Right before face masks and social distancing became our new normal, I’d reached out to chat with Claudio Conti about his April 2020 release, ‘Frail Boats.’ Who knew in the days that followed the Italian singer-songwriter’s country would be featured on the news around the clock. And while he admits this is an uncertain time for himself, he, I and the rest of the world have to keep moving forward because sitting stagnant won’t make reality any easier to swallow. We talked about philosophical influences, his LA-shaped heart, and more in this international back and forth between a musician and a writer staying safe at home.
Kendra: It was a whole different world for musicians when you started back in 2003 than it is today. What significant changes in the industry do you feel have aided in the continuation of your career?
Claudio Conti: I guess the main thing that aided me is the experience. The experience of having started in a world without likes and followers, which currently really bothers me and also overshadows a lot of amazing musicians/talented artists. The experience of having only a room, a notebook, a pen, a guitar, silence, and a tune in my head. This is what mainly aided me and this is how I still work today. With the awareness of the past.
Kendra: It’s been noted that ‘Frail Boats’ is your most mature record to date. With that, how would you say that’s true when standing it side by side with our debut 2008 EP?
Claudio Conti: Well, when I started recording in a studio after years of home recordings I began to be very attentive and receptive to what was the whole process from pre-production until the mixing and post-production. I was about 26 at the time and I tried to absorb and understand as much as possible from a session. So if you put those early songs besides the ones in ‘Frail Boats,’ the difference is astounding because back then I had a lot of ideas but had to be channeled properly.
I am satisfied with how we managed to give life to ‘Frail Boats’ but I must say that being very demanding with myself, you can always get more from a song or an album, and that’s my regular mindset, that is, never being fully satisfied to get your next songs better than your past body of work. Just imagine you have to climb a golden pyramid during your time on this planet. To get to the top you must mind those narrow slippery steps and never look down.
Kendra: Where was your headspace at when the lyrics started to form for “Wrest?”
Claudio Conti: Having lived many years in big cities I’ve always wanted to depict how the buildings and the noise distract you from the soulful things that really matter. An urban context is very alluring but even if you don’t admit that you don’t really need it and it doesn’t care for you. That’s the “Wrest” concept. You know, but you lie to yourself.
Kendra: With the album oftentimes exploring existentialism, is it safe to assume you spend some of your free time with your nose in a philosophy book?
Claudio Conti: I’m an avid reader. I read anything from classics to poetry books, from philosophy to psychology. From biographies to astrology. So returning to your answer yes, I spent some of my time with my nose on a philosophy book. My main influences come from Italian literature and hermeticism (Calvino, Levi, Pirandello, Pasolini, Moravia, Montale, Ungaretti, Campana, Sereni) and American literature (writers such as the Beats, Mailer, Miller, Chandler, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams and poets like Crane, William Carlos Williams, T.S Eliot, Pound, Kees, Plath, Roethke, Creeley, and many others).
Kendra: Other than these bigger than life ideas, you’re also influenced by the sounds that came from LA and San Francisco during the ‘60s. Looking at those two cities today, which do you feel has maintained their musical essence most?
Claudio Conti: I spent more than a year in LA and I know those hills will always give resources to a creative person. Los Angeles has always reinvented itself; not losing its roots. In the sixties with the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Byrds, Love. In the seventies with Tim Buckley, Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, Tim Hardin, David Ackles. In the eighties with the wonderful Paisley Underground. In the nineties and in the new century with Grant Lee Buffalo, Elliot Smith, Carla Bozulich, Earlimart, Bodies of Water.
This city has never lost its dry, sandy, lysergic identity and in my personal experience, it’s got the best environment and the best vibrations to write music and reflect. Just think about Leonard Cohen’s “The Future.” He wrote the whole album in LA during the early nineties’ riots and said that this scarred city had a feeling that he couldn’t find anywhere else. I guess there’s uncanny magic there for perceptive people, myself included. I cried so hard when I had to move to London.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Claudio Conti: This is the most uncertain time since I was born. I am now living in Italy, my native country and with this virus making new victims every day nothing can be sure. My plans won’t stop anyway. I am very positive about the upcoming radio promotion and the one with Spotify. Unfortunately, I don’t have a label at the moment so the main problem for me will be to organize a tour with a band to further promote the album. I’d love to do it after the summer but being without a manager and a label doesn’t really help me a lot.
As for a song that never fails, to remain in the LA perimeter, I would choose…“Carolyn’s Song” by Rain Parade.