Q&A with multi-talented ambient composer Giancarlo Erra

Image credit Caroline Traitler

Releasing his album Departure Tapes via Kscope, Italian music producer and composer Giancarlo Erra continues to show his affinity for ambient music and beyond. Erra is also known to have a passion for creating rock music, and plans to release more music with his band soon. The composer is heavily influenced by great minds like Brian Eno and Max Ritcher, and he evokes these emotional qualities in his individual sound, whether it be his classical or acoustic arrangements. His music video for the featured song ‘Previous Tapes’ is an elegant blend of scenery captured under a noir-esque filter.

We found more about the multi-talented producer below.

Describe your sound for us. What do you want people to feel when they hear your music?

I think my sound is mostly a warm sound, like the one you would hear in an old grainy film. A bit haunting, but very personal, melancholic but also hopeful. Music for me is the way to deal with emotional struggles, and I suppose that’s what emerges from what I write. I don’t really make music thinking about what people will think, I just make it feeling my own things. What I hope is only that people will listen to their feelings, their stories when listening to my music. But it is something I will think about once an album is released and I imagine people getting it and listening to it. I mostly write for myself with my projects.

Which 3 artists have influenced you the most growing up?

While growing up, that’s quite easy; Beatles, Ennio Morricone, Pink Floyd! The latter was the one I chose myself once I was old enough to buy my first cd, while the former two are the ones I grew up listening to at home as they were my father’s favourites. I think all these influences are visible across the various projects I’m involved with. There’s the song and songwriting always at the centre, no matter what kind of music I’m writing, and that comes from the Beatles. Then there’s the cinematic element from Ennio Morricone, who was someone who always concentrated on the importance of melody. And Pink Floyd was the band that brought those two early influences into rock music, that’s what I was mostly playing as a teenager.

How did you discover your particular sound?

I don’t know, I also hope I still haven’t discovered it, as it means I still have many years of research and challenges! I like to challenge myself every time, be it with a different kind of

writing style or different instruments. And I like also to experiment a lot with sound design, being a composer but equally a producer. I believe my sounds have some common characteristics, as they must be emotional, simple but also filling, warm and embracing. I think for me sound is so much more about how I “feel”  more than the sound itself, that is very difficult to describe precisely. It’s all about what I feel and it comes to my mind in terms of sound I want to use for the song I’m writing.

Tell us about one of the first struggles you faced (as a group or a solo artist) and how you overcame it?

First struggles were not many years ago, and it was definitely what every artist faces at the start – to have your music heard! I started doing it all on my own, not just the music and production, but also the engineering, recording, mastering, graphics, manufacturing, making a shop online, promoting, dealing with magazines and blogs etc. (at the time the best social platform was Myspace!). It was a time when making music accumulated a small percentage of the time in my day. It was a no stop work between emailing, packing, mailing, plus trying to organise live gigs, etc. All on my own! I was younger and had more energy, but it was an invaluable experience that taught me so much, and I still benefit today from those early years of daytime jobs to pay for the music that was all created at night.

What are the most important pieces of equipment to you?

Surely my piano is the main instrument I write on and is the most beautiful sounding instrument for me. My guitars are important as well, but although I’m mostly known as a guitarist, the piano is the instrument nearer to my heart. The second instrument I couldn’t live without is my teenage engineering device OP1, my main writing instrument when on the move, and the centrepiece of my onstage solo performances. It’s a little tool that does so many things, it’s absolutely incredible. I filled it with samples I did with my own instruments, my piano, my voice -an amazing little piece of kit. My collections of analogue synthesisers are also fundamental for me from the 1967 Korg MS1 to the monstrous recent Moog One, passing through the essentials in so much music would be the Prophet or the Juno 106. I also have a good passion for string machines…they have a kind of sound I really dig!

Music for the individual or the masses – which do you want to create?

I think I create music that is for an individual experience…But then when hundreds or thousands of people listen to it and each relates to different feelings, isn’t that a mass  ;-)?

Do you have a favourite memory of your career so far?

Ah, I do have many of them. More recently, probably my first solo show here in Norwich where I performed a live and private event at one of my favourite historic pubs in the city. It was such a lovely experience. And then there are a lot of the big gigs we’ve done with my band Nosound in front of large crowds or opening for big artists. I think for me music like life in general is mostly about the connection with others, so the fondest memories I have are the moments with the band, of real connection either for fun, off stage or playing “that” magic moment on stage. And then all the people I meet every time, telling me how my music has been important for them, for this or that reason, usually linked to some particularly big events in their life. Every time, I feel I  have achieved my mission in life, which is to somehow help and soothe people’s feelings.

If you could work with, or perform alongside any artist living or passed, who would it be?

Uh, probably it would be Brian Eno with whom I shared a festival and some good fun and interesting times. Some experimental gig/installation with him and Artificial Intelligence would be fantastic :-). Going onto more classic things, I would say probably Ennio Morricone!

What kind of message are you trying to send with your music?

As I wrote before, I’m really not trying to send a message when I write music. If anything, the message is for me…I write mainly for myself. But I know that as human beings we’re all equal, at the end of the day we go through the same struggles, insecurities, problems, joys, just everyone in their own way and lives. So I just write music that is honest for myself, and as long as I’m honest with myself, I know that then this will resonate with people that are able to be honest with themselves about what they feel.

What can we expect from you in the near future? Any upcoming projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?

Considering the actual pandemic, it’s not very easy to plan live activity at the moment. I do have some live stuff planned with my band Nosound, and then is going to be all studio work. In terms of my own projects, soon we’ll release a collaboration project with British singer Tim Bowness. Then I will be releasing a new album with my band, and then maybe I’ll start thinking about a third solo album…But for now, considering I’m also producing another couple of projects, it all looks quite busy as it is!

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