Interview with Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro
By Daniel Hinds
BLAZING ACROSS THE HEAVENS LIKE A SHOOTING STAR, the passion and fire of Lacuna Coil burns even brighter on their new album Karmacode. As Italy’s main musical export, Lacuna Coil – Cristina Scabbia (female vocals), Andrea Ferro (male vocals), Cristiano Migliore (guitar), Marco Biazzi (guitar), Marco Coti Zelati (bass), Cristiano Mozzati (drums) – has delivered an emotional metal masterpiece and the album of their career.
Rising steadily through the underground ranks, Lacuna Coil cracked the worldwide market wide open with 2002’s Comalies, a glorious synthesis of soothing melodies, rhythmic riffs, and soul wrenching vocals. A slew of high profile tours and a resoundingly successful stint on Ozzfest in 2004 further established the band’s rock star status, but also had the side effect of delaying the highly anticipated follow-up album. Wisely, the band resisted any market pressures and took its time to craft a truly superior record, and the resulting Karmacode is sure to be one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed albums of the year. Everything from the writing to the production to the performances themselves have been improved, refined, amped-up, and expanded to include new elements and influences, from traditional Arabian melodies to modern American metal grooves. The vocal interplay between Scabbia and Ferro is still central to Lacuna Coil’s unique style, and both singers were clearly thrilled to discuss Karmacode, the band’s evolution, and their meteoric rise to stardom as they were preparing to embark on a massive US tour.
What is the meaning of the album Karmacode?
Scabbia: It’s a title that Andrea came up with because we were looking for a title to express the concept of the album. The lyrics combine the spiritual aspects of human life with the fact there are so many new things…electronic things. So we are trying to explore how a person can survive with their spirituality in these days. Karmacode is the perfect name because “karma” represents spirituality without being connected to a specific religion – we don’t want to talk about religion itself. And “code,” of course, represents the modern days.
Ferro: It’s not a concept album, but we tried to have the same approach on every song’s lyrics – we tried to see it all from the same perspective. It’s always from out personal point of view, but we also leave the lyrics open to different interpretations. Because very often we’ve noticed that the fans give their own personal interpretations, which is not exactly what we meant, but is still very good because they have been able to connect a different experience to ours. So that is very interesting. This time, on the process of writing, we tried to write in a way that everybody can let it appeal a little to their own experiences. We talk a lot about the contrasts in modern life and spirituality that everybody feels. We toured a lot and we met a lot of different people, and they have their won beliefs in different religions or sometimes just philosophy or sometimes nothing. But we felt in everyone we met a lot of desire to believe in something that can really help you out and that you feel there might be something you reach for, but you don’t know what it is. So the idea behind all the lyrics is the approach of trying to be more open to receive different feelings of energies in your life – don’t try to cling too much to fake idols, but try to receive it more in a personal perspective.
Do you feel like some people in general may not be open-minded enough?
Scabbia: I think that is part of the problem for sure. Everyone wants to be the best, everyone wants to go over the rest of the people, and there’s no brotherhood anymore. Everyone wants to be first on the list without considering that sometimes you need the help of people around you. If you look at every religion, the story is always the same, but what I think has been lost is that the first thing that has to be considered is the respect for other people. As far as I’m concerned, all of the wars are mostly based on religion, which is kind of a paradox. Because religion should mean a good relationship with the rest of humanity, and that means peace. So I believe that there is something, but I don’t believe in the people that are representing it.
Is Technology evolving a little too quickly for our own good?
Ferro: Yeah, that’s also one of the points I was touching on. Today, we all in the band have laptops and iPods, and we always need the wireless internet on tour because of email and to be in touch with everybody. But just a few years ago, these were not available to everybody, so life had changed a lot be the technology. At the end of the day, so we really need all this technology? It makes our life easier in a way, but it also makes out life very different. Like when I was a kid, I never had a cell phone, and I could go out for four hours and nobody know where I was. Now, if somebody can’t reach you for 10 minutes, then they think that something very bad has happened, that you died in a car crash or whatever. So it has really changed a lot in our lives, and I think we should find a balance between our personal life as human beings and the use and abuse of technology. I was reading a book by an Italian mathematician [Il Vangelo secondo la Scienza by Piergiorgio Odifreddi], and it gave me this inspiration for Karmacode, because he was trying to explain religion and the figure of God through mathematical formulas and with the help of computers. So it really caught my attention, because it was such an extreme point to analyze these ideas through mathematics. It was a big contrast, and it appeals to our life today.
How long did the band spend on writing and recording Karmacode?
Scabbia: With the writing, it is very difficult to tell how long because we had been collecting ideas for more than a year. Of course, we had some stuff from before, but it was old, so we rewrote everything completely. Putting everything together took about three months. We recorded it in two parts. The first part was done in Germany at Woodhouse Studios, where we recorded the drums, and then we finished the recording – guitars, bass, and vocals – in Milan at the Massive Arts Studio. I was mixed in Belgium at Galaxy Studios.
Has your approach to songwriting evolved much over time?
Scabbia: Absolutely. If you don’t evolve, you’re going to die. You can’t play the same music for all you life. If you’re a musician, you have to be open-minded, you have to get different influenced from everything – it can be a movie, it can be a soundtrack, it can be other kinds of music, or it can be life itself – but you have to try to evolve yourself. We have changed very much in the songwriting, and now our music is much more powerful and intense. When we started, we were basing our influences on certain bands, the first goth bands like Paradise Lost. But now we have our own personal style – we’re sure about it and we know out potential – and we’re working in that direction.
Was the band able to take advantage of the longer recording process for Karmacode?
Ferro: Yeah, we started working on it with a certain release date in mind, but then everything moved back a lot because Comalies was selling food and there were more shows and festivals. So we ended up with almost one year of working, because at the recording session in Milan, and we got five or six songs complete. Then we had about six or seven months to work on the other songs and start a second recording session. Also, with the mixing, we spent much more time compared to the past, almost a month of mixing. That was very different, because on Comalies we only had 40 days total between the recording and the mixing, so this was more than double the time. Recording in separate sessions was also a new experience for us that never happened before. It really gave us the chance to realize what we were doing and which direction we were going, what had to be changed, and what sounded good. So I really like the way we worked on this album, even if it was a long process to complete.
Do you think it will take as long to put out new albums in the future?
Ferro: Mmmm…at least a couple of years. This time we spent almost three and a half years after Comalies, and I really feel like we have made a big step foreword. I think you need at least a couple of years if not three to really have different inspirations and be creative and not just redo Karmacode Part 2 or Comalies Part 2. To make something that has a quality in music, for a band like us at least and our way of working, we need a little bit of time to progress. I think everybody should do that. When I see a band like System of a Down, for example, they come out every three or four years and not every year, and that’s why it is such a great quality album.
It also builds anticipation.
Ferro: Yeah, and also that. It is really a matter of, besides the time you have to dedicate to promote and to tour, you also need some time to sit down at home and consider what has been your main influences in this period of time and then see what you can improve, what was good on the previous albums, and what can be better. You need a little bit of time to really move foreword, to reach the next step of the band, and not just to come out with an album to be on the market or see your faces on TV.
Were there any specific inspirations for Karmacode? “Fragile” and “Our Truth” have slight Middle Eastern influences.
Scabbia: We are really open-minded and like every kind of music, from traditional music to extreme music. So if we like a particular melody, we don’t care if it is enough metal or not enough metal. We like to mix up things. That’s why we mixed up the European sound, which is melodic and musical, and the American one. And when I say the American one, I mean the sounds that are really bombastic and strong. So we mixed up something new, something fresh that nobody really did before, because we are right in the middle. We have evolved, but it is clear that it is Lacuna Coil. When you listen to Karmacode, you don’t say, “Ah, they sound like…”
How did the songs come together for Karmacode?
Scabbia: We used the same process we always use. Everybody comes up with different ideas and then we meet each other, we send each other files, and of course, everyone has to agree on the idea. When it becomes a little bit more clear, we meet up in the practice room and play together, se we see if it is working or not. I don’t write and music, but when I listen to something, I can say if I like it or not. And if you think about if, I think that is a good thing. Sometimes ignorance is not always bad, because it means that I’m really basing it on my feeling when I listen to music. When I listen to something and it gives me chills, gives me goose bumps, that means it is beautiful in its own simplicity.
The dual male and female vocals are such a big part of Lacuna Coil. Is that central to the songwriting process?
Scabbia: Well, it’s always a question of how you use the vocals. We always thought that my voice and Andrea’s voice had to be used as other instruments that you can add to the music, not something that has to stand out because you are the singer. It’s not like that; it’s just another instrument and it melds so good.
Ferro: It’s not always easy because, especially singing with two different voices, sometimes we have to adjust the key and the different high and bass frequencies to fit the best melodies of a chorus or verse. So sometimes it is very complicated, but on Karmacode, we reached the best cooperation of the writing and recording. We also experiment a lot in the studio on the arrangement of the vocals. This time, I feel like we really worked at our best to make it sound balanced, and we used the best possibilities in every part of the songs. We made a big step forward compared to the previous album, where some songs we felt like they were really good and some were just out of balance or we could have done better. This time, we really worked together in composing the melodies and also the lyrics. We work really tight together, especially me and Cristina; we sat down for a long time and tried all of the possibilities. To be honest, on Karmacode, almost every song satisfies me 100%. Also, I think because I have evolved my technique by studying and also being able to sing in different ways – I gave myself more possibilities to fit in on every king of song, not only on the heavy songs or the rhythmical songs, but also a slower, atmospheric song or a more soulful song, something I never did before.
How did the band decide “Our Truth” should be the first single from Karmacode?
Scabbia: Because it was the perfect combination. We started to perform it a couple of times last summer at the festivals that we did, and the reaction was awesome. I mean, usually when you play a new song…I’ve been to different concerts, and when a band plays a new song, I just listen to it and try to understand if I like it or not, but I am not jumping or screaming or whatever. But as soon as we started playing “Our Truth,” it is so rhythmical, so energetic, that the people started to jump. So we were just like, “Wow! They like it the way that we do.” It was perfect to pick this song, because it is right in your face, and it’s clear to me that it is one of the best songs on the albums, so it would be the perfect card to present Karmacode.
The lyrics on “Our Truth” are very interesting as well.
Scabbia: It’s a big statement, and the chorus says, “We are raising our truth.” It’s a way for us to express that you have to believe in yourself, to believe in your potential, and you don’t really have to care about all the pressure you have around you, all the people trying to change your opinion and mind. Your have to do it you way because you really want to do it. It’s a powerful song, and you can tell we changed our songwriting a little bit, but we didn’t become commercial in any way. The guitars are in your face, the rhythm section is amazing, and there’s a tribal part in the song with Arabian vocals. It’s awesome; it’s a very good song.
Were you surprised by what a big hit “Heaven’s a Lie” from Comalies turned out to be?
Scabbia: We were surprised. We knew it was a good song, but we weren’t thinking about that song as a single off of the album. But then the radio stations fell in love with it and stated playing it, and of course, we still believe it is a good song. Honestly, we never thought about picking out that song as a single. We were thinking more about songs like “Daylight Dancer” or “Swamped,” which was actually the second single off the album. You never know. I mean, we love every single song we write, so it’s not really that big a deal if people like one better than the other ones…not a problem for us (laughs).
At some point, would you like to do something different, like an all-acoustic or orchestral album?
Ferro: Maybe instead of a complete album, we might do a special show. For example, we did a show in the UK that was a double set – one with acoustic versions on the songs and then the regular electric set. That was very successful. We’ve also thought about doing some kind of special show with an orchestra or part of an orchestra. At the moment, we are concentrating more on practicing the regular set with the new songs. But in the future, it might be possible.
What did you learn from all of your touring in America these past few years?
Scabbia: We just learned 100% that this is what we want to do. We had been touring before that in Europe and, in a way, it is easier to tour the US because it is more comfortable. You can stop in the middle of the night and take a shower and eat it you’re hungry. In Europe, it’s not possible, so when talking about touring, I think touring in Europe is better training (laughs). In America, it is definitely easier. The tour buses are bigger and more comfortable, there’s so much stuff you can find around…we love to tour America.
Did touring with so many different types of bands – Opeth. P.O.D., Type O Negative, etc. – influence Karmacode?
Ferro: Yeah, I think so, because every time you tour with somebody for a long time, you learn and take something from it. We learned a lot, sometimes just for the live show and sometimes more for the music. In general, you always steal a little bit of something from everybody, and that’s what also makes your live show more interesting. When we moved up to the step of P.O.D. and Ozzfest, we saw a lot of professional, big bands working with the proper choreography with every professional technicians and a lot of equipment. So you really understand that, at the level, everything works differently. If you want to move to that level, you also have to learn and be able to catch what you can from those bands. It’s a process of leaning. Even if today the music industry just attempts to throw bands out there to make it big with their records – that sometimes happens, but most of the time it doesn’t – I think a band also needs a little bit of time to learn and to improve their style and to find a more personal way and approach to music. So I believe more in working step by step and building and learning from everybody, instead of coming out with a very good album that probably somebody else has written, you probably spent a year recording, and then you go out on the road and have no clue what it is like.
How much of an impact did being a part of Ozzfest have on getting Lacuna Coil’s name out in America?
Scabbia: It had a big impact. If you think about it, we were the most different band compared to the other bands on the second stage, so it could have been a good thing for us or a bad thing. We didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect from the crowd. But everything went smooth. There were people waiting for use, even on the days where if happened that we had to play in the morning. It was amazing, and at the end of Ozzfest, we were the second best-selling band. There was a tent selling CDs, and we were the second best-selling band, going over huge bands that were on the main stage, so it was awesome for us. We have the chance to show who we are; we had 20 minutes, so we had to give out best, and everything went great.
Even with all of the touring and the band’s popularity growing rapidly, Lacuna Coil has had a very stable lineup for a long time. What do you attribute that to?
Scabbia: I attribute it to the fact that, when a problem comes up, we always talk about it. The fact that we are like a family; we really feel like that and hang out together. We are not a band that somebody put together just for the business. We’ve had the kind of career that other bands like The Rolling Stones or U2 have had. What I mean by that is that we didn’t really have a big explosion. We didn’t become successful in a day with one album, but we built up our base of fans during the years and we had our own experiences going on the road and touring. We worked really hard for it, and everyone had the same goal. To reach this goal, the only was is to be together and to work together.
What is your star status like in Italy these days?
Scabbia: Well, we’re really well known, but rock and metal is not as famous in Italy as it is in the US. The main music is still commercial music or Italian traditional music. Metal is not in every chart, but we are one of the main bands in Italy, of not the main one. We are the ones who really made it, even outside of Italy.
At the time of In a Reverie, we discussed your frustration of being compared to The Gathering. Is it strange now that a lot of newer bands get compared to Lacuna Coil?
Scabbia: (laughs) Yeah, but I think it’s normal. When you start playing, when you’re a new band, you listen to other bands that you like and you try to…not do the same thing, of course, because you try to personalize stuff, but you’re really influenced by them. What was frustrating at that time was we were compared to The Gathering, but we didn’t take any inspirations from them. The only thing we had in common was we had a woman in the lineup, but we never copied anything from them. I mean, we like them, we respect them, they’re good friends with us, and every time we meet each other we have fun together, but there’s nothing in common musically, especially now. We’re proud reading that a lot of band today are taking inspiration from us. We’ve just been able to evolve ourselves and find out own person style.
How did you first get into singing professionally?
Scabbia: For me, it is a different history, because I was not raised as a metalhead. I had brother and a sister, and my brothers were listening to different kinds of music, from Sex Pistols to Led Zeppelin. My sister was listening to Italian music. I was listening to some Metallica, but I didn’t really know about metal. Then, around my 20s, I started to know a little but more because I was hanging out with friends who were listening to this kind of music, but I had no intention or dream to become a metal singer or a singer in a band. So I started to do that professionally when I met the guys in Lacuna Coil, and they asked me to be a part of the band. I did something before that, but it was not metal. I was a session singer, giving me voice and being paid, but without giving my image and name because I was not interested in that kind of project. So it wasn’t something that was planned; it’s not like when I was younger I was like. “Oh my God, I’m dreaming about being a rock star!”
With all the recent touring, recording, and promotion, have you been able to have any kind of personal life?
Scabbia: This life is a big sacrifice. Everybody thinks it is fun, which it is, actually, but it’s not just fun, there’s a lot of work behind it. All of your relationships are a problem because you can’t stay all the time with the people who are close to you – girlfriend, boyfriend, family, friends. So you feel you are sacrificing that for the music. It’s totally worth it, but it’s not always easy. Luckily, we have people close to us that know exactly how it works, and they are supporting us.
Ferro: It is something that we’ve learned step by step. In the beginning of the promotion for Comalies, we never thought it would be possible to stay away for six months on tour without coming back home. It was something out of the picture for us, but as soon as we started touring the US and the radio started picking up the single, another tour was offered, then another one, and then Ozzfest and everything. In the end, we finished with 11 months in the States and another five or six in Europe. So in two or three years, we spent more than one and a half years on tour. It is something that, the first time, it really makes you think, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to be out for such a long time and tour every city everywhere – the small, the big, the bar, the arena, every kind of situation?” Many bands I don’t think have an idea of what exactly it means to take that next step. They just see Metallica having millions of dollars, planes, hotels, and everything, but they don’t’ see the 10 or 15 years of touring they did before that to reach that level. So not everyone is ready to sacrifice that part of their life to reach this. Even if you like touring and everybody’s happy when you meet the people and they give you compliments or ask for autographs or a picture with you, in the end, you also want to have a normal life. But we understand, talking with the other bands and our own experience had shown us that if you want to be in something big, you also need to be ready to sacrifice a lot, to give a lot.
Are there any places in the world that you haven’t been too yet that you would like to tour for Karmacode?
Ferro: We spoke with the management and the label, and of course, we will concentrate a lot in America and Europe because those are the main markets for us at the moment. But we do want to reach other countries like Australia, Japan, China, and South America, too, because we receive a lot of mail from fans and promoters that want to book us for those territories. The problem sometimes is that, since it is working so well in the States, you need to be there all the time. It’s such a wide country that you need to tour everywhere and be available for interviews, for videos, for everything. So sometimes, it is just a matter of time, and maybe in the beginning of the promotion for Karmacode we will not be able to do a world tour, but after the first 10 months or something, we will be able to go somewhere else. I hope so, because I would also like to see those places.