Musician, painter and filmmaker Daniele Santagiuliana is one of most intriguing and original underground artists working today.
Ever since he first emerged on the Italian music scene in 2003 with Testing Vault’s the self-released “L’Umor Finstere” he has recorded and released over a dozen albums with both TV and several collaborations including Pariah with Allan Zane and “Music for Lemurians” with Corrado Altieri based on an unused David Lynch project about a fictional pre-Atlantian continent called Lemuria.
With Testing Vault taking a break Dani is back in 2014 with two new releases. His first acoustic solo record “Jeremiad” as well as a new project “The Anguish”.
“Jeremiad” is already now a high contender for my favourite album of the year, it was Dani who reminded me just how much pain, doom, emotion, sex and beauty lurks in every string and he continues to amaze me with the music he puts out.
Over several discussions I got to pick Dani’s brains on his creative process, serial killers, abandoned art, magick and the state of underground music today.
Salem Kapsaski: What are the origins of The Anguish?
Daniele Santagiuliana: The Anguish is a brand new project I created in December 2013/January 2014 after ten years of Testing Vault, my most well known project which I took ahead for ten years – I did “Fungoid”, an album in which I used Ira Cohen’s readings with the permission of his wonderfully kind family, that was a high point for one young underground artist! It was surely a great honor for me, I mean, I didn’t grew up in NY, I am in Italy, so it was quite a big honor to have the permission to pay tribute to one of the greatest poets ever to me! I thought it was a nice and symbolic point for Testing Vault to stop and rest for some years.
I was listening then to a lot of early KMFDM and Raymond Watts’ material at the time (I’m a longtime PIG fan), and I was just blown away from how rhythmic was the stuff, but it wasn’t necessarily “dancey”, it was really fucked up – and I wanted to pay homage to that kind of early industrial metal period, as the early NIN demos for “The Downward Spiral”, they weren’t THAT catchy or groovy as the release, they were mechanical and raw as a punch in the face – so I choose to record my own music in that way, having fun in creating song after years of sound and concept abstractions… for this I call The Anguish “an undanceable disaster and a deliberate train wreck”. I can’t wait for the record to be printed and out for sale… it’s exciting to start all over again.
I already had other projects, but I’m treating The Anguish as a Queen – as I did with Testing Vault, making people understanding that this is my most important project for me right now…
SK: How would you describe the creative process behind the new album?
DS: I broke a relationship of almost eleven years with a girl that was nothing but a real strong psychic vampire disguised as a false ill person in need of help, a really horrible person who led me to self-destruction, driving me crazy, and making me nothing but worries and giving to me so many fears and playing with my mind so much I was driven to having horrible panic attacks and a state of severe apathy towards the final month of my relationship. I’m sorry to say I was in need for violence, and at the same time I didn’t move a finger, almost as being in a mental ward waiting room all the time. It is a terrible state as you feel almost a cold blooded killer in the death row… if you reach the borderline, your mental sanity is really in danger. And I was in that state. Damaged. Totally. I created The Anguish making really strong stuff, rhythmic, programmed, well arranged and produced quite well for a zero budget based new project – and the songs are all aggressive, but they are at the same time very apathetic – they tell you horrible things and they are visionary and violent, but they are not attacking you screaming – they are telling you basically “I would beat you to death”, but with such a desperate insensitivity that makes you understand – I think – that your mind is gone and you could care less about the consequences of the person you are menacing, and to your own persona as well – you’re constantly dying in grudge… and I find this quite one hell of bad vibe I had to exploit. Now my life has been saved literally, by my fiance – we are together from the day we met… one year almost, and I will never thank her enough.
SK: You once called Ed Gein an artist and he is also included in your list of influences, can you elaborate on that, and how did your fascination with him begin? You have studied Criminology; was this solely out of personal interest or were you pursuing a career in this field?
DS: I will never stop to study criminology, psychology and the effects of drugs, medicinal, and how other esoteric and esoteric substances and/or behaviours may change the mind and/or the body.
I always been interested in serial killers, but in Italy is almost impossible to pursue a career in that field, you can be mostly an “aficionado” of this “genre” of literature, as criminology it’s not really well developed here… I am an art teacher for elementary school, but I’m trying to live as an artist… I did all the possible works. Of course I’d love to be a profiler, but it’s just a dream…
Ed Gein was an influence for many reasons, I was fascinated from him since my teen years… I think he was a fine craftsman if he was able to do the things he did with the bodies, and was incredible that he learned by himself anything, from the treatment to the preparation of the skin and how to cut and preserve certain bodies’ parts… treating the skin is quite a difficult work, and I can just imagine how the human skin could be delicate in various stages of decomposition… I think if Gein would have been raised in a different environment and in another era a little more open-minded, he would have never killed nor committed anything. I read several books and journals about him, and if he would not have been surrounded by such a crazy oppressive mother and an ignorant little country of old rednecks, he could have found his road, maybe becoming a transsexual (as he wished to became a woman after all, his fetishes were to become and to adore the women’s body) – I may say he is an inspiration as I picture him as an unconventional and smart person, he emerged in his own way despite being raised up in total ignorance, abuse and surrounded by a barbaric world which didn’t accept even a little, slight difference. He got ruined by mankind, not by his crimes and I think many people should owe him more than an apology. I always thought his crimes were desperate attempts to find his own humanity and identity.
SK: Alejandro Jodorowsky once said that art is either a medicine for society or a poison. Do you believe this statement to be true, and if so would you describe your art as healing or as a destructive energy?
DS: I love Jodorowsky, he’s one of the greatest “modern shamans” of our times… one of those figures that is almost supernatural in his talent, vision and vital energy… I studied his work for more than half of my life, and I think it’s impressive – and I think he’s 100% right. And I can describe my art as an exorcism most of the times, it is healing through destruction, it touches both the points… like the monks must go a certain state of “suffering” in meditation for reaching a higher state of conscience during their trance, it’s almost the same… I’m very visceral, and even if I’m a happy person now, when I create I get into a sort of lunacy… which drives me towards certain sounds and subjects.
SK: You are also a painter, photographer and writer where do your priorities as an artist lie and how do you balance the various artistic mediums?
DS: I did the Art School – so painting came first, since I was a little – but music was there as well as I have an older brother… so it was a natural thing to me to be the graphic and to be the musician of my own projects… plus, yes, I am writing a lot honestly now… so my priorities now are to release The Anguish album and to spread it as a contagious disease… and to write a horror novella I had in mind about Lewis Carroll as a protagonist, mixed with some elements of some real spirits I saw in my life to create my own “Wonderland” around that shady and dark character he was to me…
After this, I’d like to start to release some Jandek/Michael Gira acoustic influenced music I am recording lately… a lo-fi no-wave preaching nocturnal music which is based on the dreams I have…
About the painting is useful for the graphic but people tend to don’t buy paintings by young artists unless they’re in an Art Gallery… I sold some pieces, yes, almost one hundred, for low prices, but it’s not much… so I’m doing it more for my own pleasure, music became slowly by itself the most big part of the cake with writing. It’s like painting with your ears.
SK: What is the current state of the Italian underground music scene?
DS: I think it’s pitiful. Underground music once was considered to be challenging and smart, and people were supporting the good bands which were emerging from the underground… now there’s almost no support, and the interest is dead as well as most of the music this third world country is producing. There are some great projects, bands and musicians I admire and with which I am friend with, but they are, just like me, “cult figures” in Italy – and if we sell, we sell mostly outside from our country. UK, USA, Germany, these are our families of adoption. But aside from sales, the Italian creativity and culture level in underground music scene is for the most part pretty low and embarrassing.
SK: Are there any young artists out there you feel are kindred spirits?
DS: … uhm, very few young artists… I always looked at other ones which inspired me directly or not… but not many young artists… I’m 30 and they’re all older usually!
SK: You collaborated with Corrado Altieri for “Music for Lemurians” From an abandoned concept by David Lynch and Mark Frost. How did the project first come about?
DS: I always admired the work of Corrado Altieri, he is one of the greatest Italian names in noise from years, first with TH26, and aftyer with MONOSONIK and now with his best project ever, UNCODIFIED, which I recommend to everyone… I was reading some interviews by Lynch and the label was born from one month, I was more and more spaced out with my mind due to the lunacy that the apathy was giving to me… and I get into this concept, drawing the concept of the booklet weeks before the music existed. Corrado is a dear friend and respected what I am doing as an artist, so I asked him if he wanted to work with me and this is pretty much what happened. A really edgy session for me, I was recording outside the window of a 3rd plane apartment the silence of the snow falling, and me just screaming to this silent nocturnal environment. I basically barked like a rabid dog – then I edited, reversed and messed up with the audio, which I passed to Corrado, and after that, we just printed it. It took us two weeks for anything. I am very proud of that release, it should be sold out by now… you’re lucky to have it!
SK: Talking of abandoned concepts, what about your own dead babies; are there any projects from the past you would like to resurrect or abandoned projects you wish had happened?
DS: I make such a big amount of music that you have to sacrifice something every single time, for releasing something else… having also a little label of my own doesn’t help me since I must pay for the whole process of printing and dispatching… I had different good releases, some of them were also quite good – I wouldn’t listen to them now too much, I started to be much more selective and to not save a bad recording day (a thing I was doing since 3 years ago)… I became my worst enemy and critic, nobody destroys me as much as I do. I would have loved to see published “Pariah” a 2012 album by Testing Vault you can find for 1 dollar at Bandcamp – it was the tying chapter between “Cities Of The Red Lights” of 2011 and “The Smile Of A Chain” of 2013 – I was gonna be published for a German label but it went in bankrupt. So now it’s out as only a digital release and I am sorry for that as I love that release… and I would love to print it someday. I also regret to haven’t being able in this time to did something I have in mind for years… I can say just it would have been a boxset.
SK: You mentioned that your your film “The Complete Shit Exorcism” was a real self-exorcism, can you elaborate on that and the experience of making the film. A lot of your work strikes me to have elements of magick rituals. Are there any upcoming film or audio visual projects you are working on and do you have visual project or video planned for the Anguish?
DS: It took two years to film anything, it was a Kenneth Anger and Rozz Williams’ visually influenced movie… it was horrible to re-act what I basically did for staying alive. The movie was based on a bad nervous breakdown I lived in 2007. I woke up and I was beyond hallucinating and on thin ice – my mental sanity was compromised at the time… I took a pigface mask I modified and which I took and used adhesive tape on my face because i wanted to blow it with a gun… quite an extreme experience. In many thought the movie was well done for being done with a normal video camera and zero budget, locations or post-production of any kind. I kinda “like” it as well – as an artwork and a documentary of what I was, but from then I find that directing movies, even short ones, is like killing myself. Mentally, physically, it drives me insane. It’s just too much – I don’t know why. Maybe painting and doing music is already enough and my mind can’t stand to create demons on film as well?
For The Anguish there will be three videoclips, of which i wrote the scripts, and they will be directed by three different artists… In this way the visual component will be very heavy. And the concept is very wide, it embraces all the “wrong America”, the one made by deranged preachers and believers, guns, incest, serial killers, nationalism and “The Wyoming Incident”, fake or not. all this will be focused and covered in some way the album…
SK: If you could chose one piece of music for people to remember you for, which piece would you be contempt with if it were to define you?
DS: I really think that “Cities Of The Red Lights” describe what I am able to doing best… extremely lo-fi yet peculiar music and sound shaping, all tied up with readings, cut-ups, and vivid and detailed visions, influenced by Coil, Rozz Williams and William S. Burroughs, but honest and original. I received compliments for that album, now only available as a digital release as the cd is sold out (any label which would want to reprint it would be welcome anyway!), by many of my idols, Kevin Tomkins of Sutcliffe Jugend and Ace Farren Ford of LAFMS/Smegma for mention just two… it’s a proof of how delicate, cerebral and multi-faceted certain intelligent and creative lo-fi music can be. It could be the new real classical music I think. I also hope my next first solo acoustic album will be that good… it has the same vibe and I’m impressed of this.
SK: You mentioned the possibility of bringing out limited art editions and records through Looney-Tick Productions, Including a limited CD release in memory of Rozz Williams.
DS: I truly love what Rozz was and what he did – such an amazing body of work, and he was so young, it’s hard to believe that was all just in one head. It’s true, I wanted to pay my respects to him, and I had different options in mind… I was lucky enough to know amazing friends and artists as Ryan Wildstar, Ace Farren Ford, Doriandra Smith (which she sang a song for me in “Cities of The Red Lights”), and I wanted to work with them using certain vynils that Rozz bought at a thrift store thinking to use them as soundfonts for an upcoming Heltir album which never came unfortunately. These vinyls are children’s stories, or other cheap silly audio I would have loved to morph into a weird, gigantic beast of a triple album made in collaboration with Ace, Ryan and Doriandra (the core of what EXP were basically), mixing spoken words, noise and melancholia. But it did not happened – but one day, who knows… I’d like to remember him in a way that would reflect what his true artistic self was towards the voluntary end of his earthly time…
SK: What is next for Daniele Santagiuliana?
DS: Hopefully some relax and the possibility to release my first solo acoustic record by this year as well aside from The Anguish – I’d love to show my true self – this is the first project in which I am my own influence… and I’d love to see if people would like it.
How can people buy your records and art?
Well, they can go to Discogs, googling “Looney-Tick Productions” or to write directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – and I can show to them whatever they want, paintings, records, I am quite a friendly person which does not sell his art or music at unreasonable prices!
Lemuria Rising: An Interview with Daniele Santagiuliana By Salem Kapsaski was first published in Issue 2 of Art Decades in 2014.