11th October 2010
About The Interview
Mistheria is one of the most critically acclaimed keyboardists in metal. Having worked with the likes of Bruce Dickinson and Rob Rock, the Italian is now back after a 6 year gap between solo albums with his second effort “Dragon Fire”. We talk candidly with the keyboardist about the album.
Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. This is your second solo album and it’s been some 6 years since ‘Messenger of the Gods’. Why such a delay between albums?
First of all, it’s my pleasure to talk about my new album “Dragon Fire” for virtuosityone.com!
Well, after “Messenger of the Gods” (released on 2004 by Lion Music too) I released “Solo Piano” on 2007 (by Videradio/RAI Trade), album which is part of my Classical/New-Age production and part of my discography, surely for different target of listeners/fans, but anyway an album that has been followed of many “Solo Piano” concerts and it meant a lot to me. In fact, soon the new album of this series will be released on 2011.
Then, then … a lot of things to do to survive in this music-world, you know! So I recorded, as session-man, for other artists and I did all other activities part of my job: touring, concerts, teaching, demonstrating, arranging and writing my new Classical album, and a lot of other things. Writing an album, for me, is a serious and important job, high-demanding regarding concentration, energy, and time. So, simply I couldn’t devote all myself on a new album. Furthermore, I know myself, fairly well, and I know when it’s the right time to sit down and start working on some new music … 😉 Moreover, I think it is not important how many albums an artist releases, but the quality of each of them.
Thanks to Lion Music for believing again in me and my music publishing “Dragon Fire”.
The new album represents very strong song writing within the neo-classical metal genre with a cast of great guest musicians. What came first – the idea of the songs or the idea of putting together a project like this?
Song writing first of all, always, is the first step to make an album. Also the previous “Messenger of the Gods”, despite of the huge number of guests, started simply with song writing without thinking who will play and what. With “Dragon Fire”, in the same way, I wanted put together a good list of songs that represent, today, my musical ideas. After, when song writing and arrangement have been completed in my mind and on my computer, I started to think which musician could improve that material with great performances.
So when did writing for “Dragon Fire” commence?
On January 2009, when I got full inspiration in Zagreb (Croatia) where I moved to live with my girlfriend Ivana (Ivana Greguric, Croatian song writer and keyboardist) and song writing continued incessantly! This is the “right moment” I mentioned before. By the way, “Dragon Fire” features a song that I wrote on 2006, it was just a piano demo that, with John West melody and lyrics, became a nice ballade titled “Now it’s never”.
What were the earliest songs that ended up on the album conceived?
I don’t remember exactly because I worked simultaneously on all songs, moving on the full song list at the same time. I can say that the first song I wrote on January 11, 2009 (A beautiful dream) has been the last completed song! 🙂 By the way, the instrumental tracks are for sure the first songs that have been completed before than others because I was able to finish the demo versions by me, without needing to wait for singers melodies/lyrics job.
How do you like to work on creating a song? Do you play with different arrangements or have a clear vision of what you want straight off?
I sit on my Piano and follow my ideas and inspiration. It does not matter if song will feature or not Piano, my approach is always this. All other digital complications, at the early stage, make me distraction and concentration flies away … then, when the song is perfectly clear in my mind and on music paper, I turn on my “arsenal” (digital workstation, sequencer, keyboards, plugins, etc.) and I start the arrangement process that, yes, it’s already comprehensible in my thoughts … so I need just to make it real to make the demo version and start sending the material to the musicians.
Do you notate your works at all prior to even recording demos?
Yes I do. It is important for me and it is a process that I learned during my Classical music studies. Five good reasons: (1) it makes my ideas not forgettable and this is important because I hate when some good ideas are passing thru my mind and I cannot then remember; (2) it gives me the clear vision of song and arrangement; (3) I already have everything ready and under my eyes when I need to talk to musicians; (4) it is like manna when I need to work on that song after weeks or months; (5) it is quicker when ideas come ceaselessly and I’ve to fix them immediately, no other process can be faster for me.
Does this method of working differ to what you did on “Messenger of the Gods” and if so how?
Absolutely not. I always work in this same way. My first musical notes (my first attempts to write a music piece) date back to when I was 9 years old… (hey, I’ve just a few more by now 🙂
How do you feel you have grown as a musician in the last 6 years?
Musicians never stop to grow up. It is dangerous when we think the opposite. So, of course, 6 years are (I hope so) a good time to learn more and more, always, improving experience, ideas, song writing, generally the own music world. Collaborating, talking and making music with other musicians give back a precious treasure. I think that I followed this process so, hopefully, I grew up in the last 6 years … 🙂
So what led to you bringing in the personnel you did on the album? Did you have a list of preferred musicians and work from there or did some names crop up during the making of the album due to contacts with other musicians already involved?
During the arrangement processes, I started to think which musicians I wanted to involve. I already had some “irremovable” ideas concerning some friends I already worked with: John Macaluso on drums has been my priority! John Mac already played on my previous album, we spent time together and we are great friends, without mentioning the stunning and unique drummer he is. Anecdote: John Mac recorded all “Dragon Fire” drums in one day … 1 day!
Then, I was already in touch with other friends to make real some new collaboration: Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Emir Hot, Roger Staffelbach, Rob Rock, Mark Boals. All of them don’t need presentation and, of course, their job has been top-quality as expected. I didn’t work before with Mark Boals but I wanted him already on “Messenger of the Gods” and finally we found the right time to work together on “Dragon Fire”. I always loved his performances; his voice sound and his vocal range are divine! Another singer always in my mind has been John West. I played live with John in Split (Croatia) for the Emir Hot concert. It has been a great experience, we met and immediately we established a friendly relationship open to future collaboration. So, we made it real, John sung five songs on the album; he did an extraordinary job with expected totally awesome results. John West moved my album to the next level!
While working on the album, I’ve been in touch with two musicians I never collaborated neither talked before: Lance King and Alberto Rigoni. Lance captured me in a moment when I casually heard him on the internet … I thought: “Wow! I want him on my album!” His captivating voice tone, his way to work on backing vocals and his lyrics writing are excellent. You can hear on the song “Two of us” how it ended … 😉
Regarding Alberto, some months ago, I was still working on the arrangements and I didn’t solve yet the bass player position. For some different reasons I was not able to get in Dino Fiorenza neither Randy Coven. Alberto contacted me (nothing concerning my album) and we talked a couple times regarding that subject he needed. Of course, I knew which band Alberto was playing with (Twinspirits) and I knew that his job was excellent so then, when I needed to complete the line-up, I asked to Alberto whether he would like to join “Dragon Fire”. He accepted and, although he had really short time to finish recordings, his job has been simply perfect! I want thank, once more, all the amazing musicians on “Dragon Fire” for their over-the-top job.
I believe the vocalists had free reign more or less on their lyrics and melodies, with the personnel involved this is a wise decision given their calibre. Is this the only reason you chose to go this route with the vocalists?
The first reason why I chose that singers is that they are amazing vocalists! I knew also that they wrote melodies and lyrics by themselves so without thinking so much (because it doesn’t need if you look at those names) I’ve agreed with them about the job to do. For some songs I gave “carte blanche”, for some I gave melody and/or lyrics directions, for some I wrote melody, lyrics or both. In any case, we greatly worked together and I totally love the results of our collaboration. With such artists, everything is easy with maximum feedback.
One could look at some of the personnel (John West and Roger Staffelbach), see you as a keyboard virtuoso and think “is he trying to be the new Artension”, given the intricate arrangements yet strong vocal led songs can comparisons like this be unfair? Or would such comparisons be nothing more than a compliment?
This could be just a compliment to me, even if I don’t need at all “to be the new Artension” for the simple reason that Artension already exist (fortunately because it’s a great band with great albums) and my goal is different always pointed to the originality of my own ideas. Of course, bands which play and write the same genre share many music elements proper of that genre, but this is absolutely normal. To be clearer, my Metal/Prog-Metal song writing has different “genesis” that it is not connected with any Metal artist or band and I’d like this known to everybody: Classical music and my Classical studies are my solid background. Everything else came to my knowledge after many years, really late when I already have been totally “forged” by J. S. Bach, A. Vivaldi, W. A. Mozart, L. V. Beethoven, F. Liszt, F. Chopin and other masters like that. Curiosity: till some years ago, my home discography was found mainly on Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Alan Parson Project, Banco, P.F.M., Genesis, etc. And, of course, on the Classical genius above mentioned. The first album close to my playing style and song writing that I heard has been “Trilogy” by Yngwie Malmsteen that a great friend of mine (Alvaro De Amicis which is an incredible designer and made the “Dragon Fire” cover) showed me and it was an album I listened for long time. Relatively recent is my knowledge about Dream Theater, Symphony X, Rhapsody, Vanden Plas and other bands that someone could juxtapose to me.
I know a few years back there were some internet rumours regarding a rift between you and Vitalij Kuprij, but I gather this was all bullshit. Can you give us your side of the story?
Vitalij and I are great friends. We met several times, we played together in Rome a couple years ago (it was an amazing show that we enjoyed a lot and that everybody can watch on YouTube), we had funny and nice time together, we ate and drink together, we talked and planned to make an album together. Vitalij is a talented musician and composer, fantastic classic pianist and amazing rock keyboardist. We estimate each other. I think I don’t need to add more.
Ok tell us about the songs and what they mean to you?
“Dragon Fire” is not a concept album; each song has its own story and meaning. I wrote lyrics for the title track “Dragon Fire”, I gave the concept for 2-3 songs, other lyrics have been totally conceived by the singers and “The Beast” by Ivana Greguric. I think each listener can get the own impression, emotion and feeling for each song. Only one purpose was in my mind: give to the album a great cohesion between music and lyrics. A perfect combination of music and lyrics (I mean the “sound” of lyrics and the “rhythm” of words) is essential to create that ideal song blend.
Our review is mostly very positive but does air a few concerns regarding the mix of the album, notably the lack of rhythm guitars. Why was the decision made to have your keyboards seemingly mimicking rhythm guitars and not use the real thing?
I produced the album (mixing and mastering it) and, as you know, each producer “forge” his sound. This is my sound and I am totally happy and satisfied with it. I don’t think that the production “lacks of rhythm guitars”. If you ask to a bassist or a drummer maybe they answer (it has already happened to me) that guitars are too loud, if you ask to a guitarist maybe he answers that I doesn’t hear guitars at all. As producer, I can answer that the mix, in my opinion, is well balanced and “that one” is the sound that has always played in my mind and that I was looking for. When I push up the volume, really loud, I don’t want be “killed” by guitars or any other instrument but I like everything balanced (instead, generally, guitars play too loud on many albums, in my opinion). Usually, people listen this genre really loud: well, try to push up the volume listening “Dragon Fire”, never you’ll feel “…too loud!”, but you can always more … this is, for me, a great balanced mix.
Regarding the “real thing”: why albums are full of sampled/virtual instruments, including drums, piano, strings, bass, orchestra, choirs and no one comment nothing and instead regarding guitar sound it seems a “blasphemy”? Moreover, do we need always the same guitar sound? I don’t think so. Do we need guitars out of mix? I don’t think so. Do we need guitar solos “holing” our ears? I don’t think so. Guitars need “discipline” as other instruments in the band, which I name “counterpoint of mixing” directly borrowed from Bach’s composing technique. This is my point of view. I trashed many CDs because I don’t like to hear only guitars or, on the other side, I don’t understand the meaning of CDs without keyboards that add “colour” and “atmosphere”. But if guitars are missing it seems a scandal, instead if keyboards miss, it is just normal and not noticeable. And I don’t want to comment how keyboards are programmed (by guitarist, vocalists, bassists or drummers) on many releases (not all fortunately), but this is another painful topic. With reference to “Dragon Fire”, I think that guitars sound awesome on each track, I am totally happy with it and it is the sound I wanted to reach and I reached, “real” or “not real” thing, I think and listen always to the result not how I got that result. Then, of course, each listener can express comments and opinions, like it or not. I wanted just explain my method to approach and realize an album, and my honest point of view as sound engineer and producer.
Looking back is there anything you would change or is this your vision 100% of how you saw the album from the start?
I don’t need to change nothing because otherwise it would mean that I did a mistake giving the master to Lion Music. I am 100% satisfied of the album and, to be honest, it sounds better than in my early vision thanks to the amazing job that musicians involved did and, of course, mixing and mastering it by me I “forged” it exactly how I wanted. I wanted my album sound with “my sound”, to give to all of you the real Mistheria’s vision: song writing, arrangement, recording, mixing, mastering and production. “Dragon Fire” represents me and my music, this is important for me, showing sincerely and transparently which my vision of an album is.
John Macaluso has brought in a killer performance; you must be thrilled with his performances?
What John Macaluso did for my album is written in the legend of music and of my life! His performance is astonishing. When I started to get the tracks I was totally excited, feeling as a kid with his new toy … 🙂 The way John approached recording over passed my same thoughts; he worked on the demoed drums, that I programmed, as starting point then he filled each song with his superb ideas and majestic drumming! Without John Mac, “Dragon Fire” would not have been the same.
Did any of the guest performers surprise you with what they delivered, and if so in what sense?
I already said about John Macaluso. Everyone delivered brilliant ideas and breathtaking performances: John West, Rob Rock, Mark Boals, Lance King, Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Roger Staffelbach, Emir Hot, Alberto Rigoni. What I can add to what they already did in their career? Among all, I’ve to say that the two Italian musicians of the line-up surprised me or better confirmed me their stunning attitude and talent! Titta Tani is a superb vocalist which recorded both forceful songs (“Fire & Flames” and “Dragon Fire” in duet with John West) and a beautiful ballade (“A beautiful dream”); Titta can scream and sigh at the same time and also write excellent lyrics (“A beautiful dream” is a real gem). With him I already played live years ago and I appreciated his other productions but on “Dragon Fire” he did everything better and better. Alberto Rigoni (a bass player which I didn’t know very well before to start our collaboration) honestly and totally surprised me for three main reasons: his perfect performance, his warm and powerful bass sound, and his professionalism. Not as performer but as song writer, Ivana Greguric also surprised me because, even if a girl, she has written one of the most “heavy” songs (The Beast) of the album! 🙂
If you could sum up “Dragon Fire” in a few words how would you describe it?
“Dragon Fire” is a powerful, direct and melodic heavy metal album which includes stunning musicians/performers and represents the Mistheria music knowledge and experience up-to-date.
Any final messages for our readers?
I hope V1 readers can also have the chance to listen for “Dragon Fire”, because among all words, music is emotion, feeling and passion that can fly only by the air reaching our heart, not our eyes. As always I affirm: “people don’t need to understand of music, but listen and live music.”
Mistheria, many thanks for your time.
Thanks again for giving me the chance to talk about “Dragon Fire”, it has been really interesting interview and a pleasure.