On the new album "Allow Yourself" the Italian Giancarlo Erra and his band Nosound initiate a change of direction. The Artrock and the Progressive of earlier albums are only present in trace elements, now the emphasis lies in the alternative area. The soft, melancholic overall sound characteristic of Nosound, however, remains. eclipsed spoke with Erra about his artistic ambitions.
eclipsed: On the new album you have shifted the focus away from Artrock/Progrogrock to more songkompatiblen structures as well as alternative and electronic. Why's that?
Giancarlo Erra: I think it's a natural process that has evolved from album to album. This was already apparent on the last album "Scintilla", but I wasn't aware of it even then. Change, change and further development are completely natural things in life. And these things are especially important in the artistic field. Without that one repeats oneself or becomes rampant. That is then a lower artistic level. I only heard a lot of prog myself in my youth in the 90's, when I was a kid, when Pink Floyd or things like "In The Court Of The Crimson King" by King Crimson or the first Genesis albums after Peter Gabriel's departure would be called prog. Very early on I also heard rock influences like the Beatles, soundtracks and electronic music. So I don't really see myself as a progfan, although of course in my first albums clear Pink Floyd influences are noticeable. But I think I quickly got rid of that and integrated postrock, alternative rock, ambient and soundtracks. I just like the simpler and more song oriented way of working and that has taken up more and more space in my albums. The difference in "Allow Yourself" is simply that I have taken the liberty of no longer worrying about expectations and leaving my comfort zone. This was a difficult process but also such a huge experience that I consider "Allow Yourself" to be the most authentic Nosound album so far.
eclipsed: But didn't you also lose one of your strengths by omitting the prog elements?
Erra: No, not at all. I see it the other way around. I left out an old influence that I had allowed long enough and that may never have worked properly for me, because traces of "Allow Yourself" have always been there and it's precisely these traces that I've always liked best. It was also a bit frustrating that most people always liked the "simple" things with lots of guitars and drums better. It's like always hanging behind old times. I myself prefer to improve my present life than to mourn after old times full of nostalgia. When I was a teenager, I liked artists whose new works didn't differ from the old ones. But I quickly discovered that musicians who change and always face new challenges for themselves and their listeners are much more admirable. Now that I've reached half of my life and the more time is running out, the more I like such artists and people in general. For me it is both amusing and sad that since the 80s, so-called progressive music has become a very conservative music. Like a kind of definition of what music has to be like. Instead of being open to everything.
eclipsed: You have already tried out this new direction in the live shows of 2017. To what extent did this help with the recording and production of the new album?
Erra: For us live shows are a moment to feel really free as a band. For me, concerts and studio albums are two completely different things. An album stays forever. You take it in with the intention of carving something in stone and recording your feelings in time. A concert, however, is only a snapshot, which remains in the memories and feelings. And that's exactly what I like about feelings. According to my taste the rocky songs on stage should be less clichéd, pompous or long. Rather they should be direct, arising from an interaction of us five musicians and the audience. Because we already tried out the songs of "Allow Yourself" live, we were able to develop and improve them more easily. At the same time the live feeling has been preserved. It wasn't a reproduction of a studio album
eclipsed: Despite this reorientation, the typical soft, melancholic Nosound sound has been preserved.
Erra: A simple explanation might be that we as humans are very good at recognizing the emotions of others. Even if we talk to a person on the phone whom we do not know, we can still guess whether the other person is sad, nervous, excited or something similar. This even works in an unknown language. Nosound albums - whether old or new - are always very personal, autobiographical, direct and honest. Nothing has ever been written to improve on anything previous or to fulfill a particular style. All albums have the same basic feeling. And that's exactly why I don't shy away from change. If someone doesn't like the new album, then he doesn't like the essence of the album, but only a certain style, because Nosound was always about feelings. So the essence has remained the same, only the form of expression is different.
eclipsed: You have reduced the guitars and the sound is very soft and melancholic. Does that reflect your character again?
Erra: Actually, I'm a sunny guy. But I can best express feelings with music. I can't do this well by any other means. I even think that the new album is rougher and less gentle than its predecessors. A wall of distorted guitars doesn't make a rough sound. It makes the album rather boring. "Allow Yourself" has some rough sounds, some very dry sounds. The album is more focused and less blurry. Sure, the album is melancholic in some places, but not in others like "Ego Drip", "Don't You Dare", "At Peace" and "Defy". This may be made even clearer by the lyrics. Songs like "Shelter" or "Saviour" are even uplifting because they connect you - that is: me - with feelings of liberation and advancement.
eclipsed: Don't you want to play rougher, faster, rockier?
Erra: No, I just don't like it. Sure, it's a lot of fun to let the fun out and headbang. I've done enough of that as a teenager in some cover bands. For me, however, art must have depth and meaning. Otherwise, it's not art, it's entertainment. Don't get me wrong. There is great music with hard riffs and I also like some hard rock bands, especially Led Zeppelin and Tool. There is also great obscure stuff like The God Machine. And I love listening to loud, rocky music during sports to give me an energy boost. But I am far from producing such music myself. I can't imagine using riffs when I can use full chords on a beautiful piano instead to create emotions. To be honest: when I need some "uptempo", I prefer electronic music to hard rock. A guitar can contribute far less to the overall sound than an analog synthesizer.
eclipsed: Do you feel like opening a new chapter in your career with the new album?
Erra: Yes, definitely. This process already started with "Scintilla". With "Allow Yourself" the step has now been taken. With "Afterthoughts" we have completed a phase in 2013 which is more about the rocky side of Nosound. Now we are grown up and want to create something independent and at the same time be open for everything. We want to take care of the present of music, not the past. We want to find our own direction, concentrate on mature and contemporary songwriting and production.
eclipsed: You're a five-piece band. But you compose all the pieces, write the lyrics, do the recording, the mixing and the whole production. What leeway is left for the other four?
Erra: This balance has always been a bit delicate. It has its advantages and disadvantages as in any other band. The fact that Nosound works in this way is precisely because there is a clear hierarchy and distribution of tasks. There is a precisely described way of working and command chain. I think that if there is such order and organization, then there will be enough room for creativity. So you don't have to fight, argue, discuss for long. If you know how it works and you know the rules, then everyone has their own playground where they can let off steam. I think I know what experience many bands have at some point: If you have to spend a lot of time with others and at the same time want to be creative, then at some point the characters become more important than the music. If you can handle your band in a nice, relaxed and funny way, then you can also achieve something, even if you have different musical tastes. With us the songwriting process always starts with me, because Nosound is a very personal thing for me. I then show the band the demos, which have only vocals and piano. The others have a say from then on, can contribute their ideas. So they can decide for themselves how much they bring in. It is important to me that any criticism is constructive. I don't like it when someone says "this is crap" or just "I don't like this" without further explanation. I want to know the reasons and find a way to improve something. Over the years we've had a few cast changes. But it was always important to me that all musicians were my friends. It's the only way to play such emotional music. It's the same with my current companions: Paolo Vigliarolo on guitar, with whom I started making music 25 years ago, Marco Berni on keyboards, bassist Orazio Fabbri, who's completely new, and drummer Ciro Iavarone.
eclipsed: It is now ten years since the renowned Artrock/Prog label Kscope signed you. How did the contact come about then?
Erra: I got in contact with Kscope in 2008 during the time of the second album "Lightdark". From my first album "Sol129", which I had recorded in my teenage world, I was able to achieve relatively good sales and when "Lightdark" was finished, I joined the online label Burning Shed. I've been in contact with Tim Bowness before, who sings on a song by "Lightdark". Sales of "Lightdark" were also relatively good for an indie band. And I got the attention of Kscope through Burning Shed. They've just tried to expand their palette with new artists. The rest is history. I signed with Kscope and a year later I moved to England. I guess all these things, like so many in life, are a combination of incredibly hard work that has taken me to the right place at the right time. I gave up my studies and took three day jobs to finance my musical career, which I could only work on at night. I've lived like this for years, and the only way you can do that is if you're 20. I did everything myself. Only 20 percent of it was the music itself. The rest consisted of writing emails, making contacts, spinning a network, spending a lot of money on elaborate packaging so that the reviewers could see you and you could distinguish yourself from the others, setting up an expensive studio to make a good production possible, travelling through Europe to meet people in the scene, shaking hands, making personal contact. Sometimes, when young musicians ask me how to get ahead in the music business, I find that these musicians are not willing to take on all these things and just hope for their happiness that a label will do all this for them. But the '70s are long gone. In the music business, talent counts as much as damn hard work. This is more stressful and boring than many other jobs. With all this I have to say that I have achieved the best I could imagine, because Kscope is simply the best label for me in the alternative rock area. The employees have become a family to me. They help me, challenge and encourage me and accept what I do. And they are just as happy about the new album as I am. I was afraid at first they wouldn't be so happy about the change. But they said that would fit in exactly with the label's more open orientation.
eclipsed: You have been active with Nosound for 15 years now. What were the highlights and the most important steps for you?
Erra: That's a long list. The most beautiful thing for me is the still lasting fun I had on stage with all my band members. Whether it's the old or the new band members. The old band members keep coming to our meetings. We're one big family. It's also a great feeling to hold the test press in your hand with every album. Everything I had in mind for a long time has now become something material outside of me. It's like a liberation, like a circle that closes. Also our concerts are highlights for me. The interaction with the audience. The work I have had over the years with people like Tim Bowness, Chris Maitland and Vincent Cavanagh has also been great because I have learned from them and shared feelings and deep conversations with them. I've achieved more than I dreamed of as a teenager. And thanks to "Allow Yourself" I know that I have a lot of new things to look forward to.
*Interview: Bernd Sievers