Hailing from Brescia, Italy, Francesco Berta is a multi-instrumental music composer and multimedia artist. Inspired by film scores and personal relations, he has mixed years of music passion and piano playing together to release his debut album “Modern Dinosaurs” in 2012, before moving to London to pass a touching music experience through “Journey”. We had a long chat with him, where he opened up to us to discuss his childhood, music journey and his upcoming projects.
WATCH: FRANCESCO BERTA – YOU ARE HERE
Music has been a fundamental part of your life since your childhood. What was your main encouragement and inspiration through these years, and how was your life before the project?
It’s all part of the same life, I started to write because I wanted to be excited again like I was a little boy discovering things for the first time. Writing music for me it’s basically a love/hate relationship. I started being a massive film music lover since I was ten years old and it obviously had an influence on my two albums, fifteen years later. I started taking piano lessons in a serious manner only when I was fifteen and that’s pretty late if you want to play seriously, but I didn’t care, and I started only when I was able to honor my commitment. Soon I found myself staring at the keyboard, finding a way to make my small daily exercises less boring. A couple of months later I started to write my first tracks, and as soon as that happened, I felt different, I felt a unique joy in creating something new.I just found a way to say something that I couldn’t before.
What was the starting point of your project, and as a one man project, can you shed some light on how your musical composing process goes?
“Modern Dinosaurs” is my first official work, and is about a trip to Prague I did with my girlfriend—I went there to shake hands with composer Tomáš Dvořák after listening to the soundtrack of Machinarium, he’s an absolute genius—and what I was feeling back then, in early 2012. I didn’t think too much, I just wrote around fifteen tracks, and I realized I could fit some of them in an album. It was a weird and beautiful experiment, intended as a gift to my girl. Soon I decided to give it a shot on Soundcloud, and the good reviews encouraged me to keep going.
My composing process is pretty simple: when I’m writing an album and I have a deadline, I just sit at the piano until something good comes out. It could be half an hour or the entire day, and most of the days it takes hours to get something good. I call it well-organized chaos. And considering I’m writing a kind of music that I want to be simple and emotional, I have to cut the crap and focus on what I want to say (if you remember Joseph II in the movie Amadeus: “Too many notes!”). Except for The Freedom Run, that track is a joyful mess.
Before starting my day I have a morning ritual: I listen to a track from composer John Williams. Today I was listening to the concert version of the track “E.T. and Me”. In 1982 Williams won an Academy Award for E.T. and wrote one of the most beautiful soundtracks of all time. If you listen to that track, you’ll know why. It’s simple, haunting and warm as pretty much every love theme written by Williams. The theme talks to you: it’s real, simple and beautiful as a flower blooming. You think you can write it, come up with the same idea, but he did it, he picked up that theme from somewhere in the clouds, and put it on paper.
The themes in Journey are pretty basic—I briefly developed only the childhood one in “The Dreamer Song” with a violin solo—but they work very well if you listen the album entirely, with the tracks in the order I chose: you’ll have a wider idea of my project.
After your first record you moved from Italy to London, what do you think is different between the two music scenes there, and how did this change affect your music career?
I prefer not to answer, it’s difficult to compare two cities and two countries so different. There are some places where the music scene is alive, beating and breathing, and one of them is London. But at the same time it’s a hard and demanding city.
I don’t have enough research material to speak about Brescia, my hometown, because no one even took the time to listen to my records, answer my e-mail or return my phone calls. Everyone is trying to make money on you, and my little town is an example, on a large scale, on how rude and illiterate we can be about what isn’t fast-selling music in Italy.
Your latest record ”Journey” showed a lot of maturity and growth than before, and seemed more personal to my ears with more focus on your favorite instrument—the piano. Can you share with us a bit about the musical experience leading to its release and what is the personal journey that inspired it?
Despite the fact that I often define myself as a melancholic soul, during the writing and recording process of “Journey” I was living two of the most happy and satisfying years of my life, absolutely thrilled to make my first long-playing album and willing to take the time to dig deeper inside me, to discover and record every happy moment I had. So, after releasing the album last year, I made a gift for every buyer on my Bandcamp: a pdf with the liner notes of the Journey to explain what’s behind every song.
”Journey” also offered a very unique track ”You Are Here” which showed your collaboration with various artists, which was made into a video. What was special about that track to include more musicians, and is it something you plan to do more in the future?
“You Are Here” is one of the most driving and inspired tracks of the album. It starts gently, with a theme based on two chords that slowly appears and shifts, with a slow build-up, into something more complex and beautiful, later in the track.
The collaboration was simple, I was preparing a live tour for “Journey” with some friends, Stefano, Omar and Piero while I was finishing the last tracks before mixing and mastering and I decided to make the guys join me on that one. The track is totally different now, and looking at the overall result I hugely prefer the rock approach we decided to create. A week before sending the track, we ended up with over a hundred layers of guitar—mainly thanks to Stefano, the guitarist—and that was driving us crazy: we were unable to see the bigger picture, at least until the very end.
The video was directed by Silvia Albertini. I love her way to direct; she’s really sensitive, but at the same time strong enough to lead a group in the direction of what’s needed: she can ask you to climb a ladder and even if you are afraid of heights, you are doing it and you’re smiling. That’s some kind of strange magic that I’m totally jealous about (laughs) considering how grumpy I can be on a set. I definitely see her directing a massive budget film in some years. We had small resources, and she delivered her idea in a stunning way. Along with the guys and Roberta, the professional dancer that left all of us breathless with her grace, we had two days of shooting and absolute fun.
”12” taken from the last album was not only composed, but also its music video was directed by you. What was special about turning your own music into a moving motion, and is directing an experience you want to share with other musicians or only to your music?
I see “12” as my personal legacy. If I had the chance to physically grab a feeling, I’d take one with both hands, just to release it and to tell the world how fragile and beautiful life is.
One day I saw a butterfly in my courtyard, slowly dying during a really cold January. I sat with her for almost eight hours, and I spent the last moment of her life with my camera, shooting everything.
About that, my second passion is directing films, so I won’t say no about pursuing a film career one day. I just decided that music was the best way to express my feelings right now. Directing films, it’s as hard and tough as surviving as a pianist, considering you also have to build a team you trust, and that’s different from being a bedroom producer. If you are a director, you need to be a leader and inspire the people that are working with you, to make them commit to your passions and your unique view.
As a one man project, what are the difficulties that faced you while moving your act into live stages before, and what are your plans for upcoming live performances?
For the “Journey” tour I played with four guys, the ones that I wrote “You Are Here” with plus an additional guitarist, Simone. The difficulties were all the funny and annoying things that happen to a live band: cables disappearing, guitar pedals not working just five minutes before the act, broken strings, sudden amnesia during a piano solo, drumsticks flying.
Now I’m focusing on an intimate version of my shows, featuring a grand piano, an upright, a couple of synths and some percussion.
We have been hearing some news about your third full album. How is the composing process going on, and when should we expect to see it out?
Sketching ideas right now, I want to work on something even more personal, with the same intimate setting of my upcoming new live show. The focus now is on picking up the right piano for the job. At the end, it all starts with a piano.You can pick up Francesco Berta’s music on Oxide Tones or Itunes, and keep up with him on Facebook, Bandcamp and official site.