SYMFONIA – Vocalist Andre Matos discusses the band formation, moving to Sweden, Avantasia, and his bands in the past.

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INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN

Symfonia. Does that name of the band ring any bells out there yet? Maybe not for everyone, as Symfonia is basically a new band on the metal map. But behind Symfonia, there are well-known names and persons involved in the band. When unveiling names such as Andre Matos, Timo Tolkki, Uli Kusch, Jari Kainulainen, and Mikko Harkin, it is quite obvious the interest in this five-piece may increase tremendously. The Metal-Rules.com team had a nice and pleasant task to witness the debut show of Symfonia at the Finnish Metal Expo. After the show, we were lucky enough to have an opportunity of doing an interesting and in-depth interview with vocalist Andre Matos regarding the birth of Symfonia, Avantasia, and plenty of other topics, including Symfonia’s future activities. Ladies and gentlemen, the first Symfonia interview here at Metal-Rules.com.

THE FIRST SYMFONIA SHOW

The first Symfonia show ever is now behind you; how did it go, in your opinion?

Well like I said on stage, it’s a big relief now for everybody that there was obviously a lot of expectation not only from the audience from also from our side to be on stage and of course if you think that we did it the most difficult way somehow because to blame the metal expo where everybody is in. It’s probably the most demanding audience you could ever have.  So I think in the end we’re very satisfied with our performance and with the reaction of the audience because it’s not an easy one.  And for us, it was a completely new experience as well; I mean, we have been recording this album for many months now, but obviously, to play the whole thing live is a different experience, and we’re pleased that this part of the job is over and now we can just think forward.

How many times did you rehearse as a band before this debut show?

We arrived here, you know everybody in the band is not living in Finland, and we arrived here last Sunday.  We’ve been rehearsing since Monday, so it was four days of rehearsal, and today, we got ready for the actual gig.

Before tonight’s gig, were you worried before going on stage because your album is not released yet, and there’s been just one song that has been played on the Finnish radio station so far?

Yes, two days ago.

Were you worried about how the people will react to new material…

No, I was prepared and also surprised because people reacted more than I expected.  Yes, because I always wait for the worse; it’s like a technique, you know.  I told the guys we have to state this; we have to stand for our thing no matter the reaction.  And I know that sometimes the audience in Finland is very demanding; it’s not an easy audience, you know. I mean, in Nordic countries, in general, it’s the same, but if you can do it, then that’s really cool; I mean, you really achieved something.  At the end of the third song, we saw their reaction to being like, “we want more, we want more” I mean, that’s what really counts.

I was kind of surprised about your setlist because you didn’t play too much old stuff like old Stratovarius hit songs? 

No, we didn’t, and that was our statement.  You know there was this big doubt like we should toast the audience with some old stuff that they’re expecting, and then I think it’s really important that we are so proud about what we did on this record. Those are for me. I mean, those are also new anthems, new hymns you know in metal that, never the fewer people don’t know what to expect and are not familiar with songs yet.  But they must first contact the songs instead of leaving our best if you know what I mean.

Yeah, it would have been too safe for you to just play old hits instead of your new material.

Yeah, that’s something we discussed a lot. I came up with this pretty much like I think even though it’s riskier, we have to state our art, we have to state our ideas, and this is good enough, you know, to be able to be presented even though we must be aware that the reaction in the first moment for something completely unknown is a different one than when people know the songs.  But that’s why we’re here for.  Even this concert of the event you know metal, expo metal meeting, is because we will present something new.  This is not a regular festival where you go there, and you want to please the people and move the message you know.  Of course, when we have a longer concert, a longer set, two and a half-hour long, two-hour-long, there will be probably more old stuff fitting in you know, but we also must agree on what and how but in this situation, I think we did the right thing.

But you still did a few old songs like Stratovarius’s “Dreamspace” and even one Revolution Renaissance track, “I Did It My Way.” It was a great choice because nobody has heard Revolution Renaissance tracks played live?

Yeah, that’s true.  And for me, it does seem more like it.   It was important for me whether if we do Angra or my solo stuff or Stratovarius stuff, we should go for songs that were not played live before that much.  And in my days I still have a lot of respect for Kotipelto so I wouldn’t like to sing his songs, you know.  That’s his stuff, and I don’t want to have any kind of comparison, so that’s why the Stratovarius song that was chosen to sing was an early one that Timo Tolkki has originally sung.

When you are now playing with Tolkki, do you have any kind of feeling like you have a kind of “little ghost” of Kotipelto always around who’s watching you all the time? You know what I mean here? (laughs)

No, not really.  I mean, I’m good friends with Kotipelto as well.  I mean, he’s a nice guy.  There’s absolute, and I think there would be no kind of jealousy or any kind of hard feelings involving this.  It’s just natural that musicians get along and identify themselves, you know, so I really believe there would be any bad feelings.

Can I ask, what’s your honest opinion about the latest Stratovarius album, ELYSIUM, which came out just a couple of weeks ago?

Man, to be really honest, I haven’t listened to it; I mean this last album.  I know it went well in the charts and everything.  They are outstanding musicians, and they’re very competent musicians.  I think it must be good, but I really haven’t had the chance yet to listen to this last record.

Have you heard the POLARIS album then?

What, the previous Stratovarius album? I heard some songs, yeah.  I mean it’s very good music, they are making good music.

Without Tolkki in the band, do they still sound Stratovarius for you?

That’s a little odd question… but of course, if I’m 100% honest, I think Stratovarius was a lot team of Tolkki… and that must answer your question.

Yes, it did “laughs.”

They are still Stratovarius, but maybe something is missing that, but that’s more up to the Strato fans to answer.

That’s your answer, “laughs.”

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THE FORMATION OF SYMFONIA

Overall this whole Symfonia thing it’s kind of an all-star lineup for power metal fans. How did the whole thing get started for you in the first place?

It all started as a project, you know.  I’ve known Timo for many, many years and we’ve been friends, and we’ve been keeping some kind of contact here and there and then about one and a half year ago, I moved to Sweden, and for some reason, Timo knew that I was in Sweden.  In fact, when I played here at the Finnish Metal Expo two years ago with my solo band, I gave him a call, said look, I’m in Helsinki.  I mean, Timo is one that I know here in Helsinki. I said it would be cool to talk to Timo after so many years, and I said I am in Helsinki and you could come to the show and we could meet, and then he just said something like yeah, I don’t think I can come to the show, but we can catch up and go to the sauna together.  It’s like, do you really take it seriously about the sauna thing here in Finland.  And now we understand why.  It’s really great.  So after that, I mean when I was already in Sweden someday I got a phone call from Timo, and I said look, man, I find it very funny that you are living in Sweden now, so it’s right around the corner, it’s like not far away from me so why don’t we catch up and try to write some stuff together.  Cool, I mean that’s like I really like as a friend and I really like him as a musician, so why not, you know.  So he invited me to Helsinki. I came here about a year ago and spent quite a week with him, like writing songs and talking about everything.  So that’s when the idea of this project started.  And it was about the same time that he was done with his Revolution Renaissance project.

Did that happen last summer?                   

A little bit before that, actually.  And I just remember I was supposed to fly back to Sweden then, but then there was this volcano thing going on in Iceland, and I had to stay even longer here. We had to compose more stuff together, so we basically started the whole idea back then.  And then he came up with, you know, other names for this what was supposed to be a project first and then turned out to be a real band.  And after that, things developed very fast; it was like successive happenings.  Timo went to Sweden to visit me over there, so we wrote the rest of the stuff, and then we recorded these on a demo, you know, with three songs.  After that, I returned to Finland, so I met the rest of the guys in the band, including Uli (Kusch).  That’s when we made our photo sessions, and we basically established everything, how it would be for the recordings and so on.  And in the end, the whole process started to run, so he was responsible for the production, we did the drums and the rest of the instrumentation, and then he returned to Sweden when we recorded the voice a couple of months ago.  I mean, for me, I cannot say more than it’s a real honor, a real pleasure to be playing together with such guys.

Actually, the name Symfonia, how did that name came up?

To be really honest, it was Timo’s idea.  You know he had this name beforehand, and he showed it to me, look I have a name, and I already have a logo for the band.  So what can I say?  “Looks good to me, I agree.” “laughs”

Like you said before, you and Timo are old friends, and you do know each other from the past. How familiar were you with Timo’s past work in the music business?

Quite familiar because at the time I was in Angra, we did the tour together with Stratovarius.  It was a long tour we did together.  So I pretty much got to know all the songs that they were playing on this tour, and it was very cool. I mean, I really remember watching them live and being very impressed by the guys.  And I remember like Timo and Jari were two guys that really impressed me on stage.

You have a long variety of your solo band and Angra, while Timo has a history with Stratovarius and Revolution Renaissance. Was there just some pressure to write material with him, or was it an easy job for you to come up with new ideas to write material for the album?

Both at once “laughs.”

Both at once, tell something more about what you do mean here?

It is a big player, but at the same time, I would say it’s a big challenge as well because you have to overcome yourself.  You know once you’re among great musicians you try something new you have to really get it up again and you have to try to do things that you’ve never done before.  Although you have the experience and know-how to do it, there is always this own request like I have to be better this time, I have to do it better this time.  So it was a big challenge, but it’s a pleasure, an absolute pleasure.

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THE INTERNET

How much do you guys follow discussion forums and other Internet stuff?

Pretty much, I’m not very much an internet guy by myself because sometimes I don’t want to read bad things. I don’t want to read the bad things, the bad critics.  I’ve recently been very much into it because of the Symfonia page itself and all those forums and Facebook and whatever because it was important to get the vibe, what’s being said around the world, what people are thinking.  And you know we were prepared for this kind of thing, we knew that because of this gathering it would be expected to be honest, but on the other side it also means a big responsibility because you cannot just make this whole thing then when you step on stage it flops, it’s nothing, and it’s not consistent.  So we must also that’s why we worked hard rehearsing and rehearsing, so we got this together for a live act.

So you say you are not an internet guy that much, but how do you keep connected because Jari and Uli do live in Norway, you live in Sweden, and Timo and Mikko live here in Finland…

In that regard, of course, I use e-mail every day and all those kinds of things, do Skype and so on, but I’m not so much into Facebook or forums, I mean maybe foreign pages are nice but not too much me as a person.  I don’t go so often to the Brazilian metal pages, you know, because there’s also a lot of crap in there.

Basically, it’s easier for you to keep in contact by Skype and stuff like that then.

It is. Exchanging files on the internet is a great tool, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tool.  But we see it… Wrong people have also used it to do wrong things and what I really believe is that there is a lot of cowardice on the internet, people who hide behind the computer and who would never dare to tell you something like that on your face.

You’re absolutely right there.

So I would expect that those people would be truer and be more courageous.  So whatever they have to say, they could say it face to face and not only behind the computer screen and hide.  That’s the only problem I have with the internet.

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AVANTASIA

How about other stuff you have been working on lately, like Avantasia.  What’s going on with that one?

I recorded a song on the last Avantasia album, THE WICKED SYMPHONY as well, but I didn’t take part in their last tour exactly because I was busy with Symfonia.  So they got Michael Kiske to replace me, which I think is a good deal for him.

It’s a good thing for him. At least he finally got to tour again!

Absolutely!  On the last Avantasia tour, I did Kiske’s role, and I had to sing his songs.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do, right?

No, but it was okay, it was okay.  It was a lot of fun.  It is better when you don’t have a full concert on your back, you know, you have just a few songs to sing so you can relax in between its good, it’s more fun.

How was it to work with such a big production in a live situation?  I mean, with so many different lead singers, it must be very different from any “normal” concert situation, you know?

That was like I said, it was big fun, a big fun because everybody knew his own role and it was a really good atmosphere there when we toured.  We did many concerts and big festivals as well.  We did: Sweden Rock, Wacken, Hungary, Italy, everywhere so it was a great atmosphere especially with Bob Catley that’s a very nice guy.  It was very nice to sing with him on stage. I don’t know what’s happening now with Avantasia. I know they just did a tour?

Yes, they did, and Tobias once again said that it was the very last Avantasia tour ever, but you never know?

Like the last time, I cannot respond to them, but I mean actually, it’s good that you reminded me because it’s a lot of time I don’t talk to these guys, I need to give them a call at some point, and they are my very good friends.  I mean, whatever is going to happen now, I don’t if Avantasia will record a new album.

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SOLO CAREER AND LIVING IN SWEDEN

How is your solo career doing nowadays?

It still goes on.  Now it’s frozen for a while because I’m busy with Symfonia.  But it’s something that will go on.

Do you think it’s a little bit hard for you to find enough time because you have to share your time between Symfonia, Avantasia, solo band, etc.?

Avantasia is not a problem because whenever I record something, it takes me a couple of days in the studio. If there’s a tour that’s planned, I’m not busy with another thing that should be okay as well.  About my solo, we have to see something because we have to organize the schedules very well, especially because my solo band still sits in Brazil, so I have to fly back and forth every time, and now I’m living most of the time in Sweden.  So there will be moments I’m more dedicated to this or to that, but I can manage those things at this level, and nothing will harm them.

Tell us something about why you decided to move to Sweden and how you get used to the frozen climate?

My wife is from Sweden, so a part of my family is now living in Sweden.

I can’t hesitate to ask but is your wife blonde?

Yes, “laughs.”

I’m not surprised.

It’s not difficult, to be honest with you.  I look more like an alien there, “laughs.”

In which part of Sweden do you live at the moment?

Southern Sweden.  So it is a pretty cool place, it’s a pretty nice landscape, it’s one of the nicest places in Sweden to be.  I think the only problem is still the winter, which I, as a Brazilian, still have to get more used to it.  It’s not only about the cold; it’s more about the darkness thing.  This is really something that, at some point, you get a little bit nervous and depressed.  But it’s good.  On the other hand, it makes you write more lyrics, write mores songs you know instead of lying on the beach.

Was it a difficult decision to change your lifestyle so radically?

Yes, I had to make a big change in my life, you know, but it was for a good reason.  And actually, because of that, that’s why Timo gave me a call and how this whole thing started.  So for whatever reason, we’re there! “laughs.”

Do you think that moving to Sweden may have opened more doors for you than the other works in Europe as you’re closer the Central European now?

Yes, it is regardless.  But especially, it helps with this Symfonia situation.

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THE OLD DAYS

One thing, Viper, you started your musical career with band Viper in the early ’80s

Yes, when I was 14 years old back then… No, I was actually 13 back then! “laughs.”

Right, I guess that the metal scene in South America and Brazil was completely different back then?

It really was.

Back in the day, there were two different types of metal bands in Brazil. There were extreme metal bands like Sepultura, and then was traditional/power metal bands like Viper. Did you have a lot of competition between those “camps” back then?  

At that time, it was more like it was metal against punk rock. That was the biggest fight there, so to say.  But it didn’t matter what kind of metal you were playing. The metal guys were all together, so Sepultura, Viper, Korzus, everybody was one team.

You were like one big family against the punk rock?

Yeah, we were like one big family. It was something that unfortunately stopped in the mid-’90s to exist straight.  Then metal became more classified.  There was melodic power metal, thrash metal, death metal, and so on.  The tribes like a split from each other, but I remember in the ’80s, and if you liked metal, you like everything.  You were listening to Motley Crue, to Venom, to Dio, to Quiet Riot to Accept, to everything.

and Slayer… “laughs.”

And Slayer, so I remember we all had like T-shirts from all the metal because it was hard to get this music back then you know it took a long time, especially in South America, for the records to arrive there so we could buy a record.  Whatever came, if it was Motley Crue great, if it was Dio great, Venom yes, everybody was listening to everything…. Whether it was Viper or Sepultura, we chose our ways, but it was like you could see the same people in all the concerts.

But did you go to check out Sepultura back in the day, and did they come to see your shows as well?

Yes, we used to rehearse in the next room in the rehearsal studio.

Have you ever talked to anybody to write a book about Brazilian Metal history someday?

It’s very interesting because, to be really honest, we were real warriors back then because that was completely out of fashion, you know, in the country.  We were seen like real aliens there, but we stand proud for this, you know, I’m very proud of being part of that. I was very young, but I was looking up to those guys.  I mean, Sepultura was about the same age, but some bands were already doing metal before us.

Vulcano?

Vulcano and bands like Dorsal Atlantica, Avenger, Metamorphosis, and so on

I remember when Sepultura became a worldwide success, and they always mentioned that Finnish punk bands like Rattus and Kaaos were some of their biggest influences back in the day. Did you know those bands as well?

Sure, sure, I was even friends with those guys.

How was it actually possible because those bands were pretty much underground even here in Finland. How you guys find out about those bands?

It was underground, yeah, but as I said back in the ’80s, it was between the punk and the metal scene; that was a real war.  I mean, it’s even stranger Sepultura says they were influenced because I remember who did metal did metal and who did punk. It was like we could fight each other to death.  It was like nobody would enter each other’s territory.

You have to ask Tolkki now, “How about doing a cover song of the Finnish punk band?”

Which Finnish punk band?

Some Rattus or Kaaos, of course, “laughs.”

Uh-huh, that would be nice.

When Sepultura became a big name in Finland, they wore Kaaos and Rattus shirts on their official videos. But back in the 70s, 80s it wasn’t a big thing here; it was like underground only.  But I was so surprised when Max Cavalera told the papers here, 20 years or something ago, that Finnish punk bands were of the best bands around “laughs.”

Yeah, they were listening to heavier stuff, absolutely.

So you were in more the classic metal bands?

We were more into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.

How about KISS? Because I’m a huge, huge KISS fan, I always ask about them as well, “laughs.”

KISS, yeah. I tell you a secret. My first band experience before Viper was like a fake KISS cover band.  We didn’t play anything; it was just playback, playing like KISS. I was 11 or 12 years old “laughs.”

Did you go to see the legendary KISS show in Rio de Janeiro in 82?

No, I didn’t because my mother didn’t allow, no, but I went to Rock in Rio in ’85, and then during one night, I saw Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and Queen.

That must have been a big thing in Brazil.

That was still, I must tell you, it was the best festival that ever happened. It was 10 days only with huge names and all the metal bands, all the very top metal bands at the time.

It was something like 300,000 people there?

300,000 people every day.  I remember that I was there one day, and as I said, I missed KISS in 1982, but I saw them later on.  Actually, I opened for KISS in 1994 when they did their last tour without makeup.

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THE FUTURE ACTIVITIES OF SYMFONIA

The Symfonia album, I guess it’s finished by now?

It’s done already.

You recorded it mostly in Sweden, right?

In Sweden, Finland, and it was mixed in Italy. It is… You really have to listen to the album.  It’s difficult for me to say, but I have listened to the album already more than 30 times now since it’s finished, and what’s more important about this it’s not that the album sounds great, everybody plays really well, but it’s the songs.  There are very great songs on this album.  I think they are really metal hits, somehow more so.

Obviously, when the album comes out and what I did hear today, I can hear you describing the stuff somehow, but what kind of chance the album has commercial-wise? I mean, what kind of sales numbers you’re expecting for that album?

Well, it’s hard to say nowadays due to the music markets floating so on, but yeah, of course, you have to please your record labels.  You know, in the end, it’s a marketing game as well, and one thing is for sure, we did what we wanted, and we are happy with the things we have done.  Now how this will work out as a marketing thing, ‘s up to them, and I hope they do a great job.  I hope that they can market this in a good way.

However, you have to do a lot of promotion, phone interviews and stuff like that and…

I’m happy to do that if it’s needed.  We go to Japan now at the end of March, four days exactly for promotion, promo tour. We’re going to play some acoustic gigs, Timo and me.  We’re going to visit some record stores, we’re going to do meet and greet, and we’re going to do interviews everywhere, so it’s about a week in Japan doing promo stuff. We are looking forward to doing things in Asia, especially countries like China or Korea, Taiwan, etc.

How about Russia, do you plan to visit there as well?

Russia, I’ve been to Russia with Avantasia, and they have a very nice audience over there.  So Russia now is related to the European distribution, which is Edel Music, and we have to see what plans they have for Russia as well?

Besides all those promotion things, what else you’re planning to do with Symfonia shortly?

We are planning a tour now. I mean, now we feel very good that this is done that was limited space for us was a very specific space that we knew we would do our debut here.  But now the real work starts.  The album will be released in March worldwide, in Japan, Europe, everywhere. We might start touring pretty soon, end of April or June, maybe later in June we’re going to start, and we already have some plans for Asia, South America, Europe.  Timo has the idea to do at least four concerts in Finland.

That sounds great. Do you have any idea when you’ll do those Finland shows?

Before the summer, I think. Summertime is going to be difficult because there are all those festivals going on by then. Maybe we’ll also get some festival shows to do? I don’t know what our booking is doing right now, but they are already dealing with it.

Do you have plans to do a promotional video from some of the album tracks?

Yeah, as soon as possible, probably we have to set up a next meeting with the whole band together and try to set it up?

Speaking of the whole band, what’s the situation with Uli’s hand injury at the moment?

Well, he can’t play because his hands are in bad shape right now. It was a really cold bath for us; you know when he came with this news and said what the fuck should we do now, you know.  But we didn’t want to cancel the thing, so it was very great we got this guy Alex, and he’s a great drummer, and he’s a great person.  So we got along very well together.  In the end, Uli’s not there, but we have an excellent replacement for him.

Was it just by the accident that Alex had also replaced Jorg Michael in Stratovarius when he had that cancer thing going on?

Exactly he’s the official replacement, “he laughs” If he’s replacing such great guys all the time, I mean, he must be a good one.

Okay, I think our time is up, so we thank you for your time.

It’s always a pleasure to talk about these things!

FOR MORE INFO GO TO:

WWW.SYMFONIA.FI

MORE PICTURES FROM THE FIRST SYMFONIA SHOW!

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