Rhapsody of Fire: Divided to conquer

With Lucas Turilli already planning on a 2014 release for a second album since his departure from Rhapsody… It was great time for Rhapsody, therefore Alex Staropoli’s Rhapsody of Fire, to show its new face on an album. But Staropoli took his time as he decided to settle his new lineup live first; and also admitted that he doesn’t have the same rhythm as his ex-composition colleague. But the most important thing was to go forward and achieve his goals. The result is Dark Wings Of Steel, which contrasts with Turilli’s last work through its return to a heavier, less pompous (regarding its orchestrations) music and which, as a result, allows a better understanding of the band’s split.

And speaking of split, in the following interview, Staropoli gives us the key to understanding how the band opted for such an unusual decision for its own good. And, obviously, the creative process of Dark Wings Of Steel hasn’t been forgotten in the discussion.

About Luca Turilli: « Actually, at some point, he hated playing the guitar! He wanted to play the keyboards and do orchestral arrangements. »

Radio Metal: You released a live album prior to this new album. Was it important for the band to play live and introduce the new line-up before making a new album?

Alex Staropoli (keyboards): Yeah, that’s why we did it! Exactly for this reason. After Luca [Turilli] and myself decided to do different things, I knew he was going to release a new album. I thought it was time for us to play live shows. We recorded ten shows, so we had some material. Actually, at the beginning, we were not sure we were going to release a live album. But I decided to shoot some images and to record some concerts. In the end, we decided to release a live album. It’s special, because it’s not edited. Usually, bands nowadays redo a lot of stuff in the studio. We did that in the past, too, but for this album, we chose not to do it. We’re proud of that.

For many years, Luca Turilli’s guitar playing was one of the main elements of Rhapsody’s musical signature. Was there any apprehension in making an album without his contribution?

As for Luca’s contribution, I have to say, it was not only about guitar. Actually, at some point, he hated playing the guitar! He wanted to play the keyboards and do orchestral arrangements. He’s doing that now, and he’s very happy about it. Of course his guitar playing was unique. But for me more generally, it was a challenge and an exciting thing. Being responsible for the production, composition, and everything, was very exciting. I’m working with Robbie De Micheli now, who’s a friend of mine. Luca and him were at school together, and they started playing guitar together. Actually, Robbie was already in the band in the very beginning: it was me, Luca and Robbie playing the first demo. So Robbie’s not a stranger to the band. That’s why I chose him, and I’m really happy about that.

Speaking of Robbie, he probably knew he would inevitably be compared to Luca. Did he feel any pressure? What was his state of mind?

First of all, to let you understand what kind of person Robbie is, when he was 16 years old, when he started to play guitar, he was studying six to eight hours a day. I met him maybe ten years ago, and asked him if he was still playing. He said he was still playing and studying several hours every day. When we saw each other again, before I asked him to join the band, again I asked him, and again he said: “Yes, four to six hours every day”. That’s the kind of person he is. He started to prepare the songs eight months before our first tour! He didn’t feel any pressure, because he had already made a lot of shows, he was confident on stage, he had a band before, and Luca was his schoolmate. So there wasn’t any pressure. Maybe he was a bit concerned, but he’s a very cool guy, and I gave him all my support. He was involved in the creation of some guitar parts on the album, too.

For this album, you wrote the music with your brother Manuel. Is it important for you to work on the composition as a tandem? Do you think you do things together that you couldn’t do alone?

Basically, me and my brother, we worked in a separate way. He worked at home, because we live in different cities. I worked on material myself, he worked on his material, and he would send me pieces for me to choose what I liked most. So we never actually worked together, we were just sharing files. It’s great, because we have a unique relationship. As brothers, we really love each other. We never had a fight in our lives! And he’s not stranger to Rhapsody, either. He’s been seeing this since he was a boy, so he knows the music we like. He was able to compose some bass riffs and guitar riffs. It was very exciting. I invested in him, you know: I bought him a computer system and a bass. I invested in him because I knew he had a lot of talent to develop. It’s a great result.

« This is a heavy metal band, you know. I didn’t want to have a tiny band and big orchestrations. »

Dark Wings Of Steel features a huge choir and orchestrations, but they don’t necessarily dominate the heavy guitars. Was it important to have this balance and not forget that Rhapsody is first and foremost a heavy metal band?

Yes. As a producer and a composer, I decided at the beginning to have a more powerful sound, starting with the drums and bass, up to the guitars, of course. For me, that was the most important thing. I did a bit less orchestrations, but for us, “less” is still a lot! Having a real orchestra makes things easier, because the instruments fit the rest of the band better than samples or keyboards. Same thing with the choir. This is a heavy metal band, you know. I didn’t want to have a tiny band and big orchestrations. We did this for ten albums, so now I really need more guitars and more punch in the sound.

Overall, Dark Wings Of Steel is a pretty classic Rhapsody Of Fire album. Did you want to reassure the fans somehow? Didn’t you want to take advantage of this new start to include completely new ingredients to the mix?

Well… (long hesitation) For some songs I composed at the beginning, I wasn’t really sure. I had some ideas, some melodies, but I thought it was really important to come back with an album that featured more songs. I decided to not do any long suites, like 20 or 25 minutes long. There’s no narration, no actors, nothing that we did in the past, because I don’t want to repeat myself. We already did the whole orchestra, Christopher Lee, saga thing. With this album, I just wanted to establish Rhapsody Of Fire as a band that delivers songs. Many people say this album is reminiscent of the past, but musically, I don’t see that. Maybe they say that because it’s more obvious that there are twelve songs, and that every title is a song in itself.

Fabio Lione wrote the lyrics this time. How did he feel about handling this job?

Well, it was the first time he wrote so many lyrics for a band. He was a bit under pressure, because we were running out of time, so we had something like twelve days to finish everything. He had to record the songs during the day, write lyrics at night, sleep a few hours, then come back to my studio. So it was very tough, but it was a very creative process, even if under pressure.

When From Chaos To Eternity came out, Fabio said about this album that it was probably the end of the fantasy era of Rhapsody. I don’t have the details of the lyrics, but Dark Wings Of Steel looks like a pretty fantasy-oriented album, with a dragon on the cover. Are you having a hard time getting away from the fantasy aspect of your music?

Fabio probably didn’t say that; I’ve never heard him say that. I think what he said, what we always said, was that there wouldn’t be any saga anymore. The saga would be over, but we never said there would be no fantasy anymore. This is one of the main characteristics of the band. What I wanted to bring on was the passion, the emotions, the theatrical aspect of Rhapsody Of Fire. The fantasy world is there, Fabio wrote lyrics with a fantasy taste. They’re not taken from a book like some lyrics in the past, they’re more poetic in a way. For sure, we are going to keep this line. It’s part of the band.

What did concretely trigger the separation of the band into two entities? Do you think the band was sometimes torn between two composers, Luca Turilli and yourself?

The decision was not made from one day to the next. It was a decision that grew over the past few years. But we decided to keep working and to finish the saga, to finish the task we had in mind. After that, we didn’t really know what to do. Then, at a certain point, we decided to go our separate ways. Now Luca is doing what he likes most. His album sounds a lot more orchestral than mine, that’s really what he likes to do. I prefer the opposite now. The band sounds really solid with only some orchestrations around. We didn’t feel there was the same magic we had in the beginning when we composed together. In the beginning, we were younger, it was a dream, we were doing everything for the music. Now I have my own rhythm to write music, and Luca has his. He likes to work 15 hours every day – I can’t do that! I have to do other things in life, not just that. It was just really hard. It would have been possible to go on, but we would have struggled. I want to add that we’re still very good friends. Some people don’t understand that, but it’s important. There are no hard feelings, there’s no reason for that. We simply decided that the magic was not there, and we’d rather not go on together. It was the best decision, for the fans especially.

« I have my own rhythm to write music, and Luca has his. He likes to work 15 hours every day – I can’t do that! »

Luca Turilli sees his own version of the band as a parallel continuation of Rhapsody Of Fire’s discography, making his album the 11th and, therefore, Dark Wings Of Steel, the 12th. Is this a vision you share with him?

No. First of all, I don’t count the albums. I’m not as mathematical as he is. The point is that we founded Rhapsody together, together we decided to split, and together we decided to both keep the name, out of respect for the big investments we did for this band – time-wise, economically, everything. I know it can be weird to have two bands using the same name, but it was the only way to give credit to both of us. This band is Rhapsody Of Fire, and the previous album was From Chaos To Eternity. This is the album after that. If you want to count, it’s very easy. But I don’t see music this way.

Scott Rockenfield from Queensrÿche deplores the coexistence of two Queensrÿches. Aren’t you afraid to cause the same confusion amongst the fans of Rhapsody?

There is some confusion, but actually, I don’t understand it, because the news we released were very clear. It’s very clear you go to different Facebook pages, different websites, and you can see what Luca is doing and what I’m doing. Two days ago, after we released a live video from a show we played in Belgium, somebody wrote: “Where is Luca?” Some people are really living out there! I understand some people don’t follow what the band is doing step by step, but except for them, it’s very clear what we are doing. There are two different bands, and the musical approaches are different.

Do you see a possibility for both bands to tour together in the future?

Well, it’s a premature question, because it’s not in our plans. I think it would be ridiculous, it would seem strange to people. They would think: “Why did you split if you’re touring together after three years? Are you doing it for the money?” No, we won’t do that.

Tom Hess left the band this year due to “philosophical differences”. This is pretty vague, so can you clarify that up?

We really had different views of life, I have to say. He was in the band when Luca was still there, and everything seemed fine, but on the last tour… You know, when you see a person once every three or six months, everything is perfect. But when you play together and live together, you discover new aspects of that person. We didn’t find a connection, so it was obvious he had to leave. Now I’m very happy, because we’ve played three shows as a five-piece band already, and I really like it. I don’t regret it. I prefer to keep five bandmembers, like in the beginning.

So you don’t plan on going back to having two guitar players?

No, I don’t think so. Not for now. Even Luca played by himself on the last tour. Robbie wasn’t sure at first, but then he felt confident. We’ve talked with our sound engineer, and he said: “Robbie is a great guitar player”. It’s not just me, everybody’s saying it! It’s a good thing to have one guitar player. I want to invest a lot in Robbie, he deserves it.

In December 2012, when you announced your signature on AFM Records, you said you had begun work on different projects. Were these the live and studio albums, or did you have more in mind?

No, I think I was referring to these. I also had in mind to do a solo album, but after the split, I decided I wasn’t interested anymore. I’m working for Rhapsody Of Fire, this is my main priority.

You left Nuclear Blast to sign with AFM Records. What motivated this move? Weren’t you satisfied with the work of Nuclear Blast?

The thing is, after From Chaos To Eternity, the contract was over, so it came naturally. Nuclear Blast decided to keep Luca on the label, because they had more trust in him. He also released his solo albums through them, so they knew he was able to stand alone and compose by himself. They didn’t know what I could do. In any case, I would never stay on the same label, to not create conflicts of interests. Then we found AFM, who were very interested in the live product and in the band. They’re working very hard. I’m very happy, they’re very nice people.

Interview conducted face-to-face on November, 6th 2013 by Saff.
Questions: Spaceman.
Transcription: Saff.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Rhapsody Of Fire’s official website: www.rhapsodyoffire.com

Album Dark Wings Of Steel, out since Novembre, 22nd 2013 via AFM Records.

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