Speaking with musicians you admire, it’s always something special. Fernando Ribeiro, founder and singer of the mighty Moonspell, is one of them. In a very long and interesting conversation, we talked about the concept behind the band’s new excellent album “Hermitage” and many other interesting things. Interview: George Terzakis
Rockpages.gr: Hello Fernando, how are you?
Fernando Ribeiro: Well, at home, waiting for better days.
Rockpages.gr: As we all. New album, three and a half years after “1755”. I believe that many people were surprised by the new direction and the different approach on the songs, including me. What are your thoughts on that?
Fernando Ribeiro: I hope that it’s a good thing. There are many ways to respond to music. For us, it’s about freedom. You are free to like it, you are free to hate it. As long as you are polite, I don’t have a problem with that. I think that with Moonspell people are very surprised some times and I allow myself to be surprised by their surprise. But if you listen to all our records, even the more “intense” ones like “1755”, it’s obvious that we were going to make a more atmospheric album. We like to be surprised in the process, it keeps it interesting especially when you have such a large discography and almost thirty years on your back. But at the end of the day, we don’t really have a plan. We don’t want to shock, we don’t want to surprise, we just want to make music and hopefully get away with it. Many people like it from the first moment, many people say it takes a while to understand it. Overall, I think we have very good response, very good sales, so it seems more people want to take this trip that is “Hermitage”.
Rockpages.gr: Getting away. It seems to me that this is the concept of the album, as seen on the cover where a man is departing from a big city. The lyrics also are on the same page. Is this some declaration from the band?
Fernando Ribeiro: I think being human means being confused. It’s about not knowing what you want. It’s about decisions. With an album like this, with the lyrics about going away, taking the distance and turning your back on modern conventions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to do that. I’m just doing an album and its poetry, philosophy and metaphors. What I believe is that we are in need right now. I think we have abused ourselves, our world and our friends in any possible way. When I started writing the album in 2017, before we were closed at home like Covid hermits, we were very distant from each other and we needed to take a break. When I started reading about hermits, I learned that they went away and when the found their peace, they came back. And when they came back, they helped people and contributed to the community. So that’s why this is such an interesting subject. The cover is symbolic, you don’t know where he’s going. Maybe he’s going to another city or to the desert or in a cave. It’s an album about solitude but it’s not an album about telling you “go away”. Of course, if you don’t have anything else to offer to the world, maybe it is better to go away but in search of it.
Rockpages.gr: You said that you started writing the album in 2017. At first, I thought that the situation we are living the past year or the departure of your first drummer and founding member, Miguel Gaspar, affected the final outcome. You had more melodic and atmospheric works in the past like “Sin/Pecado”, “The Butterfly Effect” and “Omega White” but nothing like “Hermitage”. So, what made you go this way?
Fernando Ribeiro: After making an album so operatic, with many symphonic elements and in Portuguese like “1755”, we definitely wanted to do something radically different. I really like “1755” and we are going to do another Portuguese album in the future, but I got tired of “so much” in the music. Not only in Moonspell but in everything new I listen. So, I wanted to make an album with substance. A more melodic, melancholic and atmospheric album gives us the space to experiment. It also caught us on a crossroad. After the tour with Rotting Christ where Miguel left, I felt that we had to have a more challenging musical project with no strings attached. I talked a lot with Sakis from Rotting Christ about this. It was him who told me to do a more classic approach on the cover. Pedro Paixão and Ricardo Amorim as songwriters had the freedom to do whatever they want. We listened to a lot of progressive rock, space rock, post-rock and post-metal. When it comes to Miguel leaving the band, it was a sad thing for everybody but I have to say that he never wrote any music for Moonspell. Maybe the answer to the question is “a little bit of everything”.
Rockpages.gr: How long did it take you to compose the songs and how much did they change until they were recorded? Also, why did you decide to cooperate with a producer you never worked before?
Fernando Ribeiro: Almost three years because it had a lot of stages. We didn’t expect that the tour for “1755” would last so long. Before our last tour of 2019 we made a demo and I thought that we were compromising, trying to keep everyone happy. So, we went to a lot of changes, paying attention to the little details. Then Miguel left the band and Hugo Ribeiro came along who helped with setting his parts. As for the producer, our friends Tue Madsen and Jens Bogren were recommended to us but we decided to choose Jaime Gomez Arellano. We love his work on more progressive bands and also his work with Paradise Lost, especially the sound of “Obsidian”.
Rockpages.gr: Why did you choose this cover from Candlemass?
Fernando Ribeiro: I end up choosing all the covers and sometimes my bandmates are surprised by them, like the one we did for “1755” from a Brazilian band, Os Paralamas Do Sucesso. When you listen to the original, it sounds like soap opera. But we did it very dark in a Type O Negative style. One band I was listening to a lot during the making of “Hermitage” was Candlemass and I think you can find the doom influence in the record. So, I started thinking that it’s the only band that fully embodies the concept of hermits, monks and solitude. I believe that “Darkness In Paradise” fits perfectly to the atmosphere of the album. Even Leif Edling listened to it and like it very much. They are one of my all-time favorite bands and I’m very happy that we are labelmates in Napalm Records.
Rockpages.gr: How about promoting the album during these times?
Fernando Ribeiro: This year is much worse. During 2020 we played four shows in Portugal. We streamed one show, when we played one day after the Halloween. I’ve seen a lot of streaming shows that were bad, it was like the band was rehearsing, so we tried to make it really good. If you go the official YouTube channel of Moonspell it’s available for everyone. Maybe we will do another one this year, we will see. As for the future, we have all these planned shows from last year but it depends on the country. For example, Portugal didn’t understand so far that we have to live with the virus. Now we will try to take the best out of 2021, try to keep the band up and running with all the difficulties. Hopefully, this year won’t be repeated. We will try to announce some tours for 2022 and some shows for 2021 but, as I said before, it depends on the country.
Rockpages.gr: Has anyone contacted you for a show in Greece?
Fernando Ribeiro: First of all, I want to take the chance and apologize that we didn’t play in Athens the last two times. The first one, in 2019, wasn’t really our fault as we were in Italy and the weather didn’t allow us to travel. As for the second one, in 2020, we were in a very bad place as a band, we almost broke up. It seems that people still want us to come there. So far, we didn’t have any contacts but we are organizing a tour that will include Greece for May 2022. Not 2021 of course, if I come there, I will come as a tourist because I miss it. But I believe that one year from now we will be able to play to Greece, especially Athens, a city that we failed and I apologize again for that. It’s an amazing city to visit and play.
Rockpages.gr: There is a special connection between Moonspell and Greek fans, right?
Fernando Ribeiro: Yes, and not only that. I mean touring with Rotting Christ is always hard. And only our big friendship and same way of thinking allow us to break all the obstacles and win any challenge. Sometimes I say that Portuguese are like Greeks. We may be different but sometimes we don’t have to talk, just look at each other and understand what is going on. It’s like streetwise south European. The countries are very different, we don’t have so much cultural or geographical connections but I find myself more attached to the Greek people. I also like Greek philosophy and culture. I was probably one of the few musicians from metal bands who asked to see the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis while the others wanted to go drink beers.
Rockpages.gr: When it comes to Portugal, after all these years only one bands comes to mind when the conversation goes to metal. You are the only one who made a worldwide success, toured so many times and are an established act in the scene. Why do you believe that no one else has achieved such thing?
Fernando Ribeiro: Sometimes I believe that Portuguese bands don’t understand the level of dedication you must have, regardless if you are an established band or not. I see bands from other countries and they work every day to make their name bigger. In Portugal we have a very big fan base. “Hermitage” was three weeks number one in the charts. But to get there, it was really hard. One thing we didn’t do is have prejudice about being bigger. Sometimes people here prefer being underground and that’s an excuse for not putting themselves to the test. They like to stay inside, in their mother’s house, eating their mother’s food. Also, when we started, the metal scene here wasn’t interested in doing original music. They wanted to be the Portuguese Sepultura, Machine Head, Metallica, Iron Maiden. And they were happy about it. We didn’t want to become anything like that. So, I don’t really know the answer but definitely something is very wrong.
Rockpages.gr: Thank you for your time Fernando. You can leave a message to the Greek fans if you want.
Fernando Ribeiro: I hope they still love us, in a way. I invite everybody to listen to “Hermitage” and to take their own opinion about it. I hope things will get better and it will allow us to visit one of our favorite places to play. I look forward to see you in 2022 and together celebrate not only “Hermitage” but all the history of Moonspell.