Q&A with legendary Italian singer Bernardo Lanzetti of PFM/Acqua Fragile, released a new solo album “Horizontal Rain”

"Today there is no such an impact. Music is mostly just layered sounds in the background endured to avoid facing menacing Silence… I already wrote about making music which, in the end, should always be fun while listening to music other mechanisms come into action with no filter whatsoever for all humankind. To answer your question about “affecting people” I see organized sounds and silences, along with verbal poetry, there to align thoughts and feelings in order to transform and convert sorrow and anxiety, knowledge and naivety into noble, symbolic, constructions."

Bernardo Lanzetti:

The Art of Music, The Music of Art

Legendary Italian singer Bernardo Lanzetti of Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and Acqua Fragile, released a new solo album titled “Horizontal Rain” (2021). Featuring Tony Levin, David Cross, David Jackson, Derek Sherinian, Tony Franklin, Jonathan Mover and many others. Conceived and recorded over a few years with outstanding musicians and special guests, Bernardo Lanzettiʼs new work is presented as a collection of musical episodes that sail from Progressive Rock to Vanguard, making port of call at Modern Opera, Art Rock, Rock & Soul and Classix 2 B. Eight songs in English, two lyrics written by friend Peter Jack Marmot, wordsmith and coach manager between London and Marbella, plus an Italian text for the song “Ero un num Ero”, built on an elementary and random numerical progression as if to point out that the so-called “inspiration”, at times, can only be a fairy tale to deceive the unwary listener. Without exaggerating or forcibly imposing his vocal range exceeding three octaves, the vocalist makes available the complete range of his voice, including the one processed by his Glovox device and those written for a choir that, in “Different”, move on articulated bars, always different in their division and imperceptibly delusional succession.          (Photo: Bernardo Lanzetti)

In the album, passion, detached nostalgia, fury and irony unfold track after track with a mix of sounds that are as unpredictable as they are effective: David Jackson’s baritone sax replacing the double bass in “Lanzhaiku” or Tony Levin’s unmistakable stick in “Heck Jack”. The pressing guitars of Marco Colombo in “Genial” where not even Andalusia is neglected or those of Andrea Cervetto, excitingly painful in the desperate appeal of “Walk Away”, which finds Tony Franklinʼs precise fretless bass and, in contrast, the hectic synth of Derek Sherinian and the poignant violin of David Cross. Alternating solid and frantic episodes, Jonathan Moverʼs drumming stands out on four strong selected tracks. With more than 120 songs already published to his credit, Bernardo also celebrates his being an author/composer with this new album where almost everything, including the artwork, is due to his talent and attitude. Including the above mentioned special guests, in all 19 musicians and a choir of 7 from Italy, UK, USA and Spain, numerous sound engineers and the careful and patient work of the producer Dario Mazzoli, make this work precious and unique.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Bernardo Lanzetti & Billy James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys youʼve taken?

When I was unconsciously thinking that the world needed a stir up, not yet seventeen, in ʼ65, I went to the US with a scholarship, to study and graduate as an exchange student. Coming from a family were a few languages were spoken, I assumed I was suitable and inclined for what there was in store for me but, after a 7 day journey by boat, two days and one night on a Greyhound bus, when finally riding shotgun in a long American car, the radio was turned on and Bob Dylan shouted Like A Rolling Stone, I knew my journey had really started big time! I consider myself lucky to be exposed not only to Rock Counterculture but also to all that I witnessed first living in Texas and later visiting London, Paris, Warsaw and the US again. At the time, I still wanted to become a scientist - a mad one, more likely - and though attracted by art, still I was not thinking about going into music. That happened just a few years later…

How do you describe your music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

It was not long ago that I realized some of my early works were simply meant to explore my own awareness and intended to make me move along the way. Most others could be defined as sort of artistic ceremonies to help to relate to the past and the future not only as factual places but also in the sphere of feelings. As commonly defined, I might say my creativity too seems to come from connecting, for example, geometric forms, weather basic or more complex repetitions of facts and figures and relate them in an unusual way. Think about fingers on guitar frets or on a keyboard, repeated words in a song chorus, odd time signature as opposed to even one, chords progression as visiting a mysterious house or a fascinated twisted guitar riff like an iron spiral staircase… As lyrics in stanzas have beat and sound, so emotions, loss and hopes have their shape and edge in our feeling and senses. This drive you are mentioning could be a type of energy with an extra shot but itʼs not predictable. Curious to notice though that, sometimes, to have an agenda, a concrete plan, seems to help out the process.

"And again, learning is an open process so never stop practicing, experimenting and studying. Success is not automatic for any artist. Hard work and faith in what you are doing help to carry on. Ups and downs are all in the picture just like sound wave graphics." (Premiata Forneria Marconi / Photo by Guido Harari)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you and your career?

Quite a few encounters were important and, as years go by, more faces and facts come up from the hazy past. I suspect this question of yours implies me quoting statements made by, at least, some of these people so, here we go.

Franco Mussida, original guitarist for PFM: answering my early question “how can I write a prog tune?”, he replied: “Well, you get on it and write it down! Funny enough, after that, Morning Comes came out for Acqua Fragile.

Alessandro Nidi, pianist, composer and director: when asked to learn, rehearse and perform The Three Pennies Opera and Porgy and Bess, I told him, up front, “Please do know I canʼt read music”. “No sweat - he said - Iʼll come over to your place with my keyboard and teach your parts, note by note!”

M° Giorgio Gaslini (RIP), Jazz pianist and more: before going on stage on a première he cried out: “Donʼt be nervous, have no fear. Music was not invented by us, we are here just to enjoy it!”

Mario Lanfranchi, film and opera director, formerly married to US soprano Anna Moffo: “I often wonder how great it would have been to have you on the Opera scene. You would have been a gorgeous “Trovatore” in the opera by Giuseppe Verdi.

Steve Hackett: in 2014 about a chance to join him on stage to perform some Genesis track. “Bernardo it would be great but we just have no time to rehearse”.

“Donʼt worry about it - I said - I donʼt need to rehearse!” As it happened it was a great night in Cortona (Tuscany, Italy) and glorious The return Of The Giant Hogweed can be checked out on You Tube.

Jonathan Mover, US drummer: I asked him to play drums on My Forte, a track in 11/4 I wrote for Acqua Fragile. He explained to me his viewing it as a 22/8 which is quite easy to understand but then he went on subdividing each bar in 7/8+6/8+5/8+4/8 so that every new bar ends up having a different time signature from the previous and the following one. Sometimes being a swagger, I applied this “Mover Code” to the track called Different in my “Horizontal Rain” album.

Dario Mazzoli, bass player and producer: Previously having worked together both live and in recordings, he just called me up at the beginning of 2019  asking to be updated about what I was doing. I told him about my new “Horizontal Rain” solo album not hiding some difficulties in actually completing it. I described  each  track and even before hearing them he said: “Well, Iʼd love to produce it!” And that happened. I was aloud latitude and extra experimentation, had a few mastering re-done, over and over, and even had him on bass on one tricky track.

Unidentified lady: a most distinguished lady after an unplugged performance, in Assisi: “Gentleman, aloud me to tell you. Now, itʼs all clear to me. You are not a singer!..You are not an entertainer!?...You are a vehicle for energy to us!!”

"It was not long ago that I realized some of my early works were simply meant to explore my own awareness and intended to make me move along the way. Most others could be defined as sort of artistic ceremonies to help to relate to the past and the future not only as factual places but also in the sphere of feelings. As commonly defined, I might say my creativity too seems to come from connecting, for example, geometric forms, weather basic or more complex repetitions of facts and figures and relate them in an unusual way." (Photo: Bernardo Lanzetti)

Are there any memories from gigs and studio sessions which youʼd like to share with us?

With Acqua Fragile we had this live acoustic number, and I was stumping my left foot on the floor to make more sound in the instrumental intro. I carried on moving up front but, blinded but the stage lights, I fell off the asymmetrical platform into a dark hole. Never been much of an athlete but I climbed back on up and made it to my microphone stand, just on time for singing. Still everybody, the rest of the band included, thought it was a planned, weird, stage act.

Before joining PFM, they had previously worked with another fine singer whose voice was not so powerful but who could hit some quite high notes. Three days before going in the studio to record “Chocolate Kings”, they changed their mind and wanted me in Milan.

My audition took place at Franco Mussidaʼs condo flat. They were anxious to find out if I could hit those above notes which I promptly did but the volume of my singing was over the top. Everybody was worried about neighbors complaining so I grabbed a cushion from the sofa and pressed it on my mouth throughout the audition!

Again with PFM, as we were recording Jet Lag, in L A, we ran out of studio time so the whole band moved to London with a fair deal at Scorpio Studios. Our economy flight from Milan to Luton was over delayed and then it was about 2 am when we were riding the bus from the airport to town. Franco said: “Hey guys, didnʼt we book the studio for 24 hours a day? Why wasting time to check into the Hotel. Letʼs go to the studio and start getting the job done! So, at 3 in the morning, we ring the bell at Scorpio. The sound engineer comes to the door.

Somebody asks “Can we set up and start recording?”. “Sorry - said the lad - my assistant (vital at the time because operating the 24 channel tape recorder) wonʼt be here till 8 am”. “Well,”- replied Franco - “do you have a microphone?”. “Oh, certainly yes” stated out the Scorpio man”. Franco turned around to me and ordered: “Bernardo get in and sing out!”

A most talented, fairly young sound engineer, while recording my vocals down, recently was reported saying: “I knew there were singers like him (yours truly) but, for me, this is the first time I donʼt need to plug in compressors and auto-tune!

"I consider myself lucky to be exposed not only to Rock Counterculture but also to all that I witnessed first living in Texas and later visiting London, Paris, Warsaw and the US again. At the time, I still wanted to become a scientist - a mad one, more likely - and though attracted by art, still I was not thinking about going into music. That happened just a few years later…" (Photo: Bernardo Lanzetti)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

Somebody said that most of the music we all hear and talk about is just a bunch of “accidentally assembled monophonic lines”. Anybody can think and relate to a single music line. One note at the time, step by step, and you reach out your goal. As in my painting, in music I am self-taught so I do not see myself as an orthodox musician with perfect pitch outstanding ear and all that but I have some musical taste, knowledge, respect for the great artists, a strong will to dare and I have a lot of voice. When I first started, I was doing things without knowing why but now I can tell I was doing them right.

What has remained the same about your solo music-making process and new album "Horizontal Rain"?

I relate to many different types of music and Progressive Rock takes in many of them. After Vox 40, the concert to celebrate my 40 years in music that took place in 2013, I thought I was ready for a new challenge. Again, though, my passion for exploring and experimenting, not only with notes, is detectable in all tracks of “Horizontal Rain”.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Meet some guys with matching attitude, get together in a garage, have a band, go on the road… I miss that, not only for myself but for my fellow musicians too. About your second question, In Italy, we say “navigate on sight” that is: be ready for anything that will show up ahead, on the sides, from the back, from underwater or down from the sky… Nobody can tell how life will turn out to be in the near future. As everybody else, artists should take good care of themselves plus protect and develop more and more their art. They are called to a greater commitment because politics and science…

"As my “American brother”- from the family that first hosted me - Mike Doc Martin, a musician all his life, just recently retired, did tell me: “No matter what you produce in music, wether you put down the notes, write the lyrics, may be you are an arranger, up to being a lead singer or a full act, for your publishing, recordings and live concerts you will always need distribution and thatʼs where the music changes and the plot thickens…” (Photo: Bernardo Lanzetti, Graceland in Memphis, 1966

What were the reasons that made Italy in 70s to be the center of Progressive/ Art Rock experiments?

In Italy, before the 70s, there was nothing of what we know as being “a Band”. 

Yes, we had groups of instrumentalists backing up more famous singers but these units would not write their music and lyrics, were not responsible for the arrangements and, most of the times, they were not even making their records, as the job was carried out by unknown and anonymous session men. In the 60s, a lot of “Beat Combos” would appear on the scene with singles that were just plain covers of American or British songs with Italian words. 

It all changed when, in 1971, “Le Orme” had the opportunity to come out releasing an album with original tracks all written   and recorded by the band itself. Progressive Rock (in Italy was, strangely, called “Pop”) was happening in Great Britain and everybody felt the British were doing it the right way.

So, also to oppose the crummy middle of the road music broadcasted on the radio or tv by national RAI, most Italian musicians and artists wanted to form a band or to be in it. Them all took Italy by storm and the record companies went crazy, signing out bands with unlikely names to record unusual, sometimes pretentious, concept albums and promoting their live shows where the stage would drown in all sorts of equipment… On the artistic and technical side, keyboards was the new big thing and in order to play them properly a key man usually had to have some classical training. Lyrics were up to the most schooled member and the artwork for the album jacket called  in new artists. Even though youngster were more into rock of the era, from an interesting point of view, Progressive Music could be seen as a continuation of Opera in an electric form... 

As it happened, leftish parties, stirring political issues, did try to incorporate the whole movement as it was all by and for young people but their acting ended up causing a major disturb to any possible new development. Anyway, this is a whole different topic.

"As in my painting, in music I am self-taught so I do not see myself as an orthodox musician with perfect pitch outstanding ear and all that but I have some musical taste, knowledge, respect for the great artists, a strong will to dare and I have a lot of voice. When I first started, I was doing things without knowing why but now I can tell I was doing them right." (Premiata Forneria Marconi / Photo by Guido Harari)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

As my “American brother”- from the family that first hosted me - Mike Doc Martin, a musician all his life, just recently retired, did tell me: “No matter what you produce in music, wether you put down the notes, write the lyrics, may be you are an arranger, up to being a lead singer or a full act, for your publishing, recordings and live concerts you will always need distribution and thatʼs where the music changes and the plot thickens…”

When forming or joining a band, it is important to have papers stating out all about name and logo property as well as relationships between each member of the band to guarantee a fair access to recording and publishing contracts. I know it sounds far from art but business is business also in music. I pity sons and daughters whose parents musicians passed away without ever straighten out the major and true financial aspects of their past, valuable, honest work. And again, learning is an open process so never stop practicing, experimenting and studying. Success is not automatic for any artist. Hard work and faith in what you are doing help to carry on. Ups and downs are all in the picture just like sound wave graphics.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

Today there is no such an impact. Music is mostly just layered sounds in the background endured to avoid facing menacing Silence…

I already wrote about making music which, in the end, should always be fun while listening to music other mechanisms come into action with no filter whatsoever for all humankind. To answer your question about “affecting people” I see organized sounds and silences, along with verbal poetry, there to align thoughts and feelings in order to transform and convert sorrow and anxiety, knowledge and naivety into noble, symbolic, constructions.

Bernardo Lanzetti - Home

(Photo: Bernardo Lanzetti)

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