No Such Thing As A Stupid Question #9 w/ Jacopo Sanna & Alessandro Ilic Mezza (Øjne)

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After the publications of Undici/Dodici and a couple of split records with Улыбайся Ветру and Rainmaker it went quiet around one of Italy’s most popular screamo bands of the past years. With their conceptional debut Long Player, Prima Che Tutto Bruci Øjne finally reports back. Before the final release of the album, drummer Jacopo Sanna and guitarist Alessandro Ilic Mezza sat down with us to talk about their new material.




There has been a lot of changes for Øjne during the past one and a half year. Please give us a short update on the recent developments around the band and maybe sum up what’s going on in your lives right now.

Jacopo:We haven’t played a single show in the past two years, and actually we have never even practiced as a full band throughout all this time, but I think the only major change that happened was that we changed our singer. Other than that, right now some of us live abroad but that is something we have learned to live with. Since we started as a band all of our members and ex members have spent at least six months from home, sometimes way more than that, and the only two times we all lived in the area of Milan we wrote our two records, Undici/Dodici between 2011 and 2012 and our new album Prima Che Tutto Bruci between 2014 and 2015. The rest of the time we were literally all around the world, and I guess that’s something that have always defined our band.
Actually, right now it feels weird to know that ¾ of Øjne are in the same place (all except our bass player Axel, who lives in the States). It’s not gonna last long, Alessandro is going back to study in Germany soon and maybe I will move away too, we will see. For now, I can tell you that a few weeks ago we had a little practice back in the rehearsal space where we wrote Undici/Dodici and damn, it felt great and really emotional, especially when we played old songs like “Naufragio” or “Sotto i Tigli” and realized we still enjoyed playing them so much.

Back in September 2016 you welcomed a new vocalist to your lineup. Gian, who already participated in the recordings of your upcoming album called Prima Che Tutto Bruci, replaced Jacopo C. Could you please introduce your new singer to our readers and tell us what made you consider him for this job?

Jacopo: We already kinda knew Gian, whose full name is Gianluca, ‘cause we played with one of his old bands, Thy Solace, some years ago, and in general I saw him at shows several times. We also knew he liked our band so probably he would have liked to sing with us, and in fact he said yes. He comes from Cinisello Balsamo, a city in the metropolitan area of Milan recently made famous by a trap song called “Ciny”. He’s been in several bands in the past, mostly hardcore, like A Faded Glory and The Seeker. This was the first time he sang in Italian and I think he was amazing, we were actually impressed during the recording sessions, he would record a verse perfectly and then keep saying “let’s do it again!”, so that we would have five or six versions of the same verse that all sounded perfect.

Alessandro: I never met Gian before we started working with him and I have to say that indeed, he was great. I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio with him, just the two of us, recording the vocals, and I can say that he really put everything he had into it. It was amazing to see how much dedication he had to a project he was just getting into.

How did this change as well as the difficult location situation of the particular members affect the recording process of your upcoming record?

Jacopo: It’s funny ‘cause when we started recording I really really thought we would be really fast this time, unlike when we recorded Undici/Dodici. I remember I recorded the drums for Prima Che Tutto Bruci in a day, on July 30th, 2015, it was very tiring but also very satisfying, and just a few days later we started recording the guitars! And I made a post on Øjne’s Facebook saying “Hey this time we’re being fast!”. I wish I never did it haha... We recorded the guitars that summer, and in September we recorded the bass before our bass player Axel moved to London, and in the meantime I was in Belgrade for two months to do research for my master thesis and kinda lost touch with what was happening. Did you finish recording the guitars in September?

Alessandro: Not really! By that time we had just the main parts, the ones we wrote while rehearsing. In the next couple of months me and Stefano, our friend who has always been helping us with studio recordings, tours and everything else (we even refer to him as the 5th member of Øjne!) worked on the arrangements, rhythmic guitars and so on.. Quite a strange workflow, isn’t it? It really worked though: a lot of what’s in the record now was done in that time!

Jacopo: After that we still thought we were gonna be done soon, but then changing singer literally postponed recording the vocals to summer 2016, so I guess it was mostly the line-up change that delayed this album rather than us living far from each other.

For us your first Long Player seems to be a major challenge, especially after such an outstanding debut EP like Undici/Dodici. With songs like Glasgow or Naufragio you were able to attract the attention of the international screamo community. How did you deal with the high expectations resulting from that?

Jacopo: I think that when we started writing Prima Che Tutto Bruci we were not feeling any kind of pressure or thinking about high expectations. We just wanted to finally write an album that would be cohesive and that would make sense as a whole. Now I gotta say that sometimes I kinda worry whether people will like it or not haha.. You know, when I remember that people like Undici/Dodici and I go back to listen to it my first thought is “fuck, we were so different and raw back then”, and I would say our new record doesn’t sound like that. I’m mostly concerned about the vocals, changing singer is a tough thing and some people might prefer the old vocals. But well, that’s a matter of taste, and it’s ok if someone won’t like it. I’m fully satisfied with the new album to be honest.

Alessandro: No pressure indeed! It was just a lot of fun. You have to know that we started writing Prima Che Tutto Bruci as soon as we got our first rehearsal space. Having a space like that on our own meant that we had all the time we needed to write music at our own pace. Finally we were not forced into those two-hours-slots we were used to, and this led to a new way of thinking about songwriting and playing together, with way less stress or haste.

What were your own expectations for the new material regarding sound and approach, especially compared to your previous work?

Jacopo: When we began writing the new songs in summer 2014 our goal was pretty simple and clear: we wanted to write eight tracks that would all be as good as the two songs of our splits, and we wanted them to make sense together, one after another. Undici/Dodici was just a bunch of songs put together in an EP, basically the first five songs we wrote together over the course of our first five or six months as a band. This time we were much more methodical than that, in a sense that we started writing the first track knowing it would be the beginning of the album, and only when it was done we would move on to the second one, and so on. So we started writing the first song of Prima Che Tutto Bruci in September 2014, and finished writing the seventh and eighth track in May 2015. That’s pretty cool to me ‘cause I also associate the songs with different periods of my life, with various world events, and I also think that the songs are slightly influenced by the season they were written in, as if the record reflects autumn and winter on side A and spring on side B.

Alessandro: I had no particular sound in mind when we started; maybe the only guideline we followed was to further develop the ideas that were already there in the songs for the two splits we made (even if they were still a bit raw back then). 
Other than that, it’s definitely true what Jacopo said: even before starting, we knew we wanted the record to be solid and cohesive. Two songs in and we already decided that this was going to be somewhat of a concept album - even if we had no clue what theme to choose! However, the actual concept behind Prima Che Tutto Bruci came way later: the first lyrics we wrote were a lot different; then, when Gian came, many things - between us and around us - had changed: it felt just natural to change the lyrics and eventually rewrite them from scratch.



What’s the concept behind Prima Che Tutto Bruci?

Alessandro: In a word, it’s about violence.
In particular, it’s about the process of getting in touch with violence, suffering from it, getting used to it, knowing it, understanding it and eventually sympathizing with it. A process in which you discover that our bubble, in which we have lived our early years, can quickly burst when facing the things in life. All in all, it’s about the discovery that violence is just a part in everyone’s life and that it should be considered as it is - and not as something external or extraordinary.
And by violence - I think also Jacopo would agree - I mean either the everyday, normalized violence as well as violence on a larger scale.
It's somehow a training path - an evolution of the way we relate to violence; and we may eventually have to face/find out that it could be much closer to us than we would ever expect.

Who came up with the idea and what lead you to the decision to address violence as the topic of the LP?

Jacopo: Our first idea was to write a concept album based on an Italian book called “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino, but soon we realized it would have been too hard so we kind of stopped trying, and I think at some point we even stopped thinking about writing a concept album, or at least forgot about it, and only wrote some provisional lyrics so that we could play some of the songs live. Once the whole album except the vocals was already recorded I thought, “well, it might be time to start writing something..” and I wrote the lyrics for the first two songs just talking about stuff that had happened to me or that I had been thinking of lately--the same writing process of Undici/Dodici after all. But once I showed the lyrics to the others we realized that the two songs had a common thread, that of potential violence and violence itself, and that they could have been the beginning of something greater. So we just went with it, and me and Alessandro wrote the rest of the album starting from there.
Violence was a topic we were all thinking about a lot in the past few years, and we felt like it was the most interesting thing we could talk about in a record. We were also inspired by Storia di un impiegato, an album released in 1973 by Fabrizio de André, an Italian singer-songwriter. It tells the story of an office worker with a normal life who suddenly starts getting attracted by the Italian wave of red terrorism of the ‘70s and takes it as a chance to do something concrete in his mediocre life. So he becomes a bomber, though such individualism is seen as a defeat by the end of the album. We wanted to write something like that but adapt it to our own lives and to the world of today.

Alessandro: At least for me, during the process of writing the lyrics, a huge role was also played by the series of terror acts that Europe had to face at that time. The sense of instability we feel these days is kinda the zeitgeist we have to cope with. Violence is all over and media keep feeding us with hatred; and the fact that the attacks to the Western society, as we are used to know it, have been perpetrated by people that could have been born and raised right in our neighborhood is even more upsetting. We've been living in a Europe that knew peace much more than the Europe of our parents and grandparents; we grew up in loving and supportive families, we had the chance to go to good schools and to take all the best we could get from where we lived. We're born at the right time, on the right side of society - but I always had the feeling that somehow this mechanism could eventually break down.
I have the feeling that this violence we are now getting used to isn’t really related to a cultural clash, but rather to an unbalance that is inherent to our cultural and economic system. As it is, we cannot guarantee opportunities to everyone. And the chances I had were precluded to someone else in order to allow me to have them. 
We couldn't have really thought it could have been going on indefinitely.

This could let you think it's a very political record, but it's not - at least not entirely. It's more personal, introspective. Rather than facing the issue directly, it is about an intimate relationship with what's going on in the world around us.



How would you describe the sound of the album compared to your older releases?

Alessandro: For the very first time we wrote our music all together, building the song as a whole band and not working on some ideas someone came up with at home and brought to the rehearsal space. This has given much more energy and consistency to the songs; the result is therefore a record that - in my opinion - finally stands out when played live.
Anyhow, we managed to preserve the songwriting style that I like: always trying to change rhythms, riffs and atmospheres among parts within the same song. I quite like the extremes when it comes to music: either is super repetitive, almost obsessive, or it has to be very diverse: either it’s post-punk or it’s math(-ish).

Jacopo: Having our own practice space for the first time had a huge impact on our band. We would have these 4-5 hours long practices that were tiring but great, and I think we have learned to play our music much better since then. So that’s definitely something that influenced the new album, but at the same time I feel like an album like this was what we always wanted to write since we started as a band. So it’s not like we changed our goal when writing music, it’s just that now we had the means and the experience to do what we wanted to do. On a personal level, I also gotta say I was rather influenced by the bands we played with at that time, I’m thinking in particular of Old Soul, with whom we shared some shows in summer 2014, and Healing Powers, with whom we toured the UK a few months later. I think seeing them inspired me in my contribution to the songwriting at least.

Sitting right in the middle of the tracklist, Sull'Altro Lato del Fiume is the centerpiece of Prima Che Tutto Bruci. But also sound-wise the song stands out, unfolding an epic atmosphere. What is the story behind the song and what influenced you to write the Strokes-esque guitar riff at the one minute mark?

Alessandro: Sull’Altro Lato Del Fiume is the moment in which the storytelling in the record reaches its turning point: the song is about losing your own identity as you realize that you’re nothing more than the result of every single thing that has happened in your life until now; and then, if something would have gone differently, would you be different from the person you think you are? You might even find yourself on the other side of violence, that very same violence that now horrifies you.
To cut a long story short, this is a song about a change of perspective; that’s why I like to think that the structure of the song suits its meaning: it is divided in two distinct parts. The first more hectic and varied, the second quite epic and post-rock-ish. This variation within the song corresponds to that very change. The lyrics are divided in two parts as well; I wrote the first part, based on an actual letter I received some years ago and that, recently, I couldn't find nor remember what it said; that made me feel like I lost some important part of my own past that day. The second part, instead, was written by Jacopo - and I think he did an amazing job telling how it’s easy to climb into someone else’s skin when you have left behind all the little things you’re made of.

As for the music, I’m afraid I don’t have any exciting story to tell! First of all, while writing the record, we always kept in mind that this was going to be released on vinyl. We realized that the fourth song would have been the end of side A; thus we wanted it to be some sort of closure: a great (halfway) finale.
Also, I was (and I am) quite into that indie/post-punk-revival (is it even a thing?) and so records from 2005-2010 from bands like Editors, The Killers and Interpol are a substantial part of my musical background. I think the Strokes-esque riff comes from there.. and by the fact we thought it’d be funny to put a bit of everything in this record!

Alessandro, you decided to restrain the album for quite a long time. What were the reasons to hold it back and why do you think it’s the right moment to put it finally out?

Alessandro:It wasn’t a decision I took by myself; it was instead something we all have agreed on. We think records are meant to be played live, especially this one. We didn’t want to release a record while we were sure we wouldn’t be able to play it for months: at that time, I was living in Germany and Axel was already in the US.

Any chance we can hear the new songs live in the near future?

Jacopo: Playing shows is something we love and want to do. I would personally love to play more shows in Italy (we have never played in Florence, Rome or Naples and that’s a shame!), and of course I’d love to tour Europe again and to go to places like Spain and the Balkans, though my dream has always been playing in Russia. However, we can’t promise anything right now, we’re just hoping that we’ll manage to play shows sooner or later, ‘cause releasing records and getting likes on Facebook is cool, but seeing those same people in person is something else, and it’s something we miss I think. So yeah, fingers crossed.

Besides your own release there are many albums, EPs etc. that already came out in 2017. What are your favorite releases this year so far? Any guilty pleasures?

Jacopo: Regarding screamo, my favorite releases of the year were probably the record by Bastos from Romania, Epoch by Yumi from Singapore, the EP by Yotsuya Kaidan, amazing band from Ukraine, and the underrated, crazy record by our friends Volta. Other than that, I haven’t listened to so much screamo this year, some of my favorite records released in the past few months have been the ones of Alex Cameron and Makthaverskan. Unfortunately you also mentioned guilty pleasures, so I should confess that in the past few months I’ve been listening to so much trash pop music from the Balkans and yeah, I think it’s damaging my brain but I can’t resist it.

Alessandro: No 2017 music for me at the moment! The most recent discovery for me was Spectres from Vancouver; we went to their show in Milan last month and I really enjoyed it! They are very post-punk though, as most of the music I’m listening right now.
One of the bands I’ve been listening a lot lately are, once again, Interpol: El Pintor is an amazing record, and I think much of the post-rock influence in our record comes from them rather than from proper post-rock outfits. Also, the first two records from the Italian noise-rock band Il Teatro Degli Orrori are currently on my everyday playlist. As you might have understood, I’m not really into punk music right now! But at least I’ve (almost) quitted listening to trashy italian trap, that was my guilty pleasure - and it was starting to get out of hand..

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