Rhapsody Of Fire

Rhapsody Of Fire
A Band Needs To Have An Original Idea


Архив интервью | Русская версия

The continuous story of Rhapsody, with all of its incarnations and offshoots, may look like a soap opera, but what’s most important is that the parties involved keep on putting out quality music in the classic Rhapsody vein that the fans of this groundbreaking Italian sympho power band have grown to love. The incarnation led by keyboard player Alex Staropoli has been through a lot of turmoil lately, with classic singer Fabio Lione breaking away and eventually joining guitarist Luca Turilli in Turilli / Lione Rhapsody, but Alex found a new strong voice in Giacomo Voli and is about to release “The Eighth Mountain”, the first album in what is going to be an absolutely new saga, fantasy-based, as always, and “epic and dramatic”, of course. We’ve been following Rhapsody since their first album, “Legendary Tales” (1997), but for some reason we’ve never had an interview with Alex, so the upcoming release of “The Eighth Mountain” seemed like a great opportunity to finally bridge this gap…

Rhapsody Of Fire haven’t played in Russia since Nov 2010 – why is that? Is there any chance that you will come with the new album?

I would love that, I would really love that. Well, you know, it’s a new start for Rhapsody Of Fire. Rhapsody Of Fire is a brand, it’s a band that’s been on the market for many many years, but probably some promoters have no trust in the band yet, so we have to start somewhere. Our new start takes place in Span, we will be touring Europe first, we will visit many countries, and hopefully this will shake some people up, and more offers will come. We would love to play in Russia, I know the following has always been great there.

For fans from countries like Russia, where not every band plays, attending some European summer festival is often a good solution. Do you have any festival shows confirmed for summer 2019?

We’re working on it right now, we’re going to confirm the first festivals very soon. I cannot talk about it yet, because it’s not official, but there will be some festivals we would play for sure, and hopefully also next year. Rhapsody Of Fire is a band that is ready to play everywhere any time. We will play, we’ll have fun, we want to deliver energy, we want to play the new songs and the old songs, so we’re ready to go.

Let’s now talk about the new album, “The Eighth Mountain”. After two albums with standalone songs, why did you decide to start a new saga?

Well, it’s a good question, because I didn’t want to have a new saga from 2011 on, starting with “Dark Wings Of Steel” (2013) and going to “Into The Legend” (2016). I really wanted to have some themes, but limited to one single product. An album had to be something on its own. But Roby De Miceli (guitar) made to change my mind, because we started talking about some ideas and some possible stories, and I definitely got convinced. Most of the time I’m very peculiar, very picky and very severe about the use of words and the story and the message and the visions that the lyrics can give. This idea convinced me, and I was very happy when finally Giacomo Voli brought the lyrics based on the story that Roby and I wrote. In the end it was the right choice. The combination of the music and the lyrics really makes sense. It’s a new journey for Rhapsody Of Fire and for the fans, it’s something they can relate to and follow for the next few years – we still don’t know how long it would be, but for sure two or three albums.

Does the new saga have any connections with the “Emerald Sword” and “Dark Secret” sagas?

No, this is a completely different thing, also because the previous sagas were written by Turilli. We always said we were going to do something different and disconnected, of course.

Can you shortly describe the concept of “The Eighth Mountain”? The album’s lyrics are not posted online yet, and only a couple of songs are available…

What I can say is that “The Eighth Mountain” is the first chapter of “The Nephilim’s Empire” saga. It is the story of a lost corrupted soul that could eventually redeem its path to courage, loyalty and true valor. Of course, the saga is full of fantasy elements as well. This is what I can say now, because there will be more albums following, as I said before. What is important is that every listener would have their own images and their own way to live the experience of the music and the lyrics. I really like the idea to not spoil anything. But the main character of the story is the character that we can see on the cover artwork, and this is really great.

The Japanese version of “The Eighth Mountain” has a bonus track, which is listed as “Rain Of Fury (Japanese version)”. Did Giacomo sing in Japanese in this track?

Yes, he did! The result is spectacular, it’s really great. It’s also funny because this song was originally something I wrote specifically to be the bonus track for Japan. But AFM Records liked the song so much that they told me, “We have to use this song as a single, we are to do the video for this song”, and at that point I said, “OK, you know what? We’ll do it in Japanese as well, so that the Japanese fans will have a special version in any case”. We contacted a very good singer from Japan, it’s a girl, she sings in a cover band, I don’t recall her name, but she’s cool. She helped us with the translation and adaptation of the lyrics, and Giacomo did a fantastic job. It sounds really great, I love it.

How long does it take you to make a Rhapsody album? Last year you only played five gigs – does it mean that you basically devoted the whole year to writing and recording “The Eighth Mountain”?

Yes, we actually were in the middle of the production when we played those gigs. Overall it took about two years to make this new record. Of course, when you have shows in between, it’s really difficult. It’s not easy to abandon the production and the composition process to just fly away, play shows, rehearse… That’s why I prefer to have fewer concerts in the course of the production. We started recording the drums already in May last year, and after that we did the bass, and we finished the guitars, which were ready before May, actually. Then we did all the vocals and the choirs. It took time because we really wanted to do it properly. In the end, I’m very happy about it. From now on, we are free to play concerts wherever possible, but at the same time, I’ve already started writing new material. It’s a never-ending circle, and it’s great.

The new album’s cover artwork was done by a quite unknown artist, Alex Charleux. Why did you choose him for this job?

I’ve been working with Alex already since “Legendary Years” (2017). He did the front cover for that, and I was very happy, but I didn’t know his capabilities yet, because that cover was quite simple. He totally surprised me with this one. The version that you will see on the vinyl and on the digipack CD when you open both sides is actually a longer, complete wide painting, and it’s beautiful. It’s really one of the best covers we’ve had, I think. It’s so rich and full of details, it totally represents the music and the new beginning we are having. The guy is spectacular really, I’m looking forward to working with him again. About the graphics, I’m also very picky. I’m very difficult to convince, but this time I’m totally proud of this cover artwork. It’s really serious, but fantasy enough.

Your guitarist Roby De Miceli played with you in Thundercross back in the early 90s. Then he disappeared for a long time and joined you again in 2011. What was he doing all this time? Did you keep in contact?

Yes, we were living in the same town. He left at the time when myself, Roby De Miceli and Luca Turilli were recording a few demos and seriously starting to put some stuff together, but back then he was more interested in prog. He wanted to try doing music in that direction, and I respect him for that, because he did really what he wanted to do at that time. We always had a very good relationship. After many years I contacted him, and I discovered what a great friend he is. I’m really happy to call him a friend and a music partner. Rhapsody Of Fire is a band that I’m responsible for, but I’m not alone here, you know. Roby De Miceli, apart from being a fantastic guitar player delivering great guitar riffs, is also a friend, and this for me is very important.

Do you know what happened to the other guys from the Thundercross line-up: Daniele Carbonera (drums) and Cristiano Adacher (vocals)?

I heard from Cristiano many years ago. He left for some country like Thailand, and I’ve never heard from him again. I’m very sad because I would like to get in touch with him, but I don’t know how – he doesn’t have a Facebook account, and I don’t have his phone number. I don’t know where he is and if he is well or not. As to Daniele Carbonera, we are always in touch. We are always friends, and actually I visited him in Florida just eight weeks ago. He’s working there, he has a fantastic job in the U.S., he’s travelling around the world, I’m very happy for him, and he’s very happy as well.

Your brother Manuel Staropoli has been involved in all Rhapsody’s albums, playing baroque recorder and composing music. Does he play in any other bands? Why isn’t he joining Rhapsody Of Fire as a full member?

He’s a fantastic composer, and in the past he did some songs that were used for the band HolyHell, which Joey De Maio was managing. He gave them about 10 songs, and they were very cool songs. I used some of his stuff in “Dark Wings Of Steel”, he was playing bass and composing on the computer. Basically I told him, “Hey do you wanna join the band and be the bass player?”, but he didn’t feel confident enough as a bass player. He’s a very good flute player and oboe player, and his life is pretty busy, because he’s doing concerts all around Europe, teaching in the conservatory and also doing private lessons. On top of that, he has a family with two kids, and I understand - his hands are already full. I’m happy that I have a brother like this, because we’ve always been close and I think we will be working together on a project very soon.

Many years ago you and Manuel were planning to have a side project with Midnight of Crimson Glory. Can you share with us any information on it? When was it happening? Did you actually compose or record anything together?

We composed many songs. Myself and my brother went to Florida to meet Midnight. He was always reluctant to join bands and work with musicians, but once we got to know each other, he was very happy. He came to my home town, Trieste, for two months, he was writing lyrics, and he was totally into it. Actually he spent Christmas with my family, he intended to stay for two weeks, and he stayed for two months, it was fantastic for me and my brother to have Midnight as part of our family for so long. Then he left, and he died about five months after that (on July 8, 2009 – ed.). We never had a chance to record anything, and unfortunately that’s the way it went. We were really happy about doing that because Midnight, his voice and the music of Crimson Glory were spectacular to me. It was a dream just to be able to be with him. Sometimes we were driving, we drove to Venice, and he was singing Crimson Glory songs in the car. He made me have moments when I had constant goosebumps all over my body, because the guy was just amazing.

What happened to that material that you wrote together? Did you use any of that afterwards?

Yeah, on the “Dark Wings Of Steel” album there’s a lot of music that was intended for the other project. Of course, I rearranged everything, but basically that was the music I had at that time, and to pay homage to that music that I wrote, I integrated this into the band and had Fabio sing everything.

We guess you’ve been asked many times about your decision to re-record Rhapsody classics for the album “Legendary Years”. But still a lot of people see it like this: Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione go on tour playing “Symphony Of Enchanted Lands” in full, and Alex Staropoli strikes back with a studio album of remakes. Can you provide any comment on this point of view?

Actually it’s not common when a band takes old songs and re-records them. That’s, I think, the main point, the main question mark about why do something like this. Actually at that time I was not ready to do a brand new studio album, it was not the right moment, because I wanted to really have my time to do it. We discussed it in the band, and we decided to do this re-recording. It was a very exciting thing to do and actually very hard to do. It was more difficult to do this album because it took me eight months, believe me. To re-record songs that we knew already and be faithful to them was not easy. But it was more like a presentation, a new way to present the band, giving a new sound to old songs. Also the reason why was that we were going to play these songs live, and this way the fans would already have a chance to listen to how these old songs work with Giacomo’s voice. There’s more than one reason. Of course, I understand the fans want new music, original music. Well, they’ve got it now.

To put it straight: the idea was not to have any kind of revenge on Luca and Fabio for going out and playing those songs live without you, right?

No, absolutely not. These things are usually decided months before anything happens, and there’s absolutely no correlation between those. There is no such idea as a revenge of any kind – there’s nothing like that going on. Everybody’s doing their own thing.

How do you put together the setlist for your shows? With more than 10 albums, it must be a difficult thing to do?

Yes, it’s not easy. Of course, there are some masterpieces like “Dawn Of Victory” or “Emerald Sword” that we have to play. Considering this, we have a setlist that is… kind of long, very intense and will feature new songs, of course, as well as old ones. It will be a fantastic mixture of different songs, but all played with new energy.

Some musicians are very active on social media nowadays, they post photos and other stuff nearly every day and consider it a sort of duty, something they need to do to promote the band. But we’ve checked your Facebook page, and your posts are not so frequent. What is your opinion on the role of social media in musicians’ life?

Right now what we’re doing is posting everything that is related to the new album and to the tour. We’re not using the Rhapsody Of Fire Facebook page for single band members’ own photos or stuff like that. Probably this will happen while we’re on tour, so there will be more material coming up. I believe there must be a certain equilibrium and not just posting something every day. In my opinion, you must have a really exciting life to be able to post something every day. Some people may do it, some big artists, because they really have something to say. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (American actor, producer and professional wrestler – ed.) does something every day, but the guy is travelling around the world, every day he’s in a different location, every day he’s in a different movie, a different project. As to musicians like us, when I’m composing, I’m concentrating on my work, and it’s different for me to go, “Ah, let’s post something on Facebook”. Personally I’m not the kind of guy that wants to post anything at all cost every day. But of course, I understand the importance of social media. The fans are very curious about what these guys are doing, what the band is really doing behind the scenes. I understand it’s interesting.

We’ve noticed that you do scores for orchestra and choirs on Rhapsody records. Therefore our next question is: what kind of classical music education do you have?

Well, I had some classical education, I played piano for… (pauses to think) for years – not many but enough to understand music theory. I have to say that I’m driven by passion. The first scores I wrote for a string quartet were handwritten – can you imagine that? (laughs) Now that we all have computers and stuff, it’s much easier. For the past few years I’ve been working with a film composer, arranger and director called Vito Lo Re, he’s working for nation TV channels and doing soundtracks for important movies. He directed the orchestra, he told me about this great orchestra in Sofia, we went there, and it was the most amazing experience in my life. The orchestra was fantastic! The studio team was from Rome, and they’ve worked in the film industry for 14 years, they’ve worked with Ennio Morricone and many other big names, so you can imagine that it was one of the best experiences that I’ve had.

Do you plan to continue doing movie scores?

Well, it’s a very tough area, but yes, I would love that. Rhapsody Of Fire is a band that demands a lot of dedication and a lot of time, but in between, yes, I would consider some offers. I would really love that, because it was really great. I’ve just done one, actually (“Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter”, 2017), but it’s better than nothing. (laughs) It was one of the best experiences I’ve had because usually when I compose for Rhapsody Of Fire, I imagine something - a landscape, a situation, maybe some movie scenes, then I get inspired by that and I write music. But to be able to really watch images on your screen and write music on top of that – I won’t say this is an easier thing to do, but it was so exciting and so natural for me. That’s why I think it’s a great job.  Really hard, but really rewarding, and I would love it.

When Rhapsody started, there were other Italian power metal bands such as Labyrinth, Skylark, or Highlord that were closely following your footsteps. But none of them have become as acknowledged internationally as Rhapsody. In your opinion, what is the reason why Rhapsody succeeded and those other bands did not?

Well, it’s difficult, because we play different genres. It’s remarkable that an Italian band playing metal became famous all around the world, it’s really a miracle, I would say. We knew that we were offering something new; a combination of heavy metal and classical music was maybe not new, but the way we did it was new. We were composing with the knowledge that there would be a string quartet, there would be cymbals, there would be soprano singers – the approach to the composition process was already integrating the orchestral parts. We were not composing metal songs and adding classic elements in the end, we were starting to write everything – metal and classical elements – at the same time, they were combined already on the roots level of the composition, if you know what I mean. That’s why the sound was different, it was so new and epic in a way. We had some good energy from the guitars, but at the same time, the sweetness of the strings and the choir, it was all about being majestic, but also accessible, easy to listen.

Let’s rephrase the question: look at what happened in Finland circa the year 2000 – Nightwish came out, Children Of Bodom came out, Stratovarius came out, and all of a sudden there was a huge invasion of Finnish bands. They also played different styles, but everybody’s eyes were on Finland, and Finnish bands had much more exposure. In Italy, nothing like that happened – only you and Lacuna Coil made it big, but not many other Italian bands followed. Do you have an idea why?

No, I don’t. Probably it’s because… Italy is really full of musicians. Our home town, Trieste, is full of guitar players, bass players, drummers, it’s really full, and imagine how many of them are on the entire territory of Italy. The bands are many, and the musicians are super-professional, but at the end of the day, what is probably missing is the idea. A band needs to have an original idea or to take some ideas from other bands and present them in a new way. If you listen to Stratovarius or Sonata Arctica or Nightwish, they come from the same land, but they play different music, they have their own identity and their own ideas, and this is probably what is missing in Italy.

Speaking about Italian bands, have you heard Nanowar of Steel? If yes, what do you think of it?

I heard the name and I saw a few things, but I don’t really… I think they have fun with that, I think they have a big following, at least in Italy. They like to make fun of songs and underline the cheesiest parts and cheesiest lyrics. It’s like metal comedy.

How do you see the future of Rhapsody Of Fire? Where do you expect the band to be in five or 10 years?

What I can say is that I love what I’m doing, I love heavy metal, I love the combination of classical music and heavy metal, so Rhapsody Of Fire is really my passion, and the new line-up is on it, we really enjoy this music. It’s the passion that is driving us. Until we have it, we will go on recording new music, playing more shows and enjoying the fact that we’re very lucky to be musicians, to have such a number of fans around the world, to fly to all places from Japan to South America, to play all around Europe and hopefully in Russia. It’s remarkable and fantastic, and we like to do it because it feels really good. In the past few years I’ve really felt big energy in music, compositions come to my mind all the time. Probably with more responsibility, it’s easier for me to work and to get excited about a new album, about what to do next, what the cover artwork would be, which instrument I will use… I’m like a kid for these things, you get excited because you love music, and this is all that counts: I do it because I love music. I would do it anyway.

Rhapsody Of Fire on the Internet: https://www.rhapsodyoffire.com/

Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (AFM Records) for arranging this interview

Roman Patrashov, Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
February 7, 2019
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