Interview: Fabrizio Leo

Guglielmo Malusardi: I would like to begin talking about this twofold clamorous event, of which you are the main protagonist. Tell us how the entire matter developed.

Fabrizio Leo: Everything started from the day when the Citriniti brothers (Danilo and Domenico) called me to play all the guitars on their instrumental CD. Almost at the end of mixing, I was told to send them a CD including my best tracks and obviously the work I did for them. In my drawer, I keep a huge quantity of instrumental tracks on mini disks (about 400) recorded over the past few years. I chose the ones I liked the most and then I sent them. The brothers sent everything to four labels, Shrapnel Records included, and waited for positive responses. One day the great Mike Varney wrote us back, telling us he would like to produce both works! I have to thank Danilo and Domenico for this dream. Without their patience and willingness, I would have probably spent my life thinking, "Is my music really cool, or am I pitiful?"

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did you feel when, clicking on the web page with upcoming Shrapnel releases, you saw the cover of both CDs near others such as Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore?

Fabrizio Leo: A wonderful feeling. I immediately called a lot of friends and told them to check out the web site! I was very excited and, particularly, I ran around shouting at home saying, "Hey, granny! Look at my CD! Hey Mom, look!" My father, disenchanted as usual, said, "Yes, OK, look but what about money? They're gonna cheat you (laughs)!"

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about the genesis of the two projects. Let's start with your solo album.

Fabrizio Leo: I went through the tracks one time, deciding what would work and what would not. I asked Danilo and Domenico's opinion and eventually they agreed with me about my track selection. I had a lot of other interesting tracks but unfortunately they wouldn't fit on the CD. I programmed, mixed and played everything on the album, except for "Depression" where Rossano Eleuteri, a great italian musician, plays the bass. I'll take this opportunity to thank Federico Spotti for the wonderful pictures (I haven't paid them yet!) and Simone Bertolotti, a great keyboard player and arranger, for letting us use his terrace in the photo session.

I want to mention that for the most part, my tracks are dedicated to girls. Every song is a memory, that is why I love them all.

By contrast, I worked really hard for Citriniti's album! All "hard-to-play" tracks, totally sick tempos, cool, and above all, new ideas! But I have to say that they let me do whatever I wanted to do on their tracks. They said, "Let your whole porno-guitar-fantasy flow!" Other good guitarists played on their album, such as Salvatore Cimbrini and Francesco Fareri, who really gave amazing contributions.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The CD has been "home made", like the world famous, real Italian ravioli. Tell us the ingredients and the items you used for the preparation.

Fabrizio Leo: Well, I recorded lots of the CD tracks between the years 1998 and 2000. In that period I owned an Atari computer (it was very, very, and I repeat, very old) which I use for the basic tracks. I used a Roland Sound Canvas for the sounds. Since I couldn't record audio with the Atari, I put every basic track on a Roland digital multi-track with 8 channels. Then I worked on the tracks that were most important for me, such as guitar, solos, rhythms, etc.

I recorded my more recent works on my Mac, using Digital Perfomer. For MIDI sounds I chose a Roland XW-5080. The songs are: "Metal Bragalini", "Yeah Vinnie", "Chat", "Romilda, "Lonely But Not Forever", "Autoregistrazionecerebrale" (the last track of the CD I recorded), and eventually "Depression". When I made my final track selection, I mixed both the old and the new ones with Danilo Citriniti. I played everything with these guitars: an Ibanez Revolution Steve Vai model, a Music Man Silhouette 24 keys, a Steinberger and a Liutart Washington. I used a Mesa Boogie Preamp "Triaxis", except for "Mai Dire Blues", where I use a Line 6, and "Autoregistrazionecerebrale". where I use a Boss GT-6. I used the effects within Digital Performer for stuff like delay, phaser, chorus etc.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which of your album tracks did you take the most time to compose?

Fabrizio Leo: I think "Total Eclipse". It was quite hard to program it because it's so full of time changes and stuff like that. From the guitaristical view, "Cutaway" and "Chat". The latter, in particular, was very difficult. I was never enthusiastic about the harmony; it didn't convince me. It seemed to be too technical, with no "taste". I kept on editing, then at the end, so fed up, I decided to keep it that way. On "Cutaway", in comparison, it took a lot to get the riff at the beginning and the arpeggiated sequence after it, but the end result satisfies me a lot - it's cool at the right point. I was very attached to that song, and I'll tell you that, in most people's opinion, "Cutaway" is still the favored track.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What kind of approach did you take with your guitar solos? Did you write them beforehand, or did you just improvise?

Fabrizio Leo: I prepared and wrote everything in detail. It had to be clean and precise, the way I want! Well, I'd say... nearly! There are only two little mistakes in tonality on "Cyborg In Love", and little things on other tracks. I decided to leave them intact, in order to keep the feel of the original solo. Unfortunately, I'm not a machine...

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you keep the first take, or did you record everything until the sound was right?

Fabrizio Leo: On the initial tracks, I kept on repeating the main theme because I played it with no "feeling". If I failed, I just stopped and did everything the day after. Some solos sounded great on the first take, it all depends on whether I was concentrating enough or not that day. When I recorded "Total Eclipse", "Lonely But Not Forever", "Black Man", "Giorgi House" and "Illusion" I worked as a roofer. I worked for the whole day and when I got back in the evening, I always played or recorded. Sometimes I got really tired, so I studied and didn't think about what I was doing. I just did it to train my fingers. Some of my tracks were created while I was on a five or six floor building! I created, sang, stared at all the things around me, then I came back home and stayed awake until 3 o' clock in the morning to record my ideas. Just four hours later (at 7 o' clock) I had to wake up and go back to work!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Are you attached to a particular song for any reason?

Fabrizio Leo: Yes, two songs. The first one is "The Sabrina's Black Glasses". I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever written. In 1998 I dedicated it to a little girl who always listened to my music when I played in piano bar with other two friends of mine, Roberto Genco and Roger Ronzio. She wore a funny pair of black glasses and she was really sweet. She knew all the songs by heart. She inspired me for this track.

The second one, "Giorgi House", is written for a great drummer, Giovanni Giorgi; in my opinion he's one of the best Italian drummers. He was impressed by the way I compose and program drums. He was so happy that he introduced me to a lot of very good musicians from Milan, including the inimitable Gigi Cifarelli. I also wrote a song for him. I remember Giovanni created the drums I used in that song, great job Gio!

Guglielmo Malusardi: The third track has got an interesting title ("Yeah Vinnie"), are you referring to anyone in particular?

Fabrizio Leo: Well, you know it's dedicated to the great Vinnie Moore, he's my favorite! In my life I dedicate songs to people I love, so I just had to do a song for him too. He gave me a lot of emotions with his music, and he still gives me them! I met him in Milan very recently where he was clinicing on a day off of the U.F.O. European tour, and I was so excited to talk with him. The day after was also amazing! In the front row of his live concert screaming non-stop, "Graaaande Vinnnnnnniiiieeeeeee!" I think I screamed a little bit louder than you!

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Guglielmo Malusardi: What do you expect from this album?

Fabrizio Leo: The respect I've always missed. Since I was a little boy, people thought I was unable to do anything. Now I know it's not that way. I don't care if things could go wrong because the most important thing is that someone like Mike Varney believes in me and in my music. I think that's enough. I don't worry about the rest.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Everyone dreams. Let's imagine that you will sell a lot of both CDs and that you have the chance to do an international tour with Danilo and Domenico. Could this dream come true?

Fabrizio Leo: I don't know. It's still a dream for me to reach very high levels so I prefer not to think about it. I live my life day by day, playing with humility with no paranoia. Anyway, if I ever get rich, I'll invite you and all the guitar fans to have a bath in my private guitar-shaped swimming pool, OK?

Guglielmo Malusardi: Well, the record sales have already brought you some brand new toys...

Fabrizio Leo: Yyyyyyeeeeeah, my new Ibanez "lethal weapons"! One RG2620-CBK Prestige and one JEM77B-RMR Steve Vai signature. I'm so happy with them and I want to thank Giorgio Paganini and Stefano"Sebo" Xotta and Mogar Music Italia for giving me this honor and privilege.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Give us a definition of Fabrizio Leo as a musician.

Fabrizio Leo: Well, I play like many other guitarists. I don't think I'm as good as they say. Maybe, in my view, the only thing I'm good at is composing. I don't like my live performances, for example. I'm never satisfied with the way I play; there's only a few time I say, "Good job, Bicio! (pronounce Beecho, a northern Italian short for to Fabrizio) Tonight you played very well."

Guglielmo Malusardi: Now, as a human.

Fabrizio Leo: So, what can I say? I'm a bit crazy. I'd better say mad! In the "good" sense of course. I say a lot of funny things. I'm shy and a little touchy. In a few words, I'm a funny, good, crazy guy!

Guglielmo Malusardi: We heard that you're a horror movie freak.

Fabrizio Leo: This is the most interesting question of the interview! Well, I actually love horror more than music! Films I love the most are the English productions of Hammer films, such as "The Mummy", "Frankenstein's Mask" and "Dracula" with famous actors like Peter Cushing and the great Christopher Lee. Many Hammer movies are directed by the great craftsman of cinema, Terence Fisher. I love Dario Argento's movies, but only until "Phenomena", then the great work of Pupi Avati ("The House Of The Smiling Windows"), and eventually the genius of Mario Bava!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's conclude with your current and future projects. What are you working on?

Fabrizio Leo: At the moment I just finished recording guitars for Alex Argento's instrumental album which is very close to release. I think it's a great album! I think it will always be remembered in in the world of instrumental music. Other very good guitarists such as Alessandro Benvenuti and Marco Sfogli also contribute parts.

I'm also working on my next album; Citriniti have already recorded all the rhythmic parts on it. Then I have a second project with the brothers, hoping that they can give us the chance to go on. I predict even sicker music! Last but not least, I've nearly finished my audio lessons on sweep picking. I hope to get it published as soon as possible. Fabio Casali is part of this project, he's a great fusion guitarist and a very kind man; he contributed to the theory section and to the transcriptions. I recommend listening to his "Last Five Years" record, which was recently released. Great CD!

Original Italian language interview appeared in Axe Magazine n.112 August 2006 - © Guglielmo Malusardi / Edizioni Palomino

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This is, musically speaking, a historical event. For the first time ever, an italian guitarist, Fabrizio Leo, signs for the prestigious American label Shrapnel Records (headed by Mr. Mike Varney). Not for just for one, but for two recently released projects: "Cutaway" and "Between The Music And Latitude" from the "Thunder southern brothers" Danilo and Domenico Citriniti, in which Leo plays and co-arranges all the tracks. After collaborating in the past, with illustrious Italian pop artists such as Biagio Antonacci and Umberto Tozzi, a new international solo career now begins for the funny imp from Milan.

Guglielmo Malusardi chatted with Leo on the subject of guitar music and the "Shrapnel deal", among other topics.