The highly innovative and experimental Glaswegian artist Maria Rossi, also known as Cucina Povera, released her debut LP, ‘Hilja’, in January earlier this year to a responsive market. A day after performing at Salford’s Sounds From The Other City, she had a brief email conversation with The Sound Basement…
So, my first question is basic and painful, but how can you describe your music; how do you perceive it?
When I record I do everything quite spontaneously, I go into a state of immediacy, stream-of-consciousness, I use words and sounds and chords that pop into my head, make alliterations and harmonies out of, and in conjunction with them. Recently I’ve tried to stretch my voice to do textures and sounds that aren’t necessarily associated with voice. It’s my main instrument so I like to play with that a bit. Also, I use whatever happens to be within reach, I’ve found percussion like bottles and light bulbs, ‘accidental’ pops and feedback, static, noises from the street, the market, the river bank. Looping everything can make every day sounds quite interesting. For a while, I was working in a really cool little recording space out in Dalmarnock to the east of Glasgow. So, I used the building, recorded noises that were happening in and around the place. I guess it all boils down to ‘found’ material, putting it through filters, effects and placing these in the mix wherever they feel most comfortable. I guess I perceive everything as having the potential for a track or a mix, I don’t know what is useful until I use something in a track and think, ‘that works out quite nicely, I’ll work with that idea and try to stretch it.’
Your music contains elements of field recordings then. How do you think people perceive it; are you worried that people may not understand what is going on?
I get worried about that all the time, when I look at more esoteric art or listen to abstract kinds of music, then I realise that ‘getting’ it is not always the point. For me it’s all about taking small steps, experiencing things incrementally and texturally, not rushing, and music by its durational nature allows you to do just that. Listening is great but getting to experience the creative side of things definitely deepens the feeling of immediacy that is associated with sound. It also makes you listen to your environment in a totally new and immersive kind of way.
Your latest LP, ‘Hilja’, contains so many artistic values — which is what makes it stand out so well. When you finished the composing process, was the final product what you had originally visioned?
Not at all, for me it’s about starting out with a certain feeling, thought or encounter, processing that materially and seeing what happens at the end of that trajectory. It’s about the figurative nomadism of the creative process — nothing I ever make will be a perfected, completed entity.
If you don’t mind me asking, your music genuinely sounds quite dark, yet enlightening, and because your music reflects and stems from your thoughts and feelings, can this mean that perhaps you could have quite a dark-ish personality?
It tends to reflect my mood at the time of writing… Maybe I write more and better when I’m down. Come to think of it, chronic lack of sleep, drink and fasting make for a powerful creative catalyst. I guess that’s where the darkness comes from — being constantly exhausted and from a need to offset weird emotions.
When you talk about being exhausted and the lack of sleep, how has this come to arrive? Is it a feeling that you often come across, is it persistent in appearing?
Yep, living in Glasgow and it being summer doesn’t help! So much to do and sleep gives me FOMO. The best ideas musically come to me when I’m trying to fall asleep too. The great thing about my day job is that I get to work from home so at least I don’t have to go someplace for 9 am if I don’t feel up to it. That works well trying to juggle gigs too.
I’d also like to ask about your show at Sounds from the Other City on Sunday, which I sadly couldn’t make, was this your first time performing out of Glasgow as Cucina Povera?
Thankfully I’ve had more gigs outside of Glasgow than the one, but to me as the first outside gig of this year Sounds from the Other City provided a really warm welcome to the summer season. I met so many cool future collaborators, and so it paved the way for the things that make me the most excited.
Do you have any idea of who you may collaborate with after Sounds from the Other City? Or is it still a disclosed thing?
Some exciting folk I’d been following closely up to the festival actually. I get flaky at emails though so I’m relying on the right things gravitating towards me eventually. So far, they have done and I’m just letting it all wash over me.
I’ve got a few questions as well that are based on your debut, Hilja. Inside your vocal techniques on tracks such as ‘Kuparirumpu’ and ‘Elektra’, you’ve got this method which resonates what appears to be medieval styled chanting. Was it a style that you had planned to insert from the beginning? Or was it something, like you, mentioned earlier, that stems from feelings?
I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but I guess every aesthetic is influenced by something that already exists. I can’t really remember if I made a conscious decision to copy an aesthetic or not, these are tracks I recorded over two years ago and my head’s in a totally different place now.
So, this is more of a collection of tracks much rather than a planned album then? What made you place them on the LP and release them in back in February?
I recorded them sometime in 2016 and this is generally what happens in independent music distribution — by the time tracks have been mixed and mastered, test pressings approved, designs agreed on, the distro side of things sorted, and everything is financed, years can go by especially if there are delays. The collection of tracks I put on ‘Hilja’ were loosely thought of as B-sides to ones I have been working on from around the same time. The plan is to release more on cassette and by the looks of it, this will be C sides.
It sounds like you don’t have any plans to follow up Hilja with another album soon? But it is interesting that you plan to release more tracks on cassette though, and they seem to be growing in popularity. Has this informed your decision to release these C-sides on cassette?
It’s much cheaper to duplicate cassettes than it is to press vinyl which is why so many musicians who go about producing DIY things opt-in for it. Also, to answer your first question, another album is inevitably going to happen soon!
I don’t know how familiar you are with Finish society currently, nor am I too clear on how long you’ve resided within Glasgow, however, I’d like to know your perspective on the basic Income scheme the Finnish government are trialling at the moment.
It’s interesting that you’re into it because it was a scheme launched by a centre-right government with the aims to establish evidence for the non-viability of the UBI, and with a subsequent view to increasing austerity more generally. Researchers have from the start pointed out the limitations of the trial when it comes to implementing it in real terms — unrealistically low taxation and the exclusion of those on a small income from the trial.
In theory, if properly implemented, the basic income is a great idea. For self-employed artists with little job security, a basic income would alleviate a lot of pressure and take away the necessity to work three or four zero-hours contracts to make ends meet. It would open up the Arts and make it more viable for anyone from any background to become an arts practitioner rather than just those with the financial means already at hand.
I don’t see the basic income working in isolation from universal access to subsidised rent, free universal healthcare and free universal access to education, so there’s a lot more to consider and this implies high taxes. When the Finnish govt centralise education and privatise health care, I understand the BI trial as a giant PR gig to make austerity-driven, bourgeois politicians look generous and to deviate discussion from the privatisation and increasing inequality that is happening in real terms.
What is your vision for Cucina Povera? What do you envisage for the project?
To take one hour and one day at a time seems like a good thing to do at the moment. Seeing where it all takes me suits me just fine.