Interview: Ciro Manna

Guglielmo Malusardi: Although you're very young, your relationship with the guitar has been quite a long marriage. Tell us about how you got started.

Ciro Manna: I began to play guitar when I was fourteen years old; my father had a guitar that he bought when he was young, but he didn't play, and that guitar was hung up on the wall. So one day, I thought that I could try to play it with my friends. From the first time I played it, I 've never stopped.

At the beginning I liked to play Nirvana, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix songs; then I started to play Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci and other guitarists. When I was eighteen years old, I began to listen to jazz and fusion players like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Chick Corea, Michel Petrucciani, Greg Howe, George Benson, Martin Taylor, Scott Henderson, Pat Metheny and Charlie Parker.
At present, I listen to all music.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you attended a music school, take private lessons, or learn on your own?

Ciro Manna: I started to study classic guitar, and now I'm in my eighth year at the Conservatory; I also learned jazz harmony by taking private lessons with a lot of teachers in Italy, and taking part in clinics by famous guitarists like Mike Stern, Andy Timmons, Carl Verheyen, Guthrie Govan, and Greg Koch. But I think the most important part of studying is that everyone try to come out with his or her own style.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When did you realize first that you wanted to be a professional musician?

Ciro Manna: When I was eigtheen years old, after earning the school-living certificate, I expressed to my guitar teacher my dream of becoming a musician and he said I had the ability to do it. He encouraged me a lot, and then I decided to dedicate all my time to music.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about the most significant steps in your musical career.

Ciro Manna: At the age of eighteen I hooked up with a local Show Agency that booked me to do a lot of concerts (about 300 all around Italy); then there was a collaboration with Angelo Abate, a famous Caserta's player, and Adriano Guarino, a great unknown guitarist from Capua.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Then, you released your first instrumental CD. How did you pick the title "Feel'n'Groove"?

Ciro Manna: Listening to guitar-oriented records I have noticed that a lot of them are mainly focused on the guitar, and less on the groove, neglecting the sound of the band. What I tried to do on my CD was to create a huge sound with the bass and drums, giving just the right groove to every riff of the song. "Feel" is related to my feeling about the guitar, and the continual search for my own sound.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When did you start to compose the tunes?

Ciro Manna: I started to compose tunes three years ago. At the beginning, I didn't think of it as a guitar-oriented album, I just recorded nice musical ideas that I spontaneously played. Then I understood with all the stuff I had in my PC, I could have recorded a complete album.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How long did the whole process take, from composing to the release of the CD?

Ciro Manna: I'd been working on it for two years. The most important part had been the work with the band. At first we played songs in live sessions, and then we recorded them in the studio, and this took a whole year.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What was it like to finally have your first CD in your hands?

Ciro Manna: I have to say that the realization of a CD is a very hard work; it needs a great passion and obstinacy, so when I received the first copy of my CD, I felt an emotion that I'll never forget.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Can you take us through the CD, track by track?

Ciro Manna: "Sixteenth Highway" was the track that we recorded in the fastest time; we spent only one day in composing and recording all the instruments! "Ciro's Funk" is one of the first songs I composed and it means a lot to me! I've dedicated "O' Satch O' Boogie" to a great master of the electric guitar, Joe Satriani. He wrote "Satch Boogie". You know, in the dialect of my town, "satch" means "to know", (it's a joke using the same sound of the two words in two different languages) so "O' Satch O' Boogie" means "I know the boogie"! Very funny!

I titled the fourth track "Mosaiko Funk" because I mixed fragments of many different styles. "Rain Fall" is the classic ballad rock that is a must in every rock album. "Sparkles On The Road" is a funky blues/rock tune, i really enjoy playing it! "Groovin' Engine" is one of the more complicated tracks. I remember that the day before the recording session of this tune I didn't have a great ending, so I worked until dusk to write the sheets for all the instruments!

"Anem" is the acoustic ballad that I dedicated to my lovely gilfriend Mena; "Anem" is her name spelled in reverse. "On The Groove" is one of my favorites because in live sessions I always improvise the guitar solo. Big fun! "Slap It Now" is a bonus track done with my guitar and an Octaver for a deeper sound. I really enjoyed playing slap on the guitar, and it is also in sync with the rhythmic heart of the CD!

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Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk now of the guitars, amps, mikes, pedals and effects used on the recordings.

Ciro Manna: I love the natural sound of guitar, so on the recording sessions I used a very simple setup. Two Stratocasters, one hand-made by a local luthier, and a reissue of a '69, as well as a vintage Gibson Les Paul Custom. All the guitars are equipped with 0.10 strings.

The amp I used was a Fender Deville Hot Road 2x12, and some pedal effects: Fulldrive 2, Ibanez TS 808, Akai Headrush II delay, and a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah. The acoustic guitar on "Anem" is a Martin 00042. To mike the amps I used only the AKG 414 at ten centimeters from the speaker, and the acoustic guitar was miked with a Neuman.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And your recording tools?

Ciro Manna: We used Pro Tools software and some plug-in like chorus, delay and compression. The goal was to maintain the more natural sound of the instruments.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Where did you do your recording?

Ciro Manna: I recorded at DNA studio with Angelo Abate in Marcianise (Caserta); the mix was performed at Wip Recording Studio by Enzo Foniciello, and the mastering was done at Sterling Sound in New York by Greg Calbi.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I love how the CD sounds! In my personal opinion, it sounds like a "live in studio" recording. Was that how you imagined the CD should sound?

Ciro Manna: Absolutely! I agree with you; we wanted to give the impression of a live session, but we actually recorded it at different times.

Guglielmo Malusardi: A general consensus is that one's sound comes from the fingers. But according to guitar and amp manufacturers, gear can make a difference. Describe for us in detail the "copyrighted Ciro Manna sound".

Ciro Manna: At home I always play electric guitar without amps and effects, or with a classical guitar; I do that also to improve the natural sound in my hands. Anyway, a good setup can help to make it sound even better! Every time I play, no matter which amp I plug into, the first thing I do is cut down the highs - I prefer a little darker sound.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about your band members now.

Ciro Manna: I'm very lucky, because the members of my band are great musicians and also good friends of mine. I've known them for a lot of years and I play with them in different musical situations.
Angelo Abate is on piano and keyboards; he's like a musical father for me. I learned a lot of things from him. Antonio Muto (on drums), a great "groove machine", and Marco Galiero, on bass, have done a great work on the CD. In live sessions they have a great natural feeling that helps me to play better. Also on the CD, Pierpaolo Veltro plays bass on tracks 3, 5 and 8, Last but not least, keyboard wizard Alex Argento plays on track 7. Check out his amazing solo debut CD "Ego"!

Guglielmo Malusardi: What is your approach to putting together a guitar solo?

Ciro Manna: The first thing that I think is to play something that works well with the rhythm. Then I take care of my touch, sound and timing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: A lot of guitar maniacs consider the song basically as a vehicle that drives you to the main point of the track - the guitar solo. What's your opinion?

Ciro Manna: I think that the song itself is the most important thing, because what we remember after the listening of a track is not a shred phrase but the central theme! Obviously, a solo is an important part of an instrumental track because there a guitarist can express himself using all of his technical and improvisational language.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Describe for us your approach to soloing, during the recording and on stage.

Ciro Manna: Normally, I go in the studio and then start jamming to the solo section, once I have worked out the solo I start recording it. Mostly I work out some ideas at home, but I finalize them in the studio. I unfortunately don't play live too often, but when I do, I stick to the studio version. I really hope to get on the road with this band.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Live time now. You keep a busy schedulte with your band. What equipment you bring with you on stage?

Ciro Manna: My live setup is the same that I use in the studio. I always try to maintain the same sound on stage.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Expressed as a percentage, how much do you improvise when you play live versus keeping true to the music on the CD?

Ciro Manna: I love playing something new at every gig, it stimulates me a lot. I think that about 40% of the time I improvise, and the rest of the time I reproduce the notes heard on the CD because people that know my music and love the solos recorded on the CD want to listen to the original phrases of my songs.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are very active in supporting and promoting the live guitar scene in your home town area.

Ciro Manna: In the last year I've organized some guitar events like clinics and concerts with international guitarists (thanks to my friend and great promoter Riccardo Cappelli) like Guthrie Govan and Carl Verheyen, where I also played, and also guitarists such as Greg Koch. Where I'm from there are a lot of guitarists and guitar lovers but no musical promoters. So I thought that we need these kind of events. In my opinion, these represent some of the great moments growing up, so I'll try to organize as much events as I can!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which one of these heavyweights left the biggest impression on you?

Ciro Manna: I think that everyone of them has his own personality, and they are all great! Their common trait, in my opinion, is that they are not just amazing musicians, but amazing people as well.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's close out the interview with your projects for 2008.

Ciro Manna: On the 4th of April I will open for the Andy Timmons Band. On the 27th of May, Paul Gilbert will come in Caserta - and then more to come! At present I'm preparing new tracks for my second solo album in which there will be some internationally known special guests. So stay tuned! Thanks a lot, and keep the guitar music alive!

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Once upon a time in the music history (the late '70s) a bunch of bands from the United Kingdom created a new vibe on heavy metal music scene. That musical phenomenon was quickly dubbed the "New Wave of British (Heavy) Metal", or for short, "NWOBM". Maybe it's time to find a name for the new wave of Napoletan (guitar) music ("NWONM") for the musical output of musicians such as Ciro Manna, Marco Sfogli, Livio Lamonea and Mimmo Langella. All are from the Naples area, and although they are keeping an outstanding sense of melody in their musical soul, they are offering their listeners a personal and different interpretation of music.

Guglielmo Malusardi spoke with Ciro Manna, one of those NWONM exponents, after a brilliant live performance with his band, where Ciro played music from his solo debut CD "Feel'n'Groove".