woensdag 24 februari 2016

IANVA: People know where they can find IANVA. And those who still don't know, will find us sooner or later if they really want to hear something actually “against” the present times that isn't just blather.

IANVA, pronounced Ya-noo-ah (like their hometown Genua) is an Italian dark folk band which is not so known in Belgium, which is a pity, because these Italians are unique and worthwhile to discover. So, it was my purpose to ask a few questions to introduce them to our Belgian readers... but everyone who knows singer and spokesman Mercy (real name Renato Carpaneto) knows he isn't satisfied with short answers...

DE: Italy seems to be a protagonist in the dark folk scene, how do you Italians experience this, is there really a so-called Italian scene?
Mercy: I think that in recent years we have seen a downward trend in the “dark folk/neofolk scene”.
Given that, it's great that there are some Italian bands which still stand up and maintain a profile that's quite high in terms of quality compared to the rest of Europe.
Though it's a positive fact that here in Italy there are a bunch of good bands and nice releases, I'm not so sure however that this can be regarded as “a scene”.
I believe a real scene needs a common objective, project or goal. I tried for a while to work following this path, but some events of the last few years have proven it to be a titanic challenge. To be frank these days, I’m not certain whether it’s worth it or just flogging a dead horse.
And that's a real pity because the situation in Italy is extremely unfortunate, to say the least.
Here in Italy our band, the scene in which we are (rightly or wrongly) included, and everything else that can be listed under the entry “heretic art” is hard pressed to survive let alone flourish.
Bluntly, we must live with one of the worst mainstream scenes in the whole world.
The media keep on stubbornly ignoring all the things that don't come under the “collaborative” area of the establishment. Added to this there's a new generation of kids who are much more depersonalised, passive and conformist than their fathers ever were.
This sort of people (which unfortunately comprises a large part of the Italian audience and even some "scenesters" of goth milieu) perceive the content, features and peculiarities of our scene as totally alien. Their exercising of such a base level of xenophilia results in a general overestimation of foreign bands and artists that in some cases are clearly phony.
It’s tragic but unfortunately a fair and accurate picture of the situation in our country at the moment.

DE: IANVA is quite obsessed with history, and you guys are very well informed! Is history a real passion for the band, or do you have even more with that issue?

Mercy: History has always been a passion for me. If my life had not taken an unexpected direction when I was 20 I think I would have taken a career in that field as a teacher or researcher. That said, my background and academical modicum have had only partial impact in shaping IANVA's imagery.
The only dimension which still remains untouched is that I'm extremely meticulous in the philological approach to all those issues I deal with each single time.
But, regarding the plotline, when it comes to build some good moods, I prefer to use the “devices” of pure fiction. Or, to be more specific, those “devices” coming from the narration of the historical events done by the fiction of past decades (especially the Italian fiction).
In some way, our releases always involve an epic saga coming to life and unwinding through the songs. We present a heroic storytelling that has the same characteristic features of some old movies and great historical novels drawn from popular fiction of the 20th century.
While I love History as a subject, I'm very much more interested in the perception of History that our ancestors had while they lived during specifically crucial events.
After all, in many ways we are as much the result of the continuous collision and confluence between ordinary people and great historical events which contributed to connect or divide them, to raise them or sweep them away.
We are the summation (sometimes even the genetic outcome) of many casual events. It seems to me that the essential and intentional components arising from the perceptions our ancestors drew from the last few centuries of European history (realistic or misleading) has often been more formative than the events themselves.
What could be more fascinating and compelling to explore and narrate than this?
I find it nigh on impossible to understand people who are surprised and get skeptical about this when I try to explain and spell out the real issues we deal with in our songs.
Do people really want to hear and see the same old things time and time again?
Are they so trapped in the web of modernity and routine that they feel compelled to express such disgust and antipathy for anything made and born to move away from the present moment?
That is of course a rhetorical question because unfortunately the answer is “Yes”.
I feel very sorry for those people and not simply because they will never be IANVA fans – I have rather more serious and less selfish reasons than that.

DE: There are a lot of dark folk bands who hide behind a “dark curtain”, politically I mean, with symbols but with no clear statement... IANVA is politically-free, obviously, what do you think of bands who flirt with things such as war, and the Third Reich, or like in Italy fascism? Because that's also a way to attract some “wrong” people who don’t really understand what it's all about.

Mercy: This debate has been going on for more than 20 years without any rational resolution of the matter and now you're asking me the reason why.
The answer I can give you is the most obvious and evident that you can imagine: it’s because because both parts concerned lack maturity.
Just look at them: one part constantly set against the other one its “adamant” certainties, all based on foundations made of astounding vagueness.
It's a display that could be ludicrous and farcical, were it not for the fact that one can clearly feels a disingenuous undercurrent of hypocrisy and deceit within it. It’s a pervasive tell-tale whiff of carelessness and ignorance that I personally find offensive and annoying.
Anyway, it's certainly correct to say that there's a fundamental problem that should be dealt with. Today the identity/globalization theme is an extremely serious and all-encompassing issue.
It involves not only politics and economy, but also environment, countryside, arts and even anthropology. To cut it short: we must be referring to the whole meaning and the quality of life.
On this point a serious and general debate around this issue should have arisen.
It is a thing that should concern our generation and create a huge movement.
What has happened instead? Nothing.
Nothing happened because this major and crucial question has been taken over by some neo-nazi ultra minorities or sometimes (as for some artists) only apparently linked to these political views.
If those people are as seriously concerned as they suggest about the devastating effect of globalization on culture and society, why do they keep returning to the same dangerous fascination and its symbols? Don’t they have something better to do with themselves?
I've always been pissed off by the fascination of evil this scene seems to be so permeated and saturated with: criminal ideologies, serial killers...
Suddenly a rigorous question, a constructive criticism, an anxiety based on a solid and real foundation materialize and what do these people do?
Instead of wondering how they can try to become reliable spokesmen of that question, they pretend they don't understand that adopting and using symbols discredited by History itself is the best way to discredit and neutralise even the most topical and righteous point of view.
Then they keep on acting like victims when they're threatened, ostracized and boycotted.
In these cases, I really don't understand where bad-faith ends and stupidity begins.
Nevertheless, on the other side of the fence you can find people whose intellectual and spiritual misery is without parallel in present-day society.
And I'm talking about some organisations of so-called “anti-fa”.
I'm always ready to question and debate any subject or issue with anybody. Thanks to my background and good disposition I'm always inclined to respect everyone's ideas, as long as our respective positions are realistic and reasonable.
But the very same premise of the so-called “mission” of those people (i.e.: Europe is threatened by the ongoing menace of a nazi-fascist resurgence and they must constantly monitor, watch over, seek and destroy every little opinion and artistic expression that is not full in line with their narrow and petty handbook) is, on its own, totally irrational.
People with this stance have become a sort of primitive Thought Police and there's really no need to be “fascist” to see what kind of narrow-minded orwellian “Thought-cops” they are.
Ultimately, it's people like us who are bound to lose out either way.
Being part of any camp, aligning oneself with one of those sides without critical examination of their respective propaganda certainly provides benefits and advantages. It may be only in small amounts but it is always guaranteed.
Likewise, a free mind, style, freedom of judgement and being a “maverick” when you create is an expensive path and it often doesn't pay well.
It is for this reason most artists just stick to their respective roles and are happy with that.
It is for this very same reason we're always running the risk of being shot by both sides.

DE: IANVA covers Amsterdam (Jacques Brel), just like your nationals Roma Amor, do have Italians something with this song from our Belgian hero, or with Brel in general?

Mercy: To clarify for foreign readers, our city (Genoa) was the first one in Italy that gave birth to a recognised and well known “chansonniers”/songwriter scene.
It has been acknowledged as a forerunner since the early '60's when critics referred to the “Genoese-style”. It has become sort of a trademark throughout the decades (see Fabrizio De Andrè, Umberto Bindi, Luigi Tenco, etc...).
This happened mainly because Genoa is very close to France, (whose “Chanson” artistic tradition is well known throughout the whole world) and is a port city.
So then, just as in Liverpool or Hamburg it was very easy for the kids to get all the new imported releases. In most cases they bought the records directly from sailors. Once you understand this, it's easy to see why French/Belgian chansonniers had such a powerful influence on all those young students who were dreaming of bohème and revolution.
Brel, Brassens, Leo Ferré, Aznavour are literally the “spiritual guides”, the backbone and foundations of the so-called “Genoese style” - to the point that many songs were translated in Italian and Brel's ones were even translated into Genoese dialect!
The reason behind the spell these great artists (and the Chanson in general) cast on the Genoese scene is obvious: the distrust towards hypocrisy and authoritarianism, the sarcasm and the sadness exhaling from their beautiful songs are deeply rooted in the temperament of all Genoese people.
Beside French Chanson, the Genoese songwriters were influenced by jazz, blues, folk and beat as well.
One could even listen to local artists playing Italian covers of Dylan, Cohen and Ralph McTell when in the rest of Italy nobody knew about them.
But even though this great legacy was so important, we nonetheless had to grow older and disenchanted by the underground scene and its trends to fully reconsider and value it.
All those records our parents used to listen to when we were children surely had a kind of imprinting on our work. The “Genoese style” is not something you can take for granted.
We had to taste the spleen of adulthood, the time of grief and defeat, the bitter flavour of betrayal and lost love affairs to absorb and really learn to master it.
Regarding Brel's “Amsterdam”: Stefania used to sing it with another band almost 15 years before she became a IANVA member, but when we met I still didn't know that.
One night she sang it to me and I was literally so seduced by her version that I swore I had to put it on a record. That was why it was included in IANVA's first EP back in early 2005. Even though it was not very connected to the historical background of the release, that cover version was so powerful and suggestive that justice had to be done - especially given the fact that nobody used to sing Brel in Italy at the time Stefania originally sang her Chanson repertory in the gay club circuit.
In the early '90s in Italy almost nobody was interested in that kind of thing.
All the bands were trying to find “cultural” elements of the great songwriting tradition in things like Italian “militant” hip hop or Italian indie rock because they didn't want to sound too passé or play “music for old farts”.
Amusingly enough these imitative musical styles often sounded to those original foreign ears hilarious and boring even back then!
The further we continue the more I am convinced that we did well when we decided to buck against those trends and “sail” far away from the routes taken by the others.
I don't want to sound conceited or claim bigger credit than we deserve, but you must understand that when we started to try out this alchemy of tradition and new trends, no one would have bet even a cent on our project or the possibility that we would sell even a single copy.

Nonetheless, part of the Italian scene gradually began to pull away from the original path of pure neofolk and introduce new elements and ideas. The Italian goth audience also slowly started to listen to folk music and songwriters of the past decades and I would say that IANVA deserves a little bit of respect for preparing that ground, for breaking through and pointing out the possibility of new ways.

DE: IANVA is a really big (like in large) band, which brings a lot of personal influences. Who is responsible for what, and is it easy to work together and if possible to compromise? Can you introduce the band members also for our readers?

Mercy: It's a hard question to answer... First of all because some original members are not part of the line-up anymore, but their contribution is still a vital element in the mood of the project.
Secondly because we don't work as a regular band and when I try to explain how things work there's a high risk of being misunderstood.
A good example of this is that a while back I said that IANVA is not a “democratic” band but all its members are happy with that because we understand that too many heads can't always take the best decisions...
Heaven forbid! Obviously someone took what I said the way it suited him!
What I really meant is that IANVA is not a project solely based on music; there's a big textual, narrative and aestethical framework that is my exclusive business, with a little help from Stefania.
The other guys are aware of this and don't see it as a restriction, because they know all too well that without their contribution everything would only be a mental masturbation.
When it's time to create and arrange the musical background, all contributions are required. The result of our repeated sessions and everyone’s input is that we get to the heart of the matter together as a result of everyone’s efforts.
We're not satisfied with compromises. When we're in studio we have a clear idea of what is suitable for IANVA and what is not.
Another peculiarity of IANVA is that each single member has a a sort of “flexible” approach in a specific situation or song.
Davide La Rosa (accordion and backvocals in studio) during our gigs is one of the fly-wheels of the band and turns into a great percussionist and multi-instrumentalist.
Whereas Fabio Gremo (classic guitar in our live performances) is the man behind all the orchestral arrangements and a good composer in studio, when he often comes up with complete songs that I then have only to write lyrics for.
During our gigs our man Beppe Spanò has the hard task to play on his keyboards all the orchestral parts we have arranged and recorded in studio. Believe me when I say that’s no easy task! On top of being our piano player, in the last few months his role has become increasingly vital in composing the new tracks for our next album.
On stage Fabio Carfagna just plays his rhythm giutar, but in studio he's one of our finest and dynamic members, especially in the early stages when all new ideas need to be written down and fixed. Together with Marco “Azoth” (our bass player) he's part of that “metal contingent” which gives IANVA that particular “heavy flavour” for our live gigs.
We met Gianluca Virdis (on trumpet) 5 years ago, when he was really very young. He immediately filled the gap and got a role that is absolutely basic to our sound, both live and in studio.
Last but not least there's Francesco La Rosa, our drummer.
It's hard to explain just how important this guy is! When on stage the audience can barely see him behind his huge drum-kit but let me tell you: not only is he the only other “survivor” of the original IANVA line-up (just like me); he's also the guy who, technically speaking, recorded and shaped the ninety percent of all IANVA releases.
Francesco and I are the teamwork behind all the fresh ideas that the rest of the band will develop at a later stage. He’s also the partner with whom I test all the musical backgrounds which generally aren’t played by traditional instruments (i.e.: samples, etc...).
As for Stefania, well, she's a different matter again.
People are prone to underestimate her creative contribution in this band because she doesn't play any instrument. But she's absolutely crucial both in studio and on stage. She's the one who constantly watches over our tracks and acts as a filter when some of our ideas run the risk to become cheap and rough. Among all the members of IANVA, she's probably the one gifted with taste and aesthetic accuracy. Her advice and/or veto are absolutely fundamental – and always timely.

DE: The first time I heard IANVA was when I listened to the weekly podcast Aural Apocalypse, which is still hardly missed because it was a huge source of information about new releases and bands. In a rather closed subculture, how difficult is it to find some new souls and in
which ways do you manage that?

Mercy: It's sad to see that another good and reliable source of information has gone.
We really loved Aural Apocalypse and its host Merrick. Unfortunately this is the essence and the curse of present age: all the good and free voices are silenced one way or another by the mainstream and the media.
The widest possible distribution of information and communication given by internet should have corresponded to freedom and media plurality; but instead homologation and a flattening globalization are triumphing everywhere.
In most cases, internet and the social networks only give individuals the chance to vent all their mediocrity, their frustrations and their incompetence.
Ultimately, this is the very opposite of freedom, because real freedom can distinguish and discern. It does not allow anyone to reduce it to a point where the one “is as good as the other” - and both mean nothing.
In the end, the only way to “win” at this game is just refusing to play it.
As weird it sounds, we think and act in a manner diametrically opposed to what every marketing expert or trendsetter would define as “essential” these days.
We don't like to pester our followers on social networks, we don't like to harass press and promoters, but we're more than happy and honoured to be contacted. We will deal with anyone who is truly interested in our work.
We don't like digital formats, we want to be a physical manifestation (vinyl, CDs, live gigs).
We want to be the consistent opposition to what we have identified as our natural enemy since the very beginning: the most negative mythologies of modern times.
People know where they can find IANVA. And those who still don't know, will find us sooner or later if they really want to hear something actually “against” the present times that isn't just blather.

DE: IANVA exist 12 years, almost 13, can you point us some highlights in the band's history?

Mercy: I think that all depends on what you expect when you start a project.
To me, IANVA is something that belongs intrinsically to my adulthood. The unit of measurement for my work is exclusively artistic - shorn clean of the daydreams of fame and money typical of youth. That is why I say that I can consider the whole operation as a success.
We have survived and keep standing on our own without asking anything of anyone and without impositions or restrictions.
We experimented and experienced as we pleased. We wrote lyrics and sing them in Italian.
We introduced unpredictable style variants in kinds of music that seemed brassbound and sealed. We also got good audiences (even far beyond our national borders) simply by being communicative despite the limits of our language.
That's why I say that I'm quite proud and happy with all of our little accomplishments. I would not throw away a single thing we have done in all these 13 years.
We played in many beautiful countries and places (the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland...), but if you want me to point some highlights, I would surely mention our concert at Il Vittoriale, renowed estate of poet and war hero Gabriele D'Annunzio (IANVA's “spiritual guidance”). That was quite an event both for us and the audience! The atmosphere that night was absolutely magical. Just unforgettable!
Beyond it, I would definitely say the gigs for Wave Gotik Treffen, (who can forget the beautiful Schauspiele in Leipzig?), or when we played in Utrecht at Summer Darkness Festival in that weird and stunning Speelklok Museum...
We are a lucky band. We have played in wonderful places thick with History and Art, where you can actually find and breathe the feeling of the forgotten Old Europe.
There can be no doubt: historical sites, museums and landmarks are the perfect place to see IANVA at their best.

DE: We can catalogise IANVA in the large dark folk stream, but you also have a lot of other influences in your sound, like dark cabaret, soundtrack, just like Roma Amor (here they are again :)).
Which are IANVA’s musical influences, and are there some band favorites you would like to talk about?

Mercy: When we started we wanted to pursue a very simple artistic goal.
After all, genres like neofolk, martial and military-pop only wanted to “give a soundtrack” to History but (in my humble opinion) I think that only a few artists actually managed to produce good results – and for a very short time at that.
What is the sound of History? It seems a silly question, yet it is very hard to answer.
The only thing we know for sure is that History will never have a scrubby and/or petty sound.
History is not a thing you can define as “minimal” (a word so dear to trend-setters and fashionistas). It's a great and massive phenomenon, encompassing all the attributes, ideas and specific characteristics of Man - from the most sublime to the most vile. Sometimes it's made by golden ages where Arts and the Thought flourish but then dreadful events suddenly break out and this alters everything. So how can you think of History as “minimal”?
This is the reason why we did our best to find out the secrets of the maestros of Italian Golden Age of Soundtrack (Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Bruno Nicolai, Franco Micalizzi, Armando Trovajoli...). In the past decades, that was an art for which Italy was renowed in the whole world, but 15/20 years ago the Italian underground scene seemed to have forgotten this.
Back in those days, few people cared about our great composers and all their wonderful scores. IANVA was among those “few brave” artists who refused to take such mastery for granted. Thankfully, today things have changed and you can find many good underground bands that take inspirations from those sounds.
Now I'm sure you’re wondering what this has to do with folk and the answer to that is simple.
If you think about it, all anthems, military music and opera arias are the Audio equivalent to what public construction (i.e: castles, cemeteries, palaces, estates) is in the world of Monuments and Memorials.
Folk music on the other hand pertains to the private sphere of man.
It's the sound of small villages and of keepsakes found in the attics. Again, it is the Sound of History. When the storytelling gets away from the big dimension of historical events and enters the private life of individuals, no language can be more effective than the one provided by centuries of popular tradition.
In our case I would say that IANVA's approach to folk music was rather peculiar.
We know and appreciate the best and most important artists of apocalyptic folk, and that's a fact. But when we started to compose our music we took as our reference point the reinterpretation of folk tradition given by many artists in the late '60s and early '70s. When I say that, I'm talking about that particular genre of psychedelic/progressive folk that had come back in style in those last few years under the name of acid/wyrd folk.
Finally I must also say that all the music we loved, listened and played in the past somehow influenced and shaped our sound.
First of all our “totems” Laibach and In The Nursery (to remain in the field of our “scenes”), followed by new wave, glam rock, metal (from black metal to doom metal) ... the influences are all there.
If you pay attention, you'll notice that all those genres have been “haunted” by the ghost of old European Cabaret sooner or later. It must be a strong “psychic ghost” because it still infuses deep and mixed feelings in the audience, generation after generation.
You will surely remember how the very early English punk movement was fascinated by the European Cabaret due to the influence of our beloved “holy trinity” Bowie/Roxy Music/Lou Reed and of German kraut rock.
Not to mention its influence on Ultravox's first albums, the new romantic subculture, Marc Almond, the early Scott Walker...
These are all great artists, genres and subcultures that we all love and so they are also a big inspiration.
The only thing I frankly don't understand and leaves me disoriented is when some people compare our sound to genres like post rock or symphonic metal. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

DE: IANVA is working on a new album, I guess the working process is done by the band members apart, because I think it's hard to find some dates everyone can be involved at the same time?
What can we expect for the new material, and when will it be released?

Mercy: For practical reasons we work in pairs and I'm generally the “fixed element”.
I can team with Fabio Carfagna and his guitar, or with Beppe and his piano, or with Francesco and our laptops. Of course this is most true in the initial stages that are devoted to composition.
Then other members join the teamwork. It's usually Fabio Gremo's turn with his arrangements, I start to work on tunes, vocal parts and solos for some leading instruments (like the trumpet) and Stefania suggests some important touches and corrections.
In conclusion, the creation of all the tracks the people can listen to in our records is sort of an assembly line style of work.
Finally, all the songs are tested and played in our rehearsal room until they're ready to be played on stage.
At the moment, we're working on our next release, where all the musical and ideal elements typical of our mood through all these years should hopefully find their definitive stylistic peak in a form that we haven’t fully developed in the past.
It's a slow and painstaking work because we have to move from Genova to Bologna, with all that implies. This is where our live sound-engineer (Cristiano Santini of the Italian cult band Disciplinatha) has his excellent studios.
This time we chose to use him for our recording sessions as well. I can tell you that the new album will be released later this year and that it will have a surprising sound even to our most devoted fans' ears while still retaining our unique and recognizable character - as always.
A typical sound (an audio trademark if you will) is a serious goal and it is something that is very hard to achieve, so we must manage this hunger for change that from time to time both artists and audience crave very carefully.
That's the beauty and the most challenging aspect of all this situation.

DE: Will there also be a tour when the record's out?

Mercy: As you can imagine, it's not easy for a nine-piece band to go on tour due to personal engagements and daytime jobs. Furthermore, we're like a little orchestra and many important specs – good backline and PA, a large stage and so on - are all required for our audience to get the proper experience a good performance brings.
That said, this doesn't mean that we'll give up doing gigs. No, not at all.

This is because our supporters and our audience are worthy of all our efforts and because it's good to prove with facts that IANVA is a live band and not the mere result of studio tricks and scams.
We will most surely do some gigs in Italy and I can already anticipate that we'll be part of the bill of Entremuralhas Festival in Leiria (Portugal) next august, which is another great historic place.

DE: IANVA at WGT again, perhaps?

Mercy: You should ask that question to WGT promoters. :)
It has to be said that a band like IANVA (that is totally independent and outside the circuit of big agencies and big labels) is a little bit of an underdog but as far as we're concerned, we'd be extremely glad to be part of the festival again.
We have played at WGT in two different editions and they were both an awesome experience. Packed venues, wonderful audiences, highly professional staff and at the latest one we even had the honour of headlining the neofolk saturday night at Altes Landratsamt.
Needless to say, we had the time of our life, the audience seemed to have enjoyed our performances and the promoters didn't regret they included us in the bill.

We were told that there are many people who would like to see us performing again on WGT stages and we would be happy to do so. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Dimi Brands

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