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20 Questions With King Bong

The Italian improvisers on Parmigiano Reggiano, cats & rocking for Zumba teachers.

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King Bong’s music is a trip. But perhaps not in the way you expect. Unless, that is, you expect to hear a psychedelic-rock trio from Italy unspooling 20-minute-long instrumental improvisations set inside a mythical, magical park of their own design. Because that’s exactly what you get on Ogopogo, the sixth chapter of their ongoing Beekse Bergen album series. So if you’ve got four hours to spare, feel free to tag along as they meander their way through their own idiosyncratic, shape-shifting musical landscape. On the other hand, if you’d like to take a shortcut, you can get up to speed on the band by checking out bassist Alberto Trentanni’s answers to my probing questions. That’s a whole different kind of trip.

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and any other details you’d care to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
My name’s Alberto, I’m 37 and I’m from Milan, Italy. I play bass in a band called King Bong, I have a passion for brutalist buildings, I love history books and I can cook a great carbonara. I have a tiny mole under my right pinky toe.

What is your musical origin story?
I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by music as my parents always had something playing on the stereo. They brought me to a David Bowie concert in 1996 and a couple of years later I formed a half-assed band with a few classmates. I started taking lessons, I studied for a few years and played in several bands before moving to Milan looking for new musicians. I met Teo and Andrea and King Bong was born.

What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
We just published a new album called Ogopogo, with a very special guest: Chris Haskett from the Henry Rollins Band. We recorded two days of improvisation in 2019 and decided to publish them all: it’s a four-CD boxset, where we explore the map of a mystical land that we imagined and drew.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
As a band, I think we have a very peculiar style and point of view towards music. Being an instrumental band we incorporate many different influences, but I believe we’re able to warp them enough that everything sounds like King Bong, and not like King Bong mocking a style. The fact that we love dissonance helps: there’s always something that irks the ear and negates expectations. As a bass player, I think my style is quite mixed: I like to play in the pocket and I try to have a solid, ground-based tone. On the other hand, I feed this tone into a chain of effects that allow me to reach deep space.

How will my life improve by listening to your music?
You know how the hobbits at the end of the Lord of the Rings have grown because of their adventure? You’ll be a bit like them: you’ll be taken on a journey along our map, and you’ll come back a wiser person.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
The first song was Wake & Bake, opener of our first album from 2009 How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bong. We didn’t even discuss a sound: We met in a rehearsal room for the first time and Andrea said “I’ve got this riff.” We started jamming it and everything clicked. The first gig was in a now defunct western-style pub in a small, nice town called Vigevano. We had a total audience of eight people, composed of another band a few friends. The stage was on the second floor and we had to drag our amps up the stairs, as is tradition. At least the food was great.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
Best: I hope the next one!
Worst: A gig in a tiny village with the funny name of Piano Porlezza di Carlazzo. No audience at all, just the bored barman. It was also raining, so we got drenched while loading in and unloading.
Strangest: We somehow played one of our first gigs at the inauguration of a beauty center. To this day, I have no idea how we landed it, and why they agreed to have a psychedelic band. There were cakes, Zumba teachers, kids playing and King Bong riffing in a corner.
Most Memorable: A gig in Tuscany in a derelict squat. Imagine a 6mx10m shack, dirty and with no stage. They gave us two full Marshall stacks for guitar and a double Ampeg stack for bass. I don’t know whose idea it was to fit that backline in such a tiny space, but we played at absurd volumes and they went crazy, moshing against us and everything. Amazing.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
Best: Too many — the one that comes to mind right now is King Crimson in Pompeii’s theater.
Worst: Yngwie Malmsteen in 2005. He tried to break his guitar but he failed and he dropped it from the stage. It took him almost a minute to catch a bouncer’s attention and retrieve the guitar.
Strangest: An ambient/electronic concert with the use of a sound system called Acusmonium.
Most memorable: SunnO))) at the center of a labyrinth in Parma.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
A lot! Jerry Garcia, Prince, David Bowie, Miles, Jaco Pastorius

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love dub: I often listen to compilations from Soul Jazz with these gritty tracks centered over amazing bass grooves.

Tell us a joke.
A woman is at her husband’s funeral. A man leans in to her and asks: “Do you mind if I say a word?”
“No, go ahead please,” she replies.
The man clears his throat and says: “Plethora” before sitting down.
“Thanks” she says, “That means a lot.”

What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
I can type very fast without looking at my keyboard.

What would you like to be reincarnated as?
A house cat — no one has it better than a house cat.

What are you afraid of?
Heights, which also means that changing a lightbulb is a challenge.
Needles, also in the form of bees and wasps.

What’s your motto?
A laughter will bury you all.

What’s always in your refrigerator?
Parmigiano Reggiano. There can be no life without it.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m too lazy, changing that would fix most of my issues.

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
I swear I thought commercials were live. It lasted just a few weeks, I kept thinking “Wow, they must be very good to repeat it the same every time”. Then a few days later it dawned on me and I felt like an idiot.

What world record would you like to break?
Highest number of concerts in a year.

What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
The best one was “Work to live, don’t live to work.”
I tend to not care about bad advice, so I don’t remember any.

Check out music from Beekse Bergen above and keep up with King Bong on their website, Facebook and Instagram.