DATE OF INTERVIEW:
DRIVING MRS. SATAN
24th March 2016
CLAUDIA SORVILLO; GIACOMO PEDICINI
Promoted under their self-proclaimed genre and tagline of "Heavy Metal Made Easier", Driving Mrs. Satan have, thus far, released two full-length albums loaded with de-metalized takes on genre classics. Transforming the heaviness of compositions by the likes of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Voivod, Slayer, Queensryche, Megadeth, Venom and Black Sabbath into gentler folk/alt-pop/ambient arrangements, this quartet of musicians really are rather unique. And musically stunning in the range of emotions and moods they're able to convey through their reimagining of the source material. Fronted by the sultry-toned vocals of Claudia Sorvillo, and featuring the double-bass talents and transformation genius of Giacomo Pedicini, Metal Discovery quizzed these two about the creative niche Driving Mrs. Satan have forged within the scene, how their music's been perceived by both metal and non-metal audiences, and just who Mrs. Satan might be...
METAL DISCOVERY: Hey there! Massive congrats on the new album, ‘Did You Mrs. Me?’ - de-metalization at its finest! It contains, of course, your own unique takes on various metal songs once again, but how would you say you’ve progressed as a band since ‘Popscotch’?
GIACOMO: Thanks Mark!!..between 'Popscotch' and 'Did you Mrs. Me?' there was a long tour, during which we had time to develop, together with the newcomers Valerio and Antonio, an almost perfect music alchemy. The songs of the new release have often been played live, and during the soundchecks we have tested every shade. This allowed us to enter the studio as soon as the tour was over, with clear ideas on the path we wanted to take for our new work.
(Giacomo Pedicini on what to expect from a Driving Mrs. Satan show)
"I like to describe the concert like a child entering a toy shop. We can play with everything. Dragons may clash with helicopters and pirates will search a treasure in the firemen truck, dinosaurs play football with plush dogs...it's a fantastic adventure!"
Driving Mrs. Satan - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2015 Ludovica Bastianini
Interview by Mark Holmes
Driving Mrs. Satan Official Website:
DRIVING MRS. SATAN DISCOGRAPHY
Driving Mrs. Satan Official Facebook:
Did You Mrs. Me? (2016)
CLAUDIA: Thank you, it's always nice to hear people enjoy what we do. I would say that Driving Mrs. Satan got older - in a good way - and wiser and more. Some people have said the new album is fuller and darker than ‘Popscotch’, and I believe they are right.
MD: In your bio, it mentions you have “extensive experience in jazz and folk, theatre work, and session work”, so what are your backgrounds as musicians, prior to forming the band?
GIACOMO: Our backgrounds are very varied...luckily. I started as a heavy metal lover...and after that I played several music genres. Jazz, folk, world, classical music, you name it. That gave me a 360 degrees view of music and the opportunity to think of this project as my Pandora's box...where I can let out the thousand shades that experience gifted me with.
CLAUDIA: I was into songwriting, and I have sang and recorded with a number of local musicians over the years. Nevertheless, singing remakes has always been something I enjoyed. In particular, I liked to sing tunes originally written for male artists, because I could give a different perspective.
MD: Each of the songs you’ve tackled on ‘Did You Mrs. Me?’ has been extensively reimagined (and in very imaginative ways!) and, despite the results sounding minimalist on the surface, I’m guessing a lot of work goes into what you do. So, can you describe your general approach and the process you go through when transforming the songs? Or is it different with every song?
GIACOMO: As I said, the songs in 'Did You Mrs. Me?' had a slow growth during the live shows. I always start from the main melody of the voice and from the lyrics. These are the two elements on which I concentrate at the beginning of the arrangement. Once I have centred the mood, I try to add some elements that were there in the original version. But I try to modify the sense of them, to transfer them in the new world that I am creating. In this last album I tried to give a warmer, darker sound, with the help of strings and horns. I had the need to wrap these lyrics with an 'imaginative' sound. That's why, for example, the cover of the album takes from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. A dark wonderland.
MD: You’ve transformed not only the genre, but also the actual mood of each track, where you’ve added a whole new emotional depth to many of the songs. This seems to manifest, quite often, through transposing metal’s use of neutral root-fifth power chords into minor or major keys, to help emphasise sad or happy moods. Do you always decide on the particular mood you want to convey in a song before starting to work the Driving Mrs. Satan magic on it?
GIACOMO: Truth is, most of the time, the mood is already there when I listen to the original version of the song while, at other times, I let myself go with what I am living during the arrangement. All of these songs have been playing in my stereo hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and I choose to approach them in a rational way. It is pleasing because, in a way, through my own work, I found out about small things of which I was not aware before.
MD: Despite the drastic transformation in de-metalizing each of the songs, respect for the source material is still discernible in your music. So, is it fair to say that you’re all big fans of the original songs and bands, and does that provide you with the motivation to transform the tracks in a musically respectful, emotionally engaging way?
CLAUDIA: Giacomo is a big fan of the original songs and bands. He knows, and feels and lives the genre since 30 years. His passion is so strong, you can feel it in pretty much everything he plays and says on the topic. As you might know, I did not know much about classic heavy metal when I started this band. But I have always appreciated the original songs and bands, it's simply impossible not to. I have learned so much since we play together. People may be skeptic about our respect for the source, and that's understandable, but those who come to the shows leave without any doubt about our good intentions.
MD: Your transformation of ‘Raining Blood’ is fantastic, but I guess the most famous de-metalized take on the Slayer classic is Tori Amos’ wonderful 2001 version. Are you fans of her take on the song?
GIACOMO: I have listened to Tori Amos' version of the song, and I find it wonderful. It has something even more obscure than Slayer's version. I have always adored her as an artist. I also appreciate her version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and I believe her work gave me trust in facing the adventure of Mrs. Satan.
MD: Would you ever consider tackling tracks from the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, and would you see this as even more of a challenge? For example, how about a Driving Mrs. Satan take on Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Hammer Smashed Face’; expanding Napalm Death’s 3 second classic, ‘You Suffer’, into a happy folk opus; a lounge music reimagining of Death’s ‘Spirit Crusher’; a classical, folked-up version of Emperor’s ‘Curse You All Men’; or an ambient alt-pop rendition of Carcass’ ‘Corporal Jigsore Quandary’? So many possibilities! An anagram of your band name is Ms Grind Variants, so you could viably branch out into covering some Napalm Death or Carcass!
GIACOMO: Wow!!!..Fantastic, never thought of the anagram...truly unbelievable. I have to say that we already have an idea of which songs by Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death and more extreme metal bands we are going to work on in the near future...and people are definitely going to listen to that in our next live shows...it will surely be a great challenge!
MD: Have you ever attempted to transform any metal songs that haven’t particularly worked so well, so had to abandon the idea of covering them? Or do you never give up until you succeed?!
CLAUDIA: Yes, we have attempted to transform a number of songs without finding the right path. We just decided to leave them be for a while, until we found another way, another story to tell. One of the songs we decided to exclude from ‘Popscotch’, for example, is 'Peace Sells'. Giacomo arranged a great adaptation, but we thought we weren't quite there...and then we played it live, a lot, and found a way. Now the song is in 'Did You Mrs. Me?' and we are quite happy with it. As most things...it's just a matter of time.
GIACOMO: There are some songs we left in the drawer, but for the future. When we start working on a record, we prepare a tracklist of at least 20 songs. We listen to it, we re- listen to it and, in the end, we decide the tracklist, choosing only those songs that sound more adequate at that point in time. For this record, we had songs by Testament, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Scorpions...they won't be in the album, but they surely will be in the live shows…and, possibly, on our next album.
MD: Has it always been easy for you to acquire the rights to record your versions of each of the songs? Have any publishers ever opted to not provide you with the necessary rights?
CLAUDIA: I am not sure. As far as I am aware, in Europe, the process is pretty straight forward, and there have never been issues with it. But I might be wrong. That's part of the record label's job.
MD: Have any of the bands themselves provided any feedback on your transformation of their songs?
GIACOMO: Michael Weikath from Helloween enjoyed ‘I Want Out’, Dan Spitz from Anthrax wrote us, Nikki Sixx broadcasted ‘Battery’ on his radio show...I believe these are all positive signs...
MD: Maiden United have been successfully de-metalizing Iron Maiden classics for a few years now, so do you find any inspiration in their approach? Or, maybe, just encouragement through kindred association that there is actually a market out there for this kind of thing?
GIACOMO: In the first phase of ‘Popscotch’ we tried not to listen to bands that had a similar concept; there weren't many we knew, but we didn't want to get influenced in any way. Later, we met and became friends with some of them, including Maiden United. Me and Joey (MU bassist) actually share a great deal of interests, among which Steve Harris, soccer and fries. DMS played twice in the Netherlands with the help of MU. That was our first European tour. We met, laughed and drank beer...talked a lot about music. It was all very nice.
MD: Similarly, since the turn of the century, Testament’s Alex Skolnick has been transforming rock and metal songs into jazz arrangements with his Alex Skolnick Trio side-project. Are you fans of how he’s been reimagining rock/metal tunes?
GIACOMO: Yes, I listened to the project by Alex Skolnick. I believe every musician who started loving heavy metal, simply cannot forget this genre as he grows up. Alex is one of those; he left Testament to work on fusion oriented projects. I like his version of ‘Electric Eye’. And I confess...in 1988, I too worked on a jazz trio arrangement of ‘Dr. Stein’ by Helloween...maybe, one day, I'll release that too.
MD: Personally, I regard the metal scene as having become increasingly open-minded over the past couple of decades, in terms of incorporating and embracing all kinds of other musical styles. However, have you ever worried about how the metal community might receive your takes on so many classic and sonically sacrosanct compositions? Have you ever encountered any animosity or bad reviews based on someone’s objection for what you’re doing, rather than dislike of your music per se?
GIACOMO: Touching classics is always risky. Sometimes, I find myself skeptic too. Many disagree with the whole concept...and say that loud...others love it. It's not easy to make everyone happy. But I believe that when you're honest with your work, there's nothing to fear. Should I stop feeling honest, I will stop rearranging heavy metal songs. The idea is to celebrate, not to exploit or parody the heroes of my youth.
MD: You’ve made a name for yourselves as masters of de-metalization, but do you think you’ll ever want to branch out into composing original material in the future?
GIACOMO: Yes, we are thinking about it. Next record may include original material...but it has to be coherent with Mrs. Satan's world...and that's the hardest part.
MD: You’ve been touring Italy throughout February and March, but can we expect further live shows later this year? Maybe some UK dates?
GIACOMO: In April we will be on tour in Germany. And then Spain and Austria. Maybe some summer festivals. After September, we will probably tour England and France...so yes. We are working on it.
MD: Have any festivals, metal or otherwise, expressed an interest in booking you to play?
GIACOMO: Yes, some festival expressed interest…let's cross fingers. I wish to play Wacken and Download...but we'll see.
MD: What can people expect from a Driving Mrs. Satan live show? Your music is fun, vibrant and sophisticated, so can I presume your live performances are a similarly effervescent experience full of fine musicianship?
GIACOMO: I like to describe the concert like a child entering a toy shop. We can play with everything. Dragons may clash with helicopters and pirates will search a treasure in the firemen truck, dinosaurs play football with plush dogs...it's a fantastic adventure!
MD: What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had at a live show - before, during or after a performance? Any bizarre or funny stories from the road?
GIACOMO: We played once in a church in Berlin. When we got there, we thought it must be deconsecrated, but it wasn't. There was a lady priest and she attended the concert and actually quite enjoyed it too.
CLAUDIA: One night, a guy managed to steal Valerio's guitar. He was miraculously stopped by a passer-by...who brought it back...but Valerio didn't see the scene, all he saw was a stranger with his guitar...and mistook the hero for the thief. Ungratefulness may be extremely funny.
MD: Do you play predominantly to metal crowds who are already aware of what you’re doing, or do plenty of non-metallers turn up to your gigs, who just enjoy your music on its own terms, entirely free of judgement from its source?
GIACOMO: We played many times in front of audiences who had nothing to do with metal. Usually, when we tell them about our project, they are surprised. Let's say we aim to do justice: stop people who are not used to listening to it from saying it's just noise.
MD: Have you heard from any non-metal fans who, perhaps, have discovered and enjoyed the original songs after hearing your versions first? In that sense, do you regard Driving Mrs. Satan as an accessible passage into discovering heavier music, by presenting these songs in fluffy, happy and generally enchanting forms?
GIACOMO: Yes, we have. Many times. People come to a show, and then write us that they have listened to the original and love that too.
CLAUDIA: "You know, I really want to listen to this Metallica now" (cit. my mom)
MD: Finally, if there was an entity that existed called Mrs. Satan, what form would she take? Who would she be? The kind of lady you could meet up with for a morning coffee and discuss the woes of the world? A femme fatale? A cheeky, mischievous prankster… or a malevolent being with nefarious intent?!
GIACOMO: Mrs. Satan is a mysterious femme fatale with a very kind smile and many terrifying stories to tell.