CIRO MANNA - "XY" Interview

Italian rock and jazz guitarist CIRO MANNA’s new record “XY” is one of the best guitar albums we have heard in 2015. "XY" boasts  energetic Rock, Blues and Fusion tunes, and shows Ciro as an accomplished and skilled player. We wanted to learn more about how long it took to record the new album, and how his co-operation with ANDY TIMMONS, PAUL GILBERT, SIMON PHILLIPS and acclaimed session bassist LELAN SKLAR came about.

Studying guitar from the age of 14, Ciro started playing in clubs around Italy at age 17 with various artists. He studied at Università della Musica in Rome with many of Italy’s top guitarists, also attending various workshops with international guitar players including: MIKE STERN, CARL VERHEYEN, and GREG HOWE. In 2007 Ciro released his first album “Feel 'N Groove”, which was critically acclaimed and gained airplay in Italy and Australia.  Since 2008, Ciro has worked with the Italian organisation "Fa Re Musica", organising clinics with many internationally renowned guitarists.  Ciro has also featured regularly in televised Italian orchestral performances.

“XY” features a stellar cast, including guest performances from ANDY TIMMONS, PAUL GILBERT, and GUTHRIE GOVAN. Read our review in German language here. Drummer Simon Phillips and acclaimed session bassist Lelan Sklar feature on six of the tracks, with the remaining tracks being played by the Ciro Manna Trio (Ciro, drummer Antonio Muto and bassist Marco Galiero).  XY also features the vocals of Illaria Palmieri and Patrix Duenas on ‘Fear & Fire’ and ‘Secret Potion’.


Ciro, congratulations on the release of your second album. Can you please tell us about the title "XY”?

Thanks a lot! The title came from a long period in which I was playing my new songs in the clubs but I didn’t have the titles so I decided to call the new songs X1, X2, X3. After I started to think of the topic of ‘birth’ referring to the birth of the CD that took me four years, and also to my daughter (I become a daddy last year). In fact, on the cover there is my baby. Also XY is the male chromosome link to me, and in addition ‘X' is like the first side of the CD that I recorded in the U.S.A. and the 'Y' is like the second side recorded in Italy…there are a lot of connections.

Please also tell us about the cover artwork.

The artwork was done by my brother who is a professional artist (cartoonist), and a friend of his who added the colour. All the graphic artwork was done by Emagraphic.

How long did it take you to write the songs for the album?

The making of the CD took quite some time because I worked a lot in the areas of pop music, TV shows and studio sessions, so I worked on the CD when I could. But the total time of working was two to three months. About the takes, you know, sometimes the right notes come out easy and sometimes it takes more time. In the U.S., we recorded live with Simon and Lee, and Paul Gilbert. As far as the other songs are concerned, we recorded one instrument at a time.


Can you also elaborate on how you went about recording?

As I said, the whole recording spanned a period of about four years. I began by recording the rhythm sections at Simon’s studio in Los Angeles, with him on drums and Lee Sklar on Bass. PAUL GILBERT also took part in the session doing a solo on “Wheels on Fire”. ANDY TIMMONS recorded his solo from a studio in Texas, while GUTHRIE GOVAN was in Caserta, Italy for a clinic and on a day off we recorded his solo. After this, the other instruments were recorded in different studios in Italy and during different periods.  It’s not easy to keep the control of everything doing things in different moments. I’ll try for the next album to take one month to do everything …it’s the best way to do a record!

Can you please tell us about the equipment you used in the studio?

I used PRS guitars: a 513 and my usual 305 with hot rails in the bridge. For pedals I used a BB preamp and an A.C. booster-like overdrive through a Fender Deville and DV Mark little 40 (I’m an endorsee of DV Mark Amps). The acoustic guitar I used was a Martin 00028 Clapton signature.

Would this be the same equipment you use live?

It’s almost the same as the studio. I always use DV Mark little 40 amp with 2 or 4 speakers, and for effects I use a Memory Lane delay, a Strymon Mobius (for modulations), a Strymon Flint (for tremolo and reverb), and a BB preamp and AC Booster for overdrive. I also often use an SP compressor, Dunlop 95Q wah, and an Ernie Ball volume pedal. As for guitars, I mostly use a PRS 305 but sometimes a Fender Stratocaster John Cruz Relic, a Telecaster Custom Shop 51, a Gibson 335 VOS 63, and a few others.

We understand that six tracks have been recorded with Simon Philipps on drums and Lee Sklar. How did the cooperation with Simon and Lee come about?

I’m a big fan of the band TOTO, and Simon is one of my Idols. Also I have watched a lot of DVDs of PHIL COLLINS with Lee Sklar, so to play with them was a dream for me. Thanks also to Riccardo Cappelli, who is an Italian manager of musicians like Andy Timmons, Guthrie Govan and many others, I had the chance to contact Simon, asking if he was interested in a collaboration. On the first day of recording it was a little bit difficult to realize that I was in the studio with my Idols recording my music!! Anyway it was a great honor for me, they are wonderful musicians!!


The other five tracks have been played by your trio formation. How long have you guys been playing together?

I’ve played with the same band for around 12 years.  We are also great friends also, so it’s easy to play with them. Antonio Muto on drums and Marco Galiero on bass!


We understand you played a vital part in organising clinics with many famous guitarists as part of the "Fa Re Musica" organisation in Italy. Can you tell us a bit about that organisation? What were the most memorable moments?

My desire when I was very young was to bring some good music and musicians to my town, because 20 years ago to see a concert of an international artist I had to go to big cities such as Rome or Milan. So supported by “Fa re Musica” I started to organize a lot of clinics and concerts with artists like FRANK GAMBALE, ROBBEN FORD, ANDY TIMMONS, GUTHRIE GOVAN, PAUL GILBERT, STEVE VAI, and many others. Also for me to be so close to these big artists was the best musical school because I learned things that you can’t find in the books!

Please tell us about your beginnings? When did you start playing, what music/artists influenced you?

I started studying classic guitar, but after a few months I bought an electric guitar because I wanted to play the songs of my favorite bands: METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN, NIRVANA, … After, I started to listen to progressive, power and neoclassic metal, bands like DREAM THEATER, SYMPHONY X, STRATOVARIUS, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, and many others. Some years later I was captured by Blues-jazz and then by Fusion music. The players that have influenced my style are too many to mention, but for sure ANDY TIMMONS, STEVE LUKATHER, GEORGE BENSON, JOE PASS, FRANK GAMBALE, SCOTT HENDERSON, ROBBEN FORD, JOE SATRIANI, STEVE VAI, BLUES SARACENO, GUTHRIE GOVAN, STEVE MORSE, … and also artists like ALAIN CARON, HERBIE HANCOCK, and CHICK COREA, have influenced a lot my playing!

How did you become so prolific on your instrument? Can you elaborate on your training/practice routines?

I think that the secret is to be always curious to learn new stuff and to play with a lot of musicians, mostly better than yourself. In the past I practiced a lot of technique, improvising, Rhythm etc, but now I do not have too much time, so when I’ve some hours free I try to compose new music.

What would you say is the most neglected skill when learning an instrument?

It’s probably the groove. Often I see a lot of very fast players on YouTube playing a lot of licks in all styles, but without the right groove. This is the worst thing, to play without the right rhythmic pronunciation. To be a great lead player you need to be a great rhythmic player and prepared harmonically. In this way you can control every note that you play!

Let us turn to the music scene in Italy? We would be interested in learning more about how difficult/easy it is in Italy to make a living from being a professional musician. What would you say are the most important skills/aspects in this respect?

In Italy the musical life is not easy, but I think that now it’s difficult in every country of the world because there are too many players and the monetary value of musical works is going down. Anyway, if you are a good guy and have the right musical skills you can make a living; I live without too many problems. In order to work a lot, you need to be a good session man, teacher, transcriber.  The more things you can do, the better, because more people can call you to work!


Ciro, you recently went on tour as a support band for the ANDY TIMMONS BAND. Can you please tell us how this came about and how the tour went?

I met Andy for the first time about 8 years ago. He's a very nice guy and I’ve opened his concert and played with him many times in Italy. It was my big desire to do the same thing in Europe, so in March I asked his tour manager (who is a friend of mine) how I can do it. Eventually we found a way to do 80% of the tour together, supported also by my amplifiers endorsing company Markbass/DV Mark; they do great work in support of music and their artists!! Long life to Marco De Virgiliis (the Boss)!!


Please tell us about your plans for the future.

I will be doing a couple of TV shows on the national channel in Italy, a tour clinic in Italy at the end of February, and I’m also working on new records: one with my band feat Patrix Duenas (with vocals) and another instrumental. Also I’m writing a couple of instructional books. I hope to finish everything by next summer.

Thank you so much for you time and answers.

Thanks to you guys, you’re welcome!!!