Porcelain Raft rides its wave
Mauro Remiddi had the good fortune to come of age in one of the world’s great cities. The man known to fans as Porcelain Raft was raised in Rome, where he originally aspired to being no less than the pope. Now in his late 30s, the singer finds himself living in America these days—New York City, to be precise—and he’s pleased to note that his new home base has been excellent for his art.
“When I came here, it was a culture shock, but I loved it straight away,” Remiddi says in accented English, speaking on his cellphone from a Chicago tour stop. “What I liked about it was that I didn’t have to relate to history at all. I studied art in college, and wherever I would go down the road, there would be a church, and inside that church would be a Michelangelo or Caravaggio painting. You always had these masters looking at you all of the time, which made it very hard to detach yourself from this amazing culture and sense of beauty that Europe produced. When I first came to the U.S., the first thing that I noticed was nobody cared about that. I felt so free to do anything that I wanted. I came here with such a sense of liberation—I really loved it.”
That liberation manifests itself with gorgeous results on Strange Weekend, the genre-bridging debut album from Porcelain Raft. As one might guess from his age, Remiddi isn’t a newcomer to the music business, the songwriter having done everything from score films to perform klezmer tunes with the Berlin Youth Circus. Most recently, he was a member of Sunny Day Sets Fire, a London, England–based quartet which did a better job at channelling ’90s-era American alt-pop than most of the new postgrunge-fixated bands on this side of the pond.
Porcelain Raft represents a fresh start for Remiddi. He was convinced to leave his adopted home of London by a girl who now happens to be his wife, that decision made easier by the initial reception given his new project.
“I played CMJ one year ago, and the night was one of the best gigs I’ve ever played,” he says, “not because the performance was especially better than usual, but something happened that night that changed my head about everything. The connection with the audience, and the way I felt, made me think, ‘I wanna stay here.’ Also I met the love of my life, who lives in New York, so I was like, ‘Of course, I’m going to move here.’ ”
Upon landing in NYC, where his social circle wasn’t exactly a huge one, Remiddi decided to embrace the alone time he had on his hands, setting up in a basement, hitting Record, and writing an album very much on the fly. Things didn’t go so well at first.
“I had two months to record the album,” the singer says. “After two weeks, I listened to everything that I had done, erased everything, and then started all over again.”
When he finally emerged from the basement, he found himself sitting on what’s been hailed as one of the great breakthroughs of 2012, an album lauded, ironically enough, as a beautiful work of art. Remiddi does an admirable job of blending ambient electroscapes with rainy-day folk-pop on Strange Weekend. So while the fuzz-swaddled synths give “Is It Too Deep for You?” a transmission-from-distant-planets vibe, the song is grounded by soft acoustic guitar. On the dramatic front, “Backwords” is all fog-shrouded loveliness until the short-circuiting keyboard swells start to roll in halfway through, while the neon-bathed “The End of Silence” gives Jónsi some competition in the angel-voiced art-pop department.
When Remiddi talks about the ornateness of the songs, you get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, he hasn’t completely abandoned his love of over-the-top grandeur. Evidently, you can take the artist out of Rome, but you can’t take the Roman out of the artist.
“My approach is never minimal,” he says with a laugh. “I’m kind of the opposite. I more into exaggerating everything, maybe orchestrating too much with way more layers. Then I’ll stop and take off some layers, until the body of the song is in a shape that I like.”
Porcelain Raft plays Electric Owl on Tuesday (April 17).