TOMMASO RICCARDI (Fleshgod Apocalypse): “Creating music is something I can’t live without“
Hard working and strong belief in what they do, has brought Fleshgod Apocalypse to greater popularity which is proved by the success of their latest studio album King which sees the band in its full potential – poetic, musical and conceptual.
Before Fleshgod Apocalypse’s concert in Budapest, as a part of their headling tour, I had a chance to talk with the band’s frontman about current state of music and art as well as Fleshgod’s role in all of it.
VENIA: How does to feel to finally start doing headlining tours after success with Labyrinth and King? Do you feel accomplished?
TOMMASO: It feels really good. These last years we’ve been baptised by fire with these headlining shows. We had US and Canada run that were actually the fist full headlining that we did. At first it was kind, I don’t want to say scary but you never actually know what to expect. We’re starting to feel comfortable… Before… When you play as a supporting band, in a way it’s harder and in a way it’s easier. You don’t have the same responsibility. Now it’s different, of course, when you’re headlining band you have to keep that level. But I feel this is the right time to be doing this, because until now we’ve played more than 650 concerts together. And this means that we are musically and personally comfortable with each other and at this point we can enjoy what we do. If you can enjoy, people will enjoy too.
VENIA: For example, last time I saw you live was some 5 years ago in Zadar. From what I hear many things have changed.
TOMMASO: You will be shocked tonight. It’s very different.
VENIA: Yeah, see that you’ve also added female vocalist – Veronica to your live line-up.
TOMMASO: Ah, yes, last time you saw us, we didn’t have her.
VENIA: And Cristiano couldn’t join you on this tour…
TOMMASO: Yeah, many people were worried that Cristiano couldn’t come. He wrote on facebook and everybody thought it’s some health problem but no, it was just technical work related problem with a company that he has. And it happened almost in the last minute. We were lucky to have found someone to substitute him because he had problem that he couldn’t leave the country for a few months. Now we have Fabio Bartoletti as a substitute. We were lucky because he is a very talented musician and he was already a fan of Fleshgod Apocalypse so he knew some songs already. He learned it extremely fast. I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing to be honest. For now we played only three concert but we have a good vibe, he’s playing really well and we’re very comfortable with each other on character level. It’s good that we were able to fix it.
Veronica is, at this point, totally a part of the band and also a very important band member – both for the performance, because we always want to bring what ever we can especially female vocals. As you will see tonight it really became theatrical in many aspects and she is a very important part of it. The family has been growing and that is good.
VENIA: Is there a chance of her becoming a full time band member?
TOMMASO: I mean, the thing is, she actually is a full time member but the point is we never wanted to modify the band line-up for historical reasons. We want for Fleshgod to have one identity. On the other hand, as you probably saw, she has her picture in the album booklet, she is recording with us, our constant live member… For identity reasons we believe in keeping constant line-up and we don’t won’t to make an official change because until now everybody knows she is with Fleshgod Apocalypse.
VENIA: When talking about identity and impact you make on people. How important it is, to you, for your music to have a message? Something to think about? For example, I divide bands to artists and artisans – those who create real art and other that make superficial music for big masses, basically only for fun.
TOMMASO: For us the message is everything. We have a need to send a message. Art is not something that you do simply for pleasure, job or for fun. It is a need that you have. In my daily life, creating music is something I can’t live without and I get sick, seriously sick, physically and mentally. Of course everything it translates to something that has a commercial aspect, it is a part of live. You already saw us, not for many years, but you’ll probably notice that we’ve grown. And this energy, it’s something that is just there, it comes from the people that exist in this band – with all defects and problems, dark sides and bright sides. When we are there we are one thing and this thing needs send a message. Everybody has a different way, even in the band, to interpret the message. But for me the message is – we are alive. Let’s make it worth it.
VENIA: Couldn’t agree more. But there is another aspect to this. And those are concepts and you have them on your releases. I think about this quite a lot – what is the future of concepts in music, in metal? Today we are facing a hypertextual culture – people just browse, jump from one thing to another. Nobody stops to think about anything. At some point they even forget what they were listening to.
TOMMASO: Yeah, I know.. This is everything else. It’s not the thing itself but the way you use it. With all this technology it is a positive thing – I have deezer, spotify and it is amazing that I can pay for music and contribute to music business but at the meantime I have access to a lot music where you can easily get lost. Then it’s on you. The fact the you keep the ability to be really listening. To understand what’s happening in the music. But I agree it is easy for people to get lost nowadays with everything. And to be distracted, not-present, anxious, skipping… But not only in music, life too.
VENIA: Yes, especially in relations you keep with other people, reading news or maybe just switching between TV channels.
TOMMASO: I know, and this is message that we were trying to send with King. We are distracted by all those things. King represents the old way, the world in which we still believed in things, where we were still able to take time four ourselves, to stop and enjoy and realize the wonders we have around us.
And on the other hand there are all the characters that are trying to tear everything down, they represent all these powers we have in this world of technology trying to distract us and make us forget that we are alive and we have to live every single day otherwise we are lost completely. So, there are many elements nowadays that contribute to this feeling of getting lost but it’s still up to us to decide on which side do we want to be. That’s the point.
VENIA: I read somewhere that if classical composers were born in this age they would have definitely been metalheads. What would you say about this? 🙂
TOMMASO: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Metal music has created a lot of good music but like in everything else there is also a lot of crap.
VENIA: That is so true! Especially everything being available. This overproduction is taking its toll…
TOMMASO: It is. It’s oversaturated. Its even easy to make a good sounding album even without lots of money. It wasn’t like that before. And this gives power to people who shouldn’t produce music. Unfortunately. In the meantime the bright side is that there are also talented musicians that have a chance to express themselves and as I said the hardest thing is to find those musicians. On that level it is still very important to talk to people, real people. People’s experience makes difference. Even with today’s technology. If you have everything available but don’t know what to chose, you will get lost. So I still mostly rely on other people, my friends, my girlfriend, my family to find new music, new art because they already have that experience. Take can suggest new things to me and I believe in their taste.
VENIA: Do you maybe follow other bands which like Fleshgod Apocalypse draw inspiration from classical music? Like Haggard for example?
TOMMASO: A little bit. I mean. To be honest, I know I shouldn’t, it’s a moment in my life in which I’m discovering many other kinds of music. I have to be honest, I haven’t been very concentrated on heavy music in general. It’s normal. At certain point you have to discover new things. Here and there something. I’m getting into other stuff. And mostly it’s something older. Getting interested into blues music which I never understood. But now I’m getting pretty curious about it.
VENIA: Yeah, blues is very heavy. It’s where everything begun. The darkness, the devils, everything…
TOMMASO: Absolutely. The dark side of music came form that point and the way of expressing the darkness of our souls and also the kind of grooves that you can find in post-Pantera age when blues influence came back. Because it was the heavy music of those time. And it’s still impressive how still today you can listen to J. B. Lenoir or Skip James for ’40s and ’50s and you can hear that those guy were tormented and they were doing something that, for those times, was extremely heavy and dark.
VENIA: Well it all begun from the slave songs and the torture our civilization imposed on certain cultures.
TOMMASO: That’s what I mean. They were really, seriously going through those stories, It was no joke.. Even us, we have our themes and we try to express them through our music and they had their things. In their case it was about killing, people dying, people being enslaved and treated like shit just because they had different skin colour. For them it’s been really tough and you can feel in the music.
So whenever you say that something is classical it means it had a message that survived the time. In their case the message was so strong that still today you can feel it fresh after 70, 80 years. That’s impressive.
VENIA: Do you maybe play with the idea that someday sometime someone will teach about Fleshgod Apocalypse music on Music Academies?
TOMMASO: I hope so, you know 😀 That would be good 😀
VENIA: I mean it already started with Metallica, Iron Maiden etc. But even with younger bands like Ne Obliviscaris.
TOMMASO: There is a lot bands with potential. I remember when Obzen… from Meshuggah came out in 2008, I had couple of friends that were jazz musicians. One of them is from NY City and they were listening to Meshuggah and learning new rhythmic section and studying, transcribing that music because it was extremely innovative from the rhythmic point of view.
But, it’s not up to me, it’s just the music that I play, but we are doing our best to produce quality music. But there could be something in music of Fleshgod Apocalypse that could be interesting for studying composition in metal.
VENIA: For example, I like how lately you opened to melodies. Especially on King. You gave more space to guitars. I felt in the previous release that the drums were a bit overpowering the rest of the band.
TOMMASO: I know… That was in some way connected to the fact that rhythmic section was extremely strong on almost every song. In some way we mixed our music to have more dynamics, to have more tension and release. On the other hand, even when doing our best with Stefano before, but we needed to do a step forward in terms of production and you know there’s no shame about it. We did our best. Stefano did his best. And I think we got a good result for that time and investment we could afford for that time. But of course, have such complex music meant we needed better production. With King we finally got a chance to work with Jens Bogren. It made a lot of difference in terms of ability to listen to the music because when ever it’s more clear it makes music to come out in the best way. But it’s also matter of composition because we changed our approach, with experience we also uderstood many new things in terms of arrangements that could actually bring the music to a new level to know how to make music sound the way we want. And it takes time – you need to go through every process, relisten everything you did and relaize what were the good things, bad things, what mistakes you made. It’s evolving, changing and I really like the fact that now we’re more transversal, we have many different moments in our music.
VENIA: Concerning the effort you put in it, is Fleshgod Apocalypse enough to make a living?
TOMMASO: At this point we can finally survive on it. And I mean survive. It’s not making us rich. Here and there we do other stuff because it can always be useful. But in terms of time, energy, it’s pretty hard and that’s why we try to do it this way. This really is a full time. And it’s a good thing. When you’re stable on economic level you get more free to do real things, there’s no rush… Still this is a hard job. This is still underground music and it means that you have to work really, really hard on every aspect. You can not leave anything to other. Many people work with us and help us, like label, management, but still we have to be there n everything.
VENIA: Yeah, after all it’s your product….
TOMMASO: Exactly, our product and energy.
VENIA: And how it is to be professional musician in Italy? Is it hard? Recently I had an interview with Netta Skog of Ensiferum and she says that even in Finland it’s not that easy. She keeps playing accordion everywhere, all the time…
TOMMASO: I know, I know 😀 I know here very well. We’re good friends. At least she has a chance to do it. It’s not like you can’t do other things but… It’s hard everywhere and I wouldn’t like to make comparisons. But the problem is that in Italy it is extremely hard to be a musician. And here are the good and bad sides of have old-school heritage. On one hand we’re in a place where 70% of art history is set but this also means that many have old-school mentality and being a freelance musician is extremely hard because there is no elasticity in work in business in general so it’s also hard and almost impossible to do side jobs. There is no help form the state on any level. While in the northern countries there are some things that help you doing that. I’m not saying it’s easy. I know Netta and I know she really works her ass off on things and… She is also very talented and it gives her possibility to do other stuff. But of course, the fact she does it means she also needs to do it so I understand and that even in their case it’s not easy to survive with just the band. Especially if on one hand there’s more consciousness in society on what musicians do, and in Italy maybe nobody beside the metalheads knows what we do but in the meantime life is very expensive over there so I understand… There is two sides to everything. For sure it’s not easy to be a full time musician.
VENIA: Especially being any kind of artist… As today we have a trend that everyone is an artist, photographer, model…
TOMMASO: I know, oh my god… Like we talked it’s saturation of everything. It’s still good that even in this dark era if you have sensibility with art you still can recognize an artist from a non-artist. And there’s no Photoshop that can hide. That’s the secret.
VENIA: One last thing I wanted to ask about a video you made for the track Forsaking which made me wondering why you never took professional ballet dancers…
TOMMASO: There was a problem with communication in the video. Unfortunately, I realized that the message we wanted to send was misunderstood on some level. The thing there was… They were professional dancers but they couldn’t dance with each other, there was problem with the feeling. And message was exactly that – the dancers couldn’t dance. It was a metaphor for relationships with people and how it is today for people to just let things go, to go with the next one or the better one because they think they will find happiness. Skipping what they have today. Those two people had to work harder to work together. If you don’t understand, even the best relationships, strongest love for a person or a thing you do… Love will die if you don’t work on it. You have believe in it. You have to work on it. You have to believe. Sometimes you have to let go. You have to freak out sometimes. But you can not just… But, now, and this is the sickness, western mental sickness, people can not keep doing things because as they find difficulties they interpret difficulties as “I can’t do it”. Difficulty and failure are exactly what makes things happen. That’s we did with our band. We started from scratch, from nothing.
I mean we are not Metallica, but we are growing and this means that if we can survive with what we do it means something went good. But the only thing that was constant was that everyday we had failure. Otherwise we wouldn’t have this. Every time I can jump of the stage and say “ok, but was it really good,…?” If one day we won’t be able to say that…
VENIA: That’s how you know you’re a real artist… You have to question yourself and strive for more.
But let, on a bit brighter side, so that we don’t dig to deep into the topic… You have many food-related merchandise. Are you maybe planing to open a Fleshgod Apocalypse themed restaurant in your hometown?
TOMMASO: Oh, man 😀 😀
I don’t know about specifically Fleshgod Apocalypse but for sure in my dreams that would work. I would love that.
We’re doing this with our merchandise to promote everything made-in Italy, from our area. Food in Italy is not just eating and drinking, it’s a form of art. It’s like music and paintings. I am really into it. I love cooking, experimenting with new things in kitchen. One of the luckiest things for me is all this travelling and seeing how many influences and cultures can change the ways of conceiving food and how many great things and quality thing you can have in many different way.
We believe in food and wine as forms of art. It’s good to have that.
VENIA: Thank you very much for this insightful conversation and I can just hope we will see you in Croatia, this time as headliners not just supporting band.
TOMMASO: Of course! Thank you! It was nice meeting you 🙂