Rhapsody Of Fire interview (12/2021)
|Conducted by:||RaduP (skype)|
Rhapsody Of Fire
Back when I first started getting into metal, I got a batch of albums from my older cousin. One of them was Rhapsody's Tales From The Emerald Sword Saga. And thus began my love of dragon-slaying power metal, and when I say my love for it began, I mean that I had a brief phase, and then my relationship to euro power became more of a distant one. And before I knew it, there were three Rhapsodies at least. It's not really unusual for bands to splinter after more than two decades, so the current incarnation of Rhapsody Of Fire just released its second album with this lineup, Glory For Salvation. I sat down with Alex Staropoli to see how all these decades passed for the band itself.
[First, some chit-chat discussing Radu’s location and the fact that he is my subordinate. And then:]
Radu: So we’re here with Alex from Rhapsody Of Fire. Our editor actually wanted me to ask you: how do you pronounce your name?
Alex Staropoli: My own name? [Ed: I know, silly question.]
Radu: Yeah, the family name. Where exactly do you put the accent?
AS: Staropoli. [Ed: I’m not telling you how he pronounced it.]
Glory For Salvation
Radu: Staropoli. Okay. Now we’ve settled that. So you have a new album coming out pretty soon.
Radu: How do you feel about this one? It’s the second one in the new storyline of albums, right?
AS: Yes. Well, I feel that after two years, finally the album is out – I started working 24 months ago, so knowing that, it’s very exciting that finally the album is out and the band is very happy. We mixed this album more than six months ago, the album is ready since many, many months. That’s why we could not wait to have it released.
Radu: It seems like now you have quite a tight schedule, releasing an album every two years. I remember previously between 2006 and 2010 you had a four-year gap between albums.
AS: Yes. Well, this four-year gap was because we had some issues to solve, so it was not really something we wanted, but normally we always believe that two years between albums, it’s an okay time, you know. It would be even less, but nowadays I prefer the two-years gap.
Radu: Yeah, like it gives you time to tour. I’m not sure how much touring you’ll have to do right now.
AS: We didn’t tour so much in the last two years, but we have 30 shows scheduled in Europe and we are trying to schedule more shows abroad. Yeah, basically we had a lot of time to think about and work on this last record.
Radu: Tell us a bit about the storyline that you started with the last album, The Eighth Mountain, and you’re continuing here. [Ed: This is Radu code for “tell us everything because I actually don’t know what it is.”]
AS: Well, it’s, as you said, the second chapter, the second chapter of this new [something] saga, and at this time of the story the hero opened his eyes and realize the reality around him, understanding he will have to fight with all his strength to accomplish all his goals. We don’t like to have a connection with reality, daily life or society, but anyway it’s a metaphor to make people believe more in themselves and to make them realize that every one of us has a second chance, so this story is about having a second chance. In order to do so, we have to work hard for it. It’s a simple message, but it’s very relevant.
Radu: Yeah, well, sometimes a simple story can go a long way.
AS: Yeah, yeah. Will you excuse me one second? Just a second.
[Alex gets up for a moment and leaves Radu staring benignly at an empty screen. Presumably he has gone to slay a dark wizard that escaped captivity while he was distracted. Or maybe he is wondering why he allowed Radu to interview him. In any case, he is gone for a few seconds.]
Radu: Okay, so there were also a lot of changes in the Rhapsody Of Fire camp in the last ten years. First you split up with Luca and then with Fabio, so now you’re pretty much the only one who has been part of this band for so long.
Radu: Does it feel weird, being…?
AS: Hmm… no, it doesn’t feel weird. The fact is that Luca Turilli and myself, we decided to part ways –
Radu: Yeah, it was a friendly split, which is what I’m thankful for. It wasn’t a part where you were fighting for the name or something.
AS: No, you know, as in the best, uh, “marriage”, everybody’s – sometimes it’s normal to have a fight or frictions or different opinions, but we always work together for the benefit of the band and the music we love to do. The decision was not made overnight. This is important for me to say. Not something we just woke up one morning and say, “Ah, we split.” It was something that was going on since a long time, and so when we did it we were prepared, at least. I know fans were not prepared, but…
Radu: I’m pretty sure there’s at least one fan there who’s like, he no longer wants to listen to the band anymore because Luca is not there. [Ed: For me, Rhapsody Of Fire went downhill after they fired that neon yellow cave troll who used to riverdance in the pit and hand out free cottage cheese samples before the shows.]
AS: I understand that, I understand. You know, I understand that because I also loved, in the past, bands that they changed singers, they split up, and this thing happens. It’s not weird for me to be the only original member right now in Rhapsody Of Fire, because it was a transition that was carried through time, so we had some lineup changes and I’m very confident that the actuality is very good. We are all Italian right now, most of us are from the same hometown, and we just work. We just put ourselves in the working mode and we do the best we can.
Radu: I heard about Rhapsody first time about ten years ago, and then I close my eyes, when I open my eyes, there are three Rhapsodies right now! [Ed: Gotta watch out for Rhapsody infestations. They multiply exponentially.]
AS: Ah, yeah.
Radu: You have now one for Luca Turilli, one for Lione and Conti, I think, so… yeah, when you look from outside, it seems like there is really a lot going on with the name.
AS: Yeah, fortunately the music is different, and I prefer music to do the talking. With Rhapsody Of Fire, we follow the tradition: we go on with our own film score metal, as we call it. Metal with film score music. This is very unique, this is something that was never done before; I never heard a band doing what we do in the shape and the form and the sound that we do, so I’m proud and I like the music we do and I go on in this direction because this is really what I like to do.
Radu: And I hope you keep going.
AS: Yeah, of course.
Radu: Because this is a sound that you’ve been forging for a long time. I think I remember that Thundercross’s debut was in 1994?
AS: It was… yeah, something like that. 1993 or something, yeah.
Radu: Both the Thundercross EP and the first Rhapsody demo, were they ever rereleased in some way?
AS: I think maybe Limb Music did that, which was the previous, the very first label, and… well, it’s just a demo (laughs). Talking about demos doesn’t make an artist very, very excited, you know, especially –
Radu: I know, you’re probably more excited about what you’re going to do next than what you did 20, 30 years ago.
AS: Yeah, but what is relevant for me to say is when we were – the very first song we recorded, it was myself, Luca Turilli, and Roberto de Micheli. And our drummer, Daniele Carbonera. We were, at the time, Luca Turilli and Roberto de Micheli were the two guitar players. They were schoolmates, they were friends, so we knew each other already then, so that’s why I’m always proud to say that Roberto de Micheli was never a stranger to the band. He was there in the first days and when we split with Turilli I immediately called him, because I knew he was the right guy.
Radu: Yeah, it’s good to have someone from back in the day, someone who knows how it first started.
AS: Right, absolutely.
Radu: But I wanted to say, because even though it’s more exciting to talk about your new album, I think those are like a big piece of history, not only for Rhapsody but for metal in general. Like you said, nobody has tried to do it just like this before and those were the first instances, so I think even though they’re demos and you did stuff better than them, those should still be celebrated.
AS: Yes, I think so, also because it’s from these demos that we had the songs ready for Legendary Tales, and when we recorded Legendary Tales, we already had a lot of songs written already for Symphony Of Enchanted Lands, so we had a bunch of songs. That’s why we released the album after one years, basically. We had a bunch of songs.
Radu: You had a lot of time to write before you started recording.
AS: Yes. We had, like, five years before Legendary Tales was released, and in that time we really wrote songs, we recorded songs, we recorded the demos, of course, and we developed the style, so we had a really long time to think about what to do before we would go for the very first time into a recording studio. That’s why Legendary Tales sounds so mature, at least for ’97, at least for an Italian metal band, you know, and we were really working hard since the beginning of the ‘90s.
Radu: As someone who is not Italian, it’s hard for me to think of an Italian metal album before that. Like, maybe Dark Quarterer, but that’s about it. [Ed: Eldritch.]
AS: And I don’t even know them, so I don’t know (laughs).
Radu: Well, you should listen to them. They’re some Italian progressive metal band that started – their debut was in ’87, so they were ten years ahead. So like there’s a ten-year gap between that and I don’t know anything else in that part. [Ed: Radu’s habit of telling people what to listen to extends even to famous musicians.]
AS: Many, many bands. Also Eldritch is a good band. [Ed: Told you so.] They sang for our first label as well, so we would listen to this band as well. They just released an album just a few days ago. I like this band. Italy is full of good musicians; I must say that.
Radu: Yeah, that’s understandable, obviously. It’s just it didn’t quite have a metal scene proper.
AS: Yeah, not quite. But now it does.
Radu: Now it does. A lot of power metal albums that I see getting released, they’re from Italy, and I think you kind of opened the gates for that to happen.
AS: Yes, probably, yes. We are one of the bands – what we wanted to do is just to create music that we would have liked to buy.
Radu: I think that’s the best reason to create music.
Radu: If you’re not doing it for the money or trying to sound like someone else, it’s because you want to do something that you want to listen to.
AS: Yes, this was the initial spark.
Radu: As someone who’s done music, this kind of music, for so long, how do you keep finding something new to say with it?
AS: Well, when you do it for many years, I think you get some confidence, you know how to use your tools, how to manage your time, how to write down ideas, so for me it’s a challenge always to improve the songwriting but also to improve the recordings, to do better vocal melodies, to work more for vocal harmonies, choir harmonies, the best way I can do soloings, so it’s a challenge as a composer, as an arranger, but also as a recording “engineer” – I’m not really an engineer, but I know what I’m doing when I record an instrument or vocals, so that’s all part of writing.
Radu: Hm. Because I’m also writing a lot of reviews, I’ve been writing for about two or three years, and I’m starting to find that I’m starting to use the same words for expressing the same kind of music and so on, so I start to – how will it be in ten years? How will it be in twenty years? [Ed: To be fair, Radu, you’ve written in three years as many reviews as anyone else would write in ten, so it’s caught up to you a lot more quickly.]
AS: This happens to me with the interviews, because at the end most of the time the questions are the same.
Radu: Yeah, you’re just using the same words to describe: “Oh, this music, this music…” “What are your influences? What can you tell us about this new album?” [Ed: Hey, you just asked him that.]
AS: Yes, especially if you are talking in English, which is not my native language, so I have to keep it simple and be clear as much as possible, so at the end, you know… unless there are some differences, of course, in the production, in the music, at the end, you want to express your excitement, because every time we release an album we are excited. I am, so this is the constant message I have to believe in.
Radu: So in regards to the English, the next time we will interview I will try to learn some Italian so we can handle this in Italian. [Ed: You already speak Romanian. Just figure out how to make each syllable louder than the preceding one and you’re there.]
AS: Yeah, why not?
Radu: This was the first year that I went to Italy on a vacation, not in the region that you are in, and I did try to learn a bit of Italian. I tried to trick my girlfriend into thinking that vaffanculo means “thank you”. She didn’t buy that.
AS: Ah, okay. Yeah, this is typical. That’s very typical.
Radu: How does it feel now that you handle more of the composing than previously? How is it composing as a collaboration opposed to composing by yourself?
AS: It depends, it depends. Sometimes I have ideas that I like to develop by myself, but I have a lot of songs where I combine ideas with Roberto de Micheli because it’s fair and it’s right, it’s the right thing to do, to have the guitar player writing guitar riffs and some parts and solos and everything, so there is a lot of material coming from Robi that at the end we listen, we decide what to use, and sometimes there is a riff that inspires me and it inspires me to write an entire song. Sometimes Robi just sends me 30 seconds of something, just because…
Radu: And then you already hear what it should sound like.
AS: Yes, and then I say, “Okay, this is a good, exciting 30 seconds or one minute of music”, and then I keep it there and think about it… so it’s not only me working there by myself. I need input from the guitar player. I’m used to that and I like that. Robi’s a great guy, and he can write a lot of stuff so at the end I can choose really the best.
Radu: Okay. You also worked with a lot of people, but the one that I’m most interested in – how was it working with Christopher Lee? [Ed: That’s Sir Christopher Lee to you, peasant.]
AS: Ah, that was incredible. It was like entering to a dream or something. It was unreal to fly to London and to meet the guy… It was fantastic, because at the end we just wanted some narrations. He had the voice, the sound of the voice, the presence, and everything. After we finished to record the narrations, he proposed us to sing, he wanted to sing. He just started singing in the middle of the studio. Everybody was, “Oh my, what is he doing?” But he was singing some opera here and there, some Italian operas, and at the end he wanted the band to write something for him. So we had the ballad, we had a song, “The Magic Of The Wizard’s Dream”, we decided to rerecord it in a different format so he would do a duet with Fabio. That was his idea and he was totally into it. He was totally into being known also in the younger generations; he loved the fact that a lot of young people were going to see Lord Of The Rings and would appreciate his acting and his character in the movie, so he was really, really proud to be known and reach a new, younger fan base.
Radu: Yeah, The Lord Of The Rings were my introduction to Christopher Lee, and also finding out that he was the only person in the cast to actually have met Tolkien.
AS: Yeah, exactly. Yes.
Radu: Not a lot of people knew him from his older roles when he played Dracula or the Witcher Man, both fantastic things. [Ed: Someone has games on the mind, but it was The Wicker Man (and the wicker man was portrayed by a large wicker man). …anyway, let’s not forget Rasputin.]
AS: You could never mention the name “Dracula” in his presence. He would just leave the room, he would just go home. He couldn’t stand anymore everybody saying or asking about Dracula, because he did more than, like, 300 movies or something; Dracula was just a small part of it. But everybody remembered him as Dracula, so he hated that. He said immediately, “Please, don’t ask me anything or even mention the name of Dracula.”
Radu: Yeah, it’s kind of a curse to be known just by one thing, so it’s really great that he’s known for many others as well.
Radu: And also someone you also worked with, or almost worked with, in the past was Midnight from Crimson Glory. How did that story go?
AS: Well, we went in Florida many times and we met him, and we wanted to do a project with him, Luca and myself, but at the end it didn’t work because he was really drunk all the time, or something. The last time when myself and my brother went in Florida, he was more clean; he was not drinking like a maniac. He was more like stable and in the end he came in Trieste, my hometown. He was supposed to stay a few weeks; he stayed, like, two months, and he was very happy because we spent Christmas together and he was amazed by everything. One time, he asked me, “Is there really nobody in the street selling drugs here?” I said, “No, you will never see that in this town.” He was surprised by the simple things. He loved the food. So at the end we started writing; I was writing music while he was writing lyrics. At some point, it was the moment for him to go back, because we decided that he would come back after a few months to go directly to the studio to record, but at the end we never made it. Suddenly he passed away. Very, very, very sad.
Radu: Yeah, it is. Sad that he had a lot of demons to fight, probably.
AS: Yeah, he was drinking a lot since many years, so his body…
Radu: That must have been a reason why he was having those issues.
AS: Yeah, yes. With me, actually, he was never drunk, but he was constantly drinking all day long, but he was never… You would never think he was drunk, but he was keeping himself in this area where he was not sober but not drunk as well, if you know what I mean.
Radu: Mhm. And you stayed with him for two months in Trieste, right?
AS: Yeah, he stayed in my house.
Radu: I think Trieste is an interesting city when I look on the map, because it’s almost not in Italy. It’s really, really close to the Slovenian border. How did it feel like growing up there?
AS: Well, I never thought about that when I was growing up; when you become adult, you realize how many… It’s great because we have a lot of different influences cultural-wise and a lot of different food. You have the sea, the fruits the sea gives you; at the back you have mountains, you can reach the mountains by driving one hour already, and actually the video clip where we shot is not even two hours from Trieste. It’s an area which is rich and surrounded by nature. This for me was the most important factor growing up: nature, being surrounded by nature.
Radu: Yeah, it’s in a very, very good position geographically, being so close to the sea and so close to the Alps.
AS: Yeah, absolutely, yes.
Radu: And also you had all those cultures. I assume you might have also heard some German and Slovenian when you were growing up?
AS: Yes, but I don’t talk those, but yeah, more Slovenian. It depends, because Trieste is an Italian town, but there are some areas more close to the borders where they are bilingual. This happens also in the northern part of Italy, like on the Alps where they speak Italian but at some point where they speak German as well. On the border with Austria and Germany this is the case. But Trieste is still recognized today as a city of culture. Different countries meet, different cultures meet. It’s really interesting.
Radu: Yeah, it’s something I would like to visit one day, by the way that it seems.
AS: Well, yes; I got tired to live there – that’s why I live in the UK now – but it’s good to go back. It’s really a fantastic place to visit. You have to. If you go to Venice, you have to go to Trieste.
Radu: Yeah, Venice is probably on the next list of Italian towns I’d want to visit, mostly because it’s slowly sinking and I’d like to see it before it does. [Ed: And also that’s where Gunslinger Girl was.]
AS: Yeah, I think so.
Radu: One thing that I was surprised when visiting Italy, I went to a restaurant, I ordered some pizza, and the pizza that you have here or in the United States or in other places, they put a lot of stuff on it because they want to make maximalist pizza with ham, with whatever, but the Italian pizza had, like, two ingredients and that was it. I went to Rome when I went.
AS: Yes, well, it depends on where you take, but it’s just a different story. It’s really a different pizza for sure (laughs).
Radu: And the bread on it, it wasn’t really puffy – I don’t know how to say it in English – [Ed: That was fine.]
AS: No, no, this is not the style.
Radu: It was very thin and crusty.
AS: This is the style. This is the real thing. It’s more like a focaccia if you do bigger layers; it’s more like a focaccia. It’s not a pizza anymore.
Radu: So what’s your favorite style of pizza?
AS: I like the ones that usually you eat in the winter, but I like any kind. With fish, with vegetables, with mushroom and truffle oil, all, all. Even the simple one with basil and tomatoes is great if it’s well done.
Radu: And what do you think about more heretic styles of pizza, like the one with pineapple? [Ed: This is it. This is the question that caused Radu to take this interview in the first place. Heaven preserve us. We’ve wasted half an hour of Alex Staropoli’s time for a meme.]
AS: Everybody’s talking about that, but in some Asian cuisines it’s normal to combine some fruits and salty elements, so I don’t see the point to be so disgusted by or scream at the scandal because, personally –
Radu: I think they combine really well.
AS: You know, if after a show there is some pizza coming in the backstage and there is prosciutto on it and pineapple, I am super happy about it. I don’t care; I eat anything at this point.
Radu: Okay, so the last question about food: what is your favorite type of cheese? [Ed: Obviously it’s Rhapsody Of Fire.]
AS: I don’t like cheese.
Radu: Oh, this is weird coming from an Italian.
AS: I like parmesan, aged parmesan.
AS: It must be aged, it must be hard; you cut it and form chunks, very solid chunks. Everything that’s more creamy or… bleh. No, please no.
Radu: I don’t like very creamy cheese or bleu cheese or stuff like that. Aged parmesan is probably where we find common ground on cheese.
AS: Yes. You cut it in layers and flakes and stuff.
Radu: Okay. Do you have any other albums you’d like to recommend to us? Something you’ve been listening to lately?
AS: Well, I don’t listen to too much music, I must say. Maybe the last album of Alter Bridge? Yeah, this is the last recording I’ve listened.
Radu: Okay. We’ll listen to that. And do you have any other words for our readers?
AS: Well, thank you for having me, and I hope to see you on tour, hope we will be able to tour everywhere in the world. We miss to meet our fans. First of all, grab your copy on Friday [Ed: That was a previous Friday, because I took too long to transcribe this.] and be ready, because sooner or later we are coming back, most areas.
Radu: Okay. Thank you very much.
AS: Thank you for your time.
Radu: Have a nice rest of the day.
AS: Thank you. Thank you very much, Radu.
AS: Good night.
||Posted on 05.12.2021 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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