March 19, 2014 Interview – Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell
When you think of Portugal, chances are you will think of some of the finest food and wine in the world, and not a country exporting heavy metal music. Since 1992 Moonspell has changed the worldview of Portugal with their enchanting brand of gothic metal. With enough aggression to satisfy a headbanger and enough romanticism to create a textured dark atmosphere, Moonspell has become one of the premier gothic metal bands on the scene. Celebrating their twentieth anniversary as a band in 2012, they released their first double album ever entitled Alpha Noir / Omega White and continue to tour the world in support of their masterpiece. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist Fernando Ribeiro for a in-depth look at the inspiration behind the music, touring the world, love for dark arts, horror films, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Moonspell has been one of the leaders in gothic metal for over two decades. You have released an impressive ten studio albums and toured all over the world. Looking back, could you have imagined achieving as much as you have with the band?
Fernando Ribeiro – Well, to be perfectly honest, not at all. People that know the background of Moonspell, know we had a lot of odds against us coming from Portugal. There was a metal scene, but not a dark metal scene. There was nothing that brought the two audiences together until Moonspell showed up in Portugal. Once you achieve goals, I won’t call it greed or ambition, I would be ashamed to use those words. I just think your goals…. when you get something, you want something else. That is what keeps the band going, not only creatively but career-wise. There are always fans that come to watch us live, such as the ones we met when we played Beijing in China. That is what is cool about this music, it offers new opportunities even for a band that has been in the scene so long such as we are.
CrypticRock.com – While the band’s sound may change from album to album one element which is always present with Moonspell is the darkness that really saturates the music. What has inspired you to compose such beautifully dark music consistently through the years?
Fernando Ribeiro – It has to do with the music that we grew up with as a band. Obviously we like all the 1970’s and 1980’s metal. When we started off in 1992, there was a new movement in Europe where metal and goth were being shown mutual interest and bands were creating amazing stuff. We found that is the stuff we wanted to do and it was the stuff we were doing already, so now we had a scene. It was quite amazing for us because we were still on time to make Wolfheart (1995) and Irrelgious (1996); which are regarded by fans of this genre as some of the albums to look up to when you talk about gothic metal from the 1990’s. I think that is something that is just a characteristic of the band. We were always very into the melancholy and the dark, that is our style, it is our statement. Even though there is a lot of room for progression, we were born in the time where metal was a little more avant-garde and a bit more courageous. I think dark music is having a revival now, not exactly like Moonspell’s music, but there are a lot of bands out there doing great and dark stuff like Alcest and Beastmilk. I think that is still a scene we wanted to be connected with.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that Moonspell has made the music you have made over the years. Being from Portugal you are one of the most well known by metal bands from your country. How does it feel to know you have become the metal ambassadors for your country to the world?
Fernando Ribeiro – It wasn’t very hard. There are a lot of great metal bands in Portugal since the late 80’s. I went to a lot of the shows of these bands, but I always sensed a certain lack of ambition by these bands. I wouldn’t say only to have an international career and breakout of Portugal, but also creatively. They were too much into being the Portuguese version of Metallica, Sepultura, or other bands which were popular. We observed and saw that the Portuguese scene was not really going anywhere, we decided to do our own stuff. We took Portugal as an inspiration for our lyrics and sounds, rather than really for our method of working. That worked for us.
The Portuguese scene has changed a lot since. I believe we have a great scene that is unknown still because people don’t believe that this can happen for other Portuguese bands. We take bands on the road all the time with us. When I was growing up I always wanted a Portuguese band I could identify with. I liked some bands, but I didn’t identify with the lyrics. There are a lot of people that have listened to us since the 1990’s now, and they really identify with everything we do and it is great.
CrypticRock.com – That is really great and inspiring. Your make use of dynamics in your voice from a deep evil bellow to a mournful gothic singing voice. How have you developed the two approaches over the years and do you feel it is essential to the musical balance of Moonspell?
Fernando Ribeiro – For Moonspell it is definitely essential. It’s something that evolved with the band. When we did an album like Irreligous or Sin/Pecado (1998), there had to be some singing parts because it was a very melodic approach to music. Also, I was influenced not only by extreme singers, but people that can actually sing like Peter Steele, Nick Cave, and Leonard Cohen. Those are great male singers I look up to. I always tried my best and I never thought I could even become a singer. I never really sang since I was a child. I was not a prodigy child, I just sang when I had the band. The guys said it sounded cool, I had a little talent for lyrics and obviously I became the singer. As the band evolved I had to work hard because the other guys are great musicians. As a singer I had to be up there with them. I had to be up for the fast parts with the riffs and screaming vocals, which is something I handle more easily and naturally. For the other stuff, it is a lot of hard work. I listen to music, take vocal lessons here and there, and listen to different styles. Writing my own lyrics and melodies helps a lot. Then I try to do good stuff which is more gothic and manage to play it live. Playing live is sometimes hard, but with the experience and technique I think I can handle both.
CrypticRock.com – That is something you really accomplished well. The band’s most recent album Alpha Noir / Omega White (2012) is your tenth studio album and your first double album. The two discs are night and day side by side, making them extremely interesting. What was it like writing and recording two diversely different pieces of music as a double album?
Fernando Ribeiro – That was the intention, to have these main Moonspell feelings and two albums where they can blossom by themselves without being integrated with more extreme songs, like we did with Memorial and Night Eternal. When we did Memorial (2006) and Night Eternal (2008), they were connected in time. We never actually stopped touring for Memorial, then we did Night Eternal, then we resumed touring for Night Eternal. There was a long time that we were also touring and working on Alpha Noir and Omega White at the same time. When we did the first demos we had songs like “Love Is Blasphemy” and “Lickanthrope” , but we also had a song named “Whiteomega” , the opener of Omega White. We decided, “well let’s try and do things separate and see how it works”, and it worked wonders. We had Alpha days and Omega days, so it never got boring for the band. Sometimes we had to put much more attention into the album to go into the recording process for Alpha Noir. When that album was done we took our time to do Omega White and get the right melancholy feeling on the vocals, the cellos, and female vocals we used. We did it in our studios back home so we had time on our sides. We determined to do the double album, we needed time to do it, we wanted every song to be a good song and no fillers. That was one of the things we had in mind so we took our time with the songs. We will not be doing this every time though, but one time for the experience, and for the fans to have a more complete Moonspell experience. I think it was great and everyone has reacted very positively. Some people are divided, some people like Omega White more, some people like Alpha Noir. I think what is great that this is an album that people take time to think about and actually have an opinion.
CrypticRock.com – That is great, and both the discs can stand alone as separate records. It is not too often when a band makes a double album that both sides are equally as good. Did it ever cross your mind to making these two separate albums or was it always going to be a double album?
Fernando Ribeiro – Well we were clinging to our concept of having the more ferocious album and the more melancholy album. I think at the end of the day when we had doubts, that trumped our doubts. We could have released Alpha Noir and then in a couple of months Omega White if we wanted to. We could have done a big album compiling the best songs, some songs for just Japan, or digital sales. When we had to make the decision, those types of things would have broken the artistic concept of the album and we didn’t want to do that. It was really sacrosanct from the beginning to have Alpha Noir and Omega White as one piece of work divided into two sections. Now for instance, some people want just an Omega White release. People want different things, sometimes you can’t afford to have all these special editions. It is still great because we haven’t done much for Omega White, we have just played a couple of times, a couple of songs live. When we played Lisbon, Portugal we played the album in its entirety. We still have this album that we can go to small and more intimate places like churches and small theaters, and to keep it special because it is also good for people. For instance, in New York City we played an Omega White song, and it was be the only time on tour for sure. It is also a thank you for the support to the fans. It is nice to have specials, otherwise it is just putting all the meat on the grill and spoiling any surprise effect.
CrypticRock.com – It is good to keep things where people are guessing what you are going to do next.
Fernando Ribeiro – Yes, nowadays with the internet it is very hard. Sometimes they have already covered all the options before we take one.
CrypticRock.com – It is extremely difficult with the internet. You toured North America in 2013 with Death Wolf, The Foreshadowing, Inquisition, and Marduk. Now the band returned in 2014 with a headlining tour to play a full set of the band’s newest material. How exciting was it for you to be able to perform a full set to American audiences?
Fernando Ribeiro – It felt great. Even when sometimes we had smaller crowds, the good thing about the tour was you definitely had more time to play and present a full set list. Last time we played North America it was such a big package and we ended up only playing forty minutes. This tour we did not playing forty minutes. I think it is also something we thought deep and hard about it. We were playing a lot of package shows even in Europe with fifty or sixty minute sets, and our fans went there and they were not totally happy. We decided to start playing more headlining shows in between the festivals and we started to get more attention from the festivals, why? Because we were playing more on stage. The word of mouth was incredible; in Moscow and Saint Petersburg we did two special shows playing twenty seven songs. This connects more with the fans, so it was about time our American fans had a taste of it. This time around it was a smaller package and we had more stage time.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great thing and well deserved. There have been numerous times Moonspell has been to the United States and it is great to get to see this full set list. What are some of your musical influences?
Fernando Ribeiro – I listen to a bit of everything as long as it is musical. The music that creates an atmosphere and is intelligent. Even though my favorite stuff is definitely metal and gothic, I will listen to a lot of other stuff like 16 Horsepower and Bohren & der Club of Gore. Music for me has to feel like space in your mind, and that space is ever changing in a way so I listen to a lot of stuff. My favorite bands are Type O Negative, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Katatonia, and many other bands.
CrypticRock.com – It is good to listen to a lot of different music and not limit yourself to metal. That definitely bleeds through in Moonspell’s music.
Fernando Ribeiro – Yes, we always did it. We were always at the Testament concerts, and the Dead Can Dance concerts as well. We always liked it diverse, and obviously we have different attitudes towards the music that we can fit with. I think that is great, that is what you call a musician. I love metal but I cannot listen to metal all day long. The same goes for Nick Cave; I couldn’t listen to it all day long. I need diversity. Some other people are fine without diversity, I am cool with it and I admire that commitment, but for me I like many kinds of music.
CrypticRock.com – I totally agree with you. My topic for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Fernando Ribeiro – I love horror movies. The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), and The Prince of Darkness (1987). I like a lot of the old shit like Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1926), and all those big classic movies. I am heavily into horror fiction, not only in movies, but books as well. My wife and I are totally addicted to horror movies. Last movie we saw together was The Conjuring (2013).
CrypticRock.com – Did you like The Conjuring?
Fernando Ribeiro – I love possession movies. I think the movie would have been great except for the ending. I had the same feeling with the movie Possession (2012) with the ritual they had at the end; I thought that was pretty lame (laughs). I love horror fiction movies especially from the 1980’s. They Live (1988) was one of them. I like many movies. I like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). I am looking forward to seeing the Evil Dead part 2 remake.
CrypticRock.com – What did you think of the Evil Dead remake from 2013, did you like it?
Fernando Ribeiro – No (laughs). This other new Evil Dead film looks pretty awesome. I am also looking forward to seeing the new 300: Rise Of An Empire movie. I liked Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), but it is hard to mess with the classics.
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes with remakes, if you detach yourself from the original story, then you will not have any preconceived notions.
Fernando Ribeiro – I look at some remakes like that. That happened with the original The Omen. I think it is one of the scariest horror movies ever made. It is very scary and very epic. I didn’t mind the remake though. I just love watching horror movies.