Interview SENNA – Italian band – 2021
RTM asked SENNA, an up-and-coming Italian Indie Folk band based in a beachside suburb of Rome known as Ostia. Their first album ‘Sottomarini’ was released in 2019. The band is composed of two brothers and a third member they consider an honorary brother – and has been making waves in the Italian Indie music scene.
Give us an introduction about yourself:
Hello and thanks for having us at RTM! My name is Carlo and I am the songwriter and lead singer for Senna. My bandmates and I all come from around Ostia, the seaside of Rome. We still live here, and I think that growing up here has made a difference in our musical upbringing, which is a little ‘alternative’ compared to Rome itself. We play some kind of indie folk music, but there are definitely many other influences. Two things are for sure – we like to play together, in the same room… and we work with tape!
What made you first think about recording on analog tape?
Analog has always been an important part of my relationship with music. As a kid who grew up in the 90’s, LPs and cassettes were my first experiences as a listener. Then I started playing music and recording myself. Cassettes were the medium. By the time I was a teenager in the mid 00’s, everybody was throwing their portastudios away, which meant that I could get them for pretty cheap. Fast forward to 2018, when Simone and Valerio joined me for the present incarnation of our band – and I started writing the songs that would end up on our first album. The demos were made on 4-track cassettes, we put them up on Bandcamp.
Why did you decide to continue recording on analog, and release an analog recording of your album instead of a digital one?
We just kind of kept working the way we were used to, the way we liked. Hands on the faders, the pots. You can literally touch the music you’re making. And the songs were a perfect fit, in our opinion. We played them live in the same room; there’s a certain amount of bleed on the multitracks. But that’s ok; we learned to live with it. When the song felt right, that was it. We worked quickly and ended up enjoying the recording process. There are noises on the record; the most obvious ones are in songs like ‘fiume’, you can quite clearly hear the chair, the breathing, the fingers on the fretboard… little things that sound like humans playing music, to us. And we love these little things.
Do you think recording on RTM tape made a difference in your album?
We had some old BASF tape that we used to work on, and we always liked its sound. RTM’s SM911 tape is the same formulation, but it’s brand-new; and it sounds like heaven. We push the levels a little bit while recording, and this tape handles them beautifully. The sound is rich and clear, even if it’s just a 1/4” tape, loaded with 8 tracks. And the recorder is a Fostex M80 that we were lucky enough to have found in a thrift shop. We were thinking: ‘OK, it’s gonna be a nice lo-fi record’. It ended up sounding quite in line with today’s high standards!
Tell us a little more about your listening parties on RTM tape.
We wanted to do something special, a listening preview of the album, before it came out on streaming platforms. Since it was recorded on tape, why not to bring the reel-to-reel itself and let people listen to the record the way we listened to it?
We had the chance to do this twice, in Rome and Milan. Those nights were enchanting. There is a short video on YouTube that illustrates the magic that took place. A lot of young people had never seen a reel-to-reel before. Everybody was sitting down, either listening with their eyes closed or watching the spinning reels as songs went by one after another. Just like people did when music wasn’t everywhere and you gathered at a friend’s house to listen to a record (and, being too young myself, even I had never done this before those nights).
Everybody just sat down for the whole duration of the record, more than 30 minutes, without speaking or using their phones – except maybe for some Instagram stories. They clapped hands after each song, as if it was a performance itself. Which it was, in some way. Physicality in music is still very important. Just think about how much we miss live shows these days. It’s the way music actually hits your body that makes you feel good. And we were able to do that with just a small reel of tape.
How long did it take you to record your album Sottomarini?
It didn’t take much; we did the basic tracks in four days; it was the week before Easter in 2019. We played drums, bass and either guitar or piano and I sang live. The mixer, a dusty old Mackie that was laying around, and the Fostex recorder were in the same room with us. We did two or three takes for each song and simply chose the best one. Then, I’d say we took about four or five more days for a few overdubs, especially keyboards and additional vocals. There’s a lot of singing on that record; we always loved the amazing work that vocal groups like the Beach Boys were able to pull off. There’s a lot of soul in the sound of the human voice.
Do you consider yourself as having any musical influences?
Well, the Beach Boys are one, especially when you think about the fact that they made ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ with half the tracks we use. Same thing applies to the Beatles. But musically, our influences are many and they span many decades and genres. I consider the works of Brian Eno and Steve Reich as my musical North Star. After all, we don’t really believe in the definition of ‘music genre’ anymore. I think that ‘Sottomarini’ was mostly influenced by some kind of ‘home-made’ music from 90’s artists, like Elliott Smith, Damien Rice and Neutral Milk Hotel. Contemporaries like Big Thief and Phoebe Bridgers were important as well. I guess the Italian tradition of ‘cantautori’ (singer-songwriters) played a big role too: Lucio Battisti Francesco De Gregori and Lucio Dalla are probably our favourite ones. Last but not least, the younger generations of songwriters, from Carmen Consoli to Le luci della centrale elettrica.
It is incredible how beautifully the albums you recorded on tape translate onto streaming platforms like Spotify, there is no disturbance, no noise. Was this a difficult feat to accomplish?
We were surprised by this as well! And the reception has been overwhelming. Spotify even hosted us on one of its editorial playlists, along other young Italian artists who all record digitally. People didn’t label our sound as ‘worse’ or ‘substandard’. In fact, they loved it! And we are so grateful for this. To be honest, using Dolby noise reduction while recording might have helped a little when dealing with ‘disturbance’. But if you turn up the volume a lot, you can still hear some hiss. We don’t care – we love good old tape noise!
Do you think there is increasing interest in analog recording and production of music in Italy?
Things are starting to move. I think that our experience helped to spark some interest about analog recording; everybody was super intrigued about it and asked us a lot of questions. In fact, on the other side, I am sure that the way we work made some people curious about our music and helped spread the record. Anyway, analog recording Is starting to get some serious talk, finally. It still has a long way to go, but we are sure that many other artists will take this path in the future.
What’s next for Senna? Should we expect another album?
We can’t wait to go back on the road! A lot has changed since ‘sottomarini’ first came out. We were in the middle of our first tour when the pandemic began to spread. Now it’s important to stay safe and try to do our best in order for this to be over soon. Then we’ll have fun onstage again, and it’s going to be so beautiful.
Recording-wise, we got a new mixer (it’s huge!) and a second multitrack to experiment with sound even more. And we are already working on the new songs. There are so many of them and we can’t wait to let them out. We have a lot of new ideas: the new material will sound like us, and at the same time very different from what has come out already. But one thing has stayed the same: RTM SM911 tape is still our canvas.