Coming To America: Afterhours' Manuel Agnelli

"Coming here and playing in front of 50, 100 Ė when it goes well Ė itís really exciting. Itís really exciting cause you get to win the audience again. And it went really well so far in terms of relationship to the audience and the other way around. So weíre really proud of it. Weíre really proud of the fact that knowing nothing about us Ė no history, no prizes, no awards, no shit like that Ė the audience really like us. We feel like new again, like young again."

- Corinne
Photo by Roberta Accettulli

posted April 2, 2007

Coming To America: Afterhours\' Manuel Agnelli
How are you?

Well, tired but happy. [laughs]

The term ďafterhoursĒ an image of the night what made you choose that as the bandís name?

Actually thereís a song by the Velvet Underground on their third album. It was like a very sweet and slow song on that album, in contrast with the Velvet Underground. So we always liked contradictions in life and music. We wanted to be really noisy in the beginning and have a very sweet name. Then when the movie came out we liked it. We liked the fact that it was connected to the movie in a way. And then we all of those parties started to take place all around the world after hours, after disco, after night and so on. We liked it as well because we have full rooms of people waiting for Afterhours instead of a nightmare. [laughs]

It was kind of strange because the line-up has changed so many times in these last fifteen years but the name stayed for some reason. I donít know why but I think we did the right thing keeping the name because it worked in Italy, at least, to maintain a certain kind of buzz around the band and helping the audience to grow and gather around one name.

ďBallads for Little HyenasĒ was recorded in both English and Italian?

Yeah, it came out in Italian at first. But the songs were written at the same time, yíknow? So some of the songs were written in English first and some of the songs were written in Italian. And in the end the Italian version was the first one to be released but that doesnít mean it was the first one to be written.

If you ask me was it a hard time to write in English, yes! [laughs] In Italian Iím legitimate to play with the words. Itís my language, I say what I want. Even if it sounds wrong, itís right because Iím trying to say something strange, something interesting. When in English, I have to really stay basic because Iím not credible. If say something strange, you would say, ďwe donít say that.Ē So Iíve been trying to translate the personality that I use to put into lyrics in Italian to translate it into the English version.

I think itís working but Iím not really excited about the result. I think I could do better next time, for sure. Itís two years now and Iím talking more and more in English and going around the world a lot more and singing more and more. So, I think next time it could be easier and better.

So you will do another album in English?

I think so, I think so because itís a challenge but itís a novelty for us to go around the world where we are practically very little now. And itís great because in Italy everything is going so well but at the same time itís becoming a kind of a golden routine playing in front of big audiences and big places. You know that the audiences want to listen to something specific, they want to dance, they want to scream, they want to sing. They want to hear particular songs. They want something. And in the end itís a cage. Youíre not surprising anybody anymore. Itís kind of depressing, in a way.

Coming here and playing in front of 50, 100 Ė when it goes well Ė itís really exciting. Itís really exciting cause you get to win the audience again. And it went really well so far in terms of relationship to the audience and the other way around. So weíre really proud of it. Weíre really proud of the fact that knowing nothing about us Ė no history, no prizes, no awards, no shit like that Ė the audience really like us. We feel like new again, like young again. [laughs] So, yeah, weíll probably go on doing this for a long time.

What was it like working with Greg Dulli [Twilight Singers, ex-Afghan Whigs] on the album?

Greg is a friend so it was like very deep, very intense. It was fun, it was great fun. He brought like tons of ideas of riffs or suggestions. He was very respectful of what we were musically speaking. And I think heís a member of the band whenever he wants to. Heís played with us more than 60 gigs. And Iíve been playing in his band, The Twilight Singers. So I think it was kind of easy, actually. He was taking us back to the real rock Ďní roll feeling when you get something good and it sounds good, itís OK. You donít have to do that over and over again until it sounds perfect because then it would sound perfect but done, in a way. Like, boring, in a way. So he was trying to maintain the original feeling of the things, of the songs. And it was something that we forgot probably at the time. It was really important for us. You know, having fun when youíre playing. Thatís a little important. It was like remembering us, a bit.

And then he was pushing really hard for us to sing in English and to go out of Italy, to try out of Italy because he said we were too good and too lazy to stay in Italy only. We never had a producer, actually, before Greg. So it was like a big thing, a great novelty for us.

Thereís an Afterhours song, ďWhite Widow,Ē thatís another version of a Twilight Singers song, ďMy Time (Has Come).Ē How did that come about because some of the lyrics are the same and the melody is the same?

The music of the song is Gregís. We were in Catania working on the Afterhours album and he was not intimidating at all in selling his ideas and he had different riffs and ďWhite WidowĒ is one of those. We worked on the music but itís basically his music. And then we missed a melody, like a line, and the lyrics. We decided to do two different versions because we had no time to go working together anymore, he had to go back to the States to work on his new stuff. So we decided to like an avant-garde thing. We would develop the things separately, without hearing each otherís version and then present each otherís version in the end.

But it didnít go like that actually. I needed to finish the album in a short time so I had to work faster than him this time, for one time. So I finished the song first and then I couldnít just hold it, I wanted him to hear it. I said, ďGreg I got something for you.Ē ďOK, letís hear it.Ē And he liked it so much that he wanted to keep the melody and some of the lyrics. Then you change some of the lyrics because he had his own lyrics then and he can sing it more naturally, probably. And he changed the arrangements because his version is more like black and groovy, in a way. Our version is more indie, poor, like, Italian secondhand. [laughs] But, yeah, it was avant-garde in the end and it ended up being fun only but it was a good experiment.

You mentioned the Velvet Underground earlier and thereís a Lou Reed cover of ďThe BedĒ on the album. It seems like an unusual choice of a Lou Reed song. Why did you pick that one?

Because everybody elseís picking the much more famous songs. But not only for that, ďThe BedĒ is one of the songs of my youth. ďBerlin,Ē the album that comes from, is one of my favorite albums of all time. I always wanted to sing that song. And I understand that it might be a little bit forced to put that song Ė so peculiar, so strange, so Lou Reed, in a way, that he can only sing that Ė but we wanted to make a different version. Me and Greg talking about the same woman that weíve been together with in our mind. Itís a German version, itís colder, more distant, less desperate, in a way, but itís me and him talking about the same woman because we had the same experience with her, thatís the story.

You played South By Southwest this year. Howíd that go?

It was great. It was really intimidating how huge it was Ė like Mardi Gras, thousands of people in the streets and all drunken. [laughs] But the atmosphere was less business than I thought, actually. It was real fun. And if you had a wristband you could go in to certain places and eat for free, and drink for free. Thatís no where else, no where else in the world. Iíve never found something like that. So it was great. And it happened that we heard a couple of bands that were good, really good. Donít ask me to mention the names because I donít remember but we got everything signed. It was a good experience. I donít think that a festival can change your life or your career or anything but it was a good experience and it can help, for sure.

Howís the rest of your US tour been going?

So so. Because when we came here with The Twilight Singers was so fucking amazing, to do something in comparison to that thing itís impossible. We didnít expect that much because coming out by ourselves we know that we are very little known. But in certain places it was good, like New Orleans, like Chicago, like Cincinnati, as well. Some other place, like Atlanta was shitty gig, man. It happens anyway. But weíre ready for it, weíre ready for one day great. I hope that todayís not going so bad. [laughs]

Do you find that the reaction from American fans is different from the reaction from Italian fans, who have known you a lot longer?

Yeah, 100%. I think it has something to do with consciousness and knowledge, wanting something, going to a gig because of something. Italy, as I told you before, they really want something out of us, out of the thing. They recognize something of themselves in what we do and they want to hear that, they want to listen to that, they want to be apart of something. Well, they donít know us here so they just come for curiosity. And their reaction is that they listen to the music here; they donít listen to the music anymore in Italy. They know the music already, they come to celebrate or they come to find out something, probably, new or different or just exotic here in the States.

As I told you before, I do prefer this kind of attitude, the US attitude, at the moment. Because it makes me proud of my music, it makes me proud of the fact that if the audience likes it itís because of the music, of the way we play on stage and the songs that we sing not because of our history. So itís really exciting, believe me.

I donít know if itís a difference or we are just two different things in Italy and here. I donít know if the audience is different. I donít know how the audience is with big bands in the States. Iíve seen Greg on stage, Iíve seen Mark Lanegan, as well, and the audience seems more concentrated on the music anyway, even if they want to party, they want to dance, they want to sing. But itís not the main thing, the main thing is the tension, the communication between the band and the audience. The tension that comes out of the show itís not really a celebrity here and I like it a lot. The old way in which the band is singing and the audience is listening. In Italy itís like the other way around. The audience wants to sing and weíve got to listen to them. Itís like a karaoke band of yourself; itís kind of depressing sometimes.

Whatís in store for Afterhours following this tour?

Vacation, vacation, vacation. Iím going to Switzerland. To change my blood. [laughs]

Not for the chocolate?

[laughs] Yeah, with chocolate. No, I guess that weíre going to have to work for the next album. We already got a lot of songs and weíve got to do something with them. We would like to do something here in a short time, like quick, but the fact is that weíre signing a new deal in Italy. Probably a big one and it takes time because we want to do it properly and get a lot of money out of it. I donít think that the next record will be released before the beginning of the next year. Iím sorry about that because all of the work that weíre doing here now is going to get lost, probably, wasted because itíll take too long before we come back.

What underrated band do you think deserves more attention?

In Italy or in general?

In general. Any bands you like.

Underrated? I donít know if mean that they should be more known. More famous? Then Twilight Singers, for sure. 100%. Jeff Klein, also has been touring with us the last time, is a great songwriter.

In Italy there are so many bands so completely unknown in the world that I could stay on for an hour just naming different bands. I would say Cesare Basile is a songwriter from Sicily, from the south of Italy, he writes kind of bluesy stuff but with a sinister kind of feel. And heís a poet as well; great lyrics. Heís been collaborating with John Parish, as well. Who else? Verdana is a good rock band from Italy. Theyíre very young Ė well, compared to us, like 25. Probably older than you. [laughs]