Interview: How To Cure Our Soul

I wish I could make music like this. Music that parades the illusion of stillness to the idle on-looker. Music that, in actual fact, celebrates the very impossibility of stillness, cherishing the tiny fluctuations in frozen guitar drones and field recordings. Not only that, but this is music that appreciates the changes that occur within me. Just how my relationship with a photograph can be as emotionally undulating and dramatic as my appreciation for a moving image, my submergence in the music of How To Cure Our Soul is always a cascade of tiny revelations. Every twitch of harmonic change triggers a new unfolding in thought.

Having been mesmerised by their album Saigon, I was thrilled when Marco Marzuoli and Alessandro Sergente contacted me about their new album, Mare. It was such a pleasure to talk to them about it. Below, Marco and I discuss plunging into the sea, rediscovering ego and almost interviewing Neurosis.

ATTN HQ used to be based by the seaside. There’s so much I love about it: the nourishment of swimming in (or floating on) the sea; how staring out to sea carries my thoughts away from daily concern…I could go on. Could you tell me about your own connection to the sea? I understand that I’m hearing the Adriatic sea on Mare. What is it about this particular sea that holds importance for you?

Well, we (me and Alessandro – Sergente to his friends and the world) are both from Abruzzo in Italy, on the Italian east coast. Sergente lives in Pescara, I live in Città Sant’Angelo, the small town where we used to record How To Cure Our Soul’s music. In Città Sant’Angelo we are surrounded by the landscape, from Gran Sasso (the highest mountain in central Italy) to the Adriatic sea.

The landscape is a kind of nest for all of us. It influences, with its strengths and weaknesses, the sense of community of the area. But there is a big difference between the side of the landscape bounded by the mountains and that related to the sea. The horizontal line which divides the sky from the water is not a barrier; it’s rather a sort of representation of the connection between the real world and the infinite. The sea, and water generally, is also able to modify the features of our formal person. To plunge into the sea is, for most people, an elemental and atavistic experience which alters the basic relationship with ourselves – a way of discovering new egoes. Starting from Luna and continuing with Mare, as is usual for How To Cure Our Soul, we continued the investigation into our indelible memories, bumping into “stones” so simple and common which have in no case an objective perceptual reality.

The sea is perpetual, but every time different from itself. To contemplate it is similar to being in front of big ancient classic architecture: its evocations are new every time, linked to our psychological condition at that precise time. So, Mare is just our temporary representation of a very common, and apparently simple, slice of nature: the Adriatic sea. We developed the record with fluid dynamics, with the shape of a maritime wave. It comes, grows, rolls on itself and goes away.

The first 90 seconds of Mare are virtually silent. I have to confess that I started to check that my sound was actually working on first listen – adjusting the volume controls, reconnecting the headphones – and when the sound of the sea finally came in, I felt slightly embarrassed about my impatience to hear something. Why did you decide to open the record like this?

The How To Cure Our Soul processes are often related to what we would like from our experience of listening. This answer could appear stupid or ridiculous, but every time we experience a new record, we had the problem of managing the time interval between the action of play on the device and the moment when we werre ready and comfortable to enjoy the music on the sofa. Then we decided to insert a lapse of silence to make our ears perfectly ready for diving into the track.  

This is your third album working together as a duo. It fascinates me that this record is the product of two minds in creative negotiation, as there’s something about your sound that feels so private and solitary. Given that music in the region of “drone” often has such strong associations with privacy, how do you find the experience of collaborating with another person to generate this music? Has your collaborative relationship changed over the course of making your records?

Me and Sergente have been good friends since high school, and we are really different people. After more than a decade together, we have never had big brawls and/or even too frequent altercations. We met each other in provincial and youth punk/heavy-rock contexts – he plays guitar after spending a long time in his stoner-prog band (Zippo), and I, some time ago, was involved in that area too. Over the years I had the “unlucky” idea to start exploring/study the experimental music!

After an initial moment of confusion, when, as a bet, I decided to share my HTCOS project with him (also to bring more unpredictability and freshness to the production), we understood that the attempt to find a common point was impossible without quarrel: we had to eliminate as much as possible the surplus and keep into the music what was more ineradicable from both of us. We have different roles within project during different stages of the process. Our music, which we would like to keep as organic and natural as possible, undergoes variations and transformations in relation to the one of the two who is intervening: basically in connection with who is applying actions to the sounds. This is only possible through mutual trust.

Our collaboration has never changed much. We have artistic confrontations, which are unavoidable. When we meet each other outside of the studio, we dedicate ourselves exclusively to having fun with other friends.

Could you tell me about the recording process for Mare? Is this record the product of hours and hours of studio time, or do you tend to work quickly?

Well, we already mentioned elements of the process. As you can imagine Sergente is an heavy rock guy, so it is pretty impossible to keep him in contemplation for too long. We were only in the studio together a few times, which is when we recorded the basic drones. I usually propose the main idea/concept, and Sergente privately thinks about the harmonies. Later we meet and record the guitar drones. After this, and a first attempt at mixing, I put other elements: working on the mixing, manipulations, etc.

In Mare the process has been a bit different. I proposed a set of footage and field recording of mine to Alessandro, and then we started noting the tones of the sounds of the sea. After several days, Alessandro came back with the harmonies. We recorded the guitars and I continued with magnetic tapes, etc. The total sound was not organic enough for us, so we invited Rossano Polidoro (from Triac) to play a drone track to be used as a glue.

Let’s say that the process is split in two moments: one as a duo, and an other one (in different times) where we work privately. 

I love how you so delicately balance the principles movement and stasis; much like the sea, you manage to conjure that interplay between constant undulation and fixed location. The drones are constantly evolving. I understand that you use electric guitars, freeze pedals and tapes as source material. If it’s not too difficult to explain, how do you manage to generate sounds that perpetuate themselves without stagnating and feeling too repetitive?

Basically we don’t use any digital sources. The development of our sounds has much more to do with cooking than with musical production. As initial elements we have frozen guitar drones. We boil these drones through vintage reverberations, echoes and equalizers. After the boiling, we put the result in the pan (an old B77 Revox recorder). We can’t reveal the exact doses and cooking times. We pay close attention to making the flavours indistinguishable, and to the various substances used, and to the timelines: we want to keep our dishes as bio and organic as possible, enhancing the simple and natural taste of our local food. Ours is a healthy cooking.   

There’s often a visual component to your output as well; for example, the swirling amber hues that accompany this shortened version of Saigon. Given that your music is such a visually evocative experience anyway, how easy is it to find a visual element that enhances the experience further?

In our production, images and music go hand in hand. Sometimes the visual side is stronger than the sound; at other times it’s opposite. We try to keep our research physiological, and we work with a lot of serendipity. For example, there are moments when we are looking for visual images, and this research goes forward for months, without discovering anything; in these periods our mood is set on certain visions that could satisfy our imagination, and we bring these visions into our recording sessions.

For Saigon, we collected so many drones, and during the same period we collected pictures and videos. We didn’t know what sort of look it would have, but we continued to work. In those days, I was shooting with M42 vintage lenses with amber and fog filters, and at the same time, doing the tape manipulation of the album.

Step by step we started to select and combine the accumulated materials. Over time we realised that we were immersed in an imaginary geography, unrealistic both in terms of their geography and historical period, with clear oriental and altered inclinations. We were trying to describe a place inebriated and ancient, an old Asian city collapsed: Saigon. We have never been to that part of the world, but we stimulated our imaginations to create our vision of Saigon, giving back to the audience a place to dream rather than analyse. Technically, that work was mainly focused on the physical/aesthetic features of the used media.

For Mare and also Luna, we worked differently. We didn’t concentrate too much on the nature of the media. We have kept them more or less as they were, and used the music as inner value to underline the personal interpretation of those elements. In these two works we tried to give back, to our (little) audience, an experience of their subjects.

A video, or a photo, is not objective; it’s filtered, and this filtering is relative to the author (and his mood during the recording/shooting). Currently, we are trying to not put too much effort into masking the media we use. Why to disguise the technology by eliminating the digital traces if, in this moment (for example), I’m using a digital support to present our research to you?

However, going back to the kitchen, the digital media is currently only one of the ingredients: it has to be balanced with others in equal dignity and proportions, both in visual and music.

You worked with Rossano Polidoro of Triac for this release. I’m a big fan of Triac’s work. How did you come to meet and work with Rossano, and how was the experience of working together for Mare?

Rossano is a good friend of ours, and he is from Città Sant’Angelo. There’s a funny story to how I met Rossano for the first time!

Over ten years ago, I was strolling on the streets of my little town with a friend of mine from Perugia, who was asking me if it was possible to meet a member of the duo TU M’ (the other member of which is Emiliano Romanelli, who is a great musician and friend as well). I didn’t know who Rossano was, but this friend of mine recognised him! I immediately started to talk with Rossano. At that time I was member of a post-metal/hardcore webzine, and I quickly asked Rossano about Neurosis (because I had to interview that band soon). From that moment I knew Rossano. I never did my interview with Neurosis because I was too embarrassed to talk with the band in person after their concert!

Now, after several years, asking him to collaborate with us was as easy as drinking a glass of water .He is a kind of artistic guru for us (and not only for us). For the realisation of Mare, we gave him a draft of what we were doing, and he returned to us a dozen of digital drones. We chose one and integrated it into the track.

Could you tell me about the origin of the band name? I have my own theories about how it speaks to the therapeutic potential of these sorts of sounds, but I’d love to hear your reasons for choosing it.

The name “How To Cure Our Soul” is for sure connected to the therapeutic value of the music.

I chose this name before I invited Sergente to join the project. In that period I was reflecting on the social linguistic superstructures, meditating on how the collective identity could condition the expressiveness of every single individual when in relation with other people. Our expressive outcomes towards society are mediated by regulations coming from conventionally prearranged common points. Only in art, theoretically, could a person overcome these conventions, building a personal linguistics based on his deepest ego. Through the free practice of the artistic production, our collective soul could rediscover its atavistic condition, overcoming the desires of false needs typical of the capitalist society.

The great feature of the arts is that the results can be ambivalent: creativity can generate benefits both for its author and audiences. For this reason I choose to use the word “our”.         

What records are you both listening to at the moment?

Me and Sergente are listening very different music at this moment (which is an “apparently” a standby period for HTCOS). As a heavy rock guy, Sergente is enjoying riffs from What One Becomes by Sumac, Rust by Monolord, Gold Cut by Unhold, as well as AdHd, Ham and others.

Instead, I’m currently having variegate listening experiences: Midori Takada (Through the Looking Glass), Elodie (Vieux Silence), Stefano Scondanibbio (Voyage That Never Ends), Martin Denny (and other old “exotica” records), Anthologies of Experimental Music by Subrosa (mainly Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008 and Ethiopian Urban and Tribal Music), Domenico Modugno.

What’s next for How To Cure Our Soul?

We don’t know yet. Maybe we will change something and present a surprise. Maybe not.

We officially invite the staff of ATTN, next summer, to Pescara and Città Sant’Angelo to eat some “arrosticini” cooked by Sergente and discover our next steps!