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Stella Burns - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 9 / 8 / 2014

Stella Burns - Interview


In his first full-length interview in English, Tuscany-based musician and front-man with the acclaimed Hollowblue Gianluca Maria Sorace speaks about his Ennio Morricone and Calexico-inspired new project Stella Burns and its debut album 'Stella Burns Loves You'

Stella Burns is the new project and nom-de-plume of Tuscany-based singer-songwriter and musician, Gianluca Maria Sorace. Sorace is the front-man with Hollowblue, who have recorded three albums, ‘What You Left Behind’ (2004), ‘Stars are Crashing (in My Backyard’ (2008) and ‘Wild Nights, Quiet Dreams’ (2009), of richly-textured, strings-laden pop. Stella Burns maintains Sorace’s swooning, gorgeous vocals, which have drawn him comparisons by ‘Uncut’ with Billy Mackenzie, but is otherwise a very different act. Much starker and largely acoustic in tone, it finds Sorace experimenting with a dozen different instruments including banjo, mandolin, cello, harmonica and trumpets. As befits the “space cowboy” character whom he has based Stella Burns around, it is with its scorched, windswept soundscapes like a stripped-down and lo-fi Ennio Morricone or Calexico. Stella Burns’s debut album, ‘Stella Burns Loves You’, which was funded by PledgeMusic, was released on the small Italian label Twelve Records earlier this year. Gianluca Sorace has described it as being “an album about love”, and its fourteen songs include the shimmering Spaghetti Western-inspired ‘Tiny Miss F’ in which amidst a gun battle the magnetic title character arrives out of seemingly nowhere; the angst-torn, hazily sinister ‘The Big Tide’; ‘Morricone’, which concludes in a soaring cascade of brass, and ‘A Little Piece of Blue’, a ricocheting duet between Sorace and husky-throated Scottish singer Emma Morton. The latter is accompanied by an abstractedly comical video which, set in a Tuscan field, has Sorace and Morton, who is revealed to be heavily pregnant, as out-of-sorts lovers. Perched on ancient chairs next to each other, they studiously find different ways of ignoring one another. As the two begin to make up, the video erupts out of black and white into a fusion of colour. In his first full-length interview in English, Gianluca Maria Sorace spoke to Pennyblackmusic about Stella Burns. PB: Under the guise of Stella Burns, you have said, "I'm not him (Gianluca Maria Sorace). I'm just using him." How much do Stella Burns and Gianluca Maria Sorace have in common? GMS: Stella Burns is an important part of me. It has been there quietly for a long time, although sometimes in the past you have been able to hear him in Hollowblue songs like ‘This Summer’ or ‘Stars are Crashing in Mexico’ where Calexico and Morricone influences were already quite recognisable. After three albums with Hollowblue, I woke up one day and naturally decided to explore much more that acoustic attitude and decided to do it at my own risk. I needed a new name, a new story and a new look. And I took them from my private life. I didn't need to invent anything but truth. I've always liked to use silver nail polish and going for shopping in my cowboy dress. Also, since I'm not originally from the city where I've been living for 43 years, I have always felt like a stranger and someone coming from another world. At the beginning it has been a bit strange. I had the possibility to start again. We really were two different persons. Now Stella Burns is me. PB: 'Stella Burns Loves You' features various members of Hollowblue including bassist Giancarlo Russo and cellist Ellie Young, yet the last Hollowblue album ' Wild Nights, Quiet Dreams' came out in 2009. Have Hollowblue split or are they in hiatus? GMS: We have been having some rest time. The line-up changed a couple of years after the latest album was released, and Giancarlo and I started to search for new members. It was not easy at the beginning, but we found an old time friend, Davide Malito Lenti, who is a great drummer, one of the best I've ever seen. And we decided to be a power trio. Quite different from the sound we have had until that moment. We are much more aggressive in some ways. We have ten new songs, and we have begun to record the fourth album and I hope to release it by the end of 2014. The fact is that I write a lot. So just one project started to be not enough for all my ideas, good or bad, I have in mind. I've got a couple of albums and other projects in a drawer, one with Anthony Reynolds. I would need to have multiple lives to release them all and to have also the time for promoting them. PB: 'Stella Burns Loves You' was planned for release originally in 2012 but only came out earlier this year. Why has there been such a delay? GMS: I had recorded these songs at home. I started to search for a label, and in the meantime I decided to re-record some of the parts I had written with Davide on the drums. So, we went in a real studio and did again all the drums parts. I tend to be a bit optimistic because when I write my songs I would like to have them out in the world almost immediately, but of course there's the editing, the mixing, label considerations... and it's quite easy to go beyond what you had planned. Also, I'm a graphic designer and I need to work also in that field. And time isn't enough. Ever. PB: The album was funded through PledgeMusic. Why did you decide to record it through Pledgemusic? Was it something that you enjoyed? GMS: My friend Sukie Smith from Madam had done it previously. She needed funding to finish her second album, ‘Gone Before Morning’. When I saw it, I immediately thought it was a good thing. Since the last Hollowblue album the world has changed. It's quite normal to ask for a little help from fans. Of course you give them something back. Something exclusive is better. And you, with the help of web platforms as Pledgemusic, create a sort of community around your project and with old and new fans. At the moment in Italy it's almost impossible for indie labels to invest in music. There's no money. It's a fact. Now that we have accepted this, we must find more ways to continue to be creative and not be overwhelmed by this difficulty. Twelve Records believed in my music and released the album. They made an investment, but it was not enough to cover all the necessary costs. PB: The video for 'A Little Kind of Blue' is fantastic. It is strikingly effective the way it suddenly erupts into colour. Where was it filmed? GMS: The director Michele Faliani decided to remain in Tuscany where we are based and we found a beautiful place behind Emma Morton's home, which is in a village in Santa Maria del Giudice, close to Lucca. A few minutes after we started filming, people came out to watch us because of the curiosity of seeing this funny without-horse cowboy. PB: Emma Morton is from Edinburgh originally but is now based in Italy. Who is she? How did you first discover her? GMS: I found Emma Morton on Facebook. We were "friends" but we never really chatted. I had seen some of her clips where she sings old 30's songs in perfect Italian. I liked her voice but I was afraid she was too much into another style of music. But, one day, I saw this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQQpIkuEGLM It's a song written with her boyfriend, and both touching and delicate. This was decisive in me ask her to sing with me on ‘A Little Piece of Blue’. We met at their home in the country which has lots of cats around and a good perfume of burned wood, and found a way to sing it together. She's a gentle, talented woman with a special light inside. PB: You have always sung in English. Yet even Sergio Leone who must be one of your prime influences originally worked in Italian, only dubbing later into English. As a result of your location - and certainly in terms of reviews for 'Stella Burns Loves You' which have largely been in Italian - presumably your audience must be locally- based. Why have you always decided to record in English rather than Italian? GMS: I'm not able to sing in Italian. When I wrote my first songs when I was a young boy, I would usually refer to what I was listening to at the time, David Bowie first of all, Genesis, the Smiths and many others. They were from the UK first of all or from the USA like the Velvet Underground. I've always been listened to non-Italian songs more than Italian songs. So, it's highly probable that my English is not perfect but it's the language that I use for music. It's like being at home. When I tried years ago to sing in Italian, I felt I was pretending to sing. It's easier for me to think in English when I'm writing a melody and a story and when I search for a sound. PB: You play over a dozen instruments on 'Stella Burns Loves You'. Was it a difficult album to record and as it was recorded in four different studios did it take a long time? GMS: It has been very interesting to play instruments that I never played before like the banjo. Of course, I play them in my own style simply because I'm not able to in the traditional way, but all these instruments, sometimes completely new for me, such as the banjo, mandolin and autoharp have lead me to territories I haven't explored on Hollowblue’s albums. That part, the exploration, has been the best part of the process. And yes, it took a long time. I'll be faster with the next album! PB: Stella Burns seems to inhabit a surreal, hellish, alternative world. The title track on 'Stella Burns Loves You' is full of apocalyptic Book of Revelations imagery. You have described it as "an album about love." Is love the only thing that Stella sees that is able to save him? GMS: Love and passion saved my life many times. Love for a woman, for parents and friends, and for music of course. I cannot conceive of my life without love. Love can turn anything. This album is dedicated to Tiny Miss F. And she's a real person. It is a bit old fashioned to be so romantic. But this is what I am and Stella was born also to express this part of me. Of course, love can be a good thing but also a bad thing. It can lead you to horrible places. In that song I describe…the end of the world. PB: You sing, for example, on 'The Big Tide' "I'll never be the same. I'll always be in flame." Do you think that love will ever make Stella happy or do you think that that he is always destined to stuffer in this burning state of want? GMS: The songs on ‘Stella Burns Loves You ‘are sometimes autobiographical and sometimes not. In this specific case I write about a son that has been abused by his father and asks for another big tide that could save him and the world from the bad things. PB: You played your first gig in Paris with former Jack front man Anthony Reynolds and have toured Italy with Sukie Smith and Madam. Now that the album is out will you be touring a lot more? Will any of those gigs be outside Italy? GMS: I'm happily touring with my friends and good musicians Mario Franceschi (piano), Franco Volpi (banjo, mandolins, slide guitar) and Giancarlo and Davide when possible. We are going to do some nice summer festivals and, yes, at the moment we have played several times. I'm trying to organise something in Germany and France, but also the UK would be fantastic. It's not easy because I don't have the album physically distributed and promoted in these countries, but I'm working on this and of course this interview is a good thing also for that! PB: Are there plans for a second Stella Burns album? GMS: As I said I write a lot, so I'm already playing some new songs during the concert. And they have been very well received. PB: Thank you.

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Stella Burns - Interview

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