Mellow Mood - The Large Interview
04/06/2018 by Munchy
With Large Italian Reggae band Mellow Mood will bring an indeed big album to the table that combines a conceptional yet diverse sound with deep lyrics ranging from socially critical to love and even hate. Munchy spoke to the twins Jacopo and Lorenzo and bass player Giulio via Skype to find out more about the songs, the producer and the art work.
You have the new album coming up on April 6. Your fans, including my mother, are super excited about: Large. That is a pretty confident title for an album. Why did you name it Large?
Lorenzo: Yes, it is. First of all we wanted to have a title track. Looking at the track list that was probably the better title despite what the songs talks about. The title Large is such a short word but it expresses the concept of wide, large… it is a very tiny but very powerful word, and that’s what we liked. We wanted to also reflect this album. It’s a tiny piece of work but we believe it’s powerful and we are very confident about what we’ve done this time. So we thought it fits perfectly.
I love the artwork. It reminded me a little bit of Michael Jackson‘s Dangerous album. Are there reasons behind the different elements in the graphic? Whose hand is this? Are these your dream cars?
Giulio: We really wanted to work with Dewey Saunders, the graphic designer. We like his work so much that we gave him 100 % freedom to do whatever he wanted. Especially me, I am a very big fan of him. We got his name through the art work of Chronixx even though that’s in a very different style. Then I found out more about his works with Anderson .Paak and the label Stones Throw Records. It was fun because we just gave him a bunch of photos that he could pick from and we selected some Instagram pictures on his own account of works that he did and we liked, and he came up with this collage, which was ready already. We didn’t have to modify it or do any further suggestions. I think it’s very powerful. Also orange is Lorenzo’s favorite color. We didn’t give him any indication about the tone. He just did it and we liked it, so I think it was a very spontaneous work.
Jacopo: He said in an interview with an Italian music magazine that he wanted to mix the natural elements with the cars to give an idea of the two different worlds we are living in. That is why you have flowers, plants and trees, and cars.
So he listened the album before he did the art work?
Giulio: Of course, yes.
Large was once more produced by your engineer and ‘sound architect’ Paolo Baldini. You are always working together, he is mixing you live, you worked on the Dub Files together, went on tour with La Tempesta Dub festival. How would you describe the relationship you have and what is it about Paolo that you always collaborate? Why is he not an official member of the band?
Giulio: That’s a good question!
Lorenzo: We know each other since day one music wise. The relationship is just like you said, he is like a member of the group but at the same time I still believe his identity is so strong that if you put him into Mellow Mood and say ‘He’s a Mellow Mood’ it wouldn’t really work. He is like the cherry on the cake. The cherry must be up there, you must be able to see the cherry and say ‘Oh that is the cherry’. If you put the cherry in the cake it doesn’t really make sense. We will always work together but I think it’s a good thing to keep the two things separated. Also because right now here in Italy and also in Europe Paolo Baldini’s shows are packed. The project, the identity, the character Paolo Baldini is is really, really growing right now. So it wouldn’t make no sense to hold him down. Our relationship is extremely tight, we work very good together and so far this is how things have been working out pretty well.
Giulio: I can add that somehow he has not become one of the Mellow Mood and we have not become some of the Dub Files. It’s a combination of two projects that are very close together but not diluted one with the other.
The first track is not a song, it’s a one minute intro entitled Call Back The Love with a very deep message. Who wrote it? What motivated the words?
Jacopo: I wrote that song. I didn’t mean it to be an intro. I wanted to write a song but I couldn’t. (laughter) I don’t know, I just couldn’t finish and write two verses. So I wrote one verse, the bridge and the kind of hook that is the final part. The message is deep but it’s also very simple. Just call back the love! I think in this society we are living in, also when you go to school everybody teaches you more or less how to use your mind. We are living in a rational mind set. But nobody never talks about the heart, the love. We are also kind of afraid of using the words ‘heart’ and ‘love’. I don’t know why, maybe because we connect them to situations or stories that we don’t like. Especially male individuals are afraid to use the word ‘love’. But I think that the only key how we can improve our future and know ourselves in a deeper way is by trying to connect with our heart which is actually our real brain and with love. We don’t like to use that word but at the end of the day everything we do, everything that moves, everything that lives is because of love. In our culture maybe we have different professors, writers, artists that can explain something about love. What is love? We don’t know. Is it an energy? I don’t know. But if we dig in different studies we can find somebody who has a more accurate definition of that and that can also explain how our heart works, not just our mind.
In the song Ms Mary you sing about a horrible woman, a ‘murderer’ and ‘bad character’ - surprisingly because in Reggae Mary-themed songs are normally praises of ganja. Who is this Mary? And what evil things did she do? Is there a living person that inspired this song?
Lorenzo: Last week in Paris I got asked if Ms Mary was a love song and I said ‘It’s more like a hate song’. I am renting this apartment and my landlady is called Maria, so that’s Mary. But she is amazing! But I was renting two apartments before and both landlords were not nice to me at all. So I went through all that first impression stuff you go through when you are a person like me and you want to rent an apartment, you get what I mean? To me it’s just a funny song. I know the words are pretty heavy but I wanted to keep it kind of fun. I wrote it in a moment where I truly meant it. I wanted to put it on a paper and sing about it. At the end of the day I was pretty tired and I wanted to express my opinion about that.
So it is a message to your former landlords?
Lorenzo: It is, of course. And to all the landlords, because there is more than one.
I have had a terrible one, too.
Lorenzo: Exactly! But it’s not only about landlords. You have many people living in the city, that, I don’t know how, just don’t want to see stuff happening. The don’t want to see shows, they don’t want to have concerts, they don’t want to have music and all of that. Only if they can earn some money they are into that. They can take a plane, fly and get wasted on some Caribbean island but when they come back they want nothing to be happening here. We all know someone like that and I really wanted to talk to them.
Great, I will send the song to my landlord on your behalf! The second single Sound Of A War uses the harmonies of Dennis Brown’s Easy Take It Easy and Gregory Isaac’s Babylon Too Rough. It also deals with a similar topic as Isaacs. Is that an hommage to the song? The new millenium version of it? But you are way more specific in your lyrics though. Instead of saying Babylon you are calling names: Clinton, the NATO, Rockefeller.
Jacopo: I know the songs you mentioned but I never thought about the harmonies being the same, but yes I was inspired by that kind of sound. We wanted that sound in the song. You said it’s more specific because we put names and stuff and yes, I wanted to put those names. I don’t know if it was good or not, but I still wanted to do that. That song was written during the latest American elections, where in my opinion medias were trying to confuse people. They always want to make you feel like one is good, the other one is bad, but in my opinion there is no real difference. They are there as puppets. We might have to look for who really moves the strings, which might be organizations or families like Rockefeller. Those who really have the power to make things happen. That’s why I put the names. And it’s a song against the war, of course.
Yes, I think it’s a great song. It’s very catchy! You hear half of the chorus one time and you can sing along immediately.
Jacopo: Yes, I came up with this ram pim pim, ram pam pam, which might be a little bit too simple but I wanted something people can really sing. The melody is so simple you can sing it even if you don’t know it. It’s onomatopoeic, the words imitate the sound. I kept it simple because I wanted to have at least one song like that on the album. It’s very catchy.
The message I appreciated the most is the one of Large, that reminds us that money is still just a piece of paper and that the purpose of life is not just to consume and follow material things. Today we in our first world can consume anything so easily. In the supermarket we have all fruits from all over the world, anytime of the year, whether it’s the season or not. The other day I watched a documentary about water that is privatized in Chile that farmers grow so much avocado with while the normal people have no water to drink. That is crazy. Also the amount of water that is used to bleach your jeans pants and people buy them even though they probably already have ten in their closet. I feel like ‘not consuming’ is a pretty big challenge today, because we are constantly tempted. The marketing machinery is doing the best it can, while the negative consequences of our greed and desires are more times covered up to make us feel good. What do you do actively in your daily life about not following the material things? Do you ‘consume consciously’? How do you practice what you preach or how can others do it? I said to myself I want to eat way less avocado and if I can, I will not buy myself any clothes this year.
Giulio: Just today we had a discussion with the person in charge of our merchandising. Of course, we are producing merchandise for our tour. So we found ourselves thinking what T-Shirts do we buy to produce the merchandise? Do we buy cheap T-Shirts from Gildan or some other brand, that sell their shirts for 1,50 Euro so we can print them and sell them for a low price, so that every fan can afford it? Or do I buy a more expensive, more ethical T-Shirt that I unfortunately have to sell for let’s say twice the price to my fans? What do we do as artists when we are facing this kind of choice? Because nobody would by a T-Shirt from Mellow Mood if it costs 60 Euro. But at the same time I feel guilty if I have to sell a t-shirt for 10 Euro which is made by a slave in Bangladesh. Which is also part of the chain why we have so much global wage gaps and immigrants coming to Europe while we are exploiting other countries. We don’t want immigration but we still want the cheap t-shirts.
Lorenzo: It’s going to be a pretty long answer here, but I don’t want to cut corners about this track and these topics. Large was actually the last track we added to the album. I remember I wrote that song during the last days of rehearsals before getting into the studio. I wanted to have a track that sounded like that, with that chord progression but also I wanted to talk about that stuff. As a youth and also in my teenager years I have always been very conscious about all these topics. I have never been much of a consumer but all of us fall into the trap. We also. That’s why in the song I say ‘easy we fall under the spell’. We keep falling, it’s easy! Nowadays I look at the kids and you have this music that is playing all over, like the trap music. I don’t want to say shit about trap music, I am not talking about the way it sounds, but the message it carries and delivers is 99 % the same and it is so, so American. The message is, that first of all the only type of success you can achieve in life is the material one, is on a material level. Then, if you don’t succeed that way, you just don’t count. So you have all these kids, dressing with the big brands. Somehow the looks got so important. I was watching an interview with a guy who is in the trap business here in Italy. He is still young, but pretty big. He was talking craziness like ‘the important thing is that us kids from the suburb we can make it and then can go to the Gucci store and tell them that we made it’. That is craziness! I get that. I understand when Popcaan talks about moving from the ghetto and getting himself a BMW. I still do not share the message. I think it’s a new type of slavery. You have been a slave and now you want to be a slave again?! I was so sick about all this. To me nowadays if I look at the politics, the situation and the system this is the perfect type of music and message that the system would use. If I was one of them, I would use this music and the messages. If I can convince the youths that we are all the same as long as we all buy stuff, as long as we all feel the need of that. Perfect! But there was a time when music was a reaction to the system. Not the weapon of the system. Also some music from Jamaica delivers that type of messages. It is so wrong in my opinion. It’s such an illusion! And when these kids will grow, they will see that it was an illusion. I wanted to write that song. It’s very simple but likewise it is probably the message I cherish the most.
So did you find a solution yet for your merchandise situation? Did you come to a decision as yet?
Giulio: We are talking about it and discussing it. I think we will go for the more expensive ones which are probably made in Italy or at least in Europe and that also guarantee a minimum wage to their workers. I believe that globalization is not 100 % evil. Being connected worldwide is a good way to create a global society but we have to be careful about the foundation of this society. Because if the foundation is set that we make the most money out of people around the world we will always be good at being the third millenium slave masters. If we use our economic power, which we have undoubtedly as Europeans, to empower people around the world, then globalization will be good. But if we use our money to make more money on some other people’s expenses, that’s not good civilization. Joseph Stiglitz, who was a Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences, wrote a very clever book which is called Making Globalization Work and he explained it very clearly that globalization can be a good tool to empower people around the world or it can be just another slave market which has no boundaries because the world is still limitless somehow.
Lorenzo: I know it’s taking long but I want to add one quick thing… So far globalization probably has been the new slave master tool and it is going to get worse but it was not stoppable back then. We started this process centuries ago. We probably will have to go through the hell first. But I am begging the new generations to wake up and understand that this world was not made to bear the lives of rich people. We can not all dream about that. It’s not going to work. I don’t want to say bad stuff about anyone but also in Reggae music there is for example a song from Morgan Heritage that talks why we all want to live the American Dream when you have nice places like Dubai… What is that?!? I think we really need to switch our brains otherwise nothing good is going to happen. But also not only them… Then you have Damian Marley in Land Of Promise on the Distant Relatives album who makes you imagine Africa like Miami. Why?!? Why you want them to feel the need to have the nicest cars? This is not going to work. I say, you must have health, food, water, education, freedom and a roof over your head. Why would you make everybody want that other stuff? This planet cannot bear all that. It pisses me off when you have Reggae artists delivering this craziness and nobody talks about it. This is the time for us to talk about it. I’m not going to hold back. I want to talk about what I truly think. All respect to Damian Marley. No Damian Marley, no us. No Morgan Heritage, no us. All respect to them but you have to stand and face your responsibility. Wasn’t Reggae and Rasta music about simple life? What has happened?
I don’t know. Maybe social media?! You are tempted so easily. You go on social media, you see people wearing things and you feel like you should have it, too.
Giulio: And it is so easy to fall under the same spell. I like Wallabee Clarks and I will buy them if I have the money.
Lorenzo: And that’s the trick.
That’s why I said ‘IF I am able then I will not buy me any new clothes this year’. But we will have to see if I can live up to that.
Giulio: I have the same new years resolution for 2018 not to buy any garment this year.
We will see if we can keep it up. Let’s move on to a very positive song! Having a song on the album that is called Daddy, that is bigging up your father, is not too surprising because you already made one for your mother entitled Love Mama on your album 2 The World. ‘This ya song me owe you’ - did you feel like you had to do that after you already praised your mom? How is the relationship with your father?
Lorenzo: Me personally, I thought yes, I have to come up with a Daddy song because my mom already has one. And she is always talking about that song. She actually had that song as her ring tone on her phone. So I was like ‘I better come up with a Daddy song’. The first verse I wrote for the Dub Files shows because I wanted to have something like that for it and I wanted to have lyrics about my dad. We were in the studio with Solo Banton. We called him because we wanted to have someone to check out the lyrics before eventually voicing them. He came and he is a lyrical machine, while he is also a very kind, nice, gentle human being. So we were in the studio together and we couldn’t really come up with a good hook on the instrumental. I think the song still is a bit different, original, not too easy. So I told him about my lyrics and he helped me to finish them. Then Jacopo stepped in with his verse and I think it is a very good song. Our dad is still waiting for the translation to hear. We will have to give him the Italian version.
But he knows that the song exists? He already heard it?
Lorenzo: Yes, he listened to the song. We both gave him a private link to hear it.
So what did he say?
Jacopo: He was happy but he wanted to understand the lyrics. He knows it’s a love song, we are not talking shit. (laughter) Sometimes I am a little bit ashamed when I have to translate the songs into Italian, especially to my father or my mother. I don’t know why. But we will have to do that. It still gets me a bit nervous.
In the past you featured many different artists especially from Jamaica, people like Hempress Sativa, Tanya Stephens, Jah9, Forelock, Richie Campbell. Why are there no collaborations on Large?
Giulio: We wanted to have only one. From the very beginning we knew that we wanted to work on this album mostly as Mellow Mood so we said ‘Maybe we can have one big name collaborating with us’. But then the collaboration didn’t work out because of different time tables and schedules for releases and stuff. We were probably disappointed in the very beginning but then we said ‘OK, no problem. We can do an album which is about Mellow Mood not about Mellow Mood and our team as it was on previous albums.’ Those were mostly showing that we can fit into a scene or that we have good relationships with other artists, that we have friends that make music we like. This is more intimate as an album because it is 100 % the five of us.
Speaking of that… did anyone apart from the five of you play on the record? Because there are brass for example.
Giulio: No, we only had Paolo Baldini who did some programming on a track and Forelock did string arrangements for Another Day. String Up A Sound, the song with the brass section, includes actually a sample from Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, that we used. All the keyboard sounds were played by our keyboard player Filippo who has a nice collection of vintage keyboards. I think they give a very organic sound to the album. We wanted to be quite consistent with the sound of the album and I think it works better than the previous ones. Those are very various. You have one electronic Dancehall tune, then a very Roots song etc. This is more uniform in terms of sounds. For example for the brass section that we don’t have anymore in the band Paolo said that we should not fake it on the album. ‘If you don’t have it, you don’t.’ So let’s use vintage keyboards that try to replicate these sounds of a brass section or strings. But people will realize that they are fake sounds. Because it is only the five of you and that’s it. But we didn’t hire any additional musicians to play on the tracks. We also used the same approach with sound effects. For example the guitar is very consistent throughout the whole album using the same sounds. It was a very limited range of effects. We only used a Tremolo, a Phaser, a Wah-Wah and that’s it. The bass has one sound throughout the whole album. The drums are pretty much the same. For the riddim tracks we recorded very fast in only two days. We wanted to be very solid from this point of view.
You’re soon going to hit the road to perform in France, Spain, the UK and Italy. What other great things are coming up on the Mellow Mood agenda for 2018?
Giulio: More shows and more shows. We will announce more festivals for the summer after this short run in Europe in April. So from mid May on we will be on tour the whole summer and autumn, including America and Latin America.
PHOTOS BY CARA ROBBINS