Mapping the landscape with music

We interviewed Australian Italian singer Ilaria Crociani about her new album Connecting the Dots and the women who inspired it. The singer opened up about loneliness, belonging, finding strength in the stories of others.

I listened to Ilaria’s album before I read all the reviews, and I could not stop listening to it for days after my interview with Ilaria. Connecting the Dots, like T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, can be likened to a landscape. Through this landscape winds a path that may reach water, whatever this represents. Ilaria’s voice flows with a crystalline quality telling the stories of the women who crossed this land.

The first question I ask Ilaria concerns her own statement about the album: thinking you are alone in the most difficult moments is the biggest mistake one can make.” I asked her to explain this loneliness and the encounters she has had:

The experience of immigration is not simple for anybody. A while ago, I had strong doubts about it and questioned my life. In a nutshell, I felt lonely and missed true, meaningful relationships with my closest friends. When meeting these female characters, who later became the album’s protagonists, I understood that everyone feels this way, irrespective of whether they have migrated. I felt comforted and inspired by the adventures and misadventures of these women. Sometimes we feel embarrassed when expressing vulnerability and insecurity in a world which expects us to appear strong and successful. Or, more than that, there is the incapacity to experience a sense of belonging. This is hard to accept, even though I have been here for ten years.

Singer and songwriter Ilaria Crociani

Which of these women did you encounter first?

Minnie Berrington, the protagonist of the song Stones of Fire, whose life I learnt about thanks to a BBC documentary set in Australia. After watching it, I borrowed a book from the library and read it overnight. Minnie was the first woman who became an opal prospector. She was a typist from London who came here before the First World War and fell in love with the desert.

Is there a female character you identify with more than the others in this moment of your life?

Good question. I found commonalities in all these women. I was deeply interested and moved by Gina Sinozich’s story. I even managed to speak with her son. I am a lawyer specializing in refugee rights, and I was struck when I found out what happened to Italians who lived in the colonies when the Second World War broke out. Gina, who came from the Italian colony of Istria, had to return to Italy as a refugee during the war. However, this was only a temporary and rather unhappy parenthesis for her. Later she managed to get on a boat and arrive in Australia with her husband and son. She is the one I feel the closest to. I am 50; I have always made music, but It was here that music became a vocation. Gina gave voice to her personal experience the moment she lost her husband. Like me, she gave herself to art without ambition, in the most authentic way, out of personal necessity. 

Extasy Morricone: Ilaria and her band

Like the protagonists of your songs, you found redemption through art–music, in your case. Is this correct?

Yes, I have worked several jobs, but I feel best when singing. It is the fire which fuels and feeds me. With my first band, Radiosuccessi, I delivered an aspect of Italian music that the audience here was eager to understand and enjoy.

What was the creative process behind this album?

I hate doing the housework, especially cooking; my head needs distractions, so I take a piece of paper and jot something down while doing my chores. Music is a strange alchemy, sometimes melodies come to my mind, and I need to record them on my phone using an app. Making music is a non-structured, almost biological process for me. I was given a ukulele as a gift. I play it, sometimes I find chords I like, sing over them, and my little songs come out. For the album, I happened to be working on some lyrics. Once they were well elaborated and felt complete, I asked the musicians in my band if they had any music ready. I was looking for a natural association, matching words and music without altering anything. While my husband (Mirko Guerrini, saxophonist) is a romantic, a Puccini lover, almost languid in his style, I was surprised that my lyrics matched so well with the rhythmic style of my drummer, Niko Schauble. For instance, for Musicali Aspetti, which is about the friendship between two female composers of the Baroque Age, Barbara Strozzi and Isabella Leonarda, I found that the music Niko had sent me had an antique flavor, a faraway echo, even though it was composed in 2010. It was perfect for my lyrics. 

Ilaria Crociani

What brought you to your choice of the title of your album, Connecting the Dots? 

There are two aspects here: connecting the interior dots, which link us to ourselves, and the external dots, that connect us to others. If we read between the lines of other people's lives and listen carefully to their stories, we realise we are always in front of ourselves too. Truly engaging with other people allows us to connect the dots and realise we are all very similar.

Everyone we meet leaves us with something, influences us, and shapes us somehow. There is osmosis between ourselves and others. My album invites us not to let ourselves go but to stay grounded in these examples of characters who can teach us to find a way back to simplicity and trust.

As I listened to the album, the element of land was pervasive for me. Is that just me, or is there something to that?

That is interesting! At my last concert, a woman approached me and told me she was born in the Australian outback and recognised herself in the songs and the genuine and simplistic landscape they evoke. To a certain degree, it reminds me of our Sicilian outback in the Trapani region.

| Images provided by Ilaria Crociani