Currently working on the optimization of their second album Villa Jukejoint, to be released this year, the London-based ensemble The Cinelli Brothers have positioned themselves as one of the most interesting blues bands within the current international panorama. Marco and Alessandro, the namesake brothers, joined by Enzo Strano and Tom Julian-Jones, have already released their debut album, Babe Please Set Your Alarm, and they also recently got nominated as “Blues Band of the Year” at the UK Blues Awards.
I had the chance to get on the phone with Marco Cinelli, who among other things was nominated as Best Guitar Player of 2018 by Music Republic Magazine. We went over several aspects of their new LP, their single Choo Ma Gum and the related music video, their recent nomination, and more.
Montreal Rocks: Let’s get straight to the core of this interview. Choo Ma Gum is your latest single released in January. Were you looking for a particular sound while writing it? What are the influences behind it?
Marco Cinelli: There are no influences so to speak. The album that is coming up is a very peculiar thing because it is recorded with one microphone only and this, as a matter of fact, influences a lot the general sound of each song. So Choo Ma Gum has a particular sound not because we want to sound like somebody else, but because we are forced to have this sound due to the one mic thing.
MR: So it is more related to a technicality, let’s call it like that…
MR: Let’s keep talking about this single. I am very intrigued by its music video, which is shot in a long take, correct? You have done it in one take without any editing, right? What was the idea behind it and who directed it?
Marco: There’s no director. There’s me or the camera guy actually. It is a very low budget thing, so the idea is: let’s bring something out which is not the usual video … let’s try to add something else, let’s make it either as better as possible or just as raw as possible. Something that will stand out. It is recorded with one mic, which is pretty visible in the video, to a pro for sure. A normal listener probably doesn’t even care, but for musicians, it’s like the first thing that comes to the eye, the fact that there is one mic, and there is one shot. Therefore, what is happening in the studio, you hear in the video … it is completely live. In other words, it’s a live performance but it has the shape of a music video because something is happening in it. There is some very rudimental choreography (laughs).
MR: And what about the other performers in the video, the 3 other musicians singing the chorus with you?
They are not part of the band. They are just the background vocals for that particular song and they will feature in another one, possibly the new single that will come out. I am not sure yet, we are still deciding. But I hired them for 2 songs in the record and they were ok with shooting the video. I said, “it would be nice guys if you can feature, it would look like there is more people in the living room and it would definitely look more lively”, et cetera …
MR: So they were there to give the video a lively vibe and also as the backup vocals…
Marco: Yes, they are great singers actually. They are much better singers than I am (laughs).
There’s Nate James, a very famous singer in London and in the UK. Also abroad he’ s very very famous. I have got sort of “stars” doing background vocals for me, you know? I met them in the scene here but they agreed to do just background. Every one of them is a single personality. For example, there is DRE. He’s a great singer, a great producer, also pretty famous around here. He calls himself Dre Zone, but we shorten it in Dre… He plays percussion very well, so he said “I can play tambourine on this track” and he was crucial …and at the end, I was like “wow”!
MR: For this upcoming album, Villa Jukejoint, can we expect the same type of sound and vibe of Choo Ma Gum? Are there some sorts of variations? Musically speaking of course.
Marco: Of course Choo Ma Gum is a pretty intense song. It is really high energy. There will be more mellow moments in the record. It is a very colourful record. You have got every sort of nuance from high energy songs to extremely down ballads, very peaceful and enjoyable. It is not like very heavy all the time and I think it has got everything. I am not saying it because it is mine, but I think it has everything that an album should have. Every moment, it is not boring so to speak, if you know what I mean…
MR: Yes, I do. And how many tracks will there be?
I don’t know yet. So, basically we would like to put 14 tracks. We recorded 20 tracks, but we need to make a selection. If you want to issue a vinyl, there would be a limited running time. So we need to choose carefully or do the editing for the songs, like shorten the songs somehow…it has been done. You shorten a verse or a solo, you need to reduce the tempo. Imagine: the ideal running time for a vinyl is slightly more than half an hour. It is like 40 minutes. If you have 14 tracks with an average of 3 – 4 minutes, it easily overtakes that time, so… Let’s See…
MR: From your first album Babe Please Set Your Alarm to this new one, is there a transition musically speaking? Are there major changes, differences? A sort of evolution of your style?
Marco: Well, in our mind, and I also speak on behalf of my brother since we really think alike most of the time, I would say in our minds there are a lot of differences, because we’ve had a long journey from the first record to the second. But possibly from the outside, it wouldn’t be much of a difference because you never know what people think. What is perceived, you know? The two albums are very different one from the other because the first one was like, “let’s do something for fun”, the group wasn’t even formed. Basically we formed The Cinelli Brothers in the studio just to make a record. And we came out with 3 days in the studio and that’s what is basically Set Your Alarm. But Villa Jukejoint is a journey that lasted a long time because for me to learn how to put a band together and record with one mic in a living room it took me a lot of work. Each one of us had a lot of work to prepare it.
MR: I have also read on your website that you were talking about some special recording techniques, kind of old techniques. Were you referring to the use of one mic?
Marco: Well, yes. That was rather referred to the one mic thing. Because before, I came out with an article that had a leak, a slight leak telling that we were recording in a special way, and therefore I revealed that it was with one mic. But just to completely answer your question as to the technique used to record Villa Jukejoint: we have recorded with one microphone but it was digital, it wasn’t analog recording. Maybe some geek would care about knowing this… I don’t mind because that’s what I have. In my house I have digital devices, some preamps which are analog and a mic which more or less sounds analog but we would run through a DAW, digital devices such as Logic and Apple…it’s all digital. And a sound card. Nothing really…vintage so to speak.
MR: So, you don’t have yet a date for the release of the album so far…
Marco: Yes. I am still doing the master and since I didn’t know anything about mastering or just a little bit, I spent the last 3 months trying to learn how to do an effective rudimental – yet effective – mastering for the tracks for Villa Jukejoint. So it is completely home cooked from beginning till the end, which makes sense to me.
MR: Congratulations for the nomination as Blues Band of the year for the UK Blues Awards! What does this represent for you professionally and personally speaking?
Marco: Personally not much of a thing. My brother and I are really not into the awarding of music. As a general philosophy, I think it is just bollocks, because you cannot award a better band than another, it is just a very relative thing. But you need these tags in a society, especially if you start up a band, and we appreciate the fact that we are nominated as the best blues band. We really do, and we are happy that people are realizing that there is some potential in the band. There was a general vote and we asked the people to vote for us if they liked us. So there is an interest going on, and also frankly speaking, in this particular time we are living in, the Brexit thing … there are 3 Italians in the band. I don’t know, the first thing I thought when we had the nomination was “Wow!”. Luckily there is something that is out of all this Brexit thing going on and keeping the culture intact and bla bla bla, because I think people know that there are three Italians in the band so a nomination as the best blues band, regardless if we may win or not, it is a nice thing, because I can see that people like us.
MR: It is a kind of feedback toward a sort of inclusion…
Marco: You can call it this way, yes.
MR: Throughout your career up until now, what was, or what is actually, the biggest challenge you, your brother and your band as musicians have faced or are currently facing? within the industry or touring, it could be anything really.
Marco: Well, you know that musician’s life is hard, especially if you take things seriously, if you invest a lot of money … so, you can say that living a great life is the biggest challenge, besides of what we do, because we are completely absorbed by our job and our passion and facing every day all the small details, you need to really chase people at the moment. You know, the music industry is going in a way that the train is going very fast and, in a second, if you stop putting wood on the fire so to speak, people will forget you … So there’s only one way to keep up and endure this thing, just like keeping up, keeping up, keeping up, and doing everything… everyday something better, something greater, besides all the things you have to do to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I think that’s the biggest challenge me and my brother already fought and won. I can say that because we are extremely happy about living this life, because it is not about chasing prizes or chasing things, it is enjoying every day what you do. That is the biggest thing. And it is also a message I would like to say to everybody else, especially if you are a beginner, to start a band: don’t chase fame because you will break your neck, psychologically or financially or both. It is just enjoying what you do every day and things will follow.
MR: I honestly share your thoughts on that. Before interviewing you I was snooping around your website, which is a very interesting one, and I have to say that I am very impressed by your album covers and the posters and the overall quality of your marketing and merchandise. So who is behind that? Who’s creating these kind of vintage posters and images?
Marco: Thank you very much. It pleases me to hear that, because actually who is behind it is my brother and I, that’s it. We are totally indie at the moment, there’s nobody giving us strategies or taking care of us. We just learn all the way, what’s good and what’s bad. We have a very nice relationship and we discuss things to try to improve ourselves. It started out very bad, like everything else, and now it’s getting better and better.
MR: Oh, I understand! but is it you guys who also draw the posters?
Marco: No, no! my drawing skills are terrible. I could probably draw a potato, but then I would feel tired (laughs). This is a funny story. The artwork illustrator is an Italian guy living in the Netherlands, called Lorenzo Milito, from Rome. He used to be my house mate when I was living in the Netherlands few years ago. He is great, he is very creative, and he has this Italian touch in things, I like him a lot. His dream was to draw vinyl covers…when we had the first record done, we thought of him and he did a great job. I gave him the guidelines to what I wanted: I wanted this, this and that, I wanted this guy sitting on the bed and playing guitar, and outside the outside world going, during its night shift, with the hooker, you know? The metropolitan frame (laughs). And then he came up with this. He also did the artwork of our drum skin.
MR: Ah, nice! And he probably did the series of merch t-shirts as well…
Marco: Yes. He is not the owner of the logo, the logo was done by some other guy in Spain, called Fernando…he is a great guy! We like to work with a lot of people, a lot of artists, visual artists. Villa Jukejoint has a cover that is also from another artist that I discovered on Instagram and that I really like. He is called Gabriele Camicioli aka Settecamicie… I don’t even know how old he is, probably 18 years old or something. He is great, we love the cover of Villa Jukejoint, that we didn’t reveal yet, but it is going to be something like the first record.
MR: In the website there is also a part called The Magazine…what is that about?
Marco: We like to talk about different topics. The idea came to me because I wanted to drive more traffic to the website… how can I stand out with something not strictly related to music? So there are, some friends of mine I work with…we call ourselves the The Cinelli Publishing team: it’s some writers, and I have an English writer who corrects me, because I still make lots of mistakes in English, we can talk about anything really…it would be like a journal more than a blog, because it is not strictly related to music. I talk about art, I talk about…not politics really, it’s more like every day topics, I hear points of view… if there’s a good writer I can hire him, not hire really but he has to be participating in this venture to write articles and points of view, interview people… so I like that, you know? And it’s one more reason to know about The Cinelli Brothers really, because we have an overall philosophy that is reflected as well in this journal. And also, on a business perspective I like people to stick more around our website and bring up the name of the brand.
MR: Yeah, that’s why I was intrigued by it. Besides the release of this new album, are you working on other projects and also are you planning to come to Canada, Montreal maybe?
Marco: Yes, we are, regarding Canada. We would love to come to Montreal. I had the opportunity to come when I was living in France, because there’s this direct connection through the Alliance Française for cultural events, but then it didn’t go through and I always wanted to go to Canada. Except for the cold, I think it is an amazing place to go and play. So it is planned. We’ve always planned to have like, this internship between people…for example in Brazil, we love to go to Brazil every year to play so we have our man there who books us shows, maybe one day we can do this in Canada, when the times will be right to do it. I am always curious. My brother and I would really love to go to Canada. And for the rest of the work, we are mainly focused on Villa Jukejoint at the moment, maybe trying to write new stuff already for a third record. Concurrently, I do some small production jobs. I’m a producer for a living so I like to produce other records, being a songwriter to people who want to be involved.
MR: Nice! Thank you very much!
Hoping to have them soon performing here in Montreal, we will be waiting for their upcoming singles on Spotify. So to all the old and new fans check their website for any updates: www.cinellibrothers.com