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by Alessandro Arcuri

When a band like Elio E Le Storie Tese, can afford to experiment in almost every musical genre, yet maintaining its own sound and being always recognizable, there’s clearly chemistry going on among its musicians; but how can a player be always credible in so many different musical situations? Is it a constant evolution or do you have to be a monster right from the start?

Faso (born Nicola Fasani), has his own recipe…

Alessandro: since we will start by talking about Elio e Le Storie Tese, what comes to mind is your versatility, because you played almost every musical genre; have you got an approach of your own, with a knowledge of a lot of different styles, or do you learn from others? If, for instance, you have to play - say - a south American clave, do you ask someone to show it to you or do you have an immense repertoire? 

Faso: no, mine is not an immense repertoire and I’ll tell you more than that, my record collection is not one of those with a hundred thousand albums in it, but when it comes to explore a new musical style - for example with “El pube” that’s a Salsa song, which I never played before - when we want to play something in a particular style, doing it as truly as possible... I simply buy two or three CDs.

I bought Ruben Blades, Cachao and a couple of other things, just to get the atmosphere, the feel, trying also to understand how bass works in that genre... at least to have a direction to follow. Afterwards I put myself into it and come up with something of my own. The band is something like a chef who eats something tasty and says “how did they do that?” and then I add some of my own spices. Probably some purist may say that we don’t play like the classics but... otherwise we’d be doing always the same old stuff. I’d like to step into new styles that are not exactly our Italian ones, trying to “metabolize” something. 

A: I saw a bass and drums seminar you held in Vicenza with Christian Mayer [Elio e Le Storie Tese’s drummer and an active session man] and I remember you said that many of the rhythm parts and the most complex passages in the band’s tunes are actually composed note - for - note. 

F: yes, we’re rhythm maniacs, and that’s a fact, but I have to say that since I was a child I always had an interest in drums and rhythm subdivisions, and, not to hype myself but... when a drummer dares me to find out “where is the one”, well I almost always get it! 

A: but in Vicenza you said it’s a drummer’s duty... “YOU have to tell me where’s the one, DORK!”, you said... 

F: right, right, that’s good! But you know, sometimes you try some tricks, some odd starts that make you go “what the heck is this!?”... but it’s quite natural, for me. With Christian we work on micro-arrangements, maybe starting from a simple pattern you can get many nuances, or something that spice it all up, making it interesting. Inside an elementary structure you can put some colors, some little thing, a little obbligato. You know, you can have a thunderous drum fill like [mimics a helluva drum roll], and those are awesome, but even inside a “boom chaack, boom - boom chack” you can fit an open hi-hat or something that really work. 

A: and so is there space left for improvisation, especially with Elio e Le Storie Tese? 

F: nooo, there is a lot of space, because recently I have this particular approach on bass - and I say recently because I was formerly following more strictly my parts, after I found one that worked - nowadays, instead, I tend not to do that. Except for those riff-based tunes like “mio cuggino”, that goes [sings the bass part] and I sure can’t change it! Like “walking on the moon”! If  you change it you’re stupid! And there’s someone who does it! Something that’s driving me crazy, now, and excuse me if I steer a little bit, is that when you approach a tune you ought to find out the essence of it! Speaking of some simple songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine”... I recently walked into some jazz club just to hear it screwed up into something like “Round Midnight”, with eight thousands chords and melodies like [does a parody of an ultra-sexy female singer]  “imagine… … … allthepeohoopleehhh….”  and I say what the fuck! What the fuck! The melody is that one, sing that one! It would be like saying “hey guys listen to walking on the moon!” [starts singing the original bass line, closing it with a freak slap riff] “boom, ba-boooom… tak ta-bop, ta ka bop-ta booom”, the next thing you know is that Sting steps out and says “are you stupid or what?”

Well, that’s just to tell you I don’t touch that those tunes that are built around a bass riff, but on every other song where I just comp on the chord changes, I try to have a kind of a jazz approach. I move around, I invent something, take some chances, I make mistakes, also, but something interesting can also come out of that, and when I get to hear it back... I think that’s the top for a musician, when you hear something you played and you have to find out how you did it! 

A: ah! Yes! I sometimes have problems, too, and I say “what the hell did I do, that time?”, also because I tend not to listen back immediately to the tunes I played on, but if I go back to them after a while I go “now, now...”. Maybe I don’t remember exactly what I did, though, and walking in my own steps can even be tricky. It’s quite strange. 

F: yes, I know, it can happen, but when you listen to some cool stuff that you did, and you don’t know how you did it it’s really a blast! 

A: well, after we talked about improvisation and well crafted rhythm patterns, I can’t forget to say that funk is your main element, in your playing. 

F: well, I dunno, because my musical background is quite particular, and I mean the background you’re exposed to as a child. When I was a boy I was a big fan of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Yes... so... not that funky... 

A: yes, not that much indeed, but you often cite Earth Wind & Fire, the Commodores… 

F: right, because I discovered them later. After that period I was into “symphonic rock”, I discovered Wheather Report, and I got that shock that only Jaco Pastorius could give to a young bassist. I said to myself “what is he doing? Is he nuts?”, I mean, it was mind-blowing. I listened to that music that I didn’t quite dug a lot, because I wasn’t ready to fully understand it, but there was this awesome bass that almost made me come! And from there I actually begun playing bass; then, in a second phase, that came years later, thanks to Feyez [Paolo Panigada, the band’s talented multi-instrumentalist and composer that passed away on dec, 24, 1998] I got to know Earth, Wind and Fire, and it was something that I initially considered with a stupid and snobbish approach, like “what’s that? Disco music?”. Instead I got blown away again! For the second time in my life I said “wow! This stuff is hot! It’s got a tremendous groove! I wanna play disco dance!!”

I’d love to play Earth Wind & Fire stuff, I still say that, I’d love to play with Earth Wind & Fire. 

A: and did you suffered, too, of the eighties’ “slap or die” syndrome, or did you stuck to the old school funk? 

F: no, well, every bassist has to have the “slap phase”, and it’s OK that way; I got it too. Around 1990, I was still studying and I was deeply into “slap it”, I did all the exercises, but then I came to understand that slap is - exactly as it can be, say, the pick - simply a sound. In certain occasions it can sound perfect, in others not, and it’s with great humbleness that I dare to say that even if Marcus Miller has the greatest slap tone and groove on earth... well... he almost slaps even on ballads!!  When I heard him play a slap version of Pastorius’ “Teentown” I thought “That’s Barnum Circus!”.

It’s a tune that’s so... I dunno... it’s not a song you have make a cover of! The original version is so beautiful! If I found, say, a violin player that covers it that would be OK, but playing it slapping is like saying “hey dudes check it out, you’ll be shredding for six months, after that!” 

A: ha ha! Sure... but tell me about your collaborations outside Elio e Le Storie Tese 

F: they’re not that much... 

A: does that seldom happen? But you did work with Daniele Silvestri... 

F: yes, yes, I did some things but it seldom happens because the Italian musical world is weird, in that since I’m the bassist for a band I’m not considered as someone to call for studio work; and I’m not urging anyone to call me to play in records that I may even not like... it’s only that it doesn’t happen that much. 

A: so how do you approach those different situations, with a different drummer and most likely a different environment? 

F: I usually have this kind of approach: since I love playing and I enjoy myself doing it, I go and listen what they want from me and if I can do it I do it. If there’s also space for a little creativity and extra inventiveness, I won’t pull back. I usually give suggestions, if there’s something I feel not quite right, and I may come up with nice ideas; like I do with Elio e Le Storie Tese, I do that with other people. 

A: right, and that “group’s bassist” label that is somewhat limiting you, is maybe sometimes giving you even more credit? Like saying “hey, he’s the bassist in Elio e Le Storie Tese! Let’s make him do whatever he wants!”. Or are you taken seriously, like “let’s see what you can do”?

F: no, let’s say I usually find a fertile ground, I mean, the times I got called I always found a good approach; it’s also true that if someone hears what you do on records usually thinks you do play bass well... I must say that I’ve also been lucky because the people that called me wanted some particular things from me; knowing what I do with my band I’ve been given a lot of freedom. 

A: a thing I noticed is that you are quite “monochordal” in your bass’ choice, aren’t you? You stick to your Yamaha TRB 6; was it love at first sight or did you try seven hundred thousand basses and always came back to that one? 

F: well, more or less, I have a lot of basses, I have a beautiful Rickenbacker like Chris Squire’s one, that drives me crazy, I have an old Fender Jazz, a ’63 one, I think, which has been my first bass, very Jaco-stile, even its colour... but it’s accidental... I only traded it with a guitar amp I had because I guy I knew said “I like you amp and I have this bass...”, fuck that, I immediately traded it! Recently, even if with my six-strings I only use the “four strings within”, with a little of the fifth string... 

A: the lower one or the higher one? 

F: ...the lower one, just to roam around those extra three notes that may come in handy... I really dig that bass’ sound, and even if I don’t have big hands (and that bass’ fretboard is a kind of a toy car circuit) I really find myself quite comfortable. I have total control over it, and I feel myself at home, like in an old pair of slippers

It always sounds good and even Rodolfo Bianchi, our great sound man, with a forty years long experience in the field says, “heck, Faso, when I pump up your signal’s gain, I always hear it well, even if we are in a small venue” 

A: I see... do your pupils, knowing that you’re famous, come to you only to learn your songs, or do they have a more serious approach, like “I have this or that problem, let’s try to solve it”? 

F: you know, I had a teaching activity up to two years ago, and I had five or six students and they had to discover I wasn’t as playful as a teacher as I was as a show man... 

A: were you a bit of a “nazi” teacher? 

F: yes, because I always asked for the most serious commitment, since you do choose to play bass, you don’t pick up it just to avoid to join the army... now, if you choose to come to my lessons and you spend money... and I alway mantained very low fares and I explained to the kids I didn’t exactly need their money, but if we have a productive hour together I am happy with that. If we meet a week later and you play better, this satisfies me more than those thirty thousand or fifty thousand Lire [now 15.49 and 25.82 Euros, respectively... roughly around 14 and 23 U.S. Dollars]

I was therefore very strict on what to study and the things to be done. Also because I always gave many songs to study, I mean, I came up with this simple method: You’ve got to study the minor scale? Well... since playing a minor scale up and down is a bore, let’s crack a tune that contains it! So we’ll learn that scale in the meantime. I also made my students play some Elio e Le Storie Tese tunes, too; I remember that a couple of them asked me to show them the intro of “El pube”. 

A: that’s a cool bass part! Groove and melody together! 

F: yeah, I must say I’m proud of it... 

A: is it yours or did Elio came up with it? [Elio, the group’s lead vocalist, plays the part on flute in unison with bass] 

F: no, that’s mine... 

A: so it’s yours! And Elio followed you! 

F: yes, I played it because the tune originally started with a brass riff, and it had an intro on percussion, played by poor Naco, [a great musician and percussionist who died in 1996] so we thought it would have been cool to play something over it. I said “alright, I’m gonna go home and think about it” an that’s what came out. Then we thought of doubling it on flute, to give it a Latin feel. 

A: hot dog! In fact you initially think “Wow! Faso’s doubling a flute part!” and instead it’s the other way round! 

F: yes, but that also shows a typical Italian way of thinking... 

A: that bass has always to support? 

F: not only that, but also that in a band the most important member has to be the singer. 

A: ah… well... and... any advices for a young starting bassist? 

F: for a newcomer? Well, maybe the simplest advice in the world: play, play, play. Because I think that you learn much more by grabbing the bass, turning on the radio and trying to follow the tunes, than cracking scales on and on. Because a scale repeated up and down isn’t featured in any song. 

A: maybe in Malmsteen’s tunes, but he really broke our balls! 

F: heh heh, and also another advice, a simple yet overlooked one: know what you do! I mean, I find a lot of bassists (not to mention hundreds of guitarist), that put their fingers on the neck without knowing the note they are fretting. This thing... it really drives me mad. Because, I say... maybe you can’t play “Teentown”, but if you put a finger on a C, why in the world you shouldn’t know that you’re playing a C? It’s also easier to communicate! That’s a mystery to me! 

A: you could conceive your next record on that! 


Thanks to Paolo Costa and Franca Cristofoli for making this interview possible.


Alessandro Arcuri


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