Interview with Andrea Balasso

Bassist and composer

1) How did you approach music? how was your passion born?

I approached music around the age of 13-14 when I started to come up with some chords on a classical guitar that ran around the house (the only testimony of a failed and frustrating 10-year music course completely removed from memory)…

A 15 years, at the height of the Duran Duran era, struck by the sounds of Nick Rhodes, I took all my savings and bought a Bontempi organ-like keyboard (I think it was a Casio) that I never studied but strummed for hours (he had 5 drum beats, 5 sounds, and the arpeggiator…

I think he also had the built-in calculator…avant-grade Japanese technology !!!). The turning point came around the age of 16 when some friends (all last-minute musicians) put together a complex and called me: I was hoping you would need a keyboardist or a guitarist, but they told me they needed a bass player. “What is that?” Did I ask? “The one who plays the bass”! “Ah, and what is the bass?” I asked. The following morning I left the instrument store with a similar-precision Tamaki (the hard case cost more than the bass) and a 20-watt amp, and in the afternoon I was already in the oratory trying. I remember well that we played the first 3 chords of “So far away” (Dire Straits) all afternoon, each with its own timing… and each with its “sound” !! These were times of great excitement … and of great courage: the first concert I did at an outdoor carnival party, with the children eating crostoli at minus 10th and me who risked losing my fingers for exposure! At the time I had a visceral passion for the Eagles, and, after a few days of handling the bass, even though I had no technique I realized I had a good ear, which allowed me to face any piece! I was super passata, also because I didn’t know many musical genres yet, and I was convinced to be able to play what I wanted … I thought: “if I can do Hotel California I can do everything” !!! Blessed youth !!!!!

Then, however, Mark King and Jaco Pastorius arrived at breakneck speed… and they were pains !!!!!!

2) Was it easy to follow this passion for you, or did you have difficulty? If yes, which ones?

It was all very spontaneous! When I started playing I came from a period of intense interest in basketball: I trained 2-3 times a week and I played during the weekend, I had also done the course of coach and referee, so I had a very busy week … but when I took the bass in hand made me realize that playing gratified me more than anything else, even if I wasn’t able yet: I left the sport without thinking about it for a minute as the training coincided with the band’s rehearsals !!! It never occurred to me that the instrument had to be studied, and I never thought of going to class with someone (which would have been useful instead): I turned on the turntable, put a record (Eagles, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dire Straits) and there I played behind, making it go at both 33 and 45 rpm (to train on speed and on different tones from the originals). I played like I was spontaneous !! All in all I was able to reconcile music with the studio (at the time I attended the fourth year of high school), and, despite my great passion, I mentally excluded “changing course” and enrolling in the conservatory: maybe I didn’t have enough courage to change what I had traced in my mind: superiors, university, work … and perhaps those around me preferred that I kept myself anchored to these goals. In the meantime a lot of water has passed under the bridges: I played with many formations, many different genres, and, although self-taught, I organized myself to try to study and deepen those technical and theoretical topics that I thought were important. At the time (the early 90s) there was no internet, and even didactic methods were few … I devoured videocassettes with the methods of Jaco Pastorius (“Modern electric bass”) and John Patitucci, as well as an interesting video by guitarist Umberto Florentine (“techniques for jazz improvisation”), plus some books on harmony and solfeggio. Meanwhile, I was recording concerts on TV and watching bass players! Above all: Polo Jones (bassist of Zucchero), Faso (Elio and Storie Tese, fundamental to understand the setting in the slap) and Guy Pratt (the legendary Pink Floyd concert in Venice)! In practice, the few things available were treasured! as well as an interesting video by guitarist Umberto Fiorentino (“techniques for jazz improvisation”), plus some books on harmony and solfeggio. Meanwhile, I was recording concerts on TV and watching bass players! Above all: Polo Jones (bassist of Zucchero), Faso (Elio and Storie Tese, fundamental to understand the setting in the slap) and Guy Pratt (the legendary Pink Floyd concert in Venice)! In practice, the few things available were treasured! as well as an interesting video by guitarist Umberto Fiorentino (“techniques for jazz improvisation”), plus some books on harmony and solfeggio. Meanwhile, I was recording concerts on TV and watching bass players! Above all: Polo Jones (bassist of Zucchero), Faso (Elio and Storie Tese, fundamental to understand the setting in the slap) and Guy Pratt (the legendary Pink Floyd concert in Venice)! In practice, the few things available were treasured!

3) What is your biggest success? And what made you most happy?

I think the biggest success, for me, was being able to make some original pieces and to see that they were appreciated by some very important musicians! One above all, the great Christian Meyer (drummer of the Elio and the Storie Tese): last year I had the chance to get him my cd; after some time he wrote me saying that he really appreciated my compositions and my playing … but after a few weeks, the e-mail arrived that made me happy and gratified many of my efforts: he asked me if I could send him my piece “Three times over four” without the drum track and only with the click, so that it could play on it, for pure personal fun … here, maybe this is not an official recognition, but it is something that has repaid me a lot !!! Another great satisfaction:

4) Have you collaborated with other successful artists? important collaborations?

Unfortunately not: the choice of not making music as a full-time activity has certainly precluded me from having the chance to have important collaborations: those times when I was presented with a tempting opportunity I was forced to “pull back”, and certainly an artist who seeks a musician needs an availability that I have never been able to guarantee on an ongoing basis … as they say, the train passes only once, and in my case it has passed in the less suitable moment from the family point of view. Nonetheless I took away the satisfaction of “sniffing” the air blowing in the recording studio with Paolo Belli (with whom I recorded some tracks that should have been auditioning for its relaunch, in the intermediate phase between the Bicycle Thieves and television appearances with Panariello); then I got to play in the band of Delia Gualtiero (famous singer in the 80s); sometimes it happens to accompany live artists like Vittorio Matteucci, Chiara Luppi, and Marco Guerzoni; finally, for the realization of my second cd (still in progress), I had the pleasure and the honor of hosting a great guitarist like Andrea Braido. For the rest, I don’t remember anything relevant (I apologize to the great artists not mentioned for sheer forgetfulness … eh eh eh).

5) In the course of your career in the world of music, do you understand what people like or understand it is like the search for the sacred Grail?

This is a very “dark” topic … those times that I play live a famous piece, maybe in fashion (like getting Lucky by Daft Punk) people applaud with more vigor, and this is revealing to me! So what do people like? One would say what is in vogue … or what he knows best, or what excites and identifies with the contents (which explains the proliferation of Vasco Rossi’s tribute-bands) … please understand !!! However, those who make music must make the listener’s evening happy, but also their own, so it is important for me to put my personality in playing (always respecting the music)!

6) What do you think about today’s music scene?

Certainly, times have changed a lot in the past few years: the economic crisis is felt in the “non-first-rate” sectors like music, and it is much more difficult to be able to propose something. It is also true that the excitement is so much, I think that there are many better musicians of the past, and many groups with beautiful ideas, but less chance of having their things heard live (the music is not only “not necessary”, but the same musician is more discredited than 20-30 years ago) … on the other hand, the possibility of being online allows unknown groups to be heard on the other side of the world, but there are so many that emerges is really a business where there are so many things, not just talent. I don’t know the mechanisms of music marketing, but I have the impression that, today as never before, count more the image than the music; the record is more interested in the “character” than the voice, and people are more interested in the private life of the singer than in his records, and all of this is fed by the media that offer the usual transmissions of the cabbage, in which the artist is put “naked”, for better or for worse, and in which does not necessarily emerge the most talented but the one who turns out to be more captivating, in addition of course to have the greatest thrusts from the record of the moment. If today’s music were not moved by these mechanisms, it would not be possible to explain the rapid ascent of a “phenomenon” like Justin Bieber, or the inexplicable fame of a Giovanni Allevi! If you do some research and realize that “the pious chick” was one of the most downloaded songs of last year, you think we are at the fruit, that people have smoked their brains and drink all the crap that is being served to them! Therefore the “general” music scene of today does not tell me anything good. Then it is clear that underneath all this dust (not to mention worse) there are so many interesting realities, but if they can’t reach the ears of potential listeners there is no prospect of improvement!

7) What does music mean to you?

Music is part of me: it is the thing that marks all my reasoning (even non-musical, of normal life), it is the engine that makes everything more alive and more beautiful … if I didn’t have music I would certainly be a different person (better ? worst? Boh !!). I consider myself a privileged person: music makes me feel like a special person, even when I play it only for myself (to the delight of the neighbors) between the walls of the house, and it is certainly an excellent antistress! Music can work wonders in people’s minds, and I am convinced that it would make a good musical education from kindergarten, both to listen and to express it with an instrument (perhaps chosen by the person concerned, and not necessarily the usual recorder!)! Clearly, children should not grow prematurely, and they have every right to listen to and sing “Grandma Pina’s tagliatelle”, but musical education must not stop at the surface! When I did middle school, the subject in which I was worse was music: I was shy, and the teacher made us sing one at a time, songs for ugly children like never before (at 12 I loved the Beatles, I didn’t give a damn songs for children, they made me nervous!)… Bad teaching can prevent the “love at first sight” for music in potential musicians !! Given the conditions, I consider myself very lucky !!! songs for ugly children like never before (at the age of 12 I loved the Beatles, I didn’t give a damn about children’s songs, they made me nervous!)… Bad teaching can prevent the “love at first sight” for music in potential musicians !! Given the conditions, I consider myself very lucky !!! songs for ugly children like never before (at the age of 12 I loved the Beatles, I didn’t give a damn about children’s songs, they made me nervous!)…

Bad teaching can prevent the “love at first sight” for music in potential musicians !! Given the conditions, I consider myself very lucky!!!

A sincere thanks to dear friend Alberto for giving me the opportunity to tell me a little bit !!

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