Interview: Stefano Ghittoni of The Dining Rooms
Milan, Italy’s The Dining Rooms defy categorization, challenging you to listen beyond labels like “lounge” and “downtempo”. Unlike much of today’s new music, it’s not just a groove thing — there’s meaning to their music. In the 9 year s the duo of Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti have existed, they have produced five full-length recordings that bare the markings of rigorous experimentation and growth. The Dining Rooms adroitly combine sampling and live instrumentation, creating a wide body of music that absorbs a multitude of influences including cinema, jazz, funk and blues. With equal time given to instrumentals and vocals, The Dining Rooms music is an ear-rousing melange of moody chords, complex rhythms, deep basslines, acoustic instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics. Their fifth full length recording, ‘Ink’ is a merging of styles for the group, utilizing the live instrumentation, Fender Rhodes chords, and vocals of recent releases with the cinematic, ethereal atmospheres characterized by their earlier work. ‘Ink’ is a remarkable recording, further deepening their sound and reaching a wide range of tones and colors, with thoughtful lyrics and a melancholy mood. Half of ”Ink” features vocals by guests who include several international artists such as Dodo N’kishi (Mouse on Mars) from Africa via Germany; Georgeanne Kalweit, from U.S.A. via Milan, and Tomaz Di Cunto, from Brazil. “Ink” is by far The Dining Rooms most impressive and developed recording and promises to introduce new audiences to their sound. If only they just listen.
Mundovibes had the pleasure of corresponding with the Dining Room’s Stefano Ghittoni and contributing members of the Dining Rooms in an e-mail interview. As expected, his thoughts are serious and insightful.
MUNDOVIBES: Stefano, congratulations on the release of the Dining Rooms fifth studio recording, “Ink”. It’s a fantastic recording with a variety of vibes and moods. What concepts and ideas shaped “Ink”?
STEFANO GHITTONI: “Ink” takes some things from our old feeling, going back to the origins of tdr sound, more atmospheric and cinematic than “experiments in ambient soul” and concentrated more on downtempo. It has dark elements too and we hope (but we think) to have been able to release something mysterious and spiritual. We feel “INK” as a concept album and it could be considered as something close to numero “deux” and “tre” but with the quality production of “eias”.
MV: What is the overall concept of “Ink”?
SG: The album cover of “Ink” is inspired by Jean Michel Basquiat, whose art is really close to the philosophy of writing and therefore of “ink”. So “Ink” becomes a sort of manifesto of things to say, as well as of the energy to try to say them.
MV: There is a seriousness to “Ink”, both in its lyrics and arrangements with songs like “Hear Us Now”, “Fatale”, “Ceremony”, and the title track. Is this a reflection of the times we are in or yours and your contributors states of mind?
SG: We are not living in wonderful times, obviously, but TDR have always been a little bit serious because it’s how we are in our life, we like our life, however, and we are really satisfied of how it is.
Anyway we like the idea to go deeper in life and music things…..
MV: “Ink” is a very intimate recording, many the vocal songs are personal testimonies including the title track. Please comment.
SG: “Ink” is very intimate as almost all our records have been, only “Experiments in ambient soul” was a bit too pop oriented. Anyway we are very happy of this album intensity, either vocal or instrumental tracks.
Georgeanne Kalweit speaks about the song “Ink”:
I live on a river just south east of Milan and in the summer the nocturnal nature sounds are quite intense, beautiful and evocative though. I wrote INK in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep in part due to the incessant, mantra like drone outside, to too many painful thoughts of things gone bad in the past and in part due to a deep yearning for the physical presence of a person I was falling in love with who was away on the road. Putting ink to paper in this technological period seems almost rebellious yet familiar and raw, a primordial need to either confirm, dispel or clarify emotions which can’t always be expressed with spoken words, ultimately clearing the way to the now. The idea of ink mixing with blood internally really strikes a chord regarding the toxicity of how unexpressed emotions can implode and somehow take over the human organism. In INK there is resolve in the awareness that love, reappearing and reawakening can heal in layers.
MV: There is an even balance of intstrumentals and vocal songs on “Ink”. How do you develop these songs?
SG: It’s our style. Our albums are a mix of ballads, vocal and instrumental, and cinematic funks.
MV: As is your tradition you have collaborated with several guest vocalists on “Ink”. Please tell us how they became involved in this recording and what their contributions were.
SG: The vocalists are involved in a natural way in the sense that are friends or persons we feel very close to our philosophy, so there’s a a first contact in which we explain what we need and everybody feels if the thing is its cup of tea. If collaboration is born the singer is free on his songwriting and at the end me and Cesare produce or rearrange the voice inside the track.
MV: You have a mix of languages on “Ink”, which is typical of your recordings. Is it just a reflection of a diverse world view?
SG: We have a very free approach to music and it reflects the possible mix of languages in our albums, we feel anyway to be able to get homogeneous production on them, we wanna mix different point of views, we wanna feel what we live and put it on our records…..
MV: The song “Thank You” is very political and could be addressed to any “leader” who sells out his soul. Tell us about this song.
SG: “Thank you?” is built on a strings sample taken from patchanka French band Orange Blossom……it fuses poetry, Marvin Gaye echoes, post rock guitar solo and blues and ethnic elements. Slowly goes the funk…….
Sean Martin speaks about the song “Thank you?”:
I think that…many people are consciously prostituting themselves. They know what is going on throughout the world…about the death and cruelties they’ve been contributing to, but I presume they think they’re actions will be justified if they can keep this so-called “human progress” flowing. As they say: “the end justifies the means”.
People dying in Africa because of the tons of nuclear waste dumped there don’t seem to be a problem. If killing millions of people can lead the western countries to have cheap oil, then…it seems like God will forgive them. Some of the world leaders of the past even thought that God hated strangers as much as they did, and that they would be doing Him a big favor if they tried to exterminate them by any and all means possible.The western culture’s always had a pathological superiority complex, history speaks for itself. We’re being fooled by the “great institutions” and people have been led to condone bloodshed and exploitation in the service of their
lifestyles. That’s what thank you? is all about.
Oh! By the way…I’ve recently read that you can increase the purity of your soul by
purchasing one simple product…mmm…
MV: The Dining Rooms formed nearly 10 years ago. How did you come together?
We first met in a recording studio many years ago, mid eighties probably. Then Cesare opened one of the first midi studio in Milano and I went there to do some productions. We had a good time and started to work to some productions together that then morphed in The Dining Rooms.
MV: What music tradition or scene was formative in shaping the Dining Rooms sound?
SG: We both come from new wawe and punk and they are very important for us, mostly for the concept that anyone is owner of his ideas and therefore of his music. Then we have a very wide approach to music from Nick Drake to Talk Talk, from The Sound to Velvet Underground, from Art Blakey to Herbie Hancock, Sabu Martinez, Wire and Joy Division, including early Massive Attack and Portished to name a few.
MV: It seems like there are a lot of literary and cinematic influences to the Dining Rooms? What are some of them?
SG: Wim Wenders, Jean Luc Godard, Elio Petri, Pierpaolo Pasolini, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Jean Claude Izzo, Aki Kaurismaki, Jack Kerouac and the beat generation.
MV: The Dining Rooms music always has a cinematic, moody vibe to it. What do you attribute this to?
SG: Cinematic vibe is very important for us. One of the motto of our beginning was: “background music for your personal movies”, we did some tee shirts too. It’s probably the main aim of our music, produce music who could generate emotions and images.
MV: What are you trying to communicate with your music in terms of mood, vibe and lyrical themes?
Depth, Spirituality, Peace.
MV: Your music has gotten progressively more complex with each recording. Is this just a natural progression of your ideas and abilities?
SG: It’s for sure a natural progression, it’s important for music producers try to go deep, to be more complex. We did it and it probably depends too from the fact we are using musicians in the two last albums.
MV: The Dining Rooms sound is a mixture between electronics, samples and live instruments. How does this process work?
SG: I do the initial step choosing the sample that gives the atmosphere or primary melody of the track, then Cesare works with programming and first instruments, then we both work with other samples and edit, then the musicians arrive and play the samples adding some chords. The dining rooms do the final production and mix. Sometimes we keep the initial sample, sometimes we miss it.
MV: Why did you choose this way of creating your music?
SG: I’m mostly a dj and not a musician, so I don’t play instruments but records.
I do the initial step of the atmosphere of the song and it’s obviously always a sample….
MV: It seems that samples are playing less and less of a role in your music. How has the use of samples changed over the history of the Dining Rooms?
SG: We were born as a sample based project in the sense that in first two album we used only samples (and some keys)to write-build our song. Then we felt we wanted to add something else that could allow us to surpass the sample philosophy that’s great but basically very repetitive. So we started to mix samples and live musicians to create music that could have a wider development…In this sense the use of musicians changed a little bit our music even if our attitude is the same and the origin of the song is always a sample.
CONTRIBUTING VOCALS AND SONGWRITING (l to r): Georgeanne Kalweit, Toco, Sean Martin
MV: If you had to classify the Dining Rooms music, what would it be?
SG: Easy listening ambient blues.
MV: What have been some of the critical junctures or “moments of inspiration” for the Dining Rooms?
SG: We have been and we are inspired from everything, the whole world becomes our primary source of inspiration…
MV: You’ve created a considerable body of work since forming. Please reflect on the past 10 years and how you invision the Dining Rooms going forward into the future.
SG: The future is now!
MV: Vocalist Georgeanne Kalweit plays a considerablle role on “Ink” with co-writing credits for “Hear us Now” and “Ink” both stunningly beautiful annd personal tracks. Tell us how these songs came about.
Georgeanne Kalweit speaks about “Hear us now”:
I don’t think television rules everybody’s lives but when I see certain shit on T.V., and look at society at large I am daunted and disgusted by the abuse of this media tool and the negative implications it has on the psychology of humans. It takes a lot of discipline to remain a creative, self thinking individual and weed through the superficiality and loaded messages that get projected through the news, advertising and programs (with a few exceptional exceptions on an educational and satirical level), let alone decipher what’s REALLY happening. HEAR US NOW is a sort of protest chant for anyone who sees through the mechanism and refuses to be sucked into the dynamic of envy, fear and inadequacy that can only be placated by having and acquiring more things, being overly patriotic or nationalistic and feeling superior as a result. I’d rather use my eyes to look beyond the box-T.V. screen of stereotypes that foster ignorance and intolerance to appreciate better the oddity and sacredness in differences among all humans on a global level.
MV: Why not just have the same vocalists?
SG: We were born as instrumental project and when we start to think to some singers we felt we’d have like to have different vocal point of view on our instrumentals, I think it’s not so original as anwer but it’s the truth.
MV: What is the music scene like in Italy? Is it very supportive of your work?
SG: The Italian scene is quite fresh even we consider ourselves part of a global and world movement. We have a good reputation in italy but for sure we r more appreciated in other countries.
We are satisfied of our status even the period is not so good for music business.
MV: Is it more or less responsive today to what you are doing with your music?
SG: It’s difficult to say because the market is really strange today, it is becoming smaller day by day. Anyway as I told u before we r satisfied of our status even if the fact to have lost the American domestic releases after the Guidance bankrupt has been a problem for our visibility in U.S.A., that’s a very important market. We feel anyway to be on the right side and our audience seems to be close to what we are producing.
MV: How do you feel about the categories and labels that the Dining Rooms are given, such as “downtempo”, “nu jazz”, etc.?
SG: We don’t really mind about categories….
MV: Schema records has become one of the premiere labels for emerging jazz. Much like labels like Blue Note, Impulse! and others were part of certain jazz eras, Schema seems to be the definitive label for today’s club-influenced jazz. What are you feelings about this?
SG: We are happy to release records through Schema, we are quite different from a typical Schema act but it’s cool anyway to be part of that catalogue.
MV: At what point did the Dining Rooms become a live event?
SG: We started to play live in the beginning of 2004, between the release of “Tre” and “Experiments in ambient soul”.
MV: What is the live performance like? What do you set out to do?
SG: Our live show, as our records, is a mix between electronics and instruments.
We have on stage a 5 pieces band with drums, double bass, keyboard or guitar plus vocals. I play turntables and a small key with samples. Maria Arena then accompanies our music with visuals….
MV: How does the audience react to your live performance?
SG: The audience has usually a very good reaction…..the live show is balanced between jazz and blues ballads and rolling funky instrumentals….
MV: The videos for your music by Maria Arena are integral to the live show. Tell us about the video aspect of the Dining Rooms.
SG: We work very often with videomaker Maria Arena who’s taking care of our visual aspects and producing our clips. U can see them on our my space page. She takes care of visuals during our live too.
She works with old super 8 movies taking frames and sequences and reelaborate them as we do with music and samples, we have a very close philosophy.
MV: What will you be doing for the summer? A live tour?
SG: We’ll mostly work to some side project and we’ll produce a radio show mixing music and poetry.
MV: Will you ever score a film soundtrack?
SG: We did it for an Italian movie, “Dentro la città”, a police b-movie set in Rome.
Some of our tracks are then been taken for other movie soundtracks and tv series: sex and the city, csi crime, six feet under…
MV: Any one in particular you’d like to work with?
SG: Paolo Sorrentino and Jim Jarmusch.
MV: Where do you see the Dining Rooms going in the future?
SG: What is future?