THE STORY BEHIND... The Watch - Vacuum

"It's very important to keep the listener's pleasure awake"

(Text by Henri Strik, live pictures by Arthur Haggenburg)

For many people one of the best albums recorded in 2004 was Vacuum by Italian band The Watch. I had a pleasant conversation with two band members: Simone Rossetti, vocalist and composer, and guitarist Ettore Salati. Of course, the subject of the conversation was the album Vacuum.

First let me tell you that I consider Vacuum your best album so far. Do you agree?

Rossetti: "Thank you, we agree. Vacuum is our third album and we think that we have expressed the maximum of our musical potential in this moment of our lives. Like every other honest band, we grew to matured musicians. That resulted in an album made by complete musicians, a summary of what we did before plus several new elements."

Did Vacuum fill a gap in the progressive rock scene?

Salati: "Well, when we started producing Vacuum, we didn't think about of something lacking in prog rock, neither to fill it with a new release. We just composed, arranged, recorded and mixed, that's all. If we filled a gap in the actual prog scene, ok, but our role is simply to make music."

When did you start working on this album?

Rossetti: "I began composing new tunes at the end of 2002 during the Ghost tour. However, the recordings began a year later and we worked on it for about a year. First, we recorded the drum tracks, later the other instruments and the vocals. The mix we did in the summer of 2004. We know that many people worldwide were waiting for the new album, but we think that it has been worth wile, because it comes up to our expectations."

Was the album difficult to make?

Salati: "Yes, it was. In particular, the editing and the mixing were difficult. We are very accurate, so things had to be refined and refined, until the result reached the level we wanted. Sometimes you are sure about something from the beginning, other things get clearer during the working process, so Vacuum was modeled slowly."

In my opinion Sergio Taglioni is the best keyboardist the band has ever had. Do you agree and how did you find him?

Rossetti: "Sergio is an old friend of the band. He runs StudioLab, where we recorded all our albums, he is indeed a great musician and a fine person. He co-produced Twilight, Ghost and Vacuum and he was present at the mixing table with every release of a new album. Actually, he is no newcomer, because all our albums feature his remarkable personality, but it is the first time he effectively played all keyboards."

Did he play real mellotrons and Moogs or just samples or vintage keyboards?

Rossetti: "Sergio plays a MiniMoog, a Prodigy and an M400. Sometimes he prefers to use mellotron samples, but only for tuning reasons. Real mellotrons often have tuning problems. You can avoid that by using samples, and that is why he sometimes uses them for live shows. So Sergio uses original samples licensed by Mellotron."

Ettore, are you Simone's musical partner for live?

Salati: "As you probably know, Ghost was recorded with another guitarist, while I joined the band during the mixing of the album. Therefore, I am the one who played the Ghost-songs since its release. On stage I played the songs of Twilight as well, I wrote and arranged the guitar parts of Vacuum and recorded them. I think that I am the guitar player who has played the most gigs of The Watch since the beginning. But I'm not a musical partner for live, because I joined the band in January 2001."

Bass player Marco Schembri also played some acoustic and electric guitars on the album. Why was that?

Salati: "Marco started his musical career as a guitarist and he still is a capable musician on guitar. Many people compare him to Rutherford. In Damage Mode, Out Of The Land and The Vacuum of Vacuum you can hear harmonized arpeggio parts arranged for two guitars. So we thought that we could use Marco's technique to play these songs live. Sometimes when I am playing my twelve-string guitar, Marco plays guitar, together with me. And while I am playing bass pedals, he will pick up his bass guitar in the second part of the songs."

On the album you play DTambou and Atmosphere. What kind of instruments are these?

Rossetti: "The DTambou is simply a self-constructed double tambourine. It fits both cymbals and tambourine. Compared to a simple tambourine with cymbals it sounds louder and one can play it by hand and by stick as well. We create atmospheres by multi-recordings sessions of Moog on tapes and then..., sorry this is a little secret. Well let's simply say Moog's overdubbing."

Has the album a certain theme and what does the album title mean?

Salati: "We wanted to express the essence of emptiness, but not in a negative way. Vacuum is an album full of energy, and in a sense, this energy comes from the emptiness. Vacuum in your head and heart means that your energy starts to flow, because there's nothing that can prevent it from flowing. I like to think of Vacuum in such a way. In fact, there's no theme, no concept on the album. It just contains a collection of songs. However, the whole album breathes the mood we were and that was linked both to energy and emptiness."

Can you explain the lyrics of the songs?

Rossetti: "Hills and Damage Mode are about travelling sensations and terrorism matters that split the world recently. Wonderland is a song about our disagreement with the way people think about Christmas nowadays: a pure bargaining and shopping event, more than a moment to share with the people they love. Shining Bald Heads tries to describe a certain lifestyle: what have a musician and a tramp in common? In fact, they're not so different at all. Out Of The Land is about the strange and contradicting feelings of people who leave their houses after living there for along time. Goddess is a sort of love song, or better: a cry that comes out when you surrender to the woman you're in love with, the one you see as a goddess. Deeper Still is a lullaby for a new child born one cold winter morning. The Vacuum contains a legend about the mad Russian scientist Serge Voronoff, who tried to interbreed between animals in order to discover a potion that could increase sexual power in a men's life. I found that a funny story."

How did you bring the new songs on the album together? Does somebody come up with a basic part?

Rossetti: "I compose the harmonies at my own studio and I make some pre-arrangements with midi. When we rehearse, we start working on single instrumental parts, we test them playing all together and we jam a little to structure the new songs. Usually the melodies and the lyrics are the last parts; we prefer to start with harmonies and rhythms."

Many songs reach a climax at the end, but on Vacuum the songs suddenly stop or fade out. Why did you do this?

Rossetti: "Every song reaches a climax and that is the superb ending. If you have a climax, it is also a superb ending, because they are the same. A fade out is the coda of the song: after having reached the highest point, you let your emotions slowly flow until the end."

Wonderland ends with a strange noise at the end. When I listened for the first time to the album, I thought my FM-frequency got out of reach. Why did you use that noise?

Salati: "That noise, as you call it, is a Moog synthesizer! We obtained the sound by using some filters at their maximum. We wanted a psychedelic ending. Therefore that noise is perfect, because it gives the feeling as if the whole song flies away and disappears in the sky... well, that is what we intended."

Deeper still has some elements of a modern Peter Gabriel album. Do you agree?

Rossetti: "The song is meant to be a sort of lullaby. This song differs a bit from the others. We wanted a song that could break with the flow of the album, just a moment of rest before the apocalypse of The Vacuum, the last track on the album. Besides, I wanted to write a simple song with no strange harmonies, no odd rhythms, but short and quiet. In a way, this song is structured in a rock-pop style of the eighties. You can mention Peter Gabriel, but also ands like The Cure and Depeche Mode." Salati: "In Deeper Still you can hear many electronic echoes and cold atmospheres brought by triggered drums and synth pads that were used by a many artists of the eighties. The sound contrasts with the dark and warm atmosphere of the other tracks on the album."

The title track has at the end some short strange voices. What do we hear?

Rossetti: "Ah, well that is a joke! My voice and Sergio's are pitched and we are saying something like 'I can't read the lyrics'! Although we play serious prog rock, it will not mean that we are serious persons...!"

Why has the title track two parts?

Rossetti: "The title track is divided into five parts. The last one, A View From The Hill, and the first track Hills are twin songs. We decided to have an album that begins and ends with similar tunes. However, they differ on harmonic and melodic aspects."

When I heard the Ghost-album, I was afraid that The Watch were on a dead trail, because I missed new elements. In my review, I plead for more synthesizers and modern sounds and to my surprise, it seemed that you read my review, because you just did what I wanted. Did you have the same opinion yourself?

Rossetti: "We simply want to express our feelings in our own style. That means that we also use some instrumental peculiarities like the use of analogical synths. That is why we sometimes sound as a seventies' band. On Vacuum, you can hear to analog synths and retro timbres, even more than in our previous releases, but our production is modern with a powerful and warm sound at the same time. The use of 12-string guitars and bass pedals contributes also to our sound. The same quality we provide in our live shows."

What does the front cover made by Marisa Pizzo mean?

Rossetti: "We were looking for a picture that gave the idea of a universal vacuum. I personally trust more in the strength of a picture than the subject it describes. We found this cover very emotional."

The cover reminded me of the picture on the cover of Spock Beard's Beware Of Darkness. Do you agree? Were you familiar with that cover?

Salati: "No, we are not familiar with that cover. There is something similar, maybe the reflex, which also creates a contrast with the dark emptiness at the bottom. Perhaps Spock's Beard thought something like that when they created the booklet and the cover."

Did you have any other covers for the album?

Rossetti: "We had a first version of the Vacuum-cover, a published image we wanted to use. We didn't, because it was under copyright and the conditions were not right for us. Therefore we had to make another original cover and Marisa did a great job."

Why is the album only 48 minutes long, say as long as the old Genesis albums?

Salati: "We just want to produce good songs. It's very important to keep the listener's pleasure awake. The songs have been structured to flow freely through your heart and brain. The whole album is structured in the same way. Therefore, it could impossibly be an album of seventy minutes. As far as Genesis is concerned: Foxtrot features Supper's Ready, a song that lasts for 22 minutes, but the whole album does not exceed the 50 minutes and you never get bored. It's also easier to keep one's attention for 48 minutes than for 70 minutes. It's possible that a long album is weakening your attention and you'll be bored soon. Vacuum is short and strong. That is better than having a long and weak album."

Is The Watch going to perform the whole album on stage?

Rossetti: "We haven't decided yet, but probably it will not be possible, mainly for artistic reasons. We don't want to sound heavy, but playing the whole album live would be too heavy. Moreover, we also want to play our classics such as Heroes or My Ivory Soul on stage. With three studio-albums we can choose from a long repertoire and we don't want to cut too many pieces."

Maybe filming a concert it for a possible live DVD?

Rossetti: "We're considering the possibility of shooting a DVD. Many people ask us about it and eventually, we should meet these requests. Many people consider the live concerts the most important side of The Watch and we agree."

Do you have any surprises for us in store on stage?

Rossetti: "Our shows always contain a few surprises, so we can't tell you how our next showcases will be! Apart from joking, we have been reviewed as an intense and imaginative stage band. That is because we hit the audience not only musically, but also visually. We have light effects and pictures synchronized with the music, when the venue allows us to. I dress and make up and I for play the characters of the songs." Salati: "Live on stage we use the instruments we talked about earlier, so we can assure you that the audio impact is very strong. We obtain many odd timbres and very wide dynamic ranges. I recently got a vintage amp for my bass pedals, and the sound kicks more and more, you feel the ground floor quaking!"

Setlist 6-Feb-2005

When are you going to perform the new album in Europe and especially in The Netherlands?

Salati: "Although we have not released Vacuum yet, we already played a couple of songs during the latest gigs. We start with the new tour by the end of February, and soon we'll play in most European countries, including The Netherlands. We are longing to play!"

How did the press and public react on the album so far?

Rossetti: "After all the work we did, we were proud of Vacuum and we expected good reviews, but we didn't expect such a great welcome. The album sold many copies; so we had the idea that many people were waiting for the new album. The press reacted the same way, rating it almost unanimously as one of the best prog albums ever produced in years."

Do you have any left over's from the recording and writing sessions?

Salati: "Yes, indeed, there are some pieces left. When you produce an album, the recording sessions themselves are work in progress. The album gets its shape day by day. Sometimes you have a lot of material and you have to decide which pieces you use for the next album. As we already stated, we don't want to release long albums. So among the left over's there are many good tunes and ideas suitable for future releases, maybe we use them as normal tracks for another albums, maybe as bonus tracks. We don't know yet."

Thanks for answering my questions and see you on tour!

"You're welcome en you can check out our official web site and the newsgroup dedicated to us." for all infos, ciao!!

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