Jealousy, Old Italian Men, and Blaxploitation Films
Morricone Youth Interview
We so love finding new things. This one’s almost over-ripe, it’s so fresh. Morricone Youth is a NYC-based band that cut its teeth on soundtracks (you know, the background music in films that not enough people pay attention to) before setting out to write some soundtrack-esque indie rock songs of their own on Silenzio Violento. Translating their soundtrack experience into other songs wasn’t hard at all, as the brilliance of the album shows. Read a review of Silenzio Violento here.
IC: How did Morricone Youth form, and how did you choose to play
Devon: The band was originally formed in 1999 by two soundtrack collectors, me (the guitarist) and Robert Conroy (the original vocalist) who was replaced by Dreiky Caprice in 2003. The two were into soundtrack music but were coming from very different angles which led to a more diverse repertoire and appreciation for the music. I was more into the instrumental stuff derived from old spy soundtracks, German sci-fi, chase themes, blaxploitations, spaghetti westerns, etc., while Robert as a vocalist was a lot more focused on vocal-based soundtracks. The two of us were turning each other on to different recordings and, as a result, turning the other band members on to these recordings. In a way the band was formed to sort of accomplish three somewhat related goals. First, to perform live some of these great rare, lost recordings from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that we loved. Second, to apply what we were learning from these past composers to enable us to score in a live setting (in a somewhat improvised way) projected silent films and shorts in front of an audience. Third, to further apply what we had learned to actually compose for films. Obviously, we have accomplished the first goal and have experimented with projections. This album seems to be the bridge to reach this third goal of scoring for film.
IC: It doesn’t sound like it would be easy to get that many talented musicians together in one place all wanting to play soundtracks.
Devon: Fortunately the band is comprised of people with short attention spans who come from very diverse backgrounds. As a result they want to play all types of music which is of what soundtrack music is comprised — rock, pop, soul, funk, jazz, lounge music, classical, even punk.
IC: How do you guys decide what soundtracks to cover?
Devon: Every member has suggested soundtracks that we have ultimately learned and performed; however, I often am the person who is turning the others on to my favorite latest discovery and the others decide whether or not they are do-able or if they even like them. I come up with some ridiculous ideas sometimes that don’t always work or, if I forces them through for some reason, have surprising results.
IC: Which soundtrack do think sounds best when you guys play it?
Devon: It just depends. We probably all have our own individual favorites. I love Sicilian Clan, the Silencers and a lot of the Lalo Schifrin stuff such as Enter the Dragon and Magnum Force.
Greg: Sicilian Clan, Space Patrol.
John: After we toiled through “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” consistently for what seemed like months, I remember it sounding amazing. However, it was such a difficult song that if we let up for even a week it would fall apart. Thus, it’s not part of our repertoire any longer… I hope to bring it back one day. So, that not counting, I would have to say Lalo Schifrin’s “Theme from ‘Medical Center'” (from the 1969 television series) is one that I think we do well.
David: Our version of CAN’s “Tango Whiskeyman” was one of my favorites. We haven’t attempted it with Dreiky yet…maybe we should? I’ve also thought the band sounded best playing our Ennio covers – in particular “Fistful of Dollars” and “Ecstasy of Gold.”
IC: Aren’t there some legal issues with playing these songs?
Devon: It is no different than the issues faced by any other cover band. A small and fair royalty that is set by statute would need to be paid to the composers if we were to release CDs of the covers. CD pressing plants require proof that these fees have been paid up front.
IC: How has the fan response to you guys been?
Devon: The response has been great considering that it is such a niche thing and it is always changing. Because the music is so diverse and everyone loves films, it appeals to fans of a lot of different types of music. Film students seem to love it too for obvious reasons. Many people have approached us after old shows being blown away when learning that they were all film covers.
IC: What prompted you to start writing your own songs?
David: Jealousy actually. It sucked when fans would rave about our compositions and then seem let down when we broke the news that they were in fact written by old Italian men.
Devon: It was a matter of the band moving from more of a side project type thing and to wanting to do more with it as more and more opportunities came about. We were also approached by an engineer and producer who had access to Electric Ladyland Studios at night and weekends (not Martin Bisi) and were interested in recording some songs. In light of the opportunity, it felt natural to do our songs since we had already recorded in home studios a large number of our covers. This really got the ball rolling on the originals.
IC: How did you make the decision to have vocals on the album when you hadn’t had vocals in the soundtracks- or did you have vocals in the soundtracks?
Devon: The covers we did were always 1/3 of strictly instrumental songs,
1/3 vocal numbers (“Goldinger”, “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill”) and 1/3 that are more likely categorized as instrumentals but included vocalese (whistling, oohs, ahhs, background type vocals and effects). The new album of originals is more or less set up this same way.
IC: What’s the most difficult thing about making the jump from playing somebody else’s music to playing your own? What’s the most rewarding thing?
Devon: It’s a different group dynamic when you make that switch. It goes from learning other’s music and figuring how to adapt and arrange to our specific instrumentation and tastes, to “I have an idea! You do this and you try this.” It is basically the difference of shifting from being arrangers to being composers. We’ve worked with each other in this and other projects for some time now, so the idea of writing originals was not that foreign.
Greg: It’s tough to make the concept clear to listeners without being too derivative or sounding like a tribute band. We want to build from our influences to create something familiar without duplicating someone else’s work or style.
IC: Have you toured some?
Devon: We have occasionally played outside of the NYC area with this band but are currently gearing for some actual touring for this new album this winter and fall. We have some West Coast shows in California and Las Vegas at the end of this month.
IC: Tell us your funniest story about Morricone Youth (tour event, show,
Devon: When we were letting an old drummer go, so to speak, in our old practice room in the east village, two rats in the side storage room started humping each other and making these loud piercing noises like they were monkeys or something. Meanwhile we were trying to maintain our composure during this very serious moment.
David: Post-concert eating binges that begin at Joe’s Pizza (2-3 pies), then proceed directly to the donut pub for coffee and crullers. Jeff, by the way, is the reigning champion.
IC: Okay, so we all have one or two bands that you don’t like to admit that
you listen to. What’s yours?
Devon: Sgt. Pepper’s Sdtk album with Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, BeeGees and
Greg: I get a little excited when the drums kick in halfway through Phil
Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”
John: Morricone Youth.
David: I like Goblin. Enough said.
Dreiky: Steely Dan
IC: What are you listening to now?
Dreiky: Only Scandinavian.
John: The Sad Little Stars, The Evens, Motion Trio, Gorgan Bregovic, Zoot
Sims/Joe Castro – Live at Falcon Lair. I had to get that one in there.
Devon: Soundtrack-wise it is more of the same. I recently got some great
Francis Lai, Serge Gainsbourg and Michel Magne LPs. We are in the process
of learning “The Duel” by Lenny Stack from C.C. and Company, “Experiment in
Terror” by Elmer Bernstein, “We Have All The Time in the World” by John
Barry and sung by Luis Armstrong from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and
“Taking Pelham 1-2-3” by David Shire. Otherwise, I have been heavily into the
Ethiopiques compilations and re-listening to all of my old punk albums and
45’s from the early 80’s along with the last Hold Steady, Pinback, Lycaon
Pictus and Hot Snakes albums.
Greg: The I-Marc 4, anything from the Peter Thomas’ soundtrack for
Raumpatrouille (esp. “Shub-a-dooe”), Aavikko, Sigur Ros’ new one.
David: Sun Ra and the Blues project featuring the sensational guitars of
Dan and Dale recording of the Batman score; Clarence Reid’s Dancin’ With
Nobody But You Babe; Lalo Schifirin’s complete Dirty Harry Soundtrack;
Johnny Griffin’s Introducing Johnny Griffin.
-Interview conducted by Stephen Carradini in the months of November/December.