[MUSIC: Interview] Spaghetti Western Orchestra
Spaghetti Westerns were a sub-genre of the classic American western film that emerged in the ‘60s, so named because they were generally produced and directed by Italians. Polite, hey? Over 600 European westerns were made in a 20-year period, and of those Serge Leone was one of the most prominent directors. His friend, Ennio Morricone, provided the chaotic, complex and punctuating soundtracks – complete with hilarious soundscapes and organic sound effects – that lent so much impact and humour to Leone’s films. Close to a decade ago saw the birth of The Ennio Morricone Experience, an Australian comic tribute trio that would become The Spaghetti Western Orchestra – one of the most peculiar things you’ll see at Sydney Opera House this year.
“It began in Melbourne as an idea,” creative producer, performer and rhythmic luminary Graeme Leak explains. “We used to get together and play cards and gamble, drink whiskey and smoke cigars, and we used to try different soundtracks out for our gambling nights. We found that the Spaghetti Western soundtracks always got you in the mood to throw your cards down and put your five cents on the table – and in doing that, we started to think that it would be great to do this material on stage. But because it’s written for such large forces, we couldn’t think of a way to do it; we just gave it a go as a quartet,” he says. “When we first started doing it, we would cut up bits of dialogue from the films and bring the fader up on them in-between tracks. Then we started to do that live as well, and then we added the sound effects, and got rid of all of the pre-recorded parts…”
While The Ennio Morricone Experience found appreciative audiences both at home and abroad, it was a trip to Edinburgh that cemented the new face of The Spaghetti Western Orchestra. “When we went to Edinburgh we met Glynis Henderson, who’s the producer of Stomp,” Leak explains. “She wanted to work with us, but she wanted to change the show to make it more international; there were a lot of English language elements. So we worked with a director, Denis Blais, and he shifted the show into a much more visual realm for European and Asian audiences. He amplified the theatrical and character side of things and moved the show from musicians playing on a black stage in dinner suits into the grander scale show that we have now.”
With an overwhelming list of instrumentation including “Double Bass”, “Tasmanian Lottery Balls” and “A Child-Sized Boot”, and a focus on creating every musical piece and thematic soundscape without the help of any digital tracks, the quintet are adept at doing a whole host of things at once, making the show as much a visual experience as a sonic one. “It’s pretty much a polyphonic affair; everyone is doing something different all of the time,” Leak says. “One thing that people always tell us when they come back to the show for a second or a third time is that they see a different show, because their focus is on someone or something different each time.
“I think the good thing about us is that our backgrounds are quite varied,” he continues. “Most of us are classically trained, Patrick [Cronin] has more of a cabaret background, and Boris [Conley] did a lot of music theatre, and quite a bit of television – he was the Friday Night Funny Man on Frontline many, many years ago. We’ve all taken ourselves into new territory both vocally and theatrically in this act, and it has evolved quite organically into what it is today.”
Where: The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
When: Tuesday August 14 – Sunday August 19