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Suspended Reality: Messa Discusses Their Turbulent 2022

Diving into one of last year's best records as the band hits the road.

Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):


Italian avant-doomsters Messa have had an eventful past year. From releasing their masterful album, Close, early in 2022 to dealing with a near fatal mid-tour car crash, Sara Bianchin (vocals) and Marco Zanin (bass) sat down with us to reflect on their journey & experiences over the last twelve months:

 

Late in November of 2022, we shared our end of year album list and I wanted to use this chance to speak to you both because I ranked 'Close' as my number one album for the year. So let's just start at the top – this was my own personal album of the year and I've seen it get a lot of attention and praise all across the world. So I'm curious, from your guys' perspective, how have you found the album to have been received overall throughout this year?


Sara: Well, absolutely great! We were not expecting it to be appreciated this much and we're really grateful for that. When you do music, and not only music but every project you put your hands on, you must be the first one to be happy about what you're doing, about the results. I think that is the first point to reach if you're happy about the results of what you've done and your work and all the blood you put into it. That's the first arrow that centers the point. But of course, having such good feedback is special. We were hopeful for it, but it was unexpected. It's still shocking for us to be, for example, number one in year end lists that were published. It's all really nice.


As far as the album itself, a really big part of what I enjoy about it so much is just the patient use of space that you have within your songs. I'm curious as to how you begin to form the ideas within these songs when you're writing them. Were you all in the room together? Were you jamming independently and sharing files? How did some of the tracks on this album come together? I know this was a so-called COVID record, but I don't want to dwell on that part of it. I'm just curious as to if you were in the rooms together or if you were separate.


Marco: Actually, no. Alberto (guitars) and I (bass) usually come up with some ideas. We then share the ideas, basically our structures or riffs for the songs, for the drummer, and then we start to build up the songs together. That's the main approach. We then of course go in studio.


When we went in studio for 'Close', we wanted to stay all together for ten days in the studio and we really wanted to avoid the COVID process. Let's say we didn't want to record the drum session in one day and then the bass line at home. We didn't want to separate all the things. We wanted to have an experience together. Also, we wanted to record the thing at the same time, so we recorded the bass, guitars and the drums together on tape. We had some other experiences as well, like we recorded some stuff in a cave that was near the studio, for instance. The main approach was to be together, close to each other for at least two weeks.



Sara: Yeah, we always try to work together as much as we can. In this sense, I think we're like an old school type of band. As soon as there's an idea, it is shared with the rest of the band and then we work on it together, on the song or the arrangement. It's kind of like a skeleton that starts to have its own shape. I remember that when we were writing 'Close' pretty seriously, we jumped to the rehearsal room as much as we had the premises to do that. It was a bit trickier than the previous two records because there were some boundaries due to COVID and blah blah blah. We managed to do it anyway. It just took a little bit longer, I think.


Sara, you used a really interesting phrase there: “the skeleton of the song”. Now your guys’ “skeleton” is pretty loose, right? It's loose in that you've just got so much room to work with as a vocalist. You have a lot as to what you can do on top of those amazing spatial rhythms and just the outline of the song. So how do you take your vocal lines and layer those on top of that skeleton? Is that something that Marco and Alberto have maybe demoed some melody lines already on instruments? Or are they providing you just a complete blank canvas and say, this is where we're starting from – “here you go”.


Sara: The latter - exactly like that. I have a completely blank white page and I can work my way on that. The same happens with the lyrics actually, giving me complete freedom.


Well, I mean, I've been amazed at the growth in the range and the dynamism of the overall sound of the band, and a big part of that, to my ear, has been just your vocal range. When you look at from the first record to where you are now, is that something that Marco and Alberto kind of pushed you to explore a little further, that range? Is that something that grew with your own confidence? Tell me how you were able to evolve that.


Sara: Well, if I look back in time, our first album, 'Belfry' (2016), was my first experience as a singer. I was really starting from the ground up! I remember having no idea how to do it. In fact, a funny thing is that the first concert we ever did, I was giving my back to the audience because I was too shy to turn and show my face because I was like, almost puking. I was too nervous, but I became more confident and I also discovered myself, clearly. A very simple part of doing this was having them by my side because they made me feel much more confident and they had faith in me.

Cover Artwork by makethatstudio

Marco: Also, technically speaking, Alberto is a guitar player, a jazz musician specifically. He graduated from the Conservatory of Jazz Guitar, so he knows a lot about harmony. I’m actually more into this kind of thing (proudly holding aloft a Motörhead adorned coffee mug!!). With the help of Alberto, sometimes we discovered that she has some skills that she didn't even know of. With the help of Alberto, she discovered that she could achieve some other scales, some other harmonies, some other way of thinking.


Sara: With 'Close', I was really trying to push myself more. With 'Feast For Water' (2018), it was more about giving things a shot, but with 'Close', I really wanted to expand all of that. It was also because of the confidence that I grew into. The more you play, the more you get confidence and you also get to know what you can deal with. It's experimentation and trying to understand which are your own limits. It's not only about vocal range either. It's also a lot about expression and how to shout what is in yourself because with the vocals, they're so questioning. It's not about a matter of range. There are some vocalists that I really love that have like, one octave, but still they're so sure and so pure.


Totally. I'm amazed with the answer that you gave just about your experience of coming from 'Belfry' to here on this record. So, Marco, for you, how did you respond then when you first heard, let's just say, the opening track 'Suspended' and you heard what Sarah was doing for the first time and you heard her incredible vocals come out in that way? How did you feel as her friend, as her bandmate, to hear that?


Marco: Amazing! For instance, 'Suspended' was one of Alberto's ideas of a song. In fact, that's why we put that song as a first song because that song is the one that has more of a jazzy twist. There’s a jazz guitar solo in the middle of the song that breaks it up. We would have a free song in order to give a link to the listener between the previous album and 'Close'.



The song starts with Rose piano, which was an instrument that we used a lot on 'Feast For Water'. We use it as an intro of sorts in order to link the listener to the new album and then didn't use it anymore for the rest of the 'Close' record.

Cover Artwork by makethatstudio

The overall sound that (recording & mixing engineer) “Icio” helps create on the album is just so spacious and airy. It's got so much breadth in it. Is that something that is kind of a specialty of his, or is that really the sound that you are pushing for that he was able to capture?


Marco: No, we actually had clear ideas of what we wanted to achieve in terms of sounds and references. We didn't pick him because of his style of sounding recording, which is not his style, let's say. In fact, he doesn't produce any doom. He's produced completely different stuff, but he's so good and he has super good taste. Technically speaking, he's like one of the best sound guys that we've had, I believe, in the north of Italy, and he's so wide in terms of references. When you speak about anything sound related, he knows exactly what you're speaking about. We combined the two things: we had a clear idea and we had a super good guy behind the desk table.


Sara: One thing that I really like about each of those on a personal level is that working in the studio can sometimes be frustrating, and it's a bit of a tough experience because you stay under the gun and you want to do your job really good. Sometimes it can get stressful, so it's good to have someone that acts as a teacher of sorts.


Marco: Yes. The good thing about him is that he's an artistic producer. If you need any tips, he'll give you tips, but he can also make you feel uncomfortable on something that you're doing in order to push you to do it the best you can in a different way, or the best you can. He's more than just a tech guy. He behaves as a producer and he's become such a super close friend of ours. There are no filters among us. If he wants to say something, he'll say it. When we do something that is really exciting, he's excited as well.


I'm curious to hear a little bit about how the artwork came about and what the cover image is. How did the cover image come about and what's some of the origin story of the folks who are on the cover of the record?


Sara: When we were still working on the recording, we had a clear idea of how we wanted to represent the songs and the record as a whole from a visual point of view. We were doing visual research on what we could use and what was giving the vibe and the feeling that we wanted for the music's visuals. We came across the cover picture and we were immediately stoked with it. For me, it was that one from the get go. We just went for it and we thought it was a super powerful picture. It really stood out when we were comparing the possible pictures for the album cover because it could really translate on so many communication levels, which is what we were trying to do musically, too.


We tried to get as much information as possible about the picture, but we do not even know that much about it. It was probably shot in the 1930s or 1940s by an unknown photographer. We have no idea who took it. We just have the initials and the surname. It was, I think, a silver plate photograph.


Marco: We've been in contact with the owner of those, which is a private museum, and they let us use those images. Even they don't know exactly the info about those pictures because back in the days, usually the photographer was also a scientist and scientists were also photographers when they were…


Sara: Anthropology...?


Marco: Yeah, exactly, when they would going outdoors. So, we don't know exactly who shot that image.


The fact that there's some unknown and mystery makes it even more fitting and perfect in some ways, right?!


Marco: Yeah, exactly. It's fascinating because it's really specific. We received some more info about that specific dance when we recorded the 'Pilgrim' video. We hired these dancers to perform that dance for us. They know that dance well and it was explained to us alongside some other details.



Fascinating. I want to turn a little bit now. I mentioned the outset of how much of an eventful and challenging year that you guys have had. I hope everyone's doing okay after your incident on the road a month or two back. Can you just tell me, is everyone okay after all that?


Marco: Yeah, I'm the one that was more impacted because I was sitting the front of the van. We had this frontal crash with four assholes who were all drunk and were riding the car in our lane. We destroyed the van, broke some instruments, and I had an operation done on my shoulder. I now have metal screws inside my shoulder, but I restarted playing the bass for two weeks now. We're now continuing to do shows again. We've been lucky.


Overall, it's been really good to see the warm affection from our friends and from people that we don't even know. Everyone has been really kind to us. I spent a week to reply to other people through emails, Instagram, and Facebook.


Sara: I think that's what really helped us in the recovery process. On a psychological side, we do not feel alone. To get the love, affection, attention, and help from everybody, including people that we do and don't know, was a game changer. It was a really cool, positive side about this whole situation.


So far on the run for this album, you've played some pretty incredible shows. You were back at Roadburn doing the album in full, you were at Hellfest, which looked incredible, looked a little bit painful, but also looked incredible. How have you guys responded with playing these songs live?


Sara: At the beginning when we started doing shows, almost as soon as 'Close' came out, we understood almost immediately that we had to settle down a certain set list that consisted of a mixture of both new songs and some old ones. We have a list that we do when we are mixed up on our own and we have another one that was the one that we used for Roadburn, which includes three additional musicians. It was really nice to be able to play so many places this year: so many countries, so many festivals, and of course, just Roadburn. Playing the whole album live with these three additional musicians was an incredible experience. We were really emotional and picky for that fact because it was like a one of a kind thing to have the three musicians, who are friends and colleagues.


I noticed that you had a recent announcement about getting back on the road starting very soon. What are the touring plans for the start of 2023 and for the rest of the year?


Marco: We played some Italian shows in the beginning of January, then will be in Greece for a couple of shows. Greece is really cool because there's a good metal scene that will go on tour in February. Thankfully, we'll finally be able to go to the UK. We always play in London, but this time, we have several shows around the UK. We will play some summer festivals and I believe that we will promote and play the new album until next September, October for sure. We hope to come to US again once too!


We already did a southern US tour back in 2017. It was a super DIY tour with bands from Texas. It was amazing and we really had fun, but we would love to come again. Who knows, maybe next summer?


Sara: Yeah, let's see what the future brings! It would be super, super lovely to come back to the US, especially after five years.

 

Close is available now via Svart Records (Order).


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