With members from Tuscany, Salento, and Montana, the acoustic power-trio Heavy Wood has materialized as a melting pot of music and culture, drawing comparisons to Gogol Bordello, ACDC, and even Ennio Morricone. Besides their unmistakably aggressive approach to playing acoustic guitars, Heavy Wood also features “the drawk”, guitarist Rob Cavallo’s own invention. The 7-string guitar/bass combination gives Cavallo (Faggiano, Puglia) the full range of a grand piano without need for effects or pedals. The band also features the powerful style of Matteo Flori (Abbadia San Salvatore, Tuscany) on drums, and extremely versatile vocals by both Cavallo, and the band’s lone American member, Nate Kantner (Bozeman, Montana). We recently spoke to Rob Cavallo on composing and working with heavy Wood.
Q: You almost have 200 free compositions on your YouTube channel. There are for all tastes, what kind of music do you prefer to write?
A: I’m for whatever music that gives you strong feelings. Whether is a noir piece, heavy metal or orchestral, it doesn’t really matter to me. I love music that creates an emotional reaction. Probably because I’m the first to experience that feeling when I’m writing the score in the first place.
Q: Any recent publishing worth mentioning?
A: Two of my scores are published for the Italian national TV ( Italia Uno, Canale 5). At the moment I’m focused on the band Heavy Wood. We’re releasing an album in January 2017, there’s plenty of work to do.
Q: On that note, I listened to some Heavy Wood songs, it’s a very fresh sounding band. What’s the secret?
A: Well, it’s a heavy energetic rock music done with classical guitars, which is kind of counterintuitive when you picture a rock band. Maybe that’s why we sound fresh.
Q: Why? Is it hard to rock out with classical guitars?
A: Exactly. That’s the point. We don’t just strum chords. We play them as they were electric guitars, the sound is pretty mean and dynamic. Plus, we move a lot on stage. No one actually tried to explore acoustic guitars this way.
Problem is when you play them the way we do, they’re difficult to control on stage, especially because we have loud drums. But we managed to control that pretty good.
Q: How do you achieve that?
A: We use a D.I from LR Baggs, it’s called the Venue. It gives a thick and real sound to the guitars and it allows you to control the feedback pretty easily.
Q: I noticed you’re based in Italy, and you recently had your first USA tour with Heavy Wood. Something like 17 shows. How did that go?
A: Well, we’ve always been doing gigs in Italy, so doing concerts in the States was mind blowing for us. Crowds were into our music since the first strike of a chord. We felt very relaxed and fully immersed in the show. In Italy it’s not that easy nowadays.
Q: How is that so?
A: In Italy there are tribute bands all over the place, and it’s a trend that is growing and growing. Which means that whenever you have a gig, you have to compete with shows that are straight copy-and-paste from bands that made rock history. If you want to stand out, as an indie band, it’s not an easy task. But, if you don’t give up, that also helps you improving your own show, by a lot.
Q: Besides tribute bands, is there a big indie scene in Italy?
A: Not really. The indie scene in Italy is a very little niche. It’s so little that no one in the world knows about it. When one thinks about Italian music on an international scale, what comes to mind is always Bocelli, Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini and Zucchero. That’s it. We’re trying to break this spell, by touring the world with Heavy Wood and spreading the verb about rock music made in Italy.
Q: If I were to describe your genre I would say you guys sound like Bob Dylan meets AC/DC.
A: Wow, that’s humbling. We never heard this one before. But yeah, that could be quite accurate.
Q: Do you write all the music for Heavy Wood?
A: Me and Nate Kantner, the other band founder, write all the music and lyrics. My influences are somewhat different from him, but melting our own songwriting together is what makes the trademark sound of the band.
Q: You don’t have a bass player in the band. Is that a choice? And, how does your “drawk guitar” work exactly?
A: It wasn’t a pre-thought choice. We don’t have a bass player but we have bass notes. We had a gig and we happened to be without the bassist, so instead of giving up and cancel the show, I added a bass string on my classical guitar and tried to play bass lines and guitar parts at the same time. That gig turned out to be a blast for us, and it felt stupid not to keep it going like that. Now there’s a guitar maker that builds those “twisted” guitars for me.
Q: What’s your approach to songwriting and to film scoring?
A: I always start from the music, later on I’d carve the lyrics out of it. I’m totally convinced the music contains the lyrics already. As for film scoring I always start from the pictures, and I try to enhance their meaning. Which is what would happen if I had lyrics and have to build music around them; I’d try to enhance the lyrics’ meaning and pace with the score. When I don’t have a movie to work on, I usually compose imaging a given situation. Like a smoky and dark dive bar somewhere in time or a sunny day on the beach and whatever else, you name it.
Q: Any link you’d like to share with the readers?
For film scoring, mastering and producing
All about Heavy Wood
Q: Alright Rob, thanks for your time doing this interview for Video Music Stars.
A: You’re welcome, and many many thanks for sharing this interview on your website.