the musician who is Sudtirolean by birth, and Sicilian by adoption

Luca Chiappara is a young and promising musician, ready to take his talent to Nashville, Tennessee, where dreams come true!

Born in 1992, he grew up in Sudtirol, where, aged 9, he started playing the electric bass. “I started stealing my sister’s tapes so I could listen to them,” he tells us. “There was some rock, punk, grunge, some 90s metal, a CD by Daft Punk and some boy bands (after all, those were the years of the Backstreet Boys and the Boyzone). I bought my first CD at 10, with the pocket money I saved. It was a record by Metallica, and to this day, it’s one of the CDs in my collection that I cherish the most.”

Upon graduation, he decided to go to Palermo on vacation, which is the hometown of his family. Entranced by Sicily and the Sicilians, he decided to stay, and supported himself with a wide variety of gigs and manual labor. “Sicily would be perfect were it no so geographically detached. Yet, I admit that this, after all, is also one of its strengths. I think that what I like the most is Sicily’s penchant for outdoor living: the days spent at the local bar or cafés, which bring about the most haphazard encounters, the hours spent playing on the street, and the most intense friendships blossoming and developing so rapidly. I lived in the historical center for the majority of the time. It was like a big family: I knew where to go even when I had nobody to hang out with. This tendency to form a network also emerges in musical professional settings. I think I will really miss that human component a lot.”

As Luca points out, Sicily evokes a pretty neat imagery among laypeople, and it would be a pity not to exploit that. Also, we cannot help it: whoever feels Sicilian takes very little time to openly flaunt that. That’s how the country version of [popular local tunes] “Vitti ‘na Crozza” or the rumba arrangement of “Parla più piano” were born. They’re not Sicilian melodies strictly speaking, but they surely evoke the atmosphere.

“Then, there is a lot of Sicilianhood in showmanship: we’re gregarious and with an innate penchant for entertainment. This plays in our favor wherever we go.”

Italians and, particularly, Sicilians always had great contributions in early 20th-century American music: the first Jazz recording starred a Sicilian band, Nick LaRocca’s band, back in 1917. Then there were Luis Prima, Sam Butera, Frank Sinatra. Briefly told, some of the best performers of Swing music were Italian. Plus, we had a number of relevant productions in Italy too.  Natalino Otto, the Cetra quartet, the Kramer orchestra. In 1945, it became forbidden, in Italy, to play anything that had an even vaguely American sound, but that has been one of the most interesting and prolific years. While Rome was getting bombed, great productions of jazz were being recorded.

“I was always lucky, experience-wise: nobody ever asked me the standard question so, you’re a musician, but what do you do for a living? Actually, I think that the idea of a metaphorically self-harming musician is a stereotype that’s becoming trite. Sure, it’s us against the cogs of bureaucracy, and, finance-wise, it’s not easy to put us in boxes.

“As far as common beliefs are concerned, I have to admit that the average Sicilian is more eager to show respect to an artist or a musician. There’s some sort of halo of respect and inside knowledge surrounding you when you walk dragging your upright bass along.Maybe I just look funny, though. Imagine a dwarf dragging a upright bass in an avenue like corso Vittorio Emanuele. I have to say that, elsewhere in Italy, I did not feel this aura of respect as much as I did here. From this point of view, we’re very Northern-European. They hold musicians in the highest regard too.”

We asked Luca about the hardships he faced when he started this job. “Great financial and bureaucratic hurdles; you never stop investing. The upright bass itself is expensive and upkeep is quite challenging. What’s more, it’s a very fragile instrument and the life of a musician on the road puts a lot of strain on it: loading it, unloading it, heat, cold, dryness, humidity… Then there are days spent in the van. We spend an average of five-six hours a day in the car of a show that lasts two hours. Every day, you travel from town to town without even having the chance to visit it. I like traveling, but sometimes I feel that we really spend too much time in a car. It might be superfluous to add that relationships are highly penalized too, but this is a whole other chapter. ”

It’s hard to understand the position of underground musicians who support themselves, much like Luca does. Most of the time it’s impossible to declare how much they’re making, with all the problems that arise from it: they can’t obtain credit cards, subsidies, support, pensions and unemployment money. It’s a really challenging business venture. Some succeed, but it’s quite rare.

After a series of unfortunate events, Luca finds himself unemployed and without a roof over his head, but thanks to a friend, he buys his first upright bass and starts playing it with his rockabilly band, the Tartamella and Melody Makers.

“Initially, it was a choice driven by convenience,” the talented Luca tells us. “It became a maddening type of love later on. A band of friends were looking for a upright bass player. At the time, I could only play the electric bass, but they were already booked for a couple of nights a week. That was a great occasion to learn how to play the instrument of my dreams and make some money”

Luca finds out that it’s possible to live by making music in Sicily, albeit at a more underground level, more than in other parts of Italy, and he remains struck by this genre, to the point that he starts educating himself on it as time goes on.

In 2014 he is called by Don Diego Geraci, the leader of the famed Sicilian neo-rockabilly band Adels to be part of his solo project, the Don Diego Trio. The band is an explosive blend of American Country music, 50s-style rock’n’roll and swing. In parallel to the live activities of the Trio, he always cultivate a passion for other similar genres, playing in other formations and specializing in what is known as American Roots music: classical jazz, blues, folk, and country. This specialization allows him to be one of the most in-demand Roots upright bass players of Europe, to the point that internationally famous American artists requested his participation: among these, Slim Jim Phantom, the drummer of Stray Cats, Bill Kirchen, Dale Watson, Chris Casello, Deke Dickerson, James Intveld.

“Roots music is a collection of genre that are the foundation of American music. If you listen to Bruce Stpringsteen, you can find early-20th-century string bands (Cats and the Fiddle), the Blues performers from Mississippi (Robert Johnson) and Hank Williams’s brand of country music, and Jerry Roll Morton’s ragtime. All those genres from the early 1900s constitute what is usually known as Roots music. I love this music because it’s visceral, you can dance to it and it tells simple and timeless stories. It started as an entertainment genre, in order to amuse and entrance people with the power of storytelling,” Luca tells us.

Luca is largely inspired by 50s and 60s musicians who worked behind the scenes in American’s big recording studios. Bass players like Rob Moore at RCA, Bill Black at Sun, Donal Duck Dunn at Stax, James Jamerson at Motown. They’re mostly unknown, and were only well versed in one genre, but they had an immense musical vocabulary within that genre. “That’s what I like in a musician: he doesn’t need to be versatile, but he needs to master his own genre and aware of what he is doing. IT’s like speaking a language while minding its grammar and the finesse of the vocabulary. I like people who respect the cultural baggage we all carry with us.”

We ask Luca what advice he would give to someone who wanted to undertake a similar career. “I’d tell them to buy and listen to a lot of music, to respect their instrument and the audio support: you need to listen to music from a high-quality appliance and keep the instrument in good conditions. The difference is shocking. Music is all a matter of vibration that create emotions. You have to respect the source of those vibrations. Oh, one more thing that I think is fundamental: learn how to get along with people. That is, listen, learn different languages, don’t fiddle with your phone while waiting to go onstage, or out of shyness. Music is communication.”

Francesco Militello Mirto

Originally published in Italian on SiciliaNews24 on January 30, 2020

On the way to Nashville

Interview with Luca Chiappara, on the road to Nashville. Born in 1992, he grew up in Sudtirol, where, aged 9, he started playing the electric bass. Once he finished his studies, he moves to Sicily, where, in 2014, he is summoned by Don Diego Geraci (frontman of the famed Sicilian neo-rockabilly band Adels) to be part of his new solo project, the Don Diego Trio. The band is an explosive mix of American country rock, 50s-style rock and roll and swing. Diego’s incredible talent and a steady rhythmic section give the band an average of 120 tour dates per year in 12 nations between Europe and the US, more than 15 international festivals, 7 albums and 3 nominations as best rockabilly group at the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Austin, TX (2016, 2017, 2018)

In parallel of his commitment to the Trio, he always cultivated the passion for other genres, playing with other bands and specializing in what is defined as American Roots music: traditional jazz, blues, folk and country. This specific and laser-focused background allowed him to be one of the most in-demand Roots upright bass players in Europe, and to be called to work with American artist of international calibre. Among those is Slim Jim Phantom (drummer of Stray Cats), Bill Kirchen, Dale Watson, Chris Casello, Deke Dickerson, James Intveld just to name a few. And, as a consequence of a dazzling European tour with Intveld, a versatile Californian artist, Luca decided to move to Nashville, where he’ll try to deepen his knowledge of country music.

A musician growing up with the sound of the Deep South of the United States (mostly country, but also Rockabilly, Blues and folk) who decides to move to Nashville, the ultimate city of music, is, I think, some sort of dream come true. How are you living this period?

I have mixed feelings: on one hand, the departure-related stress, including the bureaucratic paperwork, and the melancholy of people I am leaving behind. But, on the other hand, the curiosity and enthusiasm weighs much more on the pro-con list. Let’s be clear, I am not leaving with very high expectations, I don’t want to be disappointed. That said, I really feel like sitting on that airplane and see how it will end. And I really look forward to immersing myself in that context, whether that entails going to concerts or playing. I need new stimuli. Meanwhile, I am educating myself as much as I can on country classics, in order to keep my fretting at bay. My goal is to show myself as prepared as I can, even though Murphy’s law always strikes. You can be the most prepared, but you will always be asked what you did not study or recall. But I put that into account too, some high-educational-value humiliation. I am ready for everything.

An Italian musician, albeit very talented, headed to Nashville looking for professional fulfillment seems like a huge challenge. In fact,  Music City has the fiercest competition. What scares you and what excites you the most?

Yes, that’s exactly the point. A friend, Mario Monterosso, had proposed I joined him in Memphis, and thanks to him getting a foot in the door would have been much easier. Yet, after seriously considering his offer, I convinced myself I had picked the easy way in an endeavor that would have been difficult regardless. At this point, one had better hedge their highest bet. I am always quite extreme in my choices and this time will be no different. That’s why I chose Nashville, despite my lacking of contacts, despite the fierce competition, and despite my being a small fish in a big pond. Yet, I make virtue out of necessity, and I want what scares me to prod me into improving as fast as possible.

You played with international artists of the highest caliber. But if you were told “you can choose who to play with starting tomorrow,” who would you go on tour with and why?

I’d like to have another experience with James Intveld, and hopefully that will happen in the future. You just need ten minutes performing live with him to learn skills that it would take you years to learn at the conservatory. He is very demanding, but he has an ability to read your limits and, contextually, show you the road for you to overcome them. That’s a great school.

I also dream of the Mavericks and Dave Alvin. The Mavericks because of their compact sounds, their manifold influences and the way they manage the show. Their attention to detail is monstrous, and, at the end, that’s what I want to learn by staying in the United States. I worship Dave Alvin as a singer-songwriter and he has a touching baritonal voice. I would love to play with him mostly so i could stand on the same stage as him and listen to him at every concert.

Your technique creates an incredible sound. Who were the musicians that influenced you the most and contributed to your stile?

Among contemporaries, I’d surely say Kevin Smith and Beau Sample. The former was the bass player for High Noon, one of my favorite rockabilly bands. He is currently playing with Willie Nelson, but he also performed with Dwight Yoakam and Heybale, just to name a few. The latter is currently playing with Joel Paterson’s Modern Sounds and the Fat Babies, a classic jazz formation, but his roots are in rockabilly and honky tonk. So, in all, I like both for their extreme elegance, for their sound and for their deep knowledge of the language of whatever musical genre they perform. If you see Kevin or Beau play honky tonk, it looks like that’s all they’ve been doing all their life, and same thing for rockabilly, ragtime and classic jazz.

What’s more, I am really grateful to Beau because during a class with him in Chicago he introduced me, artistically, to Bob Moore, whom I wasn’t aware of back then. I then discovered that whatever country song I liked had him as a bass player. Bob Moore, just so we’re clear, was in the Nashville A-team and he recorded more than 17,000 tracks in the 50s and 60s. so, if you like Patsy Cline, Ray Price, Elvis, or George Jones, you surely listened to his music without, maybe, realising it was him.

Originally published in italian on on January 27, 2019

Looking for a Rockabilly Bass player

TrackCinque is taking more and more shape. I am quite satisfied but there’s still much that needs to be told. After our interview with Alessio Bondì, I had the pleasure to chat with another young musician, Luca Chiappara, who specialises in the rockabilly genre. I thank Luca for telling me his story and his job/vocation: music.

Before we delve into the interview, I’d like to remind you that rockabilly is a genre born during the early 1950s and it fuses various genre, including blues, country, and boogie. We can state that this genre was the antecedent of rock’n’roll. Enough of that now, off to the interview.

Hi Luca, I know that a few years ago, you changed genre: earlier, you were part of the Tartamella and the Melody Makers band, and now you’re part of the Don Diego Trio, and, despite your young age, you’re very talented. Tell me what brought you to start playing? Why the bass?

I started with the electric bass at age nine. We were eating with a classmate of my sister, five years my senior. He played in a band and I sort of worshipped him. I told him I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and his answer was ”but why? there are too many guitar players around: pick up the bass, as sthere are few bass players.” And that’s how it started. I started with the upright bass for a similar reason. There are very few rockabilly upright bass players. I got into the Tartamella and Melody Makers: “if you learn how to play the upright bass, you’re in.” And the following day I bought a cardboard upright bass, and I locked myself in my house until I was able to produce something decent. Two weeks later I had my first booking, three weeks after that two more, then three, and so on, until I learnt how to play onstage.

With Don Diego Trio, you had that great experience that was quite a hefty summer tour, which took you all around Italy and abroad. I can imagine your excitement.

Yes, the first tour was the one from last summer (2014) and I found myself catapulted from a regional into a nation dimension. From a club to a festival audience. On August 2nd, I found myself in front of 20,000 people on the main stage of the Summer Jamboree, during the headline event. Yes, the excitement was high, but I also felt inadequate. I kept asking myself what was I doing here?

The following year, I also went abroad, in situations that are totally unimaginable to me. It all happened too fast for me to really realize what was really going on.

I devoted a blog post to your travels: I am sure you’d have a lot to say, because you travel a lot for work. Would you like to share an anecdote?

I don’t want to get too specific, but I can say that the great part of a musician’s life is spent on the woad (i remember we did Zurich-Catanzaro or Munich-Turin in a day). Given that I am the baby of the group, I drive little and sleep a lot. I like the philosophy behind it. A month on tour means spending 30 days with your band mates 24/7 withint the space of two squaremeters (that’s the size of a Fiat Multipla, the size of a stage, and the size of a hotel room. Traveling is 50% of the experience. It’s the moment where you speak the most, wher eyou share the most. Travels are fundamental. And so is the soundtrack, that has to mirror what you’re going to do. On tour, you don’t listen to anything but what you’re going to play. On tour, you deepen the knowledge of new sounds, but still pertaining to your genre. It serves as inspiration. The other genres can be listened to at home, not in a car. It serves as inspiration. What can happen is that when we perform at night, we play things we listened to during the day, new pieces, new sounds, new and richer arrangements.

In all, all that road traveled would be worthless without a good soundtrack. Our last album was written and conceptualized just like that, on the road.

The last question I ask you hinges on the mood of TrackCinque: tying music to memories. Could you share one of your memories that strongly ties you to music?

I answer with a track associated with a memoryl I don’t have a great memory, so the memory is not far away. The track I want to mention is “Get used to the blues” by Carl Sonny Leyland, a Californian piano player specialized in rock’n’roll, swing, boogie woogie, dixieland. His range spans from the music from New Orleans from the early 20th Century to the more classic rockabilly, playing everything with immense elegance. We opened for him last April during a festival in France. As it happens in most of these cases, he sent us a tracklist with some references, some by him, some by others. Once we got there, he told us he wanted to divert from the track list. He made us listen to that track during rehearsal. We transcribed the chords, I noted down a couple of things in order to play it with the approximation of a score. We rehearse and I play concentrating on what I had jotted down. In that moment, I didn’t notice what the track was like. On the evening of the concert, I fix my notes on the music stand and we start playing. Finally, I pay more attention to the performance and I realize that it was something incredible. It was so beautiful that at first I got goosebumps, and during the second chorus, I got so overwhelmed with emotions that I lost rhythm for a few seconds. There is a determinate progression that gives me pleasure-induced goosebumps every time I listen to it.

Small, technical details are what give me the most enjoyment in music. It’s always been like this, even when I did not realize that. The first track I really obsessed over was “The kids aren’t alright” by Offspring. I was seven, and I was moved by the fact that guitar solo played a repetitive melody and, meanwhile, the chords changed. It was hypnotic. Here is another memory! Those two seconds are worth the whole record. And those two seconds are worth the study, the strife, and the time that are the foundation of every artistically insatiable musician.

Talking to Luca was a real travel into a world full of adventures, and what emerges from his words is determination and enthusiasm: TrackCinque wishes him to keep pursue these things and thanks him for his time.

Originally published in italian on TrackCinque on October 30, 2015

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