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Porcelain Raft

Devil in the Details

Jan 30, 2012 Porcelain Raft
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Under the guise of Porcelain Raft, Mauro Remiddi makes gauzy bedroom pop—constructing dream-laden choruses from loops of gently strummed guitars, drum machines, and tape hiss. Impressed with the several EPs he already has to his name (including last year’s excellent Gone Blind), Under the Radar spoke with the Italian troubadour on the eve of the release of his first full-length Strange Weekend (out via Secretly Canadian). Remiddi told us about simplifying the process, the marriage of image and sound, and what he really wanted to do with his life.

Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): Last time you spoke with Under the Radar, you told us that your goal was to get into a room and compose your full-length on the spot. How successful were you in carrying out that plan?

Mauro Remiddi: Basically, that didn’t change. I feel like I did the album in that way. I basically rented a space in Brooklyn for two months, put all my instruments there, and found that I could be loud because it was a basement, as opposed to my flat in London where I had to be very quiet and sing very softly. Now finally I could be very loud and do whatever I want. That’s how I did it in two months. I composed the songs in the place, recorded the songs in the place. So in that sense it didn’t change. It wasn’t like a song in a day of course, but the idea was to compose the songs in the same spot. Like it was a snapshot of something very precise that’s happening in the present. So it was my studio in a sense.

Do you find you have to give yourself rules and goals like that in order to create?

It’s not really in order to create. It has nothing to do with creation. Imagine you have a story to tell. The story is there anyway. But when you want to tell it, you want people to listen to it. If I want to be a good storyteller, if I want to make sure what I’m saying makes sense, I need those rules. Otherwise it would be too abstract. I would go places where I don’t really need to go. My music would be much more complicated, much more themes going on. I don’t mind it. But for those types of songs, I really don’t see that. If I want to be simple, if I want to tell a story, to tell it all and tell it in the most simple way, I need to add rules. Maybe that’s just me, maybe someone else could do it different. But by doing it that way, I know I’m going to be simple, I’m going to be straightforward, and it’s not going to take long.

It’s interesting that you call your music simple and straightforward. As a listener I hear so many themes and complex layers going on.

[Laughs] Can you imagine how complex it might be if I hadn’t done it this way? I don’t know. To me it’s the most straightforward, simple music that I can do. Sometimes I just want to play songs with guitar and voice. Well not all the time. I did some songs with just guitar and voice. But as soon as you start doing songs with just guitar and voice it feels like so much on the Internet. Like someone did it in his room, without shoes, on his bed, singing. That just doesn’t appeal to me.

I need some magic. For me it’s a show like a show in a way. For me it’s like the Wizard of Oz. I don’t want to be a small guy, pulling the strings. I want to be the Wizard of Oz. You know what I mean? I think sometimes when you play music, that’s the feeling that you have, to become the thing that’s exposing its soul. It’s fine. So many people do it and they’re super good. But that doesn’t appeal to me.

After doing music for as long as you have and in as many constellations as you have, what made the idea of turning Porcelain Raft into a solo project so appealing?

I just felt that at some point I didn’t want to discuss. I didn’t want to find new ways. I’ve worked as a team. I love it. There’s nothing like a team that works well. The feeling you have is great. But at some point I felt that I didn’t want to find little ways to make everybody happy. I just wanted to do something that would make me happy. I know that to do that, I just had to be by myself. So I just felt, you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m not going to have to argue, I’m not going to have to go through telephone calls. What do you think about this? What do you think about that? I’m just going to do exactly what I want. That’s what I did when I started the project. It was more like having fun, 100%. It was great because I really needed it, because I always played with a band. I was always the main arranger. It’s such a different feeling when you truly don’t have to make anybody happy. It’s just great. I know it sounds so selfish, but it’s true.

Do you view music as an extension of your life? Or is it more of a way to distract yourself from life?

I think it’s even simpler. It’s a way to entertain myself. It entertains me in the most sublime way. It’s not, “Oh I’m bored, I don’t know what to do.” It’s not about that. Music and shows are like food for us. For our brain, for our heart. It’s actually food. We cannot survive without it. Sometimes I go to a record shop. I’m looking for a record I wish they had. Nobody has it. It’s like, “You know what? I’m going to do it myself.” I just want to hear this song right now. There’s nobody doing it in this way, so I’m going to just do it. So it starts with a way of entertaining myself. For me entertainment is the highest form of art.

Do you find that events in your life, like moving to the U.S., or getting married, have affected the way that you view your music?

Humm…that’s interesting. I wouldn’t know. Surely it did. I don’t ask myself those questions. I just let it go. I’m quite sure it has changed a lot. It changed so many things. But at the same time, I wouldn’t know what to say, because I haven’t really put that question to myself. So I wouldn’t know what to say.

Perhaps that’s something I’ll have to ask you in another five years or so.

[Laughs] Yeah, that’s true! Sometimes, honestly, I write songs and provide lyrics on the spot. I just improvise them. So once they’re recorded, I listen non-stop to my records, to what I’ve recorded, to understand where I’m at. What I’m trying to say or what are my feelings. Those songs are made in such a quick way that I really need to listen to them a lot before I understand. So I think you’re right. Maybe in one year’s time I’ll understand what I’m trying to say.

You’ve had so many experiences, working Off Broadway, performing with a traveling Circus in Germany, as part of a choir in Korea—do you believe the idea that music is the universal language?

There’s so much music. I’ll give you an example. There’s this music that comes from Indonesia. To me it’s not like this Italian music. It’s made with gongs and a form of composition that we’re not used to because we’re from Western countries. It’s almost painful because there are all these metals playing at the same time. It’s very high pitched. When I listen to it, to me it is alien. But it makes me feel so good. And I don’t even know why. There’s no reason why this music would make me feel good. It’s a language that I do not understand. I understand that I do not understand it. I do not know, it does something to me. Music isn’t just something that comes from the mind. It’s vibrations, and our body responds to these vibrations. So probably I react to those vibrations. It makes me feel good and I don’t know why. I don’t need to know. My sound resounds with it, and it’s fine.

Do you think yourself as a child would have believed all the experiences you’ve had in your life so far?

When I was a child I wanted to be the Pope. On television I saw this man, dressed in white coming out. Everyone was clapping, everyone was looking at him. I was like, “Hey Mom, who is that guy?” She said it was the Pope. For me it was like Elvis. It was like, “What is he doing on the red carpet dressed in white? I want to be the Pope!” I was like, nine years old. [Laughs]

I recently saw the “Put Me to Sleep” video. Have visuals and music always gone together for you?

I think that they are the same thing. Materially they are not, of course. They’re two different mediums. I think when I compose songs; I always see some images connected with it. Those images underline things in the music that are invisible. For me, to make that video or to connected a song to an image is everything! The point is not to make new music, or something nobody has heard before, the point is to create new contexts for music.

I’ll give you a stupid example. The White Stripes. Those guys were playing rock and roll with great sensibility about songwriting. They put those songs in a different context. They were dressed in red. There were just two. It was amazing. Because they changed context around that type of music, what they were doing was so impressive. I think that’s what an image does; it creates a new context to something that already exists. It’s more a conceptual approach, I would say. For me it’s never about something new. I don’t care about that. I care about the concept that the music has.

What visuals informed your new album, Strange Weekend?

To be honest, this is the first time that I’ve done an album that’s a collection of songs—not a “best of.” Not like, after two years I’ve been playing and I put out a best of CD. It’s just an album composed and done in two months. In that sense it’s the first time that I’ve done something like that. I think the image, the cover of the album, represents a lot. The cover of the album, for example, just the color of it, it seems like a bruise, or it seems like something that could be human. At the same time it looks like a map. Like a satellite map. Something that’s photographed from above. That’s what I like. It seems like the detail in a really big painting. I’m not showing you the big painting; I’m showing you a detail. That’s also why it’s called Strange Weekend. If you think about a weekend, it’s just two days. It’s something that happens within two days. It’s just a small timeframe. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do. A small timeframe, nothing that would talk about the universe, living forever, or anything that would last forever. It’s such a small thing. A snapshot, a small photo. To you it’s something very very small. Both the title and the cover capture that.

It’s interesting that you mention the ephemeral nature of the album. It seems like the opposite of what a lot of artists are trying to accomplish.

The moment you start to explain yourself, it becomes, first, very boring, second you sound impossible, and third, it’s a celebration of, well, what? I’m much more interested in a small timeframe. It’s like a chat with somebody. You can talk to a friend and they can say something to you. What they said to you, you might remember your first love. Your thoughts start to wander and you see that really important moment, that just happened because you had a conversation. That’s what I’m interested in, more than the story you have with your lover. I’m interested in that moment where thoughts start to happen in your brain, just because you recall that. It’s impossible to betray yourself. So I focus on one small detail, and I’m quite sure that one small detail can actually reveal a lot of the rest without seeing it.



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