Band’s music crosses borders

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By Dafna Izenberg

Though his band-mates live on the other side of the Atlantic, Ryerson student Nick Lanaro is optimistic about the group’s future.

“These guys are the best I’ve ever played with,” he said.

In 2001, 23-year-old Lanaro was teaching English in Teramo, Italy. Guitarist Emiliano D’Ignazio approached him at a bar one night and said he was looking for an English-speaking vocalist to front his band and write lyrics. “He asked me what kind of music I liked, because I had long hair,” said Lanaro.

Lanaro, who played in several bands in his native Toronto before travelling to Italy, told D’Ignazio he had brought his bass with him from Canada. Shortly thereafter, the two were jamming together in a local rehearsal space.

They were soon joined by Alfredo De Vincetiis, a professional drummer and percussionist, and DJ Oso, a turntablist from Venezuela.

The result was a sound the band describes as a mutation of electronica, hip-hop, rock and world music.

“Emiliano is just the man,” said Lanaro of the guitarist. “He takes everything — we even have sitar on our record.”

They called themselves mongrel, after coming upon the word in the dictionary while looking for a translation of the Italian word ‘bastardo.’

“We don’t know our origins,” said Lanaro, “almost like a mutt.”

Mongrel hit the road in the summer of 2003, playing music festivals along the Adriatic coast. They won big crowds, as well as a keg of beer in a ‘battle of the bands’ contest in the coastal city of Roseto.

But to be successful commercially in Italy meant competing with American music, said Lanaro. And the band wanted to move on. “We have bigger goals than touring the bar scene in Italy,” he said.

The music engineer who recorded Mongrel’s demo urged them to try their luck in the North American market.

Lanaro headed back to Canada in August 2003, registering for ITM courses at Ryerson. At first, he didn’t do much to promote Mongrel. And then, in November, the phone started ringing.

D’Ignazio, who had travelled to New York, had sent the band’s demo out to some independent record labels in the U.S. Three expressed interest in Mongrel. One, Castle Records, based in Nashville, wanted to meet them. However, when Lanaro explained the band’s circumstances, the label decided not to pursue the project.

“They wanted security that we weren’t going to break up,” said Lanaro.

But Mongrel hasn’t lost heart. While Lanaro studies in Toronto, the other band members are preparing music for him to put words to and record when he visits Teramo, Italy in May. Lanaro hopes to play the band’s music at the North by Northeast Festival in Toronto this summer with substitute musicians.

Lanaro doesn’t rule out the possibility of band members relocating for the sake of Mongrel’s career “if there was something worth taking a chance for.” He recognizes his hopes are high but is confident in the music, and “in awe” of his band-mates.

“We’re trying to achieve the impossible,” he said.

Samples of the band’s music are available on their website, www.mongrelmob.com.

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