“After years of unmitigated dedication to music, composing and playing in bands with styles raging from the darkest and heaviest metal genres to pop and choir music… Niki Gravino embarked on a solo music career utilizing his multi-genre experience into a mature, uncompromising, yet marketable musical aesthetic”.
Up until a few weeks ago, the above description (and the term art-rock) was the most common piece of information that a Google search for Niki Gravino on the internet would produce; the search result comprising largely of links to online stores and artist directories. One link in particular however highlighted the news that Niki Gravino and local Stilair were to sign a licensing deal in the US. The date on that piece of news reads June 2004, which was also the year that Niki released his debut Vitamins & Eyecream EP and walked off with the Best Newcomer Award at that year’s BMA’s. While he was hardly a newcomer to the Maltese music scene, Niki’s solo venture certainly was, and it was attracting the right kind of attention, as much for its musical content as for the unique multi-dimensional performance he produced for his CD launch party!
Three years on and only now is Niki Gravino’s promised debut album, The Politics of Double Beds, seeing the light of day. It’s a long time to make a record, although it must be said that a lot of that time was also spent working on other artists’ projects, which can be distracting. On the other hand, the young artist does have a reputation for being the perfectionist. “It’s all to do with a sense of insecurity on some level – it takes a while before I feel a song is complete” he tells me when we met up at Foreface Studios, his creative cocoon/recording studio and practically living quarters for the past three years. I suggest that perhaps all artists suffer from a bit of insecurity, otherwise they wouldn’t keep pushing themselves in search of creating that elusive masterpiece. “It goes deeper than that with me though” he adds, “it ranges from a feeling of suffocation at one end to a self-destructive tendency at the other. Giving my music to the public is like exposing my entire being to the world, and I need to make sure it is the best I can be before I take that step”.
Adversely, this would mean that, with his debut album on the verge of being made public, Niki is feeling at the top of his game right now: “Yes. I feel very confident with the album. Making it has been a long process – a torturing one even; at least on a personal level. In between the music and lyrics, there is a lot of emotion that I experienced throughout the time it’s taken me to get here. Doubts, inner struggles, frustration, paranoia - you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere! But I feel all the better for it.” This then I gather, is not a record to sit back and sip Margaritas to. Of course I knew that even before I heard any of the new songs. Niki has never been an easy-listening artist. His cites artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave, The Cure, Radiohead, Depeche Mode and….Dire Straits(?) among his many influences!! “Yes, Dire Straits were probably one of the first rock bands I listened to, and on some subconscious level, I am sure that it crops up in my music in some form or other. Having said that, I’m just as prone to slip in a little disco shuffle into my music. There are no boundaries to creativity”. You have been warned!
I tender the suggestion that perhaps his music is more akin to the likes of Depeche Mode or Marilyn Manson, which I believe it does. “I can understand that’s where I’m bound to be classified, but I’d rather be typified in line with a musical tradition, not a genre”. In all fairness, there are other semblances in his music - Air, The Avalanches, Massive Attack and the classic 4AD sound being some of them – not all at the same time of course! “I don’t mind that people recognise where I am coming from musically. In fact as you can see, I do flaunt my influences openly. I am not trying to copy anyone. Instead I try to take what influences me to another level, finding new ways to connect the dots that can hopefully lead to something different and fresh: something complete with a sense of sequence to it. I do believe this album is more than a sum of all its parts!” Now that’s as neat a way of putting it as I have heard so far!
The Politics of Double Beds will be officially launched with a live performance by Niki Gravino along with his band, The Vile Bodies. I am interested to know what he feels about entrusting an album’s worth of music that he actually wrote and recorded practically by himself into the band’s hands for the live performance. “The way I see it”, he explains, “is that my work of art has been completed - that’s the album. That’s Niki Gravino. Passing it on to the band – The Vile Bodies - and giving them some space to add to what I’ve done in a live context breathes new life into what has been recorded”. It all sounds very ‘arty’, I know, but Niki’s music has been called ‘art-rock’ at some point. “Yes, that was coined with a purpose. I like to make music by design. The songs on the first EP were more of a collage of sounds put together into songs. This time I have started at the other end, with the songs materialising before the sounds that shape them, and actually growing and developing into what they are now during the actual recording and production phases, although most of the time I already have a clear idea in my head of how I want each song to sound!”
What each song will sound like is something we can all experience first-hand at the official launch concert on Friday 30 November at the all-new Sky Club in Paceville. Niki Gravino and The Vile Bodies will be performing live in what is being described as an unprecedented approach to artistic entertainment. That’s music and much, much more going on! Interested? Doors open at 10pm.
Click here to purchase The Politics of Double Beds
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (25 November 2007)