Neurot Recordings has so many bands that are inspirational to my own playing and Ufomammut is high on that list. Talking to Poia about the gear he uses and how he creates music was surreal. I love the use of synthesizers and the droning space like sounds they create in their music and has been something I’ve been trying to explore. I learned quite a bit from him and have a new appreciation for Ufomammut, not that I needed it.
I’ve watched your recent documentary and scoped out some of your gear already, I noticed the MATAMP first. What made you decide to use that amp?
Like many people, we are Sleep fans and when I saw an old video of Dragonaut, I noticed they had those amps in the background. We were fascinated. At the time I had an Orange 120 from 1975 I bought from a little shop in our town, but when we saw those amps, I wanted one.
I don’t know if you know, but we also have an art department called Malleus where we do artwork for bands. At the beginning of 2000, we started working with Joe Wheeler of Matamp USA. We met him on the web. We made some designs for his website and for the band he was producing at the time. The Matamp amp head I’m using was sort of a payment for the work that we had done with him.
The Green Matamp is by far my favorite…
I’ve used that and the cabinet as my main amp ever since, especially live. I use my Orange amp I mentioned early and in some recordings and I’ve used my Fender Bassman 135 for recordings as well. The Green Matamp is by far my favorite though.
Do you use it clean or distorted?
I use a clean tone with just a little dirt but not much. My main distortion is the EHX Green Big Muff and I’ve used that for years. It’s an old pedal I bought, and I never found anything like it since. The modern small reissues don’t sound exactly like it either. It’s a strange sound, very full and large range of frequencies.
I’ve heard those specific pedals are amazing and I haven’t been lucky enough to try one yet.
You can find them on eBay for decent prices. They are expensive but not that much considering. Now, they have so many clones and I’ve tried many. I do have a few, including the small reissue. It’s not the same but it’s not bad. I use it when I’m flying because it’s smaller and still sounds good.
Continuing with your pedalboard, I saw you have an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star. I’ve personally had my eye on that pedal and was excited when I saw you used it. What do you think of it?
I’ve tried to have a normal reverb, but then I read some reviews about different pedals and the Dark Star stood out. It was different and by turning the knob slightly you can produce some unusual, unique sounds and I love that. I like it a lot, but I still don’t know really how to use it [laughs]. I turn the knobs, this sounds cool and I write down the settings to save it.
That’s cool thanks for sharing that. I love reverb and have a few weird sounding pedals but that’s one that I’ve been interested in. Even more so now.
It’s fun and I can recommend it. It also has an expression input so you can use an expression pedal.
I’ve tried to have a normal reverb, but then I read some reviews about different pedals and the Dark Star stood out…
That’s cool! We talked about the Green Big Muff, but what other distortion pedals do you use?
I use a Blues Driver as the first step of distortion and it’s incorporated in the big pedal, I don’t know if you saw that in the video.
The big silver one?
Yeah, that was my next question [laughs]. What is the big silver pedal?
[Laughs], that one is made by an Italian pedal builder. Mainly it’s a three button switch. First is a Blues Driver with the Blues Driver circuitry from Boss inside. The second one is a modified Big Muff. It’s a standard Big Muff circuit but modified a bit for a slightly altered sound that I personally like. I use that for my middle distortion. The third one is just a switch with a send and return cable that I use to connect the Green Big Muff, so, it’s mainly a switcher with the two distortions inside as well.
Then I discovered there are easier ways to control the pedalboard. Larger switch pedals that can control many pedals and you can switch up the sound. This may be my next step, but for now, this is the same configuration I’ve used for years.
What else is on your pedalboard? I believe I saw a Small Stone?
Yes, the Small Stone is on there, but one of my favourite pedals has to be the Superego from EHX. It’s a very interesting pedal and has a strange sound. It’s very spacey and almost unpredictable. Whatever you do with your hands on the guitar, it sounds amazing through that pedal. The first one wasn’t working properly, so I bought it again and then I fixed the first one, so I have a couple now because I love it. Then I have the Roland Space Echo, the digital one, as a delay, I think it’s my favourite one ever. I’ve tried many delays but this one I love the most. It’s a fairly big pedal and has the two switches. It has a very warm sound and it’s digital but has an analogue sound.
The Space Echo is another pedal I’ve had my eye on. Very cool that you use it as well. I really want to try one soon.
It’s great. I do want to try the Strymon El Capistan but haven’t yet.
I have the Roland Space Echo, the digital one, as a delay, I think it’s my favourite one ever…
When I started this interview series I had shit gear and now after every interview I’m browsing the internet for new gear. Today I’ll be searching for the Superego and Space Echo [laughs], thank you.
[Laughs], yes, I would love to be a billionaire to buy everything I love but you have to make choices. Little by little you’ll get there.
Yeah, it’s forever changing but that makes it fun, expensive but fun. I noticed you use a flying V guitar is that your primary guitar or do you have a variety to choose from?
Usually on tour, I keep a couple. The main guitar and a spare just in case. I started with a Les Paul Standard that I still have, and I used it for many years. I also have a Squire Bullet that is a Strat body and Telecaster neck. I use it on recordings, and I love it. It was very cheap but sounds great. For many years I used a Gibson SG. It’s very comfortable to play and sounds great and I still use it at times.
This guy from Italy offered me a Flying V copy made by Jailbreak Guitars. I put on different pickups called Lundgren Humbuckers. The construction of the guitar is incredible, it’s the best sounding and easiest to play guitar I’ve ever had, moreover it’s a Flying V so I love it. It’s perfect and I look more evil with a Flying V [laughs].
It’s a very cool looking guitar.
Yeah it is and I like the fact that it’s white, I never considered a white guitar but why not it looks great. It also has glow in the dark fret markers, so if it’s totally dark I can still see the neck. It’s something weird and not that visible because it’s on the side.
That’s interesting. I only ever play in my well-lit room here so I would have never thought that would be a problem [laughs].
[Laughs], yeah it was a nice little feature I never would have thought of either.
The construction of the guitar is incredible, it’s the best sounding and easiest to play guitar I’ve ever had, moreover it’s a Flying V so I love it…
One thing I’ve particularly been into when playing and listening to music lately is the droning sounds. I’ve never played a synthesizer, let alone thought of using one. How did you get started using them?
Urlo our bass player has a few synthesizers, but we have always been drawn to strange noises from space since the beginning. We started our sonic adventure with a Korg MS-20. It’s an old synthesizer with all the plugs and for the first record, we used that. It was very weird and something that we couldn’t manage how to use [laughs].
From there we tried the Moog Taurus which was almost impossible to play live, and it would go out of tune often because of the circuitry. We only use that on the records. It’s another big chapter to discover and it’s very interesting. They are a big landscape of sounds to venture into.
I appreciate that information. It’s overwhelming looking into how to start using synthesizers but I guess that was the same when starting the guitar [laughs].
Yeah [laughs], I started guitar pretty late, about 17 years old. I’ve never been a great musician. I started playing chords on an acoustic, then I bought an electric, and about my 20s I started playing in a band with Urlo from Ufommamut.
Wow, that’s interesting.
We’ve known each other since 1990. Little by little we started to play and discovered how to play songs together. We started with just chords and began to experiment and discovered how to play in our own way. Like you said, there are an overwhelming amount of options, and starting older as I did, it’s great to learn to play guitar but using the instrument to create your own language is the path I took. It allows for better control, and you have a unique voice and style of playing. From there, you can focus on the sounds and your approach to music. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, if you study music this is the wrong approach.
That’s the beauty of music though, there is no wrong way to create it. Speaking of writing music, what is your songwriting process like?
We go into rehearsal with a very rough idea, or even without anything and we just start to jam. That’s basically it and there’s no real secret. One thing we’ve been doing, that a lot of bands do, we record everything. When we start jamming, we are recording so we can listen back. It’s useful because you can play a riff, think it’s cool and play it over and over but then listening back later and hearing it, you may think, no this won’t work [laughs].
That describes everything I’ve written [laughs].
[Laughs], on the contrary, you can hear something in the middle that may sound cool, and you can recognise that when listening back to the rehearsal. Recording is the key to have the chance to understand what you are doing with a different ear. Especially if you wait because then you are not involved as much with the music. So this is the way we usually compose.
when adding in synth, it sometimes completely changes everything…
We typically start with a guitar or bass line and then add drums and vocals come after. They usually start off nonsensical and slowly take shape as the song finalises. The very last thing is adding the synthesizers and we use it to add colour to the song. The neat thing about adding the synth is we have the basic structure of the song and when adding in synth, it sometimes completely changes everything.
That’s very interesting. I have gained a newfound respect for musicians like yourself because I see how truly difficult it is to create a song, let alone a riff and I have a ton of respect.
Thank you, as I told you, we have known each other for many years and it’s something that comes naturally to us now. We do have a new drummer and it’s like a new discovery. We have a new perspective to the music because Levre is a very interesting drummer and he’s also into electronic music which brings that new perspective. The new record Fenice still has our core sound but it’s a transitional piece and we have more new music we are working on now.
That’s great to hear!
** Tangent 1 consists of me just talking about how much I love Fenice and looking forward to more Ufomammut! We also discussed the importance of playing music for yourself because you truly love it.**
That’s a great point, to play music for you and music you want to hear. What about when you’re playing and things aren’t working out right, what do you do to overcome off days?
I’m not worried too much. I just wait and start again because I know my limits, but they are hidden under tons of distortion [laughs]. Even if I don’t play anything and let the feedback ring out, it sounds cool and can spark an idea. Another example, when we’re writing records, I can slightly hear something in the chords that we play and it suggests something else, almost hidden in the music. Neither Urlo or myself are playing that part but maybe the harmonics clashing as we play suggests a new point of inspiration.
I know my limits, but they are hidden under tons of distortion [laughs]…
I saw a documentary years ago, I won’t mention the band, but this important band were trying to do a Pink Floyd style longer song improvisation. This song started and it took them nowhere. They weren’t able to find something. Probably because they were obligated to put something very important on tape, but it didn’t succeed. I’m sure it was very frustrating and after hours of playing, nothing came out. Sometimes that happens but we don’t worry too much. Maybe the best thing to do is wait.
Good advice. Now going in the complete opposite direction, what songs are you proud of in the Ufomammut discography?
I would say I’m proud of it all, I really am, but if I picked one, I would say I’m most proud of Eve. It’s the one album when listening to it, it’s like listening to someone else. It’s as if other people are playing and it’s not our music. All the other records, I could recognise ‘Oh yeah, that’s us playing’, but Eve I don’t know why it’s different in that way. In my opinion, it stands out from the rest of what we have done. I think we were particularly inspired when writing that record. I’m very proud of Eve.
I will definitely listen back to that album! What are you currently listening to these days for enjoyment?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone. I’ve always loved him but I’m still in love with his music years later. I listen to older rock music. I can name a lot of bands, but they are the usual bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. I’ve enjoyed the album The Family That Plays Together by Spirit. One of my favorite records is by Shora, a band from Switzerland. They put out a four song EP called Malval and it’s probably the last record that I loved in a desperate way. Like I said it’s only four songs but it’s a masterpiece and, in my opinion, the best record that has come out in the last twenty years.
I listen to blues as well. Captain Beefheart is a very interesting band and I love them. And of course, the standard for our style of music is Sleep. We discovered music in the 90s when we started playing Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Melvins. Then got into some more obscure bands such as God Machine and they are an incredibly underrated band. Also, Motorpsycho who are still playing today.
Our idea of playing has always been to not disappoint when we play live…
Oh, yeah Motorpsycho is awesome.
Yes, probably one of the best live bands ever, seeing them live is an experience.
That’s important to me that a band performs well live and when it’s better than the album, it sticks with me forever.
It’s the best thing. Our idea of playing has always been to not disappoint when we play live. Bands that I loved, when I saw them live, they were a little bit disappointing. They were so powerful on the record but when I saw them live, something was missing. The band doesn’t have to play exactly how it is on the record but it has to be better and more intense than. The live part of our music is very very important to us.
** We ended our chat with a tangent about live music that lead to the differences between Italian and New York pizza and Poia being kind enough to tell me places I need to visit in Italy when I finally make that trek across the pond. **
Interviewed by: Josh Schneider