Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

Interview with itSELF – “I finally found something to focus on and something to be alive for.”

During the worldwide crisis when bands put themselves on hiatus and sought other options by which to earn their daily beer and bread; reviving a band that was on hold for almost 7 years is somewhat ballsy, to say the least, and thus I’ve let the curiosity take the best of me and had a chat with Ricardo Falcon (ex-guitarist and bassist of SINISTER and ex-live session guitarist of BELPHEGOR), the driving force behind Brazilian death metal duo ITSELF about the Kickstarter campaign he started to finish the album, how it feels to get one of your idols onboard, beer and lettuce hands.

I’m pretty sure it’s the first time you’re doing an interview for Finnish media…

Actually no! When I played in Helsinki with Alexi Laiho in 2015 I did a few interviews there. Also, when I played with ITSELF back in the day in Oulu in 2012. So yeah, I did a few interviews for Finnish media in the past but don’t ask me which magazines ’cause I honestly don’t remember.

So for the record, introduce yourselves, where are you from, what gathered you together on the face of the earth.

To introduce myself… I’m Ricardo, I’ve been playing the guitar for more than 20 years and I founded this band, ITSELF, in 2005 in Brazil, I was born in São Paolo. I was still a teenager when I founded this band. I’m also an audio engineer and music producer.

Any particular circumstances that got you guys together?

I was looking to make a band and I was looking for a drummer. Well, I was looking for all members but the drummer seemed most important for me at the beginning. Back then you only had music forums and these kinds of ad sites where you could sell your stuff like or put an ad like, “Hey, I’m a guitarist, I’m looking for a band, my influences are so an so.” I found Estevan Furlan online and contacted him via phone. It took us a few months until we played together, mainly because I lived on the other side of the city. It was a pain in the ass to travel by metro for more than 1 hour to get to the rehearsal place. Not to mention I had to carry everything on my back, the guitar and the amp and all that. We started in January 2005 however Estevan was very busy back then with few projects running already unlike me. It was my first band and I always said it would be my first and last band. I wanted to have a project for life and a serious one.

Like something just for yourself? Despite you being in other bands?

Not entirely. I wanted to make something big and serious. I always thought if you split the energy into 3 or 4 bands and a normal job, you never get any of them done well. I think that’s the reason why some bands don’t succeed either because they split the energy into many other projects. So that was my idea, I just wanna have one band, one project.

How did you get the rather intriguing band name? 

The story is kinda funny. I had few names, thought about them and none of them was really convincing to me. But one day I was coming back home from practice, was on the bus and I remember that I was sleepy. I hit my head in the window and then I woke up. I was listening to DECAPITATED. Was right in the part when the singer makes this weird accent where he sings “Itself” (SPHERES OF MADNESS) Then I thought “oh fuck, that’s it.” The meaning has everything to do with the band, it’s made by ourselves, well, me and the drummer. It was a “thing.” So the junction of these 2 things, made by ITSELF.

What caused the hiatus? I know more or less why but could you go more into it? The last update prior to Kickstarter campaign was in 2014. What happened there?

The story is a bit long. There were a few factors. I could just summarize it by saying that we didn’t have money, we stopped the band and that’s it. To start with, in 2009 I moved to Europe, 4 years later after I founded the band, to try to pursue a better career. Here in Europe, you have more opportunities than in Brazil. It’s very difficult to do anything metal in Brazil; even SEPULTURA had to go to the US to become famous. Only then they were later praised. People here aren’t very patriotic, they don’t praise domestic bands much. Then you don’t have “live infrastructure” so to say, in the clubs there. It’s really hard to make music in that country if it’s not samba or anything similar. 

Anyway, I left for Europe and it was very hard to do things alone for the band. I was sweating my ass off to get some shows and some visibility or endorsements. I never had Estevan’s support, who was back in Brazil. He was just playing the drums and vocals, which is difficult and I’m really proud of him doing that. But that was his only contribution. I did everything else by myself. My main problem at that time was that I could only get very few single shows. But touring… unless you are a very big band that is doing this every day of the week… sucks. Probably ten people will show up.
But then again I still needed Estevan here to do these few shows. I asked him to come to Europe. He said, “No, it’s cold there, my joints will suffer.” He was putting a lot of roadblocks in the way. 

Then I think there was this situation when we played in Ukraine at a big festival. I remember Daniel from VEDONIST coming up to me and saying “You guys kick ass, we’re gonna have a tour in November, it’ll be VADER, DECAPITATED, and HATE, around 20 shows.” It was just two of us, me and Estevan so it was fairly easy to fit us there. We could be helpful, we both are sound engineers, Estevan does PA, I’m also a technician. It was an invitation, not like pay we had to pay for performing. I thought – finally. I was fighting for this for almost 10 years, it’s finally happening. Then Estevan said – no, I can’t. I asked him why. He had work and couldn’t stay. I felt catatonic when he said he couldn’t stay. I was already thinking of disbanding everything. It’s like you fell on the ground, you still look for solutions, think what to do. Should you continue with the band or not, if it’s reasonable.

Not to mention, this was also difficult financially, debts were accumulating. We were recording this album already at that time. The final hit came when I was living in Wrocław and there was this big storm in 2014. A tree fell on top of my van. It was even in the newspaper, a picture of my van.
So the disbanding happened naturally, I never said anything to him and he never got back to me to ask. Without saying much about it I just stopped doing anything for the band. I stopped booking shows, stopped promoting, stopped looking for alternatives. 

That’s the reason I stopped. It’s not like I was tired, wanting to leave for another band. No, I always had this, you could say, a scar about it. I always wanted to finish that album cause it’s a matter of honour for me. Because I spent too much money and time already.

What made you think – hell, this might work now. Why not before? 

The reason is that the crisis came. I was playing with BELPHEGOR until March. After COVID-19 hit, I couldn’t just stay home and wait forever until this situation is over. With BELPHEGOR, I needed to be 100% exclusive and hidden under an alias. I couldn’t use my name. I was being controlled by what I could and couldn’t do or the image I would be able to use. It was a difficult time, I had to pay my bills after all. I just couldn’t wait for shows. I left the band but the situation wasn’t getting any better.

Then I tried everything to make some money. I did Twitch to try to get some students. At the time it was quite helpful, but until I could make a solid salary on Twitch it might take me a couple of years. I remember when I started teaching in Wrocław that was the case. It took me about 3 years to make my paycheck really solid. I had 20-25 students and I could say that I had a really nice salary. But when you try to restart something similar it goes really slow. You have 3 students tops. 

I was doing what I could. I have a van and car, so I was doing some driving in the corona crisis when the borders were all shut. I had plenty of jobs at this time but as soon as they reopened everything went down the drain. It’s really hard to compete with bigger companies. Thus I ended up selling everything I had, guitars, pedals, speakers, everything expensive to pay the bills. And still, money wasn’t enough. I thought – what the hell I’m going to do. I tried applying for some jobs but it takes time. Not to mention that my last normal job was 10 years ago, after that, I only worked with music.

This was the worst for me, my right to exercise my profession was withdrawn from me. I was depressed. It’s not like anything material was taken from me, like clothes. I have a bond with music and all of my instruments were carrying a story. They’re sort of trophies. I got them with a lot of sacrifices. Let’s say this guitar from Schecter. It was several years of work so this means a lot for me. 

I thought a lot about what I could do and collapsing mentally at the same time. Eventually, I had this moment – fuck, I have this album in making since 2013. I did all the guitars already, and drums, everything is edited and ready to be mixed. Ready to put the bass and vocals on top of it. I figured – let me call Studio Hertz [a famous recording studio in Poland that hosted i.a. VADER and BEHEMOTH]. They told me that my things are there. We have them, they said, we can proceed if you want to. And that’s when I decided to come back with ITSELF. It might be the right moment to do it. Even though we are in a world-wide crisis it is the right moment. Because I can come back to the music scene and do something. We aren’t able to play live anyway so I can finish an album. After 6 years when I “split” with the band, I have much more knowledge nowadays and know more people in the industry that can help me push through. 

I invited Steve Di Giorgio to participate to play the bass. I contacted him initially to explain the situation, that this would be a crowdfunding project. He said that he has to give it a listen before saying anything. I sent him tracks and a week later he came back to me saying, “Wow I love this. It’s very challenging, fast! I’m in!” This is crazy, having on board a guy that’s your idol since you were a teenager while listening to DEATH. Really nice. With Carsten (Altena, Dutch composer and guitarist), we recorded an album together, “Syncretism” by SINSTER. He did all the orchestra and samples in that album and guys loved the result. That’s why I called him and ask if he wants to participate. He said, yeah sure, kickass! 

I finally found some force to do something in the music, something to focus and something to be alive for. Before, driving an Uber and feeling like shit and thinking of what’s gonna be next. Or going back to Brazil and pursuing a career. So before I end up doing one of these two things, I prefer to come back with my own project. And do what other bands do. Sell their music and live by music.

What can you reveal to the public about the upcoming LP Absence at this point? You mentioned it previously briefly, but where were you creatively? Was there a concept behind it?

Basically, we have guitars and drums. We have a concept of the album established as well. We’re gonna have 8 tracks. First seven songs, each of them is about one deadly sin, like envy, gluttony etc. Last track is a suicide letter of this person who is writing about those sins and he cannot take it anymore, he’s just living in materia – as in Latin, living by osmosis. He’s not a vivid person anymore, his soul is watching his body from outside. That’s the concept of the album, hence the name “Absence,” which is the absence of happiness, soul, everything. The guy is just living day by day without any reason, haven’t been alive for very long.

As for stage of production is that we have these stuff already done in Hertz, the main skeleton and compositions are done. That’s why we depend on the campaign to be finished – so I can give green light to other artists to do the project. So I have a guy from Brazil who’s gonna do the artwork for the album.

The concept is ready, but he didn’t start because we depend on this money. We don’t have money to do anything upfront. Same for Di Giorgio and Carsten. They have their ideas, same for me. In my head, I have laid out what I want, what instruments I want to add or passages. But we need coin to start working, no one works for free.

I can see that you have a clear concept laid out there but would you say though that current circumstances of the world crippling down had any impact on the album? Or not really?

Yes and no. No, because lyrics were written already. We have one piece that talks about greed which refers to Chernobyl, about people who paid with their lives because of greed. About communism, hiding things from people. Another one is talking about the situation in Brazil. The world that the government put on ourselves and how masses are controlled. 

Yes, because of the situation and band revamp, I added this suicide letter and this much deeper concept. Before the album was just taking its own form, now I have decided in which direction I want to go.

For something completely different. What would you say that you have something more to say that was not said before in your genre, in death metal?

Well, first of all, we have this Brazilian thing, we play with power. European bands, at least most of them play with lettuce hands.

Say what?

Lettuce hands, weak. So we have this kind of thing. If you look up to SEPULTURA or KRISIUM, CLAUSTROFOBIA, they all play as we do. Really powerful, we put a lot of feeling in it, a lot of soul. It has this bit of thrash metal school vibe.

This project is not pure death metal that you’re gonna play and it’ll be this plain brutal vomit in your ear all the time. Each song is very different from one another, that’s why it took me so long to compose them. I didn’t want riffs to be similar to one another. In the song, I told you about Brazil. We put samba rhythm with blast beats. There are some black metal passages on it. The drums though are not black metal at all. You have some thrash polka beats which I’m doing some death metal on top of it. It is really dynamic work. 

The way we composed is that we had 4 songs to start with, on which I did guitar lines and I gave to Estevan. So these songs are more in-the-face if you could say. Other 4 songs that he started to compose, then I was to compose at top of his drums. I wanted to break those ideas. We always want to impress each other. When I gave this to Estevan I imagined he’d send me some thrash beat, some blast beats here and there. It turned out it was something I didn’t even expect, really creative! 

Similarly, when he send me the drums I remember that I opened one of the songs and I thought – wtf is that and what I’m going to put here? I decided to break it. It’s like you hear OPETH when you have so many different passages. I’m not influenced by OPETH but it goes in that direction, without the softness of OPETH though. It’s aggressive all the time. We have a lot of variants in the music, tempo variants and it can go from straight forward 4/4 to a 7/4 and come back to 4/4 and then it’s going to be a 6. And also the repetitions, sometimes we repeat 5 times instead of plain 2-4, we do two times that passage and then with a 3. 

The riffs though aren’t repetitive, we don’t wanna be monotonous and without being just riffs being vomited, they need to make sense. It’s quite complex work. Steve Di Giorgio said that it’s complex, difficult work, but easy to listen. Ashmedi from MELECHESH heard the tracks and said “You made me headband, it’s difficult to make me do it. That’s a song that energises people. It’s brutal, it’s moving people’s bodies and heads.”

Let’s be optimistic and forget that the world is dying and what would be on the bands’ table for the future? Let’s say you finish the campaign, it was successful, what’s next when you release the album and do everything in regards to that.

Being optimistic it’s like is this campaign we are asking for. It’s the bare minimum to finish the album. If we pass this amount, cause we want to stretch up to 30,000 EUR we can put the band back on track. I can rebuy equipment I lost, I can buy some professional equipment, the banner. I also thought about getting a camper so we can go to shows so we always have our home, not depending on hotels and we can always have a bigger fee for the gig. That’s the plan if we hit hard on the campaign. 

After that, I had a plan on releasing the official merch. New hoodie, new shirts and also beer line from Browar Widawa (small brewery in south-west Poland). 

We also want to do a campaign only for Brazil because we have plenty of followers there. Unfortunately, the situation in Brazil is really catastrophic. The currency went down to shit. It was already bad but now 1 EUR is almost 7 BRL due to inflation and it used to be 4. Insane. People cannot buy an album and pay 50 EUR for it. We want to bring death metal to our own people. It’s important to know who you are and where you come from. So that’s our plans so far, want to finish the original campaign on November 28th. Right after this release new stuff I suppose the beer would come first and then we release more items for the merch. Then I run the campaign together with Estevan in Brazil. And if possible we’d like to tour in the second semester of 2021. We cannot say anything at the moment. We’ll see how it goes.

Hopefully, Estevan can come to Poland. One of my prerequisites was that he would have to move. I told him if I make this thing work now you need to come to Europe. You need to be with me.

Since I’m sort of a beer snob, what kind of beers did you have in mind?

At first, I thought to make an IPA because it’s one of my favourite beers. But we need something everyone will like. Everyone likes plain beer, so we wanted to do a lager that doesn’t taste like piss, something more citrusy, that resembles an IPA. Easy to drink, a stronger in taste, but not as strong as an IPA, yet not something pissy like Heineken. I still gotta talk with them, maybe then we could do another campaign to do pre-orders and depending on the number of people I can get on these pre-orders I can even do my own recipe there. I kinda wanted to make something on cachaça barrels. It’s a Brazilian band, we need to bring something Brazilian!

Any last words?

I wanna be a millionaire and conquer the world (laughs). I don’t know, the last words, I’m not dying!

Last words for the interview!

Please go on Kickstarter and support our album. This is the only way we could continue and bring more Brazilian death metal to them. Something dynamic that people have been asking for ages. Definitely, people should check this out and give a bit of trust. I won’t disappoint.

Interview by Maria Sawicka
Musicalypse, 2020

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