Interview: Porcelain Raft

Beats Per Minute (Rob Hakimian): Out of interest, where are you at the moment?

Porcelain Raft (Mauro Remiddi): I’m in New York, in Brooklyn. I live in New York.

And the album was recorded there, is that correct?

Yeah! I moved here six months ago, basically when I recorded the album. I started to rent a place in Brooklyn, a basement. I went there and I composed all the songs on the spot and recorded them. It took roughly two months. And then Chris Coady [TV On The Radio, Beach House, Blonde Redhead] mixed the whole album. But basically it was just me in the studio, producing, recording and composing.

Before that you were living in London, is that correct?

Yeah, I was living in London for about 11 years.

So what brought about the move?

-laughs- Well I think it’s not something that you really decide, like, around a dinner table with friends – “You know what, I’m going to move!” – It’s a game of chances, because I came to New York and I played CMJ. I just came to play CMJ and I fell in love with the people and I played this one great venue called Shea Stadium, and the energy that was there… people really knew what I was doing, and I felt different. I don’t know what it was, it was love at first sight. I just thought “I need to be here,” you know, like, I can’t explain, it felt like the right thing to do.

So it sounds like there was an immediate connection. You’ve moved around a lot in your life, was there any other place that made you feel like this?

You know what, I lived in London for a long time, but I liked to travel, for example I went to Berlin and I loved Berlin, but I never felt like it would have made a difference in my life. I felt like I could just go and visit Berlin, spend two weeks in Berlin. Coming here it was different, it was like “I need to be here, there’s something here I need to do.” I didn’t think twice, I just followed my instincts and I knew I had to be here.

How much of the album would you say is inspired by New York?

I would say probably New York inspired the sonic aspect of the album. When I was in London I was in a tiny room and I couldn’t be loud, I had to sing very softly because my flatmate was next door, and I couldn’t use an amplifier so I was using headphones. Everything had this ‘internal’ feeling because it was a necessity, it couldn’t be otherwise. So it might not sound like it, but the room really suggested the sonic aspect of my music. And so, coming here to New York, I had this basement, which was big and I could make so much noise; I could use the drums and the amplifiers and play until late at night. And then there is New York, which is this big echo chamber, you know, there’s this humming. I recorded next to the Williamsburg Bridge, and you can truly hear things happening above the studio, and that influenced the sonic aspect.

But then, lyrics and everything else, I don’t know. I’m still listening to the album and trying to understand. I basically improvised the lyrics. For this record I improvised the melody and then some words come in, I basically made them up on the spot. It was very quick, I didn’t really have time to reflect and think about what I was writing. I’m listening to what I said afterwards trying to understand what I was talking about. Some songs are pretty straightforward, others less. But you don’t have to explain what you’re doing in that sense, it’s just your emotions, which don’t make sense really when you start to put them into words. Maybe that’s why you compose songs.

As you say, your songs seem to be mostly about internal emotions, but you’ve had plenty of interesting experiences in your life, how come you don’t write about those?

I think, if you see something from outside… let’s imagine it like this – well, I think it’s an abstract image but I think it might work – let’s imagine if you have a painting, and I see you, and I see all these different things going on in your painting, and I say to you “How come you don’t talk about all these elements around your painting?” And, you know, you are the painting so how can you talk about it? Sometimes you don’t even remember, or sometimes you don’t want to see, or sometimes being inside of what you do – you don’t have that! That kind of luxury to look at yourself and see the big picture, you always see something very small. And that’s why I think this album, I wanted to call it Strange Weekend because I wanted to make this point – well, not a point – I wanted to make sure that everything was condensed in a very small amount of time, so that anything that happened, happened in two days, you know, a weekend. So there is this idea that so many things can happen in such a short amount of time, and this album is not a snapshot of a big picture, this album is a snapshot of something very small that happened in a few days; those days when I was recording the album. So it’s about the present, it’s about those moments…

Porcelain Raft – “Unless You Speak From Your Heart”

That’s very interesting. Have you always had that mindset, even with the previous EPs?

Um, I don’t know, I just feel that I changed so much in a year, that’s all I feel. So much happened in my life this past year. I supported Blonde Redhead, I supported lots of bands, bands that I loved, and I traveled through Europe and I met so many people and things changed because when I recorded those songs [on the EPs] I was basically in my room and nobody knew them. Suddenly I’m projected in big spaces by myself alone on stage singing. It was amazing, but you also have to imagine that something had changed forever in that time; I couldn’t go back to my room and pretend that that didn’t happen. So I think, I know I didn’t feel the same; I’m completely different from when I recorded those songs on the EP.

So previously in your life you played piano in an off-Broadway play, how come you don’t have any piano on the album?

That’s a great question -laughs-. Because, basically, when I moved to London and I started to compose music, like songs, basically, I decided to stop playing piano and to start playing guitar, because I didn’t know guitar. So I wanted to go back to something really simple because I didn’t want to articulate those thoughts. I really wanted to not have any pressure and I didn’t want to go into details, because piano allows me to go into details and articulate it in a sense. I started playing when I was ten, now it’s like a part of my body, it’s very easy for me to express myself on piano. So, for me, it was like “Let’s take some instruments I don’t know very well so that I have to be simple.” It was like when I started to learn English, my lyrics were so simple because I couldn’t articulate any thoughts, so the music actually reflects that. And, to be honest with you, I miss playing piano a lot. I was thinking, at some point, of recording an EP or an album with the piano at the centre of the attention. So it’s something that’s on my mind, I really want to do it, but there’s no rush.

One of my plans is to earn enough money and buy a piano – I don’t have a piano anymore. Every time I see a piano I run to it and start playing because I really miss it. So the album or EP with piano is something I see happening.

You said you started learning when you were 10; was that the first instrument you learned?

Yes. Basically, my grandma bought me a piano for my tenth birthday. It was an old piano without the front panel. You know pianos have a panel on the front of them, so if you remove it you can see the strings and the hammers and everything. So basically, this piano didn’t have that so I could see the strings and the hammers. I’d run to the piano and start playing and I could see that each key corresponded to a hammer, and each hammer to a string. It was like a piece of architecture and it was like a toy, I didn’t realise that it was about sound, I thought it was about memorising where your fingers go and memorising this mechanism. And then after a while, this idea of sound came through. It was an approach that was very visual. And that’s why somehow these days I have this approach which is visual; it’s the first thing that really attracts me, and then I start to see that there are things attached to it, so the composition becomes bigger and bigger because one thing leads to another. So it’s not anymore about mechanisms, it’s about the sound these mechanisms make. It was a great discovery and since then I’ve never stopped playing piano. I started listening to some classical music trying to figure out some Bach, some sonatas for myself, things like that; I couldn’t do it. But I was still very interested in classical music from when I was like 12 until 18.

When did you start writing your own music?

Like, seriously thinking about songs and not just bits of music, I would say probably when I was 16. When I was 16 I started to make my own songs basically. I had all these tapes I’d been recording since I was 10 or 11, and I had a portable recorder and I never stopped since then really. I still have all these tapes.

Do you ever listen to them?

I did before moving, because I had to move all the tapes to a safe place. They’re still in London. I’m going to back to London and get them and bring them here to New York. I want to do a mixtape of all these old tracks. I’ve been listening to them and some tracks I was like “Wow, this is good!” and some of them are like the Worst. Shit. Ever. So there’s no constant quality; some of the stuff is really bad, and I’m so glad nobody will ever hear it. But there were a few moments where I thought maybe I can collect all these single moments from when I was 10 until I was 25 and make a mixtape or a collection. So I’m going to go back to London – there’s a suitcase full of these tapes so I might just take it and go through it again.

So how many instruments do you play now? Is there anything you still want to learn?

I play a few things. My main instrument is still piano and once you play piano everything else comes very naturally. So I play drums, a little bit of saxophone, guitar, bass. If you play guitar, somehow you can also play bass. But I really like drums, when I can I play drums on my recordings.

One instrument I really really like, which I can already play because it has a keyboard sort of, is the vibraphone. That’s one instrument that I’d really like to have; it’s so beautiful. One day when I can afford it I’d really like to have one and really play it. Like, I think it’s such an amazing instrument, it’s such a forgotten and beautiful instrument.

So, going back to the album, how did you end up signing with Secretly Canadian?

I was playing lots of gigs and I had some offers from different record labels, and Secretly Canadian was the one that really convinced me, in a way, that I loved them. When I met them, they were talking about music. They are very long-sighted; they don’t see a project like one album or two albums, they really see the development of an artist. And, that’s not even what I mean to be honest, I mean I just love their attitude towards it. It was truly for music lovers. And so I thought “You know, if I really need a label, I wanna hang out with these guys”; they are business-minded, but they are really true music lovers, and I was loving hanging out with them. So we just started this adventure together, basically.

The cover of Porcelain Raft’s album Strange Weekend

Awesome! So tell me about the cover of the album.

The cover of the album was an idea I had. Basically, it is a photocopy of my hand that I had. I worked with a project designer from Secretly Canadian, and I said to him “I have this photocopy of my hands where you don’t see the fingers, the fingers are all cut,” and basically… well basically I suck at describing it, but he used that photocopy. And also I said to him “I would like the album to look like a satellite picture from above,” you know, kind of a map. But not like a typical map, like a satellite weather report kind of thing. So I gave him these two elements, and some sample pictures from satellites and things like that. And he saturated it with that colour, and I was just like -laughs- so happy, because he got it, it wasn’t just like a mixture of the two, but it’s also the colour that he got right. Because, the colour, it’s something that seems like an internal organ, it seems like something very human, it can be a bruise somehow. I don’t know, I just think there’s something about the colour of the album and he just got it right. And that was the first trial that he did, he just came up with that and I was like “man, this is going to be the cover of the album.”

So you said earlier that you have a very visual view of music. Does that help you with coming up with things like the cover art and the video for “Put Me To Sleep”?

Yeah it does. I did that video and I’m about to do another video for the single that’s coming out soon, “Unless You Speak From Your Heart.” The images in the video really underline something about the messages in the music. Let me give you an example: when I recorded the music I was happy about the songs, of course, but I was like “there’s something missing here.” I could see something which was a little bit disturbing, but the music didn’t really underline that. But with a video you can actually do that, you can underline something that in the music is a little bit difficult. So the video underlines some invisible things that the music hides. That’s why I make the videos myself, because I know exactly what I want to underline and what I’m looking for in a video. It’s not a clever idea or a story; it’s more to do with texture and atmosphere more than anything. I don’t really want to make videos which are impressive, where you go to your friends “Oh I saw this video!” It’s not really like that, it’s part of the music, it doesn’t have to be too much in your face. I just want it to be there, like a red line under the music, and when you hear the song just remember the images from the video and they start to connect.

The video for “Put Me To Sleep”

Do you have any visuals for your upcoming tour?

No, I decided not to have visuals because visuals are very powerful. Once you start to put visuals in your live show they start to become a protagonist, and I don’t want to make a show like that. In the future maybe, but right now I feel like I want to make something somehow physical where the attention is on the bodies, where the focus is on the performance itself, very raw. As soon as you use projectors, people are going to see the images and that’s going to be it. Once you switch it off something’s different right away. It’s such a powerful element and I don’t feel like I want to use it. I don’t want to distract too much from the actual performance.

Are you touring on your own or do you have a band? When I saw you a couple of years ago you played solo and I was wondering if that’s still the case?

I decided to play the live shows with help from a friend. He’s called Michael [Wallace] and he plays drums, and his ex-band was called Women. He’s a great guy, he’s really good on drums, and he’s not such a musician, that’s what I like about him. So we’ve been rehearsing the songs together, just the two of us. I didn’t want to put together a band for this. I wanted to do something different, and with just two there are so many challenges. I didn’t want to have a band and I didn’t want to go by myself, so I think I found the right balance on stage.

Cool. And when I saw you, you were really loud. Are you still playing really loud?

You know, it’s not really up to me. I’ve now got my own sound engineer and that makes a big difference. So some venues I might sound very quiet, some venues I might sound very loud. The general idea is to have a wall of sound, but at the same time, I don’t want it to be painful, I just want it to be the right volume.

Cool, well I like it loud. Are you nervous about touring with M83?

No, I’m super excited, I just can’t wait. It’s an adventure. The way I see it, most of the people that are going to come and see us don’t even know what I do, they’ve never heard of me. And that’s also an adventure. I don’t know why but I don’t feel scared or anything, I just truly want to play these songs live. I’ve been hiding these songs for six months and now finally I can share them, that’s how I feel about it.

Are you going to celebrate on the release date of the album?

That’s a good idea! I didn’t think about it, but I think I should. I think when the album is released I’ll be in the UK, and the day that it’s released in the US [January 24th] I have a day off, so, sure, I’m going to be super drunk. –laughs-

-laughs-. OK, and finally, since you’ve traveled a lot, where would you recommend for people to go that they might not necessarily think of?

Hmm, let me think… All the places I like, to be honest, are very famous destinations. Let me think… I love cities basically, I don’t really like nature, so I would never recommend anything like the Niagara Falls or things like that. In nature it’s nice for two days and then, oh my god, I just need people, I need a city. So I think one of the best places I’ve been city-wise is Copenhagen. I love Copenhagen. That’s a place that I’d like to go more often. There’s something about the architecture and the people… I really love that place. It’s a special place I think.

Great answer! Well thankyou for talking to me Mauro, and good luck.

Read our review of Porcelain Raft’s Strange Weekend.