June 8, 2015 Interview – Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell Talks Extinct
As the blooms of Spring bring color back to the American landscape, a swath of moonlight and darkness has descended from across the ocean, giving fans of Atmospheric Metal a real treat. That treat came in the form of The Conquerors of the World III tour, featuring Greece’s Septicflesh, Sweden’s Deathstars, and none other than Portgual’s own Moonspell.
Taking the time out to sit down with CrypticRock, the ever eloquent vocalist of the ephemeral Portuguese veterans had a lot to say. A man whose magnetic stage presence and sinister poetry has bewitched legions of fans, Fernando Ribeiro finds himself at a unique crossroads in his illustrious career. Having just released one of the strongest Moonspell albums to date in Extinct on March 6, 2015, he can now look back across twenty years of time and reflect on the release of 1995’s Wolfheart, the debut which carried him and his bandmates out of the Iberian hills of his storied homeland and into the hearts of fans the world over.
Come pick up a rose from the mouth of a dragon, and dare a look into the restless, ever searching world of Fernando Ribeiro, a man whose darkness shines quite a light on music, Horror cinema, and extinction…
CrypticRock.com – Last we spoke, Moonspell was touring North America in the Winter of 2014, when the band was visiting in support of your 2012 double album, Alpha Noir/Omega White. Now you are back in 2015 with a stellar lineup of Deathstars and Septicflesh. First and foremost, how exciting was it for the band to be a part of this billing?
Fernando Ribeiro – Touring the US was half exciting and half a challenge; a big challenge. A package like this will be wonderful in Europe, but here we have to try hard to get people into the shows. The cities are alright, they are always good, but as a musician, what is important to me and what makes a difference to me is the lineup, the kind of bands you tour with. Musically, it is a great experience for us because I am a fan of the Deathstars, and their more Rock styled sound with the electronic elements. They are a band with such a great history in Europe, and this being their first time in the states makes it very exciting.
Septicflesh, I think is one of the best bands around, with their mix of both extreme and symphonic elements. On a personal level, Seth, the main man from Septicflesh, is also the guy who designs our covers so it is like a big dysfunctional family of South Europeans. Also, Deathstars is from Sweden, and musically, it is a great experience which I like to be a part of. All bands who are original and fresh, and its better than playing with bands who repeat what other bands do. I think it is a great bill, if a bit hard to pull off in the states, but that is nothing new, of course (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – The U.S.A. can be a fickle place for some bands, unfortunately. Given your close relationship with them, was it Moonspell’s objective to finally be part of a North American tour with Septicflesh? Did it arise from a simple accident of booking or did both bands arrange the tour on purpose?
Fernando Ribeiro – It helped that there is this friendship and musical connection I talked about. Also, we are starting off the tour cycle and they have been at it for a while, and in the past we have already got them to support us in Europe. It has been a while since we toured together, though, with the last time being the Night Eternal tour in Europe. I know Septicflesh is advancing quickly in The States, popularity wise, so we finished up the European tour and all of a sudden we met again and came together. We are always open to tour with Septicflesh.
CrypticRock.com – In looking at the Extinct album, it is clear that in between albums Moonspell goes into its own chrysalis and you never know what is going to come out. Does this happen naturally, or do you intend to do something different from the last album?
Fernando Ribeiro – I think I am a bit of a naive guy, honestly. I am very romantic when it comes to appreciating the process the music takes. Some bands do not have that cocoon, that hideout. For me, music is, above all, self-expression, and to do that you have to be deaf, dumb, and blind, to everything in the scene, what the business wants, what your fans want, what your manager wants, what your agent wants, and what the media wants.
Metal is also a business for many people and there is this formula to make an album, every two years, go on tour, and milk the cow. That is everything that I hate about music. Everything I like about music is to go to Sweden for thirty-five days, to record the album, to record my vocals, like we did for Extinct, and be in a faraway place, away from all distractions. I think you got that right, Moonspell is that kind of band, and that is what keeps us together. It is not about the money we make, or the travel, the touring, or the people we meet. It is actually the ability to be creative, on our own terms and by our own rules, and I think Extinct would not be the album it is if we did not take the time out of reality, go to Sweden, in search of our hidden place.
When I approached the guys to do Extinct, which I felt the urge to do, because Alpha Noir/Omega White is not that old, there were a lot of touring plans in between. I said, “No, let’s not play the monkey, let’s do our own thing, let’s get to the roots of the music,” which is to express yourself. Moonspell has always been like this, and in our repertoire and our history, this always shines through for us. This is what we want to be as a band. The secrecy, this lack of communication, sometimes we put a video up on social media because it is 2015 and we have to, but I hate to break that spell, that magic, and sometimes you really have to be alone to do stuff. That is exactly what I wanted when Extinct came to my mind.
We wanted to have this process between the band and the producer and what comes out of it, whether it is bold or daring, shit or gold, that is not up to us to decide. We are very proud of our decision and what we did, because that is the only way I know of making music and the bands I look up to have this romantic way of making music. I do not want to sit with a musician and listen to him talk out of his ass about the tours he did, the people he had, it does not interest me. It interests me what books he read, what music he was listening to, what kind of process he had to compose the album. That is what I am drawn to as a musician.
CrypticRock.com – To see what value you place on the composition of your music is inspiring from a fan’s standpoint. You mentioned being in Sweden for a little over a month. When were you there exactly?
Fernando Ribeiro – September into October, the Fall. It was a good time, a perfect time, everything there was very inspirational.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds exciting, can you expand on the writing and recording process for Extinct, as far as the inspiration for the album itself. The lyrics seem to suggest we are all fucked, but let’s put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Is that an accurate assessment? Did the feeling for this come about while recording, or prior?
Fernando Ribeiro – I had a strong concept in my head. Sometimes the guys have music with them, and sometimes they are shy and do not want to bring the ideas to me, even after all these years (laughs). A musician sometimes, you start following the rules. Sometimes the rules say it is not time to make an album, but I am totally against those rules. I am totally an agitator when it comes to Moonspell. This album was almost like “a man goes to a bar,” (laughs) it was like a man goes to the studio with a heavy heart, with a story to tell, with something to express, so from that day on everything was dedicated to Extinct. It was a total of nine months between writing the demos, the songs, being in Sweden, and nine months is not a large time to make an album.
CrypticRock.com – About the time it takes to produce a human baby (laughing).
Fernando Ribeiro – (Laughing) Yes, like a baby. The thing that matters is that we worked every day. It was a very intense, small window of time. All of the recording process was totally different from what we did in the past. Also, we got to work with a very intense producer, Jens Bogren. I would not say he was bored, but he was eager to do something different than what he usually does, and he has produced some major bands like Arch Enemy and Paradise Lost. When you listen to the songs, he knew that we were all having a different experience with Extinct. We came out of this as better musicians, better songwriters, and better people as well, all of us.
I started Extinct on a very sad note, because extinction is a sad subject. Itis the end, it is no return. Alpha Noir had a little bit of ‘let’s fight,’ while Extinct is all about isolation. I also took my universe to a more personal level. Even though I adore Vampires, Werewolves, and the metaphors and symbolism that goes along with that, I did not want to make a fictional album. I wanted to make something dream-like but that people could still connect with. What I found out is there is a fine line between a biotic extinction, the species that go away, I mean even the smallest ones create an imbalance and a chaos in the natural world. There are many historical examples, the most famous one being when Mao Tse Tsung had all the sparrows killed because they ate all the corn. This caused a lot of rats to start eating the corn and this led to a massive famine all because one person in China messed with the natural environment. This happens in our lives as well, and there is a fine line there. I met with a lot of professors and people who fight against extinction in the natural world and I applied it to our own personal lives. I did not want to be the Gothic, nihilistic guy this time around, I am not sixteen years old, I am not praising Satan.
I think Extinct is not just about extinction but about how to survive, how not to disappear. I think that is much more likely for me, for I am writing about life sometimes as it is, but sometimes as it could be, or as we want it to be. I think this fine line is important. I feel sometimes people stop at a certain degree with my lyrics and they do not understand that I am not really a pessimist. I am more of an optimist living in the dark probably, and I think that Extinct is not only facing the black wall of death, you just be there and wait for your turn, it is about smashing the wall. It is much more about hope, even in the most desolated lyrics.
CrypticRock.com – Even in “The Future is Dark,” which has the theme of the end is coming but the end needs you. “Breathe in, breath out, up on your feet,” the message you intended definitely comes through. Extinct seems like a mixture of Irreligious (1996), The Butterfly Effect (1999), Night Eternal perhaps, and maybe even a little bit of Sin/Pecado (1998). Are there many connections to your past works when you write a new album?
Fernando Ribeiro – There should be. No band is an island. We have a lot of albums under our belts and we use what we have learned from our past experience going forward. I do not think you can compare this album to any other we have done, but on the other hand you can. We have always had a very simple goal when we started Moonspell, and that was to sound like Moonspell. That might sound stupid, simple, and plain, but that is exactly what we wanted people to recognize.
We wanted our sound, because with the bands we love, as soon as you put on the record you know it is them. I think there is a little bit of a connection to Irreligious, especially a song like “Medusalem” or “The Last of Us,” but there is a lot of other albums as well. I think The Butterfly Effect stands in a very singular position in our careers, like our “blue period.” For us, it is a crazy album, but a good album, but it is more about denial of our roots instead of embracing them. I think with Extinct, there is a little bit of everything, but the reaction has been more like fresh air for the fans. On the one hand, it is something the fans recognize, but at the same time it is something new. That novelty is very important to us. Philosophers say you must not bathe twice in the same waters, and that is our philosophy with Moonspell.
CrypticRock.com – That sentiment comes through in the music of each Moonspell album, and Extinct is no exception. So can you tell our readers what you have going on professionally outside of Moonspell?
Fernando Ribeiro – I studied to be a teacher, but I decided for Rock-n-Roll (laughs). For a Portuguese band to have a chance to tour is once in a million. I love writing and reading. I am the guy who carries a book around on tour, I am not playing Playstation or checking out girls. For me, it is what I am most comfortable with. It is my world; reading and writing. Right now, I am forty years old, and I know I will begin to have physical limitations from now on. I am investing more and more into my writing skills and career. I have three poetry books that were released in Portugal that were out of print. When we come back from touring they are going to be coming out in an anthology in Portugal and Brazil called Purgatorio. Same meaning in English, purgatory, related to the concept of purgatory. My hope is to then translate them into English and do a bit of a book tour, something different, maybe come to some cities in the states or Europe. I keep a tour diary all the time as well, it is available on our Facebook. It is pretty long, and current right now up to (pauses, checking the tour dates listed on his own backstage pass) Indianapolis. I get a lot of compliments on it. It is a different way to see life on the road through the eyes of the musician. I am investing more and more on my literary side. I have done translating work in Portugal. I have done I am Legend and some H.P. Lovecraft translating back home. It is something I love to do.
CrypticRock.com – Without a doubt, your entire fan-base will be hungrily awaiting these endeavors. To enjoy an artist’s output in an entirely new format from music is a rare treat, so that should be very exciting. Two-thousand and fifteen marks twenty years since the release of the seminal Wolfheart album, Moonspell’s much loved and lauded debut record. What are some of your fondest memories of Wolfheart and space of time it occupied?
Fernando Ribeiro – As with any Moonspell album, my fondest memory is how times have changed. I remember being on the way back from Germany listening to Wolfheart on a cassette walkman. That was my moment of personal success. I did the same thing with Extinct, though not on a walkman (laughs)….an MP3 or iPod, iPad, “i” something…..I-heard-it (laughs). That is my fondest moment of Wolfheart. To listen to it now after all these years, in the obscurity of dark spaces in Portugal, to hear my voice coming down, which at the time was not in top form, I feel.
I was young, nervous, and I had a cold when I recorded them. It was a great sensation that still lasts. When we started touring our asses off for Wolfheart, I remember Robert Kampf, the head of our label Century Media Records, opened the door and said, “Hey, we sold 50,000 copies in a month. Its the fastest selling CM release to date.'” I said, “Okay boss, great, now please book me a hotel room.” (laughs). He helped us so much to break through Portugal and become famous outside of our homeland.
CrypticRock.com – Well it is an album for the ages. Many have straight up lost their voice at many a show to that famous final Wolfheart track “Alma Mater,” certainly a signature song from this album that has remained a live staple. Since last you spoke with CrypticRock.com, a site as concerned with film as it is with music, have you experienced any new Horror movies you wish to speak of?
Fernando Ribeiro – Well, since we spoke last I have become a father.
Crypticrock.com – Congratulations! That is great.
Fernando Ribeiro – Thank you very much. My kid is three years old so he was already born, but growing fast. The only Horror I watch now is the nursery rhymes which my kid loves. Go away, scary monster (laughs). Nowadays, it is almost impossible to go to film fests and see new movies. I do have so many movies collected and built up that I try to catch up on. I am very much into Coffin Joe, the Brazilian Horror master. He has been making Horror films since the 1950’s. His most recent film from 2008, Devil’s Reincarnation, is an amazing movie. We did a Halloween show in Lisbon last year and my friend made videos of our songs to the old Hammer movies. My wife and I are more into the classics than a lot of new stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of new Horror films, Moonspell’s music videos are so well done, theatrical, and have a very Horror movie vibe to them, have you ever considered dabbling in film yourself?
Fernando Ribeiro – If I want to, I have the right guy now. Victor Castro did the “Extinct” video clip, which is off the wall, and sort of inspired by 1990: Bronx Warriors (1983), Mad Max (1979), B or Z series movies, etc. On our special edition of Extinct, we have a DVD, eighty minutes long, called Road to Extinction, which has a lot of day to day footage of making the album. It also has a lot of interviews with people related to extinction in a more scientific way. For instance, we interviewed a professor who is the head of the wolf haven in Portugal. We have a species there called the Iberian Wolf, which is endangered, so we tried to help out and raise awareness there. We kind of have our foot in the door with films, but my real passion is books. If there was anything I would like to do, and someone will probably steal my idea, is to render King Diamond’s 19878 Abigail album into a Horror movie. I am a big fan of King Diamond, and maybe some day, I will find the cash to make it happen.