Interviewed by Adrian Hextall (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Portuguese pioneers Moonspell first brought the dark flames of gothic majesty to their native country – and then set the rest of the world aflame with milestones such as Irreligious or Night Eternal. The imminent release of eleventh studio album Extinct erects another monument to sundowns and those dark hours and lets Fernando Ribeiro’s sombre vocals collide with modern riffing, blackened melodies and operatic grandeur.
To give us an insight into the dark corners of his mind, Fernando spoke to Myglobalmind and also found time to discuss the new album and forthcoming tour.
MGM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Fernando. I understand you’re really busy at the moment. Do you think it’s as a result of the switch you made, with the last album, over to Napalm Records? Do you think they’re doing more for you in terms of promotion and getting your name out there, wider than the territories that you’ve been very popular in previously?
Fernando It’s definitely a step forward into the right direction. Napalm got themselves together and they start really pushing their bands and supporting them. I think that is a great motivation for bands.
Nowadays, bands need to work with them [the label]. I’ve always been on the side of collaborating with labels, instead of putting them down, because, in a way, we are all sat at the same table. Also, I think that Moonspell would never have come out of Portugal if it wasn’t for social media at the time. I understand that. I came from a time that there was no internet involved, so we relied on labels to promote your band. I still think they can make a difference. Napalm is definitely trying and achieving great results with Moonspell. Obviously, they also like our music and always like our different way of making things. I’m pretty excited about working with Napalm, especially on this new album. Definitely.
MGM The previous album that you put out with them (Alpha Noir/Omega White) , didn’t seem to officially chart in your home country. Very strange given the huge successes you achieved with the previous albums? What was the reasoning behind this?
Fernando What we did was a double album, Alpha Noir and Omega White. We always tried to keep it united as a musical project and a single release because it’s the way we wrote the album. The way it came across, because it was out on a special edition, was that Alpha Noir got the lion’s share of the promotion. I always think, especially these days, there was no excuse for people not to listen to Omega White. Our albums were released in our country, and they were released everywhere. Sometimes people get confused. I get confused, as well, with all of the editions, the collector’s item and the final that is read.
MGM So how was the album marketed and made available to fans?
Fernando When you think of it, the scene might not be perfect, but when people start downloading stuff, one of the positive outcomes of it, for all the fans, was that “We immediately got more for our money, the bonus. We bought Alpha Noir. We got Omega White,” and you didn’t have to pay more for it.
Take the latest album, when you buy Extinct, you get a full film about the album as well. That is a really positive thing, and Moonspell has always been very keen in getting content for the bonus. We’ve done that before, but now, always to be like, “Live at XX festival” kind of bonuses. That’s a great thing. In the process, sometimes people get confused because it’s confusing.
I also do the production of the record, connecting all the dots, connecting all the pieces together. Sometimes it’s too overwhelming, all the things you have to do, nowadays, to release a record. I’m very involved in it, myself, so I know that people that work on the label, promoting, et cetera, it’s hard work, as well. Sometimes bands are spoiled, and they just leave it to the label. They don’t care about it. Then they complain, “Oh, this isn’t the stuff that we wanted. It wasn’t discovered.” With Moonspell, that never happens. We’re always very involved in all stages of the process from writing to producing and marketing the final product.
MGM You expect Portugal to be your biggest territory. Your previous few albums have all been charting in the national top five, haven’t they?
Fernando Yes. Hopefully this one will be, as well. I don’t know. Portugal, I have to tell you, it’s not about Moonspell, in particular. Portugal is a very love-hate country when it comes to people that have, in a way, succeeded. The people here are more used to people being famous locally and nationally. It’s a small country, so people don’t expect more. Whenever a scientist, a football player or another artist, other than Moonspell, goes outside (of the country) and can actually have a career, there is always some unfortunate feeling. People will probably start spreading rumors or trying to, in a way, put you down, with the stuff that you did. Portugal is not a country that has more artists with careers outside of the borders. We don’t have a true sense of independence because of this. We don’t really learn with positive experience. We analyze them or just are, in a way, jealous of them.
Saying that, we always did pretty well in Portugal. We didn’t ever stop, with the situation and the bullshit that was thrown at us. When we signed for Century Media back in ’95, with Wolfheart, even bands that used to be our friends, had been hanging out with us, they were trying to avoid us or just acting weird around us. We said we hadn’t changed, “Moonspell is what we are.” Friends are just… You have a friend in ’95. You will have a different friend in ’96. We never stopped as a result of this bullshit but many bands in Portugal have… unfortunately.
It’s a strange country, but we have nothing to complain about it. We get press. Although, really, they don’t talk about everything we do, but that’s not what we expected, anyway. Sometimes they skip important news, but it’s the price you pay. We have a very dedicated crowd here, in Portugal, that still buys our records and that still sells out the places whenever we play anywhere in Portugal. At the end of the day, that’s what counts. Not every band from Portugal has a straight line into their crowd but thankfully Moonspell does. That’s really what makes us a successful band in Portugal; we never stop to listen to what the others are doing, trying or saying. We have our own way.
MGM You just keep your hard work going, and hard work is going to pay off for you.
Fernando Believe it or not, it doesn’t work all of the time. I’ve learned, throughout the years, that sometimes it just happens to you. You work so hard and you put so much, and it doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s having the right idea. Sometimes it’s being in the right place, or taking a little more hours from your family time and doing something. It’s a lot of sacrifice. That’s the hard work, not to lose the spark. For musicians, that evens out. When you are writing a new record, that evens out everything. The capacity, the ability and the privilege of being creative, recording it, releasing it and talking about it is something that’s still very striking for Moonspell, as a Portuguese band because we never thought… We read about other bands, other magazines, and we heard other bands on the radio. That was, for us, a sign of success and importance, but it was something that we never thought, that we would be the ones making interviews and spending a day like today in interviews. We still know where we came from, and it’s still striking. We know that, definitely, we worked hard to be here, but there’s always this non-belief because of our background and the country we come from.
MGM One of the main reasons we need to talk today, you have your new album, Extinct, coming out in March of this year. Let’s start with the artwork on that. It’s very striking imagery and very, very unique. Tell me a little about it.
Fernando We normally work with this Greek artist. He also plays in a band called Septicflesh. His name is Seth Siro Anton. I really like to work with him. I knew his band from the underground scene. I found out about him around 2008 / 2009, when we were doing our album, Night Eternal. I just called him up because, not only by his own merit, but he had some references to artists I really like; for instance, Francis Bacon ( Irish-born British figurative painter) or Joel-Peter Witkin (American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work often deals with such themes as death, corpses, and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals, intersex persons, and physically deformed people).
Seth was very different from all the other metal artwork. I thought that would be a good choice for us, for artwork, because he really messes a lot with horror and beauty, and I think that really represents the Moonspell sound. Like any other record, I just passed him the concept, the lyrics, talked a little with him as work was in progress. All of the main decisions of having a figure, of having an amputee figure were all Seth’s. He’s an artist enough for me to trust his decisions, and I really understand.
Extinct is an album that’s definitely more melodic, in simplistic terms and it’s music that has an approach that is more suave and is more insinuating. Also, if you listen carefully, you will find darkness in there. You will find anguish and pain, and you will find the feeling of extinction. The amputee is really like that; when you take off a part of yourself, when you take off a part of nature or when something goes away, goes extinct. It is that kind of pain. I know it’s a very striking and even disgusting figure, in a way, but it makes sense for our music. It makes you think, as well. We won’t be able to achieve that affect if I put a photo of the band, the band logo or some abstract figure. This really worked the effect we wanted. Seth is definitely a great artist. His figures are amazing, full of macabre detail, and they really fit into the Moonspell universe.
MGM Looking at the imagery, it’s one of those album covers that you can spend a long time looking at the detail in there. It’s difficult to tell, almost, whether it’s a photograph, a sculpture that he has done, or it’s actually a painting. I’m assuming it’s a painting, but it could easily have been something that has been sculpted, as well?
Fernando Seth keeps really secret about these techniques. I know he works a lot based on photography because he is a photographer, as well. He paints, as well. The result might be mixed techniques. I think these artworks really exist as paintings or, at least, as serigraphic work because he also has a little side business, selling his pictures and taking them on tour. He made a couple of exhibitions. I think he did one in Paris and another one in Belgium. I think his output is definitely mixed techniques. He’s also a member of the Fine Arts Chamber, from Greece, so he also has recognition from the public as an artist. That’s why he does the exhibitions and all that. Even though he has the band (SepticFlesh) and the band is so busy… His band is touring with us. He’s definitely at his best when he’s doing this kind of stuff. He really works hard for it, and he knows, very well, the difference of having a full picture and then having something to be printed on a CD. He kind of adapted into it.
When we picked up the album cover, the final version, we picked even more detail than the previous figure for that album edition because we know it will be bigger. It will be final. We always take care that there’s different artwork for every edition. When he starts working, he never stops. We have a lot of stuff that he has sent. The biggest difficulty with Seth is always the last few days. You settle on a cover, and even if the cover doesn’t change dramatically, he’s always trying to put more in, adding one more element. Sometimes we say we agree to this, and then it’s where your advice starts being important, when it’s already close to deadlines. You have to draw a line there because you need the cover finished.
MGM There’s what looks like mathematical formula, in the background. Is that just there for affect, or is there a meaning behind that?
Fernando It’s more of the curative element, really, than something with the meaning. Knowing Seth, I’m sure that he picked up some formula that has a mathematical connection with some of the science that studies extinction, which there are a lot of branches that are studying it. I don’t really know what he has going. I don’t know if it’s meaningful or not. Definitely, it’s a mathematical formula related to some kind of end.
MGM That’s going to be one of those things that keep your fans interested for quite some time.
Fernando Yes, they have asked us a lot. I should know more, but Seth is always very secret about his stuff, even though he’s doing it for us.
MGM In terms of the tracks, the album seems more accessible than some of your earlier works. It has a very melodic element to it. It’s very easy to listen to. There’s still a very dark overtone to it. Were you looking to create something that was more accessible to people who didn’t know your work? Or is it just the way you were feeling at the time?
Fernando Not really. With Moonspell, we isolate ourselves when we are making a record. With all these years and not being a band that has been totally consensual, there were always people that like us, people that didn’t care about it. We never had a time that everybody agreed on our music. We learned to deal with the expectations and deal with the price to pay when you really want to be a bit more personal with your music and do whatever you feel like at the time. When we did, Omega White, coming from a string of albums that were really heavy and in your face, we felt we could do something else, do something a little more mature and that we could expand our musical side. I think to an extent that we did this on Extinct. The songs really sound catchier, the enhanced sound. They have an approach that’s not in your face, but it’s something that’s more insinuating. It’s more musical, in a way. It doesn’t awake, probably, the same emotions that the other recent albums of Moonspell do.
What I get from people that have heard the album so far, even people that have worked on the album, is that it’s not an annoying kind of catchiness. It’s something that is interesting, has layers – not too much, not too little – and keeps people interested in listening to it more. I like the fact that the music is more atmospheric because then we could take the darkness somewhere else, to the lyrics, to the artwork, to the vocals, to the story that is being told. I really like this way that Extinct has gone, musically, because it sounds very natural. It doesn’t sound like anything prepared. Nowadays, if you listen to the classic metal that sells, for sure, it will involve a soprano, the guy growling and not this kind of stuff that we are doing. Maybe if the album was released in the heyday of gothic music in the 1980s, people would say, “Well, this is catchy,” and people were used to it. Nowadays, because it is not the normal style, people stop and listen.
When people think about dark metal and gothic rock, it’s almost like they think about a more routine entertainment. Well, this album is very mature. It comes out of pain. It comes out of structures. It was quite a coincidence that we went there, as a band. The way that the album sounds so free and so fresh, it’s great. Both us and our fans deserved an album like this already.
MGM Absolutely. I don’t hear, as you say, what people are currently classing as gothic metal, which is a soprano, female vocals and the growling male that is accompanying them. There are far too many of those out there at the moment. What you seem to have delivered here is something that, as you say, sounds fresh. It seems to pull a lot of influences from bands like Type O Negative, Fields of the Nephilim from their Dawnrazor era. That era, when you do get bands like the Sisters of Mercy playing, it harks back to a time I remember, where gothic music really meant something, and it really did stand out, as well. Hopefully, you think that’s a good fit.
Fernando I love that time. I don’t live tied to the past. I listen to music daily. I understand that music has to change, but all those bands you’ve mentioned really have influences for us because they really were meaningful. They really had a story to be told. They really had the visual, also, to come up with the story. Those bands are really idols for us, for everything they did with the bands, but also with everything that came together with the band, their personality, in those times.
It’s not that we are trying to recreate it. Sometimes, you arrive to gothic fest, to play or whatever, and you see that everybody there is dressed in glow-in-dark colors and with the most bizarre outfit you can imagine. I don’t have a prejudice against anyone, but I would expect to see a lot more people with leather jackets and Ray-Bans than what you normally get at the gothic fest.
Sometimes, even if those bands – not Type O Negative, anymore, unfortunately, but Sisters or Fields – are playing at these festivals, there are a lot of people that don’t know about their importance that they have for the gothic scene. For Moonspell, at least, those times will show up in our songs because for dark music, it was really great avant-garde and really emotional times. People were always trying to do something a little bit different, trying to reach other places. Even Carl McCoy has gone gothic with metal, with Zoon, and he still did a great job. Those are the kinds of the bands we look up to, definitely.
MGM You’re taking this on tour. We get you in the UK at the end of the tour, on April 2nd, so we’re quite lucky there. It’s nice to see you coming over to play. That’s quite a collection of dates. All Western Europe, though. Are you going outside of Europe and the UK?
Fernando Unfortunately, we had other UK dates, but they fell through. I was quite sad because of it. I was looking forward to playing other places that fans have been requesting for years. In our plans, when we do a second leg of the European tour, which will happen after we do the States, with Septicflesh and Deathstars, in late April/May, after the European tour… Then summer festivals start in Germany, with the Wave-Gotik-Treffen (Leipzig), and that will lead us up to September. I think, in October, we’ll play a part two, so I hope that we can also play some more UK dates because the part two will also take us to East Europe, Scandinavia, as far as Russia, Siberia and China. It was a trip that we did, last summer, that was a crazy one, but it really went so well. Up to the end of the year, we still have late in America to do. We’re not sure if we’re taking December off, playing some winter festivals, if we just play in September or if we do it in December. All in all, many dates have been booked. We’re still booking a lot of them. It’s a great time.
We’re just in the process of brainstorming on the live show. We just follow the lead of Extinct. We definitely improve the quality of our shows, the songwriters and the musicians who want to do this live, as well don’t want to go in with a simple production. We hope will be able to bring a lot of the lighting and production to the Underworld because we are preparing a really cool visual show.
Moonspell tour western Europe between March 12 and April 2nd. Extinct is released globally during March 2015: