On the 1st of December Italian nu-jazz-band Gabin played a gig in Kaliningrad, the most western Russian city. Traditionally, «Kaliningrad City Jazz» Music Festival, which takes place since summer 2006, also has annual winter shows hosted by the cult local club «Vagonka». Massimo Bottini and Filippo Clary — founders of the band, which they named after famous French actor Jean Gabin, kindly agreed to be interviewed by Trill.
Gabin smartly combine live and studio approaches to making music: Filippo Clary has been a producer and DJ for many years, Massimo Bottini is a professional jazz bassist and guitar player. It is Gabin’s second visit to Kaliningrad — in the summer of 2010 they played in the city’s Central park during the fifth edition of the «Kaliningrad City Jazz» Festival. This time the musicians had to perform in completely different conditions: the gig would take place in an intimate ambience of the «Vagonka Club», and on the day of the concert the first snow covered the city.
Trill: First of all, welcome to Kaliningrad! It’s your second time here, right?
Max Bottini: Yes, two years ago we played here in a very nice open space. It was the «Kaliningrad City Jazz» Festival, and I met a lot of great artists there, for example, Steve Hackett from Genesis. It was a big pleasure for me.
Filippo Clary: After that concert I went to this very club (A/N: «Vagonka») to see the jam-session. There was a great combo of musicians, who took part in the festival, playing here — they did an excellent gig.
Could you tell us how you started playing music? What did your fascination with music begin with, and why did you choose exactly these musical paths — why did you, Max, choose bass guitar, and you, Filippo, become a DJ? What were your musical origins?
MB: To be honest, I don’t remember, because I can’t remember a day of my life without music. I started to play professionally at the age of 8 — back then I played folk music. And then I think you can choose your path, of course, but it can also be the path that’s choosing you. When I changed my musical direction and started to play blues, jazz, it all happened very naturally.
FC: My story is quite the same — when I was young, I listened to the records my family had at home: Nina Simone, Ray Charles. I was fully in love with listening to music. At the same time I learned to play violoncello, but ended up becoming a DJ, because I felt that exactly that was the right way for me to express my love for music. In a word, I just went where my senses were taking me. But the purpose of my life was to produce, to make music. So, Gabin is my dream and I’m extremely happy this dream has come true.
So, can you say you come from families where music mattered much?
MB: No, no. Anyway, more Filippo than me, because his mama was in the show business.
A question that interests many of your fans: why don’t you have a permanent vocalist? And why do you work with different vocalists on your records and on tour?
MB: It is a good question. You know, in the beginning we didn’t even expect that we would travel around the world giving concerts. We were just two music producers. But when we worked on our first record, we realized that we are not able to make only one kind of music — we constantly mix different stylistic elements. And already at that time we were having discussions as to who would be the best option, the most fitting vocalist for this or that song. ‘Cause each song has its own peculiarities.
But then we started to ponder if we could have just one main vocalist. And on the second album along with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Edwyn Collins we concentrated on the work with Dee Dee’s daughter, China Moses — she sings most of the songs. On the third album we had a different main vocalist — Mia Cooper, she was with us during our last visit to your city. Now we have a new singer, Lucy Campeti. So, I don’t know — maybe we will end up having only one main voice for our songs, but there will definitely always be guest appearances, because we like to collaborate with new people every time, just can’t help it.
OK, your approach to vocalists is clear, and where do you find other musicians for studio work and for touring? You two are the core of the band, and where do others come from?
MB: Well, I have to say we don’t really use so many musicians. Maybe our last album can count as an exception, because we worked with an orchestra on it. But normally we can record everything on our own. That’s how we did our first two records, except only contributions from the saxophone player Stefano Di Battista.
Live performances are a different thing, of course. Then we just look around, ask our friends for advice, get in touch with the musicians we worked with before... anyway, we only work with musicians we like.
On your last album, «Third And Double», there’s a song with Chris Cornell. Could you tell us how you managed to get him to work with you and if you listen to the music he normally plays. What is your attitude towards rock music?
MB: Of course, Soundgarden!
FC: We do like rock music! Chris’s participation was a surprise. I wrote this song («Lies»), and we were thinking, «Now the problem is, who could be the singer». We needed a special voice for it, not a soul-voice, but the one with a bit more aggression, with grit inside. And we thought, «We could try it with Chris Cornell». But my next thought was, «Chris Cornell comes from a completely different style of music». But he accepted our offer at once! Just imagine how amazed we were. He wrote us after just one day that he likes the song and he wants to work on it.
MB: His wife wrote us that this was the first time that he accepted an offer to make a duo. He said ‘no’ to Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez...
FC: ...but he said ‘yes’ to Gabin! And about one month later he came to Rome with his family to make a footage for the Italian national TV with us. And he told us that he was proud of this project and that this song is his, too.
MB: And Chris even bought a house in Rome, because he fell in love with the city.
FC: On our latest record, «TAD Replay» (A/N: a compilation of remixes and alternative takes of songs from «Third And Double»), there is a new, smooth acoustic version of «Lies». And we had another guest who did the guitar part for it — Ace from Skunk Anansie. Another reason for us to be proud.
How did you come to the idea of splitting your last album into two parts (A/N: «Third And Double» contains two «sides»: Filippo Clary side and Max Bottini side)?
MB: You know, we’ve worked together for 14 years now. And sometimes you feel the need to express yourself individually, without mediation, making all the decisions without having to discuss them with someone. And we both came to the same idea at the same moment: why not make a different kind of project? It could be the first time when we could show the audience the ingredients, which Gabin is made up of, separately. We always considered Gabin to be a sort of a musical laboratory where we made our experiments. So, this was another experiment. It flowed in a very natural way, and we are very happy with it.
Still, were you to some extent involved in the making of your colleague’s side?
MB: No, we decided to work each fully on his own, we didn’t want to influence each other.
FC: It was an important step in our career, because it has to do with our friendship, too. Now I know more about Max in a different way. I got access to his intimate creative sphere, learned more about his approach to melodies, because he was completely free, like me.
MB: But now we start to work together again. And we have big news: do you know Paul Haggis, the movie director? He directed the Oscar-winning film «Crash». He called us and asked us to do a version of an old Italian song for his new movie which will be called «The Third Person». And he fell in love with the song so much that he wanted us to be in the movie, too. And so, a month ago we shot this scene with him in Rome. The film must be ready by the end of 2013. We enjoyed working with Paul a lot.
And another good news is that DreamWorks took our song «Bang Bang To The Rock’n’Roll» from the album «Mr. Freedom» for their new cartoon «Rise Of The Guardians».
Congratulations! Coming back to the two sides: actually, a side is something a vinyl record typically has. Do you still listen to vinyl records? Or do you prefer CD’s and mp3’s?
MB: No, actually not. Maybe Filippo — he has an incredible collection!
FC: Yes, I don’t know how many records I have... I think things have changed in the last years. If I was fond of something in my young years, I loved the thing with all my heart. And the current young generation is fond of files, without knowing anything about a certain record, or song, or musicians. They don’t care for stories behind the music. And I used to read about the albums I listened to, I tried to understand how the drummer, for example, elicits these or those sounds... I think things are different now.
MB: I have to say that we know music, and we know the music of the past well. But for me downloading music from the internet to my iPhone is a much easier way. Another convenient option for our work is to use YouTube. And listening to vinyl records is, to me, more of a ritual nowadays — but a pleasant one, of course.
FC: When I was a DJ, carrying around plenty of records was very heavy. Now it’s much easier — you can just take a memory stick or a CD with you. Good music remains good no matter what source it is played from.
MB: Sometimes it can even become better — by means of digital remastering.
I think your last album showed that you two are really different. Is it the correct impression that Max is a calmer and more romantic type and Filippo is a groovier kind of guy?
MB: No, no, I don’t think so! Filippo’s side has one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever heard in my life, which is «So Many Nights». And my side contains jazzy lively thing «The Game». So, I think, we both can work with different moods. And another important thing to note is that the music found on «Third And Double» doesn’t express, doesn’t show all kinds of music we can produce. Mostly it conveys the mood of the moment. But in no way does it mean that we can’t write music in a different vein. For example, I like rock music as well.
FC: Yes, maybe Max’s side can be compared to a tuxedo and my side to jacket and jeans, but you can’t really tell what will be groovier. It’s all relative.
Do you listen to the radio?
MB: I only listen to the radio in the car, but not to music. I’m crazy about football, and there is a radio station in Rome where they talk only about FC «Roma». So if I listen to the radio, I listen to this (laughs). Because I don’t like the music that plays on the radio. If I want to listen to some music when I’m driving in my car, I just put a CD or a memory stick with mp3’s into my car stereo. I would say the only radio station in Italy which plays the music that meets our tastes is, of course, «Radio Monte Carlo». But they usually play the kind of music we like in the afternoon.
FC: I listen to internet radio stations or go to YouTube to find the music I need. I like to find new bands by myself. And on the radio they just play the same 10 songs on repeat: Christina Aguilera...
MB: ...which can be great, too! I like commercial music, I like the sound of well-produced commercial songs. But I seldom listen to the music on the radio. Especially when I work on something new as a producer — in that case I prefer not to listen to other music at all, in order not to get sidetracked.
FC: But anyway, you won’t hear fresh stuff on the radio nowadays. They just go, «Hello everybody!» and blah-blah-blah. Unlike YouTube, which is like a stargate sometimes — you can discover really great bands there.
You have songs in different languages: not only in English or in French, but also in Portuguese, for example. Do you speak all these languages? And who writes the lyrics?
MB: Well, songwriters do... There are two songs in Portuguese on our last album — «Fim de noite» and «A vida e agora». And although the latter is sung by Flora Purim, both were written by a great Italian singer, who is famous for performing Brazilian music, — Barbara Casini. Songs in French were only on our first album, but the singer was French-Spanish, it was Ana Carril Obiols, the Manu Negra singer — you remember, Manu Chao’s band? At that time we decided not to make any songs in English, because it was our first record and we wanted it to have a European flavour to it and no associations with American culture. And on the following records it just depended on the songs. For example, it just couldn’t be possible to sing «Fim de noite» in English.
So, the foreign lyrics are originally written in the language they are sung in, not translated from Italian or English?
MB: No-no! We just give the songwriter an idea, an indication of what it should be about. And the songwriter writes the lyrics in a «direct way», ‘cause important nuances would inevitably be lost in translation. That’s how Filippo’s song «Lies» was written...
FC: ...or «Life Can Be So Beautiful». It’s all an attempt to «take a picture» of a certain moment of life.
You know, I caught myself thinking there is another very famous musician, whose approach to producing tracks is similar to yours: like you he samples old jazz records, he is a DJ, too. It’s Moby. What do you think of him?
MB: Of course, we like him! Moby was one of the pioneers of this kind of music, he opened a big door for a lot of musicians, showed that there is another way to create music. We haven’t listened to his stuff much recently, don’t know what he’s been up to, but...
FC: ...but I saw some videos of his live performances on YouTube — that’s incredible!
MB: But he also lives in a different kind of reality than we do — he’s a true New Yorker... by the way, we have the same lawyer in New York (laughs).
I think there was a period when a whole number of artists were playing music in the same vein: Moby, St. Germain...
FC: St. Gabin! (laugh)
MB: (To Filippo, in Italian) And whose tune is this? (singing)
FC: Llorca! Llorca, another great act.
MB: Yeah, we played this song during one of our DJ-sets. (laughs)
And how about «Café del mar»?
MB: Yeah, «Café del mar», «Buddha-Bar»...
FC: It was the end of the 90’s — early 2000’s, moment of bloom for lounge music. But for many bands, who reached fame then, that period became a prison, because lounge sound of that time is the stereotypical lounge sound. And it’s hard for those bands to evolve and keep their audience.
MB: What saved us from this fate is actually what we have in common with Moby: like him, we have melodies. The result of our work is always a song. In the end, we play nothing but pop music.
Thank you very much for the interview!
MB: Thank you! See you at the concert!
Gabin’s gig was a success. Along with singer Lucy they brought drummer Fabrizio and their own sound engineer with them. Luckily, a couple of technical failures at the beginning of the show were eliminated promptly, and the concert went on swimmingly. Filippo performed like a true DJ, playing, as Max said, «all the instruments you can hear but can’t see». Bottini himself showcased brilliant bass skills. One couldn’t take the eyes off his bass-vocal jams with Lucy — in particular during «Into My Soul», which extended to about 10 minutes, when the singer repeated Max’s licks with her voice, competing with him jokingly. By the way, the power of Lucy Campeti’s voice was impressive indeed — one couldn’t help but think she didn’t really need the microphone.
At the beginning of the show the band pleased the audience with well-known hits «Lost And Found», «Doo Uap Doo Uap Doo Uap», and «Keep It Cool», but it was the middle of the concert that became a tangible turning point. On about the tenth song, during a long jam Max delivered a slap bass solo, and Filippo ran to the edge of the stage, excited, to jazz up the crowd. After that people seemed to relax completely and let themselves go. The audience danced openly and freely to both funky and calm songs.
A little over one hour from the beginning of the show Filippo Clary’s shirt was wet through. Gabin left the stage — charming and a bit uncommon guys, who made their audience so happy and soulfully performed live the music, which many only used to hear on compilations of «Café del mar» kind. These guys proved they got the swing Mr. Ellington sang about.