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Porcelain Raft: “Everything looks dreamy and out of this world, but what I'm painting is very real.”

Porcelain Raft: “Everything looks dreamy and out of this world, but what I'm painting is very real.”

30 August 2013, 15:30

As I sit down to speak to Porcelain Raft’s sole orchestrator Mauro Remiddi just a day after his second album Permanent Signal was released, he seems to be in a very excitable mood.

“I’ll tell you why,” insists his irrepressibly enthusiastic Italo-English tones, “for me an album is like you’re writing a page of your diary, but with invisible ink, and you can see it in your head but you can’t actually see the full picture, so the moment it comes out is the moment that everything you’ve done becomes visible.” And although it’s only been just over a year since Porcelain Raft’s debut album came out – the beautifully out-of-focus haze that was Strange Weekend - to this particularly energetic Italian it seems like an age. “It’s been a very long process for something that’s so simple. I go in the studio and compose and record within two months, and then I have to wait so long for the album to be out, it was one year ago that I started in the studio!”

Yet in a little over twelve months, Mauro’s world has been completely inverted as he moved from London to New York and had to re-learn all those tiny details of life that seem so immovable until they disappear. “Strange Weekend was a euphoric ride,” he explains, “I signed with a label, everybody was excited about it. Permanent Signal is this moment when I finished touring and I hadn’t even started my life in New York. I had got married, I was living in a new city, I didn’t have friends; this album was that transition.” For a musician who deals in surreal textures and lazily melancholic washes of sound, it’s a surprisingly concrete basis for his music, but as Mauro explains, “the portrait I’m doing, it’s as if I’m a painter in a warzone, but I’m doing it in a Van Gogh style, so everything looks dreamy and out of this world, but what I’m painting is very real.”

Despite Mauro’s eagerness to get his work out as quickly as possible, there’s not even a hint of the sense that you could accuse the man of being an opportunist; all of his urgency is based on his own insatiable desire to make music. As he explains, that short gestation period that preceded Permanent Signal was the result of his inability to stop making music. “I started doing this in my room when I was sixteen with a small recorder and a record player, because it was the only entertainment I had, and now I still have the same approach to making records; this is what I love to do with my time!” As I’m at pains to diplomatically point out, however, there must be a few thousand more people interested in Mauro’s music now than there was when he was sixteen; surely that affects how self-conscious the process is? “Not at all!” comes the exclamation from Mauro. “At this moment in my life, some people connect with the music I’m making – fine. But if they didn’t, I would still do it anyway. This is the first time that somebody in my life realised that what I do could be shared!”

As principled as he is about the process of making music, Mauro does recognise that the landscape has changed somewhat over the past few years as he acquired a record label and a manager and all of those other people whose livelihoods depend on him making music. “I feel responsible,” he eventually admits, “I honestly couldn’t care less about how well it sells, but they’re investing money, and I respect them, so now I have that type of pressure that I didn’t have before.” It’s a pressure that Mauro has actively decided to discard, though: “Man, you can’t work like that; I am not making music for them, or for blogs, or for magazines,” he insists, staring me down pointedly during the last couple of points, “so you’ve got to believe in this in a way you’ve never done before, because someone is going to come and say, ‘man, where are the singles?’ and you’re going to have to say, ‘man, there are no singles, this is the way it is, and I believe in this.’”

That the first sound that Permanent Signal gives away is a flickering electronic whirr is both proof of this single-minded approach, and something of a statement of intent. “On purpose I decided not to have a Strange Weekend II,” he says, “I wanted to feel excited about this, I didn’t want to make something ‘good’ or ‘pleasant’. I wanted to do something where I didn’t know where it was going to end up, and to do that you have to go to some unknown territories.” So when Mauro returned from the lengthy tour of Strange Weekend, not only did he find himself cut adrift in a new city, but he set about making himself as uncomfortable as possible, so that Permanent Signal would be a permanent still of intense dislocation. He sold his old instruments, replacing them with a modular synth; he moved from the world that he had created in his apartment to a professional studio; he progressed from the theme of loneliness that permeated Strange Weekend to enlisting Darby Cicci (The Antlers, bass, vocals, trumpet) and Johnny Rogoff (Yuck, drums) to join him in the studio. As he puts it, “this is me jumping into the void, basically, and I wanted to portray that.” As a result, Permanent Signal is a deeply melancholic dive into the process of complete change; a snapshot of Mauro finding and losing himself both musically and personally, flailing around and momentarily grasping onto things before being swept away by the next day or hour. When, on ‘The Way Out’, he desperately cries, “where do we go from here?” you can almost hear him slowly piecing his worlds back together; trying to situate his sense of self in a city of such alienating size.

Having said that, some things always remain the same, and there remains a maudlin sense of fragility that shrouded Strange Weekend, too. In fact, before Mauro has even spoken a word on Permanent Signal, he has manipulated the sound of a cello until it sounds impossibly mournful, and across the whole album, Mauro pursues this rare talent of being able to make instruments actually sound tangibly sad; just take the wailing guitar of ‘The Way Out’, or the sombre overtures made by his piano on ‘I Lost Connection’. When I put this to Mauro, he insists that this dwelling on the darker side of our emotions is just an inherent part of his character. “That’s just my nature… I don’t give space and confidence to new people in my life, and it takes me a long time before I allow myself to be myself and be funny and silly and emotional, so that’s where the fragility comes in.”

So if he finds it hard to confide in new people, is he ever hesitant about exposing his most intensely personal emotions on record? “To be honest with you, I don’t think anyone cares,” comes his typically self-deprecating response, albeit mixed with a sly smile. He spreads his hands wide as if to prove his sincerity. “I don’t say that in a cynical way, I truly believe that no one cares at all. However cruel it might sound, I don’t care what the guy downstairs feels right now… none of us is that important.” Perhaps Mauro just isn’t aware of the emotional pull that Permanent Signal has, because it’s hard to avoid a slight lump in the throat as the album is drawn to an end by him bleakly pleading “how far is home, don’t let me stand here in the dark,” as if his journey has left him as rootless as he felt at the start. ”I don’t see why you should connect with it, it’s such a personal thing,” he declares, but if it’s his perception of a gap between our emotions and his that allows him to be so open, then I’m not about to set him right; it’s where the heart of Permanent Signal lies, in that it feels like an extension of Mauro, so overwhelmingly personal that it’s impossible not to fall into its desolate embrace.

Porcelain Raft’s new album Permanent Signal is available now through Secretly Canadian.

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