Symfonia: A New Power Metal Supergroup — Exclusive Interview
When vocalist Andre Matos (formerly of Angra, Shaaman, Viper, and currently of the Andre Matos Band) and guitarist Timo Tollki (formerly of Stratovarius and Revolution Renaissance) collaborated to write songs, they planted the seeds towards creating the power metal supergroup known as Symfonia. Rounding out the band are Tollki's ex-bandmate in Stratovarius, bassist Jari Kainulainen, as well as keyboardist Mikko Harkin (Cain's Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica, ex-Kotipelto, ex-Solution.45) and drummer Uli Kusch (Gamma Ray, Helloween, Masterplan). The band's debut release is called 'In Paradisum.'
Matos recently spoke to Noisecreep about the band, the collaboration of the players involved, and the possibility of touring.
When did Symfonia begin? Who contacted whom originally to start the writing process?
Andre Matos: I've known [Timo Tollki] for many years and we've been keeping in touch since '99 when we toured together in Europe and became good friends. We never had any ideas of working together. About a year ago, he gave me a call and he said 'Andre, I heard that you were living in Sweden now and that's around the corner from me in Finland. So it would be a good idea if you could find some free time to meet and maybe try to write some stuff together. I have some ideas that would fit to your voice.' We didn't know in the beginning what it would be or if it would be just a single project. After we met, I spent about a week to ten days in Finland. It was a nice time and we've been talking about different things. We've been through similar experiences in the past. Being part of some bands that somehow got renown, and at a certain point we quit those bands and looked after our own careers.
There are a lot of similarities on both stories. Then we said, let's try to write something together and see what ideas we have. Surprisingly we had good chemistry between us. Then the next step was who else would be part of the team. The first names that came up to our minds were the ones who are in the band now. Everybody was into doing it. We really see it as a real band and although nobody was really looking forward to being in a band again at this point in their career, it just happened. It was a lot of coincidences and the people interested and right after this, there was no real expectations around about what we would be able to do together. In one year's period of time, many things happened. The first meeting with the scratch songs to the album production and then the album is out now. We are playing the first gigs and things are rolling now.
You recently played your first show at the Finnish Metal Expo.
It was very important because it was a way for us to state that Symfonia was not meant to be a studio thing. We wanted to have the live experience right away before the album release. It was tricky to play songs that nobody knew before and on top of it, to do it at the Finnish Metal Expo, which is basically a place that is made up of people from record labels, journalists, and musicians. It's a critical type of audience. To be honest, I didn't expect much from that concert, in terms of the reaction of the audience. But surprisingly also we had it very good that night. In the end, they were like 'We want more! We want more!' It was something that we didn't expect due to all those factors. I think we did it good, and it was a good atmosphere.
You've played quite a few bands over the years, and you've written most of the lyrics in each of your bands. How do you feel your writing has grown in Symfonia?
All across my career, I've done a little bit of everything. There were songs I wrote -- complete music and lyrics. There are songs where I wrote only the lyrics. There are songs I only wrote the music. One thing is for sure -- I like to work in partnership with somebody else. It's something very grateful for me because it's the possibility of exchanging experiences. In this particular case, to share my ideas with somebody like Timo, it was a great pleasure. We match a lot of points of view, either on the lyrical side as well as on the musical side. It was very easy going. We shared all the credits on the songs because in the end we didn't know who did what. There was so much cooperation between both of us. We just said it was 50/50.
What I really want to highlight on this album is that in my humble opinion we have good songs on the album. Nowadays it's the most important thing to have in an album. To be honest, nowadays with this easy technology access everybody can have good sound on an album. Everybody can fix mistakes on an album in order to sound perfectly performed. Good songs are something you cannot create by computer. This is a plus that we have on this album.
I noticed there's a Latin theme to the songs. Is that something you've taken interest in? Is the band name in Latin?
The origin of this word is more Greek than Latin. It was converted to Latin right after these ancient times. Symfonia means combination of elements... a combination of sounds. This was the rough idea behind the whole concept of the band. We are five people who came from different bands in the past. The nice thing was to see what would come out of our influences of elements of inputs. This was the most challenging thing for us. The name already suggests what the music is about. One very important thing to say is we didn't have any pretension of sounding too different from what we're known from doing in our own careers. There was no pretension of reinventing any kind of musical style. We have done this expensively. These were in our best years, either with our previous bands or our solo bands. There are always requests for originality or freshness. In Symfonia, that was not really the goal. The goal was to get the originality and freshness throughout the gathering of all of those people. I think this is quite honest. This is what we have to offer to the people. This is what people would expect from us.
Where do you get ideas for your lyrics?
First of all, it is important to speak about the concept. This is not a conceptual album. The songs don't follow a certain sequence telling a story from beginning to the end. That's not the case. Still there is a strong hook line all through the songs and especially when you look at the front cover artwork. It becomes quite clear. We were trying to imagine or project our idea of paradise in the future. What would be a futuristic paradise? When we think of paradise, we usually refer to some kind of Biblical image, religious paintings, angels, peaceful place over the clouds. On the other hand, when you think of the future, especially nowadays with everything going on in the world, the first thing that comes to mind is war, destruction, cataclysms, apocalypse...all kinds of doom.
How could you imagine paradise in the future if you face it under a positive perspective? This was the main idea. This guided us through the lyrical process. Many of the songs are connected to this single concept. Both Timo and I have used in the past to write introspective and philosophical lyrics. In this point, we really match. It's not much different what we wanted to say with our music. We did the same but we tried to keep it simple as possible. The lyrics are quite deep. It has a deep message but we wanted to keep them very easy to understand.
Is Symfonia your full time band for everyone in the band now? Or is everyone balancing multiple bands?
Symfonia was not even meant to be, so it just happened. Of course my solo band is still on. The band is sitting in Brazil, so in the beginning of May, I am flying to Brazil in order to do some concerts in South America. We will also start planning a new album for the solo band. I guess the other guys in Symfonia also have their side projects or solo bands. This is an agreement between us. Whenever we are requested to dedicate ourselves to Symfonia, of course we will be there 120 percent. So right now it's a matter of schedule organization. It's been done before and it's possible.
I read somewhere that Uli [Kusch, drums] is not playing live? What exactly happened?
Uli had a serious injury in his hand, which is not fully recovered yet. He recorded the album great. He did an exceptional job on the album in two or three days! I'm astonished with his performance. Right after that, maybe due to the fact that he was not playing drums for quite a while and then he entered the studio to do this, there were some serious problems with his hand. He had an inflammation on a very special nerve. He's been seeing doctors and trying to get proper treatment for that. There is a lot of controversy because some people said he should get operated. Some others said not to. The operation is not 100 percent secure in terms of recovering. So he's still walking the thin line. He doesn't know what to do. In the meantime, he's waiting to see if he gets better. The latest news is that he's not really recovered yet so we would like to count on him for this first concert in France. We'll see.
There are still some months ahead and I'm hoping he would recover as soon as possible and join us. For the Finnish Metal Expo show, this news about his injury came a couple weeks before that. It was really shocking for us because we wanted to have Uli playing live. Then Uli supported us and said we should go do it. It's important and booked for many months in advance. Then we found a good substitute for him. This German drummer named Alex Landenburg, which is by coincidence also a guy who has played the last Stratovarius tour replacing Jorg Michael. He was familiar with the music and the musical style. He's very skilled and talented. We got along very well so that was the best solution for that moment.
Are you working on more shows for the future?
Absolutely. There is a big festival confirmed in France. It's the Sonicsphere Festival on the 8th of July. It's the biggest metal festival is France. I think it's a great opportunity to do an exclusive first show in Europe after the Finnish Metal Expo. Right after that, we have plans to go to Asia. We were supposed to start the tour in Japan before the French festival, but due to the tragedy in Japan, we had to shift it. Now it goes to the end of July or beginning of August. We would play some countries in Asia and then come back to Europe for some late summer festivals. Only after that we would start thinking about a real headliner tour, either in Europe or South America and everywhere else.