Gaetano Previati's Penombra (also known as: Il Bacio) is a painting that doesn't leave you. The impression of the kiss between the two lovers is indelible, not only for the two protagonists, but also for those who have lingered to observe them in the years; forced to come to terms with the suggestive power of the visions emerging from it. Previati questions us on our real ability to understand and maintain that feeling without taking it for granted or – even worse - forgetting its eternal mystique.
With the release of Mantieni il Bacio, Michele Bravi's latest single, the path the listener is called to take is the same. If with Previati's painting we start from the background, lingering on the choice of colours and contours before being enraptured by the kiss, the same approach can be reserved for Bravi's song, which starts with a veiled dialogue between voice and piano and then finds its climax in a refrain that invites us to accept the ineluctable capacity of love to 'save us from the world's wounds'.
Mantieni il Bacio is the second single taken from La Geografia del Buio (after La Vita Breve dei Coriandoli), a concept album of rare beauty and intensity, where dreamlike images are evoked by methodically calibrated words. A work that has just been released, but without any possible space-time connotations. A masterpiece by its very essence.
The album consists of ten tracks, one of which is instrumental: A Sette Passi di Distanza, the piece that closes the album but that was composed first, when the voice was not yet able to tell its own story, though the notes knew how to help it.
In the interview he granted us, he tells us about the genesis of the album, quoting C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed where the British author deals with loss and affliction. Similarly, Michele invites us not to ignore darkness, but to live with it as the only way of acceptance. He holds his audience’s hand to help them in an orientation they are not used to: the absence of light. An absence that should not be ignored, because it conceals a promise: the coming of dawn, as the opening track of La Geografia del Buio suggests.
La Geografia del Buio was released at the end of January. How do you feel now that the album is out and listeners are internalising it according to their own experiences?
In general, I have always had a hard time verbalising emotions and maybe that is the reason why I prefer singing, but the point is that I have never been so vulnerably exposed. Every time one of your songs or musical stories come out, they enter everyone's life and this happens for better or for worse.
I remember my first Sanremo Festival, because there was one thing that surprised me and that made me laugh, now. In everyone's life there are people we don't like, and I was astonished to see how even those I thought were in this category were moved by the lyrics, while in the song itself I accused them of certain behaviours. A small anecdote to say that the songs enter people's lives with much more daring than I do, and there is certainly an infinite gratitude for a record that is very complex both technically and in terms of content, as it is made of extremely vulnerable and intimate material. I don't like to mention charts when it comes to music but, in this case, I think its excellent results are a small signal that this record was received with great care and attention, which was not at all obvious, because when you talk about pain you have to know how to do it with respect and depth. The fact that my work has been recognised so much by the listeners and that it is now part of their history is a source of great pride to me.
Grief tends to isolate you, it throws you into a corner and you think you're alone, but the fact that this record is about how pain can be shared, how loneliness is just another symptom, not its consequence, allowed me to realise how the fear I felt about having such a unique and particular story, made me think I could no longer find comfort in others, but that was a lie that could be traced back to the disease of pain itself. Whereas the fact that this very story can actually enter the lives of others makes me endlessly grateful for all the huge things that are happening.
In a recent interview you quoted Richard Powers, reminding me of The Time of Our Singing, one of his earliest novels where the characters are analysed in different historical moments, though always tracing them back to a specific time. This is to ask you how you feel today about performing songs that were ready last year. Is the time gap an obstacle?
No, it is not. Everyone is living this moment of pandemic and some have found themselves disoriented for various reasons: professionally because they may have lost their job or from the human point of view, because they were deprived of their relationships, not to mention those who have suffered losses and had to deal with an even more delicate issue. When the global emergency came, I had no obligation to stop this record, but I found it disrespectful to sing about pain, because we were all living it in a pulsating and incandescent way. I also found it inappropriate for myself to take part in various performances, so I preferred to postpone it, this was also true for all my collaborators. At the same time, I realised one thing: this record is about living with uncertainty and pain. I wrote it before the pandemic, but in that writing there were already many secrets to face and live this moment. The pandemic is nothing but the trauma the world is experiencing and the darkness it is going through. I talk about how to live with darkness and our world is trying to do just that: to find a new normality, different from the one we were used to. This is to say that I was not perturbed by having to postpone it.
Beyond my personal experience, I have been writing a record for two years on how to accept the unexpected; chance had this album met the unforeseeable events in the world. I am not a fatalist, but I want to try and find an inner meaning in it. . It is not by chance that it came out in this historical period and I accept with great pride the opportunity to verbalise an emotion that is now shared by everyone. It is a privilege.
La Geografia del Buio is a wonderful concept album. Was it like that from the start or did it become a concert piece by piece?
Actually, a bit of both, in the sense that I have an extremely diary-like approach to writing and it is no coincidence that the piece that has brought me the most luck is Il Diario degli Errori. Musical writing serves me to verbalise and crystallise moments that, otherwise, I would not be able to decipher or give them a title. I found these 'titles' by making a record. The idea of a concept album is also dear to me as a listener, because I like listening to records that have a global content, containing a homogeneous and coherent world. I am not a big fan of albums experimenting with different elements, because it seems to me, I am listening to hysterical products, impossible to control. I like works with their own slant, a clear editorial line that can be risky, if you like, but clear.
One thing I used to say, some time ago, even in a slightly arrogant way, is that music does not unite, it divides. I was being provocative, of course, but I wanted to underline that when a record manages to divide people, it means that it is touching exactly the audience you wanted, the people you wanted to reach and whose sensibilities were indicated at the time of writing. Knowing that I am meeting the right sensibilities is something I really enjoy, and the fact that it's a concept album is both a cause and a consequence. In this record, obviously, the analysis of the concept is much stronger and more conscious than in the previous ones, because I had the opportunity of living my pain under a magnifying glass, in the sense that when I faced therapy (of which I speak without shame in this record) it was a great expenditure of energies, because in my life there was nothing else for a long time: there was no friendship, there was no love. There was only one theme: my path in the dark, and it was because of this diaristic approach that the writing went down that way. When I started to decipher the things I was experiencing, I realised that the record was a concept.
In this regard, during the press conference, I related an anecdote from which La Geografia del Buio was also born. I finished writing it, it was postponed because of the pandemic, it froze and I encountered A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, a sort of diary addressed to himself in order to re-elaborate the grief for the loss of his wife, and in the last pages of this classic, Lewis faces grief, stating that when we talk about it we are not talking about a state, but about a process, therefore we don't need an event, we need a story, and that is exactly what happened with this record: the writing was unconsciously a process, unconsciously a story and the fact that it became a concept album was verbalised by Lewis much better than I could ever manage, because - inevitably - wanting to tackle a path in the dark, I had to use chapters that slowly evolved.
You are very attached to the term 'inclusion'. I would like to know if this is a concept you pay attention to when writing. Going back to the first question: do you think about the moment your songs belong to everyone and do you adjust accordingly or not?
I worry about it from another perspective, in feeling sorry if someone who is listening to my music doesn't feel able to access or doesn't feel allowed to enter that story, because it's too self-referential or closed. I worry about it in asking myself: if I write this, does anyone understand it? Does anyone feel that I am conveying a certain message by using certain words? Does anyone see what I meant? I want people who listen to my music to feel in a safe place, where they are protected, free to love, free to be. I pay a lot of attention to that and I wanted this record and the pain it talks about to accommodate all kinds of pain. Many times I hear people say: 'As I haven’t suffered like you have, I almost feel at fault listening to this record', but when we talk about pain there is no chart, we always speak the same language. This doesn't mean that my pain can become shareable, but creating a place that is accessible to all pain, to all moments of darkness, is a focus that I always have in mind, not only in music but during my whole journey.
This record also wants to break the stigma behind the way pain is perceived, one's mental health and one's care. I have railed so much against a certain kind of irony that we find on social media and the bad jokes that anyone can make; but because of all the different realities we have to deal with, an unthought-out phrase can strike and hurt someone's sensibility. The care with which we should address the world is the care I have to put into my writing. It is much more important than it could have been in the world before social media. With more realities to inhabit, sensitivity must be even greater in relating with each other. Knowing the weight of a word is crucial, especially in reference to social media. With a friend you can indulge in a language that is given by confidence, but you cannot do it on social media. It is too big an environment for the lightness of the spoken word, while it is too small for the weight of the written word, and this coding is never complete, so sometimes you overdo it and sometimes you suffer from a lightness that is potentially damaging. We should, quite simply, start calibrating our words. Without written rules, being able to pay attention to whether you are hurting other people's feelings. If the answer is yes, then it is better to keep quiet. If the answer is no, then you can share it.
Finally, I would like to ask you about your recent announcements of your future tour dates. How are you getting ready and how are you involved in their staging?
These concerts are a promise between myself and my audience to give a signal to live music, to make a declaration that it will be possible to return to a theatre again. As for the creative part, it is a show I was already working on last year. It is a record that has given me a show that opens the opportunity to work with renowned professionals.
Two years ago, I performed some dates that also opened my eyes about the kind of creativity I like to bring on stage, and it is not by chance that I call them shows not concerts. Two years ago, I played some dates that also opened my eyes about the kind of creativity I like to stage, and not by chance, I call them shows not concerts. I performed again in front of an audience and the show was a crossover between concert and prose, with long monologues from Andrea Bajani's La Vita non è in Ordine Alfabetico that blended perfectly with my songs.
This time we are revising the show in general because it was designed for a different kind of setting, and it will be an experience in the dark. I prefer to use the word 'show' because I would really like people to see a curtain open and be able to enter a different world from the one they know for the whole duration of the show and then, as that curtain closes, take home what they have perceived as the brightest elements within that show.