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White Magician's Derek DiBella: "I had to basically discipline myself to ignore my natural instincts which is to go “This riff is crazy and sounds cool, then this one after and then that one after and then that one after and then that one after…”"

Interview with Derek DiBella from White Magician
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 30 October 2020, 11:28 PM

At times one would think that he is being controlled by something, as if everything throughout one's lives is predetermined prior to birth. In a way, it is somewhat dangerous to think about it as one may as well drown in these kind of thoughts of what if. Trying to solve this puzzle would take ages and probably sanity along the way, but why dwell on it when you can listen to it. White Magician went wild and came out with "Dealers of Divinity", a story that can portray whether we are here for a reason and if someone is playing us or tricks on us. Steinmetal had a chance to talk to Derek DiBella, also known as The Great Kaiser, about what is going on with the dealers, conception of the controlling entity, musical export and development and more…

Greetings Derek, I am thrilled to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing man?

I have been doing pretty well friend, hope things are good on your end.

Even after I have been constantly listening to White Magician for the past two days, I am still under the impression that this band is enigmatic, a shocking kind of musical entity in its own special way. Whether it is the concept or the even twisting music, even with given the fact that it is vintage oriented. What is your viewpoint on the band’s image? How were you able to muster such an unequalled kind of representation?

Thank you! Shocking is good. Well to speak on the band’s image… I suppose it is conceptually just something I came up with on a whim and kept expanding on it to snowball into having the concept of magic become the basis of the lyrics and imagery. It’s simple to do because even though I like to have the imagery and intention more in the vein of the formative years of stage magic and magicians it still relates any which way.

In a way almost everything is magic. Thinking of something and having it manifest into the physical world is magic, nature and natural change is magic. Love is magic. Music is magic, science is magic. It’s really just one topic that can have a broad spectrum of meanings. I don’t know if I had any conscious intention to have any type of equaled or unequalled representation. I just choose to play music that interests me and surround it with lyrics and imagery that interests and inspires me.

Talking about the concept there is your debut album, "Dealers of Divinity". The source for the wicked sort of mysticism that I just described earlier, starts with the overall story that engulfs the album in its clutches. So what you are trying to tell, whether vaguely or right into one’s face, is that we are all puppets in a much larger game?

Absolutely. It’s something universal that almost everyone can relate to. Life is about compromise. What are you willing to compromise to live comfortably? And then after those compromises, you may still find yourself having difficulty to be content or comfortable. Do you miss some of the things you left behind to pursue a career or family? Did you clutch to the things like hobbies and passions that you allowed to take priority over pursuit of a career and find yourself struggling to keep it afloat due to having less commercial/professional value to employers? There are mandatory things everyone does and submits to that seem unnatural to them or don’t seem fair or to make sense because it seems like there’s no other way and it is or it isn’t but both freedom from and submission to these rules of the game come with differing consequences.

Can it be said that this entity that you talk about, the one being served directly by the blind dealers, is a kind of a malformed mixture between God and the Devil, and that those dealers are the angels, or demons? Is the gaming facility somewhere like purgatory, between heaven and hell?

Well more like ancient gods. Norns, Fates… Stygian witches from the original Clash of the Titans…. Not that that’s necessarily where I got the idea from… and yes, like a purgatory. Or interdimensional universe/ parallel reality.

What is the angle of the controlling entity over the well-being of mankind?

The angle is to keep people misdirected and perpetuate the illusion that they could come out on top.

Why are the dealers blind anyway? Why is it important for them not to see their manipulations on mankind, which are the supposed players in this endless game?

That sense is unavailable to them to strengthen their others. They can also see through the cards. Not only do they see but they see clearly than any other beings, just not in the same way. Being omniscient doesn’t really require visual sight. The entire population lines up to play, willingly. Blissfully unaware that the rules only apply to them.

It appears that no matter what, mankind really doesn’t have any saying in regards to its future. No matter how hard people would try to make their own way, create foundations in order to make a better future for themselves, they will be toppled down with their fate decided even before they are born. However, you say that there is an actual chance to fight the predetermined. How so?

Well that’s the thing. I’m not implying that by fighting one can indeed overcome but wouldn’t that be the only choice to see if there’s another way? I hadn’t created an entire universe with all the answers ready for questions like this. I think the point is kind of easy to get and let people just think about it. Reflect on if they think there is more they could or should do to try and make their reality more closely resemble their dreams. I was hoping it would take longer for someone to ask me enough questions to make me feel backed enough into a corner to just say having a gambling problem has something to do with it.

Truth be told, I could talk for hours about the amazing concept, yet the music within the album is no less than interesting. Generally, what has been fascinating you, and the guys, by the echoes and sounds of the vintage, the 70s, early 80s? What kind of magic do you find there, other than being the main origins of Metal music?

Well the thing I love most about it really is that it’s such a crazy time in music history really. Bands like YES could literally fly off the rails with a massive track like Close to the Edge or Heart of the Sunrise and have it be released on a massive scale and accessible to mainstream audiences and have the backing to play huge shows with crazy stage setups. Same said for so much stuff going on in the 70’s. ELO, Genesis, Blue Oyster Cult. We have motorcycles ridden on stage, spaceships, laser light shows, mid song wardrobe changes. You’ll be lucky to see those underwhelming pvc banners out of today's national touring acts, and you can’t really slight anyone for that either. They’re trying to do what they can with what their resources will allow. There’s no extra money for things like this for most bands of underground stature, even the larger ones that tour relentlessly. It could be the difference between breaking even, making money or losing money.

Nothing was out of reach creatively back then and now everything is impractical. People (ones I need not bother with) will be quick to roll their eyes at someone like Yngwie J. Malmsteen for playing out of 55 Vintage Marshall heads well into the 2000’s when it’s ‘completely unnecessary.’ Let the artist tell you what in the god damn hell is necessary for them to portray their live show to you. I’ll take a musical genius's word for it. Does someone get efficiency points for having dummy cabs and playing line-in to some type of digital processing or something like that. I have a lot of respect for someone who will not compromise in the face of changing times. If you can make it work to bring 15 guitars on tour or thousands of pounds of Marshall amps and cabs and that makes your show tickets upwards of 60 dollars and a t-shirt 40 dollars so be it. To quote that one awesome bad guy who keeps breaking Ip Man’s vases and furniture in his home while fighting him, “I’ll Pay!”

Do you believe that this form of music, generated on that timeline of the 70s and early 80s, is missing nowadays, that kind of natural that in the present is left on the sidelines?

There’s definitely something missing. Back in these era’s music was just held to a different standard. Playing was held to a different standard. The spark of ongoing change and constant innovation to genres of music or playing in itself was crazy then. There were larger resources available for a band to make all their wildest visions come true. Prog and hard rock were playing snippets of heavy metal 10 years before it was even a thing.

Yes, would come out with Fragile or Close to the Edge, Genesis with Foxtrot, Selling England or Nursery Cryme and people would listen and I could only imagine thinking “I have never heard anything quite like this before”. Of course that happened many times over as time went on(the innovations and progressions of heavy metal, thrash metal, black metal, death metal etc.) but to me with diminishing results. Not to say it wasn’t good or even iconic music coming out up until the mid-90’s with few exceptions past that, but we’re at a point in time where all you can hope to do in my eyes is to make some music that can at least keep up or be in good company with the 70s and 80s albums. Really tall order, I know. In rock or heavy metal, who is ever going to hear something modern and say “I have never heard anything quite like this before” ?

Listening to "Dealers of Divinity" sends me back to the first years that I came to know the harder, yet also the progressed, side of Rock along with the proto Metal acts. Within the album’s tunes I found Blue Oyster Cult, Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, Budgie and of course additional elements that came to be integral to NWOBHM. Such a spectacular direction, how would you say that this special blending developed you as a songwriter?

You hit some definite inspirations right on the head. I definitely have thought about how they delivered these great albums and songs. How they managed to stay original, fresh and completely mind blowing at times but still tie it all together to sound like a song. I had to basically discipline myself to ignore my natural instincts which is to go “This riff is crazy and sounds cool, then this one after and then that one after and then that one after and then that one after…”

I laugh a little to myself thinking about how I know people might really feel exhausted listening to mostly 8 and 9 minute songs. Most of them were cut down to that length from 13 or 14 minutes. I needed to take a lot of time to know when to be honest with myself and say this part doesn’t really serve any purpose other than the fact that I made it up and like it. I still think of myself as somewhat of a piss poor songwriter. If I was actually good at it these songs would survive and be good at 4 minutes long tops…. But I can’t seem to get my point across in that amount of time.

In comparison to your previous EP, “The Pledge”, which I have yet to listen to, how would you say that White Magician went with its musical development?

A long way from where we started. I knew nothing about production and the sound I wanted. I only know what I like to hear and had no idea how to make it happen. This time around I had a lot of time to reflect and a little help from friends, or at the time who was a complete stranger (George) Who recorded and stepped into almost a producer type role on occasion for the album. Dan from Cruthu put us in touch and I am really grateful for that.

Which of the music’s elements on the album do you find yourself drawn to more than others?

I really have no idea. I kind of really found myself wrapped up in the entirety of it all so it’s difficult to answer a question like that. I will say that I was focused on trying to have a lot more dynamic change in this recording.

With such complexities within the songs, and some of them are ever rigid, the band certainly had challenges that it faced, in particular throughout the songwriting process. How were you able to take on those challenges head on and come out as winners?

Through a whole lot of trial and error. Most of which was labored over on my own. Writing, re writing, recording low fi cuts of it only on guitar to listen to a week later and see if it sucked, repeat. Like a puzzle. Luckily during the formative years of these songs my band mates and I spent a lot of time doing actual jigsaw puzzles in our free time. Usually 1000 pc. On the note of coming out as winners, Time is yet to reveal if we indeed have won or lost, but no matter what’s the verdict, I know I went the distance.

The album’s sound is yet another story on its own. Overall, it sounded to me as if I was listening to a tape cassette, and even on a few songs, I was thinking of how I was recording from original tapes and afterwards notice that there was a shift in quality. But in this case, it actually made the experience special. What can you tell about the sound of the album and the work on it?

Hard to say really. I’ve heard it so much over the two years I was working on it I’m not sure I know how it sounds anymore. I definitely wanted it to be a far cry from the current heavy metal production. I’ve always enjoyed unique and even low fi production. Black metal may be to blame for that, but I love a unique sounding record which is something I hoped to accomplish with this. One of my favorite recordings is Tormentor’s ‘Seventh day of Doom’ You can hear everything audibly. Every note cuts through but it’s extremely raw and you can almost hear tape warbling at parts. Sometimes little stuff like that makes a recording addicting to listen to. An album with an atmosphere of it’s own. Definitely didn’t want it to sound too “Bright” or “Big” or “heavy” I really think big and heavy are things that are most important contextually in music.

The track that made me crazy is “Power Of The Stone’. I had no idea what stone was all about but the riffs, and the punishing classic rhythm made it happen for me. Needless to say that the song turned to be quite diverse, finding different angles to hang on to, which are also excellent. What is your appreciation of this tune?

It is really chock full of riffs that are the types of riffs are parts in songs that I get off to. The kinds of parts that when heard in albums I listen to for the first time make me stop in my tracks and perk my ears like a dog hearing any container of food shake or bag crinkle.

The opening track, “Dealers Of Divinity”, starts the commotion, sharing a captivating atmosphere, a game of live or be outlived. The vocals, the main riff along with the house always wins, startled me as a mix. What is the mystery behind this tune? What can you tell about its creation?

Any mystery of this tune is linked directly to the album art of course and that whole created mythology. It really just has a lot to do with a mentality of things sure do look bleak, but if you give up you’re no more than a dead man waiting to be buried.

So where is White Magician headed, supposedly after the pandemic, what is coming next? Why not work on another album for now that there is time?

Well the pandemic for me meant working 6 days a week and longer hours than I’d like up until about a month or two ago. I’ve definitely not had the time to really even think about writing anything new. I’m sporadically working on two other albums as well as playing bass for an EP for some good friends. Putting final touches and lead guitars and stuff on the coming full length from Isenblast, and learning and rehearsing the songs that will eventually become Demon Bitch’s 2nd full length, and a heavy procrastination on solidifying and recording the bass for the Prelude to Ruin EP.

I’ve been professionally busy and the bit of music I’m playing these days is mindless noodling mixed with trying to get these other things worked out. I have to really focus on one or two things at a time. I’m a very simple person with a terribly low capacity for complex or even basic thought.

Derek, man it was a sheer pleasure, thank you for creating such an iconic piece of work. It doesn’t need to sound modern to be awesome. Cheers.

Thank you! I would even go further as to say if it sounds modern it might not be all that interesting. Even if the songs are good. Breathe some life into your art. If you do tech death or something hey man… that sound is for you, but heavy metal, black metal, death metal hard rock. These things all sounded best in their days of origin or shortly thereafter.


 



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