The myriad occasions that we almost met make me want to believe in fate. I think that’s true of almost every couple, especially when newly in love and thinking of all the events that needed to happen so that your historic meet might take place.
The same holds true for bands that are formed organically; it seems such kismet that circumstances conspire to bring together all of the elements that then produce magic. What if Dave Matthews had never bartended at Miller’s and consequently had never met John D’earth, Ross Hoffman or Tim Reynolds? WAS it destiny and would Carter, LeRoi, Stefan, and Boyd eventually have crossed paths with Dave anyway? What about John Lennon and Paul McCartney and their infamous first meet when Paul tuned John’s guitar then went out with him for a pint after the gig? I love the idea that if it hadn’t happened in those ways it would have in another, just like in the film Sliding Doors. I’m sure that aspect must contribute to the film’s massive appeal.
NoteSpeak and Hippie Tendencies co-founder Marco Cremaschini and I met in Brescia in 2005. We had just missed meeting each other several times for at least seven years prior to our first face to face encounter. I arrived in Italia in 1996 and, with my then boyfriend Domenico, opened up a bar with a pool table and a small stage. I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible, with an eye towards forming a band.
I met dozens of musicians some of whom I still collaborate and share friendships with today, but though Marco lived just a few kilometers away I had never met him. He spent most of that time touring outside of Italy. When he returned his bandmate, guitarist Luciano Poli, cut out an add I had taken in the local paper where I had written something akin to- American singer/songwriter seeking writing partner. Since Marco was always composing, Luciano thought he ought to call. Marco thanked him, stuck the piece of paper in his pocket and promptly forgot it, probably put it through the wash.
In the meantime, I had formed a blues band and it was not going well. The Hammond player, Roberto, and I were fighting for leadership of the band’s direction and it irked me that all of the band members were content to play standard blues tunes and had no desire to write any original material. Anyone trying to make a living in music knows you need a side hustle, so when I was approached to write and perform dance music I did not shy away. The arrival of some moderate success with Bacon Popper had me then touring extensively in Europe; leaving my bar just as Marco was settling back into the area.
That project was not the direction I wanted to go in, I really wanted to write more lyric driven, substantial tunes. Poetry had a grip on me, I was deep into my love affair with words and frustrated with the producer continuing to tell me that I had to dumb it down; as well as with his formulaic approach to songwriting. So I moved on. In the meantime Domenico was outrageously jealous of the commitment I had to music and to poetry, he yelled at me more than once, “All you care about is writing music!”
He never asked me to choose because he knew what choice I’d make. In a last ditch effort to salvage our relationship we moved eighty kilometers east to the medieval town of Sirmione on gorgeous Lake Garda.
Once there I continued to write and work on improving my piano playing skills. I had a huge party for my birthday and invited all of the musicians I had met so far, several of whom were friends of Marco’s. I set up a stage on the terrace and we all jammed. My nemesis from the blues band debacle showed up and gave me his first ever compliment, after praising my songwriting he added, “You sound great, you really should get in touch with Marco Cremaschini to help you move forward with your piano playing.”
The funny thing I learned later was that Marco did not know Roberto well at all, nor that he was even aware that Marco taught. I took Marco’s number, called the next day to ask if he’d take me on as a student and was told, “I’d be happy to help but school’s almost out of session, give us a call in September. ”
September rolls around and on a perfect, sunny autumn afternoon my brother and I drove to Brescia to meet with Marco who wanted to assess my level before beginning lessons. I went into his classroom and I saw this beat poet looking goateed pianist who I’d heard so much about. He had a reputation for being the best pianist in the area, apparently skilled at playing a variety of styles with great ability, though he specialized in jazz. At the time he was backing up several vocalists and from the fiercely competitive, tight circle of musicians in the area I’d heard only the most positive of remarks when his name came up.
As soon as I looked into his warm green eyes I felt at ease. I sat at the piano and played a few songs. He listened attentively and then asked enthusiastically if this was the style that I preferred, the direction I wished to pursue. I smiled and nodded “Yes, absolutely!”
He replied laughing, “You could do with some piano lessons, but I love your style. What do you say to forming a band? I would love to work with you”.
Driving back to the lake with my brother I raved about the session. The tangible connection that I felt humming in the room between Marco and I had me elated with the surety that I had found someone with whom I could create beauty.
He gave me some material of his own to listen to and shortly after I caught his trio playing a gig near my house and was thrilled with his artistry, with his butterfly fingers, as I immediately dubbed them, light, quick and inspiring; not to mention his utter originality and sense of humour when improvising. Within two weeks he had recruited bass player Massimo Saviola and drummer Cesare Valbusa, I had brought in guitarist/singer Filippo DePaoli and we had written our first Hippie Tendencies song “Feel No Pain”.
We bonded instantly as writing partners. Though I had collaborated with many, some quite productively, I had generally looked at writing as a solitary process and thought my best work up to that point were the songs and poems I had written alone. I’ve found it is not at all easy to collaborate with just anyone, sometimes it takes more thought- more intellectualizing of the process. When you’re lucky though, you find a partner with whom songwriting is lifted to another level…where the sum of your creativity reaches a pureness of expression that you alone could not have captured.
This is the second in a four-part series: