Italian musician and composer Fabio Frizzi interviewed

Fabio Frizzi is an Italian musician and composer. Born in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Frizzi is best known for his film scores and was a frequent collaborator with horror director Lucio Fulci.

Daz: You didn’t go the traditional route to becoming a composer for film – so many other Italian composers go to a classical conservatory and then maybe move to jazz and finally film. Your family had the film connection straight away?

Fabio: My family wasn’t an easy connection with the cinema, because my father absolutely did not want me to be a musician, so I studied to be a lawyer. But inside me, the music fever grew steadily. My preparation has been, as you say, different from the traditional and I must admit that for a certain period of time I regretted it. Then, day after day, I realised that the bases acquired from studying for many years beside my maestro Vittorio Taborra, which happened in the past, giving me lessons at home, I had been given a very incisive preparation and my skills were always developed at the appropriate time. With him, I had started with the classical guitar, then I switched to composition studies very seriously until I got to the art of counterpoint.

By that time, I realised that a preparation from the conservatory can be very useful in certain conditions (in Italy there are high-level conservatories with prestigious teachers) and in some musical goals, e

.g. those tied to classical music. But in some cases it may not give the desired results. I think the musical skills reside in people a priori, and the art of composing is one of those things that grow and are perfected, especially with daily practice. Obviously I must say that, once I became author of scores, after the first experiences, my father was very happy and one of my biggest fans because he realised that this was the future I wanted for me.

Daz: Your first instrument was the guitar – again, unusual for a composer, usually it would be a piano or maybe the violin. Did this affect the way you composed?

Fabio: Yes, my first instrument was the guitar, and it’s still what I love more than all the others. I am an avid collector, I always like to play different instruments, because everyone is different, everyone gives different suggestions. Then, at some point in my career I asked myself the question, which I ask you today: a composer, conductor, should know perfectly an instrument other than guitar, such as the piano? Then, with time, I realised that there are many great composers and arrangers in the world that are just guitarists. The guitar is able to develop in those who study and play, a certain kind of creative sensitivity, because crossing harmonies coming from guitar positions are very interesting and they become part of the taste of the future composer. However, the guitar was for me only the first step. A few years after beginning studying music, my curiosity made me discover and study the piano (which I use very often to compose my themes and orchestrations), flute and all keyboards, which at that time were spreading exponentially, and many other instruments that over time I have come to know. Curiosity is the best gift for any human being.

Daz: Pop music seems to influence your work as much as, say, Bach – the harmonies you achieve with synthesisers and mellotrons?

Fabio: My growth, in music, my taste, have gone through pop and rock music that developed so interestingly in those years, and then surely through an initial classical education, that has left its mark. I’ve always listened to all the music possible, when I was a boy – no picket fences – eclecticism has always characterised myself. The strongest influences came from the composers and groups that I listened to during the years of my adolescence, but also the cultural elements that my collaborators, at all times, have brought with them when they collaborated on the recording of my scores, interpreting my themes. So, the elements of prog-rock that fascinated me in Genesis or King Crimson became present in my music through collaboration with musicians like Fabio Pignatelli or Maurizio Guarini [best known for their work with Goblin]. As well as these influences, classical-baroque is found in the use of the string orchestra, of certain brass instruments, but also of the mellotron and synth pads. My most coveted composer is Johann Sebastian Bach: in him there is something much more important and fascinating than the mere experience of his time. The burning of the composition and the harmonious in Bach is absolutely overwhelming to this day. His personality is unmistakable.

Daz: The traditional classical musicians and composers in Italy at the time – what was their opinion of film score composers? Was it a good career to aim for or was it frowned upon for not being ‘proper’ classical music?

Fabio: The last thirty years have been very clear about the definition of the different role, but equally central, of film music. Until some time ago, actually, the composer of film music was considered something less important, perhaps because because dominantly cultural classical music was considered the noblest. Recently, the lid was lifted on the boiling pot and we have realised that this argument does not hold true. Among other things, the very concept of classical music was modified enormously: the great classics remain untouchable, while the music of the 1900’s, especially some of its degeneration, there is no longer only one school of thought and valuations have become less complacent. Film music has had instead a season of growth and rising popularity and having this increased repertoire was welcomed increasingly in the great temples of traditional classical music.

Daz: How early did you start to use keyboards and synthesisers?

Fabio: Yes, the keyboards were the second family of instruments that I met. At home we had a piano, German and an excellent brand, which had been given to my brother for a notable birthday. I started playing that, immediately after the guitar, and studying composition using his keyboard. Then, when I was commissioned for my first works, I bought two instruments to help me in the inspiration: an Eminent 310, an organ with two keyboards, plus pedalboard, with a built in drum machine, and a Moog Synthesizer Satellite, a very basic keyboard – that was my first approach to the world of electronics. From there started the first ideas for the soundtracks: the first string session, fake but fascinating; the first rhythmic parts with a black flavour; the first “timid” harmonised brass. The soundtrack of Amore Libero – Free Love, was the real test session for these new devices. Then I had so many good pianists and keyboard players who have performed the music of my film scores, but the passion for those magical tools has never waned. Even now my studio is dominated by a wonderful Roland Jupiter 8 and the king of kings, the Mellotron.

Daz: When you formed Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera, what did you all bring individually to the band? Who was good at what?

Fabio: The trio Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera originated as a publisher’s choice: Carlo Bixio created a kind of firing squad that was to deal with the demands of music, of Italian cinema, which was very active at that time. Franco Bixio, younger brother of Carlo and son of the great Italian songwriter Cesare Andrea Bixio, was a guy with a lot of experience, who had already made soundtracks and was the constant reference point in the work of moviola, taking care of the duration of music, music editing and movie post-production.

[Vicenzo] Tempera brought to our trio a great professionalism as an arranger, he was one of the strongest at that time in Italy, with experience especially in the recording field. I was carrying the freshness of a young man absolutely determined to grow, good management experience of bands and music groups in general. And in the end, a lion hungry of a profession that I loved. All three had complementary roles in individual work. Tempera was the conductor and wrote some themes; I worked writing, I played a lot of guitars and other instruments in our recording sessions, Franco also wrote musical themes and co-ordinated the work. An extraordinarily formative experience for me. When we decided to separate I had grown a lot.

Daz: With regards to western The Four of the Apocalypse…, what were your first impressions of Lucio Fulci – and his of you? It’s a very violent film with very different characters – the score feels quite sad – how much of the film did you see before working on the score? Can you remember who played which instrument or any other details about the recording?

Fabio: Indeed The Four of the Apocalypse… was the film that marked our meeting with Lucio Fulci. He appeared to us immediately as an important person, determined, but the first approach was not easy. We were coming with the guarantee of one of the strongest Italian publishers, but certainly we had to pay the price of this first meeting. I was happy with the choices that Fulci allowed us: the West Coast music; groups like Crosby Stills & Nash, Simon and Garfunkel; The Eagles were very dear to me, so it was not so difficult to cope with the task.

The soundtrack has a dimension of intimacy – the main topic of the film is a journey, a kind of dramatic catharsis. The character of Chaco is told with a more acidic musical theme, but all other characters are punctuated by the individual songs. We saw the full movie before starting to write. At that time we did not work as it is today, the film was studied in Moviola and we were taking notes. Then each of us came back into his own studio to throw down the working hypotheses. The choice of the working group, we faced with our producer: a Neapolitan percussionist very popular at the time, Tony Esposito, performed the drums and percussion. A great guitarist from Milan, Massimo Luca, came alongside me in all parts of acoustic and electric guitar. And many other good musicians joined us in the project. As interpreters of the songs we challenged the two members of a Dutch band, but in the end only one of them managed to come to Rome. The musical product has met all, a huge production, a good soundtrack and record.

Daz: The follow-up film was very different – Il cav. Costante Nicosia demoniaco ovvero: Dracula in Brianza (aka Dracula in the Provinces). At this stage, did you feel like you were already developing a relationship with Lucio? At what stage does the composer become involved in a film?

Fabio: Dracula in Brianza is a completely different film, a sort of comedy with horror influences, used as an element of the story. A funny story, a refined and biting political satire. In fact it is the story of a businessman who turns into a vampire that sucks the blood of its employees. Being the second second film with Lucio, the relationship grew significantly, but we did not have the feeling that they have become milestones. The soundtrack was very different from typical comedy with a few moments of sounds from Transylvania. Very often we composers join the movie near the end, at the beginning of the post.

Daz: What can you tell me about Magnetic System? There are moments on the music to Godzilla that sound very similar to your later score to Zombi 2.

FF – Magnetic System was an idea of our record production, the desire to transform the composing group Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera into a band with a discographic lifetime. So we chose this name – the cover of the disc is taken from an assembled picture rather than an original. Unfortunately this Godzilla record remains the only experience of this kind, which would not have a follow-up. The reason why the theme of Godzilla seems a bit an archetypal theme of Zombi 2, probably lies in the fact that, after the split of our trio, each one of us returned to reclaim some ideas that there had been when we working together. That’s why, despite the thematic evolution, the Zombi 2 theme has a different texture and charm decidedly more appetising,  the echoes of that previous experience are perfectly perceived.

Daz: Sette note in nero (“Seven Notes in Black” aka The Psychic, 1977) What can you tell me about the writing and performing of the score? How do you think your music had changed by this stage?

FF – Sette notte in nero begins to bring us towards the darker soul, a more giallo-like side of Lucio Fulci. The writing of music passed through the creation of the seven notes jingle, which I personally wrote on the piano at home. Franco came to hear my idea and he was very enthusiastic, and from there went on to write the rest. It is rather a classic thriller, through the contribution of Tempera there is much of the perod atmosphere of Italian soundtracks of that time, a little dated and very fascinating.  Again we worked with the orchestra and measure ourselves with as much of the mystery and magic that Lucio begins to put in his films. The relationship with him grew and for me also in the relationship with myself.

Many years later, the main theme of this soundtrack would give us the satisfaction of important recognition, becoming the theme of an extraordinary scene in Kill Bill: Volume I by Quentin Tarantino.

Daz: Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters). Your first ‘proper’ horror. What do you think are the elements that can make music frightening? How much of the film had you seen before writing the score?

Presumably you had heard Goblin’s score to Dawn of the Dead? How influential was this and other composers working on horror scores in Italy at the time?

Who else played on the score, which instruments were used?

Fabio: Zombi 2 is actually my first horror and is also a waypoint around which revolves my militancy in the staff of Lucio Fulci. The first film I did all by myself, although next to me there was a young apprentice, Georgio Cascio. I began now to understand that, in my opinion, the musical elements that have to express fear, not required to be fearful. Except of course in some boundary scenes. As usual I had seen the whole movie before writing, as usual it was not easy to remember each scene while writing, in the privacy of my office. But today, at times, I think that was a good thing. Remembered images and not seen with comfort before your eyes, they can evoke more in the spirit of the composer. I definitely had heard Goblin music, but my ideas and my influences were different. Probably I had some influences in common with them. I had learned to appreciate some groups of British progressive rock, many talented musicians that widened my musical horizon. Then, as usual, I could count on excellent performers. In this case the fundamental presence of Maurizio Guarini on keyboards, with the two Yamaha which at that time were the dominant instruments, CS 80 and CP 80 made the most of the electronic work. Then percussionist Adriano Giordanella, another constant collaborator, who accompanied me in many other works. The engineer that created the sounds which you all know is Gianni Fornari, engineer of the old guard but very open-minded towards the new. Then session musicians of various kinds, a string orchestra, flute, drums, and surely many other people that I can not remember in detail. In short, a long process of creating the recording.

Daz: By the late 1970’s, there were more composers for film in Italy than ever before it seemed, was it now more difficult to get work or easier because of this? What do you think set you apart and made you different for directors?

Fabio: True, in that time there were many composers, even some successful singers were writing music for film, in short it was a time when the music market was very swollen. I think this depends on the fact that there was a great deal of production activities, many films of medium / low level, so the need to have many soundtracks. It is difficult to know what the directors thought of me, I think they perceived a certain freshness, a great enthusiasm and probably a certain almost maniacal care in completing my score.

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