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

Tag: media

The Labèque Way – A Conversation with Katia and Marielle Labèque

Read it on The GROUND Magazine

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Katia and Marielle Labèque are more than sisters and internationally acclaimed pianists. There’s something in their bond that goes beyond genetic; it’s something that taps into the soul level. They may be daughters of Ada Cecchi, who was a pupil of pianist Marguerite Long, and passed on to them her love for classical music but these details feels more like faded information on a passport than a blueprint for their future. In fact, meeting Katia and Marielle is like standing in front of two very distinct mirrors reflecting each other as they play along the same harmony. Their talent is not the result of a solitary gene showing up, uninvited, in their DNA; Katia and Marielle recognized their artistic place in the world from an early age and ignited it with a passion that revolutionized the classical world, starting with their contemporary rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that became one of the first gold records in classical music.

As I see them taking the stage at the London Festival Hall, where they will play Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, led by Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, I recall my phone conversation with Katia. The punchy and acerbic Concerto begins, I understand that despite the innate nature of talent, Katia and Marielle’s synchronicity is not a mere family affair but a true passion for a journey called life and living for art. An ever experimental journey that may just be better shared and enjoyed between siblings.

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Photo by Umberto Nicoletti

“Our lives are so intertwined…” Katia tells me from her apartment in Rome who once belonged to the Borgia family and has been decorated by the grand seigneur of the design world Alex Vervoordt “…and when we’re not travelling together, Marielle travels with her husband”. The other half of the Labèque piano duo is married to prestigious orchestra conductor Semyon Bychkov. “Her life is so difficult to manage having a husband constantly on the road as we are but passion is the key to make it work”. Katia sounds as warm as the sun shining in the a-typically warm winter day in the Italian capital and the passion she speaks with is the same as the one she uses at the grand piano. Time may stand still in the Eternal City but indulging in it is out of discussion for them; “We are musicians and interpreters so being on a stage is essential for us. If we’d be at home the whole time we couldn’t express our musicality. In this respect travelling around the world is a necessity to bring our work to the audience; otherwise it’ll remain a lifeless piece of work. We don’t really get to be tourists but it’s a beautiful necessity”.

It’s a lifetime journey started in the Basque region of France, “one of the few places in France where a musical education does not exist though its culture is musically strong” an adventure that brought them together to the most illustrious orchestras in the world, collaborating with composers like Philip Glass and Luciano Berio and to a record-breaking performance attended by more than 33,000 people at a gala concert with the Berlin Philharmonic inside the Berlin’s Waldbühne. In a classical world where the repertoire for piano duo is limited, Katia and Marielle always had it their way, as the title of their documentary suggests: The Labèque Way, directed by Félix Cábez. Applying the expertise of an artisan they created a body of work of their own, delivering mesmerizing projects that show, and dare, to display exotic combination between the classical world and contemporary art forms. After all Katia is not afraid to mention Radiohead among her favourite composers, along with “Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky in general and Schumann, who in my opinion is not played enough.” I immediately feel that the charm of this lady is not only in the way she speaks Italian but in her nonconforming nature. They brought basque percussions to Ravel’s Bolero with the Kalakan Trio, performed an arrangement for two pianos of Bernstein’s West Side Story arranged by Irwin Kostal and more recently Minimalist Dreamhouse, a project inspired by the early minimalist works that got their exposure in La Monte Young’s 1960-61 Chamber Street Series in Yoko Ono’s New York loft.

Katia, who lives with guitarist, composer and producer David Chalmin has a kind of stability that also allows her to look after their KML Foundation, a heartfelt project founded in 2005 aiming to promote classical music to a new audience whose educational background has lacked an introduction to the classical world “I really enjoy it and I’m definitely more available than Marielle but I don’t see our relationship about sharing tasks. Everything between us runs with a natural flow by now. When we play it’s different though; she brings her strengths, balance and happiness. She’s also physically strong in her approach to the piano and it’s a resourceful skill to use on so many pieces. We are working on the original version of The Rite Of Spring by Stravinsky who composed it for two pianos and she’s got such a strength in the virtuoso and lower parts. Playing together with someone at her level helps a lot.”

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Photo by Nacho Carretero

When Katia and Marielle take the stage before my very eyes there’s a silent thrill in the audience and as I find myself in front of this one entity breathing the same breath, it’s not difficult to see why they compliment each other so effortlessly. It’s not about major and minor scales, they somehow complete two very opposite emotions. Katia, bringing a touch of red with her Louboutin stiletto has a dramatic stage persona that approaches the piano like an animal in trance. It’s surreal and supernatural to see the instrument surrender to her hands. Her counterpart, Marielle, brings to life the deepest and darkest side of the composition in a calm, precise and most of all meditative manner. Their eyes always staring at each other, as if severing this connection would bring about utter destruction. The audience under their spell… “It takes time to control the piano for it’s a very strong instrument but you have to, otherwise it will fall apart. There are no limits to what you can achieve by playing it and yet there is a little bit of suffering that I guess it’s part of our world and any other artistic expression. It’s a moral and physical pain, like a dancer who’s got his own body as an instrument but the moment I go on stage it all fades away. There is definitely a dark side to this all and we need it in order to reveal light and find a balance. This is a permanent game we have to play otherwise we’ll live in a superficial state of joy or sadness”

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Photo by Umberto Nicoletti

The secret for achieving this level of consciousness and be a channel rather than the bearer of the darkest emotions is discipline. I expected it to be part of this equation but Katia and Marielle found freedom through it that allowed them to experiment with classical music like no others. “It’s always a fight against something, even freedom! People who can do whatever they please are not really free or interesting. True freedom is being able to be disciplined in your work that sustains your artistic freedom. The more you work, the more you’ll arrive on stage so prepared that you’ll fell like you are recreating that piece as if it was yours rather than just playing it. Almost as if you are improvising Mozart! The music you play is not a fruit of your hard work anymore; it’s just like a piece of art speak for itself to you. This happens only because the painter has worked so much before and this is a kind of discipline that comes from our mother.”

Writer Hanif Kureishi once wrote in Gabriel’s Gift through the voice of a father “if you’ve got it, you’ve got it from yourself, and don’t you forget it. You can inherit an old tie but not a gift, that’s one thing I know” It may not be written in stars or in the family tree but can talent be just a sheer coincidence when it comes to Katia? “The quote is so terribly true. He’s right, you can pass on so many things, like education for example which is very important to your personal growth by the way, but when it comes to talent we are talking about a gift; you either have it or not. No matter how hard you work this quote remains very true. On the other hand, talent with no hard work and discipline is useless and a sad condition because it’s not enough. We learnt a great deal about discipline from our mother, she was a role model in that regard, she would know if one day, for example, I wasn’t training properly and it took her a few words to let me know. Practice and hard work is the engine to make your talent running otherwise it will just stay there, switched off.”

At such a young age and seen the extreme experimental nature of their projects, I imagine a rebellious duo and two daughters who, just like anybody else, have a conflictual relationship with their mother. “I wouldn’t say we were rebels in our growing up. When teenagers started rebelling we were already in Paris on our own, studying at the Conservatoire. You know, we grew up in a small village and our mother made the best she could. Since she was a teacher she understood us but when we reached a certain level she knew she couldn’t keep us at home anymore as it would have equaled to kill us. If she wanted our talent to grow and blossom she’d had to make this sacrifice and let us go. I was 13 and Marielle was 11. We weren’t rebels because we chose to be musicians; it was our passion and what we wanted. We did not argue with our parents’ choices because we knew it from the start what an incredible sacrifice they were doing. We have been lucky at the end of our studies to be able to make a living on our own immediately, going on tour with a dance ballet. We actually had a very wonderful and easy relationship! Life itself was hard. It was tremendously sad for us not being able to see our parents so often. My mother came to visit us in Paris whenever she could but still it was hard moving away from the basque coast; that was the country we were in love with, its beaches, its sea. Paris was not our city.”

Luck literally came knocking on the door on day during their years at the Conservatoire. “We were playing Visions de L’Amen by Olivier Messiaen and he came in wondering who was playing his music. It was normal for us back then to be playing in front of him but it was actually a turning point for us once we recorded the piece. Thanks to that moment people got to know us.” The eagerness that made them want so much to perform as a duo is the same they use to promote their foundation that among its artistic committee includes Madonna, Placido Domingo and Italian writer Alessandro Baricco “He’s a great friend of ours who welcomed us in of the rooms of his Scuola Holden to shoot a project on Tina Modotti. Director Nathalie Joffre and actress Dajana Roncione worked on this project to honour the life and work of Tina who was such an incredible photographer and revolutionary. There was a lot of research involved and we made this short film. Madonna is a friend of ours and we introduced her to the basque Kalakan Trio who eventually went on to follow her during the MDNA Tour. I believe in and support them as much as I can. We are interested in people whose worlds are about the continuous research of ways to experiment. Every artist brought us closer to another and this is extremely interesting. Miles Davis was doing the same thing, he brought people and artists in the same circles so that they could learn a lot from each other. There is too much individualism at the moment in society. You’ll always have commercial products and works anyway at it’s fine because this is something so far away from our world that we don’t feel any sort of competition. I only wish more people would be exposed as much in regards of classical music, and I do want to believe that this is possible.”

Where only the love of a mother can gift her own daughters to follow their talent even if it means living apart, dealing with record companies was an even more painful matter. It tested them in how far a “difficult artist” could go. “Many things changed so quickly in the music industry that there’s no time to adapt and for artists like us it has never been easy. The classical repertoire for piano duo is not a well-known thing to begin with, probably the most famous one is by Mozart but even fans of classical music aren’t quite aware of it as much as they are with Chopin or Liszt. We love playing Poulenc, but once again he is not considered that much as part of a pianist’s classical repertoire. It wasn’t easy for record companies to deal with us and in the end it was always up to Marielle and I to decide what to do and what to play.” Taking the road less travelled by rewarded them once again. Instead of continuing with Philips Record, they finally started their own record company “It was not a nasty divorce but we could just could not picture anymore their projects in our world. When you are young you need someone to look after you but in our case it’s fame that helped us achieve many things. People got to know us and supported us so all of this became possible. I find it natural having created our own record company and helping different artists from different artistic worlds that we feel so close to us. There are already many foundations in the classical world of virtuosismo that help the best violinist, or pianist. Our aim is to also support artists beyond our world because nowadays’s music is electronic. I’m not saying that it’s done without classical instruments, on the contrary, but if you look at Radiohead for example, they are genius. They create a world of acoustic and electronic guitars to add a certain sensibility to electronic music as we know it. If you do this as well as they do the result is mesmerising.”

Someone said that classical music will never ever cease to appeal in human history, and it’s not even rare to see how modern authors turn to it. Haruki Murakami uses classical compositions as metaphors and to create emotional landscapes in his novels. His epic work 1Q84 actually open with Janáček’s Sinfonietta playing on the radio of a taxi. “The thing with music is that you have to love it first of all and not trying to understand it, that will happen later on if you want to. The problem with classical music is that people are not exposed to it; it’s not that they don’t love it because music is so direct and immediately speaks to you. People think that in order to enjoy classical music they have to be clever and sometimes they’re afraid they won’t get it but this is just confusing. Media are not helping with this, nowadays it’s all about pop or rock music which by the way I love; Radiohead are one of my favorite groups and very important musicians. Even though classical music is the music I was born with, I always like when it comes into contact with contemporary music. It’s a paradox but maybe contemporary music is the most difficult to understand and love immediately. If you make a kid listen to Ravel’s Bolero or The Rite os Spring, he gets it and loves it. A kid is not afraid because fear comes afterwards, when you grow up and you’re lead to believe that classical music is conceived as something elitist. It didn’t find its way yet, it still suffers from prejudice and it’s not well divulged. A lot of people are trying to work towards that direction but classical music, I believe, needs to be part of children’s education in particular since school. It’s important to divulge and it should start when you are a child. Of course if you then want to play Mozart, knowing his historical context, the architecture and instruments of those times helps a lot. When we played on a fortepiano from his time it made us understand deeply his style and we found a new way of playing beyond the limits of the instrument. It’s exciting and to me, knowing how to deal with your emotions and control them is at the basis of my drive.”

I’m interested to know how their inspirations come about when choosing a theme to explore and experiment with and most of the times it has got to do with artists or movements that challenged common thinking. “Minimalism for example is an extremely important movement in music history for me. It may very well be the greatest revolution of the last century because it opened the door for rock, pop and a different way of making cinema. Everyone from Brian Eno to Radiohead got in touch at least once with minimalist’s principles. It was a kind of music that wasn’t well received at the beginning and so we recreated the same kind of atmosphere that Yoko Ono created in her loft. We gathered with different musicians in our studio, improvised a lot and discovered many things along the way. It’s an endless project because there are endless possibilities and it all started with our friend Igor Toronyi-Lalic who asked us to play in a minimalist festival at London’s Kings Place, even though we had never played that music before. We are always looking for something new, if we wanted we could have played Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue all our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but you have to move on. Recently we have been working on new projects that we are excited about like The Bernard Hermann Concert Project that includes arrangements of Hermann’s music. He was such a great composer who scored many fantastic films by Alfred Hitchock. We are also working on a project about Moondog and his world on NYC’s Sixth Avenue. He used to dress up as a viking and wrote incredible music. A documentary about him is coming out soon. Philips Glass took him under his wing and also Steve Reich was greatly influenced by him. We’ll perform this project as part of Kings Place’s Minimalism Unwrapped programme and it will include also music by Glass and a modern piece from David Chalmin. We want to investigate and show how Moondog inspired Glass but also young composers. He used to live on the street and he was an incredible talent.

We are also doing a project with one of Madonna’s break-dancers Yaman Okur who invented a particular style of dancing. It will be inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and it’s called Star-Cross’d Lovers; the music for this ballet has been exclusively written by David Chalmin. It’s a contemporary Romeo and Juliet for seven break-dancers, two pianos, electric guitar and percussions premiering in May 9th-10th at Paris’s Philharmonie 2 followed by Luzern Festival and later on Dortmund and Bordeaux” Shakespeare’s  timeless theme of impossible love has been a source of inspiration for both Chalmin and Okur who, together with Katia and Marielle, managed to break down yet another barrier. On one side, Chalmin shows how rock music, Minimalism or electronics can coexist with classical pianos and in doing so, he paves the way for contemporary music to be closer to pop music without being elitist. On the other hand, Okur is free like his body movements to bring break-dancing from the streets to concerts halls as a piece of art that can be written, choreographed and danced alongside classical soloist. Chalmin’s ability to build bridges between different musical universes has found the perfect chemistry in allies like the Labèque sisters and when this alchemy gets in touch with a visionary choreographer like Okur, these universes collide and come together to create a new symphony that is the very essence of experimentation. Love and hatred through fluctuating dancing, two romantic pianos inspired by Schubert or Chopin, and rock explosions between Capulet and Montague all find a common ground in this unconventionally conceived and produced project.

“Not that I’m surprised but you looked beautiful on stage tonight” I tell her as we meet backstage and find out that fashion doesn’t go unnoticed in the Labèque universe. “It’s really important even in our world because once you walk on stage you are already making an impression. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the classical world has to learn a lot from the pop-rock scene because that world presents itself in an appealing way. The way you look on stage is also a form of respect towards your audience.” Katia, wearing a purple velvet long jacket tells me about her love for Riccardo Tisci, “it’s not about the fashion house for us, it’s about the designer. If Riccardo was to leave Givenchy one day we’ll follow him.”

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Photo by Umberto Nicoletti

As Marielle is on her way to sign autographs for the fans already in line I need to tell Katia how impressive it was to see them on stage and ask her about a piece that expresses her unity with Marielle. Just like a breath mark, a pause that does not affect the overall tempo, her answer brings everything back to the beginning: to family and those memories of their mother taking them to see Ravel’s birth house before treating them to cake and chocolate. “It would be Ma Mère L’Oye by Ravel and his music in general that we grew up to. He’s a special composer to us and our mother’s teacher was a dear friend of him. I think it reminds us of our childhood that is always inside of us; we never lost a connection to it. Yes, we are adults now but you have to keep that world inside of you alive. When I sit with Marielle in front of the piano I always feel something gripping my heart as soon as we play the first notes. It’s very important to me and I think it has got to do with being always amazed towards life. Everything may keep on falling in a routine but it’s important to keep alive that part inside of you that is always in awe. It also helps you recognise what you have before your eyes. People are too blasé nowadays.”

Throughout yet another year’s packed schedule, the Lebèques are performing at the end of May the world premiere of a new Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra written for them by Philip Glass. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, this double piano concerto will then be performed in France, Turkey, Sweden and Spain. The influential master composer said – “Like many people involved in today’s music I have long been an admirer of Katia and Marielle Labèque’s performance of traditional and new concert music for duo pianos. I was very happy to hear their brilliant playing and interpretative skills with my own music – first with the 2007 work, Four Movements for Two Pianos and then, more recently, the Two Movements for Four Pianos. This last work was premiered by the Labèques along with additional pianists Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa. I was very pleased when they suggested a new work – the present double concerto.” This project promises a new way of experiencing the relationship of the soloist to the orchestra and since both Glass and the Labèques always seek inspiration in the unusual and unexplored, the music of the soloists will be shared between the two and the orchestra will serve to extend the range and color of the soloists.

Katia and Marielle Labèque make an impression even when they walk away from the venue and looking at them, talent is not only in the movements of their hands, the knowledge of their minds, in their fighting spirits and the exposure to music within their family. Talent is as hard to describe as the reason why a soul choses to come to life in a certain body. Reason may tell us that the Labèque future was inevitable, but when our heart is touched by their passion, talent is nothing more than “seeking the echo rather than the refrain and preferring discovery to repetition.” Their uniqueness won’t be repeated even with their DNA but Katia has her own “piece” to pass on to the future “The only thing that can make you strong is years of experience and love for music. It’s the willingness to hand down to someone your knowledge.

M.P

Katia and Marielle Labèque nel album ‘Sisters’ is out now on KML Recordings

Official Website www.labeque.com

KML Foundation www.fondazionekml.org

Twitter @KMLabeque

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Sinéad O’Connor / Interview / HUNGER TV

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Read it on HUNGER TV

 

“It’s been seven hours and fifteen days” is one of those lines from a song that always forces you to sing “since you took your love away” It’s one of those lines that brings back to your memory that simple and yet unforgettable video where Sinéad O’Connor looks at you with those fearless eyes. It’s been a little longer than seven hours but after two years, the quintessentially Irish singer-songwriter is releasing her tenth studio album, titled I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and after almost thirty years in the business, she deserves such a title. After all, her breakthrough hit “Mandinka” is dated 1987 and since then, we’ve seen Sinéad shaving her head, selling millions of records with “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”, boycotting the Grammys, fighting the real enemy on SNL by tearing into pieces a picture of the Pope on live TV, and never stepping away from difficult territories like the Vatican, child abuse, sexuality, religion and more recently Miley Cyrus. She has also been ordained as a priest along the way. The glue between success and controversy has always been her powerful and moving voice and the ability to write fragile and yet strong in their honesty lyrics. In her latest work, Sinéad is a real full woman, approaching the subject of love à la Tori Amos, through different characters, lust, theology and illusions. Hunger TV goes on this journey, track by track, with the Irish national treasure, to find out why women shouldn’t think with their dicks and that nothing compares to Lady O’C.

 

HOW ABOUT I BE ME 

“A woman like me needs love

A woman like me needs a man to be

Stronger than herself”

WOULD YOU RATHER BE A MAN OR A WOMAN IN YOUR NEXT LIFE?

I don’t have the benefit of the wisdom that one might have, if one was not limited by being in a human body, in order to make a responsible choice. I imagine that I’d want to be whichever is going to be at the best service. This opening track came together because, about three years ago, I wrote some very funny articles for an Irish newspaper about sex. Ireland is a very sexually repressed place and these articles caused great scandal among the media for their naughtiness. The song was my response to their response and it’s also the title of my previous album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? I have recorded the song about two years ago but it was a reggae version, so it didn’t quite fit with the sound of that album and I decided to rework it for this album and make it more of a pop song.

DENSE WATER DEEPER DOWN 

“Hijacked kiss made me feel in bliss

And he’s the only love I miss”

HOW DID YOUR APPROACH IN WRITING LOVE SONGS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

I don’t really think that I have ever written love songs before, certainly not very much. What happened is that I got very interested in what you call “Chicago Blues” which is a happy, funky blues; people like Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam and a guy called Willie Dixon who wrote nearly every blues song that you could imagine. Everything that we know as rock music came from blues and I was watching a lot of what these guys had to say about songwriting. They were talking about keeping things simple and to not sugarcoat things, even the good things and happy moments. I suppose I began to write about characters in the last few years and I also started getting some songwriting lessons really by watching these guys on YouTube. All they were writing was love songs, and with religious or love songs there is a very fine line between corny and cool so you have to be careful and stay on the right side. I love this song; I actually wrote it about fifteen years ago and I had a much longer version of it on another album but it got put out on a sort of closing down record company. I always wanted to take it and chop it down.

KISSES LIKE MINE

“I have a heart that flies away

Betrays me every day

But don’t let it stay heavy on your mind

I’m just not the Keeping kind”

IS IT HARD TO BE YOU IN OUR SOCIETY? SOMEONE OUTSPOKEN AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING?

The song is just a pop song and the only three songs on the album that are autobiographical, or personal, are the opening track, Dense Water Deeper Down and 8 Good Reasons. The other tracks are all characters that I invented. As for your question, it is not hard to be someone who speaks her mind but sometimes it’s hard to live with the consequences of doing it, but that’s OK. It’s part of the adventure

YOUR GREEN JACKET

“Oh how I wish that I could sell myself to you

And do the things that only lovers do

Meet me at that crazy apple tree in heaven

We’ll go dancing all night”

ARE YOU REFERENCING TO ADAM AND EVE AND THE APPLE TREE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN?

No, and it’s funny that you say that because this is something I’ve always said to my kids over the years when they were going to sleep. I had an apple tree and heaven in my mind so I’d say to them “OK, we’ll go to sleep now and we’ll meet you at the apple tree and go dancing”. I wasn’t thinking about Adam and Eve but it’s an interesting observation.

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THE VISHNU ROOM

“Because Vishnu lives at the core of my heart

Vishnu is and Vishnu starts”

THERE IS A SEXUAL YET SPIRITUAL TENSION IN THIS TRACK. HOW IS YOUR PURSUIT OF FAITH GOING?

It’s really more about sexuality. The Hindu theology believes that sex and sexuality is a sacred connection with the divine and this is one of the reason why I like it. I would subscribe to that belief that no matter how filthy or sweet sex may be, or everything in between, it’s a sacred thing. Even if you are doing it with a total stranger actually. The line you mentioned is from a teaching and Vishnu is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit who lives at the core of your heart, the place from where you love and God is in. I had this thing from probably before I was even born; the fact that I came into this world and, I suppose, I was lucky that I was born in Ireland. At that time it was a Catholic theocracy, so I was the type of child who only took on the good part of that and I believed in Jesus. I still do and I like to study theology from all kind of different religions but I’ve seen that God and religion are not the same thing. In fact, religion is a deliberate obstacle to God and that’s the reason why it exists. It actually creates a barrier between people and God. Everybody can choose to believe in whatever they want to, as long as you are doing no harm to anybody; we are all different and that’s why there are so many flavours of ice cream. I do believe that religion is doing harm to God and cleverly got everybody talking to the wall. When you study Jesus, He instructs you to talk to God, not to the church; He talks a lot about the science of prayers and the power of the spoken words but you see, if you don’t speak in the right place, the science can’t work. No matter how much you are praying. God gave us free will which is possibly a mistake, or at least it’s regrettable, so he can’t intervene unless we ask it and religion have us asking it in the wrong place. We could fix the world very quickly if we’d just ask for what Jesus told us to ask for, and that is not what we want but what the Holy Spirit intends for us. It’s my passion as a belief and knowledge that God needs to be rescued from religion

THE VOICE OF MY DOCTOR

“When I opened my eyes in your bedroom

Saw a painting of a bald lady”

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TRY TO REMEMBER TO YOURSELF?

As a songwriter, to be emotionally honest but with as few words as possible. To only use the words that I really need. This song was genuinely inspired by a kind of Vietnamese painting I saw in a shop. It was just a giant, concrete head and face of a man and there was one little tear going down his face. He took up most of the frame and beside him there was a tiny buddha priestess leaning on his cheek. When I saw it, I just begun to ask myself many questions about what was actually happening in the painting. That’s the way you work when you write a song.

HARBOUR

“No man is her father

She fought for something holy

Found only the dreams of Don Quixote”

THERE QUITE A BIT OF ANGER IN THE WAY YOU SING THIS TRACK…

The are approximately four female characters on the record, apart from myself. One character appears in about six songs starting with Your Green Jacket. The central character is going on a bit of a journey where she’s learning the difference between illusion and reality when it comes to matters of romance. Tracks like this one, where she appears, are conversations with the man that she loves and by the time Harbour begins, he has asked her to explain some marks that he has found upon her. The song is her answer to what’s gone on before.

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JAMES BROWN (with SEUN KUTI)

“I know I may look a little square

I know I look like a wooden chair”

WHAT ASSUMPTION MADE BY PEOPLE HURT YOU THE MOST?

What hurt me the most was that I’ve never got the Rear Of The Year Award, because I’ve secretly had the greatest ass throughout all of these years and no one knows. Kylie Minogue won it! It’s the one thing about me that has never been understood the most: how great my butt is! I could still win it though! I’m sorry, I’m just joking with you because I’m trying to not take myself too seriously. Back to the song, this is not the central character but it’s not me either. I guess I just wanted to create different characters, write love songs and have a very romantic record but I also wanted to perhaps show the different types of woman that even one woman might be. The central character is this very romantic woman but she also has these other parts which are represented by other more naughty characters, in Kisses Like Mine and this one. I think there is a bit of every character in each woman; it’s just a question of whether we express all of those parts or not.

8 GOOD REASONS

“You know I love to make music

But my head got wrecked by the business”

IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT BEING IRISH THAT HELPED YOU COPING WITH THE BUSINESS?

Strangely and ironically it was the fact that I had a Catholic upbringing. I really believed what I was taught about Jesus in particular, and the Holy Spirit. That was the thing that kept me alive during my childhood and led me into music. It’s the thing that led me to deal with pretty much anything in life. At the same time, I was able to see beyond Irish’s theocracy in a way, so it helped me through.

TAKE ME TO CHURCH

“What have I been singing love songs for?

I don’t wanna sing them any more

I’m the only one I should adore”

DOES HAVING 4 CHILDREN CHANGE THE KIND OF LOVE THAT WE HAVE FOR OURSELVES? AS FOR THIS SINGLE, YOU LOOK BARELY RECOGNISABLE IN THE PROMO PICTURES…

I don’t think anything makes it better or worse; it’s not like a switch that you can flick. It doesn’t come from outside or inside you in the form of a baby, it’s an understanding that you reach one day and you wonder “Ah, OK, I get it now!” It was just a way to attract the public and media attention to the album, that’s the only reason. It was not supposed to be the album cover in the first place, I just wanted to throw out two publicity shots and to put on a wig and a dress because nobody ever saw me looking like a woman. I knew that everybody around the world would run the shots and would have to mention the album but then, the record company asked if they could use one of these shots for the album cover. It was a purely calculated publicity stunt. I did the trick.

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

“Colour all gone, no iris in sight

I saw darkness

where I should have seen light”

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHARACTER IN THIS SONG?

She has been singing to this man through many songs by now, even though they are not together, and she has these ideas about him, like that he’s a lovely man for example. What happens now is that she has a brief experience with him, and it turns out that she gets quite afraid. This causes her to examine how she found herself in this frightening situation and, as you can see from the end of the album, she begins to talk about safety. It’s basically her response to the fright she has got after receiving what she wished for. Take Me To Church is her eureka moment and she decides that she’s got to be very careful about what kind of songs she writes in the future because all of that romanticising, led her to get what she wanted but, what she thought she wanted, was very frightening and unsafe. In the last track she understands that what she wants mostly is to be safe and what she was actually longing for was herself.

STREETCARS

“If I were dying, if I were dying

What would I want,

what would I want with me?”

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?

Peanut butter sandwich! Music I guess, and playing live. The line you mentioned sees the character talking to herself and not to him anymore. “What would I want with me?” We’re all supposed to live as if everyday was our last day and, if this was her last day on earth, would she want this guy around her? The answer is no, and in fact, what she thought was love for this dude was actually an illusion that led her to that frightening situation. She finally takes these informations and use them to transform herself instead of responding negatively. Her longings switch towards herself  and she’ll make safer decision in the future about what kind of man to be with. She’s not gonna be thinking with her dick! You could really encapsulate the record into that; the first half, she’s thinking with her dick, and then she gets five minutes with the man and decides to never think with her dick again! She decides to be careful about what she asks for.

M.P

 

I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss is released on August 11th

 

Sinéad O’Connor live at London’s Roundhouse on August 12th – Tickets http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2014/summer-sessions/sinead-oconnor/

 

http://www.sineadoconnor.com

 

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

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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.

03

“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.”

02

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.

04

“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.”

05

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

photo 3

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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