Clap Bands intervista il grande Hugo Race

di Sisco Montalto - In attesa della versione italiana, che uscirà a breve su New Link  e Clap Bands Magazine, gustatevi la versione originale in inglese dell'intervista a Hugo Race 

-You are a “piece” of Rock history, you have been wandering a lot and playing everywhere. At which point of you artistic, but also human journey, do you feel you are? 
“You never really know whats going on while you're actually living it. It's only in retrospect that you get an idea about where you were at. My life is my music and viceversa. I started writing about my life and the music in it after the first trip to Mali with Dirtmusic. It was just so fascinating, I felt I had to file a report on what happened with us in Africa. Then that story was published in Australia and I got a lot of feedback from people saying they found it interesting reading. 

Since, I've written several other reports about being on the road, from Brazil for example, and also a story regarding The Merola Matrix, how that came together, and why, and what happened after. I'm currently writing a road trip story about Italy, from the solo tour I did this spring, including politics and broader observations beyond the strictly musical. I guess I'm at a point where I'm doing what I want to do, and I'm examining it all, the absurd, the sublime, the things in between.”

-You love Sicily a lot, you are an “adopted” catanese, some of your latest albums have been recorded, maybe even conceived, here. How much of Italy, of Catania, there's in these records?
 “No But it's True was recorded in Catania with Cesare Basile, and besides sharing a taste for raw acoustic sounds and the dark old blues, Cesare and I have a shared history going back to his album Closet Meraviglia. There's a lot of Catania feeling on this album - the collision between the romantic and the brutal, an everday paradox in southern italy.... 

The album is influenced sonically by the Zen arcade, all the very organic kind of instruments hanging around in there, Sicilian cigar box guitars, old, banged-up steel string guitars, weird old vintage organs..... And then the atmosphere of the city itelf, Catania kind of swallows you alive because it's presence is so strong, the history and the decline is all around you. All of Sicily has this kind of ruined grandeur with a dark underbelly, and then there's the light - Corrado Vasquez shot the video for I'm on Fire under an abandoned autostrada bridge somewhere near Trapani.... Sicily is somewhere which still has a pulse, a heart, admittedly broken but somehow still beating.”

-What do you find here that you can't find, even having travelled a lot, in other places?
“The first time I came to Sicily, I had the feeling that I'd been here before in some other lifetime. I don't feel the same way about anywhere else. So thats kind of strange, and then I met people and drifted around and got to know the place better... “

-How did the music change to you during these years and how do you see, in comparison with other places, the italian music scene?
“The Italian scene is fermenting amazing music, but like everywhere else there's so much going on, you can only be aware of a small part of it. The world in general is in a state of continual flux on every level - politics, technology, art, climate, belief, life. Music? How has the scene changed? More bands making more records at home and using the Internet as their vehicle. Millions of songs jostling on a microradiowave bandwidth. The fashions and phenomenas run in cycles orchestrated by the media. 

Record sales decrease because of digital, more musicians out on the road performing live. Reunions of bands you might have thought faded into history. Re-runs of golden moments, avalanches of nostalgia. Postmodernism and the society of the spectacle is where we are, but the situationalists who predicted it in the sixties are already dead, most of them suicides of one kind or another. Music, like writing, becomes  a serious business if you follow it over the course of a lifetime. It's one thing if you do it for a few years on an amateur level, but if you go beyond that you come face to face with yourself, that's a tough ride. 

I just follow my own path as it appears in any given moment. There is no plan, no map. I see and hear really interesting things all the time at unexpected moments, then a door opens up and I check it out. Incredible music is being made everywhere, all the time. It's up to us to try and take it it all in, but at the same time, that's impossible.”

-A curiosity: what do you think about the Arsenale and what's doing? Even if you  move around it, I think you could have the neutrality and the experience to give us a “pure” and overhall view of the idea behind the Arsenale...
“The Arsenale is making things happen - events, dialogue, controversy - to shake up the very static and formalized cultural situation in Sicily. This is a great idea and long overdue. Italy, culturally, doesn't really encourage independent initiative, so you need something more radicalized to break through the bureaucratic blocade of licensing regulations, music corporations and state monopolies like the SIAE, the fossilized old order. And in Sicily there are a lot of places and spaces that need fresh blood, revitalization, change.”

-You had and still have a lot of projects: is it a way to give vent to the different sides of your rock soul, as a musician or what else?
“I guess I just get restless with doing one thing at a time because there's so many things I want to do. Like, Dirtmusic is going back to Africa soon to record, exploring music with local musicians there. You can learn a lot out there about music, about a lot of things really. 

I pursue projects that take me out of my zone, shake up my idea of things. Sepiatone has a new album coming out soon - myself, Marta Collica, Giovanni Ferrario, Dade Mahony, Marco Franzoni. We recorded it over a four year period, when there was time, and there's a lot of Italian vibe on this record, Echoes On. Maybe these all connect to different aspects of my psyche, like multiple personalities...”

-The last two records “Fatalists“e “No but it's True”, have different contents, but they both are very intimistic in their approach...
“Yes, also Between Hemispheres. Also Dirtmusic's BKO. All of these albums are made up of live takes in studios. There's a little bit of overdubbing, but the process is about the performance, and the studio is organized to capture that energy. 

The right take is the one that's in the moment, in the spirit of the thing.... Its an old school approach and in an analog studio it creates sparks. I like a raw sound, bringing out the imperfections, sticking very close to reality, the human voice, fingernails on steel strings. And the songs are really very direct, written to be played live, looking into people's eyes.”

-How did you have the idea to make a love songs record?
“Driving in a car one day and realizing that the greatest songs are inevitably love songs. But not always in an obvious way... The original of Never Say Never is amazing and like nearly all these songs, I first heard it a long time ago, back in '82. Thats thirty years since the 'new wave'! Such songs have become part of some kind of history in the same way, for me, as a classic like Cry Me A River. 

Not all the songs worked with the treatment I gave them, there are several out takes, and in the case of I'm On Fire, it was recorded twice, at different times, trying to find the way to alter it dramatically from the original without losing its power”

-“Fatalists” is a quite dark record on the other hand: how much autobiographical is it?

“Well, ultimately its all autobiographical I guess, all the records and the songs, in the sense that its all from my experience, but also indirectly, through others peoples lives. I didn't write Will You Wake Up or In The Pines, but they fit into the narrative of the album, and the other songs were all songs I wrote for other projects, except Slow Fry, where Antonio Gramentieri wrote the music and the words came later. 

I think what's happening on Fatalists is about the atmosphere of my life at that time, a brush with pneumonia, a relationship breakup, moving around all the time, these feelings are woven into it. With Antonio and Diego Sapignoli we finished the next Fatalists album, coming out later this year, and once again these are live takes drawn from experience, the diary of a moment in time.”

 -Do you believe love and personal anxieties can get along? How do you put love in your life and your artistic inspiration?
“Love and anxiety exist in parallel because we live in the human game of emotion and uncertainty, they can barely be separated. Like life and art. As they say, you yourself are all thats happening because without you, none of this would exist, at least not from your point of view. There's inspiration everywhere but you have to discriminate as to whats personally relevant to you and the situation you're in. You use whatever tools come to hand. Its all a work in progress...”