Interview with Tommaso Riccardi
January 19, 2017 – The Underworld, London
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Tommaso Riccardi, guitarist and vocalist of Italian symphonic death metal titans Fleshgod Apocalypse was nice enough to have a chat with Metal-Rules prior to their sold out show at The Underworld in London last Thursday. We discussed touring, the band’s concepts and classical influences, and their work on the new Kreator album amongst other things.
First of all, how are you doing?
I’m doing very good thanks. We were just told the show has sold out, which is great.
Did you get the chance to check out London at all today?
I had a little walk through Camden, I always like to go there and check out the market and stuff. I just went for some coffee and did some shopping, bought a very nice Vans shirt for my girlfriend.
Last year you completed a headlining tour in Italy, and a North American tour with Epica. What was that like?
Very good, very good. You know, it’s good to see that crowds are growing, pretty much everywhere so that’s really good. Italy is reacting, it was hard in the beginning, but no people have started loving us. In the beginning it’s always a little strange with the crowds from your own country. The Epica tour was great, we had a very good run, and the guys in the other bands were super cool. We had never met in person before, so it was a very good surprise to see that they’re all super cool guys. The atmosphere was very good, and the tour itself was great.
Any stand out shows?
I would say, yeah, New York. New York is always great indeed, this time we played this club in Manhattan, I don’t remember the name [edit: Webster Hall], but it was the first time we played there. There was a bigger crowd there compared to Gramercy [Theatre] and Irving Plaza. I love New York, so every time we’re there it’s special for me.
How are the Italian crowds in comparison to other European or North American crowds?
I mean, it really depends. In general, Italy is very passionate, very Latin [laughs]. So indeed, those are usually very warm crowds, and still there’s that sense of these people being fans of the band, but you’re also from the same country so there’s perhaps more of a particular ‘brotherhood’ feeling sometimes. Also having the chance to speak Italian when I’m talking in between songs feels really good.
Do you read the introduction [passage from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy] to “The Violation” in Italian then?
Oh yes, of course. That’s ancient Italian, it’s very different from today’s language. Outside Italy I use the standard English translation of that passage. Everyone who goes to High School in Italy will have studied the whole thing. The Divine Comedy is extremely important in our culture so everybody knows what I’m talking about.
You’ve been touring with Carach Angren and Nightland now for just about a week and a half. How has the tour been so far?
It’s been very good. I really believe that the ‘full package’ is very important. We already worked with Carach many times in the past, and it always worked very good because their show is also very theatrical making it complementary almost. We are very different in some ways, but there are also similarities, so I really think that whoever likes the theatrical aspect of a show can be really pleased by a package like this. Nightland too is very theatrical, so I think the package is very strong and it’s also really good because it’s our first full headlining tour in Europe.
Have you spent much time with the guys in the other band so far, do you have any funny stories to share?
Oh you know, just normal chatting and drinking here and there. Still, nothing crazy has happened so far [laughs], but I know in a tour there’s always gonna be one night to remember. Last time with Carach Angren was after New York City in February, and I remember there was a big party in the bus, everybody was super drunk.
Any secrets to share from that night?
The funny story there was that our stage manager had a GoPro on his chest, and at one point I put on a NOFX song, and these guys being really punkheads started bodysurfing on top of each other while the bus was rolling [laughs]. We have this video from his chest that shows what was happening there, but nothing crazier than that. We’re pretty normal people [laughs].
You’ve launched a VIP option for this tour. What’s that been like?
It’s been very good. It’s a meet and greet with a photoshoot and signings, and just chatting with the fans and getting to know them more in person. Also, we’re always arranging for the fans to attend the sound check, we play a few songs then. I think it’s really nice for someone who likes the band to see our other side, just seeing that we’re dressed normally and talking bullshit with friends. That has worked really well, we really like the experience so I think whenever there’s the chance to host a meet and greet, we will try to do it.
You also established your official fan club, Army of the Apocalypse in December. How has the reception been for that so far?
You know, in the beginning it was really slow but it has started to grow. I mean it was only pretty recently that it was launched, so we’re still trying to understand whether the reaction is good. But after the first few weeks it looks like it’s starting to take off, so that’s nice.
We’re still early in 2017, so reflecting on last year, what good and bad things happened to Fleshgod Apocalypse?
Well honestly, it’s been a very stressful year and maybe more for our personal lives it’s been pretty hard. In exactly one year, we’ve played 140 gigs, so we’ve been out for more than half of the year if you add in days off and travel and such. So it’s been pretty hard. From the career point of view, there’s nothing we could regret at all, because it’s been a very growing year for us. King had a crazy reaction that we could not have expected. Even headlining in America, playing sold out shows here in Europe, so I mean we’re growing and it feels like King really stood out as a key album for us and it’s good to see that good things are coming.
There was a distinct change in style with your second full-length album Agony in 2011, even though your early material also had sings of it, what prompted you to take a much more symphonic, neoclassical and orchestrated approach to death metal?
I think that was a very natural thing that happened when we realized that having those kind of progressions in a death metal song was really interesting. At a certain point after writing and playing, we realized we were really into those kind of harmonies and melodies. Also having a pianist that was already working on the albums, even though Francesco [Ferrini] wasn’t in the full lineup then, it just came up in a sense of curiosity. Agony was really experimental in a way, but it was also in a rush, we were really in a hurry at that time, so it was kind of hard because we released and signed with Nuclear Blast and so in that moment we pushed ourselves very much. Some things could have been done better in that case maybe, but it was the seed for what happened in the subsequent albums and I really think that the experiment was successful [laughs].
Have you or anyone else in the band studied classical music?
None of us have graduated in classical music, but Francesco Paoli, who is the Artistic Director of Fleshgod Apocalypse, studied contrabass for four years at a conservatory so he had a little bit of knowledge and heritage on classical music. Francesco Ferrini is almost completely self-taught, but he has been doing, you know, the compositions and orchestral arrangements for Fleshgod, and he kept studying a lot of harmony and composition in general. You have to pick whatever you need for what you do of course, so we really believe in being self-taught in that meaning of the word, but of course having some knowledge is very important. So if Francesco didn’t have that knowledge when arranging the orchestration, we wouldn’t have that sound of course.
You’ve done some interesting concepts with your albums so far, you’ve touched on the labyrinth of Knossos and more recently a king’s court. Are there any concepts in mind that you’d like to convey in upcoming albums?
It’s hard to say now to be honest. I don’t know, that’s hard to answer. To me it’s still a little early to think about. It’s always been really multi-layered, there’s a story on the surface but it’s always been about human beings, and what happens inside. So that’s a part of our concept itself that will maybe always be there in some way, because Fleshgod Apocalypse is a concept band and really the meaning is always connected to the way we feel and perceive the world.
Are you writing for the next album at all on the road?
It just so happened that I just recently saw Francesco with a guitar in his hand [laughs], and when that happens it means he has something going on in his mind that’s pushing you know. So even if it’s only been one year [since King], because we’ve been touring a lot, it looks like something is going to happen.
You’ve hinted on Facebook towards playing Scandinavia in the near future. What are your touring plans following this tour?
Actually, now finally we’re going to have a couple of months off and relax, because we really need it. But we’re getting offers here and there. This year might be a little less busy than the last one, cause that one was crazy and we also need to get some distance, but it’s still going to be a year of touring and promotion for King.
Will we see you play festivals this summer?
Yeah, we’re working on that. We also have a few offers for summer festivals, but nothing official for now, so I’m sorry I can’t say anything before we’ve signed [laughs]. But yeah, there is some stuff going on.
You provided orchestration for the new Kreator record, correct? Can you tell what that process was like?
Yes, Francesco Paoli and Francesco Ferrini are doing a lot of orchestral arrangements and composition works, even for other bands.
Do you know what bands?
Yes, but I’m sorry I can’t say because it’s not official yet. Or, it is official in that they are doing it but it’s not declared yet [laughs]. But yes, they worked on the new Kreator album, and that’s a very interesting side of what we’re doing. It means that from other musicians there’s an appreciation for what we do, and I think the two Francescos, who are the guys behind the compositions, really deserve it, because I really believe in their skills.
Can you give me three good things about playing in the UK?
Okay, the first that comes to mind is that for some reason, this is a compliment, the craziest and most popular rock bands in history always came from the UK, always [laughs]. I can’t really think of any other reasons, because really that’s a big reason, but actually I could say 1) Queen, 2) Pink Floyd and 3) Muse because I love them, that’s my three good reasons [laughs]. There’s many more of course, but that’s what comes to mind for me.
We talked about orchestration, could you ever see Fleshgod Apocalypse playing a show with a full orchestra? Has that crossed your mind?
Yes, that’s on our minds of course, we would love it. I think, and I hope, it will happen. It’s not easy though, because organizing that and also paying for that, is a challenge. But you know, at least starting with a quartet or a sextet, we are thinking about it. Full orchestration would be perfect, but the problem is really, and in this, Italy doesn’t really help, funding. There’s countries where public investment could be an option, but there’s no way that’s going to happen for a metal band in Italy. Italy has many good things, but for this, it’s just in no way going to happen.
Your setlists are mainly dominated by songs from Agony and onwards. However, you seem to have brought out “In Honour Of Reason” from Oracles on this tour. What was the reason behind that?
I mean, it’s actually the longest set we ever played. On this tour we’re playing around 80 minutes, which for our music is a lot, I can guarantee [laughs], my body knows, Francesco’s body especially knows [laughs]. So we really wanted to bring out moments from every album we have out, and that’s a super classic Fleshgod song and it’s the first song on the first album. The old-school fans, they all know it, so we thought yes, we have to do that one.
Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?
Yeah, thank you everyone, I’m supposed to say this of course, but seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support, because that is the reason we are here today.
Alright, thank you very much for your time, good luck with the show and the rest of the tour!