Massimo Usai, or Max as he’s endearingly called, is a busy man. In just a few short years, he’s released an EP and two highly acclaimed full-length albums, as well as a number of music videos, and managed to collaborate with a plethora of talented musicians who have performed alongside such notables as iconic director and composer, John Carpenter, all the way to Madonna. Despite his busy schedule, he’s made time to once again speak with Target Audience Magazine about his newest release under the moniker Confrontational, entitled Kingdom Of Night.
Max, firstly, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Thank you for having me, Barry. My pleasure as usual, my friend!
Kingdom Of Night is a fantastic synthesized experience. What is it about the night that kindles your artistic fire?
I really appreciate your kind words on the album. The night is where dreams come from. And you don’t necessarily have to be sleeping in order to dream. Some of the wildest dreams I’ve dreamed, I’ve had them with my eyes wide open all the time. The night enhances this condition: it’s the opposite of the norm. To me it’s sacred territory, a place that deserves the utmost respect.
You’ve stated that Kingdom Of Night is the second album of a trilogy, which began with A Dance Of Shadows and will conclude with the next release. Can you explain the overarching vision you have for this trilogy?
Of course I could, but that would cripple the element of surprise, wouldn’t it? Subtlety is something I value highly. I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of discovery, it definitely is something I want the listeners to experience in first person. There are visual elements and cues in the lyrics and artwork (conceived in conjunction with Branca Studio) that portray the story I am telling. I really want it to be a full immersion for the wanderer of darkness that will venture into this journey. All they have to do is carry a little research of their own to find out more… I can remark that this story started out with Done With You [EP], though I can’t vouch for sure if that’s actually how it ended.
If you would be so kind, tell us a little about your musical guests on this album and how you came to work with them?
With great pleasure. Hélène De Thoury is the mastermind behind French darkwave project Hante. I found out about her work while both our albums were at the top of the darkwave charts on Bandcamp last year. Her LP, This Fog That Never Ends, truly made an impression on me. I really love her approach, I think we share a lot in terms of working ethic, and themes we deal with. Her signature sound and lyrics resonate strongly with me. She shares vocals with me on the song “Keep Faith” and I am very proud of what we achieved together.
Tony Kim is half of synthwave titans Dance With The Dead who, along with Carpenter Brut, were the first artists I ever heard that were merging new production techniques with a retro attitude. They really made me realize I could do this, too! Send The Signal is an incredible album, and I’ve wanted to work with them for a long while. Tony loved “Stand Your Ground” and I’m really really glad to have his lead guitars on it.
Ugo Laurenti is the author of the score to Pupi Avati’s cult series “Voci Notturne” (“Nocturnal Voices”), a TV show that lasted 5 episodes on RAI around 1995. I first came across the series in 2008, when my good friend and mentor Giorgio introduced me to it. It made a huge impression, and the soundtrack really blew me away. After years of being connected to a bunch of fans of the show via Facebook I traced down Ugo, and asked him if he might be interested in doing something for the album. To my surprise he was and actually came here in Cagliari to record his parts on “Midnight Wings” – we spent a great week working together and sightseeing around Sardinia a bit.
Lastly, Cody Carpenter: he is the son of my huge influence, director John Carpenter. Cody is a true virtuoso, a lover of music and above all a really fine gentleman. He’s a very big inspiration for me. We had a chance to finally meet in person a month ago at the Live Retrospective tour in London on Halloween. It was amazing and I am so very honored he’s playing on “Crimson Curtains” – his unmistakable lead synth and harmonies are the perfect way to end the album.
Speaking of which, Cody Carpenter seems to have returned once more. Should we expect to see more work between you two on forthcoming releases?
I definitely would love to have Cody guest on the third episode of the trilogy, for sure. I hope he’ll be into the idea! I’d really love to perform live with him one day. That’s on my dream list. He’s simply amazing.
What do you find more freedom in creating: lyrical or instrumental music?
The beauty of being Confrontational is perennial creative freedom on everything I want to do. I am completely unrestrained. Ultimately, I call the shots on every aspect of the final product. I’ve always wanted to be able to find my own balance between tracks with lyrics and instrumentals alike, as I feel strongly about both. I think both LPs have successfully achieved this goal.
A day after releasing Kingdom Of Night it became the #1 best-selling darkwave album on Bandcamp, followed closely by A Dance Of Shadows. Nearly 2 months after its release, it’s still in the Top 20, with A Dance Of Shadows holding strong in the top 10 [as of this interview, 11/29/16]. Congratulations! To what do you credit that longevity?
Thank you! I think people are sincerely enjoying the songs. The retrowave and darkwave community are taking notice, and those listeners usually tend to be very supportive if they find the music deserves it. Also, the presence of all collaborators involved surely is playing its part, and the Bronson Recordings release of A Dance Of Shadows on vinyl has extended visibility among the LP collectors worldwide. I am extremely grateful to all of these amazingly supportive listeners out there and I look forward to seeing them in person once I’ll get to play more live shows next year.
You’ve mentioned that songs have come to you out of nightmares. What is the most unusual way that a song idea has presented itself?
“Like A Curse” off of A Dance Of Shadows is the most prominent so far, which literally was all ready as I woke up after a nightmare. All of it – lyrics, music, the whole arrangement. That’s surely the most peculiar one. Some other times I’ve had ideas while watching movies, or while reading stories. So far, “Like A Curse” is the weirdest that’s happened. I still can’t figure it out.
Are there any books, movies, or artists who can be credited with having impacting you during the making this album? What are some that are impacting you right now?
During the writing sessions, I’ve been influenced by several Italian artists: Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” with its score by Fabio Frizzi, and “The House By The Cemetery” with its score by Walter Rizzati, and obviously Pupi Avati’s “Voci Notturne” with its score by Ugo Laurenti. I’ve researched heavily into my surroundings, namely the Necropolis of Tuvixeddu here in Cagliari. The title itself, Kingdom Of Night, is a definition by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose memoirs made a big impact on me when I read them around 2011. Most of the album was conceived right after the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. I felt, in more than one way, we were all descending in a kingdom of night. The rise of extremism across the world, the way people are caving in to fear. Dark times. One year later those writing sessions, here we are. I’m honestly recovering from the sessions of the album right now, so I am not actively watching or reading anything with a writing mindset, but as of now I’m re-reading a lot of my faves from my fave author, Stephen King. “The Running Man,” “Roadwork.” Very telling stuff. He wrote about the future. I’ve also just watched “Serpico” by Sidney Lumet for the first time. We need more of that kind of courage these days, the courage to stand up to what we know is wrong.
If you received advanced warning of an impending natural disaster headed your way and you could only grab a few things aside from the bare necessities, what would you grab, knowing the rest would be destroyed?
That’s one of the things I fear the most. I don’t know if, facing a situation like that, I’d be able to actually come to my senses and make a conscious decision. Besides making sure my dear ones are safe, I think I’d fill up my car with all of my musical instruments. I’m pretty sure I might die trying.
With all of your collaborations, who have you yet to work with that you’d like to happen in the future?
Oh, the list is never ending. Never ending. I would love to work with so many people. Fabio Frizzi is on the list. Daniel Davies is there too. K.K. Downing. Slash. Johnny and Nile Marr. Marty Friedman. Andrew Eldritch and The Sisters Of Mercy. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Tobias Bernstrup. Miland Petrozza. Eric Peterson. Stefan Olsdal and Brian Molko of Placebo. Tying Tiffany. Light Asylum. Vincent Feit. Kim Gordon. Tommy Victor. Steve Di Giorgio. I’d like to work with Darren Travis and Monte Pittman again. I could go on and on…
If you could only choose one to work with: Guitar or Synthesizer?
No, I don’t want to make that choice ever. But I guess if I really had to, probably forced at gunpoint, it’d be my guitar treated to sound like a synth. That’s actually how I do things on many songs – “Flat / Line” and “In The Line Of Fire” being most notable examples.
Confrontational has now played at not one, but two Synthzilla festivals. Did you notice any difference in how you were received at the latest one? Were there any particular moments that stood out to you?
Both were incredibly amazing and so far, the best shows I’ve ever had a chance to perform at. I’d say the 2016 edition was even more incredible than the first, because more people knew the songs and the whole front row was chanting choruses along with me. And getting to share the stage with Tony from Dance With The Dead for “Stand Your Ground” was absolutely unbelievable – a moment I’ll never forget.
What’s next, Max? And can you give us any hints about the final album in your ongoing trilogy?
I want to perform live as much as possible. Got two shows lined up for January in Italy and after that I want to travel across Europe. As for the trilogy, I can only disclose that if all goes according to plan, the third album is planned to come out on October 1, 2017. That’s what I’m aiming at: three solid albums comprising of 9 tracks each. It makes for a satisfying storytelling arc.
Thank you so much for your time today, Max! It’s always a pleasure to speak with you, and we here at Target Audience wish you the best of luck.
Thank you once more for your time and support my friend. Greetings from Sardinia!
Buy Kingdom Of Night: From The Band