Musician Alex Santilli, a Logan Square drummer who just released new solo work, has a unique approach to recording music: It starts with preparing dinner.
“I have this big, old room in my apartment, and I invite people over to jam and cook,” said Santilli. Known for his drumming with psychedelic soul band Late Nite Laundry, Santilli has recently started to release his own music.
“There are some mics set up,” he said. “People might not even know they are being recorded — I tell them afterward. But what ends up happening is that something really beautiful gets captured.”
Traditional Italian Roots
The approach works well for the vibe of his new solo project, “The Adventures of Anacleto,” which celebrates simplicity and the joys of a slower-paced life. Santilli recently released a pair of new singles, “Save Myself” and “Apocalypse,” from his forthcoming debut EP. The music is bedroom pop on the surface but also draws from a deep well of traditional Italian folk music, opera, free jazz and soul.
Anacleto functions as a bit of an alter ego for Santilli. However, the name also belonged to his paternal grandfather, an Italian immigrant who has played a foundational role in Santilli’s life. The musician grew up in Elmwood Park in the early 1990s, an area that traditionally had a significant Italian population. He said he remembers being surrounded by the language and culture. “I was in this weird Italian bubble for a bit,” he said.
His grandparents would often tell him about life in Italy and the exploits of his grandfather. Anacleto escaped from a Nazi prison during WWII and fled to Argentina before immigrating to the United States. The throughline to many of those stories seemed to be an appreciation for simple, joyful living, Santilli said.
“There is this very Italian perception of reality, where simplicity is king. It’s about enjoying the little things, being able to just sit and talk and not lose yourself in all of this that we’ve created,” Santilli said. “It’s about always being full of love, of loving every moment you are alive.”
Coming Back to Life
The concept hit home with Santilli after he became seriously ill in early 2020. He was bedridden for several weeks and at one point felt like he had died and come back to life, he said. Though traumatic, the experience also affected him spiritually, the musician added, and pushed his music in a new direction.
Since Santilli is a percussionist, the origins of various rhythmic patterns and how music evolved have long interested him. His new project gave him license to explore those folkways and resurface and recompose traditional music, he siad. On many tracks for his new EP, Santilli plays traditional instruments like the tamburo, which he likens to a giant tambourine, as well as congas and microtonal drums.
“All the really folkloric music of this style is played with vocals and these big tambourine drums,” said Santilli. “It’s very pulsing … a Middle Eastern, Greek-based Italian dialect that essentially evolved from the Moors.”
To bring “The Adventures of Anacleto” to life, Santilli also partnered with many of the city’s leading musicians, including over dinner at his apartment. During these sessions, Santilli left the microphones recording for hours, then went back to find interesting nuggets to layer and compose over, he said.
“I don’t work on a grid or a metronome. I am a drummer — I don’t need that,” he said. “I would rather have it come from us eating, drinking, having a good time … it’s a better performance when the spirit is there.”
Find Santilli’s new music on Spotify and Bandcamp.
Featured image: Carson White