Under the Spell of the Antidote
CoC chats with Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell
by: Jackie Smit
There are those -- mostly band members embittered at poor reviews, it would seem -- that would try to convince you otherwise, but there is a basic motivation that binds together virtually every single soul who ever chose to put pen to paper to air an opinion about an album, or write an article on a band: we're all fans of the music we write about. I have been a fan of extreme music for nearly fifteen years and remember fondly my first encounters with bands like Slayer, Morbid Angel and Samael. Another standout in this prestigious list are Portugal's darkest sons, Moonspell -- a band who need no introduction, and who first came to my attention via their infamous _Under the Moonspell_ EP. Of course, the band has since metamorphosed into an almost entirely different entity from their black metal roots -- a fact that has garnered them a generous serving of well-documented criticism. Speaking purely as a fan however, this has never bothered me. To these ears, the essence of Moonspell has always remained intact for better or for worse. Central to this has been the influence and undeniable presence of frontman Fernando Ribeiro, a man who I recently had the privilege of sharing a conversation with when Moonspell rolled into town on Lacuna Coil's European tour.

CoC: Starting with _The Antidote_, how did it come about that you started working with José Luis Peixoto?

Fernando Ribeiro: Well, I think that there was always something in the lines of Moonspell -- something probably written somewhere that we would sooner or later work with a writer, and incorporate this into our music to a greater degree. Throughout our history we have always had a strong literary influence, and there's always been some kind of literary intention running through the sound of Moonspell. So this time, José -- who's a very good friend of ours -- came up with the idea of absorbing all the energies of _The Antidote_ and creating a narrative around it. We accepted it openheartedly, because we've always had a fascination with reading and, in my case, writing, so we collaborated and came up with an album that shouldn't only be listened to, but would draw the listener in to the concept behind the album through the writing and through my lyrics. The album is like the central point of a crossroads for us and the hope is that a lot of other people -- fans of the band -- will work around the concept and come up with their own writing and their own art, because that is very important to Moonspell. We wanted to start a kind of a chain. It was also quite strange that a writer would want to become involved in something like this, as most writers are very uptight about their work and they mostly quote classical music -- Vivaldi and Wagner -- but this guy listens to Obituary and he listens to Graveworm and he listens to Moonspell. This I think is very good for the genre -- I think it's very good for the credibility of metal. Metal has always been a very literary genre, starting off with Iron Maiden and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which was based on Coleridge.

CoC: Could you outline the concept behind _The Antidote_ a little more?

FR: I just write without any kind of limitation of a concept in the beginning. I write a lot of poetry, a lot of other stuff and I also read a lot -- even about the writing process. And for me, that's always been the best way to do things: to work with freedom in the beginning, after which you can start with the difficult part of making sense of everything, which usually doesn't show up in the initial stages of developing something like this. So, basically, with _The Antidote_ I had almost finished all the lyrics, we had the name of the album, and in the end, when we had finished the recording and mixed the music, I realized that if you take all the poetic charge and the metaphors from the lyrics and from José's book, then the common element would be fear. I think that that music also sounds a lot like fear -- it's intimidating at times, it's powerful and it's spiritual. So fear is what I think we're talking about in _The Antidote_; especially fear of losing and fear of dying. The bottom line is that Moonspell is a very classical band when it comes to lyrical themes actually, and even though a lot of people find it very tired to write about love or whatever other emotion, I don't think that you can write about anything else -- the inspiration for everything comes from these emotions and I think that we as a band also have the ability to portray these emotions musically.

CoC: So with all your own personal writing taken into account, do you see a similar project for Moonspell based around your work in the future?

FR: I don't know. I mean, we are very open and the Portuguese artistic community is generally very open when it comes to things like this. But I don't know whether we'll do another project with a book, because it's already been done with _The Antidote_. With _Darkness & Hope_ it was covering a song by a Portuguese band, with _Butterfly FX_ it was the idea to record in all sorts of different places -- we always try and think of something unique to add to each album.

CoC: Moonspell seems to have made an effort throughout their career do be different on every album. Has this effort always been a conscious one, or is it a product of natural progression?

FR: Well, with _The Antidote_ -- I see it as a very intentional album, but the way that it was written and delivered, that was very natural. _The Antidote_ was an album that was growing inside of us for a long time, because it's not like people think; art takes time -- time to choose the right lyric, the right notes, the right way to express what you're trying to say. We have always wanted a style that people can identify with and to have certain features in our music that people can relate to, but the way that we approach this style is definitely progressive. It's done with a progressive spirit attached it, so as with life, it's natural, but it's also intentional.

CoC: So, looking at Moonspell circa _Under the Moonspell_ and Moonspell of present day -- would you say that it's still the same band essentially?

FR: Not really. I mean, if you listen to _Under the Moonspell_, it's very ambitious, very experimental and maybe even a bit pretentious. And this creative spark, I think, has always been a part of Moonspell, and with our experience and growing as people, we can express ourselves much better and I think that _The Antidote_ is definitely a good example of it. I think that it would be wrong to say that we are still the same band, but as Crowley says, "what's eternal, remains", and I think that we have changed a lot in our style; put those things aside that we think are superfluous and unnecessary after experimenting. But I think that there are some features about our music that will never change.

CoC: Now, you've also been ostracized a lot about the changes that you've brought into every album. How do you feel about that?

FR: We've been around a long time and we've gone from being absolutely worshipped, to being despised. The way I see it, _The Antidote_, for instance, is an album with very good reviews from all over -- it's been very hard finding a bad or even a cautious review for it -- but ultimately Moonspell for us is about communication and expression, and luckily for us we find people along the way that need the same kind of 'soothing' through music that we need. Those are the people that like Moonspell, and all the rest are just words. They are comments that won't take us anywhere and have no true bearing on what we do. Listening to Moonspell is not a question of life or death, but for us being Moonspell is a question of life or death. Those who complain can go to the record store and buy the band that they are looking for.

CoC: In short, if you had to summarize your approach to day-to-day life, how would you do it?

FR: It's about surviving for me, really. Our lives are split between moments of glory and moments of absolute anonymous behavior. It's our task to handle both of these elements, but when it comes to art and when it comes to Moonspell my life is basically determined by what I write; to talk to the paper and to share my thoughts with it. I don't have a set philosophy -- it may change from one day to the next -- and I don't take one day at a time, or make big plans for the future. My thought is that there is a big distinction between living and surviving. I like to be on the side of the 'living' so to speak and to get there you have to be out of the side of just 'surviving'.

CoC: Now you obviously pour a lot of yourself into Moonspell's lyrics -- do you ever feel like you're opening yourself up too much and that you're almost leaving yourself vulnerable in a way?

FR: No, because Moonspell is a dark, yet transparent band. A record, or a book, or a piece of art completes itself when it is communicated. In the beginning we were more elusive and more controlled and more afraid of people, but nowadays we have learned the value of communication, which I think is a very important part of the artistic process as well. So, basically we want to keep a straight line between what the band is and who we are as people -- even the fictional stuff that we do; they have to come from a source, and we have never felt exposed in our music. It's not like an interview or something like that, where you leave yourself open to more potentially dangerous exposure.

CoC: With darker and more goth-orientated music like HIM and Evanescence becoming more popular, do you think that Moonspell could potentially be taken to the next level commercially as well?

FR: I don't really know. I mean, if you listen to _The Antidote_, it's not something we ever really had a concern with. I think that Moonspell is more deeply rooted in the underground. We were born in the underground and we will probably stay there. We probably lack the entertainment factor that more popular bands have, but we are not here to entertain. We are here to mark people and we are here to engrave a memory of some sort on people's minds. We'd like to be remembered more along the lines of bands like Fields of the Nephilim; as a cult band. I also don't want limitations in this band -- if I want to write a song about a German philosopher, then that song is not going to go into the charts, but I don't care.

CoC: As far as your written works are concerned, will we be seeing any of this in the future?

FR: I already have a book published in Portugal -- a small poetry book -- and I am in the process of completing a new one. I have moved to a bigger publisher now, so I hope that it's something I'll be able to spend some more time with it in the future. What I also want to do in the future is to combine both poetry books that I wrote and to translate them into English and release them worldwide. But it's not easy at all -- it's even harder than a record deal! I have too much of a problem with it though, I will finance and finish it myself.

CoC: And finally, do you have any last words, Fernando?

FR: Thanks to everyone who has supported us on tour so far and to everyone else, have a taste of _The Antidote_.

(article submitted 25/1/2004)

10/11/1996 G Filicetti Moonspell: Irreligious Inquiries
6/22/2008 K Sarampalis 9 Moonspell - Night Eternal
12/2/2007 J Ulrey 8.5 Moonspell - Under Satanae
5/15/2006 J Smit 9.5 Moonspell - Memorial
9/21/2003 J Smit 9 Moonspell - The Antidote
8/12/2001 C Flaaten 7 Moonspell - Darkness and Hope
3/10/1998 P Azevedo 6 Moonspell - Sin/Pecado
12/13/1995 G Filicetti 8 Moonspell - Wolfheart
8/12/1997 P Azevedo Scorpions / Megadeth / Moonspell / Cradle of Filth / Anger Porto's Own Metalfest?
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