Friday, April 15
Mai Mai Mai, a solo project of Toni Cutrone, mixes ambient, drone, field recordings and soundscapes to create something of an auditory travelogue through the Mediterranean, and perhaps beyond. We spoke in Rome this March over slices of pizza. Mai Mai Mai will be touring China beginning April 26, 2016.
bunnywhiskers – What does the name Mai Mai Mai mean?
Mai Mai Mai – Mai Mai Mai means “never never never” in Italian. It’s something that sounds negative but also romantic because it has the feeling of time in it. Never is something beautiful. And I also wanted a name that was good in a lot of languages, so Mai Mai Mai works pretty well. Since it’s a solo project it’s “mine,” and in English it’s like “my my my.” And in other languages it’s usually the month of the year May. In Chinese it means to buy something. (laughs)
bw – That’s interesting! I didn’t know that.
MMM – Me neither. It’s something I discovered.
bw – How long have you been doing this project?
MMM – I’d say it’s pretty new. The first album is 2013, but let’s say I started working on it in 2012. It’s the first thing I’ve done alone, because I’m a drummer and I’ve always done things with bands. So this was the first time without a drum and by myself. Like betting on something new! I say let’s focus on myself and see if I can do something alone.
bw – So this is a bit of a noisy project….
MMM – On one hand yes, but on my side it’s pretty pop. I grew up with really extreme noise performers and tough drone, like all the Japanese noise or American bands like Wolf Eyes. I really like melodies, but I also love something rough and rugged, so I try to mix those two things. Noisy stuff can be warm and liquid and this is more like a soundtrack thing because it’s more ambient and can give you feelings. Yeah, I don’t find it really noisy. I would be a pussy if I said I was a noiser! (laughs)
bw – So you’re part of the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene here in Rome?
MMM – (laughs) I’d say yes. I mean, it’s a really nice name.
bw – It’s a REALLY nice name!
MMM – I think it works really well, especially not in Italy because it’s focusing the attention of other countries on these bands and on this scene. Neo-psychedelia is a pretty wide range of music. When you call it psychedelia a lot of people think that it’s psych rock, but there’s a lot of electronic music and there’s a lot of folk. Bands like Father Murphy, if you take them alone, why are they psychedelic? There’s a reason – when it’s live it’s really like a ritual. But in the end, I think it works pretty well to describe a music scene in Italy to other people and it has really kept the attention of press. So I am part of it. The other good thing is that we are all friends. It’s really a scene, all the people know each other and we’ve worked together for years. This Italian Occult Psychedelia thing has been going on for three or four years, but with Heroin in Tahiti we’ve been friends for ten years, Father Murphy for eight years and with La Piramide Di Sangue, we toured in 2005 with our previous project. It’s like we are all the same people doing new stuff or old stuff or just doing things together.
bw – How many releases do you have out as Mai Mai Mai?
MMM – There are three official releases and a couple of collaborations that I did. I’m working on this trilogy and the new album is the last part of that trilogy.
bw – What’s the trilogy about?
MMM – It’s about the Mediterranean Sea. It’s like a travelogue around the Mediterranean starting from Greece and doing like Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa and finishing in the South of Italy. I travel by boat and that’s the idea of Mai Mai Mai.
bw – Like Ulysses?
MMM – All my family, like my father, they were sailors, really professional sailors and fishermen working on the port. I grew up sailing here and there, going on the huge commercial boats. I was really impressed by the sound of the sea and the sound of the motors. When you are a kid you walk into this room that is just the engine of the boat – it was something! And there’s this sound of the sea that brings you ‘round, and the sound of Southern Italy and Greece. I was always moving around in those countries. So it’s like some sound impressions and feelings and I gave it back with this music. It is like a tale. The first part was Theta, then Delta and the last one is Petra. Theta is the first letter of Thanatos, which is Death. There’s the idea that when you are starting a new thing, you need to die in a way and then start again. So I thought it was a nice beginning to die. And theta is also the first letter of Thalassa, which is the sea, and the whole idea is to travel by sea. Then the second is Delta. Delta is the triangle, which is an important geometrical figure, I would say. (laughs)
bw – Maybe!
MMM – Maybe! There’s a song called Tetractys which is the number 10 for the Pythagoreans, which is figured as a triangle. This is one of the main songs on the album. Delta is a triangle but it’s the Tetractys too. The school of Pythagoras is where i was born, in the South of Italy so I feel really connected with it. There is a whole Greek part of my city – it’s all in ruins – but there was one of the biggest temples of Greece there. So the ancient Greeks are my background. And there’s a third release called Petra, which is more of a personal thing. Petra means stone and my idea is that stones keep the memory of places. Stones are my souvenirs when I travel because they have the energy of places. Since the trilogy is all about travel, I want to explain how important the stone is and Petra is all about minerals. The sound is a really mineral sound. There is a silk screen on the cover that is a stone coming out of the water with bars on the top. It creates energy so it’s like the four elements. And then there’s a book inside which is all pictures of stones over pictures of Southern Italy and Greece. So it’s all connected with stones. And now there is another release called Phi. It has a lot of meanings. It’s the first letter of philosophy. It’s also the symbol of the golden ratio.
bw – And Phi is being released in September?
MMM-Yes, I am really happy. I don’t know if it will be the end – I don’t think so. (laughs)
bw – Well, the journey must go on!
MMM – Yeah, maybe somewhere else. The Mediterranean is okay, now let’s head somewhere else.
bw – Tell me about the Thalassa festival. I think you are one of the organizers.
MMM – We all collaborate for this festival. It’s in our venue called Dal Verme. Now we are doing the fourth edition. The idea is that since the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene has some attention we need something to show what it is, not just reviews and videos. Let’s show that we are really a scene. So I talked with friends and said we should do a night and everyone was totally into it so we did a three day festival. We had so much material that I said okay we will do at least a second edition. And now we are doing the fourth because there is new stuff coming out and there’s a lot of anticipation. But everything was born like, “okay let’s do this – it’s something nice to do.” Italian Occult Psychedelia was a name given by a journalist and by having a festival we show it really exists, that’s the main thing. (laughs)
bw – It was just an abstract name given and now you’ve made it real!
MMM – Yeah, you named it so now it becomes true. That’s the way we did the festival. It’s really small because the venue is really small, but we have so much attention and this makes me really happy. Now for a couple of years we are collaborating with the Liverpool Psych Festival, which I think is the biggest in Europe. A few years ago they had Lay Llamas playing there and they had a talk about the Italian Occult Psychedelia. And then last year, they had me as Mai Mai Mai and Mamuthones playing. So year after year, we are getting into the psych mafia. (laughs) That’s cool.
bw – Even though a lot of the bands don’t sound like psych bands at all.
MMM – No, but even for Mai Mai Mai, I think if you close your eyes when you listen to the album or see the show it’s really like a journey, so we can say psychedelic for this. Just psych you and bring you somewhere else. If you think about the concept of psychedelic, it’s pretty far from that. But there are some terms that give an idea of what Italian Occult Psychedelia is. Most of them are the same roots we have that are focused on Italian past music, like the soundtracks or like the Italian experimental bands from the 1970s or the Italian prog. It’s like they disappeared in the 80s and 90s and now we are taking back our fathers. So it’s more about common roots.
bw – The lineage goes on.
MMM – Yeah, and that’s cool.
Mai Mai Mai Bandcamp – https://maimaimai.bandcamp.com
Mai Mai Mai Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/maimaimaikr/?fref=ts
Thalassa Festival – http://thalassafestival.blogspot.com
Italian Occult Psychedelia podcast –
Features Father Murphy, Mai Mai Mai, Heroin in Tahiti, Cannibal Movie, Spettro Family, Squadra Omega, Mamuthones, Llay Lamas, Fulkanelli, In Zaire, Psalm n Locker and more.