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Hidden Pop Songs – A Conversation with Banjo or Freakout

Who: Banjo or Freakout
Title: Banjo or Freakout
Label: Rare Book Room Records – U.S. / Memphis Industries – Europe

Banjo or Freakout’s self-titled debut album is serene, escapist and at times meandering. But these are the types of songs you don’t mind following down their respective winding, soundscape paths. Alessio Natalizia is Banjo or Freakout and has a knack for marrying swirling ambiance with pop sensibility. Have patience, it’s there and it pays off. But more importantly, this album is an entire offering and really reaches its cathartic and hypnotizing heights when absorbed as such. My initial impression was a feeling of 90s shoegaze inspiration, but now I think it goes much further than that. I can hear traces of the romanticism unfurled in the instrumental work of Santos & Johnny and the gentle, exploratory psychedelia of Tommy James & the Shondells.

The variously manipulated synthesizers, Alessio’s near whisper style vocals and acoustic guitar backing all come together to create an album that doesn’t really let on at its complexities until you find yourself drifting into it’s sometimes spectral, sometimes celestial repetition—all while being so easy to listen to . . . a true feat indeed. Nothing feels oversold, overdone or so darling it’s hip . . . save the band name. But if Alessio continues to put out this quality of complete offerings, he can call himself whatever the hell he wants.

Synconation had the pleasure of speaking with Alessio about the album.

There are some albums that really feel like an escape of sorts. Your album feels like one of them. Do you think about that aspect when you’re writing and recording these songs?

Thanks, it makes me happy to hear that. That’s exactly the kind of music I love. I like songs that take me on a journey and I’d love people to lose themselves into it when they listen to my album.

There are moments in the album built around simple, hypnotic beats and progressions swirling in sound collage like elements, but then shifts to more straightforward, infectious pop sensibility. Can you talk about this in the context of what your approach to the album was?

I wanted to make an album with no time and no place that had two main directions. With previous singles, EPs and stuff, I was going in a lot of different directions, but with the album, I tried to give myself more limitations. I wanted to make an album of hidden pop songs with an A side more straightforward and a B side with more experiments and in general an album where every song makes sense because of the others. It’s an album you need to listen to a few times and I love that.

Picture By Rachel Bevis

I hear an evolved sense of early 90s shoegaze in your music among many other things. What are some of your influences that you feel have been incorporated in your music?

The shoegaze thing is funny because I have actually never been a fan of those kind of bands, more than anything because no one between my friends was into them when I was a kid. I was more into punk rock stuff that a label like Lookout Records was releasing and then got into K Records, Kill Rockstars and Dischord and from there went on to krautrock and all the rest. I discovered some great shoegaze bands when I first started to read the comparisons around and wished I had listened to them before in my life. I can understand where the comparisons are coming from but sometimes they also feel a little lame in the way that anything with a sad vocal melody, some big reverb and distortion could be called shoegaze.

This is one of those albums that feels like a cohesive efforts offering an even richer experience when you listen from start to finish versus a song here and a song there. Did you approach it like that or did it just happen that way?

Yes absolutely. I mean, listening to music is a serious thing! Why would you listen to a song here and a song there? It’s crazy how music becomes so old so quickly nowadays and I’m not really into this way of consuming music as quickly as possible. I like albums in an old school kind of way I guess… you need to give yourself time to listen to it and you need to listen to it all.

There is a huge throwback movement that incorporates a number of 80s analog synthesizers. Did you use them at all for this record?

Yes I have used a few but I am not obsessed with them. To me it doesn’t really matter how you get to a sound as long as it sounds good. Of course analog synthesizers are amazing but at the same time you can get some incredible sounds from plugins and digital pedals.

What is your biggest muse in writing music?

I am constantly inspired by imperfection in music and things that are always changing and evolving and that never go back.

What has it meant for you to get on with Rare Book Room Records?

I feel proud to be involved with Nicolas in the recordings and the release of the album and am very excited about the future. It was great working with him in the studio and getting to know him as a friend.

What were some of your favorite albums of 2010?

I am not big on the end of the year lists. I think my song of the year was ‘Statues Can Bend’ by Laetitia Sadier. Her voice has such a fragility but then never breaks and it kills me.

Fill in the blank: In 2011, _______________ is going to set your world on fire.

Oh I don’t know! I try to set my world on fire every day!

What’s next and will you be touring?

Yes, I am on tour in the UK at the moment and will be touring the US with Papercuts from the end of March. Can’t wait!!

Get further information about Banjo or Freakout here, and visit Rare Book Room Records to purchase the album. You can also visit Memphis Industries here.

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