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Sneers. Interview: “We weren’t thinking of a specific situation but a general feeling”

We talk to the Italian-based experimentalists about their latest LP, ‘Tales For Violent Days’.

Listening to Sneers. reminds me of television soundtracks. Watching the latest series of Peaky Blinders and it was nice to see Bambara getting some well deserved attention, which got me thinking. The creators of the series could have done a lot worse than knocking on the Italian duo’s door, as well.

With art seemingly the scum on the shoe of capitalism, artists are at great lengths to find new ways to showcase their music; television most certainly a new gateway for this. However, in the case of the above television series, aren’t they duty bound to discover and promote new music instead of predominately taking the safe option by using established artists as a cinematic backdrop?

Yes, regular readers of these pages will know our love for Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, however how much does their music really enhance the Peaky Blinders experience?

We hear producers, actors, and everyone else inside this bubble atop of their soap box claiming that the arts are struggling, pointing to (quite rightly) the lack of funding from the powers that be. However, it could be argued that certain people inside this bubble are a part of the problem in their short-sightedness, too.

The likes of Sneers. would create the same impact as the above-noted artists, so why not take a risk on the underdog?

There would have been no better time, as the band release their fourth album, the brilliant Tales For Violent Days, with vocalist/guitarist, M.G Blaankart, and drummer, Leonardo O. Stefenelli, finding new ways to shine the light on misery.

Not a band to retread over past glories by making the same record twice, with Tales For Violent Days Sneers. drag us into the vortex. Into their world.

Tinged with southern gothic malevolence that feels like the aforementioned Polly Jean being put under some crude spell (About Defeats Desires & Demons), Sneers. whip up sinister sounds and themes that highlight the horror and atrocities that envelope the world. Blaankart’s spine-chilling delivery on closing track, One Day, sums it all up as she creaks, “One Day I looked in the mirror and saw death”.

The eerie blues thrum of opening track, For Violent Days sees Sneers. negotiating a journey across razor wire and the intensity doesn’t let up. The creeping piano of Ode To the Past; the smouldering séance of Black Earth Shining and Lies For Young Men; the downright frightening As Old as the Gulf War and A Fate Worse than Death; and, of course, the album highlight, Will I Feel You.

Aesthetically, Tales For Violent Days contains the same sheets of black noise Sonic Youth dished out on Bad Moon Rising alongside the bourgeoning abstract excellence of Swan’s The Great Annihilator.  

In one’s darkest days, Tales For Violent Days is the kind of record you need, providing an odd sense of warmth and relief. That vortex, a bizarre place of comfort in a world of sound produced by a band taking risks. The kind of risks more artists across the creative world should be taking.

Just after the release of Tales For Violent Days at the beginning of March, Stefenelli took part in answering some of our questions.

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S13: Were the sketches for these songs written in lockdown or beforehand?

Leonardo O. Stefenelli: “Beforehand. All songs were composed between 2018 and 2019. By the time we had finished promoting Heaven Will Rescue Us… new songs were ready and we were looking forward to working on them in studio. We recorded in Turin in 2019, in the middle of a torrid August, with Freddie Murphy (Father Murphy) and Paul Beauchamp. Like all big cities in northern Italy in the hottest time of the year, in August Turin empties. There was something apocalyptic about that desert made of concrete populated only with lonesome, forgotten people.

“This record has been ready for two years but it could have been financial suicide to release it before with all gigs cancelled and no chance to promote it.”

S13: The album, to me at least, has a real soundtrack quality to it. Was this something you were thinking about?

LS: “Yes. We wanted to create a unique feeling between all the tracks, building a storytelling with every tales like a chapter that you can experience either as an independent creature or as part of a bigger picture with a recurrent theme. That’s what soundtracks do, right?”

S13: The album title has an eerie prescient with what’s going on in the world at the moment. What was the initial idea behind it?

LS: “We never thought that the title of our work could be so appropriate for the horror of these days. As a matter of fact what’s happening today is a new appalling (and geographically closer) version of something going on everyday in the world, non-stop. Violence is normalised. We weren’t thinking of a specific situation but a general feeling.

“This title is always appropriate for everyday is a violent day, somehow, somewhere.”

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S13: As a two-piece, do you individually work on songs then compare, or is it more of a collaborative effort from start to finish?

LS: “Usually Greta begins the process, the birth of the skeletons of songs is very impetuous and calm at the same time. She uses acoustic guitar and vocals not as instruments but just as means to express some emotions and narrative. She gives birth to an idea, or a vision, or a music photograph based on something. It happens that she plays and plays and plays and something she feels connected with at that moment comes out, then she kind of sticks to it.

“She starts by singing some words that materialises in her mind and then repeats them again and again like a mantra. Then that mantra takes on a deeper shape, a deeper meaning in her mind, and a narrative comes out of it. A personal feeling, a discussion between the two of us, something outside the world or just a sign. After this impulsive creation we discuss about it in order to give the song a body, a shape that can get very far from the origins and change completely in a different form that is never fixed, not even when the song is recorded.”

S13: From record to record, your ideas seem to shift into new territory. Is it important for the band not to make the same record twice?

LS: “Indeed. We are undertaking a path, we want our musical production to evolve together with us as individuals. We’re not interested in finding a fixed formula and reiterate it until it works.”

Sneers. - Tales For Violent Days

S13: I would say that Tales for Violent Days is the darkest album you’ve written. Songs like Ode to the Past, Lies for Young Men and As Old as the Gulf War feel very confrontational (in a good way of course!). Can you tell us about these songs?

LS: “Sure. Ode to the Past is a bitter tale about a rotten and forgotten love. Years after, a letter to express all the repressed feelings to the one who killed it all. The vastness of emotion enclosed in a love letter made of frustration, selfishness and fondness.

Lies for Young Men is about mentally time travelling, going backwards and forwards in our minds and explore all the lies we were told when we were children.

As Old as the Gulf War is a comparison between the age of an individual and the age of a conflict. Starting from the year I was born, this song is about being ‘as old as the Gulf War’, about my mother’s existence as a young woman during the Cold War, about loss, and being back where I was born. As a matter of fact, everyone of us was born at the very same time a conflict was bursting out.

“In Tales for Violent Days the darkness, the violent days of the title are declined depending on the feeling, on the tale. They travel between two worlds, outer and inner, they feed each other, sharing experiences in the hope of calming the restlessness, sometimes triggering further conflicts. This is what happens and what we try to tell.”

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S13: Will I Feel You feels like the centre piece that ties everything together. Would you agree?

LS: “Indeed. It is my favourite track of the album and it is about the last moments of life of Alice, a teenage girl who was found dead in a train station bathroom with her boyfriend. I read her story on the newspaper and I immediately felt tied to her. It’s not about cold facts, as reported in the chronicle, in fact this song is not about the circumstances of her death at all. It’s about the enormity of the feelings I imagine she felt before dying, it’s about the wilderness she always felt inside her and never could tame, it’s about caring neither for wrong nor for right, it’s about giving love, it’s about never winning. It’s about seeing pyramids and Andes before dying, seeing lions, goats and even Jesus, all of them made of the rust of the ceiling.”

S13: Do politics play a part in your music?

LS: “In the sense that as human beings we’re political animals and even the simple act of thinking is a political act: yes. Otherwise: no.” 

S13: Have your challenges as songwriters changed from the early days of Sneers. to now?

LS: “We used to be more impulsive when we started, our concern was to convey our message in a primitive way, without worrying too much about details. Now, although everything still comes out from a rather violent inner need, we think more, we wait more, we outline the contours. Songs are much more arranged in all their simplicity and we ask ourselves what we really want from each instrument inside that song. Then we build it all together with patience. Which doesn’t necessarily mean to add more complex arrangements: we often prefer subtraction.”

S13: From the outside at least, Italy has always boasted a strong underground scene. Notwithstanding the lockdown, are you still discovering new bands from DIY communities across the country?

LS: “We used to, yes, before the lockdown. Now we are still quite isolated but we feel new lifeblood is coming…”

S13: Are there plans for a UK tour at some point?

LS: “Brexit and COVID haven’t made things easy, have they? But yes, hopefully August 2022! We’ll keep you guys posted about it.”

Tales For Violent Days is out now via God Unknown Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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