marcopantella

———– Writer / Music re-views / inter-views / and my points of view ———– The GROUND Magazine / HungerTV

Month: March, 2014

A Conversation with LIARS – a MESS on a mission / The GROUND Magazine

Read it on The GROUND Magazine

Liars-The-GROUND2-980x150

Endless choices lead to endless possibilities and while for some people this condition may result in anxiety and paranoia, Liars apply these side effects at the basis of their creativity and drive. They always manage to take unexpected turns with every release, miles away from their previous work and yet without compromising their identity. From punk-funk, garage rock, dance-punk and even modified drum sounds on 2006′s Drum’s Not Dead Liars’ attempt to experiment with electronic music created the introspective and self-analytical 2012′s WIXIW. Ahed of the release of their seventh album Mess, The Ground spoke to band member Angus Andrew who explains to us what it means to “not only face fear but chewing it up and spitting it back out in all its technicolor glory”. This is the new schizophrenic sound of Liars, aiming for the first time to create a beautiful and colorful mess out of the doubts and fears of our real, yet very fictional, existence.

“It is beautiful here in LA” Angus tells me as soon as I get on the phone with him, but it’s not another ordinary sunny morning in LA, it is the day after the Oscars. “All the celebrities left town” he remarks sounding relieved about it even tough Mess is the band’s third album recorded in the City Of Angels. 2010′s Sisterworld focused on the struggle of finding your own space and identity in  a city like LA while WIXIW saw them intentionally retire into an isolated cabin in the wood to completely remove themselves from the ephemeral and plastic reality of the city. The recording sessions, aimed to analyze their internal anxieties, gave life to a beautifully crafted electronic piece of work. In line with their drastic musical shifts, Mess hides a new intention, to finally attack fear, and music, from a different angle in the same city where false promises and discarded dreams can turn out to be a source of inspiration or at least reflection. “LA can be enticing and it’s difficult to navigate away from that. I was living in Berlin before and that was perfect for avoiding all of this. I felt really nicely isolated because I didn’t speak German and it felt like being in a little bubble. I could cocentrate on my own work with no distractions but in LA is the exact opposite, I’m constantly defending myself from the onslaught of media and things trying to grab my attention. It’s difficult but at the same time possibly inspiring too”.

I think about how schizophrenic LA can be since the day before, as I was listening to Mess for the first time, I felt like I was being assaulted by the analogue synths and electric drum pads. It sounds intense and it literally leaves you breathless track after track, as you witness a direct moment of pure instinct and purposeful abandon. Unlike WIXIW this album doesn’t give you time to stop and think, starting with the opening track Mask Maker. “Generally with the whole record I just wanted to have a lot more fun. WIXIW was a great experience but it was very heavy and quite dark. It was a really tough record to make and it took us a really long time and I wanted this one to be the exact opposite. It had to be spontaneous and immediate to kind of get back to the idea of having fun with making music rather than struggling. The reason why I wanted it to be the first track is because it exemplifies this concept. When I did that vocals that you hear at the start, I spent a few hours in my studio kind of talking to myself in that voice and recording it. It got stranger and stranger as I kept going but I loved the feeling and spontaneity of it. If I had been in the mindset I was when we made WIXIW I propably would have thought about it for a month and then decided that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. Instead with this record I was like that’s it, that’s what we are doing, let’s just live with it! It is a good track to start.”

The doubts Liars always had about human conditions and relationships were the same they experienced with electronic music but in Mess they are almost nonexistent, at least the ones about electronic. “I always wondered how to rid myself of doubt” he sings in Voc D.E.D and questioning everything may just be the reason of their distinctive sound. “Particularly with WIXIW we where making a record for the first time with electronic instruments and what that meant is that we had a manual open all the time, trying to figure out how to use everything. It was very uncertain to me but part of that was a good thing because being in a mood of questioning everything brought out an interesting sort of sensitivity to the music. On the other hand it is also a bit of a plague and with Mess I wanted to avoid that and the best thing to do was just to work faster. It really helped to get rid of that doubt”.

It’s interesting that despite more than ten years in the music business, Liars’s journey has never been a process of reinvention or a strategy plan to keep their sound fresh all the time. Their journey may be defined as an anthropological one, a study on identity and the culture of our generation: anxiety. “I think this idea of too many choices which leads to a certain amount of paranoia and fear is a very common idea for a lot of people today. The song Dress Walker is about this kind of modern situation you may find yourself in. You are overwhelmed by all the possibilities, the amount of media that we get bombarded with everyday and all the choices you have in terms of life itself. Everything isn’t that compartmentalized as it used to be, even in music. You were a rock band or a jazz musician and now every rock band is an electronic artist and vice versa, everything is very mixed up in a  way. Obviously it is a great thing but it’s also paralyzing. I personally feel overwhelmed with choices in every part of my life and it is not an easy thing to deal with. Sometimes what I try to do is to block everything out or say to myself I’m not going to turn on the TV or the radio, I’m just going to focus on these books that I have. Also having a walk somewhere where there are no billboards can help. Most people have strong feelings inside about what they really want to do and achieve but the problem is that they get pushed around by all these other stuff going on. For example, it is difficult for me to listen to pop radio because I know what I want to make musically but if I listen to a new Gaga song, suddenly I’m like Oh my God I really like that , but it’s really not what I wanna be doing.”

The universe of Liars, just like LA, is an endless dichotomy but when it comes to music their challenge is to produce uncommon sounds with common tools. Technological progress is ever-growing and this definitely contributes to Angus’ anxiety and his way of making music. He actually talks about the insanity of progress in the song Pro Anti Anti but not because he’s a traditional guy. “It’s just admitting that it is hard to keep up with technology. There are artists who embrace technology just like a photographer who is really up on all the new equipments and saves his money to buy the latest lens or camera but there are also the ones who just want to shoot images with their crappy old camera. It’s the same with music but I don’t love the idea of keeping track of the new trends, instruments and programs. I wish I was more technologically advanced but at the same time I don’t want to use the apps on the iPad to make music, it is not interisting to me. I see how it could be and I love that Björk is into that for example but it’s not me”.

Mess On A Mission is the first single off the album and despite its immediacy, it raises the problem of what is real and what is not. In the song, Angus almost commands the listeners to “trash the book the film’s half based on” but if life is a film, on which book is it based on for him? “I just have to go with my gut reaction and that would be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just because ever since I was a kid I really connected with the character of Charlie Bucket. He’s a very poor kid but with big dreams. The whole movie kind of speaks interestingly about society, greed and the way people take advantage of each other. Groundhog Day with Bill Murray could be another option”. It also seems necessary to mention and remind oneself that “facts are facts and fiction’s fiction” no matter how near of far we live from the Hollywood hills. Angus tells me “the most basic fact to live by is that you gotta be honest, with yourself most of all. That’s where our band’s name kind of comes from because we’re really trying to be honest. The biggest fiction is success, money, popularity and all these things that make for a good life. I think that’s just bullshit. The most important thing is to be happy with what you do yourself, that’s the key to living a good life”.

Julian Gross, the drummer of the band, is also the maker of the artwork for Mess and the long colorful thread that we have been seeing in the album’s trailers. Inspired by contemporary artist Urs Fischer and conceptual artist John Baldessari, Liars wanted to manipulate something in a live setting, as to express their uneasiness towards life in a fucked up, but most importantly vibrant way. “I love contemporary art, particularly conceptual art, that’s where I get a lot of inspiration from. The simple idea that the idea itself is the most important thing rather than the product and end result fascinates me. I love that because it removes this emphasis on technical skills. I like the idea that anyone who has a very interesting idea can put it forward without being a professional painter or musician. The idea of a ‘mess’ is obviously what we where trying to talk about and it is a very personal sort of subjective opinion. If you walked into my bedroom right now you would say that there’s such a mess but ,ayne for me it’s actually really clean. It’s just a way of seeing things differently and I like that about our artwork. One person can look at it and think oh that’s just a pile of strings but another person can realize that it is a very specifically placed and very worked on piece”. Where does he intend to lead his fans following that string in the trailers? “Hopefully it is leading people to think about how they asses what they see in everyday life. To make them think about, or second guess, whether they think what they saw is what it really is”.

Doubt and uncertainty once again. Mess may be a cathartic experience and a way to release some pressure on the subject but sticking to electronic music to finally find some sort of balance doesn’t seem the solution. The more unstable the territory, the more likely is the chance to find Liars there on a mission. “If I had to guess I wouldn’t bet any money at the moment. We spent quite a bit of time now with electronic instruments and I do find myself thinking about how nice it would be to sit in a room with an acoustic guitar and a microphone and just have fun. It is exciting to not know what we are doing next but I’m pretty sure it would be another change. For example I really love that kind of electronic music which uses a lot of acoustic instruments. The Civil War by a band called Matmos made me think a lot about how you could use traditional instruments in a way that was taking advantege of the modern technology and tools. Liars approach music in lots of different ways when making an album; you can be conceptual about it, focus on a particular idea and experiment in a way that you are pretty confident that you’ll end up being uncertain about what you are doing. All of these approaches end up giving you a different but interesting result”.

I can almost picture the trio in the studio dealing with this intricate net of sounds and possibilities but at least for this album they didn’t question too much what they were doing and part of that was in the better understanding of the tools they were using. Mess is a manipulation meant to create fun and color. It was necessary as Angus explains to me “you spend a year or two working on an album and then you go on tour for about a year and that whole time your mind and expression is based around that album. When we get past that point it always makes us want to try something different to experiment with and I think that’s really the way it works. I love the idea of being a band like The Ramones and being able to make a record over and over and make it sound awesome. I also admire people who can be great guitar players for example and choose to keep on playing the same instrument in order to get better at it but as you said before maybe I’m too schizophrenic for that!”

As the album comes to an end, Liars tastefully place Left Speaker Blown as the closing track. It is the quiet moment after a party or a concert. The moment where your mind is still while your ears are buzzing. Every intense experience needs to end like this and despite singing “I hope you never learn how to play music” this is a personal moment of reflection as you finally allow yourself to take a deep breath. “What I was trying to talk about is the idea that when you play music and write songs you express yourself in a way that sometimes could be a little hard for people to swallow. You are constantly putting yourself out there into the world with quite personal feelings more than a lot of people do. As a musician I do it on a regular basis so it makes you very vulnerable. The idea of what it is to be a musician is evolving so much just like technology and you feel certain obligations to keep up with it. Obviously nowadays it has so much more to do with everything except the music but I’m always very interested in the visual aspects. Nevertheless, if you just compare the different mediums of being an artist, the ones who really put themselves out there the most are songwriters. A visual artist or a painter certainly do the same but not in such a direct way of expression. Not even an actor could do that. Songwriters talk about themselves putting words to music and are really speaking directly from their souls”.


The world may be evolving too fast and forcing us to adapt and synchronize our personalities as easily as we do with our iPhones but isn’t this the endless conditions every human being faces over and over? LA, life, and a piece of work from a contemporary artist can be so full of nonsense and meaning at the same time and instead of looking for an answer, Liars let their sensibilities float on this beautiful mess; the only way to create music that never lies. “All I know is that there is an equal chance that what we are doing next is moving to Fiji or making a jazz record. The opportunities are wide open and that’s the only thing I can be confident about”.

Facts are facts and fiction’s fiction.

 

MESS is released on March 24th (25th USA) – Mute Records

Instagram: http://instagram.com/liarsliarsliars
Tumblr: http://amateurgore.tumblr.com/
Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/liarsliarsliars
Twitter: http://twitter.com/LiarsOfficial
Website: http://liarsliarsliars.com/
Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/liarsliarsliars
Store: http://liars.sandbaghq.com/

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Francesca Belmonte / Interview on HungerTV

Read it on HUNGER

Photography / Fabio Esposito

Location / Rough Luxe Hotel

For the past five years Francesca Belmonte has been the lead singer for trip hop legend Tricky, co-writing and performing on his latest album ‘False Idols’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Mixed Race’.

Born in London, to an Irish mother and Italian father, Francesca was raised in Ireland surrounded by music and poetry, elements that shaped her future approach to making music. ‘Anima’ (meaning ‘soul’ in Italian) is not only the working title of her album but also reflects her soulful, gentle, introspective and somehow esoteric music and persona. Entirely produced by Tricky and also featuring eclectic rapper Mykki Blanco on one track, the album fuses melancholia with electronic and, just like a poem by a poète maudit, it feels intense, layered and organic even when a heavy bass or a twisted 70s vibe kicks in. In Ahead of the release we caught up with Francesca to talk Patti Smith, Carl Jung and why creativity needs to be handled with care.

Listen + Free Download of ‘I Could’ here

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WHEN ASKED ABOUT YOU, TRICKY ONCE SAID: “SHE’S VERY YOUNG BUT OLD SCHOOL. SHE MANAGES TO MAKE SOULFUL MUSIC IN HER OWN AUTHENTIC WAY. SHE’S A SOUL, BLUES SINGER”. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS STATEMENT?

That’s a wicked thing to have said about you by someone like Tricky who is one of the most authentic artists out there. I would say that I am a soul and blues singer but not necessarily in the style of music. It’s not the kind of Joss Stone’s modern soul for example but lots of my melodies are blues. I think he was referring to the way I deliver vocally. If you are not sharing something and if you haven’t got a bit of ‘soul’ then what is the point, right? Some singers out there have got the most incredible voice, technically very good, but sometimes you just can’t feel it, even though they are doing really well. I really believe you always have to go through something in life in order to be authentic.

HOW DIFFERENT WAS IT TO WORK WITH TRICKY AS A PRODUCER COMPARED TO WORKING FOR HIM AS A VOCALIST?

Tricky is Tricky whether you are on stage with him or in the studio. You can always feel a high level of energy just being around him. When I work with him I usually listen to the music and I write whatever he needs, from a verse to a chorus.

For my album I chose a lot of the instruments, the lyrics, melodies and the sound that I wanted, so in that respect I felt like I had more freedom. Tricky would still kind of have the last word though but it’s fine because we have a strong chemistry and we know how we work by now. It pretty much always starts with the music. I brought to him some tracks and he would ‘take them apart’ and put them back together kind of wrong. That’s what he does in a way but that’s how you get Tricky’s sound!

I love the album and I’m very proud of it, especially the lyrics. I wrote about real experiences and ideas I have about people and everything. I’ve started writing poetry when I was nine so I have lots of books where I wrote down many lyrics, poems or simply something in a stream of consciousness. Lyrics are already there somehow, and depending on the music or instrument I would be flicking through my books as a reference. A whole new song could come from a sentence so there are no set ways of working. Sometimes I think that all of the songs I have ever written were just floating in the ether, without sounding wanky, and I sort of channeled them. Tricky writes a lot like that, he pays attention to what the music is trying to tell him rather than thinking “what shall I put here?”

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“I COULD” IS THE FIRST SONG THAT YOU ARE RELEASING. DOES IT HAVE ANY SPECIAL MEANING TO YOU?

I adore the music on it, every time I hear it the violins get me. It is quite airy and yet so strong. There is also a story behind the first verse of the song, it is actually Tricky’s lyrics. I’d only known him for about two months and we were on tour. Before a show in Estonia we started writing and making music when he told me “why don’t you try this over that?”. My answer was that I was not sure if that was going to work and the moment I said that the whole session stopped! “You completely killed the vibe, you have to try things out but do not bother now, it’s gone” I remember him saying. I thought that he hated me already and that I was going to lose my job because of my negative vibe. I didn’t see him anymore until half an hour before the show. He handed me a piece of paper with the first verse of ‘I Could’ written on it, “My Spirit hangs on a piece of thread, don’t wear me down with a heavy head” and to me it is about the fragility of his creativity and how it needs to be handled with care. I’ve learnt a lot from that and I realized I was just feeling the same. It was a turning point, I wish I wasn’t that emotional but I am.

DURING THE ALBUM LISTENING YOU SAID THAT ONE SONG WAS ABOUT “A SUBCONSCIOUS PLAY OF GETTING AWAY FROM TRICKY”. WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED AND SCARED ABOUT IN THIS VERY MOMENT?

I am really excited to go on my own after five years. I learned a lot from him spiritually, creatively and musically. It’s cool to perform with him but he’s my boss in the end of the day so I’m ready to call the shots for a little bit and grow as Francesca on stage. It is a great feeling to choose your own setlist and band.  I suppose I’m a little scared, but not of failure, there is no such a thing, all the best people have failed. Failing for me would be not being able to keep touring and working on my music. I will be happy as long as I can do that.

THERE IS AN OVERALL MELANCHOLIC ATMOSPHERE IN YOUR MUSIC, WHY ARE YOU DRAWN TO THIS VIBE?

I have been singing inside of Tricky’s music and atmosphere for so long and it definitely influenced me. He can also be hugely uplifting at times but always with a dark and sad under edge. I think I’ve also been subconsciously influenced by Martina Topley-Bird and Costanza Francavilla because they were there before me and I’ve been singing their words on stage. I had to find my own voice. I have always been drawn to sad music or extremely hard music with a rumbling base, in fact a few tracks on my album feature strong drums. I suppose I can’t stand the middle of the road because it doesn’t make me feel anything. The album is also quite melancholic because many sad things happened in my life. My brother nearly died in a horrible accident and that put a huge strain on my family. He’s fine now but after three years I still feel the repercussions of it so I haven’t really been in a constant happy mood, let’s say.

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DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT APPROACH WHEN WRITING MORE UPLIFTING TRACKS?

No, not at all. I never sit down and think about what I’m going to write. I am not a planner who tries to get the most out of a day in the studio. If I can’t write something to an instrumental then I’ll just move on and come back to it, I never really change my writing style. I do feel like I have to work harder though when I’m writing more uplifting stuff, definitely. It doesn’t come as naturally but that happens to everyone who doesn’t plan like me. Everything has to be fluid for me, in fact it took only four weeks to have the album done. I’m really looking forward to the next one already!

MYKKI BLANCO AND YOUR 10-YEAR-OLD GODDAUGHTER MAKE AN APPEARANCE ON YOUR ALBUM, TELL US ABOUT IT!

We were playing in Berlin and Mykki was supporting us. I was in my dressing room doing my makeup and this six foot black guy came in wearing a mini skirt and blue lipstick. Let’s say he doesn’t go unnoticed! We watched the show and it blew us away, he’s incredible. Tricky was really taken by him as well, we started watching his videos and they ended up talking about a collaboration in the dressing room, it was a mutual thing. When asked about doing something on my record, Mykki was up for it and so it happened.

My granddaughter Daisy sings in one of my favourite tracks, it is very haunting and moving. She spoke to Tricky over the phone to thank him for a pair of trainers he gave her as a present and he was so impressed by her husky voice with that thick cockney accent. We brought her to the studio one day to sing a little rap and the result was fantastic. She sings “Look at you shop, look at you spend. Watch them rob, look at you lend. Love me now and I will grow. I’ll let you swim, you’ll let me row” and it has a lot of sense when sung from a child because you think that maybe her generation will look like that. It will be left picking up the pieces or at least continuing to deal with all the shit going on in the world.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE ALBUM TITLE ‘ANIMA’?

It is only a working title but it came to me because I’ve just started reading more into psychology and what people think, why they behave in certain ways and their body language. I came across the word ‘anima’ while I was reading the work of Carl Jung. Everyone has a male and female part in their psyche, within their brain, and Jung basically refers to the female psyche within a male brain as ‘anima’. I was intrigued by this concept since I have been a singer for a male artist, it just felt right and there is also the Italian connection.

01

YOU GREW UP IN A VERY CREATIVE FAMILY, I GUESS THIS SHAPED YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?

I had a very chilled environment back home and there were always materials to paint, draw and sculpt. My dad loves music and he is also a photographer while my mother had a modeling career for many years. It is difficult to talk about artistic vision because it goes across many boards. My vision at the moment is to be very natural but at the same time I definitely want to experiment with the character within me. I think you need to keep exercising your brain more than your image and think about what you want to say. Nevertheless the ‘character’ has the right to do what she feels like doing and believes in artistically. In the end it comes down to the individual. Who can say what art is? It is hard to define. I see it as a growing process but I know myself well enough to say that you are never going to see me on stage wearing a thong and a foam finger for example.

WHAT’S AN ALBUM, A BOOK, AND A FILM THAT YOU’LL ALWAYS GO BACK TO…

Angel-A by Luc Besson is a beautiful black and white film I always love to watch. The music is amazing and every time I see it I notice something new. Also the visual is everything in that film.

A book would be The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. Bowie played in the film adaptation but I thought it was crap because the relationship between the alien and the girl in the book is not sexual at all, and for a specific reason. There is a lot of significance into that and this is why the film pissed me off. I don’t think I even watched the end.

An album would have to be Patti Smith’s “Horses”, I simply love her. I always strive and look up to her because I know I’ll never be like Patti! As a little girl I was more interested in the voices rather than the sound or style of music. Mary Weiss from The Shangri-Las, Carole King, Ronnie from The Ronettes, but also Van Morrison, Roy Orbison and all of those really thick soulful vocals. I wasn’t really into Patti Smith for the voice at first but now I love it. It was more about the lyrics and that fuck off attitude she has. Listening to her makes you feel free, she kind of gives you the permission to relax and that is strange, at least that’s what it does to me. Her lyrics are beautiful and cryptic at times, I still don’t know what she’s banging on about on most of them!

06

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?

I suppose I’m hungry for everything that’s happening, I really am! I am hungry for saying something and using this opportunity to make a bit of a difference. I know how it comes across when people read these things but I suppose that making a difference is what all artists hope for. I’m hungry to keep working, learning and also for a glass of Merlot right now!

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Follow Francesca Belmonte on Facebook and Twitter

An interview with Amanda Lear / The GROUND Magazine Issue IV

Trying to put a label on Amanda Lear is an epic and arduous battle, lost from the very beginning. From her mysterious origins and date of birth to the labyrinth of turns her career has taken, the LGBT idol and musical artist has proven herself hard to pin down.

During a conversation in Paris at the iconic Hotel Meurice, Lear defined herself by her accomplishments. She has been a mouthpiece for the gay community. Her music from the Munich disco scene conquered the world, and she never slowed down after many decades in the show business (model, actress, writer, painter and TV presenter). I am curious to find out more about her flamboyant life, her latest adventure in theatre, and how she managed to defy time without being afraid to take on different roles.

By Marco Pantella

Photography / Fabio Esposito

Location / Le Meurice Hotel, Paris

01

London’s Swinging Sixties are over, Andy Warhol’s dead, and Studio 54 had shut his doors, but Amanda Lear is a woman with a strong and charismatic personality that never loses her focus and integrity. She may have been Salvador Dalí’s muse and had dated David Bowie, but she never lived in anyone’s shadow; she is the ultimate storyteller of her own life and an inspiring, self-made woman who can only be labeled with one word: Amanda.

Talking with a unique, deep, trademark voice that makes her songs strangely ambiguous and exciting, the first thing I notice about Lear is her enchanting smile, her pink birkin Hermès bag, and how incredibly fun she is. Sipping coffee and eating macaroons, she tells me her explicit video for “La Bete et la Belle” was shot in the same room where Salvador Dalí used to stay in when in Paris. She was excited to tell me how theatre recently filled her artistic career and after touring extensively with “Lady Oscar,” Amanda is now rehearsing for her upcoming show “Divina,” a comedy with costumes designed by her friend, Jean Paul Gaultier.

“It all started three years ago,” she says, “and it was love at first sight. My life will be on stage from now on and I hope to bring my show over to Italy and the UK as well, where, unfortunately, people still think of me solely as a singer.”

In her previous show, Amanda describes her role as “this hateful character just like Anna Wintour; did you see me on the catwalk for Gaultier? Doing it in front of her, Grace Coddington, and all those mean, fashion ladies has been a personal vendetta for me.” As outspoken as I expected her to be, this time around, she will play a successful TV presenter whose career is endangered. As the real Amanda, she will find her way back on top, reinventing herself. Amada as, “singing or hosting a TV show are just other ways to act. I never had a voice like Barbra Streisand; in fact, my career as a singer was more about acting than anything else.”

When she talks about theatre, she does it with passion, but also with real commitment and respect. She says, “people need comedy at the moment. It is such a tragic, historical period so they pay to laugh, but I would love to play something more serious like Tennessee Williams as soon as my reputation as an actress grows.”

“When I act, I like to be someone else,” Amanda says, but also in terms of music, she changes her demeanor frequently. “There has always been music in my life. In France, they always put this label on me – ‘disco queen’ – and it bothers me because after so many albums, I would like to change and sing more melodic songs. People always like to shake their boots on the dance floor and that’s okay, but I titled my album, ‘I Don’t Like Disco’ for this reason.”

 

To my surprise, she nonchalantly opens up about her new project, the first-ever Elvis Presley cover album recorded by a woman. I unexpectedly notice that she refers to herself in third person, just like Salvador Dalí used to do, and the conversation skips from music to her modeling career when I mention the song, “I Am a Photograph” and a vibe of glamour travels across our Louis XVI-style suite.

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“It is one of the first songs I have ever written; when you do that job, photographers are always telling you what to do, and I felt frustrated because I like to express myself and you are nothing more than a piece of paper. David Bowie actually fell in love with me because of my picture on the cover of ‘Roxy Music,’ not with who Amanda really is. It is an awful job but you know, I was young and skinny,” Amanda says as she laughs with pleasure while recalling those New York City memories. “I was introduced to Diane Vreeland [columnist]. We talked business, but Vogue was only paying $15-$20 [per photo]. Lingerie pictures after 6 P.M., on the other hand, were paid double, so I said, ‘I go for it!’ I did not have this snobbish American mentality where everyone wanted to be featured in Vogue; I didn’t give a damn!” Besides, she was partying every night with Andy Warhol and friends at Max’s Kansas City, a gathering spot for musicians, poets, artists, and politicians. “Do you even think I could have been ready and spotless by 8 A.M. as they wanted me to be?”

Every part of Amanda’s life opens up a world of its own; but where did it all start? Ambiguity is a thick layer she has always worn and played with, but before even trying to remove it from our conversation, she honestly tells me about all these not-a- chance meetings. “Some people plan their career. I didn’t. Everything happened out of destiny. Des- tiny sent me Dalí, Bowie, Brian Ferry, Berlusconi back in Italy, do you see what I mean? I let destiny play its part without forcing anything. Thanks to Dalí, I met Warhol, Maria Callas, Rostropovich, people I’ve never dreamt I could meet.”

Amanda lived for 16 years with Dalí and Gala, and it was a perfect triangle. Dalí was in love with Gala. Amanda recalls, “They always say that I am Dalí’s widow but I am not! I am just the only survivor who is not dead or in prison to tell people about him.” As we laugh again, I try to understand who was “Le Dalí d’Amanda,” a book she wrote about her personal experience with the painter. Amanda says, “I met him when I was young, and he profoundly affected my life. He taught me how to provoke the media and make people talk about me. He was crazy all the time, and he looked like a rock star.” Amanda also clears something up on being his muse: “People do not understand that being a muse is a matter of being physically present. It is not about posing all day; it’s about sharing everyday life. He truly believed he was the best painter on earth, I told him I loved Picasso many times but he did not care, you know?” Could there possibly be anyone else she would have loved to meet? Amanda answers, “Leonardo da Vinci of course – he was such a mysterious and fascinating character like [Johannes] Vermeer. His life is a dark question mark. And inventors like Einstein.”

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Living a surreal life can make one want to change reality, and Amanda does it when she holds a brush. Her first real and constant love is painting. Recently, she had been involved in the exhibition on Salvador Dalí in Paris at the Centre Pompidou, and during the summer, “Visions”, was a retrospective of her own work at Milan’s Art Gallery. “It [paintings] never paid the rent,” she remarks sadly, “For me, it is like psychotherapy. Some people drink, others use drugs, and I paint. It helps me [in] dealing with my inner world, my rage, and my dreams and in order for me to keep a balanced life, I need to paint.”

I can almost picture her with Andy Warhol, discussing lithographic reproductions and Jeff Koons. She says, “He [Jeff Koons] does not even make one fucking drawing. Everything is so industrial at the moment and this is not art in my opinion. At least, Andy had an idea behind it. Painting is a very physical work, a long ritual, and I love it because you have to be alone in front of the white canvas. Show business, on the other hand, is all about teamwork.” What is Amanda’s favorite color? “Joachim Patinir’s blue. It drives me mad!”

Despite witnessing many changes in society, Amanda is not surprised by today’s obsession for youth and perfection, teenagers asking for a new nose on their birthdays, and even Madonna’s new pair of cheekbones. People heat up for news like Jodie Foster’s coming out.

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“Many girls only care about the spotlight. They are manipulated and don’t want to take risks or deal with failure. This is why they all end up making the same music,” Amanda says. What does it feels like for a woman in a man’s world? “People always want you to stay the same way for the rest of your life. Why do we have to choose? Jean Cocteau was a director, a poet and a painter, but when I try to say this, people tell me ‘oh that’s different. He was a genius!’ It is frustrating when they limit you and this is why I titled one of my books, ‘I Am Not What You Think I Am,’” Amanda explains.

Would things be different in the next lifetime? She doubts it: “If I could choose, I would be a man. Women are still slaves in certain countries. For the next few centuries, I’d rather live as a man.” After joking about reincarnating into David Beckham, she continues, “Men though, do not understand that even a powerful woman has to be reassured and protected. We always feel unsafe, and this condition is terrifying.”

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Childhood is an off-limits topic. “Nobody cares about it!” Amanda exclaims, “Am I 60? 70? It doesn’t matter. I don’t even celebrate my birthdays; it is a psychological thing pretending that age does not exist, but believe me it works.” Maybe absolute certainty is the reason why she emanates a bright energy that makes me feel like everything is possible. “I would have never believed it if someone told me that one day I’d sell millions of records. Can you imagine [that] with my voice? When I started on Italian TV, I couldn’t even speak Italian properly. It was ridiculous, and yet, it worked out. Now it is the same with theatre, but you never know in life. Maybe one day I will be a famous chef.”

I ask her how she would install an exhibition to represent herself. She says it would include one of her paintings, which is a huge self-portrait similar to the ones seen in royal castles. Amanda adds, “I hold a microphone in my hand as I wanted to say, ‘here is the disco queen you are talking about!’” It would also include a song, ‘The Sphinx,’ where Amanda sings about the desire to remain a mystery.

Sometimes, a closer look into an artist’s body of work can reveal the most intimate, 360-degree view of the artist’s mind, life, feelings, and identity. Most of the time, it happens while paying attention to a song that may not have been a global success, but it means the world to the performer. Amanda still remains as a mystery, “a conversa- tion piece, a woman, a priest or a point of view” as the lyrics of “The Sphinx” indicate. However, there is nothing ambiguous about Amanda’s intentions when she looks into a person’s eyes and declares what really excites her is what tomorrow will bring.

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Follow Amanda Lear on Facebook and Twitter

Her New Album “My Happiness” a tribute to Elvis Presley with symphonic arrangements is Out 17/03/14

The GROUND Magazine Issue IV – Globalization and Empowering Women / Buy Online and Stockists here

The Salvador Dalí Theater and Museum / The GROUND Magazine Issue IV

BREAKING BOUNDARIES

An interview with Montse Aguer, Director of Dalinian studies at The Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres.

By Marco Pantella

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image courtesy Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, 2014, all rights reserved

When André Breton first defined Surrealism in 1924 (a “pure psychic automatism”), little did he know that Salvador Dalí would take his words to an extreme extent, by not only introducing a revolutionary way of painting, but also changing the interaction between the artist and the world.

Dalí’s genius lied in ceaseless exploration of the world he lived in. Instead of homologating his identity, he unleashed his genius, creating an unconventional and provoking character that managed to challenge the important role of the media in society. There is no question that he redefined the meaning and the role of the artist, who might be unafraid to experiment with all art, from painting to fashion. He created a unified field in a fragmented world with his versatility and his thirst for modernity. Dalí continues shake us free from our fears and limitations to connect us with our “genius-gene.”

The indisputable genius of Salvador Dalí comes down to the exaltation of the self, combined with a raw talent that defies logic, creating a body of work that goes beyond a mere painting. You don’t become a genius by playing it safe; you have to understand the world you live in before turning it upside down. You also have to be misunderstood as you embody the revolutionary ideas that are provoking and shaking up tradition.

There was a time where Sigmund Freud was playing with something the masses didn’t know they already knew: the unconscious. At a time when painting was an academic matter, mass culture was about to invade us and fashion started setting trends. As tradition was faltering, Dalí grew his flamboyant mustache, influenced by Spanish master painter, Diego Velázquez, and Dalí’s history was made in front of the media. Dalí became a pioneer in using and manipulating the media to achieve global acclaim for his utterly intimate work. Dalí’s inspirations are found in the most remote corner of the mind where the unconscious floats, fears lurk, residues of dreams remain, and talent and personality are unleashed. This is why anyone can connect with Dalí’s mind and yet, the only place where we can try to find more answers is at The Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres, Spain, the place where he is now buried in a crypt and where his essence is more palpable than in any other museum. Director of Dalinian Studies, Montse Aguer, invites us to play the game that Salvador Dalí left for us to play with and that only an artist like him could conceive.

“Instead of being mere spectators of the museum, Dalí suggests us to discover all the enigmas hidden within it, to look deeply at his works and discover another reality, a double image. He provokes us and raises questions. He amuses and even disturbs us. This is the atmosphere he wanted in creating this museum.”

– Montse Aguer

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Photo by Josep Algans

Visiting the Dalí Museum is a real and surreal experience. The museum used to house the town’s theater when he was a child. It was bombed during the Spanish Civil War and it was finally inaugurated in 1974. “I like the museum as a whole,” Ms. Aguer said, “the fact that it is meant to be a complete work of art conceived and created by the artist himself to express the totality of his life and artistic career is extraordinary.”

Ms. Aguer was offered to become the director for Dalinian studies in 2004 during the celebration of Salvador Dalí’s centenary, and this task turned out to be as challenging as looking at one of his paintings. “You enter a new dimension. Whenever you believe you mastered a certain area of his life, a new document comes out and you have to question everything again from the start. It takes me to a permanent state of expectation and awareness.”

How did Dalí become a genius? Dalí said that he wanted to be a cook when he was six years old, Napoleon when he was seven years old, and the parallelism is striking when you think that Surrealism was born like a revolution that Dalí, like the French emperor, transformed into an empire reigned by his wild personality. He proclaimed himself as “El Salvador” (the savior) of painting from the dangers of Abstract Art, Academic Surrealism, Dadaism, and all of the anarchic “isms,” a statement that only an expert like him can express. “He knew art history extremely well and all of its different techniques,” Ms. Aguer said, “He knew the Italian Renaissance and found Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s treatment of perspective and colors fascinating but also… avant-garde. His style is to be found somewhere between tradition and… absolute modernity with the incorporation of the latest scientific progresses and discoveries such as stereoscopy or holography.” With his archetypal eyes wide open, Dali’s investigations shifted from art to the mysteries of the mind.

“Each morning when I awake, I experienceagain a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.”

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”

Dalí had one-time encountered Sigmund Freud in London and to prove that he was Freud’s most ardent pupil. It was then that Dalí showed Freud the painting, “Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” The drawers of the unconscious discussed by the Viennese professor work as much as the ones portrayed by Dalí. It was a way to state that psychoanalysis was able to shed some light on the unconscious, but what was he looking for in the psyche, dreams, and sexuality of the human being? “I think he was looking for answers, but at the same time he reflected on his obsessions and tried to break free from them.”

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image courtesy Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, 2014, all rights reserved

At the age of 17, his mother died. His homage, “The Enigma of Desire” couldn’t be more complex. Dalí’s mother never actually appeared in his paintings. However, in this work, she takes the shape of a monstrous womb, resembling the weather-beaten rocks along the Cadaqués coast, a place Dalí loved which became a source of inspiration for his fantasies. “His relationship with women used to be quite complicated and he actually speaks very little of his mother,” Ms. Aguer commented.

The only female presence that became the absolute love of his life was Gala. Dalí asked her, “what do you want me to do with you?” and she replied, “kill me.” She became his muse and set the machine behind his success in motion. “There is no Dalí without Gala,” he once said, and, in fact, she acts like a manager; she looked for the best frames and materials, and she negotiated with galleries for Dalí. She was the ultimate cure for his madness and a fundamental presence. Absolute despair was what he felt after her death, a strange feeling for someone who never gave up even when he was expelled from The Academy of Fine Arts and from the Surrealist movement.

“It’s obvious that other worlds exist. That’s certain; but, they are inside ours [our world]. They reside in the earth and precisely at the center dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspecting and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”

There are a couple reasons why Dalí wanted his most extravagant work to endure in his own town. The former Municipal Theater was the perfect place for someone who thought of himself or herself as a theatrical painter; it stands right opposite the church where he was baptized and where his first exhibition was held. After ample experimentation, Surrealism was the movement where he found his religion. Ms. Aguer remarked, “It is very important in Dalí’s career as he represents irrationality in a realistic way. There’s a moment when he defines his painting as hand-painted photography. In fact, his canvases are often almost hyper-realistic, but always with references to the unconscious. The mastery and control of technique, his passion and obsession for knowledge and ultimately his insatiable curiosity are all elements that contributed to his success.”

After the Nazi occupation of Paris, Dalí moved to the U.S. and during this period, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, a very important autobiography, was published in America. Ms. Aguer said, “I would recommend it to anyone interested in his life. Dalí was a great writer and used to read a lot. He himself, once declared that he was a better writer than a painter.” As the world started yearning to see what he would come up with, Dalí fed his image and talent to the media, succeeding in different collaborations: Walt Disney’s “Destino,” Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” Madame Chanel, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

Think of Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, Lady Gaga with a lobster on her head and Björk’s music videos. The presence of surrealistic elements is very persistent even today; it is noticeable from the way art is evolving to the way certain pop stars try to create their image to shock the media. When Dalí painted one of his most famous and recognized works of art, “The Persistence on Memory,” people were led to believe that it was inspired by Einstein’s The theory of relativity, but when asked about the comparison, Dalí replied that his iconic melting watches came to existence from the perception of Camembert cheese melting under the sun. Is this the truth or just another of his many provoking statements? Nevertheless, his originality lies in translating something as real as the discovery of the relativity of space and time through art. Ms. Aguer, thinking about how Dalí would respond to modern technology, said that Dalí “would master computers and everything that new technologies and scientific discoveries are offering us.” When asked what Dali would find surreal in our society, Ms. Aguer answered quickly with “Reality itself!” as if it had been a rhetorical question.

Maybe this is still the only way to create meaningful art nowadays: learning to imitate our modern world and creating a new one that would resonate with us more than the reality we live in. Just think about what Salvador Dalí could achieve in experimenting with graphic design and what contemporary artists could create if they would break free from the dogmas we are still dealing with.

“I am not strange. I am just not normal.”

How does a genius see himself? The answer might be seen through an artist’s most personal statement on himself or herself: a self-portrait. Dalí’s self-portrait, “Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon,” portrays the artist’s face as a melting bronze mask supported by mini crutches, another obsession from his childhood, something to lean on during life and, at the same time, something to push death away. He wanted it to be an “anti-psychological self-portrait,” to paint the outside instead of the soul, or as he called it, “the glove of myself.” There is also a piece of bacon and ants in the portrait, to symbolize his generosity in offering himself to be eaten by the media, and to act as inspirational “food” that succulently nourishes our time. Are the props and supports in the portrait a way to express a hint of insecurity? “The private Dalí was very friendly, but he was aware that he had created a character. In meetings with friends, if journalists or a camera appeared, he would immediately say, ‘I’m going to play Dalí.’” Thus, it is not surprising that Dalí painted his self-portrait in the U.S. during a period “when he clearly connects with mass culture” and with icons such as Marilyn Monroe, who were also “playing” their characters.

“People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings.”

No matter what walks of life we are coming from, to stand in front of Dalí’s works is like watching an endless enigma, something that sets our mind in motion with no limitation. “We already know a lot about him, but we need to keep some mystery,” concluded Ms. Aguer. She may be right, as a continuous thirst for knowledge can drive us mad just like with Friedrich Nietzsche, the only person, according to Dalí, who could be on Dalí’s level. “My equal will not be found in other centuries either. My painting proves it,” Dalí said.

Delirious? Mad? Arrogant? Self-righteous? Still, nobody came along to leave a mark like Salvador Dalí did with his art as Dalí manifests our inner worlds, showing us the way we feel about our existence. He portrayed our irrational fears, the things we only see in our dreams, and the magnificence of the human mind with its fantasies, perversions, and endless possibilities. A genius maybe be granted the power to say anything he or she wants. Ms. Aguer shared her personal favorite Dalí quote from memory:

“Do not waste time trying to be modern. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid being.”

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Visit the Dalí Theater-Museum here

The GROUND Magazine Issue IV – Globalization and Empowering Women / Buy Online and Stockists here