Fredo Viola reflects on working with director Lulu Wang on his version of “Senza Di Te,” recorded for her award-winning film “The Farewell”

Photo credit: Nicholas Kahn

Viola’s “My New Head,” arrives April 9th; Neil Gaiman says, “It’s what pop music would sound like if it were made by unborn psychedelic ghost.

“It was a thrill to hear my version of “Senza Di Te” played at the Golden Globe ® Awards when Awkwafina won,” exclaims Fredo Viola, the singer, songwriter, and multi-media artist whose musical  contribution to director Lulu Wang’s award-winning film “The Farewell” drew new attention to his acclaimed catalog of work earlier this year.

“I was so excited for the opportunity to work on the song, that I recorded a version before even getting hired,” he remembers. “I was thrilled to share it with Lulu, and she thought it was beautiful, but not exactly what she needed, so she was quite exacting and directed my vocal performance as if it were an acting performance. ‘More emotion, Fredo, I want you crying!,” she told me.
 
“I was also tasked to set up a studio session with a bunch of her friends and mine so we could morph the song into an actual karaoke session. Two hours and two bottles of tequila later, we had the conclusion of this recording, and very much like the film, it was a sad, joyful, and amazing experience.”

About| Fredo Viola | “In My Mouth” (Live Cluster Video)
 
Next up for Viola is his long-awaited new album My New Head, out April 9th, 2021. The album’s first single “Pine Birds” arrives on Jan. 15th, and now Viola has offered a sneak preview into song “In My Mouth” via one of his unique “cluster videos,” which he records live, presenting some unexpected challenges and surprises.
 
“The piano that rises up in the climax of the song was wildly difficult to play,” he says. “The final take was the first time, after an hour of practicing, that I was able to get through it without a mistake. To be honest, if it weren’t for COVID, I would probably have had professional pianist play it, but for these experimental live videos, awkwardness can only add character.

“Ultimately, I am quite proud to be using my own, more primitive playing, and it’s is extremely fun because you only have so much control, so lots of amazing surprises happen.”

My New Head magically manages to bring listeners so close to Viola’s inner workings in its mere 35 minutes, and “In My Mouth” shows him at his most vulnerable.
 
Viola sings, “And now I wanna take a little bit of you in my mouth. And now I wanna make a dream come over this house. I only started to take you into my heart. Because of pride my smile is purple orange, and it’s twisted in place, with barbs and lashes at the edges,  stretching open my face.”
 
“These lyrics are perhaps the most vulnerable and uncomfortably honest I’ve ever written,” he says. “All of this honesty, vulnerability and nakedness is very new to me.”

Fredo Viola
My New Head
April 9th, 2021
(Revolutionary Son)
 

Track Listing:

01. Demolition
02. Pine Birds
03. Waiting For Seth
04. Clouded Mirror
05. Black Box
06. Kick The Sick
07. Stars and Rainbows
08. Sunset Road
09. In My Mouth
10. Edwin Vargas
11. My Secret Power

Ugly beauty. Euphoric and fabulous.
 
Fredo Viola’s masterpiece My New Head (Revolutionary SonApril 9th, 2021) begins with the old head being pulled apart.
 
The album opens with an introduction of Pavlovian bells ringing out from a jewelry box of fine cut rocks that represent the jagged edges of Viola’s mind. Brought to this renewed having overcome a five-year bout with Lyme disease, the music is filled with his feelings of gratitude, as well as the trepidation that comes with having to re-understand existence.
 
“Every bit of social, artistic and cultural framework that had kept me supported for so many years had come into question and I was beginning to build again from scratch,” he explains. “You will hear power tools pulling out old screws, hammering planks out of place; you can feel the rumbling vibration of a foundation ready to fall apart.”

Only “ready.”
 
Viola left the framing to build upon, fashioning and refurbishing, better than before. A new psychic home or at least the setting for a renewed life to unfold.
 
The influence of composer Kurt Weill looms lovingly over My New Head. His 1928 music for Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” meets at a modern intersection with the theatricality of Kate Bush’s catalog, and suddenly, we are inside a series of stories, not just an album of songs.

“I was obsessed with his music for years prior to writing this album,” Viola says of Weill. “All of it. The German works, the American Theater works. I love the twists and turns, the odd kinks that his music always has. He always wrote catchy melodic material but is not afraid of the ugly. Ugly beauty. It’s euphoric and fabulous.”
 
Viola began on the piano as a child and the music on My New Head emerged from those hands, through the keys, with a stop to pick up bits of his long-held affection for composers and pianists, Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten.

In particular, Britten’s operatic, orchestral, and chamber pieces haunt My New Head’s darker moments, and the friendship the two composers shared isn’t lost on Viola, as a component of the theme of re-birth that runs throughout the album.
 
“There’s that non-frilly, bare-bones intelligence to Shostakovich’s arrangements, especially in their first forms for voice and piano. Britten did exactly the same, and I was impressed by the fact that they would mail each other their song cycle works like pen pals,” Viola says.
 
My New Head is so densely layered — even in its quiet moments — that discussing what we aren’t hearing becomes as relevant as discussing what we are.

“Arrangements by soundtrack composers such as Maurice JaubertMaurice JarreAlex North and Ennio Morricone have a very unpretentious creativity that has inspired me so much,” Viola says. “These scores are sparkling, surprising and imaginative, yet simple. I was also inspired by the 70s jazz recordings by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The nakedness of the writing, the directness and warmth of the recordings… this was a sound I was going for. It’s one of the reasons why I pared the arrangements down so drastically.”
 
These sparse pieces are the rich soil that Viola describes as being “tended lovingly with the aim of growing a brand new head between my two shoulders,” hoping for listeners to “identify with the dense weedy patches, the prickly overgrowth, the momentous but fleeting discovery of a rare flower, and, beneath the surface, the ever churning and eternal earth worms.”
 
Ugly beauty. Euphoric and fabulous.

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