Friday 27 August 2021

Twenty-Twenty Vision With IKITAN - An Interview With IKITAN

I'm going to keep this "intro" short and sweet. Mainly to get straight down to business with interviewing Italian Psychedelic Stoner Rockers IKITAN who have made a big impression with the Stoner Rock Community with their last two releases which we will discuss in this in-depth interview.

So read on for an epic read with IKITAN

Hi IKITAN! Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today. For people not in the know can you give a brief history of your band and where it's today?

IKITAN was born in September 2019 when Luca replied to an adv Enrico posted on a local musicians’ Facebook group, and the band started jamming one week after.

It must be noted that Luca and Frik Et have been friends for ages and have played together for over 10 years years and so they were looking for a new drummer for their new adventure.

Fun fact: the three of us played at a local gig back in 2010: Luca and Fri Et were already in the same band then, and Enrico, playing in another band, bought a demo from them (which he still proudly owns).

After almost two years together, we’ve released an EP titled “Twenty-Twenty”, a live video aka our first gig “Twenty-Twenty Live at Forte Geremia”, and we’re working on a lot of new exciting stuff.

What style of music do you play in your own words?

We describe ourselves as a heavy post-rock band with a pinch of stoner and progressive. We don’t have a singer, and IKITAN is really the result of our influences as they emerge during our jam sessions when we meet. An unplanned approach to music, where spontaneity has a huge role.

Why did you choose your name IKITAN for your band and what does it have any meaning to you all?

IKITAN was chosen by Luca, who was fascinated by its meaning, found on the Italian Wikipedia page of the “Aztec gods”. According to whoever wrote that page, IKITAN is the god of the sound of the stones. It fits perfectly the idea he and Frik Et had in mind for our music, and the moment we got together and started playing it made so much sense.

There’s also a nice little pun there: stones and stoner, of course, as we love stoner rock. And also stoned, although we don’t smoke! :D

So we’ve been playing for months with this whole IKITAN concept in mind, we prepared the album cover (thanks Luca Marcenaro!) and everything… Some days before the actual release date, we found out this was not true! Or at least not verified. We even wrote to a university professor who is the go-to expert in pre-Colombian cultures, only to find out that IKITAN is nowhere to be found! The power of unverified Wikipedia sources…

But who cares: we love the concept, it’s an inspiration for us, and we’ll stick to it!

You released your debut EP - Twenty Twenty - last year. So looking back, were you happy with the responses the EP received from both fans and critics?

When we released “Twenty-Twenty”, on 20th November 2020, we didn’t expect that it would have been supported by the people in such a positive way.

The response has been overwhelmingly good both from fans and critics from a lot of different countries, something we truly didn’t expect, and so we want to thank everyone who gave us a chance and has been checking us out in the last months. THANKS!

We’ve received over 50 reviews from blogs, webzines and the likes all over the world, dozens of interviews, about 1700 views of our new video, over 150 copies of the digipack sold in 15 countries. We’ve been doing all of this on our own, starting from scratch and building relationships from zero to hero… we’ve met new friends all over the world and this magic experience keeps surprising us every day!

Would you change anything about the EP? Or are you happy with the way it is?

The release and reception of “Twenty-Twenty” has been an incredible journey. All the things in the EP - from the music to artwork - are still very vivid in our minds, and we love it as much as if it was the first time.

The only thing that we would have loved to experience in a different way was the possibility to promote “Twenty-Twenty” with concerts… like all normal bands have been doing before COVID!

What influenced or inspired you when making the EP?

The EP is the result of bits and pieces that developed during our jam sessions (including some riffs from the very first time we met), and then developed into three songs, which we eventually merged together. 

It’d be difficult, with hindsight, to trace back what influenced us to create each and every emotion contained. It’s fair to say that we probably have influenced each other while playing and arranging the music, trying to make all the pieces fit together in a nice and interesting way for the listener.

We’re playing the music we’d like to listen to, so we’re inspired by our favourite bands, and we can include Deftones, Tool, Yawning Man, Russian Circles and Clutch in the lot. And there’s a lot more too!

For what concerns the album artwork, the idea of Orazio, the little sausage dog, has always been with us in some way, as well as the alleged god of the sound of the stones, IKITAN. We represented this visually, thanks to the impressive cover painted by Luca Marcenaro, taking inspiration from the Simpson episode where Homer hallucinates and sees the Spirit Guide… 

What is Twenty-Twenty actually about?

“Twenty-Twenty” is our debut EP, consisting of one instrumental song lasting exactly 20 minues and 20 seconds, and published on 20th November 2020. Too many 20s not to have a meaning, right?

Well, the meaning of “Twenty-Twenty” is… whatever meaning you’ll want to read in it.

Some folks who wrote a review detailed how each part of the long song corresponded to a phase of the pandemic arriving in Europe. That’s a view of the song we didn’t think about, but as long as people can find new meaning in our music, that’s fine with us.

We don’t have a specific message nor does “Twenty-Twenty” have any specific meaning.

Things have been clicking quite randomly one after the other: 

By the end of Spring of 2020 we had enough material to put together three different songs and, considering the overall situation caused by COVID, we said: “it’s our chance to put the word ‘end’ to this first part of the story of the band, nobody knows what’s gonna happen next, so we want to set this moment in stone” or, well… on a CD. 

These three songs were somehow linked among them and at one point we also started thinking about just releasing the album as one only song and debut with a one-track EP. It was all very random and things clicked one after the other quite surprisingly, including the whole “number 20” thing.

You then followed this up with a Live EP and Video Performance. Where did the idea come from to put on a Live Performance of?

It all started very low-profile: after releasing “Twenty-Twenty”, and being still unable to play live, we thought: let’s do something and show the band is active. So the initial plan was to do a live on Facebook or Instagram from our studio and just play chunks of the whole song. Just for the sake of doing something, really, getting ready for a concert, and showing another side of the band’s life. And most importantly - show the band playing live.

Then as it always happens one thing leads to the other, one of us has a crazy idea and the other two add fuel to the fire… It was the end of January when we started envisioning this project… So the first major change was that we decided to play the whole thing, and not just parts of it anymore, in an outdoor setting, and make it our first live concert.

We’re fans of the whole desert rock scene, so generator parties and the likes have had an impact, even visually, on us. The idea was, on one hand, to tribute that concept, and on the other hand, to play the whole song, as we never did before, showing the band in an amazing setting in the wild. Also, we saw the video Yawning Man did (Live at the Giant Rock) and it was an inspiration too, of course.

On top of that, Genoa, our city, is perfectly placed between sea and mountains. The city itself is kind of between two of the major mountain chains in Italy (Alps and Apennines), so when you talk about nature and the wild… it’s the mountain that you’re thinking about. And so we did: the video was shot on top of an old fort and we’re extremely pleased with the end result.

Forte Geremia is officially the first live concert of IKITAN, a live concert which speaks of its times: there’s no audience and it’s only available on the Internet.

Was it a hard thing to put together with the COVID Pandemic still around us all? Any technical issues or other issues that you didn't plan for that appeared?

The filming of the video itself was pretty straightforward as we just had to play the song and our amazing friends from Squeasy Film were doing the shots with 4-5 cameras (and drones), even though, as with all the projects with a set date and deadline, there were some challenging moments.

First of all, when we decided to go to Forte Geremia, Italy was still in what we refer to as the "red zone": you couldn't leave your municipality unless for health, work, etc. These restrictions were waived just days before we actually went up on the mountain, something which of course was decided weeks before, otherwise... we might have had to make something up to make it happen anyway, there was no plan B.

Secondly, weather played a big role too. The video was shot on March 7th, and the temperature went as low as 5°C… not ideal when you have to unload everything and prepare for a live set. Plus the wind!

Lastly, the folks working at the provided us with power supplies for the day (and ravioli at lunch!) but for the rest we had to cater for the whole thing ourselves. The hardest part was to load and unload all of our backline, as the cars were quite far from where the video was shot.

Luckily Luca is also a sound engineer, so he took care of all aspects of the outdoor gig from start to finish, making sure we could recreate the sound we had in mind in an outdoor setting where we could rely on ourselves only. Big thanks to Stefano Gualtieri who was behind the mixer when we recorded the song on the day.

Once we prepared everything, we started filming straight after lunch and we played the whole song a few times whilst being recorded from 4-5 different angles and cameras (including drones, of course).

The post-production of the video took a few weeks and we've left the music as natural as it was when we played it at Forte Geremia: we really wanted this to be our first live concert, and not a video clip.

Were you happy how the Live Performance turned out and what has the reception been to the Live EP?

“Live at Forte Geremia” is our first gig since we formed in 2019. We’ve always been playing in our rehearsal room only, and with no audience. So yes, we’re very satisfied with the video so far, but hopefully we can do some “real” concerts soon too!

The reception of the live EP was really good, with folks being impressed by the location and the idea, somehow original. We also want to thank our good friend George aka MrDoom666 who helped us with a gigantic premiere of the video on his YouTube channel.

Why did you choose Forte Geremia as that location to perform at? Have you played there before or was this your first time?

It was probably the first time anyone played over there at all… but we’ll need to check eheh!

As said, once we agreed on doing a “proper” live video of us playing in the wild, the inspiration came from “Live at the Giant Rock” by Yawning Man. There’s no desert around us, and a “similar” place, in our area, could be found at Forte Geremia, the 819 asl old military fort that’s just one hour from Genoa.

The location was already used for a shooting by our filmmaker friends Squeasy Film, who were responsible for filming the band playing, so this whole thing kind of matched with the idea we had in mind.

There are references with the cover of the EP too, in a way: it’s a rocky scenery and we’re on top of a mountain, and there’s a mountain on the cover too, and being IKITAN the alleged god of the sound of the stones for the Aztecs… it all kind of match.

COVID-19 has pretty much put a stop to all life as we know it for the time being. How big of an impact has it affected the band? And how are you surviving in this stressful time?

We managed to survive because we set ourselves the goal of releasing the EP during the pandemic (refining the song and recording it happened from May to September 2020), and considering we all live in Genoa, we never actually stopped playing or meeting (apart from the first two months of the pandemic, March and April 2020). Here’s how we’re still mentally ok!

After everything is back to some sort of normality, what does the future hold for the band?

As mentioned above, IKITAN has never been in a “normal” situation. We never played any live shows so… that part of our story is still to be written. :D

The first cycle of jam sessions as IKITAN gave birth to “Twenty-Twenty”, and we’ve kept playing (and recording every rehearsals) since its release back in November 2020. 

So the next album will be the result of a second cycle of playing together, the one which is taking place as we speak.

Will you be anxious, scared or excited when performing on the live stage again?

We honestly can’t wait! We’ve all been in bands before IKITAN but there’s so much going on with IKITAN right now that our gigs will be extra special for us.

Also this is the first time we’re doing something a bit more serious than “let’s meet and play every now and then and see what happens” (which, BTW, was our original plan LOL), so playing live is an essential part of this.

Any plans for new releases in the coming months?

Yes, the album will be instrumental but we don’t have a set date yet.

It’s very likely that the new songs won’t be as gigantic as 20-minute “suites” anymore, we’re working towards something more direct and riffalicious but in pure IKITAN style. We still like not to stick to a particular genre and not setting any boundaries, so there will be some surprises.

The album will include something like 8-10 songs and these are bits and pieces of all the rehearsals (even bits that were left out of Twenty-Twenty) we’ve been recording since day 1, when we met to jam for the first time together.

Right now we’re still jamming and also developing some parts of older jams into full songs. We’ve been recording every single note we’ve improvised and now we’re letting the songs and improvisations guide us towards the next IKITAN album. Stay tuned!

You're based in Genoa, Italy. Before COVID-19 hit, how was the local Hard Rock/Metal scene in Genoa? Is there a good local scene there for bands to perform on a regular basis?

Genoa boasts a huge variety of bands and genres, from hip hop to rock, jazz, metal, prog, reggae, songwriters, stoner rock and everything in between.

As Massimo Perasso of Taxi Driver Records says when reviewing our EP, “Genoa is the city with the highest percentage of stoner bands per capita in Europe, sadly none other than people from Genoa knows about them!”

And indeed, other than stoner rock bands, there’s a lot of cool, active and interesting bands in this city. We can’t avoid mentioning our good friends and amazing bands Isaak, Burn the Ocean, Il Segno del Comando, La Coscienza di Zeno, Varego, Kurt Russhell, NAAT, Banana Joe and Temple of Deimos.

The city, despite being one of the most populated in Italy, is quite small when it comes to the local scene (which city is not like this, after all?), and in one way or another, we all know each other either by name or personally.

A few music shops and music labels exist and resist, providing invaluable support to emergent bands and famous ones by organising festivals and concerts, and offering showcase opportunities. We shall mention at least two of them: Flamingo and Black Widow.

Music clubs have been suffering massively in Genoa even before the current pandemic, with just a handful of venues surviving (and no more than ten venues/clubs in total for local bands to start playing some gigs). Such a shame for a city that truly was and still is very vibrant in terms of ideas and bands.

Thankfully a lot of connections are made possible by the Internet and we’re working hard to be supportive towards other bands and create a meaningful network of relationships that will become more effective once we’ll be able to travel again.

We’re very happy to be in such good company in our city and we hope we’ll be able to visit other Italian and European cities too very soon.

Last but not least: we’ve put together a Spotify playlist which contains some great rock, stoner, post-rock and prog artists from Genoa and from other cool places all over the world. Let’s support the underground, these bands are smashing.

You can find the playlist here: 

Who are IKITAN's main musical influences? Any artists that may surprise your fans at all?

We’ve listened to a whole bunch of very different music by now (we’re well in our 30es) and we’re very open when it comes to musical taste. Our main influences are surely post-rock, stoner and progressive, with a heavy soul.

As for the bands, Tool is the name we truly must mention here. The first time we met we started talking about them (we were all at their same concert in Florence - Summer 2019) and we knew from the get go that something cool would have happened.

Other IKITAN’s favourite are Russian Circles and Yawning Man.

For Luca as guitarist the first influences have been: AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple… surprised? LOL.

After becoming a fan of the desert rock and post-rock scenes, all the main bands of that musical universe, as well as each new discovery, are a source of inspiration, and they become part of a bigger background where you can also find pop, rock and grunge.

Frik Et is influenced by bands such as Black Sabbath, Nirvana and Mogwai. The idea for such a powerful and prominent bass sound comes from two-piece bands like Royal Blood and Death From Above.

Tower of Power and their super drummer David Garibaldi are surely a huge influence on Enrico’s drumming. There might not be a lot of funky in IKITAN’s music, but some ideas and grooves come from that universe.

Another big one is Anthrax and Charlie Benante, where drums are both powerful and perfectly fitting within the groove and feel of each song. No wonder Charlie is also the main riff maker!

Thanks for doing this interview. Before you go, do you have any words of wisdom that you want to say to your fans?

The music scene has been suffering even greater than before due to the pandemic. We need to go to gigs, support bands and venues by showing up, listening to music, and making sure the whole ecosystem can get back on track even stronger than before.

Thanks for checking us out and let’s stay in touch!

Words by Steve Howe and IKITAN