Interview with Kekko Fornarelli and Roberto Cherillo

Shine: Kekko Fornarelli and Roberto Cherillo
Shine: Kekko Fornarelli and Roberto Cherillo

As I was experiencing some problems with my blog, I had to publish this post quite late. I heard about Kekko Fornarelli thanks to my friend Monica Mazzitelli, who is a jazz critic. After listening to his “Outrush” album, I immediately became a big fan. And to my surprise, he came to Istanbul last month, with his band “Shine” including the pianist and singer, Roberto Cherillo. Weaving Fornarelli’s songs and some folk music covers with some electronics, they delivered a beautiful gig. After the performance, I had the chance to have an interview with them and dig their musical approach more.

I’d like to start with a classical question. How did you meet?

R: He found me on the Internet. That simple. :) Kekko liked my voice and he contacted me and then we started working together and finally became good friends.

How did the idea of “Shine” come up? 

K: Well, it was out of curiosity. I wanted to expand my limits and try to write for an ethereal voice like Roberto’s. Also this is close to some kind of music that  I like such as trip hop and I wanted to become a part of it as well. I don’t feel like a pure jazzman. I feel like a musician loving music 360 degrees.

“Don’t Hide” is my favourite song in your album “Outrush” and last night I listened to it live and was influenced by it more. What’s the story behind it? When and how did you write it? 

R: He wrote the song thinking about my voice. He sent me the song and I just wrote the lyrics and the refrain in two hours. The first part was already in the track Kekko sent me, without the voice. It’s been really easy. Honestly, I don’t know how long it took Kekko to write it.

K: It was simple. Just in one day, like a sweet melody for me.

R: Actually, it was like this. I was with our manager in my town and as usual he said “Hey you! If you don’t send me the song, I will…bla bla bla.” :)  So after our manager left, I went to the studio and in a couple of hours the song was ready. And I sent it to Kekko and he said it was good.

Is there any special method that you follow while writing music?

K: Normally, I don’t take so much time to write my own music. I write my songs like pop songs. I usually start with one image. Although “Outrush” is my third album, I feel it like my first one. I changed my vision and decided to write about my music that could speak about my life so I play music like the images of life.  I think about a travel image. For example, “Drawing Motions” (my second favourite in the album) came out of my travels by train. I like trains. When you look at the window, you see the landscape change, like a movie. In the song, you can feel it, for example at the beginning of the left hand piano, the drums create a sensational train sound.

Exactly! Usually the titles of your songs seem to be taken from your own life experiences such as “Coffee and Friends” although you have  imaginary ones like  “Flavour of Clouds” as well.

R: I think the title of a song is just a start to reach the audience. Maybe the title is just like a suggestion to start thinking about the tune and the melody and get closer to the composer, to the first idea.

K: I agree.

I was wondering why you needed a break, Kekko? Why at that particular time? Did you feel a kind of alienation?

K: Jazzmen love to demonstrate their skills and ideas. They need to play super well.

R: Always waiting for the solo to show how fast they are.

K: I saw it. You play super well, OK. But only the musician cares about it because not many people understand what you are doing. I stopped and took some time for myself. I recorded two albums before. They were mainstream jazz, you know. I just felt music is something to communicate. I needed to communicate something, but with the mainstream jazz, I couldn’t do it. It was difficult. It wasn’t the right one for me in music. One day, I was at a gig in a big theatre in Italy. I was with a super quartet and we had a super venue to play, but I didn’t enjoy it. So, at the end of the concert, I decided to stop and I didn’t play for three years, just a few gigs. I started to ask myself so many things. First of all, I decided not to take any musicians with me, but just friends to feel more comfortable, to have the perfect habitat to work. And I needed to play simply.

Your music is not simple, though. But more passionate.

K: I’m an Italian. I am passionate. We have melody. If you feel that approach to the music, it’s close to EST,  but in the jazz music, how many musicians play sax like Coltrane, 1 billion I think.

R: But no one can. Because the only one is Coltrane himself. You have to find yourself. That’s the point.

K: I can find that difference between my music and so many projects that play new jazz. Some bands from, for example, UK, Norway keep so much attention to the sound but not to the content. You can have a beautiful sound but no melodies. While thinking about what kind of music I wanted to make,  I asked myself: “What do you need from music? What kind of music makes you happy? What kind of music do you like to listen? ” I felt sometimes that you go to a gig but you don’t remember anything afterwards. I want people remember my music. Then you can play something complicated.

R: But I think the point is honestly expressing ourselves. If it’s complicated, maybe it comes to your ears complicated.

K: It comes to your brain but not to your heart.

R. For some years, I have listened to incredible extreme music and I understood that there is no complicated music if you express yourself honestly. Something could only be technically complicated. But it doesn’t arrive at your ears as a complicated thing. It becomes terrible when you force yourself doing something complicated, for example, to surprise someone. When Charlie Parker wrote Donna Lee, it came naturally; I don’t think he thought he had to do something complicated. Expressing yourself honestly is the most difficult target.

K: Sometimes if you’re honest with yourself, it is not for sure the answer could be that you are a great player. You should also concentrate on the writing moment. Many people including some journalists told me this: “You don’t play difficult, you are not a good piano player.” I don’t need to show my talent. It’s not my target. If they are superficial, they can see it. If they come to my gig, they can find some moments. I took the freedom to be a piano player like Brad Mehldau.

R: In classical music, there is an incredible example, Satie. I don’t think Satie was not able to play difficult. He chose to play two notes, which is different from someone who knows only two notes.

K. Picasso for example. At the beginning, he was able to paint like Rafaello. He was just 15. But then he chose to be Picasso.

R: Year by year, he tried to deconstruct figures – one eye, the lips. Once I read some very nice story about Gershwin and Ravel. He was a really great fan of Ravel and wanted to take some lessons from him. And then he said “Let me listen to something from you.” Then, he said “It’s better you go. You are already a great Gershwin, why do you want to be a medium Ravel?” This is the point.

That’s a nice story indeed. What do you think about the new jazz concept?

R: I think the difference between, say, new jazz and mainstream jazz, is that you don’t need to function within a certain structure “A A B A A B – solo – and then A A and then B”.

K: Piano solo – bass solo – drum solo

R: Of course, I respect people who do it, but, you know, there are lots of genres that we can look at, so why not trying? And maybe this is called new jazz.

K: Yeah, it gets some inspiration from jazz music. There are just some improvisational moments.

R: I think if you feel it, do it. Don’t remove anything because it’s not part of the genre. It’s OK. Maybe, also it is the reason why we got closer with Kekko in a different way. It’s just we have known each other for less than three years. We have got similar stories in a different way. I haven’t played live for 7 years. I decided to forget the rest. It was similar in that way. I was in Rome and one day I decided return to my small place in the south of Italy, because I needed to search for myself. It was really tiring to play, play, play and nothing. I haven’t played for 7 years, but, you know, the music is stronger than…

Blood? :)  You were singing and playing the keys before as well, Roberto, right? 

R: Yeah, I have always sung but I was really shy. I did not play until Kekko released his first recording “Room of Mirrors”.  So, there is a similar path. We have never thought about we have to do something new. When Kekko starts to write, he writes about melody like a singer. That’s why; it is really easy to get closer. I mean, our different worlds get closer.

What about you Kekko? Have you ever tried singing?

K: Yeah. When I was a teenager, I had a rock band.

R: You never told me that! :) (secrets revealed!)

K: I did try the second vocals but later I stopped because it was difficult to play and sing at the same time. You need so much time to do both better.

The next project may be one that you sing Kekko???

K: The next step is…becoming Bee Gees. But with a blonde wig on my head. :)

R: We already did it. (Immediately a photo appears on the phone. :) )

Kekko Fornarelli & Roberto Cherillo as Bee Gees :))

How did you decide to incorporate electronics into your music?

K: I think it was because I discovered EST in 2003. So many people put my music next to his. It’s right in a way but also there are differences. I was searching something new at that time. A friend of mine had a music shop and he gave me “A Strange Place for Snow” by EST. I found it so beautiful. EST started incorporating electronics into their music at that time, you know. Not so much, though. Also I love to listen to rock and trip hop, bands like Radiohead, Portishead and Massive Attack. I like the atmospheres they create. I needed to fit my own movies into music. Acoustic dimension is OK. I love it because I love my piano. I want to feel that acoustic sound, but I wanted to do something a bit different so I asked myself “Why not using some electronics?” So I started playing with electronics with my album “Room of Mirrors”, which was the first trial. I did it with two musicians who actually play classic jazz. We used effects on drums and double bass while recording. When I listen to that album today, I feel something strange, it doesn’t sound natural to me. However, it was OK because it was the first one. After “Room of Mirrors”, I started to play everywhere. But I had two problems: I had to recreate the sound live and the musicians that I worked with didn’t feel the same way as me.  So, I started to search other musicians that I could both play with and be good friends as human relationship is very important in a music band. It was a difficult thing to do, but I found them. I kept following my search on electronics. Now, it has become more natural. It’s not necessary to increase the amount of electronics but to choose the best amount.

R: Yes, to find the right amount is important.

K: Yeah. There is electronics in my music, but it’s like the part of the texture behind the natural sound.

R: In the 70s and 80s when electronic instruments came up everything was too much. Even jazz musicians were using it a lot, like Herbie Hancock. Miles Davis was playing with a DJ. But maybe today we are ready to find a very good balance between electronic and acoustic music.

When you started working together, what did you learn from each other?

K: Good question. Well, you get inspiration from the people you work with. When I write new music for the trio, I get inspiration from my relationship with Roberto. He led me to have a more open-minded approach to music. You know, I grew up in classical music, and then I made a transition to jazz. I didn’t know who The Doors was ’till I was eighteen. He made me discover other bands, for example, Radiohead. So, we work together and do many things together. I grow up and he grows up so there are always new exchanges going on.

Shine: Kekko Fornarelli & Roberto Cherillo after the gig in İstanbul (photo by me)
Shine: Kekko Fornarelli & Roberto Cherillo after the gig in İstanbul (photo by me)

You also had a long tour if I’m not mistaken. You must have had so much time to spend together during your journeys. 

R: Yes. Especially during our Russian tour, we started practising on the train, as the trips were long.

K: And without instruments!

R: Yes! We tried to deliver a performance different than the previous gig.

K: I changed the drums section for all the gigs on the plane. I needed to try something new and see whether it was better.

R: (again a photo appears on Roberto’s phone. Kekko with his headphones on, on the plane this time) In this photo, he was changing something on his lap top. It was taken yesterday while we were on our way to Istanbul. :)

How do you decide on what things to change? Does the city you’ll be performing affect you or  is it your mood?

R: I think there is a point here (showing an imaginary point at this moment) and it doesn’t mean that we reach that point every time but we are getting closer to that.

K: You have a perception of what you need to do, so you decide whether to use more acoustic instruments or more electronic devices. You could have them all or not. You should try and decide.

R: We need to remove something to reach that point. Sometimes we put too much, then reaching that point means we need to make it clear, I mean, remove the dust.

So less is more, sometimes.

R: Yes, that’s the point.

Here comes my last question although I don’t want this chat to finish. When are you planning to release a Shine album?

K: We will record an album when we have the time and find the way working for both of us.

R: We seriously started thinking about the album but we don’t want to be pushed by something. We want to get into the studio and record when we are really certain about what to do. Fortunately, we had the chance to have a long tour without having an album so we had lots of gigs and it was good for us. When you have to play live, you think about how it sounds on stage so you think about removing some parts. I think this is what Kekko did with “Outrush”.

K: I started playing songs while I was touring for “Room of mirrors”. Each day I tried a new song in the encore. It was good to feel the reaction of the audience and draw up the trio sound before going into the studio as you can feel more comfortable in the studio like that.

R: In 2015, we can think about the album.

K: The important thing is my own thinking. I want to be sure about the new music, to have something to tell more. I could do in two months or two years.

R: Today we met, OK. If I tell you the exact words tomorrow, maybe it’s better we don’t meet. It’s like a relationship. You can get bored of the routine but if we are intelligent enough to be new, it doesn’t mean we have to meet all the time, but, for example, we can meet after three months so that we can tell each other new things. I started, for example, thinking about my new album as well. I’ve already got the idea that really makes me feel like a kid. I always like English folk musicians like Nick Drake, John Martin. Normally this music is played by guitar, but I’d like to arrange them for piano. This is the idea.

Thanks a lot for your time and sincere answers. I wish to see you all again here in Istanbul.

K: We love the city and wish we had more time to discover it.

R: Yeah, exactly. We are looking forward to coming back.


It’s Roberto, Kekko and me!


Note: For a nice review of Kekko Fornarelli’s album “Outrush”, check out my friend Fatih Erkan’s post here.

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