7 Come 11
Gianni Staiano knows his music history: he was raised on Sixties rock, studied classical music and jazz and, in his college years, fell hard for the boogaloo and funk made by the world famous funky Meters. But the Santa Cruz, California-based musician is forever looking forward. “I’ve always been in love with the old stuff but I don’t want to make music that sounds like anything in the past,” the inventive musical savant says firmly. “I want to make something that sounds new. I want to do my own thing.” With the band’s upcoming EP Universe Out of Time, Staiano has done exactly that.
This time around, many of the songs came from improvised sessions and writing in Staiano’s home. In the process of making this record, the band realized that in the age of electronic instruments and autotune, they really wanted to cultivate music truly made by people. “We wanted it to have a very live and raw feel,” he says of the new material. This refreshing outlook led to experimentation with
So it is that the man who leads the dance-funk fever dream 7 Come 11 continually pushes the musical envelope. You’ll find him on his trusted Hammond organ, whipping up a sumptuous bass line with his foot pedals, chopping out funky textures and melodies with his paws, weaving in electronic whizz and purr, lathering his kaleidoscopic music with a touch of the future. With this new offering Universe Out of Time Staiano challenged himself to introduce a brand new instrument, the whammy clavinet. “I saw a Castlebar Clavinet on YouTube years ago and was blown away,” says Staiano. “ Not so much by what I saw the few guys that had them doing with them but what I knew I could do with one if I could get my hands on one. Of course only like 7 were made back in the 70’s and good luck finding one for sale. In the search though I found Ken Rich who had taken the initial concept which was fraught with design flaws and reimagined it. His creation changed my musical life. All of a sudden I could be super expressive with a keyboard instrument. Bending notes and playing the in between ones. Things I’ve been fantasizing about since childhood now suddenly at my fingertips. This was something I could man-handle and really feel the connection to the strings. And the sound is very guitar-like so I’m really getting into the world of fx pedals and amplifiers now. It’s like a whole new universe of expressive possibilities has been opened up to me. And the thing sounds sooooo good through a cranked guitar amplifier. That’s why I guess this is more of a rock album and way wilder sounding. I just kind of fell hard in love with this thing and wanted to take it out and see what it could really do.”
“All of my musical heroes were very forward-thinking. Anybody that is recognized for doing anything significant thinks that way.” Since sharing the stage with a few of these heroes, Staiano has gained even more insight into every aspect of the music-making process. “Being able to hang out and just chat in the off moments waiting in the lobby or wherever have really shaped the direction of where I’m headed, what I want to do and how I’m going to go about doing it,” he says.
Learning to embrace the potential and push the limits and boundaries of his musical mind — and more specifically, how he can merge his classically-trained musical mind with new technology — has been a slow burn for Staiano, who attended the Berklee College of Music before studying jazz at San Diego State. “Going to jazz school there’s a lot of attitude: if you’re not playing Charlie Parker you’re shit,” he recalls with a laugh. “James Brown’s band used to get a lot of flack back in the Sixties because they weren’t playing the established form. Imagine that! It’s a fight you always have. But thankfully I have overcome the battle within myself to embrace all the new stuff and be more forward-thinking.”
Innovation smacks you in the face on 7 Come 11’s music, that whiplash mélange of futuristic funk is rushing head-on with fire in its eyes calling to mind Herbie Hancock by way of Daft Punk. Most notably, 7 Come 11’s work is a sonic dance party. Staiano grew up removed from the world of dance, but through his embracing of West African music — even traveling to the region to study with its most dedicated disciples — he came to not only fall hard for dance music but now feels it an essential part of his musical being. “It awakened this whole new person inside me,” he explains. “The music is so much more intense if you feel it in your body and you move your body with the music. If I’m going out what do I want to do? I want to go out and dance to some good music. Not some EDM bullshit where the drop happens every 60 seconds and everybody takes a selfie. I want to get down. I want to get into it.”
To that end, 7 Come 11’s live gigs have become legendary affairs. Sweaty and adrenaline-fueled, the shows, Staiano says, for him are a cathartic release. “It’s a young audience and they’re getting down,” he says proudly. “It’s such an incredible feeling to have a whole room dancing with you.” He laughs: “It’s not a show where they encourage you to wear high heels.”
Don’t expect Staiano to remain static: you’ll find him on the road in the coming months — following up the banner year he has had sharing the stage with some of his idols the funky METERS and Original Meter “I mean, holy shit! I got to play with these guys that taught me how to play music through their records! It’s totally surreal.” Staiano uses this for inspiration as he and the band continue to reach new heights with their music. “Music is an amazing and powerful thing and being influenced by all these incredible people in all capacities of the industry has inspired me to keep working at it and get better and better.”