“We’re surrounded by serpents, so it’s natural we’re going to write about them.”
ID:UD’s passion and love for Kirlian Camera’s music is pretty well documented at this point (check out our introductory podcast for a reference) and doesn’t need any further elaboration. Angelo Bergamini began his incredibly varied and influential project in 1980, and with the arrival of singer and creative partner Elena Fossi in 1999, has released some of the most elegant, stunning, and moving dark music of the new millennium. We talked to Angelo about his and Elena’s creative process, the themes underlying their latest album Nightglory, and Kirlian Camera’s legacy.
ID:UD: Nightglory had a stronger acoustic dimension than we’d heard from the band in some time (“Winged Child” in particular), perhaps fusing some aspects of earlier albums (Todesengel, Pictures From Eternity) with the grandiose electronic work you’ve been refining since Invisible Front. Did you consciously want to revisit your acoustic side?
Angelo: It’s just Elena, the entity behind our acoustic versions. She’s a real musician, so she’s able to better write such scores. I love her way of creating chamber music-like atmospheres, and her arrangements are always a surprise to me! Her creativity is actually many-sided and restless…Our acoustic tracks sound so different from usual neo-folk stuff: there’s a real work of arrangement behind such versions.
ID:UD: Nightglory seemed to have a theme of betrayal running through it: “I’m Not Sorry”, “I Killed Judas”, the cover of “Gethsemane”, the “traitor angels” of the title track. Where did that theme come from? Was it related to personal or band issues, or did it simply seem like a rich theme to explore?
Angelo: Traitors…a category of uncool losers that are today liable to become totally rad, thanks to the current decaying and ludicrous “culture” which praises such worms highly in movies and literature, not to mention the music scene. Anyway…yes, you caught this side, this theme. We’re surrounded by serpents, so it’s natural we’re going to write about them. They simply destroyed our lives, so, now, I’m joyfully interested in their extermination…
ID:UD: You’ve said that KC always consisted of you working with collaborators until Elena joined the group and it became a partnership for the first time. How do you approach writing and recording music for Kirlian Camera together, and has that process changed over the past twelve or so years?
Angelo: This process has been increasing more and more, throughout the years…it’s actually not easy to explain what I feel. Elena is not normal. I really don’t know where she comes from, but I’m sure she isn’t normal. Her heart is absolutely pure…the music she writes and her magic voice succeed in touching me till I get vertigo. She reminds me of a valiant proud warrior under a hard rain. Grey rain of ignorance. Working together is totally natural, as if she were myself and vice versa. And such a sensation is often nothing-but-shocking. It’s like a horror movie, but…surprise! This horror movie turns out to be a marvelous and ‘unreal’ tale, in spite of the shitty life we’re living. Do you know that Cronenberg flick titled Dead Ringers? [Of course! Like all good Canadians we love Cronenberg. – ed.]
“Popular music for the masses to be listened to by a kind of alien elite.”
ID:UD: The move towards a more sweeping, magisterial sound over the last decade or so would seem to coincide with Elena’s introduction to the group. Is that a natural product of you working together or is it a sound you were interested in exploring?
Angelo: I was the only owner of the project, before Elena. Let’s say that she, step by step and strongly encouraged by myself, has been taking a natural co-leadership in the band as far as making music is concerned, because she is not “only” a singer, but a real musician and an unrivaled composer, in my opinion, as already stated. And let’s say Kirlian Camera couldn’t do the music they released from Still Air onwards, if Elena wasn’t an effective composer, totally immersed in the Kirlian Camera world. I’m the “pop-oriented” soul, while she’s more interested in darker atmospheres, so the result of such a combination is practically perfect for my tastes, as we can conceive very particular music, which is listenable to a wide audience, but has a deep soul; a real, heartfelt and touching “sentimento”. Popular music for the masses to be listened to by a kind of alien “elite” only…curious, isn’t it?
ID:UD: To the best of our knowledge, you’ve never had any of your albums licensed by North American labels for release here and have only played the US once. Has breaking into the North American market not been a priority for you or have the right opportunities just not come up?
Angelo: Well, I like your question. We’ve been invited several times to perform the U.S.A. and Canada, but every time something wrong had been coming out last-minute and everything was aborted, whether it was Kirlian Camera or SPECTRA*paris. Now, we’ve got an umpteenth invite regarding a North America tour, so, hopefully, after so many cancellations, something concrete might come true, in the next months. The problem is that there are too many people involved in this deal… I guess I’m going to thin time-wasters out, a bit…
ID:UD: Despite having worked in many musical veins, from Italodisco to neo-folk, it seems like a large portion of your current audience is from the goth and darkwave scene. Do you feel at all pigeonholed or pressured by that? Was there a time when it was easier for artists such as yourselves to explore different sounds without “belonging” to a particular scene?
Angelo: OK, we’re really thankful to the dark scene, but, you know, our source is placed so far from such an area. And yes, time ago it was actually simpler to jump – for example – from one atmosphere to another: I took first steps into the progressive rock area in the 70’s and…a certain kind of freedom in music was guaranteed. This “make all songs play the same otherwise we couldn’t follow you” and/or “never change otherwise you’re a traitor but if you don’t change you’re a same old bore” is annoying me deeply. I’m not guilty if I’m not a teenager and still I’m filled with ideas and enthusiasm! People aren’t that used to this anomaly: a band must die after, say, 5 albums at most, because it’s impossible they have any fresh idea, after a handful years. That’s what people suppose and what MTV wants us to believe. I guess real musicians must improve throughout the years…
ID:UD: You’ve both had a number of side projects over the past ten or so years (Stalingrad, Uranium USSR 1972, Siderartica, and SPECTA*paris). To us, at least, Kirlian Camera has always felt like a band capable of sounding like anything, exploring any musical territory; what are the motivations behind your various side projects?
Angelo: I guess SPECTRA*paris, for instance, needs to take tanning sun-rays in its separated garden, as nobody could accept works such as License To Kill to be signed by KC! Strange, as I feel S*P music is so close to my own world – a world filled with glamorous facets too – but ordinary audiences are much more traditionalist. We’re almost forced to change name, sometimes, in a way. Then, for example, being released by Out Of Line is not the right choice for projects like the above mentioned one. OOL’s listeners are much more EBM-orientated, you know. It is not a negative thing, but every time you go over a certain niche…you’re lost! It’s perfectly understandable, but some musicians aren’t so monomaniacal and need to explore many territories. My life is rich, despite my wallet, so…I likely feel a need to make a jazzy song, sometimes… Time ago I did compose one titled “Made of Shadow”… I risked death!!! Fans were furious… Unfortunately, “I’m not sorry” and so our path will likely bring further strange musical situations… why not… Anyhow, Nightglory is the album which completely and competently represents both Elena and myself in a most complete way.
ID:UD: One of the hallmarks of Kirlian Camera has been consistently updating and representing your older material, both on record and in concert. What context are you giving to these older songs in representing them? Is it important for existing songs to evolve along with the band, rather than having them be fixed to a particular moment in time?
Angelo: it’s a logical step, for a real musician. If you wrote a song you really love, then after a while you feel the need to “reanimate” it, coming out with a new version. A beautiful and shy/detached woman needs more than one dress when, even if she’s not that used to appearing in public, she decides to go have a soiree. And…needs a perfect dress when she’s going to die.
“I guess we could even take a Beyoncé song and turn it into a Wagnerian apocalypse!”
ID:UD: Covers have always been a major factor in Kirlian’s history, but your choice of covers (“Hymn”, “The Final Countdown”, “Comfortably Numb”) seems to say more about Kirlian Camera than simply “here’s a song we like”. What goes into selecting a cover, and what aspects of songs to you try to bring out when you cover them?
Angelo: We really like to cover other artists’ songs. We always try adding our very personal touch, till we totally redefine the original score. It depends on song to song, of course. Sometimes we like to globally respect the original atmosphere, but it might happen that we like to alter chords…whereas we don’t love certain solutions. Let’s say we like to start from a concept, so the song will end up having something to do with such a concept, regardless of the one who wrote the tune we’re putting our dirty hands on! All in all, we want the cover to become part of our inner world. In a way, I guess we could even take a Beyoncé song and turn it into a Wagnerian apocalypse! Well, many people find it scandalous, but…we couldn’t cover songs coming from our music area, as it’d make no sense at all! And then…we aren’t into that that much… KC has a different origin, and I’m saying this without any snobbery.
ID:UD: You’ve done songs in English, Italian, German and even Gaelic (and we’re still stumped as to what “Helma Nah’ Shmarr” is sung in). Is that an artistic choice based on each individual song? Is there anything specifically that the choice of language says about the song itself?
Angelo: That song you mentioned partly used a fictional language and partly it quoted names of demons and strange entities, even if by altering them a bit. Up till now we mainly liked to sing a kind of “simple international English”, although sometimes we didn’t disdain German language, mainly taken from modern German poets. Guess we’re gonna use Italian language a bit more, in the future, even if rough English keeps on being our natural way to express our feelings. Anyhow, this band has several origins: Italy, Germany, Korea, Ireland…so, we aren’t that purist regarding any “perfect dictionary law”…we’re used to talking a kinda hallucinated and funny language when we meet!
ID:UD: Space travel, aliens and celestial bodies have made frequent appearances in your lyrics. What attracts you to those themes and what significance do they have for you?
Angelo: We’re used to living a strange life on earth, so…describing other and different situations and entities is a natural thing, for us. Our mission is…dramatic, so music is giving us a help in not going out of our mind!