As the sole songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind electronic pop outfit Porcelain Raft, Mauro Remiddi crafts complicated, sonic atmospheres with just enough of a slick, accessible sheen. A dreamy concoction of bedroom-pop sounds, the style he creates on his debut full length — Strange Weekend, released on Secretly Canadian — is not an easy one to pigeonhole, but it hits a certain nerve that stimulates one’s pleasure-seeking and intellectual sides equally.
Mauro was kind enough to discuss with us the concepts behind Strange Weekend, his changing live set-up and the nature of his musical inspiration.
Treble: You have a very full sound for someone composing music in your bedroom as a “one-man-band.” Did the appeal of that presence draw you to removing yourself from a band setting, or was it a natural sort of thing?
Mauro Remiddi: I would say it was kind of united — the recording and the live sets — to me they’re one thing. But, I would say the fact that I’m recording alone… it’s just because I’m very fast in thinking and acting toward the instruments and the recording sessions and editing the music on the computer. So I just found it’s so much easier to be by myself. It’s as if you’re basically seeing a picture and you want that picture to come to life, you know, so everybody can see it. For me, it’s very natural just to do it by myself. But I love to play and cooperate. For me the point is to bring the life from the picture, and it’s not really to have a band. So I perfected it by myself, just because it’s the most effective way I know.
On the other side, on the stage, I decided to play by myself because first, at the beginning, I didn’t have any budget to have anybody play with me, and honestly I really like the idea of being by myself, creating this wall of sound. Because like you’ve said, I’m not like an acoustic guy with an acoustic guitar and intimate songs — which is fine for me — but that’s exactly what I did not want to do. I wanted to create this mesmerizing sound by just being by myself. So you wouldn’t understand where the bass is coming from, where the voice with delay. Just close your eyes — you cannot really spot how many people there are on stage. That’s what I liked about it.
But then, I think to be by yourself on a stage on that size, I felt I could hardly achieve what I wanted to because the space was too big. Slowly, with time, I felt that I If wanted to be just by myself, it has its own size, so I should play just a certain size of gigs. And then I started to play bigger venues, so I decided because of that to have somebody else on stage. So right now, we are actually two — my voice, playing, and then the drums — so we are not actually like a band, but it’s somebody else on stage — somebody that can change some energy. And to be honest with you I actually enjoyed it, not just because there’s somebody else on stage, but because I can play bigger stages.
Treble: I have read that a lot of these songs came from dreams…
MR: I wouldn’t say… Well, the picture of the sound — the sound itself — is inspired by the state of dreaming. Like, to be honest, the state I prefer the most is when you wake up in the morning, half asleep, so your eyes are still unopened and maybe there’s a few seconds where you don’t remember where you are. You know, that kind of half-awake kind of feeling. That’s sort of what I’m interested in. So probably the sound itself is inspired by that kind of experience.
But the songs talk about me — the song itself, there’ s nothing dreamy about that. The lyrics, I find it actually ground to reality. Basically, I think it’s the contrast between the texture being so from another world — so dreamy — and the lyrics, especially from like “Backwords” or “The Way In,” that’s just about relationships — that’s so real.
Treble: And I forget where I read about the dreams, but that’s why I was so puzzled, because the lyrics seem so literal. What sort of experiences did the lyrics and the title for Strange Weekend come from?
MR: I wanted to create something which was a snapshot of me at the moment. So, I was in a basement, recording by myself, and I didn’t have any songs in mind before, so I just wanted to record and compose at the same time. And I really like this idea of having a really short time-span, where everything I thought at the moment, everything that was appearing to me at the moment, I would just record it. What I wanted to make sure was that this album had a short time-frame. So, you know, a weekend is short — it’s really just two days — and that’s what I created, just a little bit of a concept. I just wanted to frame only the detail of it. That was the idea.
Treble: Were any layers of the album’s sound based on your prior experience as a musician? (Sunny Day Sets Fire, vaudeville revival, musical scores, etc.)
MR: First of all, I didn’t want to make a record which was a sum of all my experiences. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have played electronics, because I just started playing electronic instruments, honestly, three years ago. I was actually never somebody that would play things like that. I always loved it, but I’m typically a pianist. This approach to electronics, it was just something I always had in mind, and started three or four years ago. So it’s not a sum of my experiences, but this is just like me now, and to be honest, if there are some interests from the past things I’ve done, it’s probably something to do with soundtracks. The way I always saw an album, it would never be monotonic with the same type of songwriting. I like the album to change, the way I’ve written, so it’s not always pop-rock or this or that. It’s just like so many details and ways of writing, that’s sort of what I’ve always liked. And maybe unconsciously that’s what I was trying to do with this album.
But I think the best influences you can ever have, they are always unconscious, you never sit down thinking “you know what, I’m going to do this.” That would suck. Sure there are influences, sure there are things that have really affected you during your life, but it’s better that you don’t actually know it. It’s better if they are there and they come out when they have to come out, without you actually thinking about it.
Treble: Where there are any albums and artists, while writing this album, that you listened to, that might have inspired you that way? Not on your mind, but prominent in your life at the time, when you first moved to New York.
MR: I feel like, when I moved here and I started to record the album, the only thing I was listening to was what I was doing. I didn’t have really any space, mentally. Just what I was doing, not the demos but the first layers. I would just put them in my iPod and constantly listen to it, even when I would walk in the street. I think when you commit yourself to something it becomes like an obsession…
So what I’m trying to say… could be I went to a gig, or maybe I went to a shop and heard a song, and that triggered something in my head. But, as I said before, consciously I couldn’t really name anything. I was so absorbed with everything I was doing. But I think those things are normal. That’s the most beautiful thing about being a sponge — anything we see or hear somehow is in the back of our brain. So I’m sure that happened, but I couldn’t put a finger on anything.
Treble: The image of you listening to the bare tracks on your iPod brings to mind something I heard: You had the idea of creating the rhythms of your songs first, because that was the part you had the least experience with.
MR: Yeah, basically, I tend to see conversations, the sound, backnoise. The way I write music, if I had to put all this in a space, I would put it somewhere very high, in the clouds. Rhythm is a sort of comfort to me. It’s something that starts from the ground, something that makes you want to step on the ground. And I think these two elements should work together.
Now, naturally I more tend to go high, to have no bass, to have no toms. So I decided to discover more. Instead of starting from the melody, what if I start with something that doesn’t come as natural? Of course I know rhythm and can play drums, but I never started from it… So, on purpose I started on the opposite. I started from the ground going up, which is the melody. If you notice, there are no really strong basslines on this album. I didn’t have a bass in the studio and I just didn’t use it. So probably, the next one it would be interesting for me to have a bass and start everything from a bassline. Then it’s grounded.
Treble: Do you see yourself writing again soon in the future?
MR: I’ve been recording nonstop every day for years and years, and I never had this touring schedule I have now. So now is the first time, truly, I can wait three, four months with no chance to record anything. Which is good, because I’m developing something else — the live show. It’s so much fun, it’s a chance for me to develop a great live show, and let songs develop on stage. When I recorded them, there was none. I did not arrange them much, I just wanted to record what was coming out. But they’re works in progress. The songs are actually slowly changing. So I’m really happy for these tours, and playing live and everything. But my head is always thinking of recording. Pretty soon, I think, I’ll start recording again.
Treble: You directed the videos for “Put Me To Sleep” and “Unless You Speak From The Heart” yourself. In the first, it’s as if you’re drowning in film developer, and the other is more of a charade-piece. What was your thought process in directing those?
MR: There are certain things, like with “Put Me To Sleep” for example, I felt, when it was done, there is an element here which is almost untouchable, which I like, that I’d love to underline. And I can underline that using the video. When I recorded the album, and the song did not have a video, I felt very weird, and I tried to explain that to the guy from the label — he thought it should be a single. And I was like “It’s not complete.” And the truth was it was complete, but in my head it needed the video. Because the video has a feeling of being uncomfortable… This man drowning in this bath tub of milk, and he doesn’t know where he is, and he just wants to go home. He doesn’t question anything. He doesn’t even question “Why Am I here?”… There’s something I really liked about it.
And for “Unless You Speak From The Heart,” we’re in a white room, so we become objects. I wanted to make a video that was different from anything I did, just fun and ironic. I just experimented with a few things, then edited later. I wanted it to be very light, til the end becomes a little bit more obscure and dark. That was the point. Kind of fun — not fun, but ironic a little bit…. Then it becomes so dark in the end. I just liked that idea. That’s one thing I like about video in general, that you can tell a story. It’s like a spotlight. You just leak what you want somebody to see.
Treble: You’ve had this new touring life, you’re back for about a week, right? What are you going to do for the week to relax?
MR: (after a long laugh) Well, you won’t believe it, I broke so many things on the stage, that, unfortunately, I’m not going to rest. I’m going to go around and shop, buying cables, repairing pedals. Then, probably I am going to, for a couple of days, just lay down, watch some movies, drink some wine, and relax before I start touring again.
Treble: Red or white?