Cifarelli is quick to point to his grandfather Vincenzo when asked about his musical initiation. He had played trombone in Montreal’s famous Banda Gentile marching band. “All I heard every day was opera – very creepy opera. I remember being in this big house with the old man in his room silently listening to opera; it’s dark, I’m alone … that mood and feeling kind of stuck with me,” he recalls.
In his teens, Cifarelli would find his calling – albeit with a little resistance from his family. “I had huge fights with my father. I was failing school; ditching to go jam. It wasn’t smooth for me at all. But if you feel that you need to stand in defiance, and you believe enough, then that’s your path,” he says.
And Cifarelli did more than simply believe – he obsessed over his craft. “Once, Vanier (College) was on strike, I remember practising guitar for three days straight; one day was 13 hours, the next day was 11 hours and the last day was 9. And then I literally got sick and couldn’t go back to school when the strike was over.”
His rise through the ranks began after attending a Taproot show in 2000, when he approached a band member after the concert with a six-pack of beer and his band Pulse Ultra’s demo CD. Before he knew it, a year later, Cifarelli and the band were signed to a major record deal with Velvet Hammer (becoming label mates with multiplatinum selling System of a Down) and were off to Los Angeles.
But Pulse’s whirlwind dance with the big leagues wouldn’t prove longstanding. “It’s a lot more pressure than people think, a lot more money is involved than people think, and it’s a lot harder to write the songs to impress major U.S. labels than people think. They made us write five to ten songs a week for like three months straight with no money,” he admits.
After recording their debut album Headspace and touring the globe, most notably on Ozzfest with System of a Down, inexperience and industry demands quickly got the best of them. With lacklustre sales and band members drifting apart, Pulse Ultra was swiftly dropped from the label and Cifarelli would find himself back at square one.
Fast forward to 2008 – the guitarist had been biding his time, constantly practicing, writing and recording music, and moving between projects – when management from Velvet Hammer called him with the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to audition as a bass player for Scars on Broadway, a project fronted by System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian. Cifarelli gladly jumped at the opportunity and before he knew it, the band welcomed the elated artist onboard.
“I feel honoured and blessed to be in Scars,” says Cifarelli, who toured North America last fall in support of the Deftones. “You can’t explain the sensation of playing alongside someone you respect that much (Daron Malakian), having fun, and also getting to be on a tour with your favourite band (the Deftones). It’s completely surreal.” Cifarelli’s downtime between stints with Scars on Broadway allows him to work on a solo project that has been near and dear to his heart for the better part of a decade: The Chronicles of Israfel.
On Chronicles’ latest installment named A Trillion Lights, slated for release in December, Cifarelli gets to display his vocal range and colossal guitar riffs like never before. The title character of the concept album, Israfel, is in biblical literature the archangel who blows the trumpet to announce the Day of Resurrection – perhaps a subconscious ode to his father’s native town of Sant’Arcangelo in Basilicata. The prelude to the album, a 13-minute track called Turning of the Heavens, will be available on iTunes in October.
Surprisingly, next up for the talented artist is a mandolin-based project that he’s been eagerly waiting to record for the past two years. “It’s just my favourite music I’ve ever written,” he says. One could say Cifarelli is revisiting his roots with the new venture – his great uncle played the mandolin and the album will include an Italian song named Il Dolore.
After all he’s been through in his short but intense career, no matter what door opens up next, Cifarelli remains weary of the pressures of unrealistic expectations and mindful of the reason he chose music in the first place. “It could become exhausting, but what happens is, if you love it, it becomes a self-renewing, self-perpetuating fire,” he says. “If you put the pressure of success and expectation on something, you’ll snuff out the fire. If you let the passion of what you love to do fuel everything, it’ll just make you stronger.”
The Chronicles of Israfel
written by Adam Zara