Almost two decades have passed since the black music-infused garage rock debut ‘Fever In The Funk House’ in 1999, the already more than promising starting point of a long and patient personal path in search of a natural and uncompromising way to forge and refine their own signature sound.
The Italian ”outsiders” Julie’s Haircut, a frequently changing line-up of kindred-musicians revolved around the core duo of Nicola Caleffi and Luca Giovanardi, got the knack of channeling their unlimited musical influences from the past, the suggestions from their keen passion for cinema, literature and visual arts, and few crucial collaborations (Sonic Boom, Damo Suzuki and Peter Hook), into a genuine desire to move forward with the aim of creating an atemporal ‘classic’ musical art, away from trends, rules and routine.
The seventh album, intriguing titled ‘Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin’, born out of the creative approach of hours of free studio improvisations inaugurated with the 2006 album ‘After Dark My Sweet’, has just been released and is another adventurous, electrifying and hypnotic lysergic trip with contrasting moments of dazzling electric storms, jazz-infused eruptions and shamanic soundscapes of menacing apparent cold calm, embellished with the suggestive sax played by the newcomer Laura Agnusdei.
It’s just the first fruit of the new link up with the psychedelic visionaries of Rocket Recordings that surely will open up new ‘doors of perception’ to the band…several many engaging surprises from such a fervid imaginative minds are certainly still to come.
Let’s start with a brief excursus of early days of the band, how did you meet? Your first influences and inspirations?
Nicola: The band was formed in the town of Sassuolo in 1994 as a trio (Luca Giovanardi, bassist Laura Storchi and me). Among our first influences: american and british alternative rock of the 80s and 90s, but also classic rock from the 60s and the 70s.
What were the most meaningful moments and records of the Julie’s Haircut history, the ones you’re most fond of? Are there also any tracks you’ve grown particularly close?
Nicola: It’s a bit like asking a father which is his favourite son, isn’t it? We’re proud of everything we’ve done, even the less successful things: it’s all part of who we are now.
The title of the new album is inspired by a Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Inventions song ‘Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin’, from their second album ‘Absolutely Free’ and by the short film ‘‘Invocation Of My Demon Brother’’ by the British film-maker Kenneth Anger, is it just a play of words or is there a hidden meaning? One way or the other visionary artists like Zappa, Sun Ra or Captain Beefheart often recurring when I talk to a lot of musicians, but enough is never said about them.
Nicola: The connection between Frank Zappa and Kenneth Anger came up by pure chance while reflecting on the formula ‘Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin’, which we liked. We were looking for something to complete that and this idea of the ‘Demon Twin’ came up while brainstorming. To us, it is mainly a reference to the idea of “the double”.
Luca: Yeah, we’re very fascinated by the concept of “the shadow” that Carl Gustav Jung has developed. The idea that we have a “double image”, something that’s hidden below the surface of things and that is very vital and informs our lives even without us being aware of it. When that concept came up, it seemed to fit with a lot of what was going on with this album, from the music to the visual concept of the artwork.
The twins’ theme, conjunction of opposites (Eastern tradition and Western thought, the experiencing self and the universe) are recurring topics in your works, also the cover of your new album reminds me of that. Talking about cinema immediately come to my mind the Peter Greenaway’s ‘‘A Zed & Two Noughts’’ and the David Cronenberg’s ‘‘Dead Ringers’’ but not just that…the latter a rather ‘‘psychedelic’’ director.
Nicola: We’re all film buffs, some of us are almost ‘feticists’ about it, and the “visual” quality of our music may have something to do with that. The cover image of the twins completes that reference to the double expressed in the title. Moreover, those in the picture are two actresses, so here we go again with cinema.
Luca: I’m a sucker for David Cronenberg, hands down one of my favourite directors of all time. But this idea of the double is everywhere in film, think of “Sisters” by Brian De Palma, “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman, more recently “Enemy” by Denis Villeneuve… I could go on forever. But our general interest for these themes comes not only from cinema.
In your past works, references and themes inspired by literature and cinema always had a very prominent place : Jim Thompson, Nino Rota, Fellini, Jodorowsky, Kubrick, Carpenter. What were the ones in the new album? Luca has already written soundtracks, mainly electronic I guess, for short films or documentaries, I believe that you’re waiting for the right opportunity to test yourself with a full-length movie, maybe it’s like love, it’s when you least look for it that you find it most…
Luca: Oh, I’d love to work with Julie’s Haircut on a movie soundtrack. I think we’d be able to do a great job, really. All we need is a director who’s interested and just picks up the phone.
Since ‘After Dark My Sweet’ LP, your ‘‘tested’’ method of composition consists first of long endless hours of spontaneous studio improvisations, then begins the hard work of trying to find the “key” to a given track. What are then the differences compared to 2013’s ‘Ashram Equinox’? Your atmospheres are darker and more obscure than coloured and bright, how important is natural or artificial light when you’re composing?
Nicola: ‘Ashram Equinox’ is an album with a more controlled and balanced atmosphere, I would say “peaceful”, in some way. ‘Invocation’ is its specular twin: nervous, tense, anxious. Still, in both records these two souls live side by side, the more relaxed side and the out-of-control one. Composition-wise there were no big differences, maybe for this new one we’ve left more space to improvisation, while the songs in ‘Ashram’ were a bit more structured, in some way.
Let’s talk about the recent depature of Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit. He said about his unique ‘‘motorik beat’’ style, that with his minimalistic drum set was the spine of Can’s sound, ‘‘In Can I always tried to make my own loop and repeat that pattern with subtle variations’’. How did he influenced your rhythm approach to music composition?
Nicola: Not in a direct way, I would say. Jaki is one of the greatest and we love Can’s music, but the element of variation in repetition belongs to many a tradition, from original blues to minimalism, from jazz to folk to techno music.
You’re recently joined the long-standing psychedelic family of Rocket Recordings, what about your relationship with the two ‘‘bosses’’? Has it been a source of fresh creative hints? Did you already know and like any bands from their roster?
Nicola: ‘Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin’ is the result of a beautiful exchange between Chris Reeder and John O’Carroll from Rocket Recordings and us. We’ve constantly exchanged opinions about the most effective choices to make the record as consistent as possible while keeping a strong individual nature for each song. It’s been very stimulating for us, it took us out of our comfort zone.
Psychedelia is not a concept related to a single musical genre, but it’s an active hypnotic trance connection mind/body to the sound. Is it quite the whole music spectrum to be contaminated by it in various forms, many times with compelling results (think about a hip hop producer like Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA) but often, especially recently, with the danger of becoming an empty clichè, if you look around, almost every song is tagged psychedelic nowadays. What’s your opinion about it and what is is your concept of psychedelia?
Luca: It’s as broad as it gets. As you say, it’s quite sterile to intend the term psychedelia as a genre-indicator. We like to think of it more as an approach to making things. The Orb or Alice Coltrane are no less psychedelic than Grateful Dead. And it also can be applied to different media, from literature to cinema. Anything that in some way works as a “mind-expander” can be dubbed as psychedelic, maybe? I’m now reading “Jerusalem” by Alan Moore and that sure is psychedelic. I don’t know, it’s difficult to pin down, and that is a huge part of its charm.
How important has for your creativity been to be born in a small town in the Centre/North of Italy and to ‘‘resist’’ (but I don’t think is the right word for you) the temptations of the big cities in favour of ‘‘the slow life’’ in a sometime boring and narrow-minded place? In Italy you’re considered a sort of outsiders…
Nicola: We come from different towns, but they’re all small-medium provincial towns. It sure is an element that has forged our identity as a band. And still does. Personally, I have never thought of my life in a small town as boring. The absence of certain cultural inputs in fact forced us to build our own, and I think that all of us have found in music (not exclusively) a world where to find shelter and inspiration.
Luca: I agree. I’ve never felt the urge to move to a big city. In some ways living in the outskirts also gives you a kind of privileged point of observation of what’s happening. It might take you a little more time to get to know things, but on the other hand you can avoid an awful lot of false inputs, trends, useless fashions that become the center of attention for one week to then just reveal themselves for what they really are.
In this period where music is all about Spotify, mp3, digital, I guess we’re missing the beautiful true charm of the vinyl hunt, the covers, the record on the turntable… You particularly take care of the limited vinyl edition of your releases (I’ve noticed your last one is already sold out!). Whilst in the current internet era we can easily listen to a plethora of music from all around the world with a click, we have lost those treasured emotions and feelings we had in the past.
Luca: Well, it might be true for people like us who are old enough to come from a different era. In fact, the often painful process of discovering new things was valuable in itself, it made you grow. It’s the old opposition of knowledge vs information, which is a big theme today. Yet, it’s cool that we now have access to a lot of music, films, readings that were once impossible to reach. I don’t know, the world changes, it is only right to live your time in the now. I think what makes the difference is one’s approach to it, not to passively experience whatever comes but to try and go deeper into things that interest you. Of course, it becomes ever more difficult, given the amount of stuff coming our way any second.
The visuals and the light show are fundamental key aspects of the psychedelic sonic experience, what do we have to expect from your next gigs? Are you planning any tour or Festival participations after the album release? Are you still enjoy playing live?
Luca: We still love playing live, of course. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t. We have prepared some visuals for the next tour, even though we like to keep our focus on the music. Visuals can be tricky, they can help you enjoy a show more fully, but at the same time they must not be a distraction. We will play festivals, but we cannot announce any yet.
Which bands/artists are you listening recently and what are the last records you bought?
Nicola: The last records I bought were ‘Selected Ambient Works II’ by Aphex Twin and ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ by Fairport Convention. The last notable thing I’ve listened to was ‘A Seat At the Table’ by Solange.
Luca: I know I will sound like a pretentious dick, but I’ve been completely lost for some time in the exploration of Richard Wagner’s operas. That’s almost everything I listen to in the house. When I’m out I like upbeat music instead. I listen to a lot of hip-hop these days, from my classic Cypress Hill records to new stuff that some friends have suggested and I’m enjoying a lot, like Schoolboy Q’s ‘Blank Face’, Danny Brown’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, Loyle Carner’s ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. And also a lot of minimal techno in my headphones when I’m walking around town. I just love the production, how huge can those tracks sound with so few elements, the effectiveness of the mixing, which is often so much more adventurous than what you get in most rock music.
Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the last question: What will be your next move and possible collaborations?
Nicola: God only knows!
Luca: Our demon twin knows for sure.
Photo credits: Ilaria Magliocchetti Lombi