A New Dark Era - Alex Staropoli Speak's Out!

Rhapsody Of Fire are no strangers to the metal scene, having formed back in 97 by original guitarist Luca Turilli along with keyboard player Alex Staropoli, but in 93 the band were called 'Thundercross' which featured the 2 above members. In 97 the band changed their name and the bands debut demo tape was recorded, one of which I still own titled 'Eternal Glory'. This of couse saw the band signing to LMP Music and their debut album 'A Legendary Tale' was born back in 97. The band have recorded 6 albums under the name Rhapsody, but soon changed their name in 2006 as their was another band who had the rights to the name, so 'Rhapsody Of Fire' was born. Legal problems with Magic Circle led the band to suspend things for almost 2yrs, but soon returned 2009. Luca left the band due to musical differences and so the band carried on with new guitarist Roby De Micheli. 

The band now return with their new album titled 'Dark Wings Of Steel' for AFM Records, this is a great album which has a darker side of the bands music, but still manages to capture the bands traditional sound that you the fans have come to love. I managed to have a chat with keyboard wizard Alex Staropoli about the new album and the past history of the band. here is what he had to say.

My 1st question is, at what age did you learn to play an instrument and what was you’re 1st instrument? Also does anybody in your family play any instruments?

“At the age of 8 I started playing piano, and at 18 also keyboards. Later on, the cembalo as well, which I think is a beautiful instrument.”

Have you changed you’re instrument since you 1st started to play? If so why?

“I played the electric guitar for a while, and I regret I did not continue playing it actually.”

What musicians have inspired you to play you’re instrument? Do they reflect in the music of Rhapsody of Fire now or in the early stages of the bands career?

“Inspiration came from many sources; classical music, medieval music, soundtracks, movies, everything I was raised on really; and then, of course rock and heavy metal. There is not a specific musician which inspired me the most.”

Does anybody in your family like Heavy Metal or Rock? If so did they inspire you to be a musician?

“My mum, in the 70's, was often one to listen to the radio and many classics where aired at the time; Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, just to name a few…. It was really cool that my family were so open and listened to everything from Rock to classical music.”

Why do Italian bands seem to be so influenced by Classic Music? It seems to be a very Classical influenced country.

“I don't think that. I think that many bands just followed the trend that 'Rhapsody Of Fire' and other bands before us, and after us, brought to new levels.”

So what was you’re 1st band called before Rhapsody of Fire was formed? What style of music was it?

“We were called 'Thundercross', a band formed by myself, Luca Turilli and Roby De Micheli. All the songs that we would later develop and use for the albums ‘Legendary Tales’ and 'SOEL', the 1st and 2nd albums of the band Rhapsody, came from there.”

How did you meet the guys in Rhapsody back then? Was it by word of mouth or advertising in the local music stores?

“Luca and I meet during a weekend, and just started talking about music; we decided to do something together right away. Roby (De Micheli) and Luca were school mates and started playing the electric guitar around the same age.”

What were the early stages of the line-up back then and what year did you form?

“Around 1993; we’d changed lots of band members already at that time.. ha ha.”

As a band what bands inspired you to play Symphonic Metal? Do they reflect in the music you play now?

“I was listening to every kind of music back then and it’s the same these days, so bits of everything. Good music is good music. A good song is a good song independently from the genre; from pop to rock to metal. But there is not one band in particular. At that time I was crazy for guitar players. Actually, I gave the album 'Cacophony' to Luca Turilli when it came out, and Luca freaked out completely; he loved it. I think it was the best gift I could have given him.”

How many demos did the band record and what songs were on them? I have one which LMP sent me many years ago.

“We did 1 song at first just to see how it would sound; Roby De Micheli was recording this song too. After that we did a demo with 4 songs and after that one, a demo with 10 songs.”

How did you hook up with Limb? What other companies back then showed interest in your band?

“Well, we sent those demos around Europe and to Limb as well. He demonstrated himself to be really interested in the band and overall in the music we were composing…. Limb was our fan number one!”

As the band released their debut album for LMP titled ‘Legendary Tales’ Back in 97, why did you decide to call the album that title and did you have any other titles in mind?

“I think it’s clear; we wanted an album title that reflected the music of the band and what was going to happen musically after that, in the years to come.”

Who did the artwork and how does it reflect with the albums music and the title of the debut album?

“Eric Philippe did the first artwork. We wanted to be known for touching fantasy landscapes as well as different areas of music, so we decided to go for some epic drawing. It was very important for us to create a great looking cover art, a nice booklet, nice package and special editions, to make the product look good and make them collector's items. Visual aspects and music were and still are very connected.”

What songs from the debut album stand out for you and why? Were you happy with the end results of that album?

“Warrior Of Ice” was the most epic statement any band did in that musical period. We were so excited with the results of the entire album and each of the songs on it!! Limb supported us and gave us the complete freedom in the studio to do what we had in mind. And, that was destiny.”

The band released their 2nd album, which was released in 98, titled ‘Symphony of Enchanted Lands’ how do you compare that album to the debut album in terms of progression? Were you happy with the end results of that album? Also what songs from that album stand out for you and why?

“Many of the songs for 'SOEL' where composed already before the recording of ‘Legendary Tales’. But 'SOEL' was a huge step forward, using a lot of real instruments. We wanted to achieve our dream; to do a very symphonic album, so we did the biggest over budget spend of our career. We spent three times the budget. We gave away a lot of money to do the album the way we wanted. The productions lasted 4 months….. All the songs contained on 'SOEL' stand high up there for me. I cannot mention just one or two.”

In 2001 the band released their last album for LMP and in 2006 released their long over-due album ‘Triumph or Agony’ through SPV, why did it take so long to release this album? Were there problems with the contract with LMP? I guess it was when you had the change the band’s name, why was that? Also are you happier with the name you have now?

“All that is really part of the past and it makes no sense for me to talk about it. Regarding the band's name though; we had to change it because the name 'Rhapsody' had been registered for many years by a musician in the US so it could not be used on its own. We added the 'Of Fire' part and turned a very big page. And, of course I am very happy about it.”

I believe that this album had a live 70 piece orchestra; that must have been amazing for the recording, what memories do you have of that recording? This album also featured the actor Christopher Lee, how did that come about and how many times have you worked with him? Does he like your band and Heavy Metal in general?

“That’s right… It was amazing working with a big orchestra for the very first time, as it was very exciting to work with a big orchestra now, again for ‘Dark Wings Of Steel’. Working with Christopher Lee though was the artistic peak of Rhapsody Of Fire’s career. Mr Lee is a very open minded man and artist. I think he is into projects that represent chances to get known by many different people and audiences...”

I believe you were also involved with Manowar for the recording of this album, how well did you get on with those guys?

“Actually, no, there was no involvement with the band Manowar for the recording of any album. What Luca and I achieved with Rhapsody Of Fire was due to our passion and hard work only. The Manowar guys were very cool though.”

In 2010 the band signed to Nuclear Blast, what went wrong with SPV? How did the deal with Nuclear Blast come to be; was it to do with Manowar been involved?

“To change label from time to time is really quite normal and has been since day one. Every label that Rhapsody Of Fire has had did a fantastic job and worked hard, no regrets.”

This album was titled ‘The Frozen Tears of Angels’, why the title and did you have any other titles in mind? Were you happy with the end results of that album? Did it sell well too?

“I love 'Frozen….'.That was the title we’d wanted since the beginning of the production. We’ve always been very happy about all our finished products with no exceptions…. 'Frozen' did really well in regards to sales.”

So why did Luca leave the band and are you still good friends? Doesn’t he call his band Luca Turilli’s ‘Rhapsody’, does that confuse the fans at all? What does his band sound like compared to yours?

“Luca and I decided to split because we were not experiencing the same 'magic' while composing together anymore. After 15 years of a professional career and 10 studio albums, it just seemed right for both sides. We are still very good friends of course; we grew up together as teenagers! “I think that by the use of the name 'Rhapsody' some fans and media could possibly get confused, but come on…… It’s not that difficult to understand; we are two different bands with two different ‘band’ names and a different musical approach entirely. Luca, for his 'Luca Turilli's Rhapsody', I guess wanted to have a lot of orchestration on his album and enjoy the art of arranging and having multiple melodies performing most of the time in order to achieve a very orchestral and complex sound? For 'Rhapsody Of Fire' I wanted to have the BAND'S SOUND in the first place. Powerful drums and bass and overall heavy guitars. In the space left I inserted the orchestral arrangements, which still are very audible and a very important element for the band's ‘Film Score Metal’ sound.”

Ok moving on, where did you find Roby as the new guitarist? Also Oliver, wasn’t he with Blind Guardian?  How many auditions did you do with new guitarist and bassists? Who auditioned?

“Roby had already played with us many years ago so it was a really obvious decision to ask him to join the band again. I also thought Oliver could do fantastic job in 'ROF' and he demonstrated that, creating a truly rock solid rhythm section, working together with his brother and long-time original Rhapsody Of Fire member Alex (Holzwarth). No need for auditions.”

Why did Tom leave the band what was the reason?

“We decided to part ways because we were not on the same page.”

Moving on let’s talk about the new album, how many record labels did you ship the new material too? Also why did you decide to sign with AFM? Are you happy with them so far? What have they done which is better than the rest you were signed too? Also how long is the deal for?

“Basically, AFM Records were the label most interested in Rhapsody Of Fire, so it was an obvious choice. I wanted to release a double live album first, entitled 'LIVE - From Chaos To Eternity' (out earlier this year – 2013); and after it some studio albums. They liked the idea and decided to have the band signed. I am extremely happy to work with them, they are all very motivated and supportive.”

So why the title for the album? ‘Dark Wings of Steel’? Did you have any other titles for this album?

“I liked that title, simple as that. I thought it could represent the band perfectly, musically and visually. It was THE title I wanted.”

How does the title and artwork reflect within the music for this album? Is the album darker?

“People say that 'DWOS' is darker, so it must be true then. It is also magic, epic, dramatic and poetic as well. Dragons were always part of this band, since the very beginning, as well as our dark musical side, so this cover fits just perfectly. The digipack looks amazing.”

Who did the artwork for the album and has he done you’re previous album?

“Felipe Machado; he’s done the last 4 pieces of album artwork and the booklets for 'ROF. He is very talented and professional. I really like the guy.”

So what are the songs about and who writes the music and lyrics? Is it done as a team effort?

‘DWOS’ was composed during the last few years by myself and my brother Manuel Staropoli. Manuel happens to be an awesome Baroque Flute and Recorder concert player, a professor teaching in a conservatory, bass player and a great composer. He wrote some very cool material, so cool that I decided to combine our forces. As far as I am concerned, composition wise, I am really demanding. I spend all the time I can evaluating every single note of each song before going with it, so it’s really important to have someone you can trust and use time efficiently with. 

I wrote and arranged all the orchestral material as always. I asked a friend of mine, who is an orchestra director and arranger to finalize the actual scores and to direct the orchestra during the recordings, but everything was already there ready….. We used the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra - F.A.M.E.'S Project – in Skopje. It was a very emotional moment to hear the orchestraRoby De Micheli helped a lot too; it was important for us to have great feedback from him. He wrote some fantastic guitar riffs and guitar solos. I am really happy to call him a friend and a stable member of this band. Not many people know that Roby was part of the band with Luca and I, right at the very beginning of our career, so he is no stranger at all to what we do; as like my brother, who witnessed the entire process of the creation and development of Rhapsody Of Fire since the 90's. Recording many parts for a Rhapsody Of Fire album again and most importantly, we can all hear again the fantastic vibrations in the final mix that only real instruments can deliver.”

How long did this album take to record and what songs stand out for you and why?

“It took more than 4 months in total, with some breaks in between, of course. I see 'DWOS' as a unique piece of music so I cannot just pick up one or two titles. I really can't.”

Are you doing a promo video and if so for which song? What will the concept be for the song(s)?

“This still has to be decided. We’re certainly doing it, in mid-December and the video will be shot and edited in the next few weeks….”

Is the band planning on recording a new live DVD in the very near future? If so where will it be recorded? Do you have any concepts for the live DVD?

“A live DVD will be recorded for sure in the future. Still don't know when. It must be something special for our true fans of course.”

As we are about to finish off this interview, when do we except to see the band touring and in the UK?

“Well, we are evaluating touring offers with our agency All Access right now. We will release some news very soon! Rhapsody Of Fire are ready and happy to play at any time. This actual 5 band member line up will kick asses big time! To play in UK again would be a dream for us!!”

Anything to say to your fans reading this?

“Thanks for the incredible support through all these years and see you on tour!!”