On Monday, May 8th, the 15-piece band of Tredici Bacci ascends to Top of The Standard for their second show with Standard Sounds of 2017. The brainchild of 28-year-old composer Simon Hanes, the band features fellow students from the New England Conservatory who came together to make his '60s/'70s Italian film-inspired dream band a reality. We sat down with Hanes to talk Ennio Morricone, his first trip to Italy, and the band's plan for world domination.
Standard Sounds Presents: Tredici Bacci
Monday, May 8, 8-10PM
Top of The Standard
The Standard, High Line
Free with an RSVP to AnnieO@StandardHotels.com
THE STANDARD: You're a big group, often performing with a 15-piece orchestra. Tell us how you all met and began making music together?
SIMON HANES: I often tell people that we’re all Italian ex-pats who moved to the US from Napoli a few years ago to pursue careers in music, that we all live in a giant run-down house in Queens, and that we have a lightweight sex-cult kind of thing going on. Or I say that we’re all cousins whose parents started us on music at a very early age with the intention of creating an exploitive Von Trapp Family scenario, but that we escaped to Montreal and were smuggled across the American border in the back of a Peroni truck.
The real story is that we all met and became dear friends and compatriots as students at the New England Conservatory of Music. I had become deeply inspired by the idea of starting a band that would investigate my obsession with this very specific kind of music, so like any music school nerd worth his ilk would do, I reached out to my equally nerdy, extremely talented friends to help me create the ensemble that I needed in order to turn my fantasy into a reality. That’s the beauty of a music school—you’re thrown into a big stew with a bunch of other kids who have made the same lifelong commitment to this art form that you have, so its fairly easy to find people you connect with. After that, it’s easy to band together and start conspiring to take over the world.
You recently received a nod from Rolling Stone in an article titled "10 New Artists You Need to Know." What do new audiences need to know about you?
In a way, I think that everything new audiences would need to know about Tredici Bacci could be easily learned from watching one of our performances. It's hard to put into words exactly, the sensation we try to inspire in people who watch and listen to our work. In essence, it’s all about wonderment, excitement, and joy. So, people who were introduced to us via that Rolling Stone article (or any other article, for that matter) should know that by attending a Tredici Bacci show, they risk exposing themselves to a non-ironic celebration of the joyous feeling that comes from having a great time performing music, which can be a little scary for some people.
Tell us about your hero, Ennio Morricone, and your music's link to Italian film.
Morricone, the Maestro! My hero. He is a stellar example of a true musician. He's endlessly hardworking, insightful, and seemingly capable of endless melodic potential. I mean, the guy essentially revolutionized the entire concept of film music by synthesizing a number of diverse musical styles into a compositional language that could perfectly emphasize the prevalent themes in any genre of film! My obsession with his music has inspired me in countless ways, most importantly in that it helped me develop my own musical language by synthesizing Italian soundtrack-pop with my other stylistic influences, namely that of 20th century avant-garde classical music and underground experimental punk. But of those influences, that of the music from Italian films will always shine through with the most clarity, as it is within this “genre” that I discovered a kind of melodic and harmonic information that spoke to me on a profound level, and that I hadn’t heard in any other kinds of music before.
Your music has been said to be a blast from the past, pulling sounds from bossa nova and film scores of the '60s and '70s. What entices you so much about that era?
It all boils down to a certain kind of simplicity. When you watch a film from that era, you’re looking at the products of a huge shift in cultural mores—the sexual revolution, psychedelia, first-wave feminism—old news to us now, but back then can you imagine what it must have felt like to have been the first people ever to integrate those concepts into their work? So there’s this feeling of freshness in the cultural products of the mid 1960s—bright colors, high energy music, sexy european comedies, experimentation— all approached from a perspective without cynicism. I find myself disheartened by how cynical my generation is, even if our reasons are valid, and so I identify with this era that feels so charged with excitement! Also, you could get away with so much crazy shit back then! Have you seen the the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice from 1967? It's completely off the rails insane. It makes Daniel Craig look like Margaret Thatcher.
Amore Per Tutti is your latest album, and it plays less like a standard 11-track and more like a film score. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing and recording and what you hope listeners will take away from it?
The initial inspiration for Amore Per Tutti was essentially an experiment in collaboration. The goal was to see what would happen if we worked with other musicians who engage with similar musical influences as we do. The earliest challenge was to write pieces that would allow the guest singers’ personalities to shine through. For each singer, the process was totally different. With Charlie Looker, for instance, I’ve thought that he has the perfect voice for a Spaghetti Western ballad for years now, so I wrote one for him! And I spent the whole time working on the track "Give Him The Gun" obsessively repeating to myself “this has to be the most badass song ever so that it’s worthy of JG Thirlwel!” Jennifer Charles and I developed the entire plot to a film that she then used as a guide for writing lyrics to her own song. It was incredible! Hopefully listeners will be able to feel the degree to which Amore Per Tutti was a labor of love for everyone involved, and it will transport them to the fantastic planet TB lives on, where life is a film that we’re eternally writing the soundtrack for.
Tredici Bacci’s first 2017 show was at The Standard, East Village Penthouse as part of The Annie O Music Series. I heard that since then, the band played no less than seven sets at SXSW. What was that experience like? Getting ten people to Austin in a snow storm sounds difficult.
Actually, getting there wasn’t as hard as one might think, because over the last few months I’ve been amassing a precautionary dogsledding team (comprised of Italian greyhounds) for just such an occasion! It was a breeze. Once we arrived, however, we immediately began facing challenges, obstacles we had to overcome in order to continue our quest of reminding humanity that music doesn’t have to have commercial value in order to be enjoyable!
Our first two shows were a little harsh—I myself identified several instances of cold blooded, premeditated networking—but after that, things just started to get better and better. Our set became extremely tight, we experimented with alarming levels of audience participation, everyone became a pack-a-day smoker… it was amazing!
After SXSW, you took off for Europe to play bass with a couple experimental rock bands, and played everywhere from the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg to Slovakian hardcore clubs. How was it?
All I can say is that I am completely in love with Europe because of they way they treat touring musicians. Yes, even those coming from America! Because regardless of whether we were playing in the 700 million dollar “acoustically perfect” Hamburgian performance space or in a smoke-filled Slovakian bar (which was called Fuga), we were consistently treated like kings and fed incredible meals. Meats! Cheeses! Fruits! Baked snack treats with funny names! It totally changed my concept of hospitality.
The other concept of mine that was totally turned on its head was in regards to how many nights in a row it’s possible to stay up until sunrise drinking cheap delicious beer. Anybody want to book Tredici Bacci in Europe? Please?
This was your first trip to Italy, a country that’s arguably the single biggest influence on your Tredici Bacci compositions. Can we expect something new from this musical pilgrimage?
First, a little backstory: After the tour, I took the opportunity to give myself a little treat and take a week’s vacation to Milan and Bologna. Without the headache of having to perform music every night, I knew I would be able to take the cities in more fully, and therefore have a more profound experience.
Now, Milan was great. I really liked Milan a lot, but I didn’t love it. When I asked myself, “Why on earth didn’t I love it?”, what keeps coming back is that my concept of Italy is based almost entirely on my favorite of the country’s cultural achievements: completely over the top B-movies from the 1960s and '70s. So of course, while Milan is a gorgeous metropolis, and I bought a really nice pair of sunglasses, it didn’t have the thick, rich atmosphere I’ve (perhaps unrealistically) attributed to Italy as a whole.
Then, I took the train to Bologna, and everything changed. My world turned upside down. I don’t know if it was because my host was an incredibly kind, smart university student who knew all the best places to drink and shop for vintage Italian books and clothing; I don’t know if it was because a dear friend of mine had made me a list of all his favorite restaurants and cafés; I don’t know if it was because Vincenzo Vasi, who you can hear on the final track of Tredici Bacci’s record “Amore Per Tutti,” walked around the city with me as we gamely tried to discuss high-falutin’ musical concepts in excited bursts of my broken Italian and his broken English—I think it must have been a combination of all these things. Either way, I completely fell in love. I’ll never be the same!
What can expect from your show at Top of The Standard? We are excited to have you for Standard Sounds again!
We are excited to be back! Our last Standard Sounds show was a blast, and we’re planning to take some of the ideas we developed at that show to the next level for this one. There may be some levels of audience participation. Also, fair warning—since we’ll be driving all night Sunday after a gig in Vermont, there’s a high chance that our extreme sleep deprivation will lead to dangerously high levels of silliness. On that note… is the hot tub going to be open?