Do you have what it takes to leave home, embark an uncertain journey and then go back where everything started? I had the pleasure to chat about all of this with Violetta Zironi, Italian-born singer-songwriter – now based in London – who released her first new single in years. Not only is ‘Half Moon Lane’ the title of that song that marks a new beginning for her as a woman and an artist, it’s also that safe place, though far from her motherland, she can call home.
I met Violetta on a gloomy Monday, and she walked me through her dreams, with a look in retrospect.
“Half Moon Lane is the street where I live, here in London. I wrote this song quite recently, actually, perhaps a couple of months ago. It’s my safe harbour to sail to, the end of a journey of one year, or more, I spent traveling. I’ve been living between London, Berlin, France. I visited the United States, too, on a trip on the road, for a month. It’s all been amazing, although I have always thought of this fascinating street in Herne Hill, a place I would dare calling home now”.
What’s so special on Half Moon Lane?
“There’s a tree adorned with little, coloured light bulbs. They go out every night at 11pm. There is the noisy market on a Sunday, and a piano right the middle of the train station, all sprayed with graffiti and random people playing it. Half Moon Lane has its characters too, and amongst them, there is a transgender woman, probably in her 70s, who most of the time only wears a bikini and its wig. And she gently plays the piano, entertaining all the people who are around”.
As you said, it’s your safe harbour to sail to…
“Exactly. It’s the place where I have always gone back. It feels like home, a place where I can keep my memories and experiences safe. You know, when you travel you inevitably meet different cultures, people, habits. You have a great time, you grow up, then you end up thinking about your origins, where you belong. Half Moon Lane brings to me the same vibes of my hometown, Reggio Emilia. It’s warm and safe, it has a place in my heart”.
Let’s go back to the start. Four years ago Violetta appeared on the Italian edition of X Factor, with her ukulele. Many things changed, though, through the years, and Violetta is now an artist who chose to start from fresh, doing it herself.
“I was very young when I went to X Factor. I didn’t really realise what was going on. To be on TV was a big deal; it’s a huge environment, a marketing channel where everything you do or say gets inevitably amplified. Looking back at that experience now, I can only say I knew what I wanted to do, which was going on stage with my ukulele and play music. I was criticised by a lot of people, but this helped me gaining confidence and having some exposure. People saw me for who I really am, that’s what matters I guess, but…”.
“There’s more than one ‘but’, actually. X Factor is a mainstream machine, it builds characters. The idea of creating a ‘pop alter-ego’ for myself was rather complicated. I surely made some mistakes, but I am happy of all I did and of how things went in the end. I was asked to make a decision: follow the pattern put together by the major, Sony Music, to see some results at some point; or just do it myself, taking all the risks. I tried to compromise, to find a common ground, but it was hard to overcome all the intricacies. I needed to take some time to know better who I was, to understand what I really wanted to do. Here I am, four years later, starting from scratch an exciting journey. With a different degree of maturity, both as an artist and as a person.
Violetta now sings in English, and this might be a game changer…
“I’ve always wanted to sing in English. When I started at X Factor I didn’t even know how to sing in Italian. My vocal coach, Rossana Casale, helped me open my mind and taught me how to sing in Italian, an amazing language for poetry and songwriting. Although Italian is my native language, lately I’ve found myself mainly writing in English, perhaps because this is the language I am using the most now”.
‘Half Moon Lane’ reflects delicate indie folk sensibilities. What did inspire your songwriting? Are there any influences you’d like to talk about?
“Johnny Cash was my very first source of inspiration. My father is a blues musician and it was natural to start from there. I soon moved into folk and country, and the press has always stressed comparisons to the like of Norah Jones. I can say I love her music, she is such an influential artist to me. I love her voice and, most of all, her music arrangements. I always refer to her first album as a seminal one. Not to mention the Italian songwriting of the 60s, a genre that changed history and influenced the whole music production for decades, at least in my country”.
And then there’s Jack Savoretti. Am I right?
“Oh, yes! – she laughs – Jack is a good friend of mine and an artist who has represented a guide for me. He taught me a lot and him crossing my path was a sort of breakthrough. His roots are Italian too and he understood that you should never be afraid of showing your origins once on stage”.
What’s in your box of dreams, Violetta? What do you see on the horizon, after ‘Half Moon Lane’?
“As I said, this new single marks a new beginning. I’m embarking a new route that will lead me to the recordings of an EP. To fund this project, I am about to launch a crowdfunding campaign, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. I will record the EP in Berlin, with a produced I met only recently and with whom I clicked almost instantly. He understood what my needs are: to try and mix folk and country with my Italian origins. I am going to do that, recording four or five tracks. Also, this will be the right occasion to thank everyone who’s always been by my side in these few years”.
Including your ukulele?
“I’ll bring it in the studio, sure thing. It became famous with me, now it’s my talisman”.
Violetta smiles, takes the last sip of her coffee, then looks somewhere. Her gaze sails miles away, perhaps up to Half Moon Lane, or who knows where on her horizon.