What’s it like to live in the vast musical universe of Gaudi?

May 16, 2020
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With a strong career spanning over three decades, experimenting with electronic music, reggae, psychedelic, dub, and world-music, Gaudi is a truly innovative artist. Fascinated by synthesizers and sound-distortion of any kind, Gaudi’s motivation to pursue his music career started in the early ’80s. 

At 19 years old, he ended his piano studies and started to play with other musicians. He was part of groups such as Red Light, Wild Planet, Violet Eves, The Gang, Disciplinatha, Bamboo Company, and Paranoise. In the mid-80s, he formed one of the first hip-hop collectives with Italian lyrics, Raptus, signing a record deal with the label Multimedia Attack Punk Records.

By the end of the ’80s, he started to focus on his own reggae project as Lele Gaudi, reaching success in 1990 and a record deal with Polygram/Universal. His debut album Basta Poco received positive revues both from critics and the public.

Besides the many projects he was involved in his 30 years career, using different monikers, Gaudi has one of the most eclectic remix careers in the world. In his portfolio, we find artists like Afrika Bambaataa, The Orb & David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Desmond Dekker, Barrington Levy, Bob Marley, Fatboy Slim, INXS, Simple Minds, Michael Stipe of R.E.M, Cast, Mazzy Star, Mansun, Lamb, Elisa, Irene Grandi, Morgan, Dub FX, Dub Pistols, Tatu.

As a dub lover, my first introduction to Gaudi was his beautiful LP, Bass, Sweat & Tears, and its dub version. From this onwards, following the footsteps of this prolific artist, there was nothing but pure gems findings. Throughout our conversation, I hope to wake in you the same curiosity I had when I started to discover the music of Gaudi.

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What are your fondest memories of your hometown of Bologna?

I was born in Bologna and I remember being fully into music. I studied piano until my teens, although I am not coming from a musical family. My parents were working-class people; they had no formal or non-formal musical knowledge. Since I was seven years old, I knew that music was my life. I was trying to let my parents understand that music was more than just a hobby for me, but unfortunately, they couldn’t take into consideration the fact that their son would make a living just with music. So, I carried on with my studies, then I worked as an orthodontist during the day, while in the night time I was rehearsing and playing gigs with my bands. Throughout the 80s I wasn’t able to support myself with my music, but with determination and persistence, in 1989, I signed a good record deal and my career took off.

About the 80s I also remember all the concerts that I’ve seen and inspired me. Bands such as Talking Heads, Simple Minds, The Smiths, Frank Zappa, Prince (the first and only concert where I actually cried, Bauhaus and their goth flavor but also dub influences (in-fact, if you listen closely to Bela Lugosi’s Dead, you can hear a stepper reggae drum with tape echo dubbing it). The Clash and The Police were also amazing, the reggae and dub were slowly filtering through many genres. It was the beginning of something that will be developed in future years.

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TUBI FORTI - Ricky Rinaldi, Gaudi, Frank Nemola (1987)

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| First album release, first problems . Why such a drastically measure?

One of the songs on my first solo album Basta Poco, called 1990 Anni Fa, was split into three chapters. The first one was positive, like helping homeless people, going to the church and pray, so God will protect you and give you strength. The second chapter was a list of real news from TV, people shooting, airplane crashes, terrorist attacks, people trafficking, etc. The third and final chapter was a simple question mark. 

Why do we have to pray and believe in a religious entity if the result is this? 

Vatican City didn't really like my lyrics and banned the whole thing. No need to say that this big promotion increased substantially my album’s sales and gave me a massive exposure.

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 It was a difficult choice to consider moving from Italy to UK in 1995?

It wasn't easy, especially with an established career in Italy, a five years recording deal with Polygram/Universal still active, and two successful albums out.
I honestly felt the need to bring my music to an international audience, something that was not possible from Italy at the time. No internet yet and such. I wanted to expand my vision in a country where music is taken very seriously, so I moved to London. And I am still here, even 25 years after.

It was a tough choice as I left my family, my house, my girlfriend at the time, everything, but that call was stronger than ever. I moved here with the savings from my latest tour and album’s royalties. Man, but the conversion between the two currencies was a bit of a shock. At the time, Italy had the Lira, which compared to the British pound was atrociously disadvantaged. So, in the following nine months, I finished all my resources.

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I found myself in a very discomforting financial situation, but I wasn’t ready to take any different types of jobs than music. I was there for one thing, one mission only: succeeding with my music.

I remember that Free Time Records gave me a remix to do on a speck (“on speck” means “no money”) for Janet Rushmore, my very first remix. I was extremely happy because I needed to enter in the UK music industry, so I played all my cards at my best to deliver something special! I miserably failed, they didn’t like my reggae interpretation of the original “house” version. I felt desperate at that moment. They said they liked my sound but it was not what they were looking for. Subsequently, through a different agency, they gave me a second chance. This time for Janet Jackson’s label AM:PM. I could not fail! In November 1996 my remix hit #1 in the UK dance charts, and my international career started.

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| How challenging is for you to produce a remix, taking into consideration that your bag holds no less than 121 don so far?

Working on remixes is one of the things I like doing the most. I love the process of transforming a song into something different. Some remixes are more challenging than others, especially the ones from well-established artists. This is because these artists have a solid and loyal fan base that rarely opens up to accept new sounds added to the original song.

Some of my remixes were not easy to do, such as the most, let’s say “mainstream” ones, such as Peter Andre, Tatu, or Scissor Sisters, to name a few. In these cases, I needed to reflect on what the main-stream industry needed in that specific moment.

I have also worked on remixes of artists that gave me enormous pleasure, such as The Orb, Fatboy Slim, Trentemoller, Lamb, Desmond Dekker, The Beat, Barrington Levy, Shpongle, Deep Forest, Apache Indian, Bob Marley, Mazzy Star, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Trilok Gurtu, Balkan Beat Box, Dub Pistols, Zion Train, and so many more.

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| You and Adrian Sherwood have a long lasting musical relationship, working together on so many projects. What made you tick on the same frequencies?  

Adrian Sherwood surely is for me one of the best dub producers out there. His mind is yes set in the dub direction, but he also has a “wider range” in his sound that other dub producers don’t have. His sound has some rough edge that resonates with my sound, it contains a bit of a “punky attitude” if you know what I mean. On-U Sound is the label that naturally manages to fuse the style of dub music with the attitude of punk, two attributes that present in my productions. So, for this reason, Adrian and I are extremely compatible. He is a master behind the mixing desk and an amazing creative mind. He is not a musician, as he clearly remarks every time, which is a plus for what he does. Without any musical knowledge, you have a 360 degrees open spectrum toward the entire music field, with no restrictions, no obligations, and no limits.

 I used the word «no» as one of the most effective «experimental tools» in my compositions. 

Studying music, as I did for 12 years of classical piano, is very important for the formation of a musician. Professors teach you many things, such as what to do and also what “not to do”. Which, in some extends, could be a ‘limitation” for a creative brain like mine. It depends on how you apply the concept of the “don’t do it” on what you are about to create. I, for one, had the opposite reaction and I used the word “no” as one of the most effective “experimental tools” in my compositions. 

A little example here. A chord, whatever chord in music, is played in minor or in major (of course you can add the 7th, 9th, 11th if you want, and more, it depends on the complexity of the chord you want to reach), but the chord will always be in major or minor, this is primarily defined by the 3rd note in the natural chord. A major chord and the same chord played in minor at the same time, it is certainly something that music teachers don’t tell you to do.

Now, when Adrian and I did African Starship from Perry’s album Rainford, you hear the root note of the song is D, but I’ve added a cluster using F and F# so you don’t understand if the track is in minor or major, this is the “effect” that Adrian felt to include in this track. I remember in my young hood studying the “not to do” things in music and being more fascinated than all of the other conventional things I do learn. Things such as the “fourth interval”, an interval so dissonant that it’s earned the nickname ‘The Devil’s Interval’ and was avoided for centuries by composers and the pupils they taught.

No need to say that I’ve started including this interval in many of my compositions since my teens, and I still love the effects that add to music compositions, slightly uncomfortable. I am, and I’ve always been, a very open-minded musician, with the desire of pushing the boundaries all the time and experimenting with the creation of new sounds. I recall at the age of 12 I got a rusty chain from an abandoned warehouse and put them inside my piano to sound different. It sounded so bad and crashed and distorted. It was a “punk piano” sound. I was living with my parents at that time and I have beautiful memories of my mother desperately asking me to stop playing the piano like that because it gave her a headache. 

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Gaudi and Adrian Sherwood

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 In 2019 you worked with Lee “Scratch” Perry and Adrian Sherwood on Rainford and Heavy Rain albums. How was the process behind them?

It all happened very organically. Adrian got in touch in 2017 and asked me to play my synthesizers, piano, Theremin, and melodica on Lee “Scratch” Perry’s and Horace Andy’s both new albums. At the time Adrian sent me some rough sketches for both albums and I started creating my lines, ideas, riffs, and arrangements. We started both albums at the same time, the process was very smooth, as we both trust each other 100% and we know each other music taste.

I worked on it both from my studio and from On-U Sound studio in Ramsgate, with Adrian, bringing with me some of my analog vintage synthesizers and extra studio equipment. We were a nice group of friends there, exchanging vibes and laughs, a very nice family of buzzing brains, consisting of Adrian, myself, Daddy Freddy, Congo Natty, and Adamski.

Initially, there was only the Rainford album to do, but after the huge success of it, last year Adrian decided to do also a Dub Version of Lee’s album. This is how Heavy Rain evolved. For the dub version, I’ve added a bit more elements, a few extra keyboards and re-arranged some parts.

One of the most significant episode during the creative process of Rainford happened on the track Children of the Light. I was in my studio, working on the demo Adrian sent me. It consisted of just a drum and Lee Perry talking about children, and I wanted to create something that somehow matched Lee’s concept and lyrics, using something unusual, rather than the same piano or synths. So, I had an intuition. I went to a megastore just around the corner from my studio, called Argos, wherefrom the toy section I bought an £8 toy piano which I started playing ideas and riffs for the song. I then recorded it, and Adrian and Perry absolutely loved it so we kept it on both albums, with the addition of my Minimoog, Melodica, ARP2600, and real piano, of course, Hammond Organ, Korg MS20, and Arp Odyssey.


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| This was not your first rodeo with Lee “Scratch” Perry. As I remember, you also did the remake of Bob Marley’s classic Punky Reggae Party.

Yes, it was Punky Reggae Party, but also Kaya and Sun Is Shining, the songs I did with Lee Perry back in 2005. I was at the Livingston Studio here in London, with Dennis Bovell, Charlie Red Seal, and Lee Perry. I was in charge of the programming and arrangement for these classics that 30 years before Perry wrote for Bob Marley. The copyrights expired, so he wanted to re-record them in his version, with us. I already started programming and arranging the songs a couple of weeks earlier in my studio, to be ready for the official recording sessions at the Livingston. Perry already had the reputation to be a very eclectic character to work with, so I was pretty much ready for anything. At that time, I had very long dreadlocks. I remember just before meeting Lee, I've been told that he hated dreadlocks. So, I recall pulling my locks inside the back of my shirt and coming out from the bottom of it, like a hairy tail… I was also sitting on them to hide it.

He arrived at the studio straight from Switzerland. He was with his wife and a case full of stones, feathers, mirrors, an atlas, and an old newspaper kept open at the weather report page. We introduced ourselves to each other and I kept working on the tracks. During the whole process, he seemed a bit distracted until a certain moment in the evening when he spotted a wrong syllable sang in one of the 12 backing vocals that we were recording. None of us spotted it, he did!

We all were amazed. I learned a lot from that experience. He is a genius.

 
| Besides dub and electronica, you have a strong history in hip hop, working with names such as Grandmaster Flash and Krs-One.

I was hooked with rap music since 1981, with the Sugar Hill Gang and the first experiments of rap on disco versions such as White Line by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel. My connection with hip-hop culture began in 1986, when I started the underground rap crew Raptus, in Italy, very much influenced by the Beastie Boys and Def Jam label productions, such as Run DMC. I started buying lots of vinyl such as NWA, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, I like that sound.  

When in 1983 Rockit by Herbie Hancock appeared, produced by Bill Laswell with scratches by GrandMixer DXT, that changed my whole perspective on music. The innovation that this tune brought to the industry was huge, I can't describe it any other way but “alien”, in the sense of production, style, sound, etc. 

With Grandmaster Flash, I did a session in the studio, here in London. It was 2008 or 2007, I can’t remember. His management contacted me and asked for a studio session playing my Moog synth and Theremin. He wanted to include my sound on his new track, What If, from the album The Bridge: Concept of a Culture. We met in the studio and he played me his demo and simply said: “All yours now, do what you want”. It was an instrumental groove, so I added my ideas to it. At the time there were no vocals, then KRS-One came on board.

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| How do you approach music and production when it comes to commissions for film scores?

I began scoring films about 20 years ago through my previous management, connected to some Hollywood/ Bollywood production companies, and film producers here in the UK. I discovered that I love to compose music for movies and I also find it highly stimulating. I’ve been lucky enough to have a sort of “white-canvas” for all the compositions of movies I’ve worked on.

Usually, directors are quite strict on what they want so, as a composer, you need to be able to translate the director’s ideas into reality. I managed to do so with the addition of something unplanned that brought me good credibility. It was a scene from the movie High Speed, I did in 2001. The main character, a motorcycle racer, had a terrible accident during a race and became paralyzed. That moment was crucial for the movie. The most significant scene indeed, so the movie director sent me an example of which type of music he had in mind. It was The Prodigy, a quite aggressive electronic punky rave song I had to take an example from. The director also suggested enforcing the impact with heavy sounds, like explosion, distortion, crunchy drum sounds, etc. I created then the music with effects as instructed, the director liked it a lot but I honestly didn’t like it so much. I mean, it was very obvious for me, but hey, I was not the director so he had the final words, of course. I explained why I wasn’t 100% happy, so he invited me to create something spontaneous and follow my heart. I kept the initial part, the crescendo, and then when the massive impact happened, I had the intuition of mute everything. Complete silence!

The director loved it so much that in the movie there’s my version!

Sometimes silence is more effective than music. It’s equally important than the sound itself. This is something that I always consider, in each of my productions, it is something that I learned in my 12 years of classical music study. It is called Tacet, it is in the score, it is part of the music. Tacet (silence in Latin) is a musical term to indicate that an instrument or voice does not sound.

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| What are you plans for 2020? What Gaudi releases are upcoming this year?

I have a few things planned for this year: 

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Theremin, a unique instrument invented a century ago by the Russian professor Leon Theremin. As I play the instrument since 1994, I’ve decided to dedicate a full album to it, combining its incredible sound to my dub and reggae. On the album I will have five of the world’s top dub producers in the last 40 years: Mad Professor, Adrian Sherwood, Scientist, Dennis Bovell, and Prince Fatty. They have provided all the riddims that underpin my theremin performances! The album title is 100 Years of Theremin - The Dub Chapterdue to be released on Aug 7 by Dubmission Records, on vinyl, CD, and download. 

Another release planned for 2020 is the new album of Horace Andy, started 2 years ago along with Adrian Sherwood. Adrian is taking care of all the production and I do all the keyboards, synthesizers, piano, theremin, and some backing vocals. This will be out this year on On-U Sound/ Warp Records, two of my favorite labels in the world, so I feel truly honored to be part of it. I was already involved with On-U for my contribution on the two latest LP’s by Lee “Scratch” Perry. The On-U Sound compilation Pay It All Back Volume 7 features me on the track Mr. Bassie by Horace Andy, and I am also performing keyboards live with African Head Charge - the amazing band connected with On-U Sound. This year I am also producing their project Drums of Defiance, a very spiritual Nyiabinghi album.

Another important release I am featured on this year is the brand-new double album The Abolition of the Royal Familia by The Orb, released on March 27. I am playing on ten tracks with my keyboards, Theremin, melodica, and have contributed as a songwriter. With The Orb I have a very long history, we’ve been working together thirteen years now, and had a full collaborative album released in 2012 under the moniker SCREEN! I was also guest on four tracks in the previous album No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds. 

There are also a lot of collaborations with artists such as Shanti Powa, Dub Fx, Steel Pulse, Soom T, Tiki Taane of Salmonella Dub, Vibronics, Jaka, Eraldo Bernocchi for our project PHONOLAB, Feel Good Productions, Hang Massive, Havana Meets Kingston, Tongue & Groove, Grouch, String Cheese Incident, The Orb, Kuba, Youth, Lucariello, Ceylon Rasta, Hardage and Maxi Priest.

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