A spiritual pilgrimage through darkness, fog and light // An Interview with NERO KANE

WL//WH Interview NERO KANE  

Fresh from last September’s third studio album, “Of Knowledge and Revelation”, via Italian experimental label Subsound Records, and an extensive tour of Europe and the UK, Milan-based, Italian psych-dark folk guitarist and songwriter Nero Kane along with the visual artist, musician, performer, filmmaker and partner in crime Samantha Stella, pull from an esoteric alchemy of their European ancient roots with North American Western gothic epic, and varying visionary forms of art, to create their own ‘intimate, minimal, and decadent’ world in a mystical and ritualistic space made of the stripped-down hypnotic riffs, droning distortion, ghostly organ/mellotron chords, and plaintive vocalizations, to slowly immerse, envelope and transport the listener into a morbid and cathartic trance. A seamlessly challenging emotional, and mantric journey, seemingly in contrast with our frenzied and superficial age, worth all your time and dedication.

  • Many thanks for the interview. Can you talk a little bit about what started your interest in music, and what bands/artists inspired you?

NK– To be honest my interest in music really started only when I was already around 18 years old. Then around my 22/23 old, I started to play an instrument and write my own stuff. Everything began when I discovered early 70’s American punk music. Ramones, Dead Boys, Television, and New York Dolls. But primarily The Stooges and MC5 were my favorite bands. I still love them. Also The Velvet Underground and Suicide. All this kind of stuff. This is the background where I came from and when I started to play I was really focused on garage rock music. Over the years I have discovered and gotten inspired by songwriters like Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Mark Lanegan, Nico, and from art, books, and ancient paintings which became my main references.

SS My father is a blues-rock drummer, my mother is a painter/engraver, music and art have always been in the air. My artistic path started with contemporary dance, then performance and visual art, photography and video, then I experimented also with my voice, music, and poetry reading. I strongly believe in the expression of Art in all its forms and languages. I love The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Chopin, Joy Division, Nico, David Lynch and many other artists.

  • How and where did you meet? How did your collaboration develop from there?

NK– We met back in 2015 when I asked Samantha to shoot some music videos for a project that I had a few years ago. From this first collaboration, we started to work together on a performance called ‘Hell23’ that we presented in Los Angeles and Milan in 2016. In 2017 I started my own solo project as Nero Kane, and Samantha shot all the videos to launch my first album “Love In A Dying World” (American Primitive, 2018). Later I asked her to join me also on stage on keyboards to support the live concerts and with this, our musical collaboration fully started.

  • Can you each tell me one thing you like or appreciate about each other as artists and human beings?

NKSamantha truly believes in Art. She strongly fights every day with passion to fulfill her life with it. She is one of the most determined person that I ever met and this encouraged me a lot to follow my own distinctive path. Besides that, we share a lot of visions, and basically, we like the same stuff.

SS In another interview, we were depicted as “two wandering souls in the Acheron river” and I would add with very similar visions.

  • What is your relationship with your guitar and voice like? Are you mostly self-taught? What were your inspirations when you started and then developed your style?

NK– Yes, I’m mostly self-taught but occasionally I took some lessons. Honestly, I don’t have a clear inspiration or reference. I love blues and acoustic guitar, fingerpicking, and slide guitar. I really would like to play country music but it’s too hard. I’m a lot into Neil Young’s style or Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash‘s style, I also grew up with the crazy riffs of Ron Asthon and James Williamson from The Stooges but I’m not a typical “rock guitar” addicted. I’ve never tried to play like them. I simply started to play in the way I felt and this still remains my main rule. Lately, I’m taking a lot of inspiration from Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds, I bought also his signature tenor guitar that I really love, and from Michael Gira of Swans but, as I said, I just play in the way I feel. I’m also really into looping and dark ambient drone stuff. So basically I try to connect all these aspects in my own style.

  • How do your songs come about? Do you follow a scheme, or do they come out of nowhere or are they from improvisation? How much input does each of you insert into the songs? To what extent is there direction or a proposed arrangement?

NKMost of my songs, speaking in terms of musical parts, come out from nowhere. Usually, it all starts with some kind of cyclical and hypnotic riff or a loop. As I said I work a lot with loops or background soundscapes. I don’t follow a writing scheme, my style is really simple and basically, all my songs are built on one or two chords or arpeggios and on crescendos. I like to open the songs at their end and dilate their tempo. I also like a lot of strings, Mellotron sounds and field recordings. Drone is another important part of my last songs and albums. I like to put all these layers together to build a crescendo that often follows the lyrics in a hieratic and shamanic way. The direction of a song usually comes out in a natural way. I try to do the arrangements by myself but also Samantha brings her attitude and vision and sometimes also her poetic lyrics. In the studio, I got a lot of help from the producers I worked with. I like to reach the studio with clear ideas and basic arrangements already done, but I leave also a lot of empty space to the artistic producer to give his contribution to the record itself. But the general mood of an album usually is already clear in my mind before I get to the studio.

  • How do you see your songs? As a whole cathartic flux of conscience or is each song different and have a life of its own, in need of being grown, cultivated and morphed over time?

NK– I like to conceive all my records as concept albums so every song works to build the general mood and message of the record. But each song has its own distinctive voice that gives a singular and significant existence. In the end, I think that my albums are a whole cathartic flux of conscience made up of different songs that blend together in a really personal way.

  • What is the independent music scene like in Italy? Do you have some kindred spirits or are you a sort of isolationist?

NK– I’ve always felt like a sort of isolationist because I’ve never cared too much about a specific music scene. I don’t feel this necessity to be in a group. In the end, I’ve found some kindred spirits but basically, I trust a lot in my independence.

SSVery difficult to find kindred spirits in the Italian music scene. We are quite alone, but we feel good with musicians that we invited to open our shows in the last tour, like Julinko and Gasparotti.

  • You have released 3 albums so far, I guess they represent 3 different phases of a smooth, or maybe torturous, evolution in your artistic path, could you associate each one with a painting, a book, a movie, or an image to properly describe and point out the differences between them?

NK– They are definitely an evolution of the same artistic path. They have grown as I was growing over the years and they are like a self-photography of what I was in these periods of my life:

‘Love In A Dying World’: “America”, book by Wim Wenders (1986) – “When”, album by Vincent Gallo (2001) – “Johnny 316” movie by Eric Ifergan (1998) – “American Recordings” album by Johnny Cash (1994).

‘Tales of Faith and Lunacy’: “The Road,” book by Cormac McCarthy (2006) “Butcher’s Crossing,” book by John Williams (1960) – “Desertshore,” album by Nico (1970) – “Abtei im Eichwald,” painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1810).

‘Of Knowledge and Revelation’: “The Ascent of the Blessed,” painting by Hyeronimus Bosch (15001503), Gustave Doré, illustrations of “Dante’s Divine Comedy” (18321883), “Lacrimi şi Sfinți,” book by Emil Cioran (1937).

SS I would not speak of differences, but of an increasingly interior journey between damnation and desire for light as follow:

‘Love In A Dying World’: “Paris, Texas” (movie, Wim Wenders, 1984), “Dead Man”(movie, Jim Jarmusch, 1995).

‘Tales of Faith and Lunacy’: “The Turin Horse” (movie, Béla Tarr, 2011), “The Flowing Light of the Godhead”(poem, Mechthild Von Magdeburg, ca 1250-1282).

‘Of Knowledge and Revelation’: “The Divine Comedy”(poem, Dante, 1320), Gustave Doré engravings to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy (1868).

  • I find the spiritual journey of the visuals fascinating in that it seems to capture both a personal struggle and a conflict within society at large. How does a consumeristic and materialistic society, increasingly empty of spirituality, affect your own existence?

NK– For me, it’s getting more and more frustrating to be part of this world. I feel really disconnected from it and I hope I will find my place sooner or later but I guess it will be hard.

SS I think we both don’t feel good in the current society. That’s one of the main reasons we look so much at our historical and cultural past and we bring it into our artistic works.

  • tell us how your Italian/European musical lineage, is tied to Ancient Medieval music and how it relates and intersects with the desert-drenched ‘Americana’. Several American songwriters, Townes Van Zandt springs to mind, pour out their souls into the deepest and most heartfelt exploration of life and death using a spiritual plane mostly permeated with grief, sadness, and darkness. Apparently, you walk on the same trails…

NK– Yes, I think that the lyrical background is, in a sort of way, the same. As I said I’m really into this type of songwriting where the human soul is at the heart of it all. I love songs that speak about life, death, love, redemption, misery, nature, and beauty. But as a European, I have also a strong past of ancient history, ancient beauty that breathes and resonates everywhere and every time in our lives. So these two scenarios collide in my unitary vision. The blues, the dusty desert, a lonesome cowboy, and a cold church in the snowy mountains. A solitary prayer that wanders in the wind.

  • What has been revealed over the course of this project that you weren’t quite aware of or expected when it began? What have been the best surprises and most difficult moments?

NK I didn’t have any particular expectations but after these years I can say that I’m genuinely impressed with the increase in the level of my perception and songwriting. Not because I think it’s the best, obviously it isn’t, but because I can see how deep it is going and how deeply it can reach people. I’m aware that this isn’t a kind of music for everybody but I’m really proud of it and I think that, also with the important help of Samantha, we made something truly worthy.

  • Your music rakes through a ritual/cathartic domain of minimalism and repetition, from where did you draw this fascination? How tightly is the metaphysical realm interwoven into your work?

NK– A lot of fascination came definitely from paintings and books that now, more than music, are my main sources of inspiration. I think the ritual part of my music comes from the way I use to play my instruments. So in part, it depends also on my “not so technical” way to approach them. I’m not interested anymore to build songs in a normal and classical way, with verse, bridge, chorus, etc… I’m more into a sort of instrumental fluxus that simply goes on with a spoken word on it. In some ways, it can be related also to the latest works of Nick Cave like “Ghosteen” or “Carnage”. I think that a metaphysical realm is a place, or a fascination, that suits well on this type of sound and it’s deeply connected to this kind of intimate songwriting.

SSIt’s a kind of aesthetic fascination for religion/ritual acts, melted with a sense of discomfort in the actual society and the need to find something behind us which I believe is a question that belongs to man in every age.

  • I believe it’s not easy to pinpoint strong lyricists of the past, but to widen our scope what artists, from the past or the present, represent for you the perfect marriage of melody, instrumentation, and lyrical poetry?

NK– I would like to give you a “non musical” reply which for me contains all these qualities: I could say Caravaggio or D’Annunzio.

SSPersonally I’m into a spoken word mood melted with ancient sounds, like church organ and strings, and I love the algid decadence of Nico.

  • Tell us about the relationship between your mostly droning and immersive recorded material and its live version. How do the songs evolve on the stage, and how do the people respond to your show? Do you use any visuals? What are your most memorable and worst live experiences so far?

NK– The songs are presented live in two: me on vocals/guitar and Samantha on vocals/keyboards. Obviously, with this restricted setup, it’s not easy to replicate all the sounds of the records but we have found a very special balance and the songs, in particular, those of the last album “Of Knowledge and Revelation”, have reached a beautifully intense and immersive sound. After the shows, someone tells us that he prefers the live set and this is a huge compliment for us because we know how well-produced are the albums. People usually look hypnotized by our set, they are in some ways captivated by the mood that we create. They also like our aesthetics and attitude on stage, simple but intense at the same time. We have never had any bad experiences because we know very well what we are doing on stage and we feel comfortable with it. The most memorable live experience for me was the concert we made in 2021 in an auditorium in Parma for a beautiful festival called “Il Rumore del Lutto”.

SS I shot all the films related to the three albums but we have decided not to do screenings during the live shows, we just use red lights like in a David Lynch mood. We prefer to leave the audience free to abandon themselves to the intimate journey suggested by the music. We usually present the films in cultural festivals or exhibitions in museums, art galleries, or theaters.

  • Could you name a record, a gig, or a movie that affected your life indelibly?

NK“Morte a Venezia”, a film by Luchino Visconti (1971), The Stooges (1969), Nick Cave in Milan, maybe 2017 (apart Leopardi, D’Annunzio, Baudelaire).

SSOne of the first vinyl I bought was “Never for Ever” by Kate Bush (1980) with the hit “Babooshka”. As a movie, I would say “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Peter Weir (1975).

  • Thank you so much for being our welcome guest, one last thing, please recommend to us a record and movie that particularly impressed you this year…

NKRecord: “Idiot Prayer” by Nick Cave (2020), Movie: “Ennio” by Giuseppe Tornatore (2021). For this year I may suggest my latest album “Of Knowledge and Revelation”.

SSVery difficult speaking about this year. The last record that really impressed me was “Caligula” by Lingua Ignota (2019).

  • I almost forgot, what’s next for Nero Kane?

NK– Honestly I still don’t know and I don’t want to do too many programs. I just hope to remain as creative and productive as I was in these last years and to go on day by day with my music career and personal research. I just want to leave something beautiful behind me before I go.

SS My poetry reading from writings of female medieval mystics with Nero Kane live sonification melted with our songs in a beautiful small theater in Milan (Teatro Linguaggicreativi) next 11th February 2023, thanks to Michele Agrifoglio who shares very similar visions with us.

Nero Kane‘s new album “Of Knowledge and Revelation” is out now via Italian experimental label Subsound Records in ltd. double 45rpm vinyl LP (special and black edition), CD and digital formats.

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