Giancarlo Erra is a UK-based Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist. Erra started his career in 2005 with one man studio project Nosound, now he’s releasing Ends - his first foray into contemporary classical/minimalist and electronic music. We caught up with Erra to find out more.
I have a great arsenal of analog machines that I use with my acoustic piano to write, record and arrange my music.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
I’ve been always fascinated by music since I was a kid. During the 80s there was one a cheap home Casio keyboard around the house, and I remember I was always trying to press keys on it to reproduce the music or vocals melody I was hearing on the radio or my parents music collection. That music collection was mostly soundtracks, Beatles and 70s experimental electronic music, and that pretty much I think was the start. I also had a piano at my grandparents house, and I fell in love immediately with its sound.
Growing up I started being curious about the acoustic guitar of my uncle, and again I remember being fascinated by its sound. That meant that as a teenager I started discovering Pink Floyd (as a transposition of the more soundtrack/electronic early influences into rock), and so I started using electric guitar and getting interested into composing music. The piano and synths always kept a very special place for me, and as a producer I never left them behind as studio tools, so it was natural that over the years I started later on using mostly those for writing music.
Music has always been my own emotional voice, the place where I felt I was able to express my feelings and to discover them as well.
Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from?
I think early electronica (Schulze, Brian Eno), Beatles, Pink Floyd, Ennio Morricone up to the more modern Ludovico Einaudi, Clint Mansell, Nils Frahm are the ones I could name as inspirations for me. To be honest as time pass and most of all nowadays with streaming, the list of artists I like and discover change literally every single day. I do like sometimes to listen to music I already know, but I think most of the times I like to discover new one if I’m not writing it myself!
How would you describe your musical style?
I think the most fitting description is “emotional”. I think is very hard to describe music in a technical way (electronic or rock or ambient or whatever else) because influences are now all mixed, and luckily is more and more different to lock a track or an album in a genre cage.
Surely whatever I do is always emotional, because I’ve never been interested in the virtuosity on a music instrument, I like to play anything I can put my hands on, trying to make on it all sounds I need for my own music, so for me as a composer but also a listener the only thing that matters is honestly if it creates in me a deep emotional state or not. Music made for entertainment or for the music itself doesn’t really interest me. Music must move me deep inside.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
That is a long list. With my other music projects (for example Nosound) I was lucky enough to work with some big artists that I grew up with as a teenager, but the list of the ones I would like to collaborate with is quite long. I can think about giants like Brian Eno or Hans Zimmer, or new ones like Max Richter or Nils Frahm. Or some artists I like more from the rock side of things, like Thom Yorke.
Tell us about your debut album, Ends. What’s it about, what are its themes?
I usually don’t write thinking about themes, it feels to me somehow ‘external’. Unless I’m being asked to write something on purpose to fit for something else (like a score or a collaboration), I always write then inspiration strikes and so is always about an emotional state… and as we all know emotional states come and go, so is really difficult to pinpoint what was the emotional state of this or that song.
The title ‘Ends’ gives a clue to this fact. Emotional states like everything else are bound to happen and then pass, and we as human beings get very much attached to things. For me as well, facing the end of something is often not easy, but we all tend to forget is that every end is indeed the start of something else. And once we start thinking about it like that, I think suddenly things become easier. As I grow up, I find reminding myself this very often, and so I somehow started calling the tracks for this album ‘End’ and numbering them… and as I kept adding and finishing them, the order got all over the place and eventually I liked this as well, another sign of how often we try to control life but is chaotic in its very own nature, and sometimes is good to let it flow its own way.
So maybe a theme could be chaotic emotional states!
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I wrote it in the summer last year, almost at the same time as my other band project new album. As a producer I have my own recording studio so I always write everything in there, as usual pretty much only on my piano. Over the years I started using computers less and less during the writing and arranging phase, because the real physical instruments are just what I need for inspiration instead of a screen and mouse. So I have a great arsenal of analog machines that I use with my acoustic piano to write, record and arrange my music.
I’m also a big fan of the new breed of electronic portable instruments, for example Teenage Engineering OP1 and OP-Z, because they look like toys to most people but once you get to know them properly, they can be really inspiring because they do have the limitations and physicality of the real instruments, and that always boosts creativity more than browsing presets on a computer or a workstation. So I wrote probably half of the album also on the move, I love going around in a coffee, on a bus, in the park, put on my headphones and write music… suddenly the world around me, the people in it, become the visuals to my soundtrack, and I find that very inspiring.
How does ‘Ends’ represent your style?
I think that being the first album I release under my own name, is surely the most personal one, and so it’s the best representation of my own style that as I said before is simply “emotional” music. I think it’s no coincidence that is based mostly around acoustic piano, analog synths/electronics and a string quartet, being these my all time favourite instruments and sound!
Can you talk us through each track?
‘End III’ is the opener and since I wrote this I knew it was going to be the opener, it has electronic uplifting vibe that really grabs me into the right mindset for the rest of the album. ‘End II’ with its piano works great because is a sort of preview of what I’ll develop later on, with its piano and sparse melodies. It’s at the same time a starter and small full meal that leaves me wanting more.
‘End I’ leaves behind the piano and goes back into electronics, and I like its slightly unsettling eerie feeling that then in the second part is resolved into something more warm and comforting. ‘End VII’ as the first single is where I develop more the full sense of the album with its melodies, piano, quartet, I would define it a song even if it’s without vocals, because to me it feels as complete as a full song with lyrics.
‘End V’ goes back to the more electronic sounds in contrast to ‘End VII’, but then in the end it grows into the emotional state intensity it was hiding before. ‘End IV’, like ‘End VII’, is again back on the song meaning, being fully structured with a precise melodic meaning that makes it become another song even if without lyrics.
‘End VI’ goes back once again to the electronic side, this time landing almost on the ambient side of it, as it ebbs and flows in a way that is always hypnotic for me and that has been a distinct mark of my music. I could listen to it again and again while lost in my own thoughts. And the closing ‘Ends Coda’ is what the name suggests, although as a coda doesn’t “close” the album but instead brings it elsewhere with some random generated electronics and a suspended harmonic and melodic content that leaves you wondering what’s next… and is the end of the album instead.
I think this reflects very much how I like music: I don’t like when it’s self indulging trying to satisfy my appetite, I like it when it gives me what I want but leaves me wondering if there’s more, what I missed, and so makes me wanting to go back to it again. Pretty much is like feelings and emotions… they are volatile, we can’t quite catch or control them, and yet they are the very base of our life even if they continuously come and go, every time similar and yet every time different enough to drive us once again.
Some of the cinematic soundscapes will also used in an upcoming documentary by Australian film-maker Dion Johnson. How did that collaboration come about?
I started working with Dion a few years ago as he directed the video for a song of my project Nosound. I knew he was now working on his biggest project so far, and we were in contact so when we asked me if I want to contribute, I sent him the music I was working on for Ends, and it was love at first listen!
I think with Dion we share this feeling for emotions. He’s a very talented director and music lover, and I’m a lover as well of alternative deep movies, and when we worked together we were bouncing ideas of each other very naturally. So it feels now kind of natural and exciting that after he contributed with his visuals to my music, I’m contributing with my music to its visuals!
What are your hopes for ‘Ends’?
I think they are the ones of every artist: to reach a (hopefully) large audience and most of all to have a true deep emotional connection with each of them. Every time I receive emails and messages from listeners telling me how deeply they felt my music or how important it was for them in a particular moment of their lives, then I feel I achieved something because the circle is closed: an emotional state created my music, and it arrived to someone else and caused in them the same or another emotion. That’s the only thing music is for me: a carrier of deep feelings.
What can you tell us about your plans for the rest of 2019?
There are many and more are being added, so I could probably tell you plans up to 2021! Basically I have still lot of material for my projects, so I have plans to release it during this year, and at the same time there are some important plans for live activity across my projects. I’d like to start thinking about a new album for next year, so I hope to have some studio time for it towards the second half of 2019.
I’m also now working with some bigger management and booking agency, so there are big plans being formed there…as I said, during meetings I hear dates up to 2021, so surely is going to be a busy time ahead!
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
That’s a really great question, actually! And a tricky one. I started my professional music career about 15 years ago, but thinking about it now I think my main suggestion would be to be open to new music and genres even if I dislike them at first, so to educate myself being open to every artistic expression, even the ones I actually don’t like.
Apart from that, in terms of way to work I would suggest myself to exchange manic attention to details with inspiration and constance, so instead of getting lost into details trying to concentrate on the essence of what’s music for me, that is the emotional state I’m in and how to capture it in music.
Watch the video for ‘End VII’ on You Tube below. For news and tour dates go to Giancarlo Erra’s Facebook page.