I really enjoy interviewing musicians who are passionate about their music and that is the exact impression I got while talking to Carmelo Orlando - frontman and guitarist of the Rome-based Progressive/Doom Metal quartet Novembre.
With a justifiably growing confidence that's attributed to the release of his band's latest breathtaking effort 'The Blue', Carmelo was eager to give an explanation of the process based on which this album came to life, Novembre's common musical roots with other atmospheric outfits such as Anathema and Katatonia and finally provide an explanation behind naming one of the best compositions of the album 'Triesteitaliana'.
Hi Guys. Let me start this interview by congratulating you for having released an album as impressive as "The Blue". How would you describe the feedback that you have so far received from my fellow journalists?
Carmelo: Hi, thanks for your good words mate; The feedback we're receiving is definitely unexpectedly great. 'The Blue' is constantly rated from 8 to 9.5. It seems like music journalists really digged this one. And fan feedback is awesome too!
Fifteen years ago you decided to change the name of the band from Catacomb to Novembre in order for it to represent the musical direction at the time. Do you feel that this name is still fitting for a band whose latest musical excursion is an album like "The Blue"?
Carmelo: Oh yeah; back then we wanted a name that would suit us at any period of our career and it seemed like we did the right choice; Even though our name is not an English one, people keep asking us why we decided to take this name. I guess it means my theory on the power of the words makes sense. I think, regardless of the language you speak and their meaning words have a power of their own, and I felt Novembre sounded much stronger and deeper than November; and seemingly, even non-Italian/French people feel the same. I don't see other bands being asked the same question; it really seems like we picked the right one.
The influences in your music from the works of bands like Katatonia, Paradise Lost and Anathema have always been clearly audible in your albums, yet it has always been very easy for me to recognise a Novembre composition when exposed to one. Which are those elements in your music that you feel are unique and also representative of the band's style?
Carmelo: Well, we formed at the same year, if not even before, our Swede and English colleagues, and we've been influenced from early Paradise Lost ever since day one. And so were our colleagues! One day, back in '92, a friend of mine told me he had bought a 7' vinyl EP from a new English band that sounded pretty much like us. He was referring to the 'They die' EP, as how much it sounded like our 'The Return Of The Ark' 7' EP. So even though we always mentioned bands like our friends Katatonia and/or Anathema, as great and unique bands, it's not correct in saying that they influenced us. I think we're twin bands, who grew our styles listening to the same bands, so we have elements in common. Early Anathema, for instance, have lots of Iron Maiden and old Metallica harmonies laced beneath their songs but journalists fail to notice it. So we have!!! So Katatonia have, if you know what I mean. And the list of elements journalists fail to notice could go on. So, I think the comparison most of you, do between us and them is just a 'forgivable' mistake.
There is more or less a year separating the release of your latest effort with that of your previous studio album "Materia". Was it your original intention to bring out a new album at such short notice?
Carmelo: I guess in a certain way, it was. We knew we had so much ground to recoup, after the 5 years between 'Novembrine Walz' and 'Materia'. Luckily, I could come up with tons of music so we had lot of stuff to work.
Looking back on the whole "Materia" experience, would you say that it was as constructive as you had originally anticipated? Are there any 'mistakes' that you feel that you should have avoided making, or are you still happy with the overall result?
Carmelo: I'm analysing that album, from today's perspective, in these very days! I'm realising the whole album suffered from a general slumber; the whole band fell into. It's much more than being simply rusty! It's more a psychological analysis of this thing. We were emotively asleep for many reasons and it reflected in the music. Listening to it again, it feels like we were sort of daydreaming, so now one could say it's a bad thing and the album was such a bore, and there were no growling vocals and bla, bla…Well, I don't think so! On the contrary, this half-asleep condition makes the album our deepest act; its meanings are as deep as dreams and its music can be caught and enjoyed only by brave and self-questioning people. Just like the dreams are. So I'm still 100% happy with it.
OK, let's focus on your new album now. In which way is the chosen title for the band's seventh full-length album and the impressive artwork relevant to the music that's on offer?
Carmelo: The title and the cover came afterwards. But the album sounds blue from its start. Indeed I originally wanted to call it 'In Cobalt Rays' but we eventually changed it.
It's the music that determined the cover. We sent an advance CD to Travis Smith and he did the miracle. I think no other cover is as good this one. And you should really see the inner sleeve and the booklet… That guy can really get into our notes!
Did you have a specific concept in mind when you started working on "The Blue" or is this a collection of twelve individually inspired compositions?
Carmelo: It's an ensemble of a thousand riffs, which formed the 12 songs. The motive that led the writing of the album was a feeling of a return to real life, with real anger and even hate;
No specific concept, just a lot of toxic feelings trashed away through this album. Just like breathing out oxygen.
Are the twelve compositions that are featured in "The Blue" products of fresh ideas, or were they based on riffs and melodies that were left from the recording sessions of "Materia"?
Carmelo: They were written after the 'Materia' release. Yeah, we're pretty productive, if that's what you wanted to point at.
I don't know if you will agree with the following adjectives, but much as I really liked "Materia", I believe that "The Blue" is a more 'mature' and 'thought through' album than its predecessor. Do you, as composer and performing artist, feel that my above comments are justified?
Carmelo: Being 'Materia' what I described before, I totally understand you and all those who agree with you. I myself couldn't play like that today, because I'm in a different state. Still 'Materia' is as deep and out of reach as the bottom of the Oceans. It is to us, what 'Kid A' was to Radiohead! 'The Blue' is closer to people's feeling, not exceeding in the dullness of the 'usual' bands, if you know what I mean. And then it has something more. I still can't figure exactly what.
In "Materia" the lyrics of almost half of your compositions were written in your mother tongue, which is not the case with any of the twelve new compositions featured in "The Blue". Why did you choose to exclude such a colourful and unique aspect of the band's character from this new release?
Carmelo: Nothing in our composition-process is pre-arranged, ever! There must some hard to figure, explanation for this. When I write the music, it comes out with a vocal line already attached. This line isn't made of actual words but it has a phonetics. Sometimes it's English phonetics and it will later be turned into an actual English line; Some other times its in Italian phonetics, which will later turned into an actual Italian as well. That's how it works!!! Quite irrational! I don't know why they were almost all-English sounding, for 'The Blue'.
Talking about lyrics, can you please explain what is the meaning behind the title "Triesteitaliana"? I have asked many of my Italian friends to explain and they all said that there is not a specific meaning associated with it.
Carmelo: Trieste is a town at the borders with Slovenia, which remained split in 2 parts for 5 years after the war, just like Berlin was. And it's the place where the name 'Iron Curtain' was coined. Churchill believed the Communist invasion of Europe would have happened through Trieste. One day I saw an old documentary about it on TV and as it finished, it paused on a road signpost with 'Trieste Italiana' written on it, as to limit the Italian side of the town. It was touchy and for some reasons, it remained impressed in my mind!
Your compositions were always based on simple riffs and vocal/guitar melodies as far as I'm concerned and, even though this release certainly doesn't lack either accessibility or straightforwardness, this is the first time that I personally felt that more 'secrets' are to be revealed to me with every new spin. Was that part of your general 'strategy' behind the creation of "The Blue"?
Carmelo: Oh god, I don't know! I don't know what kind of answer I should try to give to you. It depends if you play an instrument or not, if I should answer from a technical perspective or not. I'm not sure our riffs can be defined as 'simple'. We saw many people being unable to understand many rhythms and in 'The Blue' it goes even farther than that. As I mentioned before nothing is pre arranged but I'm noticing I'm coming up with more and more odd-tempos riffs even though I haven't studied metrics. I assume it depends on the fact I want to vary things a little…
Talking about compositions, the two which really shook my world were "Bluecracy" and "Sound Odyssey" and the reason behind that were their emotionally painful melodies. Give us an insight as to how these two songs came into being.
Carmelo: The "Sound Odyssey" writing was amazing. Easy, fast and perfect. Sort of a miracle. It's basically made of 3 or 4 riffs, one of which has a Classical Music setting. There are some great scale changes, which aren't so usual in Metal (except for Opeth which use dissonant ones mostly); still they give amazing moments to the songs. In the ending part there's a sort of free-jazz piano which is just I playing close-eyed.
The funny thing is that a friend of ours, graduated at the Conservatory, a real axe keyboard player, who we asked to perform that part properly, couldn't do any better than that, hahahaha, so we kept mine!!! Make no mistake; I'm no super genius. It's free jazz that is a dud. Literally, a 2 years old kid would have done the same :) "Bluecracy" has one strong riff with a cool voice line on it. A bunch of great riffs, one of which has a Massimiliano tapping part, which makes it unique. There's a scale change in the middle, which makes you want to crash everything, with an extraordinary Massimiliano solo on it. It has a typical Pink Floyd 'Animal' era - structure, enhanced by a metallic bass line. Great song, indeed.
How would you describe the whole recording experience at Finnvox Studios and why did you choose to work in a studio that's located so far from Italy instead of one in your own country?
Carmelo: That's because none can guarantee us that quality. Italy is still way behind many others. We have great studios but not as great as abroad. Besides that we wanted to play safe. We couldn't risk finding a 'moody' engineer who does a crap just because the Sun doesn't shine, if you know what I mean. At Finnvox, there are many studios in the same building and engineers are hired from a boss and if they do a crap we're refunded and they're fired. Maybe some 'humanity' gets lost, but our budget isn't Slipknot's and Finnvox are the best in Europe, as far as I'm concerned.
Besides that Finland is a lovely place and the chicks there are angels!
Relationships between recording artists and producers often vary, so with that in mind, how would you describe the experience of working with Mikko Karmila? Did the fact that he has worked with some of the most commercially successful bands of the genre, such as Amorphis, Sentenced and Nightwish play an important role in your decision?
Carmelo: Absolutely yeah! We wanted the best guy around! If some jerk wants to do a bad review for the album, he has to do it because he doesn't like it. Not because it sounds like sh*t! Mikko is ok. He works alone, I mean once we recorded, he mixes a song on his own, then he calls us and we do some changes.
Were you allowed with enough freedom to interfere in the recording process or are you one of those bands who prefer to trust such decisions to more experienced hands? Personally speaking, I found that the album was blessed with a really good production.
Carmelo: Indeed! Our best to date! When you work with such brilliant people, there not much to do. We just adjusted some minor details that wouldn't affect his work at all. He did everything.
Then it's not a matter of being allowed to interfere. We didn't want to interfere. Why work with a guy if you have to screw his work?
Last time I saw you guys live was on the 18th of November 2005 at the London Astoria while supporting the mighty My Dying Bride and that was a very impressive performance as far as I'm concerned. Will the release of "The Blue" find you finally hitting the road in the UK as a headliner act?
Carmelo: We'll support Paradise Lost for a small UK tour in the first week of December. We'll be at the Islington Academy on Dec the 5th. Hope to meet you there mate :)
It must be relatively difficult for a band of your style and sound to give enough justice to your compositions in a live environment, especially as a support act. Do you believe that the potential success of "The Blue" will enable you to work towards a richer live sound from now on?
Carmelo: We do our best. We adapt our song for the live concerts and I can assure that they sound pretty consistent with the album versions. We can handle these things much better now. We're better set for concerts today, even with the equipment
Is the reissue of the band's first few efforts or the release of DVD part of the band's plans for the near future?
Carmelo: I don't know, I still think we have some more ground to recoup before thinking to a DVD. Maybe later. About reissuing our first efforts, it's always been in our minds. Maybe someday.
Has being a member of Novembre enabled you to fulfil all of your artistic goals so far in your career? What would be the next logical step for you individually as an artist but also collectively as a band?
Carmelo: Thing is that we don't know what is our next step. We don't know what to expect from the future. We live the day as things happen and we're very satisfied like this.
Guys, it's been really nice conducting this interview with you. The last words are yours!
Carmelo: Thank you sooo much for this great interview. Looking forward to meet you in London; I guess it's gonna be a chaos as always :)
And everyone who want to know us better please visit our websites.
Interview © November 2007 John Stefanis
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