Shifting Perspectives: Carla dal Forno interview

We speak to singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carla dal Forno about Blackest Ever Black and her upcoming release on the label

Feature by Michael Lawson | 28 Sep 2017

"I was hearing all of this amazing music that wasn’t being played anywhere else, and it struck a chord straight away. It was mainly old stuff from the 80s – music that I’d always wanted to hear that felt like it had somehow been hidden from me." Carla dal Forno is excitedly describing her first encounter with Blackest Ever Black, the London-based record label, originally founded by Kiran Sande in Berlin, who host a monthly show on NTS radio. "I felt an affinity with the music I was hearing, and thought if I could make music that sounded at home on one of their radio shows then I’d have achieved the sound I was aiming for."

Fast-forward a few years and she is set to put out her third release (The Garden EP) on the imprint, off the back of last year’s well-received debut album, You Know What It’s Like. In many ways, she's helped define the label’s sound with her ever-evolving brand of haunting, disparate synth-pop; while in turn, Blackest has played an instrumental role in shaping her musical journey.

Growing up in a musical family in Melbourne, and playing the cello from a young age, dal Forno soon became enveloped in her hometown’s ever-fertile music scene. A scene with punk sensibilities and a DIY approach to performing, she found herself playing her first live show just two weeks after joining her first band. "I’d only just started playing guitar, and I guess I was thrown right in at the deep end," she recalls. "But for a city to have that kind of cultural environment, where you can just begin something and become immersed in it straight away, I found very encouraging."

A stint with cult indie group Mole House laid the foundations, but it was the discovery of Blackest’s show on NTS Radio further down the line that shifted dal Forno onto a different path. She formed the group F ingers with Tarquin Manek and Samuel Karmel around the same time, and the trio began shaping their output around Blackest’s singular theme of bleak romanticism. "We started sending stuff to Kiran and it really took off from there," dal Forno explains. The adulation proved to be mutual, and Sande’s label would go on to release a seven-track LP of F ingers’ guitar-led psychedelic folk distortion – entitled Hide Before Dinner.

By this stage, moving to Europe – and more specifically to the label’s Berlin base – seemed like a natural progression. The label had already released another record from dal Forno and Manek’s synthesiser-focused Tarcar project, and the artists now felt at home on the imprint. "The idea was already there before we made the connection, but once we started releasing on Blackest it was definitely like 'yes let’s do this, let’s relocate'."

It was shortly after the move that dal Forno recorded her most notable release to date – the aforementioned You Know What It’s Like LP. It’s an album of understated beauty: scant, melancholic drum beats, tied together by dal Forno’s eerie, often-indistinguishable vocals. The album helped her broaden her European fan base; as did a regular slot on freeform radio station Berlin Community Radio.

Despite track selection and record collecting being a fairly alien concept at the beginning, dal Forno took to the new role like a natural, and began to attract a dedicated following. "I had some artists that I would always return to, like Broadcast and Flaming Tunes and these kinds of bands. But when I first got asked to do a show on BCR, despite it only being an hour, I was very freaked out at the idea of not having enough tunes to fill it," she laughs. "But once I found my feet and gained some confidence, I started doing my own digging and research, and it seemed to take off."

When she moved from Berlin to London earlier this year, dal Forno was asked to carry over her radio show onto NTS, as well as taking up a role in Low Company, a record store recently opened by Sande in East London. "It’s such a lovely little space," she smiles. "The music on offer is quite diverse, and it’s just great to have people coming in and talking about music all day."

This new-found passion culminated with dal Forno being asked to DJ at an NTS event at the Tate Modern back in June, but she is quick to downplay any possibility of this becoming a regular thing. "I do get asked to DJ from time to time, but it’s not something I feel particularly confident doing. I’ll do it occasionally, but I don’t view it as another branch of my career or anything like that."

Her latest EP, The Garden, is very much an extension of You Know What It’s Like’s intimate minimalism. The title track pays homage to Einstürzende Neubauten's wonderfully atmospheric song of the same name. "I loved the track as soon as I heard it," she recalls. "So I ended up writing my own lyrics and shifting the perspective. Then I tried to create my own environment with the recording."

The EP precedes a mini European tour, including a date at Glasgow’s Stereo on 23 October – amazingly her fourth Scottish gig of 2017 – and dal Forno recalls with fondness her previous experiences of Scottish crowds. "Some of my favourite memories from my tour at the beginning of the year came from those shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh. They still rank as some of the most fun shows I’ve ever played."

Looking beyond 2017, she talks excitedly about a North American tour, but the main goal is yet another release on Blackest in the coming months. "I’ve never been to North America so that’ll be cool, but other than that I’m just really looking forward to getting stuck into another album." After an incredibly successful couple of years, dal Forno’s thirst for music is clearly showing no signs of letting up, and perhaps it’s this desire that makes her one of the most interesting artists in contemporary music.

The Garden is released on 6 Oct via Blackest Ever Black
Carla dal Forno plays Stereo, Glasgow, 23 Oct