Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with Shakra

SHAKRA

Interview by Wolf Gant

The career of Swiss band Shakra has not been one without incident. In twenty years they have been tested by the 'side-effects' of controversial videos, the loss of two singers at their peak; the second almost causing total collapse, and then a huge U-turn, which ultimately and thankfully came off thanks largely to the work of a close confidante. However new album, 'High Noon', is a scorcher and has given the band a No. 2 record at home and their highest chart position in Germany since their affiliation with AFM Records began. So, are they really back on track?


Shakra Interview Alt


The phrase that sums up 'High Noon' is; "The Fox Is Back", ex-singer Mark Fox dramatically returning to the fold. Talking to guitarist Thomas Muster and the aforementioned Fox, Fireworks explores the background to that statement. Just what was the situation after previous singer John Prakesh's departure? Was the talk of Muster actually hanging up his guitars for good and therefore that the band would fold, ever close to reality?

"Well, when John announced he wanted to leave, my first thought was: 'Okay, I'm done with it,' so yes, it was certainly a thought that crossed my mind," says the guitarist. "Thom (Blunier – Guitarist and Producer) immediately started the search for a new singer, but for me that was not an option. Shakra with a new singer every few years? Not for me. After a few months it seemed clear though, the only way to carry on was with Mark back in the band!"

Ah, yes. That of course is a 'clouded' reference to a now famous phone call from Krokus's Chris Von Rohr (who, let's be honest knows a thing or two about getting bands back together!). What was Chris' relationship to the band at that time?

"Chris is a close friend of Mark's and he finally brought us together to talk about everything. Chris just said: 'Bring together what belongs together!' I mean, we recorded four albums together. Mark definitely has a very distinctive voice. So Chris was saying, basically, he was the only real deal for us!
"Figuratively, for the five years before this Mark was on the north side of the Grand Canyon and I was on the south. Chris basically wanted to re-build the bridge. Not only did he succeed with that but he also then helped us a lot to choose the perfect twelve songs for the new album."

Without the hindsight that came later, just how difficult was it for you to let bygones be bygones with Mark?

"As I said before, a new singer was never a real option for me. Why should I look for a totally new singer when there is a guy – only about 20 km from us – with a voice that fits perfectly? Sure, we had some huge problems in the past but I believed in the words Chris said on the phone: 'We [Krokus] were able to solve the problems we'd had in the past. If we can, you also will!' I just thought: give it a try, you've nothing to lose. When I heard from Chris that Mark wanted to talk about a new beginning as well and hoped we could, I knew that this would turn out well. When we met, after like five years, it really was not difficult at all. As long as you really want something, it is possible!"

So talk comes round to a new record. Who had the first ideas?

"Well, we talked and talked, but Mark said: 'Let's try to record a song. Talking is okay but making music is what it's all about!' I had the idea of opener 'Hello' in mind already. I recorded it in my home studio then drove to Mark's to work on the vocal line. It sounded great! We both knew that there was something going on that we both had missed! That real Shakra spirit if you like! 'Hello' was then the initial ignition. It took us about one year to write the songs for 'High Noon' and we wrote over thirty, which is where Chris' advice was so useful, but it's never felt so good to work on new material as it was this time!"

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


When we saw you here some years ago (2012), the guitar was really strong. It was almost like I was seeing the band around the time of 2007's 'Infected' album. This album has an element of 'Infected' to it for me. An earthiness in the sound; a real depth. How would you sum it up Thomas?

"Yeah, you're right! Before we decided to work on 'Hello', which was like the ultimate test, we talked a bit about our favourite albums. We both went (shouts); 'Infected'! 'Everest'! So that's why 'Hello' sounds a lot like maybe 'Ashes To Ashes' or 'Make Your Day' from 'Infected'. It was pretty clear that that musical direction was going to suit 'High Noon'. Thom had tried to make the guitars on the last two albums a bit more modern sounding, but this time he only used one amp: the good old Marshall!"

Sum up the best moments and why they mean so much. Mark, you were always known for your 'sharp, sometimes delicate' lyrical subjects? Is this still the case?

"This is always a difficult question because all of the songs are our babies and it's not easy to prefer one over another. The only thing I can say is, I really wanna play these songs live soon; we are all really hungry to get back on stage after all these years. All the lyrics I write are basically ambiguous. I never explain the real meaning to them; everybody can use their own imagination. Often they are socio-critical or describe things that happened to me, and I certainly did not change that on 'High Noon', but I think I wrapped some of the meanings up better this time."

I am interested to know how the band views the future and playing live now. John Prakesh was part of Shakra when two very strong albums were recorded. Mark, do you have strong views about reproducing that material live?

"Well, we are going to be doing like a "best of" set list, so I hope that answers that. We will play songs from every album, even if I was not singing on them originally. I'm really pleased about that. It's great fun to reinterpret things my way. That's the advantage of my voice; if I start singing, everybody knows it has to be me.
"The first rehearsal for the 'High Noon Tour' was a special moment for everyone. It had been six years of course; we really felt that specific chemistry coming back and the drive to go out there and rock was immediate."

And finally; any regrets Mark?

"I never regret anything. I think that everything that happened, happened for a reason. There's definitely 'the bigger plan'. It made us wiser, taught us to have respect and showed us a way that is so much different to what came before. Now I can really enjoy everything and I feel like I'm finally back home."

'High Noon' is out now through AFM Records.

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with AOR

FREDRDIC SLAMA'S AOR

Ian Johnson talks with Frederic Slama

Frederic Slama is the driving force behind the band known as the AOR Project. If you want pure Melodic Rock, sung and played by some of the best artists in the business, then look no further than one of his albums. Slama's new CD 'L.A Darkness' is a prime example of this and Fireworks talks with him about it and his thoughts on the state of AOR/Melodic Rock in 2016.


frederic-Slama-AOR Interview


Over the last couple of albums you seemed to be going for a heavier sound, for AOR anyway; more guitars and less keyboards. And whilst 'L.A Darkness' has those heavier elements I think it's much more melodic than anything you've done in quite some time. Was this a deliberate writing choice for you and Tommy Denander or just how the new songs turned out during the writing process?

With 'L.A Darkness' I wanted to turn a page in the AOR series that I started in 2000. Since that time every one out of two albums started with the word "L.A." or ended up with a word with "ion", like 'L.A Connection', 'L.A Reflection', 'L.A Ambition' etc. I wanted a darker approach and at the same time more melodic and more 80s with a modern touch in a different way than anything I'd done before. I knew what I wanted right from the start and I told Tommy Denander and Paul Sabu that we will go this darker path, and they were not even scared!

When it comes to choosing singers, how do you do it? As you write a song do you hear who you want to sing the song in your head or do you sit down after the music is written, with a list of your vocalist friends and think that person would be good on this song and that person would be good on that one?

I've always got a couple of singers in mind every time I write a song. When I was younger I always had Lou Gramm and Steve Perry in mind, but now I'm more open-minded, though I would love to have them on an AOR CD! Now I try to write specifically for someone I'd like to sing my songs, and I've always had luck in that department for the last fifteen AOR CDs.

Talking of singers, why no ladies this time around? Did none of the songs fit a female voice or was it just down to no one being available?

I had the luck to work in the past with huge talents like Robin Beck, Tamara Champlin, Sarah and Mélissa Fontaine from Chasing Violets, Rachel Diggs and a few others, but this time the material really fitted my "darker" side so I only wanted male singers. At the same time I want to reassure the fans, when I say darker it's more the lyrics which are that way. The AOR sound is still a mix of all the bands I love like Foreigner, Giant, Toto, FM and Survivor. I'm still far from Motorhead or Metallica!

After all these years where do you get your song ideas from because you seem to be a very prolific songwriter?

My main job, even before AOR, is to write songs for others and I've done that for 30 years for Japanese, American or French artists, under a pseudonym sometimes, and not all have been successful, I must humbly admit. I find my ideas in real life, in this ever changing world, in things people tell me or simply in my imagination. The lyrics are one of the most important things for me and I always try to come up with original, or never done before titles, which is not easy since there have been a lot of artists releasing records before me. I try to keep people interested and there are often hidden meanings in many of my songs.

On the new album you have the likes of Jeff Scott Soto, Steve 'The Voice' Overland and Paul Sabu, who have all been on your most recent albums, alongside Kevin Chalfant and Henry Small of Prism, who aren't your usual go to guys. So is there a list that you have somewhere at home that has singers on it that you still haven't worked with but want to, and if so who are they?

Yes, it was an honour to have been able to again work with all these guys and the new ones like Kevin or Henry who I wanted to work with for a very long time! My wish list is more like a Christmas shopping list and I would need 10 pages to list them all, but here's a few I have in mind, ones I'd really like to have on an upcoming AOR album: Lou Gramm, Marshall Styler (Duke Jupiter), Aldo Nova, Joe Lynn Turner, Steve Perry, Andrea Corr, Dave Bickler (Survivor), Eddie Money, Dann Huff and so many more that I can't list them all here! I hope they will forgive me someday haha!

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


Have you ever wanted to make an AOR album but just have one singer singing everything, or do your songs need to be sung by different people so that you can get the most out of them?

Yes, I have thought of this idea several times but I wouldn't release it under the name AOR. People who buy the AOR albums are looking for their favourite singers and musicians on a Melodic Rock album reminiscent of the 80s and that's what they want to hear. But sure, I've got several ideas of doing an album or two with the same singer – just don't ask me who it is yet.

Have you ever wanted to record a completely different kind of album from your AOR ones, say a Melodic Metal album or a Prog album?

Strangely I would love to do a 70s Funk album like Ray Parker Jr. meets Al Jarreau. I would also be interested to do a Hard Rock album along the lines of Kiss or AC/DC. For both these projects I have recorded in L.A. a couple of songs with big stars over the years but I'm far from being finished and we might all be in a retirement home before I do so, haha!

You've worked with a veritable who's who of vocalists, the cream of the crop if you will of AOR/Melodic Rock singers. But who has been your favourite singer to work with and who did the best vocals for one of your songs?

If I tell you a name I might make a lot of enemies in the business and some of them may not want to talk to me ever again! But I like the risk and I'm going to tell you one name as requested: Fergie Frederiksen, ex-Toto, who recorded his last song for the AOR album 'Secrets Of LA'. I was so impressed by his determination, his kindness and his professionalism. He'll always have a special place in my heart.

Will we see the AOR Project on tour or would putting together such a diverse amount of singers be a logistical nightmare?

It's been more than a couple of years since the AOR Project was scheduled to play gigs and festivals in Europe and Japan, but the fans want to see big names on stage and I need at least five or six famous musicians and, let's say, a couple of singers to reach that goal. The problem is that it would cost a lot of money to fly them from all over the world and very few promoters are willing to pay the right price for this kind of super gig. I'm still talking with some of them and maybe I will find a solution to this problem and AOR might finally play in Europe and in the UK ... that, I would particularly love to do.

What does the future hold for the AOR band Frederic?

I'm still writing for other artists, and at the same time I'm producing some tracks for a girl I work with. I've also started recording songs for the next AOR project and I'm working on some reissues of some very old projects that have been long overdue. The market has changed drastically and sales are not what they used to be due to illegal downloading all over the world. These guys that are not buying CDs anymore don't understand the damage they are doing to their favourite artists by doing so. When you think you can pay £4 for a cup of coffee in a Starbucks but you won't buy a £12 CD because you'd rather pay £1 for a single song legal download, don't be surprised if in a couple of years that none of your favourite artists will be releasing new albums anymore! People who love AOR/Melodic Rock are among the most passionate in the world and really support the bands and artists, so please keep doing so and even if you don't buy 'L.A Darkness' I would be glad to know that you bought another CD with your hard earned cash to support your favourite artists.

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with Redemption

REDEMPTION

Interview by Ian Johnson

The Progressive Metal band Redemption have had, shall we say, more than their fair share of personal tragedies; health problems that have affected family and band members alike. So much so that guitarist Bernie Versailles is still not able to take part in the band's activities due to his illness. That the band have fought tooth and nail to keep going through all this is testament to the human spirit. Band leader Nick Van Dyke talked to Fireworks about their new album and what music means to him and Redemption.


Redemption Interview



Your last album, 'This Mortal Coil', had a very dark lyrical and musical feel. Was this in part informed by the horrible things that were happening to the band and your families, with the well documented health issues? I ask because the new album 'The Art Of Loss' seems to be much more upbeat and positive musically and the lyrics speak of healing and hope.


That question is very accurate and an astute observation for a number of reasons. I think our lyrics have always been, how can I put it, of a weighty kind, and yes they have had dark overtones but I have always tried to keep a positive edge to the songs as I have written them, even on '...Coil'. When I told Ray Alder (vocalist) what the new album's title was going to be, 'The Art Of Loss', he said to me, 'Don't you think that's a bit bleak, even for us?' [laughs]. I explained that even though it had a darkness to it, it also had a positive message as well. Personally for me, the main problem with '...Coil', and it was mentioned a lot at the time, is the production. We used Neil Kernon, who is a truly gifted producer, but for whatever reason his style didn't fit our music at all; so the sound we had in our heads never got translated to that album. On this one we're back working with Tommy Hansen, who really understands us, and I think that Ray, who has been working and touring a lot with Fates Warning , has never sounded so good. All these elements coming together and the better times in our personal lives has helped the new album have a more positive and uplifting sound.

Whilst this isn't a concept album, is there a theme running through the songs because, as I mentioned, they all seem to speak of love, healing, forgiveness and hope?

It's funny you picked up on that. When I started to write the songs I didn't have a theme in mind but as I wrote the music and lyrics all my ideas seemed to boil down to one thing, which is that every decision we make in life seems to be driven by one thing, and that is love; whether that be the love of your wife and kids, love of a parent, brother, sister etc, the passion you put into your work or just the love of friends. So much of what we do in life is about love, even the title of the album is about love in a way and the art of how we deal with its loss. So the songs are about the fear and hope of having, losing and re-finding that most powerful of emotions - love.

Talking of songs about love, 'That Golden Light' speaks of love and hope and for me is the least Redemption-like song you've ever done but one that still screams out Redemption when you hear it, if you know what I mean?

I do and I love this song because it's so open to interpretation and it could be about many things. For me it's about being in love and then losing that person but realising that you can carry on and that in the end love will find you once again. That's my interpretation of the song, yours and anyone else's who listens to the song could, and probably will, be different. It's a simple song, though I don't like using the word simple about finding love and having relationships. It has one of those melodies that wraps itself around your brain when you hear it and it is probably the least complex and least dark song I've ever written, but like you said, it still shouts Redemption when you hear it.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


'At Days End', the epic twenty minute plus finale to the album, is a real tour-de-force and you and the band have thrown everything you can into its matrix. How long does a track like that take to write and record?

Well in a way, from start to finish, it took two full weeks to record the song. Weirdly though, at home I have a library of songs that I've been writing and working on for many, many years, long before Redemption ever came into being. And 'At Days End' was an idea that didn't morph into a full song, which a lot of my ideas do, so I put it to one side. Then at various times over the years I would dig it out and work on bits of it, adding in heavy guitar riffs that reminded me of Slayer, or parts of ideas that were inspired by Stravinski, just to see if I could make it work as a song. Then I'd get frustrated and again put it back in the 'to be completed' box. The actual recurring melody, the first thing you hear Ray sing on the song, was something I'd written twelve or more years ago, which suddenly fitted. So that shows how long I've been working on this track, but when it was finished it still took two weeks to put it all together, and I have to say we're all really proud of what we've done on that song.

Why the Who cover of 'Love Reign O'er Me'? What does this song mean to you?

Personally, I think it's one of the greatest songs ever written. It stirs emotions in me that I hope some of our own music does in others. We didn't choose it because it had love in the title and fitted in with the overall album theme, we just love the song. We have done covers before and we always try to choose something you wouldn't expect. However, we did think that we needed two voices to carry it off and Ray agreed. I'd mentioned to our good friend John Bush of Armored Saint about working on something together a couple of years ago and he said, 'Yeah, no problem. Call me.' So we did and he came to the studio and nailed it, he really delivered the goods and he and Ray sound so good singing together.

The album features a lot of guest musicians, like Chris Poland, Simone Mularoni, Marty Friedman and Chris Broderick. Was this always going to be the case or mainly because of Bernie's continuing illness that forced this issue?

Using John had been in the pipeline long before Bernie's tragic situation came about. The other guitar players came in because of Bernie's illness and nothing more. Bernie is and always will be a member of Redemption. We discussed the new album with him and all he wanted was that if we used guest guitarists, that they all had to be great ones. The people we got to work with are some of the best. Simone is just amazing but when he did his solo on 'Slouching Toward Bethlehem', which is easily one of the best solos I've ever heard, he attached a note to his file that said 'Nick, don't ever ask me to play that again. I don't think I could.' [laughs]

With the band's well documented on going problems, will touring be a difficult for you and the band?

Actually we have a few tricks up our sleeves which should, fingers crossed, get us out on the road very soon. We'd hoped to get to Europe this summer but to not lose financially big time, we'd have had to have gotten on the bills at all the big festivals that are on over there during the summer months and sadly we just missed our window of opportunity for that. So instead we'll play in the States late summer/early fall, after Ray finishes up with the new Fates Warning album. Then after that we're going to make sure we're on the bills of all those festivals next year because we love playing to a European audience because they really seem to love what we do.

Finally Nick, a question I always try to ask a musician who has been in the business for many years. Did you think you'd still be making music all these years later, when you first started out on the road to being a musician?

If you'd told me back in 1996, that's when I first met Ray Alder, that I'd be in a band that would tour the world, that I'd have supported the great Dream Theater and played at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. And then told me that I'd still be making, writing and recording music in 2016, I would have said you were mad, completely insane. I'm therefore so blessed and lucky to have been able to do what I do, for nothing but the love of being a creative artist. Let's face it, there is no money in the music business these days and if you do it for that reason, making money, then you'll have a career that lasts about a week. Do what you do for the love of it and for your fans however and what you do can last a lifetime.

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with Delain

DELAIN

Interview by Michael Anthony

Fans of Delain expecting a new album in the wake of recent successful tours might well have been surprised by the appearance instead of the new 'Lunar Prelude' EP. But fear not, an album is on the way! Fireworks spoke to founding member and keyboard player Martijn Westerholt for the low down on the EP, album plans and forthcoming live work.


delain interview


You've been away at sea I gather, is that right?

Yes, you are well informed! I had this opportunity to do the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise from Miami to Jamaica. The second time we've done a cruise. I hate my job! [Laughs]

It went well, did it?

Yes. Though the shows didn't go exactly how I wanted them to go. We were on a boat with not a lot of crew and we did one of the first shows soon after the cruise started. Small things went wrong but I don't think anyone noticed, so we shouldn't complain. It was a really nice cruise with a really good vibe.

You also played 'The Suckerpunch Show'?

Yeah, that was a special show in The Netherlands at the end of January. It was a closure to 'The Human Contradiction' album cycle and the start of the new cycle of the EP and upcoming album. It was a really good show, and a lot of people from the UK were there actually.

I saw the Bristol gig on your UK tour (reviewed in Fireworks #73) and I thought it was superb, especially for a first night. How did the rest of the tour go?

Splendid! It was a really good tour. Ticket sales were good, and we tweaked the show during the tour and were really happy with how it developed. But I have to say that the UK is always somehow special – playing The Island seems to do really well for us.

Something that impressed me at the gig was the addition of the second guitarist and the kind of power that seemed to give you live.

You know, Merel [Bechtold] is a really good addition, both mentally, because she radiates this positive energy and people love her for it, and also music-wise as two guitars really does make a difference in sound. So, it's a plus on all sides. We didn't do it for years because a lot of bands in our genre have two guitarists and I don't like to be one of a lot of bands with the same kind of set up. But in this case, Merel is special and it just makes sense.

So why an EP now, then?

Actually, because a lot of fans asked us for it and we tend to listen to our fans! We released our previous album 'The Human Contradiction' in April 2014, so it's time for a new album. But the problem was whether to turn down live shows to make an album or to postpone the album and do the shows. So we did the shows and then we thought, well, we have to give the fans something. It's also our tenth anniversary this year and we have to make it something really special, so we thought, what the heck, let's release two new tracks and put some live tracks and some special stuff on it so people can warm up for the album and also have something new.

So, you have a couple of new tracks, 'Suckerpunch' and 'Turn The Lights Out'. You say you have other album tracks in preparation, so why choose those two?

Yeah, I think right now we have about seven tracks, maybe eight ... seven and a half, let's say! We're still working on some stuff and we need more but we thought, let's finish those two and put them out. We played 'Turn The Lights Out' live for the first time in Bristol. It's always a magical moment when you play a new song live and see it come to life, so that's one of the reasons we chose that song. And then 'Suckerpunch' turned out really well. We thought it sounded like a single, so we made it a single!

As it's an EP, have you gone for tracks that are at the more accessible or commercial end of what you do?

No, we don't really think like that. If you want to be commercial you should probably skip the guitar section altogether [laughs]. It's more about pleasing our fans and also having a good ambassador – a song which shows a lot of aspects of your music for people who don't know you yet. I think in 'Suckerpunch' we have that.

Although you have all the classic elements in there, the synth is quite prominent on the EP isn't it? Particularly in the introductions, and perhaps more so than on some of your other material?

Yeah, you know, one of my favourite bands is Nightwish. I'm good friends with Tuomas and I always told him, you know, the orchestra stuff, that's your party. I love it too, so I like to have orchestration but I want to distinguish myself and create an identity. I also love that 80s kind of synth sound, so that's why I put that in there too.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


And does that indicate the direction you are going in with the album material?

Well, not consciously, because I always write what comes. I don't lay out a path that it should be like this or it should be like that, it's just what comes up. But, of course, the style, what I like, is consistent in the music I write, so I think subconsciously it does go in a direction and there's more of that stuff to come. So to cut a long story short, perhaps you're right, yes! [Laughs]

Do you remember where on the last tour the live tracks were recorded?

We recorded a lot of shows. Where there was a mixing desk available that was suitable we used it, and we picked the best stuff. So I think that one is recorded in Belgium, one is recorded in England, one is recorded in France ... I don't recall exactly, but it was all recorded on the tour somewhere.

You seem to be growing in the UK?

Yeah, but that's in general fortunately! We've really noticed that all the support tours are starting to pay off. We've been growing a lot. I'm not exactly surprised, as I was hoping it would happen of course, but it's really cool that it has, as currently in this type of music there are an established set of names and it can be difficult to grow. I consider myself very lucky.

I get the sense that you're working up quite a head of steam, and really building momentum at the moment. Is that how it feels to you?

Yeah, absolutely! And we have our fans to thank for that because they decide, they're in charge, they're the boss, not us. We can do what we do because of them. If they like it we can continue doing it, and if they don't, we're pretty much, to say it in bad English, fucked! [Laughs] But I really have the feeling that there is something going on, something really positive, so I'm really, really happy with that.

I don't know what it's like on the continent, I imagine that people are generally more receptive to Symphonic Metal because they always have been ...

Also it varies from region to region. If you go to southern Germany, for example, it's so different to northern Germany. In northern Germany they just stand still, even if they like it, and afterwards they tell you it was the best night of their lives! [Laughs] It's funny to see the difference in crowds. If you go to South America, they're totally mind-fucked! They're crazy! So how people experience it and how they express it in body language is so different, which doesn't mean they don't like it, it's just different.

Something else I was struck by, seeing you live, was the spread across ages. Your music seems to be appealing to different generations of Rock fans.

Yep, that's true! I think it's a good sign. I don't have a clue where it's coming from. Perhaps it's because we make quite accessible Metal music, and older people take younger people with them who are not used to really hard stuff. We get a lot of young kids and we get a lot of older fans as well.

And as you say, it's a very positive thing.

Yeah, getting a mixed crowd means that you're accessible, and it's nice, it's really nice. If you only have older crowds, then you're fan base will die off. If you only have young crowds, then you'd start to feel like you're in a boy band. [Laughs] With a mixed crowd, it feels more like I'm really making music.

So the EPs is out in February. What next?

Well, we're about to head off to the USA and Canada with Nightwish and Sonata Arctica and definitely this will be a party! We know these guys really well, we've toured with both of them, so it's almost family. After that we have to finish the album! So in April and May, it's all hands, if you know what I mean. I want a release at least by the end of the festival season, though in the middle would be even better. So we really need to finish it, but without rushing it.

You have some festivals lined up?

Yeah, we are really spoiled with that as well. We have the best festival season ever. In the UK for example, we have Download, which is really cool and in Belgium we have Graspop, that's a big whopper. And we've got HellFest, we've got Tuska in Finland, MetalDays in Slovenia, a couple in Germany and the Netherlands, so we're really happy. We have a new agent, Rock the Nation, and they've done really good work.

So when can we expect to see you live in the UK again?

Well, we're actually working on a headline tour for the Autumn but the dates are not announced yet.

Do you have a name for the new album?

Yes, we do, but I don't think I should spoil it yet! [Laughs] It has something to do with the moon, I can say that. That's why the EP is called 'Lunar Prelude'!

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with Rhapsody Of Fire

RHAPSODY OF FIRE

Interview by Duncan Jamieson

Rhapsody Of Fire return with their powerful new album 'Into The Legend'. Legends themselves, the pioneering Italian Power Metallers have created their best and most ambitious album to date. It took two years of writing, including seven months in the studio to create this multi-layered beast and as well as the usual Heavy Metal elements there are orchestral parts played by a living breathing orchestra and choir that lift the music up to where the Gods reside. The band describe the result as 'Film Score Metal' which is as apt a description as any. Keyboard player and the band's lynchpin Alex Staropoli was happy to tell Fireworks how the band pieced together this monster. He also talks about what is was like working with the late, great Christopher Lee and is candid when discussing the band's split with Luca Turilli, who of course has gone onto create music under the banner of Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. Pour yourself a Chianti and read on...


Rhaspody-Of-Fire Interview


'Into The Legend' is an impressive piece of work Alex. It took you two years to make, including seven months of recording. Are you happy with the result?

It was really important to deliver a great album with many of the elements I love in music this time. It was intentional that we work hard, with passion and dedication. The use of the orchestra, Baroque ensemble, choirs, soloist, etc – these surely can give the sound a richness that is typical of this band. These days, with the sound quality we can reach in the recordings, mix and mastering, it is really cool to use all the "Film Score Metal" elements we, for the very first time, adapted to a Metal band years ago. For our previous album, 'Dark Wings Of Steel', I had a totally different approach to most other bands. My brother Manuel and I really like all the compositions we did and the way the album sounds. Maybe it was not what the typical Rhapsody Of Fire fan would expect from us, but I believe that 'Dark Wings.....' was a great album, and most importantly, it was the album I wanted to create and be released at that time. This one had to go one better. Actually all the journalists I spoke to within Europe were really excited and positively surprised by 'Dark Wings...' but we all know that at the end of the day the fans have the final word on a record.

For 'Into The Legend' I wanted to create songs in the best Rhapsody Of Fire tradition as well as using the experience of the previous one. I was full of energy and really inspired. The motivation was very strong, starting from the composition process right through to the arranging process, the recordings, the mix and the mastering. All the way through the production, the whole band were motivated and truly excited. We were and are aware that we have created something really special with this one.

How do you go about creating a song like the seventeen minute 'The Kiss Of Life' for example?

'The Kiss Of Life' was actually the only song I already had some ideas and parts for when we started. I thought about not doing a long song anymore to be honest, but then I changed my mind and created maybe the most ambitious, intense, epic, dramatic and poetic suite ever written for a Rhapsody Of Fire album. In this song alone there are all the musical elements that you can find in the entire album. The soprano is Manuela Kriscak, a fantastic opera singer who works with world renowned directors. She is very important to me and for the sound of the band. I will work with her in the future actually. How do I create such a song? I just start and follow my instincts. I want to be really moved by what I do. I want to feel goosebumps and like to imagine what listeners and fans will feel about it.

If I were forced to choose a favourite from the album I'd go for 'Winter's Rain'. What would you choose if you had to pick one?

Personally, I would pick up on 'The Kiss Of Life'. I've never heard a song with that structure and intensity. But as you mention 'Winter's Rain', let me tell you that I started creating that just using a guitar riff from Roby De Micheli. When I heard that riff the entire song came into my head just like that. Mid-tempos can deliver so much power and intensity; the slower the tempo, the more time sound waves need to develop themselves. Bass tones are deeper and richer, and drama can be better expressed; performances can be much more precise. I like fast songs as well of course. Fast Metal songs are and will always be a priority, but on that song it just came together. Fabio for example, gave an incredible performance, so theatrical!

What's the concept behind Fabio's lyrics on this record?

Firstly, we do not write concept albums or sagas anymore, not for now at least. Fabio is the one responsible for the lyrics and I think that his poetical-Italian-melodic touch is well imprinted in them as it is in the way he sings them. I don't really like to feed the listener with my own explanation as to the lyrics and the music, and Fabio would say the same. When I compose, my goal is to feel emotions and have the listeners feeling emotions as well, but I also always try to work with mental images. The lyrics work the same way. Fabio is able to write in a way that creates images and stimulates the visionary fantasy of the listener. I think the lyrics deserve to be interpreted by the listener in whichever way they can. I find that far more interesting.

There are some terrific orchestral parts, including choirs. What was it like working with these musicians?

Amazing. On the last album I had my brother Manuel Staropoli to call on and he was there for me again. Manuel plays the Baroque Recorder as well as many other original instruments on this entire album. We called a lot of musicians, mostly musicians my brother works and performs concerts all around the world with. Hence we created this Baroque-Celtic ensemble to draw just some of the special musical landscapes I felt the need for. I composed songs myself but my brother gave me an input here and there. I have more fun when I work with him, especially because he is a conservatory music teacher, a concert player and really into studying technique and musical history. This stuff sometimes can help while arranging for an ensemble.

Regarding the orchestra, we had a 32 piece string section and a 14 piece brass section, a really huge ensemble of players. When the brass were recording the amount of sound pressure, the amount of actual air blowing and the volume they had was incredible; so thick and epic! It was a great experience to work again with my favourite conductor Vito Lo Re too. He can boast numerous musical collaborations and actually works on Italian national TV as a composer, arranger, conductor and artistic director. The opera choirs, the epic choirs and the boys' choirs were recorded in Trieste. Some other stuff then in my studio and a grand piano in another... always in Trieste though.

What did the classical musicians think of recording with a long haired Heavy Metal band?

I don't know, I had my pony-tail, haha. I don't think in these days this is still an issue, especially between musicians. My brother teaches two different instruments in two different conservatories – he's the only teacher in Italy with two conservatories by the way – and he has very long hair. He does Baroque concerts all around the world; actually he was at Oxford University for some of his research and he never had problems because of his hair, so I would say it's not important. It's about the energy we carry and the emotions we can make people feel while we play that really counts.

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How important do you think being Italian has had on the music you make?

I think it was and still is very important for the big musical background I want and have been able to achieve. It was challenging at the very beginning to create an Italian Heavy Metal band, but we all liked challenges so we went on and on without stopping or thinking that it may be difficult. Instead it was surprisingly easy to get a record deal and our music distributed all around the world."

Now, I spoke to Luca Turilli last year when his album came out. I know it was an amicable split and the bands have grown in different ways. But what would you say is the main difference between your version of the Rhapsody sound and his now?

When I think about bands splitting, members departing, etc I often wonder why those musicians ended up like that; why they could not hold on and make another album, maybe another one after, and eventually never split at all. For Luca and myself the split was the only possible way to go on though. Our friendship was not the problem, we spoke about it many times but the working relationship between us, and the two of us with Fabio, created just too much tension, way too much considering we always wanted to be peaceful people and deliver music with a positive energy. Now we are both very happy with our respective bands. 'Into The Legend' is the album that made me proud of myself and proud of the musicians I am working with; I could not ask for more. The split was hard to handle for the fans probably but not for us; we were prepared for and conscious of what we were doing all along. Some years back we would have never considered that option but then things change. When you are in your 20s you just don't care, but at 40-45 you get tired of situations which are not perfect and which don't make you feel happy. And I mean really happy.

Roby's presence in the band and in the song writing also has had a lot of impact and is a key factor. In some ways what he does is really in line with Rhapsody Of Fire, but in a more modern way. He is now endorsed by Kiesel/Carvin guitars, who build fantastic instruments, perfect for him and for the sound I seek in the mix and on stage. Both Luca and Roby are great guitar players; they started studying the electric guitar together, listening to the same bands and being passionate about certain guitar players. When I met them the three of us were listening to exactly the same music and bands; this is also what made us work together and become friends instantly. We were just teenagers then! So funny to think about us in the 90s.

There are many different ways to describe the music we do. I like to describe Rhapsody Of Fire as a "Film Score Metal" band, actually the only one that exists. I have been into movies and soundtracks since I was a teenager, even before I knew anything of my future as a musician. I always found the union of images and music extremely interesting. I could name different soundtracks from the most complex to the most simple, where there is just one solo instrument playing a nice melody; examples would be 'Conan The Barbarian' or some of the Ennio Morricone soundtracks.

There are now two very different bands: Luca Turilli's Rhapsody and Rhapsody Of Fire. Two different bands in every aspect: different music, different production, different musicians, different way of composing, different way of mixing. I could go on and on. I have my own opinion on this matter actually; the people that really get confused with this are the people that don't really care much, people that listen to music maybe superficially. I can tell you that the true fans of Rhapsody Of Fire know perfectly well who the band members are, what kind of music we play, when we play concerts, etc. These days it is enough to Google and you have your answers right away."

Christopher Lee sadly passed away last year. You, of course, had the honour of working with him on the 'Dark Secret' album. What do you remember of him and that experience?

I remember a great person, great personality and great professionalism. He was totally into it. To have the honour to be there in the studio with him and to listen to him just rehearsing the narration, was an incredible experience. After all the narrations were recorded, Mr Lee started to talk about his passion for singing and actually started to sing in the monitor room in front of everyone. He asked us to make him sing on our music! So there started our collaboration. Fabio and Mr Lee sang on the song 'The Magic Of The Wizard Dream'. It is such a pleasure to have had the chance to know him and work together with such a legend and icon.

You're touring all over at the moment: Mexico, Columbia, 70,000 Tons Of Metal, and in the US you played during a mighty big storm in Dallas. Sounds like the perfect back drop for your music. What was that like?

It was truly epic to play against the backdrop of that wind and heavy rain. Not so cool for the equipment but at least we finished the show safely. After that the dock was shut down and all the following bands had to cancel or reschedule their shows unfortunately.

We live for touring though. Rhapsody Of Fire is a band that is ready all the time; ready to enter the studio and totally ready to go on stage at any time, with the technique, precision, performance and passion our fans expect. All we want is to go on tour and play the new songs. We recently played the song 'Into The Legend' live, opening for Scorpions in Rome and Trieste; that was fantastic! We really enjoyed that. We are planning to play many songs from the new album and to actually perform longer shows this time as well because we really want to be able to play all the songs the fans always want to listen to. I have so many goals and plans music-wise. We are getting ready to go and play in Asia in a few weeks, and organising a European and Latin American tour for this year as well, so it's all happening.

Finally, Tom Hess left in 2013 and you've carried on with just one guitarist. Alessandro also joined on bass last year. Did that have an effect on how you approached the songs in the studio?

Not really. I compose everything in my mind first and I tend to not be too complicated, but then in the studio this time I realised that what I thought was easy, was not that easy, and here we go again. The bass player has bleeding fingers haha! Joking aside though, it's also important for me to have all the band members be able to change and improve their parts. Of course, because I am a maniac I need to have my final word on each and every single note, but it's important that everyone contributes. All went really smoothly with Alessandro and I now wish long life to this line up!

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