Early life, background, how you arrived at playing guitar?
My name is Flavio Sala, I was born in Bojano, in the Region of Molise, in Italy, in 1983. I started to play classical guitar in a very casual way. Born in a musical family, with 4 generations of professional pianists, my older brothers and sister played guitar but just for singing. I really wanted to try but my brother convinced me that I couldn’t play because I am a left handed. So, I believed him without any kind of disappointment.
One day my dad asked me why I never asked him to teach me to play and I told him what my brother said and he laughed so much (LOL). So, the result was that he put a guitar into my arms and taught me the first three easiest chords and said “See? It’s not true, you can play and even in the right position!” When I attended my first guitar lesson with a true teacher, I could already play all the chords, had a good sense of rhythm and harmony. I was just 8 years old…
Is your practice disciplined or casual? Do you ever find yourself trying to push the boundaries of your current technical repertoire?
I really don’t follow a schedule every day and I don’t practice technique as I used to do before, also because I did for so long time and so hard that now it’s almost useless. I don’t repeat the same patterns all the time, but always looking for something new or inventing it, depending on what I need to improve.
There is always something new to learn, to clean, technically, but expressivity is the most important aspect of playing an instrument and of art in general. You can play fast and say nothing or throw three right notes out and open a new world. That's what I want people to experience in my concerts.
Many classical guitarists are so concentrated on playing faster and better than others that they completely forget about what music is. I stopped going to classical guitar concerts because usually there is nothing new that catches my attention.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Most of them are not from the classical music world. I shouldn’t put in the list all the artists I love, because it would be too long, but only who really influenced me to be who I am today as a guitarist. Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams and Alirio Diaz for sure. Also Claudio Baglioni, Pino Mango, Chris Botti, Luis Salinas, Steve Howe, Alain Perez.
But if I had to pick only one I would say Paco de Lucia, no question! Paco respected all musical genres, he understood that time changes and music and artists need to evolve without forgetting the tradition. And also because he was a kind person, which is even better…
Normally I try to keep gear questions to a minimum but as an unapologetic lover of the greatest classical guitar tonewood ever (Maple), I've got to ask about your instrument. Talk about your luthier, your instrument and maybe some insight into the accessory rests you have installed.
I play a beautiful instrument, named Inna, made by Italian guitar maker Camillo Perrella. I am so lucky because we used to live in the same city (I moved to USA last year) and we have been collaborating together since I was 12. I think I tested all his classical, flamenco and acoustic guitars, during the last 20 years. So I can say that the guitar I play is the result of many years spent together, trying to get an ideal guitar model. Camillo is really an ingenious master: he is not able to do something ugly and bad! (LOL)
The accessory around my guitar is called shell and it is there for acoustic reasons: I don’t stop the vibrations of the guitar with my body. The shell is suspended and it gives a 15%, even 20%, of more power and resonance. It is made of carbon and covered by a very thin paper of wood. Camillo always refused to copy other old guitar models, like Ramirez, Hauser, etc…because he wants to say: “this is my guitar!”. That’s why we are on the same wave! He is making a new wonderful guitar for me right now. Jennifer will be ready in a few weeks and I can’t wait to have it into my arms!
Talk about your discography.
My discography is really unusual: the 1st album is a live recording, at the Hermitage Theatre of Saint Petersburg (2005), with classical guitar repertoire. Then, during my stay in Venezuela for almost 5 years, I came out with “Mi Alma Llanera” (2009), an anthology of my favorite tunes from Venezuela. “De La Buena Onda” (2010), featuring Marcus Miller, Cliff Almond, Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Pino Mango, Giovanni Baglioni, Otmaro Ruiz, Alex Acuna, Peppino D’Agostino, Daniel Binelli, Alain Perez, and others, was something that opened a new world to me.
In 2011 I released two new albums: “Flavio Sala Plays Pop”, 12 songs arranged in the classical style and a new live “Flavio Sala En Vivo En Caracas”, featuring Cuban pianist Cesar Orozco and Venezuelan drummer Euro Zambrano, which is my favorite for the unique atmosphere. Then I went back to the classical guitar repertoire: 130 minutes of music by Paganini, Scarlatti, Albéniz, Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and others I recorded for the two most important Italian music magazines, “Suonare News” and “Seicorde”, in 2012 and 2013.
But now I have an ongoing discographical project, called “Mi Guitarra y Mis Amores”, which I am very proud of! It’s not a physical album and there is nothing to order. It’s something “on the road”: every two weeks I release a new tune, exclusively on my website and completely free for those who join my mailing list. And with great artists as guests: Steve Howe, guitarist for the legendary rock band YES and ASIA, but also Rafael “El Pollo” Brito, Fabrizio Bosso, Cesar Orozco, Antonio Serrano, Israel Suarez “El Pirana”, Euro Zambrano and my beloved teacher Pasqualino Garzia. It’s something innovative but that’s why I am so excited!
What honest advice would you give to an aspiring classical guitarist who is just starting out and wants to try to make a living doing it?
I am famous for being brutally honest with my students, it can hurt but, at the end of the war, it is much better. If you survive, you are ready to keep going! It’s an attitude I have with myself and I am 100 times worst with myself, believe me. Anyway, Charles Bukowski wrote “So you want to be a writer?”, a beautiful poem I would use as the very first music lesson.
Everything depends on what you can really do for music and being honest with yourself: if you have no talent, just give up, world doesn’t need mediocre musicians.
What is your favorite country to visit?
I spent my happiest years of my life in Venezuela. It really was like being in heaven! But now it has changed..
Persons of Italian origin seem to have a curious aptitude for guitar.
Anywhere one goes in the guitar world, one will encounter players whose last names end in vowels counted among the most noteworthy and technically adroit practitioners. Give us your thoughts on the state of the instrument in Italy, today. Is a typical 12 or 13 year old Italian kid as likely to pick up the guitar today as he was 15 or 20 years ago? Do you find your music as appreciated at home in Italy as you do abroad?
You make me laugh LOL. Yes, Italians are very particular people! I love my country but if, last year, I moved to the United States of America, is for a reason: in Italy there is no way to be a musician. Everything is “Do Ut Des”, that means, more or less, “I’ll give you if you’ll give me”, or better said “I’ll invite you to play in my festival if you’ll invite me to play in your festival”, which I have nothing against it if the exchange is artistically equal and true. The problem comes out because, usually, the one who is inviting you is a frustrated musician, with no talent, and, you, the same, having no chances to play in other places, accept and allow him to play in your festival. And what happens if you don’t have your own festival? That you are out of this cheap game. So, if you have no other chance, you have to run your own festival to exchange places where to play, right? But if you are enough good, you’ll find new ways to go on. That’s why there are 50 International Guitar Festivals for each music festival in the world and 99% of classical guitarists only play in those guitar festivals: it’s the dog chasing its tail. Of course there are the exceptions. Do you see any Violin Festival around? I don’t!
Tour dates, shout-outs or anything you'd like to mention?
I am building a very nice following here in USA and I am very happy because things are starting to move in a good way and constantly. I am getting to know and listen to many new musicians and that is very important for me. I am now focusing all my energy on giving concerts here and keeping promoting “Mi Guitarra y Mis Amores”. I also have students online. Yes, I give Guitar Lessons Online, through Skype and it is a wonderful experience I would recommend everybody.