Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with 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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