This is not a joke: once again, my journey to the United States was a troubled one. To make a long story short – I was supposed to fly from Rome to Brussels, then Brussels to Montreal, then Montreal to Philadelphia; obviously I got stuck in Montreal, as weather conditions on the East Coast were terrible and several flights got cancelled. Silly me, thinking that I would make it to Philly with no stress. I actually boarded the plane, but never took off. Stayed onboard for an hour and a half, then it was announced that we wouldn’t be able to leave. This was a first for me. Quite surreal. I was given an hotel and I was able to make it to Philly the next day. Reunited with Julie Slick! Just in time for a quick Ethiopian dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in Philadelphia, Gojjo (I think we ate Ethiopian last summer also, first thing I did as soon as I met with Julie…). And I was happy to see Tim Motzer again; he was around and joined us for the feast. I had missed Tim so much! We ate, we talked, we drank some “okay wine” (I rated it 6 out of 10), then Julie and I jumped on a Megabus to New York City, one of the many places where I would crash during the next couple of weeks.
My life would soon turn into a whirlwind of events. I met with Ben, Julie’s friend, and slept on his couch in a house in Astoria, Queens, for a few days. Ben is a film-maker, and also the man behind our new video for “Supercell”, which is the debut-single from the brand new EchoTest album, “From Two Balconies”. The record is now available on Julie’s bandcamp site (and she’s currently on tour with Adrian Belew in the US so, if you’re attending a show, you can grab a copy at the merch table). A few words about this new effort, taken from the official press release…
Bassists Julie Slick (Adrian Belew Power Trio, Crimson ProjeKct) and Marco Machera are proudly presenting a new EchoTest album, exploring new heights in this bassist collaboration with their third release: “From Two Balconies”. Displaying an even higher production value, a new member (drummer Alessandro Inolti), many more guests (Pat Mastelotto, Tim Motzer, Ali Wadsworth, Ian Gray, Greg Rosen, and Sarah Anderson), the record is a departure from the heavily instrumental and bass-dominated “Fourth Dementia” (2014) and “Le Fil Rouge” (2015). It features lead vocals on 7 out of 10 tracks – Marco takes this role on a few songs, but he also shares this job with Mike Visser (Imaginary Tricks) and Claire Wadsworth. The result is a modern-sounding, yet classic record that defies genres, showcasing music that is truly progressive in nature. Featuring artwork by the legendary Derek Riggs.
Yes, that’s correct: artwork by the legendary Derek Riggs. How fun. When I was a kid, I would sit on the floor for hours, looking at the cover artworks he made for Iron Maiden. They set my imagination on fire – I would make up stories on the illustrations. My favourite was the artwork for “Killers”, which also happens to be my favourite Maiden album.
And, hey, here’s the official video for “Supercell”, which will instantly make your day better:
I had fun being an actor. My “Manco Machete” role (the villain in white) involved being covered in baby powder. Julie and Ben wanted me to be silvery for the character, in contrast to the black Machete (aka the good Marco) and suggested I should try some kind of temporary hair dye product. I didn’t endorse the idea. Baby powder sounded like a more comfortable solution. So there I was, one morning in Dumbo, one very cold morning in Dumbo – all dressed in white, wearing a blood-stained eypatch, hanging around the Brooklyn Bridge. We found a public restroom nearby, and I proceeded to throw powder at me, in a rather clumsy attempt to transform into the white evil twin. A cop stood next to me, washing his hands. No words necessary. Not even the slightest sign of amusement on his face. I realized, “Dude, you’re in New York City – no one cares if you cover yourself in baby powder!” And boy, it was cold. I was required not to wear a jacket for the scenes. The face you see at 3.40 – it’s not a case of outstanding acting, it’s just me suffering.
Besides shooting the video, we played a few concerts around the East Coast. I shall mention that EchoTest has evolved into a totally different beast. Mike Visser, who recorded and toured with us last year, is no longer part of the band. We’re happy to welcome guitarist Zach LoPresti as an additional member (we had played together before, and he recorded one of the guitar solos on “Supercell”. Also, we tied him up to a chair multiple times for the video shootings! So I got to know him and his family a lot better. That was a good excuse), and singer Jennifer Founds, who shares vocal duties with me. Jennifer, Zach and I worked out three-part vocal harmonies for the shows. Beautiful – but tricky to perform live. I tried to do my best. We couldn’t rehearse for long, just a couple of days (still, that’s a luxury), but I think the band sounded powerful, probably the tightest it has ever been. We get tighter and tighter as the years go by (spoilers: we’re in the process of planning more touring for October 2017; I can’t wait to play with this special group of people again!). Also, I’m glad that we all got along so well. It was my first time meeting Jenny: I found her to be very sweet and talented. Ben was also of great help, being a tour manager, driving, shooting, editing the video(s), providing food and drinks and wi-fi passwords for the band. He put together a nice live video for “The Plight”, using footage from all the dates of the mini-tour. Audio is taken from the album release show at Johnny Brenda’s, in Philadelphia. This is a good example of what the new line up sounds like:
The tour included a trip to Massachusetts through Connecticut, two states I had never been to before. We played this show in what seemed to be an art space with a bar, in a small, interesting town called Southbridge. It was fun. Probably the less attended show of the tour, but there’s a strange rule for which the less attended concert will be the one where you’ll sell the most merchandise. Good vibes all around, lots of t-shirts and cds sold. One thing I noticed, it was very hard to comprehend the language there. It was awkward. I couldn’t understand a single word. Apparently, it is hard for Americans too – it seems to be a distinguishing feature of Southbridge, or maybe Massachusetts in general. I was reassured, “don’t worry, it’s difficult for us even, and we are Americans!”. One time, I spoke to a Scottish man, and understood nothing. Accents and dialects can be weird. It happens here in Italy, as well: some dialects, I can’t understand a single word – they’re a whole other language than Italian.
After a glorious after party in a cabin in the woods, somewhere in Connecticut (watch this video), we found the perfect breakfast spot on our way to the next show in South Jersey – Claudia’s. I had the heaviest burrito ever. Needless to say, it was delicious. The place is owned and ran by Claudia herself, who cooked breakfast for us. There was such an intimate, family-like vibe to the place, that I couldn’t help falling in love with it. Oh, the joys of travelling! This event alone made up for the long flight, the cold weather, and the times when I was feeling a bit homesick. One night, someone asked: “What’s your favourite American food?”, and I replied “hamburgers”, without giving it much of a thought. I do love a good hamburger, although if I could reply to that question now, I’d say “breakfast food” – quesadillas, burritos, french toasts, pancakes, omelettes, eggs and bacon… everything! Feed me American breakfast for life. It works perfectly: I love the way it fills you up for hours, and (combined with good coffee) injects the energy you need for the rest of the day, at least until dinner time (around 5 or 6 pm). It’s different in Italy. Breakfast is light: an espresso, or cappuccino, maybe some orange juice, accompanied by sweets (biscuits, croissants, cakes). Around noon, we have lunch, which is supposed to be the main meal of the day. Finally, it’s time for dinner at 8 or 9 pm. I had Italian friends pointing out, “how can you eat ALL OF THAT at 10 am in the morning?”. I thought it was very funny – Italians are not used to eat sausages soon after they wake up. On the last tour, Julie nicknamed me “Big Fat Fuck”, because she always caught me eating at the most unexpected times and in the strangest places. She had a whole series of videos on Instagram, where she would surprise me eating alone in some kind of dark, desolate room, or in a kitchen somewhere. Everyone keeps asking me, “Where do you put all of that food?”. I don’t really know. One day, maybe, I’ll get fat all of sudden. I will turn into an Italian version of Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote – “And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint!”. Okay, enough of food (I’m getting hungry again, oh no).
This was my first time in the States with a president other than Barack Obama. I’d rather not talk about politics, but I was curious to know how Americans feel about the newly elected Mr. Trump. I would pose the question “What do you think of Donald Trump?” in the midst of some conversation, and I would get looks of despair in return. It seems to me that the general outlook on the situation is: “Well, he’s our president now, we have to bear the cross”. America is so huge, and I’ve seen such a small portion of it. I’m only connected with a definite circle of friends, sharing more or less the same views on politics and life, so I guess I’m a little biased. The question is, were Americans happy with Obama after all? Apparently he had his flaws, but his image and persona were definitely more reassuring. I watched that “Parts Unknown” TV show episode a few days ago, where Anthony Bourdain meets Obama in Vietnam. They share a bún chả dinner in a casual restaurant in Hanoi (again, food as a cultural mediator). It’s satisfying, and terribly entertaining to watch. The former president shares words of wisdom, with chopsticks in his hand. The context works great. I did question myself, is this authentic? Was it all staged? Maybe carefully planned ahead to convey a certain image of Obama to the world? I don’t know. It was good, though, and for some reason, I don’t see Donald Trump doing that. I would imagine a very different outcome, not to mention a very different scenario. Sadly, I feel that politics is such a distant concept nowadays; it’s completely out of touch with reality. I mean everywhere – the situation in Italy is insane, rotten to the core. We all feel helpless. On my part, I’m trying to be a better human. I know I can be a respectful citizen of the world. I’m grateful that I get to travel a lot and meet such a variety of people. I guess this is how we make a difference in life – by being out there, by sharing a stronger sense of community.
At the moment, I’m busy practicing for a couple of upcoming solo shows – the band O_R_k (Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari, Carmelo Pipitone, Colin Edwin and Pat Mastelotto) kindly invited me to open their concerts in Milan and Rome, as they’re about to embark on a promotional tour for the new album “Soul of an Octopus”. It will be good to see Pat again, and to spend more time with Colin (I have only met him once, very briefly). I have never met Lorenzo and Carmelo before, so I’m looking forward to finally make their acquaintance, and to seeing some of my Italian friends at the shows.