Spaghetti Western String Co.
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Spaghetti Western String Co.

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When a band takes the stage with a couple of guitars, a bass, and some drums, it's no big mystery why they're playing those instruments. If you're a young American, that setup is in your blood. Three chords and the truth is your birthright. But what if your hands hold a mandolin, a clarinet, and a cello, and you play guitar only as a complement to your main instrument, banjo? It leads to pretty obvious questions.

"Around eighth grade I saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on Austin City Limits," explains Spaghetti Western String Co.'s Michael Rossetto. "My mom called me from the other room: 'Hey Mike! There's some musicians on TV!'

"So I see this banjo player and I was like, 'Holy shit. This is unbelievable. Banjo!' Just watching the close-ups of how fluid he was on the fingerboard—'Wow, this looks like fun.' And for me, I had heard banjo: I knew Kermit the Frog, I knew Deliverance, I had the Steve Martin records—so I knew the banjo was cool, but I was a guitar player."

Hold up now. I've seen Deliverance, too, and I don't know if it makes banjo look cool. And I'm pretty sure Kermit the Frog wasn't bagging the chicks with his banjo skills—he had to settle for a pig. But Rossetto, who's led Spaghetti Western String Co. since 2003, doesn't seem like the kind of guy who's overly concerned with how cool his music is. "I was in a jam band in high school," he admits with a grin. "It's a dark part of my past. I used to play with my teeth, but I learned a lot about improvisation."

Spaghetti Western String Co.'s new album, Lull and Clatter, is about as far from a freewheeling jam record as you can imagine, stuffed to the brim with elegantly structured tunes that aren't nearly as creaky and traditionalist as the instrumental lineup might imply—and it's anything but lo-fi.

The core group members (Paul Fonfara on clarinet, Nick Lemme on mandolin and very occasional vocals, Ethan Sutton on cello, and Rossetto) are joined on the record by guests such as drummer J.T. Bates, Roma di Luna vocalist Channy Moon, and even a full choir on "Ellesmere Island." Their previous release, an EP titled The Quiet Mob, was modest and unassuming. The new record finds them expanding their palette while continuing to ground their sound in a compelling mixture of American and European folk traditions. What makes it so fresh is the way they take elements of tradition and blend them with progressive structures and arrangements.

Lull and Clatter never feels forced, but it also never coasts. The balance between texture and melody is impeccable. The band succumbs neither to the temptation to dirty things artificially nor to scrub them spotless. Minneapolis's Wild Sound Studio provided the environment, and from there, they kept it simple.

"You've got hollow pieces of wood and a huge range of tones you can get out of them," Rossetto continues before admitting, "I used to be a stompbox guy. I still have the pedals, but they're collecting dust in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be put on eBay."

Their release show at the Cedar Cultural Center will feature members of the choir that appeared on the record, but that's about as close to pyrotechnics and spectacle as they're likely to get. "What we have to offer is the music: melody, harmony, your basic elements. I think it's fun to watch people play. I love watching fingers," he says, coming back to what inspired him to pick up the banjo in the first place. "It's a great way to communicate." - City Pages (Mpls/St.Paul)


Robots friends Spaghetti Western String Co.'s new record may have the most appropriate name in musical history: Lull & Clatter. The band - Michael Rossetto on banjo and guitar; Nicholas Lemme on mandolin, guitar and voice; Paul Fonfara on clarinet; Ethan Sutton on clarinet - plays an intriguing mixture of jazz, bluegrass, and classical. I know, I know, that sounds terrible. But the band is so disciplined and precise that it works like a charm, and it is indeed full of rackets and perfectly timed quiet sections.

I love this band. Their previous releases, Do Right By People and Quiet Mob EP, are great, but this is their best record yet. Long live good jazz/bluegrass/classical music played by young people in nice clothes." - Music For Robots (blog)


The clarinet and banjo haven’t sounded this good together since they joined forces in early New Orleans jazz bands. But these favorites of the art-museum circuit also throw in a mandolin and the odd string instrument or two to create a textured collection of organic soundscapes, at once delicate and lively, ancient and futuristic. The album title is apropos, as the music swells between pregnant, quiet lulls and lovely barnyard-like clatter. It’s like the instruments are talking to each other—and they’re having a great time. You’ll want to follow any path these idiosyncratic pied pipers lead you down. - Minnesota Monthly


Discography

'Do Right By People' - 2004 (Adonis/Listen Records)
'Quiet Mob ep' - 2005 (self-released)
'Lull and Clatter' - 2008 (self-released)

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Bio

The Spaghetti Western String Co., is an instrumental acoustic quartet from Minneapolis, MN that began it's career in the winter of 2003. Their music is fit for film scores and at times bittersweet and chaotic. They are two-time recipiants of Minnesota Music Awards in 2005 and 2006 for "Eclectic Artist of the Year." The current line-up features Michael Rossetto (banjo, guitar), Nicholas Lemme (mandolin, guitar, voice), Ethan Sutton (cello), and Paul Fonfara (clarinet). They have performed on such stages as the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the Southern Theater and the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

The quartet's 2004 release was largely a one-man record written by Rossetto entitled "Do Right By People." This recording featured the violin of Denise Guelker, the mandolin of Nicholas Lemme as well as a host of Twin Cities musicians including Travis Even who performed percussion and melodica with the group live. Do Right By People was named one of the Star Tribune's top 20 records of the year and City Pages named it in their top 10 of the year. In 2005, Ethan Sutton joined on cello and the group recorded, "Quiet Mob ep". This five-song release featured daring acoustic compositions including a sullen arrangement of "Luna Marinara," a traditional Italian folk-song. During this time the SWSCo. wrote two film scores, one for the 1934 epic, "Grass," and the second for the 1956 French Classic, "The Red Balloon." The scores were performed live with the films at the Square Lake Film/Music Festival in Stillwater, MN, the Greenman Festival in Duluth and the International Film Festival in the Twin Cities. In 2006, the String Co. collaborated with the "Live Action Set," a Minneapolis dance troupe, for a performance entitled "The Percussionist," (Walker Art Center: Momentum Dance Series) The weekend of performances took place at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis and merged live music, dance and theater.

In 2007, Paul Fonfara joined on as clarinetist taking over for the departure of Denise's violin. For the last year, the Spaghetti Western String Co. has been recording in Minneapolis, working up new pieces and also compiling songs from their two film scores, and "Percussionist" performances. Their latest recording Lull and Clatter is the group's proper full-length album that will be released on Februay 9th, 2008. With a host of Twin-Cities musicians joining the group on this recording, (17 to be exact), the Spaghetti Western String Co. presents us with their most daring and playful compositions to date.