Rhapsody of Fire
Interview with Alex Staropoli
@ The Imperial Hotel, London UK
7th November 2013
Interview by Caitlin Smith
Despite the recent split between the founding members, Italian symphonic metal band Rhapsody of Fire still seem to be on full form, returning to bring us DARK WINGS OF STEEL. The sagas may be past and buried now but this band continues to live on, bringing out two powerful new players in 2011, and hitting both the road and the studio to continue spreading tales of magic, wizards and dragons to anyone willing to listen. Sat in a swanky hotel in the center of London, we chat to founding member Alex Staropoli about life in Rhapsody after Lucca and what the future holds for the band.
I like it here [in the UK]. We never came here much. We came to play once, but we should have come more.
I saw you play Bloodstock, I’ve never seen so many metalheads cry!
I was surprised too because I thought this crowd was there for Motorhead or bands like that. I was really surprised. I like this festival. I really liked that.
Lets start at the beginning, how did Rhapsody come into being?
Well, Luca and myself, we met casually and we wanted to do something together. We said we would like to compose some music, but something that doesn’t exist and the big challenge was that we were an Italian heavy metal band, and there was not an Italian heavy metal band that had really conquered the world. So it was a big challenge for us to do that. We sat down and started to compose music in the living room, just throw down ideas and after a few years of working and working we recorded demos and the songs we used in LEGENDARY TALES and SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS, they were composed already in ’92 and ’93. So we had the time to improve and to get really mature before the first CD was released. LEGENDARY TALES already sounds like a mature album because we had 4 or 5 years before that, you know, so there was a cool challenge: to be Italian and to aim to conquer the world. Everybody was laughing.
So what was the Italian metal scene like when you started?
Inconsistent. Full of good musicians but nobody has ideas for composition, you know. Labyrinth, for example, the band that Fabio started. They were a good band at the time.
Your music must have influences from a lot of different sources with the symphonic bits, where do you pull you ideas from?
From movies and soundtracks. From life also, because we live and were born in Trieste, a beautiful town between the sea and the mountains. You have everything. In summer you can walk by the beach and in the winter you can go skiing, so nature is really present. So between this influence, the movies and the soundtracks, we really had the right input to create something that brings together all of this. It’s not really easy to explain how this works, you sit down and you do. You write music, you know. It’s a magic process.
You obvious can’t jam out.
No, no we never do.
So what is your writing process like?
It can start from anything… a guitar riff or from a chorus, from an idea of a chorus, from strings, from bass. It’s different, it depends. From acoustic guitars. It’s enough to have the idea of what you want to do, you know. Once a player came to my house, he said I want to listen to some of your riffs, and he had one he played and already I had in my mind what to do with this. I had the idea within a second and you already know what you are going to do next.
So you don’t have a ritual? It all comes very naturally.
Yeah it’s not always like that, sometime you are struggling for a month to do small things and then a full song in one hour, it depends.
So each song has a fantasy story running through it, where do you get the inspiration for these stories from?
Again, from movies mainly. Movies and books. Actually it was Luca who wrote all the sagas and lyrics, so he was really into movies especially. He always liked to write stories, it was full of details. This was before Rhapsody of Fire you know, we were already discussing. We liked the idea that you could discover a world that is so big and huge that it would take many albums to tell the story and this is what we did, you know.
Are you able to tell us the story behind the new album yet?
Well it depends what kind of story you want to hear. This is not a saga; this is not a concept album. This is about actual songs. So the main difference between this one and the past ones is, this one sounds more powerful. Bit less orchestration, heavier guitars. This for me was very important, necessary to do. I asked Fabio to write the lyrics, and he did a great job. The lyrics are magic, poetic, dramatic and there is not really a main topic. I like when the lyrics give you pictures. You have visions from the lyrics and listening to the music, so it is not always necessary for an artist to describe it, to explain what the lyrics are about because it makes no sense. It’s nice when a listener, when a fan of a band can read the booklet and can have their own images about the lyrics and the music.
So you’ve worked fairly extensively with Christopher Lee in the past. What is he like to work with?
It was impressive. He is impressive as a person, as a personality. We came to London for a few days and he wanted to know us. We did some talking and then when he was ready we said, ok let’s start. He did some fantastic narrations, we had a lot of fun with him. When he finished he stood in the middle of the studio and said, everyone is asking me to narrate or to do movies, but nobody is asking me to sing and he started to sing in the middle of the room and said lets do it together. He wanted us to sing. That was a sign that he was not there just because we paid him, because he really liked to do the job. He proposed himself to sing. Then we created ‘The Magic of a Wizard’s Dream’, we did it with Fabio. It was a really creative process you know, not just paying a guy to come and go. He was really into something artistic.
You’ve recently split with Luca Turilli, can you tell us a bit about what happened there?
Yeah, it didn’t really happen from one day to another, it was a process that took a few years. We didn’t feel comfortable working together anymore like in the past and so we decided to finish with the last album in the saga, to finish the work together. We could have worked on together but we would have struggled because we didn’t feel the same magic anymore. So we said we have to be honest, you know, and do something different. We are still good friends. So this isn’t about friendship but about the working process. The working relationship.
You’ve had many changes in lineup recently, what is the change in sound from your previous work to Dark Wings of Steel?
Well, the band now is composed of 5 members. This is a very important thing, like in the beginning of our career; we were 5 now, we want to stay in 5. On bass we have Alex Holzwarth, and his brother Oliver so the rhythmic section is really powerful. 2 brothers playing on bass and drums is fantastic. New guitar player, as I said, is a friend of mine. Very good guitar player. Fabio is always standing tall with his fantastic voice. We are ready to play any time, anywhere. This is good about that. When we are to play sometimes we don’t even rehearse. We feel so confident you know, it’s fantastic.
So you feel like you’ve found the magic again with this band that you lost at the end of the last album.
You’ve previously been working with 2 guitarists, why have you decided to stick with just 1?
Well, the working relationship with Tom Hess also ended. We were not on the same page, we had different views on life, so we decided to just continue playing by ourselves, you know. After that I said ok, we played 3 shows in 5 just with Robbie and we liked that, and so we decided ok lets stick with this line up.
How do you feel the new album has been received?
In a really good way, I’m really happy about that. Everybody is telling me ‘I love this song!’ and some other people are telling me ‘I love this other song!’ It’s really incredible. Maybe I feel responsible because I was the only producer on this album. I composed the music, some of the music I composed it by myself together with my brother, and so I really fell more involved in the album than before. Well, before Luca and myself we shared 50:50, you know, so it was teamwork. Now I feel responsible for this album so if I receive critics or compliments of any kind I’m really happy about it.
It’s much more personal.
Yeah, it’s true.
So looking back over your career in Rhapsody, where do you feel about where you are today?
Well I’m quite happy because we did everything we wanted to do. We fulfilled our dreams to have orchestra and a famous actor like Christopher Lee with his fantastic voice. Have big productions. So it’s been 15 years of career with 10 albums released, we are very proud of it.
Can you tell us some highlights from along the way?
Christopher Lee, for sure. For me? As a composer and an arranger, when I recorded orchestra for the first time, but as a band working with Christopher Lee.
So what can we expect from Rhapsody in the future?
Well we are going to shoot a video soon, we are going to release a lot of news on our website, facebook etc. and we are playing a tour right now. We will probably start in Europe next year so hopefully including UK.
Yes! Keep coming back.
And is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Well I really enjoyed playing Bloodstock festival, I was really surprised to see so many fans for Rhapsody of Fire and that’s why I’m looking forward to coming back.