Searching for America in America

Luca Chiappara is almost 28 years old and has been playing for a lifetime. Someone might remember him partaking in the Acmos scene here in Turin, during his teenage years. Now he is about to leave Italy to further his career as a musician abroad. I tried to ask him some questions because this move of his triggers my curiosity and reflections.

I got to know you in 2008, as you were playing a bass guitar that was almost taller than you and you were attending high school. What have you been doing in these 12 years? Let’s summarize the “episodes” of your life for our readers.

Luckily, the turning point was switching from treating music as a hobby, which I practiced in my basement just to play to and for myself, to treating it as a form of livelihood. The watershed moment happened in 2012, when I went to Palermo. After some gigs in other areas, I chose to reinvent myself with a job with the only skills I had. At the time I joined an amateur band in order to play the bass, even though I really did not know how to, and so I studied it beforehand. It all began out of economic reasons. When you’re in dire straits, you do whatever it takes to get up again.

Layman questions: how hard is it to shift from the bass to the upright bass?

They’re two very different instruments, but with the same approach. It’s been challenging, because the upright bass causes blisters and bleeding on your hands.

I thought about the movie Whiplash. So you can really bleed playing music?

Absolutely. That movie is a little bit over-the-top, perhaps, even the romanticized depiction of the fiery instructor, but surely it tells the story of the reality of the discipline required to play in a similar academy. By the way, you were the one who recommended that film.

I did not remember that! And what happened after Palermo?

When I got closer to the possibility to support myself solely by making music, I understood how much I loved it and how passionate I was about it. Also, since that’s your job, you get the self-awareness that you have to devote yourself entirely to that. So that’s when I understood I had to become even more dedicated. The second novelty, other than the upright bass, was the discovery of a new genre I wanted to devote myself to: American folk music, the one that originated in country, blues, jazz and their internal evolutions. Within the span of one year and a half, I pivoted from a hyperlocal band into one that was touring the world (United States included). Oftentimes, we served as back-ups for solo performers onstage.

Why the U.S. and why Tennessee?

Because it’s the right moment. This is also thanks to the meeting with a Californian artist that really helped me grow as an artist, as he is a very demanding person. Nashville (remember the Robert Altman movie?) is the cradle of country music and that’s the realm I want to establish myself in. Nashville will be a very tough ground, because there you can perform, on certain dates, even for 3-4 hours in a row, which is unthinkable in Italy or Europe. This forces you to find a balance and practice even more.

Do you expect to live off of your career as a musician? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I hope I will find my personal America in America, because all the best of the music comes from there, at the moment. In ten years, I hope I will have had a professional breakout, otherwise I might have have to come back. I hope to accomplish many things that will satisfy me, from a musical point of view, on an always higher level, taking care of all the smallest details. As of now, I am willing to stay away from home.

Don’t you feel bad leaving the country you were born in, even though you were always like a spinner toy or a rootless plant?

I don’t really have strong feelings about national borders, I think it’s more important to act towards defending artistic excellence in a discipline such as music. On the other hand, I am carrying the hefty Italian cultural legacy: there are things that I learned, even in other areas of my life, that I will always carry around with me. Then there are human relationships, but I was always been able not to be too influened by them. The more I read Steinbeck, the more I find strength in my choices and their motivations. I am following a quest that is much older than me, like the ones of the Italian immigrants who looked for their fortune across the ocean more than a century ago. The musician who asks for a visa to perform in the US is really leaving without many possessions beside his instrument, and he departs based on what he can do, and not what he will do or agreed to do. This is a bet

Safe travels, Luca.

Originally published in italian on on January 23, 2020