Wednesday 1 July 2015

You Talkin To Me!!! - An Interview with Sara Twinn (Co-Owner of Taxi Driver Records)

Today's guest is a virtuoso within the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene. Saxophonist, Vocalist, Artist and Record Label and Record Store owner. She's becoming one of the best known sources of promoting Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal from the Italian Music Scene.

She's co-owner of the fantastic record label – Taxi Driver Records – who've provided me with some awesome albums and EP's to review recently. She's part of Italian Atmospheric Doom Metal Instrumentalists – MOPE – who released a stunning debut album back in 2014 which we rated quite highly.

I'm of course referring to Sara Twinn. A hugely talented individual who I wanted to interview for a while. And Sara has kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Let's see what Sara has to say to us at Sludgelord HQ.

Hi Sara. How's it going. Thanks for doing this interview. Much appreciated.

Hi Steve! Hi readers! I really hope you'll enjoy the interview!

I don't know where to begin with this interview as you've had quite a musical career so far. Well I think we should start with Taxi Driver Records. What a fantastic label that is. When did you start Taxi Driver Records and what were your reasons for starting the label. Plus I just recently found out it's actually a record store as well. Awesome.

Thank you! Taxi Driver Records started in 2009 with the aim of documenting and promoting the local underground music scene. Here in Genova, Italy, where I live and my independent record store is located, we have great bands that deserve to be discovered! Recently the label opened also to other awesome underground bands within the Italian territory, and I like the idea very much! It's cool and certainly helpful to put in connection different artists and underground music scenes.

Was it hard experience starting the label and opening a record store. Would you do anything differently if you could.

I run both record store and label with my partner Massimo (ISAAK's bass player). Opening the two activities was hard, and it still is, but so gratifying! A risk indeed, expecially because we decided to start it in the worst period referring to the global economic crisis, and yes, there are things I would do differently from the beginning if I could go back in time. Anyway we both love our job and we strongly hope and believe that the passion we put in it every day will keep giving increasing results!

What came first. The Record Store or The Record Label. And was it a hard transition to go from record label to record store or record store to record label.

The independent record store came first. The idea grew up in a couple of months in late 2008. Massimo was working as usual on his music webmagazine he founded in year 2000, and after I graduated I actually realized I really wanted to live and independent life very close to the music scene I was starting to be involved into. The decision came immediately after we both went to the ATP festival curated by The Melvins and Mike Patton in UK that December: three full days of concerts living in the same resort together with the artists, awesome lineup (Fantomas, Melvins, Mastodon, Isis, Torche, Bohren Und The Club Of Gore, Big Business, Porn, Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, Joe Lally, Zu.. just to name a few!). 

I definitively felt this had to be my world, and thanks to Massimo's competence and ability we soon opened Taxi Driver Record Store, in 2009. The label came very naturally a few months after, when a local band called Cartavetro asked us to co-produce their first EP titled “We Need Time”, featuring Mike Watt on vocals in one track. So exciting to start this adventure with one of the greatest “do it yourself” icon ever!

Focusing on the Record Store side of things. How hard is it operating a record store in today's environment. Do you find it a hard challenge at times.

Very hard. Daily challenge. But being focused and specialized on particular genres (stoner, doom, heavy psych, metal, post metal, drone, ambient, hardcore, punk, alternative.. above all) and related independent labels helps a lot. We're always in contact with a nice community of this kind of music lovers, not only locals: Italian and foreign people, and also some tourists who come and visit the amazing Genoese historical centre where the record store is located. Our catalogue is appreciated online too (, vinyl records expecially. With the store, the label and also an independent lab where I screenprint our merch, and thanks to the social networks, we promote Taxi Driver as much as we can every day.

And when you host for example Nick Oliveri for an unplanned acoustic miniset ( or when one of the greatest poster artists worldwide, Chuck Sperry, comes twice for an expo and a workshop (, or when you meet your personal idols at gigs and they really enjoy the albums you have, and so on, you really forget about all your daily efforts and feel how lucky you are!

Do you have a set or rules and ideals when signing to a band to your label. Or wanting to work with bands and artists.

We promote the bands we like and that are related to our world. As you can understand, Taxi Driver is a kind of expanded concept and we actually prefer to have a feeling with the artists we work with. Within the label, Massimo decides the bands and I'm the one who takes care of packaging and format and schedules the releases.

Why did you choose the name Taxi Driver Records. Any particular reason for this.

“Taxi Driver” is referred to 1976 Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, a movie that means very much to Massimo. This is why he gave this name to his webmagazine, and we thought the record store and the label should be called the same.

Taxi Driver Records (Label) only releases music by Italian bands and artists. Would you ever release an album or record by a band from a different country or is primarily focusing on the Italian music scene.

We're now documenting part of the the cool Italian underground scene, focused on the Genoese area (where we live) and expanded to other great Italian bands whose attitude and music we like so much. This doesn't mean that I exclude to release bands from a different country in the future, but they'll have to be connected in some way with Taxi Driver.

Mope cover art

Right. Enough about the label. Time to move onto your musical career. People may know you from MOPE and you've done work with FOLAGRA and Eremite. How did you become involved with music. When did your musical journey start.

I actually started when I was very young, studying classical and jazzy music on piano. Beautiful, but I always felt it not properly mine. When I started going to gigs, and met friends rocking around, I preferred to stop playing for a while and going to listen to their music: live shows but also rehearsals. That was my first approach to the underground scene. Anyway, the first time I ever saw a saxophone live matching heavy sonorities was with Zu, I think it was ten years ago. I was shocked, I went backwards in their discography, then more backwards discovering John Zorn and other avant-garde and multi-instrumentalist composers. I was too curious: when I had the opportunity I bought a very old saxophone and started to playing it alone. Going to live shows helps meeting a lot of musicians and new friends with same music interests: this is how I met my mates.

You play Saxophones on MOPE. WOW. When I heard MOPE's debut album. That was one of my fave parts. The Saxophones as you don't really hear Doom Metal bands especially with Saxophones on the album. Did you purposely try to be different to other bands.

Yes indeed. Even if saxophone is sometimes used in experimental, avant-garde metal or jazzcore music genres, in our band we loved the idea to combine heavy riffs with floating melodies and evocative atmospheres of a reverberate sax instead of vocals and we didn't know other doom bands doing it. I have to say that arrangements are not easy at all.. it took a while before we were all convinced to release the first album.. and we're still studying (in a very doomish attitude!) the right formula for the new one.

How did MOPE start. And will there be any future records from MOPE.

I was playing saxophone at home in that period. Once I went to visit my new friends Jessica (guitar) and Fabio (drums) rehearsing, and I don't really remember how we started to talk about introducing saxophone in the project but the week after I started to play with them. Stefano (bass) who once came to hear us, joined the band in a very natural way. Fabio and Stefano used to play music together since they were young, and in that period Fabio was starting also his blackened sludge project Eremite, and Stefano was still involved with his heavy shoegaze post-rock band Vanessa Van Basten. We really enjoyed the music we were composing together, so we recorded it in 2013 and gave birth to our first album in early 2014. 

We had an awesome year, our music had been much appreciated worldwide and we played live in not many but cool events. And even if now our guitarist is quite busy with her artistic lab (she's a painter, engraver and screenprinter) and the other members are differently involved in side projects, MOPE are working on new stuff!

Are you involved with any other bands currently at the moment.

I like collaborations: live, or recording saxophone lines in some tracks of other artist's records, as I did in the first Eremite's album. I also started to play a MS-20 Korg synthesizer. I actually used it while playing with Morgengruss, which is a new spiritual folk/drone solo project led by Marco Paddeu (from Demetra Sine Die, dark post metal local band) I found very interesting: I put some sax in his upcoming first album and supported him live with synth and saxophone.

Playing synth is actually amazing and gives me the opportunity to experimenting a lot, as I did for example a few months ago in an extemporary drone/industrial project for a live show. And Folagra duo (with Massimo) is still an open project, for when we're not busy with our respective bands.

Let's see what happens in the future!

You've also done some artwork in the past for other bands. Gandhi's Gunn (now known as ISAAK) according to Metal Encyclopedia. Are you still involved with artwork or are you too busy with other things at the moment.

I'm actually not an illustrator, but I curated layouts for album covers, expecially for some Taxi Driver Records releases. The one Metal Encyclopedia refers to is probably the cassette version of both Gandhi's Gunn albums Thirtyeahs and The Longer The Beard The Harder The Sound. They were both very limited editions which went sold out very soon, and me and Jessica (Mope's guitarist) curated the handmade printed artwork (chalcographic and screenprinting techniques). It was the first period of an amazing collaboration between me and her, studying and putting together our own abilities, focused on album covers. 

We started with limited edition cassettes, and during the years we curated the artwork of many Taxi Driver Records albums from Jessica's illustrations: starting from Mope and Eremite, to L'Inverno Della Civetta project and both Vanessa Van Basten's “Disintegration EP” different covers. But also the LP screenprinted cover we did for Goblin's “Amo Non Amo” soundtrack reissue, for another label, was great fun! So interesting! I really hope this collaboration will keep on through the years. And I'm also proud about our Gandhi's Gunn: a few months after the release of their second full-length, they signed for Small Stone Records, changing name, as you said, into Isaak!

In some ways I am always indirectly involved with artwork, from album covers to screenprinted merchandise for our bands or for the record store. And I really enjoy it, looking forward to creating my own artwork too.

Photo by Serena Bodratto

How do you find the time to do this all. Band Member, Record Store Owner. Record Label Owner amongst other things. Does this intrude on your personal life. How do you relax away from it all. Or is this how you relax. 

I try not to sleep! And yes, it 100% involves my personal life. And it is obviously not easy to work and live with your partner, sometimes private life and job are all mixed up creating tensions as you can imagine. Being strong is not that easy, but I really do it because I truly believe in it. And I like to think that if I'm a bit chained in it now, it's because I'm actually working for my freedom, away from the rest of the oppressive world. Anyway when I really need a break and I don't have much time, I relax escaping on the hills just behind Genova: you can enjoy nature and beautiful landscapes of the sea surrounded by mountains. A place where all problems and thoughts seem so far away and little!

We have to talk about the Italian Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene. It's very highly thought of through out the world thanks to awesome bands such as Ufomammut, Zippo, ISAAK, Doomraiser, MOPE, Satori Junk, Bantoriak and NIBIRU and a ton more that I may of forgotten to mention. What is the scene actually like in Italy. Is the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene on the rise in Italy. Or is it still firmly in the underground.

We have awesome underground bands, you're right! It's still hard for them to rise and be more acclaimed in Italy because here I think we still have huge cultural problems from that point of view.. which is weird! But Italian underground music scene still has less followers than it deserves here in our country.. even if the community is actually increasing I have to say. The attitude abroad is completely different, and curiosity, attention and music competence are still much higher than here... Hard work, but one of my goals is to contribute as much as possible in spreading the word. Not only with my label's records I mean. My way to do it, that I learnt from my partner Massimo's attitude, is promoting what's going on here, which is really cool, with Taxi Driver and records from other independent labels and by importing in the record store what's awesome from abroad.

If you could provide any advice to someone wanting to open a record store or create a record label. What would it be and why.

Do it only if you intend it as a way of living. It could actually ruin your life if you're not well motivated and completely in love with it. And please, sell good music!

What future plans are in store for yourself and Taxi Driver Records. Any gossip you can share with us about future releases. 

We just experienced our first sold out with Psychedelic Witchcraft's “Black Magic Man” 10inch EP in the bicolored version limited to 100 copies, that will be out at the end of July and whose preorder online was announced only a few weeks ago. I actually think that album is amazing, and I'm so proud of this first result! We've also just released a free sampler compilation titled “Taxi Driver 100” with tracks from our recent releases, outtakes and a few previews.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming doom/sludge Sator and Kröwnn's limited edition vinyl records, already available in preorder on our webstore and bandcamp, that will be out in more or less a month! Then, next on Taxi Driver Records will be Morgengruss full length and Fabio Cuomo's (Eremite and Mope drummer) amazing kraut/ambient solo project.

Those albums and the vinyl version of Vanessa Van Basten's masterpiece “La Stanza Di Swedenborg” will be out in Fall. But before all this we're very busy in organizing the first Taxi Driver Summer Fest, which will take place on Saturday the 18th July in Genova. We're so excited to have Elder and Mos Generator as headliners, and we will also have stands and showcases of some of our bands.. can't wait for it! After that, I think I will need to concentrate a bit on my next projects. We'll see what happens!

Well Sara thanks for doing this. Before you go, do you have anything to say to your fans.

Thank you so much Steve for this interview, and for supporting me. This means a lot. And thanks so much to everyone who keeps following Taxi Driver, buying from the store, the label, who will discover it after this interview or in the future, and who's supporting my projects! You're so important!

Thanks for doing this Sara. Really appreciate this. Keep up the brilliant work that you do.
I want to thank Sara for taking the time out to talk to us here at Sludgelord HQ. Visit Taxi Driver Records as they're a brilliant label doing a fantastic job.

Words by Steve Howe and Sara Twinn

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