Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell

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Recently I was able to sit down with Moonspell vocalist Fernando Ribeiro and discuss with him everything from new and old Moonspell, touring the U.S., human nature, and many other topics.

Interview and Live Photos by Shaq

Interview Questions by Shaq and EvilG


I read on your website that the album cover art for Memorial was chosen because it symbolizes the band’s nature.  What would you say the band actually is, and how does the cover represent it?< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


We have a thing in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Portugal but I think it goes for the whole world, that the tree dies in its feet.  For me that’s a symbol of resistance, and of survival instinct, and we wanted to represent that, especially being our seventh album and being a band that has had a progression not looking to what’s hot or trendy but trying to focus on our own style and ideas and way of making music.  Basically we wanted graphically and artistically to have this impact of resistance and persistence and eternity, and I think the trees are a great symbol for that.  I know there are many bands that use trees because visually it’s a great element but we had a lot of cover projects, but no other cover project had such a strong voice with it as this one.  It’s a simple cover but we picked it up for these reasons.





You also said that there’s strong blood element on the album. Can you elaborate on that?


I think the blood element is the red line that unites a lot of the moods and a lot of the feelings in the lyrics and in the music.  Obviously when we write we don’t have a specific direction about talking about something, and even though I think our music is somewhat conceptual we’ve never made a real concept album in the way of having a story with different chapters or variations of one theme.  The blood came in a way that was spontaneous, and a lot of the themes that were contemplated on the…..I cannot focus anymore…I cannot speak about serious stuff with this terrorist attack.  [The door to the dressing room bathroom had opened, and out came another member of Moonspell as well as a less than pleasant odor.]  That’s American cuisine! [laughing]


So when I talk about isolation, commitment, love, death, the blood can be used for all of that.  It can be used in a mundane way of the worldly things when people make blood oaths on their things like when they swear fidelity on each other.  It can also be a metaphor when you say that your heart bleeds.  All these things are contemplated on the album, and it’s why the blood element surfaces and connects everything.



What kind of meaning does the moon hold with respect to the band and the lyrics you write?


I don’t want to romanticize here.  It’s not like when there’s a full moon you’ll go crazy.



No full moon madness?


[laughs] Yeah.  We always connect the stuff into our music and our songs, and hopefully it might provoke our listeners.  Full Moon Madness is the best example; it’s a song about coming together and about commitment as well.  I’ve always liked the most simple explanation about that.  I think our music is actually a very simple combination between a darkened envelope, elevated moments of melody and light, and I think the moon is still the best representative of that.  It is the light that guides you through some darkness and we were very young when we picked up that name but I think it still represents our music and especially the progression of our band with albums like Darkness and Hope, The Antidote and Memorial.  It still makes sense to have this name and this meaning as well.







Where do you draw inspiration from when writing lyrics?  Do you pull it in from real world events or things you go through?


Yeah, reality is a weird concept to start with.  There are things that have never happened that are more real and more felt to me than things that have actually happened.  I think writing is a question of sensitivity.  At least for myself, everything can inspire me.  I can see a stone or a monument and it can be inspiring.  This ambiguity between the particular and the universal and the tension between them is really something very inspiring for me.  It can really be anything.  Obviously within Moonspell we have certain guidelines and certain concepts to speak about and I’ve been doing this since the early years and the subjects have not changed a lot because there are endless sources of inspiration.  I always try to put a little human perspective into it but my human perspective is very broad.  I think men are the beginning and end of the chain, and are both evil and good.  All of that is contained and has a common element if you think about how all you can say about god or the devil are normally human attributes, and I think that’s very important for the Moonspell lyrics to have this humanity vibe or guideline of where the songs lay their foundations.



How does the writing process go when you go to write a new album?


It starts slow; we like to take our time.  Basically what we do is have a lot of ideas, kept to ourselves or recorded on our computers and I have a handful of images put into words and then I listen to these ideas.  Normally because we have worked together for so many years, they fall into place with the words.  We start from there, and color the songs with the words.  It depends a lot on our recent past with the band   For instance I think The Antidote has influenced Memorial which is a more intense album because when we played the more intense songs off of The Antidote live we could see something coming out of people that was very pleasing and that we could recognize as an energy that would be positive for our new album.  Basically we don’t have a formula or a scheme; we have mechanisms and processes like any band.  We start off very simple, writing together with all the instruments, and most of the times we have the producer to help us out, Waldemar [Sorychta] that worked with Memorial and pre-produced Antidote.  He’s very talented and helps us out with arranging and changing the songs to make them more effective.  Then we get ready to go into the studio and the process depends on how much time we have available.  Normally we can write an album each year I think.






You were one of the nominees this year for MTV’s Best Portuguese Act which is the first time a metal band was ever nominated for this.  Do you take this as a sign the growing popularity of Moonspell or maybe MTV is just opening their eyes a little more?


I think that MTV opens their eyes to whatever is profitable.  Nowadays metal is not totally underground music, and the metal bands you normally see on MTV are bands that sell by the thousands.  So I think it is natural it happened, and it’s not necessarily bad and not necessarily good.  It depends on the fan at the end of the day choose what he wants to listen to, and if he wants to be following the herd mentality or wants to be independent, which in a way is what metal teaches you to be.  Basically I was surprised.  All the other nominees are pop or hip hop bands.  Our new album did very well in Portugal even though it’s a metal album; it ended up being for many of our fans also a statement.  It doesn’t happen in the U.S. but in Portugal metal doesn’t have a lot of visibility so these are good indications that, especially for the fans when they have to face their parents or teachers, that they are not listening to something forbidden or something senseless.  If nothing else, this nomination allows not the metal people but the people around them to take them more seriously, which I think is good.  For the band, we’re not a band that was built by MTV and even if we win it’s not a thing that would make a difference for us.  It’s better to be nominated than not, so that’s the way I feel about it.



On past albums there’s always been your unique blend of heaviness and melody whereas on Memorial you seem to have let aggressiveness lead the way.  Was it a conscious decision to write like this?


I think it was totally conscious.  We play music by the heart, and I can never really divide between what’s spontaneous and not.  I don’t think anybody really does spontaneous music.  You have a thing to say and you’re faithful to that but also to express this, you have to have a consciousness of what you’re doing.  Moonspell has always done music from the heart but rationally as well with a consciousness.  I think the album is very aggressive but I think it is still very musical.  Even though with the pace it is a little bit harder, when you listen to it a couple more times you will understand there is a lot of musical atmosphere as well.  When we wrote the songs we were very happy about them because it was a very good balance between everything we are as a band.  I think that regardless of our influences we came this far and after our seventh album we have something that is powerful and soulful.  The Antidote was a already a good step on that aspect.  Obviously when you experiment and do not repeat formulas you can never win.  There’s probably people who’d like to listen to a more melodic and gothic Moonspell but I think this album is closer to our nature than a full on gothic album.  I feel more comfortable with this album, but you never know because you cannot calculate what you’ll have to say in the next record.  With Memorial we achieved some ideas and results we could only dream about in other albums.  I still listen to it a lot and am still very proud of that.



Do you ever think you’ll return to the classic sound with more cleaner dark vocals as opposed to the growl or heavy vocals?


It depends on the lyrics I write and what the music demands.  This set of songs for Memorial could not have a domination of clean vocals.  They have their moments like “Luna,” “Sanguine,” or “Memento Mori,” but I think the music was so heavy to start with that I would have to fight for the space of dark and melancholic vocals so I went with the flow with the band.  With Moonspell there’s always something missing out for us, so probably in the future I can come back to these vocals or maybe not at all, we really don’t know.  I think I’m very limited as a melodic singer, while I have an interesting way of shouting and vocalizing and screaming because it has some melodies and timings, it’s not just pure death metal growls or black metal shrieks.  It really depends on what I write.  On what we wrote so far for the new album, there’s some stuff that I want to use clean vocals on, but I always did it to express the words and the words have the need for this dual nature of my voice.






The Sin/Pecado album stands out in your catalog as being almost experimental and didn’t really mark a path you continued on after that.  Looking back on it, what are your thoughts on the album?


I think the album had great ideas, and some of them didn’t come across.  I think that album caught us very tired of our Irreligious elements, and we wanted to break free of this dark, gothic imagery and sound and obviously a lot of people did not understand that because they were not in our shoes.  When we did Wolfheart, it was also a bit experimental album for that period, or a better example would be Tiamat’s Wildhoney who were ready to embrace this.  But when we did Sin, there was also a challenge between us and Waldemar, and I think our ideas didn’t come across as we wanted and his ideas didn’t come across as he wanted, so there was something missing on that album.  It was not the songs, probably some kind of understanding from people.  People were listening to Hammerfall at the time, they wanted classic and pure and straight-lined metal and that’s not what bands like us, Tiamat, Paradise Lost, or Amorphis had to offer and all these bands suffered a drawback during this time.  I think that songs like “HandMadeGod” or “Let The Children” or even slower songs like “Hanged Man” are still very good songs.  They were just born in a time when people were looking to our Irreligious album which are still the greatest songs we ever wrote, as it is like a collection of singles and hits.  It’s an album I’m proud of, and it allowed us to see who was with Moonspell for good and who was with Moonspell because we were getting bigger and there was a trend and a hype around us.  



Do you ever play anything from it live?


Yeah, many times.  It’s hard for us to pick a setlist nowadays due to time reasons to make it balanced and dynamic.  Normally the song we mostly come back to is “Abysmo” which is more fast paced with lots of elements.  When we toured for Sin there was a lot of songs played live but now we concentrate more on Wolfheart, Irreligious, Darkness and Hope and Memorial for the setlist.  I know as well as any fan there will be songs missing out from other albums but it is impossible in 90 minutes or 70 or 60 to please every particular fan, but I think that’s a dilemma of any band.





You touched on it before.  A lot of longtime fans would probably consider the Irreligious era to be the quintessential Moonspell.  What do you think about that, and do you personally have a favorite album?


Obviously all albums are important to me, because not only are they music but they are documents of our life as well and they will remain connected to this very private and personal feeling.  On the other hand, the albums I feel most happy with are Memorial and Irreligious.  In Memorial we could do a set of songs that are all good, there are no fillers or unfinished ideas, and there is certainty in the album, there’s not a searching feeling.  Irreligious is exactly the same, it was a very certain album to do as well and still has some of our best songs like “Mephisto” or “Full Moon Madness” or “Opium”  and then you have to make the context of the time.  If Irreligious was out today nobody would be excited about it and for me it’s still one of the role models for all of the gothic metal still done nowadays because it was dark, it was metal, and his this gothic elegance around it.  Probably nowadays people have a different conception of gothic metal so I’m curious to see if people would consider it such a masterpiece if it was out today and had to play by the different rules that exist today.





Now onto the tour you’re on now.  What are your thoughts on the band lineup and did you have anything to do with the choice of the bands?


Fortunately, yeah.  All the bands have very good personal relationships, especially us with Katatonia.  We are very good friends and big fans of their band as well.  We have a common history.  I remember writing with Blackheim or Anders in the underground days, and traded albums and I had Jhva Elohim Meth and Dance of December Souls and I always thought Katatonia will be and are a special band.  With Daylight Dies I just got introduced to their sound a couple of years ago and I think it’s a great band.  Yesterday I saw them live and their songs are very interesting live as well.  I think that regardless of the results of the tour it’s a good music tour.  We’re probably the most aggressive on the package, Katatonia the most spiritual and melodic, and Daylight Dies falls somewhere in between.  I think it’s a great tour, and one of the best packages we’ve ever been in.  I know people in Europe are very jealous about this package because it’s three bands they look up to and three bands that do their style regardless and is a very independent tour.



The last time you were here was opening for Opeth on a U.S. run, and now you’re back on the first ever headlining tour here.  What are your thoughts on that?


Actually it’s the second headliner.  We did a headliner for Darkness and Hope but it was a very small tour and did not get very much promotion.  Actually the band that was supporting us became very big afterwords, Lacuna Coil. [laughs]  It was their first experience in the States, and when they released Comalies they got really huge.  I don’t feel like we feel the responsibility of being headliners, because especially in the States it’s very hard to keep people in the show.  It’s not the case here in New York but the other places they make it into these micro festivals so when it’s Moonspell’s time to play people already have had seven hours of noise in their heads.  It’s a position that’s not very easy or comfortable, but we don’t see ourselves as headliners.  We see ourselves as fighting very hard especially in the U.S. to get our music across to people.  We don’t have the reason or the key or the solution, but nobody can say we are not working or paying attention to the U.S. as it’s our sixth tour over here.  Everybody has equal rights, and we are sharing most of our stuff and our stage time.  I don’t feel anything special to be honest of headlining the U.S.  Maybe for some other bands it would go to their heads but our reality is quite different.  We are still a struggling band.  As we have music that is private or individual in a way it’s always more difficult to get a hype or to get our stuff across to people.  We are trying headlining or opening, and we will continue trying over here.






What are your thoughts on the metal scene in the U.S. overall?


I think what gets to Europe is probably just one side of the scene, the American metal or nu-metal.  There’s very good bands that know very well what they are doing, but sometimes I feel they are a copy paste of many ideas that have been exploited many times.  I think there is a very interesting scene as well. There are still very good death metal bands coming from the U.S.  My favorite death metal bands are American bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Death, all the Florida bands.  I really like Neurosis and Isis, this dark emotional rock.  Some other bands like November’s Doom or Daylight Dies that can be considered death/doom that has American qualities.  I think it’s leveled up a lot, people were colder to European metal years ago.  For example we never would’ve had a chance touring here for Wolfheart or Irreligious because people told us we’d have zero people in the shows and painted a dark picture about the U.S.  There’s good and band, just like the European scene.   My favorite would be the death metal, the emotional rock, and the death/doom.



A lot of times when a band does well internationally and gets out of their home country, you usually see a lot of bands follow their lead and break out in other countries.  That doesn’t really seem to be the case from what I’ve seen with Moonspell, because we don’t really see many bands coming out of Portugal.  Is there a big scene there, or is there not much?


There is a scene, there is much.  Some people even blame it on us that they cannot break through because we take all the attention but that is bullshit because we all started at the same point.  Portugal is not the best country to do hard music; we face a lot of mentality issues and also practical issues like instruments and rehearsal spaces.  We started off without any kind of support in Portugal but we could break out because we believed in our music and we believed that the fact we were from Portugal could help us have something more interesting in the scene in the way that we could not teach people but have them more into our own country and culture.  If you look to the Swedish scene, when you hear a Swedish band you are curious to see more about the scene.  I think we would be better off with more bands than just Moonspell, but there’s nothing we can do about that.  We can advise them and promote the Portugal name but our powers are very limited.



Are there any bands over there that you would consider taking over on a U.S. tour or a world tour to help them get them get their foot in the door?


Yeah there’s a lot of bands, such as Desire, a death/doom band that people know about abroad.  Lot’s of good bands have unfortunately split up, but there is a lot to pick from.  A lot of bands in Portugal are stuck in the past, trying to be Metallica or Sepultura and are not very up to date with the modern tendencies of metal.  There’s great bands that we’ll definitely take on tour but it would be hard to get them on tour without any kind of label.





After this tour, what do you have planned next for the band?  Is it more touring, or do you have anything written for the new album?


I think we’ll start writing after this tour, it’s always a very healing experience when you are on the road.    You start to take with you new ideas and you feel very special about it, even though we do it all the time.  We are going to do one-off shows in the one-off territories like Turkey, Greece, and Israel.  We are planning a Latin American tour as well in the spring, and are playing some winter festivals.  We are going to headline something in December in Tilburg, Holland.  After this tour, it will be the No-Mercy festivals in Europe  that we’ll be headlining and the guests will be  Napalm Death, Behemoth, Ensiferum, and Gojira from France between March and April.  Then we are going to do some more festivals and see about that.  If we do a European, Latin American and U.S. tour it will be fine.  We might come back to support someone in the U.S.  It depends on the results of this tour and a lot of stuff.  I would love to have our DVD released in 2007 and have a new album as well.



You mentioned the DVD, which was the next question on my list.  You do have plans to release a live DVD soon?


Those plans are old plans.  It’s like our Chinese Democracy in a way.  I don’t know what’s happening with Century Media but they find problems with anything concerning the DVD but it’s practically ready.  It’s a show from 2004 so it’s not really up to date.



So it’s from the Antidote tour?


Yes, the Antidote tour.  Because of it being postponed and postponed, we are trying to find something that would be interesting for everyone and be up to date.  I hope to release something like that next year.  I think it’s a release requested by a lot of people already, and also something that our fans are demanding.  I’m tired of waiting, and I’m sure the fans are as well. 





Are there any plans for doing another Daemonarch album?


No, it was just a one off experience.  I never thought it would get so, I don’t want to say popular because it’s not a popular album, but…



It probably has a cult following with the Moonspell fans.


Yeah, with the Moonspell fans and especially the black and dark metal fans.  I’m very proud of that album and it was something I wanted to do artistically and get it out of my system.  I’ve always loved black metal and occult music and one of the bands that inspired me to do this album was a U.S. band called Acheron, I love their stuff.  I tried to go into this, it’s my favorite stuff.  Especially with the direction Moonspell is heading now, I don’t feel the need of doing another Daemonarch.  If I did another project it would be something more along the lines of experimental and dark and very occult but I really don’t have the time for that unfortunately.



Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind from touring the States?


Yeah, it’s very different from Europe and always takes a little time to adapt.  Here rock’n’roll and metal is an institution and people look at it in a way we’re not used to.  People find it strange that I’m not totally combing my hair and wearing sunglasses because we are headlining a U.S. tour and that’s not our way of thinking because we are a little more down to earth.  We have excellent stories in the States, especially because the American culture is shown in Europe through the movies, and sometimes the movies are a good representation of the reality in the States.  Sometimes stuff happens to us that I’ve seen in movies.  I had this Robocop guy in L.A. talking to me through a speakerphone and I was totally scared.  I don’t know what I was doing; maybe I was crossing the street. [laughs]  We had lots of good stuff, bad stuff, problems on the road, broken buses.  It’s great for a break and nowadays we are more used to it.  Our first tour we did not know how to behave in the States because we come from such a small country and there is such a big expectation.  The tour with Lacuna Coil was a totally cursed tour.  We had four different tour busses; we had to cancel some shows.  The big finale was me pulling out a tooth in an emergency in L.A.  There was 45 minutes before the show and I had my mouth all numb and shit but we still played, it was a sold out show. [laughs]  It’s totally an adventure to be here.



I would like to thank Dave at Earsplit PR and Tara Buzzell at SPV USA for setting up the interview.



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