Born into a musical dynasty, Claudio Simonetti's career was dramatically launched when his young band Goblin were chosen to produce the soundtrack for Italian horror auteur Dario Argento's latest flick. Profondo Rosso went on to sell three million copies and the band also scored his next soundtrack, the classic Suspiria. After discovering disco, Simonetti made an array of classic records under a variety of names from Easy Going to Capricorn, before returning to movie scoring in the mid-1980s.
I believe your father was also a composer, is that right?
Yes yes, my father was very well known in Italy. He was very famous. He was a musician and also a TV entertainer during the 60s and 70s he worked a lot on the TV as a showman. More than a musician. His name was Enrico Simonetti.
Was that an influence on you growing up?
Yes, I was born in Brazil and because my father worked for 15 years in Brazil, he was also very popular there. So when I was born, I was born into a musical world, because of my father. He never said you have to study musuic but when I was eight years old I started playing piano. When I started at eight I was not very interested in studying music seriously. I listened to the bands of the Sixties like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, I was a kid during that period and I loved them so I started playing guitar in a small band.
This was in Italy or Sao Paolo?
No Italy, I came back to Italy when I was 12. I arrived here and started studying when I was 13 or 14. So I decided to be a musician. So my father said, ‘OK, you can be a musician but it’s better if you study’. So I studied composition and piano at the Conservatore Saint Cecilia. But during that period I played with many bands so I studied classically but I played a lot with bands in the underground. That’s how I came to play with my band Goblin later. Cherry Five was actually the same band as Goblin, more or less. It was a record we recorded before we did Profondo Rosso and [film director] Dario Argento chose us to do the soundtrack for this after listening to what we were doing in the studio with Cherry Five. But when we recorded Profondo Rosso we changed the name to Goblin. So the album that was released later, but we actually recorded first, was done under the name Cherry Five. I don’t know why they chose this name, it’s a mystery. We were never contacted about it. Before this, I had a band called Ritratto di Dorian Grey [Dorian Grey’s Picture]. I was a big Oscar Wilde fan. It was one of my favourite books so I chose the name.
How did you meet Dario Argento?
When he came to shoot Profondo Rosso he was looking for a rock band to appear in his film. We were lucky because when we were recording the Cherry Five album we signed a contract with the same label that my father was signed to. And this label was also same label that released Dario Argento’s music. So he asked Carlo Bixio, the producer of Cinevox Records, and he said, ‘Oh I have Enrico Simonetti’s son’s band!’ So Dario came into the studio to listen to our music and he loved it. So he gave us the chance to do the soundtrack. He was very brave because we had only just turned 20 and were very young. He was a very big, famous director. We were lucky to find Dario but he was lucky that he found the right band. Profondo Rosso sold 3m. copies.
You seemed to be experimenting with electronic music and sounds from quite an early age. Even Goblin is very electronic sounding. When did you start dabbling with electronic keyboards?
I was always a fan of electronic music. My first Moog, the Mini-Moog, I bought in 1972 so I was one of the first keyboard players in Italy playing synthesiser. I had a lot of synthesisers later. You can hear it in Goblin stuff and for Suspiria we used the big Moog, Robert Moog’s1500 Moog. We had to rent this Moog because it was so expensive. ELP's Keith Emerson used it. I saw a concert of his recently and he still uses the same big Moog. It’s unique. Emerson has the original one. They were very expensive to buy. It cost maybe £20,000 at the time. So we rented it and a technician came and I told to him what to do and he programmed it for me. Even now I’m very happy with Suspiria; maybe it’s the Goblin masterpiece. We did a lot of research for this soundtrack. We used this big Moog, but we also used ethnic instruments, like tabla, bazouki and dobro. We used a lot of stuff to record it and three months recording it.
Is it true you recorded the Suspiria soundtrack without first seeing the movie?
No we did just demos before. We read the script but Dario uses the music just for ambience you know. But actually when the film was finished the music was completely different from the demos. So nothing remained from those demos.
You had a very unique disco sound, was that deliberate or was it just the way it came out?
Firstly, I was born in Brazil so the Brazilian rhythm and sound is in the music everywhere. I’d grown up with this in my blood, even if I play rock. When the 70s progressive rock era finished, after the split of Goblin, I met a producer, Giancarlo Meo, and with him we decided to make disco music. At that time, especially in the middle seventies and the end of the seventies, disco was full of orchestration, choirs etc. I loved this music, it was very powerful. In the seventies if you wanted to do arranging for disco you had to be a musician, otherwise you couldn’t write or play. It was a very nice period for me. I have great memories of this period. I changed my lifestyle completely, coming from rock bands to becoming a disco producer. I spent five or six years like this I decided to change, after Phenomena, in 1984. I decided to write just soundtracks and make rock music again.
Were you going to discotheques in the early 1970s?
Yes. One of the most famous clubs was Easy Going in Rome. It’s where I met the resident DJ Paul Micioni. We start to make productions together with Giancarlo Meo. We did the Easy Going albums. I also found Vivien Vee in the same discotheque. So this discotheque was one of the first I went to in Rome. It’s where I found the disco life! We had also another one, before, called Jackie O in Rome. Paul did a lot of productions after and some very good ones. He worked with Amii Stewart and many others.
Do you remember the music he was playing at Easy Going?
All the 70s and 80s music like Cerrone and Moroder, stuff like that. Many kinds of music. But very full of orchestration. Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin.
What disco groups or producers inspired you?
I enjoyed a lot of Moroder. He was one of the first electronic producers. He made a lot of Donna Summer records. I remember I loved I Feel Love, it was completely electronic. This was the kind of disco I loved. But I also loved Barry White. His productions were great.
What background did Giancarlo Meo have?
When I met him he was not from a musical world. He was a businessman. He worked a lot with Italian fashion. But he decided he wanted to do this and be a record producer. When I met him he had finished recording a small production. When we met together, Paul Micioni and Giancarlo, we decided to do an Easy Going record. It was the first time in Italy anyone had done this. There had maybe been the brothers LaBionda, but they were recording on a German label. But actually in Italy no one was producing this music when we decided in 1978 to make this record. Many Italian producers told me I was crazy for doing this: “It’s Americans who do this not Italians!” So Easy Going was probably the first album. The only other guy was Mauro Malavasi, he recorded under the name Macho at the same time and then Change and others. I never met him, I don’t know him personally. I think I spoke to him once by telephone. I know his musicians and I have played with some of them but I never met him.
Is it true you recorded demos for English groups in London in the early 1970s?
No we [Goblin] lived in London for almost one year and we made some demos there. We had an American singer living in London and we recorded some demos with him. These were the same demos that we brought to Italy that eventually became the Cherry Five album; but he never sang on the Cherry Five album he left before. His name is Clive Haynes. He now lives in America and is a very good painter.
Once you’d started to make disco records did you go to a lot of discos in Italy?
Yes especially in Rome. We had a lot of discos there. Everywhere you go in Italy, France, Germany there were people dancing. I have great memories of that period. With Giancarlo, we recorded some records in Madrid, New York and Philadelphia. It was fun.
Do you remember where you recorded in New York and Philly?
I did the second Easy Going album Fear at the Power Station. I recorded the brass and background choir at a studio in Philly but I can’t remember the name.
Around that time you did some session work with Herbie Mann didn’t you?
Yes. A friend of mine was producer for Atlantic and I met him in New York. Someone bought the rights to release Baby I Love You in America. A producer wanted to make a new version so when I arrived in New York with the 24-track I met A&R man Silvio Tancredi and I became his friend and we recorded this version; straight after when he was recording the Herbie Mann album he mentioned to Herbie that he knew a good Italian musician.
What were your favourite discos?
I loved Studio 54 and Xenon in New York.
Were you aware of DJs like Mozart and Baldelli in the early 1970s?
Yes but I never worked with them.
Were you conscious of the sound you had created that became known as Italo-disco?
Maybe now I know this and I can feel it. At the time I didn’t know. We recorded a lot of music that had global appeal. Maybe now I feel we invented something but at the time…. It’s like spaghetti westerns… there were many directors who were inspired by this. A lot of Italian disco was imitated. Now I know this. In the 1980s, I had no idea. It was the same with Goblin. We never felt we were one of the most powerful horror bands. Now I know.
Was Easy Going a touring band as well or just a studio project?
No I never played I just arranged it. Most of the concerts were just playbacks with the singers.
Did you have any idea how big your records were in the US?
No. In 1979, we came to the US with Vivien Vee when we had some success with Give Me A Break. It was in the Billboard charts. I realised she was very famous there. It was strange, especially for her, because she’s Italian, and she spoke very bad English. She just sang in English because she learned it, but she actually had difficulty to speak with people in America. Many times I saved her because people would talk to her and she had no idea what they were saying. I’d say, “No no no Vivien Vee she doesn’t talk to anyone!” Later she did learn to speak.
Vivien Vee originally came from Trieste, one of the northern cities. She came on holiday to Rome and me and Giancarlo met her and he became her boyfriend. When we decided to record a new album we found an Italian-American singer who was a model. I wrote this song Give Me A Break and she said she liked it so we went to record it. Although she was a model she sang very well. Anyway, her name was Carol and she totally disappeared. We never saw her again. So we had the studio and we needed a girl, so Vivien said, “Well, I sing but only Italian songs”. So I did a demo with her. And she had this low voice. We loved this voice. We called an English teacher and coached her through the song.
Did you realise that your music had had such an impact in Chicago and Detroit?
No because I never went there, but occasionally someone will say, “Oh your music was a big influence”.
Do you remember recording things like Do It Again by Easy Going?
Oh yeah. We recorded that album here in Rome in one studio. Not very big but it was quite expensive. It was very good for a disco sound. They recorded mainly TV shows and orchestras there. We tried to record here because it had a very good sound for drum and bass. We recorded this album live with many nusicians. One of the guys from Goblin played on one song, Fabio Pignatelli, on Suzy Q.
You used Walter Martino for a lot of the drums as well didn’t you?
Walter Martino was our first Goblin drummer. Fernando Fera played in some songs. He was Dorian Grey’s guitar player. And I used the brass section from a TV orchestra.
Did you use drum loops as well as live drummers?
It depended. We used real drums until the early 80s. After the Linn arrived and others we preferred to use drum machines. If you listen to the big bands of the Eighties most of them used drum machines. The English sound especially. Keyboards like the DX7: it’s the master. It was the first midi keyboard. You can recognise the early Eighties because of the sound of the DX7.
A lot of the musicians you used had English names. Were they American or British musicians?
No. We changed the names! It’s like the ’60s when they shoot spaghetti westerns they just changed the names, even Sergio Leone had a different name. That’s because if we had told the people it was an Italian production nobody would trust that it was good, because no one had done it. It was very funny. Simon Pouds, for instance, is me.
Did you and Giancarlo Meo work well together, because you made a lot of great music?
He was a producer but he also had a good ear; he would say this is good or this is not good. But normally he was the businessman of the company and I was the music producer. He organised contracts, distribution, but he was a good talent scout. He’s found a lot of good artists. Even after we split. He’s one of the biggest producers of independent labels. He sold millions of copies of many artists.
How do you view the music now you look back at it?
I like it. Sometimes I hear the old records and I like it, because it has its own story. Now I think I could maybe do it better, but I love that Eighties sound. The instruments and moods are different now. I love almost of all of what I did.
Interviewed by Bill Brewster by phone from Harlesden to Rome, 17.4.08
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