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Materya - Interview - November 10th 2013

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    Posted: December 12 2013 at 14:45
Great interview, Michael - and superbly presented! Approve
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- an interview by Michael H

Italian act MATERYA is a side project of Italian musicians Andrea Stagni and Betty Copeta, both of modern progressive band ALTAVIA. Initially formed after an idea by Francis Dunnery, who also supervised this project in it's initial phases, as it developed further it became a duo lineup only. Betty sings the lead vocals, while Andrea performs all the keyboards, guitars, bass and percussion, with additional guests adding the drums and other contributions. In 2012, Materya came to the attention of Magenta’s Rob Reed, and they were soon signed to his UK label White Knight Records who released their debut album "Case".

The debut is a frequently piano driven collection of intelligent and elegant adult ballads and sophisticated progressive pop along the lines of Karnataka, the softer moments of The Reasoning and the more straightforward songs of Magenta. It's a refined and cultured album for grown ups who appreciate quietly intelligent music, and is something to be truly treasured if you let it into your heart. Some tracks are subdued and laid-back, while others are darkly dramatic and more progressively inclined.

I was kindly given the opportunity to talk to both Betty and Andrea, and this interview was conducted through email between the 22nd and 29th of October 2013.


How did the two of you initially come together?

Betty : We met in early 2000. We were both into music and we both played, we used to attend gigs together and talk about music a lot, but I have to say I didn’t realize this could lead to a musical partnership, in the first place. Then one day Andrea involved me in a project he was working on (a band called Memoria Virtuale) asking me to replace the female singer and that’s where it all began.

Andrea: It was still a distance collaboration at the time, but then it became natural for us to try to write something together. The first song we wrote was “The Deed Is Done”, and I have the exact date for it because the lyrics were written on a piece of paper I still have: August the 31st 2001.

Do you both have similar or completely different tastes in music?

A: Pretty different! I am more on the sympho/rock side while she likes folk atmospheres. Usually we click with different artists/bands and I honestly think that our alternative points of view often give a plus to the music.

B: Yes, we definitely come from different backgrounds. I grew up listening to folk music, my father introduced me to it. He loved many folk artists such as Neil Young or Simon & Garfunkel. Well, I believe that’s where my love for melody and somber arrangements comes from. I do believe our record seems to be the perfect mixture of both musical points of view.

What sort of bands/artists have been an influence on the music you perform in Materya?

A: personally speaking I think that the major influence I had while I was working on this material came from the musicals I've been listening to. It may sound funny, and I am not saying that I ever thought one of the songs could be ever used in a musical, but some chord progressions, some solutions adopted in the structure or in the arrangements of the songs came out from the fact I was enjoying a few Broadway numbers at the time.

B: You might believe I’m going to mention female artists…fact is I usually fall in love with male voices, such as Jeff Buckley or Anthony and the Johnsons. One of the most inspiring voices I recently discovered is the one of Patrick Watson, a songwriter/pianist based in Montreal. He totally blew my mind.

You both have an association due to your involvement in progressive band Altavia. How different is writing the music in these two separate projects?

A: The idea to make an album as a duo came originally by Francis Dunnery, who listened to a song written by me for him in the first place. At the time Betty and I hadn't written as a duo, but there were three or four unfinished songs, and Francis as the producer asked specifically to write songs for a project with certain characteristics, for example he was asking for quiet songs, with light arrangements in order to leave big space for the vocals, etc. so I wrote according to his requests.

In AltaVia the writing process is completely different, usually you come to rehearsals with an idea and you work on it with the full band playing. It's a muscular process and usually we have no preconceived idea as to where the music will point until the song has some structure.

B: My role is hugely different in the two projects… being the main vocalist here means that I am half of the band.

When you discuss about something in a duo, it means to disagree with the other half of the project. Especially if you know each other so well like we do, it’s like disagreeing about life! You really have to be careful not to fall into that trap.

We had very hard moment during sessions, we even argued sometimes, but we finally managed to find our way somehow, and I believe we’re both very proud of the work done.

Italy has a proud tradition of grand progressive rock! Are there any particular Italian bands/artists/albums you identify with or that mean a lot to you?

A: I wouldn't say I identify myself with someone, but of course there are a bunch of Italian prog artists I love. Along with the big names everyone knows (PFM, Banco, Area) I really want to mention Deus ex Machina ( ), they had a big influence on me even if my music doesn't reflect theirs. We used to share the same rehearsal room in the old days, I thought they made incredible music, and they've always been one step ahead. You know... when I was 20 something years old they were like big brothers to me. Anyway still there are indeed a lot of good Italian prog musicians around. For example I lately enjoyed very much the works of AKT ( ), another band from Bologna.

B: Actually, I cannot say the Italian prog scene has ever influenced me in anyway. I do love Area or PFM, but even if I enjoy listening to their music they are still distant from my own musical approach.

Although rarer in the vintage years, the modern progressive era has many female fronted bands – Karnataka, Magenta, Mostly Autumn instantly come to mind. Do you relate to any of them musically, and are there any particular favourite female artists you identify with?

A: I think this is more a question to Betty, but I'd like to say that there are a few female artists I literally adore. In prog-related fields I have to mention Kate Bush, but I also shiver when I listen to Tori Amos, Idina Menzel or Carol Decker. The songs they sing are just so good.

B: Tori Amos has always been my main inspiration as well. I do believe she’s a musical genius and her voice is amazing.

Talking about prog bands Annie Haslam from Renaissance is definitely my favorite.

The album `Case’ finds a lovely mix between sophisticated adult pop, progressive rock and stirring ballads. Was it difficult to get that balance right?

A: Aha...if it has any balance we did not look that much for it. When I took up the producer's role after Francis left I decided to include a few songs we discarded in the first place because they weren't soft enough. In that moment the album twisted from being an essentially piano & vocal thing to something more orchestrated. I thought to include in some songs drums, bass, guitars etc. That's why you find different bits with different flavours on the album. I was not interested in making a concept, really, I just wanted to write the best songs I could and record them. In the end we had so much material that we had to drop a couple of songs that couldn't make it to the cd for it would have been too long, and I tell you, they were good!

B: At Whiteknight records Will Mackie and Rob Reed helped us to define the song choice and the order on the cd, I think it sounds coherent to how the writing and the production of the album actually developed.

The album features both Italian and English vocals. Did you ever considering singing entirely in one of those? What made you try this combination, was it an attempt to be more accessible to audiences outside of Italy and even outside progressive rock audiences?

A: The use of Italian came by Francis' indication. He thought that our language is more suitable for quiet music, and also being our own mother tongue it could better express our personalities. He has such a psychological approach to production and I think this is still reflected in some way in the album. So we started writing in English but at a certain point we switched to Italian. Indeed, writing in Italian is very very tough for me, but I am happy with the result, and honestly I am a bit surprised by that. The truth is Latin suits every musical style, it's just a pity I can't write in Latin and nobody understands it!

B. At the very beginning I was quite reluctant to sing in Italian, you know...I had been singing in English for years. I have to thank Francis for insisting about it. He made me realize how good Italian language sounds when put into music. Also it was a very important step for me, to stop pretending to be someone else, and sing my own honest, sincere way.

What are your favourite pieces on the album, and why are they particularly special?

A: Gosh, this is a hard one for me, since I like so much, even the songs we dropped. Maybe my favourite is “Case Nella Bassa” because I think it kind of sums up Materya. But again, it's a tough choice. “Hide from an Angry Heart” or “Braccialetti di Diamanti”, “Emozioni ad uso Personale” are songs that I'm pretty happy with. There's a long way between what starts in your mind, with the concept of a song and ends when you press “play” on the cd deck, but I have to say that, more or less, all the songs in “Case”, ended up to be pretty like I imagined them in the first place, that's probably why I like them all.

B: It’s always difficult to answer this question. It took us so long to have this record finished. In some cases we really struggled to give our songs their definitive shape...that means they all have their own long story behind which makes them special to us.

If I have to choose some of them, I’d probably say that “Hide from an Angry Heart” and “Flowers and Lies”, more than the others, contain that dark and intimate mood which I’m always fascinated by. I can’t really tell you why, but when we play those songs live, that’s the point where I really feel like I’m opening my secret diary to the audience and speaking about me.

I don’t find it strange that, accidentally, those are the songs people seem to like the most.

Did the pair of you ever disagree over any part of the album, or both wanted to approach a piece in different ways?!

A: We disagreed about all the time! But as I mentioned this added something to the music. I think that doing this album was a very deep trip into our thoughts, our personalities, our tastes. And it was hard and we came across difficult times, but in the end it reflects ourselves both as individuals and as a couple. We are very happy with the result and we're still quarreling, for example when we perform live piano/vocals we argue a lot about the tempo they should be played.

B: You know, sometimes disagreeing is just your way to say “I don’t want to do that” when basically you don’t think you’re able to do it or when you’re scared of doing something new.

In this perspective, surrendering means accepting the new and giving it a try, which improves your abilities as musician but also as a human being.

`Stella Splendens’ is an interpretation of a medieval folk poem, and possibly one of the defining moments of the cd. How did you first discover this piece, how did you connect with it, and was it difficult to adapt in a progressive manner?

A: A friend of mine from Argentina got married with a guy in Milan, and they both sang in a medieval choir. During the ceremony they joined the choir and played a number of medieval hymns with antique, traditional instruments, and after the party all the guests were gifted with a cd that they recorded a few days before containing the same songs they sang in the Church. Among them was “Stella Splendens” and it immediately sounded like a rock song to me. A few months later I was experimenting with my first hard disk recording system, and I decided to put down a crazy version of “Stella”, just for fun and to practice with the new recording tools. It wasn't difficult at all, I began with the traditional verse/chorus then I started improvising changing the chord structure, alternating hard/quiet parts, and I ended up by adding the “fuga” before the last chorus, then I asked Betty to sing it. If you'd listen to that early recording you'd find that it has pretty much the same structure of the one that is on the cd. Even the guitar and synth solos are identical, basically it all came by improvisation.

B: As Andrea says, one day he came and asked me to sing on this ancient hymn...sounded challenging but also fun! It just sounded like a joke and a good exercise for my voice at the very beginning, but as we got the hang of it, we realized it was worth being recorded and included in the record.

It’s one of the most proggy moments of the record, but it still keeps its medieval charm due to its peculiar melody, which I find very interesting. Also, I believe Latin is one of the most poetical languages ever, isn’t it?

Can you please tell us anything about the musicians you had guest on the album to enable you to complete it and get it sounding the way it does?

A: Well, Marcello Bellina plays drums in AltaVia and when I decided to include the drums I immediately thought to ask for his help. He kindly agreed and he did a wonderful job. Marcello is ideal when the red light of recording switches on, while many musicians, myself included, tend to be a little frightened by it he simply starts playing perfectly without any mistakes. Same happens when he performs live.

Claudio Trotta, also, is one of the best drummers I've ever heard and he's a friend, so we asked him to be our guest on the cd. He's famous for being be Deus ex Machina's drummer, but he's involved in many projects. I remember it was February when I asked him to come and play a couple of songs and he said: “With pleasure, but I can join only by this October, is that a problem for you?”. In the meanwhile we completed all the other songs, leaving the two in which Claudio had to play as the last to be recorded. Claudio is like that, when he commits to something he does it 100% and he wanted to be sure he had the right amount of time to dedicate to the project. Once he starts he's a machine, he can rehearse for 6 hours the same song without a break, he has an incredible power of concentration. He's a jazz-oriented drummer and I always loved the punch he gets when he explores rock territories, that's why I asked him to play on the proggy “Stella Splendens” and the pop-rock 7/4 number “Uomo”.

B: A special mention goes to Mitì Vigliero as well. She’s not a musician. She’s a popular Italian writer/poetress, who wrote the lyrics of our song `Braccialetti Di Diamanti’. She was inspired by a picture Andrea took by the river Arno in Pisa, and wrote those lines down, which we decided to put in music.

She was very surprised when we told her it was going to be included into a real cd!

The cover art by Chiara Renda is especially lovely! Does it have a particular meaning or importance to the album, and how did you come across this artists’ work in the first place?

A: Chiara says that the owl represents me and she drew Betty on the top of it...can you spot her? Actually she took the inspiration from a photo I took of this owl living close to my studio. He used to stand at the window, as you see in the booklet on the “Alberi e Foglie” page, one day he was hanging from the tree in front of me so I took a few pics. I remember once he entered the rehearsal room, he probably likes music! Anyway Chiara is a close friend of ours, she's Claudio Trotta's fiance, we're very happy she could do the cover for us.

B: We’re so glad Chiara accepted to draw the cover for us. She’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I love the way she uses colors and that special child-like touch she gives to her drawings. I like the fact that the cover looks like the front page of a fairy tale book.

What has been the response to this first album so far? Are any more releases possibly planned for the future?

A: We had some good reviews, apparently people like it even if this is not a typical prog album.Well, prog should never be typical, should it? Sales wise the figures are not huge for everyone these days, but we have to thank prog fans for they generally still love the album format and keep buying cds. They're doing a huge service to music.

B: We don't have any plans for the future of Materya so far because we are currently working on the new AltaVia album.

How do live performances of your music differ to what can be heard on the studio album? Is there any chance of a possible live recording or even concert footage in the future too?

A: Many of Materya's songs are suitable to be played acoustically. We did a few acoustic sets with AltaVia, and since the album “Case” came out we also added Materya numbers so that in the same evening we could play material from both projects. Almost all the songs from Materya started with the simple formula: piano (or acoustic guitar), Betty's lead vocals plus me on backing vocals, so they can be easily played live that way. Of course, it would be wonderful to perform the whole album live with the support of a full band and an orchestra. That would be something worth recording! Impossible? It's a dream, who knows...?

How would you describe the album and band to new listeners, curious to possibly give them a try and explore their music for the first time? Who would be the ideal new audience for Materya?

A: If you want to hear what happens when your musical hero of all time offers to produce your album, then you start disagreeing with him about the direction you're heading, and in the end you self-produce it after months of struggling with painful psychological exploration, give this a go, aha!

Seriously, Francis is a genius and I will always thank him for starting all this. We wouldn't have gone that deep into our feelings if it wasn't for his help in the initial phase.

Then we just filled with those feelings the best music we were able to write, in the end I think the songs are quite good. That's why I believe virtually everyone can enjoy the album.

B: There are many things in this record, such as pop, rock, folk, prog all mixed up together...that’s why I don’t think there’s an ideal audience for it. We didn’t know what this record was going to be until we had it finished...We didn’t say “hey, let’s do a pop record!” or “let’s put a prog solo in this song”…it all came naturally as it had to be. Maybe you will like Materya if you like honest and unpretentious music. That’s what we tried to do. Give it a try!

Thank you for your time!

Special thanks to Andrea and Betty for their time and wonderful responses!


Some listening:

Stella Splendens:

Hide From An Angry Heart (live acoustic)

Materya Prog Archives page:
Altavia Prog Archives page:

My review of the debut Materya album `Case’

Materya Facebook page:

White Knight Records page:

Buy the debut album `Case’ here:
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