Saturday, March 17, 2012

Drakkar: The Interview

When you have an opportunity to sit down with veterans of the power metal genre and talk shop, it is impossible to pass up. We caught up with Italian power metal band Drakkar, to talk about what it means to be a part of that genre, the ever increasing competitiveness of the Italian metal scene, and the risk and reward of writing an album that is very story based, like "When Lightning Strikes."

First, let me say that it is a pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to talk to you about your music and your work. Thank you for taking this time to sit down with us.

It's my pleasure, really.

Going back to the formation of the band in 1995, what led to the decision to use the name Drakkar? What does the name signify to you?

I can't honestly say for sure where did it come from, as the name was chosen by the original bass player and founder of the band, which I joined a few months later. However, it's a name I always liked: short, epic, easy to remember and powerful.

Before we get to the music, let's talk about the story that "When Lightning Strikes" is built on. What inspired the story itself, and how important do you think that story is for the listeners?

The inspiration came primarily from the classic American "pulp" science fiction of the '50s and '60s. Stuff like Jack Kirby's comics, Star Trek, movies like "The Day The Earth Stood Still", all those kind of things. I love the American pop culture of those years and I thought it would have been fun to work in that context for the album's lyrics and mood. Things like the spoken parts of "The Armageddon Machine" have been specifically tailored to try and recreate that kind of experience. That's why they are so emphatic, maybe a little bit corny, if you will, but that's part of the fun of it.

Unlike so many other albums, yours is really story based, with each track telling a different piece.
How difficult was it to write music and lyrics to support the story itself?

Well, it was obviously a challenge, but it all came very natural in the end. I'd say that the longest part was to research and find those touches, both in music and lyrics, that would make the experience more organic and unique. Some examples are the Russian polka in the middle of "Winter Soldiers", or the Japanese introduction for "Salvation", things that had to captivate the listener and take him to a specific place and time, make him feel part of the story. We didn't want to create just a collection of songs with intertwining lyrics, but a whole musical journey that you can sit down and take when you put the record on... a cinematic experience, if you will. Once we set our minds to this, it really was a very natural process.

Right from the start of the album, there is a strong focus on symphonics. How difficult is it to balance a strong symphonic element and the pounding drums and distorted riffs?

Well, for us it's always a matter of focusing on the songs, first and foremost. We don't consider ourselves an actual "Symphonic Metal" band; our compositions not usually revolve around the orchestra, of course there are intros and stuff like that, but ultimately, the symphonic parts are our icing on the cake, which is the song. I would say that we're pretty much focused on creating good metal songs with good melodies; then, the orchestra comes in as a mean to add a more epic, grandiose feeling. Of course the orchestral parts are important, but they are in service of the songs, not the other way around.

Not only do the lyrics tell the story, but so much of the emotion comes from the guitar riffs themselves. Tell us a little about the writing process, and how each layer of sound contributes to the overall style of the band?

Well, usually, I write the bulk of each song on the guitar, coming up with riffs, verse, bridge (if any) and chorus. Then Corrado and I work on the instrumental parts and, together with the others, finalize the structure. When the structure is done, everyone works on arranging his parts in detail. Me and Dave usually work together on the main vocal melodies, we've found we get the best results like that, and during this process I also start writing the lyrics, which are usually the last thing to be completed. Everyone of us has the chance to contribute to the sound of the band, and I love that, I think it gives us a more rich and varied palette of influences and moods, as everyone of us has different tastes.

Songs like "Revenge Is Done" and the title track, "When Lightning Strikes," really show off vocalist Davide Dell'Orto's vocal range. Who were Davide's influences as a singer?

Dave has done such a great job on this album, it really show how mature he is nowadays as a singer. As far as influences go, he is a great fan of James Hetfield, Russell Allen, Dave Coverdale, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, Phil Anselmo... But he also likes a lot of music which is not necessarily metal, and I think that helps him to find some solutions which you wouldn't immediately expect. As I told before, we work together on all vocals for the songs and I honestly think we make a great team, because Dave is not just a talented singer, he's also a great guy, always concentrated on making the best possible song, not on showing off. Ego is really not a factor for any of us in the band, and I think that's the reason why we're still together after so many years and despite all the difficulties we faced.

What does "power metal" mean to you? Musically, lyrically, emotionally, how does it make you feel?

It's a kind of music that is full of energy, the perfect blend between aggression and melody. It's a musical style that gives you a boost of confidence, of power... helps you believe in yourself and find the will to take on life, to fight for what is worth to you. I really think it elevates the soul, and that's probably the reason why it goes so well with symphonic touches/influences, because classical music has that same quality, that touch of eternity, it's uprising. At least, that's the way I feel about it.

Being a part of the power metal movement is a huge honor. Alongside bands like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody (and Rhapsody of Fire), and Stratovarius, you are helping to build the most melodic metal genre. What is it that attracted you to power metal, and why do you think it is such a beloved form of metal?

Well, you can pretty much understand it from my answer above. It's a kind of music that has so much energy, it's aggressive and powerful but without having the need to be angry and furious all the time, as it can convey a very positive message. It's power put to good use to raise your head, stand tall, proud, and believe in yourself. I know that a lot of people will always be dismissive of Power Metal because it's not as "cool" as more extreme forms of metal music, but we honestly don't care. We do what we like to do, we're just sincere and we're never gonna allow others to tell us what we must do. And that's another thing which I think is really associated with Power Metal: stubborn passion!

You are no strangers to the Italian metal scene. But recently there has been an explosion of metal bands from Italy, propelling your home country to the top of the metal world. How do you feel about the metal scene in Italy today, and the crop of bands it has produced?

I think Italy has an incredible amount of talented bands and musicians, in every sub-genre of the metal world. It's a shame that it's so difficult for Italian bands to be noticed and recognized by the big European labels and festival (with a few notable exceptions). I mean, everyone could tell you that the road to recognition for Italian bands is twice as hard as that of our brothers from the North... Germany, Sweden, Finland bands have a lot more exposure and chances, while we have to struggle for every inch. But quality-wise, I don't think Italian bands have anything to envy to more renowned musical scenes.

With a new album released through My Kingdom Music, what comes next for Drakkar? What can we expect to see and hear from you in the coming months and years? Can we expect a sequel to "When Lightning Strikes"?

Sure! Right now we're focusing on some live shows here in Italy. We are also looking to cross the border, but that is really difficult and to be honest we are not the time to sell our moms for a 15-minutes support slot where you can barely start playing and you're kicked off the stage, so... We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I already started working on a lot of material for the next album, our goal is to record it in 2013. We don't want to disappear again for another 10 years, I mean, we're back and here to stay and we already lost too much time.

Thank you again for your time, and for the music you make. We look forward to what comes next!

Thanks to you for everything. Stay metal!

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