Guitarist, songwriter and founding member of Italian rock band, “Belladonna”.
Dani chats with us about his roots as a musician, songwriting, Grammy award nominations, his beloved guitar “Dory”, upcoming music from Belladonna and more.
December 17, 2012
Guitarhoo!: Which part of the world are you originally from?
Dani Macchi: Rome, Italy.
G!: When did you pick up the guitar and what drew you to the instrument?
DM: I was in my early teens, and in retrospect I guess it was at the beginning (as for most teenagers, I guess) mainly a way to channel the vast amount of psychoenergy that burned inside of me and that I felt I’d better release somehow. Things have not changed in the slightest in this respect, come think of it!
G!: Did you have any formal training or did you learn by ear?
DM: I did take classical guitar lessons for a few years when I first started, and there I learned how to read music and the basics of harmony. That was the start of my lifelong love for the art of harmony and for the art of composing.
G!: Who were some of your influences as a guitarist?
DM: I was always more influenced by songwriters and composers more than by guitar players, even as a kid. That’s maybe why Jimmy Page is someone I’ve always profoundly admired as a music man.
G!: What was the first concert you’ve ever seen in your life (and how did it impact you)?
DM: It was a show by Italian prog-rock band PFM. The volume, the lights, the great musicianship, the songs, the crowd screaming – that was it, I wanted in!
G!: At what age did you start or join your first band (prior to Belladonna) and what were those bands like?
DM: I immediately started playing in bands right after I had (barely) learned playing barrè chords! And even before that I was already constantly writing riffs, music and songs, which made me very much in demand by bands who were always taken aback by the ease with which music seemed to pour out of my guitar. In every band I’ve played through the years I was always the main songwriter. I was always a rock’n’roll player, and I’ve never really played any other genre. As much as I love all other genres of music, and as much as I’d love to play them, when I plug in only rock’n’roll seem to come out of my amp!
G!: How did Belladonna begin?
DM: I had started a songwriting partnership with Luana Caraffa (Belladonna’s singer), and we immediately felt our songs had something very very special and unique about them, so to put a band together to perform live and record those songs came only natural.
Belladonna (from left to right): Mattia Mari, Luana Caraffa, Dani Macchi, Tam Scacciati and Licia Missori
DM: Well, that would be like asking the Pope to reveal a Fatima secret! I believe that music production is like songwriting, or sex for that matter – some things are better left unexplained or – even better – kept secret!
G!: “Morpheus” of the same album, has beautiful acoustic textures and unexpecting mysterious vocal background harmonies, a little reminiscent of… Crash Test Dummies or Peter Gabriel. Are the song arrangements like this a collaborative band effort?
DM: Luana and I as writers have a tacit rule that we both have to love every millisecond of our recorded output, or we do not release it. So everything we do is always a joint effort, even though all the arrangements and artistic production duties do fall within my territory.
G!: The Belladonna sound is groovy, a little dark yet colorful, mysterious, and picturesque. How would you describe the Belladonna sound and what are some of the elements you feel contribute to your style and sound?
DM: When we first started the band we coined the term “rock noir” to define it, and we still find it totally apt. It’s hard for me to try to describe what we try to do musically but I guess that Luana’s voice is so peculiar and unique that it alone makes our songs sound unmistakably like Belladonna. Also the juxtaposition of romantic acoustic piano (always on the left channel of our stereo field) and erotic distorted guitar (on the right channel) is also a very identifiable Belladonna trademark, something that no one was doing before us and that we’ve heard many times since. But yes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery so we’re always, well, flattered when that happens!
G!: In 2008, Belladonna achieved 2 Grammy Awards ballot nominations, being completely independent and solely from the support of fans on the internet. Could you believe it at the time? And what do you think struck such a resounding chord with music fans to gravitate to Belladonna leading to the bands quick success?
DM: We could not believe it at the time and we still somehow cannot believe it, to tell you the truth. We’ve always written and recorded music to please our senses, and never to please or seduce anybody else, and I guess that – it may sound strange but I think it’s only normal – we as humans are always more drawn towards whoever is not actively searching for our approval, as opposed to those who mould his/her behavior in order to obtain it.
G!: How did you promote Belladonna early on?
DM: Well, we never actually actively promoted ourselves, since we’ve uploaded our music on MySpace at the beginning of the band we’ve always been swamped with requests, emails and proposals so we’ve never actually had time! But the one thing we’ve done – and that we still do – is to try to answer personally to everyone that was contacting us. It takes up a lot of time, but it is also always a great pleasure.
G!: You worked with producer Alex Elena on Belladonnas’ most recent release, “and There Was Light”. How was the experience and what added to the sound of the band with this collaboration?
DM: Alex Elena was an essential element in the creative team behind “And There Was Light” and behind our new, forthcoming album. His wondrous talent as a musician and producer, and his never-ending supplies of sheer psychic and spiritual energy made those recordings really shine.
G!: If someone was new to Belladonna, where would you suggest they start to find the essence of what the band is all about? (songs or albums)
DM: I’d say the new album, but of course it still has to be released! I could mention any Belladonna song really. One that springs to mind (and heart) now is “Foreverland”. It’s the one that entered the Grammy ballot as “Best Rock Song” and it has all the sonic and emotional elements that make Belladonna the band it is. If you love “Foreverland” you’ll love Belladonna.
Belladonna official video for “Foreverland”
DM: As I stated earlier, Luana Caraffa and I formed Belladonna specifically so we could have a band to perform live and record our songs. We see ourselves as songwriters first, and performers then. With us the music appears first, and then words magically fill the page. It’s almost totally an unconscious, automatic-writing process for us, as I know it is for almost all songwriters I love.
G!: Is it true that you recorded with Michael Bolton, if so how did that come about and how was the experience?
DM: Wow, you certainly did your homework for this interview, very few people are aware of my one/off experience with Michael Bolton! I was living in London at the time and Michael Bolton had to do 3 TV appearances to promote one of his albums, and I pre-recorded the backing tracks in a London studio and than appeared on TV with him, where he sang live. A great honor for me, compounded by the fact that Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison was the drummer of those sessions and TV appearances we did.
G!: Belladonna has toured with some pretty sensational international artists, like Nine Inch Nails, Staind, and Korn, to name a few – What were some of the highlights and what are some of valuable things you walked away with from those experiences?
DM: The highlight was definitely experiencing first hand the humbleness of these great artists. Duff McKagan in particular (whose band we supported a couple of times) behaved with us as a real gentleman, full of attentions and compliments, and ever so down-to-earth and sweet: a real Star.
G!: What guitars do you use for recording and live shows?
DM: Everything I do guitar-wise I do it with Dory, my wife: a 1969 Gibson De Luxe that has been with me since I was a kid. I’ve been faithful to her since we met, and I have to say he’s been real, real good to me. I’ve never felt the need of spending time with any other guitar, just like I’ve never felt the need of having a different face or a different personality. Me and Dory are one.
Dani live with his 1969 Gibson De Luxe – “Dory”
DM: My basic sound is Dory straight into an Orange 30W combo. No effects.
G!: Any particular piece of gear you can’t live without?
DM: My heart.
G!: Belladonna tours consistently throughout Europe, which are some of the places you like to play the most and can you share any road stories that make you smile when looking back at it all?
DM: Well, the best road tales are not fit to print, of course! As cliched as it sounds, we love to play anywhere there’s a stage. We do have a special passion though for playing in lesser known towns, in the clubs and halls in the middle of nowhere. There people are much less concerned in how cool they look at the bar, but are hell bent on enjoying the music and on truly connecting emotionally with the band onstage.
G!: Have you ever thought to record a solo project or are there any musicians you would like to collaborate with?
DM: Not at all at the moment: in Belladonna I am allowed to make all my musical dreams come true, and I am incredibly fortunate to play with truly fabulous musicians. Aside from playing with Luana – which feels like a dream come true to me every day – my dream has always been to collaborate with 3 people: Jimmy Page, Kate Bush and Michael Nyman. And then two years ago I did collaborate with Nyman when he wrote “Let There Be Light” with me and Luana, and played piano on the Belladonna recording of the song. So I now have a legitimate hope that one day I’ll see the Jimmy & Kate part of my dream come to fruition too!
G!: What is The Noir Hour, how did it come about and what does the show cover?
DM: “The Noir Hour” is a weekly one hour long radio program that I created and that I personally host. It goes on air every Sunday night on Italy’s biggest rock radio station, Rock’N’Roll Radio. I play a very wide selection of artists on the show, from Blue Oyster Cult to Erik Satie, the common denominator being a certain noir flavor and a decidedly nocturne atmosphere. It is a very popular program and when it’s on air a lot of listeners converge to my personal Facebook profile to comment with me and amongst themselves the music being played and to share their views and feelings on it… it totally feels like we are all in the same room in front of a fire, drinking whisky and listening to the same records! It’s become a little community which makes me incredibly happy and proud.
The Noir Hour hosted by Dani Macchi on Rock’N’Roll Radio, Italy.
DM: We have a new album coming out in early 2013. The title is still top secret, but what I can reveal is that whoever loves Belladonna will go absolutely mental with aural pleasure when they’ll hear this new album.
G!: Outside of music what are some of your interests and hobbies?
DM: Studying politics and modern history. I am deeply interested in all the Italian revolutionary groups of the 70s, of which the Red Brigades are probably the most well-known worldwide. Through the years I have accumulated a vast library on the subject. I feel that reflecting on current affair with an accurate and extensive knowledge of that particular era gives me a key to interpret today’s world with a depth that I would not have otherwise.
G!: How would you describe the music scene in Italy today, and the differences from when you first started out in your younger years?
DM: It has not changed much, in my opinion, at least the rock’n’roll scene has not. People here love rock’n’roll, but rock’n’roll music has stopped being connected to youth (and otherwise) culture in the late 70s. So the vast majority of rock’n’roll here feels to me as very shallow, very often played by people that have day jobs, that have lived with their parents well into their 20s (and very often even beyond) and that have no idea of what living a rock’n’roll lifestyle even means (beside maybe having a few beers on weekends and thinking that Lemmy is great or something). Also, for many Italians players music is an excuse to show how macho they are (they want the world to know how heavy they play, how fast, how loud, how well, how whatever), and that’s anathema if you want not only to play rock’n’roll, but to even understand it. And that consequently makes for what is in my opinion a very mediocre rock’n’roll scene. Yes, some truly fabulous rock’n’roll musicians and bands have spawned out of Italy, but almost all of them have moved abroad or are more successful abroad than here.
G!: Do you have any advice you would like to leave for aspiring musicians?
DM: Play only what makes you feel horny or in love. Play only with musicians that make you feel horny or in love when you see them play. Play until everyone around you feels horny or in love.
G!: Thanks Dani for taking out the time for this. We look forward to your future projects!
DM: Thanks so much to you, it was my pleasure.
Interview © 2012 Guitarhoo!