Americana, Italian Style: Singer/songwriter Cesare Carugi unveils overseas influence of alt-country
The sound of Italy is oddly like that of America on singer/songwriter Cesare Carugi’s latest album, Here’s to the Road. Considering that roots rock has established an increasingly large cult following in Europe over the past decade, that’s little surprise. There is an exotic quality to Americana music for European ears; perhaps the Southern accents and twang-licked guitars project a cinematic portrait of the United States that doesn’t exist anymore, the flickering reels of vintage Westerns.
Listening to Carugi’s record, the influences are fairly obvious. The heartland storytelling and big-voiced rockers of Bruce Springsteen probably cast the largest shadow. The raw jangle of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the emotional desperation of the Replacements, and the bluesy kick of Mark Lanegan can be witnessed as well. Nevertheless, Carugi harnesses the work of his heroes into a style and perspective that is his own. Intrigued that such American music could emanate from Italy, I interviewed Carugi about the geographical distance that somehow doesn’t dilute the authenticity of the material.
Q: You’re an Americana artist based in Italy. How did your affection for this genre come about?
A: Actually I don’t know, from where the spark came out. But the record I bought first was 4 Way Street by CSN&Y and I immediately got stoned by those vibes. I started to get further and deeper, moving across country music, roots and American rock, listening and closing my eyes, dreaming of crossing the ocean. Then the early ‘90s have been a new revelation in Americana, when Will T. Massey and Michael McDermott came out like goddamned bullets. No doubt, it’s been love at first sight – oops, sorry – first listen.
Q: What artists made the biggest impact on you when you were younger? What did you learn from them?
A: Music has been one of my best friends for three decades so I’m sure I can’t point my finger at one only artist; everyone of them has a good place in my heart, from Hank to Elvis, from Cash to Dylan, from Gram Parsons to the great Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (never too much appreciated in the world), from the Boss to the Cougar, from Tom Petty to Nick Cave, from Pearl Jam to Mark Lanegan, and now Ray Lamontagne and Israel Nash Gripka. I also love artists like Willie Nile (a good friend of mine), Jesse Malin or, looking back, the Clash or the Stray Cats. And I think without the Replacements there wouldn’t be any ‘90s for music.
Q: Has the guitar always been your primary instrument? What is it about the guitar that fascinates you the most?
A: I have played guitar since I was 15. I had a broken malleolus from a freak accident so I started playing just to pass the time, and the funny thing is that I immediately wrote a song, three chords and a disgusting melody. But I played some sax and drums when I was a kid; I was also able to read music. A shame to have forgot it all; maybe it’s the worst fault to be a little lazy.
But I definitely know that guitar is my final instrument, because, you know, that’s it, the guitar; if you want music sometimes you don’t need anything more.
Q: Did you have any formal training or education in the art of playing the guitar?
A: Totally self-taught, except an old music book I had in my shelf. Time passes and you get more secure and personal. Time is one of the best teachers.
Q: How would you characterize the Americana scene in Italy?
A: Hard to say it. Someone thinks you’re too outdated to do it or listen to it, or maybe not followed enough. The problem is that Italy has a restricted mindset in the same time when lots of places in Europe are going further. Music is music. It’s not an accent or a language; it’s the most universal thing in the world.
Q: Is the Americana scene in Italy supportive of independent artists such as yourself?
A: As I said, there’s not really an Americana scene in Italy; we often watch at it as something unreachable, but there’s a small group of people and bands going on and on, and they decently stand up and they believe in it. In the end, you know, it’s fun, and staying together, and play. That’s the real essence of it all. And it’s a beautiful essence.