translated by: Sylwia Partyka
We invite you to read the interview with Davide Borghi, the leader of Italian pop/neofolk band, Albireon. We were talking among others about fairies, memories, wine and football. Enjoy!
First of all, tell me Davide, what does ‘Albireon’ mean?
Albireon is the alpha-star of the Cygnus constellation. It is a double yellow and azure star. It could sound strange but this star was a spark of hope for me, suddenly appeared in a sad night of summer 1998: the hope of being able to keep playing my own music after the split of my beloved doom/prog band The Path.
Where does your attraction to folk/neofolk music have its source?
Since I was a child I grew deeply touched by the heartbreaking sad melodies of the traditional song of the Appennine Mountains in Italy. My family have its roots in a small mountain village I left when I was a teenager. These songs are usually about very sad familiar tragedies or murder ballads, some of them rely also on the magic of nature, but the point of view is usually pessimistic or sad. I simply always had these melodies in me. Neofolk came a lot later, since I discovered Ataraxia and Death in June around 1997 and Sol Invictus, Fire+Ice or Current 93 only around 2000. Of course I felt the need to mix both inspirations, but with the aim of composing something very personal and heartfelt.
How about your musical fascinations from your past – which were the most important bands in your childhood? Did you ever want to be a famous rockstar – you know, money, women etc…?:)
Yes, I always wanted to be a famous rockstar. I always dreamt to sing in front of a big adoring crowd willing to listen to my music. I cannot deny it, maybe it’s everybody’s dream. But not really for fame, money and women (even if these could be interesting side effects of making music!) but really for having a chance to express my deepest feelings. Yes, I started composing melodies on a poor xylophone with some missing frets, dreaming to arrange these melodies for a metal band or for a big orchestra, in order to let my heart speak to whom may be interested in it. I was 8 or 9 and I was listening to Madonna or Pet Shop Boys, wondering how to get that higher only with my poor abilities. I remember writing on an exercise book when I was 10 that I wanted to do some music with keyboards, guitars and some strange noises. It sound like a portrait of Albireon’s music isn’it? Now that I am 38, the dream is still alive or better, even if I am very far from being a rockstar, I would say that my dream to express my soul through my records has been definitely fulfilled.
I’d like to ask you about the beginnings of Albireon – how the band was formed? Were you just bunch of friends who spontaneously wanted to play some music together or was it rather a long term process, looking for right people, right musicians?
Albireon started from the ashes of The Path, my 1991-1998 doom/progressive metal band. When we disbanded, I felt the urgent need to shape a new start through more intimate and acoustic soundscapes. I started writing songs only with my voice and acoustic guitar, then Carlo joined at the end of 1998, helping with his keyboards. It was just inspiration and strong will of self expression.
Is the current line-up the same as 12 years ago when you’ve released your first tape?
The line up is basically very open. I started Albireon in Summer 1998, Carlo joined few months later, then we met Stefano in 2002 and also had some collaboration with drummer Lorenzo Borghi. The first two demos and the cd-r “Disincanto” were recorded by me and Carlo alone, and all the official Albireon records starting from “Le stanze del sole nero” (Cynfeirdd 2004) features contribution from Carlo, Stefano and Lorenzo and from some very important guests. I recently started to play some rare concert after a 3 years break, and the line up for these gigs will only include myself and sax player Gianguido Corniani.
I was always very curious – is there a place for democracy in Albireon or are you the leader and all crucial decisions concerning the music are yours and yours only?
In all honesty, after the break down of The Path, I wanted to keep a strict control of Albireon. I felt like The Path collapsed also because of my lack of strength. It was emotionally very hard to lay to rest the project we constantly built for seven years, so I told myself to never let this happen again. Albireon is my musical and emotional project so of course I have a strong final word on everything concerning the band activities. I am also personally keeping contact with labels, magazines and artists so it is something I am deeply involved since the beginning. But this does not mean that I am a dictator…All other members creative and personal inputs are very welcome and wanted. And I could frankly say that I was very lucky to find dedicated people to share my project with. The best point is the sensitivity that Carlo and Stefano can add to my original ideas, in order to complete the picture and the way they can understand and accept how Albireon could be for many people just Davide Borghi’s project. This is definitely a limited vision, since the contributions of Stefano in “I passi di liù” it’s clearly very important and the amazing work that Carlo did for “Mr.Nightbird hates blueberries” it’s absolutely unbelievable. I could say that democracy it’s artistically welcome, while all main decisions are and will be in my hands, even if other members’ opinion is always considered.
I’d say that this specific kind of sadness was always a ‘trademark’ of Albireon music. Sadness which is not only musical creation, but also something that has its source in reality, real life, isn’t it? Would you agree with such theory?
I could agree or not according to different moments. I mean, if you knew me in daily life you would probably wonder how a merry guy like me is writing sad and subconscious music with ALbireon . I would not define myself as a sad human being, maybe a bit melancholic but who is not longing for missing days, dear beloved ones now gone or distant childhood ‘s laughters? This is where Albireon have its roots. In my melancholy, in my need to preserve precious memories, in my (almost) forgotten visions of infantile fears and nightmares. And also, in my hope for the future, in my tendency to see the good parts of human being. I don’t like to drown myself in pain and misery, really, but sad depressive music is the one that keeps me running, that help me breathing, that is the best way to release my rage and anger. Paradise Lost helped me to shout out some sadness when needed and for them I will always thanks them. I am not a sad person, but sadness and thoughtful music is the one that spontaneously comes out of my fingers and heart.
Do you agree with the sentence that only human’s pain and misery can be the source of true and honest art?
I agree that misery could be a source of amazing and true emotional art, but I would not state that pain is a necessary condition for creation. In my humble opinion, art must be totally honest in order to touch me, independently from its source. But to avoid to let you down with a “Good fellow answer”, I would also clearly remark how the “Dark side” has far more charm than positive feelings and happiness. I just think would be better to avoid to wear fangs and dark cloak in order to be a true vampire or play the depressed dandy role. This is definitely not for me.
But alongside that sadness there was always kind of ‘fairy’ aura surrounding Albireon music – I guess you’re also interested in this kind of stories and atmospheres, aren’t you?
Yes sure. I grew up in very close connection to mountains and woods, and I really “felt” the magic of nature. I used to wander for days in the woods of the Appennine Mountains and it was totally spontaneous to “feel” some energy that still dwell inside me. I believe in fairies like I believe in ghosts…There are energies we don’t know or understand completely around us. And basically, I always liked to think about myself as a fairy creature, still living in some enchanted woods…But at the same time I am definitely a “down to earth” man, happy to live in this chaotic end of 2011. To quote Mr. Ian Read of Fire+Ice, a true artist and gentleman that graced Albireon with his voice on “Awakening Dance” in 2006, “I am a traditionalist who is happy that modern dentistry exists”.
‘I Passi Di Liu’ is one of the most dark and tragic albums I’ve ever listened to. In this case it’s hard even to talk about music as an ‘entertainment’. It’s very painful but also very purifying for me as a listener and as far as I know for you as a musician. Would you agree? Would you like to tell few words about the concept of that album?
I can only say it’s still very hard for me to speak about this album and listen to it. It was my farewell to my beloved grandmother passed away in 2004. I wrote a song for her, “Incantesimo” included in the “Il volo insonne” CD (2005), but I needed to explore in a deeper way all the mixed feelings related to her last days, her last smiles, her last gestures. Death could be a terribly astonishing mix of pain and sweetness. I needed to record this album as a therapy to deal with all these memories, in order to accept the loss, the moments of passage, the way I felt she was floating away from us and…also a way to still feel her close to me. It is not a secret that “I passi di Liù” was not really composed but mostly came out from improvised sessions without even a draft of a melodies or lyrics. It was recorded under some subconscious input with me being the medium/shaman and Stefano carefully capturing and shaping the outputs. The album is definitely a trip through the pain and the mistery of illness in “Liù dorme”, the moments of oblivion, where merry memories are rising, the breathtaking peaks of pain, the final release of the soul in “Gennaio”. The same emotions are channeled in the movie we created for the special editions cd+dvd on Palace of Worms records.
‘Mr Nightbird Hates Blueberries’ is also rather sad album, but this is something I’d describe as ‘serene’ sadness. It’s like the music for outsiders, people who have lost everything, but still can find few moments of smile and happiness especially among other people who are alike. Was it your intention to create such atmosphere?
“Mr.Nightbird” it’s a complete different story. Firstly I should say that after “I passi di Liù” we felt the need of something “lighter” in the grotesque way. I always liked to put together different elements but of course nothing was planned. I just started to write strange songs about doomed characters and I felt these songs were building a concept story with recurrent anectodes. I just followed this path and I finally understood that these characters (Mr. Nightbird, The Nightingale, The Drunk Oak, The Rose…etc. etc.) were not entirely fictionalized ones…But then we started to drink red wine and eat blueberries cakes so everything became crazy and messy and would be impossible now to part fiction and reality but…Let’ s say that “Mr.Nightbird hates blueberries” was a good laugh between drunk friends. The kind of laugh that hides and heal many deep wounds and help you find peace in a new consciousness. Oh yes, writing Mr. Nightbird was like finally looking at a 14 years old scar you never looked at, and discover it finally stop bleeding, probably years ago, but to be brave enough to actually have a look it changes everything. And now please give me back my red wine bottle.
Ok, so why you don’t sing on “Mr Nightbird…”? This was very daring step, as your vocals for me were always the most characteristic element of Albireon music.
It was daring but was the kind of challenge I like and that made an artist’s life worthy in my opinion. I immediately felt how these songs were not meant to be sang by me and I always cherished the idea of an album entirely sung by very selected and very special guests. So I thought that it was time to do it. Then we shared the blueberries cake with old and new friends and everything was put together in a very funny and efficient way with contributors from all over the world. Internet helps a lot nowadays! I think that all the involved guests gave us a wonderful and priceless contributions, with a true emotional and heartfelt effort.
How did the ‘draft’ of guests for the album look like? Did you put an ad in the newspapers: “Neofolk vocalists wanted for new Albireon album! Come and join me in Mr Nightbird crusade!”?:)
Eh eh, not really, it was something very focused. I always wanted to cooperate with artists I admire and I was lucky enough to receive friendship and artistic esteem by some of them. When I firstly asked David E. Williams to sing the titletrack and “Summer of lost souls” and got back his vocals I was simply astonished…I love DEW for his humorous and inspired music, but his decadent and powerful voice and spirit was really something beyond expectations. The same was with Lloyd James of Naevus. We met in 2008 when we supported Naevus and Rome at the “First Folk Alert” 2008 festival and a good friendship started. He gave “A lone house under the blooming moon” and “The spiders’ corner” some majestic interpretation I would otherwise miss. We are also very good friends with Sonne Hagal since we played together in Modena in 2005, and we already had collaborations on “Indaco” EP and “Ahren” split 10” so it was a must to have them on “Mr. Nightbird…”. Oliver’s voice is just deep and emotional as it should be. It was lovely also to have Bard/Future Whirl on the record…Also because we were in touch when he was “famous” with his project Oberon back in the 90’s and then we lost touch. We got back in touch after 10 years just in time to have it’s marvellous and passionate voice on two songs he also re-arranged and re-recorded according to the drafts I sent him. Now he will be back also with Oberon and I expect a great new album. Thomas of Die Weisse Rose also did a much appreciated guest appearance on “The horsetails”. If you are wondering how the album with my voice sounded like I would say poorer and less charming. Luckily for Albireon I know were my limits are!
Your last creation is “Prosa Profana” made with First Human Ferro – could you tell us few words about this release which is quite unusual for me? Industrial/ambient project from Ukraine join forces with pop/neofolk band from Italy – very specific combination.
Quite unusual but I really love this record. Everything started because of my friendship with Olegh Kolyada. We made a first collaboration for Oda Relicta’s “Czarstvo Dukha” with me on acoustic guitar, then Olegh sent me a whole new album and some sketch of the lyrics and asked me to work on it. The music was so deep, intriguing and inspiring that I started to create the Italian lyrics starting from Olegh’s English drafts and tried to sing on the dissonant and thick soundscapes Olegh sent me. “Prosa Profana” was recorded in the same months and in the same studio we used for “I passi di Liù” and both records were captured by Stefano Romagnoli, so I feel the two records are like mood twins. The final results could sound strange and naïve, but I simply love the tunes and the overall mood of the album.
How did you get to know Olegh Kolyada? Which of his musical creations do you like the most? Personally I have to admit that I’m pretty amazed by one of his latest albums, “Homo Shargey”.
I wrote him an e-mail after listening to his masterpiece “Guernica Macrocosmica”, since this record simply drove me to tears and I wanted to understand who was the genious behind it. I discovered that Olegh is a kind and shy guy with a big heart and we immediately discussed how to cooperate. Beside “Guernica….” I also deeply appreciated “Adamnation” and “Corona Astralis” and of course also Oda Relicta’s releases. I still have to listen to his more recent records anyway.
Did you guys meet in the studio on the occasion of recording ‘Prosa Profana’ or did you collaborate via mail/internet?
Unfortunately we never met, only cd exchange or internet when possible. But it works very well! There is a project to bring “Prosa Profana” on stage next summer…Then we should meet of course!
I’d like to ask you about the artist responsible for these unique artwork of your albums. Who is Massimo Romagnoli?
Massimo is a very talented painter and also the brother of Stefano. His sensitivity is close to mine and does not need any explanations on how the albums artwork should be. He simply spontaneously channel the songs’ spirit in his own decadent visions. Our music cannot be complete without his paintings, this is the reason why Massimo is a full band member. When he came up with the cover for “Le stanze del sole nero” back in 2004 I knew he was the only choice for Albireon. I also like to have this visual continuity in our discography.
In your opinion is there a place for politics or religion in music? I’m asking because unlike many other neofolk bands you rather avoid such themes in your songs.
Politics and religion are important matters in everyone’s life so I ideally do not know why these topics should be kept out of art. I could love a Crucifix painting not being a believer or appreciate the strength of a political song even if contrary to my opinions. But it is definitely hard to talk about such topics without sound shallow, boring or simply to preach your own ideas which is a non sense to me. And I will not avoid the topic: I would clearly state that I am completely against all kind of nazi/fascist propaganda or WII imagery used by many neo folk-industrial acts. A lot of project survived on ambiguity or on the use of runes, swastikas or slogan. Albireon is not supporting, and will never support , any political ideology, even if Albireon’s members have their own ideas, Albireon must be a neutral entity. But I will clearly state we don’t support nor allow any historical revisionism referred to totalitarian dictatorships, nor even for aestetical reasons as I heard in the past. I also want to say that we can even find better life model than Yukio Mishima or Leni Riefensthal that seems to be the inspiring gods for neo folk. Sorry, but Albireon will be much more inspired by Gandhi or Donald Duck if we have to choose our muses.
What are your musical plans for 2012?
Well, it will be a busy year: “Prosa Profana” was just released and also my new project-Ekra-just saw the light of day on Disques de Lapin with the gorgeous cover painting by Fabrice Billard. Ekra is a strange, childlike, dreaming records I put together with random and shallow sound and the debut cd is called “Pills for an ill silly heart” which is the best self explanatory title I could think about me. It is of course something less structured than Albireon, but sometimes your subconscious speak to you in chaotic and not well defined shapes. Then you should simply keep it as they are. I am honestly very, very excited about Ekra and look forward to see how it will be welcomed. Also I am giving the final touches to the long delayed new Albireon record called “Le fiabe dei ragni funamboli” (the tales of the acrobat spiders). I am discussing with some labels right now and hope to have it released sometime in 2012. It will be an emotional ballad oriented album and will be entirely sung in Italian…By myself this time.
And last question – who will win Serie A competition this season?
Will I be expert enough to foresee the winner!? This year there are several teams on the same level. I hope for an outsider like Udinese, Napoli or Lazio but in the end the game will be between Juventus, Milan and Inter as always. If I had to say one I will choose Juventus but please don’t bet according to my provision! Thank you!