A Stratocaster as a paintbrush

By Massimo D'Angelo

We ran into Ivano Icardi by coincidence. And by coincidence we listened to his new record, So Far Away, in an era in which we were looking for instrumental records for our Jukebox, where the guitar would be the only and indisputable star. We looked on the other side of the pond, lost between Brad Paisley’s Play (2008) and Shawn Lane’s The Power of Ten (1992), when we found Ivano. So we decided to stay in Europe, in Italy to be exact.  

Born in Turin, the year 1975, Ivano Icardi started to play guitar at 5, ‘forced’ by his mother - he wanted to be a violinist -. After a year of dead boring exercises on Spanish guitar, the wisdom of a good teacher, Giancarlo Mellano, pointed him in the right direction: he should learn songs by Italian singer/songwriters. Since then, Ivano hasn’t stopped playing, practicing, and studying his instrument.  

Icardi has just released his 2nd record (the 1st, Walking With the Giants, is from 2013) and has just fulfilled his dream: to see his face on the billboards and read his name in the program lists of the local venues where he plays, which hasn’t been easy.
It was a long journey: for more than 10 years he worked in the background, he composed over 3000 pieces: from publicity jingles, to soundtracks, and songs for others, often using a pseudonym. Until 5 years ago when he decided to be himself: Ivano Icardi, guitarist.     

Ivano has exceptional powers of musical communication. Due to those years of studying, controlling the instrument, to his imagination in the composing process or to all the time spent making up melodies for ads, or scores for stories told in a matter of seconds.  

We listened to both of Icardi’s records closely and were surprised. His trajectory, the progression between one work and another, positively impressed us: Ivano expresses himself through his songs, alternating an enviable virtuosity with limpid sweetness. Stories easily heard tales that touch us without the need for words. He paints scenes where the colours are the chords and the notes dance together, woven into the fabric of his imagination. Magnificent scenes painted of course with his Stratocaster, the indisputable star, especially on his latest CD, one that lovers of the 6-string and good music ought to add to their collection.  


GUITARS EXCHANGE: What’s the emotional difference between playing in the studio and playing live?
Ivano Icardi: I grew up in the studio, playing there comes natural to me: music is a joy, a pleasure. What I do for a living is so beautiful it makes me feel happy, grateful, and whole. To be able to work on something that impassions us is the loveliest thing in the world. When I am on stage, I feel at home: I prepared all my life for this. To watch how excited people get...I couldn’t be happier: this is why I make music.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: On your records we hear funk, rock, blues pieces, and even country...all with the perfect title. Where do you get your inspiration?
Ivano Icardi: Take into account my background. Since a boy I’ve been able to put music to the visual image, something that later became my work. When I write music, I see a movie in my head...each bit is a film: it’s like that in the song Velvet, where I imagined a girl walking alone in the rain, she’s sad, hair soaked, wrapped in her her wool sweater, thinking about something that happened to her. Everything happens like in a movie, with a John Mayer air to it, and those worlds that I love. If you listen to Children, you’ll see why I couldn’t name it anything else: I imagined some children playing on a sunny day. The same with Los Angeles, the song  I played with my American friends, it has that city’s mood. My songs are the soundtrack of movies that don’t exist. For me it’s important for a piece to have a title that tells a story that I had in my head. It also works as a suggestion to those listening, that way they participate in the music mora and appreciate the message that I want to send.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: Among all of the songs you’ve written, which best portrays you?
Ivano Icardi: People adore I Remember to Fly and tell me it portrays me best. It’s a single that never made it on any of my records in the end. I think that Velvet may be one of those moments where I express myself best between guitar and score, it’s a piece with that spirit of tenderness somewhere between genres. Also Soldier Song and all its shades, mean a lot to me. In general, the entire album So Far Away is a good portrayal of how I am, from start to finish, from its songs to its digipack format, something that I want to take care of to the minutest detail because it reflects the musical work I did and what got me here. It’s important to marry the global image to the story you want to tell.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: There are 3 years between your first and second records. How was the Ivano 3 years ago compared to him now? And where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Ivano Icardi: When I released Walking with the Giants, I was coming from making music behind the scenes. I played a lot but not like I do now. On the first record there is more composition work and less of the guitarist. From Walking with the Giants to So Far Away I have worked and played much more as guitarist and it shows: there’s a lot of guitar on the last record. I developed and wished for a style much more my own that eventually came off naturally, using the many effects on the same instrument: I need to hear it in its entirety. In my arrangements there are always many chords and effects that sound together. My style has become ‘special’ because I only play my music, the way it comes out, naturally: I don’t play music by others. I’m content as a composer and guitarist...not to show off, but for satisfaction: I like what I do. What will I be doing in three years? I don’t know. I would like to focus on my shows. I’ve seen how much people want live music. We live in a bipolar situation: on the one hand, organisers get ‘frightened’ with talk of instrumental music, and on the other, when there’s a gig, the public response is incredible. I have this European tour in my head and in Italy. I’d like to get away from clubs and start playing in theatres: I think that would be the perfect setting for my music. In my shows, there is never anything too exaggerated, exasperated or complex from a musical or harmonic point of view. I try to keep a pleasant and harmonic feeling in the music.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: Which guitarists are your heroes? Who would you like to play with?
Ivano Icardi: I really like John Mayer...I like listening to him, but I wouldn’t want to play with him because I wouldn’t get to enjoy listening to him. I don’t listen to music much lately, but I used to so much! I’ve played everything by everyone...from Mike Oldfield to Steve Vai or Satriani...and I played until my fingers bled as a kid. Over the last 10 years I haven’t managed to listen to much music: I’m so into what I’m doing I don’t have the time. I would play with everybody and nobody. The important thing is that there’s feeling, communication, and art. There must be something behind it.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: We always see you with your Stratocaster and wonder if you also have acoustic moments?
Ivano Icardi: Of course! Acoustic is the foundation for me. I like to play it in a simple way, as in strumming. On my records there are many acoustic style bits. This is due to my classical training at the conservatory, which remained ingrained in my hands. I listen to few acoustic guitarists because for me, after Michael Hedges, there are only copies. The only one is Tommy Emmanuel, with whom I keep in touch, among other things. I like to watch him play and really enjoy it. I learned from him to be something of an actor on stage: he connects with people in a way that makes it fun for them, he creates a feeling with the audience, and that’s how you do it, that’s what music is all about.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: What advice would you give for those starting to play? Which records should every guitarist know by heart?
Ivano Icardi: The first thing is to learn to get excited about music. Enjoy the little things you get from the instrument: it’s the engine, the fuel that allows you to go forward. Another important thing is learning one’s own musical tempo. Most guitarists spend their lives playing solos, but don’t know how to ‘accompany’ a song. The strength of tempo, and to be aware of it, is essential. It’s a complex concept that can be summed up like this: learn to play between the gaps of the metronome. What lies in those gaps is what gives it the ‘groove’, the softness. If you ignore this, you are not a musician because that’s where music is. As far as records go, if you play rock, Passion and Warfare by Steve Vai is the bible, still today. It was a record that changed the way to play guitar. Another one you must have is Made In Japan by Deep Purple. On the acoustic side, I would say Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. And then there’s a bluesman that I love: Carl Verheyen who has it all to be #1 in blues, with infinite preparation. He’s a friend and I have the utmost respect for him.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: Tell us about your sound through the equipment you use.
Ivano Icardi: I play the Stratocaster because it’s hard to play... a kind of musical masochism. For years I played a Parker Fly and I have quite a big collection of guitars: Les Paul, Telecaster, acoustic, classical. But in the end, I always play a Strat because, if I played another, I would play much more, and I couldn’t! The Stratocaster is a hard instrument, it doesn’t forgive for a second. It’s the very guitar that restrains me a bit. It’s extremely expressive and balanced without going too far, ever: neither too rock nor too jazz. It’s very versatile, yet allows you virtuosity by working on it very hard. This is why it’s an instrument that makes you focus more on the music and less on being supersonic. And that’s what makes it my main guitar. For me, it’s a tool: I’m not a guitar expert. I figure, more than the guitar, what counts is the person behind it: it’s the human that makes the difference. On So Far Away, I used my Stratocaster American Standard from 2000 even on the rhythms, to get that homogeneous sound, of course I had to change the sound and amps...besides, 90% of the record is recorded with a Kemper! On the acoustic end, I used my Martins: that’s the real acoustic guitar in my opinion, the real sound.     


GUITARS EXCHANGE: Did you make any modifications to your Strat?
Ivano Icardi: Yes, some small changes with the tempo, to make it more ‘indestructible’. I decided to put on steel frets, given that I change them once a year and I now think it sounds better, more defined and brilliant. The pickups are two Suhr V90 (in position on the neck and centre) and a mini-Humbucker Little ’59 by Seymour Duncan on the bridge, but in a position I never tamper with: it’s good if you play metal, 80’s style. The saddles are graphite: when you play in the studio and use the whammy, the chords ‘screech’ in normal saddles. With the graphite ones they don’t. Problem solved.  

GUITARS EXCHANGE: Pedals, effects and amps?

Ivano Icardi: At the moment I’m into digital: we’re in 2016, in the future...we are the future! I am completely ‘Kemperised’ 100%: I wouldn’t go back. Practicality and quality are priceless. I was talking to John Cuniberti, Joe Satriani’s mastering engineer about this: he told me that in 30 years he had never heard an amp sound the same from one day to the next. Essentially, an amp is also a means of expression: what is important is that the sound satisfies the public and me, of course. The Kemper gives you the same sound the public will hear without having to worry ever again about a mike badly placed in front of the speaker cabinets. I prepare the sounds in the studio, in peace, with the amps previously calibrated.

Official Ivano Icardi website: http://www.ivanoicardi.com