From The Past To The Future: An Interview With Clustersun
Hailing from Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, Clustersun is a band that combines the sounds of early Pink Floyd with the textured, pedal-filtered guitars of shoegaze. They’ve appeared on a few compilations and covered Slowdive‘s Morningrise for TBTCI’s Just For a Life Slowdive covers collection. Surfacing To Breathe is their striking followup to 2014’s Out of Your Ego. Clustersun’s blending of their influences is masterful, leaving the impression with the listener of a group in love with the drama and power of music. At the end of 2017 I sent guitarist Mario Lo Faro questions to get into the mind of this singular and thrilling group.
You cover some ground on your new album, from spacey Pink Floyd in their more psychedelic era up to Wish You Were Here. One of your songs even has lyrics that sound like Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun. You also get into the same realm as many shoegaze bands and are quite progressive in your arrangements. Who did you grow up listening to and how do you think you and the band are continuing to bring listeners challenging and emotional music in the same way some of your musical heroes did in the past?
You totally hit the point, Bret. Indeed, all of us grew up listening to The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground. Then we fell in love with bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spiritualized, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, Spacemen 3, The Depreciation Guild, Neu! and Can. As you can see we’ve always loved trippy, psychedelic and noisy soundscapes, so what we try to achieve in our music is to mix our different influences, moving from post-punk (especially in the rhythm section), shoegaze (all the guitar work) and psych, to reach a more personal, and hopefully “signature”, sound and expressive canon. Really hope this approach, that starts from the past and look to the future, is capable to capture the attention of listeners.
What guitars do you play and what are some of the pedals and effects you use? What part are you proud of and what song is it in?
Speaking of guitars I totally rely on my Fender Jazzmaster AVRI ’62: lots of tones from jangly and sparkly to thunderous and roaring, and also that amazing tremolo unit that goes from gentle vibrato to hard detuning. About pedals, I use Pete Cornish effects for dynamics and gain: OC-1 (optical compressor), SS-3 (overdrive), G-2 (germanium distortion), P-2 (muff), NG-3 (fuzz), CC-1 (clean boost and active eq). On the modulation side EQD Grand Orbiter (phaser), Moog Moogerfoogers Cluster Flux (chorus/flanger/vibrato) and Midi MURF give me endless possibilities of sound manipulation and experimentation. The ambience section features Strymon El Capistan tape delay, the super powerful Strymon BigSky multidimensional reverb (the ultimate reverberation machine, with 12 studio level algorithms) and the Electro Harmonix Super Pulsar stereo tremolo. The foundation of my sound, finally, is built on the clean headroom provided by Hiwatt amp: the DR 103 100w head with matching 4×12’ cab (Fane speakers loaded) grants all the volume and power I need and more. Also Marco, for bass, relies on a Hiwatt DR 201 head and matching 4×10’ cab for his huge sound.
It was so much fun tracking down guitar parts on our latest album Surfacing To Breathe and I was super happy of how things came out. Especially super proud of the guitar mayhem on Raw Nerve and Antagonize Me, of the Slowdive-y layered sound of Lonely Moon and of the trippy atmospheres of the title track and The Whirling Dervish.
Piergiorgio Campione plays some amazing keyboards throughout, sounding at times like John Paul Jones on No Quarter. He also helped out in the recording studio. What other aspects of putting the music together are you and the band capable of? Are you familiar with mixing, and the technical side of production?
Thanks, we’re all so happy of how the keyboards contribute in giving those special nuances to our wall of sound. Piergiorgio did also a great job recording all the tracks at his own Studio12 in Catania (that is the place where we rehearse) so we had total control and great room for experimentation, without the pressure of time. We all learned the basics of recording, miking techniques, use of DAWs and that helped a lot for sure. But the great goal for us was having Alessio Pindinelli (also guitar and vocals in La Casa Al Mare) and Fabio Galeone mixing Surfacing To Breathe at Wax Recording Studio in Rome: their work in giving shape to our sonic ideas was simply outstanding (Alessio also co-produced the album with us).
I love La Casa Al Mare! As the main vocalist and guitarist for that band what did Alessio Pindinelli bring to the Clustersun sound?
La Casa Al Mare is pure gold, no question. Alessio is a master at the mixing desk but he can also wear the musician’s clothes in the approach to the sound, not just like a standard producer/sound engineer. So the communication between us was just perfect. He has a great ear and taste and knows perfectly how to use his amazing studio equipment to let the essence of the band shine through. Thanks to him the edge and power of our live performances is now stunningly represented on record.
What other Italian bands do you enjoy or have toured with?
The so called “italo-gaze” is now very much appreciated worldwide and features amazing acts like Stella Diana, Rev Rev Rev, La Casa Al Mare, Novanta, Electric Floor, In Her Eye, My Invisible Friend, Be Forest, Soviet Soviet, Brothers In Law, Sonic Jesus, The Gluts, Arirang, Klam, Bialogard, Kimono Lights, Good Morning Finch, Weird., Leave The Planet, Jambox, The Yellow Traffic Light, 86Sandals, Purple Got Me Slow Mo, The Mystic Morning, Huge Molasses Tank Explodes, Human Colonies, Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!, Pipe’s Not Dead, The Whip Hand, Obree and many others.
Where do you and the band live and is there a good music scene to go and see live music?
We love so much our hometown Catania and our country, but despite the presence of many amazing acts and super cool venues it always seems that could be more attention and room for genres like shoegaze, psych, postpunk, garage etc. Consider that in Italy even the indie/alternative crowd and press seem more interested in poppier/lighter acts, so it’s really a tough road compared to other countries in Europe or worldwide.
Where is your favorite place to play?
Everywhere we have no volume limitations!
Where do you usually come up with your guitar parts? In a rehearsal space, your home?
We always write our music, not only the guitar parts, starting from free jams, and when interesting sections, riffs or sometimes just plain sounds come out, then we try to develop the song around these pristine elements, with the equal contribution of all of us. When the structure of the musical part is complete, Marco writes the lyrics. All our creative process is tailored to keep the most spontaneous intentions and is based on the interplay between us.
What are some of the people, places or events that inspire your music?
I’d say that the interaction between us and the constant search for sound are our driving sources of inspiration. It’s all about putting out the joy and fun of making music together.
How have you and the band grown since first starting Clustersun? How have you managed to become so internationally known so quickly?
Feel like in these years we experienced a creative expansion both in terms of sound and songwriting, and also a greater self awareness. Playing live and always listening to new and old music gives us inspiration, more influences and helps to push our limits further. It’s a blessing being recognized internationally, but we know that the road is so long and tough, so we definitely keep our feet on the ground.
If you could perform or tour with any band living or dead who would it be and why?
Not very original answer, but sharing the stage with Slowdive, RIDE and My Bloody Valentine would easily be a dream come true, both as fans that have the chance to meet their heroes, and also as musicians that can admire from very close how those legendary sonic heavens are built.
Thanks for your time and great music, Mario!
Thanks a lot for the space and the attention to our music, Bret. Best from me and all the band!
Surfacing To Breathe is out now on Seahorse Recordings on vinyl, CD and digital download.
CLustersun are: Marco Chisari (vocals & bass), Mario Lo Faro (guitars), Piergiorgio Campione (synthesizers, keyboards & backing vocals), Andrea Conti (drums).
(by Bret Miller)