Dark Empire: Guitarist Matt Moliti
Interview by EvilG & Lord of the Wasteland
Matt Moliti’s Dark Empire offers a mix of power, prog, and thrash elements with a lot of shred and powerful vocals on their debut album DISTANT TIDES. Most of you will not recognize Matt’s name…yet. With the amount of talent he possesses he could very well have a bright future in metal. Matt, who’s been playing guitar since he was 13, attended the Berklee College of Music where his guitar teacher was none other than Joe Stump. The name from Dark Empire that many will recognize is vocalist Jens Carlsson of Persuader and Savage Circus. Rounding out the line-up is bassist Noah Martin (Lilitu) and Teemu Tahkanen (DIG). In the following interview we talk to Matt about how the band works, his guitar playing, and his future plans for Dark Empire.
Looking at the cover of the websingle, “Northern Sky,” and reading the band’s name, I would have assumed Dark Empire would be black metal, not leaning more towards epic/power/prog-metal. You also mention that you dabbled in the black metal sound when forming Dark Empire but I hear none of it in the music, so what happened to that influence?
Well, the black metal influence in my music shows up mostly in “The Final Vision.” I was listening to a lot of Dimmu Borgir at the time, and wanted to try to incorporate the kind of keyboard atmospherics that they had, and that wound up influencing the kind of chord progressions and keyboard sounds I used in that song. My interest in black metal I guess isn’t really so much in the “tr00” blackmetal bands, but moreso a band like Dimmu, and I’m a big fan of Borknagar as well. They, along with Opeth, were a big influence on mixing the melodic and harsh vocals.
I don’t hear much American metal influence in your music but major European influence. What is your take on the state of metal in North America right now?
It’s certainly much better than it was even 5 years ago. You used to never see a lot of these European bands, especially the powermetal ones, do tours here, and now in the past two years there’s been a huge surge of them. Even the US bands that have been around for a while seem to finally be getting recognized here. So, I think the climate is really improving although we’ve still got an incredibly long way to go before we catch up to the European scene.
How did you land Jens Carlsson (Persuader, Savage Circus) to sing with Dark Empire?
I got a hold of his email address and basically told him what my deal was and asked if he wanted to sing on the album. He heard the demos and dug it so he said sure.
Is Jens a “permanent” member?
I guess the best way to say it is, Jens is as permanent as he has the time to be. Obviously, Persuader and Savage Circus take priority over Dark Empire for him, but as his scheduling permits he’ll still be involved with Dark Empire.
Have you met Jens in person, or was this collaboration all done via e-mail?
Pretty much just via email and through MSN messenger. We’ll definitely be chilling when Savage Circus plays Progpower though.
What about the other members?
With Teemu, I talk to him over MSN messenger, and I also have never met him in person either. Noah and I know each other in person.
Did Jens write his own vocal melodies or did you have that worked out for him?
I pretty much wrote all the melodies, Jens just changed a few things here and there and did some harmony stuff.
What do you think of Jen’s new band, Savage Circus and their take on the Blind Guardian sound?
I know a lot of people are saying that Savage Circus sounds too much like Blind Guardian, etc. but I just think, “well of course it sounds like Blind Guardian, there’s an ex-member in the band!” It is a sound that BG have not done in a while either, so given that, I don’t think the similarity is a big deal and I thought Dreamland Manor was a great album.
Is Dark Empire going to feature yourself and guest musicians on subsequent releases or is the lineup on the DISTANT TIDES CD in this for the long haul?
In a perfect world, the Dark Empire 20th anniversary tour would feature the same lineup. To me, Dark Empire is very much a band, it’s just one that I happen to be the main creative force behind. Bands have had members come and go over time and its very rare when you see a band that has had the same lineup over its entire career, so I guess I’ll just cross my fingers and see what happens.
Have you been able to actually play the Dark Empire material in a jam or live environment? If not, does it bum you out much that the band is, at present, a virtual entity?
Noah and I have rehearsed the songs together already. It does bum me out, because that’s one thing a band has to do, to play live to tour, etc. Although, even if we could, the fact that we don’t have a label backing us and trying to get us on some festival bills or whatever would make it very hard to do anything other than local shows to begin with. Hopefully that will change when the 2nd album is released.
Are you hoping to take this band, or another, on the road anytime?
I definitely want Dark Empire to do some gigs after the next album is released. As far as any other bands, I’m definitely open to session gigs or things of that nature. So if I got a good offer, then yea sure.
What kind of live playing experience have you attained to date?
Really just doing gigs with bands when I was in high school. That sort of thing, nothing major.
Do you write all of the music and lyrics for Dark Empire? If not, how did the writing work?
Yeah, I wrote everything, however each guy put his own spin on what I wrote, or added his own things. I’m not a bassist, drummer, or singer so obviously they’re gonna know what works best for their instrument more than I will. I’m always open to suggestions during the writing process.
What is the significance of the title “Distant Tides”?
The title track is a kind of Lovecraft-inspired fiction I wrote that deals with a person having dreams of some lost ancient utopia that they feel they were a part of in some past life, and traveling into the unknown to find it. The title is just referring to the shores of the ancient city the person sees in their dreams.
Please tell us what some of the main inspirations were for the songs on the CD.
I guess some of the more apparent influences are bands like Children of Bodom, Rage, and Symphony X. I listen to a lot of different kinds of metal and music in general and I don’t really like to limit where I draw inspiration. As far as lyrics go, there’s a mix of some things. The Alchemist is based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by Lovecraft (can you tell I’m a fan?), and A Soul Divided is based on the videogame Silent Hill. So that along with the title track is more fiction based stuff, then We Will Never Die is more personal, social commentary I guess, and Northern Sky is historical, about the Crusades, although I think its also applicable to the kind of shit we have going on in the middle east today as well.
The cover artwork is also very cool. Tell us a bit about it’s development.
Since the title track has a story behind it, I wanted the artwork to reflect the story. So, I told my artist (Gustavo Sazes) the idea I had about showing the ruined city the song refers to. He exceeded my expectations and I think it came out really amazing.
Since DISTANT TIDES is 6 tracks, how much material do you have written for the next Dark Empire release?
I haven’t written any full songs yet, although I have a lot of riffs written. I already know the 2nd one will be heavier, more songs in drop-C tuning, more clean/death vocal interplay etc. I think it’ll be a natural progression from songs like Distant Tides and Northern Sky. I’m gonna start writing for it this summer.
Do you have any desire to do a full instrumental album, or do you prefer writing for vocal oriented music?
A full instrumental album doesn’t really interest me, honestly. As much as I like a lot of the “virtuoso” type players, there’s only a handful of instrumental metal/rock albums that I really like. Most of it gets pretty boring to me. So yeah, vocal oriented music is a lot more fun to me.
How did you get involved with the “Chops From Hell” website? Did you go looking to be a contributor to the site or did the site come looking for you?
I had emailed them saying I was interested in being a guest columnist and sent them a link to the Dark Empire myspace (www.myspace.com/mattmoliti) to check my playing out. They dug it so they said “yea sure, send us a lesson.” I think it’s a really cool site, I’ve had a few friends contribute to it already, and its pretty cool to be on it as well.
With all the well-known and esteemed alumni of the Berklee School of Music, how does the name Matt Moliti measure up? How much of the “textbook” side of things do you use and how much is improvised “flash”?
Well, I’m no Steve Vai or Al DiMeola or anything that’s for sure. I don’t like to compare myself to other guitarists, I just try to be the best I can possibly be. As far as the whole “schooled” approach to music, I mostly use that kind of stuff when it comes to, for example, writing keyboard parts or anything involving harmony. When I’m just coming up with riffs the rules get thrown out the window and I just use what sounds good to my ears. Sometimes though, I’ll look to different scales or stuff I wouldn’t normally use if I feel I’m in a rut.
As a guitar teacher, do you find the experience makes you a better guitar player and forces you to constantly learn and improve, as well?
Absolutely. Not just that, but it forces you to stay on top of your game. I have a lot of kids asking to learn a lot of different things, so I have to be ready to show them certain techniques or theory based things and not think “oh crap, I haven’t worked on that in a while.”
Why did you leave Berklee after only two semesters?
I was practicing a shitload and I actually fell behind in a lot of my schoolwork. Finals were coming up and I was totally not prepared. I had a talk with one of my teachers about it and he said, “Well, you don’t need to pay $30,000 a year to practice all day.” That made sense to me, so I withdrew from my classes and that was that. I don’t regret it or anything, it was a fun experience for me.
You mention in your bio that while at Berklee, you practiced between 8-10 hours a day. Did this much playing/practicing make guitar more of a “job” and less fun?
Not at all. If you love doing something it doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes, yeah, you do have do practice when you don’t feel like it, when you’re tired, etc. but ultimately the work pays off. I didn’t do a whole lot of partying at college; I was in the practice rooms when everyone else was drinking. But I like that I can do what I can do on my instrument now. Worthwhile tradeoff, no?
Is music (playing in bands, teaching lessons) how you make a living or do you have another life outside of music that pays the bills?
Unfortunately, I do have a part time non-music related job waiting tables in a sushi restaurant. I’m hoping that won’t be necessary for much longer though.
The obvious question: Who are your main inspirations for guitar playing?
I think the guy who had the most impact on my playing was Michael Romeo from Symphony X. He got me into the whole right hand tapping thing, and that’s a pretty big part of my style now. I really like Alexi Laiho from Bodom too, and Victor Smolski from Rage is another guy I’m really into at the moment. Some other guitarists I really like are Jason Becker, Yngwie, Shawn Lane, Bumblefoot, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Loomis, and Allan Holdsworth.
The closing comments are yours…is there is any other news to report?
Thanks for reading and please check out “Distant Tides” if you haven’t already. Its available at just about all the major metal stores online, and it should be at amazon.com and itunes shortly as well. “Northern Sky” is going to be featured on the next Brave Words Knuckletracks CD, so check that out as well. For Brazilian fans, I’m talking with a label about getting it released in Brazil soon, too. Stay metal!