Interview with Maurizio Guarini of Goblin

If you've ever seen George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" or Dario Argento's "Deep Red" or "Suspiria", or the "Alien"-inspired Italian gorefest "Contanimation", you have heard (and probably enjoyed) the music of Goblin and its longtime member and organ player Maurizio Guarini, whom eSplatter had the opportunity to catch up with. Guarani and the rest of Goblin have a new album "Back to the Goblin," available on CD exclusively at BacktotheGoblin.com. This interview was conducted by frequent eSplatter contributor Steve Mason.

What were some of you early musical influences? I understand you admired the music of the Beatles, for one. (So do I, by the way).

If I go back to figure out what my influences have been, I realize how fast things where changing in those years, and how quickly my influences changed. In the late sixties, if you consider the Rolling Stones/Beatles, I've been on the Beatles side. I was listening to rock bands as well, including Deep Purple and Huriah Heep. The fact that I was playing the organ moved my taste toward bands where keyboards played an important role. In the early seventies, I had the first big change, and I started to listen to something more sophisticated, like Gentle Giant (maybe my favorite band ever), Genesis, and basically whatever was released in that period that can be labeled as "progressive" (Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, etc.). Around 1972/73 I started listening to some English jazz rock, and I've been influenced by bands like Soft Machine, Nucleus, and even more experimental stuff, like Henry Cow and Gong. Jazz/fusion, starting with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea, and landing to Weather Report/Joe Zawinul has been the natural evolution of what influenced me after the mid-seventies. Joe Zawinul is still one of my more inspiring musicians ever.

Like many classic progressive rock groups (King Crimson, Yes, ELP/ELPowell/Three, etc.), Goblin has gone through numerous lineup changes over the years. Do you think that this helps a band to keep their sound "fresh" over a group's 30+ years?

I wouldn't say fresh, but with different souls. I think that even if the components of a band remain the same for decades, the freshness of their music depends anyway on their personal musical evolution.

Usually being part of a band means that you are in some way "labeled", and the fans expect the "sound" of the band. This is not necessarily the sound of the single musicians, though. It's just the fact that the musicians reveal the "spirit" that exists only when being part of the band. And when the lineup changes, the new entries become part of the band, and start sharing their experience. Everybody becomes richer by this exchange, but the "sound" of the band is still there.

If you want to go somewhere else, you can, even with the same lineup. For example, in late seventies the four of us (at that period the Goblin lineup was Fabio Pignatelli, Maurizio Guarini, Carlo Pennisi, Agostino Marangolo) played and arranged (not as Goblin) several records of other artists, and our sound was totally different, closer to jazz-funk. We weren't playing in the Goblin "spirit", that's it.

In one occasion we did as Goblin - something with a totally different sound on purpose, and that was when we released "Volo".

You've worked on numerous projects for Dario Argento, including "Suspiria" and "Phantom of the Opera." I understand that Dario usually takes a proactive role in working with his composers. Can you recall any specific examples his interaction during the scoring process?

I cannot recall a specific example, but I can give you an idea about how Dario interacts with the musicians during the scoring process. One thing I can say for sure is that Dario is very instinctive and the first person he wants to see emotionally involved is himself. If you play a scary piano chord when the murderer appears, Dario wants to listen to it loud, because he needs to scare himself first of all. He is so receptive and so strong that when you do something that he likes and that he feels involved with, you don't need to ask him if he likes it: It's there and you both know that. Actually the only movie where I've worked closely with Dario is "Suspiria," but I had occasion to know him very well outside of work, since 1976, and even recently when my wife Cinzia Cavalieri worked as music supervisor in a couple of movies with Dario and Asia Argento. Regarding "Phantom of the Opera," the music is by Ennio Morricone, and my collaboration is limited to the composition of background music for a single scene.

The soundtrack to Luigi Cozzi's "Contamination" is one of Goblin's finest achievements, in my personal opinion. What are you recollections of working on this project?

Thanks. I agree with your opinion and I like "Contamination" as well. I have no specific recollections, excluding the fact that in that period I was experimenting new sounds and atmospheres with my new keyboards, and there is no doubt that the experience of "Contamination" played a big role on these experiments.

You've also collaborated with composer Fabio Frizzi, including work on the scores to Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2" and "L'Aldila." What were these projects like? Did Fulci take an active role in the scoring as Argento does?

Fabio Frizzi and I have been and still are good friends. We worked together several times and we know each other very well as musicians. When I was collaborating with him, Fabio always [gave me freedom to do] whatever I would like to do - after all he liked my sound and my ideas. To be honest, I don't remember what these projects were like we are talking about more than 20 years ago but I don't think I had enough interaction with Fulci in these scores in order to answer your question.

"St. Helens" was a change of pace for Goblin, being an American-produced film, and a relatively light and melodic score. How did the group come to be involved in this project?

I have no idea how and why the band got involved with "St. Helens." Probably the American production contacted our recording label because they wanted our music. For us it was a totally new and exciting experience. We used, for the first time, the big orchestra, and trust me, having your music played by 60 people is something that you cannot forget, especially when you are just 25 years old. That was the first occasion for me to go to the U.S., in order to attend to the mix and play some additional keyboards.

In addition to "Back to the Goblin," You've also worked on the non-soundtrack Goblin LP's "Roller" and "Volo." In general, how does the creative process differ between soundtrack and non-soundtrack efforts?

It's completely different. Of course, there are a lot of limitations of what you can do when you work on a soundtrack: The director may have a precise idea, the evolution of the song has to match with the scene, you need to create emotions at certain points, everything is related to timing. In non-soundtrack projects you are totally free to do whatever you want, and this in a certain way is more difficult, because the number of ideas you can have has no limit. Like going to a grocery shop and having to choose a product over a million different brands. Either you have a strong idea of what you want, and the determination to develop it, or you may easily end up with something you don't really like. In my opinion, being forced to work in a certain way, like a soundtrack, is not necessarily a limitation. Actually I find it easier being creative when boundaries are pre-established in some way - there is still a lot of space for creativity. And you have immediate feedback, too.

What are some of your personal favorites of the projects you've been involved with?

"Roller," "St.Helens," "Contamination," "Volo." And "Back To The Goblin 2005", of course.

It's been 30 years since you first joined Goblin for the "Roller" LP. Are you surprised at the enduring and growing popularity of the group. (I can personally tell you that the group is more popular in the US now than they've ever been).

Actually, I am very surprised. I have lived in North America since 1999, and it is not unusual getting to know 20-year old guys that know us and our old LPs. The reason might be that we ended up to be included in the sort of living myths that have been inspiring new bands scary, isn't? Otherwise I really don't see any other reason, since our productivity has been very limited in the past years. What can fans expect next from yourself and the group? Are any soundtrack projects or live appearances planned?

As Maurizio Guarini, I've started thinking of releasing a solo Album. This is something that might happen sometime in the next Year. In the past few years I've put together enough material, and maybe the right moment has arrived.

As Goblin, we will work on soundtracks as soon as somebody will ask us to do that. Recently we decided to run alone, without record labels - our last CD was released under our independent label - and we are actually taking care of everything, including marketing. The CD is available for purchase online only, in our website www.goblinhome.com that I personally built. About live appearances, we had some offers from the U.S. and U.K., but not enough to justify a real reunion yet. It's in our plans, though. Even though we all kept playing live as musicians with different artists for many years, the reality is that the last live "Goblin" concert was in 1976. ... Time for a new one, maybe.