RHAPSODY – Spirituality Of Cinematic Metal

RHAPSODY – Spirituality Of Cinematic Metal

Up until recently, Luca Turilli was known as one of the masterminds behind RHAPSODY OF FIRE, but after 15 years, 10 albums and an epic tale spanning over a two-part saga, the Italian musician decided to take on a new path, away from his friend and long-time partner Alex Staropoli. Yeah, the name stayed, but Luca, who is known for his spirituality and devotion to the mysteries of the universe, decided to unify all his projects into one being and become master of his own domain. After recruiting some of his old friends and adding a promising young singer, Luca and his friends started to work on “Ascending To Infinity” – which was released not too long ago. Right around that time, I had to opportunity to chat with the master of cinematic metal about his new RHAPSODY band, his views on the world, and a few dozen other subjects… Don’t forget to bring some popcorn!

OV: Hello Luca, how are you today?

This is interview number eight since this morning [Laughs]… Wow, you have to be careful because I’m drunk from words, so I might tell you bad things [Laughs]… I don’t know if I’ll be able to speak anymore!

OV: I’m sorry Luca, but you’re one of the few musicians that I can say that I’ve followed almost his entire career, so it’s going to be a long one… First of all I want to congratulate you on the release of “Ascending To Infinity”. Can you tell us in a few words what can old and new listeners expect to hear on your new album?

Thank you my friend! Well, fans can expect to find at the base of the new album, the same love for the soundtrack world, for the cinematic music and for the orchestration that they heard on every RHAPSODY album. It has the same passion that moved me and my old colleague Alex Staropoli in the very beginning, when we founded RHAPSODY in 1993, as well as the same passion that led to my decision to proceed with this new RHAPSODY adventure. So the base is always the same. For me it’s very important to underline that this is not a fourth solo album, but a real RHAPSODY album. I composed it the same way that I did all the other RHAPSODY albums in the last 15 years, putting the cinematic element at the heart of the composition.

Luca Turilli / Rhapsody
OV: Why actually did you split with Alex? How long were you thinking about this move?

As I like to say, you don’t take this kind of decision in 5 minutes. Over the years, me and Alex had to face many problems. We had to change the name of the band, and then there were other problems that we still can’t talk about because they’re related to legal settlements. All of that almost brought the band to its end, so me, my family and Alex had to invest a lot of personal money to be able to save RHAPSODY, and be able to move on. That’s part of the reason why we decided in a friendly way to keep the name and logo for both, because we really invested a lot and made a lot of sacrifices on the way. We both wanted to have the same possibilities that we had, even in our new separate adventures.

In some way, me and Alex were already discussing about a split when we had all these problems, but then Nuclear Blast came and they really trusted and helped us during those bad moments, so it gave us the force and energy to unite and get to the end of our saga. This was very important for me; I could not have imagined a split until the end of the saga. We always knew that our 10th album will close the saga, and since everything was based on that – musically and lyrically – for the last 15 years, then we could have not just stopped and let this big tale be unfinished. All of our fans wanted to know how the story ends, so it was kind of an obligation, an artistic obligation, to get to the end, so that everyone will be satisfied.

After we released that 10th album and reached the end of the saga, it was possible to proceed with the split. It was done in a friendly way because we more or less decided already about this, there were no fights or anything like that and we both had the right to keep the name. Actually, there wasn’t even a discussion about the name, because for me it was normal to let RHAPSODY OF FIRE to Alex and Fabio, simply because Fabio decided to go with Alex, and in some way Fabio represents that name. In my case, it was the best to go with RHAPSODY and add my name to it in little. Although I’m not a big fan of my name (even on my solo albums… *Laughs*), it was the only way for me to continue with RHAPSODY. You can say it’s based on “Tobias Sammet’s AVANTASIA”. It’s a little bit the same.

OV: As the main writer, couldn’t you just change the story so it would have ended earlier?

Ah, no… As I said, we always planned that the saga would end with our 10th album. Our first part of the giant saga was called “The Emerald Sword Saga”, and it was composed for 4 full-length albums, plus one mini-album – “Rain Of A Thousand Flames”. Then, we started with the second part called “The Dark Secret Saga”, and we wanted it to mirror the first one with 4 full albums and one mini-album, which in that case was “The Cold Embrace Of Fear” (it was quite a long one). When we were dealing with our problems, we could’ve ended the saga only after 3 albums, but for me it was absolutely not a possibility, because I wanted everything to be mirrored. I didn’t want to cut or destroy this artistic journey; I wanted both parts of the saga to be balanced and perfect.

OV: Earlier you mentioned the name AVANTASIA, and I understand that at first you had an offer to actually start a similar project by yourself. Why have you decided to continue with a band instead?

Because… Let me think… This is the first time I received this question… Well, once the split was final after the release of our 10th album (though the other guys heard about it later) I had the whole summer to think about what to do next. I thought about making this AVANTASIA project, or maybe even write a soundtrack, but at the end, after I’ve laid all the cards on the table and saw all the negative and positive points, I decided to continue with a new RHAPSODY band. I think that in some way, the AVANTASIA project didn’t give me the same possibilities as having a new band and to go on tour immediately. It would have been something more difficult to set up, and I knew from reading interviews with Tobias, that it was very hard and stressful.

At that point in my life, I didn’t want to have this kind of stress, so it was much more convenient for me to continue with RHAPSODY, not to mention, as I told you, that I already invested so much in it, both spiritually and economically. We made RHAPSODY as a world famous name, so it would have been very stupid from my side to renounce it so easily. I preferred really to go on as RHAPSODY and also to be able to play our older songs on tour. I composed these songs, so why shouldn’t I be able to play them anymore? that was not a possibility. Also I would have betrayed our incredible fan base, which continues to relate to the message of my lyrics and support me throughout all these years. So when you think about all of this, at the end it was a very easy choice.

OV: During the announcement about the split, you also mentioned that your solo projects – LUCA TURILLI and DREAMQUEST – are no more. Do you now feel that you won’t have anything else to say outside RHAPSODY?

No, because now with RHAPSODY I can simply say everything that I want to. Before I was constricted in a way, so I did the solo albums to compliment what I already composed with RHAPSODY. So all of that – RHAPSODY, plus my solo albums, plus DREAMQUEST, which was totally different – gave me satisfaction, because I could compose in 360 degrees. Now since we finished with the RHAPSODY saga, I can compose in 360 degrees, and write about everything that I want and face every topic, lyrically or musically. It’s just amazing for me.

OV: Personally I really loved Olaf Hayer’s work on your solo albums. Have you thought of including him in the new RHAPSODY / AVANTASIA-thing?

Olaf Hayer is a fantastic singer, but the problem is that he sings in one way only. On the last RHAPSODY OF FIRE albums, already from “Power Of the Dragonflame”, I started composing in a different way for Fabio, to really put out all his vocal abilities, so for me it was important to find a singer that has a range like him. On one hand, to have this high-tonal voice, but at the same time, to have this operatic impact – as you know, I love to include a little bit of Opera in the songs. On our upcoming tours we’re going to play some songs from my solo albums, it’s a surprise, but you’ll see that Alessandro’s voice fits perfectly with the LUCA TURILLI songs, because it’s also very high.

OV: Does this mean we’re finally going to hear “Legend Of Steel” or “Demonheart” live?

Eh… you never know [Laughs]… but I can tell you already that we started planning, and I believe that in 2 or 3 tours we will already play a lot of songs from my solo albums. It will always be this special surprise, and we will play every song that people want and liked from my solo albums. We’re going to play for sure one of the titles that you just told me, but I won’t tell you which [Laughs]…

Alessandro Conti / Rhapsody
OV: How eventually did you pick Alessandro Conti for the vocalist part? What made him so special to you?

The first thing I heard from him was this high-tonal voice, and immediately it reminded me of Michael Kiske, from HELLOWEEN. For me it was the main thing, because I’m in love with Kiske’s voice for many years. Even Fabio reminded me of Kiske, so it was always this kind of love for me, to have a singer in this style. I started listening to Heavy Metal thanks to the “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” albums from HELLOWEEN, like many people and metalheads….

But yeah, it was not enough for me to know that Alessandro can sing like this, because otherwise I could have also brought Olaf Hayer. It was very important for me to have a singer with different vocal colors, because as I said, I like to compose songs like “Lamento Eroico” with a bit more operatic approach, or songs like “Reign Of Terror” which are totally different. I really enjoy this wide range and it helps me as a composer to have this total artistic freedom, so I asked Alessandro to send me a lot of songs, from Rock to Metal, to Pop (like Celine Dion for example… Laughs) – a lot of real crazy things – and I discovered that he can sing in 10 different ways. It was unbelievable to hear that he can be very powerful in his high-tone, but he can also have a strong operatic impact when he’s low, and that is very unusual, because normally – like in the case of Olaf Hayer – when you have a high voice, its hard to have a strong lower tone. Another reason why I couldn’t use Olaf was because of the Italian lyrics. I must have some songs written in Italian and its better to have an Italian singer for that stuff…

OV: What can you tell me about “Ascending To Infinity”, as far as the idea behind it? What are the main themes the album deals with?

Well there is a mini-concept that is built around four songs: “Quantum X” which is the intro, the title track “Ascending To Infinity”, “Dark Fate Of Atlantis” and “Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall”. In this mini-concept I speak about a spiritual evolution, taking into consideration all these theories about the multi-verse, parallel dimensions, astral gates etc… It also relates to mysteries from the Bible, so I used some excerpts from St. John’s Apocalypse for the quire parts. I really love this stuff, to create this mystic atmosphere, so there’s a little bit about religion, science, the planet, the universe, everything… All these subjects always attracted me.

“Ascending To Infinity” really represents this kind of spiritual evolution, the will to look over something, over the borders of what we know or try to comprehend. I usually like to say that an artist is like a child, always asking himself “Where do we come from?”, “What we do on this planet?”, “What is this fantastic miracle of life?”, “Where do we go from here?”… all these eternal questions are there, but as the artist gets older and is trapped with his daily life problems, he loses this vision. So long as the artist continues to explore, he will find more answers and questions to ask, and with that process he will try to speak through his soul, and explain a little part of his truth, of what he discovered. It’s all about that.

OV: You mentioned quotes from the bible, and I actually noticed on the first single you released from the album – “Dark Fate Of Atlantis” – that there are actually a couple of sentences in Hebrew from the book of Psalms. What can you tell me about this?

Yes, it’s fantastic. I love it. When I started composing, I had this kind of library of samples with ethnic voices, so I decided to use them and combine them together. What was important for me to know is that they speak about peace, freedom and love, and that they are connected completely with the message of my music. Now you can actually tell me what they mean….

OV: Well, it’s from the bible so it’s all up for interpretations…

Of course the entire bible is interpretable… For me it’s just amazing, because it’s very enigmatic. There are many interpretations for the bible and I love it. I think there is a connection between the bible, the aliens, different planets and other dimensions, and you must explore all these mysteries to understand them.

OV: It does seem that over the years you have moved from the sword & sorcery fantasy world to this sci-fi / spiritual environment…

Not really, it started already in the first RHAPSODY saga. Only people that didn’t really know so much about RHAPSODY thought, for example, that “The Emerald Sword” is a sword made of emerald or something like that [Laughs]… All these people that don’t know RHAPSODY, or don’t like our music, always used the Epic style as an argument against the band, but our true fans know the message that is behind the stories. Yes there is this typical epic fantasy story – which is very nice of course and we took care for it – but for me the important thing was to have a spiritual meaning / interpretation behind it, all the way from the first album to the last. It’s all about this spiritual evolution – to face the darkness, to face the light, and to become the master of your fears – all these elements are in the saga. But this is known only to the people who like RHAPSODY, or read some of our interviews…

This was very difficult task for me to be able to give this kind of coherent message from the first album to the last, but after 15 years I know how to get this second layer, to have hidden meanings, to be more enigmatic and so on. Now I can move from “Sword & Sorcery” to “Sci-Fi” and back again, I could also speak about something totally different, but my message will always be the same and based on positive things. Yes it can be very enigmatic, but not about the core – which speaks about peace, love, respect and hope. Whoever gave his life to speak about and promote this message in this world is my idol.

As I told you, we have a strong fan base – people are really close to us and its more than just about music, they write to us about how they were able to defeat their problems because of they really get this spiritual message. This is great for an artist to be able to express his energy through his music, and even if there’s just one person who is able to get your message, your emotional impact, and is able to communicate it back to you, then your work an artist is completed. You can die in peace because you’ve fulfilled your spiritual mission.

Rhapsody - Ascending To Infinity
OV: Have you ever thought of writing a book about the RHAPSODY OF FIRE saga or about your spiritual message?

Yes! I got so many requests, even from the record company. This is fantastic, because I can really write a big book, but the problem I always have is time. Even now that I stopped my solo activity and dedicated myself completely to RHAPSODY, there’s a European tour coming up in November and December, and I have to prepare a lot of things. I never really find the time for myself, and to really write a book, you have to isolate yourself from the world, go to some mountain where you don’t have any outside contacts, and to really get in touch with your spirit. You know, it’s not me who give this spiritual message, its something that is in me and something that I get from my surroundings, so I’m more like a medium. I’m nothing special, I’m just flesh and blood, but the spirit of the world goes through me, and I believe in this – I believe that we are all connected in some way.

That is why I’m also against any kind of war or crime, and this is something I will fight against until the end of my life. For example the song “Clash Of The Titans” lyrically speaks about the clash between instinct and reason – these are the two titans, the animalistic, the primordial side of us, and the mind that should control it. Wars represent the moment when the animal inside of us prevails over the mind and the spirit, and that is very horrible for me. That’s why many artists – such as Tuomas Holopainen from NIGHTWISH – are the same. They take all the bad things that surround them and put them into the music, because it’s a way to exorcise the demons and all these bad things…

Even scientists started to discover that it’s coming from our genes, from our DNA. There are genes that we get from nature that are built in a particular way, some have positive tendencies, some are negative and then there’s some genes in the middle that can be moved into one way or the other, or influence each other. So I think since an artist is a public figure, he has a lot of spiritual power – music is an incredible way to move the heart, to touch the spirit of people – and it’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t like all these bands that abuse this kind of power and speak about bad things or about violence, I can’t stand this. But yeah, there are artist that I trust in them and they devote of all their work to really touch the hearts of people in a positive way, to give hope and energy to fight in this life, to fight this negativity that is sometimes inside them. I really feel that this is like a spiritual mission.

OV: Are all of the sampling and modern sounds on the album come as a result of your attraction to spiritual and futuristic themes?

Yes, that’s actually the main difference between this album and the previous ones. Of course when you do this “Fantasy Saga” it is more related to the past, so I could not have used a lot of modern sounds. Now I try to connect modern stuff with the typical traditional orchestrations, to make it more balanced and universal.

OV: As we mentioned earlier, there are also some ethnic sounds on the album, which was quite refreshing…

I love it, because it really touches my soul. All the ethnic voices from Arabia, all of these sounds from Northern Europe, from India, from South America, for me it’s the language of the world – of the worlds in this world. This is incredible, they’re all close to each other and they have this spiritual connection. These voices and chants are so emotional, at least for me, and it really touches my soul. It’s not something that you listen to on a normal song. All these vibrations, tonalities and notes are connected, I feel there is no difference between American, or Indian or Arabian music, and I don’t know if you feel the same or not….

OV: Here in Israel we have many different cultures so we get all these diversities and different voices…

Absolutely, you’re living in one of the best countries for this point of view. If you look at the history of mankind, the mysteries of the planet, all those stories about Jesus and even before him, it’s amazing, don’t you think? You can find a lot of inspiration over there…

OV: I think that through your entire career you have put influences from all over the world, if its South American stuff on “New Century’s Tarantella”, or Celtic stuff on “Village Of Dwarves”…

Yes, yes, and now we have some Arabian flavors in “Dark Fate Of Atlantis”. Actually, “Atlantis” in its core really represents a universal concept and that’s why I also use Greek, Latin, Italian and English, so at the end there are 5 different languages to underline the diversity and the communion and how everything is close. “Atlantis” really represents this typical cycle of mankind – there’s the dawn of civilization, its birth the growth, and then there’s the fall and a new cycle begins. It’s just amazing for me, I like using different ideas and language to communicate this universality.

OV: Another song I wanted to ask about is “Luna”… I’m not completely sure but it sounds like a cover for some famous song and the female singer sounds like the one from DREAMQUEST…

Bravissimo! You’re one of the few people who noticed it’s a cover [Laughs]… But it’s not the same singer, it’s a different one, but she sings in the same style [Laughs]…

OV: As for the symphonic side of the album, how was working on it by yourself? I know that Alex had most of the responsibilities in the past…

No, no, we always composed the basic stuff together. If you look at the credits on our albums, it is written “basic orchestral arrangements by Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli “… Since I was composing the saga, I knew how to represent it the best, so it was my job to meet with Alex and explain the direction and talk about the sounds we would use. Once that was done, Alex was finalizing everything while I was taking care of the cover artwork, the booklet and all that typical work. This time around of course I had to finalize to orchestration by myself, but for me it was the best moment in the whole of the composition. Many bands that use orchestrations usually hire an external guy for that, but I could never do this, I could never just compose a riff on the guitar – I have to write for every single instrument. You know, my dream is to compose soundtracks and to write for cinema, so of course this is the best moment for me when I can do it for RHAPSODY.

OV: Since you are writing the whole thing, will there any room for contribution from the other band members?

I will tell you something, if you look at all the famous bands, there’s always one main composer. In RHAPSODY it will always stay like this, because I have so many ideas that there won’t be a moment when I have no songs [Laughs]… What is important is the interaction with the band, for example, when I compose the drum parts, I will never be able to compose better drum parts than the ones that my drummer can suggest me, so in some way this is a valuable contribution. If Alessandro wants to make some changes with his singing and he purposes a better idea than mine, I will be the first to support him. All the bands that I like, such as HELLOWEEN, NIGHTWISH, MALMSTEEN etc., always had one main song writer, and I don’t see any problems with that. What so great is that my band is happy just like that [Laughs]…

Christopher Lee

OV: Just recently I saw an interview with Christopher Lee, where the actor talked about his second Metal album which will come out soon, and he keeps mentioning RHAPSODY as his first introduction to Metal. Are you still in touch with him?

Oh, that’s fantastic, unfortunately we haven’t been in touch since we finished our collaboration. Of course he’s like a grandfather for us, and there’s a particular connection between us and him. He gave us this kind of depth for the second part of our saga, and we still get emotional to hear his big voice, even if its just recorded, its amazing. He’s part of our family!

OV: “Lord Of The Rings” and “Dracula” are some of the films that Christopher Lee was part of, and from what I remember, there were talks a few years ago of you making albums that deal with these stories and characters. Do you ever see yourself going back to these ideas?

Well now I’m in a situation where I can really write about everything, so this means that you can expect everything. If I’ll feel strong emotion to write about these stories, then I will do it. There are no limits anymore, so this is fantastic for me. You can expect some big surprises in the future for RHAPSODY.

OV: But you don’t plan to start any new saga or something like that?

No, no, I will never do another album which is completely about one topic. If I want I can write 3 sagas for one album, but I want to have different stories and different emotions. Since it takes 2 to 3 years before you record a new album, I want – while I still live on this wonderful planet – to write about many things. In the past 15 years I spoke just about one thing with RHAPSODY, and now I really feel it’s about time to speak about many things.

OV: One of the key elements in RHAPSODY’s music is the soundtrack and cinematic feel. What movies or TV shows inspired you in recent years to focus on this aspect? …”Game Of Thrones”?

I never really liked this serious fantasy, I watched “Game Of Thrones” one time, but I didn’t like the face of the actors so I didn’t watch it anymore [Laughs]… It’s not for me… I prefer something like “The Walking Dead”, that’s a great show. Otherwise, I find inspiration in anything that I see, for example the last movies that I saw were “The Avengers”, “Battleship”, and “Transformers”… I really like all these big budget Hollywood movies. Sometimes I like movies that don’t have any special effect but a good story, and sometimes I like movies just because of the effects. I love everything, if its horror movies, action movies, historical movies… It’s really easier to tell you that I love everything, than what I don’t like [Laughs]…

OV: As for Metal, do you still follow the same old bands or you can find new stuff to enjoy?

I always have difficulty to find new stuff, even with the bands that I like, such as NIGHTWISH and WITHIN TEMPTATION, I prefer the older albums and classics, you know, like the “Keeper” albums of HELLOWEEN, or “Transcendence” by CRIMSON GLORY – it’s incredible and I still think it’s one of the best albums ever released. There are not so many new bands that I discover that gives me the shiver.

OV: Speaking of NIGHTWISH, do you think of ever making a whole movie project like they do?

Of course, but they have a big budget and the support from their government, so it’s a little bit easier [Laughs Hard]… I would love to do it, but I can say that now in our little situation, we can do interesting things. We released a very nice video for “Dark Fate Of Atlantis”, and now we’re going to have this collaboration with a media company for our upcoming tour, for some visual surprises. This is something very important for us, I can’t tell much about it, but we’re not going to just sound cinematic, we will also look cinematic!

OV: I also wanted to talk about your participation in the “Metal Evolution” show that Sam Dunn filmed. I have seen the episode about Power Metal and it was quite entertaining because they put RHAPSODY’s videos and some words from you… Have you seen it? Will you maybe consider filming some sort of documentary just about RHAPSODY or yourself?

Oh my god, yes, I remember traveling to make this interview but I never saw the final result, so I can’t really tell you if it’s good… I don’t think we can do a documentary like this because we had a lot of legal problems, so there might be a lot of black pages and empty chapters.

OV: How does the Italian metal scene treat you these days? Is it different than when you first started?

It is different in the sense that nowadays bands such as RHAPSODY or LACUNA COIL can live off of music, but there are still a lot of good metal bands in Italy that don’t get recognition. Italian bands are not very much considered in foreign countries, and even in Italy, there are some magazines that really don’t want this style of music to represent the country.

OV: Have you ever thought of changing style completely and maybe make something more aggressive?

No… the maximum that I can offer is what we did in the third verse of “Clash Of The Titans”, where Alessandro sings a bit more aggressively. I’m not a big fan of that style, honestly, we made one or two songs like this to show that we can compose this way, but for example, even with all the aggressiveness on “Reign Of Terror”, the lyrics are very positive… It’s great to see sometimes that Black Metal fans, don’t always know what someone sings about, so you can fool them with lyrics about love, peace and respect [Laughs]… though it’s kind of a provocation, to show that you can use this aggressiveness not just to talk about violence, war or hate, but also use it in a positive way. Actually now that I’m older and I hear too much “bah bah bah” it hurts my ears [Laughs]…

OV: Well I think that’s it for the interview, so far it’s been an honor talking with you, and I could have continued for hours… but before we’ll depart, do you have any last message to share with your Israeli fans?

Oh thanks you so much my friend… Well, I think there might be a possibility for us to come to play in your country, we’re speaking about that idea, and if a great promoter can bring us – maybe not as part of the upcoming European tour, but at the beginning of 2013 – we’ll do our best to be there. It would be amazing, I always like to visit new countries and meet new people, and spread this positive message that we talked about earlier. I know there are a lot of fans over there, so I really hope that we can come as soon as possible… So thank you Ofir, all the best to you and stay cinematic! [Laughs]…

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