TMO: Hello Alessandro! How are you? Do you feel thrilled? Is it the first time you’ve been interviewed?
AJ: Hello! Well, I can’t say it’s the first time, but being the bassist it’s always kinda rare! [laughs]
TMO: Oh my, you people show a bit of love for the bass player!
AJ: Well, usually interviews are handled by the founding members of the band, but it looks like sometimes people want to chat with the bass player too! It’s a rare opportunity which I always appreciate!
TMO: Was 2019 a busy year for you? I mean, summer tours around Europe, the new album’s release…
AJ: Absolutely! It was really a busy year, even more intense than the previous ones. We started the year with a European tour in April, with Frozen Crown and Desert, tour which went even better than what we expected, something that left us really satisfied! Then we had to get through the festival season, we played something like ten festivals in Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden and even two in Italy, then we reached the climax with the release of the three singles and videos from our new album, and then with the release of “Reader of the Runes” on August 29th! We’re obviously really happy about the positive feedbacks we are receiving from critics and fans alike, and, to end the year, during the first week of October we will be playing in South America for our first South American tour as headliners!
TMO: That’s great! And, speaking of the new album, can you tell us something more about it?
AJ: Of course! Well, first of all I can say this is the first real concept album by Elvenking: some of the previous albums had a sort of inner “common thread” if you will, but they weren’t exactly concept albums. On the other hand, “Reader of the Runes” tells us a full story, developed in each track, and it’s the first part of a concept that will be developed in three albums.
TMO: So it’s the first part of a trilogy?
AJ: Precisely! A trilogy focusing on this character, the “Reader of the Runes”, a mystical and magic fortune teller, who will read the future of a series of characters, each of them described in a song of the album. This is all I can say, for the rest of the story, I invite you to listen to the full album, I think it’s really a strong release within its genre! In the booklet you will find much more informations about the story, so grabbing a phisical copy is the best option! The album was recorded in three main different studios scattered over Europe, plus various others, and it features Balzagoth’s keyboardist Jonny Maudling for some of the orchestrations. We also got some help for the choirs by Alessandro Conti and Fabio Dessi, and the inclusion of various celtic instruments!
TMO: Incredible! I have to say that the result is extremely balanced and omogeneous, if you hadn’t told me about that I would never have imagined it! Props to the producer!
AJ: Thank you! Indeed, I want to thank Dan Suano and Tony Lindgren for the excellent mastering and mixing! We worked as a team and the result was great!
TMO: I absolutely agree! Now, I have another question: Elvenking’s lineup has been subject to changes, some of them being quite recent. Has this influenced, in terms of songwriting and composition, the direction of the band? Have the individuals involved in the songwriting process changed?
AJ: That’s a though question! Well, I can say that the lineup changes were many, but at the same time I think they brought new energy and new ideas within the band, although obviously this doesn’t mean the predecessors didn’t do an excellent job (all in all, they paved the way for what we are doing nowadays). The songwriting style did evolve, but I think this happened regardless of the aforementioned lineup changes. Great part of the songwriting inputs and the general artistic direction comes from the usual two persons (the founding members, Aydan and Damna). They surely evolved indeed, but this has to be considered as a personal artistic maturation of them.
TMO: I see. And, speaking of musical influences, what are the musical styles and the bands that have mainly influenced or inspired Elvenking?
AJ: Well, the first inspirations for the band can be individuated in the old school folk metal à-la Skyclad, and in power metal early-Helloween and Blind Guardian-style, for example. Talking about current influences, I’ll just say that there are more than a few references to be found in our music. I feel like naming Powerwolf, Amorphis and Sabaton among others, groups that are experiencing a huge growth in terms of sales and popularity, deservedly I must say. We like to think to Elvenking as a quite eclectic group, inspirationally speaking, not to mention the fact that Aydan and Damna love listening to music and are avid buyers and collectors of CDs and vinyls.
TMO: Oh well, I myself am, so I can understand their urge to collect metal-related material! But what about Reader of the Runes, what do you think that makes it shine among your already rich discography, in terms of concept and musical value?
AJ: Well, while answering this question I want to refer to the already mentioned lineup changes, there have been great lineup changes between 2010-2011, the “new” lineup debuted with “Era” in 2012, and with “The Pagan Manifesto” in 2014 we made clear what our current style is, as to say, “back to the roots” folk metal that is the direct successor of the music contained in the band’s first albums, re-interpreted in a more modern key, more cohesive with what the band’s music was and aims to be: a melodic, yet heavy, folk metal with power metal elements. “The Secret of the Magic Grimoire” explored the darkest and most evil side of the band, and “Reader of the Runes” is the logic prosecution of the previous two album’s trend: melodic folk power, yeah, but with a further dvelopement of the evil and extreme side of our compositions, for example in tracks like “Malefica Doctrine” or in some sections of the final suite. The core elements of our sound are still there, but it’s the evolution of the band’s “dark side” that makes this CD particularly interesting: indeed, I want to point out that the three singles aren’t fully expletive of all the shades we explored within the album, shades that only a full listen of the platter will make evident to the audience’s ears.
TMO: And what are your favourite songs among the platter?
AJ: My favourites have to be Silverseal, entertaining and straight to the point, which we have already played live, getting a really positive reaction from the fans, and “Malefica Doctrine”, as it is our most evil and extreme song, and that’s something I love. Also, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” shows our dark folk side, it’s a song that I think will probably make it to the live set and will be well-received by the public.
TMO: Is it important, in your opinion, for a band to have a leader? If such a figure exists in your band, who is he in Elvenking?
AJ: Of course yes! A band must have a figure that coordinates the whole project, especially the artistic and gestional stuff, not in a totalitarian sense, but it’s also important not to fall into anarchy either!In some groups there can be even two figures of this kind, in our band these figures are Aydan and Damna, the two founding members and main composers, that are especially focused on the artistic direction, keeping everyone’s creative output focused. The rest of the commitments we usually subdivide between the remaining members.
TMO: Perfect! Speaking about live exhibitions again, Elvenking have become quite an efficient “live machine”, playing important spots at big festivals like the “Sabaton Open Air”. How does it feel to be part of the “Big” of european metal?
AJ: Well, I don’t absolutely feel like one of the “Big” [laughs], but I have to say it’s cool to be at their side, not only on stage but also off stage, even just for talking a bit in the changing rooms or while having dinner. It’s always interesting and formative, as you realize that usually the so-called “Big” are normal people like everyone else. What distinguishes them from the mass is the fact that they have a real artistic offer (I myself have always believed that if a band has success, there has to be a reason behind it, especially in a genre like heavy metal that, among the others, still retains a bit of meritocracy in these terms). The “Big” are groups that deserve to do what they’re doing, as they offer a real show, they are well run, they write good and interesting material, so you always have to learn from them. If you play a big festival, getting a spot around 4-5 pm like us, the organization is impeccable, but you have a limited amount of time to perform your show, you have to adapt, you know? You have to be humble and you don’t act as a whimsical rock star. You have to do your best in those 45-50 minutes, and these situations make you grow as an artist, a person and a musician.
TMO: It absolutely makes sense. Earlier you told me about Silverseal and the fact that you already played it live with good results, generally, what’s your fans’ response to the new material played live? There are some bands for example, a lot of them really famous I have to say, that keep playing the same exact set with minimal changes for years, because the storic and most famous songs are the ones the public wants to listen to. How does it work for Elvenking?
AJ: Yeah, that’s true. My feeling has always been good about this, I mean, for example we played the singles from “Reader of the Runes” before the album was released, and the fans’ reactions were really great! Obviously there are those 2-3 tracks that are fan favourites and you always have to play them, but we feel like we are a band that can keep making new, strong material, and playing it live, without having to resort to the exact same repertoire over and over again.
TMO: Ah, that’s good to hear. I mean, as a fan, there are some bands that I’m not really eager to see again, as they have been playing the same exact set for ages, as I said, and that’s quite annoying.
AJ: I feel you, but thankfully that’s not Elvenking’s case!
TMO: And what tracks, among those from the new album, are you going to play live?
AJ: Well, as I said above, we already played the three singles in the various festivals we played this summer. When we hit the road again, I think we’re gonna add at least another two or three new songs, to perform at least five of them on a regular basis. With the previous albums, we usually learned more new songs and we tested them live, switching from show to show, to see what tracks the fans liked most. I think we’ll keep doing this even with the “Reader of the Runes” tour.
TMO: I see. Now tell me, what’s your most beloved country to play live in with Elvenking? Be honest!
AJ: Absolutely! I always have a lot of fun in Czech Republic, as they have some really fantastic festivals there, the best being “Masters of Rock” and “Metalfest”, where it’s always a pleasure to play and where there is ALWAYS people, even if you play during the morning. I also have great memories of a concert we made in Brazil two years ago with Ensiferum. Also, Japan, where we have been twice and where we hope to be back soon. In Japan the numbers may not be as big as those of European festivals or Brazilian dates, but the public’s response is always incredible.
TMO: And, to end the live topic, which was your most thrilling on stage experience?
AJ: Wacken 2016. There’s no better memory, nothing compares to that. The stage, the people, everything. I’m usually not scared to go on stage to play, but that night. I was really anxious! [laughs]
TMO: Ok, the next question is a bit more complicated. The music world, especially when it comes to metal, has been experiencing radical changes during the past decade, both when it comes to sales and to the tours/merchandise counterpart. Plus, the advent of streaming platforms has furtherly changed the whole way to listen to music. What are, in your opion, the possible pros and cons of these changes in the way of making music for a musician or a band?
AJ: Oh well, this is an extremely complicated question. As you already know, the physical sales are experiencing a huge crisis, the numbers aren’t even remotely comparable to those pre-file sharing, and thus a great crisis arose in the second decade of the 2000s: the physical sales had vastly diminished, while the digital sales still had to rise, so in those years it was extremely difficult to do original music, living only thanks to the sales. A lot of bands had to do extremely long and tiring tours to cash thanks to ticket and merch sales, with all the cons that being on the road all year long involves. Then we witnessed an increase in the digital sales, but not enough to offset the loss due to the phisical sales crisis. Now we are entering in a third age, we can say, the post-digital, “streaming era”, where finally the streaming platforms are getting regulated, think to Spotify and Youtube, and some even say that streaming could reach the old levels of the phisical sales in a few years. However, this is a recent outcome and only in the next few years we will be able to state if it’s true or not. The situation is still evolving, so I guess we’ll see!
TMO: And what about the fans? How did they confronted these changes, was their way to live your music involved as well?
AJ: Well, first of all, I want to say that I really love our fans, because they themselves love us (and they show), we could even define Elvenking as a “cult” band, as we’ve never been a mainstream or incredibly successful (sales-wise) group, but our fans are really attached to us and they behave as a family. That said, they’ve sticked to us through each lineup change, album and tour for all these years, so I think that, wathever happens, they’ll still be with us.
TMO: If you could do or suggest something to improve the current music industry situation, what would it be?
AJ: Juridically speaking, you mean?
TMO: Yeah, why not.
AJ: Well then, in my opinion, the EU has done something important with the European Copyright Law, obviously i twill take some time for the states members of the Union to apply such Law, especially here in Italy if you ask me [laughs], however, what’s important to notice is that supranational and national organizations are doing more and more in defense of the copyright and of the artistic material. I hope that this will serve as a message to the big media/mainstream platforms, so as to remunerate adequately the artists whose material is adopted by other users. I think these are sparks of hope and that we may be already going the right way in these terms. Internet is free and all, but it’s right for it to have restrictions when it comes to using someone else’s artistic or intellectual property.
TMO: Seems legit. Well, these were the hard questions, now let’s relax a bit, what do you think?
TMO: Well, 2019 is proving to be an exceptional year for music, and especially heavy music, with a ton of bands releasing tons of excellent albums, something we hadn’t witnessed for quite a while. Did some of this year’s releases catch your attention? Did you listen to something you found particularly intriguing?
AJ: Well, actually it’s quite a wicked question, as I’m a lazy listener [laughs]. I didn’t listen to a lot of stuff this year, but a few releases did catch my attention, and I enjoyed the mas well; for example, the new Rhapsody of Fire and the new Turilli/Lione Rhapsody albums (everything with the word “Rhapsody” in it will inevitably catch my attention, as they’re all friends, colleagues and great composers), the often-discussed Rammstein’s self titled, which wasn’t appreciated by everyone, but honestly I quite enjoyed it, Sabaton’s “The Great War” and Hammerfall’s “Dominion” (which came out the same day as our new album, by coincidence!). Well, if it wasn’t clear, I’m generally a great power metal aficionado.
TMO: Who could blame you for that? But what are Elvenking’s future projects?
AJ: Well, first of all the aforementioned South American tour in October, then something in Italy for the first weekend in October, to celebrate our new album’s release, the HRH at Sheffield, England, at the end of November, with our friends Skyclad and other folk metal bands, then we have great tour plans for the beginning of 2020, and I think that news will come really soon in these terms.
TMO: And what about your future projects?
AJ: You mean, my musical projects outside Elvenking?
AJ: Well, I can tell you that Moonlight Haze will be releasing a new album in the first half of 2020, and I’m programming some collaborations that I still have to keep top secret, but towards January or February of the next year you’ll have news even about that.
TMO: Ok, these are the last two questions, so rejoice! This one’s quite complicated, however: recently, some musicians have started sensitizing the masses with their declarations about climate change, for example, Slipknot’s drummer Jay Weinberg, who some time ago underlined the absolute necessity for mankind to change its current lifestyle in favour of an eco friendly one. Do you think that musicians could be influential when it comes to such topics, even just by sensitizing the public opinion? If so, to what extent?
AJ: Well, I’ll give you an answer that may result indigestible to many, but I have always tried to keep politics and art well apart one from the other, and when talking about ecology and environmental sustainability, unfortunately we’re dealing with political matters as well, because only political decisions could change the situation. Elvenking’s message is certainly an eco-friendly message, as it talks about nature, going back to our origins, respect and love for man, nature and the individual, but I think that such important matters should be kept separated by what is simply the artistic expression of a musician/group of musicians. That’s not to say we don’t care, but personally speaking, I think these subjects should be dealt with by educating people since their childhood, especially at school, and with consequent decisions taken by the governments. Honestly, I’m doubtful about the artist’s role in spreading messages of this kind.
TMO: That’s an interesting answer indeed. I mean, if someone is set to think through a certain forma mentis, it can be easy or, on the other hand, impossible to introject certain messages, as a consequence of his standards and moral values.
AJ: However, that’s just my opinion.
TMO: An interesting one I have to say. Now, the last question: although it’s certainly hard to make yourself a name in the world of music nowadays, a lot of musicians still live the dream of gaining fame, popularity, to make something that will be remembered with their bands. What advice would you give to them?
AJ: Oh my, and I though the previous question was hard! Is this the last question for real? [laughs]
TMO: Yes of course!
AJ: This is the toughest of them all! I feel invested with a great sense of responsibility! Well, my advice is to start from an “artistic substance”: what do you want to express, communicate through your music? What’s your message? You have to make sure (and that’s far from obvious) that you have something good to say, to express. That said, music is a business as well, so you also have to make sure your product is appetible for some people to stick to and buy! Something which is not necessarily commercial, but marketable. You have both to make something artistically valid, and to sell it to the public. This can only be done through practice, passion, experience. Play a lot, work hard, play live shows, improve your personal skills and handle professionally your project. Always be careful to pull out good material in the songwriting process, put out something which can compete with the enormous amount of material out there. There’s no magic recipe: just work hard, professionally, and be moved by a real artistic essence. Set high standards and try to reach them working with professionalism.
TMO: Well then, as I said this was the last question. I hope I didn’t exhaust you too much!
AJ: Just a bit [laughs]. Jokes aside, I had a lot of fun, and I want to thank you and the readers for this fantastic opportunity. Thanks a lot!
TMO: Thanks to you Alessandro! See you soon!