We wanted this experience to be more genuine
Hey. This is Randy from Metal on Loud. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
No problem, thanks for the interview.
How are things in your world at the moment?
Well, a bit chaotic and a bit busy. Umm, you know, new album. Being a father. I have a few five year old kids in the family so we’re always trying to balance things, to give the best attention to everything we do. But in Portugal, I mean everything is so fine, we are still just slowly entering Autumn. We still have a lot of sun and heat, just up to yesterday. We are just getting ready to start the shows that we’re going to do in our hometown, Lisbon in twenty days. Umm, the 30th of October and on the other hand, ready also to promote this album: 1755, which is a different album than we normally do so we’re excited about it.
I had a good listen to it this week and it is indeed very different from your normal records. Why did you choose to do a theme album this time around?
Well, music for us has always been about finding new options and looking for alternatives to our sound. I think we fall into that category of people that are happy with what they do but at the same time, they always think they can do something else, something better. So this kind of satisfaction always allows us to zoom out of our music and throughout our career, we have changed a lot according to the story that we wanted to tell with the album.. more melodic, more dark, a little bit no so on the dark side… so this time around, we had a different idea, We had the idea to make an album in our native language (Portuguese) because we wanted to do an album about the particular events in Lisbon and Portuguese history that was not only a big natural disaster, probably… Nobody knows. Seismology only started after this earthquake occurred. Scientists in Europe thought that they should make more in order to study these natural disasters, the earthquakes. On the other hand, in Portugal, it marks the already late split between the middle-ages and the new age or the enlightenment, which was already in progress in a lot of countries in Europe. We thought this was quite fascinating, quite proper and yes, definitely a bit different. I think our music just followed the lead of what we wanted to do: a more aggressive album, an album that expresses more of the desperation of the day but also everything that happened in Portugal after the earthquake. As we mention a lot.
Were these events important in the sense that this is something important which happened to your home country or has it deeper meaning for you as well?
Well, both. I think I was first in contact with the earthquake in Portuguese history classes. I found that fascinating, not only in that this happened in our hometown more than two hundred years ago but also the fact that Portugal wasn’t a modern country like the Netherlands at the time for instance. We had the Roman Catholics, we still had the inquisitions down here; we still had the company of Jesus so it was a different country, very dominated by the church. I thought it was fascinating that the day after the earthquake, there was total misery. There was a guy, a marquise who took to the streets, and counted the dead, all the people leaving. He basically took care of everything and in one year, Lisbon was brand new. That was a history that doesn’t happen too often with a country like Portugal. There were people uniting, coming out of the disgrace, showing that they can do more without the help of the Catholic Church that oppressed them back then and also of the crown. The king was not in Lisbon when the earthquake happened so Portugal didn’t lose its political structure but afterwards he was too afraid to live inside walls. So he was always camping out on heights around Lisbon and he died of some sickness, like pneumonia or something, in his tent. So, some other person was ruling the country and he was doing a great job! So I think that it’s important and I never forget that because even though Lisbon nowadays, and Portugal, is a very fine destination for tourists from all around the world. It’s sunny during a lot of the year – more than 200 days of really clear skies etc. I think Lisbon is a very seismical city. I remember when I was a kid, we used to do earthquake trails and we always got handed a lot of pamphlets at school because it’s always a thing that could happen. The epicentre, what they think is the epicentre of this earthquake, is just two maritime miles from the coast of Lisbon. So, yeah. It makes you wonder. It definitely has deep meaning historically and also when you look around, it’s also about the fragility of life and of the strength of being reborn and that is exactly what happened in Portugal back then.
I can imagine that if you grew up learning how to duck and take cover then it has some deeper meaning to you too, yeah.
Definitely. I mean, I think that it’s even bad in a way. Portuguese people are very superstitious and earthquakes have always been a problem here in Portugal. 1755 was something dramatic, but it’s back in the old days so people never learn from history. I think we had the earthquake in ’68 which was not so big but it was deadly as well because Portugal wasn’t prepared again. We had major floods around the ‘70s as well and a lot of people died because Portugal is an extreme country when it comes to death, like countries in Latin America, because we lack preparation. Nowadays, I don’t see kids knowing that they can’t run or take the lift or something like that. Even insurance in Portugal, when you insure your house, they do not cover earthquake costs and that comes from back then.
These particular events, they were on a holy day, right? So there was probably a lot of religious stuff going on that day as well.
Definitely. That quite marked the difference as well. It was on 1st of November, which is a very big catholic holy day. On the other hand, it adds a new philosophical and a new perspective to the whole drama. What ruled in Europe back then were probably two things. Gods good will or providence that said whatever happens is all part of god’s plan and he will take care of his children. On the other hand, science was also blossoming and explaining some of the big mysteries that we didn’t know before the late 18th century. All of a sudden, something completely unexpected happened in Lisbon and it puts in question, these two main things and a lot of philosophers have talked about it, like Voltaire from France. He was a real connoisseur in Lisbon and was really interested in what happened here. He was there to tell people that this wasn’t gods will, and these were just things that happened and we need to look out for ourselves because if god is not to blame then we cannot help him to help us as well. But that’s not what people thought. People here lived in religion. They had to attend mass and all of a sudden they are praying in a church that starts falling down on top of them. That was a big dilemma for people. The religious fervour and the religious fear were quite ingrained in Portugal back then. One of the things that people have studied here is that in cities like Lisbon, many houses were built from the stone of fallen churches. People never did that before. At the end of the day, they said why bother? If we are so obedient and so fearful, not only to god, but to the king who just left alone and nothing could really happen. There’s a lot of mythology about the earthquake. There’s a story about a priest who led his congregation out of the church into the riverside, into the waterfront and they got caught by the big tsunami that came after the earth shook. All in all, myth or not, there was definitely what I can say was progressive abandonment of the catholic dogma here in Portugal. People began thinking more for themselves. There was more literature distributed and we were finally accepting the new creed inside Christianity so it became more of a diverse country. A lot of stuff happened and I mean people didn’t even have a sewer system in Lisbon just after the earthquake. It was also a big opportunity, because everything was flat. So they started by bring the people, who had suffered, some comfort and some prospect of modernity. I think it was the only way of Lisbon coping with the earthquake because if the church was let pull the reins, they would make it a big god punishment and they would enforce even more of their law but that didn’t happen.
Is this a story that most people in Portugal would already be familiar with? You know, is it something that you get taught in school?
Well, I would like to believe so. I think so because it is a big part of our history for all the reasons I’ve explained. The other day I was reading a children’s’ book to my kids before bedtime, on the history of Portugal, some picked out events from our history. There was a chapter dedicated and it was called ‘Lisbon in Ruins’. I thought it was funny. Now Daddy has an album about exactly what happened. So it was very well taught. It is definitely something about the Portuguese history and culture to know what happened. When I started researching things, I couldn’t find a theatre play, a tv series, a movie, an opera, a rock record or anything about this concept which I think as a musician, and as an author, is really interesting and that can definitely be something which can be put into a theatrical musical or something like that. So I think to answer your question, that people know about it and also it’s great that without knowing, we might feel a void in this aspect of Portuguese history. I don’t know why but there is not a lot of stuff about our history besides books.
The reason I ask is because I wondered why you would do this in Portuguese? It’s a story that I’ve never heard of personally and I was really interested in reading about it so I was wondering why do it in Portuguese and not in a language that all your fans can read, hear or understand?
I think the simpler question is that this happened in Portugal and the story is very idiosyncratic here in Portugal. I say Lisbo, instead of Lisbon to keep it in Portuguese and to tell the story properly. In our kind of music, in metal music, even though there are some prejudices against that, I think there isn’t really a prejudice about the language you use. I’ve seen many bands from Norway, Iceland singing in their native language and getting away with it, and doing really privileged stuff. So I think that the vocals here and especially the use of Portuguese were just another element to make 1755 more of a full experience to the listener. Coming here to Portugal is what we want and if they came here, they will definitely not listen to English, but to some Portuguese and some other Latin that we use here and there. So we wanted this experience to be more genuine and we figured that for reasons of communicating or for reasons of being in the scene with the fans, English would definitely have been the better option but we wanted to make it more genuine to what we wanted to tell. Because of that aspect, Portuguese won over our preference, definitely.
I already guessed as much when I was listening to the album. But I thought let’s ask your official reason for it anyway. I was wondering, what I thought would be really cool is if you, for instance, did a live recording of this material, and like the manga series, have a sub version of this for DVD.
Yeah, that would be awesome. I mean, this whole thing was conceived and then recorded. When we had the music, we started, even preparing for the live show, looking at pictures of the time etc. so we want to bring this universe into stage as well, with the adapted plague masks, with the monks etc. We have lanterns with the 1755 and late 18th century Lisbon and I think that’s very important because as I was talking about the experience you know. As it is now in Portuguese, I think it has to be more visual even than our other albums. Musically, we definitely point in that direction with all the arrangements and all the percussion. We hope that with time to have all the choirs and all the churches and the orchestration to make it strong and epic like the events itself. But when it comes to the visual part of the way we are going to be dressed and the way we are going to perform, I think that definitely, probably not in the modern universe or why not another universe but especially from still life pictures from now and paintings from that season, that epoch in Portugal. I think we can definitely make it a very interesting live show out of that as well.
Yeah. I’m already wondering how this sounds and will look like. Did you use all real instruments on this particular album or are there a lot of synthesizers and keyboards used as well?
Well, we had a different approach probably than many bands that have to do also with the bands that we used to listen to or became fans of when we were young. So 1755, even though sounds large and big, it’s not an orchestra. It’s just one guy. He’s from the UK called John Fibbs and he’s quite genius in doing that and making it sound very real. A lot of people doubt if it’s true instruments or not because it’s done so perfectly. Also, the way we work together was very cool because we wanted this to be an organic album because we wanted to play it live. We don’t want to be the kind of band that has all the orchestra things and you’re there just with your back turned to the crowd. It looks weird and people know it’s fake. So we are, especially our keyboard player, he is learning how to play like a lot of the stuff so he can play the synthesises organically with the band. We never lost track that even though there’s a very big symphonic element, this is a metal album and I think that it’s well balanced. At least we fought a lot, as a band, in the studio with the producer and John Fibbs (the orchestrator) to make it not like something I used to hear sometimes in symphonic metal bands. Like it’s on stereo, the band is on the right, the orchestra is on the left. It doesn’t really come together. We really wanted this to come together and we spent a lot of long days and long nights trying to make it work. In the end, the means are very simple. The big orchestra you listen to is one guy from the UK, John Fibbs and also the big choir is me, Paedro, Ricardo from the band, and Carmen Silvia and Mary Angela, our invited singers. So we kept everything very closed in the family and we like to make albums like this because when I listen to hammer heart from battery and I get travelled into Sweden, into the Viking lands and times, to think that was done in a garage with just drum computers and everything, it just sounds like so epic. It really inspires me. Sometimes, it’s more gratifying to the musician and composer to do something old school like this, its fewer people to go with an orchestra. Nowadays, even that is becoming vulgar and narrow because it’s very accessible that people go there and in no way, can you make life without playing back the orchestra parts. It only works if you work really hard, as we did, to make them more organic and more with the band.
I’m really surprised to hear that it’s all one guy. It really sounds like a big production and I really love that it really integrates with your music.
Yeah, I mean we have already worked with orchestras etc. and we have a long career behind us. Every time, I find it more that the simplicity of methods really opens up your imagination and your skills. It’s a little bit more hard work, it’s not so epic but it’s a friendlier environment. There’s no pressure. There’s no having to deal with the maestro or the first violinist who’s like a snob. I think that with Moonspell and with time, we’ll take one more year below the belt, we think that it’s better to have a chosen few rather than work for the sake of being epic. Maybe next time we won’t even use orchestra. You know, we’ll see.
Orchestra usually when bands use it, for some reason, the orchestra is there for the sake of being an orchestra and something gets lost in the music. But in this case, it truly compliments the music and I love that.
Cool. Cool. I’ll tell John, the lonely guy, in the UK.
You’ve been around for 25 years now. How do you look at the career so far?
I mean we have two ways of looking at it. This year marks 25 years since the beginning of Moonspell and that got tangled with our tangled and biographies. Sometimes it seems like 25 years is a lot of years and we feel like when we formed the band, we never thought we’d reach this far, to survive through all the changes that have been in music, and in metal music in particular, with all the ups and downs. On the other hand, we were always afraid of losing creativity. It’s not losing meaning on the scene that will happen here and there to bands, but as long as we can keep our creative spark for ourselves, that’s really good and really benefits us. On the other hand, as we mind everything so fully, and we’ve never been had a sabbatical or split up and reunited again. We’ve always been solid as a band for 25 years touring etc. and playing and recording albums. Sometimes it also feels like it went really fast as well. I think musicians have an odd opinion about time. It’s either too slow or you’re at home and on tours and the days pass. Sometimes, when you’re already one month into the tour, you feel like “what? 30 days have passed! I’ve played 30 shows!”. Unbelievable. You know, we have a hard time with keeping time, that’s definitely the truth about musicians.
Yeah, time is a strange thing for fans too. I remember I picked up the first Moonspell EP.
… and the album Wolfheart. Those were the soundtrack of my early metal days and to see that that’s 25 years ago, that’s mind blowing.
Yeah, I recall those times perfectly because Moonspell was very involved in the underground until we started making our own music. Then finally, we had something that we were proud of and were able to distribute, especially in the demo times throughout the whole world. I think those, without being nostalgic, were very exciting times because for us, they were times of discovery and also, we didn’t have that much information which for me, made things have a little more flavour. Nowadays, you just pick up the computer and not only can you know everything about the band, you can get in touch with them and you can listen to the music for free. Sometimes, I imagine that the new generation, the millennials, we have something that they will never probably taste which is the amazement of going to a shop and buying a band from Portugal. In ‘94, there wasn’t an internet; almost nobody had internet connections, at least here in Portugal, so that’s quite remarkable.
I actually picked up both at the same time, both the EP and Wolfheart plainly on the cover. I heard it the first time when I got home.
What does metal mean to you; the metal music and the metal scene?
Well, I mean, it has a different meaning for everyone really but umm, what attracted me to metal is probably not the answer that you always get. It was the intelligence of metal, of some metal bands. When I was a kid, 13 years old, back in ’87, I started listening to metal bands and started to dig deep into the underground bands like Battery, Celtic Frost etc. and I always found that it was remarkable that all these creators and these musicians had this unbelievable culture, like Maiden making the John Coleridge poem etc. and you couldn’t really find it in other music. I understood that it was more of a lifestyle and the scene was something with more of a dress code, which wouldn’t be for a lot of people back then. I think that was my calling for metal, being able to listen to stuff that I thought was the most similar music to classical as well when it comes to the poem, the subjects and the bigger than life feelings so I really liked that in metal. I still like it. When I see a band doing an intelligent concert etc., I am very excited about it. These days I think metal is a little on automatic pilot, you know? The bands don’t compete for the best album; they compete for the best slot on a festival. So yeah, sometimes I feel that the intelligence is a little bit gone from metal even though metal is massive these days, I still look for the bands that can challenge me more than entertain me if you know what I mean?
Yeah, absolutely. Metal is something that makes you think both in lyrics as well as in the construction of the music, I think personally.
I agree definitely.
Since you have another interview after this, I’ll keep it short. I have one last question that I always ask. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Well, we are going on tour very soon, so we are still thinking about what to do. Sometimes bands are not as sure as people think. We still have to think about things but we quite like and are really behind this 1755 album, especially because it’s different. If people are looking into different experience, both on record and live and if they don’t mind the album in in Portuguese – there’s an English translation on the booklet by the way! So you can follow up on the drama of 1755 – we’ll be around and we hope to see you soon and we are going on tour to tell you all the story of the great Lisbon disaster.
I’d love to see it live and I will definitely check you out on the road.
Thank you for your time!
No problem, all the best.
Transcription by Ash Clancy