn (Wax Poetics Records).
In addition to the italian soundtrack killer mix he's just cooked for us, Tommaso talks about his longtime research, Calibro 35 creation and musicians, the next Calibro album and being a 30-years-old sound engineer for MUSE or Afterhours.

Calibro 35

01. How came the idea of Calibro 35?
The idea came because of few different factors that happened at the same time.
- Me and Massimo had the idea of putting a project together for a while, and it was quite clear that Fabio would have been the drummer for it (he's just the best drummer I've ever met.).
- I was touring the US with another italian band (Afterhours) and that made me think a lot about italian musical heritage, about "what can we say on the worldwide musical scene remaining italian and being proud of being italian".
- I had been a obsessive compulsive crate digger for years with soundtracks being my favourite researches
- I had a brand new studio in Milan so I needed a band to come in to test the whole room.
So i thought: wouldn't it be fun to put a band together and re-record some soundtrack music from the '60s and '70s? I rang Massimo, Fabio and Enrico (who was keyboard player for Afterhours at the time) asking them if they mind to come down and try to lay few tracks down and see what happen. We were still missing a bass player though and Enrico brought Luca in, since they wanted to start a project together as well and the rest is history as they say....

02. Can you unveil in details the way you did your research and the way you dug?
In my mind it was pretty clear that Polizieschi [italian noir movies] music was going to probably be the best compromise between having fun, sounding badass and being able to do several tracks in few days. Plus Tarantino was using classic songs from those movies on every film so a potential audience for this was quite big.
This said the first album is almost a collection of my favourite Polizieschi soundtracks ever. There are a couple of them missing but the other Calibros didn't like them....

03. Is there a kind sound archive for italian soundtrack?
I' ve been listening to italian soundtracks from almost 15 years now (I'm 30 this year) and I have a good idea of what has been out there. There have been tons of reissues and compilation out but amongst them I'd say Easy Tempo collection is a good and quite comprehensive anthology even though it's too "easy" for my personal taste.

04. According to you, what made Italian composers so talentful for OST?
I thought a lot about this after we formed calibro. I think the really interesting and peculiar thing is the mixture of genre, ensemble an instrumentation they used back in the days. For example between mid '60s and early '70s classically trained composers were asked to "copy" blaxploitation stuff coming from the US but they simply could not do it properly so they added funk elements to orchestral composition having italian jazz players as backing band... This quite obviously provoked a musical clash and generated a quite complex sound kaleidoscope that is part of what we now know as "Italian Soundtracks".

05. Have you managed to see all the movies corresponding to the soundtracks you dug?
I can't swear I've seen all of them but I can say I've seen most of them. Some are really difficult to find and some of them are only available as download files in terrible conditions, so I may have stopped halfaway thorugh because watching such flickering images was disturbing for my eyes. Some of them are great movies, some are honestly not.

06. What was the concept of each of the three albums?
As I said before the first one is kind of a "The Best Of" italian polizieschi soundtracks. "Ritornano Quelli di" is made of two kind of compositions: original material we did for an american documentary (titled Eurocrime) plus some killer covers composed by Morricone, Ferrio and Ritz Ortolani. In between our main albums we've been involved in a lot of different projects: soundtracks, compilations, collaborations, vinyl releases... At a certain point we realized we had 15 or more tracks that weren't included in one of our albums so we decided to put them all together and release "RARE".
Concept for the new album (coming out February 2012) is: put five italian musicians in a studio in Brooklyn for five days and see what comes out of it...

07. What kind of sound were you looking for on these records?
On the first one we weren't that concious about what we were doing and it was all so new to us. I mean... Enrico never played a clavinet keyboard or an Eko Tiger organ before I asked him to do so for Calibro. We also tried to play old stuff without sounding too cliche' or old school but at the same time we wanted to bring soundratcks back to the future without using the much obvious and abused electronic way.
On the second album we faced the problem of putting together our music without losing the vintage vibe / footprint and think that has been very educational for us because we investigated deeply the essence of what we were playing both musically and sonically.
Being a collection of tracks "RARE" is more eclectic and includes a lot of different tests and experiment we did during the years. Some tracks were recorded with just six mics, some others are the results of the studio jamming and so on.

08. Tell me about the musicians of Calibro 35.
We are quite an eclectic bunch of people.
Massimo is an amazing guitar player with a very big love for improvisation and interplay between musicians. Sometimes you can see him performing on stage and being completely lost inside his musical world. His experience composing original music for movies and commercials is a killer factor for us: he's able to find melodies and riffs as nobody else I've worked with and he can play almost any instrument. He's also the best dad ever.
Enrico has a quite strong academic background since he studied both clarinet and composition at Milan Conservatorium; then around the age of 25 or so he suddenly discovered rock music and decided to abandon the classical music scene. He embraced the rock and roll life and decided to live everything he didn't live before. In the last ten years I think he played on something like 60 records and he's constantly touring with other bands as either a member (for Mariposa, Craxi and Afterhours) or as a special Guest.
When I've first heard Fabio I was at a concert with Massimo and we both asked each other: "Why isn't he known as the best italian drummer EVER?". I still got to find answer to our question. He's precise and creative, technically perfect and uniquely talented at the same time. He can dose his ego serving the music with character... just perfect for a drummer.
Luca is the only member I didn't work with before Calibro and he has been an amazing discovery. A: he remembers everything. (I'm not jocking he really remembers everything). B: he probably felt into the magic groove potion when he was a kid so he can't help himself filling every song with a good amount of badass lines perfectly played. C: he challenges himself and the others a lot. He's always looking for perfection and fighting hard to really achieve it; I love that attitude.

09. How do people and press react to your music in Italy?
This was a very unpredictable factor when we started. Since we crossed few different music genres (funk, rock, jazz just to name the main ones) we were scared that nobody would have paid attention too us because we were "not enough" in each one of them (not-enough-rock, not-enough-jazz, not-enough-funka and so on...). Luckily that didn't happened and we have been received really well inside such a wide variety of ambients that 'm still surprised. We played at classical festivals, avantgarde events, jazz clubs, indie clubs... everywhere. And every place really gives us new stimulus and ideas. It's really a good position to be in.

10. Do you think Calibro 35 aim to stick to the italian cinematic stuff or do you imagine some other directions for the future?
Well soundtracks and their sounds are part of our DNA and we will never abandon that ingredient. Surely we are growing up a lot as a band as the time goes by and we want to experiment and explore other routes as well. We are very lucky we are fast doing things so we rarely get bored of our ideas.

11. Italian noir movies, like other italian cinema in the 60s and 70s, were often very political. Do you imagine this tradition could resurrect?
The political situation is so different from those eras that I think it's almost impossible to make any comparison. I don't think cinema can be like that anymore because the world is not like that anymore.

12. Would you love to be asked writing a score for a noir movie? If so, what would be the ideal director to work for?
Not sure. If I had to dream I'd love to make a Steve Soderbergh's movie but that's probably too much to ask.

13. What do you think of directors who uses old OST for their movies? For instance, have you seen a french giallo tribute called AMER? The movie is fine, but the score is not original...
I didn't see AMER but I will surely check it out.
I think it's difficult nowadays for directors. There's so much easy available music around that taking the bespoke music route may seem just too difficult / time consuming and expensive but I think you can really hear the results when music is studied after the film. Even more so when composers are involved in early stage of the productions and can discuss their ideas with directors before the movie is actually shot.

14. If we except the unbeaten maestro Ennio Morricone, who's your favorite OST composer?
No doubt on this: Gianni Ferrio.

15. Tell me about you. Like all the sound engineers, you are a man of the shade. But you've worked for some big names like Afterhours, Franz Ferdinand and Muse...
I started as an assistant-engineer in a big studio in Milan and I kind of cut my teeth there. That gave me the chance to work with incredible musicians and an extremely wide range of music. I'm totally in love with music and I'm quite a good student too so I always found a way to learn from different projects I was involved into. With some artists such as english band Muse and italian band Afterhours I have a very long standing relationship and this is one of the more satisfiyng thing for me: it's relatively easy to work with an artist once but it's much more difficult to gain their trust and loyalty.

16. Do you have some italian hidden gems to recommend in the actual funk/jazz italian scene?
Mmmmm, not really, but I've got to admit I'm not paying too much attention to that scene nowadays.

17. Last question: Italy and Europe in general are living hard times. Italy is living some massive exodus of the youth. What do you think of the economical and political situation?
It's a shame but it's quite a logical consequence of choices our political class did in the last twenty/thirty years or so. I'm 30 this year, I'm reading newspapers everyday from 15 years and I've read the sentence "Italian system needs to be reformed because as it is is not going to be sustainable anymore" every other day... Why didn't anybody do anything? This being said Italy is still one of the best places to live.

Links :
Calibro 35 : official | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | twitter | vimeo
Tommaso Colliva : official | discogs | myspace
Ghost Records : official | facebook | myspace | twitter | youtube
Nublu : official | facebook | soundcloud | twitter | youtube
Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

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