Yankee Doodle Dandy

This is a very long post, take a deep breath.

I tried to sleep a couple of hours on the night of January 7th, before departing at 7 am from Rome – had no luck, partly because of the excitement; also because I don’t usually fall asleep before midnight, unless very tired. I started my long journey with some flu and without a proper rest, connecting to Paris first, then getting into Philadelphia via New York. Sadly, I flew into Paris on the day of the terrible Charlie Hebdo’s shooting, so my flight was delayed due to security reasons. This meant loosing my connection to Phildelphia – spent the night near the JFK airport, actually just the time for a quick dinner and a few hours sleep. I had to catch a shuttle bus back to the airport at 5 am, as my new flight to Philly was expected to depart at 7 am. The flight was once again delayed, because the aircraft was sooo cold that they needed extra time to heat it. Did I mention it was shockingly cold out there? At least for this small Italian guy.

Got on the plane at some point, flight was smooth, and made it to Philadelphia safely, with all of my luggage and equipment. I took a cab straight to the Cambridge Sound Studios, where me and Julie Slick would be putting final touches to our “Le Fil Rouge” album (of course the cab driver didn’t know the address I had asked to go to – this would happen many times during my stay in Philadelphia. I don’t really know why). When I finally made it to the studio, I met with Julie again (yup! The duo is back!); I was introduced to the studio owner, Jim Salamone (who I later instructed to Casu Marzu cheese), and wonderful engineer/all-around-sweet sound guy Todd Mecaughey, then went straight into working mode. Great drummer Tobias Ralph arrived a few minutes later – he recorded fiercely beautiful drum tracks on our songs. All of sudden I was into this whole new reality, being productive away from home, and all of the traveling adventures from the day before were immediately set apart. I somehow managed to recover from my flu during the long flight from Rome and the night spent in NYC, with the help of some emergencies – I was ready to rock. I could use some more sleep, though. As I would have discovered soon, sleeping didn’t seem to be a priority for the whole trip.

The next few days in Philly were spent in the recording studio, editing and mixing the new tracks. Me and Julie were also able to play a small gig on February 9 – basically an open rehearsal in front of a selected audience. We all gathered at the Springhouse Studio owned by drummer Carl Bahner, who previously collaborated with Julie on the Bahner/Slick duo project. Carl was very nice, as everyone else that came to the gig that night. We played two short sets – one at 7 pm, and one at 9 pm. Of course, the second set was tighter. We hadn’t played together for months, plus Julie’s Infinity looper decided to die right before the shows. After some frantic brainstorming, we decided she would borrow my Infinity (we use the same looper, thank goodness) for part of the set. We made it, despite my jet-lag and tech issues, and it was good. Sold a bunch of cds, met lots of people, and more importantly, we had a chance to run through the material again.

At this time, I also met again with magical Tim Motzer, who would play guitars with us on the East Coast tour, and brilliant designer Dejha Ti, as I would settle down at the House of Rad, as they call it, on and off for the rest of my American stay. Well, that’s a rad house indeed, situated in the fascinating Fishtown neighborhood in Philly. Tim owns a stunning collection of vinyls, and I would be the DJ on most nights at the house. We spent some memorable moments in there – great chats and great beers and great food were had, almost every night. I was also introduced to Kipp, who works with Dejha. Another fine human being. I met lots of different people everyday – most of them related in some ways to Julie, and I loved them all. Felt like a giant family away from home. Speaking of family – of course I was introduced to Julie’s folks: Gary, Robin and brother Eric (and Jake, their sweet dog), and had the immense pleasure to eat Gary’s burgers while watching a football match on TV on a Sunday afternoon, right after a short, glorious escape to New York City. How American!

During the whole trip, I got to experience the gypsy lifestyle that Julie is popular for. I slept on various couches and beds around the country, usually provided by friends. I think I did well. I do like to value my own privacy and comforts – still I’m not too fussy, especially when on the road. I like to be open to anything when travelling. So we found ourselves flying to California the week after my arrival – the plan being visiting legendary artist Derek Riggs, and his wife Kim in Wildomar; then spending a few days off in Los Angeles, and last but not least, being part of the Pigtronix team at the 2015 NAMM show in Anaheim. Honestly, I think Julie booked the trip solely to enjoy the perfect weather in California, before freezing our butts off on the East Coast tour. I’m glad she offered to do this, as I had never visited California before. And more fun was had, all the time. Not to mention delicious Mexican food. Kim and Derek took us on a road trip to Oceanside, among other things (like being extra nice to us). While staying with them, we met Cyrus, who’s been friend with Kim and Derek for years, and he kindly offered to give us a ride to Los Angeles. A very enjoyable ride, I must say, which brought us to South Pasadena, the quiet neighborhood where I met Allie and Danny for the first time. I know it’s starting to sound a bit confusing, but that’s exactly how it was – meeting all kinds of different people in all kinds of different places, everyday. Allie and Danny are Julie’s friends, and were our main hang while in LA. I really enjoyed their company, and meeting Stella, their little pug – cutest pug ever. Remarkable moments in LA included some wild Uber action (do you know the Uber app?), an open jam night at the Baked Potato, the epic hike to the Hollywood sign, and meeting with music/video producer Dutch Rall (and wife Jeni) for a stunning Mexican meal at El Coyote (yes, I told you I had plenty of Mexican food while in Cali). As much as I like talking about food, this is not a food blog, so I’d better tell you about the NAMM experience in Anaheim.

marco-riggs-julie
With Julie and Derek Riggs, somewhere in California

NAMM is quite overwhelming. That was my first NAMM ever, go figure. It’s loud, and exaggerated, and terrifying. What I learned is: you don’t have a plan at NAMM. You can’t have one. You follow the flow. Someone will tap your shoulder, you turn around, somehow you find yourself at some other booth that you hadn’t considered visiting. You don’t even know how you got there. And you collect cards, and shake hands all the time. You meet celebrities. You meet with people that have always been part of your life, but never met them in person before, like bassist Steve Lawson (best known as Steve L’awesome). And maybe you get a new bass from Lakland! Julie introduced me to the wonderful Lakland crew and we suggested we could play a short set of our bass duo material at their booth. I think they enjoyed it, because I’m now the proud owner of a shiny, teal green five strings Lakland that we call the Mach V. Incredible, isn’t it?

However, best part of NAMM for me was to hang out at the “Pigtronix Haus” – that’s how we called it. The ever-busy Dave Koltai, Pigtronix’s president, rented a house for 10 people (or more… can’t really remember. We were a lot), including Adrian Belew, for the whole Anaheim stay, and I won’t tell you anything about it. All I can say, is that I met other wonderful friends – and I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given to be there with them, sharing some fun and serious music moments. The California trip ended on a sweet note, as me and Julie were invited to play at the Supro/Pigtronix event in a hotel in Anaheim. We got to play a short set in front of what seemed to be a very patient audience (about a million other acts played before us). Adrian Belew sat in the front row and kept shouting nice things to us. He said that he really enjoyed the songs. I was high on that, as you can imagine. By the way, I also met with the legendary Stewart Copeland!

stewart

Time to fly back to Philly (with a 5 hour layover in Minneapolis – got through it eating Japanese food and drinking beer), and we had to face the terrible news. Snow, A LOT of snow, was expected to fall down on the East Coast over the next couple of days, when Pat Mastelotto was supposed to fly into Philadelphia to rehearse with us. The only day available to rehearse. Also, we hired a guy to drive us on the tour, and collect our van with Pat’s drums in Woodstock. Guess what happened: we got a call from the driver on the morning of Monday, January 26, who apparently hadn’t heard anything about the upcoming blizzard. He basically told us he was afraid to drive, due to the terrible weather. At that point, we were stuck at the House of Rad (not a bad place to be stuck at, after all), without a van, without a driver, without Pat’s gear, and above all, without Pat. His flight to Philadelphia was cancelled, as they had closed the airport for security reasons. He was re-routed to Washington DC, where we would play our first gig the very next day. I remember sitting at the House of Rad, with some great music in the background (as usual), with Tim and Julie, the three of us trying to figure out something. Julie put a lot of effort into this tour, and I felt sorry for her as things weren’t starting smoothly. First logical thing to do was to buy food for the whole week. We would drive back to Philadelphia almost every night (all dates of the tour were within reasonable distance), so we’d have breakfast at home. We headed out to the Terminal Market in Philly and bought a massive amount of bacon, cheese, eggs, greens, coffee, and whatever was needed for breakfast (plus tortillas and some salsa verde. You never know). We had some much needed coffee, then either Tim or Julie suggested to get the fuck out of Philadelphia as soon as we could, driving to Washington that same day before the blizzard would get too bad. Well, that was a great idea, I thought. Tim would drive. We were all pumped up again; rented a mini van, loaded all of our stuff, hit the road (of course we stopped for a burrito along the way).  It was great to be in the car, traveling to Washington, exchanging jokes. “Fuck you snow, we aren’t scared! WE’RE DRIVING!”.

We got to the Washington hotel where Pat was staying, surprised him with some goodies. Got a room, I rehearsed a little bit with Tim, we shared a beer, then slept. Woke up the next morning to a clear sky, no snow whatsoever, all roads clear. What the hell? Good for us, obviously, but it all felt like a ridiculous joke. Whatever. We had a van and the drummer. We still had no drums, but Pat agreed to play on the drumkit of our opening band, the amazing Out of the Beardspace (never heard of them? Check them out), for a couple of days, before his DW arrived just in time for the Dunellen gig at Roxy & Dukes. The Out of the Beardspace guys were insane. They played effortlessly night after night, and they are the sweetest bunch of people. They’re so young, too. Their future is bright. I remember sitting in the backstage area at Gyspsy Sally’s, the club we were playing in Washington DC, listening to them and thinking: “Do I really have to play after these guys?”. Jesus. Well, there was some apprehension. Me, Julie, Tim and Pat never had a proper chance to rehearse, no chance to be a band yet – you know what I mean. The staff at Gypsy Sally’s was very nice, though, as they let us do a long soundcheck. We could at least run through the material for a little while. Surprisingly, or maybe not, I felt we did very well. Of course there were some rough spots, but we could do a lot worse, no doubt. I felt like everyone was still listening rather than playing, looking for the right space in the music. But no matter how structured the material is, I love to do things on the fly. Being able to give new life to the music every night. With such great players around you, it can be an easy process.

With this being a short tour to promote our first record, “Fourth Dementia”, we mostly played stuff from that album. Also, added a couple of King Crimson numbers – “Dinosaur”, a song I’ve always loved to sing, and “Indiscipline”. Plus, each of us would play a solo piece in the middle of the show (I loved watching Tim improvise every night, quite inspiring) and the encore would start with a band improv, finally flowing into “Indiscipline”. Let’s talk about “Indiscipline” for a minute. Me and Julie actually decided to play that song right before the Springhouse gig in Philadelphia with Carl Bahner. The fun part is, we wanted to do the song in Italian. I don’t remember who suggested it – probably Julie, as she usually has the smartest ideas. So I found myself translating Adrian’s lyrics while Julie and Carl played their set, and I kept that very piece of paper with me until the end of the tour (until someone stole it after the show in NYC. Bummer). However, I can’t express how much fun it was to play “Indiscipline” at the end of every show. I would turn around and see Pat pounding the hell out of his drums, with a wide, heart-warming smile upon his face. Julie on my left playing the thunderous bass riff. Tim embarking on a journey to space on my right. Whenever I would start with the first verse in Italian, people in the audience would crack up. I loved it. It was that immediate. People just loved it. Best version of the tune was the Philadelphia one I think, at the Hard Rock Cafe – when we surprised Julie with a birthday cake (it was her birthday show) right in the middle of my crazy talking. How fun.

I also feel the entire Philly concert was the best of the tour. Very intense, and I felt particularly on fire that night. Someone said, “you guys turned the Hard Rock Cafe into a nice venue”. It was packed, being Julie’s birthday and both Out of the Beardspace and Julie’s hometown. Dejha Ti added visuals to the show, so it looked great. I wish I could have seen that from the audience POV. By the time of the Philly gig, I felt we were sounding like a real band. Too bad the tour would end the very next night in NYC. I wish it was longer, for many reasons – the music, the hang, the people in the band. New York was very cool too, and we have some footage (thank you, Jack Casadone). Hopefully we can release it sooner or later.

Baltimore was excellent. The second night out, and a special one. Promoters David Gaine and Sharon Rudolph did a great job for us, put a lot of energy into the show. I really liked the venue (8×10), sound on stage was incredible. I played through a sweet Ampeg / SVT combo: felt like the King of Low Frequencies for one day. I finally met with photographer Avraham Bank, and drummer Teddy Grant. Both of them took beautiful pictures. Backstage was fun. Incredible things happened: we were treated to 75 cupcakes, and one of my all-time favourite artists, Mr. Thomas Dolby, came out to say hi and see the show! I was stunned. I remember looking at Tim Motzer, both of us smiling in disbelief. Thomas had a cup of coffee and a cupcake, we all had a lovely chat with him. No one took a picture of the meeting, though. Funny to think there’s no evidence of our backstage encounter with Dolby, considering we live in the age of social media – almost feels like it never happened! Avraham didn’t seem to be interested in the man at all, and I kept wondering why. We later found out that poor Avraham didn’t recognize Thomas. Hilarious. This event lead to all kinds of inside jokes in the band, involving the word SCIENCE (remember the song “She Blinded Me With Science”?). I still laugh when I think about it.

thomas-pat
The only picture proving that Thomas Dolby was indeed in the backstage with us. Talking with Pat, who played on Thomas’ “Map of The Floating City” record.

All in all, The United States have been very good to me. All of us in the band thought it was a very good tour, and special, so we look forward to do this again. Personally, this was a career highlight. Playing the music I write (the music I write with Julie, to be fair) outside of my country, for supportive audiences night after night… I really couldn’t ask for more. We even had fans traveling from Canada and Texas – I was blown away, and flattered. I owe a big thank you to Julie for making this whole trip happen – travelling always makes me feel less miserable. Not to mention playing with Tim and Pat, an experience I won’t ever forget.

More soon.

Un pensiero su “Yankee Doodle Dandy

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