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Alex Staropoli (keyboards): “Even if you only have a simple melody, when you have the right musician to play it, it is just magic and it transforms into something big.”

Rhapsody Of Fire lijkt wel een kat met negen levens, want de vertakkingen vanuit de oerband Rhapsody die ooit van start ging met ‘Legendary Tales’ zijn zelfs voor verstokte fans nog moeilijk te volgen. Rhapsody Of Fire is de huidige constellatie rond toetsenwizard Alex Staropoli die met ‘The Eighth Mountain’ een nieuwe formatie rond zich heen verzamelde. We kunnen nu het tweede album ‘Glory For Salvation’ aankondigen dat eind november werd uitgebracht door AFM Records en daarover spraken we met de vriendelijke, in Londen wonende Italiaan.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 24 december 2021

How are you doing?
I am fine, thank you? I am pretty busy. I am writing new material and doing promotion as well. We are going to shoot a video clip in the next weeks, so there is a lot going on.

We can say that ‘The Eighth Mountain’ happened to be a whole new start for you and Rhapsody Of Fire. Consequently you wrote ‘The Eighth Mountain’ all by yourself. Was it different this time?
It is true, I write a lot of songs by myself, but I also write some parts and songs with Roberto De Micheli, the guitar player. Of course most of the guitars have to be dynamic and energetic, composed by a guitar player. It is true I can compose any instrument, but the approach and writing songs with a guitar is different. That is why Robby sends me a lot of riffs and parts. I like to select them and when I am excited about it, we work it out together. We worked together for many of the songs. I am not alone.

And the singer, Giacomo Voli writes his own lyrics, isn’t it?
Yes, initially Robby had the idea for this saga and he and Giacomo sat together to discuss about this thing more detailed and in the end Giacomo wrote the lyrics. It is good that there is teamwork as well, not just me doing everything. It is true, I compose, arrange, produce the record, but it is nice when you have a musician taking the initiative to join in.

Are they doing that in Italy or did they move to London too?
No, basically the band is based in Trieste, besides Giacomo. He is based in another town, in Mantova in the middle of Italy. When it is needed, I just fly down and do what I have to do. I am originally from Trieste, but I moved to London, four years ago.

And you feel at home in London?
Now yes, but of course my love and my heart will always be in Trieste, Italy, that’s my home, but for living it is very difficult. It is the place I was born, I am well connected. If I go to the airport, it is a 20 minutes train. I can fly anywhere in the world so easily, it really opened up many possibilities. I always go down to Italy pretty easy.

This album, ‘Glory For Salvation’ should shine a light on the second part of the saga. Can you tell a bit more about that?
As you said, it is the second chapter of this saga and as you may know or not know, I don’t like to talk about it too much, because I prefer the fans having the experience to listen to the story, carried by the music. Anyway it is a story about the redemption of a character and this opens up a series of topics. There are hidden suggestions for real life, simple words where everyone can decide and take their lives in their own hands, taking a different path without being too much stopped by the past. They need to live in the present. It is an interesting topic. Simple things in life are important. It is for me important that the saga has a message between the lines. For Robby and Giacomo who wrote the lyrics, of course their job is to write a story on top of the music, but for me who don’t write lyrics, the message is important. Lyrics are always written after the music is done.

How do you look back at the reception of ‘The Eighth Mountain’, because also for the fans it was a new approach and band?..
It was incredible, it was amazing, really. We, and especially for myself, I can call myself an experienced musician and producer, I knew that ‘The Eighth Mountain’ was something special, because with Giacomo and the entire production, the mix from Sebastian Levermann, I knew that it sounded good. I was waiting for the fans’ reactions and it was amazing to see how the reaction was when we announced that we would play ‘The Eighth Mountain’ live entirely, which is not so common what a band will do, you know. It is risky, it is a kind of progressive attitude, but I could not believe that the fans knew all the songs and they sang all the choruses. We really went through the entire album fast and furious. Seeing that reaction was a dream, a unique moment, because this is a new band, a new Rhapsody Of Fire version. It is not so obvious that the fans will love everything we do, but it was really amazing. Having said that, I hope that the fans will love this new album as well.

Rhapsody Of Fire was the last band I saw live before the corona struck. Did you have to interrupt that tour?
Yes, we did. The last show was in Zagreb and we still had to do Munich, Paris, Milan… We still had five shows and we could not do it, it was very bad. After the show in Zagreb, we were packing. It was a very sad moment. The venues were closing, the borders too. I hope we can make that good next year with the upcoming tour. We will play the shows we could not do and I hope in the end everybody will be satisfied and happy.

Did you start writing new songs faster, due to that problem?
No, I must say, after the tour the program was to keep writing and then flying to Italy and recording Giacomo and the choirs and everything. So basically beside the tour having to be stopped, the rest was pretty regular. It took us two years to complete this new album, from start to finish. Luckily I could go to Italy in July 2020. There were no restrictions at that time, so I could really use this time to do what I had to do. I was lucky. Everything went fine, at least for the production side.

What about replacing the drummer? Was that a big issue?
Of course, if you rely on someone, it is always sad to part ways. I felt comfortable to have Manu Lotter in the band, but sometimes things do not work, it is as simple as that. I did not know him personally, I just had to follow my gut feeling and I had a good feeling about Manu. I still have, it is not something personally, it was just that he wasn’t happy. He had to do something different. At that time he invested a lot of time in his job, in his family. I am not sure he is in a band right now. So I hope the best for him. Actually the new drummer, Paolo Marchesich, was already a friend of Robby. They know each other and this was the best solution in the end, because now everybody is from the same town, which is easier. He is a really nice guy, a great drummer. I am looking forward to fly down next year to Trieste and rehearse all together and get ready for the tour. I hope this will be the line-up that is going to last.

One thing that stands out is the long song ‘Abyss Of Pain II’. Can you tell a bit more about it?
Well, at the beginning I did not wanted a longer song. Usually we do that, but it was not necessary. Sometimes it is really the song that calls for evolution, for development. It needs more time, more twists and turns to develop. So it was an extra project. When you are doing a song which is longer, I like to express myself in a more cinematic way. So we have an intro, an outro, there are lots of solo instruments besides my brother. I am using some different instruments. This way I am able to expand our sound to a wider musical picture. I am really proud of that. I think the secret of writing a long song is when you don’t feel it is long. It is just passing by and you want to listen to it again. You don’t realize that it lasts for ten minutes. I had a lot of fun creating it. The epic element has a particular sound. Progressive chord metal, I always love that, the technical way of writing music.

The more harsh vocals we can hear from time to time, is that also Giacomo?
It is always Giacomo. It is amazing. You should not expect this from him, you know, because his voice is pretty clean, pretty high, but he can really be versatile with a different approach. These parts add extra energy, I would say.

One can find a kind of folkloristic tinge in two of the songs. Is this still important for you?
Yes, even more. I love that, I always loved it. I am really proud of the musicians I used, because they were incredible. These were people that I didn’t know before. Giacomo has a lot of friends, they live few minutes away from his house. There was a guy playing Uillean pipes and the fiddle, he just came, he lives right around the corner. Incredible! Even if you only have a simple melody, when you have the right musician to play it, it is just magic and it transforms. It is a great stimulation to write even more in that direction. There is nothing like a real instrument for playing folk music or nice melodies. It is something that can be immediately related to images, to movies. For me it is very important.

Indeed, it adds a nice zest to the music, but I don’t think you used a real orchestra this time?
Not this time. I used a lot of instruments, also a violin player, a cello player, so in the end I was able to focus more on the single musicians. It is also something that we regularly did in the past. On ‘Legendary Tales’ it was not possible to use an orchestra for us, but really very nice soloists. It sounds more acoustic in a way, less bombastic, but still you can hear the vibration and how the instrument is played as a solo instrument. That is equally phenomenal.

When we follow the music and see the titles, it seems that it is happening in an icy world (‘The Kingdom Of Ice’, ‘Eternal Snow’). Is that a kind of world in your imagination or do you get inspiration by real places?
In general, when I write music, it is always about imagining natural landscapes. I grew up visiting the mountains, I grew up with movies and beautiful landscapes, so when I compose, I need this visual support. That connection is always present when I work or when I compose, especially if I know that the saga expands and is connected to specific natural elements, it is automatic. In the end, when I compose, I can really see there is a connection with nature. This was always an important aspect, for the music we do since the very beginning, that connection with nature was the most important thing. Sometimes I use sounds of nature, because they really make you feel alive, it is a natural element.

Since you make such cinematic movies, are you watching a lot of movies or listening to soundtracks?
Yes, but mainly soundtracks from the past, I must say. But there are a lot of movies that I saw, that had beautiful music as well. I am from the generation that loves the music from movies like ‘Conan’, of course ‘Lord of the Rings’ and so on. When you also listen to a lot of classical music, you realize that nothing is invented for the movies, a lot has been written in the classical music, especially in the nineteenth century. Again, it is beautiful music, connected with fantastic visuals and fantasy stories, it is a magical world. During the lockdown I watched a lot of movies and series. I like fantasy stories like ‘Game Of Thrones’ of course, but I also like ‘Breaking Bad’ and stuff like that. I like to watch comedy as well, it is nice to watch different things, but for Rhapsody Of Fire I come back to what I love the most which is fantasy.

‘Magic Signs’ is the ballad of the album and there are three versions on it in different languages. What can you tell about this song?
I love this song and with Giacomo we always have fun in finding out which languages we can do this time, so we usually float around English, Italian, French and Spanish which are the best sounding languages in music. I am really proud of that. For me it gives a nice feeling to do that with Giacomo’s talent, because he loves to do that. I think it is something special. We also put all three versions on the main album, these are not bonus tracks.

The album starts very wild and energetic, but from the fourth song on, it gets more atmospheric with flutes, that is a nice move…
This is Giacomo narrating. The flute player is the same guy I used before. He came in with his Uillean pipes and he had also his fiddle, when he started to play I knew that I had to do something special with this. My brother Manuel is also involved, as usual, he is playing on many records since 1997.

Talking about the artwork, is that the guy from ‘The Eighth Mountain’?
Yes, Alexandre Charleux, he is really fantastic. I work with two guys. One is Paul Thureau which was taking care of the booklet. He did the lyric video for the title track in 3D, also the other videos and Alex Charleux did all the cover and some graphics. It is a great team, I am really happy with them. They can really understand what Rhapsody Of Fire visually is about. The graphics really express what I express with the music, so it is really important that music and graphics are connected and they do this for us brilliantly.

What can you tell about the videos you have made and maybe are planning to make?
Well yes, those are videos which are graphics, but we are going to shoot one, maybe two video clips in the second week of October. So we are going to meet finally and have some fun. We will shoot them in Italy. Yes it is in the mountains, it is an incredible place, I hope the weather will be good.

How long will you stay there?
I will not stay more than five days, because there is quarantine. I avoid the SEPA legislations if I go for work and I stay less than 120 hours which is five days, so we try to do the work in five days and stay with the guys a bit and then I go back.

You are under the UK rules now…
In the UK it is fine, in Italy it is just a nightmare. Let us hope that things will turn out the same for every country, so we can go back to normal. I remain confident and I hope that everything will be okay at some point.

What was the reason for releasing an EP for ‘I’ll Be Your Hero’ before this full length album?
We wanted to release it as a single at first, but we also had the ballad from ‘The Eighth Mountain’ which is in four languages. We have two live tracks which I managed to record and mixed already. So everything was ready. We had this material and we had a bonus track from Japan ‘Where Dragons Fly’ which we re-recorded with additional instruments. So we decided to put all this material together and release this single as an EP with forty minutes of music. I was really proud and happy to do it. It is amazing, also the cover, Alex did an amazing design for it.

If there is something you want to add to this interview, please go ahead…
I am looking forward to play live and perform the new songs. The band is ready for the stage and meet with the fans again all over Europe. We go on working and we do our best.