Interview: Livio Lamonea

Guglielmo Malusardi: So Livio, introduce yourself to the readers, and let us all know how you get started in music.

Livio Lamonea: Hi, my name is Livio I'm 31 years old and I'm a guitar player. I first started playing guitar, self-taught, when I was about 12 years old, at that time I was listening to Guns 'N' Roses and Metallica, but very soon I discovered Satriani, Yngwie, Vai, Bettencourt and especially Steve Morse who, for years, was the guitar player I followed the most. But the man who really changed my life was Allan Holdsworth. When I was 15, I went to Rome to see him play live, and he became my hero. Allan represented my ideal as a player, but I wasn't able to understand what he was doing.

So I tried to study the other great players I was listening to back then. I began listening to Stern, Metheny, Scofield, Tuck Andress and all the other jazz masters. I've always had so many different influences and I love classical and acoustic guitar music too, so there have been periods of time in the past that I dedicated myself to studying classical and acoustic music.

In 2000, I decided to study Allan Holdsworth's technique and music in depth and formed "Zarabeth", a trio where I played a tribute to the master. To test my abilities and to experience a new music scene, in 2004 I went to G.I.T. and graduated with vocational honors, and that was another great learning experience for me.

After that, I felt that I was ready to express myself and to let my musical soul sing. And the result is "Modern", my first solo CD.

Guglielmo Malusardi: "Modern" is a title that can be interpreted in many ways. What is your interpretation?

Livio Lamonea: That's easy, I was looking for a title that would express my musical journey, representing me as a guitar player with many influences in 2008; the only word that came to mind was "Modern".

Guglielmo Malusardi: Track 3 has a very interesting title, "(To Be) A Woman In Naples". Can you shed some light on this choice?

Livio Lamonea: Oh, it's such a sad song. Even with technology and the Internet and all the things that makes our cities and society advanced and industrialized, in some areas of Naples and in the South of Italy people still maintain a certain closed-minded attitude towards women. I know too many women with sad stories in their past, so I wrote that song while thinking about the role women have in societies like the one I live in.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I really appreciated your version of Stevie Wonder's "Too High". Why did you choose that song?

Livio Lamonea: I like the parallel harmony in the intro and in the verse, and, for the solo, this tune has a one-chord vamp, the only one you'll find on the whole CD. Stevie Wonder wrote great music back in the day.

Guglielmo Malusardi: If I could define your playing, using a US guitar magazine approach, I would say "Scott Henderson meets Allan Holdsworth, and they fly to Naples Bay on a little jazzy airplane driven by Larry Carlton". How do you find this description?

Livio Lamonea: Kinda, but the pilot is John Scofield. Larry would be the assistant pilot.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How will you try to expand your playing in the future?

Livio Lamonea: Tough question. The only thing I know is when I'm old, I'll play only Manouche music a-la Django (I forgot to mention him among my influences. I'm keeping the best for the end).

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let the teacher inside of you do the talking. Do a technical analysis of every song on "Modern".

Livio Lamonea: 1) "Jungle City": Drum 'n' bass with a jungle groove, some kind of weird, modified modal interchange. Hip changes to solo on. Every chord outlines a different scale. The challenge for me is to be able to play over the changes using different colors for every chord.

2) "I Don't Care": A mid-temp sixteenth shuffle, almost all the chords are modified dominant sevenths - lots of Lydian b7 - and there's no real guitar solo, but a weird 3/8 section where me and Gino Pisani (the drummer) kinda go in and out of the written part. I wrote this part thinking about modulation by minor thirds with no functional dominant involved. I like the conscious absence of a real resolution.

3) "(To Be) A Woman In Naples": I used a guitar synth for this one, but not for the intro. It started from a chord progression and the melody is already outlined by the chords. I like to solo over these chords, but unfortunately, I can't play it live because we're a trio and it definitely needs some harmonic support while I solo.

4) "Il Senso Della Frammentazione": The title means "the sense of fragmentation". My girlfriend used this sentence for her blog and I loved the title because it's the feeling I was having while writing this song. It starts with some wide intervals, and you may find some octave dispersion in the intro. There's a little tribute to Steve Morse's chicken pickin' in the B section. The pre-solo was written 10 years ago. The solo gives me the opportunity to improvise over lots of dominant chords. Again, I like the fact that you can't really feel the end of the progression because of its ambiguous sense of tension and resolution.

5) "Too High": Chromatic parallel major chords for the intro, parallel Lydian chords for the verse over an E pedal, A minor vamp for the solo. Some strange volume swell chords for the outro - thanks Stevie!

6) "That Warm Feeling": Oh, let's just say that the title has something to do with my girlfriend and something that should stay private! I was playing "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" by myself and all of a sudden I started playing completely different changes, so I wrote them down, choosed the right voicings and that was it. Alessandro Anzalone did a great job with the fretless bass on this one.

7) "Summer Of Love": I wrote this one in the summer while I was on holiday. Lots of suspended chords to support the melody in the A section. Gino loves to play Latin grooves so we played some of the parts with this kind of groove. I like to give the bass player and the drummer I play with complete freedom. Very few suggestions for the whole CD, so I have to say thanks to these guys for the nice job they did.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to introduce the musicians playing on your CD?

Livio Lamonea: Massimo Mercogliano (bass), Gino Pisani (drums), Alessandro Anzalone (fretless bass on track 6), Massimo D'Ambra (keyboards, engineering, mastering).

Guglielmo Malusardi: Guitars, amps ,effects, mikes and tools used on the recordings?

Livio Lamonea: My old Ibanez RG770 with a Duncan pickup on the bridge position, Radial Tonebone Trimode pedal, T.C. electronics 2240 preamp, Yamaha Magicstomp and Ernie Ball volume pedal for the volume swells, Peavey Classic 50 amp, and a Mesa cabinet equipped with EV speakers.

The guitar synth comes from my Godin ACS classical guitar with MIDI output through a Roland pedalboard.

interview pic

Guglielmo Malusardi: This is your first solo CD. What will you remember the most from both an emotional and a professional point of view?

Livio Lamonea: I will remember how stressed I was! I was very busy giving lessons and playing gigs so I didn't really enjoy any particular moment. It's too soon to start saying things like, "Oh, I remember the old days, when I did my first CD."

Guglielmo Malusardi: How do you compose your music?

Livio Lamonea: It may start from my state of mind, or from a sensation I feel, or it may start from a cool chord or line. After the first few ideas usually I analyze what I'm doing and sometimes I use some tools to help write new parts of the song. But at the end of the day, every tool I use is an idea in itself. By tools I mean key changes, tempo changes, modulations, substitutions, symmetrics, harmonic concepts, re-harmonizations and whatever I may find useful and interesting, musically speaking!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Guitar solos are generally the most valued part of the song in many guitar fans' opinions. How do you approach a guitar solo in your mind?

Livio Lamonea: The solo is the moment when you try to write a new part for the composition. It's a moment in which you have to be creative. I focus my attention on getting a good idea for the beginning and then I continue trying to follow the path I've chosen. The delicate balance between being clear, musical, unpredictable and exciting is the constant challenge everyone has to face every time they approach a solo, and that's what makes learning and experimenting with new ideas so fun - and so endless.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Releasing an instrumental guitar-oriented CD seems to be a tough job nowadays. More and more, musicians from all over the world, are releasing CDs on their own. What advice would you give them, after your experience in writing, recording, producing and releasing "Modern"?

Livio Lamonea: I would tell them that they have a lot of hard work ahead of them. Forget about leisure time. Prepare yourself to be your manager, your driver, your web designer, the one who's ready to do everything that has to be done to make your music a reality, since you can't afford to have someone who's going to do it for you. Thank God I've had a lot of help from my friends - and I want to say thanks to Walter Vassillo for my web site and to Luna Kwok for the artwork and photography.

But then again, to see and to hear your music on a CD at last is the best payback for all the sacrifices you've made.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You took lessons from real heavyweights on the guitar scene. Who left the biggest impression on you?

Livio Lamonea: Carl Schroeder! Carl Schroeder! Carl Schroeder!

Carl is an amazing piano player who teaches improvisation at the Musician's Institute. He played for many years with Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey and other jazz greats. Chick Corea cited him and thanked him for the correct suggestions and the re-orchestration he made on Chick's Concerto. He is one of the most underrated musicians ever I think, a real genius and such a sensible player, great ears, unbelievable taste and control. And he's funny too!

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are a teacher yourself; what do you tell your students when they ask you about how to make a living with music?

Livio Lamonea: I tell them that they need to really love music. To be a musician, especially in countries like Italy where music is not treated like it deserves, it's a hard job. Every day you have to wake up and learn, you have to be prepared, you need to be professional. Go out and play only if you really love what you are doing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How much do you practice ? Do you have a daily routine? What do you focus on the most?

Livio Lamonea: I love music so much that I can tell you that I've never needed a real daily routine. The more spare time I have, the more I practice, and it's always been like this. I've never been bored by any kind of exercise because I love to play guitar, really.

If I feel I must improve, let's say, my reading skills, I start to read and I quit only if it's really late, or if I have to do something important, or if I'm really tired.
Obviously, teaching a lot, keeping your web site updated, doing all the everyday jobs that must be done leaves very little time for practice, but if I really feel that I want or need to practice, I do the best I can to find the time.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You also play live in another musical situation.

Livio Lamonea: It's me along with singer Monica Pujia. The duo is called Strings and Voice. We do our own arrangements of jazz standards and pop songs a-la Tuck and Patti. It represents another side of my musical identity. It's a challenge to be creative, supportive, and rhythmically and harmonically interesting in a duo setting where I play only clean, non-processed jazz guitar. Monica's voice is powerful and sweet at the same time. I love to play in the duo setting because it gives me the opportunity to improvise with chords and, from a composer's point of view, I'm challenged to find good arrangements for the songs.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's close out the interview with your projects for 2008.

Livio Lamonea: A few months ago I signed an endorsement deal with Gary Kramer Guitars. Gary's new guitars are simply amazing. For me, the best guitars I've ever played, period. I played for him at the NAMM show last January and it was so cool. So probably, I'll play some clinics for him around Europe when he'll start distribution here. I'll keep promoting "Modern" playing gigs around Italy with my trio and I also have a new quartet with an awesome keyboard player whose compositions are unbelievable. Probably we'll tour England next summer, but, we'll see!

interview picture
7/11. A normal date for most people, but not for italian football (soccer, if you live in the U.S.) fans. On an unforgettable night in Madrid, Spain, in the summer of 1982, the Italian national football team got the third world championship of its glorious history, defeating Germany 3 to 1. That day was also the 6th birthday of Livio Lamonea, one of the NWONM, representing the new wave of guitarists from the Naples area. Livio started playing guitar at the age of 12. He later won music contests and achieved "vocational honors" in 2004 at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood.

In late 2007 Lamonea released his first instrumental solo CD "Modern", and Guglielmo Malusardi talked with him about the new CD and other related aspects of music.