Dark, brooding, strangely captivating, and cinematic in a Fellini sort of fashion, Jennifer Gentle’s new album, The Midnight Room, blurs the line between reality and the darkest of fantasies.
Now the sole proprietorship of founder and songwriter Marco Fasolo, with the departure of drummer Alessio Gastaldello, Jennifer Gentle is Italian through and through, exporting its brand of sinister psychedelia through the venerable indie American imprint Sub Pop.
In 2005, Jennifer Gentle released Valende, a more innocent, sunny piece of work that contrasts with the carnival of the grotesque that is The Midnight Room.
Genuinely frightening in various moments, especially on the warped psych-rock march “Telephone Ringing,” Fasolo recorded The Midnight Room in an old house in northern Italy now dubbed Ectoplasmic Studio. The previous owner committed suicide with a rifle, and perhaps because of the morbid circumstances of his death, The Midnight Room is permeated with a sense of unease.
Manic and trippy, The Midnight Room is a confluence of American ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart lunacy and Tom Waits-style theatrics. Melodies are turned inside out and go off on bizarre tangents, but underneath it all is a sense of insular drama, like the crazed inner monologue of a hermit.
Fasolo recently chatted with Goldmine about the making of one of the oddest delights to come down the pike in some time.
Goldmine: A lot of the talk surrounding Jennifer Gentle reverts back to Syd Barrett. And the new album, especially on “Come Closer,” seems to recall his solo materail. As an influence, is he more of a spiritual guide than a musical one?
Marco Fasolo: I?ve been a huge Barrett fan since I was a kid, and there?s no denying that he was, and still is, a big influence on my approach to music. At the same time, I hope my albums have their own personality, something peculiarly Jennifer Gentle-esque. Finding your own voice is as important as knowing that you are part of a musical tradition.
GM: In essence, The Midnight Room plays out like a movie, especially when you listen to how “Mercury Blood” segues into the discordant pounding of “Granny’s House.” And yet there’s no real narrative theme holding it together. How did you manage to keep the album as a coherent whole?
MF: My aim was to create an album as coherent and tight as possible. The focus was on the compositional method and the sound I had in mind. ?The Midnight Room? obviously isn?t a concept album, but it works like a whole, every song is like a piece of a bigger puzzle. Also, I wanted to make a really visual album, with a strong imagery.
GM: There’s a real ’50s rock feel to songs like “Take My Hand.” It’s kind of simple and innocent, but very warped too. Was there a great deal of thought given to filtering ’50s rock influences through psychedelia?
MF: I love ’50s music, and some of my favourite sixties bands (like Creedence, the Velvet Underground and the 13th Floor Elevators) were largely influenced by early rock ‘n’ roll. I think it’s criminal the way ’50s rockers are often underrated: they were as bold, wild and eccentric as the most far-out sixties artists. And they were innocent and twisted at the same time. Listen to Screamin? Jay Hawkins? ?I Hear Voices.? There?s nothing as warped as that song!
GM: Who are some of your favorite ’50s artists?
MF: Probably Buddy Holly, Link Wray, the Johnny Burnette Trio. But I like a lot also Gene Vincent and Freddie Cannon.
GM: Italian musicians, like Blonde Redhead, and artists like Fellini seem to be fascinated by dreams and deconstruction of what’s considered “normal,” and The Midnight Room has that Fellini-esque quality as well. Are these songs