Interview with Georgeanne Kalweit

Talking about the new EP “Swiss Bikes” by The Kalweit Project

The Kalweit Project began in Lecce (Italy) in 2015. It was founded by vocalist and painter Georgeanne Kalweit, who is known for being the leader of “Delta V” and “Kalweit and the Spokes”. She comes from Minnesota and lives in Italy. The Kalweit Project lineup consists of Alessandro Dell’Anna (guitar), Giammarco Magno (bass) and Atraz (drums).

Your new album title track revolves around the story of two stolen bicycles. Does it also deal with a personal journey that started in Minnesota and takes you to Milan and then Puglia in the South of Italy?

In some ways it does have to do with a personal odyssey of sorts, in that I have lived the life of a vagabond in so many places, and in so many different homes since I left Minnesota in the ‘North’ back in 1986. Now I have finally ‘settled down’ in Puglia (for now) and even own a home my husband and I lovingly renovated with our own two hands on a big piece of land. It has been a gradual descent for me towards the ‘South’ of the world, and to a place which I can really call ‘home’.

I really appreciated your live performance on April 4 at Na Cosetta in Rome. There’s something very charismatic about your presence on stage. With very few movements you managed to captivate the audience. Excellent minimalism! Is the art of gesture something you’ve been working on over the years or does it come natural?

Thank you, I’m glad you liked our live show. I think I just like symmetry! And the power of hand movements, and you Italians know all about that, don’t you?! I’m not a trained dancer by any means, and I don’t aim to get people moving at all costs, so keeping my own movement minimal so as to not distract is possibly a way to keep people focused on the messages behind the lyrics and to really feel the music. I’m a huge lover of performance art so maybe this is why I appreciate the motto ‘less is more’.

Here is the most difficult question for me to ask. Listening to your new studio album I detected some influences such as — perhaps — The Pretenders, Patti Smith and grunge or even punk music. These, I admit, are all genres I’ve never been very keen on. And yet, during the concert, I was able to overcome my initial diffidence. It’s as if those songs were waiting for a live show to really come alive. When you write songs do you see the moment of live performance as their real reason for existing?

I actually do. Recording an album and making it available is kind of like creating a calling card for getting people interested in seeing you live, so as to create community and to share a collective experience. It’s all connected. I, of course, am happy when people support the arts and music and take us home in the form of a CD and we live on in their minds, hearts, and imaginations. I love listening to other peoples’ music and sometimes go to great lengths to see the groups I love perform live, which really is the cherry on top.

I also have to admit that I was deeply moved by and fell in love with the closing track of your new EP, “The Earth Is Flat”. We like to believe that the earth is round and so there must be a metaphor in that statement. Could you explain it to us?

It’s funny because after I chose the title I did some research on the internet to see if there was already a ‘famous’ song by the same name, and an entire world opened up of people who really do think the earth is flat! I’m not one of them though! Yes, my lyrics are full of metaphors and plays on words, of tricky twists of the tongue, and of rhymes and complicated strings of concepts, not easy to follow always I imagine, especially for those who don’t understand English well. That’s why the music must have a life of its own and be able to carry the messages via vibrations and through many highs and lows, kind of like how life is. In this case, the song is an homage to those who spend a lot of time in the ‘lows’, thanks to addictions, escapism, and in dropping off and away from society. It really is easy to do that in our technological era too in which you can ‘self-entertain’ and remove yourself and no one really notices you are missing anymore because everyone else seems to be self-absorbed and so hooked-in too.

During the show it was great to discover your former repertoire. I’m going to only rely on my memory hoping it serves me well and tell you what were the highlights for me: a song about a friend called Hank who occasionally had some weird moments; “Cooking and Killing” about master chef talent shows; and a very intimate song about Puglia that mentions olive trees and living on the edges of the world. Is there a common thread between what you used to write and what you’re writing now?

Yes and no. “Hank’s Hour” is about how a female friend who, when drinking heavily, used to transform and even take on another personality and sex altogether, and that song about Puglia recorded with my previous project Kalweit and the Spokes, “Around the Edges”, from the album of the same name, is about feeling really far from my origins, so yes, there are some common threads. The song on the Swiss Bikes EP “Love American Style” deals with the question of identity/social norms related to my upbringing in America now that I live in Puglia full time. I still am touching on subjects like addictions though, and on social commentary stuff as in the song “Cooking and Killing”, as well as on political issues such as in “Seriously Furious” which is about the angst stirred up by terrorism. There is always room, however, in each album for a certain character I like to hone in on. In the past there was the silent film diva from the 1920s Clara Bow, or Otzi in the song “Ice Man” and this time around the controversial writer Curzio Malaparte, or rather his house on Capri Island Villa Malaparte in the song “Curzio’s House”. What’s new in the Swiss Bikes EP is ample attention paid to the concept of love and its importance as a necessary equalizer for staying sane and hopeful, not to mention open and empathetic towards ‘the different’, especially in these times of upheaval and mass exoduses caused by it.

Being Italian I was somehow ashamed about being ignorant of some of the references you made in your lyrics to Curzio Malaparte in “Curzio’s House” and to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack of a film directed by Liliana Cavani in your song “Cannibal”. What is your relationship with Italian culture?

It’s good. I’m a bit of what you might call an ‘Italian nerd’, or aficionado! meaning I thrive on knowing how you all got where you are from ancient Rome on. It’s so fascinating how this long strip of land has evolved and spawned so many different dialects, art, and food and cultural customs, apart from the fact that Italy has virtually every kind of natural landscape within its borders and along its coasts, except for that of the rain forest! I have so many wonderful long-standing Italian friends who have really indoctrinated me into Italian culture over the years, and I feel very grateful and fortunate for this. I have also learned to live with and close a blind eye to the things which frustrate me, such as the bureaucracy and at times the things that don’t always work smoothly. I pay taxes here too, so I guess I get to complain along with everybody else, right?! But my motto is that there are pros and cons anywhere you go. As a translator, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many different subjects, and this always entails extensive research which can really take you off the beaten track and keep you really curious, so I’ve come into contact with a lot of cool, obscure stuff about Italian history, music, film, people and literary works, and pop culture along the way.

Italian version here