Sterbus – Let Your Garden Sleep In (Q&A)

Emanuele Sterbini and Dominique D’Avanzo together form Sterbus. Let Your Garden Sleep In, their new record, contains nine songs that are as accessible as they are eccentric.

Emanuele explains how his musical influences, XTC, Zappa, The Beatles, Talk Talk, and, above all, Cardiacs, have shaped the sound of this Power Popera.

You call Let Your Garden Sleep In a Power popera. Did you have a particular concept in mind when you started writing?

Our last album, 2018, “Real Estate / Fake Inverno”, was a double album, had 17 songs, and featured Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith. It was an extensive blend of different styles, from proggy cavalcades to folk-acoustic tunes, from power-punk with odd rhythms to mariner songs and everything in between! It was hard to decide the tracklist because we wanted a change of scenery for every song, a bit like the White Album, that has George Harrison’s quiet “Long long long” right after “Helter Skelter”.

This new album was born during the lockdown, and while we were writing the songs, we saw a pattern linking all of them. This time it was their research for joy, simplicity, nice chords with nice melodies, and we already imagined what kind of arrangements would have suited the song best. For sure, they all needed loud guitars, which gave them the power-pop flavor.

How do you and Dominique work together? How does a Sterbus song come about, or is there no fixed formula?

I start the songs on my own most of the time, finding a first structure with just guitar and a melody. I tend to write melodies singing in a fake/gibberish English cause my priority is the sound of the words. Then Dominique can take my fake words and translate them to actual lines.

Sometimes, like in the song “Polygone Bye” sung by Dominique, the melody comes together while we’re jamming and finding the right chords together. Sometimes during this process, I begin to “visualize” the best form to give to the songs, how many verses, intros, chorus, middle-eights, and then we demo the song, with midi drums, electric guitars, bass, and all the stuff that will be in the final version. I always loved middle-eights, that section that usually comes after the second chorus and brings you to the song coda! Andy Partridge is a master of that. Boring songwriters usually put solos over the verse chords or a useless pause on that part before repeating the last chorus. I hate it!

Let Your Garden Sleep In has a vibrant sound. Did it take you a while to find it, or did you know exactly what you wanted when you started recording?

When we went to the studio, the Jungle Music Factory in Tivoli, near Rome, run by our friend Francesco Grammatico that de facto technically produced the record, we only knew that we wanted a warmer sound than the past record, a little less “glossy” and a bit more earthy, if that makes sense.

So we started tracking drums with Pablo Tarli – who also plays drums in my other band, ZAC – and then we built from there. Riccardo Piergiovanni, our keyboard player, also played a significant role because he wrote the strings arrangement for our first single and album opener, “Nothing of concern”. I’m thrilled cause we had the chance to use real instruments and no midi, so we had a real piano, strings, clarinets, flutes, trumpets, trombones; I played bass and all guitars. Dom played clarinets, flutes and wrote all the lyrics, leaving the song titles to me.

A special mention should go to Al Strachan, the trumpet player in the beautiful Crayola Lectern that gave the last song and album closer “Murmurations,” that late Talk Talk feeling we were trying to achieve. Having real instruments, it’s essential to us; It’s what we heard on our fave records, after all!

“Real Estate / Fake Inverno” also was full of this kind of instrumentation… we even had Celtic harps on that.

Sterbus’ music is influenced by, among others, The Lemon Twigs and XTC. Bands that sound both accessible and eccentric. Are you also looking for that mix with Sterbus, or do I hear things that aren’t there?

Absolutely! But here I need to mention my fave band ever, Cardiacs. I discovered them only in 2006, after years of searching for the perfect band. I grew up listening to Frank Zappa and The Beatles, and then in the early nineties, all the guitar bands that exploded after Nirvana. Cardiacs can be complex and fun, tuneful and abrasive, all simultaneously, sometimes in the same song. Their 1996 album “Sing to God” is a masterpiece, and having their drummer playing on our album in 2018 has been a dream come true. Tim Smith is a genius.

And now all the hard work is done, the record you worked so hard on has been released. Scary and exciting?

You’re right, scared and excited. At the moment we are very happy because the limited edition of 100 hand-numbered copies sold-out out in less than two days and that’s a lot for an independent band like us. We hope our music reaches many people, and we wish to donate a jolly good time to all that will listen to it.

Power-pop to the people!

The digipack “standard” version of the album is available on our Bandcamp page.

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