On a recent sunny afternoon in Paris, I had the chance to sit down with Mauro Remiddi, the man behind Porcelain Raft, before his show at La Maroquinerie with Beach House. 24 hours later he would be playing in Boston, but for today it was olive aperitifs and local French beer at the venue’s garden restaurant. After Remiddi headed down to warm up for the show, I stayed and ordered the duck foie gras. At a rock venue. Interviews are different in Europe.
Remiddi is from Rome—before adopting Brooklyn as his new home and releasing the excellent Porcelain Raft debut “Strange Weekend,” he spent years in Rome and London making music for show films, a circus, and a tap dance show. Remiddi told me growing up in Rome makes you feel like a ghost, so it seems appropriate that as a musician he’s lived many lives.
We talked about Europe, New York, and the new planet of Porcelain Raft he’s exploring—the biggest, most exciting one he’s discovered yet.
For a lot of people Porcelain Raft is new. But you’ve been playing music a long time and in a lot of different contexts.
Yeah. For a long time I didn’t want to show what I was doing in my room. I had lots of music situations, I did so many things, but constantly I would be back in my room making my own demos, things just for myself that I would never show. Because you know—when you’re alone in your room, what comes out? It’s not always something brilliant, maybe sometimes it’s something fragile or even something boring. So I think I wasn’t ready to show all of this. I felt like “Oh no, I just want to show the good things.” At some point, I don’t know if it was with age, I just didn’t care at all, I was like, “No, I want to tell my story and I want to tell it all.” All the details and all the moments that can not even be brilliant, but, what’s the point? I don’t do it to showcase the best of me, I just want to showcase a snapshot of me in this moment. And that snapshot may not be the best, but surely it’s truthful to what actually happened.
So that’s how the album was recorded—with that in mind. I went to a basement with no songs pre-thought. I just went and composed and recorded at the same time, just as if it was the page of a diary. Me, at that moment, in New York.
I didn’t want to fake something that was ready for years and then be like, “Now it’s ready, now I can sing it to the world.” I don’t feel music in that way. I feel something fresh, where dust doesn’t go on top because it’s moving.
You’re from Rome. I just came from there—it’s really something. Is there a vital music world there?
No—it’s all classical. Everything else is like school bands imitating Nirvana, just terrible. I started making music there for show films. But one thing the city gave me is—you saw the landscape, it’s very epic. The Coloseum, everything is so historical. It’s eternal in a way that’s almost like you feel the city doesn’t need you there. There are so many people passing by—it’s one of the oldest cities in the world. You have this feeling of being a ghost, or something that is not necessary to the landscape because the city is eternal and it’s so epic. So all these epic elements you hear in my music—that’s what the city actually gave me. This sense of classic beauty, this sense of epicness comes from the city. But I had to leave, I had to move on to find myself.
And where did you go?
I went to Lodnon. I lived there twelve years. Just recently, one and a half years ago, I moved to New York.
What made you want to move there?
They invited me to play CMJ. I didn’t have a record, I didn’t have anything. They invited me and I played and I just freaked out. Because the people were so into it in a way that I’ve never seen before. The more they were losing it, the more I was losing it. Not in terms of music, in terms of feelings—they were all out there and people were really up for it. Then it also happened that at that gig I met Grace, who would become my wife. We got married after six months. So I decided to move to New York the first day I played there. I think these big decisions you don’t plan. Something strong happens and you just do it. That’s how I moved to London, too—within a week. And I didn’t speak English at the time. It was like my dark age.
Was it hard to learn?
[Nods] It took me six months. I didn’t go to school, I just talked, so my spelling is terrible. But at some point, after, say eight months, my English was stuck. I would speak exactly like I do know. Why? Because I didn’t need more. You learn enough to understand, to communicate, so you don’t learn more.
How did it affect your work as an artist to move to London?
One thing I noticed was that in Italy and in Europe in general, people really follow a sense of beauty which is very classical, which comes from history, which don’t get me wrong, is amazing too. Naturally everybody moves toward a sense of beauty that is classical, that is established—and everybody agrees, because how can you not agree that Michelangelo’s paintings are the most amazing things—and when I moved to London, I understood that not everybody else has what we have here, in France or Italy or Spain. So, they just started to create their own sense of beauty. With silly things—things that at the beginning I was like, this is so ugly, some art exhibition or something, because it didn’t fit with the classical sense of beauty that I had. And then slowly I just got it, I was like, wait a second, these people are really tying to make their own world and to not connect with the classical world.
So I think that was the biggest lesson that I’ve ever had, was just like, create your sense of beauty, don’t just hold on to something that is taken for granted, like, of course it’s beautiful. Just create your own beauty. And that could even be making something that is ugly, but it works.
In this vein, are there musical influences that you keep coming back to? Or do you always move on and listen to new stuff?
There are a few that are always there. But I think it’s an illusion when people say, “Those are my influences,” because I think the strongest influences we have are unconscious, they are not conscious. So our influences sometimes don’t reflect our good taste. Like, maybe I’ve got an amazing collection of records, but maybe those didn’t influence me at all—maybe I was influenced by going to this bar and listening to some Arabic music that maybe I didn’t even like. I go back home, start recording, and something about that sound, or the scale is in my head. And so you start making this thing that somehow is influenced by that song you heard in a bar, and not by your Velvet Underground album that you just have on your shelf. So I think it’s an illusion to think that the things that influence us are the things that we like.
It’s fun for me being here in Paris, talking with someone who’s from Europe, playing over here… What are the things that are different about touring in Europe versus the U.S.?
I would say Paris is a special place. I would say right now, for me playing the U.S. is like, I’m connecting more because I’m more curious. Here my curiosity is less because I know more what’s going on. But I love to play Pairs and London. These places are really special. But here people are more shy. In the U.S. people are not shy at all.
Have you ever driven into Las Vegas?
[Laughs] Yes we did, just one night. It was so crazy, it was insane. I think the most epic experience I had there—you remember the big covered strip where the shops are? Where there are the look-alikes—the Johnny Depp look-alike, whatever. At some point the whole thing shuts down, they project Queen and all you can hear is “We Are the Champions.” And everybody just stopped—all the people were looking up, together, singing, “We are the champions,”—everybody! I look, and homeless people—“no time for losers, cuz we are the champions!” I was overwhelmed. And then at night, at three in the morning, you see the same guy who was doing Johnny Depp, completely drunk, with some chips. So there’s Johnny Depp, drunk with his chips. It’s a crazy place.
Stream “Strange Weekend” single “Unless You Speak From Your Heart,” and click here for tour dates.