photos by Nicola Crivellari
Interview by Dave LangIn my line of work, so to speak, I tend to be given a lot of free CD's, and that more than often means only one thing: a lot of bad music. I shouldn't be so dismissive of the works of others, but anyone else in my predicament will know exactly what I mean. The other week, a friend of mine gave me a couple of CDs by an Italian band Jennifer Gentle, noting that they were given to him for distribution considerations, were possibly too "way out" for his given tastes, and were described in the press release as sounding like a cross between the Incredible String Band and Captain Beefheart. My friend knows damn well that such a reference should pique the interest of a fan like myself, though I couldn't help but to fall back on a piece of ripe cynicism: 'Big deal,' I thought, 'another bunch of record collectors from Europe got a band together.' Looking closer at one of the CD's, I noticed it was actually a collaboration with Kawabata Makoto of the famed (and awesome) Acid Mothers Temple. Hmmm... I will at least give these a listen.
Suffice to say, ever since that first audio encounter with Jennifer Gentle I've wasted every spare breath singing their praises to anyone within earshot. I've become their #1 Fanboy and possibly a pain in the arse to my friends who likely wish I'd just shut the hell up about them. I wish I could. Their second album, 2002's Funny Creatures Lane, is an insanely inspired and life-affirming grab-bag of sloppy psych-pop, twisted orchestral ditties, skewed percussive jams, slabs of raucous feedback drones and some truly brilliant stabs at musical dimentia. Listening to the whole album, yes, I can hear bits and pieces of the music I love: Amon Duul, Godz, Os Mutantes, Residents, Sun City Girls, Love, Bongwater, Morricone, Can, Van Dyke Parks and more. But it's Jennifer Gentle's ability to transcend the limitations of their inspirations that makes them so special. JG create their own blueprint that in turn is truly inspiring in its own right. Their sound is alien and unique.
And the Kawabata collaborative CD? A different kettle of fish entirely. Gone are the more structured "pop" happenings, only to be replaced by the massive drone that is Mr. Makoto. Accompanying the band on echo guitar and sarongi (Japanese string instrument), the three songs within build up the kind of buzz I haven't sweated about since first changing my religion on initial encounter with Amon Duul back in the day. Needless to say, if you dig your jams fuzz-drenched, bong-rattling and likely influenced by Germans, then the CD is for you.
And the band? Naturally I instantly wrote them to get the whole story, and that's what you have below. They're young, they're talented, their music rocks, they're touring. Jennifer Gentle may just be the best band you've never heard. Do something about THAT today.
As an endnote, it should be mentioned that since this article was written, Australian label Lexicon Devil (yeah, the label run by the very guy who wrote this article... shame, anyone?) has just issued Jennifer Gentle's "Ectoplasmic Garden Party" double CD, which compiles their two albums, I Am You Are and Funny Creatures Lane at a Nice Price. Please send all enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
Check them out at www.jennifergentle.it
Answers by: M (Marco fasolo), A (Alessio), N (Nicola)PSF: Who's in the band? Ages? (we want to make sure that no minors are corrupted)
A - Jennifer Gentle are from Padova, a town near Venice, and the group is formed by Marco Fasolo (22, vocals & guitar), Isacco Maretto (25, guitar & bass), Nicola Crivellari (21, bass & guitar), Alessio Gastaldello (28, drums). The live lineup is augmented by Max Trisotto, who plays keyborads, guitar and sings.
PSF: How did the band come about? How did you meet?
N - I met Marco when we were at the high school. He was in a band called Carcers with Isacco and some other strange guy. They had a very original style: while all the other teen bands were into grunge/punk/metal covers, Carcers played their own songs and loved stuff like The Breeders and Beck. At the time, it was like fresh air. I immediately liked their music and I asked to join the band. We did some concerts, finally meeting Alessio and Marco D., who were the owners of the only indie club in Padova, the Plan 9. In 1999, Carcers broke up because of the usual problems, and Marco Fasolo kept writing and playing his songs alone. Some months later, he called me to form Jennifer Gentle with Alessio and Isacco. Basically, this time we wanted to do things more seriously, improving the sound quality according our aesthetic choices and trying to release the final results. We played our first concert in January 2000 at the Plan 9. We almost signed a deal with an indie Italian label, but there were problems because they wanted us to record the way they liked. So we decided to make up our own small label and formed Sillyboy with the help of Marco D. In February 2001, we released our first album, I Am You Are, and in 2002 the second one, Funny Creatures Lane, and the Kawabata collaboration.
PSF: What's the musical climate like in Italy for a band like JG? In other words, how does the mainstream media perceive you?
A - Well, we are "quite" popular! Music magazines gave us enough space and I think they were really surprised. There was some problem in classifying our music. You know, Italy is still living is full on lo-fi/post-rock season... However, I guess our peculiarity is appreciated.
M - Paradoxically we had more problems with the underground media than the "mainstream." It's a question of "indie" ethos. With the first album anyway, we were regarded more like the strangely acting people at a party, while Funny Creatures Lane has been taken more seriously.
N - It's a complex matter. Anyway, we don't know what other bands or labels think about us and we don't care that much.
PSF: Was there a sound you were after or did it naturally evolve?
A - I think JG have had the same sound from the beginning. We have the same idea in mind, but now we have more experience and technical skill, so the sound is somewhat changed - but for me, it's basically the same.
M - The songwriting changed a lot and the sound followed this path: I Am You Are is very chaotic and disturbing, because the songs were often nothing more than sketches. Actually, it was like a polaroid shot of the band in a certain moment of its life, when the only important thing was to fix some ideas, even if they weren't completely developed. Funny Creatures Lane was way more focused and studied: we wanted it to be spookier and lighter at the same time. We spent a lot of time mixing it, trying for the right production solution. For me a song is like an empty room: sound and production techniques are the furniture.
PSF: What do you do outside of the band? Jobs? School?
A - I got a scholarship from the University and I work two days a week in the reasearch department of an air conditioning system factory. Yes, I'm an engineer. I'm sorry for that...
N - I study cinematography at Bologna University.
M - I have my little 4 hour a day job, while Isacco these days is becoming a surgeon. Fear the mad doctor!
PSF: Do you play often? What bands have you played with?
N - Considering the uneasy Italian club situation we played a lot. We played some cool festivals with bands such as Zu, Mogwai and Ikara Colt.
M - We did also the tour with Acid Mothers Temple - definitely a highlight.
PSF: How did the Kawabata CD come about?
N - Marco D. is an Acid Mothers Temple fan, so he decided to send to Makoto our albums: he apparently apprecitaed them a lot. We arranged his Italian solo tour in May 2002 and we played as his support band. Since the first gig, we clicked so he accepted to play some of our songs as ancore. He didn't know the songs, he just asked about their feel. It was one of the most gorgeous, funny, lisergic concerts we ever did. On stage, it was like Makoto was one of us, playing with us for years, with the same passion and intuition.
M - The night in Gorizia has been way better than the Padova concert recorded for The Wrong Cage! It's a shame we couldn't record it properly. Also, the tour with AMT was a great moment: they are great musicians and nice people. I also talked a lot with Makoto: he's really an ancient soul.
PSF: Have you played outside of Italy much? Touring plans?
N - No, we just played a concert in Zagreb with Acid Mothers Temple.
M - Another great night: the audience was fantastic, really into the music and vital.
A - Now we will play in Switzerland and are also trying to arrange a US tour for this summer. It's difficult but I hope we can do it.
PSF: Is there much of a scene in Italy? Any kindred bands that constitute a network of similar minds?
A - I don't know if it's possibile to call it a scene... The Italian indie scene is very small, everybody knows everyone, there are few clubs and the audiences are always the same few people. So it's pretty difficult to grow out of it. However I don't think there's a scene in the way you mean. Some bands help each other without having a common style. For example, we are in good terms with Zu, a punk jazz group, but we are totally different.
PSF: Here's the big one: are you guys record collectors or what?
M - No, I'm not a collector. I like early Pink Floyd, early classical music, early rock n roll: Chuck Berry, Pat Boone, Joe Meek.
N - Me too, I'm not a record collector. Really I don't listen to music as much as I play it. I like visual art, photography and films.
A - Yeah!!! I'm a rabid fan, even if in the last years I lost interest in new bands. Now I have more a "historical" approach. I want to discover the story of certain sounds, where is the origin of everything. I recently discovered stuff like the psychedelic Miles, Albert Ayler and I'm definitely into krautrock.
PSF: Any other influences you care to mention? Literary? Films?
A - I love people like Kubrick, Cronenberg, Tim Burton, but I think the most significant influence on our music are horror/splatter movies. Do you know Italian genius Dario Argento? My favorite writers are Dostoevski and Bulgakov, they influenced me very much but I dont think this comes out in our music.
N - Maybe the main feature in our music that comes from other artistic languages is irony. There are many different sources, a sort of climate in which we live in: trash movies, comedies, dada, pop art.
M - The biggest influences in my life are Willy Wonka, Suspiria and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Jennifer Gentle are like Leatherface and his Oompa Loompa practicing black magic with Helena Marcos...
PSF: Did you guys ever see Negazione or Raw Power?
N - No, I don't.
A - No, we are too young. Well, to be honest, I'm not that young anymore but I've never been a hardcore fan.
PSF: Future recording plans?
A - After releasing three albums in 18 months now we want to do things more slowly. However Sillyboy, the label we run with our friend Marco D, has many projects: we will release the next Land Of Nod album, and we will work again with Kawabata Makoto and Cotton Casino from AMT. And there is also a special secret project to be revealed soon...
M - I' m putting the final touches to my solo album. Its very different from JG: it will be only an extra long track, made up with several sonic materials from different non musical sources and it will be like a death trip! I'm searching for a self-created music, a music able to annihilate its author's mind. In the summer, we will also start recording the next JG album: it will be darker, even bluesier, but with wacky, more free playing.
PSF: Is the band an outlet of relief? Would you say you're happy people? Is JG angst-ridden?
N - I hope to answer properly (my dictionary gives me too much synonyms!). Of course the band is a way to express ourselves and to get girls and we like to do it in different ways, describing different moods: joy, fun, melancholy, extravagance, kitsch, mistery, silliness. Existential anguish or anger against the system aren't our main themes, we express something that fits well with the average, cliched rock n roll song.
A - When I play with the band I'm happy, even though most of the times at the end I have something like a nervous breakdown. It's not a good mood, but for me its important to have these shocking feelings.
M - To play with JG, sadly, doesn't make me happy. There's a restlessness that keeps me always on the run, without reaching any kind of satisfaction. I am obsessed by music. I'm not doing this because I'm searching for happiness, its just the desire to catch my obsessions.
PSF: Last comments for the folks at home?
A - Now, when you think about Italy don't think about spaghetti, pizza and mandolin, think about Jennifer Gentle, spaghetti, pizza and mandolin!
N - ...and please visit our band site!
Label site: www.sillyboy.it
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