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Rhapsody Of Fire Interview with Alex Staropoli – December 2013

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In 2006, the Italian ‘symphonic power metal’ band, Rhapsody, led by Alex Staropoli, changed their name to Rhapsody Of Fire due to trademark issues. Rhapsody was created by Luca Turilli and Staropoli. In 2011, after 18 years as co-leader of the band, Turilli left Rhapsody of Fire, on good terms, to form a new band, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. While that split, however friendly it was, could have been catastrophic for the musicians, both acts managed to turn it in to an opportunity to forge new paths. After signing with AFM Records in 2012, Staropoli and his band decided to release a live album and then a studio record. In 2013, Dark Wings Of Steel was released. Iris North from PlanetMosh talked with Staropoli about this whirlwind of events, the band’s history and their roots within the genres of metal.

Hello, my new ‘friends in music’ from Italy! What’s new for Rhapsody Of Fire?

Hello!! Well, there is a brand new album, lots of promotion, a world tour to organize… Lots of exciting stuff!

Please tell us about your latest album, Dark Wings Of Steel: the concept behind it, your favorite moments or tunes on the record, and other details. 

The concept was for me to produce a heavy metal band. To have a more powerful sound for the band, especially on the guitars. I wanted to sound more direct and organic compared to the previous albums in a way. Every production is a challenge and I am sure the next one will be even better, as always. But improvement is mandatory for me and it will always be. I worked on Dark Wings Of Steel in a way that I can now say that the whole length of the album is my favourite moment on the record. I have taken the time to work on every small detail and be proud of the entire album.

Who wrote the music, and who wrote the lyrics?

Dark Wings Of Steel was composed during the last few years by myself and my brother Manuel Staropoli. Manuel happens to be an awesome Baroque Flute and Recorder concert player, a professor teaching in a music conservatory, bass player and great composer. He wrote some very cool material so I decided to combine our forces, a big clash of forces and passion for music. My brother is no stranger to Rhapsody Of Fire, of course. He’s witnessed the entire process of creation and the development of it since the 90s, since the first compositions and recordings of our first demos. Actually, it was a young Manuel in his teenage years, who gave Luca and myself some Baroque music to listen to and get inspired by.

Roby De Micheli also helped a lot too. It was so important for us to have great feedback from him. He wrote some fantastic guitar riffs and guitar solos. I am really happy to call him a friend and a stable member of this band. Not many people know that Roby was part of the band with Luca and I, right at the very beginning of our careers, so he is no stranger at all to what we do; he’s exactly like my brother, and witnessed the entire process of creation and development of Rhapsody Of Fire since the 90’s.

I wrote and arranged all the orchestral material as always. I then asked a friend of mine, who is an orchestra director and arranger to finalize the actual scores and to direct the orchestra during the recordings. We used the Macedonian Radio Symphonic OrchestraF.A.M.E.’S Project – in Skopje. And it was a very emotional moment hearing the orchestra recording many parts for a Rhapsody Of Fire album again. Most importantly, we can all hear again the fantastic vibrations in the final mix that only real instruments can deliver.

Fabio wrote all the lyrics. It was the most epic and demanding process Fabio has ever entered into I guess, but it is a great advantage that the singer is also a very good lyricist. It is clear to me that the vocal performance and the words on Dark Wings Of Steel are really more fluent, and it’s a great job.

Now that Luca has left the band, has your approach to song writing changed? As in, are you consciously trying to move away from epic sagas, movie-inspired tunes, or long stories? Or have you kept the song writing inspirations and basic process the same?

Now, the approach is pretty similar I must say. It’s all about visualizing the music and knowing what kind of sound and emotions need to be expressed. I am much more relaxed and cool. I can work when I want and organize myself the best way I want.

Tom Hess is also gone now, and you’ve brought in a new guitarist, as you say. Tell us about your most recent line-up changes, please.

Yes, the actual line up of Rhapsody Of Fire is a 5 band member line up now:

Alex Holzwarth: DRUMS, Oliver Holzwarth: BASS GUITAR, Roby De Micheli: ALL GUITARS, Fabio Lione: VOCALS, Alex Staropoli: KEYBOARDS.

There were quite a few changes, true, but this is not the only band who has had to go through this kind of process. I think that it is very important to find the right musicians and band members, so sometimes what may seem not a popular decision is a very important decision for a band. Roby De Micheli is very important for this band, as I said. He wrote some fantastic guitar riffs and guitar solos. He is no stranger to the band, but the band is very strong with him as part of it. I called him to offer the spot, and he accepted with great enthusiasm.

Your ‘true’ fans might not have any confusion any more over the 2 Rhapsody’s, but to someone who’s just discovered the band, it’s almost like a ‘friendly’ version of the 2 Queensryche’s: Geoff Tate has his version and Todd LaTorre has his version. You guys have ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’, and your friend Luca Turilli has ‘Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody’. To someone who has just heard of the band – maybe they heard one song they liked on the radio or on YouTube or something – and wants to know more, please tell us how to tell the bands apart ‘musically’….. (How does your musical approach differ from Luca’s band – that kind of thing)?

I think that the most evident differences, after a first listen, is the way the two bands sound. I think that Luca wanted to have a lot of space for his orchestrations. I preferred to have a bit less orchestration and more powerful drums, bass and guitars. The great thing here is that everybody is extremely happy with the sound of their respective productions, and that’s the most important thing.

The main similarity if you really need one, is that there’s the same enthusiasm from Luca and myself when we compose, produce, mix and deliver an album master. There is nothing in the world like the moment when you finish a production, you are happy with it and you listen to it loud in the car driving into the sunset. We both demand high standards.

You guys do sound like music that would be at home in a documentary film. So you’re definitely accomplishing your goal of becoming ‘film score metal’ or ‘Hollywood metal’. Please tell us about the latest chapter in Rhapsody Of Fire’s musical saga:

Having created and developed an epic saga through 10 studio albums, I decided to change and to not have another saga or concept album this time. The new lyrics, and the music as well, are magic, poetic, dramatic, visionary, intense; just like in the previous albums. But those elements connect all the new songs and probably both, musically and lyric-wise, they are even more accessible to the listener.

During the band’s career I have usually never answered questions referring to the lyrics. I have always preferred to leave that to the lyricist and I will continue doing so. Moreover, I believe that it’s the listeners who should read the lyrics and get inspired by them, get images from them, shape and feel them in their hearts, in many different and personal ways.

And what’s your favourite Rhapsody Of Fire tune to play live in concert?

Oh, there’s so many songs…. Just take a look at the Rhapsody Of Fire live double album LIVE – FROM CHAOS TO ETERNITY. Inside, more or less, are all the songs we like to play. They’re the songs that our fans want to hear.

Think back over the past ten years. Do you have any favourite songs or favourite moments with the band that really stick out in your mind?

Each album represents a piece of musical history. There are lots of great songs so I am not really able to pick up on just one. Surely the best moment though, was to work with Mr. Christopher Lee on the narrations. This was the artistic peak of our career without a shadow of a doubt.

What are your plans to support your latest release?

We plan to start touring in Europe beginning early 2014, then to play Summer festivals of course. After that we really hope to tour in the USA again and in Latin America. Rhapsody Of Fire are ready to play at any time!

Are you a professional musician; do you work with music as your ‘paying day job’?

Yes I am; music is my sole activity right now and I couldn’t be more happy.

What did you like a lot, when you toured in the USA? I’m from the USA, so I’m curious. :)

Everything! I like touring the USA and I also had some great vacations in the West and East coasts a few years ago. Fans are amazingly enthusiastic and supportive. I like American muscle cars, big steaks, straight roads through California and Arizona, the beaches of Florida, which I have visited many times and that whole area… I was there meeting up with Midnight from Crimson Glory years ago, and it’s a lot of fun.

If you were still going to do narration – you know who you could get to speak on your album that would be awesome? James Earl Jones. That man has the voice of God.

I agree! The guy is impressive. I still remember his character in Conan The Barbarian. I really like him as an actor and his voice, it’s unique.

Do you have any message for your fans and readers?

I am looking forward to meeting all of you when we’re touring again soon! Thanks for the outstanding support over the years.

 

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!