by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
I have come across many talented artists in my time as a writer. The vast majority of them revealed themselves to be not just fabulous and talented artists but great human beings too.
Emiliana Torrini, though, goes a notch above any music personalities I have ever met. Her charisma, talent, sweetness and grace make the Italo-Icelandic singer/songwriter one of the most refreshing artists of the whole music scene, worldwide. After many years spent in the United Kingdom, Emiliana has decided to go back to her homeland in Iceland, in which she is not just fully immersed in her career in the music business but also as a full-time parent of a 5-year old child.
When we talk to Emiliana, she sounds as always very relaxed and outgoing. The singer/songwriter has just come back from a Tour date in Spain, which she confides as being a truly remarkable experience.
Emiliana released her latest work back in 2013, a very intense album called Tookah and she is with us today to talk about this record and to offer to the readers of Bluebirdreviews a brief overview of her very successful career so far.
Tookah is a made-up word, created to describe what life and love are for Emiliana Torrini. But I wonder whether Tookah is more a state of mind in which all human beings are born or, maybe, just a stage of our lives we all would like to reach. "For me personally, it is more about being born with this concept; it is what you really are deep inside. Initially, when we started working on this record, due to the fact that myself and the band were working for almost 24 hours a day, this word came up just as a joke to help us to chill out. That word, then, got stuck with me and kept me thinking of a wonderful series of images in my mind, to the point I got so enthusiastic about this word that I just wanted badly to sing it in one of my songs. Tookah, as a word, also helped me to connect even deeper my mind with that series of images I was telling you about and made me think about how connecting myself to that word made me feel, which was a wonderful feeling. I have been, at that time (the record was released in 2013), in a particularly vulnerable state of mind, where I had a new identity, the fact of coming back to Iceland and the big responsability of being a parent. I think that, becoming a mother, was so immense for me that I might have not realised what to do as a parent and how to behave, which was almost, at the same time, strangely beautiful for me. Sometimes though, things were a little tricky in this new part of my life and that was a little infuriating at time. Then, all of a sudden, you discover to have this immense love inside of you, by living this new stage of my life that my little body felt almost like exploding! Those series of images/visions that I mentioned before, helped me to find my inner self, perhaps a new and different myself, where nothing really matters anymore. All I thought life was gifting me with in all these years, made me move one step back and another one forward at the same time. A step towards that inner feeling, that "Tookah", where all reconnect together again and make sense. Sometimes, I guess, I may sound a little complicated when I try to express what that word means to me and I almost feel a little sense of guilt towards my fans, to have called the album like that. It may confuse people!".
Emiliana has been working once again with Dan Carey, on the making of Tookah. Tookah is though a very different album from Emiliana's previous Me And Armini and one may think that, maybe, the album has been planned in a different way from the Icelandic artist previous albums. "I believe every album has got a different core and tone, because life in general becomes always different as years go by, for who write songs like me. Generally, there is a generous time gap in-between each of my records because I don't exactly write music on a daily basis. I become almost like a little balloon ready to explode, each time I walk in a recording studio, therefore most of the making of any of my albums happens there. Approaching the making of an album is different every time, in many ways; the first time I wrote with Dan, I was very adamant on the fact I had to write music and lyrics, a little like I had done with many producers and co-writers in the past. I have learned how to write songs on my first album, Love At The Time Of Science, which I enjoyed but not as entirely as I did when I wrote Fisherman's Woman. On that album, which was difficult for me to write from an emotional point of view, I became seriously interested and immersed into songwriting. From that record on, I did much more music of an electronic style and meeting Dan became a very fortuitous and at the same time, crucial circumstance for me, given the fact he was already a producer of music of the same ink. The first time we met, he took out a Drum Machine and, almost in a state of shock, I said:"Can't you play a guitar instead, please?". He had completely forgotten, due to his business, how to play a guitar so he started all over again and what a guitarist he then became! The album that came after, Me And Armini, was meant to be an album in which the dominant concept was to let life go in the most fluid way possible, without being too serious but instead, to let all go, being myself, sometimes, a bit harsh with myself. Tookah is, instead, a completely different "beast"in comparison to anything I had done before. An album that talks about two different themes. An album truly difficult to record due to the fact that my personal life was a bit tricky at the time and everything was complicated. Now I am play victim by telling this to you.. But the truth is that I was really living a life something bigger than me".
The Icelandic singer/songwriter has lived in the United Kingdom for almost 17 years until, in recent time, she has decided to go back to her roots and live in Iceland again. "I miss not living in England anymore. When I lived there all that time, I always thought how beautiful might have been coming back home and now that I am here, I am missing not living there anymore. When you live for so long in any place, you almost inadvertantly acquire a second new family. To meet people over there made possible for me to start very deep friendships. Your life assumes a complete new structure. I remember, at the time I was living in Brighton, south of England, and there were always so many people at my place that I had almost to throw out furniture to make some space for them. Here in Iceland, the way to live life is very different, everything is much quieter here and the life style is the polar opposite than in UK. Fundamentally, I miss England but, having said that, I am very happy to be back home right now".
Tookah, as by Emiliana's admission, is an album that touches two fundamental concepts; becoming a parent and going back to her roots. Emiliana used little escapisms, whilst working on the album in the studio. Rumours has it she used some little laser toy and smoke machine to create almost an ethereal environment whilst recording Tookah. "I didn't do that because I felt the need to evade from life whilst working on the album; after all, living the moment, the reality, that is a kick too. We did that, most of all, to create a different state of mind, during the recordings. Generally, when we start working in the studio, myself and the band like to search for new instruments to be played because they might carry a different sound and you, as a musician, may be able to react to that sound in an alternative way. We just thought, when we were doing Tookah, that initially the writing of the album was going in a sort of methodical direction and we needed something to create a different, more exciting mood in the studio, when we were working on the songs, through these little gizmos you just mentioned. I remember the first time myself and Dan brought the band in studio, it was really foggy inside, because of this little machines but it definitely helped to create the right atmosphere for all of us. That day, I told the band as well to try and work with their imagination, when they started jamming the sound that then ended up on Tookah. I explained them those series of visions I was having at that time and they worked on it very well, almost creating a sonic documentary on the spot. An incredible fun period that was, recording the album in the studio".
Together with the little gizmos used in the studio, during the recording process, Emiliana was heavily influenced as well by music of more of a classic style, through artists such as Satie or Debussy. Who knows Emiliana Torrini a little, never gets surprised to hear her eclectic taste in music, which may go from the artists just mentioned to Death-metal band like Carcas! "Listen, all in all, it is all music, maybe of a different style but they all belong to the same root. There is brilliancy in everything and this is the aspect of music in general I love the most. It doesn't matter where this or that genre comes from, because fundamentally I believe there is genius in every music genre. I was obsessed with music, since I was a child.. I was listening pretty much anything, from Charlie Parker and his Be-Bop style to Hip-Hop and classical music. For me , it was a way to understand music almost in a kind of stereotypy way, whilst people in my country kept telling me: "You have got Italian blood in your veins, you should study Opera music!". In the end, I really went and study Opera when I was 15, a little because I wanted to re-connect myself to my side of Italian roots. I was one of the youngest people, at the time, to enter that school trying to study Opera. That really helped a lot to make me connect again with my roots. For what concerns music in general, when I was a kid, we hadn't really a lot of music to play at home. My father, in a period of time in which we lived in Germany, purchased few cd of classical music, that kind of Greatest Hits albums at a very cheap price and with all the covers color-coordinated (chuckles)! Fortunately, there were also cds, although still Best Of, of artists of different genres and that helped me to expand my music horizons a bit further. My mother, instead, used to buy a lot of music of a more romantic edge that I still keep, stuff like Minnie Riperton, Al Green, some funky music too... And until I was a teenager, I didn't even know one could walk in a store and actually buy music, due to the fact I had all that material at home and by watching a lots of music video via networks like MTV. Honestly, I never asked myself why I should have bought music until that time. When I became an adult, I had a bit of a musical catharsys and I stopped listening to music, until it became an integrant part of my life".
Iceland certainly offers inspiration on many different levels to anyone living there or just a simple tourist. No doubts that this incredible land has made an impact on Emiliana's creativity since the beginning. "The great thing about Iceland is that there is a lot of freedom, musically speaking. Until recent time, we never had record labels apart maybe one or icelandic music managers. We never had as well any of these boring school of thoughts which pretend to impose one, as an artist, to make music in a certain way, which for me, it works perfectly well. We always had the freedom of expressing ourselves musically in any way or form we wanted to. In Iceland, we have this old saying about learning at least one of these three things in life: practising a sport, learning to play an instrument or learn to dance stuff like ballroom dancing. By following this saying, many in Iceland have learned to play at least one instrument. Life can be a bit harsh sometimes, with this crazy weather we have, at time very stormy. And we are a very isolated country too, therefore that may constitute an excellent reason for people to find something constructive to do in this part of the world and the music, here, has always been an art that people has deeply loved".
With all those harsh and cold temperature so frequent in this wonderful part of the world, one can develop excellent taste about drinks that may keep you warm when it snows outside and Emiliana is no exception. "I have few drinks of choice, truth to be told. Lagavulin is one of my all-time favourite whiskeys but, as a good half-italian as I am, a good drop of grappa is always highly appreciated. Here in Iceland we have some excellent distilleries and many know already our national drink, Brennivin. But Brennivin is certainly not the strongest one we produce; we have also some liquors here that may reach 64 in terms of alcohol grades. Oh, and we do also some exquisit rhubarb liquors too!".
Emiliana sounds like somebody that has found her inner self in life. A wonderful human being, a mother and most of all, an extraordinarily gifted artist. One may wonder whether there is any secret dream she has not fulfilled yet in her life or career. "Good question.. I maybe would love start studying music again, complete an Opera music teaching class and get the degrees. In this way, I would be able to teach how to sing Opera music style. I would love also to learn how to play an instrument and be able to do so. Another thing I have thought about for a while as well is to compose music for TV shows, that would be good fun. All in all, my goal is to keep continuing to make music, not even just for me but for others too. I believe I am fortunate enough in my life to have reached a point in which I don't need to compromise anything with anybody in the business and maintain my artistic integrity in the music world for as long as possible and to keep my fans happy, those fabulous fans that keep buying my records and loving my music so devotely".
Every album Emiliana has written in her career almost symbolise a different stage of her life, to the eyes of any music fans and Emiliana's in particular, a little bit like receiving a postcard from a friend living far away every so often. We cannot avoid asking Emiliana Torrini what stage of her life Tookah represents: "Maybe the most complicated one. It has been a difficult album to record and, although it has done very well, from a record selling point of view, on the other side has been a miserable time of my life to remember. There were many things happening all at once, like a sort of chain reaction I couldn't control. People walking away from my life and some other stuff... The irony of all this is that, despite being one of the most frustrating moment of my life, the album itself did really well in the charts and I was really surprised to find that out. I am very thankful to all my devoted, "sticky" fans, those wonderful people that through their love, backed me big time once again".
Before parting company, one of Emiliana's classics come to mind, Sunny Road and, almost paraphrasing one of the verses on that song, I ask Emiliana where we shall meet her next time, on which road or path. "Truth to be told, I have no idea. One thing for sure, there will be not too long to wait for my next album. I am very concentrated currently in finalizing some projects I have and I just need to find a bit more relax, after Tookah and to find joy and happiness in my life and in my music from now on. I am working very hard on the latter and I can see that it is starting to pay off, which makes me feel very happy".
It sounds like Emiliana is starting walking towards her personal Yellow Brick Road and we are utterly delighted to hear that.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato