Well-traveled musician Porcelain Raft (real name Mauro Remiddi) prefaced our pre-show chat last Thursday with, “You’ll have a lot of editing to do,” but we later realized there was no cause for concern. There was a distinct European element to his answers, which were vague and universally-applicable yet strikingly honest and sincere. He played to a warm and very diverse crowd that drizzly evening at Bottom of the Hill.
Read below for his introspective thoughts on moving around, changing his setup, and his latest creative burst with Half Awake, out last month via his own label, Volcanic Field.
How is touring different, now that you’re based on the West Coast?
The weather is different. The people are different. But to be honest, once you’re in a car travelling six hours, eight hours or more, you don’t really see much difference besides the landscape. You rarely get to talk with anybody, and then you start playing and you realize, oh – that’s why I’m here. This is worth it. It feels like more than just going from one stage to the other. The difference I feel is onstage with the people and the crowd.
A lot of bands on the West Coast feel it’s too far between cities.
It is, it’s a lot of driving. But I’m not a complainer. I like doing this.
All the moving around you’ve done — how does it affect your writing?
To be honest, not much at all. In the sense of… I feel where you are influences or knowledges your music. Obviously something changes – it could be the weather, the people around you. At the end of the day, however, you’re writing things that are within yourself. I don’t think the fact that I changed cities a lot changes my composition skills or anything. What’s in myself is nothing to do with outside. The travelling side of things is just how I used to be; every five or two years, my family would move. That’s how I’m wired. I don’t know what it means to own a house and be there. I don’t think my music is affected by it.
To say that my music changes from one city to another would be a lie.
I can relate to [moving around a lot as a child]. You almost learn more about yourself because your surroundings change so much.
You see what I mean? It’s within.
Do you feel like LA’s temporary, too?
I never feel like anything’s temporary. When I’m there, I’m there. I’m never asking, “What’s next?” LA feels right, because… some cities allow you to have time to read a book and some cities don’t. LA does.
Yes. I love LA. Try to read a book in London. Get Infinite Jest — it would probably take five years to read a book there; you need some quiet around. Reading is connected to noise and the ear. It’s like you’re hearing a voice in your head, which means you need silence around.
Do you write in silence?
I need quiet. I lived in London and New York and loved it, but when I write, I need to close my door and the world is out. It’s about the space within.
Tell me about “Half Awake.” The lyrics are so visual, imaginative. What “giant insects are eating the sun?”
I’m talking about being half awake — you mix the image of the dream with a memory or somebody you miss. When you are half awake you mix states within yourself. Half is a dream, half is someone you’re missing, half is actually your room. You’re looking out the window… it’s all these things melting together. The feeling of being half awake. Those sentences sound so real because dreams are so surreal. You have that sentence, but then “I just need to see you again.” You have this back and forth between dream and reality in this half-awake state of mind. That’s what I like about it. It’s not defined. There are no borders. Everything lives together in one space that stays with you for maybe a minute.
How long are you half awake? Probably thirty seconds, but thirty very important seconds.
When you wake up? Not when you go to bed.
Yes. The start of the day. You’ve been through a dream.
What time of day is that for you?
Right now in LA, it’s actually 7 o’clock.
In the morning? Just making sure, haha.
In the morning. Back in New York, it was 9 o’ clock.
It seems with the new EP, you hit a creative groove building your label, printing your own art, etc. How was making Half Awake different from your previous albums?
The instruments I had recording Strange Weekend (2012) were ones I had for five years. I was very hands on. I knew them. After that, I thought, “I’m going to sell all this stuff. I’m going to buy new instruments.” So that’s what I did for Permanent Signal (2013). For Half Awake, it’s a completely different setup again. I don’t like repeating myself, creating borders or limits with my instruments.
That’s why Strange Weekend may sound more confident. Because I’d been with those instruments longer. But I’m not after confidence; I don’t care about it. I want to share other things. I don’t think being confident is a quality in music.
Otherwise you’d be a rapper, of course. Being able to question yourself is good.
Right, you’re asking who you are, and sometimes the answer is not that pleasant. Maybe you don’t like yourself, and you have to face it – write a song about it. It’s facing things, which is not just about being confident or making statements, it’s not feeling right and having the conversation about it. It’s not about being on a podium with a microphone and announcing to people, “This is it!” There are no mics or amplification in a conversation.
It sounds like your relationship with your instruments is like your relationship with places.
I never thought about it like that. That’s very true.
Is there any one instrument that you’ve owned for a long time?
No, but my earliest instrument was piano. I started there. I’m not too attached to the physical instruments.
How young were you when you started piano. Did you have lessons or were you self-taught?
Fifteen, sixteen. Self-taught.
Oh wow. Can you confirm that you’ve never done any collaborations as Porcelain Raft? Is there a specific reason for that?
I like to collaborate, but Porcelain Raft is something else. For example, I’m collaborating with David Moore, but as myself. We’re just jamming and putting stuff on Soundcloud. It’s called Emar Diem.
So what’s the plan for [your new label,] Volcanic Field? Is it just for your own releases or are you hoping to bring more talent in?
For now, it’s just me. It might be a more collective thing at some point. I have a clear idea of what I want to show; I feel I don’t want to mess around. It’s a display of what I’m doing, but it’s a work in progress. Record labels want something complete; they ask, “Is it going to sell?” I needed a place where I could be a work in progress without needing to justify myself.
That must be great, all that freedom. How are the cassettes doing?
Well! I have ten left. It’s also an EP, so it’s something small – it’s not meant to be a statement or anything. It’s a little thought. The idea of the cassette is not the format, it’s knowing that you have 1 of 100. The artist did this exclusively for you; we lost this with downloads and record shops. It’s nice to have a format where you know you’re the only one who has it.
My first buy (at sixteen) was a cassette. It was The Colour of Spring by Talk Talk; then I bought Depeche Mode… you know, all these things you buy at sixteen. My father had records, but cassettes were cheaper for us kids.
This was before CDs.
I never liked CDs and still don’t. I know what cassette is.
Do you have any special routines while on tour to maintain your falsetto?
Not really. Just ten minutes before the gig I might do some warm ups. I at least need to be alone somewhere for ten minutes to focus. It’s about the energy.
What are some things that you try to keep conscious of at each performance?
I’m never in one state. It’s a hundred states and layers, one after the other. Ten seconds I’m self-aware, the next ten I’m completely lost.
I’m glad you’re not afraid to do that onstage.
It’s not fear, really; it’s just never the same. I’ve had some bad nights as well.
Alright. Last question. Of all the places you’ve lived, name a place you’ve can get a really good coffee.
New York, easily.
A really good pizza?
Italy, come on. [laughs]
Just every time I see my dog, Charlie.
The best street musicians?
In Italy, but they come from all over the world. There’s an annual festival for buskers; they unite there every year. Rome as well. The best buskers go there. It’s insane.
Article by Joanna Jiang