ANTONIO GRAM: “If I choose to look at myself through the lens of Antonio Gram, I feel like I’m the best possible version of myself”

photo by Joanna Wróbel

It’s really exciting and really hard at the same time to talk to a musician, who has only released one song so far and – additionally – before his very first live show. However, we decided to give it a try and have a little chat with Esben Valløe during SPOT Festival 2015. Recently a lot of crazy things happened in his life, since he went his own way after splitting up with Reptile Youth and started his own solo project – Antonio Gram. We asked him about music, colours, Berlin life and the electronic music scene in Denmark as you can read in the interview below:

Good because Danish: We were trying to figure out some smart questions, but we have to admit it’s not easy to make an interview with a musician who has only one song released so far and whose first live show ever is still ahead of us. We want to start by asking you about this one track that you decided to release as the first one – “Demons”. It’s just one song which gives an overview of your new project. Why did you choose this particular song to be the first one published?

Antonio Gram: In Danish we say “Stilhed før stormen” – silence before the storm. I think it’s the same in English. I think that phrase explains quite a lot and fits the first single “Demons”. There’s going to be even more groove and even more like… techno on the record. But this is like a nice, smooth beginning. And it’s also a transition for me: from being in a band to being a solo artist.

What is so addictive about techno music that you decided to come back to it?

What I really like about electronic music is that you hear sounds and they do not resemble the sounds in real life. So it’s like a fresh start, it’s a new universe – and you can choose. Even though in rock music there is of course a distortion guitar and that’s the classic sound, but then you have many schools. You also have many different schools of the electronic music. I have chosen to steal a little bit from everywhere, the places I like the most.

You were playing in a band that became pretty huge and we think the first big boost came actually from the performance at SPOT Festival 2012. We remember there were so many people who wanted to see the Reptile Youth concert, that we didn’t get into the venue. Is that maybe one of the reasons why you are playing your first solo show at SPOT Festival? Why did you pick this event for a debut concert?

I’ve chosen SPOT Festival to play my first solo show, because actually this is a place where I meet a lot of people that I met because of Reptile Youth. It’s a very good place to meet people passionate about music, people who are not my peers in the creative music area, but more like peers in talking about the music and maybe making money… I mean, booking shows and stuff like that. I have to sort of build it up from scratch again. But I also have a lot of peers that I meet here.

How is it going, the transition from being a band member to becoming a solo artist and as you said, building everything from scratch? Is it more terrifying or more exciting for you?

Yes and yes. It’s very interesting to be able to choose myself at any given moment. I do not have anybody to hide behind. I am the last man standing, I’m the captain of the ship, so I have to make the decisions that I can vouch for all the time. When you’re a group, sometimes the decisions sort of make themselves. So what I really like about being solo is that I have to be very good at sensing what is meaningful to me musically and for the future of the project.

Why did you choose the name Antonio Gram for the project, why aren’t you performing under your own name?

I kind of like the idea of taking on sort of a role model or a mascot for a project. Because I can be anyone I like, but if I choose to look at myself through the lens of Antonio Gram, I feel like I’m the best possible version of myself for this project.

And why Antonio Gram?

Do you know the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci? It’s inspired by him. He was a political thinker, philosopher and author who was put to prison back in the 30’s. And actually while he was in prison, he started writing even more, because sometimes when you are constrained you become more productive. I think I had the view and sometimes I had the feeling myself that a lot of people, including myself, are limiting themselves. It’s like: “I don’t have the right guitar amp, so I can’t make this record” or “If I had a girlfriend, I would me more happy” and then I postpone my project, I postpone my career until this and that happens. And then it’s often really limiting to people. So the name of the project shows that there’s a way of not becoming a victim of a situation you’re in, but actually doing something about it. As banal as it may sound, I was finding myself often, when we were touring with Reptile Youth: we were waiting on airports, we were waiting on the back seat of the tour bus… and of course it’s not exactly a fascist prison back in the 30’s, but it still feels like being constrained and everybody can relate to it, I think. Actually, I can tell you that a lot of the Antonio Gram tracks were produced on the back seat of a tour bus.

What is in your opinion the most important thing that you’ve learned from being a part of Reptile Youth?

I’m much better at writing good songs than I was before.

There is just one press photo of Antonio Gram out there, with a lot of yellow. Now we have seen posters promoting your show tonight, they are also yellow. That made us think – if you had to paint a picture called “Antonio Gram”, which colours would you use? What kind of  image would it be?

I think it wouldn’t be a steady image, it would be more of a .gif – but there would be a lot of yellow, definitely. What I really like about the colour yellow is that it’s very enigmatic. Culturally we interpret it as betrayal and as a bit sick, but it’s probably also the strongest colour. It’s the colour of the sun and energy and I really like that. It’s the strongest contrast that you can get, I think.

Is it the same with the music you make? What can we expect from seeing Antonio Gram live?

There will be a lot of people at the stage. We just did a rehearsal show yesterday here at the Double Rainbow venue, it was a limited edition show and tonight at SPOT Festival it will be the full experience of Antonio Gram for the very first time, but I don’t want to tell you too many details, so you can find out yourself.

When we are looking at this year’s SPOT Festival line-up and while we follow the Danish music scene, we can’t help noticing that there is a big comeback of electronic music. Why do you think people came back to enjoying this genre again?

There has been a long period of time when every second person had an indie-rock band or psych-rock band and some music that is kind of the same, so I guess people now need something fresh again.

Is there any Danish electronic act you can recommend to us?

I really like Rangleklods, they will play their new material here at SPOT. I really like the sound they are finding. And also, Kenton Slash Demon, I really like them too. That’s going to be a party. And ELOQ, the guy who’s featured on my first single, he’s also a very talented electronic music producer. He’s been writing songs for MØ and everybody liked them. He’s playing here with another project – AV AV AV.

We read that you live in Berlin right now. How does that place impact your new project? Because Berlin is a very special place for the history of electronic music. Can you feel that the vibe of the city helps you?

Definitely. There is a more relaxed atmosphere. People are more self-conscious and they tend to walk around on like 2:00 pm with a bottle of a beer. And you don’t see it here or in the USA, where you have to hide your beer or anything. The atmosphere there is so much about enjoying life and just being there – which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. I think there are a lot of people in Berlin who call themselves artists without really producing anything. But there are also a lot of really, really talented people there and that inspires me a lot. And I think people come to Berlin mostly because of that relaxed atmosphere.

What are the plans for Antonio Gram now? What can we expect?

I can’t tell you too much, because we are still setting up everything with the project. We have to find a booking agency to take care of everything. We are also talking with a few record labels, so things depend on how these talks will go. But there is already a full album ready to be released, with 10 different collaborations. Everyone that I’ve been talking to is very curious about the project, so I have a good feeling about being here.

photo by Joanna Wróbel

Photos by Joanna Wróbel


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