We chat with Italian songstress Matilde Davoli about her hazy psych-folk sound and moving from the provinces to London.
Matilde Davoli has had a longer path the walk than most when it comes to making her big break. She grew up in the small Italian province of Leece where there were five record shops with none specialising in the indie/pop music she and her friends loved. It wasn’t until 2012, when in her early thirties, that she decided to take the plunge and move to Big City London to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a successful solo artist – creating music that she loved for a massive audience. She had been in the backstreets of the music industry for fifteen years before becoming known for her music which is difficult to characterise. Her sound is near impossible to pin down with influences of dreamy hazes, sixties Italian psychedelic sounds, folksy lament, heartbreaking chants and more.
Here we talk about what it was like to make the big step of moving away from home in order to pursue her dream, her childhood influences, and what it was like growing up in a home with little music surrounding her.
How different was going from small province, Lecce, to big city London?
Not easy, but surprising in many ways for sure. I had lived in big cities before London, like Milan or Bologna but they are different: London is much bigger – huge really – and here you feel like you are in the centre of Europe, except for its British taste! There is so much to do and so many places to discover, all populated by different kinds of people. More importantly, there is so much exposure to music that at the beginning I felt drunk of London. I grew up and lived most of my live in the province of Lecce in Italy, where in order to do anything you’d have to drive with your car; there is very little public transportation. When I first came to London, I walked miles and miles. I couldn’t get used to the long tube lines which are so common here. It scared me.
Apart from obviously being a little scared, what were your feelings and emotions during that time?
The first impact was beautiful as much as it was confusing. Above all I got a deep inspiration boost.
What did you do for the first week in London?
I was basically a tourist, walking around, going anywhere and getting to know the place. It was surprising to see the amount of human traffic in every corner, street or square. I was often surprised by things, in a way a Londoner would probably consider stupid. For example, nightlife for live shows starts and ends quite early in the evening. London rarely plays any show after 11:30pm. That’s when things usually start in Italy!
Has your childhood influenced anything in your music?
This could be a very long story, but I’ll try and give you the short version! I approached music thanks to my father. He is a Hi-Fi sound fanatic with a huge collection of vinyl and CDs from classical to pop music. He always had these weird, big stereo systems at home, and as I was growing up I’d look at him building cables or acoustic traps for his listening room. I spent many long afternoons listening to music with him.
What were your first musical inspirations?
The first music I was ever exposed to was classical and jazz. I have clear memories of listening to them when I was about 10. I still love those sounds so much. They opened my mind and help me a lot in making music. After a while I started to play an instrument (guitar was my first) and I explored other paths and joined kids like me forming bands. I owe much to them as step by step we built our personal world fed by love and passion that eventually brought me into the indie/pop scene.
One thing I’d like you to understand is that, for us people grown up in a lost Italian province during the nineties, it was never easy to listen to new music and we had little resources to make it. Access to good gear was rare and precious. Internet just wasn’t around and we had to cherry-pick good music from the few mainstream magazines that we could find. Not more than five record stores with no indie or underground specialist. We would crave great records and value them so much due to their rarity. We were alone with our dreams only balanced by strong friendship bonds built around the love for music. It was not easy at all.
Still, I could discover many incredible bands. They are still a big part of my point of reference today. I can name a few: Stereolab, Broadcast and Komeda. In all honesty, my favourite record ever is “Kind Of Blue” from Miles Davis. It would be amazing (though very strange…) to have a chat with him, I have so many questions!
Describe your sound.
I guess that a word that can describe a huge part of my sound is ‘retrofuturism’. It is a vision of the future which is imagined and living in my own fantasy. I am a very big fan of science fiction books and movies. This too is thanks to my father, and his big sci-fi books collection.
My album is 99% played; there are only a few programmed bits. It’s mostly real drums, real synths, guitars and vocals. Everything is played from the start to the end. The sound I chose during the mix has quite an electronic mood. This is due to manipulating the drums (as well as some of the other instruments) so much that you can’t say if it’s real anymore.
Electronic music has really taken off. Do you think that electronic/psychadelic music is a huge part of music’s future?
I am fascinated by electronic music! For me, it is an uncharted territory.
How long had you been making music for, before your “big break”?
In the past, I have been involved mostly with folk/acoustic music (Girl With The Gun, 2006-2014) and cinematic and 60’s rock and psychedelia (StudioDavoli 2000-2006). Counting everything, I’ve been doing music for 15 years. It is a very long road, right?
Definitely. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
I don’t have any specific advice for emerging musicians right now; I still don’t have any strong advice for myself. The music industry is very hard, and it always has been. What I can say with some confidence is this: there’s only one thing that can save your life and bring you happiness; have passion for something. If you have that, you’ll be good forever. Don’t give up!
Great advice. On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you to release your debut solo album?
Well, 11 of course! This record release keeps exciting me day after day. It has been a succession of emotional moments, from the crowdfunding campaign to right now. I must confess that I was moved several times in these months seeing so much love and support from people. It has been breathtakingly beautiful.
What’s next for Matilde Davoli?
The next step for me now, is to bring this record to as much people as I can. It will be my mission!
If you weren’t a musician/doing this right now, what would you be doing?
Nothing? (Laughs) I really don’t know! I really can’t imagine my life without music.
Words: Faye Smith.