Between the end of the 90s and the start of the new century, the apocalyptic folk scene has been growing a lot in Italy. Acclaimed bands as Ataraxia, Camerata Mediolanense, Argine, Anima in Fiamme were oriented towards Medieval and Renaissance sounds, or influenced by Death in June and the whole post-punk experience from bands like Argine. They all shared a quite similar background and usually collaborated with one another. This meant common experience and experimentation, knowing each other pretty well, being able to get along together, and creating that kind of ‘feeling’ that usually ‘rocks’ in music slang.
The Italian band I want to introduce today comes from that background and goes quite far away from it, too. Their name is Ashram. Since the time they released their first demo “For My Sun” in May ’99, Ashram has always been recognized as a remarkable band in the Italian ‘alternative’ scene, getting some media attention even before the recording of their 1st album “Ashram” with the French label Prikosnovenie.
Created by the voice of Sergio Panarella and the warm sound of Luigi Rubino’s piano, Ashram soon became a trio (with the violin of Alfredo Notarloberti). Then, in 2001, there was another addition to the line-up: Leonardo Massa on cello. In May 2006 Ashram presented their second full-length album, under the title “Shining Silver Skies” (Equilibrium Music). Since then they have been constantly playing live around the world. Now the band is going to tour China in December 2009*.
Let’s have a chat with them, getting into the world of ASHRAM’s music…
Layabozi: Hi! First of all, congratulations for the work you’ve done in the last 10 years! Since your name may be new to some of our readers in Shanghai, I’d like you to better introduce ASHRAM’s musical project in your own words…so, first of all: Why this name? What kind of link does it have with your own idea of music?
ASHRAM: Thank you! Actually we do not practise any religion related to this ancient Indian word. We chose the name Ashram as much for its enchanting sound as for the sense of spirituality we surely tend to recall by the mean of our music. It’s a sort of temple inside ourselves.
LYBZ: It’s already been a long way since the bloody hot Summer of 1997, when Sergio and Luigi first started talking about their future musical encounter… I have to say that, since the first time I had the chance to listen to your first live performances in Naples (Italy), in 1999, I’ve constantly been thinking that the idea at the root of this band was just the will to create a new and hybrid series of compositions able to intertwine both the ecstatic tones of Sergio’s lyrical, melancholic cries with the classic, jazz and dark-apocalyptic atmospheres of Luigi’s musical roots. I mean…I’ve always thought of ASHRAM as a project moving from inside a classical music frame, but with the aim to leave it behind, to break its borders and cross them–again and again and again. Do you agree? Could you describe your music to our readers in your own words and feelings?
ASHRAM: We define our music as deeply emotional…it was always very true. We can’t answer precisely but we can tell you that the energy flowing in our music is maybe the purest part of our daily feelings. It is a magic or undefined feeling of love, suffering or melancholy that becomes music.
LYBZ: Could you, please, tell us something about the processes of writing and recording? I mean…did you notice that ASHRAM, with time, got a kind of step-by-step rule that gradually came out to be the ritual development for the composition of songs?
ASHRAM: The secret of our songwriting is to melt in music an idea that can be born when we’re together or in a lonely emotional moment. There’s no rule, but surely, as from the beginning, the fusion of soul and emotions is still the foundation of our music.
LYBZ: When did you feel you needed a violin and how did Luigi and Sergio meet Edo Notarloberti and the marvelous sound of his violin?
ASHRAM: It was such a long time ago! We remember it as a kind of dream… Luigi and Sergio composed “For my Sun”, and then they thought about completing the song with the violin. Alfredo was and still is the Argine’s violinist. We met in a warm afternoon at Luigi’s place and after a short conversation it was actually the music that started its own talking through us all. That magic never vanished and it’s been growing together with the friendship we still share.
LYBZ: Your last album (Shining Silver Skies, 2006) has a gorgeous atmosphere. Since I personally come from a dark background, I’d recall great bands such as DEAD CAN DANCE, but actually the soft and quite sober language spoken by the whole album perfectly suits different definitions and tastes – just a few days ago a friend of mine even compared your musical atmospheres to Sigur Rós’. What do you think? Why does it happen? What’s the secret of yours that makes your music, especially this album, so familiar to everybody, though different and original?
ASHRAM: Well, thank you! We love Sigur Ros! We think that acoustic instruments have an incredible glow and give a chance to express one’s sensibility in a very pure way. Their dynamic range is very wide and often the instruments become the expression of what you really feel without any sort of barrier…Maybe this is one of the reasons. Maybe with Shining Silver Skies we succeeded in putting ideas together and simplifying them to meet the audience in a very simple way and we are very satisfied with this.
LYBZ: Again, taking as an example your last album…It has many moments that are very evocative of a neo-classical background–as in “Elizabeth”–though as whole your work is definitely more delicate and lighter than many neo-classical music productions, and strongly immediate in the tones. Let’s say it even has few pop-oriented phrases (as it happens, for example, with the starting 50 seconds of “Lullaby”)…so…I’d love each one of you, who are all quite talented and experienced musicians, to tell us about his own musical models and background…and the way it comes to life in ASHRAM. May I?
ASHRAM: Our tracks are made in classical colours but with a song form and often we get a “pop” attitude. Certainly, comparing these 2 songs, they have a different mood, they are both expressions of our souls.. Music comes from moments of life and each sound is an emotion. We like the good music, unlimited. Our roots come from the classical music of J.S. Bach, from the magic of Beatles’ melodies, the jazz of Coltrane, Jarret, M.Davis, the 70’s music and more. In Ashram music there’s what we really are.
LYBZ: Luigi and Edo both have being playing with ARGINE for years. That is a well-known band for dark-apocalyptic folk lovers from Italy and Europe; moreover, your Shining Silver Skies is ‘labelled’ by EQUILIBRIUM MUSIC, a well-known dark music label…how deep is your link with the dark culture? What kind of exchange do you have with other dark bands from Naples and Italy?
ASHRAM: We don’t follow the dark culture. Alfredo is the violinist of Argine and Corde Oblique, and Luigi used to play and still plays with them from times to time. Sergio will sing a song for the new album by Corde Oblique, a project by Riccardo Prencipe. He is collaborating with Candya too, which is the new project of another well-known dark-oriented band from Naples–The Trees.
LYBZ: In these last two years you’ve been constantly playing live all around the world and I see that both Edo Notarloberti and Luigi Rubino have lately recorded their own solo albums. What are the next steps? Are you all going to record a new album together as ASHRAM? And when?
ASHRAM: We have some new ideas, we hope to have the chance to realize our new album very soon!!!
LYBZ: What do you expect from this Chinese experience? What should our readers expect from your Chinese Tour?
ASHRAM: To get great emotions–for ourselves and for our public, too!!!
LYBZ: Ok Guys, if there’s something you want to add to the interview, it would be a pleasure for us…
Thanks for this beautiful interview and thanks to all LAYABOZI’s readers.
ASHRAM: We do hope to see you all to our live concerts on these next few days. We just want to touch your souls through our music. If we will be able to do it, even only for a while, we’ll be completely satisfied with ourselves and we’ll have our own ‘Chinese dream’ definitely realized!
* BEIJING: Yugong Yishan Bar, Dec.11th,
SHANGHAI: Mao Live Music, Dec.12th,
GUANGZHOU: 191Space, Dec.13;
CHENGDU: Little Bar, Dec.14