INTERVIEW: Tommaso Riccardi – Fleshgod Apocalypse

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE have been steadily rising up the ranks of the metal world in recent years. With this year’s King (you can read our review here) propelling the band to the forefront, the Italian death metallers are at their best point in their career. On their first headline tour of the UK, Distorted Sound caught up with guitarist and vocalist Tommaso Riccardi last month to discuss touring, the new album, and the future of crowdfunding.

So how are you finding the UK?

Tommaso: Good, very good! We had a good start, Hammerfest was amazing, really good show, packed house, so it was really nice.

You’ve had the new record, King, out in February, how do you feel about the reception to it so far?

Tommaso: It’s a little bit more than we expected. We were confident, of course, and we’ve been working really well with the promotion and with Nuclear Blast have given a lot of attention to us so it has been prepared very well. Also the fact that we have the chance to work with Jens Bogren, so the production and everything was really nice. But you know, until you see the actual response, you never know how it’ll actually be, and for now, both press and fans-wise, it’s been really great. And it’s actually one of the first times we see that even after a few days from the release of the album already on the US tour, for example, we already have people singing choruses, and everything, so I see that besides the new people that we reached, there was also a very big fanbase that was actually waiting for the album to come out. So I’m really happy to see that there’s a whole lot of attention, not only to the singles, but also to the whole thing. That is where we usually aim since we work on concept albums and we really care about the whole operation, not just one song or two songs on the album.

You guys took off pretty fast, how has being signed to Nuclear Blast changed things touring-wise?

Tommaso: Yeah, you know, the thing with touring, is with every improvement, there’s bright sides and dark sides. I mean it’s all bright if you look at it from the point of view of your career, of course, and each year the amount of actual work that we do on the band has been raising like crazy with so many different things, even if obviously we work with the label and the management, there’s still so many things we take care of. But that’s all you, you know, it means that it’s working and the most important thing is that now finally we can survive on the band, and that’s so important because it’s always been like that. You know, we started like every band, doing tours by car or whatever, and side-jobs and trying to survive and everything and now it’s starting to be okay, and that’s the very first point. I mean when you do this, especially when we have families and start to get over our 30s, there’s of course many things to take care of. But beside that, of course it also means a lot more touring and this is something… It’s been always crazy for us because we try to be on tour as much as possible in any possible condition, and of course now it’s really nice because we can. For example, we just had the very first full headlining tour in the US and Canada, and that’s something that means something, you know, it’s so different being there and having your own tour bus and being able to be headlining, and still draw a lot of people and that the response is good, and that is the most important signals that we are having of course. If you only play a supporter, even if you’re a good band, it’s still not your full responsibility. When it starts to be like that, of course there’s a lot of pressure on you because you feel more responsible for how the shows go. But on the other hand, the fact that this is going good, it really means something and here in the UK, I mean, we’ve been here a lot of times, and it’s good to see that we’re building up a fanbase here too, so you know, many things are happening, and indeed, really, really a good time for us, I would say. So, it’s really nice.

Fleshgod Apocalypse Live Manchester
Fleshgod Apocalypse live in Manchester 2016

There’s been a lot of fuss about money and about crowdfunding, how do you feel about that?

Tommaso: You know, I would say one thing, this is really, sincerely what I think: I really think that, like every other business, the music business is changing in this particular time on our planet, just as many things are changing. So what I really would like to personally point out is that fundraising and the fact that music is based on a sort of different democracy like it happens already on YouTube and everything, it’s not something that’s in itself a wrong concept. I really think that you never know how a market is gonna bulge, so it’s not for us to even judge what’s happening with that. The thing that I, on the other hand, really care about saying, is that it’s happening that there’s also a lot of bands that are using it, in my opinion, from an ethical point of view, in the wrong way. First thing I want to say, because this is important for people to know, now it looks a miracle, because one band comes out and says, “Look guys, we need money, please help us!” and many people help, and that’s your decision, so nobody’s forcing you, of course, but the point is, this is incredible and it works so well because for now there’s just a few bands doing it. So all the other bands in the world, like 99.99%, are still basing everything on the old system, on the labels. So if tomorrow, everybody moves to fundraising, the money that is available will be split among one million bands, like it is today in the normal industry. So of course, it’s not going to be a miracle anymore, my first point.

Second thing is, I’m really honest, and I don’t talk shit about people on the back, and I don’t want to name anybody, but the fact is, one thing I believe in my opinion you cannot do, and that’s something I strongly think, is you cannot complain. I mean if you say, “Guys, I wanna do the most incredible video clip in the world, I have a great idea, our fans, if you guys want to help us, this video is gonna be incredible, we’re gonna do, I don’t know, a video on World War II with an entire battle,” you know, something like that, and you’re proposing an artistic idea, and the people that are your fans decide to finance one single thing because they believe in that project, okay, that’s already another thing, but how can you go on the web, and say, “Guys, please, we have problems surviving, you have to help us because we want to do this,”? Wait a second, I mean, I’m not talking in first person of course, but if there’s bands that do it, it means that there is a meritocracy, it means that if you write good songs and you work your ass off doing tours all year and you’re far from your family and you suffer, you might not obtain the results. The matter that I do not understand is music is not different from any other thing in the world. If you decide to study, to be an advocate, or if you decide to be an economist, or a pharmacist, or a musician, it’s still your responsibility. And the rules of the game are the rules of the game. I mean, you cannot do one thing and ask others to make it happen because you have to deserve it. It’s a different thing. That’s the point. You know what I mean? You can’t just ask for it. It’s just not fair. And you can tell me whatever stories you want about the fact that you all come from other sides of the planet, because I mean, it’s also a matter of being honest. I have friends who live in Scandinavia, and they get help from the government, and they’re grateful about that, they just say, “Hey, we get tour support from the government, that’s great!” and they just do their jobs. Tour support like that is a great thing. For example, I come from Italy, and in Italy, the government doesn’t even know that metal exists, and believe me, in one thousand years, it’s still gonna be like that because the mentality we have is completely different. We’re so old fashioned. It’s good in a way, because we have all the stories from the Romans and whatever, but on the other hand, a metal band would never be something that the government would have. I mean our government doesn’t even help people who are sick, try and imagine if they helped people who are playing death metal! But that’s the point, I’m absolutely not complaining about that, because I knew that I came from Italy, and I knew it was my responsibility to do it, and if I am doing it now, it’s because I’m trying my best to do it. If tomorrow, I see that there’s no way to do it, I will do something else, you know what I mean? Just because that’s my responsibility to do it.

I remember Summer Slaughter 2011, five people in a car with a small trailer, playing every night for thirty gigs and doing 500,000 miles in a month. It’s an average of 17,000 miles a day, and we were making shifts, like sleeping two hours and then driving. That’s what I mean. The last thing I would ever do in my life is complain because I am grateful for what I do and the things that we are reaching, but if someone comes out and starts complaining, and then you see that they go out on tour, on the first ever US tour that they’ve ever done, and they have a van and a driver, then I go fucking nuts! It’s insulting to me personally! And if you do it for ten years, and you’re still like that, make yourself questions more, maybe it means that you just don’t know how to do it. I don’t want to be silent, but on the other hand, I don’t even wanna lie. I think our fans know we are not the kind of guys that just lie. I mean, I’m very sincere, and that’s how we are. So of course, I don’t want to point the finger to anybody, but in general, I think this is fucked up. And especially the miscommunication. Because most of the fans, and this is not off the record, people have to know this, most of the fans, for example, they think that, I don’t know, I make money for recording an album from fundraising, let’s say I do that and I don’t take money from the label, that is not true, but anyways, let’s remember one other thing: record labels don’t pay for the production, record labels, they lend money for the production. So the expenses that are on the record label are the promotion, the printing, and the distribution of the albums. They pay for that, and it’s a big part, of course, because they’re printing albums and selling them for us all over the world, that’s their job. With regards to the album production, what usually happens, and I think it’s like 99.99% of the cases, is that the record label are gonna give you an advance that they rescue from the royalties. So they are lending you money that is useful because maybe in that particular moment you don’t have €20-30,000 for production or whatever, and they give it to you, and then they take it back with the royalties, so it’s still your expenses. It’s like a bank, that’s how the industry works. So even that is not actually paid by the record label. I mean if now, you get money from people to survive, but in the end you are printing albums and you are distributing albums with a record label, that is what most of these bands do, so you are really cheating more, because you are using two different systems at the same time. You’re still relying on the record label, so don’t say “Ha! I’m not relying on the labels!” Because one thing would be to get money from labels to pay for the distribution, because distributing to the whole world is fucking expensive! But don’t ask for money when you also have that. It’s not a healthy competition. I’m not an economist, I can’t predict how things will go, but the philosophical concept of fundraising is really nice. And if everybody started using it with rules that are for everybody, then maybe the system starts changing evenly in that direction, then of course it’s a good idea. Because one thing that obviously happens, like in every market, is that meritocracy is not the only parameter that there is on the market, and it should be. So sometimes, it happens for real, but maybe, also, shitty bands touring for who knows what reason, and you are there listening to them, and you’re like, “Ah, you know, I would like this other band to have more chances.” And that’s good, you know, distributing money better just because it’s more democratic because people are choosing, of course, but the point is, this is using the people’s ignorance, because you are telling them lies in the end. Most people of course don’t know how the system works and you know, they try to help, they try, but first of all you should think about the way you’ve put. Because if you’re disrespecting the other musicians decisions, you see the worst results in my opinion. And the other bands are gonna feel offended by that, and they’re gonna say, “Okay, well fuck you, you know, I’m not gonna listen to you anymore or whatever,” and it’s just not the right way to communicate that in the end.

But again, this is my personal opinion, and again, really, I don’t judge anybody, I’m just saying, if this were me, I wouldn’t do that with this kind of communication. It’s wrong. I mean come on! I think it’s also my responsibility to speak for the other musicians and say, “Hey guys, this is what’s happening!” I mean, obviously we can’t just say “This band over here are assholes!” In the end, people are annoyed by that, and some people fall into it, but for every ten that do, there’s always going to be one who says, “Hmm, you know, come on, guys!” And of course, there’s good music out there. I would love every good musician to have a million dollars to record an album, but that’s just not how it is. You have to try and make it work. And of course, if you work well, it’s gonna get better. For example, now we’ve put out King, and I really like how it sounds and it took a while to get to that sound in terms of production.

What do you reckon was the hardest part of recording the album?

The very first day we working on the mixing with Jens Bogren, I mean it was amazing. We had a very good time with Kick’s studio with Marco Mastrobuono. I have to say, for the recording, he’s been great. Like, drum recording has been amazing, right, and all acoustic and it was such a great, great recording. So, Marco has been really important for the final result. And then of course, working with Bogren, you can always tell the difference between a sound engineer and a producer. Because he’s technical and he’s incredibly skilled, but on the other hand, he’s someone who really knows what the music needs to tell, and that’s so important because, especially in our music, it’s not only about catching the right frequencies of the right instruments, but it’s also about making the instruments move up and down in the mix. He does Logic mixing, he uses Logic for a lot of stuff, and you can totally tell that’s really him. He really knows how to interpret the music and really gets into the meaning of those sounds, and he’s really able to move those sounds in a way that, in the end, everything is so dynamic. Because otherwise, one thing we had a problem with in the past, of course, even Stefano Marabito at 16th Cellar Studios, we’ve worked together like side by side, and he’s been doing his best, and we’ve been doing our best, but one thing we had a problem with was the over-compression sometimes. And the thing about Jens is that he’s so good at letting the music breathe, even when there’s so much going on, and that’s obviously one of the highlights, because it’s the first time we’ve worked with someone different and it was the first time obviously working with someone who has already produced so many great albums in the past, and I listen to a lot of stuff he puts out. It was really, really good. Really nice.

So what’s the plan for the rest of 2016 then?

It’s looking super busy, and it’s very good, of course. For now, we are already confirmed for a few nice festivals in the summer. We’re doing Hellfest, we’re doing Grasspop, we’re doing Nummirock, and we’re doing Fosch Fest in Italy. There’s a lot of those. We got MetalDays too, and if I’m not wrong, we’re playing a really good position, so we’ve got these festivals going on, which is good. Actually after this tour, we go back for ten days, and then back to supporting ENSIFERUM in Europe, and there’s some more stuff in May that’s not official yet, and we’re also working on more tours for the fall, so it’s going to be super, super busy. And that’s the point. We’re putting new songs in, we’re already playing three songs right now from the new album and we’re rehearsing a lot to introduce new songs from the last one. And that’s the plan; try promote it wherever possible, tour wherever we have the chance to go, and of course, go back to a lot of places we’ve been before. There’s a lot of requests, and we just try and surf it as much as possible. It’s really good right now.

Thank you for an amazing interview!

King is out now via Nuclear Blast Records

You can read our review of FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE in Manchester here.