Outside Caffé Sant’Eustachio students and cabbies, bankers and brokers, pundits and senators sip espresso and mock the news. Starbucks, the US coffee...
Roberto Cavallo, Nate Kantner and Matteo Flori may come from different continents but they’ve melded their talents into the band, Heavy Wood. Known for their signature “hard folk” sound and animated performances, the trio begins their first US tour on June 23 and will debut July 7 at the Firkin Tavern in Portland.
Where are you from? What is your earliest music memory?
Rob: Faggiano, Puglia (deep southern Italy). Nice question - I remember when I was six running around my bedroom with a thick piece of wood held like a guitar. I was pretending to play this “thing” while listening to loud AC/DC or Metallica music.
Nate: Bozeman, Montana. This question makes me think of that Paul Simon song. He has such a clear memory of this; it’s so cool. I wish I could remember stuff like that from when I was little.
Were you always interested in music? How did your family influence you?
Rob: My cousin was mentoring my older brothers about hard rock and heavy metal music. As a little kid, I was totally digging listening to those tunes. Eventually I loved it more than my brothers. I turned out to be the only one to play an instrument in the family, thank God.
Nate: Come to think of it, I remember my dad had a drum set in the basement. I used to smash them. Put on records and destroy the heads. My dad was pretty annoyed. I was convinced that I had ruined the drums.
How many instruments do you play? Where did you train or are you self-taught?
Rob: Guitars - and I love playing drums. I studied classical guitar at the Conservatory of Music G. Paisiello, in Taranto, with Giovanni Corsi, a great guy and a groundbreaking teacher. Songwriting aside, I also compose music for motion pictures; I feel I’m self-taught in that field.
Nate: I am good at faking instruments. I can fake guitar, harmonica, piano, lots of other stuff if you give me a day or two. The only thing I’ve been trained in at all is singing.
Since you didn’t all come from the same spot on the globe, how did you get together? Where did the band’s name come from?
Rob: I met Nate in Perugia during a jam session in a little club called Buskers. There was a massive trend of tribute bands in Italy (it’s still trending), so when Nate found out I was writing original songs it felt stupid not to make a band. I’m positive Nate came up with the name. To me it’s a cool name, in a sense very meaningful to what we sound like.
Nate: I met Rob in Italy. He was playing with some other guys at the time, long time ago, and I started playing with them. Eventually it morphed into Heavy Wood.
You describe your music as “hard folk” and “Ennio Morricone getting drunk with AC/DC, when Eugene from Gogol Bordello shows up” – how did you get to this sound? What do you consider the biggest influence on your style?
Rob: Playing heavy music with acoustic instruments is tough. The reason why is that acoustic guitars are really hard to control when they have to fight with some rocking drums. If you do manage to have that control, then the typical Heavy Wood sound just comes out of your speakers. AC/DC and Ennio Morricone music hit me right in the chest since I was a kid.
Nate: They say you’re supposed to be able to compare your music to established artists, music industry tip I got. Not sure I buy any of it though. All my musical influences come from people close to me - Rob, my dad, my friends.
Now tell me about the Drawk guitar. How did that come about? Why was that particular sound so important to you?
Rob: One day I was wondering if I could play basslines and guitar riffs, at the same time. So the Drawk guitar was born. It has a particular full sound that I had never heard before. I wouldn’t play this guitar in other bands. It fits perfectly in Heavy Wood.
Nate: Rob has about 30 insane ideas per day. Most of them don’t stick, fortunately. This one did stick though...fortunately!
Where do your lyrics come from? Do you try for a specific message?
Rob: I’m Italian, so I first have to make sure my lyrics make sense in English. Nate helps me with that. I help him too when he writes lyrics in Italian. I’m not really conceptual in this matter. I usually write the music first and then I feel like the lyrics are buried somewhere in the song already. I just have to find them and write them down.
Nate: No message, but that’s not to say I don’t have anything to say. It just depends on the song. I could probably tell you where some of the lyrics come from, but those wouldn’t be the better songs. Honestly, the best songs, it’s hard to remember where the lyrics came from.
Who are your typical fans?
Rob: Those who want to hit-the-gas when they listen to an energetic song. Air guitarists/drummers. Those who want to feel emotions, to sing along, to dance along while listening to our songs.
Nate: I think a lot of people like acoustic music, but we have so many singer-songwriters and folk-rock bands in this world. Same can be said about punk bands and rock bands, bands that you dance to, or mosh. Our typical fans just want a little more energy, or power, or style, whatever lacks for them. They want something different.
Tell me about your upcoming tour. How did it come together?
Nate: I just reached out to people. In Italy, everything is sort of agency-driven. In the states, the venues really take pride in the music they present. People responded to emails, checked out the links, listened to the music and watched the videos. I sent a private message to the Facebook page of Eichardt’s in Sandpoint, Idaho and people that work there were all watching the video, responding to the message, telling the booking agent to book us! That doesn’t happen in Italy.
As you look back on your time together and have seen the direction that Heavy Wood has traveled, what are your high points?
Rob: It’s a long time since the world doesn’t hear a rock band coming from Italy. It would be more than amazing if we were to be the next one.
Nate: Number one is we are still a band. That is easily the hardest thing for a band to do, stay together. It’s a different band now, but there were times when it just didn’t seem like it would work out. Now we look back and we’ve played hundreds of shows, hard to believe.
Where do you want to go next with your music?
Rob: Playing live shows.
Nate: I’ve wanted to get Heavy Wood to the States for a long time, so right now we’re focused on that. Playing great shows in the US, and great shows in Italy.
Are you working on an album right now?
Nate: Our first album comes out in October. We’re mixing it now. We’re having our CD release show in Italy at a great venue called “Urban”; then hopefully we can get to the US by winter to tour. We think it will have great appeal to both Italians and Americans.
What can we expect in the near future? Any unexplored sound you want to add?
Nate: Well, you can expect more from us, that’s for sure. As for unexplored sounds, we don’t really take that approach. Our sound will change and evolve, but we just have to wait and see how. So many things could be considered “Heavy Wood,” but it’s not something you want to force.
Check out their website www.heavywoodband.com