Dollars to Pounds: Banjo or Freakout

June 01, 2009

Dream-Pop has been showing up in a lot of genre tags recently, but few fit that woozy classification as well as Italian expat Alessio Natalizia, aka Banjo or Freakout. Despite what you might expect, there are no banjos in his music and freakouts take the form of swooning WOW-THIS-IS-LOVE crescendos. His loop-laden songs are so lushly nocturnal that I like to think of him as a wise owl crooning lullabies to the restless and lovelorn (ie Kanye) while lasers shoot out of his big owl eyes (I really like lasers). He also has a knack for releasing timely cover versions. As Phil Spector starts his 19-year murder bid, here’s an exclusive BoF cover of "Baby, I Love You" as well as an exclusive new track from his upcoming EP. I had a chat with Alessio about his hometown, his old band and his forthcoming album.

Download: Banjo or Freakout, "Baby I Love You" (Ronettes cover)

Download:Banjo or Freakout, "I and Always"

Tell me about Vasto.

Vasto is my hometown. It's where I was born, grew up and lived there until I was nineteen. It's an amazing little town on the Adriatic coast in this region called Abruzzo that no one over here seemed to know until the earthquake of a couple of months ago. It needed an earthquake to put itself on the map. Ha.

When did you move to London?

I moved here 100% in September 2008, but I've been going back and forth between London and Turin—where I've been living the last 8 years—for something like four years. I was literally going crazy and I also started to have fear of flying and to hate Ryanair.

What made you move?

I moved for lots of reason and for no reason in a way. My girlfriend was living in London and we thought it would have been nice to have a normal relationship in place of meeting for a couple of days every couple of weeks and then I was kinda dying in Italy and there wasn't really much that was keeping me there. I felt like I needed to move and try to do something different. Start a new life. It was the beginning of the new me. Hahaha.

Tell us about Disco Drive [Alessio’s old band].

We did pretty much everything a rock band does. Played around 400 shows everywhere in Europe. Got really happy then really depressed then really happy again then depressed then happy then who knows.

What was your best song?
Don't know... My fave one is a new song called "The Giant" I think...

Your cover versions have been really successful. Do people contact you asking you to cover their songs? (Have N-Dubz been in touch?)

Yeah, it's quite funny. It makes me smile that they had so much popularity even if I only recorded them for fun or to try new software. It's easier to record songs you haven't written, it feels less personal. I kinda feel like I'm stealing other people's ideas and messing with them. I do get some bands or labels that get in touch with me asking to cover their bands. I rarely do though unless it's something that feels interesting. For example I wanted to do the Bloc Party thing because is a totally different kind of stuff. I felt challenged by it.

Who would you like to cover?

Kayne West. I've been working on a cover of one of his songs last week. Maybe he wants to do a cover swap...

How do you know Daniel from Gentle Friendly?

We met when I first moved to London. I was looking for someone to help me out for my live shows. He was into my stuff and I had the feeling he was the right one so we started to play together. We're slowly learning how to make Banjo's sounds live and it's so much fun!

How is the album coming along?

I have it in my head but still need to bring all the homework in the studio and get started. I think it's gonna be a real pop album! Quite different from the 12-inch too. I'm really into ballads lately!

Are you still recording everything on your own?

Yes but I'm gonna record lots of stuff for the album with Daniel too. I start the songs on my own at home but am happy to take them somewhere else when they get in the studio.

Last time we spoke you were desperate for a new sampler. Did you get it?

Yeah I got it but now I'm desperate for a million other things.

Buy Banjo or Freakout’s excellent Upside Down EP from Half Machine Records. Check his blog for cover versions, which he dishes out free from time to time.


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Dollars to Pounds: Banjo or Freakout