"Quality is not something you can create from zero"
For the past twenty years, Lacuna Coil have established themselves as one of the leading forces in the heavy atmospheric genre. The band has not only managed to create a sound that's instantly recognizable, but also has not been afraid to experiment with it and stray from the obvious path. If last year's "Delirium" is any indication, there's no slowing down for the Italians in the foreseeable future. Before their show in Athens, Greece, we had a chance to sit with Andrea Ferro and talk about the creation of their latest record, the changes in their lineup and the music world, the heavy burden of mental illness, and his view of the future.
It was around a year ago that you released "Delirium". What do you think of it now?
"Delirium" has been very important for us, because it was the first record (we did) after we changed a lot of people in the band, three people to be specific. Ryan (Blake), especially, our drummer, was there for the whole process. It's been really important to kind of show the fans that we're still here, even if we're in a different shape; we still want to make music, we still want to tour. We had a lot of energy, and I think it came out as a heavy record. We followed the music, we didn't think too much about what people would expect from us. We just went for it, and if there was a double bass part, we'd just put double bass, if it was a growl vocals part we'd just put growl vocals, without thinking too much.
This way it came out as a fresh record for us, something that's a little different, but it's still Lacuna Coil. And it surprised the fans, for sure. Especially when we put out "The House Of Shame" as a single, everybody was like "woah, is this really Lacuna Coil?", and that was exactly the effect we wanted to have. We wanted to surprise people and say that we're here for almost twenty years but we still have something to say; something new, not just repeating our formula over and over. Although I think that the characteristics of the band are the same; it's always the epicness of Cristina's voice, the heaviness and the darkness. More or less Lacuna Coil are made by shaking these three parts up. Sometimes it's more gothic, sometimes it's more metal or more rock, but these three elements are the foundation.
You mentioned that there were some line-up changes. Did they cause any major changes in the process?
Not much, because the album was pretty much already written and the music is mostly written by Marco (Coti Zelati). In the past we had moments that the rest of the guys contributed on some parts of the songs, but Marco was always the main songwriter of the band and me and Cristina wrote all the lyrics and the vocal parts. In that way, the essence of the song-writing hasn't really changed. But, obviously, having different people makes you try different approaches. Like, Ryan is a very different drummer than Cristiano (Mozzati), who was more about the groove, whereas Ryan is more into the double bass and speed and power. They're two different styles that make writing take different ways.
So, it's been important, but in the end it comes down to the same people. Cristina and I were there when we recorded our demo back in 1996 and we're still here now, so (along with Marco) it's like the three of us are the main elements of Lacuna Coil. The other guys have been really important for the band, I'm not saying they aren't, but it's like some things are stable and some things might change.
"A lot of people don't want to talk about mental illness"
One thing that I really liked the whole sanitarium-theme of the record; how did you come up with it?
The idea for the concept came when we found the title for the song "Delirium". We were looking for a cool, repetitive word, something nice and interesting. So, when that word came up, it kind of opened up a connection with what we were living in our personal lives. Some of us have experiences in our families of people that were in a modern-time sanitarium, because of illness problems and we had to go there every day, see it and understand more about the mental conditions of people. And we thought it was a good connection, to use our experience and bring it as a topic to the record. It was after we put it out, that we found out how many people are actually affected by this. It's a topic that a lot of people don't want to talk about, or don't understand, because they've never really investigated.
It's important to understand that we used it as a theme for the record, and we made it more horror than it already is, darker, but it's obviously a serious topic. That's why we sort of drew a parallel between the real mental illness and the personal, specific cases. That way we talk in general, but also deal with personal cases in every song. We had the idea of a sanitarium and then we brought back memories from visiting some of those places. There are two abandoned sanitariums near the area of Milan, and we visited them just as tourists, before thinking about that concept, just to see how they were. So, we brought back memories of walking down the corridors that were abandoned and cold, we though how many people were there, how they felt, and then we did some research.
We searched for pictures of sanitariums in the beginning of the century and in those black and white pictures you could see patients, at the time they were photographed for studies, and you can see their weirdness. It wasn't because there was blood or anything like that. It was all about the positioning of their bodies, the way they were laying on their bed, like they were fluctuating because their nerves were damaged, there were lots of unnatural positions. And we tried to recreate that with the pictures (for the album), we tried to capture that atmosphere. The pictures are real, it's just us in an empty room, looking into nothingness and taking these positions. We tried to recreate that aspect, this distance between reality and these people, which is the really scary, more than if you put someone chopping a head or something reminiscent of a horror movie.
"Life isn't always nice, [...] sometimes you have to face difficult times"
And I believe that the timing that you released the album was... I really don't want to use the word "luck", but it was around a time that a lot of people started to talk about mental health, even though it took some tragic events to go there.
Yes, it was a coincidence, obviously. But it's really an important issue, it's an actual problem. We knew that, it happened to us, to our families, it can happen to anybody. And the society nowadays has to face this more than other problems, because the main health issues are solved, not all of them, but some basic ones at least, while (mental issues) are complicated to cure. There's not a really a standard way to cure them, maybe there's no cure at all. Maybe if you're lucky you can find a way to overcome this darkness, and if not... you're going to fall.
You've seen it with people that you never thought would commit suicide, like Chester (Bennington) or Chris Cornell; people that you'd say have everything, family, money, success. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you're happy. And that's something a lot of people don't understand, because they never experienced the pressure.
I have experienced depression, not a heavy one but it was real, and though I never thought of suicide, I had moments that I thought about what I was doing with my life, if it was the right thing, I had a lot of fear and uncertainty. Personally, I overcame it by doing things. If you stay at home and think about it, you'd get more depressed and never get out, you're in the same circle. But you can just go out and do something, work it out. Just by doing things you'll feel alive, start to understand better and clear your mind. Life isn't always nice, it's not always lucky or positive; sometimes you have to face difficult times.
I believe that the best thing to do is leave; there's nothing to do, no medicine. You can't take some pill to help you, especially in the beginning, there's no solution like that. You have to find it in yourself, find the strength to move on and follow a goal you have. Even the simplest goal, do whatever you like; paint, write, play music. It doesn't even have to be a job, just something to keep you busy and focused. Put your effort into that and something good will come out. It doesn't matter what it is, it can just be a pizza; go out, learn it, work for free, and then you might open your own place. The most important thing is to just do something.
On a lighter tone, the video clips for "You Love Me 'Cause I Hate You" and "Blood, Tears, Dust" are seriously amazing. What was it like shooting them?
We wanted to have a couple of videos that were connected and we wanted to do something artistic, not just a video just for the clicks. We wanted to do something with artistic quality, because the record deals with a delicate topic, and we didn't do a commercial single or anything like that, so we wanted the videos to be on the same level of the music. We found the director, Cosimo Alemà, in Italy, who did a lot of videos for big Italian artists and his style is very cinematic, it's almost like watching a movie. He doesn't use special effects or flashy things, he's more like a director to mini-movies.
And there's also a story connecting them.
Yes, and that's why we did it that way. We shot it in some mountains in Italy, in Piemonte's region, which is an hour and a half from Milan, in the beginning of the Alps. Actually we stayed in a sanctuary, you can see it in one of the videos, for two or three days, with no internet, no TV, just sitting and sleeping. It was very cold, but very beautiful, the view of the mountains in the back, it was stunning. We filmed everything in the little town around the area, both videos were shot at the same time, and the parts that we play were shot in an abandoned place that's used for artistic exposition and some parts of it are still unexplored.
It's like a giant structure on the river, some parts of it are underground and nobody goes down there as it's been abandoned for so many years. It's really scary, but it's a very good looking location for a video. [Laughs] We had a lot of fun, it was a great experience, we had actors and a lot of people working around us, it was really cool. And I think it shows, they are amongst the best videos I've seen recently.
"We can write a perfect Lacuna Coil record on our own, completely"
Being around for almost twenty years, how much would you say you've changed as a composer and a musician since the early days?
We learned a lot. I think we learned especially by working with great producers, like Waldemar (Sorychta), who did our first four records. He is a metal producer, he loves metal and comes from a classical environment. He taught us a lot about song structures, arrangements, stuff like that. Then we worked with Don Gilmore, who's more of a big American producer, he did Linkin Park, and we learned a lot from him about writing lyrics. We also learned about structures, in a more rock way, but he really taught us about lyrics; how to drag the listener into the story, explain everything in the chorus. That was very important for our growth.
Everybody that we worked with, we learned a lot from. That's why on the last record we decided to do it by ourselves. We thought we had enough experience to make it. It was also the nature of the record being so heavy, we knew how we wanted it to sound, how it needed to be written. That doesn't mean anything though, in the future we may go with a producer again, but for now we felt it was the perfect choice and we've learned a lot. We have discovered that we can walk on our own legs, without a supervisor. We understood how much we know by ourselves, by all these years of experience, and now we know that we can write a perfect Lacuna Coil record on our own, completely. But we can always find somebody to learn from, so we'll see for the next one.
So, I'm pretty sure you're the right person to ask, since you've been around from the beginning; how different is it to be in a metal band these days?
It's very different, as you said, from when we started. It was a different world back then; no internet, almost no cell phones [laughs], it was mostly tape, and we did our demo on tape actually. Everything was physical, there were no digital sales, it was just record labels releasing music and bands releasing their own stuff on a smaller scale. It was a completely different world than it is today. I think that this internet thing has been helpful on one hand, because it gave a lot more people the chance to discover (more music) and bands can put their music out there. On the other hand, it didn't often help on the quality of the music.
"I don't see many bands that come out and leave you like "wow, this is fresh""
Now there is more quantity, sure, there are a lot more bands, but I think that the great records that come out every year are still the same. If you had, let's say thirty great albums in rock and metal last year, this year you'd get twenty nine or thirty two; but it's pretty much the same amount. Quality is not something you can create from zero; quality needs experience, talent, it's a big process. It's not like you can record at home and you can be a star. I mean, yeah, you can, but it doesn't mean that you have the quality. Very often bands sound just like another band, there's not enough personality. To develop personality takes time; it takes a career, it takes interest, it takes finding the right people to work with.
It's not as easy as it seems. It's easier to record now, sure, but I don't think that has improved the quality of the songwriting, of the proposal or the style. I don't see many bands that come out and leave you like "wow, this is a fresh band". It happens, but it's rare. The fact is that everything's changed, but I don't think it's changed the talent that's out there; that's still the same. It's just that before there was a selection from the labels, but now it's almost not there anymore.
Yes, it's easier for an independent band to show its work.
Yes, it is. But that doesn't mean there are more great records than before. I mean, I hear more of the same music being released; it's well done, well played, and people now play better than we did when we started. Back then there was no YouTube to check something out, the only way to do so was to see someone play and the only way to learn was to buy a book or go to a lesson. You couldn't learn via Facebook or Instagram or Skype, now everything's more accessible. The quality of the players is way higher, you can find a lot of young kids that are really talented, with really developed playing skills, but that doesn't mean that overall the bands today are better.
You'll be performing a special, anniversary show in a couple of months. Is there anything you can disclose about it?
It will be in London, England, obviously! [Laughs] It'll be on 1/19, our day, at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. We'll be playing around three hours, it'll be a pretty big event, and we'll play a lot of songs from the past, some new, some that haven't been played before, and we'll try some songs in different ways. There will be also a circus interacting with us, something like a gothic circus, doing visual stuff on some of the songs, and we'll have a special stage. And it'll all be filmed for a DVD, so if people can't make it to the show, they'll still get to see it.
It'll be a special day for sure. It's something we've never done before, and it's a lot of work. We've done all the pre-production, the citing and everything, the budget, it's really complicated! [Laughs] But it'll be a very nice day, I guess, and our idea is to try and celebrate 1/19 every year. Obviously this year it'll be extra special, because it's the twentieth anniversary of the band, but hopefully next year it'll be another thing, we'll have different ideas, but it'll happen if it's possible, and in different territories as well.
"We'd like to write something specifically acoustic"
That'd be really great! You've mentioned something about different versions of your songs, and I've always loved your acoustic renditions. Have you ever considered doing a complete album like that?
There was an idea like that, but then we changed our lineup, we lost our two guitar players and now we have only one. It was more in our mind when we had two guitars, lately we kind of put it on the side. Maybe one day, though, you never know. It's something that we could do, but we don't know when or how. We'd also like to write something specifically acoustic, not just play acoustic versions of our other songs. Sometimes they sound good, sometimes they sound okay, because they are adaptations of something that wasn't born as acoustic. Maybe if we do that we could collaborate with somebody that is more into the acoustic world, have more than just two guitars, or something like that. It's definitely something we could do, we'll see what happens.
"The new album will probably be ready by 2019"
It's probably a little early, given that you've recently got back on the road, but have you thought about what the next step of Lacuna Coil could be? Maybe talk with the guys about new music or ideas?
Next year we're going to celebrate the twenty years of the band and do a bunch of festivals in the summer, in Europe and America, and when the DVD is released we'll probably do a special show for that one, too. Besides that, our goal is to write songs for the next album, so this next year we'll be concentrated on writing and start recording some stuff, that's the main plan for now! [Laughs] The new album will probably be ready by 2019.
During your recent tour on the States with Epica and Insomnium, you were joined on stage by Simone Simons for some songs. How was that?
Yes, it was on "Heaven's A Lie", and Cristina joined Epica on "Storm The Sorrow", I think. We know Simone a long time, from when they were starting, and we've been friends for all that time. We decided to do the tour together, because we wanted to go back to the States before the end of the tour cycle, they had to go too, and it was a good package with Insomnium, it was working really well for the fans and we thought "why not?". So we did it together, and we had a lot of fun, there was a very nice atmosphere. We had a very good time together, and we did lots of things together besides the show too. It was a natural, spontaneous thing to do.
Actually, Simone sang with us on 70.000 Tons Of Metal some years ago, and with "Heaven's A Lie" it's something we like to do given the chance. We had Fernando (Ribeiro) from Moonspell or Ville (Laihiala) from Sentenced join us on that one. And we also like to join others, I went on stage with Type-O Negative doing "Black No. 1", Cristina played with Megadeth and Alter Bridge, we sang with Rob Zombie, it's always something we like to do with friends.
And for one last, obvious question; it's been almost six years since your last show here and a couple more from the previous one - which was an amazing festival with Moonspell, Venom...
Yeah, that was the one! What has stuck with you from those nights?
We've always had a great time here in Greece. It's just that sometimes the tour doesn’t come this way. In some cases it's hard to come back. But we always have a great time. Like, yesterday we played in Thessaloniki, and we hadn't played there even longer (than Athens), it's probably been like ten years, but it was great. It's great to come back and see that people are still there, waiting for so many years. I also come to Greece for vacation very often, last summer I was in Santorini with my wife, I've been to Rhodes and Crete; and we love the food and the culture, it's all very close to us. We try to come with every album, but there was the economic crisis, so many factors we can't control. We always want to come and play here, and this time we did it right, the Eastern Europe route that came down to Bulgaria and then here.
And there's so many places that we haven't played. The tour's first show was in Malta, and we'd never been there before, and it was great. Or a while back we played in Israel, for the first time in twenty years. And we still haven't played a headline show in Turkey. There are so many places that we'd still love to play, even if it's just once!