Gianmarco Cilli is a Philadelphia multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who has played with National Eye and The Silver Ages. For The Feel Is Now, his first solo record in over a decade, Cilli collaborated with members of Dr. Dog and The War On Drugs. Cilli answered a few questions about the album, which dropped in September 2019.
This is your first solo album since Homely Joys in 2008. What was your thought process behind putting together a solo record?
I’ve been a dad since 2010, so working alone is easier for me now than being in a band. I only play shows with a backing band though, so I don’t really feel totally solo. But basically since being in National Eye in the 2000s, I have been writing songs for myself, and deciding which ones are good enough to further develop and record for an album or EP. Once I have enough accumulated, then I start looking for songs that sound like they could be in an album together. I’m kind of all over the place with genres and styles.
After the album was released, how did the feeling of putting out a solo album with your name on the cover compare to records that you have contributed to as a band member?
It feels a little weird having my name on the cover. Sometimes I wish I had made up a stage name or band name for the project. I am proud to have my name on it of course.
One of my favorite songs on the record is “The Valley.” How did that track come together?
It’s one of my favorites too, and also a favorite of the people that played on the album and in my live band. This track came together in much the same way as the other tracks. It started as a demo of me and guitar and a loose vocal melody with no lyrics. Then I started fleshing it out with bass and a drum machine track and lead guitar parts. Then I wrote the lyrics.
I usually get the inspiration from the vibe of the music, and this one felt like it had sweetness to it, some nostalgia. So I started getting ideas about a love story, inspired by my wife Suzanne. Then I updated the demo with the vocals with the lyrics, and sat on it for a while as I completed all the other demos.
It was clear to me that it was one of the best demos. In fact, it was the very first one we recorded in the studio when I started the rhythm section session with Charlie and Dave. I think I knew it would be the easiest to lock into and have fun playing, and get us off to a good start.
You used strings on two different-sounding tracks on the record: “The Flood” and “The Way Out.” What vibes were you going for on each song that inspired their inclusion into the arrangements?
On “The Flood,” I actually just let my friend James Lavino do his thing without any direction. I had let him listen to my demos before I started recording the album, and I remembered that he said he could hear “The Flood” being a big-sounding track. When we started working on it, I realized I was going to need some help to get it sounding bigger, and so I asked him if he wanted to arrange and record strings for it. When he gave us back the tracks, I was blown away.
It was exactly what I wanted, even though I hadn’t known exactly what I had wanted. So a little while later when we started working on the “The Way In Out,” I asked if he would do string arrangements again. For that one though, I had a specific idea for the melody. I’m not sure exactly what inspired it, but most likely it comes from my love of The Beatles and George Martin’s arrangements.
“Yer Radio” observes the bond between the airwaves and their audience. Do you have memories of discovering artists on the radio that may have impacted The Feel Is Now?
I grew up listening to the radio, so for sure all of the music that I absorbed over those years, whether I still like it or not now, is part of my brain’s musical library. I often wonder what songs I’m ripping off when I write songs. I tend to believe it’s nearly impossible to write something completely original unless it’s super weird. So we’re all copying snippets of things we’ve heard and piecing them together in a new way.
When I write something and I think it sounds good, I assume it’s because it sounds like something that exists already. Then I just hope it’s not a complete rip off. Anyway, I guess that’s a long way of saying that everything I heard on the radio influenced The Feel Is Now in some way.
In addition to members of the Spinto Band, Teen Men, and Dr. Dog, you recorded with Dave Hartley and Charlie Hall from The War On Drugs. What are your connections with those groups?
I met all of these people in the mid 2000’s in Philadelphia when I was in band called National Eye and we were playing shows together and became friends. There was such a great unsung music scene at the time. Some of the bands went on to success and are well known, and some did not but were great nonetheless.
We’ve all remained good friends. One way we all stay connected is through a vocal group called The Silver Ages, which is led by Charlie Hall. Until COVID-19, we would get together and sing songs around a piano and drink cocktails around twice a month.
What is it about their sound that prompted you to use the rhythm section from The War On Drugs to The Feel Is Now?
It wasn’t so much that I wanted the sound of TWOD’s rhythm section but that they are my longtime friends. Charlie is actually the only drummer that has ever played with me as a solo artist. Before that he played in National Eye with us for a spell, and we also played together in Windsor For The Derby for a bit too. And he’s one of my best friends and an incredible drummer. So he’s always my go-to.
Dave has played with me from the beginning too and has been a big supporter of my music. I think he was one of the first people I shared The Feel Is Now demos with to get his feedback and ideas for recording it properly.
In December, you were onstage with Rosali at one of the Drugcember To Remember concerts. Four months later there are no concerts in Philadelphia because of COVID-19. Can you contrast the difference between being in such a communal experience versus current events where the Philadelphia music scene is relegated to Instagram and Facebook streams?
Yeah, it’s been pretty weird. The Drugcember show was so much fun, and a great end to 2019. Then came 2020, which has been pretty terrible so far. A couple of Rosali shows were canceled due to COVID-19, and I have one upcoming in June that I assume will be canceled too. I’m now full-time taking care of my two kids while my wife teaches 3rd grade online to her students.
I have been keeping in touch with a bunch of my musician friends via video chats, and I’ve been working on some new songs when I have the time and energy. Overall, I’m grateful for our health, and that we have everything we need. I’m eager for this thing to end, but I don’t want anything rushed until it’s safe for everyone.