Fil Bo Riva
Like Eye Did
Like Eye Did is available at:
2nd August 2016
The E.P. If You’re Right, It’s Alright is available to pre-order:
Like Eye Did
23rd September 2016
AS the summer weather seems to have abandoned us...
PHOTO CREDIT: Francesca Di Vaio
HEADER IMAGE: Fiona Laughton
it is fitting to experience and embrace an artist that brings the light and heat back into life. It is getting darker earlier and the days are now shorter – it can create a negative effect on the mood and we need music to cheer us and keep our minds on something positive. Before introducing my new featured artist, it is worth looking at Italian music (my featured act is from Rome) and realising your path in music – the importance of being distinct and standing out in a music world that is seeing a lot of familiarity and repetition. It is not often I get to review a European artist that does not emanate from outside the U.K. Perhaps hard to think about Italy without drawing certain images – stereotypes perhaps – and views about the music we will hear. One might assume it to be opera-heavy and not really have the accessibility and familiarity of British music, for instance. It is not as though countries like Italy are behind the times and lack any contemporary, modern-day edge. I feel we become entrenched in clichés and assume we have a country figured out. In the past, I have looked at artists from Colombia, Mexico, and Sweden – uncovering the local scene and all the wonderful artists that play there. In terms of Italian music, there is a very rich and vibrant music scene that deserves fonder study. Negramaro hail from Puglia and are one of Italy’s best Pop/Rock bands and have been igniting the country since 1999 – translating their music internationally. Subsonica formed slightly before Negramaro and although they sing in the native tongue – a band that has a rich sound and uplifting songs that will resonate with everyone who hears them. Tuscany’s Negrita and have been performing for over 25 years now – one of the most enduring acts in Italy. Pop acts like Le Vibrazioni and Blue Dolls, between them, have made their stamp on the contemporary scene in Italy – the latter focuses on 1940s Pop-Jazz shades and are one of the most eye-catching acts you will see.
PHOTO CREDIT: Zlexander Aielasko
It appears, from this short list anyway, that there are some fantastic bands/acts in Italy but you wonder how many more can be found. Most of Italy’s most successful and enduring acts have been playing since the ‘90s (or even earlier) and it appears there are very few recently-formed acts out there – unless they are hiding out of the critical microscope. It seems like there are either some great musicians not been given attention or Italy’s hungry young musicians are emigrating and trying to find success abroad. This brings me to Fil Bo Riva:
“Born and raised in Rome, the Italian music of the 1960s influenced his approach to melody, as did his early liking for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The four years he spent in a monks' boarding school for boys in Ireland introduced him to a widely varied scene of international music. But it was his move to Berlin and an unhappy romance which catalysed his decision to give it a go as a serious musician, igniting the songwriting touchpaper which had always been inside him, waiting for its moment. Amongst the multitude of singer-songwriters plying their trade today, the 24-year-old, has emulated his idols in searching for the only voice that matters – his own.
Your first sadness is the most beautiful time of all, the next most beautiful is the sadness which follows. The songs for Fil Bo Riva's first EP emerged out of the latter, indeed “If You’re Right, It’s Alright” owes its creation to a “story about a woman”. So even if the world is not destined to end in an EP, in this case it did.
“The idea to become a musician had always been there in the back of my mind, but I was busy doing other things – working in kitchens or as a barkeeper in Munich, Madrid and Rome, studying industrial design in Berlin. That kind of thing. I'd played in various bands but never really had the belief that we could make it. Not to mention the 'Music? You'll end up on the street!' warnings from my friends.” Ironically, it was the streets of Berlin which proved decisive in Fil's further development. His time as a busker was a formative, thrilling experience, allowing him to road-test his music and benefit from direct, positive feedback. On the street, the street is all there is. In a house you might have nothing at all, not even the street.
It was in this phase of burgeoning self-assurance that he got to know Felix A. Remm and Robert Stephenson, two figures who would play an important role in his continuing development and would see to it that Fil Bo Riva made the leap from solo project to a collaboration of like-minded souls. Felix took the decidedly raw material and broadened its sonic scope whilst Robert Stephenson dragged Fil straight from the street into his studio to record the songs you can now enjoy on the EP. These rugged, powerful songs have lost none of their urgency but have gained many exciting touches, secreted in the arrangements. Floating between folk and soul, Fil Bo Riva merges beating melancholic songs with great dynamics.
“I can't read music, I am completely self-taught. So I always begin, I have to begin, by asking what feeling, what emotion do I hope to convey? What do I want to say?” The freshness of the EP will in no way be compromised. “In the end, everything you experience teaches you something. And these lessons should be reflected in the work, otherwise you risk succumbing to stagnation”.
I love Italian music both classic and contemporary, but it might be the same problem we face in the U.K.: in order to get under the glare of the media and succeed, you need to move to cities like London. Italy is a fabulous country and is responsible for The Renaissance, but how have times changed? Perhaps the local scene is not as strong and opportunity-laden as nations like the U.K. – it would be interesting to see just how many excellent musicians are in Italy and not getting due attention. Fil Bo Riva spent his formative years in Rome but has had an itinerant upbringing – moving between Italy, Germany, and Spain. One listen to Fil Bo Riva’s voice and you can hear strands of other nations, decades and singers – one would not assume a typical Italian singer. He grew up on ‘60s music but his sounds are more contemporary, harder-edged and exhilarating then idols like The Beatles. It can take a while for musicians to realise their path and that is quite an exciting time. Fil Bo Riva, not reading or writing music, had a bond and affection for music but was not sure how to follow his dreams and make a career from it – taking jobs abroad and traveling in order to find direction and stability. Even if you grow up on a wealth of varied and legendary artists – it can be frustrating trying to get into the music industry and finding breaks. As Fil Bo Riva has shown, and gone from country to country, it often takes years to actually get to where you need to. Many musicians need instant gratification and success and can get frustrated at the shortage of opportunities and paid gig. Sometimes it takes patience and you need to understand how busy and fraught the industry is. I bring this point up because Fil Bo Riva and his variegated travels feed into his music and make it richer and deeper – that patience and worldly experience have made his work stronger than it would have been had he instantly fallen into the scene. It would be good to see just how far he can go as there is a definite individuality and sense of excitement to the music – a coarse and stands-to-attention voice that brings majesty and a sense of danger to the words.
Like Eye Did (and its punny title) has gained a lot of positive feedback across social media and YouTube – a couple of trolling detractors on YouTube, mind. Those negative reactions have come out of a sense of ignorance. If you listen to Fil Bo Riva and it is not your average voice. There’s the gravel and smokiness of Tom Waits; the familiarity of George Ezra and little hints of Captain Beefheart. Not the sweet and saccharine tones you might get from an effete Pop singer or talent show reject. People are scared of those that are different and unique so that has to change. If a voice or musician does not conform to an ideal and is ‘crowd pleasing’ then that is scary and not right to them. Musicians that stand out and genuinely move music forward are those that push against the formulaic and familiar and put their own soul and ideas into songs. Fil Bo Riva is someone who might take a few moments to settle into the mind and provoke pleasure but that does arrive – a fantastic and quirky voice that gives gravitas and occasion to his lyrics. If you have not fallen for his music and following his plight then you should as big things are going to happen for the Italian-born star.
If You’re Right, It’s Alright is the debut E.P. from Fil Bo Riva so it makes it hard comparing (his recent output) with past work. It is impressive seeing musicians go in hard and meaningful with an E.P. – rather than a series of singles and big wait until an E.P./album. Like Eye Did is a stunning track from a very striking voice: paying testament to everyday themes and personal feelings. Most musicians are compelled and inspired by love but there is something difference and rarer with Fil Bo Riva. Maybe it is the vocal sound or the dynamics that you get but you are never reminded of anyone else. Each new singer that comes along tends to have distinct shades of others. You can always tell the influences and never really feel like there’s that distinction and originality one yearns for. Perhaps the travels and background of Fil Bo Riva have gone into that voice: an instrument that comes from his heart but you will struggle to compare him with many other new musicians. That deep and urgent voice might cause some to turn their noses up with imperious disregard – those that know their music and have affection for a special voice will love it and all the possibilities evident within. Killer Queen is the second single from the E.P. – came to my attention after I agreed to review Like Eye Did – but shows If You’re Right, It’s Alright is not going to be a samey and predictable record. You cannot compare the two songs easily and both have their own merit and distinctions. I feel Like Eye Did is more instant and enduring than Killer Queen but perhaps the latter has more nuance and slow-burning qualities to it. Who knows what E.P. mates Franzis, Greeningless, and The Falling will sound like but you are instantly intrigued by their titles. Fil Bo Riva never trades in predictable song titles and his music matches that ambition – you get a sense of an original artist that is not concerned with following the crowd and trying to fit in with any ideals and media demands. I have the feeling he will be able to follow up If You’re Right’ with more E.P.s and albums and we are really just hearing the first steps. Maybe the vocal will change and evolve and the song themes will differ and variegate. Perhaps he will stick with a very trustworthy and distinct sound and keep that momentum going. It is going to be an exciting time going forward and wonderful seeing how the career of Fil Bo Riva unfolds. Just a few seconds into Like Eye Did and you are gripped and hooked by something that is a little unorthodox and unusual. When it unfolds and progresses, it becomes more natural and seeps into the mind – few songs are capable of doing that.
PHOTO CREDIT: Juliane Spaete
Lilting and passionate strings open up Like Eye Did. Mainly acoustic and classical in sound: the guitar has a calm but exotic flair to it and soothes and eases the listener in. Already caught by the beauty and entrance of the strings – the hero approaches the microphone. Juxtaposing the consistency and down-to-earth nature of the strings is a vocal that howls, swoops, and growls. There is no straight edge or level plain with regards the delivery. It comes in hot for one word before retreating Doppler Effect-like before coming back into view. Such is the intensity and style of performance; it gives the words, which could be mundane and boring in other hands, an elevated quality and real sense of meaning. The heroine, whomever that may be, has been kidding the hero and maybe not being honest – he would never do that or be so thoughts. This girl (“You’re the beat in my head”) is causing anxiety and pain it seems. “Shoot me down and shoot me dead” Flo Bo Riva declares against backing (female) vocal and spirited percussion. The song becomes heavier and more affected – mutating from the romantic candour of the first few moments – and the full weight of emotions start to come to the fore. The vocal delivery, in all its peculiarity and brilliance, does not over-emote or twist words without consideration for emotional resonance and decipherability. Ensuring the lyrics are clear but not stray into over-emoted directions – there is always a sense of control and consideration. Gun noises and shots are delivered with a certain cheeriness which is not a way to trivialise the effect the break-up has had but maybe how casual the girl was. Falling in love with her friend, overlooking the hero and not considering his thoughts, all of that anger and confusion comes bubbling to the surface. Possessed with a voice capable of fear and explosion: the delivery is kept controlled and disciplined but certainly swoops and dives in for the kill. That guttural, graveled tone ensures the lyrics have that necessary bite and rawness to them. After a brief pause, when the volume goes down and a bit of calm comes in, the hero is back into the spotlight and trying to piece things together.
You can certainly empathise and support the plight of Fil Bo Riva who has clearly been dealt a savage had. Without seeming explanation or warning he has been blind-sided and left for dead. Never succumbing to hyperbole or any over-emoting: he lays out his hurt and pain, but above it all, looks for some answers and reasons why things have turned this sour. A lot of musicians would throw heavy compositions and needless force into the agenda in order to register their emotions. It is all down to the vocal here which manages to convey every thought and accusation whilst keeping the composition fairly light and unobtrusive. Vocally, words are spat and drawled; overs elongated and languorous – some sharp and forceful. It is the way certain lines are broken into sections and presented at different speeds that make the song so effective. I know a lot of singers take time with their deliveries but few match the brilliance of Fil Bo Riva. Maybe George Ezra comparisons will come about as there is a similar tone and cadence to each singer’s voice. Ezra, to my ear, has a more conventional delivery and more optimistic with his themes. Most of his songs are defined by his voice but the way he performs and sings is more traditional and less distinct than Fil Bo Riva. Towards the closing moments, the tensions start to rise and the song gains new weight and relevance. The odd profanity is put in and keeping that anger and tension under wraps – it is becoming more difficult. The hero lets it be known how unhappy and angry he is. Whoever the friend was, the one that helped cause the split, he is being looked at but never named. Perhaps a mutual friend or someone who was kept a secret: it makes you wonder who he was and why she went to him. Throughout the final verse, the vocal is calmer and more tender. Perhaps exhausted and wracked with hurt – not as combustible as the earlier stages. It brings Like Eye Did down and causes the listener to reflect on what has come. Maybe it will take a few spins for the song to hit and appeal to many but it certainly arrives. Fil Bo Riva is not an average singer that does things traditionally and follows everyone else. Every note and line has that unique sound and is given such a sense of urgency and gravity – again, two words that have been said but are completely appropriate under the circumstances. It will be exciting seeing what else is on the E.P. If You’re Right, It’s Alright. Killer Queen is out and has a fairly similar tone to Like Eye Did but differentiates itself in terms of themes and delivery. The Italian-born musician has created a song that is so raw in its emotions and exhausting you might need a few minutes/hours before playing the track over – you will be tempted to for sure. In a period where individuality and originality are under-valued and ever-relevant demands: it seems like Fil Bo Riva is a young man that can go a long way. Already getting into the head and heart of British stations and media – it seems like the world is his oyster right now. Follow him closely and just how far he can go in the coming years.
You cannot say Fil Bo Riva is a niche artist who has come to my attention because he is not getting acclaim elsewhere. He has recently played on Radio 2 and performed in the U.K. – he has played Italy and Switzerland too. At the moment, he is in Germany and will finish up his tour there on 22nd – a day before the E.P. If You’re Right, It’s Alright comes out. Not only does he have international acclaim and made his way to the taste-making D.J.s in our country (Dermot O’Leary especially) but you feel he could go even further and gain audiences in the U.S. and Australia. I always list those two nations as they are poles apart but have phenomenal music scenes. Fil Bo Riva would have audiences and love in cities like New York and the busy and rushing street but also find affection and demand in the more laid-back and relaxed cafes of Sydney and Melbourne. That might be a consideration for him and something he could address in the future. Maybe money is a bit short and it is not a realistic expectation at this junction – the coming years will provide the chance to travel more widely and reach the U.S. Killer Queen is the new taster from the E.P. and was unveiled a couple of days ago. It shows another side to Fil Bo Riva and what the E.P. will contain. Like Eye Did has got people talking and brought Fil Bo Riva to the public. If you are struggling to become attuned to his raw and ragged voice – that will come over time. If you are not a fan of that graveled burr and theatrical delivery then listen to the lyrics and you will find much to love. The reason Fil Bo Riva got into music – and the E.P. came to creation – was following a bad romance and the realisation things had to change. That sense of heartache and desire for betterment is a universal sentiment and is one of the reasons he has gained such a hearty and affectionate fan-base. If You’re Right, It’s Alright goes back to my earlier point about freshness and uniqueness in the music world. If you follow the crowd or over-rehearse music then it becomes stagnated and it sounds watered-down. Perhaps Fil Bo Riva’s lack of musical education and experience has done him a favour. As he said himself: “In the end, everything you experience teaches you something. And these lessons should be reflected in the work, otherwise, you risk succumbing to stagnation”. Fil Bo Riva is three words and three cities: Rome, Dublin, and Berlin. Having begun his life in Rome – and spending time back there – it appears the 24-year-old musician is a restless soul who prefers the instability and adventure of the road. Perhaps not. It would be great if he came back to the U.K. to perform soon but one feels there are more nations and audiences he should be playing to – just how far he can go and succeed. Whether you capitalise his name or not – it is split across social media – FIL BO RIVA stands out and has a bracing and powerful sound not intended to scare or distance himself – embrace and bring the audience in instead. We do get rather used to listening to certain kinds of music and not really looking at other nations and cultures – a point I have raised a few times before. It is a shame nations like Italy are not studied in more depth and tend to get overlooked by the media and the public. Europe, in fact, has a great many acts that will be mainstream stars in a very short time – they tend to get passed over or have limited attention. Maybe Fil Bo Riva understood this when in Rome and has had to do something about it. Maybe it is a quandary and concern that has no easy fix but the point remains: we all need to be broader with our tastes and discover what is out there. Like Eye Did announces a keen and rare talent whose E.P. will be met with a lot of interest and approval. Reviews and airplay arriving already show there is a demand and affection for an artist that goes beyond the normal and pushes the envelope. There is something operatic and dramatic (about Fil Bo Riva) but a definite sense of history and familiarity – touches of ‘60s and ‘70s music with a bit of Tom Waits and other singers. That combination has already caught the ear of Radio 1 and 2 and the U.K. is starting to fall under his spell. Just how far he can go is anyone’s guess but one thing is certain: there are very few…
OUT there like him.
Follow Fil Bo Riva
PHOTO CREDIT: Juliane Spaete