PSNEurope is sat in a garden shed studio, listening to a performance of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, backing vox and lead vocals. All being created ‘as it happens’. By just one man.
Welcome to the world of Paolo Morena, a one-time drummer turned multi-instrumentalist who is creating quite the stir with his amazing live shows based around a couple of Boss Loop Stations.
“Because it’s live, there is always that capacity that things won’t go exactly as expected, but also that you never hear the same thing twice,” says Morena’s manager, Martin Jeffries, as the song ends. “Even for an audience that have heard the songs a lot – and I’ve heard them hundreds of times – there’s always an added excitement on the night.”
For the past six years or so, Chelmsford-based Morena has been honing his artistry, working with his compact set-up so, on stage, he can perform something just short of miracles.
The musician generally begins with a simple click and guitar, then uses the Boss RC-50 Loop Station to build up drums, keyboards and guitar. Next, it’s backing vox and lead vocal, having moved over to the RC-300 (synched to the RC-50). Morena creates songs based on loops, maybe: but with an intimate knowledge of his kit, and clever manipulation of the pedals, he can drop parts in and out at will. With his songwriting and arrangement skills, his vocal ability and his sheer bloody talent, the 30-something creates a performance that is always dynamic, unexpected and every so slightly ‘edgy’. It’s certainly never, ever boring to watch him at work – crowds will stare at his movements on stage as he flips between items of kit, building up the tracks one by one, shining light on the magic but still leaving his techniques almost impossible to emulate.
“We’ve had someone step on to the stage in a pub – yes, actually cross that line – and come over and lift Paolo’s hand off the guitar because they don’t believe he’s doing it live,” reveals Jeffries.
Morena describes his set-up: “All the instruments run through the mixing desk, Soundcraft Compact mixer with a couple of simple FX and a compressor added. There’s a stereo line out to the first loop pedal, the RC-50, for all the instruments. That goes to a little PA mixer. Similar for the RC-300 and my vocals.”
Simple set-up, complex results.
“What Paolo does live is unique,” says Jeffries. “This [technology] aspect is what’s given us the opportunity to present his music to a wider audience. If you’re just a singer/songwriter, there are zillions of those around. But to be able to show off the technology gives us an edge.”
Morena started his solo career own around seven years ago with a DigiTech JamMan. “I started writing songs for the pedal: I thought, that’s the best way to learn how to use it. I then built the songs as I added instruments to put through the pedal. I upgraded to an RC-50, and once I had enough songs, I went out to play live… and accidentally bumped into Martin!”
The musician is also a goldmine of cover songs – Morena reckons he has up to 1,000 in his repertoire. (How does he recall them all? Practice, practice, practice! …And, he was a busker in Amsterdam for two years.) “I’ve got to the point now, where I can hear a song, and on the first hearing, I can cover it, pretty much, if you give me the words.”
The key to his tribute versions is doing them in a way you wouldn’t normally expect. At a recent gig, he did a 25-minute version of the Doobie Brothers’ Long Train Running, riffing and rocking out as the audience got into the grooves... for a whole 25 minutes!
(“That was a bloody freight train, mate,” laughs Morena.
“It never got to the station!” jokes Jeffries.)
There’s an album already in the bag – The Mighty Small from 2015 – recorded mainly with Logic 9, “a good interface” and an sE Electronics 5600a mic. Another collection is on the way: The 38 – named for his 38th birthday: “It was a pretty intense time…” he says, before going into details which will not be reported here.
The performer and his manager talk about plans for a multiple camera, multi video wall: one screen showing him on the guitar, another on the bass and so on, looping and adding to the show, in a similar way to how the Boss pedalboards operate.
“It's crucial to develop what Paolo’s doing as a ‘show’, as we start to get bigger and bigger gigs,” suggests Jeffries. Meanwhile, since our interview, he was voted “Solo Performer Of The Decade” at Chelmsford Panic Awards. While his songs might be cyclical, this man is about to rise out of the loop of everyday and soar to bigger things. Art, even…
“My dream would be to produce a piece in 30 minutes at, say, the Tate Modern, and step away from it.. and leave it there. And when I go back six months later and press the stop pedal, that would be it: you would never hear that music again. I like the idea of having started out in audio and pop, but ending up in an pop artistic sensibility, having crossed over the boundaries…”