Creativity: Musician & Composer Mario Evangelista

In this series of interviews about the creative process, I’ll be talking to artists and people who work in creative fields to discover the common traits of creativity and what, if anything, is different. I’d also like to discover what creative practices could be used by people who don’t consider themselves artists (in the traditional sense) and how creative thinking is fundamental to growth and creation in all aspects of life.

Musician and Composer Mario Evangelista graduated in Musicology from Università degli Studi di Firenze, with particular interest in 20th century music. In 2013 he wrote ‘Teatri Nascosti – gesto, segno e drammaturgia nell’opera di Sylvano Bussotti‘ published by LoGisma about the composer Sylvano Bussotti. He was journalist for Music Jazz, an Italian monthly magazine specialising in Jazz, and Il Giornale della Musica, an Italian music magazine, among other publications. As a musician he has collaborated with many major Italian Jazz musicians such as Mauro Ottolini, Paolo FresuZeno De Rossi, Danilo Gallo, Dan Kinzelman, Enrico Terragnoli, and Peo Alfonsi, to name a few. He is founding member of music groups Riserva Moac and The Gutbuckets.

What about your craft motivates you and what would you say is your forte? What do you think makes you good at /curious about this forte? What strength do you admire in others?

The possibility of discovering new things is essentially what I like the most about being a musician, in particular that really beautiful moment in which everything seems to be aligned in a perfect situation and what you are playing or creating seems to be not done by you but just by superior forces. In a certain way you are not creating anything, you are a vehicle.
Thinking about that I don’t know if I have a forte. Maybe I can say it’s the ability to listen and incorporate different things and languages, like a sponge. A friend of mine said to me that my music is like boiling water, as soon as you can recognize something all of a sudden it disappears and you are watching many other things. That’s one of the best compliments that I’ve received in my life. Being fascinated by so many musical languages is a point of strength for me and also represents very well the world we are living in.
During the past years I played a lot of rock, ancient blues, traditional Irish music, jazz, post rock, fusion, southern rock, and also music from my personal heritage, the southern Italian tradition, which brings my interest into zampogna, the most famous Italian reed pipe. Now everything is well mixed inside my music, and I’m very proud of it.
What I’m searching for in other musicians is their ability to communicate. That simply don’t have nothing to do with technique, virtuosity or stuff like that. What I’m searching for is emotions communicated by a personal language. Obviously that implies a strong ethic sense when you play or compose. Everything as to be as real and pure as you can get.

AGO_0242 tones_1_1Photo by photographer Paolo Scarano.
When the creative well is dry, how do you fill it? Do you have techniques you return to?

First of all the best thing to do is not to worry about that. Things can get really complicated if you feel the pressure. Usually these kind of moments are normal for musicians and artists of any kind. I try to not be too hard with myself because you are already in a very bad situation when you’re not achieving what you want, in terms of sound, technique or composition. On the other hand I try to listen to different things and put myself into different situations or even read different things or go for a little travel. Obviously seeing different things and put myself outside the comfort zone is the best remedy for me.

How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social and/or regular media help or stifle this?

The best way to maintain your self voice is not thinking about it. Simply you have to play and compose without pay attention about influences or stuff like that. You need to do a favour to yourself and free your mind by that kind of processes. Doing this I discovered that my music it’s been there since the first moment of my musician’s life but I was concentrated to much on recognising styles and influences that I was completely unaware of it. Social networks like Instagram for example are really good for me, because they push me every day to work on new ideas, styles and also push the endless research of sound that is one of the favourite parts of the job for me.

When did you know that you had to use/explore your creativity in some way? Were you encouraged and supported by your family? Does your national identity influence you?

I never know how and when to use my creativity because I am my creativity! In a certain way I never imagined a life without the possibility of playing and studying music. Since I was 11, when I started, I decided to be a professional musician. Fortunately my family has been so supportive that I never felt uncomfortable with my ideas. They’ve always been like a strong fan club and they also keep me doing more and more, even if times are not suitable for a music career, especially in Italy. For sure the Italian approach to music is different from other places. Italian melodies and songs, especially traditional ones from the South, are all inside my brain but I like to think about myself as a musician not necessarily related to a tradition.

What happens if you ignore your creative impulses e.g. if you don’t practice for a while?

I can try to handle it but I fail every time. I start to feel really bad, I also start to judge myself in a very unkind way. Obviously it affects all my life, including family, friends or whatever. I have a physical need, and it’s practicing, composing, listening to music and thinking about it every day, every time. That’s no way to get out of this madness!

How do you keep positive when an idea fails or when you get negative feedback?

You have to think that everything you make can be loved or hated by everyone. The key about creating is being sure about the quality of your work. If you have done your best everyday is more difficult to be disappointed by negative feedbacks. It also depends on what’s the object of the critic, because every work, song, composition, album or project has different meanings.

Have you collaborated with an artist in your field and/or in another art form? Was the experience worthwhile?

Collaboration is the best thing you can do to enhance your creativity because other artists can really take you to the next level, because they have different point of views. Usually one of the best part of being a musician is to collaborate with other musicians and also to be involved in projects with different kind of persons. Personally I really like to create with filmmakers, because for me pictures and sounds have a strong relationship. Actually many of my composition are intended as movie for the ears, as Frank Zappa written inside the cover of his album Hot Rats, or simply as soundtracks with no shooting budget.

Committing to creative work, given the often-meagre financial rewards, can make it a struggle. What have you done to overcome this? What advice would you have for someone starting out?

For me it’s been an everyday problem, but I’ve tried to select every job that I’ve done with a close attention to quality, even if for a long time I was barely able to pay rent, bills or whatever. For many years I’ve travelled everywhere to play, I’ve also teached a lot, reaching the insane number of 25 students per week, but without being comfortable at all with the low amount of money that I was earning. Right now I started to teach in the Italian school. I choose the compromise. You are not free to get into a van and start to travel all over Europe for months but now with the school and the gigs I’m simply more relaxed. I am still running into a van going all over Italy and beyond but only in a specific period of the year.
Doing that means that I don’t have to worry about my bank account? If someone wants to start a musical career in Italy unfortunately I have to say that is quite impossible, unless your father is a very famous lawyer or you own a couple of houses for rent (and Firenze is a very good example about that topic). If you want to remain here just find yourself a regular job and play in your spare time. The best solution is to leave Italy and play in other countries. Here in Europe, Germany and Holland are really kind, respectful places for musicians.

What is the best thing about being a person who uses her/his creative skills? How does it enrich your life and help you in other areas?

Being a musician preserve yourself from everything. It creates a sort of protective shield against all the bad things that you can experience. It also enriches your life in different kind of ways: you are always thinking about things and that make your brain strongly trained; it can be a very effective vehicle of socialization, being a solid instrument for building relationships with other human beings, at every level; it also makes you happier because you have goals, you have always different kind of projects to develop. For sure music helps you to be free from any preconception or any form of racism and prejudice, because music is only a matter of how, not a matter of what, and is also strongly meritocratic and democratic.

How do you view the role of the arts in society: the role of the artist? Do you have a “responsibility” as an artist?

Every human being havs a responsibility, that is obvious. As an artist you are even more responsible because your work is a constant message about your relationship with the world. Essentially your art form is a sort of representation of what the world should be or should work. If every artist could be as true as possible with people this will help everyone to create strong critical thinking, which is the best thing to decode the world. That is Art for me, in is purest incarnation. If you are thinking about how many seconds you need for a chorus and how many for your verse that’s not art for me, is simply the use of a technique that implies sounds. I feel like that every day, even if I can’t reach millions of people with my message but is really important to do the best.

Main photo by photographer Paolo Scarano.