with Sydney artist/anti-hero Colletto Blanco
To say Colletto Bianco is “fake” would to be state the obvious, but it might chafe a little to shoot in the other direction and say they aren’t exactly “real.” The singer Joel Martorana (of bands like Endless Heights and Peace Ritual) incorporates deeply personal themes into this character study, music project and “male drag” to make it all more convincing, but at no point does he tell me this particular project is his “most personal.” This line, favoured by those with tenuity and a certain skill at keeping their card hand close, would have made me want to do something illegal - or at the very least call a priest. In the 20th century (which some of you may remember) Oscar Wilde had an idea about keeping up appearances. It was two sentences, somewhat of a fated couplet, which would go on to soft launch a million pop careers long past his untimely death. Is it possible to know if this was his true intention? “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.” he wrote. “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” By virtue of a historical embolism that might suggest a “feminine trait” - he set the stage for the confabulations of personality, gender and projection that would continue on for some time longer (like, until the 2010s) prophesying an artistic sensibility that was conveniently seized by Warhol and made - ironically - more real by media. Bianco belongs to this erstwhile tradition. If it is true that we can never “know” another, never intricately understand even the people we go to bed with each night, why not exaggerate the visible, frame the distance slightly, aware that the version we offer the world is more legible than what could ever unfold by other means? Given the likelihood of some great facade being broken, we dare not ask the performer to show us a good time. Colletto lives wryly inside a projection, a sort of fantasy of the bad boy covering sonic landscape now barren by bad girls, or by good girls who decided to pose as the former, a style of pop narrative we have sustained an ongoing appetite for. A man with a bit of manic depression and a plan, however, seems to hit a little too close to home to be viable. Red flags appear as early as “the bible.” In Martorana’s songs and videos, a fascination with the more renaissancey depictions of Roman Catholic angelicism, displaying slightly wrong, big and “too real” visions of the heavenly and heterosexual altars suggest an interest in half truths - the kind of unfinished frames that are equally as useful in creating, or “serving” a persona. The impression of another is simply a found piece with which to determine a satisfying image. All the usual trappings are coaxed out of the self and then made reducible by an obliging viewer, completed by the bias of their attention. I’m interested in what drives Colletto, or Joel, but I didn’t feel like interviewing in character. We talked about his origins, the hardcore to pop music pipeline, and what is making Sydney interesting again after a few seasons in hell.
My first question is to do with the creation of a persona. At what point did you entertain the idea, what do you think the creation of this character offered you with respect to your creative process?
At about 2 or 3 demo songs in to the project I couldn’t stop imagining ‘cinematic’ visuals, and some kind of overarching narrative as being core to Colletto Bianco. I wanted to write and create with less boundaries and more depth – and the creation of the fictional character of Colletto Bianco allowed me to face my internal villain, and press in to the ambiguity/grey areas of my own emotions.
Would you say the creation of the “character” allows you to access a certain bravado you may not be able to otherwise?
Ironically, the persona project has been an amazing vehicle to press in and unlock new depth in my creative process, which does give powerful license and access to the bravado of the character, and all the highs and lows of his emotional extremes. I know you spoke about how it was a concerted effort to connect with your roots, family history, etc. Do you think that’s something that inevitably happens as we inch toward our 30s? When I hear the music I’m reminded of how the albums my dad played around us as a kid, albums I may have had an ambivalence to once upon a time, have an enormous level of emotional clarity to me as an adult, especially as I begin to imagine myself as they were at the same age.
Colletto Bianco was born out of the creative process of my late 20s and definitely allows me to explore my family roots in an unusual way. It’s one of the reasons I love the project, in exploring my Sicilian heritage, and in unpacking some of the stereotypes that may come with it, it has also been an avenue to celebrate/cherish my identity. Nonna, Nonno and my Dad have also all featured in some of the video clips/narrative. It’s been humbling to collectively contribute to the vision of the project.
While this process for me may have been inevitable, it’s definitely something I did not want to fight against, and in leaning into my own sense of heritage or identity, I’ve found the project really fulfilling and even more meaningful than I thought possible. Do musical influences from your family bleed into the project as well?
Many components of Colletto Bianco (including sounds/sonic influence) are the mish-mash of different life seasons that I have been able to reconcile or re-integrate myself with. I actually first had a music ‘breakthrough’ when I was 13, where I was lucky enough to be in the Children’s chorus for Opera Australia – singing & performing professionally in full costume (in Operas) at the Sydney Opera house over a few of their performance seasons. My voice broke and I fell in to the rabbit whole of darker, heavier and alternative music and then developed in to a love for hardcore/punk music that lead me to touring throughout my 20s in emo/rock/hardcore bands. Colletto Bianco seems to borrow or dabble with all these sounds and influences which in retrospect, have probably all been as equally important or formative in my journey.
Do you bring the ethos of hardcore you, and how does it set you apart?
Coming from hardcore and the DIY/the sub-culture world has given me such solid values and foundations that spill in to all areas of my life – including the move in to the pop realm, at least for this particular project. My hardcore roots continue to remind me to create out of purpose, truth and authenticity – even in the extremes and fictional world of Colletto Bianco - as its all meaningless unless it is anchored in some sense of authenticity, and must allow for personal, genuine growth. Do you think that the sort of excluvitiy of hardcore, ie “i won’t listen to or participate in anything else”, means many former hardcore kids have an enthusiasm toward pop and the world building it allows that is in some ways more distinct than those on the outside?
I think the reality of many of those bold enough to have a go at something creative, is confidence and meaning forged or developed by some sub-culture. For me it was skateboarding and hardcore, among other influences, and I can see the reach of sub culture across main stream fashion, art & culture etc more and more as I get older.
Those points around hardcore mean a lot to me too, as it becomes clear that I may not necessarily exhibit an “ex hardcore kid” vibe to others, but the unity of that time and the micropolitics or symbiosis of the scene definitely gave me the confidence and chutzpah to make more bold, more risky decisions in other parts of my life.
The beauty about my values/ethos or approach to Colletto - that have developed by hardcore music - is that they really just align well with authentic people, or those bold enough to seek a real sense of fulfillment, rather than just “conventional success at any cost.” What else defines the ethos to you?
I think harsh honesty with yourself is ideally at the core of all these values. You need to find the project fulfilling even if no one else cares about it, likes it or understands it – and conversely, if your work is worshiped or popular then you also need to be able to assess if it’s really adding meaning or fulfillment to you, and those around you.
You’re drawing together a slew of disparate images but there is a lot of visual continuity. I’m curious as to where the aesthetic focus comes from.
The aesthetic throughout Colletto Bianco is built around my love for both blockbuster drama and fine art – something I share with my Nonno who has always loved underground crime movies, and any photography/film that has a ‘classic feel’ or edge to it. The aesthetic inspiration also includes my love for Sydney, something I feel is core to project, and I try to leverage any iconic ‘Sydney’ locations in the ‘world building’ of the Colletto narrative.
I’m interested in how you point to a dramatisation of Sydney as a touchstone - synecdochal of the way it’s become known for its lack of liveability, but also how it represents grander dreams for the rest of the world. It’s the centre point of how we’re depicted, I think, on the world stage. The mood in the air is that Sydney is back on the map as an international city, which even for some years before covid felt like a stretch. Even Melbourne, a comparatively populated place, is quite inward looking. As a Sydney artist, its amazing to be part of a new wave of Sydney art & culture – and there is definitely a buzz in the air in terms of everything Sydney creative. I feel my friends and community here in Sydney are looking less and less at what the rest of the world is doing/creating, and instead pushing our own vision (or each other’s vision) with a confidence and reach we have never seen before, and it’s really exciting. Something is in the water in Syd right now and it’s amazing seeing the influence expand and inspire projects in other states and countries.
Say you tried a bit of…psychoanalysis…upon the city itself, what exactly do you think is in the water that’s making it what it is?
I think it may be some of the effects of post-lockdown life, where many creatives - myself included - have finally been able to release some of what they have been sowing into throughout multiple lockdowns and restrictions. I still personally feel mentally relieved everytime I can venture out of the house to connect or collaborate without having to log in to a zoom call
There seems to be a trend wherein hardcore guys move into pop worlds (or electronic ones) as they age after being exclusively attracted to the more devotional music that is hardcore. I’ve always been fascinated by this. What do you think prompts this attitude change?
I can only really speak for myself here, but when I first really fell in love with hardcore/alternative music it was largely due to my friends and our shared ‘curiosity’ in whatever felt like an authentic but new movement. I feel this same sense of ‘curiosity’ has pulled me into the unusual world of Colletto Bianco – where there really aren’t any rules or logical next steps, but rather the joy/adventure of having a go and piecing together whatever genuinely feels fresh or creative to me.
Though forged in different ways, I totally get that. I think both pop and hardcore depend on the projection of some of idealised self as it rubs up against others and creates friction - similar to how we understand the rising sign of astrology, or something.
From my perspective, I’m attracted to environments where you can boldly be your true self – and I have experienced this in both hardcore and pop projects. At the end of the day hardcore has encouraged and forged a DIY attitude for me personally. I’m lucky to have experienced this and really feel the support of my friends and family, so it’s a no brainer to try and keep growing and pushing for new ground.
Pop has often been occupied with bad girls on the brink. Aside from Nick cave, you don’t see that as much echoed in modern pop where men are concerned. Do you feel like there’s a difference between the two, especially in a climate now conscious of male violence and male fantasies?
To be honest I’m not too across the history of the pop world to have ever really thought about this. I can definitely understand a climate now that is more conscious of male violence and fantasies, for many good reasons, and for me personally when I look at the narrative or branding surrounding Colletto Bianco – it really comes down to your artistic ‘intention’. The broader intention of the project & story arc (as it unfolds) is to entertain, and to also challenge notions of masculinity, identity and my own sense of heritage. I hope the project inspires people to dig deep via creative projects or outlets like Colletto – as I have found it both really fulfilling, and a great, yet unsual, way to help look in the mirror.