Living in an Italian Film: A Chat with Tredici Bacci

Talking with Tredici Bacci's Simon Hanes about the unhealthy Morricone obsession that shaped his band's debut.

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Tredici Bacci band-leader Simon Hanes doesn’t make things easy for himself. His earliest musical effort, a fourth-grade cello class, ended in pain and sadness. “One time a kid stuck his bow up my nose, and it bled profusely,” he says. “Fun fact.”  He grew up aspiring to be “a composer with a Capital C writing obtuse, difficult music for musicians to play,” but aimed to get there via teenage garage bands that didn’t much impress the admissions boards of most universities. The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, which just so happens to be the oldest independent music school in the U.S., was a sole dissenter, offering Hanes a place in its non-traditional Contemporary Improvisation department. It was there that his deep love for European film music of the 1960s and 70s took root, and his epic 14-piece band first formed.

Hanes gained post-grad attention as the frequently nude bassist for the great punk-funk band Guerilla Toss at their Boston beginning. (“No one wants that, really,” he says now. “They might think that they do, but then it happens and they are upset and confused.”) He left the band by leaving Boston in 2014, circulating a false press release that he was moving to Zurich to be an EDM DJ. Really, he’s become a dedicated collaborator in New York art-music circles, arranging strings for experimental iconoclast JG Thirwell, joining local ensemble Cloud Becomes Your Hand. He’s pitched his way onto special event shows like Ava Luna’s Serge Gainsbourg seance at last year’s Northside Festival, and willed to life a string of dates backing up weirdo legend Gary Wilson. “It wasn’t like [Gary] called me and said, ‘Hey man, we’ve never met, and I’m crazy, but do you want to do this?’”

But it’s the sheer mind-boggling specificity of Tredici Bacci’s debut full-length Amore Per Tutti (out today on Vermont’s NNA Tapes), that reveals it to be a passion project of the most romantic, compulsory sort. Most heavily influenced by the inspired, prolific work of Italian master Ennio Morricone, Hanes’ orchestral arrangements are heightened and uncanny, pulled off by a large, varied group of assembled musicians and vocalists. The record sounds like a gorgeous old 70mm film print packed into a shitty van, taking a dive bar tour of the Northeast. Though beautiful and perfectly accessible, this is pre-set to resonate hard for only a fairly small and self-selecting group.

We talked to Hanes, ahead of Tredici’s record release show, tomorrow at Brooklyn’s Park Church Co-op about his perfectly realized, yet difficult to explain obsessions. About the challenge to make difficult things work, when you’ve got no choice but to do them.

Did you come to soundtrack music as a composition student, realizing there were really interesting examples in foreign films? Or was it more like, getting into the films and suddenly noticing how wild and cool their music was?
The first foreign film where I noticed the music was Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits. The name of this album is a reference to it. That’s the first one I can really remember. It’s a foggy sort of thing, but I do know that by the time I was in high school, I was really attached to the idea of being a film composer. Who knows why that happened, and since then it’s sort of moved to the side a little bit. I’m not going to fucking L.A!

But for a while that was the thing I was really drawn to. If you do research with that mind, all you have to do is Google “What are the best soundtracks?” Half of them will suck but the other half are actually really amazing. The soundtrack to the Hitchcock movie, Vertigo by Bernard Hermann, that one totally rocked my world.

And as you were getting into the deeper cuts, from Morricone down to multiple sub-Morricones, were you experiencing the music as rips off YouTube separate from images? Or were you tracking down the films themselves to see them in context?
Morricone became a real obsession in college, and that was just specifically geared towards him. For me it was a lot about archiving, collecting. “Oh Morricone wrote this soundtrack, but he also wrote that one!” It just so happened that there was this Russian websites that just had everything. It’s job was to take every Ennio Morricone soundtrack in existence, try and find it and make it available for download. I went fucking bananas. That was really crucial. You could listen to one album, and see that he made, like, a hundred thousand more. But it was more about this whole world, about trying to find the films in context and experiencing what the context is in opposition to what I would assume. Half of the soundtracks I really love…the movies totally suck. But they all combine to sort of build up the world of 70s Italian cinema. When I was really trying to find the Giallo films, it was something that felt like I had been looking for it for a while. It’s very special.

Times when I’ve gone on a real Morricone jag myself, listened to a lot of his work, I’m reminded that they were made for this other thing. They were functional. But then I’ll listen for an hour and it’ll be like, “Oh shit, here comes one with lovely female vocals. This is a pop song…almost!” I’ll run to the computer and take note—“This is the one I’ll come back to later, because this is the hit.” Making the record, was your purpose to make a purer version of the soundtracks without any of the interstitial music or background, ambient pieces? An all-hits pop version?
That’s exactly what it is. I’d say on 70 percent of the soundtracks there’s one song that have a singer on them or are much more poppy than the interstitial music. The idea was to take influence from those. It’s hard when your output is a reference to a genre of music, especially when it’s one that not everybody loves or cares about, but I was trying to use the influences of this music in a way that would inspire me to write on my highest level.

The idea of Morricone sitting down and thinking…”OK, I’m writing a soundtrack for this movie and they really want a song that this famous Italian singer can sing. That’ll be the end credits, people will get into it and buy the single.” I wanted the experience of doing that, to write a song that’s a bed that a musician can be accurately represented on. Westerns are great for that. The opening credits are always, “He is a lonely man, riding a horse with two guns, he doesn’t say very much, but he’s really good at shooting” or whatever. Charlie Looker has a perfect voice for that, so I was like, “Fuck, someday I have to write a piece for Charlie that would be a western thing.” This was the perfect opportunity.

Was it tough to put together a huge 14-person band that shared these reference points?
It wasn’t necessarily tough to put it together. It all happened when everyone in the band was going to music school. I had an idea that I wanted to make happen and it needed to have certain instruments in it, and a lot of people said yes. When it got difficult was when it came time to turn it into a sustainable musical entity that could operate beyond school, beyond Boston shows. How do I continue to give it new meaning? It’s a pain in the ass to get shows. We had the experience trying to book the release show. All these places we would hit up that would go, “ You know, I don’t have any proof on hand that anybody likes this.” It’s really challenging to find a space for it to be what I was initially inspired by, but also to make sure that it has the potential to grow.

It does seem that soundtrack music is on a little bit of an upswing in popularity and people are paying more attention to both vintage stuff and contemporary scores. Is it your sense that now, as opposed to five years ago, maybe there’s a crack of light that this is an interest that is growing?
Definitely. I think that five years ago there would have been more resistance. Every year boutique labels like Death Waltz, this English label that do really amazing reissues of soundtracks that are like…”You know the swords that have fake blood swishing inside of them? The record is like that!” There’s definitely a world of appreciation for soundtracks, the older shit and, I’m sure in certain circles, the new stuff too. If there’s anything that can be a crack of light, it’s that audiences are open-minded. I don’t think audiences often go to a venue and automatically know they aren’t going to like something before they hear it. I’d like to believe there’s a certain degree to which people are more open to different kinds of music at this particular point in time.

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