franco turra | AUTO5 | summer 1997 by paola sorrentino

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO FRANCO TURRA by Paola Sorrentino

Adorable Editor Ian has been singing praises of Franco Turra and his clever, catchy pop songs for ages. They obviously share a penchant for XTC - Turra recorded several excellent XTC covers (sung in Italian) for the Bizarre Depiction XTC Tribute tapes. Meet the most talented record store clerk in the world, and his endless flow of words...

PAOLA SORRENTINO: Describe yourself in a few words.

FRANCO TURRA: My name is Franco Turra, I play...I don't know what else to say. I've been playing for ages. My first serious band was called Pseud'O Hara, I sang in English then (which will make Ian happy), it was around 1984-85. Around the same time, as we were a very eclectic band and used to swap instruments with each other all the time,we started another band which actually survived to the first one, called Bohemien Flambé, and sang in French. We were reading a lot of French literature at the time, we were very influenced by it and we wanted to be chansonniers, use Prévert's poems as lyrics, and revisit the French tradition in a rock way and in a Mediterranean, Ethnic way - they used to take us for Manu Dibango all the time.

PS: Was Bohemien Flambé successful?

FT: It surely was the band which gave me more chances - I blew them all, otherwise I wouldn't be here talking to you now! We had contacts with lots of majors, but as the Italian music business wasn't thriving as it is now, they generally only proposed us co-productions and split singles, which we proudly refused (a terrible mistake); I was even asked to make a record in France, which would have been the perfect place; in Italy, we were considered just too strange... But the bosses wanted me to go to France alone, and I refused because I wanted to take my band with me, and that proved itself another big mistake later on.

PS: What kind of musical background do you have?

FT: I have no real background, I learned to play guitar because some friends taught me, then I started playing bass for the usual reason you do it, i.e. we had no bass player...

PS: What kind of bass guitar do you own? (I ask to satisfy Ian's recent bass fetish)

FT: The bass guitar I have now is an Ibanez Sound Gear (don't remember the model). It isn't such a great bass guitar because I do not consider myself such a great bass player. I also used to have a Rickenbacker and I still have a Fender fretless bass. When I played with Pseud'O Hara I actually was quite a virtuoso, I was a kind of Mark King from Level 42, I'd play absurd bass lines and sing even more absurd lyrics on them. Later, I concentrated on singing and being a frontman. In the band I'm forming now, I just sing and play acoustic guitar.

PS: You've just finished recording your first CD single. How was it?

FT: I'm glad I finished it. It was mainly painless, no different from recording one of my many tapes. Perhaps it involves more responsibility because the CD will have a wider distribution; when I made tapes, I didn't even bother sending them out to everybody, I just sent them to majors (which are the least likely labels to contact you), to some radios and some 'specialized' music magazines - specialized my ass, they suck...But I was contacted by Sony at the time of the Amori in Corso tape (1995), they wanted to take me to the Sanremo Music Festival (author's note: Italy's biggest pop music festival, a massive TV marathon which takes place every year; the music sucks, but the audience is huge, so if people like your song, you may become Italy's newest pop star overnight).

PS: Really!?!?!?!!

FT: Yes! Then Sony chose another band instead of me, Neri Per Caso (another author's note: this band did, in fact, have huge success overnight). I don't like talking about this because I am a bit ashamed. I used to tell them, "you know, I don't really think I belong in Sanremo", but they said "oh no, you are perfect, this year we are looking for something slightly more original, we'll even let you release a Christmas single" - I record a Christmas single every year, too. Then they dumped me at the very last minute, and I got mad, because I had been inactive for a year, I refused lots of other smaller but more concrete proposals because I was keeping myself free for the Sanremo Festival. There followed lots of verbal abuse and a letter of insults, so that was pretty much the end of my collaboration with Sony Music.

On Playing XTC Covers:

"I chose to cover Colin Moulding songs, and not Andy Partridge songs, because I like to go against the flow in every occasion. I hate it when you make a tribute album, a Jimi Hendrix tribute for example, and everybody wants to cover "Are You Experienced" or "Voodoo Child" - what's the use, they are so good already, you can't make them any better. So when I was asked to cover XTC I chose a track which not many people know. Later I did Grass, ("Erba"), which is slightly more famous. The only Andy Partridge song I covered is "No Thugs In Our House"."

PS: Is cassette culture dying?

FT: Yes, it is dying, when labels receive a tape they just throw it in the dustbin straight away, because they think that anybody can release a tape. Nowadays, everybody can make CDs as well, you just have to fork out some money, but it looks different: when labels receive a CD they think "at least this guy has invested money, he believes in what he does, at least he has balls". Tapes are still around, but if you send one to Sony, for example, they'll never listen to it; I think I've been extremely lucky in that Sony actually listened to my tape and contacted me, because they rarely do it.

PS: Singing in Italian obviously limits your chances on an international level. I assume you don't care...

FT: Well, I care about everything! But 80% of my art is based on the music. I love writing lyrics, but it's a very instinctive process. If a text comes out immediately, it's great, but if I have to put effort into it, I don't like it. If a song comes out of my mind with great music and great lyrics to boot, it's fantastic; but I'd rather write short stories (which I sometimes do) than "glue" a text on a pre-existing song. I actually love singing in lots of languages, English, French...I even sang in Russian once. My friend and I bought one of those "Teach yourself Russian" books, and invented this character of a Russian émigré, and his stories. We even played some songs live during a Pseud'O Hara gig. It was during the Italian Communist Party Convention, so we thought it was somewhat appropriate. I remember the gig ended very badly though, with me dropping my trousers as a sign of protest, and a guy from the band walking out of the stage in shock because of that. Which wasn't very Russian of me, and not very Italian either.

PS: What music do you listen to?

FT: Now that I work in a record store, I have to listen to everything. When I get home, I just don't listen to music...Actually, I'm listening to The Monkees right now - there's this brand new Monkees anthology. I remember watching reruns of a Monkees TV show when I was a child. And I liked the Beatles too. I inherited all of the Beatles' records from my sister, and I grew up with that kind of music. I started playing because of the Beatles. When I was old enough to choose, I was very influenced by ethnic music, mostly African or Arab.

PS: What's the most incredible CD a customer asked for today?

FT: Nothing in particular, people just come up to the counter with their selections in hand. To tell the truth, people often ask for incredible heavy metal bands with uncomprehensible names, they'd ask me "Do you have %*^$£"%?"And I have to look it up on the computer and I can't find it, and they go "No, no, you didn't understand, it's #%y&%§*çÑ". God knows in what zines they read about these bands.

PS: Name a song which makes you go 'Ooh, why didn't I write this one?'.

FT: I don't know, there are so many..."Yesterday". But if I had really written "Yesterday," I guess I would love it less. It's all about memories. All the songs I write are related to a memory, a woman, a problem, and so on.

PS: Which band would you like to play with?

FT: The Beatles!!!

PS: No, I mean, a modern band.

FT: Well, I haven't really listened to The Beatles for about seven years now, but I'm grateful to them because they gave me the impetus to become a songwriter. And Ian knows very well, because it's how we first got in touch, that my other favorite band is XTC, the unluckiest band in history - there's an aura of malediction and bad luck around them, which is only equal to mine. I probably inherited this bad luck because I love them, it's like a contagious disease, it's like "You like XTC? You're doomed", and even more so because I live in Italy. XTC are unlucky but at least they live in England... You know, XTC make weird songs, housewives would never like them, they are loved by those in the know, artists or struggling musicians, so they don't sell records. And they don't even have a contract right now. I've never had a real contract in my life, so we are brothers in our bad luck.

PS: Name the best and the worst gigs you've seen lately.

FT: I actually don't go to gigs too often now that I stopped playing, because it just makes me want to play live myself - a guy on a strict diet doesn't enter a pastry shop, does he? I rarely go to foreign artists' gigs anyway, I just see Italian bands, or friends of mine playing. I'd like to see The Who in Milan, which will be my first really big gig. The Who are another favorite of mine, of course. And I wanted to see Paul Weller, who is another one of my idols, especially when he played with the Style Council.

PS: Projects for the future?

FT: The CD will be out in May. It's called "Ho, Non Ho." The title track is very easy, it's music for housewives. My friends, who are used to my stranger things, hate it, but people who usually just listen to crap all say they love it. I'm forming a new band and will play live again, after five or six years of inactivity. Earlier this morning, while I was in the bathroom, I thought I would love to reissue my collection of old songs on vinyl. The album could be called TroppoTurra ("Too Turra"): at work today, I was showing the record to my workmates in the record store, and a woman asked me, "What does it sound like?" and I said "I couldn't say, madam, it's too Turra".

On Receiving Negative Reviews:

"We should value negative reviews. I've always had fucking great reviews, but in the end I never do anything, so I guess I'd rather have shitty reviews, 'This guy is a moron and doesn't understand a fuck about music', but have a nice little contract..."

On Originality:

"When I listen to music, I'm obsessed with analyzing the composition of the song; if it's good, I like it, but if it's trivial, it can be the best sounding music on Earth but I still won't like it. A song must be original. Nothing can be invented any more, so one must at least reinvent."

On the Art of Kissing Ass:

"It is an Art with a capital A. At some point in your life, musical or otherwise, you have to do it. Some people master this art, and you can't say they are total losers, because there is one thing they can do in their life, and it's that. I'm trying to learn the basics of this Art, but it's difficult, I guess it must be mostly innate. When I was younger I, too,believed that one day a tycoon would come out of the blue and say "Oooh, your music is excellent, do as you please", but..."

TURROGRAPHY

  • Ho, Non Ho (CD single) May 1997
  • Complimenti! 1996
  • Amori in Corso 1995
  • Pigiami Sbilenchi 1993

FRANCO TURRA via Castiglione 91, 40136 Bologna Italy