Beyond the Pale: An Exclusive Interview With Moonspell
Friday, February 22, 2002 @ 1:39 PM
An Exclusive Interview with Mo
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I've long admired Moonspell as one of the more thought-provoking bands
in the goth/metal category. Being a fan of both styles, I've found them
to embrace these qualities in equal installments throughout their near
ten year existence. From the early stages where titles like
Irreligious and Wolfheart reared a darker more aggressive presence,
to the more risqué workings of Sin Pecado or industriousness of The
Butterfly Effect, they've never been one to creep in one place for too
long. With Darkness & Hope many seemed to expect a "return" to their
past, or maybe those comfortable confines that first gained ground in
favor of recent bouts with experimentalism. Indirectly, this is the
outcome, though as we find out, not necessarily by design. What
Darkness & Hope reveals is Moonspell's evolutionary nature still in
force, only not advancing by great leaps as before but instead with a
forward moving fluidity planned in small, carefully planned steps. The
result is one of their most imaginative and evocative releases to date
and no greater evidence of "eternity" generated through music.
During their recent pre-holiday U.S. club tour with label mates Lacuna
Coil, I caught up with singer Fernando Ribiero in Brooklyn's famed
L'Amour nightclub to gain his insights, of which there were many, on the
band’s new record and a little about the conception and subsequent
outcome of a Moonspell album. An equally agile speaker, what I came
away with from their intellectually outspoken vocalist was both
revealing and sometimes surprising… but not the least bit depressing.
At the conclusion I was left impressed, not only that we were able to
actually get the interview finished in spite of the difficult working
conditions, but by the band itself which then went on to give a gripping
career-spanning performance in front of an eager and admirably sized
KNAC.COM: I've been familiar with the band since your early going in the
mid ‘90s and I've found that the music's gone through subtle changes up
to now that have culminated with your later releases like Sin Pecado
and The Butterfly Effect. The new record comes across as more natural
sounding to me and less exploratory. How would you align it with
regards to your past work?
FERNANDO: Darkness & Hope is definitely not a sequel from any other
record. I think it has a life of its own. We tried to tell a story and
use different means to do this. We've always tried to write a song
within a context and so far all of our albums and their contexts have
been different. Darkness… is what I define as a search for a more
solid style of Moonspell. Coming from two highly experimental and risky
records like Sin Pecado and The Butterfly Effect, we felt the need
to do a more classical-styled album. This was not because of any
pressure from the audience or label, but just because Butterfly seemed
to represent for the band like five years in our careers. So we decided
to go for a certain approach here -- that's how Darkness was born. We
can be released now from the obvious influences of the past and continue
on our own style.
KNAC.COM: So you wouldn't say you've consciously written to go back to your
roots, like much of the advance press seemed to indicate, but rather
approached it as more of a "maturation" type process even if it comes
across as more "natural" sounding as when the band first started out.
FERNANDO: Definitely. We are not a roots-obsessed band. I think if you
want to use the image of a tree, there's much more than roots involved.
There's leaves, fruits, branches… so we try not to go the "back to the
roots" path to our music. We want to go on a slow but sure revolution
and tell the stories regardless of the means. We are a band that's
never afraid of being adventurous… people should always expect the
KNAC.COM: Let's discuss a few of the tracks on the album. I particularly
liked songs like "Firewalking," "Devilred," "Ghostsong…" which possess
the expected aggressive character but employ plenty of good hooks as
well… (At this point there's tons of yelling and screaming in the
background. If we stood in the middle of Grand Central during rush
hour, I don't think it could've been any worse!)
FERNANDO: I think it's a solid record even though the songs do not
repeat the structures of each other. It's a record that has a very
linear style. For me, the record represents us very much right now. I
think all Moonspell records have a little bit of this taste of eternity
to them. (Here's the third time within ten minutes we've had to change
location. Now it's a matter of “Can we beat the clock before these guys go
onstage?”) Songs like "Firewalking" and "There The Serpent In My Arms"
are songs that really stand out very much for us. I think the Moonspell
style is continued there and the balance and mixture between the melodic
approach and volume, which Darkness has, are there throughout. We're
a band that's obsessed about putting the right song with the right
musical texture to the right lyrics. So when we listen to a song titled
"Firewalking," we tried to utilize a frantic ambience so that people
could feel a little of the "firewalking" experiences there. For
"Ghostsong," it's a very ethereal song -- very phantasmagoric in a way… and
that's exactly the way we try to behave as musicians. Music for us is
not only about feeding the ear but also the mind.
"We are not a roots-obsessed band. I think if you
want to use the image of a tree, there's much more than roots involved.
There's leaves, fruits, branches…"
KNAC.COM: (Lacuna Coil, the opening act, blasts in the background as my train
of thought slowly evaporates with every note that echoes forth from
Christina's sultry voice). So… what influences you as songwriters? You
mention how you want the music to fit the lyrics so what inspires you
then to write a song like that?
FERNANDO: We have a process in Moonspell that is a little bit weird. We
don't work from zero point. Whenever we want to make an album or
compose something what we do is have a chat within the band…some red
wine…some peaceful ambience…and so then we know what we're talking
about. I present my lyrical ideas, the band presents musical ideas and
then the rest is left to our chemistry. Moonspell does conceptual music
and the song has to come across with the message so for that moment in
the beginning, the discussions are vital for the band.
KNAC.COM: And so as a band, where have you drawn your influences? What
inspired Moonspell to be what it is?
FERNANDO: We've always flirted between metal music and darkwave and
gothic…which were all very heavy in Germany in the mid ‘90s. And
actually it seems like not only Moonspell but a lot of other bands were
progressing into this area at the time. I really love Metal music-for
me it's the music that tells me the most. Especially bands that were
like the pre-Heavy Metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath
because they always tried to have a visual competence into their music.
Of course we've had our share of influences since the beginning-bands
like Bathory and Celtic Frost; the underground stuff was very
inspirational for us. Then we started listening to some other bands
that were more new wave like the Mission U.K., Sisters of Mercy, and
especially Fields of the Nephilim. So that's the stuff that definitely
brought out some of our musical influences.
KNAC.COM: And you as a singer?
FERNANDO: I use someone like Jim Morrison as a model -- which is to make
the perfect fusion between poetry and music. I don't try to write
lyrics for Moonspell just for the sake of singing them, there's also got
to be a definite musical path to them. My influences are merely drawn
from French poetry or occult poetry. I'm a compulsive writer and
occasionally I write to create my own character and my own messages
through my own lyrics.
KNAC.COM: (The background noise has gotten beyond deafening -- it's a miracle the
rest of this made it onto tape, but alas, a new method of interviewing
results in the interviewee actually taking the recorder and "vocalizing"
into it as though it were a mic…and it worked quite well!) I thought
your cover of "Mr. Crowley" was unusual to say the least…I figured
maybe an old Bauhaus tune or something more in line with your own
style. Why the Ozzy cover?
FERNANDO: Well I would say I prefer Ozzy ten times more than Bauhaus!
(Laughs) Especially because it's an Ozzy song but for this one, we
wouldn't have covered any other song from him cause I think in my
opinion it's his best song ever. This song has a special vibe to it…a
special mood and atmosphere. And then because it's about Alistair
Crowley, which is like a reference for people a little bit interested
and involved in Occultism. I thought we could maintain certain elements
of the original magic and add our own touch to it. That's usually how
we approach covers. We've done stuff from Depeche Mode and Joy Division
because they're songs we think can be worked. But we'll never make a
big "hit" song as a cover version because there should be room for you
to put your own signature and personality there. So I think this came
across really well.
KNAC.COM: It fits in with that "expect the unexpected" statement you mentioned
earlier. As usual, Darkness features a lyricism/imagery tie in that
fits with your "music for the mind" suggestion. Is there symbolism
involved here as well?
FERNANDO: We had an imaginary world to portray with Darkness with the
characters like "Nocturna" and "Firewalker" and we were looking for
artists and accepting submissions for the designs. The great final
artwork was created by a Polish artist whose work was totally in line
with our ideas. It was a case of him putting into "flesh" what we put
into words. At first it was a coincidence and on the other hand it was
very dignifying for us to have a person that loves the music and to do
it not only professionally but also as a follower of the band.
KNAC.COM: So your impulsive nature as a band has been documented with your
continued use of captivating storylines and visual textures. For
Moonspell, is this a character trait of progression or advancement where
you'll keep looking forward…or do you risk losing your identity maybe
as a band to the fans in so doing?
FERNANDO: We call it enthusiasm. When we first formed the band we
wanted to provoke on others the reaction certain bands did for us. We
wanted to taste a little of the poison of being creators of something.
For the new record we're not thinking in terms of any previous Moonspell
records because even if we're dishonest with our audience -- by doing a
"Wolfheart Part II" or something -- and play it safe, we'll be disserving
ourselves as a band and limiting ourselves. If something doesn't
represent us anymore we won't do it because we'll lose that enthusiasm.
We are a very reckless band and never fully satisfied with what we've
KNAC.COM: Describe what it's like to be a Portuguese band in an arena heavily
dominated by European and Scandinavian groups.
FERNANDO: We have a big following back home. We chart in Portugal and
we're on television and all that. There is a scene in Portugal, of
course, but we're not the first Metal band coming out of there. We are
maybe the sole example of having an international career though and
being able to play with big international names. I think there are a
lot of good bands there and a culture that is unknown to a majority of
the people. Portugal is our oxygen -- it's where we compose all our music
and it's a big inspiration for us. But then again there's a bit of a
smallness problem there…it's one of the least "rock" music-type
countries. But we never thought this would be a handicap for us, but
rather an advantage to be very exotic and original.
"We are a very reckless band and never fully satisfied with what we've
FERNANDO: I regard very much when we supported Type-O Negative in
Europe. It was a great tour and very important for our growing in
Europe. As far as this tour is going, it's a bit strange yet. It's our
first headlining experience and it's very tough to headline the states.
We have a very good support band, Lacuna Coil, and I think overall it's
a very interesting package. Of course we're still very much on an
underground level but it's our third time here now and I hope we can see
some more results. We've done big festivals like the Dynamo, which was
very big for us. We've sold out big coliseums alongside bands like
Rammstein and Smashing Pumpkins -- so we're talking about 4,000 people
who've come out to see only us in the past and that was unbelievable.
There are a lot of very good experiences for us. We are definitely a
live band, which I know everybody says that, but I remember when we
released Wolfheart and people were like, "Whatever…" But when we
played live supporting Morbid Angel in Europe, we really grew and felt
like we were going somewhere.
KNAC.COM: Considering that you're more or less interviewing yourself at this
point with all the background noise, why don't you address a question
you've always thought to be asked and hadn't received yet?
FERNANDO: Well I think I've been asked everything so far. My stand for
interviews is that if you take the time to do them, you have to do them
properly. By this I mean you have to inform people and also be a little
creative. So I have a lot of things to say anyway. But I think
everything's been pretty well covered. I'm happy that people ask a lot
about the lyrics, which isn't always very common…and then about our
cultural background as well. So to ask myself something, I wouldn't
know what (laughs).
Wolfheart (1995) Irreligious (1996) Sin Pecado (1997) The Butterfly Effect (1999) Darkness & Hope (2001)