Italy’s CONFRONTATIONAL recently released its first full-length album, entitled A Dance Of Shadows. This has been labeled as synthwave, as well as dark retro wave. I’d label it as addictive! I’ve been a fan and follower of the band’s mastermind, Massimo Usai [Max], for quite some time, so when this LP arrived, touting the names of some very esteemed musicians, I dug in with great anxiousness. I haven’t been the only one. It seems that a ton of people have fallen for Usai’s newest effort, and for good reason. Coming off of the Done With You EP, Max has created a truly cinematic, captivating experience. I sat down with him on Dec. 1 to discuss this creation, the involvement of his cohorts, as well as the band’s well-received performance at France’s Synthzilla Festival. Join us, won’t you?
First and foremost, Max, I want to congratulate you on Confrontational’s new album, A Dance Of Shadows, which was released on Oct. 1! I’ve heard it, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it. How has the reception been thus far?
Thank you for taking the time to check it out, Barry! Honestly, so far the reception has been absolutely mind blowing. I’m really grateful and honored to see the album being part of more and more collections on Bandcamp as each day goes by, and the YouTube version of the album hosted by NewRetroWave is already well over 18,000 views (at the time of this interview) since the initial upload on Halloween. Messages of praise are coming in from all over the world… I couldn’t be happier, really!
You’ve garnered some impressive attention: NewRetroWave gave you some love, as did Metal Sucks, which has been hosting an exclusive full-album stream. What do you think it is about this album that has attracted such different audiences?
They all did, along with Bloody-disgusting.com, MetalRiot.com, TerraRelicta and Drive Radio and I am extremely grateful to all of the people involved. I think first and foremost the contributions by Cody Carpenter, Monte Pittman and Darren Travis certainly played a big part in raising interest. Secondly, the songs on the LP are very direct, have pretty big choruses and they showcase a wide array of my influences, which might have also helped. After years spent honing my craft through several projects, I finally found my dimension and I’m very comfortable with how I do things sonically. My unrestrained love for the 80’s is now something that works within the current cultural climate, which made way for the tracks to get noticed within the beautiful synthwave/retrowave scene. My metal roots probably also played a part, I think…
You’ve said that “the old ways stopped working, so I became confrontational.” Can you tell us about the origins of Confrontational?
I was being labeled that way by some people in my ex-band, for apparently wanting to cause distress by addressing issues I saw in the way the band was operating. We were actually not operating as a team at all, so I honestly confronted them with the hopes and expectations I had for that project. I did it face to face, looking straight into their eyes, with all of the passion that I’ve always brought to the music. Apparently, that was wrong to do. I realized then that things had to change for me to be able to make what I really wanted to do with my songs. A number of things had to also work differently in my everyday life, and since quitting that band a lot has changed in my life. It has been weird. I embraced confrontation as a catalyst for positive change. I started questioning a lot of aspects in my life. It’s been a really tough time, but I’d never go back… this is who I am now.
There’s definitely a cinematic feel to the progression of A Dance Of Shadows. If you would, tell us about your inspiration, both musically and lyrically, for this effort.
Music and lyrics are together as one throughout all of the album, really. Most of the songs came about in pretty much their final form, the most notable example being LIKE A CURSE – which really wrote itself upon waking up after a certain morbid nightmare I had. I’ve always been inspired by the works of my fave film makers, George A. Romero and John Carpenter, and around this time I’ve explored the work of two other incredible directors, William Friedkin and Michael Mann. I’ve been a fan of all of them for a long while but never before did I take the time to study them as in-depth as I did during these last months, while writing the album. Being exposed to their films made me realize I had something to say about certain things. So I went on and tried to convey those atmospheres into songs, in the most direct way I could.
Throughout this release we see guest performers, such as Monte Pittman (Madonna, ex-Prong); Cody Carpenter (Ludrium), son of John Carpenter; and Darren Travis (Sadus). How did you happen to get involved with these fine musicians? Furthermore, how did they end up playing the part they did on these particular songs?
I’ve been a huge fan of all three of them, directly or indirectly, for quite a long time. Monte Pittman‘s work with PRONG has always been a fave of mine and I was blown away by his latest solo album – THE POWER OF THREE. That album made me feel sane during really tasking moments of my life in 2014. Monte is not only a true guitar hero (the biggest of our generation, if you ask me), but also a killer singer / songwriter and a very generous human being. LOST THEMES, the Carpenter family masterpiece, is a highlight of John’s decades-long career and made me discover the talents of Cody, which I further explored through his solo project LUDRIUM. Cody is an incredible talent: a stellar musician, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and an author of really compelling songs. He’s also a real gentleman. And Darren Travis… well, what can I say about an absolute hero of mine? The first time I heard him sing on A VISION OF MISERY was total epiphany. I was 18 years old at the time and I felt he was speaking directly to me, of my experiences. Somehow we connected in person, and we have been friends since 2002. They are all incredibly inspirational persons. All of the collaborations with these beautiful people took place because of the way we connected through music – I got in touch and they liked my ideas enough to be a part of the album. I feel blessed and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for making it happen. They really made the album what it is.
You released a music video for “To Live And Die On The Air” earlier this year. The Romero influence here is quite obvious, but can you tell us about how the music and the images came together as they did?
I had the idea for the song while watching TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. by William Friedkin for the first time ever. I just heard the main section of the song playing in my head during a certain part of the movie that had no underlying score to it. My brain just heard these sounds come together, so I had to pause the film to get on my DAW (digital audio workstation) and write the parts. It was amazing. The day after that, I was listening back to the main structure and almost instantly got the idea to pair the music with a single pan shot filmed in slow motion, and that’s when the rest of the clip came together in my head. I’ve been working on it for more than five months with some incredible people, and I am very proud of the final result. It is filled with small references to not only George Romero, but John Carpenter and William Friedkin as well, as I really wanted to pay tribute to their influential work.
At one point, Crazed Pixel Comics was working on a Confrontational-inspired comic. Any news on that and if there will be a collaborated effort between it and the band?
I found out about Crazed Pixel Comics via Alex Murd’s incredible re-imaging of MARTIN, which was posted on a George Romero fan page on FB. We got in touch and expressed mutual respect for our works, exchanging ideas, thoughts and playlists. She came forth one day to let me know how much she enjoyed DONE WITH YOU, my first EP, and she went on to show me this amazing comic that according to her was completely inspired by the songs on the EP. You can actually find the digital version of the comic here. When I first read it, I must admit it felt as if somebody cracked my skull open to take a look into some of my most intimate thoughts – and coincidentally, some of the stuff I obsess about. I’m not sure how, but Alex captured a good portion of my psyche, re-arranged it and filtered it through ink and paper. I guess that’s what happens between artists who are fine tuned on the same range of frequencies… I’m blown away each time I read it. She’s a very talented author, I am a big fan of her work. We have been talking about the possibility of doing something together, and personally I would love to make it happen. Fingers crossed!
Not only is A Dance Of Shadows available digitally, but you have also made it available through a limited edition CD and cassette tape. There’s even a limited edition poster! I know that there has been a resurgence of love for vinyl records, but what drew you to make a poster and cassette edition?
Cassettes are definitely back, big time. Just ask METALLICA. I wanted to spice up the interest for collectors worldwide and have a chance to do something that I’ve actually wanted to do since starting out on music around 1998 (but that’s a whole different story). It was interesting to come up with the artwork for the different layouts and I wanted this to be a special occasion. It’s a very limited run of 50 copies, personally signed and hand numbered. As for the poster, the cover by BRANCA STUDIO (Barcelona based masters of doom) looks so damn good that it just had to be done. It conveys the perfect cinematic aspect and feel to the music. And I figured, with the digital album priced at 5 euros, you add 2 more and get a physical copy of something that looks gorgeous. Why not?
These days I’m trying to find out if there might be label interest to also release a vinyl edition. But it’ll have to be under proper conditions. If that won’t happen, I’ll try to get it done via crowdfunding after all of the tapes and CDs will sell out – it shouldn’t take long now at the current rate.
Confrontational participated in the Synthzilla Festival on Halloween in Lyon, France. What was it like to perform your material there and how was the reception?
Simply mind blowing, the very best performance of my entire life! The crowd was beyond amazing, incredibly receptive, totally into the tracks. I’d stare down the mic and see people singing together with me – it’s something I’ve never had the chance to experience before in such a capacity. A very humbling experience. The club was packed, the sound was flawless, the other artists on the bill were really friendly and professional. The staff was so great, the organizers are some of the sweetest people on Earth and they treated us like long-time friends. It was so beautiful and I just can’t wait to perform in France again, hopefully very soon.
What does the future look like for Confrontational? Tours, releases, and music videos?
As far as touring goes, we need to spread the word out there before taking the band out. There has to be some sort of notion of the music existing, for us to be able and book some shows. We’ve been blessed with the invitation to SYNTHZILLA and I’m trying to see if we can get booked into similar situations. Every little bit of help is vital, so I’ve been asking all of the new listeners to share pics of the LP on their social media to help spread the word. People seem to genuinely care about this music, so it’s really exciting to work together towards this common goal!
Right now I am working on the MAKING OF clip for TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR, and it should be ready quite soon. I’ll also resume work on more upcoming videos soon. Finally, I’m also working on new songs – I can’t seem to stop doing that. I got 8 new track ideas and a working title for a new release. But I want to take my time before entering the studio again… I don’t want to rush it.
Thank you so much, Max, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me! If you could say just one thing that you think would convince a skeptic to check out your music, what would it be?
DARK RETRO WAVE. Isn’t that enough? Thank YOU for having me here and for your time, Barry. It’s been a true pleasure, as usual!
Buy A Dance Of Shadows: From The Band