Mad Gleams by Madison McLean

For Ezra Giovanetto, music has always been a family affair. At a young age, Ezra was hypnotized by the release he found in songwriting, inspired by his father, a fellow songwriter. Now, Ezra and his partner Allison collaborate as Mad Gleams, and share memories of performing at small-town Illinois open mic nights to touring with David Bixby and Derrick Hart. Ezra’s personal identity and philosophy have progressed throughout the years, but one thing remains centerfold: music. To Ezra, art is the clear path to wisdom.

Madison: Who are Mad Gleams?

Ezra / Mad Gleams: It’s really sort of been a moniker for myself. I’ve mostly played and recorded myself, but for this I was lucky to record with my friend Scott O’Dell. He plays drums on “Waiting For The Rains” and we did the basic tracking at his place in central Illinois. . My only real other collaborator is my wife, Allison. She used to play with me in 2010 and 11, when we first came up with the name, Mad Gleams,
and we still collaborate on stuff – we’ve made a bunch of music videos together.

M: How old were you when you started to get into music? Because I imagined it was long before the formation of Mad Gleams.

E: (laughs) My wife and I are originally from Central Illinois, a small farm town called Tremont, Illinois. That’s outside of Peoria. I’ve been writing songs for 20 years or so, starting in high school. My wife and I went to college together and then we ended up back in Peoria and started playing my first shows, in Peoria, out of college. That’s how we met all the people in the Peoria scene. We’re playing open mics and stuff, and that’s how we met Derrick Hart, which led to [David] Bixby. It all happened really fast! We started playing our first shows in 2010 and then we went on tour with David in 2011.

M: Wow, that’s great. What do you think attracted you to songwriting in the first place?

E: A lot of people start playing music as a social thing, or to learn songs they love. I was in it for the songwriting from the get-go. My dad plays guitar. I was like, show me chords. He showed me two. I was like, that’s enough, started writing songs immediately. It was just the only way to get out whatever was going on inside. It was a very personal thing and I didn’t really play it outside [of my own company.] I think of myself as not the kind of person who was set up for music or for performing. I don’t think I ever sang until I thought, I need to write songs. And then, I started.

M: That’s so interesting. Sometimes what’s inside is the thing driving us and we just got to hold on to the wheel. What are Mad Gleams doing right now?

E: It’s weird to have had this band and band name for 10 years. I was writing all that time, but didn’t really put out anything. I went deeper inside – I disappeared into myself. I was working on all this stuff all the time, like a perfectionist. I started working on an album. It was gonna be my masterpiece. I think I worked on it for seven years. Then, I just had a lot of, for lack of a better term, spiritual experiences… “out-there” kind of experiences. I started making a ton of stuff, but it was not like the old stuff. I went to Greenfield where Derrick Hart was living. I wrote all the songs [for my EP, Greenfield] there. I started doing these improv albums…where I just hit record and started making up songs. I like to think they’re demos of demos. Here’s the guy writing the song as you’re listening to it. That was a way of trying to reconnect with when I first started making songs by myself as a teen. Art was a practice, like a meditation practice. I started generating all of these songs that were trying to reach into the depths of myself. I made 25 of those and then took a break and now, I’m working on recording all of those songs that I’ve built up over the last 10 years.

M: Honestly, one thing I love, as a music lover, is the creation process. To be so candid about the process is greatly personal.

E: Yeah, I was always into that type of thing – outsider art, not going for the frills. On the improv albums, the amount of mistakes is kind of amazing, but I just love that stuff.

M: A lot of the musicians that I’ve talked to describe themselves as feeling like outsiders. Music was their way to either alleviate that, or to connect with other outsiders. What do you think is the genre of music that you make? How would you describe it?

E: I call it experimental folk, or experimental folk rock. I like to think of lineages. I see how Derrick was really inspired by David’s work. I’ve fallen in this line of outsider, experimental, folk-y artists.

M: When did you first come into contact with David’s work?

E: I got to know Derrick in Peoria in 2010. He’s the one who told me about David. He’d found David in order to cover his song, “Free Indeed.” I think the first thing I heard was actually Derrick’s cover of David. The song, “Free Indeed,” I thought was an incredible song. I love the turn of phrase of, “Then I changed my style.” [lyrics from “Free Indeed”] It’s so playful and at the same time, it’s such a serious subject. That really leapt out to me. I got a copy of [Ode to] Quetzalcoatl from Derrick and dug into it more.

M: I love hearing those stories, because I’m equally passionate about “Ode to Quetzalcoatl.” How did you originally come to seek out Derrick?

E: We [Mad Gleams] were just starting to play open mics around Peoria and my wife Allison found him on Facebook and said, hey, here’s this guy nearby who is doing a Daniel Johnston song on Facebook. Maybe you should be friends with this dude… and then we heard that he ran the best open mic in town, this place called the Red Barn. When I walked in on the first night, he was on stage, singing the theme to the Muppet Babies in this beautiful falsetto with total commitment. It was love at first sight. I was smitten. I said, we gotta be part of whatever this guy’s doing.

M: Oh, that’s a great story. How did you come to open for David?

E: Derrick had told me that he was working on this tour with [David] Bixby. He was gonna open for him on some dates in Michigan. Derrick was planning to do a longer tour by himself afterward. During his planning, he was working on getting transportation. I offered, I have a car, what if we use my car and Allison and I came? Once that became a plan, it made sense for us to open for them both.

M: What was that like?

E: We were super green. We had never toured. We hadn’t even played that many shows. It was wild. Especially wild because, on shows with David, it was his first time playing these songs, at least to those audiences. All the places we booked had all these kids come out. Every show was a really good show – there were a lot of people. It was really inspiring. We continued on with Derrick afterwards and experienced the more typical first touring experience – sleeping in the car, playing shows for a handful of people. And that was really great, too. For me, it was a dream come true. All I had to do was play my songs every night.

M: That sounds great, especially since you were not expecting yourself to be in that position. It’s great that it fell into place like that.

E: It was definitely very helpful at that time. Allison and I performed together. She would sing with me, and I think that really helped me. She’s a far superior singer with more performing background. I was happy I wasn’t out on my own.

M: You definitely seem to have a musical family with your dad and your partner being involved. Is that true?

E: True. Definitely. My dad would’ve been one of Bixby’s superfans, if he had ever heard “Quetzalcoatl.” That’s exactly the type of music he most loved. I was always surrounded by really serious songwriting. My dad wrote songs and took it seriously.

M: Why did you choose to cover “Waiting for the Rains” of all songs?

E: “Waiting for the Rains” jumped out at me. I think I find myself in a very similar position as the singer in the song. He’s trying to start a new leaf and leave behind the past and make new tracks somewhere. I’m about to try to record my life’s work. The sense of longing and being right on the edge really spoke to me.

M: What else draws you to David’s work?

E: One of the things I think about a lot is how, sadly for most people, it’s not what’s being said that they’re interested in…It’s like they’re more interested in who’s saying it. People tend to be socially focused and listen to whoever seems to be the most important person to be listening to. When it comes to music, I think that ultimately means listening to whoever is most mass marketed. Then there are some people who think it’s really about what’s being said, and they don’t care who’s saying it. If you’re one of those kinds of people, it just makes sense to be drawn to outsiders. I feel like the only reason that everyone isn’t obsessed with David’s work is because it wasn’t mass marketed or on some major label… and that’s really the only reason. If you come across it, it’s just going to completely grab you, if you’re focused on a message. David was recording at a time when people didn’t really record independent albums much, a time where almost all the music he would’ve been hearing was mass marketed, “professional” music. He has
style and confidence like he’s on the radio, but the songs are about things I don’t think could be on the radio in 1969. I don’t think talking openly and directly about drugs and loss and pain, and even Jesus and redemption, was common. The album stays so fresh because it sounds ahead of its time with the directness and personal nature of the lyrics.

M: Would you say you write your songs about a certain subject?

E: Over time, I’ve come to the realization I’m only into art for the wisdom and the
transformation. That’s all I care about. Some songs are stories, some are fiction, and some are ideas. Really, down to all the improv and everything, it’s my attempt to get somewhere beyond… to open up doors within myself.

M: I think I understand that. I wonder, where did that shift occur for you where art became about the wisdom behind it?

E: I felt I was searching for something my whole life. I was always pinpointed on this idea of trying to change my life. I’m trying to wake up. That’s what I was looking for in art. I was coming to art for that from the beginning. I see art as part of the wisdom tradition and I think that we are all coming to it for that. You can be conscious and aware of it or not. If you’re more aware that you’re seeking, then you’re going to seek real hard.

M: What are you currently seeking? What are your future plans and dreams for the “Gleams?”

E: Plans are to try to record all this stuff I’ve written over the years, and I’m still pretty committed to doing that in a total DIY way. That will be interesting. I have this dream to connect philosophy and art in my life more. My wife and I also like to collaborate on screenplays and we’re interested in making weird DIY films. Any kind of art, any kind of art, I’m drawn to. I have weird ideas and plans in multiple mediums.

M: I can’t wait to see your paper mache clay motion film next. It seems like you have a holistic appreciation of art.

E: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Art’s the thing, I’m not. The artist isn’t the thing. I feel like we’re connecting to something beyond, through art.

M: Do you think you’ll tour again? Is that something that you want to do?

E: For me, 2020 was supposed to be the year of a bunch of shows, and that did not really happen. I do think that’s some part of the future but right now I’m just kind of focused on recording and making weird stuff on my own.

M: Tell me about your big seven year project. What is your dream for it to be?

E: It ballooned over the years – nine songs turned into 30 or 40. Now I have a plan for it.
I’ll be putting out a couple songs at a time, for the foreseeable future.

M: I wish you the best. I appreciate the commitment to DIY recording.

E: I think I see it as a way to keep the ego in check.

M: That’s what it’s all about. Seriously.

E: I’m in it for the art itself. There’s no means to an end. Look out for Mad Gleams cover of “Waiting for the Rains” on the upcoming Harbinger Orchestra LP. In the meantime, you can find Mad Gleams on YouTube and BandCamp.

Madison McLean, Journalist – Harbinger Magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s