In Conversation: Carla dal Forno
It's a rainy afternoon in the first week of Autumn and Carla dal Forno is sat in an empty record shop, the walls packed with vinyl.
We're seated in Low Company, the East London record shop where she previously worked, and it's only a few streets from her home studio.
If she seemed serene then that's probably because she is. New album 'Look Up Sharp' was completed some weeks ago, the follow up to her Blackest Ever Black debut 'You Know What It’s Like '(2016) and it's follow-on EP 'The Garden EP (2017).
This new record, though, is marked by subtle progression. Released on her own Kallista imprint, it was completed by the Melbourne-via-Berlin artist in London, a city she now calls home.
The darkness of her previous material remains, but amid the analogue electronic melancholia shards of light pervade, with her subtle humour casting renewed nuance on the most direct of lines.
An album with allusions to The Cure, one that is informed by her live shows and numerous other projects, 'Look Up Sharp' is assured but open, the work of a musician eager to cast spells.
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So, you’re based in London full-time now.
I’ve been in London for over two years now. I’ve been London-centric. It definitely does feel like a base. I’ve got the visa now so went through the whole process of getting that through.
I feel very committed... like it makes you choose. I have a home studio. I’ve been so lucky I’ve never had a noise complaint at all. And I mainly work throughout the day because I am not a productive night person. No matter how loudly I’ve cranked it they’ve never complained.
How did you go about assembling a home set up?
At first it was because I didn’t have much space or the finances. I just had the instruments that were handed to me. Even if I could get more gear I just kind of think it’s nice to have some limitations and it kind of refines your sound.
I’m still in love with the synth that I’ve been using since day one. I’m not sick of it yet. My amps are always giving up on me. I can’t be the only musician who experiences this. It must be universal being in the right space and then suddenly something malfunctions. That’s just part of it.
Are you the sort of person who would feel lost if they were placed in a huge studio, with an infinite array of kit?
I have had that experience. I’ve done a residency in Rotterdam once and they had all those modular synths there and I got hardly anything done there. There were so many things that I wasn’t very familiar with and I just kind of try but yeah, I’m definitely more productive because of the limitations I’ve set for myself.
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Do you feel like there is a break between your two albums?
I think there’s definitely continuity but then I think that things are changing as well.
Is it enforced change, then?
I think it happens organically. There are ways of working that aren’t even conscious that are attracted to certain melodies or rhythms or patterns and stuff but I definitely like to think of albums as a whole.
I was into reading way before I was into music. I think the structure of novels and short stories and that kind of stuff always felt like it is a way to think about an album. How do things link together and tell a story. Instead of having just like a bunch of tracks that are being put together.
‘Don’t Follow Me’ seems to lean on The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, which is interesting.
Sure. I mean, I made the music before I wrote the lyrics and when I was writing the lyrics I heard The Cure’s ‘A Forest’ track and that was kind of the trigger for writing the lyrics that I wrote.
I thought it was a funny idea in that track the guy, this singer is being threatened by this female presence in the woods that would lead him to danger. I think it’s much more realistic that a women is threatened by a man in the forest. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, a bit of a joke. It helped me to come up with the story.
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There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect on much of your work.
I like humorous lyrics. I think that’s something that hasn’t been commented on as much. People are more likely to talk about the sadness and the gloom or the melancholy in my music. But when I’m writing it I’m definitely like jokes I like having fun. I am interested in a multi-faceted approached to viewing life and stories and situations.
How would that relate to ‘Don’t Follow Me’, then?
The inspirations for the lyrics also came from a book called The River. It’s about a woman living in London and there’s this scene where’s she walking by the river and fireworks start coming up and then there’s someone following her.
It was very atmospheric and spooky and that was kind of a trigger for me as well.
Does that link to the solitary way you write, as well?
Sure, yeah, I think. I started in bands so making music wasn’t solitary until a few years later. So yeah that’s what I really like about music it seems very communal and people feel together and apart of something.
And there’s the growth of digital communities, too – despite not living there, you can still interact with people in Melbourne.
Yeah the scene there is always really strong, I think, and I’m definitely still in touch with people from Melbourne.
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Is making music a field of constant growth, do you think?
I think I am always improving. When I was starting with the first album my production skills were very limited. I had never recorded myself playing anything at all. I was using my Mac book microphone to record the whole album.
It was all just trial and error and learning I think that I’m always continuing to learn with this album but also I’m using one piece of gear. I've got a really nice microphone which makes a difference and it probably means that you can hear my voice a bit more clearly on this record. Perhaps, I think that’s what I hear anyway. I have a soundcard now as well.
Does performing live help with the growth of your confidence?
Definitely. 100%. Playing live also means that my voice has gotten stronger. I think I am a better singer now then I was when I first started. Even with the content when I’m by myself in the studio.
I think that the stories that I’m sharing generally include that internalisation and trying to connect with people on the outside. I can’t even relate to how I felt before playing songs of the first album. I’m much more comfortable now and I have been working with my bandmate and we’ve been working with each other for two years now.
We are really in sync and yeah I still need to figure out how to play some of the tracks from the album live. I haven’t done it yet. That’s going to be the next month before the tour starts.
How do you actually begin writing a song? What’s the root?
I think I just try and keep things moving. So like sometimes I think I’m going to write a beat and a bassline and a vocal melody and other times I’m just trying to experiment and do things that I’m not familiar with.
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So, would you challenge yourself to write a Juan Atkins techno jammer, then?
I’ve never tried to make techno because I feel like it’s something I don’t really understand well enough to do justice to. Sometimes yeah I feel more inspired by a particular style than another. I’ve always listened to more music from the ‘80s and current than ‘90s or early 2000s.
Then last year I and I got obsessed by it. I was listening to Portishead that I hadn’t really listened to either and that the last track on the album was influenced by those listening experiences. And UK trip hop kind of influences.
I do get quite particular about especially drum sounds even though I haven’t put any time into actually studying it. There’s so much technical information that one can consume to learn about that. I just get quite focussed on making the drums sound quite right.
There’s a rawness to your sound as well, though.
Yeah I think I’ve always liked lo-fi sounds. I think for whatever reason a lo-fi sound can feel more ambient than something produced in a studio which sounds quite manufactured. And I think combining these two can sound very interesting.
What is about those two eras – 80s and 00s – that grab you so much?
I think it’s because you can hear the artist hand a bit more obviously. There was so much experimentation in the ‘80s there were so many new instruments to play with. So, I always enjoyed that kind of music.
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Were you prolific during these album sessions?
I had to cut stuff before deciding on the track list on the album. Which was a new experience for me I never had that before I always had just about enough stuff to make a release.
Does that link back to an appreciation for limitation?
It was partly that and I partly and I kind of set myself a deadline. Thematically I just feel like these tracks work together. A number of the tracks I thought, well I\m was not going to be happy with this by the deadline that I set myself... and yeah, I just felt like these tracks worked together.
Are those tracks gone for good, then?
No, they are still around and they may make something for a future release. I might come back to them later.
It was interesting because I made a lot of stuff and at time I would think that’s a waste of a day and then months later I would come back and work something and it would start to feel like it was useable and a lot of the tracks on the album were started like that. It was all part of that process.
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Was there a moment where the album began to crystallise, or where it’s shape and form began to poke through more explicitly?
Maybe ‘No Trace’ the first track. I only finished that right before the album was finished. It was one of the last track we finished but I started it ages ago. I would’ve been working on that for over a year. There would be a six month gap in between.
I didn’t think it was going to become anything but my partner who was always there that was his favourite track.
It must be good to have someone to bounce these ideas off…
I am very good at procrastination but I’m also good at forcing myself to work even if I don’t feel in the mood. I just think that you have to be disciplined to get stuff done. You can’t just expect to be feeling inspired and creative every single day.
You can’t force creativity.
I like to have a balance in my life and I think if I tour too much I start to not like what I am doing. I love touring, I love playing shows but the stuff in between can get quite tiring. So I’m going to be playing quite a bit but I’m going to look on how the moment is manageable.
And spending some time in Low Company, as well.
I still spend a lot of time going through to the racks and finding new stuff. It’s a nice shop to be in.
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'Look Up Sharp' is out now.
Photo Credit: Sam Huddleston
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