The interview I am currently undertaking with Italian psych oddballs Weird Bloom has been a whirlwind affair, with moments of phone conversation, failed Skype connections and, now, a meandering Whatsapp conversation with written answers, snippets of audio recordings and photos of main-man Luca Di Cataldo record shopping for his own album.
Nothing with this band is as simple as it seems but is always fascinating.
Our conversation comes after the band’s debut UK show at The Great Escape, performing to next to no crowd. The leading Italian proponents of the global psych-underground may not have made a splash here just yet, but playing these shores is still a coup.
“Great Escape. Great Emotion,” explains Di Cataldo.
Coming from the mythological backdrop of the Eternal City, Rome, Weird Bloom stand out from their local scene with music that borrows as much from US and UK psych traditions as it does Italian music. Their optimistic pop-snippets take Sgt. Pepper-esque pop-wonkiness and sprinkle on heaps of Californian sunshine for an aural trip into another world.
It is this affinity to English-speaking aural traditions that helped forge latest album Blisstonia (sung entirely in English) and their recent name-change/transition from old band name Weird Black.
“The new name is positive. When I was in the United States for South By South West last year, someone told me that it could have been misunderstood to be something racist. I really chose the name Weird Black without thinking, I chose an empty name. I was completely, not aware that it could have been misunderstood, and I wasn’t aware that in the United States, they do really care about this stuff. So, I was trying to sing in English and the worst thing was to be misunderstood, because I am not racist at all. I decided to change the name to Weird Bloom and I told myself that something was ‘bloomed’ from the dark.”
From Di Cataldo’s psych-pop vision, an optimistic and humorous (unavoidable on an album named after Simpson’s episode about a cult) record that is a step-forward from their previous album under the old moniker. Much of the realisation of this work comes from the central creative force’s willingness to open the project to collaborators.
“Weird Bloom is basically me. But if people think I’m a band or similar, I don’t complain, it’s beautiful sharing with friends and musicians, this path I am on. The songs are mostly mine,” he explains.
“I always share my ideas with other friends and fellows and compose with the help of other people. It’s just I put more effort than others into Weird Bloom.
“I’m not very skilled with instruments so I do really need the help of other people. But when a song is written and the lyrics too, most of the vision is complete, I guess.”
Always looking for “help”, on a forthcoming record the band have brought in Ariel Pink band member Don Bolles to take them in another direction. A legend of the 70s and 80s punk scene performing with the Germs, Nervous Gender and Celebrity Skin, before adding colour to the expansive psych-pop experiments of Ariel Pink, Bolles has the tenure to warrant respect. His input was sharp, harsh and impactful on Di Cataldo’s latest work.
“Don Bolles is an extraordinary person and musician. Honestly, I think he is an alien. He completely destroyed me, decomposed my vision and rebuilt it.
“He has great experience in composing. In the first days we meet each other I made him listen to some stuff, some drafts that I had, and he was, every time, telling me that they were crappy, that the way I wrote lyrics was horrible and the way I composed was cheap. So, we spent a lot of time trying to have the same vision of what to do. That’s the way he destroyed me, and still I am trying to rebuild myself, to restore my creativity since he left. I think I am still on that path, to find a new way of composing.”
This intense, slightly violent, relationship has helped create a future record that borrows from the past while living in its geography but truly existing nowhere at all. It’s a strange, pop journey that is familiar and unknown equally. Di Cataldo explains this is because they don’t really fit into the scene in their hometown.
“There’s nothing like Weird Bloom in Rome, unfortunately. But there is a big, big Italian scene, sung in Italian. There’s not really a psychedelic or ‘weird’ scene in Rome.”
With the obvious nods to the UK and US psych of old, and not really having a place in the current modern Italian scene, is there anything that displays an affinity with their homeland? Are they simply leaving Italy behind? With this assertion, Di Cataldo is animated in his disagreement.
“It’s the fact that there is me inside my music and I am 100% Italian. Of course, I think my music has more affinity with UK and US music, and I would really love to demonstrate it by playing more shows in England and in the United States, English speaking countries. There’s also a great scene now in Australia with bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and Pond. A great psychedelic scene there – more than England.”
Weird Bloom’s outlook is truly international (and, maybe, ‘outernational’) but being from the birthplace of one of Earth’s biggest religion’s – Catholicism – the wide-reaching power of this organisation must have some form of influence on the creation of Weird Bloom’s music. True to form, the answer is barely straight-forward, cryptic and thought-provoking, as Di Cataldo’s ponders the question.
“Rome is deeply Catholic. So, I can’t really say in what way the Catholic Church influences my art because maybe I am overwhelmed. I would say it doesn’t but I don’t know if I am influenced. Maybe I am, who knows.
“I try not think about them, but they are present in many aspects of what surrounds me and disguises society and the environment where I live. And the environment develops shapes, as Darwin says.”
When explaining his environments there is an air of escapism in Di Cataldo’s voice, both with the band escaping their confided geography to reach a world audience and, also, in creating music that is an escapism from negativity and bad vibes.
This idea fully manifests itself in the live arena, something which the small crowd at The Great Escape were lucky enough to witness. Live Weird Bloom manipulate and expand their own music in the traditions of classic psych jam-bands – the time, the place and the vibe all feed into how each live set unravels.
“Of course, we are influenced by the environment as fishes are influenced by the sea. Live shows are different because most of the time there’s no budget. We work with what we have, there’s a lot of freestyling. I try to get along with the skills of the musicians that come on stage with me,” he explains.
The wayward chat ends with Di Cataldo explaining his plans for the day, asking for gigs and inviting me to see them anywhere they play, after sending a picture of him with another Starbucks coffee. The rules don’t apply to Weird Bloom, our conversation is to be on-going much like their development and sound.
Having taken their first tentative steps to wider recognition in the UK, increasingly brilliant live shows and an immersive, sunshine-drenched new album out in the world now is the time for Weird Bloom. They want you to become part of their world by seeping into yours.