Mussolini Is Dead

Damon Che is the drummer in Bellini. He used to be the drummer in Don Caballero, indie kings of strange time-signature instrumentals. If "Don Cab" sounded like a genius band stuffed in a sack and thrown down a flight of stairs, Bellini sounds like an...

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Dec 1 2002, 12:00am



Damon Che is the drummer in Bellini. He used to be the drummer in Don Caballero, indie kings of strange time-signature instrumentals. If “Don Cab” sounded like a genius band stuffed in a sack and thrown down a flight of stairs, Bellini sounds like an equally talented group of players climbing out of the sack really pissed off and then playing their songs. Oh, and there’s a cool Italian woman singing. Progress!

After the demise of Don Caballero (which Che slyly hints may not be permanent), he got together with some old friends—two of whom live halfway around the world. Husband-and-wife team Giovanna Cacciola (vocals) and Agostino Tilotta (guitar) are Sicilian. They were the core of the cult band Uzeda, who released a couple of albums’ worth of razor-sharp avant rock in the late ’90s. Agostino journeyed out to Damon’s home in the farthest reaches of Pennsylvania, where the two of them forged the signature Bellini sound, a rolling and oddly angled mix of jagged guitar and restrained-seizure drumming. Sort of like a ball of clay embedded with broken glass.

Then they brought Giovanna on board to write words and vocalize. Her English-as-a-second-language lyrics are more declaimed than sung, and her accent can make even a phrase like “ants, bugs, frogs, mosquitoes, wasps, dragonflies” sound somehow political. Damon called up an old pal named Matthew to play bass, and the model United Nations of math-rock bands was ready to roll. Bellini’s debut is called Snowing Sun. It was recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini and it is exactly what you want it to be—a half-hour of apocalyptic skronk, the kind of music that doesn’t allow you to relax but makes “jittery” a nice way to feel, like drinking too much coffee. It’s no coincidence that Albini produced, either, because Bellini sounds like his band Shellac’s A.D.D.-suffering little sibling. The deep bass is there, as is the angry treble of the guitars, but the structure is relaxed. Where Shellac is martial, Bellini is slouched.

Now wouldn’t that be a nice place to end this article? You kind of want to buy the record now. You like “razor-sharp avant-rock,” “deep bass,” and Shellac, don’t you? But noooo, the current rock-writing rules dictate that we have to put in some quotes by a member of the band here, too. But while one of the most overused clichés in reference to music journalism is that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” here’s a better one: “Never talk to musicians. Ever.”

There are a couple of things we’ve learned from doing this kind of writing. Don’t invite The White Stripes to sleep on your floor. Don’t try to interview Bratmobile for VICE. Don’t get as drunk as a Scottish dad when you’re backstage at a Strokes show. If you’ve either liked a musician for more than two years or listened to their record more than twice a day, don’t ever meet them because you will then hate them and their music for at least two months afterwards. Now there’s another thing we can add to the list: Damon Che is a really nice guy and a brilliant drummer, but don’t try to interview him in ten minutes on the phone when you’re going to press yesterday.

Not that he didn’t make a valiant effort at answering typical questions that he’s probably heard a thousand times. It’s just that some musicians are ready to play the game, get all gregarious and pull out some anecdotes, and others say to themselves, “Fuck, here we go again.” Here’s a sample exchange:

VICE: How did you meet Agostino? Was Don Caballero playing in Italy or something?
Damon
: I’d actually met him before that. I think it’s just through...mutual commonality of preference.

What’s the songwriting process like for you guys in light of your geographical constraints?
You know, it’s no different from how most other guitar/drum/bass rock groups operate. The guitar plays something and the rhythm section finds some way to [sigh] link up to it.

You get the idea. And before you start to ask, “Why didn’t you ask deeper, more probing things?” let me just say, “eff you.” When you have a scant 800 words to tell your readers they should buy a CD because it’s a good CD, you don’t ask the guy about fucking poetry or God or Italian fascists. You ask him simple stuff and hope you get a funny quote about being on tour or something. But sometimes you just end up feeling stupid. Like now.

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