Interview: Nero Kane discusses mixing Johnny Cash and Ry Cooder with Italian gothic

Americana can have a very pervasive influence, weaving its magic in ways that may not at first appear obvious. Mixing the influence of Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and the soundtrack work of Ry Cooder with psych-folk and the visual and literal influence of the Italian renaissance and the iconography of medieval Christianity would not be an obvious choice for a lot of musicians. However, this is exactly what Italian musician Nero Kane , real name Marco Mezaddri, has done, with support from filmmaker and musician Samantha Stella, on his new album ‘Tales 0f Faith and Lunacy’ . The album is in part inspired by the desert landscapes of the Americana west and was recorded in a rural studio on the outskirts of Venice. This interview gives AUK readers a chance to explore how far americana can be taken by musicians with a variety of influences. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Nero Kane and Samantha Stella to discuss the Italian music scene, the impact of COVID on the arts in Italy and their own americana influenced music. 

How are you, I hope you both and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of COVID?
NK We are well despite these dark times. Once again music and art are faithful companions to face this difficult period. Often I think that it’s really a plus to have these things in my life. Something that can still give me beauty.

What is the Italian music scene like for working musicians under COVID? What government or self-help schemes are in place to help musicians and those people involved in the production of live music?
NK It’s a situation of total uncertainty that, after months, is still waiting for the right support and planning of reorganisation from the government. Unfortunately, it seems that our country considers the music industry as something that doesn’t really impact on society. But I have to say that here the situation for art and artists was already tough before the pandemic. It may sound strange in a country like Italy where culture should be one of the most important parts of the economy.
SS  Unfortunately the situation in Italy for working musicians, as for any other people involved with live art practice (theatre, contemporary art, performance…) under COVID is very difficult. The bureaucratic procedures to get support from a fund raised by the government are a disadvantage, especially for the single musician or artist that in this country is often working without contractual cover, so it is difficult to demonstrate any previous income which is essential to get the support. Live venues have been forced to close due to the actual restrictions (with a limited interval during the summer months for open-air events), some have organised crowdfunding to pay their rent, some have permanently closed. Single artists and musicians are trying to sell their own merch through web promotion, some are trying to start their first streaming concerts with tickets sold through specific organisations, but this is a totally new procedure still to be investigated. I believe that all of them, like us, are hoping to come back as soon as possible to real live performances as it was before the pandemic.

If I were to ask what is recognised as typical Italian music how would you answer the question?
NK I find it’s not easy to recognise what is maybe typical today, but besides from the classical music and opera which were among the most important ones in the world in the past centuries, my mind goes to the great Italian songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s like Fabrizio De André, Luigi Tenco or Piero Ciampi, and to a composer like Ennio Morricone, probably the last of the greats.

Would you agree that your own music is a mix of psych-folk, americana and indie-rock?  What has drawn you to the various genres you have adopted and how much of your Italian heritage is included in your music?
NK It’s definitely a mix of psych-folk, americana and something more dark/gothic. I don’t feel connected to the indie-rock genre and even less to the Italian panorama. I grew up listening to garage rock, proto-punk, punk music and I continued with blues, folk and songwriters both from the USA and UK. In the end, I mixed all these influences into my own writing style. But my Italian heritage could be found in poets, painters and writers that have deeply impressed me. I think that punk gave me the attitude to use basic stuff to create songs, while the influences coming from books, films or paintings gave me the poetic and romantic vision which permeates my music.
SS I think we have a small influence from the Italian music heritage. Most of the music we have been listening to in our life comes from the USA and UK or related cultural worlds like Australia (Nick Cave, Swans, Wovenhand, Nico, P J Harvey, Lingua Ignota, Jozef Van Wissem, Hugo Race, Joy Division just to name a few regarding myself). Also, the genre of music we are doing is not mainstream in our country, where you are mainly considered only if you sing in Italian, and we sing in English. Anyway, this album is achieving big attention from the audience and journalists who recognise its international dimension and quality.

‘Tales Of Faith And Lunacy’ has a cinematic sound. How much of this was influenced by Samantha’s skills as a visual as well as a musical artist?
NK Yes, ‘Tales of Faith and Lunacy’, my second album released at the end of October, is a cinematic, psychedelic and timeless journey in a desert landscape where medieval European mystical influences blend with the flavour of the American West. This mix comes out also from my collaboration with Samantha, which started in 2015. Since we met we deeply mixed our worlds. Her artistic and visual skills helped me to find and create a deeper level of communication for my music. I consider my imagery strictly connected to her aesthetic result and I think that together we made a great work. Even if in my songwriting path I feel independent, she is a very important element for my music. For that reason, after the release of my debut album ‘Love In A Dying World’, I suggested that she join me on stage in the concerts (me guitar/voice, Samantha keyboards/voice), then I invited her to write and sing some lyrics for the new album.
SS For sure Nero Kane’s music is strictly connected with a cinematic dimension brought also from my visual support as I am first of all a visual artist, performer and filmmaker, featuring international projects since 2005. David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Bela Tarr, Wim Wenders are some of the influences that influence our common lyrical imagery.

There are religious overtones and references to the music. Where did this come from and why. The imagery seems very medieval and stylised, again how much of this is down to Samantha’s influence?
NK I was already intrigued by some religious elements in my previous album where I used, as lyrics of a couple of songs, two Presbyterian Church hymns that I found in an old Hymn book bought in an antique shop near Joshua Tree Park in California. This religious mood comes also from my listening to artists like Nick Cave, Johnny Cash or Nico, and from my passion for Italian painters like Caravaggio, Raffaello and Michelangelo. Samantha’s influence played an important role in this record. We are both attracted by mystic, religious and decadent stuff and the American gothic western imaginary is a mix of both our influences.
SS I can say in the last years of my life I have become quite obsessed by the aesthetic dimension of the Christian religion, as it was evidenced in my solo photo and installation exhibition “God Loves You” featured in an Italian art gallery in 2017. The critical reviews talked at that time about a kind of “laic” religion, because I am always investigating the thin border between good and evil, light and darkness. ‘Mechthild’, one of the three lyrics I wrote and sing on the album, is inspired by the work ‘The Flowing Light of the Godhead’ by Mechthild of Magdeburg, a thirteenth-century German Christian mystic, with a paragraph quoted at the end of the song. The way she describes her love for God is full of passion and incredibly poetic. When I had to shoot the short movie to launch the album’s lead single ‘Lord Won’t Come’, I decided to merge the imagery of an American west church (that I shot during my trips to California) with an Italian church including some footage of a medieval depiction of The Dance Macabre and the Triumph of Death, a fresco which is preserved in the north of Italy not so far from our town, Milan.

Italian music was exported to America during the migrations of the 19th and early twentieth centuries. It had a particular impact on folk music and the introduction of the mandolin as a classical, jazz and folk instrument. Have you been able to link up with this historical influence in your own music and complete a circle?
NK No. I’m more linked up to the lute and its modern use made by musicians like Jozef Van Wissem or Burzum.

What did Matt Bordin bring to the recording and was there any significance to recording in his Venice studio?
NK  His work as an artistic producer has been very important to achieve the final sound of the record because, since the beginning, he really understood the mood and the vibes of these songs and he was really into this type of music. He works a lot with international artists (collaborations and productions with Thurston Moore, Michael Zerang, Jackie O’ Motherfucker, Delaney Davidson) and writes also his own music with his collective (Squadra Omega) or soundtracks for films. He has a wide-open mind and a cultural background that is definitely international and eclectic. He is also involved in the album’s recording a great musician and violinist like Nicola Manzan and his arche violin are perfect for the style of my guitar, Samantha’s organ and Matt’s drones. Matt’s Outside Inside Studio is located in a beautiful wood on the hills not so far from Venice. A place where you can breathe and let everything flow. We recorded the album in autumn/winter and the vibes coming from nature gave us the best mood to concentrate on these songs. I have a strong connection with nature because to me nature is art.

How much has Ennio Morricone influenced your sound and how do you avoid the obvious cliches? Also, do you think Morricone’s Italian heritage influenced his music?
NK I love Morricone but I wasn’t directly influenced by his work. Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nico, Swans, The Stooges, Suicide, Johnny Cash, Mark Lanegan are among my greatest influences. I discovered Morricone later in my life. And with great pleasure, I understood how much he influenced many musicians I love. Probably I indirectly absorbed his influence from other artists. Now I’m really into the “spaghetti sound”. I love the sound of Jazzmasters or Jaguars guitars with tremolo, fuzz and reverb and I don’t care to avoid cliches. I always take something from other artists to create my own personal vision and mood. Honestly, I don’t know the background of Morricone’s music. He was a composer and a great experimental artist with the ensemble GINC (Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza). I think Italy may have played an important role in his music, but I also think that he was beyond everything.

Desert soundscapes have never been the same since Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to ‘Paris, Texas’. How much is Ry Cooder an influence on your overall guitar style and how much did ‘Paris, Texas’ influence ‘ Tales of Faith and Lunacy’?
NK This film and also Ry Cooder’s soundtrack have been a great influence on my music and imagery. In particular on my debut album ‘Love In A Dying World’ which was recorded and produced in Los Angeles by Joe Cardamone (ex-The Icarus Line and an actual collaborator of Mark Lanegan) and released in 2018 with his LA art collective American Primitive. The sound of the slide guitar is the sound of the desert. You can feel the dust and the wind in these notes. But I don’t have a specific guitar style. I just play what I feel. In this moment of my life, I really feel connected to this type of sound.
SS ‘Paris, Texas’  by Wim Wenders is a fundamental influence not only for this album but probably even more for Nero Kane’s debut. The experimental film ‘Love In A Dying World’ ‘that I shot in the desert landscapes of California to launch his first album and based on his music with Kane and me as protagonists, is a clear reference to ‘Paris, Texas’, as underlined by the critical reviews. It premièred at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles with a video installation and a performance by me and Nero and was fully screened in Italian museums, art galleries, churches and theatres, sometimes combined with our live concerts.

Is ‘Tales of Faith and Lunacy’ a collection of individual songs or is it meant to be consumed as a whole listening experience?
NK Definitely a whole listening experience.
SS Yes, a few days ago I was speaking with a journalist who said that it can be consumed as a whole listening experience but without losing the dimension and importance of each individual song.

Who are your main musical influences and what did you take from their music?NK As I said before, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nico, Swans, The Stooges, Suicide, Mazzy Star, Johnny Cash, Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey, Townes Van Zandt, Vincent Gallo are among my main influences. I take something from each artist. Repetitiveness, psychedelia, darkness, romanticism, poetry, decadence, blues, love, death and religion. These are the main elements giving life to my music.

Do you think Brexit will impact the Italian music scene, and if so how?
NK The risk is that the situation may become more difficult for touring musicians as it is for touring the USA. Any sort of limitations can cause a deep impact on a “fragile world” like music.

The record label for the new album seems to change based on format.  Why is this?
NK Well, the German label, Nasoni Records, works only with vinyl. I was interested in releasing the album on other formats, and I found the Italian labels BloodRock Records for CD and Anacortes Records for cassette tapes.

How are you planning to get the new album to your American audience?
NK At the moment we are concentrating on press and radio promotion in the North American, European and Italian markets, and we are achieving amazing feedback. We hope to go back soon to the USA to promote the album and collect new photo and video material.

What do you hope to be doing in 2021? When you finally tour the album, will it be as a duo?
NK To go on with my career and my artistic path. Yes, it will be as a duo.
SS To keep going on with our Art. Always. 2021 ‘til Death.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?
NK ‘Man with a harmonica (Once upon a time in the West)’ by Ennio Morricone, ‘The Mercy Seat’ version taken from Nick Cave’s last album ‘Idiot Prayer’, ‘Nibelungen’ by Nico. I would add ‘Waiting Around To Die’ by Townes Van Zandt.
SS ‘Lunacy’ by Swans, ‘Swedish Purse’ by Wovenhand, ‘Janitor of Lunacy’ by Nico (I would add ‘Do You Doubt Me Traitor’ by Lingua Ignota).

Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?
NK Thanks for your support. It means a lot to us. We made our last concerts in the UK last February just before the pandemic so we would like to restart from the last stop and come back on the road soon. Thanks also for all the music that comes out of your country and has influenced our lives.
SS We thank you so much for helping us to spread and support our music and visions.

Nero Kane’s ‘Tales of Faith and Lunacy’ is out now on Nasoni Records (vinyl), CD (BloodRock Records), Anacortes Records (cassette) and download.

 

About Martin Johnson 95 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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