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Greek mythology tells of the Muses – nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, each of whom inspire a certain area of the arts, literature and science. Euterpe holds sway over music, song and lyric poetry, so it’s likely her hand that guides Musa the gorgeous debut full-length from one-man Italian outfit Alchimia. On it, Emanuele Tito combines gothic metal and Neapolitan folk music on an album that has some familiar elements—a bit of Jesu in the vocals, shades of Alcest in some of the heavier moments—but ultimately doesn’t really sound like anything other than itself.

Part of what makes the album feel so unique is Tito’s focus on textures in his songwriting. Through its mix of acoustic electric instrumentation and mercurial shifts in mood from track to track, he makes use of a broad palate of constantly changing colors and a wide variety of brushstrokes. In his own words, he calls Musa a “mix of melancholic, fierce, moving, and romantic atmospheres.” Regardless of which mode he’s playing in, one thing remains constant throughout: the unflagging melodicism of the music. From the driving four-on-the-floor of “Lost” to the lovely fingerpicking on “Whisper of the Land,” the spacey Pink Floydisms of “Oceano: Tempesta,” or the gentle rhythms of “Waltz of the Sea,” Tito repeatedly demonstrates both his versatility as a musician and his skill as a composer and arranger.

Musa will be released on May 5 by Nadir Music. Scroll down to hear an exclusive stream of the full album and to check out our interview with Emanuele Tito, who was kind enough to answer a few questions for us via email about the record.

-Clayton Michaels

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I want to ask about your musical background. The album incorporates both folk and metal in almost equal measure – which did you start off playing? Do you consider yourself primarily a metal musician with an interest in folk, or are you a folk musician first?

Excellent question. I started off playing just rock and metal, but then I opened myself to every kind of music: blues, jazz, folk, and so on. I think I would consider myself a musician who just plays and enjoys a lot of different genres in equal measure, it depends on the moment

For those not familiar with it, can you talk a bit about Neapolitan folk music? What artists or albums would you recommend as a starting point for someone interested in learning more about it?

Well, Neapolitan music is famous all over the world; it has a very ancient and variegated history. Napoli has been influenced by a lot of different cultures, so it developed a very unique sound. Check out the Neapolitan scale, it is one of my favourite scales of all time: it has this dark yet joyful sound at the same time, which reminds me of the Arabian scale, but with a baroque sound. I think it represents the spirit of Neapolitan people: how they suffered famines and wars, yet still able to put humor in tragedies. Amazing. Anyway, Neapolitan music began in the 13th century, and developed itself to the point that in the 15th century it led to the birth of the famous villanella and later the tarantella.

Then it became very popular all over the world when Neapolitan opera music was born (Enrico Caruso is the best example), and with the sceneggiatia, which is the alternation between singing and dramatic acting, in order to merge theatre and classic music. After the Second World War, we had the great Carosone, who played a mix of jazz, blues and classic Neapolitan music, and finally, in the ’70s we can see how classic Neapolitan music merged with progressive and beat rock (Napoli Centrale, Osanna), and once more with blues through one of my favourite musicians ever: Pino Daniele.

In the text that accompanied the promo of the record, you talk about the ‘recurring duality’ from one track to the next. It sounds like you achieve that duality a bit differently each time. For example, tracks like “Orizzonte” flow from one section to the next instead of following a verse-chorus-verse pattern, while other tracks do have more of a traditional pop structure to them. How much of that was the result of deliberate planning, and how much of that was instinctual or based on feel?

Well, I have to be honest. Everything is based on feel: if I feel like I need a particular structure, I will focus on that. But if I feel that the song has to have only one chord progression the whole time, I will just play that chord progression (as you can hear on ‘’Oceano: Tempesta’’).

In the credits, someone is listed as playing ‘ghost guitars.’ Can you elaborate on that? I’m guessing it ties into the album’s focus on texture.

As you surely know, the whole Alchimia project is totally mine, I’m the only songwriter and the owner. Other musicians played drums and bass and another one played these ‘ghost guitars,’ which basically are those synth-sounding guitars you can hear for few seconds in ‘’The Fallen One’’, ‘’My Own Sea’’ and ‘’Waltz Of The Sea.’’ He is Gianluca Divirgilio, my great friend and very talented musician, the leader of Arctic Plateau. He worked on recording and mixing as an engineer and what happened in the studio is just this: we were listening the record after I recorded the guitars, and he said ‘’I feel like there should be some small arrangements here’’ and I said ‘’Fine, let me hear what you mean.’’ I really liked those small arrangements and decided to leave them on the record.

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Nunzia Passaro

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Is there an overarching lyrical concept to Musa? The vocals are fairly low in the mix and sound like they’ve got at least one layer of effects on them, to the point where I have a hard time making out the lyrics. As a result, the vocals seem more like another textural element than the focal point in the songs. Was that the intention?

Another good question. Lyrics are very intimate to me. I had to change them a lot, in order to make them as more cryptic as I could. Of course, there is an overarching lyrical concept.

For what concerns the vocals, the intention was to use them as an arrangement, not to push them to the point that would be considered as a focal point, so yes, that was the intention and I’m glad you’ve noticed that. I sing both in Italian and English, in case you are wondering.

Is there any significance in the name Alchimia? It translates as ‘alchemy’ in English – does it also tie into the whole idea of duality somehow?

Yes, it does. What the concept means for me is too vast to be explained in a single interview, let’s just say that it is a metaphoric journey related to the spirit.

Are there any plans for Alchimia to play live, or is it just a studio project at this point?

Yes, of course. We will play in the next months in Italy, at the moment, but my plans are to play all over the world in the near future.

I love the cover art – it’s a pretty perfect visual representation of the music. I notice that you and the artist share a last name – is there any relation there?

My father’s family last name is Tito, and the whole family live in the same place where Ettore Tito, the painter, was born. I think he is a relative of mine, though my researches still haven’t proven it 100%.

Actually I have a strange and kind of creepy anecdote about this. I was just doing some researches on my family, I’m very interested in finding out who my ancestors are. At that moment I already had finished every song, lyrics included. I discovered this painter and I really loved his paintings. But when I saw ‘’Le Ondine,’’ I could not believe my eyes: it was the exact representation of the lyrics I wrote for the songs. Every concept was there: onirism, romanticism, a small recall to the esoteric, languid female figures. All surrounded by the sea. That one really had to be the cover, definitely.

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