Interview with Philippa Russell, reproduced by kind permission
“Archipelago” is a rare thing thing these days, a different Idea. Maxx has visited the 7 Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily having composed a piece of music about each of them. Now I know nothing about islands off Sicily, but having listened and watched (there is a Video version of most of the album on You Tube) I now do. The music is intertwined with places of great variety.
How did you approach writing the music Maxx and what gave you the idea?
“I was feeling quite down last January and started reading about Stromboli, the volcano and realised this was part of a group of islands, an archipelago. I researched each island and found they each had a hugely different character. I wrote an album from improvisation, using genres like colours on a painting, to try and create a picture of a place I had never been to at that time. Then I was lucky enough to be able to go there, see the islands, and make a film about them”
Did the music change after you visited the islands? How did you decide how an album like this would sound? To me it is almost anti- genre, it is a fusion of everything from electronic pop to folk.
“Only one track Lipari, changed and that was mainly that it was the weakest track. I had read up about the islands quite obsessively, so the music did relate to the reality at least in part. I wanted certain themes to occur throughout the album. For example, hard metallic and prominent percussion – the islands are rocky and dry -they are not echoey places and they are quite raw and wild. So I used hardly any reverb to keep that impression of a wild landscape. The rhythm is quite raw at times and it is intentionally like that. With Alicudi I wrote a song about an island which has not caught up with the modern world. I didn't think a row of synths would be appropriate for that so I used mandolin and acoustic guitar. It was deliberate that the song sounded a little unproduced but it has since become one of my most loved songs ”
Alicudi has the best vocal I have heard from Maxx, he sings with genuine warmth about the island in the sea. – the song itself has an honesty – it really is an environmental song saying how we should all return to a time of simplicity “The way it is here is how it should be elsewhere theres destruction elsewhere theres disease”
Salina is ALMOST New Age but the chugging percussion and rough edges makes it more vibrant than a piece of purely relaxing music.
“I was very conscious I didn’t want the music to be too sweet or chocolate boxy. Also with islands of a volcanic origin, there is an energy behind the beautiful views. I believe the start of Salina sounds Sicilian in its style. Also this is a real place and life there is not without its problems. I was gratified the locals who I gave a copy of the music too said, in the usual Italian way that it was “suggestive” Its a challenge to write about a real place. Anybody could say – it is not like here. It is a musical painting, an impression. It is open to a view for and against, especially as the video shows the place the music is about! I used different elements throughout. I did resort to strings quite often when I wanted to portray a landscape but there is always something harder in the music as a counterpoint. Raw, wild and beautiful. I felt that was the unifiying character of the Aeolians.”
The other vocal track “Panarea” seems to fuse slow funk, pop and electronica. Simple and catchy, it is a treat to hear Mr Silver rather more happy!
“Panarea is an amazing place. To be honest my song concentrates on the celebrity party island vibe more than the peaceful, beautiful small island I visited which was quiet by September. The song is a good commercial for the album”
The video for "Stromboli Island of Fire" has distant time lapse views of Stromboli an erupting volcano and this track, in three parts, is the towering highlight of a varied and distinctive album.
“ I bet any musician would LOVE to write a piece about a volcano. It was so much FUN! A favourite band of mine is Porcupine Tree. When I asked myself, how would a volcano sound? The answer came back - like a prog rock volcano! I don't know if Steven Wilson will ever hear it, but it would be great if he did.”
The piece is initially approached via a classical style first part and a 1950’s faux Rachmaninoff film soundtrack – a visit to Ingrid Bergmans house (she filmed Stromboli in 1949) to Strombolian, a surprising and uplifting rock workout where layers keep building within layers of music (and explosions!)
“The only thing I would change is that Stromboli had two major eruptions AFTER I wrote the music. I felt it was a playful volcano when I wrote the piece but its a bit like making friends with a tiger. Its possible the tiger may bite you, or eat you. So the piece is about a playful volcano, but the reality is less predictable. I don't think a playful volcano actually exists...
Maxx wrote an article about his visit which you can read elsewhere on this site.
Closing the album is the sublime “Filicudi” a harp led pictorial, a bit like a Dead Can Dance instrumental and a fitting close to the trip round islands.
At a time when musical ideas can be bereft of much original thought I find the album, whilst a little short, to be a great testament to Maxx and his constant search for new angles on his music. I ask him where he is going next.
“I am working on an album with a working title of “In Recovery” which is dark, very synth based. Think Depeche Mode sort of area, its going to surprise a lot of people!