Moonspell has been gracing our lives for a quarter of a century. A household name for some and a mystery to others, TINAS caught up with enigmatic frontman Fernando Ribeiro to uncover just who is Moonspell.
Victoria: What prompted you to start Alma Mater Records and Books?
Fernando: I have to say it has nothing to do with the end of Moonspell. Right now, I want to dedicate my time to other stuff. It’s just the way I am. Also, I think that being a musician for so many years it means to call out our own bluff that we have it so easy all the time. Like on tour most of the time we do nothing. I like to be productive with my time. I like books. I already work with some book publishers in Portugal through writing stuff and editing stuff. So, I wanted to start my own small thing and for the records. I was always fascinated by the music scene. I don’t care about the death of the industry. I think there are still people who buy records. I think it’s actually a very good time to produce a label that specializes on Moonspell, our back repertoire as far as records go. Also, our goal is to sign Portuguese metal bands because for many years Moonspell is the very Lone Wolf when it comes to the Portuguese scene. There is nothing that can be done except to give a little push to these bands and to put them on the radar. So, it’s a kind of a baby project. It’s like when we formed Moonspell because we liked metal and literature and whatnot. I also formed a label for the same reasons we did Moonspell 26 years ago. It’s stuff I really like to do. If I can help with my experience working with musicians and poets and make some alternative culture available in Portuguese, I think it’s important.
Victoria: So, you’re saying your own record label can focus on the Moonspell back catalogue. Does that mean you own your back catalogue free and clear?
Fernando: No, not yet. Moonspell has come to a different age. There’s this grey area that separates when we were starting off in Germany where they called us ‘Die Yungst’, the Young Dudes, and now in the magazines they call us ‘Gothic Metal Veterans’. So, I always kept in very good touch with our record labels. So, when it’s time for us to start making our anniversaries, I wanted to be involved in it because sometimes the labels wanted to do what they want to do. I think for the fans it’s more special if the band is involved. We opened our secret archives from 1996. So, that’s what we did. It all started as a collaboration. Century Media was very helpful with the band editions and the limited editions. They always sell out. Right now, because I’m thinking as the label goes as well, we can’t have a plan for everything. You just must grab the opportunities. Right now, I’m releasing two other bands from the catalogue. Old stuff: Tiamat, Okkultist, and Paradise Lost, early demos, early stuff from when I was growing up, underground raw stuff. I think it’s good because we have a very good response. All our records must be really quality. They are gate-folded, liner notes, remastered, good prints, and limited prints. Because I know very well we are getting to people that do not spend their time on YouTube listening to music but like the physical objects.
Victoria: I noticed there were a lot of nice albums there (on the Alma Mater website) as opposed to CDs so that was cool. What are some of the logistical differences between running a record company and running a band?
Fernando: Well, the band is much harder because the band is very, how can I say, we have a lot of things we must watch for: merchandise, touring, strategy. We’re self-managed, so I have a lot of experience with self-management, accounting, traveling. We do it with Pedro, our keyboard player. We manage the band and we have a small team that helps with the flight booking, red tape, etc etc when we are in the US. So, they are hired when we need them. So, we kind of change things because, we did the question that many bands after they get established, especially in Europe or in Portugal. We’re already doing all the job- all the hard work and then we start to have our ideas and strategies. So, while a lot of bands search for new management we decide to do it ourselves. It’s a lot of grey hair but it’s cool as the label is still a pretty small thing. So, I do all the signings. I find all the bands. Negotiate the licenses, do the strategies. So now we do a collection of underground albums with my associate, whose name is Pedro as well. There are lots of Pedro’s of course. He does all the mail order. It’s very familiar because then we have a designer because we want to have an in-house designer from the start to make it really look impressive and good with all the quality and style. It’s a very familiar thing. The other day we were visiting Portugal as our DVD Lisboa Under the Spell – it’s been four weeks at number one in the charts. Then you must do the EDGE certificate, you must put the stamp. It’s a very difficult process in Portugal, very bureaucratic. So, we got them on very short notice and Pedro’s kids were just stamping the CDs. No child work, but familiar work. As far as we are right now, I think we have the perfect structure. If we need, we hire people. We have a promoter as well, Mona. She freelances with us. That’s very important. So, we are getting our stuff together. Slowly but surely, so maybe next year we start hiring some people.
Victoria: With all of that, how are you managing a work-life balance?
Fernando: Well, that’s a very good question. I’m a bit on the workaholic side. But that’s not a bad thing because I’m doing stuff that I like. And I understood very well since I became a musician that music is doing a thousand things you don’t like just because of the things you like. So, I don’t mind the thousand things. I don’t mind being on the phone. I have a family as well. So, I spend a lot of time with them as well. So, I don’t have any secrets. I just get through the day. I see it through in blocks. A day has 24 hours and I need 7 to 8 hours of sleep so there is plenty of time to do anything. And I take a lot of work on tour. On this tour we’re the second band, so we’re not playing such a big set, so I can stay in touch. One of my bands is going into the studio tomorrow. So, I can send them little briefings while I can; personal. So, I think there’s time for everything. It’s an issue for everyone. I’m already 44. I can manage time well, right now. There were times like when my kid was born it was impossible. I didn’t even try. So, I just went with the flow. But nowadays he’s six and he is in school. And, we have the passion. You must be a professional. Like yesterday we had a day in San Diego and we had some PBRs but then I had to go to a meeting with our agent. So, we always must look sharp and stay sharp. Otherwise you will shoot yourself in the foot.
Victoria: So how do you stay fit and sane when you have so much work to do?
Fernando: I think that the working bit and the stuff to do is a thing to think about. Some musicians unfortunately take their own lives out of frustration, out of boredom as well. But that’s what causes all the mental unbalance. And if you have a plan, if you read the right books, if you face it as something you must do as well, and you prepare for that. I think we have a nice tour. But you must pick the books. Don’t waste your time – all your time on the internet because you must have something being more longer-term. So, I always pick up some books. Some I’ve already read once. Some I’m going to read a second time. Some I read that I’m going to print. So, I have a lot of stuff to do. And when I don’t have, I just take a walk. It’s a healthy tour. It’s also a sign that we are all mature men. We’re not really kids. So, everybody is more concerned about staying fit. But like I say, I believe that whatever you do, regardless, what you do or not do it’s a nice opportunity to rest your bones as well. I think that it’s all a mental decision and issue really. There’s a lot of stuff to do on the road… It’s also great to share a tour bus. So, all the Rock stars that have their own tour bus, beware!
Victoria: When you look back on the history of Moonspell, what do you think is the biggest contribution the band has made to music?
Fernando: That’s a big question, because I don’t think that being in a band is such a big deal. It’s a big deal, but if you look at it in perspective and even if you change some lives, like it’s not going to be like a part of a whole revolution like the Beatles for instance. So, I’m always careful because I know a lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of bands that cover our songs. And that’s important. It’s what keeps us alive. But I also want to show them what Moonspell is. We’re not such a perfect thing, not such a role model. We embrace their own flaws. I think Moonspell can be a great example of a band that could start to play like shit, like the black horse running off track. We’re from Portugal. And with patience and some luck and maybe some talent we can do it. That’s why a big part of our new DVD is a documentary, so people can see our lives with the band. Because many people look at the Metallica things and they see all these VIP meet and greets and the golden buffet. It’s like this for a few exceptional bands. It’s like how the money is distributed in the world. It’s like 10% have it. It’s the same with bands. We’re kind of a middle of the way band. So, I’m very proud that people know Moonspell. They know the early albums and the stuff that I wrote. They get a tattoo on their body. But also, I have to say it’s a big responsibility. I like that they have the passion for Moonspell. But above all, they should love themselves more than anything else, more than any band. And if band helps with their self -respect then they’re doing their job.
Victoria: You said something like that at the end of the DVD and I said wait, what do you mean? And I rewound it and listened to it again. I thought it was a raw and unpretentious thing to say. It kind of made me a little sad.
Fernando: It was a little sad too, but it was very honest. It was a different kind of sadness, a different shade of blue. I had a lot of explaining to do because of that comment. Because what people are thought by the press, by the band themselves, the musicians that it should have a happy end. It’s a great DVD, hands down. But that was my feeling back then. Sometimes I went to parties. Sometimes I do crazy stuff. That day it was so special. And I feel a bit empty because we left a lot on that stage. And if you see through the whole documentary, not only onstage but off stage. And then you realize that is what happens to me at concerts and shows. Albums fill me up more. I have more time to process them. I was feeling a bit of emptiness. Not the emptiness where I feel frustrated because 4000 people had to watch it (the live show).
Victoria: And a three-hour show- that’s got to be tiring.
Fernando: Yes, it was a bit exhausting. It was also being the diplomat between the audio and the video crew. We record a lot ourselves. At the end of the day a lot of things got out from us. And I think that is what prepares you for the next day. Then the next day it was a little bit complicated. So, it was my way of letting go. And I’m not telling people that playing a show is not a question of being happy. I’m just telling them not to cross the border to think that we are over special. That leads to a very dangerous path sometimes. No, I’m not humble. Sometimes I can be an asshole as well. I’m just human, you know. We have different stories. When I’ve met famous people and people I look up to and some of them are assholes because they cannot connect anymore. And some of them are the most special people I’ve ever met. So, I kind of look up to those people.
Victoria: After this tour, what’s next for Moonspell?
Fernando: There are many plans. This tour is going well in North America. We’re not thinking of giving up because the tour was not going very well. There was a lot of bureaucracy to get in here. All the bands from Europe will give you this story.
Victoria: Yes, the visa process.
Fernando: Things went quite well for us. I think it’s the reboot of Moonspell and because we took some time off touring the US. We have the new album too. So, we’re already planning on coming back to the US probably next year or 2020. This year we’re going to play more shows in Portugal. We’re going to Mexico at the end of the year. Next year we have a European tour coming up and a new album. And probably we will take the whole year to write it, compose it; we’re not in a rush. We want to do 1755. It’s our 13th album. And before that, it was Extinct. And we want to keep that musical track and evolve into the new one.
Victoria: What advice would you have for someone just starting off in the music business, from both the perspective of a musician, and a record label owner?
Fernando: To sum it up, we’ve been talking about time. Time always feels very short for a band, which is a mistake. Sometimes people just lose the album because it’s burning before the in their recorders. They didn’t plan anything. You know. Try and convince these youngsters to have patience and to look at the big picture. That’s something I would advise. And explain your reasons. I always explain my reasons. I always listen to their reasons as well. I always explain in a way that with the band everything is in the clear. And I always explain the kind of deals that we have. As far as bands go, I mean it’s all talk. But I don’t see a lot of musicians talking about the real thing that bind us together – which is the possibility of being creative and getting away with it. And fans, I think people should concentrate a lot on that. That’s what we try to concentrate on. Some people say, “Oh you suck. You suck at social networking.” We’re not bad. It’s just when we started we didn’t connect that way. We didn’t have so much urgent need as you guys (the young fans). There’s a balance.
Victoria: Thank you so much! I appreciate your time.