Francesco Bianconi: No Time For Rhetoric
21.05.2021, by Giacomo Luperini
Francesco Bianconi, a sophisticated musician, writer and singer-songwriter who found fame as the lead vocalist of Baustelle, tells us about his work in a pandemic world, and his expectations for the future.
This is a particularly prolific moment for the artist, who in less than a year has released his first solo work “Forever”, launched a “Made-up Stories” format on YouTube and, on May 11th, published his third book: “Atlante delle case maledette” (“The Haunted House Atlas”, published by Rizzoli Lizard). Now, as a crowning achievement, he has released “Forever in Technicolor” (BMG), a double vinyl album – also available as a digital download – of his complete works, which includes several previously unreleased pieces and international collaborations. We have caught up with Francesco to try and understand the reasons behind his intense productivity.
Hi Francesco, how have you been?
I’m fine, thank goodness. By now asking “how have you been” is no longer a mere platitude. I am very excited at the prospect of performing again. There will be limitations, of course, but I can’t wait to get my vaccine and go back to playing live.
This has been a very prolific time for you: in the space of less than a year you have released your first solo album Forever, followed by Forever in Technicolor. You have also launched your “Made-up Stories” and published your “Haunted House Atlas”. It sounds like a bit of a contradiction to the lyrics of your song “Il Bene”, which say “now is not the time to sing and alter reality”.
First of all, those lyrics were written long before the pandemic, and with a very different meaning in mind. I had already completed my album in January 2020, but the first lockdown forced us to postpone everything. I felt a need to say things with more sincerity, without any frills or affectations. This is no time for rhetoric. We are living through hard times, and we need to face them accordingly. The song is in opposition to the widespread cynicism and nihilism of our age. It’s time to face the world earnestly, with courage and faith. Even though I realize those lyrics fit perfectly with our new pandemic reality.
The image of a world “in transition” is a recurring one in your latest work. A passage from destruction to rebirth. What are your expectations for the future? What kind of “new world” do you wish for?
We are reaching the end of an age during which humankind has plundered the Earth’s resources, and nature is now calling us to account. Suddenly there is much more talk of sustainability and depleted resources. People are increasingly aware of issues connected to the safeguard of our planet. We are witnessing a resurgence of our value as humans, which we had lost while pursuing values that turned out to leave us empty-handed. We had been focusing on following the economy, and saw it as the only key to human happiness. That was our big mistake. We let those beliefs intoxicate us, and we stopped thinking for ourselves. The West hasn’t been truly thinking for a long time. I hope and believe in a new world, a world in which the West will create a new shape of thought, aiming to safeguard the planet (unless we intend to commit mass harakiri as a society). In this sense it’s true that “now is not the time to sing and alter reality”.
Your song “The Abyss”, seems to herald a change in your perspective, from explainer to listener. Explaining and spreading emotion and thought is busy work, which leads you to give away much of yourself and to constantly seek new sources to recharge and find ideas. How do you infuse fresh blood into your creativity?
I decided to start working on a solo project because I could feel something was changing inside me. Roughly around the same time I decided to begin therapy, which no doubt affected and accompanied my need for change and helped me dig deeper inside myself. It is a process that “The Abyss” describes perfectly, both in a metaphorical and a literal sense. I felt that up to that point I had done nothing but hide my true essence, my pros and cons, my monsters and beauty. Therapy has made me braver. Braver in every sense, both as a human being and a musician. I have always been up to experiment, even within the boundaries of pop-rock, and nobody ever put any limits on me, but I needed my screens and protection, my bandmates, my sheltering artistic choices. This time I looked deep inside myself, I opened my cellar of monsters and I decided to make a dogmatic record, with many rules and few compromises. The freest record I had ever made. But to answer your question: I recharge by pausing and looking inside myself. I practice a sort of “homespun meditation”, where I attempt to put myself in a thoughtless state. I find it helpful both to plunge into a vortex of thought and to rid myself of it entirely. I find both processes energizing.
Allen Ginsberg defined poetry as “prophecy unveiling with time”. It comes out like a stream and may not tell us much in the moment, but if it’s true and without frills, in time it will tell us who we have been. Your work appears like a constant attempt to lay yourself bare, to search for your deeper essence. Do you think you have achieved your goal? Which one of your latest works do you feel comes closer to your truth?
We are never fully sincere. As soon as we give shape to a feeling, we are creating a bottle in which to constrain it. We should never translate our emotions straight into language. The instant we codify our emotions into words, we are already seeking to abstract them, to separate them further from reality. In less absolute terms, I feel that my latest album is truly sincere. Of course it includes some coding, some rhetorical artifice, but I connect it most fully to the word “sincere”. There is a closer link between the original emotion and its expression.
Multiculturalism seems to be another constant element in your work. You defined your album’s genre as “international folk” and enriched it with many collaborations with artists from all over the world (Amedeo Pace, Kazu Makino, Rufus Wainwright, Hindi Zahra and Eleanor Fridberger). What do you think makes a work of art “universal”, disconnected from its time and nationality?
I simply believe in Universal Folk. I believe that when we free ourselves of our hangups, of our national obsessions, we realize that the whole world is our true battlefield. That was the reasoning behind my album. We have always had plenty of talented artists in Italy, but they are constantly clashing with one another, like monkeys fighting over a bag of peanuts and ready to do anything to get it. The Italian music business is very limited, and artists often feel they have to bend to its rules. When disco music becomes fashionable everyone makes disco, when it’s trap everyone makes trap. This is good to line the pockets of those who know how to move within these schemes, but in the long run it’s bad for music, depleting it of new ways to nourish itself. We should always think from a universal perspective. It can be done. Paolo Conte is a gentleman from Asti who has reached worldwide fame thanks in part to his Italian peculiarities. There’s no need to mimic foreign models.
You recently published a “Haunted House Atlas”, a map of dwellings seen as our guardians, as part of ourselves. How much do you think our homes influence who we truly are?
I believe homes have the power to affect human beings, and vice versa. Homes were originally conceived as shelter, as a response to a primal need for survival. Throughout history, however, they began to play other roles as well, going beyond survival alone. So if I live in a home, I end up giving it functions and values that go beyond survival, that permeate it and are reflected back to me. Homes preserve traces of their inhabitants, like living ghosts of sorts. I’m house-hunting right now, and anytime I visit a new home I find details, objects, pictures that convey messages. My brain then kick-starts a narrative process in which that home has a direct influence on my psyche. In this sense ghosts really do exist, and homes are full of them.