Marco Bolfelli is a remarkable jazz guitarist who has recently released his second LP Canti dei Lembi D’Ocra. While the origins of his sound lie in an early love for rockers like Jimi Hendrix , he current work is the product of exposure to bands of wirey and relative obscurity experimental groups like Taste. Despite his influences, Marco’s own guitar music is mellifluous with a deep healing quality that is sure to soothe even the sourest of nerves.
I was able to catch up with Marco over email to talk a little bit about his wonderful new album, his music, and his influences. Stream the entirety of Marco Bolfelli’s album Canti dei Lembi D’Ocra below, and keep scroll to read out exclusive interview:
Interview conducted over email on March 16, 2021. It has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
Where did your interest in jazz guitar begin?
Two records in particular resonated with my teenage self: On The Boards by Taste, and Patto by the homonymous band. These are fairly unknown rock bands from the late ’60s whose approach to modal and free form improvisation got me closer to jazz in a broader sense. Although I had some exposure to the American jazz tradition back then, it took me a few more years to understand and appreciate it.
Who were your early influences?
MTV! I was a huge RHCP fan and got all of their albums, many singles and rare stuff too. John Frusciante’s solo work was very impactful as well. Then at age 12 I listened to Hendrix’ Are You Experienced? while in bed with a flu and that definitely broadened my experience of music!
Did you study guitar before moving to the US to attend Berklee College
Of Music? If so, where?
Yes, I graduated from the Conservatory of Music in Trieste, a relatively small city that at the time was extremely important for my musical growth. Being in a smaller music community helped building deep and long-lasting connections with teachers and other young musicians.
Were you able to stay in touch with loved ones back home after the pandemic hit the US last year? Were they worried about your safety while you are living here?
I actually happened to travel back to Italy right at the onset of the pandemic to record and play with a friend’s project. Needless to say, the tour got canceled along with our return flights, so we all got to spend a few months with our families. We still managed to record the music and put it out last fall though, the album is called “Musica Fragile.”
You may be the first person I’ve talked to who has actually completed their studies at Berklee and left with a degree, why do you think so many people drop out of that school?
Well, it’s definitely is a big financial investment, and pretty bold considering the current times. Many very talented musicians drop out because they are able to build a career in music that doesn’t need the support that a music school might provide. I was very lucky to get a few scholarships and grants that covered my tuition for the two years I spent there, and as far as the talent…I still pay my dues like everyone!
How long had you been working on Canti dei Lembi D’Ocra?
Not too long actually, maybe a few weeks in total over the summer. Most of the songs are played in alternate tunings, and that made the whole process extremely flowing and somewhat liberating. Limiting my instrumental knowledge by changing the tuning of my guitar allowed me to put aside my judgmental self and to simply explore the potential of what became a partially new instrument.
I really like the warm echoey sound of your guitar. What guitars are you playing on this album, and do you run them through any pedals?
Glad to hear that! I’ll tell you a little about how I came up with it: in pre-covid times I used to play a weekly church gig at Rockwood, a popular music venue in the Lower East Side. Over time I decided to challenge myself by not bringing any pedals and relay only on the venue’s amp, which simply has a reverb and a tremolo effect. That really forced me to come up with different sounds with few tools – once again, the power of limitation!
This is the same mindset in which I recorded the album: you don’t hear a lot of effects except for the Flint, a reverb/tremolo pedal by Strymon. I also used a Boss OC-3 to extend the range below certain notes, a sound that’s been around for quite a while by now. I also used a Route 66 overdrive and a vintage Big Muff pedal in a couple of songs.
As far as guitars, I use mostly a refinished pre-CBS Jaguar. It’s a less-known model produced by Fender, but extremely versatile, considering that both Joe Pass and Sonic Youth used it at some point! In this record I also play an ’83 Japanese Squier and a ’77 Takamine acoustic guitar. I’m not a hard-core gear geek, but vintage instruments always speak to me, no matter their brand or quality, as they carry a sense of history with them.
There are only a few songs on Canti dei Lembi D’Ocra that you sing on.
And yet, those tracks ended up being some of my favorite on the album. Can you give us some insight into the lyrics on “Quasi” and “Io Ovvero Universo”?
I’m happy to hear that those songs conveyed something to you! Singing and doing so mostly in my native language was quite a big deal for me, as I have no technical preparation whatsoever and I grew up listening mostly to music with English lyrics or no lyrics at all.
Quasi is about finding in someone not only a relief from the daily trouble of life, but also support in transforming that into something creative. In a way, it’s “almost” (that’s what the title means) a love song. While writing these lyrics I decided to drastically limit my options – I guess we have a common thread here – by avoiding verbs in each verse. That helped me keeping some kind of momentum in those sections.
In “Io Ovvero Universo”, the first line of each verse quotes the song “Do Re Mi” from the Italian version of the musical “The Sound of Music”. The lyrics develop in a totally different direction thought, as they explore the meaning of giving and being in touch with everything happening in one’s life. The title is somewhat ambiguous as it can both mean “Self or Universe” and “Self that is Universe.”
Some of these lyrics, and the title of the record itself, don’t have a specific meaning and are rather a juxtaposition of words that connect well together both in terms of sound and imagery. I like to leave room to the listener to add their meaning to the music.
As I understand, you are in the US on an artist VISA, can you explain
generally how that works?
That’s a common visa for musicians and foreign gig workers in the arts who live in the States. It generally expires every three years and renews depending on the artistic work you’re able to prove. I wonder how the pandemic is going to affect that process now that there hasn’t been live music for a while – mildly tense emoji.
Where are some of your favorite places to play in NYC? Where do you
miss playing the most?
More than playing, I miss listening and being constantly blown away by music in New York. I used to hang out a lot at Bar LunÀtico, 55 Bar, The Owl Music Parlor, and Sunny’s – especially when Ryan Scott rocked the house.
Who are some of your favorite guitarists playing right now?
I highly recommend Will Graefe’s work, both as a soloist and with Star Rover. Eleanor Elektra is another brilliant guitarist and songwriter whose music I go back to every now and then.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank Marco D’Orlando and Matt Bordin for contributing to this album with their craft – drums and engineering respectively.
And thank you Mick and New Noise for this conversation!