Italian rock act Belladonna
issued self-produced debut full length "Metaphysical Attraction
" in February 2006, garnering the outfit two Grammy Awards 2008 ballot nominations. Earning over a million views on their official MySpace page, Belladonna
has accrued positive reviews from such magazines as Rolling Stone, Glamour and GQ. This led to performances with Dita Von Teese
at Erotica 07 in London, and gigs with the likes of Scars On Broadway
and Siouxsie & the Banshees
, not to mention a performance at the Dubai International Film Festival
Alternative rock producer Sylvia Messy
(who's worked with groups like Tool and System of a Down) then personally invited Belladonna
to cut their sophomore album in her Californian all-analogue studio. Following several weeks of recording sessions, eleven tracks were laid down, culminating in the release of March 2009's "The Noir Album
". That very album was premiered live in North America at Los Angeles' Key Club in its initial month of release, and at Austin's SXSW that same March, the group acting as official representatives of Italy. In their Italian homeland, Belladonna
has supported major artists such as Nine Inch Nails
, The Mars Volta
, Duff McKagan
To discuss Belladonna
's career thus far, guitarist and co-founder Dani
was interviewed via email.
UG: What prompted Belladonna's formation in February 2005? How did it come to fruition?
Me and Luana had been writing these very noir, romantic rock songs for quite awhile and since we had a burning desire to play them within a band context we asked our fave rock musicians in town to jam them with us and we have not looked back since.
From there, how did song material develop and accumulate into what eventually made up February 2006's 'Metaphysical Attraction'?
Once we had the band together more and more songs flowed our way and as they did we demoed them in an incredibly cheap fashion - just a few mikes in our rehearsals room and an old eight-track. Then we put those demos on our MySpace page and all hell broke loose, and people started flocking to our profile (we've so far received well over a million hits) actually demanding to buy the songs now, so we quickly assembled eleven of those rehearsals demo tracks and that became 'Metaphysical Attraction'. Never in a million years we would have then imagined that two of those very recordings would two years later enter the Grammy Awards ballot - we still find it so unbelievable.
How did alternative rock producer Sylvia Massy come to invite Belladonna to record in her Californian studio?
We made contact thanks to MySpace and she loved the band and we loved her work so it was a great match, and this great match did produce a great fire, in the shape of our second release, 'The Noir Album'.
Obviously, the Massy sessions resulted in March 2009's 'The Noir Album'. How would you compare this album to the debut?
"We love both albums equally, just as a mother would love equally both of her two children."
We love both albums equally, just as a mother would love equally both of her two children. In 'Metaphysical Attraction' we hear the sheer determination of a band laying down its emotions on tape for pure personal pleasure, without even realizing it's making a record. In 'The Noir Album' we hear the sheer determination of a band recording vibrant music using the best studio technology available to humanity. Recording in great studios can easily lead to "perfect" yet very sterile tracks and we really really wanted to avoid to fall in that trap, so we approached the sessions like we did on the first album: a live band playing its heart and soul out, no holds barred, pure naked emotion.
What benefits did working with Massy provide that were perhaps not present on Belladonna's debut album?
Aside from being able to take advantage to the utmost of the incredible equipment of RadioStar, her state-of-the-art studio in Northern California, undoubtedly the energy radiated by her amazingly charismatic persona was a crucial element in our quest for achieving the sonic and above all emotional results we were trying to achieve.
'The Noir Album''s lyrics have been described as having "metaphysical suggestions". Could you elaborate on the album's lyrics?
Our lyrics are deeply rooted in the noir tradition of storytelling: drama, erotism, murder, sensuality, mystery and passion all meet up to create musical paintings meant to depict the inner and most secret workings of our psyche. So, no gothic nonsense and no cheap satanic silliness, but a search into the metaphysical, a search that we put into being for pure self-discovery and self-healing reasons, and that's in our opinion what songwriting and making music is all about.
In speaking about the album, Luana said "One day we stopped fighting our inner demons, and went on their side. And this Music just poured out." What were these inner demons that Belladonna band fought, and what prompted the band to stop fighting them?
Our inner demons could be the same ones that you have or that anybody has - I cannot be sure. What I know is that when we started writing songs me and Luana quickly realized that anytime a human being wants to involve himself in any creative act - be it write music, paint, have sex, whatever - he / she needs to let go of all defenses and surrender completely to his / her own most secret passion and desires, however illegal, obscene or evil they might be, since that's the only key to open the door of expressing one's true self. And the peculiar paradox of it all is that one can very eloquently express it without even realizing what it actually is. If that doesn't seem to make sense it's because it just doesn't. But then you hear the music and all of a sudden it does, for as long as the music lasts. That's the magic of music and that's why it's such a powerful drug to us.
On a musical and lyrical level, where can you see future Belladonna material venturing?
Deeper, and deeper, and then deeper still. We want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes...
The band has dubbed its material as rock noir. How would you describe "rock noir", and why did you feel other descriptions wouldn't fit?
Rock noir seems to aptly describe what we do, since both the rock and noir element are a vital part of our aesthetic sense. But we also feel it's unfortunate that us humans always have this need to define everything. If we could only stop doing that, only then we would truly stand a chance to become truly free.
Belladonna isn't signed to a record label despite having gained sizeable press attention, so in light of that, is the band unsigned by choice?
So far we have received many offers, but we choose to turn them all down indignantly. Record companies - no matter what artists that are signed usually say: they lie, and they know it - always make all key artistic decisions on behalf of the bands they sign, and I actually think it's an understandable stance since it's them that are making the financial investment, and for them to want to call the shots seems fair enough to me. But me and Luana just point blank refuse to have anybody telling us what to do, and no promise of fame and fortune can buy our freedom to do what we want with our music. We know all other bands that are signed to a label very happily relinquish that freedom, but we have long ago chosen to not go down that route. No one that does music for love would go down that route. One would only do it if he / she's in it for the money.
How would you describe Belladonna's live performance, and the atmosphere the group is able to create at a live performance? And also, how do you ensure that the group's performance competes with the likes of Nine Inch Nails, The Mars Volta, Staind, Duff McKagan's Loaded and Korn, who Belladonna have supported?
"In 'The Noir Album' we hear the sheer determination of a band recording vibrant music using the best studio technology available to humanity."
We are not sure that we totally subscribe the view that by going onstage to play music we are competing with anybody. Music is about being yourself, not about being better than someone else, in our opinion. Having said this, NIN - for instance - are such an awesome band that to share a stage with them was truly an amazing honor for us, and to witness their live show was a real joy. But having said this, we also somehow feel we are very different in our musical approach and philosophy to them and almost all rock bands of the last thirty years, in that we don't use backing tracks, samples, AutoTune, and we don't use anything that can mechanically enhance what our hands and our hearts are playing on our musical instruments. We feel it's not even music when you have to play alongside a ProTools artificially programmed backing track. That to us is just like making love following a metronome: it's boring boring boring, and we don't go for that.
Having a female vocalist, is it difficult to avoid comparisons by the press to the likes of fellow Italians Lacuna Coil, and other female led groups like Nightwish, Within Temptation, and so on? Perhaps the group has experienced this already.
First of all please allow us go on record once again saying that we think Lacuna Coil are an absolutely kick-ass band. Hailing from Italy ourselves we think we can have a clearer idea than most people outside of Italy of how hard it must have been for them to be able to become what they have become starting out from Spaghettiland. And yes we do get compared to them sometimes (and we always take it as a compliment), but only because we both come from Italy and have a female dark-haired singer: once people actually hear our and their music it becomes immediately obvious that we are two completely different musical beasts.
Rolling Stone's Italian magazine has hailed Belladonna as "the next best thing". In the years to come, how does Belladonna intend to fulfil this, and carve out a successful career?
Accolades like the one that Rolling Stone Italy bestowed upon us are obviously nice to read, but we have never been concerned with making a career out of this: we do music for pure personal pleasure - and yes when we do find it does bring pleasure to whoever is listening it's for us the utmost thrill. That's all we are concerned about. Nothing else matters.
Interview by Robert Gray