Interview by Andy Axworthy
It takes a special kind of alchemy to pull off mixing operatic vocals and progressive metal, classical with modern, in a way that stands out within an increasingly crowded genre. To pull off creating gold with your first album is something else entirely. That first album is “Between Life and Dreams”, the city is Milan, and the alchemists… Deva. When this band mentions classical and modern, they really do mean The Teatro alla Scala and the Accademia della Chitarra Rock a Milano. Femme Metal sat down with vocalist Beatrice Palumbo to find out more.
Hi Beatrice, and a warm welcome from Andy and all at Femme Metal.
Your first album “Between Life and Dreams” was released in April 2010, however the band has been together for a number of years. Can you tell us how the band formed and about the other members?
“Between Life And Dreams” is the final step of a quite long walk. Deva, as a band, was formed in 2003 when I met Federico Salerno and Myriam Stallone. After one year Marco Castiglione joined the project. At the time, we had a drummer – Simone Rossi – who was then replaced by Thomas D’Alba in 2007. All these years before the album were spent not only composing and arranging our songs, but also (and maybe mostly) building up the experience that every professional band needs to do something really serious. And we definitely wanted it!
Federico is a talented composer and guitarist (he’s graduating at the Rock Guitar Academy, here in Milan); he knows enough about modern instruments and arranging techniques, he teaches electric guitar in several structures.
Myriam for me is like a sister: two girls in the same band, that’s female power! She’s very creative with the bass, very melodic. She’s also graduated in Philosophy and she’s a very good listener of both Classical and Metal music, especially the modern Progressive Metal projects.
Marco is our “Metal Guru”: name a band, he knows it! His instruments are the synthesizers but he also plays bass and he studied sound engineering and the art of making stringed instruments. Thomas, our drummer and last entry, is very expert about his instrument. he knows everything about drums, techniques and music styles. This is really helpful, it’s like when you can pick from a tray whatever you like! It’s the interaction between five people that makes Deva what it is but I’m sure we’ll talk more about it…
As of then, I focused my life on becoming a singer, but to be honest, at that time, I couldn’t imagine I would have been giving an interview for a metal magazine. Growing up, I kept studying singing at the Conservatory, where I have also started to play the Viola da gamba (I think a good singer should also be able to play at least an instrument) and then Deva came and they changed my life, completely! Now, I live a double-sided life: I keep walking my path as a young solo opera singer and I am the singer in a metal band.The path is difficult on both ways but one helps to be complete on the other and vice versa. The only difference is that the metal world accepts and respects my classical path, while on the other way around, sometimes, the classical world doesn’t accept my decision to be a metal singer. Would you say that this background has allowed you to avoid any preconceptions and enabled you to freely explore and evolve your own vocal style with Deva? For sure, since I joined Deva I have changed the way to see and live my voice. The greatest difference, in my opinion, is that from just being a simple performer of classical pieces, I have also become a writer/composer of what I sing. My greatest discovery was being able to write melodies that could perfectly fit my vocal skills, which is something basically impossible in classical music – you, as a singer, are at the music’s service and not the other way around. You can find pieces that work well with your voice, but would never fit like those you write for yourself. Now, when possible, I often try to read the classical pieces I perform in a Deva key and vice versa. Without my classical background, I don’t think I would have been able to record an album such as “Between life and Dreams”. “Between Life and Dreams” goes beyond the genre’s traditional boundaries with its mixture of styles, influences and subtle complexities. From who and where does the band draw its inspiration, both musically and lyrically?
I’m glad to see that our intention was such clear. The ambition of our project is exactly to go beyond the traditional boundaries and especially those that separate Classical and Modern music. This led us to develop and integrate a complex mixture of influences, styles and sounds. The sounds (and harmony) of Baroque music, for example and its instruments (I play the Viola da gamba, as I previously mentioned) but also Heavy Metal of the origins and Progressive Rock. We are all fans of Metallica, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, we love Progressive Metal and the female voices (Evanescence, Within Temptation), I personally take a lot from many famous singers (i.e. Maria Callas and Ella Fitzgerald). Also, with regard to the lyrics, there are a lot of inspirations and themes that we like to develop. Federico and Myriam have studied Philosophy for years at the university and they like to discuss the themes of our lyrics during the compositions. This helps us to write deeper lyrics, full of meanings for us and we hope this reaches those who reads them; but it also gives us a clear idea of what we want from the songs we are creating: even the arrangements and the dynamics are influenced by the meaning of the words. You and Federico are the main songwriters. How do you work together to develop and arrange your ideas and what sort of input do you get from the rest of the band? Normally, the first inputs come from Federico or from me – usually a melody with chords but sometimes it has been a riff or lyrics. Then we develop together the idea, whatever it is, generally starting from chords and vocals, until we have a simple structure with verse, bridge and refrain. We always record all these steps. At this point, we elaborate the material with the rest of the band, and it’s altogether that we finally put together the song as it should be… well, almost!The interaction with Thomas is very important not only from the drum lines (he’s very creative, the first time we heard him, he played “Your Voice” with an incredible arrangement, that we liked very much and that it’s now an important part of the song) but also for the choice of the right tempo and the dynamics. Marco gives an essential help in the arrangements and he’s got a genuine Progressive taste when he plays both the organ and the synths. Some of our best ideas are inspired by a keyboard sound. Myriam follows the work almost from the beginning, she often leads the compositions and she helps me and Federico to keep going to the goal, which for our style is very important. We have to think about a lot of things during the compositions and the arrangements, we are not doing “just a song”, we need to make “a Deva song” if you know what I mean. When you write do you ever find yourselves thinking in terms of ‘single’, ‘album’, ‘video’ or even intended audience as a song comes to life, or is just spontaneous? I couldn’t tell exactly what’s the input that generates the composition. I just sit at the piano and play, trying to imagine the feeling that I’d like to catch while listening to what I’m creating. I also had to compose on already existing lyrics, but nobody forces me to respect the scheme, I’m always free to develop my own ideas as I like. Federico thinks often about words and creates the music after the words. But as for most of the beautiful things, many ideas come spontaneous: melodic lines, arrangements, riffs, solos… Images are also very important during this phase. “Out in Fog”, for example, is about a road accident in a dark and desert road. Our intention was to give this image through the atmosphere of the song, with a dark mix and a dramatic climax. We definitely had in mind a focused sequence of events (it could be like an imaginary video, if you want) that led us to certain choices regarding arrangements and song-structure. We also thought about “Your Voice” as the single but, to be honest, this happened after the drums were recorded. It would be easier for us now, without any doubt, to decide to write a single, a ballad, an intro… For all their style and complexity the songs on “Between Life and Dreams” have a very cohesive and precise sound that will easily translate to a live environment. When compared to some of your contemporaries there is a gentle restraint at work that enables the sound as whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. As you are self-produced can you tell us who the production wizard is? Also, how much and how often do you experiment with the instrumentation on a track when you are in the studio?
Well, it’s certainly true that Federico has directed all the work, from the composition until the final mix. He engineered, recorded and edited all the tracks and he mixed this album with Lorenzo Ardoni (our actual sound engineer) and Myriam. But, I think, he would say that the “magic” comes from the interaction with all of us and with Lorenzo for the mix. It’s been very complex: the experiments have been so many, we recorded a lot of additional tracks after the main ones – voices, effects, noises, orchestrations, percussions, instruments… we have actually recorded everything we thought could even only fit or be interesting. Of course at some point we had to choose and a lot of things have been cut out. What’s important for us is the result: as you’ve said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
On the same subject, I have read that Federico has said it has taken literally years in a cycle of writing, editing, arranging, recording and mixing to get to this stage. The result easily justifies all the hard work but now the cd has been released, do you still feel any impulse to change a track in any way and if you do, how do you let that out?Yes, unfortunately we can’t change anything anymore! …Ok, I’m joking! I think that “Between Life And Dreams” is not a bad result and I’m really happy with what you say about the production, the sounds and the songs. The impulse to change again remains, as this is our instinct. For example, we are now working on an acoustic version of some songs! But we know that we have done what we could (and maybe a bit more), what is important for us is to show our potential: this album doesn’t come out from a “super-studio” but it was expensive, especially in terms of effort and time. Literally years, I confirm what Federico says. And even if I’d like to change some parts, especially now that my voice is stronger and a bit deeper, I still smile when I hear the songs of this album, because I think that, you know, they work!
Talking of the release, how do you feel the album has been received and how as the reaction shaped your ambitions?
The reaction has been incredibly more than what we could ever expect. It’s not a matter of ambitions – we wanted it and we did, regardless of the reactions, because we couldn’t know what would have happened. After the release of the album in Italy and on the web, there has been some sort of word of mouth through websites all over the world. We reached Australia (which is the farthest country from Italy!) in less than three months. Europe, Asia, North and South America, we received a lot of encouraging comments! For us, this is so important! I mean, how could we know if what we were doing would have been appreciated? We couldn’t be sure, we were trying to do something different, something that we were proud of but we didn’t really know what the future could be. And, wow, we still can’t believe it! The tracks on “Between Life and Dreams” are a good balance of style and substance. Which is your personal favourite and can you tell us the story behind the song? I basically change my mind every four/five months… at the moment, my favourite song is “Love and Faith”. This song was conceived seven years ago, just before I joined the project! Myriam had the idea of the bass line that you can hear in the intro of the track, then she and Federico started working on what we could name the first Deva song (as far as I remember, this could be the first song I worked on). After about four years of changes and re-arrangements, when we were all finally ready to face our first album production, “Love and Faith” was still open! The truth is that, in fact, it was complete but it didn’t sound mature, though much older than the other tracks. Things got definitely clear during the recording of the drums and one evening, after the studio session, we found ourselves discussing about it. Somebody, I couldn’t believe it, suggested “we should remove it from this album, it’s a weak song”. Ok, ok, I thought, isn’t there anything that I could do to save it? And the answer is that I stayed all that night in front of the piano, writing a new vocal line for the chorus. There’s a strong link between me and this song, this is why I picked it as my fave! But it’s not an easy choice; I really love all the songs of this album, especially “Dancing Lane” and “Your Voice”… You have made really good use of the Internet to generate interest and contacts that have helped guide you to Orion’s Belt Records, RNC Music and a commercially available album in what seems like a remarkably short space of time. Did you have a strategy and what tips could you give to other aspiring artists looking to make this sort of breakthrough?
The best thing we have is people who believe in us. It gives us a strong motivation, every day. We’ve been very lucky, since we have found Orion’s Belt Records and RNC Music through the web. What I can say is that a deep research, patience and trust in what you are doing are a good way to reach some result. I mean, it’s essential to have a good, a very good idea to take out there but it won’t become something solid all alone. It won’t show itself to the world, automatically! First of all (I’m talking about our experience) and this helped especially after we found a management, we started to work hard on ourselves as musicians and as a band. Our strategy? We thought “ok, what do we need to make Deva a real and effective band?” The answer was on the stage, in the studio and on the web: on the stage, because you need to learn not only how to make a good show but also how to make an original show, that gives a value to your personality; in the studio, because out there is really full of musicians that are better than you, so you have to train hard for hours and hours every day; on the web, we had the simple idea to create a cool MySpace profile, with our best songs (“Your Voice” on top), our best photos and an interesting biography. Then we discovered Nico Spinosa and Ros Manica, in other words Orion’s Belt Records and RNC Music and they strongly believe in the possibilities through the net. Having come this far, how does it feel to be surfing on the edge of the Italia-metal wave? Well, if I have to be honest, I must say that unfortunately in our country there isn’t so much space for Heavy Metal. The media and the biggest clubs are more focused on other genres, which is very annoying because Italy has got a fantastic audience, a lot of people appreciate very much Rock, Heavy Metal and so on! A young band hasn’t got many possibilities to come out, neither to show something new. Even in a big city like Milan, once you have played on these ten /twelve stages, what do you think you will do?
But we can’t complain too much. Talking about Milan, we have simply found the best label for us and great support from Backline (which is among the other things providing Cort basses) and Percussion Village (that provides cymbals and drums stuff). I’m sure that many people, here in Italy, are just waiting to discover what’s under the surface where, I can assure you, there are a lot of very good musicians. Your press release mentions rave reviews from all over Europe and South America. How does this compare to the Italian media and do you find that you are thinking internationally more often than not? The Italian press reflects the mental attitude of all the media: not much space for young bands, they only consecrate who’s been already put on the edge from other countries. A perfect example are Lacuna Coil (they come from Milan too) and I don’t know how many others… because once you are appreciated in the rest of the world, do you think you will care about a country that didn’t believe in you? We are definitely thinking internationally and the results we are seeing are incredible: excellent (and very deep!) reviews of our work, important labels licensing “Between Life and Dreams” all over the world: Soyuz Music for Russia and Ravenheart Music (Plastic Head distribution) for UK and Ireland are already working on it but many more are interested in our project and from Orion’s Belt Records and RNC Music we have some news almost every day! Many Italian reviews (not all!) of our cd are poor, they reveal a superficial listening and a lot of contradictions compared to the other reviews, which sounds pretty strange! But our first review on Mellophonium, an Italian webzine, has been amazing and Metal Maniac, one of the most respected Italian metal magazines, issued a rave review and will publish an interview on their September issue, so I won’t complain
Any dates or tour plans in the near future that you can tell us about? Also, if you could pick any place or venue for a Deva show, where would this be and why?
Well, it would be an honor for us to play on the stage of the Gods of Metal, which is the most important metal festival here in Italy. Or, why not, the Heineken Jammin’ Festival…
Personally, I also have a dream that I hope, one day, could become reality – I’d love to make a Deva concert in a big theatre (maybe like La Scala), with the full orchestra. Who knows what’s on for us, in the future?
With all that has happened so far, do you feel that you are indeed between life and dreams and what plans do you have for the remainder of 2010 and then 2011?
Next months, “Between Life And Dreams” will be released in many countries, so my desire is to reach the USA and Japan as soon as possible. I really love Japan!
Since I’m not able to stop my creativity, I’m working (ok, ok, we all have already started) on new material. I know it’s too early to think about a second album, but… I don’t have many plans for the next period, since we must have a potentially free agenda; you never know what could carry the next call from RNC Music! Beatrice, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers? : )
I really enjoyed this interview: your questions dig deeply into what Deva is or, at least, what it tries to be. I’m really grateful to you and Femme Metal for giving me the opportunity to show your readers our world. I have to say that who’s reading this magazine is learning not only about music but especially about culture and what lies behind a song, an album, a band. This is very rare, so I truly wish you all the best! You rock, guys!