You may Joel Martorana from Endless Heights; You may know him from Peace Ritual.

You may even know Joel from Colletto Bianco, one of his latest projects.

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Joel about Colletto and the project’s song, “Throne”.

Part two of the interview is here.

Ez: So, you like music, evidently.

Joel: I am into it, yes.

Ez: And right now you’re working in the realm of pop.

Joel: Yes.

Ez: What is it about pop that you think works well with what you do?

Joel: I think I’ve always loved pop, but a lot of it is a bit too cheesy, or not particularly relevant to subculture, and I’ve been very much lost in the world or the music of subculture for a long time which is just so authentic and powerful which is why I love it.

But now that it’s been fifteen-odd years of writing or playing or being obsessed with music or whatever, I want to try and merge those worlds a bit in a tasteful way that is also unashamedly pop, but has that subculture grounding, so for me the boldest next step, creatively, is more in that direction.

Ez: I did a very brief look into your history and your history, a bit of it is based around hardcore and there was a bit of a venture into post-punky type stuff, or at least a sound that co-opts the post-punk aesthetic, and now you’re here under the title – I don’t know why I keep thinking to say Birra Moretti because it’s definitely not that – Colletto Bianco.

Joel: *laughs* Yeah it is.

That has been the journey, more or less. Colletto Bianco is essentially…

I really wanted to create music and a bold product or a bold project that again, connect that as authentically as I possibly could and really world build or universe build for the character and the project because I felt it wanted to be a bit bigger than “Joel”. I didn’t want it tied to me in terms of how the project was reflected or bound by my personality and my life story, so what I’ve tried to do is amplify elements of my life and exaggerate things. Use them as narrative inspiration, both visually and sonically to really have fun with that project.

Ez: You’ve gone with an Italian moniker and my understanding is that you have a Sicilian background. Did that tie into the decision to picking the moniker?

Joel: I’m at a point in my life like most people about to hit their thirties where your identify and history is more and more important. I guess for me this has been a really crazy but fun way to explore that sense identity or challenge it a bit, and really wrestle with some of the stereotypes maybe in my youth. Part of the fun with Colletto for me is that I get to publicly prototype some of that exploration.

It’s not always obvious but my nonno has a real deep love and appreciation for blockbuster and gangster films and things like that. In a way part of the project is that I get to indulge in what it means for me to be of Italian descent and really use these resources or creative stimuli to pay my respects to him and some of his passions too and something we’ve connected over over the years.

He was in the first video clip with my nonna which is what happens when you’re shooting your own stuff with budget constraints and whatever else. You call in a lot of favours, even family and even grandparents and that was a really cool experience, being able to shoot in their home and capture some of their moments.

Ez: [Whilst] there is a promotional aspect to your film clips, as is want to be for most, there also is a more cinematic and narrative feel to them. Is that partly influenced by his interests?

Joel: Yeah definitely. I think the way I tend to create in general is to iterate and kind of prototype and tend to go with creative decisions that I feel give me a sense of momentum, or the team, or whoever might be helping to continue to create. But to answer your question, I really wanted the video or the visuals to be just as essential as the music in terms of the artform itself, whereas I feel like in a lot of modern music projects, the video clip is just to tick a box as part of a marketing campaign, which I totally understand and I totally appreciate, and yes, I’m trying to do that too. It’s an asset to promote the sound and voice and character and the whatever.

My goal was that people would be wrestling between what they like more; the video or the music. Hopefully people would be like “You really have to experience it as one”. I think the art of video clips – personally – is a little bit lost in the modern world and I’m hoping to inspire other creatives to really honour that artform for what it is.

A lot of filmmakers these days, it almost looks bad if your work is only represented in videoclips. It’s like “When are you going to do your feature?”. I understand the reasoning behind all that but I think it’d just be so cool to have a plethora of artists really taking advantage of that form of media and form of art in a powerful way rather than just a marketing campaign tick-a-box manner.

Ez: It is good that you are taking that approach as well where you’re trying to weave more of a narrative and get a story flowing, and trying to get that in and not have it cynically focused.

Joel: I love narrative. I just think it’s often very corny or done very poorly, so I was paranoid every time I’ve made a clip in this manner. I’ve always been a bit paranoid that maybe we’re missing the mark, but I think it’s worth a roll of the dice and worth the challenge to pull off and build a narrative in a tasteful way.

In saying that I don’t think I’ll always be attached to a narrative style of clip. I’m just all about intentional videoclips or intentional visual assets because I think it’s such a critical part of the craft and the art. As much as I love music I’m a very visual person and I’m inspired visually by things so my passion and my love is equally strong for this project as the music itself.

Ez: The thing as well is it’s good to have those concerns – and it’s even the same as the quality of music – it’s very difficult to tell if it’s actually good until hindsight sets in. You can easily set out and do something very earnestly and then it’s out there and maybe a month, few years pass and you’re like “Yeah. That was pretty cheesy”.

Joel: *Laughs* And that might happen. Who knows?

Ez: But it doesn’t take away from the intent and the earnestness of what you were originally trying to achieve, and so long as you can laugh at yourself – if it turns out that way – that’s always a good thing. There are definitely people out there who are always deadest everything has to be [perfect], and then they look might back at it in time and they’re like “Well that was an abject failure, blah blah blah blah” instead of going “Well you know we tried a thing and it didn’t work but we had a few laughs looking back on it now” you know?

Joel: Maybe it’s because I’m getting more time poor as *laughs* I continue to get older, but my whole thing is publicly prototyping and trusting the right people and risking things with them and co-creating with them. You might look back and things didn’t quite hit the mark, but I think part of creating at a certain level of excellence is that risk and dependency on those around you creating with you. It’s that collaborative energy that is scary.

It’s so tempting to stick your controlling claws in, but you’ve really got to go with the flow and trust that they understand your vision or that they’re adding to it and empower them to do so. Otherwise there just is no momentum or you create less, which for me is kind of a no-go zone because I’m my happiest when there are constantly things in the pipeline.

Ez: There’s also a lot of focus on the solo artist of course, but so many things are a collaborative effort, so much more than people realise, but I guess let us awkwardly transition to talking about the music itself and then we will awkwardlier transition to combining the music with the film clips a bit later.

So obviously you’re working more in a pop vein now. There is still – especially with the most recent single, “Throne” – still a sort of aggressive tone to it, so to speak. Obviously a lot of pop music has a sort of edge to, but do you think part of the tone you’ve got going on is brought forward from your previous projects, or is it [from] something different?

Joel: I think part of it is definitely an evolution of, creatively, some of my past and I think that’s also because the producer and co-writer for “Throne” and other songs, Elliott [Gallart, producer], he’s a hardcore kid. He records a bit of everything, but he was kind of one of the writers and producers for Endless Heights’s music and previous acts.

We grew up together and all of our subculture influence from hardcore or emo or what have you ; that electricity is in the room when we are in it together as that’s our past and that’s some of our passion. I do think some of it was an evolution of that and why I think the project is so fun for us. Why “Throne” was so exciting to write is because we get to build on that but push in a direction that never would have been possible with those older projects.

Our writing style is really interesting; We’ll build a loop together and I’ll improvise, sometimes for eight minutes straight – vocally – over it. Lyricas often are gibberish; Sometimes we’ll get a few keepers that we end up keeping in the final song which happened for “Throne” we’ll kind of review the block of recording and cut in the great moments and cut out the not so good stuff.

Why I really like that is it builds momentum and you kind of get that energy in the studio room and you really taste those moments of breakthrough which then informs all the other sonic elements. For a project like this the visuals instantly come to mind. “What if this was the breaking point for the character? What if this song was potentially Colletto’s uming and ahing about seizing power or overthrowing his senior or don or something?” “You know what we could do? For the end of the song we could have that breaking point where it goes really really dark and there’s no more uming and ahing and there’s an actual decision point”.

More than other projects we get to dabble into the in and out of narrative where it might add value creatively or sonically. When it gets too messy we can step away and break narrative which music does very easily.

Ez: You mentioned you’re a very visual person. As the song is taking shape are you also forming ideas and concepts for how a film clip could proceed?

Joel: Not always for exactly for how a clip would proceed but definitely conceptually. Can’t help it and I actually have some bad habits. Sometimes I will get quite attached to lyrics that will be taking in a certain narrative or conceptual direction but might leave us quite stuck in the songwriting process.

I think Elliott and even Candace [Krieger, Beastmode] who is also a co-writer, often they’ll have to arm wrestle me out of a certain conceptual or narrative direction to broaden the song more. It actually really helps and it’s something I like, but whenever I hear a song I picture imagery instantly so it’s more or less open and the same for me.

Ez: In relation to collaborators – and this is probably a silly question – how much value do you put on people who are willing to challenge you on bad ideas?

Joel: I’m lucky that in both the sonic and visual elements of this project there are kind of a core group of people I really can and do trust and lean on. When they do go to battle with me around certain ideas, I’ve learned to really lean in and trust that. I can be pretty stubborn at times but my rule of thumb is if they’ve called out an idea as not being up to scratch two or three times then I’ve got to start listening and I’ve really got to zero in on it.

Sometimes I don’t but I’ll at least make sure that the mental bandwidth is placed there to take on board what they’re saying and make sure I’m not being overly defensive.

But yeah, almost every on occasion when I’ve been challenged like that, in retrospect it has always made sense, so I’m lucky I’m surrounded by people with the right intentions. They still want my work or my projects to be as bold or as brilliant as they can be. They’re not trying to mute any of the ideas or tone it down. They’re just trying to perfect them *laughs*.

Ez: Back to focusing specifically on “Throne” then; I imagine as you described earlier it came from a loop and you then just spat sounds over the loop for however long necessary. From that loop to completion, how many processes of testing out layering did it go through?

Joel: I think pretty much one or two studio days is what we played with, then time off between that to tweak it all. Elliott and I, when we are in the room together we work quite quickly and we’ve learned not to overly complicate things. Then when we do fill the room with momentum it’s like “Okay, let’s chuck in another harmony here, let’s chuck in another melody line here, Let’s juice it up a bit”.

I think often Elliott has the challenge of in the mixing process to maybe remove or stagger some of those layers effectively, but I think now that we’ve recorded quite a few songs together – obviously only a couple have been released – there’s a general consensus on when something needs to be lifted with say a harmony or another instrumental part. I actually think that’s some of the most fun, when you get to the point because the bones of the song are there and you can play with all the extras.

But I’m guessing a couple of days of play. I can’t remember. Which it might not sound like much time but it is for one song.

Ez: Oh, I’m more than aware of the issues can arise and how much time can be spent focusing on one thing, especially when it comes to recording music. “We’ll pull this out, see what happens. Maybe we’ll put it back in but do this”.

Joel: I can’t fully remember. Maybe Elliott will read this and be like “Man, it was way longer”. I actually can’t really remember. Some songs took us so long to write but I think this one came together really quickly.

Ez: Probably the worst situation though is when everything fits excellent and you walk away and come back to it maybe a couple of hours, maybe a couple of days listen to it and you go “Oh no, this should not be in here”.

Joel: I definitely ride that roller-coaster with a lot of writing *laughs*. It’s the best thing ever to go back and listen to it and you hate it and you’re like “Oh god”, but I’ve learned the more you trust in the process, often it doesn’t need much to be fixed. Sometimes it’s just a mix thing or it needs an extra layer to beef it up a bit or the opposite. It just needs to be simplified and then you love it again, but yeah. It’s tricky.

Ez: I feel like generally the reason why those situations arise is not so much because of layering, because generally when you get the layering right it connects and make sense, but it’s always tone. For example, you’re chasing a really dry, brokenish guitar tone and you record something and you’re like “Yeah, that’s fucken’ sick!” and then you go back to listen to it and you go “That’s a little too muddy”. But obviously with studio magic it’s a lot easier to tweak that.

Joel: Definitely, but yeah; It can be a really arduous and frustrating process. I’m very lucky to have people like Elliott to help. He’s got such a great ear for that sort detail stuff which I think saves a lot of time.