Interview by Igor Vaganov
photos by author
support by Okkervil
They are as sincere and open-hearted as their creative works are. They like ‘decadence cabaret’ as a word combination. What they play is decadence cabaret – the way they feel it, understand it, and love it. With all its immanent joy and sadness, dramatism and exaltation, deep heartfelt sensation, and old-fashioned romanticism which became ancient history long ago. In their name, two inverted words – Roma and Amor – intertwine in a mysterious labyrinth of feelings. The four albums they have presented to us so far via such respectable labels authoritative in the world of music as Old Europa Cafe, Klanggalerie, and Hau Ruck! SPQR are simple and touching stories of feelings, passion, dramatism, and love. Through them, they have recently conquered the audience at the XIII Wroclaw Industrial Festival. We are talking to Euski and Mr. Candela about their childhood, music, and, certainly, love. Various miracles do happen on the New Year’s Eve. Let Roma Amor be one of them today…
Your first self-titled album was released in 2008. Where do the roots of your interest in music emerge from in general? Do they descend from your childhood? What inspired you to create this band?
Candela has a past as a musician in groups of ’77 punk-new wave style, as a singer and bass player. He has always been particularly interested in film music soundtracks (especially from Morricone, Raben and Tiersen) the first 80s music, French songwriter, tango and he’s really open to listen to new stuff. He has studied at university in the musical field and experienced the minimal music as a scholar and attentive listener.
When Euski was a child she used to be very moved to certain songs and by some particular combinations of chords. Cheeky little girl who was pretending to sing in front of an audience in her kitchen… when she was ten (that was very long ago!!!) she felt in love with Almond’s voice, thanks to her older sister who used to listen to wave music all the time, and since then she’s never stopped shivering while listening to his voice. Almond, like Bowie and Scott Walker, introduced Brel to Euski through their cover songs, and opened the doors to his beautiful and touching poetry. She has been linked for a long time to bands where she could compose or rearrange songs together with other musicians, with sounds that recall the Italian or French tradition, and echo her inspiring artists such as Almond, Bowie, Brel, Scott Walker, Waits, with shades of the early Eighties where she’s had her major musical mark.
When Candela and Euski met they started exchanging their past and present experiences and they decided that they could start a new project. Roma Amor has had the “magic” power of putting these worlds together.
As I remember well, while in Wroclaw, Euski admitted that she really liked the way such combination as ‘decadence cabaret’ sounded )). As I was listening to your albums, I had the image of Roma Amor as a certain experimental platform, a laboratory where you explore the amalgam of different shades of feelings, mostly love, in all the nuances of images of history, cultures, and ethnicities – primarily France and Italy, probably due to some spiritual kinship between these two cultures which intermix and nurture you through history. I’ve also noticed that your work as a whole is rather cinematic. Even video projections you use while performing involve images from history of sensual cinema of the past, which is now referred to as vintage. In my personal opinion, people and their feelings used to be more exquisitely refined in those days; therefore, they were more sincere and dramatic in many ways. You seem to treat feelings as a drama – it’s no coincidence that “decadence” is a word included in the description of your style. Nowadays, perhaps partly due to all this modern technology, we’ve reached true decadence – basically that of the soul, feelings are very down-to-earth, emotions are often programmed, and open-heartedness is a perfect target for manipulation… Hence, what do your works try to convey to your listener in this crazy world today?
The feeling of expressing the multiple facades of a person in different ways is magic, and we have always been fascinated by the idea. We have quite a “dramatic” style of expressing our thoughts, with the inexorable touch of “nothing lasts forever and this is it, but where does it go?”… stereotypically Italian, isn’t it? 🙂 Jokes apart, the stage is a magic box in close contact with the audience and the most sincere way of giving ourselves to our audience is to try to bring onstage basic tiny bits of our lives through images, sounds, words, body language, trying to catch the audience’s attention. Aware that it is a moment, like everything else, destined to fade and finish, we convey its passion, in the etymological sense of “patire” = to suffer. Euski has always been captured by the B side that is in everything, the hidden one. Love has its opposite in it, life has got death, man has got woman, everything has got its opposite inside, and this is what the name Roma and Amor want to convey. We live in today’s world, but fortunately we come from the past and we also dream our future, so we are able to live in our dimensions and sure that we are not the only ones. Maybe nowadays people are more afraid to see, and so it is easier and more comfortable not to show it too much… we don’t know…
Why have you abandoned the famous Old Europa Cafe label, where you made your debut, and joined Klangallery, which is equally respectful – what was the reason?
Oh no, we haven’t abandoned Old Europa Cafe label. Our relationship with Rodolfo, the boss of the label, is still very good and our intention is to continue working with him. The collaboration with Klanggalerie has happened because the guy of the label heard us in Wien at our gig and he was interested in digitalizing our 10 inch vinyl we made with Vinz of HR!SPQR. We thought it was a good idea and we then thought to put some other songs in it, to complete the project. With the boss of Klanggalerie there is a very good friendship, but this doesn’t mean we have broken the relationship with OEC. We think in our position it is healthy and interesting having different collaborations in order to grow up and learn something new. It is our philosophy also in our music. As you can see on our CDs, we have different musicians that have given their contribute to our songs, and of course we have learnt by them a lot.
I’ve heard that the name of the band was derived from Roma Amor, a track by The Married Monk performed together with Yann Tiersen for his Black Session album. What does this name imply to you? Could you please tell us a little bit about its origin?
Basically the name Roma Amor attracted us because it is a two faced word that hides something magical. Reading through some essays about the esoteric origins of the city of Rome, we learnt that the name Amor (the Latin for Love) was used because Roma, the name of the city, was not to be used, it was secret. The hypothesis of some scholars is also that the power of the city was also thanks to the word Amor in it. Thus, in Roma Amor music there is a combination of opposites: it’s energetic, yet sombre; romantic, yet “angry”; accurate, yet “rough”; in other words it is something and its contrary at the same time: Roma Amor conveys this meaning.
True, it is also a song by The Married Monk, from the album “Rocky” that Euski likes very much.
While talking about the origin of Amor and history of Rome, you mention esoterics. To what extent is it interesting to you?
We aren’t very much into these things, even if we like some aspects of folklore, such as legends, tales, myths and storytelling in particular. On our album “Femmina”, for example, we collected some studies about some representative female figures of the tradition in the Italian region of Romagna, real or legendary . It’s also part of Euski’s studies, the act of telling stories and folklore.
Is Roma Amor your basic occupation, or are you busy doing something else in your life? Could I ask you about it, about the interests that nourish and inspire you, and the artists you regard as your fellow-thinkers? Which bands and artists do you consider to be close to you? What music do you listen to? Have you got other interests in addition to music, for instance, in movies or literature?
Ah ah, we’re both teachers, and we are very busy indeed…We’re very into cinema and we really like watching films as soon as we have some time, we read a lot and we listen to the most different types of music… It is quite difficult to tell you more about such wide subjects, we wouldn’t know where to start…To give you an idea we can listen to Gabriella Ferri, Wim Mertens, Tom Waits, The Ultravox, Charles Aznavour and Marc Almond in one day, or see a documentary about Bowie, a film like “Gaslights” with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, “Profondo Rosso” by Dario Argento and “Goodbye, Mr Chips!” in a row… and… well, it’s too difficult to talk about it in a few words…
You have mentioned that both of you work as teachers – could I ask you what you teach? Do your students monitor your creative works? ))
We prefer to keep our musical projects away from work, it’s just a question of keeping the roles separate, nothing more. Candela teaches Italian, history and geography, and Euski teaches English.
I’d like to admit that, while working at the video of your Wroclaw performance, I could hardly keep from transforming it into black and white colors, which would be more refined and graphically emphasized; in my opinion, they would reveal your dramaturgy and performance in a better way, yet the light onstage was too beautiful… What color would define your creative work if you had to paint a picture titled Roma Amor – which color is yours? What would be depicted in that picture?
We can’t think of our work as a colour, more as an ensemble of changing colours, and this rainbow sometimes heads and melts into a dark one, sometimes it fades, it becomes bright, it is cold, or warm, blinding, comfortable…
What I prefer about your work is a fine verge between authentic Italian melodism and infernal French dramatism spiced up by the imagery and dramaturgy of your performance onstage. What atmosphere do you prefer while performing live? There is such a set expression as ‘genius loki’: how does Italy as a place where you live inspire you and help you create, and how do other places have their impact on you through their energy or aura?
We usually imagine ourselves in a little club or theatre, with little tables and candles, a cabaret-like atmosphere, very comfortable and warm. We live in Ravenna, by the sea, and this is a place where in fall and winter it can be very foggy… At night by bicycle you can really feel you are in a noir film of the 40s… Of course the place where you have lived or you live brings a lot of things that become part of your culture, your way of feeling things and perceiving life. On our album “Femmina” we explored the female figures of the tradition of Romagna, the region where Ravenna is, and also the language used, mostly the dialect of the place, really brings you back, wherever you are, to the physical place of Romagna.
Euski is an unusual name, what does it mean? How did the “two halves” of the duo meet each other? Was it based on music, or was the meeting preceded by other circumstances? The moment when Euski is adjusting Candela’s bow tie before the performance starts looks purely hypnotic, even ritual-like. It’s very touching, and it’s actually perceived as a certain prologue to the beginning of some extravaganza and its subsequent content… How does working as a creative duo feel like, and to what extent is this mutual energy felt while creating?
Euski is a nickname that was given to her when she went to Euskadi (Pays Basques) with her sister’s theatre company for a couple of weeks, long ago (she was the sound and light engineer!). She felt in love with the place so everybody started to call her Euski. Euski met Candela because she needed to be substituted by somebody in this job because she had to go to Bologna to study for a while, so they introduced him to her. We are a “constant comedy sketch” because we met long ago and we now have the confidence of being ourselves in a very spontaneous and immediate way, no matter the consequences!
Could you please say a few words about the experience of working with the theater company of Euski’s sister? We remember the connection between cabaret, music, and theater – for example, the famous Bertolt Brecht – from history. What is the impact of the theater on your creation today? I’m not talking about the “outer” side of the concert, I mean performing the songs’ dramaturgy. Have you had this influence, or is it just my imagination? )))
Euski has worked with her sister’s theatre company for some years, especially as a sound and light technician, or as a substitute actress when in need. This experience made her feel the magic of theatre, what is behind the stage, the thrill of being in another dimension, to feel the people in front of you exchanging their feelings with yours. It is something unforgettable and helped a lot in the process of becoming aware of her “dramatic” side.
Roma Amor have good classical taste and amazing harmony in songwriting. Your repertoire includes many songs by other artists such as Marc Almond, Jacques Brel, David Sylvian… I also like Les Amants de Saint Jean, a song performed by Lucienne Delyle, which I heard earlier… How do you choose these songs for performing? Does it depend on the harmony between the lyrics and the melody, or must there be something else?
Marc Almond is the voice that made Euski go crazy since she was a child, Brel gave her the first tears while reading poetry, David Sylvian because when he sang “Nightporter” with Japan was totally capturing. There is also Bowie, Gavin Friday and so on… all belonging to something that made a “clic” in our lives. In the Italian tradition songwriting has always been the way to make music. Beautiful stories have been composed and a lot of them have something to do with love, loss, life, death.
Decadence cabaret – why is this image, this notion so close for you?
Because it involves music and theatre together, the fact that life is a mystery and reality is only what you make of it in your head, it is a story to tell, and the style of cabaret is perfect to make also the hidden, secret and shameful things emerge. Everybody knows life onstage is just life-like, it’s fake, it’s made up, but when both artist and audience are aware of it, everything becomes real and genuine.
You are currently working on a new album. What stage is this process at? Could you say a few words about it, about new songs, the idea of an album, or your thoughts and feelings associated with this new work?
It is a kind of secret yet, but what we can say by now is that cinema has been of some influence for this new work. While composing and thinking of the arrangements we are putting some ideas and evocations of something cinematic: noises, sounds, or atmospheres that could be fit as a soundtrack of a film.
We talk on the eve of the passing year, so it would be logical to ask you about your feelings about this past year. How will you remember this year in your history and the history of Roma Amor? What would you like to wish to all those who listen to your music?
We have very good memories of the gigs we performed, the people we met and the exchanging of ideas and feelings with them. We are now into our wishes for the future: a good health, good feelings and… a good new album hopefully, together with new adventures!