Enio Chiola joins a growing list of queer Canadian musicians, such as Owen Pallett, Rufus Wainwright, and Theo Tams. With the March release of his newest album, Immolate, the 26-year-old Torontonian and one-man-band entered the digital age. A masters of sociology student at York University, Enio chatted with us about Italian families, owning a Mac, and finally being able to produce the music hes always wanted.
Out: What was your childhood like?
Enio Chiola: I didn't really know I was queer until 13, but up until that point it was great. I come from a traditional Italian family and a lot of relatives live here, as well. Growing up was really kind of fun with the family side. The school side and the social side was always a little different. I think there's a cultural divide between European and North American, and so that was a little tough to get over, but other than that, no big, huge tragic moment growing up.
You started making music when you were 11. Now you play several instruments, including the mandolin. Can you talk a little bit about how your music has evolved because Immolate sounds rather different than, say, Yellowbrick, your first album?
Actually, I had a few albums before Yellowbrick that sounded even much more different. When I first started writing music, it was more just -- I was a child, and I wanted to experiment with poetry, and I didn't really play any instruments, so I was just writing lyrics. And then I picked up the guitar, and then I got better at the guitar. And suddenly I was able to start writing songs, but it's been a slow build. So with the difference between Yellowbrick and Immolate, it was more about technology and recording. So Yellowbrick and the albums after it, up until Immolate, I had this digital eight-track recorder. And it's not a computer. It's just like a little console. And I plugged my instruments into that, and I recorded it. And with that, though, I can't loop anything. It's all real time, so if there's a little guitar part that repeats throughout the entire song, that's me playing it throughout the entire song. And then a year ago, I got a Mac. And then I just started learning about computer programming and computer recording, and Immolate is sort of the result of that. I didn't really set out to make an album when I first started recording, I just sort of was playing around with different sounds, and then as the recording process evolved, an album sort of formed itself. Immolate is really just me trying to experiment with these new technologies and these new resources that I've acquired and having a lot of fun. Immolate was a lot of fun to record. All the other albums in the past, those have all sort of been more of a project that, at times, has been really tiring. But Immolate was entirely a very fun process for me.
What has it been like to really do this all on your own? What does your studio look like where you record? Is it just your Mac laptop and your instruments?
Before, I used to just record out of my basement apartment at my parent's place, but I moved in with my partner a couple of years ago, and now I have an office. So that's where I do all my recording. I have my piano there and my guitars and my variety of instruments just hanging around, and it's basically what you said: it's my Mac and my instruments in one little room. Recording by myself gets really tiring. I really encourage collaborations. But I don't know a whole lot of musician friends that have a lot of time on their hands to record with me. So I'm really kind of just stuck with myself. So I try my best to keep things inspired and going.
You sort of touched on this next question previously, but you say you're not lonely any longer in the liner notes to To Make Do." Does that mean you've found someone, and would you mind talking a little bit about that and how that's affected your music?
Before I met my partner -- we met in February 2008 -- I was still kind of going through things. About a year before I met him, yeah, I was sort of lonely. Coming from an Italian background surrounded by cousins and relatives who are all getting married, family has always been a very strong value of mine. So regardless of my sexuality -- and I'm completely out with my family. They all know. So that's always been a goal of mine: to start building a family. And it's hard to find. In the queer community in Toronto, I think, it's hard to find someone who has those same types of values, as well. I would consider myself a little lonely when I was searching for all that, and I was just sort of meeting men that wanted to just have fun with for a little while and not really commit to anything more than just casual dating. "To Make Do" was half a project and half real. "To Make Do," I wrote the music, and I was singing someone else's lyrics. And then I basically wrote my own lyrics to that music, and so it was half a project and half this sort of catharsis purging. But now that I met Jamie -- my partner -- it's harder to write songs. A lot of my music is more on the sadder side of stuff. And since he's come along, it's harder for me to write. It's harder for me to write songs that express emotion. I find now what I'm able to write is more stories. So things I find a little upsetting or stories that I find really interesting that should be told through music. And they're not necessarily personal stories. They're generally inspired from anything -- ideas that I have floating around or movies that I've seen or chance encounters with different people that I've heard of. But Immolate is odd because there's very few new songs on there that I wrote after I met my partner. Most of them are older songs, like "To Make Do," for instance.
You mentioned that in the liner notes -- that a lot of the songs on the album are songs that you've written previously, but never thought that you had the instrumentality, maybe, to play them.
Yeah. A lot of the songs, whenever I'd write them and I would play them, they'd sound OK acoustic, but when I'd go to record them, I'd want a big production sound. "Thirteen," for instance, the song I wrote for my niece. I wrote it when she was 13, and she's 18 now. Five years is a huge difference. I started recording it originally, but it didn't fit. The song wanted a bigger dance number, and it wanted louder instruments and a more progressive chorus, and I just couldn't give it that. And now that I have those resources, I feel that, not limitless, but the ceiling has definitely been raised for me to be able to do more with my sound.
You describe yourself as being queer. Can you tell me what that means to you because I know people have sometimes very personal and different definitions for that?
It's funny that you actually say that. A friend of mine, we were talking about that. And he was saying that he refers to himself as queer, and then after a while he had to say, "You know, I think I'm just gay. I don't think I'm queer. I thought I was being all politically correct by calling myself 'queer,' but I feel like, maybe I should just be saying 'gay.'" I say 'queer' more because I feel like sometimes I don't fit into the white, middle-to-upper-class male definition of what gay means. I am white, and I'm, well, I'm not middle-class. Other people looking at me would very closely let me into that category, but I feel that there are significant differences in the values that I have and the sort of way that I understand culture and society. I think delineating queer is more about perception than sexual preference. So the way I perceive society and the way I perceive culture and the ideas I have, I feel they're a little different than what I believe gay means. But that's also a lot of my academic upbringing that sort of lead me to that decision.
And you said you still wanted to get your PhD in sociology and music theory?
Sociology of music, which is sort of like sociology, but it studies the culture of music. So how music is produced, what it means to people, that sort of idea. And I do want to carry on. I'm taking a year off. I'm completing my master's, hopefully, by the end of the summer, and then I'm taking a year off to just do some work and find out what kind of work I can do with a master's of sociology. And then from there I might make a decision. Music is great, I would love to continue music as a career and do that. It's a really hard thing to get into, and it's a very poor industry to start out in. So if you don't make it big in a couple of years, you're really hard-pressed for money if you're not selling a lot of albums. So I'll always be continuing music, but I don't know if I can ever rely on it as my sole source of income.
What happened to "Save Me, Caroline" from the Immolate sampler? Are you working on a full-length B side album?
Oh, right, "Save Me, Caroline." I was considering it. What I love about music is sort of the releases and the products and the different little things about music. I'm not so much a live performer. I do like playing live occasionally, but live stresses me out a little too much, and it makes it not fun sometimes. What I do really like is recording and putting together little compilations and little things like that. But sometimes I feel like I'm over-saturating my market -- I'm providing too much. My friend Caroline Brooks from the Good Lovelies -- they're a Canadian folk group who are fantastic and they're actually just starting to become really, really popular here. They won a Juno, and a Juno is like the Canadian Grammy. I was very, very proud of that moment -- a little jealous, but very proud of that moment. And so I had written that song for her years ago for her birthday, and so I decided to record it and send it to her. I liked how it came out so much that I decided to use it as a B side. But it's not a B side in the strictest sense, where most B sides are recorded during the course of the album but just don't make it on it, so "Save Me, Caroline" comes a little after.
Where do you see your music heading, either during school or after?
You know, it's funny. I bought a couple ad spaces a little while ago, and I've been really pushing it since I released it back in March. I've been contacting a bunch of press, and I've been trying to get people on board. I've been pushing it more than I have any other album in the past because this, I feel, is really, really ready for radio play and really ready for mass consumption. Whereas before, in the past, I always felt that there were certain things that weren't completely ready. I liked them, but there was always a little something wrong with them, so I was never always 100% behind my previous releases. But with this one, I've been going gung ho. But it's funny that now that I feel like I've pushed it aside, like your e-mail came out of the blue, and there's been actually tons of downloads of my sampler on Bandcamp, and my sales have been going up a little bit. I don't know what's happening, or maybe it's the ad space that I bought, but there's a lot more attention suddenly coming, even though I'm not really pushing it that much. And so I hope that it'll just get a little more popular. My ultimate goal is not to be a huge, massive rock star, although that would be nice. It's to be able to continue making music with a solid core audience and to always know that there will be a good 100, 200 people out there that will always want to hear my music and will always buy the albums. And so it just helps me to know that, with every release, I'll make enough money to make another release. They are expensive to produce and so if people aren't buying them, it's harder for me to keep going. That's my ultimate goal, and so that's what I'm hoping with this latest release, is that my fan base is starting to just build enough that I can just keep going.
What would you say to your new fans who are just hearing your work for the first time?
I hope you like it. I really, really hope you enjoy it. I got a review a while back, they never posted it because it was a really bad review. But one of the core comments of the review was that I lacked passion and it sounded like I was being really lazy about everything. And I kind of want to tell new fans that that's not true at all. I'm really trying. Everything you hear is me being really inspired and really excited and really passionate about it all. For me, music is about sharing it. It's not about hoarding it for myself or being in that pretentious state where I think what I do is the absolute best. For me, it's about having this really exciting thing that I want everyone to share with. So for new fans, I would say, take it in that sense and say, "Hi." I love when fans will write a little personal comment to me through Facebook or send me an e-mail. I always respond, and I always appreciate it. Cause I would rather build a community of fans than just have these nameless, faceless individuals that are buying my records.
What do you have planned for after Immolate?
Maybe I can talk about my future projects that I intend to release. One of them is a series of albums that I'm going to be doing. They're going to be Those Formative Years volumes one through however many volumes I decide to do. Basically what I'm doing with that, there's a B side called "Say" on the "Knee Jerk" single, and that song I wrote about seven or eight years ago. What I intend to do is go back to all of those songs that I recorded before Yellowbrick that I really loved. And I was very prolific back then. I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs. And so I really want to go back and record those in a different way and have them actually have life somehow. I don't want to use them as full-on albums, so these will be really more like $5 albums that I'll release more for the fans than anything else. But that's what I'm intending to do soon. And then on top of that, I'm going to release a best of the eight-track years. So I'm going to remaster some of the songs from between Yellowbrick and The Healing of Nerves and take the best of and do a little best of compilation for those who are really big fans of those albums. And that's about it for the new projects I have in mind.
Do you have any tours or appearances coming up?
No, not as of yet. I've never really played outside of Toronto. I've always been very local playing only really in Toronto. I would like to do it. It's a little nerve-racking. It's kind of expensive and a little tiring. I'm not sure exactly when I'm going to be doing another live performance, but I think I should get on that soon. A lot of people have been bugging me to do that, so I think it's coming up.
Enio Chiolas album Immolate is available for download now via iTunes and CD Baby with other albums, a free sampler, singles and more available from Bandcamp. Sign up for notifications about this and more via www.enio.ca or automatically after downloading an album.