Giulia Millanta plays a CD release for her new album The Funambulist this Saturday at Strange Brew with her band – husband/guitarist David Pulkingham, drummer Michael Longoria, and Glenn Fukunaga on bass. She and Pulkingham just returned from touring Italy, where she was born and raised in Florence.
Millanta boasts a degree in medicine, but has never practiced, to which she laughs, “I know, I’m crazy.” Music’s her passion, yet by her own admission, she comes from a conservative family. Originally the idea of playing for a living was unacceptable to her father, an engineer who’s a patented a procedure to help cure colon cancer.
Ironically, it was that same parent who taught her to play guitar at age 8. “He taught me a few chords and we used to play and sing together,” she recalls fondly. Her mother called her a gypsy until she settled in Austin with Pulkingham.
Austin Chronicle: How did you meet your husband?
Giulia Millanta: I met David in the backstage of a theater in a little town near Lake Como. It was a Townes Van Zandt tribute night. David was on tour with Alejandro Escovedo at the time. I was warming up in the backstage and he came over to talk to me. We became friends. A couple of months later we met again in New York City where I had some shows. After that, I came to Austin for the first time. I love it here and I was ready for a change.
AC: Why the name The Funambulist?
GM: It’s based on the role of artists in our society. An artist is somebody who takes risks every day, dealing with demons and self doubts, uncertainties. His or her contribution to society is huge, no matter how appreciated his/her art is. The concept of The Funambulist came to me last September when I was asked to write a journal for the Italian magazine Tuttafirenze about about my “bi-continental life,” reporting on my experiences, which I still write.
I call it “La Funambola,” which means the funambulist [tightrope walker], because that’s what I am.
I’ve been walking between continents, languages, and cultures, so when I was collecting songs for the new album I realized that they all belonged to this concept. There was a common thread in collecting songs for this record, which is this idea of being suspended and in-between.
AC: Walking the tightrope of an artist?
GM: Yes, I think everyone who lives a creative life is a funambulist, no matter their daily job. If we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of going out of our comfort zone, we run the risk of losing everything, but we might also discover new things and open new chapters in our lives.
AC: What else inspired the album?
GM: I spend a lot of time traveling, sitting and waiting around. It’s given me a lot of time to think, evaluate, ask myself some questions about life, love, failures, promises, gratitude, God, or the lack of faith. And all of that is also the reason why the album is in three languages.
AC: Are there language barriers between singing in English and Italian for you?
GM: Writing in Italian is certainly more challenging than English because the words are usually longer and more articulated. But with English it’s easier to play with the sound of the words, alliterations and rhymes. The two languages live in different parts of my brain. English for me is with emotions and images as opposed to Italian, which is more rational and analytical somehow. Growing up listening to English language music made me always more comfortable writing in English and it felt more natural, believe it or not.
AC: What did you grow up listening to in Florence?
GM: I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Joan Baez, traditional folk music from England and South America. When I was 19 years old, I fell in love with Neil Young. And I also had an opera and classical music phase.
AC: What stands out the most so far?
GM: Once, I was playing the Acoustic Guitar Festival back home in Italy, n the courtyard of a medieval castle where the festival took place. It turned out that Jackson Browne was being interviewed in one of the rooms of the castle and he asked to leave the windows open to hear the act that was onstage, which was me. Later he came up to me and said, “You sounded great.”
AC: Where does the story of Giulia Millanta go from here?
GM: My heroes are all the hard working musicians who show up for their job everyday, travel miles to play gigs, trying to reach people and make this world a better place. That’s who I want to be.
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