Interview Deva

“We’re basically trying to create a new style that goes beyond the concepts of modern and classical music”

(July 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Deva)

The Italian band Deva impressed me a lot with their debut album Between Life And Dreams. They’re more than just an average gothic band. Their blend of opera, classical music and elements taken from metal and progressive rock work out very well and sometimes sound very original. Guitarist Federico Salerno and vocalist Beatrice Palumbo were so kind as to give Background Magazine access to the band and their debut album.

In my review of your debut album I stated that the band became reality when Federico and Beatrice got together. Can you tell our readers a bit more about the beginning of the band?

Federico Salerno: “Well, our bass player Myriam Stallone and I were already playing together in a progressive metal band, but the project experienced a complete revolution when Beatrice joined. After a short time we had to change the line-up, because things were getting real serious! Many compositions and ideas for the songs we already had changed with new arrangements and vocal lines. The heart of the project was in fact the interaction between me, Beatrice and Miriam. We started to work hard on the material and during this period we met Marco ’Hyblos’ Castiglione, our keyboardist and sound engineer. He owns a professional studio and has a lot of experience and knowledge of the international heavy metal scene. He joined the band at the end of 2004, just after our previous drummer Simone Rossi had left. Deva were a real band now, five elements ready to show their music to the world! Well, we didn’t get far. We were accepted as individuals, but we had no ‘wall of sound’ during our concerts. People didn’t know our songs and since Italy has fantastic bands - at least better than we were - that played for nothing! We needed a place where we could train ourselves as a band. At last we found it and believe me or not, we spent a thousand hours playing the same songs over and over again, even without the drums or without the vocals. In the meantime new ideas came up and old songs have been discarded or changed completely. The song Out: In Fog is an example, but also Fading From Here. There are three different recordings of this song! We were ready to make our first full-length album, but then our drummer left early 2007. A few weeks later, I got in contact with Thomas D’Alba our current drummer.”

How is it for you Beatrice, to sing modern music as a trained opera singer and what are your most important influences?

Beatrice Palumbo: “My most important influences are classical, of course, but during these years I learned that I didn’t need to change my vocal technique that much for singing modern songs. I always try to find and learn something new especially for our songs. Sometimes the experience of modern singing helps me to interpretate classical pieces. I think it’s beautiful for a classical musician to enter in the progressive metal world, which is apparently very different, but basically it’s not! A band can compose and play their own music in the same way an orchestra or a choir does. When I started to write songs with the band, I didn’t know very much about prog metal. However, my knowledge grew during the making of the album, because my band mates gave, and still give me, a lot of material to listen to. This way, I can explore the heavy metal universe each day.”

The press info sheet mentions that you got the idea to create a brand-new concept to combine female opera vocals with progressive metal. But isn’t it true that bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation and Epica already performed this kind of music?

Federico Salerno: “It’s true, yes, there are many heavy metal bands, even with a progressive rock component, fronted by a female opera singer, but there’s more to the musical style of Deva. We’re basically trying to create a new style that goes beyond the concepts of modern music and classical music. At least, this is our achievement! That’s why we introduce many different sounds and instruments: ethnic, synthetic, baroque, acoustic, electric, atmospheres, noises and effects. Another important role is reserved for the arrangements. I never heard a song with a funky guitar from Nightwish or any other gothic-band. This is no criticism, you know, I love Nightwish and one of the best compliments we can get is to be compared to them, because they’re great! However, we love unusual harmonic solutions, different styles to combine with the pure heavy metal of the origins. From that point of view, it would be very difficult to name another band...”

It seemed you rather quickly found a record company willing to release your music on CD. How did this happen? Did you have enough material to record your first album?

Federico Salerno: “We’ve been so lucky! We found RNC Music and Orion’s Belt Records just after the recordings of Between Life And Dreams. Yes, luckily we had enough material and for this reason we decided to record it all! After the mastering, we started to look out for a label. The idea was to make a small number of copies for a few listeners like journalists. But Nico Spinosa was faster than we were! We had him and the Emergenti Italiani page as friends on MySpace. I never met him before, but one day I came on the page and subscribed Deva to their project. Nico is experienced, he’s been an EMI-manager for more than twenty years and he loves heavy metal as we could discover later. So first of all he visited our page, listened very carefully to the songs, then... well I don’t know what happened, but I received the message Can I have a listen to the entire album? After a couple of months we signed our first contract. And this is only the beginning, because it’s not easy to launch a debut album and everybody - the band, RNC Music and all the people involved were working hard on it every single day!”   

How difficult was it to record your first album and what does the title Between Life And Dreams exactly mean?

Federico Salerno: “It was very difficult and it required years of work. We spent many nights on editing, mixing, changing, recording, mixing again and again... The final mix took about six months before we were decided on every sound or effect. Our drummer Thomas had the least work, because at the time we had only ten days for the drums to record! I think that’s incredible if you take in consideration that he was joining the band only a month before! We had the biggest problem with managing the combination piano, violin and synths, but sometimes the best thing to do is to cut or to simplify. Our keyboardist Marco always thinks about the sound of the whole band, rather than his single parts. He often said: ‘In my opinion, this section would sound better without a keyboard’ and so on. Some sessions were very stressful and many times I thought that we were not going to make it. This album is exactly something between the reality of life and a dream. When I think about it, I feel like ‘there’s still something left, isn’t there?’ or ‘I just can’t believe it’s really finished, after so much time’. What better explanation can I give you for the title? This album is more a dream than reality: the dream of seeing it happen and seeing it being born into our hands. The dream of giving life to it... all right, the truth is that Between Life And Dreams is part of the chorus of the song New Essence. We thought this sentence was something like a continuous thread through our songs. In fact every song hides a conscious and an unconscious part. The title is the main concept above all the single songs.”

In my review, I already explained some of the stories behind the tracks. Is it possible to explain the lyrics of all the tracks separately?

Federico Salerno: “We like to talk about the lyrics very much. We’d love to say more about every single song, but it would take much space. We’ll try to be concrete!

Your Voice: This song was an idea of Beatrice. It’s about drugs and about a young guy who dies without knowing what he was really doing. It’s also about bad friendships, bad attitudes, forgetting the difference between right and wrong. Suddenly, you discover it’s too late to turn things back. It really happened to a friend of Beatrice’s who had a beautiful voice. He was a singer of an important classical choir. With this song we want to communicate to the listener, but above all making a tribute to the death of a friend. It’s not always possible to help people we love, even though we do our best. Death is the most certain thing in life, that’s why I believe it’s worth talking deeply about it. This theme has been developed throughout the songs.”

Dancing Lane: “We must live every single day to the full. Every new day can be our last as epicurean philosophy teaches. This song describes the actions of a hurricane: it grows slowly, wakes up suddenly and destroys everything that comes in its way while people turn their backs and dancing free. The hurricane doesn’t look behind, doesn’t see the suffering and the pain, but just goes over. This is exactly the behaviour of most human beings.”

New Essence: “I guess this is my favourite song. It not only sounds very well - at least to me it does - but above all I like the double concept behind this song. New Essence is about a coma and a near-death experience, but also about mother and son. The new essence is the child that gets separated from the mother. It needs to have a name, needs to find its way and being conscious of itself. The most profound lesson he has to learn is to help himself.”

Out: In Fog: “This is the darkest and slowest song of the album. All songs are about our emotions, of places that are parts of our mind, of our subconscious. This one’s about a road accident: a man and a woman died, but their souls are not aware, so they start looking for their bodies. Finally, through fire and smoke they become aware. If this story reminds you of the movie The Others, you are right.”

Love And Faith: “This song is about different concepts, sometimes united in one feeling, sometimes fighting each other. The eternal discussion about why we are on earth and what’s beyond this life divides people for centuries, but many people tend to forget this. We love history and philosophy, although each one of us got his personal thoughts about divinity. Love And Faith is the story of a love that ended, because of different religions that ruins all that faithful minds have tried to build up.”

Fading From Here: “This is a song about fear of the subconscious. A woman dreams that she kills her husband without any reason. Every night she wakes up, sees her husband sleeping beside her, but she’s insecure about the situation. She kept wondering if it was just a dream.”

Karma’s Trilogy: “This is the most complicated song of this album. That’s why it is the final one. There are three characters and three songs. Karma 0 is like an overture. The first character is a man, who committed suicide after he became crazy during World War II. That’s the story in Karma pt II – Open Water. The second character is the man’s daughter. She’s the main character of the trilogy and in Karma pt. I she’s still young when her father died. In Karma pt. II she remembers when she saw him at the mental hospital. In Karma pt. III we have two viewpoints: the daughter has grown up, she’s got married and she’s got a daughter. All three characters show signs of foolishness they just can’t avoid, because of their Karma.”

So the last track Karma is the key song on the album. Why did you write this epic piece? Which message does it contain?

Federico Salerno: “Karma is an experiment. Like in the opera, we tried to make a three-act song that reveals our poetic side. We want to create themes that develop and return constantly and create atmospheres that come from far places sometimes hard and direct and sometimes a story that not really begins or ends. Karma explains the Deva-aesthetics, because it introduces also the concept of reincarnation, which is far from the western culture, but very important for Hinduism and Buddhism. Deva is a general term for all divine beings in these religions.”

In my review I stated that the album cover reminded me of the video that was shot for the Evanescence-track Bring Me To Live. Did you notice this before? Was it done on purpose?

Federico Salerno: “Oh yes, it’s easy to notice, but it really wasn’t done on purpose! I’ll tell you: there’s a very deep graphic concept behind the artwork developed by Davide Meraviglia. You would say in general that the girl on the cover apparently dances in the air, but a closer look reveals that she’s falling to the ground. Rotate the cover 180 degrees and you will see that the palace in the background has now changed to ‘normal’. The girl, however, has completely changed her attitude. She now looks passive and almost unaware. This is how Davide wanted to express the idea of ‘between life and dreams’. There are three viewpoints and all three are shown in the artwork. The first one is in the cover showing the girl dancing or falling. The second one is at the rear of the package. You see an open window, but nonetheless you can’t see what’s going on outside. However, it seems the sunlight’s coming in. So it can be one of the palace windows of the cover. You can find the third viewpoint inside the package: you see people and the girl’s shadow. This is the reality: once you see the third scene you know that the girl in the air was not a dream.”
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Between Life And Dreams
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Upside down
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View 2
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View 3
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I compared your way of guitar playing with John Petrucci’s style. How much were you influenced by him?

Federico Salerno: “I love John Petrucci, especially on Images And Words and Metropolis pt. II. It’s an incredible honour to be compared with him, because he’s got a tremendous technique that I don’t have and probably will never have. I’ve been influenced very much by Dream Theater’s way of composing and arranging. On their albums, I like all the guitars and the drums. I like the chords Petrucci chooses to create tension when he wants to sound soft and the heavy riffs when he wants to rock. And of course, I really envy his speed. It’s true admiration, sure, but believe it or not, I tried to pick up from a very large number of guitarists: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Michael Romeo, but I also like Eric Johnson, Paul Jackson jr., Eddie van Halen, Steve Lukather, just to name a few. 

The back of the booklet mentions that Beatrice played Baroque Viol. Is this just a violin or something else?

Beatrice Palumbo : “The real name of the Baroque Viol is Viola da Gamba, but there’s no exact translation in English. It’s an ancient instrument usually called by its Italian or French name in the seventeenth century. The Gamba is a baroque instrument. It’s big like a modern cello with six or seven strings made of sheep bowel. The most interesting aspect - and a bit funny too - of the Gamba is the head on the top. Usually with arched instruments, you can find a curl on top, but the Gamba has a carved human head.”

Why did you and Beatrice write all the music and the lyrics for this album? Didn’t the other members have any input?

Federico Salerno: “For Between Life And Dreams the first ideas came from Beatrice and me, so we developed the songs by doing the main arrangements. Of course we gave full freedom to the others especially for bass and drums grooves. We got important input from our bass player Myriam Stallone. She always reads the lyrics intensively knowing when a song works best, so she often leads me and Beatrice through the compositions. She also gave me the idea of the Karma-trilogy and we discussed a lot before I started writing the lyrics. Marco Castiglione and Thomas D’Alba also participated with the songs, but after the main structure had already been finished. Marco also has some compositions of his own that we’re working on all together now, so... who knows!”

Maybe people find it a bit weird that you have Myriam Stallone as a female bass player. Are their any relations with Sylvester or his brother Frank who also writes music?

Federico Salerno: “Unfortunately there’s no apparent relation with Sylvester’s family! Well, it’s certainly strange to have a woman on bass guitar! I think that Myriam, on stage, can catalyze the public’s attention. She plays aggressive parts, she moves with feminine elegance and she also sings... it’s very nice to see how Myriam and Beatrice act like sisters, together they can be very dangerous..! Well, I’m joking, of course.”
Myriam, bass Hyblos, Keyboards Thomas, drums

You and keyboard player Marco Castiglione have both nick names, Friedrik and Hyblos. Can you explain why?

Federico Salerno: “Nice question, but not easy to answer, because we never planned to have nick names. I remember that once we discussed about it Myriam said: ‘we have beautiful names, let’s use our real names!’ and she was right. I mean Beatrice, Myriam and Thomas sound good and they match pretty well with our musical style. Marco is a very common name in Italy, so he chose to use a nickname. He doesn’t like to sign ‘Marco Castiglione’ on the web! Personally, I always liked to name myself Friedrik, from the beginning of my ‘musical career’. So I wrote it down between my first name and my surname, just as a habit.”

How did the press and the public react on your debut album so far?

Federico Salerno: “That’s interesting. The public reacted very well so far. We receive comments from all over the world and all are definitely positive! After the few concerts we gave, many people asked for the album; they’re interested in our music and they wish to follow us. I mean, some Italian listeners don’t care so much about the complexity of an album, about the arrangements or the influences, they only hear vocals. It’s a cultural problem, we are used to hear a lot of rubbish on the radio and on TV, but I can’t complain too much, because all the reviews of Between Life And Dreams were good, not so detailed and deep as, for example, this review you made, but definitely not negative! The reactions of press and radio stations all over the world were just great! In France, The Netherlands, UK, Brazil, USA, Germany and Russia, we have very good listeners and it seems that our music is really appreciated, much more than what we could ever expect.”

Finally, what future plans do you have for the band?

Federico Salerno: “I sincerely don’t know! We have a lot of things to do now: from composing new songs to thinking of a video clip, merchandising, concerts, promoting the album abroad. Every day there’s a new incredible surprise. The last one was a Turkish band playing Your Voice in a venue in Istanbul. We found the video on YouTube! and it was fantastic! We just couldn’t believe it!” 

Thanks for answering my questions and good luck!

“Thank you so much for this interview, we really enjoyed! And remember: always live between life and dreams.”
Album review "Between Life And Dreams"
Deva on MySpace

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