Legendary Italian Progressive Rock band PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi) has returned from one of their occasional musical lacunae with the release of a collection of impressive new and original songs on their new album Emotional Tattoos.
This musically surprising and diverse new release has the unique element of being recorded, and made available, in both English and Italian languages with slight deviations in their respective recordings.
To discuss the making of this already prog classic, and revealing anecdotes from the colourful history of a band fast approaching its 50th anniversary, band stalwart and legend Franz Di Cioccio grants National Rock Review’s Paul Davies an exclusive interview.
NRR: Emotional Tattoos is your first album of new music for quite a while. How did you find the writing and recording process for the album?
Emotional Tattoos is indeed our first album with lyrics after our previous two experimental albums based on instrumental music. The basic concept of this album is to open to incorporating different musical genres, exploring different musical languages through a great versatility in composition. We started off by composing fluid melodies and emotional songs that became the basis for the arrangements, the choice of sounds and the final structure.
The result is very different from our two previous albums, both Stati d’Immaginazione in which we interpreted the images of eight short films through highly evocative music and PFM in Classic, musical contaminations on themes by classical composers, a sort of jam sessions with Mozart, Dvorak, Saint-Sans and others.
NRR: What is the reason for the recording of the album in Italian and in English?
Already for several of our past albums, we used different lyrics for the Italian version and the English one, but the records were released at a different time. We then experimented with releasing albums that had only English lyrics —Chocolate Kings and Jet Lag, also for the Italian market. What is new in this version is that the package contains both versions to give the audience the choice of the final sound they prefer and gives them more emotions. We believe, for example, that in South America they will appreciate the Italian version because it is closer to the sound of their own language. The Japanese also love our language very much, while the English version will unite the rest of our fans all over the world. The texts in English are not the translation of the Italian ones—or vice versa—but they have a similar feel and often also a similar theme because it was the music that inspired all the stories. And the music of the album has such a precise personality that both the Italian an English writers were guided by it.
NRR: Can you explain the concept behind Emotional Tattoos?
Every time we encounter something that strikes us, especially in the arts, we feel amazed and that sensation remains imprinted in our spirit and our senses. This can happen, for instance, in front of a painting by Van Gogh or Caravaggio, or when we listen for the first time to albums like “Sergeant Pepper”, “The Dark Side of the Moon” or “Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. These sensations are like emotional tattoos that remain indelible on you. In our new album, we offer a musical journey into the depth of the essence of music, without any limitation of the genre. Music is a gift for humanity and it is the only language that everyone understands. All it takes it is to listen to it with an open mind.
NRR: Will you be touring the UK at any time in the near future?
Yes, we are planning to be there in May 2018. At the moment we are very busy with our Italian tour, then we’ll go to Japan, the USA and South America.
NRR: This year is the 45th anniversary of the release of your first studio album “The Story of a Minute”. Are you planning a celebration of this milestone?
R- No, nothing special. We’d rather look forward to our next 40 years! Tracks from The Story of a Minute are still present in our concerts. PFM never makes an album similar to the previous one. We have crossed many musical zones, very stylistically different and in our live performances we like to play songs from all our most significant musical periods. We play what we love and we like to improvise in a different way at each concert, and this makes us happy on stage. Our audience knows that every PFM concert is always a new experience. Of course, in our new show, there is a space reserved for Emotional Tattoos.
NRR: Going back to the band’s early period, how did you all meet and decide upon forming PFM?
Franz- At the end of the 1960’s I had a band called “Quelli”. We were well-known mostly for our work as session men in the records of all major Italian artists. At the time, the market for bands was mostly covers of foreign hits. As soon as we heard the new wave of progressive music that was growing in Great Britain and Europe, we decided to change our artistic life and line up. We locked ourselves up inside a theatre and after a few months of rehearsal and jam sessions, we found our own style and sound. From then on, we started composing and recording in a proper studio. The first single, “Impressioni di Settembre” (The World became the World), was a great success and shortly afterwards our first album Storie di un Minuto made it to the top of the charts. It was the first time in Italy that a record made by a band was the number one on the charts.
NRR: Who were the primary influences on the band’s musical direction?
All the musicians of the band had a background in classical music and were very familiar with rock music at all levels. I think the most significant influence was King Crimson with their “In the Court of the Crimson King”, as well as the whole English scene that was changing fast. During an audition in London at Fulham Theatre, our performance of “21st Century Schizoid Man” prompted Greg Lake to sign us up for his new Manticore label and Pete Sinfield’s produced our debut album Photos of Ghost.
NRR: Are there any anecdotes you can share from touring over the years?
There are so many, but it is impossible not to mention our meeting with the Queen Mother at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975. She was visiting that prestigious venue to inaugurate a dance school, and her attention was captured by the sound coming from the stage where we were rehearsing for the evening concert. Suddenly, all the English roadies stopped all of their noise and became as stiff as statues. Hearing that unexpected silence and seeing their unusual poise we realized that something important was happening. The Queen was indeed walking toward us, surrounded by all her entourage!
It was the sound of the Moog that called her attention. She asked questions about it and listened to some melodies. At the end, she expressed her best wishes for our concert. Unforgettable.
NRR: Progressive music has always flourished in Italy and is resurgent again across Europe. How do you see PFM developing as a band?
With the release of Emotional Tattoos, we see good prospects because the album is full of musical surprises and it expresses music in many different ways. Our relationship with our audience in Italy and in the world is a very close and lively one, and we feel that they recognize themselves in our choices. The lineup we have now is very versatile; we are seven musicians able to interact with each other in a perfectly synchronized way. Our sound is powerful, and the energy we create on the stage is very engaging for our audience. With this new tour we will visit many countries and this is what we love the most. We feel at home on every stage and we know our audience is aware of that.
Words: Paul Davies / Photo: Orazio Truglio