“WHAT FIRST DREW ME TO MANCHESTER WAS THE SHIT WEATHER. IT BRINGS EVERYONE DOWN TO MY LEVEL.”
THE ‘OLD’ BRIAN MAY BE GONE BUT the ‘new’ Brian remains feisty and opinionated. Christinzio, now 43, meets MOJO at Manchester Piccadilly station, and walking through the concourse he spies a piano for members of the public to play. “There’s something so immediate and romantic about the piano,” he starts. “So, when I see people pounding on it, it makes me ill. It’s an instrument. You wouldn’t leave a dentist’s drill lying around in the middle of a train station. Playing bad music in front of people is just as dangerous.”
Settling down to a full English fry-up at the Koffee Pot on Oldham Street – where he once washed dishes to make ends meet – Christinzio visibly relaxes, and begins to wax lyrical about his adopted home city.
“What first drew me to Manchester was the shit weather,” he says, “because it brings everyone down to my level. I remember walking down this street; I didn’t have five pounds in my pocket but I had the energy of new friends in a new city, and writing all this new music, which hadn’t happened in ages. What a relief that was. Anyway, I consider myself Mancunian now. I never felt American anyway, but more like an alien.”
Christinzio looks more like a bear than an alien, dressed in black except for a rust-coloured beanie with tufts of black hair escaping out the back. He’s jovial and garrulous, but it masks a history of unease. Young Brian would look at photos of family members and fret about when they would die. At the same time, he was obsessed with Jerry Lee Lewis, discovered in his mother’s record collection and encouraging him to stick with piano lessons (Frankie Valli and other high voices were a similar influence on his own).
Christinzio’s anxieties abated in high school – “I was captain of the football team, and my girlfriend was prom queen” – but exploded right after, “like a switch had been flipped.” Suffering overwhelming bouts of hypochondria and neurological disorders, he was hospitalised several times. A thyroid-related auto-immune condition has been diagnosed, but medication hasn’t worked. “It’s all just a big, muddy ball,” he sighs.
LUCKY, THEN, THAT CHRISTINZIO turned out to be a master at turning adversity into art. Every album he has recorded since moving to Manchester has been preceded by some mishap or calamity, but has improved on the last, with increasingly inventive and dramatic arrangements laced with injections of scabrous humour. Recent years have been particularly brutal. The sudden death of his father in 2018 sent Christinzio “into a spiral worse than any time since my twenties.” Lockdown made matters worse – “I had too much time to think” – and in early 2022, his fiancée and partner of nine years threw in the towel.
“I don’t want to say her leaving was the worst thing that ever happened to me, that would be loading everything on to her,” he says. “She’s not the reason I am where I am. It’s the illness that I’ve battled my whole life.”
The devastation at being single again informs his new album,
The Last Rotation Of Earth. “It’s a more expansive, cinematic record than before – it’s got half the fucking Liverpool Philharmonic on it! – but it’s very real and raw, more stripped of any ambiguities,” he says. “This record is what’s keeping me going. That’s the silver lining.”
There is another: it seems that the more Christinzio suffers, the more popular he becomes. 2020 album Shortly After Takeoff (a reference to the crash brought on by his father’s death) was a hit on BBC 6 Music. The biggest tour of his life begins this November, and includes shows at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Manchester’s Albert Hall. Just days after he talks to MOJO, tempting fate, he tweets, “Things seem to be going very well all of a sudden.”
JUDGING BY THEIR PRESENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA, Christinzio’s fans are not lacking in fervour. The singer reckons they appreciate his authenticity. “People with anxieties
and fears can sense that in me and my music,” he says. “You can’t bullshit people – well, you can, but they’ll forget you by the next record.”
He’s also proud that progress has been made without pandering to a commercial style. BC Camplight songs can turn on a dime: a gorgeous chord progression might be interrupted by a metallic blast of guitar, or a honeyed melody hijacked by what sounds like a stage musical’s chorus line. Christinzio assembles the jagged pieces like a jigsaw, much as Brian Wilson did on The Beach Boys’ Smile, a bootleg of which the singer discovered when he was 19.
“Music is a mirror of the person that creates it,” he says. “That’s just my brain’s blips and short-circuits. Plus, I get bored extremely easily. We’ve reached this weird stage in music when it’s all verse-chorus-middleeight-chorus, and I’ve never understood why. So what if I want to put a lawnmower in the middle of a power ballad?”
There are no lawnmowers on The Last Rotation Of Earth, though Christinzio approaches power balladry on She’s Gone Cold, one of two songs that dramatise conversations with his ex. The title track, meanwhile, ponders suicide – as did the first album he made in Manchester, 2015’s How To Die In
The North. “I thought I might come here and drink myself to death,” he recalls. “A real Leaving Las Vegas vibe.”
Continuing a theme of literal album titles, 2018’s Deportation Blues reflected his next existential crisis. In early 2015, Christinzio fell and impaled his foot on a spike in the smoking zone at the Castle Hotel. The wound became infected (“I couldn’t put weight on my leg for months”) and a doctor suggested he shouldn’t fly, leading to the singer overstaying the limit on his UK work visa.
“So I was deported,” he sighs. “The next thing, I’m playing Pac-Man in my parents’ basement in New Jersey, thinking, This is my life now.”
THE TRAGI-COMEDY DIDN’T END there. Christinzio was able to return to the UK with an Italian passport, courtesy of his grandparents (he now has permanent residency), but did not feel restored. “I was just destroyed by the stress,” he says.
And the blows kept coming. His father died just days before Deportation Blues was released. Shortly After Takeoff arrived just as Covid hit, meaning he couldn’t tour the record for a year. “One main source of pride is live performance,” he says. “And I feel more human on-stage than off. I can rarely look people in the eye – like when the waiter comes over to take my order – but I can stand in front of a thousand people and look them all in the eye. I wish a doctor could tell me why.”
The subject of mental health is something very close to Christinzio’s heart. “It’s insane to me that talking about mental health is still taboo,” he says. “When I get messages like, ‘I was having a really tough time, I wanted you to know your music helped,’ it’s worth a fortune to me. It makes me feel like it’s worth being this real, and honest.
“I mean, I’m never going to be Coldplay,” he concludes. “All I need for my soul is the validation that the shit I’ve put myself through in the last 20 years has been worth it.”