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Interview with composer/guitarist Simone Mularoni by Vera in August 2019

Simone Mularoni is a well-known Italian studio wizard and guitarist of bands like DGM and Empyrios. Now he has taken the challenge to write, record and produce an album with Geoff Tate as vocalist, even an old school heavy album in early Queensrÿche style. Sweet Oblivion is the name of this project and we had a very debonair conversation with the eloquent mastermind of this all.

Hi Simone! Nice to talk to you again. How are you doing?
I am fine. Super busy producing and mixing in the studio, but I am fine. All good. I am happy to do this, although I am working all the time.

How did this idea of Sweet Oblivion come into being?
The basic idea came from Serafino, the owner from Frontiers, the label. He called me about two years ago and he told me that he wanted Geoff Tate to make a kind of heavy album, with some influences from the classic ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ and ‘Empire’. He asked me if I wanted to write and produce the album. Of course I want super happy, because I grew up listening to those records and he was one of my heroes when I was a kid. I said yes and then I started to work on the album.

You wrote some songs, but I think you got some help from friends during this writing process as well, isn’t it?
Yes, exactly, because I really don’t like to write when I am not inspired. All the albums that I did in the past, with my band DGM, they were always written during the more inspired moments, so when I was writing the Geoff Tate album, I was talking to a few friends. Among them was Damna, Davide Moras, the singer of Elvenking. I recorded and mixed a lot of albums with them. He was super excited, because he is a fan of Geoff Tate too, so I invited him to send some ideas to me. Another friend was Filippo Martignano. He was playing keyboards in a band that I mixed, called Echotime. A progressive kind of band. Since he helped me with the Lione/Conti album some years ago, I told him: hey, if you want to help with some writing, just go ahead. We had really good teamwork, sending ideas and files to each other to come up with something better. Of course, even though I did not write all of the songs, they still have my style. Even if they come up with a riff, I was playing the riff with my style and changing some notes here and there. It is not easy to write songs with other people for me, because usually I write all my songs alone. But I think it gives a kind of different vibe.

Wasn’t it really difficult for you to come out of that comfort zone?
Yes, it was difficult. I have always composed all alone and when I am happy, I send the stuff to the guys in DGM and I think we are doing this for forever, like fifteen years. It was difficult, especially when Geoff Tate sent me the first vocals. I had some ideas in my mind and it was different. I was thinking: I was expecting this and you sent me that, but when you do something like this, it demands teamwork, you need to go out from your comfort zone. You need to be open and that is the lesson that I learned from this record.

And everybody knows that Geoff Tate is not an easy guy to work with…
Actually, despite all the things they say about him, he was really enjoying this style. Sometimes he said: I better liked this line instead of that, but well… even in my band we argue all the time. I think in the end what counts is the final result. When I listen back to the album now, which has been done since a few months, I am happy…

That’s the most important thing! And the good thing is that it got so much rave reviews and so many people enjoy that he sings on a heavier album again…
Maybe because of the solo stuff he is doing now, like the Operation: Mindcrime album, is really different. Different from what fans are always expecting and to me this was most inspiring, because it is easy to fall into copying, you know… The most difficult part for me was writing some similar stuff, but different. I really think these songs have the trademark, but they are strong and different. I think the record did well for everybody. Fans are appreciating it, maybe after a few years that he lost some of them. You know, when you change your style, like he did, I think you loose some fans and you gain new ones. Because the old ones are always expecting that you will be playing the same style and stuff. But maybe you gain new fans, I don’t know…

Did Geoff eventually wrote the lyrics or did you send demos with also lyrics included?
If I am not wrong, he did two or three songs the lyrics and the melody. Not 100%, I was throwing him ideas, both lyrically and vocal-wise and then he changed according to his taste, while otherwise he sang exactly like I suggested, so it was like a back and forth cooperation. Well, you know I am not American. Sometimes when I write stuff it is not 100% correct or the So he was changing here and there, but I think the main single, the first song that came out, he wrote all by himself. And a few other ones. It was finished at the end of last year, so some details slip my mind nowadays.

Until now there is one video, for ‘True Colours’ with Geoff Tate in it. How was this cooperation?
Frontiers is responsible for that. Geoff is the star of the album, no doubt about it, so we did not want a usual video with the band playing. Also because I actually played both guitar and bass on the album. And all the musicians live far away. My keyboard player lives five hours from me, the drummer is like three hours away, so it was really tough to gather the entire band. So they decided for a video with just Tate, but that’s fine. During the years we did thousands of videos with a band playing and it is fine that there is something different. A story within the video and not just a band playing.

It is nice to see Emanuele Casali in the band, since I’ve known him for many years, just like you, but from Astra as well…
Yes, we have been playing together for so many years. Sometimes it is difficult to call outside musicians, because you don’t know how it will be. For example the drummer, Paolo Caridi. I knew him because I recorded two other albums with him in my studio with his project, Hollow Haze. I knew that he was super professional, super prepared, but the keyboards is difficult, because you are not in the same room. You give the songs to the guy and you expect some keyboards back. Since I wasn’t sure, I just called Emanuele, because I know he is so crafted and he knows what I like. I just said to him: here a kind of eighties vibe, or ninsties vibe. But it is not an album full of keyboards. It is not symphonic. It is more guitar oriented, more rock.

I would say it is progressive metal, isn’t it?
For me it is always difficult to call my music progressive, because when I think of progressive, I think of stuff like Genesis and Dream Theater. Of course it has some touches of progressive music, especially because some songs are more complicated, while others have the usual keyboard/guitar duel that I like. I think it is an album of songs, like heavy rock.

I guess there will be no live performances?
Actually a few promoters asked me about bringing the project live and I was super excited, but the main problem is that Geoff Tate is super busy now with Avantasia and also he has a lot of tours with his Operation: Mindcrime. So he could not do the gigs. It is a pity, but who knows? Maybe in the future when there is an opportunity. Maybe… the other thing is: having only one album is difficult. The album is around fifty minutes… maybe if we do another album, we will have enough songs to play live…

Ah, is there a chance that a second one will be created?
We never talked about that, because I told Frontiers that I need at least six or seven months to concentrate on the new DGM album. After that, maybe we will talk about that. I don’t know.

That’s the right time schedule to get things done indeed. It is three years ago that DGM released their latest studio album ‘The Passage’. So tell me about your plans about making the next DGM album, please…
The album came out in 2016, that’s already almost four years. But in the meantime we really did a lot of gigs. We played two full tours, we went to Japan… We did everything, you know. In the meantime we also did a DVD and blu-ray and that took me a lot of months to finalize the video parts, the audio parts too because it was two concerts. Actually the real work on the new album started a few months ago, in April this year and I am super excited! So far we have seven, eight songs done – I mean written down – and I am really excited because I am loving the new songs. I know that every musician always says: the new stuff is great, but sometimes – especially with my job, being in the studio every day with other bands – I am super tired in the evening when I go home, because I listened to heavy metal for ten hours all day long. It is not easy to find inspiration to write music, but during the last two months I was super inspired, because we did this tour in May and every time I play with the guys it feels so good. We are almost like a family now. We have been playing together for nine years. Playing live inspires me a lot. Another thing which is good with DGM is: you know that you will play the songs live. When you do the Geoff Tate album – it is great to do – but you never know if you will ever play the songs live. With DGM I am sure that when the album comes out, we will start touring again, playing shows with the new songs, so I always have this in mind. I think I will go on writing until the end of this year and then I think we will record the album early 2020 and then it depends on the label when it will be out.

Are there still plans with Astra or Empyrios?
I don’t know about Astra. You should ask Emanuele, since it is his baby. With Empyrios, I always meet the guys, because we are all from the same city, but the drummer moved to New York and he got a baby and he got married. He got a new job over there. Again, we were like a family and for us it is difficult to think about the band with another drummer. So I don’t know. Every time we go out and have dinner together, we say: ‘hey, we should do another album one day’, but nowadays I am so busy. And you know, even in Empyrios I was writing all the stuff, so I really need proper time to do that. Maybe if I had more time… we were even talking about an EP. Doing four or five songs, telling people: hey, we are still alive. But not now. Now is new album of DGM, that’s the main thing.

What can you tell about the cooperation with Michael Romeo and Symphony X?
Oh, he is great! Everybody knows probably that he is one of my heroes, because I always told in every interview. To me working with him was like a dream. And the great thing is that after the initial days of work, We really kept close. We called each other all the time and when we wanted to talk about gear – especially about microphones and about mixing – he always asks me suggestions mixing wise. We did the album last year and I think it is a great album. I am really proud of that. We already recorded another ten songs for the second part, but I think he is super busy now, because he is touring with Symphony X and I do not know his plans. I told him: whenever you are ready with the next part, we can go on and do the new one. He is great, one of the best players in the world and a great guy.

I can imagine he is a sympathetic guy, because you experience that already when doing interviews with him…
Yeah! Last year I was in New York with some friends and we went to his house and had dinner and had fun. He is really a great person, even outside the music business, you know. It is not easy to find such easygoing persons, especially when you meet your heroes. Sometimes they are not so great as you’d imagined. But in this case, he is a great guy and I am happy to know him.

And in the meantime the bond with the other famous Italian band Rhapsody has turned into friendship as well I guess?
Yeah, with them, with the singer Fabio and the guitar player Luca, I have been in the studio for five months! Not every day, because I was mixing all alone sometimes and sending the songs via email, but in the end we stayed really close in the studio for a long time, so we talk all the time. They are great guys, great players and I am happy that they were so happy with my work. For me it is always fun when you know the guys, after two or three albums, then it is easy, because you know each other and you know what they like and they know what I like. In this case it was a super big production and I did not know that. I mean, I know Fabio, but it was a different story, other stuff. I never worked with Rhapsody. It is a big label, a big album. In the end I think I really love the stuff. It is a new fresh style I did for them. I think it was the longest mix I did in my life, because if you think of all the choirs, all the vocals, all the instruments… it is really dense music you know. It took time, but they are happy, that’s what matters. Every album is a new experience, a new adventure.

Do you ever take holidays?
(laughs) I should! But actually no. This year I only took a few days, but I hope this winter I can take one or two weeks off, because I really need that to rest my eyes in front of the computer. But the problem is that I love what I do, I love every day going to the studio and working on the stuff, so it is not heavy working doing this. I mean, sometimes it is difficult, because you have a lot of stuff to do, there are deadlines and stuff like that. But basically I love what I do. I love sounds and playing and composing and whatever. It is not hard for me, you know.

Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 27 augustus 2019 - 22:39:05
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