For everything Italy has given Western Culture, modern pop music seems to be something they haven't really been exporting. And maybe some of you are more cultured than I am, rolling your eyes at my ignorance, but for those of us who want to know more of the music modern creatives are crafting in Italy, look no further than GIUNGLA.
The chanteuse released her debut EP Camo last week and has been popping up more and more on the radars/screens of music lovers all around the globe. Emanuela Drei, aka GIUNGLA, brings her unique sound to your ears in praise of, and in protest of, Italian pop music.
Read below to see how Italy, the countryside, and music has shaped GIUNGLA into the artist she is today. And while you're reading, listen along to two of her latest singles, 'Wrong' and 'Forest'.
What was it like growing up in Italy as a child? Have you always lived there? (If not, what made you come back?)
I grew up in a small town in the province of Ravenna, set in North-Eastern Italy. Since my parent's house is totally lost in the countryside, I have enjoyed the freedom of running everywhere up and down our garden and the fields, basically spending my childhood playing with my dog and Legos. Sometimes I think this tiny world of mine has made me kind of shy, but I probably compensated with imagination.
I've been living in Bologna for quite a few years now. The thing I love more about the city is that despite its relatively small dimensions, it's still crammed with fine venues and gigs, not to mention it being less than an hour's ride from the sea and also the place - a cheap place! - where all my friends live. I probably don't see myself living here forever, but so far it has been an ideal nest, especially for someone like me who spends a lot of time on the road.
What kind of music was played around the house when you were growing up? What are some of your earliest memories of music?
I guess those long evenings spent with my mum and dad in our living room right by the fireplace. I used to sit on the floor with all my family playing vinyl - stuff like The Beatles, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, all mixed up with Italian singer-songwriters such as Mina and Lucio Dalla. I used to rummage through our record collection and admire all those covers with old-fashioned layouts and familiar faces printed on them. I also remember the actual joy of tuning my father's classical guitar together with him and a funny-sounding tuning whistle.
What was some of your favorite music to sing along to growing up?
Since I'm not a native, English speaker I used to invent a lot of weird sounds and pretty much non-existent words until I started studying the language properly; but then it was soon the turn of the Spice Girls and MTV. Back in my teenage years, my all-time faves were Alanis Morissette and Rage Against The Machine. I sang along to every bloody word and played every single riff off their albums from start to finish, jumping furiously on my bed.
When did you first start singing and writing your own music?
I started taking guitar lessons when I was twelve and soon was into making my own music, too. So, I started recording stuff on tape in my bedroom all the time; I wasn't that aware of what I was doing, it just happened. I used to write both English and Italian lyrics, but I can't really remember a word, apart from a few melodies.
Was this music different than what you sing/ write today?
Well, at first, it was an almost completely unconscious process, especially because nobody was allowed to enter my own secret world. Now I have a much clearer idea of my direction music-wise, thus the result is very different. And still I like to think that my spirit and attitude are just the same. In a way, I am still that leave-me-alone kid.
When did you start performing/ writing under the moniker GIUNGLA? How did you settle with this name and what is its significance?
I went on stage as GIUNGLA for the very first time last November, supporting Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I thought a lot about my stage name. I wanted it to be an Italian word, one that really meant something to me but could also sound familiar to any non-Italian speaker out there. Then one day I bumped into the word "GIUNGLA" written on the pages of an old atlas, and - boom! - that was it. It's the Italian word for "jungle". I like the fact that it is mostly used as a metaphor for pure chaos and modern times, and still embodies something very natural and instinctive. I like to think of GIUNGLA as my tangled, yet-to-discover, happy place.
Your single 'Sand' is atmospheric while 'Forest' has distortion and has a more solid back beat. These are both on your debut EP. What is your approach when it comes to writing two very distinct sounding songs?
Once I decided to be a solo performer, I plunged into a very focused research on the sound I wanted to achieve. That's how 'Forest' came out, while 'Sand' is one of the first songs I ever put my hands on at a time when I still thought I'd have a band; now the song sounds basically the same, maybe slightly less edgy, for it didn't feel right to me to completely change it - after all, it is me behind it anyway. I mainly focus on songwriting, so it's crucial for me to stay true to one track's emotional texture and translate it musically. I believe these two songs are just two sides of the same coin, and of the journey that brought me here. Today we tend to label everything, we kind of know what to expect in every situation and it's so hard to really get taken aback. So I guess I just felt the need to surprise myself.
What current day artists do you draw inspiration from when it comes to writing your own music?
I couldn't mention any particular artist that has a direct influence on my own work. I admire musicians like PJ Harvey and Grimes, 'cause they have such a unique style, and also love music acts like Ibeyi and Christine and The Queens for their very unusual approach and the fact they both mix their own native language with English words in their lyrics (I have written a few tracks in Italian too that sooner or later will see the light). I like this idea of pure freedom - it's a truly modern way of thinking about music, something that can lead to very fresh solutions.
Over the millennia, Italy has been known for its contributions to the arts, but it may not be on everyone's radar when it comes to modern music. Is there anything in particular about Italy that inspires your music?
I think Italy has instilled in me some innate manual inclination, a sort of spontaneous DIY sensibility. There's something reassuring and maternal about this country, a warm sparkle that makes you fall in love with it; and still, at times it can feel like a frozen place that leaves you with very few alternatives and not really allows for broader ambitions. You might live in an Italian metropolis and still feel like nothing is really happening nor changing for the better. Of course my country is part of who I am, but I believe making music is also a way to escape from it, too.
How are the local art and music communities where you are at? Is there anything particularly different they bring to the table than say music communities in New York or London?
There are a lot of music scenes around, cool festivals, many amazing bands, DIY labels and great events, but the global scenario is pretty fragmented and suffers a huge void when it comes to alternative pop music.
It's a very complex topic, actually. Except for all those songs aired on the radio or released by major labels, it's very hard to reach a larger audience. The majority of people here are not really curious about new music acts and don't attend gigs until some artist is "blessed" by the TV or foreign blogs, or even legitimated by years and years of tireless activity.
That's probably why many bands have the absurd-but-true idea of joining talent shows and see that as the only possible way to get more fans in the Bel Paese ("even only for a few episodes", "just for promotion", "just to get some visibility" before going back to the ordinary and rougher touring life). And this probably explains why Italy never had its own Mø or Christine and The Queens or someone that debuted internationally with a bang. And of course it's a snowball effect: seeing that Italian people are not that interested in what they are not already familiar with, very few members of the music trade are willing to take risks or invest in emerging acts. Furthermore, institutions and bureaucracy are not particularly making the life easy for anyone who dreams to work in the field. So, if you're not making some peculiar Italian pop music or electronica, if you're not a member of the niche, if you don't feel like entering a contest, if you're not signed to any major, well, the whole affair can be somewhat depressing in this country. On the bright side, I think we have the best gig locations in the world and so much potential. Some people behind festivals boasting challenging line-ups are already proving that we can play a role on a bigger stage, and hopefully more and more Italian musicians will soon start thinking on a world basis too.
What is your specific process when it comes to writing a song- do you start with lyrics first? Music first? Or is each song different?
First thing I deal with is the melody. Normally I just sing undefined sounds, not actual words, while playing the track. I shape the words according to the specific instrumental arrangement, and they kind of pour out spontaneously. It's quite rare, but there are times when I come up with part of the lyrics, so I sing them in loop and start from there.
You described your sound as Camouflage and your upcoming EP is titled, Camo. What is it about the idea of hiding in plain sight that inspired you on this album?
While recording these songs, I had this image of a camouflage pattern running through my head. I like the idea of simple elements involved in different combinations, and I later realized that's the way these tracks have dressed up so as to go anywhere. They hold dear the very idea of hiding (pop songs hiding behind minimal sounds and essential arrangements), of something vulnerable that's almost vanishing, along with an aggressive impulse too, a survival attitude, a basic need.
Do any other mediums of art inspire your music?
I studied graphic design and every time I visit a new city I venture out in search of art galleries and zine-shops trying not to miss one. What's interesting about modern art and contemporary performances is that you can actually experience them. Sometimes music is seen as a merely immaterial content and that's a shame, as music should be all about experience too.
I also try to read as much as I can, being fond of literature, philosophy and comics.
If you could collaborate with one musician today, who would it be and why?
My dream producer is hands down Ariel Rechtshaid. I love his ability to work freely with utterly different music styles and give every record such a bold and iconic touch.