Singer, Songwriter, Poet: France
The following few paragraphs comprise an update to Piers Faccini’s story, which was originally posted in the winter of 2007. The update in part celebrates his new album, My Wilderness, which was released in Europe on September 26, 2011 and followed in North America two weeks later, on October 11. It also celebrates Piers Faccini himself, and the growth of his music and art:
It was the autumn of 2006 – A Thousand Stories wasn’t much more than a mission statement on a piece of paper. And in what felt like a dream, I’d just finished a conversation with Susana Baca, the incredible Afro-Peruvian vocalist and historian.
While working on Susana’s story in those early days, I have a distinct memory of driving to a friend’s house in the evening and hearing a voice on the radio that was quiet and warm – yet strong – singing and playing a kind of blues on the acoustic guitar that was different than any I’d ever heard. I’d only caught the final minute of that solo performance, but it was all I needed. Right then and there, waiting at a traffic light, I found a scrap of paper and a pen and wrote down the information as quickly as the radio host shared it. The song: Talk to Her. The artist: Piers Faccini. After returning home and spending the next few days in excitement, finding and listening to more of Piers’ music, I sent him a message to ask if he’d like to be part of A Thousand Stories.
Piers graciously looked through the few stories I’d gathered to that point, including Susana Baca’s, and was quick to reply. The first thing he’d tell me was that we already shared a common bond. Recently he and Susana happened to meet backstage at a venue in which both of them were scheduled to perform. They’d have a spontaneous musical interlude – Piers playing his guitar, Susana singing. He was as amazed with her voice as I was.
And really, that’s Piers: have one thing in common and he’ll light up. An instant and lasting kindred spirit. So, we scheduled a time to meet, and on an evening just a few months later Piers and I would speak about Susana, and about music, inspiration, and the mystery of it all. Then along Piers would go, touring and playing songs from his 2006 album, Tearing Sky.
It’s been about five years on from that conversation, and here in New York City (and hopefully from wherever you might be reading), we’ve had the good fortune of welcoming Piers back again and again. In 2009 he released another album, Two Grains of Sand, and it rolled from the start. A particular song, A Storm is Going to Come, was even featured on an episode of the intensely followed medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. It made us wonder what he’d experienced in those years since we first knew him. Where he’d been. What he’d seen. So we’d continue listening, struck by his growth; how the new songs would bloom, how the old songs would mature.
And now, in the autumn of 2011, Piers invites us to listen again with his newest album, My Wilderness. One listen through the album and the sense of the title becomes evident. Through the music Piers touches on his roots, which spread through Europe in an almost gypsy-like way: Italian, English, Irish, Eastern European. But there are also tastes from even farther away: West African, Middle Eastern, American Blues, folk music of all sorts.
So it only makes sense that the album has waited this long to come about. You see, Piers is a storyteller. And storytelling takes time. Experience takes time. I think about how famed American artist Mark Rothko, at age 57, answered the question of how long it took to finish one of his paintings by saying, “I’m 57 years old and it took me all my life to do it.” Today, if asked how long it takes to finish one of his songs, I think Piers might reply in a similar way.
After all, a good story is often more subtle than it is plain. So listen carefully to My Wilderness. There’s a little subtle something we can all relate to. Maybe it’s the melodic blues and introspective lyrics of the title track, My Wilderness; or the lighthearted n’goni accompaniment in That Cry; or the driving pace of the Italian tarantella in No Reply. But it’ll be something. And what might make the music truly successful is that despite those connections we make, there’s still enough of the mystery that remains. It’s what makes all that musical and rhythmical diversity – that wilderness – so alluring. It’s why we want to listen again. And it’s what might one day encourage us to reach out and explore our own wilderness.
Just think about how, over all this time, Piers has continued to expand borders through song. It’s as if he’s become a diplomat for music’s sake; an ambassador of music. And considering how expansive this world is and how expansive the mind can be, what’s most impressive is that I’m sure there’s still a lot inside of Piers that hasn’t yet been said.
My Wilderness, the 2011 release from Piers Faccini, is available in Europe on the Tôt ou Tard label, in North America on the Six Degrees Records label, and everywhere at the iTunes store and amazon.com.
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Just a solitary young man. Tall. Thin. A mess of shortish brown hair. Quietly, he walked out onto the dark stage.
A single spotlight found him, giving accent to cheekbones. Days-old facial hair. A steady brow cast a dark shadow over his eyes. Clinking dinnerware; hushed conversation; a train rumbling far underneath the building; everything simply continued for those first moments. Gently he plugged a cord into his guitar, and without a word began to play very soft, very deep notes.
Then Piers Faccini began to sing.
And everything stopped.
The conversation. The movements. Everything yielded to this voice. A voice that resonated with such warmth: “And the ocean knows each wave that breaks is coming home; is coming home”. And he began to hum such a lovely line of notes.
I think back to that evening, and to this storyteller who reached our hearts; who touched our hearts so closely with that first song. The thing is: it seemed Piers had finished the set as quickly as that train rushed underneath us. Five songs. Perhaps six. It wasn’t enough. How glad I was to hear that he’d be back in Manhattan two days later to perform again.
But really, even if Piers had just played that opening song twice more and ended his evening right then and there, I would have had an incredible measure of contentment. It’s the value of a storyteller; the value of a poet; the value of a pure voice; the value of song. Especially when all of these are combined, it’s such an incredible treasure.
“That’s what I love about song. Songs are amazing, because for many years I was writing poetry and writing music, but I wasn’t able to put the two together. The voice was divided into two parts: one part was the writer who was writing poetry with pen and paper that was gonna be read out, and the other half was someone who had a strong melodic sense and who knew how to write a nice melody…but I couldn’t bring the two together. It took me a while.”
I was almost amazed when Piers told me that. Having listened to his songs – I suppose it was hard for me to imagine Piers ever having a period in his life when things weren’t so fluid. But he readily told me of how much he’d been working toward that point, a point he’d only very recently reached, where things totally flowed between the melody and the words and the rhythm. He traced things back for me – back to early influences as a teenager growing up in the UK. The Smiths. Neil Young. Bob Dylan. But then a turning point – a record by Skip James, American bluesman.
“I just had the impression that I was for the first time hearing something that was...kind of the truth, in a way. It felt like the truth, something that was totally unadulterated. And I sold my electric guitar and bought an acoustic guitar and I just stopped listening to The Smiths. I was like a convert to a new religion. And basically at that point I just stopped doing everything. All I wanted to do was fingerpick guitar.”
It was only the beginning of what would become a lyrical and musical journey. Soon after, Piers heard a musician from Mali named Ali Farka Toure – and the incredible sounds led him to find the music of another brilliant Malian singer and guitarist, Boubacar Traoré.
“I just felt like Skip James to Ali Farka to Boubacar Traoré wasn’t a big leap. It felt very coherent and it just enabled me to have more of a kind of…I guess it was the rhythm…and what I loved about Skip James was that you had the simplicity of the structure lyrically, but within that simplicity you also had the capacity to be poetic. It’s like Skip James to me is a real poet, and actually the difference with a lot of other bluesmen is in that respect, ‘cause I think a lot of them, even the really great musicians, don’t have his lyrical gift in a way.”
That Piers can see the incredible lyrical gift in artists like Skip James has surely helped him develop the same sort of gift in himself. On his full-length album Tearing Sky, each song is completely his own creation. There’s so much depth and diversity. Compare the tender notes and lyrics of Each Wave that Breaks with another song like If I, and Piers’ harmonica; or even better, Sharpening Bone, whose bass line, drum beats, and lyrics have such a sweet groove to them.
But just as getting that poet and that songwriter inside him to cooperate, putting his songs and that voice out there in front of an audience also wasn’t a simple thing – and not only because the musical influences were so particular for the young European to deal with and make his own.
“I had spent many, many years where the idea of playing in front of people was just impossible to me, because I was just so shy and so kind of terrorized in a way by the idea of…it just seemed to me like whenever I tried to empty my heart and my soul and my gut in front of people I couldn’t really…I almost just couldn’t really deal with whatever was happening. It was so powerful that it would kind of take over me and it was like a kind of madness in a way, and I didn’t feel I could do that in front of people, particularly in the context of situations where you play if you’re a young unsigned artist – like in a bar with everyone drinking beer. I felt like I couldn’t do that because it’s like you’re trying to share something so intimate and fragile and poetic and people are just drinking beer and talking to each other.”
But somehow, there was a click. Eventually something happened – a moment where that incongruence didn’t bother him any longer. Where he realized that ultimately, he wasn’t singing to the people who didn’t care – he was singing to the people who did care.
And I’m so glad.
He told me of a very relative experience. Coming to the end of the set a few weeks prior in Aspen, Colorado, a voice called out “Will you play Come the Harvest?”
So he did. Afterward, the woman approached him to say how incredibly touched she was by the song. Even weeks later, Piers had it very close in mind.
“I thanked her. And she was like, ‘no, thank you’. And I was like, ‘no no, thank YOU'.”
“Because what I say is that…when whatever I do…when whatever anyone does is touching…if there aren’t the ears in the hearts to hear it then it’s meaningless.”
Suddenly his gentle voice became that much more audible, with words idyllic and beautiful.
“And it’s not only that. If you hear something that is touching, then in a way it’s yours, it’s not mine. It doesn’t belong to me anymore, because whatever is touching for you in that song is because you’ve been able to somehow incorporate it into and give it the color from your own life. Because whatever meaning it has comes from your own interpretation and the significance of that melody, of that word. And so it’s yours, it’s not mine.”
What you hear in Piers’ work is all of that. It’s something that’s been gradually crystallized into a very unique and lovely kind of style; especially noted when he performs Where Angels Fly, as there’s something not found on the record. Before the song finishes he sends his voice soaring and chanting into a delicious East-Indian musical scale, drifting into mystery for what must be close to 60 seconds. So 15 years after falling in love with Skip James and that original lyrical truth, Piers’ journey still moves and moves.
“We have this voice – this one…organ if you want to call it. We have an infinite variety of sounds that can come from it, and I just feel like I’m only even scratching the surface of what it can do.”
Ultimately, the way Piers expresses what’s inside of him is already golden to me. The thing is – the beautiful thing is – as brilliant as gold is, it can always be refined a bit more. It can be purified that much more. And I think really that’s what Piers Faccini is after.
That’s what he’ll always search for. That purity.
All stories are copyright of Gregory Koutrouby and A Thousand Stories unless otherwise noted.