Previously known for his work with the bands Daal, Prowlers, Tilion, and Fufluns, Italian musician Alfio Costa has just released his first solo album.
Here he talks with DPRP's Jan Buddenberg about how Frammenti came into being from Alfio's experiences of the past year of lockdown-living in Bergamo; one of the cities worst hit by the global pandemic.
First congratulations with the release of your first solo album Frammenti, a wonderful and diverse album which has been accompanying me for the past few months. Considering your long-lasting musical merits, why the long wait for a solo album?
[Alfio Costa] Hi Jan, many thanks for your compliments, you're very kind!
Actually, it wasn't my intention to release a solo album, but one year ago, as you know, Covid broke our lives, especially in my city Bergamo, which was one of the most affected cities in the world. So because of the lockdown, I found myself in my home recording studio with my keyboards and I started writing music. That was the only thing that could help me at that time. I wanted to keep that moment and those tracks, but I sent them to Davide Guidoni who convinced me to talk with Massimo Orlandini of Ma.Ra.Cash Records. He very much liked my tracks and together we decided to publish them as my first solo album. Before the Covid lockdown, I was actually working on Prowlers new album and mixing the new Fufluns album that will be released next June.
Before we go into present and future plans, I'd like to take you and DPRP's readers shortly back in time. To the best of my knowledge, your first musical steps happened roundabout 1994 with Prowlers, a band still in existence today?
Yes it's true. My first musical steps happened with Prowlers, but in 1985, when I was just nineteen! With Prowlers I have released seven albums since 1993 (Morgana) up to 2017 (Navigli Riflessi). It's my original band and after many years we are together again working on a new album. Unfortunately Covid has driven us away, so we haven't played our music for over a year. I hope to return to working on our music together soon. I love my friends Laura Mombrini, Stefano Piazzi, Marco Freddi and Bobo Aiolfi. I miss them a lot.
In 2004 and 2007 you then participated on two Colossus projects by the French label Musea with the band Tilion. These two adventurous and epic tracks, recently re-issued on Suite Ritrovate, show a plethora of dark musical diversions and lush seventies prog rock, enriched by a vast variety of keyboards. Which bands and musicians strongly influenced you at the time. Who has joined those since them?
Tilion was born after a momentary split of Prowlers in 1998. With my brother Flavio and Prowlers bassist Bobo Aiolfi, we formed this band and released two official albums: Insollitariamente (2003) and A.M.I.G.D.A.L.A. (2008). We have also recorded other stuff like a demo (Suoni) in 2000 and a concert as support act to Deep Purple in 1999. And yes, we also worked for the Musea/Colossus projects inspired by the Sergio Leone movies. Those tracks, two long suites called “Cheyenne” and “The Ugly”, were indeed published on the album Suite Ritrovate in 2019. At the time of writing them, I was influenced by the historical Italian prog band Il Balletto di Bronzo but also by Tool and Opeth. But I think that Tilion, as Prowlers, are very personal and original in music; or so I hope!
The next Colossus Project you participate in (The Divine Comedy) includes a submission by Nuova Era, a band who at the time have Davide Guidoni in their midst. Did you know each other beforehand or is this the moment of Daal's origin?
No it isn't. I met Davide Guidoni in 2008, when I was looking for someone to work at Tilion's A.M.I.G.D.A.L.A. album artwork. He did a great job, so I called upon him again for the Colossus Project The Empire And The Rebellion, an album I've entirely written and produced with a big help from many great musicians from around the world. It was another production by Musea/Colossus inspired by the Star Wars movies saga.
Daal was born at that time and it was a great opportunity for me to express myself in a different and new context. Daal music is a unique and magic adventure! Since 2009 we've released six albums, every time different, and free from any artistic influence. You know, you can only love or hate Daal music, because there's no place for compromise in our project! Davide Guidoni is a great musician and a lovely friend to me. Currently we're writing new stuff for the new DAAL and it will be another new special trip in our sound.
Next to your activities in Daal, Prowlers and Tilion, you were still able to find time and co-found Fufluns. How challenging is it to divide your attention between all these projects, for I reckon they're all equally important to you? Is this 'workload' one of the reasons as to why Tilion was laid to rest?
Actually Tilion's adventure ended in 2010, when my brother Flavio left the music scene.
Fufluns was born when Simone Cecchini called me to work together in 2009. I didn't know him at the time but I was curious to work with a very different musician. So thanks to a friend of his, he contacted me and we immediately started working together on a story he wrote and kept in a drawer for too many years. After we recruited Guglielmo Mariotti on bass and gathered Stefano Piazzi and Marco Freddi from my band Prowlers, we released Spaventapasseri in 2016.
Fufluns is another side of me. This is a band where all the musicians involved are composers and members of other bands and projects, and these different experiences give us original results. It's like a chemistry of sounds and words. I'm so proud of this project! We've just finished our second album Refuse's with a new guitarist Simone Coloretti. I consider Fufluns as my big band of brothers; a great prog project with four great guys! In this band you can find many faces of our music, ranging form folk, prog, hard rock, dark, pop and melodies, with fantastic lyrics by Simone Cecchini…
My band Prowlers is my family. Our music is a mix between psychedelic rock and progressive rock, with the magical voice of Laura Mombrini. And DAAL is my free musical world; our music is a unrestricted trip to a universe of sounds. To me Davide is the ideal partner to freely express myself completely.
So right now I'm very lucky. I work with wonderful musicians in three different projects and it is very simple for me to be a part of them.
When writing a composition, do you have a fairly good idea which song goes to which band, or do you compose and decide afterwards?
It's like I'm three different musicians, but at the same time it's always me! When I write a composition for Prowlers I'm at home with my family. Today I work together with Stefano Piazzi (guitarist), who's a great composer. We complete the tracks all together with the other guys.
With Daal it's like I'm in an universe of sounds and musical solutions. I can search many times to write something without any fruitful result. Opposite to this, I can just as easily close my eyes and put my hands on my keyboards to compose an album like Decalogue Of Darkness or Dodecahedron. I can't explain why, but it's true.
With Fufluns there are many ways to write a song. Sometimes Simone writes a melody or lyric and I then compose the music. Or Guglielmo plays his guitars, and I can complete with my Mellotron. Or me with a Hammond organ together with the guitars of Simone Coloretti in the most hard rock solution of our music. Many different moments...
At the beginning of 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic shrouded your home town of Bergamo in dark veils of sorrow and loss. A surrealistic reality frighteningly immortalised on Daal's Daecade(n)t. What was it like living through that period of time?
Last year was a nightmare here! I was lost, tired, alone. A lot of people I knew died at that time. I could no longer see my friends, my family, the guys of Prowlers; everything seemed so surreal. I could only do one thing to escape that reality; write music. And so I did.
Frammenti (fragments) is a direct reaction to those horrific days, written during quarantine circumstances. How do you look back on this creative period spent in solitude?
Frammenti was born in a few weeks, in different fragments of my days during the lockdown. I needed to express my feelings, my thoughts, my solitude. I needed to express the death around me, near me (Ombre Nel Sole, Falena, Scolopendra and Canzone Per Un Respiro), but also to tell about life of a time that seemed so far (...La Notte, Frammenti, Luci In Note D'Ambra). I think that music expresses my feelings better at that time.
With the concept and music taking shape, did you have a plotted outline towards certain musicians you would like to include on the album?
I was very lucky in this case too. Many friends helped me to released my solo album. I want to remember them all: Lino Vairetti, Vincenzo Zitello, Davide Guidoni, Stefano Piazzi, Agnis, Alessandro Accordino, Simone Coloretti, Bobo Aiolfi, Guglielmo Mariotti, Simone Cecchini, Claudio Bonvecchio and finally Beppe Corna, a great painter and sculpter who gave me his works for the cover and the artwork. He also painted eighty pics for the limited edition of the album.
They all wanted to participate in my album with friendship and love for my music. I love and thank them so much for it!
The wonderful artwork comes from the hand of Davide Guidoni. His amazing suggestive visuals add layers of darkness, mystery and even unsettling morbid dimensions to the cinematic scope of your album. Did you give him any particular guidelines? And how does this work in your mutual project Daal?
In this case the cover and artwork graphics are composed by Davide, but the great paintings are by Beppe Corna. In my booklet you can find a little painting exhibition with the artwork of Beppe. I gave Davide all the directives for the assembly of Beppe's paintings and pics. When I work with Daal it's very different. Davide's talent is indisputable, so he often works alone and then shows me his graphic project. This way we can decide together as well.
Songs like Luci In Note D'Ambra and Falena, massively impress through intense cinematic atmospheres; one of your remarkable talents. Are there films or directors that inspire you creatively and have you ever considered doing a movie soundtrack? If so, with whom would you gladly like to collaborate?
Oh! Many thanks Jan! I love soundtrack movies so much! It would be fantastic for me to realise a soundtrack, but no one has ever proposed it to me. Maybe tomorrow? I hope so! I very much like Goblin, Hans Zimmer and Ennio Morricone music and Dario Argento, Guillermo Del Toro and Sergio Leone movies.
You use a broad variety of keyboards ranging from vintage instruments like piano, Mellotron, Hammond organ and Minimoog, to recent inventions like a Roli Seaboard. Do you have a particular fondness to a certain type of instrument or sound? Has this changed or grown over the years?
I think that it is very important for a musician to choose special musical instruments to be able to make its best judgements. Over the years I have collected many great keyboards. I have three different Hammond organs and now one is made specially for me. I use unique instruments as Minimoog and Mellotron because they characterised music for over half a century and because I can express myself completely that way. I don't like modern synths, with too many presets, all the same.
So in the modern era, I choose Roli Seaboard which is a controller of a sound software, which I think is a revolutionary musical instrument. A physical approach to sounds and a new way to play music.
Even without the proper knowledge of the Italian language, the songs manage to successfully reveal their unique storyline and character. The insidiously elusive Scolopendra takes a bit more effort though. What's this song about? And can you take us through the individual lyrical themes of the other songs as well?
I wrote Scolopendra in the night when a long row of military trucks carried hundreds of stretchers outside the city of Bergamo. It was terrible! It seemed to be this very long insect which in Italy we call Scolopendra. So I wrote my sensations about it. It was incredible, but it was true and happening near my house. Guglielmo Mariotti sings about my desperate desire to wake up from that nightmare.
...La Notte was the last track I wrote. I asked my wife Agnis to sing this hymn that I wanted to put at the beginning of the album; as if it were a welcome for all the listeners of my music. Ombre Nel Sole talks about my feelings during the lockdown, when I was on my way to work in the morning and there was no one around me. A surreal silence and a sunrise that casts shadows of houses and trees on my road. Ale Accordino is the voice of my heart in that particular moment.
Luci In Nite D'Ambra is an instrumental tracks inspired and dedicated to love and life. Frammenti is one of my personal favourite tracks of the album. The song talks about my childhood and my adolescence. Lino Vairetti sings about my life, my first impression about music, and love in the garden of the house of my parents. It seems too many years ago, almost like another life. And maybe it was...
Falena is a little instrumental intro for Scolopendra. During the lockdown, there was this helicopter flying over our homes to check whether government restrictions were respected. Falena is actually a night butterfly and this inspired this little song. Canzone Per Un Respiro is a dramatic ballad dedicated to all the people ill from Covid who ended up on intensive care in hospitals. I imagined to be in the hospital during my last hours of life. Simone Cecchini sings about this last goodbye and Vincenzo Zitello on flute arranged my music in a sublime way.
In many ways the album closes on a high with the deeply moving and emotional Canzone Per Un Respiro (Song For A Breath). A perfectly befitting and intense song. I wonder, did you actually write this song last or did the thought of using it as the album's finale occur when the song came to you?
Canzone Per Un Respiro is the classical song that already exists. You just have to close your eyes and put your hands on the piano keyboards to make it yours. I put it at the end of the album as a goodbye, of which I hope it can also be a greeting.
So what about your future plans? Will Framenti see a follow up someday? And when will some of these songs see a live performance?
I don't know if Frammenti will see a follow-up someday. I hope so, but for the moment I'm thinking about the Fufluns and Daal albums. I would like to play my solo album live and maybe one day I will do it with a new band of young musicians. I do think that I could play Canzone Per Un Respiro in the live set of Fufluns.
In this period I'm writing tracks for the new DAAL. I think it will be released next year and it will be very different from Decalogue of Darkness. I hope to release it on vinyl as well. It will be released in two versions: a limited edition and standard edition on CD.
Prowlers are working on the new album, but at the moment we can't play our music together, so I don't know when we can finish it. I hope soon.
Which brings me to my final question. Is there anything you would like to add or share with our readers?
I just want to thank you dear Jan, for your interest about me and my music. I'd like people around the world to come into a brotherhood to fight together this damn virus that changed our lives. I wish we will change for the better, to become better people, but I don't know if it will be so.
Alfio Costa — Frammenti
We each have different recollections of Covid-19's awakening just over one year ago. To me general images come to mind of denial, neglect, scepticism and memories of a personal gig-attendance right up to the very minute that the virus slowly started to invade everyone's life. Followed by unsettling pictures of empty supermarket shelves, stockpiling toilet paper and heavily upset people trying to avoid contact at all costs.
Also news flashes spring to mind mentioning far away countries undergoing the effects of the virus, starting in Europe with Spain and Italy who had a deadly serious head start trying to defeat the invisible enemy. Unreal pictures of deserted highways, failing health care systems and areas infected to such an alienating extend that flourishing cities turned into deadly ghost towns overnight.
Bergamo, the hometown of Alfio Costa (Daal) was amongst the first of these cities and Daal's majestic and cinematically overwhelming composition Daecade(nt) captures this intense reality most brilliantly. The gathered collection of songs on Frammenti (fragments), expressing Costa's reactions to this dark and challenging period, is equally impressive.
A visually-captivating example is Falena, drawing me in like a moth to a flame as it shrouds the album's murky atmospheres into Twilight Zone darkness. Projecting daunting sceneries, it reveals an impressive stationary flight through expressions of Daal and mysterious echoes of Pink Floyd, strengthened by perfectly-sounding images of flying through a silenced town, startled by passing sirens and shivering silence.
The dreamy opening overture ..La Notta oppresses a lighter, less isolated shade of night. Guided through beautiful enchanting vocals by Agnis, it expresses feelings of approaching doom, before it seamlessly fades into the spheric Italian prog of Ombre Nel Sole. Here Mellotron, vintage keyboards and Hammond organ accomplish an exquisite seventies feel with a light spacerock touch reminiscent to Hawkwind's Warrior On The Edge Of Time. These are matched by the befitting, passionate vocals of Alessandro Accordino. It's compelling, ominous character, varying in intensity and drama, is guided by protrusive rhythms from Davide Guidoni (Daal, Nodo Gordiano) before it glides into an intermezzo of lightness and drowning melancholy mindful to Nuova Era and Men Of Lake. Under the presence of an always threatening atmosphere, it returns into the composition's theme with some tasty Led Zeppelin vibes, rounded off by delicious synth work.
A slight mix-up then occurs, for contrary to the album's marvellous artwork that states Frammenti is next, the instrumental Luci In Note D'Ambra follows. It is a wonderful, initially restrained, piano-led composition whose heartfelt emotions touch a sensitive note through gracious violins and cello (Vincenzo Zitello) before gliding into classical melodies provoking feelings of loneliness and despair. Intricate drums and guitars by Stefano Piazzi then propel the song firmly into motion, surrendering in full as the delicious Mellotron melts into a majestic apotheosis of guitars and mesmerising melodies.
The superbly created nightly atmosphere continues in the bluesy Frammenti, which sees lovely Mellotron insertions, great touching bass lines (Bobo Aiolfi) and pervasive guitars (Stefano Fiazzi), underneath a passionate vocal delivery by Lino Vairetti (Osanna).
This formidable highlight is surpassed by the monumental epic Scolopendra, where tantalising, horror-movie-like strains create instant tension, meeting expectancy as the music moves along in alluring Daal-expressions, grabbing a firm hold through the intense guitars from Simone Coloretti. It glides into an momentous movement carried by sublime instrumentation and beautiful Mellotron-rich melodies. This creates a perfect platform for the poignant vocals of Guilielmo Mariotti. Slowly increasing severity and surrounding darkness, it gains wondrous momentum after a lovely synth solo and soars into heavenly Twelfth Night-like sequences with sublime guitar work. The twisting and turning melodies then dive into a short psychedelic intermezzo before returning to the composition's nervy opening themes. It ends with a musical passage overwhelming through simplicity and profound emotional charges, touching deep within as it slowly fades on embracive layers of vintage keyboards.
With Italian lyrics, not my speciality, some of the songs' meanings are slightly lost to me, yet the explicit, sombre, morbid and macabre artwork of the album gives delightful insights and clarifying depth. In Scolopendra's case, the vague contours of a nightly-active venomous carnivore gives several passages of the composition a surprisingly tangible, insidious sting. Meanwhile, the winged corpse-picker in front of randomly-numbered, shady, expressionless faces gives unsettling life to Canzone Per Un Respiro, the album's immaculate finale.
The use of the native Italian language in Canzone Per Un Respiro truly enhances the song's impact which is elevated to exceptional heights by the heartbreaking vocals of Simone Cecchini (Il Bacio Della Medusa, Fufluns). His passionate supplication perfectly reflects the helplessness and surrounding sadness of clinically alive victims at the mercy of death, lifelessly praying for a touch of love, compassion and a fresh breath of air. Carried by sensitive piano-play and delicate flute arrangements (Vincenzo Zitello) this sincere serenade of desperation, life, love and grieving is a wonderfully touching testimony to the observed and experienced human story.
The learning curve that started through my first encounter with Costa's music in the form of Daal two years ago has so far been a very pleasant one. The delightfully diversified Frammenti, ultimately proving to be a very cohesive and superbly balanced album, is no exception.
Over time Costa's communicative compositions come very much alive and slowly start to release their inner beauty. It is an alluring, eclectic mix that speaks firmly with creativity, passion and inventiveness. This is to me his finest moment yet and those in favour of beautifully-crafted (Italian) prog-rock would do good to check this one out. I'll happily lock myself in once again.