Doom and jazz have never seemed like the most obvious of bedfellows, but are they really that different? They’re arguably two of the most polarising genres out there, with one lot decrying it as “a load of bloody noise” while the other ones are spurred into furious bouts of beard-stroking. When it comes down to it, the only difference is in the size of the beard. While they aren’t the first ones to crash the two into each other and create a beautiful mess, Genoa’s Mope might be one of the most faithful to both riff worshippers and those who like a bit of Coltrane with their tea.
The four-piece, formed in 2011 and composed of Sara Twinn (saxophone), Fabio Cuomo (drums), Jessica Rassi (guitar) and Stefano Parodi (bass), have just released their self-titled debut album on Twinn’s own Taxi Driver Records – three tracks of bass-led doom riffage, sombre saxophone accompaniment and the steadily encroaching spectre of claustrophobia – and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to catch up with all four of them for a small glimpse into their distinctive pocket of the universe. People, I bring you Mope.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us. I think that a good place to start would be for you to describe Mope in your words.
Sara: We used to say we were an instrumental doom metal band but I’ve heard everything. We’re also a more jazzy band, or today they said hypno-doom band in a review, so it’s actually a combination of what we used to listen to – doom, deep sonorities and something quite heavy – and what we like about jazz – free-jazz, and bands like Bohren & der Club of Gore. It’s just a combination of these kinds of sonorities. We have many different backgrounds – metal, grunge, black metal – so it was just difficult to put these together, but what came out is something that we all like.
You all got together in 2011. How was it that you originally came to know each other?
Sara: Well, we are friends, so I can’t remember exactly when we met. It’s just that here in Genova we have a very nice rock music community and we knew each other through that. So we have known each for, ten years?
Fabio: Ten years, more or less.
Sara: Every time we go to a gig in Genoa, or in Milan, we go all together as we have friends who play a lot. The drummer and bass player used to play together when they were 15, when they had a stoner rock band. Then they grew up and the band split, but they have played in other bands. Then one day…
Fabio: …there was just us in a room and we started playing.
Sara: This is how we got started, actually. We liked what came out and we decided to record something, and that became our first album.
You said that you originally classed yourselves as a doom band. When did you start to feel these jazz elements coming more to the fore?
Fabio: Since the first time we played.
Sara: Introducing a weird instrument as the saxophone just went naturally, because obviously we all like bands like Sleep and Goatsnake…
Fabio: Yes, we like many doom bands but jazz bands also.
Sara: So yeah, just from the beginning.
Fabio: It was a natural-born situation.
Sara: It’s strange, because we decided not to use effects on the saxophone. Well, only reverb and that’s it. Here in Italy, I don’t know if you know the band Zu, but they are friends of us and we love them so much. They do jazz-core or something like that and they use many effects, like distortion…
Fabio: …harmoniser, delay…
Sara: …but we decided to have a clean sound. This was a little bit peculiar, actually, but we liked it and decided to keep it like it is.
There’s a very cinematic element to your music. Do soundtracks play much of a part in your sound, or do you have any specific cinematic influences in mind when you’re composing?
Sara: Something like David Lynch?
Stefano: We like film, and we have a lot of influences in Italian cinema. Perhaps Morricone.
Sara: Obviously, there’s a combination as well of what we like. Sometimes I read our sound is like a movie from the 70s – a noir.
Fabio: Mainly for the sax. More for that than for other instruments.
Sara: As Stefano said, there’re also Italian points of reference but our sound is different from Morricone or something like that. But of course we like that kind of music as well, it’s just a mixture.
Fabio: I think that the influence is more in the lines of the sax and the melodies; the background.
Sara: Maybe when the guitars are not distorted, the melodies create some moments…
Fabio: …but I think that our music, for the soundtracks, the influence of films is more for the sax than for other instruments.
One of the things that tie doom and jazz together is that they both work as being purely instrumental forms of music, but do you feel there are other reasons that doom and jazz fit together so well?
Sara: It’s just the same feeling, sometimes.
Fabio: This feeling of the night.
Jessica: Of the moment, inside.
Sara: Yeah, it’s just a kind of feeling. It’s normally inside. Not always, obviously, but it’s just how we live. I don’t know if you know what Genova is like but it’s got this historical centre with very narrow streets, and there’s this feeling like everything is so compressed, but there’s a very nice echo that comes out and our sound sometimes is just as doom and as jazzy, as melancholic, as the streets that we used to walk through every day. They take your breath out. It is strange but the music it is something that reminds us. It’s trying to explain what we feel, but it’s not so easy actually.
You were saying that Genova has a very strong rock scene. Where do you fit in there?
Sara: There are different music genres in the underground scene – some stoner rock bands, some doom, but not so many. It’s more metal or stoner, like Isaak, and there’s Vanessa Van Basten. Some post-rock, but not so many doom bands.
How have your shows been received so far?
Sara: The next one will be our fourth, but they’ve been pretty much crowded. We still need to improve our live experience. We are just a young band but we’ve had some great reviews. Just today, a review of the gig we did with Prisma Circus, from Barcelona, a month ago said “the great hypno-doom band, Mope, blah blah blah”, so they liked it! The next time we’re going to play with SubRosa in Milan, so it will be our first time playing outside of Genova, and we’re very curious. We have many friends in Milan so we hope they’re going to like our show.
How was it that you went about the writing of your album?
Sara: We did it together.
Fabio: We started, me and Jess, with some jam sessions. After that, it was just putting many pieces together.
Sara: We had three tracks, and all the drums, and the piano parts between the three tracks, were just done in the studio. In the studio, something happened. The first idea was to have a whole track as thirty minutes, but we felt it was a bit too much. The whole album is so long, so we just decided to divide it in three.
Fabio: Also, because these three tracks have their own identities and are quite different from each other.
Sara: They are quite different from each other. In fact live, we play them in a different order. It’s a bit different how they are live as they are on the album, as you can imagine. So it just started with a doom identity and we just added ideas. We like to write our music together, so maybe one of us has an idea, or Jessica has a riff. We like to experiment and develop it together.
I was wondering how Jessica’s artwork fits in with the album, as it’s an incredibly striking piece.
Jessica: I’m an artist. I’m a painter, but also a silkscreen printer and a chalcographic printer, but in this case I just did this drawing for the artwork, and we would like to print some as silkscreen prints. I’ve got a lab so I produce and create lots of artworks, and it’s increasing since I got my laboratory three years ago. I’ve always painted, and have spent all my life painting, but the silkscreen technique is quite new for me; only a couple of years.
Sara: We like the fact that she plays guitar and does all the artwork. This is very nice as it’s another expression of our music and, rather than ask someone else to do it, it’s something that comes out from the same person who plays in the band, so they know exactly what we want.
Who are your influences as musicians, individually?
Jessica: For me, Earth is very important for my sound; Yob, for incredible riffs and heavy sound; for psychedelics, Led Zeppelin, Cream.
Fabio: Black Sabbath.
Everyone: Black Sabbath!
Sara: Everybody likes that!
Fabio: More or less, we like the same bands. With me and Jesse, sometimes there are more metal influences.
Jessica: Obituary. Old school.
Fabio: Sara, maybe more Bohren & der Club of Gore.
Jessica: Yakuza for Sara.
Sara: Well, Yakuza is mainly for the idea, because we didn’t find many metal bands with a saxophone player. Yakuza or Minsk. Obviously, I listen to a lot of John Zorn. When we saw him and Coleman together, here in Genoa, that was very nice.
Fabio: A very cool line-up. It was drums, electric bass, contrabass and Ornette Coleman on the sax.
Sara: That was a great experience, actually.
Fabio: Two basses. It’s good!
One more thing I was wondering was whether there will be a vinyl press of your album.
Sara: Yep, I think so. I am speaking as a label, because I run Taxi Driver, but we are thinking about it, perhaps for autumn or something like that. I can’t say when because I still have to plan it but definitely before the new album is recorded there will be a vinyl of the debut album. With a little bonus track.
Do you have any last things you’d like to say?
Sara: We actually want to thank you for this, obviously, you and Lee. We are just curious to know how this will develop. We started playing this album two years ago so we are a little bit fed up with it. We are just starting our live experience but we are now thinking about new stuff. We are playing new things and looking forward to recording because now we are a little bit more confident of what we are.
Fabio: We know what we want better, what we would like to record.
Sara: We are quite curious as to know how, and when, this will happen and what the feedback will be as well. That’s all.
Band Links: Facebook
Interviewed by: Dave Bowes