Vinny Piana of garage-rock/blues/alternative band Boy From The Crowd digs into BFTC's raw, invigorating sound and outlook, new music, and so much more.

Hi Vinny!  It’s so great to have the chance to find out more about you and your music, especially your vividly visceral, and at times more reflective, Where the bees come to die EP.  You released this EP with bandmate Vegas Ivy at the end of last year through the record label arm of PublicPressure.org.  How did you connect with this collective?

Hi, thanks Jen.  Well, I used to be signed with another project on a small label and got on great with their graphic designer, Alfredo Violante. He had the idea for Public Pressure: some kind of crazy label, magazine, arts hub, brand, experimenting music lab, with all sorts of weird ideas being developed in the name of promoting “The Underground”. He wanted Boy From The Crowd on board. How could we say no? It’s a great project. It’s more a hub - a collective of creatives, writers, artists of all kinds working for “the cause” - rather than a straight record label.

The interesting thing is that nobody is afraid to discuss “marketing” either. It’s not just a hippy collective {laughter}, but people who want to find ways to share their art with fans, other artists, and grow. We feel very comfortable with that set-up. You know, it feels good. I think it could become quite major too. It’s very organic in how it operates: everyone can suggest ideas, stuff to do, work with others, etc…  It is appealing to both artists and music/arts fans because they can join in too. They can become writers, make videos, contribute in various ways, become active team members. It happens all the time. I’m not sure there is anything else around quite like it, and we’re glad to be at the start of the adventure. We’ve had interest from other “normal” labels, but I just wasn’t feeling engaged by their offerings, so Public Pressure it is!

While you sound like seasoned artists on Where the bees come to die, it’s actually your first recording!  How long have you been together as a duo and did you play a ton of gigs before committing your songs to record?

This is quite interesting. You are not the first one to say it does not sound like a first release. We had a few reviews where that came up and one where the journalist said that it is “unbelievable”. I really don’t know why that is. If I had to guess, I would say that maybe the musicianship is solid enough and we somehow do a good job of working for the songs, but then I would just be flattering my ego {laughter}.  We’re quite experienced musicians, so maybe that comes through too.

Vegas and I met in a studio in West London. Vegas was the studio manager. I was coming out of a previous project and didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I used to go to that studio on my own, just to sing and play loud, write some stuff. Vegas was listening on the other side of the door (sneaky dude…). He came in and asked if he could sit in on drums for a while. Fifteen minutes later, we were a band.

That was a couple of years ago, and no, we did not play a massive amount of gigs before recording. We played solid for a few months, but we felt limited by not having any proper recordings behind us. People were asking where they could get our music and we did not have any. We were also struggling to get good gigs because we had nothing to play to promoters and other bands. So, we felt we needed to take some time off playing live and focus on making some recordings that would feel right and with the same energy as our live playing, if that is ever possible...

The expression of your musical style is raw and riveting, both vocally and instrumentally, and is an amalgam of punk, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.  I can understand how you’d get into punk and rock easily, but how did you find out about the blues?  Were you raised on those three genres from an early age?

Vegas takes his roots from Zulu, South African music, and I think he was exposed to the blues before me too. I became a blues fan as I progressed on the guitar. Somehow, there is this point where you fall into the blues. You just go, “Oh, that’s what all these old people have been telling me about for all them years, and I was just spitting in their faces!” {laughter}  It all comes from the blues, really. Such a true cliché. I started with alternative music/post punk. For years I never knew a blues lick, and that is great because I really became “me” on the guitar, even if I picked up loads of bad habits by being self-taught. Now, of course, I spend my time studying all the blues greats, but I am not worried it will make me a boring “bog standard” guitarist playing the same old licks. So, yeah, we’re both massive blues fans, but not exclusively.

What bands or which artists do you credit with influencing your sound and/or outlook?

I know this will sound like we’re lying, but there is absolutely no intention to sound like anyone, be like anyone else. I just want to write the best songs I can, one at a time, without thinking much beyond that. We play them as we like. We don’t worry about continuity between the songs either, so we’re cool if they sound widely different. Personally, the artists who influence me most are The Cure, Nick Cave, The Doors, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bowie, The Stooges, Leonard Cohen, My Bloody Valentine, and lots more.  Vegas is into Black Flag, Zulu rhythms, Iggy Pop, and Henry Rollins.

The blistering “All I Need” ably showcases your on-the-edge attitude, which is tunefully tempered by the melodic verse/chorus/verse structure.  Can you go into the creation of this song?  What came first; lyrics, guitar riffs, drum pattern, or…?

On this occasion, the lyrics. I normally get the music/riff first and it inspires me to write a song. But here I sat down and wrote it without having a melody in mind. It actually tells a story. It is a bit of a personal journey that I dramatised.

You included both the original and the ‘single edit’ version of “All I Need” on the EP.  Was the single edit made specifically for radio airplay?

We were not going to bother, but when we pressed vinyls for the EP, we asked our fans what they would prefer and the consensus was, “Put “All I Need” on both sides of the record!” {laughter}  I think it maybe gives a feel of a “bonus track” thing, but it wasn’t even the point. In the end we thought, “Why not?” and it works because I see people sharing both the short and full versions on their blogs, socials, etc… People want choice these days and we give them choice! {laughter}

The EP-ender is an instrumental and has an extended vibe where you alternate between calmer, slower passages of guitar and drums and short bursts of guitar, drums, and organ rave-up.  What is your intention with this song that doesn’t push with the vocal power of the previous tracks?

Again, this track is a bit of a journey. I just didn’t need lyrics. In my head there is a full movie going on when we play it. It's more a “soundtrack to a dream” than a song. I love instrumental music. Vocals so get in the way. They take so much space and are so loud in a modern mix. Sometimes it just feels great to express all emotions simply through the music. And that is a very blues way of making music. You can get so much emotion in playing one note with intensity; it does not always need lyrics. In fact, blues lyrics are often boring and a pretext for the music; the good stuff is in between the vocals. But again, we didn’t put much thought into it. It was more a case of, “Wow, this sounds great! Let’s record it!” and that’s it.

What’s the meaning behind the EP’s title?  I’m assuming you’re talking about the honeybee crisis where they’re dying off en masse and crippling the ecological food chain, but maybe I’m wrong!

Yes and no. I do worry about the honeybee crisis, our self-destructive attitude towards the planet that sustains our life, overpopulation, the uselessness of people that govern us to take decisions that need taking, etc…  Equally, I am probably more of a hypocrite than the guy who doesn’t give a fuck about all this. I use lots of electricity, too much water, air transportation, etc… Not that these are all strictly linked to the honeybee situation as such, but what I mean is, I make little effort aside from recycling and making a few donations here and there.  So, I’m just as bad as anyone else really.

But I digress. To answer your question, this is what the tune ended up being about, a contrast between the beauty of nature and our destructive behaviour towards it; a little movie going on in my head. However, the original idea came from a late autumn day when I left my windows open while I was out. When I came home, there were about twelve bees dying on the floor. You know, when they come in for warmth when the cold days begin? And they die in your place? That’s what started it. I just thought that my living room was the place where the bees come to die.

What is the live Boy From The Crowd experience like?  Do you have any upcoming gigs planned?

We haven’t done it for so long! I feel like a horny teenager about the frustration of not playing live. Mad shows most of the time. Very spontaneous, nowhere to hide with just the two of us, and not using any backing tracks, loops, or technology. The first gig we played, on the first song, Vegas stripped naked and started playing with his nipples instead of playing drums, so that should tell you a thing or two about what can happen at our gigs. Yes, we’ll be playing soon. Spring, if all goes to plan.

Now that you’ve whetted the public’s appetite with your first EP, are you currently writing material for your next EP or album yet?  I hope so!

The album is nearly ready. That’s why we have not played live in a long time. We decided to stay in the studio and keep recording to complete our first album and we’re nearly there! Six songs to mix and then it's done. It’s going to be great, really, if I may shine my own bald head.

At your Facebook page you recently gave a shout out to an unexpected album, Heaven Or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins.  It’s one of my all-time fave albums and I’m wondering what draws you to this it since it’s so sonically and vocally different than your music. 

I’m glad to hear you love that record too. It is also a favourite of mine, and I love the Cocteau Twins in general. This is their “pop” album, for sure, and some people resent that, but it is a masterpiece of “alternative pop”. I love it. You know, we play “garage blues” kind of music, but it’s not all we are able to play and it is not all we listen to either. I love most of the post-punk bands, more than the punk bands themselves. I rarely listen to punk music, unless you say The Stooges are punk, in which case I listen to punk a lot. {laughter}  But I think what came after was really interesting; the refusal to play the three chords thing, staying away from “rock-isms” in every possible sense. It gave birth to a great scene, inventive sounds, lyrics, ideas. I was not around to live it first-hand, but, looking back, most of my favourite alternative bands come from that era.

Speaking of eras, if you could time travel to a different musical time period, which would you choose and what music-related moment would you want to experience first-hand?

Despite what I just said about post-punk era, given the choice I would probably go back to the 60’s because I could catch a lot of the 50’s rock 'n' roll artists still around, the blues masters and also all the greats from the 60’s. Hendrix, the Doors, Velvet Underground... Wow... But you know, I think the most exciting time for modern music was the mid-50’s, the birth of rock 'n' roll. What a shock it must have been for parents to see their kids reject “happy swing” music and want fast, sexy, dirty music and artists. The fashion, the cars… These must have been mind-blowing times in the USA. It was THE defining moment of pop music.

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