(via The Guardian)
He rubbed elbows with Hemingway and Che, and is the subject of a new show. Gruff Rhys, who wrote the music, tells Alfred Hickling how he grew fascinated by the publisher Feltrinelli
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 May 2013 14.30 EDT
In March 1972, the badly mutilated body of a 46-year-old man was found at the foot of a power mast outside Milan, having apparently died when the explosives he was carrying detonated prematurely. He was identified as Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, founder of a publishing empire that bears his name, and one of the richest men in Italy.
However bizarre it may be for a multimillionaire communist to perish attempting to blow up a pylon, it seems even less likely he should become the subject of fascination for Gruff Rhys, the founder and lead singer of the Welsh indie band Super Furry Animals. Rhys, in partnership with Cincinnati-based producer Boom Bip, has written a new album based on Feltrinelli’s life, Praxis Makes Perfect. But rather than touring the music, the album has been developed into a stage show by the National Theatre of Wales.
The format evades simple definition: part-gig, part-interactive theatre, part-political rally. It’s also not easy to find. The performance takes place in a secret location, which audience members are directed to via email. They are also instructed to bring a book they wish to exchange, and to wear something red.
The venue (about which I can say no more than that it’s a short walk from Cardiff station) would be indistinguishable from any other industrial unit, were it not for the thumpingly loud techno coming through the walls. Inside, there is a bare concrete floor and an assortment of office equipment, all of it scaled up to an enormous size. It’s as if you’ve been given an Alice in Wonderland potion in a stationery warehouse.
Rhys, wearing a shaggy beard and woolly hat, is an imposing figure – somewhat diminished by the 20ft-high filing cabinet next to him. “It is a bit strange,” he admits. “There are two things rock musicians are really supposed to avoid: making concept albums and dabbling with theatre. But here I am doing both.”
There’s a reasonable chance the project will not end up a celebrated fiasco such as Rick Wakeman’s King Arthur on Ice. The associated artists have a reassuring pedigree: writer Tim Price was responsible for National Theatre Wales’s acclaimed touring show The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning; director Wils Wilson specialises in cross-genre, site-specific happenings; the choreography comes from Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham. After Cardiff, the show will appear at festivals throughout the summer.
How did the theatre element come about? “It all started with the DeLorean project,” Rhys says in his quiet, methodical manner (he is first and foremost Welsh-speaking). This was a 2008 album inspired by the American motoring mogul, again made with Boom Bip (the pair perform as the electronic duo Neon Neon). “We were touring that album, and the shows gradually became more theatrical,” Rhys says. “Har Mar Superstar [the musician and performance artist] came on board to play John DeLorean. A dance group told us they had worked out some moves, so they joined in as well. But it was all very ad hoc – at the end we said, ‘Next time it would be nice to do this properly.’”
All that remained was to find another suitably controversial figure. Rhys realised he had his man when a friend recommended a biography written by Feltrinelli’s son. It is quite a narrative: born into a privileged family, Feltrinelli became passionately interested in workers’ rights. He was the first person to publish Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, having smuggled the manuscript out of Russia. He went missing in Bolivia, endured interrogation by the CIA, and was photographed playing basketball with the Cuban revolutionary leader – an episode that inspired a track called Hoops With Fidel. Returning to Italy, he became involved in leftwing paramilitary activity. “It’s quite hard to think of any British equivalent,” Rhys says. “It would be like discovering Richard Branson was secretly running a terrorist organisation.”
The unexplained gaps in the publisher’s career became a blank canvas to be filled with Boom Bip’s oblique, synthpop soundscapes. “Feltrinelli idolised Castro,” Boom Bip says. “His great dream was to establish a communist republic on the island of Sardinia. So what we’ve tried to do is imagine the kind of music that might have come out of Feltrinelli’s Mediterranean Cuba, had it ever existed.”
The publisher’s death has never been adequately explained. Some suggest he was assassinated by the Italian authorities, rather than a victim of his own faulty timer. “Even in his own country, he name of Feltrinelli is mostly associated with bookstores, or leftwing extremism from a period in Italian history that people would rather forget,” says Rhys. “But we looked through the family archives in Milan and there he is with Che Guevara, with Warhol, with Hemingway. He had this uncanny ability to keep cropping up at critical moments in 20th-century history – like a communist Forrest Gump.”
(from The Quietus)
by Neil Macdonald , April 29th, 2013 07:34
The second album from Boom Bip and Gruff Rhys’ Neon Neon collaboration is - like its predecessor - a concept album based upon the life of a single individual. While the pair’s debut, Stainless Style, addressed the turbulent life of American automobile executive John DeLorean (and his subsequent bankruptcy), Praxis Makes Perfect thanks its existence to the life and times of Italian left-wing publisher and activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
The Feltrinelli publishing house offered a sanctuary to writers from all over the world from conflicting viewpoints, from the Beats to Doris Lessing, Chairman Mao to Boris Pasternak to Debray, magical realists, the revolutionary left, classics, art, mathematics, physics, science, philosophy, music. Imagined over many months, many thousands of miles and via a shared copy of Feltrinelli’s biography, Praxis Makes Perfect is a shimmering, succinct pop album born from the joint pedigree of two of the most imaginative men in modern music.
Addressing the political upheavals that took place in 20th-century Italy with direct reference to the actions and reactions of Feltrinelli and his followers, the record is as informed as it is fun, exemplified perfectly by lead single ‘Mid-Century Modern Nightmare’ including a cameo by actor Asia Argento, who voices a call to arms that Feltrinelli broadcast to the masses in Genoa with a pirate transmitter from a Fiat car in 1970.
How did you become aware of Feltrinelli?
Gruff Rhys: I was given a copy of Senior Service, which is the biography of Feltrinelli by his son, Carlo Feltrinelli. I was given that by an Italian friend about ten years ago. I read it a couple of times because it’s a story of biblical proportions. Ten years later we ended up making the record!
Boom Bip: Gruff sent the book to me, after he’d mentioned it when I’d been in London, at his flat, hanging out. I think he had some note in the book, something like “if we ever decide to do another biographical record, this has potential”. So I read the book, and it was very shocking. It was a very inspiring story from the start.
Since your first album was also biographical, was it easy enough to start making this one, based on what you’d both learned about this man?
BB: Yeah. I think we really felt like we’d established a way of working together, with the first record, that kind of put us inside this conceptual box that felt like a really good way to work. Gruff and I both make very personal music in our solo projects, and in other projects, so it fits that when we come together we have such a strong theme and subject that it just really helps set up the guidelines for how the record should develop and sound. And of course Gruff takes the story and translates it into a more poetic sense with the lyrics. The concept to me is a really fun and different way of working compared to how I work on and develop the solo Boom Bip stuff. It’s a nice relief from that.
That makes me think that the two of you were waiting to make a second Neon Neon record. Were you waiting for the right subject to base it on?
BB: I think a lot of it has to do with timing. It’s quite difficult being on different continents, and with the solo work, and with everything else that we have going on. That’s why we were uncertain whether there would be a second one. With this one it was the matter of all the elements coming together. The Feltrinelli story was one we had discussed and found very inspiring a while ago, then Gruff kind of came out of the blue with some really strong demos that were incredible right from the start. So it went from uncertainty to diving straight into it once I heard those demos, and we decided that we actually did have a little gap of time where we could make this happen.
I can hear Super Furries noises in the record and I can hear Boom Bip noises in the record. How do you work together, being based so many thousands of miles apart?
GR: We try not to work apart, you know? Bryan came over here last year, and we demoed the whole record, then Bryan did some tinkering over the next few months, and then I went out to Los Angeles for a week where we worked really intensely on it. Then we had an insane Italian road trip to finish up the record, recording various people and visiting the Feltrinelli library and things like that, before mixing it. So we didn’t really record it apart. We kind of limited the instrumentation, and Bryan as a producer is quite good at making sure we don’t go overboard with too many different instruments, and keep it simple. Sometimes on my own records I’ll just throw everything in there, and the sounds can vary wildly within an album, whereas I enjoy these records because we really focus on them and we choose the sounds carefully. I suppose that’s how we reign everything in.
BB: I think the first one was kind of a learning experience, where we did go all over the place and use a lot of different sounds. This one definitely had a lot more focus, whether it be with the instrumentation or the concept. It was a learning experience compared to the first one, because we did have to do a few of the songs by post, and there was a lot of work going on in separate rooms for the first album, so both of us really wanted to make sure we were in the same room for this. With that, and with the focus on instrumentation, it all flowed and became very cohesive in the end.
Gruff mentioned an Italian road trip. Did people know who he was and were they happy to hear what you were up to?
GR: He’s quite a well known and divisive figure in Italy. He opened a chain of bookshops in Italy, and they’re still there. He’s still a controversial figure but everybody we worked with was interested in his story, and were sympathetic to him.
It’s a very literal album, lyrically. Is it easier to address something directly than to just suggest?
GR: It’s a nice break, writing about someone else and imagining scenarios. Also, we didn’t want to make an earnest record of political rhetoric so it’s quite detached in a way. It’s quite a melodramatic record. We’ve removed his life story to the golden age of the Victor jukebox, so it’s fun to write in a kind of detached way! It was like a soap opera.
BB: It’s like that with the music as well. There are definitely tones and instruments there that we would never use in our own material. With Neon Neon it just kinda feels like we can put all that aside and have fun with it, and really try to create a strong aesthetic and theme, you know? We’re not afraid of certain tones that we would be afraid of in our other music.
So do you think if you brought the ideas and techniques that you employ for Neon Neon to your own stuff, people would be confused?
GR: It’s a distinct sound. When I listened back to this when we’d finished, it did sound like a Neon Neon record, and I didn’t realise we had a ‘band sound’. I think we’ve found some music language that we enjoy. It’s like a holiday, you know? And the music is like some weird holiday disco.
Before you two met, at what point in your lives were you becoming aware of each others’ music? And how did you actually meet?
GR: We ended up on tour together in 2002 in America, on a Super Furry Animals tour. We travelled together for a few weeks, and I guess I would have heard the Circle record [Boom Bip’s 2000 collaboration LP with Doseone] and stuff like that. I think we started to mess about with music quite soon after meeting up.
BB: I just had a kind of one-man show at the time, so I was not in a very good position to drive my own car following the tour bus, so the Super Furries were nice enough to have me on their tour bus. That was just a full-on experience of all things Furries. I’d heard of Super Furry Animals, but at the time I wasn’t too aware of their music. At the time I felt like they were one of the bands I knew I would like, but I’d never heard their music. So I grabbed a few of their CDs prior to the tour and I had them on my laptop, but I remember the real first time was in Detroit. I think that might have been our first show, on the Rings Around The World tour, and I was standing there in soundcheck and was just blown away. They had the surround-sound system, and I remember thinking, “fuck! This is a real band and I’m just some laptop guy!” As we hung out on the bus we realised that we listened to a lot of the same bands and had a lot of things in common with music, so towards the end of the tour I was working on a new record and I asked Gruff if he would want to do something on a song. I think that was the first time we actually discussed working together. It was a few months after that that we actually did something, I think I did a remix for Super Furries and Gruff did ‘Do’s And Don’ts’ on my record.
How much does mid-twentieth century culture impact our lives today? What are the positives and negatives?
GR: I’m completely guilty of milking that period for all it’s worth, but I do find it frustrating. I remember a couple of years ago being asked to fill in a Quietus Baker’s Dozen of my favourite albums, and as I was about to do it I started to write down what I considered to be my favourite records, and I just thought my list was completely unacceptable. By the time I wrote them down it was like “why do I like this?! Is it just because it’s been sold to me by a corporation?” I started re-evaluating why I’m listening to certain records. So I think that era has a natural grip, but it’s also one of the periods in time where there was the greatest distribution of wealth in modern history. It’s the period when the trade unions were at their strongest and the money was being distributed evenly. Maybe that’s a factor in why it seems to be some golden age.
Last time you toured you brought quite a cast along with you; I remember Har Mar Superstar and Cate Le Bon both being part of the band. Have you got anything like that lined up this time?
GR: When we started touring the last record it was strange in a way, because we’d recorded the album as a studio record and we didn’t have big touring plans. The record was maybe more popular than we imagined, I don’t know… There was some kind of demand to tour, and we ended up going on the road without having thought very much about it. By the end of the tour the gigs sort of caught up with the record, and Har Mar Superstar started to become John DeLorean, and it became a conceptual gig. I think the last show we did, we had choreographed dances and and all kinds of shit, and it was great! We thought, “ah, this is what we should have done from the beginning!” With this tour we want to start at that point, so we got together with the National Theatre Of Wales - who are quite a radical theatre company - and they’re helping us to construct Feltrinelli’s life story! And we’ve got a load of actors, and explosions and things. We’re doing five nights in Cardiff in May, then we’re doing five nights in London in June. It’s going to be the full production for a few nights, and then we’re going to play some festivals with whoever we can salvage. We’ll do a stripped down version over the summer.
Are you going to stretch the songs out for this? The songs on the record are pretty short.
G: Yeah. We’ve recorded an EP called Years Of Lead which is about the dark last four years of Feltrinelli’s life. It’s a much darker EP, but it’s still synthetic. We didn’t want to record any organic instrumentation on the album, although we cheated a bit, but it’s pretty much a synthetic record. The EP is even more synthetic and it’s darker. We’ll be stretching out some of the more ‘disco’ numbers from the album and we’ll be incorporating this EP. I’m sure some DeLorean songs will gatecrash as well.
“Things have to change just to stay the same” Gruff Rhys soothes in that inimitable North Walian croon of his on a track entitled The Leopard. It features on the forthcoming sophomore Neon Neon record Praxis Makes Perfect, the project comprising the Super Furry Animal and Boom Bip – aka Bryan Hollon – but the song itself derives its title from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s seminal Il Gattopardo, a revered literary work first posthumously published by the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore in 1958. And irrespective of the “fascist architecture” cited amid the oppressive industrial electropop of another named The Jaguar, this is a work inspired not so much by Italy and Italian culture, but instead by Feltrinelli and the leftist counterculture that he so staunchly upheld.
As such, whereas their immaculately named début Stainless Style centred itself around the life and agitated lifestyle of John Delorean, it’s not so much Back to the Future as back to the past as Rhys and Hollon here move on to the founder of Italy’s most illustrious casa editrice. Feltrinelli serves as their muse and although perhaps not the most transparently logical of progressions, faint threads do indeed connect the two men: “Both Delorean and Feltrinelli have life stories that are extremely dramatic and frequently contradictory” Gruff delicately confirms. “We couldn’t consider following up a record [dedicated] to John Delorean until we’d found someone with a story that was equally unlikely.”
About as unlikely, say, as a Welsh-speaking region in southernmost South America, I’d suggest. For those of you to have seen Gruff’s typically psychedelic voyage of self-discovery across the area – Separado! –you’ll be only too aware of his far-flung heritage, though is there any Italian influence swimming about in either his, or Hollon’s gene pool? “Well, the Romans invaded Wales three millennia ago, but other than that I’m not aware of any” Rhys admits. So what was it that first attracted the pair to Feltrinelli? Bryan at this particular moment takes the mantle: “Gruff had received a senior service book from his friend Tico, who is this Italian pharmacist. He read the book, and I think I was over at Gruff’s for a barbecue or something in London when he mentioned it, and spoke of how it was a really crazy story. And then a few months later, he sent me the book with a note in it saying if I ever wanted to do another autobiographical album, then this could be it – Feltrinelli could be the guy.
“So I read the book, and it was just insane. We talked about it a little bit after, but then it kinda went quiet for a while. But Gruff had by then written a couple demos concerning Feltrinelli’s story and once we had a gap in our other project outside of Neon Neon, we decided to get together in Wales to track up the demos and really develop the story.”
And make no mistake – although obscure at first, there’s an intense narrative connecting every piece of Praxis Makes Perfect. Thus far, however, if you’ve as yet only heard the sassy Cate Le Bon-featuring Mid Century Modern Nightmare then the key themes may be yet to reveal themselves. Though this concise centrepiece is a fundamental chapter in itself – a monolithic, hypermodern pop song. And the pop tag is one that Neon Neon are more than happy to have up in their increasingly inviting storefront: “I think it’s a pop record, you know?” Rhys tranquilly concurs. “That’s one of the enjoyable things in a way – that we’re able to try out ideas that we would otherwise shy away from on our solo records. And so Neon Neon is basically a fantasy pop group, within which we get to turn all our super-synthetic fantasies into musical realities.”
Though at the very core of Mid Century Modern Nightmare is a potent political message that rallies against the stagnation of popular culture at large. It’s a plea which is as pertinent today as it was in the oppressive atmospheres of the Communist 1940s and ’50s – albeit to a less noxious, if artistically speaking self-imposed extent. And this juxtaposition between cerebral, conceptual theme and a spangly, ebullient pop aesthetic is immediately striking. It’s surreptitious communiqué in the spirit of Feltrinelli himself, though this is perhaps purely incidental as Rhys calms the conspiracy theories: “We’re very conscious of some aspects – musical aspects, and the choosing of certain sounds. That’s all very conscious but other things just happen, and it’s just the conclusion we come to. And so it’s better not to question something that comes quite naturally anyway.”
“It is a detached record. It’s not one of disguised political rhetoric, but more… melodramatic, I think.”
But this lead single – it stands as a protest against the monotonous dross we’ve come to accept of popular culture at this, the start of the proceeding century: the flavourlessness of commercial dance music; the whitewash brainwashing of television; the suppression of genuine artistry by the enduring inanities of the internet. These are all concerns discreetly attacked via the medium of imagery of Feltrinelli looking down upon the bourgeoise from his “panoramic window” though without doubt, we’re now inhabiting overwhelmingly perturbing times for those with any form of musical agenda, or even a mere vested interest. And such premonitory notions turn to disquiet Gruff “sometimes, you know? But I’m as guilty as anyone of plundering the past!”
This of course couldn’t be truer, what with the entirety of the Neon Neon discography thus far being autobiographical reconceptualisations of the histories of the two disparate individuals to have served as the recordings’ respective muses. His solo endeavours meanwhile – frequently articulated in a lilting Welsh lingo – call upon the folksy eccentricities of the Fairport Convention etcetera more often than not, while the Super Furry Animals were bred from the ’70s in which Rhys spent many of his formative years. And the hyperbolic lamenting of the decline of contemporary music in the interim is “something I definitely, categorically think about.”
Though to return our attentions to the here, the now and Neon Neon, as was Stainless Style their latest has been baptised with a quite flawless title. Though as the project itself has developed, has the synergy Rhys and Hollon share in evolved in such a way so as to suggest that praxis really does make perfect? “In a way we are trying to make quite perfectionist pop music, I suppose” Gruff hesitantly intones. “We found the title in the Feltrinelli library – it was a heading in an old ’60s countercultural magazine that was in the collection – and I mean it’s obviously dangerous putting perfect in the title, but it seemed to fit in with this record. And so too with the last one.” But how has the dynamic matured? “I think it’s constantly changing and evolving. I think?” he quizzes the metaphysical conference hall we find ourselves in puzzled, his Celtic brogue drifting up and away inquisitively as it feels for his counterpart over the ocean.
Of course that the three of us should be sat at various coordinates scattered across the world and locked into a conference call – itself a modern nightmare if you will, replete with distinctly unmemorable PIN numbers, disquieting American accents, unending dial tones and so on – is indicative of the drastic ways in which technology has facilitated modern-day communication. It’s opened the world right up, and it’s a waking reality many of us are yet to compute with. I conflict with it personally, and it’s something of a wonder this conversation takes place at all, I feel. Though how did the record itself come about?
Bryan intervenes for only a second time: “It was a pretty even divide this time between Los Angeles and Wales. And we also spent some time in Italy recording and conducting research. But the initial demos were tracked in Wales and I then brought those back to L.A. to tinker with them, and try to decide on the best instrumentation, sounds, and so on. Gruff then flew over, by which time I’d compiled a few key synthesisers, drums and different things to help define the sound.” So much more intensely involving and so too innovative than your average hands-off pop troupe, then. “So we spent a few weeks here kinda tracking-out and recording the majority of the record. It was really nice this time ’cause we pretty much recorded the whole thing in the same room, together. And there’s a really cohesive feel to it because of that…”
Hollon says little, though what he does utter is largely irrefutably true and Praxis Makes Perfect makes for a thoroughly cohesive album. An illogically coherent one even, as wasStainless Style yet they’ve this time favoured a more versatile, and sonically varied palette. The opening title track systematically works its way through the acute precisions of Germanic techno and electronica while its closing canzone, Ciao Feltrinelli, sees Mediterranean acoustic twangs interwoven with a glistering Balearic kind of balladry. Variety is the unmistakable spice with which the record is seasoned, and that despite the fact that they “tried to limit the number of instruments on the record to make it gel that bit better.” Rhys continues with a cursory compare and contrast: “I suppose the difference is that the last record had the motorik groove inspired by the car factories, whereas this is a more relaxed record.”
And certainly he himself sounds that bit more at ease than he did when we last spoke, but Praxis Makes Perfect is less a personal reflection of where its authors were at both mentally and physically when the songs were first conceived, and more “where Feltrinelli took us”, he assures me with a steadfast conviction. “We wanted to remove ourselves from the rhetoric and relocate to a kind of melodramatic Mediterranean atmosphere. And that was in complete contradiction to the politics of the time.”
Boom Bip butts in: “And I think similarly, that diversity comes from the story itself. It’s really not the instrumentation which creates that range, but rather the theme of each individual song. Both of the protagonists we’ve chosen thus far have led really turbulent lives with loads of highs and lows, and so that’s kinda how both of the records flow, you know? They’re composed of extremes, and it’s that real feel of natural diversity which powers this record. Each song keeps the story bobbing along and so musically, the album traces Feltrinelli’s story.”
Though what the album ultimately represents is a multi-faceted reflection of contrast and contradicting identity. It’s symptomatic of Rhys’ incessant stylistic transmutation though with their every concept vicariously directed by a deceased historical figure – one American; the other Italian – and the authors of these works themselves hailing from the two opposing sides of the North Atlantic, the project is not only one of profound collaboration but so too of contradistinction. And it thus becomes an escapist endeavour in kind – one which is devoid of definitive time and place. “Yeah, we’ve tried to remove Feltrinelli himself from that era” reckons Rhys, “and it seemed to make sense to us that we should try to evoke some kind of synthetic beachside atmosphere.” Naturally. “Feltrinelli was interested in the Third World, and the concept of the nonaligned states that were out of sync with NATO and the Soviet Bloc. He was drawn to Cuba, Yugoslavia, and Indonesia and I find it interesting that we should therefore make a really humid record!”
Thus that which joins the dots between these remote locations is the littoral connection. Whether Los Angeles, Wales, or the emulation of this Mediterranean ambience as is so often the case with Welsh artists the sea appears to be seeping into all that they do. “It’s probably not consciously” Bryan subdues as rippling guffaws ensue, “but you can’t help having those things influence you in some way or another. And, you know, that’s always been the mindset we’ve put ourselves in.” Their primary objective, this time, is to therefore “keep the Mediterranean vibes alive.”
It’s another element that is at once at odds with its predecessor: “When we started talking about the record, it was going to be like a Communist industrial album, but it didn’t quite turn out like that!” Title track aside, I would contend. “Instead, it went Europop!”, Rhys’ voice immediately onomatopoeic. “Though there’s an EP called Years of Lead, which is coming out with the LP and that’s a 4-track release which is more in tune with how we imagined the record was going to be. It’s amazing how music can take you places you really wouldn’t expect! And initially, that happens on a synthesiser but then you find yourself physically taken somewhere by the music itself. For example, I never expected to be recording with Sabrina Salerno [who features on the gloopy Europop bim bloopery of album standout Shopping (I Like To)] in Venice, you know? I never imagined I’d sing a duet with her – it’s something I never imagined would happen to me. It’s beyond any kind of fathomable reality, really!”
Thus there are indeed definitive places to which Neon Neon, as a vehicle, has transported the duo – not least when they come to perform live, of course. That most memorable instance was at Glastonbury when, in the midst of a blistering heatwave and with theStainless Style show in a very much prototypal phase of existence, Rhys sat static in a director’s chair for the duration while an array of liggers pranced artlessly about his reclined, and patently relaxed figure. It is a project which effortlessly lends itself to collaboration – distilled from the very essence thereof – and the live experience is to benefit from this to a greater effect later on in the year, as they are to team up with the National Theatre Wales for a slew of shows in both Cardiff and London. “It’s gonna be mental” by Gruff’s own admission though for want of not divulging too much, he stops at informing of there being “a cast of actors, and it will be a real experience that’s radically different to the generic concert format.”
Again, the inevitable comparison: “Last time, we started playing the record and just played the songs [straight]. We were touring a concept record and by the end of the touring, that too had become a concept in itself. Har Mar Superstar ended up becoming John Delorean, and by the end we had our own dance troupe. So this time, we wanted to start at that point, and create a concert which will be equally far-out as the album itself. Or one which at least helps to tell the story!
“It’s maybe just the atmosphere. There won’t be a straight narrative, but people will be engaged by political elements. People will have to make judgements and hopefully they’ll come away with a better outlook, or a better understanding of Feltrinelli’s legacy…”
Quite what that is I’ve as yet only a few impressions and inklings foggy as Milan itself, but Hollon is hopeful it may engender “a desire to buy loads of books, and to learn Italian!” The pair are, however, somewhat self-effacing when it comes to their own linguistic capabilities. Gruff’s, he self-deprecatingly confesses, is “nonexistent” before Bryan corroborates: “Yeah, shit. It’s terrible!” Perhaps it’s of little surprise – their time spent in Italia has thus far been somewhat minimised – though again, Praxis Makes Perfect is a record which transcends geographical confinement anyhow: “We just spent an intense few days there. We’ve both toured Italy a little bit here and there, but we were helped out by some Italian friends who live over here. And I suppose the Feltrinelli story is quite international anyway, in that he was married to a German woman, was smuggling books out of the USSR, couriering money to Bolivia, and playing basketball with Fidel Castro in Havana [the inevitable anecdotal inspiration for loveably sultry album track Hoops with Fidel.] So I think the album is more about the Third World than Italy, in a way.”
And so we return to where we once began – with Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. A man ahead of his time – as was Delorean, of course – but one constricted by the era into which he was born and subsequently impounded within. Though as does every human being, he did what he could with that which he had at his disposal. “He smuggled Doctor Zhivago[another literary work from which a track incarcerated on the album takes its name] out of the USSR, and they kicked him out of the Communist party for it – for being a dissident. He hid it under his bed in east Berlin, and went out nightclubbing. So his influence is everywhere – it’s beyond the books and finds itself in films, and it was he who popularised the famous image of Che Guevara. He took that photo and turned it into posters, so it’s more than just the man. I mean the man was full of contradictions, and he was living in a time of violent civil war which, you know, doesn’t translate well to any period but his legacy – his books, and his ability to popularise some radical ideas that could potentially make society a better place…”
His legacy looks sure to live on, even though Gruff’s words abruptly stop dead and doze off. He’ll have you back with him soon enough, however, and your world will then undoubtedly become a far better place for it.