Name: Maurizio Vitale
Occupations: Drummer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Lolita Terrorist's "Prison Song" is out via Titanium Sound Factory. It features Kristof Hahn (of Swans and Pere Ubu), Roderick Miller and Anke Brauweiler.
Recommendations: Doudou N’ Diaye Rose, the album “Djabote” together with the video documentary of the recording process; the permanent exhibition “Die Brücke” in Berlin.
[Read our Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Maurizio Vitale / Lolita Terrorist , visit his Instagram profile to stay up to date with his diverse projects.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Pink Floyd The Wall was the first real sonic experience of my childhood I still recall, thanks to the cassette collection of my parents. I discovered the blues with Sticky fingers from the Rolling Stones. Songs like “Anarchy in the UK” from the Sex-Pistols and “Should I stay or should I go” from The Clash made me wanna play in a band.
Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” and John Coltrane's “A Love Supreme” made me discover the spiritual and transcending power of music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
My first passion were the drums. I started playing drums at the age of 8 after trying guitar without succeeding. I began to play in bands when I was fourteen, and since that age, my artistic identity has kept evolving. Rhythm and melody have been of great interest to me, but I found a great sense of freedom in noise as well.
Contrast is what inspires me the most in music. Loud and quiet, melody and noise, tone and dissonance.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I strip myself down of my ego and take over the identity of the song’s characters. That’s a daily exercise I practice every time I produce something for Lolita Terrorist Sounds or other artists. It’s all about serving the song.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I have learned to follow my artistic instinct and do things the way I feel is right. Listen more to my inner voice and keep the message of the music authentic, ignoring the judgmental and negative projections of who tried to discourage my artistic intuitions.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
"Prison Song" and the rest of the album (due to be released next year) were recorded with very unusual instruments and recording technics. Artistic choice or financial limits? Both.
We recorded with a limited amount of microphones and channels. This circumstance forced us to approach the recording process as engineers had to, back in the 70s and 80s when technology on tape didn’t allow much freedom as the DAWs. So a floor tom and the snare drum were all we used to track drums. Gas tanks, metal sheets, and all kinds of unconventional materials composed the main sound of the album. Most of the room reverbs and distortions were naturally captured from the recording environment. On some songs, vocals have been recorded from a live PA system playing back the music at unbelievably loud volumes to gain the typical energy of a live performance.
SM57 was the microphone used for the whole recording process except a Neuman U87 used as a room mic on some tracks together with cheap contact mics.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Indeed, Pro tools is one. It made it cheaper and faster what with tape would have been financially and time-wise challenging.
The second main tech tool used by Lolita Terrorist Sounds are loop-stations. We‘ve used different brands of loopers to create drones, loops (as the one opening “Prison Song”), and live performances.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration means pushing myself as an artist to explore and travel to unknown territories and hopefully coming back from this adventurous trips with something meaningful that eventually might become a song or a whole album.
Jamming and real meetings have been the only way for years. During the lockdown, we have forcefully turned our attention to file-share opportunities which turned out to be very productive and budget-friendly towards the recording and traveling costs. When I start a new collaboration with an artist I haven't worked with previously, I prefer not to engage in long talks but rather provide a few keywords. The keywords can be just bands, artists, and records I appreciate or sometimes describe the moods, colors, or images I have in mind. I found this method working well as the person on the other side most of the time comes up with something that likely will be matching the expectations.
"Prison Song" features Kristof Hahn (Swans, Angels of light, Pere Ubu, Tricky) on lap-steel guitar. Collaborating with him was fast and intuitive. He played on most of the songs of the album. His way of playing and conceiving the lap-steel is unique in the world.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My daily schedule changes radically according to the main artistic activity I'm involved with: which I can summarise as the writing process, release time, and touring time.
During the writing process, I become a night creature which helps my creativity. Night time is when most of the composing and writing happens. “Prison Song” and the rest of the album are the result of sleepless nights. When the new songs and concepts are close to an end, I switch to a daytime schedule, and the phase of arranging, rehearsing, recording, mixing, mastering, and finally promoting the work begins.
I'll have an early breakfast. I leave home to go to my studio and start the working day. A working day can typically include practicing (drums, vocals, guitar, and other instruments), rehearsing, taking care of media, and getting ready for live shows. In the evening I love cooking, reading books, watching movies.
When on tour with a band, everything is different. There is little sleep involved, there is change of hotels every night, many hours spent traveling in vans, tour buses, flights, and trains (I use this time to read books or listen to records), sound check time, dinner time, showtime, meet and greet with the audience, and back to the hotel. I enjoy all those different moments.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
A few years ago, I was engaged as a drummer to perform twenty shows in Senegal. One of those shows included a live performance on national TV with legendary percussion master Doudou N'Diaye Rose (Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails). Doudou left us a few years ago. When I performed with him back in 2013, he was already over 80, and his energy was astonishing. The performance consisted of six drum kits joining a full orchestra of local Sabar drummers.
Doudou was more than a musician. He was a force of nature. It was a great privilege to step on a stage with him and a memory that will accompany me forever. I felt special magic on stage. It had to do with transcending the moment and elevating the music to something spiritual and sublime. Up to that moment, I had only experienced something similar as a listener with John Coltrane's "A love supreme".
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Before I mentioned that I prefer composing at night. It helps me to isolate myself from the daily routine and enter a not identifiable space in time where I can travel far with my mind and come back before dawn with useful pieces of information that eventually became a song or an idea for the whole album.
Distractions are everything mundane that in one second can bring you back to the normal living dimension and ruin this magic moment: banally a phone ringing, someone entering the room, an SMS arriving at the wrong moment. Books, movies, poetry together with my guitars and piano are the companions for these night trips, sometimes accompanied by a mescal-based drink, absinth, or simply a great Italian wine. I remember smoking Cuban cigars, too, during the long sessions of this album.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Writing and recording the debut of Lolita Terrorist Sounds, which will come out next year, was a healing process. Translating sorrow, frustration, and youth rage into what became a record was a slow healing process that helped me to find peace with some inner demons. Those kinds of demons, that if not domesticated, can lead to frustration, addictions, and negative thinking / acting.
I worked on this album daily for at least two years. It became obsessive research to find beauty and harmony in each song. When painful or traumatic memories generate music, those memories transform into something different thanks to the power of repetition. A song will eventually take its independent path once you share it with an audience and accept that it's not exclusively yours anymore. The painful feelings that generated the composition at the early stage will transform into a different emotional experience, a positive and gratifying one.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
For me, it’s about digging up my anthropological roots and keeping music and all related art forms authentic and inspired. It’s the only way an artist can produce a legacy that lasts over time.
Music and art require dedication, love, and constant research. Everything else is a shortcut to success which is not the reason I wanted to become an artist.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I discovered ASMR some years ago, and I wanted to integrate that kind of sensory meridian response into the music of Lolita Terrorist Sounds. For this reason, some of the vocals and sounds on the upcoming record have no reverb. It was a choice to keep the voice as close as possible to the listener's perspective.
On “Red Carpet” one of the upcoming singles, If you listen to the song wearing headphones, you have the feeling that I am singing very close to your ear. There is also a good amount of whispering on this record and triggering sounds.
I also discovered later in my life that I have synesthesia. I associate sounds, numbers, and months with a specific color.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don’t think any of the songs from our repertoire can be considered political in the traditional way. At the same time, they have been written mirroring the same feelings of frustration towards society that millions of individuals share: rage, sadness, depression, disgust but a positive will to change what we don't like in our world fighting injustices.
Most of the fictitious characters from the songs of Lolita Terrorist Sounds end up victims of someone else's power. Some of the lyrics are inspired by topics such as power in society, money, greed, prison stories, and capitalism. I find it hard to be political without running the risk of being pretentious. One of my favorite political songs is Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”. I found her way of singing about all those tragic events described in the song more powerful than any slogan.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music has the power to transcend reality and time by transporting the listener to unknown dimensions beyond life and death. Ennio Morricone music is an example of this eternal gift.