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Fabio Lione & Alex Staropoli (Rhapsody)

Interview with Fabio Lione & Alex Staropoli from Rhapsody
by Alex Farmakis at 07 January 2005, 3:23 AM

Rhapsody is one of Italy's Metal prides. Probably the most influential Power/Symphonic Metal band around nowadays. A couple of months ago they released Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II -The Dark Secret which apart for the prima orchestral/symphonic parts (done by the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra ) also features narrations by the magnificent, the gigantic actor Christopher Lee (Hint for those who don't know him…he was Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy). Our editors, Thodoris & Alex, had the chance to meet Rhapsody's Fabio Lione (vocals) and Alex Staropoli (keyboards) in Athens, as part of their promotional tour. Here's what both of them had to reveal to Metal Temple Magazine…

Alex: Hello guys, I am Alex from Metal Temple Magazine and I am glad to welcome you in Greece. What do you have to say about your new album that will be released in a few days?

Staropoli: It is a good feeling. It was a long suffering to wait for that day. It was a big effort to work on it, so finally the album is coming out and we are looking forward to see the reactions of all the fans all over the world.

Lione: It’s like a little dream because after six months in the studio…

Staropoli: More like a nightmare than a dream! \[laughs] It’s been a nightmare to be waiting all this time.

Lione: So finally, it will be released.

Alex: It must be a difficult work because it has many parts with keyboards and symphonic arrangements.

Staropoli: Yes, it was a bit difficult.

Thodoris: Do you think that it was worth the effort?

Staropoli: Yes, absolutely. We are very proud of this album. We did the best we could. Economically, physically, emotionally; everything.

Thodoris: Before you start the album did you have in mind to use more symphonic parts in it? Was it programmed or did it just happen in the studio?

Staropoli: Yes. The way we work is this: we compose the songs and I always do the orchestral arrangements with samples and keyboards so the orchestral arrangements are there. Of course there is the orchestra. The mixture between samples and orchestra is 70% orchestra and 30% samples because also the most waylong symphonic Hollywood parts do not use always only instruments. They also use electronic stuff to make it sound even better, so all the instruments that are played by the orchestra are also played by samples, so you can imagine what kind of amount of work we go through during the mix.

Alex: Here in Greece you are very popular. You have lot of fans. What is the response of the people in the other countries?

Lione: It depends on the countries. I mean, in Italy we are in a good position. We can say that we are the first Metal band.

Staropoli: Italy is a very hard country for Metal because the Pop and Rock music is very strong.

Lione: In Metal we are among the most famous Metal bands, but for example in countries like France, Germany or Japan we’re really bigger. And in America too. We do not know about all the countries. For example in Sao Paolo in Brazil we played in front of 5000 people.

Staropoli: Japan is our biggest country - best selling country and Germany comes after that.

Thodoris: What you said before about Pop being very strong in Italy…

Staropoli: Italian Pop.

Thodoris: Yes, it sounds really bizarre to us because we meet many Italian bands popping out all the time from the Metal scene and we believe so far that you have a very strong scene and that Metal is like mainstream in Italy. So the situation is not like that after all?

Lione: No, it is not like that. Not mainstream. The situation is better than before for sure.

Staropoli: If you want to enter the charts, as we want to be known, we really have to fight with hundreds of Pop singers.

Lione: I was talking with a guy from a media market and all the media markets in Italy know the Symphony of Enchanted Lands Part 2 album, but this is our case, because after all these years Rhapsody are quite known in Italy. But of course Italy is a very difficult country because in Italy we have so many really famous Pop singers therefore Metal will not be mainstream. But the scene is better than before.

Staropoli: Yes, the scene is better. It’s not like in Finland where Nightwish go first, I mean they sell really a lot of copies but Finland does not have big charts like in Italy. Italy is a nightmare if you want to go into the charts, it’s almost impossible.

Lione: Well, we were three weeks in the charts with the last album.

Thodoris: But despite all this you are considered to be the greatest Metal band in Italy.

Lione: Yes, I think that we are the greatest Metal band in Italy. Now maybe the second best Metal band  is Lacuna Coil. They are doing very well.

Alex: And they have a very beautiful singer too…

Lione: Yes, she is beautiful…\[laughs] But, you know, it’s not so necessary.

Thodoris: I think that they will not last long because their music is like a trend.

Lione: It’s possible because there are many Gothic Metal bands. I hope for them that they will be successful for years to come. I don’t know. Anyway, I am happy about the scene in Italy because there are many bands now. It’s easier to have a contract, it’s easier to do CD…

Staropoli: And packed by record labels…\[laughs]

Lione: Yes, this is what they don’t know, anyway in the past they didn’t have any chance, not even to record an album, so it is better now.

Staropoli: But the scene’s not so strong, I think. For it to be strong we will need more bands that will stand out, unique, with particular sound and we don’t have many bands like that. There are many good bands that play good music but sound too similar.

Alex: Have you ever thought about going out on tour with just Italian bands, three or four of them, like Labyrinth, Elvenking, Heimdall, Drakkar, ect, so that it would be like an Italian Heavy Metal festival on the road?

Both: No! No way! Never! \[Laughs]

Lione: You know, Italian people like to talk too much and talk and talk and talk…\[Laughs]

Staropoli: And talk too much…\[Laughs]

Lione: No! No way!

Alex: What is your opinion about the other Italian bands?
Thodoris: Have you distinguished one or two of them that you really like?

Staropoli: I like a band called Eldritch. I really like that band since their beginning. I know they sound good and I really like them. I like their first album. For us, for Luca and me, we listened to this album and went wow finally a good band from Italy.

Lione: I know Eldritch very well, they play a special kind of music, and I know more of the bands in Italy, because…

Staropoli: You are in the middle of the shit! \[Laughs]

 Lione: I was part of half of them. No, not really, I just singed for two bands. You know, you see all the Vision Divine things that went on…it was a sort of labor.

Alex: I was about to ask you that. Is there any reason that you left Vision Divine?

Lione: Well, because I think now is the right time to think about a new era, a new step for this band, for my band, for Rhapsody. Especially with this new album we’ve finally reached the sound and the style in everything, for the vocals, composition, everything, you know the orchestral things. We had a dream. We have our sound now. So now it’s important that Rhapsody has a singer and apart from that, I’ve been thinking on doing a solo album for two years now already. And of course to have two bands plus a solo album, which means a solo tour with the solo band, maybe it’s just too much. Then I’ve also had some problems, not problems, I mean I was in the studio with Rhapsody and the Vision Divine guys wanted to record the album at the same time. I told them Ok guys, wait. They didn’t want to wait so I tried something, I mean…

Thodoris: Why didn’t they want to wait? Was their label behind this?

Lione: It was a complicated situation because we were at the end of the contract with the old label. So they want to find a new label, but they also want to record the album immediately. And I said Ok, we have time. At the same time, ok, I have to say our new management… maybe, you know, some people might think Joey DeMaio, the new management said something. He just made a suggestion. He said I would prefer if you sang for one band. He didn’t tell me You have to…. He said You know, Eric sings just for Manowar, but it’s your life. Do what you want. Of course, when you realize that they don’t want to wait for the recording, to record in my town in a studio that I found for them with a drummer that was in Athena, so I found them a new drummer, with my vocal lines because of eleven songs, except for the eighth and ninth track, all the vocal lines were mine and I left them for them, for the new singer. So, I was offended, I mean if you don’t want to wait I can do nothing, you know, because anyway it was so complicated…

Staropoli: You know, the problem with this kind of bands, and I am sorry for that because I know Olaf - the guys are nice people you know - but the problem is that they want to… they don’t care about their career, they want the album, they want to do an album, every time they want to do an album. But this is not the way to build a career, so you want an album, you want the payment… You get the money to live and then the thing is finished.

Lione: Yes, you want the money in order to live. That’s important. It’s not only about career; it’s building something and in the right moment to do an album. I mean, the new album that they did is a good album. I was of course one year with them, and then I decided to leave the band, but to be honest, if they release the album six months later what would change? What would change if it would be released six months before or not? It would be the same album, the same studio, the same cover. And probably it would sell the same copies. Now I know that they are working on a new album and this is important for them because this new album for sure will be different, because the new singer is completely different this time, so he will compose completely different vocal lines. And so the music will be different I think. The point is that this album is really good and I think that they worked for this album for two years and I worked for one year and three months with them for all the vocal lines. The vocal lines are really good. And now they have to double an album like that and still they pretend to put, to release an album not even one year later. It’s difficult to double. When you do such a good album you need time to compose at least an album at the same level but I hope for them that they can do it. They say they are already half way there. The previous album is three months old. It’s stupid, because you work two years for an album and then after six months you make another one…

Staropoli: (To Lione) I can understand this because this is the first time that they do music without you. So I believe that maybe they want to face a new situation…

Thodoris: They want to take advantage of the new singer.

Staropoli: Probably.

Lione: Their new singer has a cover band. He’s had a cover band for ten years now and each week he sings for four nights with the cover band and he will never leave this cover band because he’s been singing for them all this time. So in my opinion this can be a problem for a band because he is not free. He only has two days available to work for them. But Olaf and the others chose this singer so I just left my vocal lines for them and I can’t do more than that.

Staropoli: We did enough promotion for them…\[Laughs]

Alex: Alex I want to ask you something that a friend told me. Are you about to release an album on your own where you play instrumental music? Is that right or is it just rumor?

Staropoli: No, it is true that I am working on an album, it is no true that it will be instrumental and not true that it is going to be released very soon. Its release will maybe be at the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006 and I am working right now, using all the time, the free time that I have now on it.

Thodoris: In what style will this album be? Can you imagine it?

Staropoli: No, I can’t imagine. It will surely be different than Rhapsody. Of course it will have keyboard orchestration stuff, but not much and not like Rhapsody. It will be different.

Thodoris: It will be similar to other solo albums by keyboard players like Jordan Rudess?

Staropoli: It is not something that has to do with keyboards. It is just a band.

Alex: We have heard a rumor that Luca is working on a Role Playing Game that has as a concept the Emerald Sword Saga. Do you know anything about that?

Staropoli: We have many ideas. This rumor that you heard is very old. So now with this new management in SPV Records we are working in a different way. We are working step by step. So there will be special things come in the future, because we have many ideas and I am sure some that these ideas will be a Role Playing Game or maybe a book on the Emerald Sword Saga A card game maybe. I don’t know. Something related to the direction that we’ve already taken. Something to please the fans. But now we are working on promotion, waiting for the release of the album and then of course we will work on the merchandise, because all that we’ve said has to do with the merchandize. So for sure we are going to come up with something special for the people at our tour.

Alex: Do you think that you will come to Greece soon for a live performance? You have never performed here so the fans have been expecting to see you for years.

Lione: Ok. The album will be released in less than one week. So after that we will finish the promotion and we will have a meeting to discuss all that. We have to fix how many shows, how many countries and for sure, I think we can say for sure…

Staropoli: Absolutely…

Lione: …We will come to Greece. I can’t say that we will play two or three shows, but one in Athens is sure, one show for sure. We have never played in Greece and next year \[2005] is definitely the touring year for Rhapsody. We have not yet decided where to start from, if we want to start with some festivals and then the tour or start immediately with the tour, stop for festivals and then continue with the tour.

Staropoli: We have three options and I think that we are going to begin with festivals in the spring and the summer and we’re probably going to be playing with Manowar. We are going to play at festivals; we are going to play with them probably in autumn. This is the first possibility. The second possibility is a support tour with Manowar all over the world and the third possibility is a Rhapsody headliner tour, worldwide. I believe that one of these three things is going to happen.

Thodoris: And now that you have released your most symphonic album and you are going on tour, have you thought about how you are going to use the keyboards and samples and all this to sound as the album did? I think that is very difficult unless you hire an orchestra.

Staropoli: This could be very difficult. Maybe this could be a special event for one or two shows but we will see that. There are many things to do.

Lione: Maybe in the future we will play one album from the beginning to the end. But we are not the band to do things like that. You know, every time we play live it’s good to see people sing along with the band. So I sing, they sing with me, there is good energy coming from the band and there is good energy coming back from the crowd. So that’s why we will play the most live songs that we have. And I think that now we can choose between many songs. So we will not play the songs that are twenty five minutes long.

Staropoli: We did that in the past and we saw that the people enjoyed it, but this is not what they really want. They want Emerald Sword, they want The Village Of Dwarves, The March Of The Swordmaster, all the songs that they can really enjoy and jump and dance and go crazy, you know.

Lione: You know, all these songs that are perfect for that.

Staropoli: To conclude, we are going to use, as we did the past, a sampler so we can bring Rhapsody’s sounds on stage. We cannot have a real orchestra, but we can at least approach the feelings of Rhapsody’s atmosphere.

Thodoris: Yes, but I think that as time passes by we see more symphonic elements in your albums and the songs aren’t as straightforward as your old ones were, you know, and that’s why I am asking. I think that your album is a new era for Rhapsody, more symphonic and this will be more difficult for you to in terms of performing these songs live.

Staropoli: Well, we compose some songs with no intension to play them live. A song like Unholy Warcry is a song we compose knowing that we are going to play that song. Of course we could never pay the whole album (Symphony Of Enchanted Lands Part II) live, we never thought of doing that. We have to say that we have lot of songs now that we can perform live, especially here \[Greece] that we’ve never performed before.

Lione: You know, usually it is important I think to say we are a band that wants to play and have fun, to be fun for the fans. We are not a band that wants to demonstrate anything…

Staropoli: No, we have never been that kind of band…

Lione: …something like We are the best, I am the God of vocals, I am the God of keyboards… we don’t care about this. So, it’s not necessary to play longest songs that we have.

Alex: We heard Christopher Lee in your new album make some narrations and he gave a majestic feeling to this release. Was it easy to convince him to do these narrations for you?

Staropoli: This was the job for the management. Well, it was not so difficult for many reasons but mainly for two reasons; because Joey DeMaio \[Manowar] had worked with Orson Welles in the past and Orson Welles knew Christopher Lee, and because the webmaster is married to Christopher Lee’s daughter. So he likes Manowar and Rhapsody. So Christopher Lee already has two things very important to him. And actually what I’d like to say is that he didn’t accept to work with us for the money because he doesn’t need this money. So we are very proud of this.

Alex: I want to ask you something else now. There was a rumor four or five years ago that said that your first album, Legendary Tales, was written and performed in the studio by Sieges Even.

Staropoli: \[Laughs] I never heard this rumor berore.

Alex: This rumor was based on the fact that you took Alex Holzwarth as your new drummer and on the fact that you didn’t go on tour that period. I think that the people who said these things are maybe jealous of you. What do you have to say about these people?

Staropoli: No, we did not go on tour because we wanted to release an album after one year, immediately. So we had to start working immediately and so we did, so that Symphony Of Enchanted Lands was almost composed after Legendary Tales.

Lione: We also have to say the truth that Limb, our old record label, was not so must interested in live things. So the band was almost unknown.

Staropoli: This is not really true, because Rhapsody, Luca and me - the basic formation that was in the beginning of Rhapsody -  we never played live. Limb did not force us to play live because they knew that we were not a live band.

Lione: Limb was a label that did not care so much about live performances.

Alex: Yes, but what do you have to say about the people who say all these bad things about you?

Staropoli: We don’t care.

Lione: When people talk, they do exactly the opposite thing than what they want, because if they talk bad they want to keep in a bad light the band, but they talk. And when they talk, the name of the band is still in the people’s ears and they do worse. Alex Hozwarth was also on the first album of Angra. So what does that mean? That he did their album too?

Staropoli: I understand that Legendary Tales was a big shock for many people. And that’s so because it was so new, it was so special.

Lione: We just did our best and we expected nothing from Legendary Tales because it was our first album. So, we did our best and I remember Limb one evening while we were out having dinner, they said Ok guys, if we sell seven or eight thousand copies it will be good.

Staropoli:  We sold seventy thousand copies! \[Laughs]

Thodoris: What do you think about your previous record label that released an album which contains your best moments?

Staropoli: We are not supporting it, because it is their thing. They had the right to do it, because they had the publishing rights. So, we are not involved in this, we are not supporting it and we are not doing promotion for this album. But we believe that it could be a good album for somebody that has no Rhapsody albums. At least it could be good for that reason.

Thodoris: I think that at least they should put some unreleased tracks in this album.

Staropoli: Yes, we proposed that to them, but they were not interested.

Thodoris: So you have nothing to do with it.

Staropoli: Exactly. Nothing to do with it.

Alex: When you write an album, do all the members of the band contribute to the composition of the songs?

Lione: The main composers are Alex and Luca, for about almost everything. Especially during the last two years between me, Alex and Luca there is a strong synergy because we know each other very well. So they understand my voice better, they compose while thinking about my voice and I know exactly when they compose a song the way that they think. So, we work in the studio on the lyrics that Luca writes. Luca is the one who writes the lyrics, but of course if we talk and find some better words that open the mouth or a better phrase then we change something. We might do some changes on the vocal line or something like that, but Luca and Alex are the main composers.

Staropoli: We write the songs fifty-fifty. Then Luca writes the lyrics and I write all the orchestral arrangements. By the way, the work of Alex Holzwarth, the drummer, is also very important. Of course we do compose the drumming but we give him the space to do what he wants.

Thodoris: How did it happen and Alex Holzwarth became a member of Rhapsody? He used to play much different music than Rhapsody.

Staropoli: That happened because Sascha knew him. Sascha Paeth knew him, so it was thanks to him that Alex joined Rhapsody.

Lione: Alex is a very good drummer and that’s what we need, a very good drummer.

Staropoli: When Sascha said that he is the only one that could do the job we said ok. We trusted him.

Lione: He is a very open minded man. He likes everything. Metal, Classic Music, everything.

Thodoris: Do you have any news to give us about Sieges Even? A possible reunion or anything that we can learn from you?

Lione: They did a show I think and maybe after that they might do an album but I don’t know anything more about that to tell you for sure.

Alex: Our time is up. In conclusion do you have to say anything to your fans and to our readers?

Staropoli: The first thing that comes to my mind is that we are looking forward to come to Greece. Back in ’98 or ’99 we were supposed to come but we had some problem and we did not manage to come. Now we are here and we hope that we will come soon again for a live show. That is just the beginning. Promotion is the first step. After that it’s touring and touring again.

Alex: Thank you very much for your time.

\[Both]: We thank you!


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