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For this month's endorsed artist spotlight, we spoke with Francesco Sguera.
Francesco is one of our international artists, hailing from Italy! He has been drumming for quite a few years now most notably playing with the gothic rock band, The Strigas. More recently he has been working on an entrepreneurial project called, Hooplug - a new plug 'n play system for drums/heads (scroll down to check out the video)!
Join us as we discuss drumming, music/life during this pandemic, and get some in-depth information about the Hooplug system!
What made you interested in becoming a drummer?
I started playing drums when I was 12 years old. Actually, it all happened a bit by chance. At that time I met some guys who had just started playing guitar (one of them was Andrea, the current Strigas guitarist), I had a brand new drum kit that my sister had abandoned in the basement and so we started a band called Dish of Beans. We immediately started doing covers of Nirvana, Offspring, Metallica and all that stuff everybody starts with. As time went by, what used to be a game became a passion, especially thanks to the discovery of my biggest source of inspiration, the amazing Travis Barker. Since then, I never stopped dreaming of doing what makes me feel good, listening to tons of music and imagining that one day I would play on the big stages.
This year (2020) has been very challenging for the music industry, how have you been adapting and handling these challenges during this time?
Problems in the music industry certainly didn’t start with Covid-19. The music world has been in trouble for years and the lock-down has only brought to light a difficult situation in an industry that’s already hanging in the balance. The sudden end of live activity and in person concerts has created a huge hole and I (like everyone) feel this lack both as a professional and as a consumer.
During the lock-down, I had the feeling that if I don't structure my day or think about some project, I could risk becoming inert. Every few days I would have drops in motivation and I had difficulty getting used to the new routine. Personally, I find it easier to work towards a goal and knowing for example that in two weeks there are rehearsals with the band and in 3 months a show or a tour, that helps me to find inspiration. Luckily, I had a lot of other things to work on, so after the first period of adjustment I started to work on my projects, and I started to adapt to all these changes. I can't complain about my everyday life, so I try not to worry too much about what is going to happen in six months, since I can't know anyway, so I go ahead and try to get the results I have set for myself hoping that this terrible situation will end as soon as possible. Moreover, if I think about the frenzy of life today, perhaps such a slowdown in the pace can be considered valuable that I hope to be able to maintain in the future, regardless of Covid-19.
In any case, the web today offers enormous opportunities for those in the music industry and what I'm doing is trying to make the most of the resources and possibilities that the digital world offers in these difficult times when personal relationships are diminishing. Luckily, during the first lock-down I had many other things to work on so after the first period of adjustment I started to work on my projects and I started to adapt to all these changes always looking for ways to overcome the problems without ever breaking down.
Your main band is The Strigas, what has been its focus during the pandemic? Have you been writing new music or planning any releases?
Right before the pandemic our main focus was to record our next album and to plan a new tour, then the lock-down came. Luckily Phobos, our frontman, finished writing all the songs right on time, so since we couldn’t schedule a new tour, each one of us focused our time on recording our parts in our personal studios.
Now that the rules for live shows haven’t changed much, we're still recording The Strigas' new album and we're about to record two new releases for our side project Inner Scar, which will be an EP of covers and an EP of brand-new songs.
Everything will be released as soon as possible; we hope in the next few months.
Touring is still a chimera right now, so we're discussing scheduling an online live show for our supporters.
Have you been working on any other projects?
Currently my main efforts are dedicated to my start-up and Hooplug, my patented product that we will be launching shortly on Kickstarter. We are working hard to increase our product's performance and suitability for the needs of as many drummers as possible. In these months we are renovating the first headquarters of the company that in addition to being the logistic, administrative and commercial base of Hooplug, will also be a creative center for the development of innovative products in the music field, with a professional recording studio and rehearsal room in which we will play live sessions and produce entertainment content for all music lovers and especially drummers.
In the meantime I have also started with two other friends a small independent label / communication agency called "2+2=5 music" with the aim to support all those talented young artists who want to approach the music industry, by building a dedicated artistic path and managing all the necessary aspects to enter the market in a professional way.
Can you tell us more about Hooplug? What was the inspiration behind it and how has the development process been going?
Hooplug is an idea that changes the paradigm and maximizes the potential of the drums without limiting your creativity. It is the first universal system that turns the acoustic drums into an extremely versatile instrument. With Hooplug you can open your drums and keep the drumhead straight and tuned.
This way you can do a lot of impressive things:
While returning from a European tour with my band, The Strigas, I immediately started working on an idea that had been in my mind for some time but never had the chance to give real shape. I started to realize my dream trying to solve a need that I was experiencing myself but that I soon found out is a problem that affects most drummers: the transport of the instrument. Honestly, when I started working on this idea it was a moment of confusion and uncertainty in my life. I didn't know which direction my life should take. I was in the midst of a storm, alone in the middle of the sea...then, a glimmer of light... slowly approaching. I started rowing, by myself against everything and everyone, because I wanted to reach that light!
So, I started to research what solutions the market had to offer to solve the transport problem. I tried some of these tools and none of them really satisfied me. I knew more could be done. I began studying alternatives, I did a lot of research, a lot of tests and with the help of other passionate people like me I made the first prototypes, then I put together the puzzle until I reached the final product - what I have always had in mind.
Then, in April 2018 my project was awarded by the Puglia Region, the region in the South of Italy where I live, one of the most Innovative projects amongst others in competition. With the help of these funds I began the start-up, optimized the prototypes and created the Hooplug brand in line with my values and started to communicate this little big revolution to the world.
Unfortunately, the current resources are not enough to start production, that’s why we’re starting a crowdfunding campaign soon. We want to create a community of passionate drummers that can help me design a better Hooplug, give me feedback for improvements and understand the demand for this revolutionary tool. Hooplug is a transparent reality and is customer-oriented from these first stages. Your involvement, your support and your ideas are very important, and all the advice will be taken into consideration because the main goal is your satisfaction. I’m always in between dream and reality. This means that I’ll never abandon music, I will always try to follow a path of study that could give me broader skills to put my dreams to good use. Moreover, my father is an entrepreneur, so I have always lived in a business context and I grew up with the mentality of wanting to work independently without having to rely on anyone. All these aspects have led me to choosing my own lifestyle as opposed to someone else’s. And it’s the best choice I could ever make.
Do you have any words of advice for someone looking to develop a new product or how you find inspiration to develop new ideas?
Don’t let anyone else try to determine your path for you, especially when with regard to your dreams, passions and your future.
Always try to do what feeds your soul, but always respecting and listening to the advice of those who love you. You will probably face many closed doors. All the disappointments and defeats will guide you to clarify your ideas. Don't worry if you don't think you have enough money to make it happen, the thing that really matters is having an idea that works and solves a problem. There are a lot of people in the world who don't have ideas, but they have a lot of money that they would like to invest, so you have to try to get those people involved. If the idea is captivating it is not impossible to find a way to finance it!
Another piece of advice I can give is to not be afraid to talk about it with people who can help you, especially in the first phase when you need to share your idea to know how it is received by your target audience. So, don't be afraid that someone will immediately steal your idea. Most people don't take that risk and wouldn't really start the process to make something happen.
Creating a product is a very complex process and requires a lot of time and resources, but if you and only you really believe in it then you're going to have the right determination to move forward. If you do have a project or idea in mind, do not stop at the first difficulties! Persist and believe in yourself!
Any final thoughts you would like to add?
I would like to thank Thomas and all the Vratim staff with all my heart for the support and professionalism with which they work. Besides making fantastic products they are also musicians and wonderful people. I never expected to receive such attention from such a cool but geographically distant reality. You are there for me and I am there for you, friends! I hope we can meet soon!
Welcome to the first endorsed artist spotlight!
We're kicking things off with long time Vratim artist, Travis Orbin.
Hot off the heels of his 'Finite: Complete' and 'Silly String Redux' releases, we discussed life in quarantine, career highlights, and his newest solo LP 'Finite III' out today!
Be sure to check out the full album stream of 'Finite III' on YouTube as well as Bandcamp!
You started drumming a pretty young age, but when did you really know you wanted to pursue drumming as a career and it wasn't just a phase? Did you always know or was it something that as you played more you wanted to get more serious?
The first time I sat down on my own drum kit, I knew that I wanted to play for the rest of my life. Figuring out how to do it as a profession has morphed over the years, but I'll always be learning, playing, and challenging myself.
Any words of advice for those seeking a career in drumming or music in general?
The two abilities that have been of most benefit to me, both artistically and professionally: knowing how to read and write drum notation, and how to play to a click.
What was one of the hardest skills for you to learn as you were progressing with your drumming/music career?
Unfortunately, I spent a really good chunk of time practicing and playing sans click. When I got 'married' to it, as I like to say, it was a difficult transition. However, the first recording that I made with a band after I had some time with it under my belt was a magical moment; I felt like a professional for the first time, which might be an odd sentiment to read - but it's how I *felt*. Elation!
You've had quite the career so far, what's one of the highlights or achievements that sticks out to you most?
That's a tough one, I'm always kinda taken aback when the spotlight is shone on me more deliberately. There have been some fun tours, some really great records that I've been fortunate to have contributed. Perhaps my first Modern Drummer interview, since that had such nostalgic value as well as intrinsic artistic clout. I'm sure the bigger highlights are still to come, but I'm too busy working to think about that stuff.
You're known for writing some very intricate and progressive drum parts. You also have a rather unique drum configuration described as "minimalist, quasi-open-stance," how and why did you decide on it? Was it developed in conjunction with your development as a musician?
There are a host of factors that led to the evolution of my setup, and they are all detailed in a video that's going on a decade old at this point (yikes!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCd3yWXKyEo
A lot of drummers these days put out videos, but few compare to the amount and quality of the content you upload. What made you decided to document the songs you work on so in-depth?
When I built my home studio up to the point that it was 'tracking-ready', at first I dabbled in interpretations of Sky Eat Airplane tunes (my band at the time), videos to showcase parts I had written while in Periphery, and other miscellaneous things. When I began doing sessions regularly, I simply took that concept/work process and applied it to the session work; I didn't really think twice about it. I remember asking Hayato Imanishi of Cyclamen, "Hey, do you mind if I film the session?" and that was that!
With touring at a stand-still and the music industry being mostly on hold, I imagine you've had some additional time on your hands. How have you been staying busy during the lock down due to coronavirus (COVID-19)? You just released "Finite: Complete" and "Silly String Redux," was that your primary focus during lock down or can we expect more releases?
Life in quarantine is honestly not much different than 'regular life' for me, I've always led a fairly monastic existence. The big indicator for me is that my last tour took place in January, so everything after is kind of a swirled whirlwind of creativity. In no particular order: I've done session work for numerous artists, tracked bass and basic iPad synths for an EP I've been picking at (for which I am now currently writing more songs to add to and will probably turn into an LP), composed an LP, finished work on 'Finite III' and 'Silly String Redux', mastered both of those records along with 'Finite: Complete' with my friend Taylor Larson, did a solid week of video production to promote those three records (along with doing the album art, ordering CDs to be pressed, submitting for copyright, blah blah blah!), and I'm now currently rehearsing the next solo LP (which is the aforementioned one that I composed while in lockdown). I'm probably forgetting some stuff, haha.