Divina Commedia, Among Other Rare Talents:
In an empty theater, the night before their show, Stef Burns and Peppino D’Agostino took a few moments out of their hectic schedule to do an interview. As they made me laugh and spoke in multiple languages we got around to discussing a little bit of their history, music, and food.
Empress: How was soundcheck?
Stef Burns: Excellent yeah yeah sound check and practice.
Peppino: Yeah, we are so thankful that we could come the day before and rehears because it was tough to find a rehearsal place this time usually, we actually rehearse at Stef’s place.
Stef Burns: We move the table, move the chairs, move the sofa, and set up. Plus Campitelli our drummer he came in with umm… what do you call that box, Cajon?
Peppino: Cajon, Cajon.
Stef Burns: It’s Cajon? But he has a kick drum pedal on it, hits this wooden box that was the snare drum and the… no he brought a snare drum.
Peppino: Oh yeah.
Stef Burns: He had a little kick drum kick and a wooden box.
Empress: Peppino, you are self-taught?
Peppino: I am self-taught yeah.
Empress: When did you pick up the guitar?
Peppino: I was ten years old and I saw my cousin playing the guitar and he played a piece by The Shadows called “Apache,” and I said I want to do that. I was ten years old and that’s how I started.
Empress: And you knew right off the bat that was the instrument for you?
Empress: What about you Stef did you take any lessons?
Stef Burns: I did take some lessons I started off with my dad playing guitar in the house, Bob Dylan songs, and Woody Guthrie, and then at some point I took some lessons I remember being about eleven years old and I started to play with a guy named Floyd Wade in Walnut Creek. So, I studied learning major seventh chords and minor seventh chords instead of just my typical major chords and stuff. Then I went to learning school when I was playing with Jazz bands and one cool thing was a course called jazz theory and improvisation with Frank Sumares who was this incredible piano player and having him as an instructor in this class just opened up all kinds of doors inserting jazz music into wherever I wanted you know, rock, and funk, and soul music.
Empress: Did you both grow up on similar musical backgrounds?
Stef Burns: We have some similarities.
Peppino: Yeah definitely, The Beatles we listened to you know Procol Harum, and we listen to and we play on our cd that we made in 2005 (Bayshore Road) we even played some Brazilian music too, but I think both of us have interests in all kinds of music because there is beauty in all kinds of music and you know cause music is music.
Stef Burns: As long as you have an open mind.
Empress: Do you have a particular favorite album by The Beatles?
Peppino: For me Abbey Road.
Stef Burns: For me it might be Abbey Road, but The White Album too you know is hard to deny and also I like Magical Mystery Tour a lot, I mean obviously I like all of them a lot but those three really stand out.
Peppino: You like also the very first albums?
Stef Burns: I mean I still kinda do but they don’t hold up as much that you want to listen to a lot but during that time and even now it’s still way cool, it’s more nostalgia than it is like wow you know let’s listen to some music.
Empress: It’s a journey yeah, you know I heard and I don’t know if it’s true but I heard that Yellow Submarine is about them being locked in a hotel and not being able to leave because of so much press and so many people that would swarm them if they went outside. So, they were possibly saying we all live on a yellow submarine.
Stef Burns: Yeah I could… as long as the hotel was yellow I would believe that could be true, but if the hotel was another color that would disprove the theory.
Peppino: But living in a yellow hotel man I disagree with you, I prefer like a celeste kind of color.
Stef Burns: We all live in a celeste submarine.
Pepppino: A celeste submarine.
Stef Burns: No one says celeste.
Empress: Che celeste? Uno, due, tre, quattro, chinque… am I counting?
Stef Burns: You know who can do that? My daughter can do that.
Empress: I remember the bad words from my grandparents.
Peppino: We don’t wanna know.
Empress: Did you both grow up with strong religious backgrounds?
Peppino: No not really no, I grew up in Italy we were you know Catholic but my family didn’t go to church, but no, the answer is no.
Empress: Are you practicing with your religion?
Stef Burns: My mom’s side a little bit, my grandfather, and we would do Passover which is really nice, I liked Passover that was my favorite Jewish holiday, I kind of miss doing that. Hanukah was nice too, and we did that sometimes, it just kind of didn’t really stick with me, I wasn’t a believer, I mostly liked just getting together with family and sharing a nice ritual and tradition, but I didn’t really stick with it.
Empress: Baruch atah Adonai… like that?
Stef Burns: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu and then the rest it depends on you know after you blessed and give grace to the lord then it depends on what you want, the wine, the food, whatever all comes on the last part, the lights.
Empress: Mr. D’ Agostino you had a recent interview with Everyone Loves Guitar Podcast, and I wanted to touch in on what you said, “That everyone was a servant of music, it is not about you it is something higher than you.” I was wondering if you would like to elaborate on that?
Peppino: Well, music is… you can’t really touch music can you? It’s something that is very spiritual in many ways and it has been with humankind since the beginning, since the dawn of man, funerals, weddings, it has been with us forever, it has been the great consoler of humanity. I think that there is sometimes, you know I actually believe that sometimes more, definitely spirituality in music than in organized religions, and so for me, being a musician is not just about playing the notes but really something more.
Empress: It’s that unseen, it’s almost like what Latin used to be, that universal language, you’re right you can’t put your hands on it, but it does, it connects everybody in some mystical interesting way. It’s definitely spiritual.
Peppino: Yeah even music that is not, you know if you think about for instance pop music, that makes people dance and it’s fun and it’s still a connector, a connector of people, and you know there is music that is very deep and music that is very light, but if it’s well intention and it’s not just formula there’s always that component that goes beyond the notes, it is something that is higher than that in my view.
Empress: I wanna talk a little bit about food with you as well. Where are some of your favorite places in the Bay Area that you like to go and eat?
Stef Burns: Whenever I come home the one place that I miss the most and I even I am sometimes craving it in Italy is tacos from the taco truck down below my house. I live in Benicia and so I just miss the truck and I can’t wait to get home and I’ll go down there and I will order an assortment of three tacos and eat that, that is the one thing I miss, other than that food wise around I just kind of often stick around town just because I’m back for short periods of time. So, I’ll go down to Benicia and I’ll go down to Sailor Jacks, or Bella Siena, The Rellik, and eat food down there. I like to make some things now I’m working on cooking just a little bit more, I’m learning how to make a ragu.
Peppino: Wow I’m curious.
Empress: And you sir?
Peppino: I love to cook, it’s really something that I like, it is kind of very creative you know. You don’t have to stick to a recipe you can create something new out of something that is already there maybe adding a little garlic, just a little bit of spices, it’s very creative it’s like music, composing music, it’s fun.
Empress: You mostly cook at home?
Peppino: I mainly cook at home, I like to barbeque, I just got this gas grill so I’m barbecuing, let’s see… in Benicia I like Bella Siena, I like also Lucca that’s a good place, burgers, my god the taco truck is phenomenal. I agree with Stef it is really fantastic, if you want something quick that fills you up and that’s good yeah. So, yeah those are my favorite places.
Empress: Last question, what is your favorite Godfather?
Stef: One and two.
Peppino: For me, one and two.
To listen to Peppino D’Agostino go to: http://www.peppinodagostino.com/
Follow Stef Burns @: https://www.facebook.com/stefburnsofficial/
Here is a link to the podcast: https://www.everyonelovesguitar.com/?s=peppino
The taco truck is: TJ Tacos Jalisco at 457 Military West Street in Benicia, CA.