Interview with Marco Santilli Rossi

by Daniele Dell’Agnola*

Marco  Santilli  Rossi  is  a  musician  who  has  experimented  with  many  genres,  blending  them,  playing  with timbres, words and flavours. For this new venture, he is channelling his artistic energy as a singer-­‐songwriter, leaning towards pop yet retaining substantial musical content, making fun of himself and perhaps  also  the  state  of  light  music  today: “Scantinati  scandinavi” (Scandinavian  basements)  and  “Non  so  cantar” (I  can’t  sing)  are  the  first  songs  to  be  released  as  singles,  available  from  various  online sources. The album will be called “TEMPI PASSATI” (Past Times) and will obviously include other tracks.    Pop  music  highlights  the  need  for  a  recognizable  melody,  almost  autonomous  (one  you  can  whistle right away…): Santilli Rossi, a clarinet player who can play anything, adapting to the most contrasting musical styles, doesn’t deny this trait of being attached to the melody that pervades the songs he sings. We imagine his audience is no longer adolescent, but has a mature ear, adult but still young,  European  and  not  just  Italian  speaking,  maybe  they’ve  seen  him  on  television  and  they’ve  certainly heard him on radio. The songs were co-produced/arranged by Urs Wiesendanger at the legendary Powerplaystudio in Maur (Zurich), where Europe, Chris De Burgh, Yello, Trio and many other famous  artists  have  recorded.  Urs  Wiesendanger,  himself  from  Zurich  but  with  international  experience, (considered by many to be the best pop producer in Switzerland), has worked, among others, with Lenny Kravitz, Gianna Nannini, Michael Sembello, Nubya, MusicStar, DJ Bobo… Marco has just finished the tracks that will complete the album. We met to discuss his most recent artistic period. Here we are on the day after recording.

MARCO: 7:00, 7:05… I’m really late! I press the espresso button twice; it has to be strong and black.  And never bread without honey. Water comes out of the shower head but no steam. A cold shower so I’m ready for anything. I’m cycling to the studio, since I wanted to have a bike… My cell rings, brake! The producer is excited about the recording: “It’s radiophonic!” he says. “It’s televisual” I say. A bit further on and I’m safely there. In haste, I slowly go over the chamber piece for the matinée. 10:30 the soprano and pianist are at loggerheads except during the concert itself. I’m in the middle, with my clarinet, trying to keep the peace. The focaccia’s great! 14:07: I’m playing for “Il Trovatore”, hoping I won’t get lost and that my friends were able to get in  with  comps.  Three  hours  later  I  escape  from  the  opera  house  to  perform  some  tried  and  tested  standards at a jam session and if the drummer doesn’t tone it down, I’ll sack him. Other musicians who don’t sing or blow can eat and drink as they like. My vocal chords are already stressed from the smoke in the place. I manage by a whisker to get on the last tram and Arturo calls me…

DANIELE:  And  then  Teddy  Reno  calls  you  and  invites  you  to  Canale  Italia  in  front  of  an  audience  of  millions. You, a guy from Ticino, who works in a range of musical settings in Switzerland, on that scale. How’s that? What’s it like?

MARCO: I was very curious and excited because, despite both places being culturally Italian, the taste of the audiences could have been different. When you think that I’ve been living in Zurich for years, in touch  with  various  cultures,  this  has  probably  created  a  certain  blend  of  musical  tastes  in  me.  In  addition, you’re going to sing one of your songs somewhere with an enviable musical tradition, not just quantitatively… It was a real challenge, given that the Italian audience is important to me.

DANIELE: “I can’t sing” Self-­‐mockery? Was this number well received? Why do you think people like a number like this? What was the thinking behind it?

MARCO:  I  would  say  there’s  a  little  mockery  but  it’s  generalised.  It’s  a  track  about  various  ways  of  making a living from music; a passion looked at from different angles. From wanting to be a musician at all costs, but lacking the ability, to the idea of wanting only to perform as a singer, from the need for space and time to create, to the awareness that encourages you to listen to your heart without caring about those who don’t understand you. I sang for the first time on that show and I was surprised by the  broad  approval  from  fellow  musicians,  the  managers  and  the  audience  of  all  ages.  The  text  resonated with many people (the theme is valid not just for musicians: others need space and time, too…,  in  short,  there’s  something  for  everyone!)  Some  found  it  amusing,  some  innovative,  ironic,  profound. I love it when everyone finds something different, even things I hadn’t thought of myself. The  whole  tune  is  instantly  catchy;  for  me  it’s  the  strong  thread  of  the  piece.  After  listening  to  the  chorus a couple of times, many people were humming it. Or, for instance, as someone said about the verse, “those chords you don’t expect, notes that seem out of tune but aren’t”. Others like the bridge in French. It’s maybe a little exotic in Italy, not being in English. Maybe this is an advantage of Swiss multilingualism? (Ha! Ha!)

DANIELE: Okay, let’s recap. You’re Marco Santilli Rossi, a musician with solid experience in a range of musical  settings.  In  addition  to  your  classical  training  at  the  conservatory,  you’ve  followed  the  jazz  route; you’ve performed with various artists and are demonstrating your talent, not just as a clarinettist  but  elsewhere,  too.  You  write  your  own  songs  and  sing.  Now,  why  this  leaning  towards  pop? For more exposure?

MARCO: Exposure isn’t an end in itself but it’s simply indispensable if you want to make a living from music. Actually, it’s thanks to the pop songs that (in addition to singing) I manage to let my creativity loose without restriction on composing (music, texts and arrangements). The only limitation, which I like,  is  that  you  have  to  condense  your  ideas  into  just  3-­4  minutes  without  leaving  loose  ends,  developing a theme that results in a meaningful chorus.

DANIELE: Break a leg…

MARCO: Cheers!

*Daniele  Dell’Agnola,  author,  graduated  in  Italian  Literature  and  Musicology  at  Fribourg  University, Switzerland. He studies the accordion with Paolo Vignani (Pesaro Conservatory). He has written novels, theatrical texts and composes musical ideas.