By Walter Price
You may know the name Matteo ‘Matt West’ Dondi as equal parts to the bluesy hard rock sound of Italy’s Small Jackets. What you should also know is that this is a guy that has deep passionate roots in many aspects of art and music.
A writer of books, poetry and lyrics. An accomplished musician and a man with a edgy drive to keep himself motivated in the hard to make a living world of music.
West, is currently in the midst of recording and releasing a new album from his side project under the name Mr. Soul. Doing it the DIY route you’ll find that he releases a couple tracks at a time to help him survive as he finishes this new chapter. Its tough to do it all on your own. Financially, mentally and to a quality that most would throw out the window to just get it done and make a few bucks. The last part just isn’t the way he operates.
After a career playing in no less than ten bands (currently three), this artists has traveled vast sonic landscapes and has delved into almost every musical genre.Very evident in his ability to blend his history into his music.
Expanding from the hard rockin’ styles of his main group of brothers, Small Jackets, you find Mr. Soul’s far reaching fascination with early rock tinged soulful pop sounds (with a sprinkle of country for added texture) are well versed, rehearsed and come from a true knowledge and respect for who and what came before him.
After many personal conversations with the man who’s never ending pursuit for accomplishment and bits of admiration and his struggles to stay afloat I reached out to Mr. West about Mr. Soul’s Blue Gun release and what makes this guy tick and stay in forward progress.
First, Can we be clear. You haven’t left your post in Small Jackets?
No, I haven’t! After all they’re a good band.. yes I’m joking! The real thing is that the music plays an important role in my life and I try constantly to combine various elements of what to me is more akin in my music.
You go by many stage names in your career, is this to reflect your ever changing musical personality?
Yes of course. When I joined Small Jackets at the end of 2011 the guys told me to dust off my first stage name Matt West, I was called like this when I was the frontman of Lost Inside, back in the 90’s. Anyway I play also as Mr. Soul and, when even my books were edited, as Matteo Dondi himself.
You seem to easily move from one music genre to the next. A great example is your last solo project ‘Single Rooms’. Do you find freedom in exploring and then creating so many sounds?
Yes, you can say it, a lot of freedom! You can find various styles of rock in my music and the love for pop but I think it’s just a natural approach, a natural way to expression and creativity, I don’t force myself when I write and arrange the material. Otherwise Single Rooms is a collection of singles and rarities and also the right place where those elements could melt up togheter in my opinion.
What genre of music would you say fits you best personally?
Same old story: hard & heavy, rock blues and pop, the last one for the arrangements and the treatment of the vocal parts.
You pay a lot of respect to the artists that came before you. Do you ever write a song and think “Carl Perkins or Neil Young would have done it this way.” Or do you keep your heroes out of writing?
Fifty fifty: sometimes it happens but I always try to build bridges between genres and inspirations. I think you have to add your own personal trademark in your music, the idea that make the difference. You can not be another but only you and you are the sum of your preferences, it works like this.
Now you have Mr. Soul’s ‘Blue Gun’, is this an expansion of ‘Single Rooms’ or would you say it’s a whole new thing?
It is an anticipation of the full length album scheduled for the end of the year, I’m working on it, currently six songs were recorded, old material and it is not finished.
What can you tell me about the new single Blue Gun?
A side: Blue Gun (When the Night is Passin’ Through) / B side: These Years – Mr. Soul featuring Enri Zavalloni
Enri is the guy who recorded the latest of Small Jackets and he also played all the keyboards of IV except Uncharted Waters he is the man behind the keyboards of Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane. He has his own career as a solo artist… he’s a mean man. In “These Years” he played piano and mellotron. These songs are very quiet, they tell you about new love, old love, sense of loss…Pure Mr. Soul: half British, half American
I had written These Years adapting my poem “I Hang Up These Years With A Nail”, taken from my first book the single is available on I-Tunes and it’s the anticipation of the full length
It’s clear, willingly or not, you wear your emotions on your sleeve and it comes out in songs, does this openness ease any personal anxieties or does it cause more?
Wise and nice question! I think both. When I record a vocal part I use a sort of Stanislavski’s system to find the feeling of the song, I reach that mood, I nail the song.. meanwhile something is working in another direction.
You’ve been open on social media about the rough road the music business is. Does the hardships of making a living in music ever make you want to give up on it?
Yes, I feel that way sometimes. Nowadays it’s impossible to make music your profession in Italy and play abroad pays little but nothing can really stop the flux of creativity and the need to expression.
Obviously as a solo artist you have more power to write what you wish but do enjoy this flexibility as much as being in a brotherhood that a band offers?
I love both the approaches. The freedom of expression when you write your own song, when you are looking for that feeling. Sometimes with a band is a battlefield, your ideas have to be approved by the others and you have to be always ready to catch the right part when another band member plays his riff, but it is good and uplifting afterall.
Speaking of bands, who plays in Mr. Soul’s backing band?
For the first Mr. Soul’s album “The Years & the Dust” I asked to several friends and guests to join the project, first of all the old friend o’ mine Danny Savanas. For the new record instead I chose to make the most of the recordings by myself limiting the contribution of guests. When I play live a couple of friends join me, Mauro Farina and Davide Solfrini.
What does the world need to know about Matteo Dondi?
That he is an honest guy who loves music and poetry (I wrote three books). I’m damned but even pure.
Can you share some advice for any kid wanting to start a life in music making as a career?
Improve yourself, be strong year by year, don’t stop dreaming and try to be the most professional you can.
Any new Small Jackets plans for 2014? Maybe a live album would be righteous?
We’ve already talked about this before, the only thing I can say is that all is possible, we are writing new songs at the moment and preatty soon we will come back on stage again.
Many thanks for taking time out to answer these questions and Long Live Mr. Soul!
Thank you very much! A big hug to everybody, keep on rockin’ and.. Long Live GTC!
Mr. Soul / Matt West: iTunes. / YouTube.
Small Jackets: Facebook. / Website.
All is well again…