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Beyond the Pale: An Exclusive Interview With Moonspell

By Vinnie Apicella, Contributor
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 following.

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 unexpected.

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 done.

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 done."
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).

Discography:

Wolfheart (1995)
Irreligious (1996)
Sin Pecado (1997)
The Butterfly Effect (1999)
Darkness & Hope (2001)


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