Posted on Apr 19th 2009 06:00 pm

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New York based audio visual artist Fredo Viola released his first EP, The Sad Song, to critical acclaim last year. The EP, including the video accompanying the title track, shot and directed by Viola, generated a lot of interest, especially from film directors and authors. Viola even received an offer to collaborate with Massive Attack. A few months later, he launched, a website collating more videos and new songs. The Turn is now being released as a full length album, and the CD also comes with a DVD featuring the videos showcased on the web. Here, Fredo discusses his artistic background, how he developed his particular blend of work and how the internet is a key part of his work.

What is your background? How did you come to music, and to video?
I come from a very artistic household… mom a writer/actress, dad a director. So there was always good music in the house, and interesting movies…  I’ve just always tried to find a way to be creative, express myself authentically.

Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your work?
Definitely Fellini. I soaked him up while in college like a sponge. It isn’t just his love of the phantasmagorical… It’s the way he builds his scenes, almost in a ritualistic, musical way, building to a cathartic climax. I’m thinking about the scene in I Clowns where the clowns begin a funeral march around the big ring, but being clowns, they start doing crazy clown things, and move faster and faster and faster around the ring until an enormous champagne bottle explodes, streamers fall everywhere, and the clowns break the circle and just start dancing madly with each other. This for me is perfection!

I think musically I have poured myself into so many singers and composers, and I think they have all had their influence.

The Turn is a vast project, which encompasses music, video and multimedia. How did the idea of it come and can you tell us more about the project?
I think The Sad Song started it all. The effect, which I will call temporal offsetting, just ignited something within me. And ever since that I have dreamt of pushing out of the familiar rectangular shell. One day I thought if I positioned these shots in a round composition it could be visually arresting, and being able to actually touch the shape to turn it brings the audience a bit closer to the experience of the music. This was something I was planning for about a year or so.

Then about half a year ago my friend Steph Thirion and I were brainstorming about how it would be best to design a whole site to hold these odd videos. We sketched out the visual structure of the site and its interface, and then my label hired Aer Studio with Guille Lopez to do the Flash programming. It was the most pleasurable, fruitful series of collaborations I have ever had.

How did you work on the project? Watching the videos, there is often a feeling that you capture moments live and then integrate them into something bigger. Were the music and video processes very linked, or are they totally independent from each other?
The music and video processes are as intricately linked as I can make them, and I’m constantly trying to link them more. Take for example The Turn (Ghost Cluster). The turning off and on of the noisy lights both affected the visual and created a percussive soundtrack. I like it when things work out like that. As well, you are right, I do like just capturing off the cuff moments and seeing what interesting patterns they yield.

My working process: First I get very inspired with an idea, sit on it for a little while, procrastinate, work on something else, and then finally throw obsessive energy into it and get it done very quickly. That’s usually the pattern.

First records are often the fruit of years of writing and recording. Was it the case for you?
Yes, The Turn was written over a very long period of time. I taught myself how to write and use Logic in that time. Some of the songs were started back when I first bought a microphone. For that reason, I had to rework the album at the end to bring it all together and concentrate on some of the tunes that had started off a bit too simply. K Thru 6 is a good example of a track that remained very rough until I got my head around how to fix it.

You have worked with quite a few people on the album. Are they people you have been working with for a while?
For the most part they are mostly folks I knew through the internet, many of which I still haven’t met. For example, the drum loops and keys in the beginning of Puss were created by a dude who calls himself Deltasleep. I have never met him, but we were really tight online for a while there. He introduced me to White Noise – An Electric Storm, for which I am eternally grateful. Also, the very beginning of The Turn has a bar sound… most of the voices were sent to me by my friends on I had asked people to send recordings of what they might say at a show just before I start performing. Told them they could insult me, tell strange stories, whatever… Then I put it all together with sound from a real bar.

Your work is very much based on vocal harmonies for which you record all the layers yourself. How did you start working on this concept? Was it the fruit of trials and errors or was it more of a natural process?
Honestly, I don’t play keys well enough, so I was kind of forced to experiment with my voice just to get the ideas out fast enough and with expressiveness. But it was very magical from the start. So it quickly turned into something really addictive for me.

On your myspace page, you mention that, after posting the video to The Sad Song, you got emails from several film directors, and from authors and critics, all offering opportunities. How did you react to these, and were you tempted to accept some of the offers you received?
It was insanely exciting, emphasis on the word ‘insanely’. It just seemed out of control and demented. As excited as it made me, it also fed a part of my ego that was unhealthy. I began to obsess on seeing if there were new emails, etc.  I’m really glad to have gotten that pretty much out of my system. It’s the great thing about the internet, and the awful thing: instantaneous feedback.

But, yes, it was also really encouraging getting emails from so many folks that I admire. And I did take a few of them up on their offers! It led to my label deal, to my work with Mike Binder and to my meeting Massive Attack.

As you’ve just mentioned, you got contacted by Massive Attack, and you actually worked with them as a result. Can you tell us more about how this happened, and about the project?
I got emails from Dee and Neil about my Sad Song video and they asked if I wanted to collaborate. Of course I said yes, but inside I was shaking in terror. I find collaborations kind of hard, they are very hit or miss. You really have to be taken by what somebody sends you… Anyway, they sent me ten tracks, three of which I was really taken with. I sketched something out. They approved, sent me over to Bristol (for the ultimate in terror – I had never recorded in front of anyone before) and we spent two really nice days mostly just talking! I left them with a recording and I’m not sure what will come of it, if anything.

Visuals also seem important to you, and there is a definite style between the covers of your records, your website… Is it something you like to get involved with too, and who is responsible for the images?
Yes, I do have a strong feel for what my visuals should look like and prefer to have my hand in the designs as much as possible. That said, the excellent illustrations are by Richard Colman, and he did them long before my label contacted him! So it was just great luck finding his work which seems to work so well with my music.

Your first EP, The Sad Song, received a lot of attention and praises in the press, especially, it seems, in Europe. Were you surprised by how much it seemed to catch people’s imagination? How did you react to this?
I’ve been excited and really moved by how people have responded. I got an email a couple of months ago that a father sent me with a recording of his very young child singing the counterpoint line of Sad Song. Hearing that brought a tear to my eye. It’s really the best aspect of the internet, in my opinion, how easily folks can reach each other with no physical borders whatsoever… so you can get communication from folks in Tunisia one day and Texas another.

As well as three original songs, the EP also featured three very different remixes, by Tunng, Roland Appel and Prins Thomas. How did these happen, and what did you think of the result?
The label worked it out for those to be made. I am a huge fan of Tunng and thought their remix was excellent. I was equally surprised to hear that song made into two dance remixes! But before I was signed I had a bunch of talented internet friends (Scott Bruzenak, Mickey Eats Plastic, Lowlifi to name just a few) who remixed the same music and I was a little sad those didn’t get formally released.

There is also another EP, Red States, available on iTunes. Why only release it on a digital format, and do you think that this is the way forward for musicians?
I don’t really understand why labels are doing things this way now… Perhaps to gauge popularity of the music? That’s just a guess…

What inspires you to write songs? Are there particular things that inspire you more than others?
I’m inspired by emotional states. That’s really the most important aspect for me.  I’m inspired by ambiguity as well. Britten and Bartok do it often in their music… You aren’t sure what key you are in… Two keys seem to shimmer around you.  It’s a very exciting feeling because you feel rooted, yet somehow loose, floating…

How would you describe your music? There are hints of traditional folk music, in its medieval form at times I think, perhaps due to the vocal harmonies, and there is a pop edge to your songs too, but you also use electronic instruments. Do you recognize part of your work in this?
I would describe my music as a kind of hybrid style. I like mixing genres a lot, and different mediums. I’ve used this album as a vehicle to represent my filmic aspirations just as much as musical ones. So when it comes to arrangements, sometimes I try to think of the instruments a bit like symbols or elements of mise-en-scene. But truly the most important aspect of my music is the emotional catharsis.

Do you intend to play the songs from the album live, and if yes, how do you think you will get round the fact that there is only one of you. Would you rely on other vocalists, or work with videos?…
It’s the next big challenge, actually, figuring out the show! Yes, I’m going to have at least one or two other vocalists. Ideally, I would have six!  But more than likely we will be paring down the tracks and doing very different versions of the songs.  Also, I have been developing an improvisational style using a series of delay pedals which is part of the plan. And of course, a interactive visual style is in the works. But that’s going to take some time, because streaming live video is much harder than streaming audio.

You were born in England, and spent the first few years of your life in England and Italy before your parents moved to New York. Do you have any memory of your time in Europe, and do you think it has affected your work in any way?
I actually do. I have quite intense memories of both Italy and England, both quite abstract though. For England the memory is of the smell of Lavender and for some reason purple velvet wallpaper (?!). My early memories of Italy are wrapped up in the smell of garlic and anchovy cooking in good olive oil. And absolutely these two memories affected my work, as they provided almost a magnetic pull towards these mysterious and significant sensations. It’s probably why I became obsessed with Fellini and White Noise!

If you had to select 5 records of movies as your all-time favourites, what would they be?
Rosemary’s Baby, Fellini’s Casanova, The Night Of The Hunter (soundtrack with spoken accompaniment by Charles Laughton), Fantastic Planet, Oh Brother Where Art Thou (which is a bit of a cheat as it’s just a collection of amazing songs!)

What is the last record you bought?
Moondog – The German Years

What’s next in your diary?
Practice for my show, work on a few new videos and an iPhone app.

Email interview April 2009

Icon: arrow Fredo Viola | The Turn | Because Music

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