The world of crossover music has always been there and for those eager enough to explore it, there are some rather spectacular and imaginative musicians out there. One such musician is Chinese-American cellist and erhuist Tina Guo, who has been a part of a countless number of musical scores most notably as a solo cellist, these include (but not limited to): 'Iron Man 2', 'Olympus Has Fallen', 'Vikings' (TV series), 'X-Men: First Class', 'Family Guy' and more. Moreover she has collaborated with world-famous musicians and composers such as John Legend, Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams respectively.
To top that she has appeared in the 'Mazda 6' and 'United Airlines' adverts respectively... in fact alongside this she has helped score for numerous video games including 'Diablo III' and 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' as well as releasing as of 2017, 8 albums of her own material with guests along the way; some of the albums are covers of game tunes e.g. her latest album 'Game On!' which has a metal feel to it and as Tina goes on to explain in the interview she had with GMA, there is something special about the relationship between metal and classical music.
Furthermore she has recently appeared on 'The Lion King' soundtrack to which she expressed absolute delight at.
"There is something about both Classical Music and Metal Music that has a lot of deep emotion and power."
At what point during your life did you want to become a musician? Did you have a strong music-orientated upbringing? Are other family members musicians?
"To be honest, I was forced into the family trade as a musician! Both of my parents are classical musicians and music teachers and I started on the piano at the of age 3, violin at 6, and cello at 7. Playing music and performing was a mandatory activity but it wasn't until I was 18 and moved to Los Angeles for University (studying Classical Cello Performance) at the University of South Carolina (USC) when I started really pursuing ways to make my own music, and just work as a cellist in order to pay the bills. I did a lot of work as a session musician and hired gun, and it helped me learn and familiarize myself with all genres of music, but my main love and obsession has always been Industrial Metal. I'm lucky that my "day job" of being a session musician has a lot of crossover with my own music!"
What was it like for you as a child moving from China to the USA? What were (if any) the challenges you had to face?
"I had to take my first grade twice because I had trouble learning English – haha! - but after that I was able to integrate pretty quickly. I always was a very shy person and hid in the library during most lunch periods throughout school because I felt too awkward to be outside and didn't feel like I belonged to any particular group of friends. However, I don't think that has to do with coming from China - that's just childhood in general! I was always drawn to people, art, and music that was gothic and dark however, and my world was completely changed when a goth kid in my middle school lent me his copy of "Antichrist Superstar" (Marilyn Manson) and I heard industrial music for the first time!"
Arguably your career has been rocketing skywards ever since you started making music, surely doing your own rendition of 'The Circle Of Life' is a dream come true?
"Being able to record cello solos on the soundtrack for the new 'Lion King' was amazing! I love Hans so much and am so appreciative and grateful for his friendship and mentorship. Since he saw my "Queen Bee" music video on YouTube 9 years ago, I have worked on many of his soundtracks and also tour with him in his live band. When he asked me to be a part of 'The Lion King', of course I was elated! Recording my own version of "The Circle Of Life" I felt was an appropriate way to celebrate the occasion!"
Out of all the characters from 'The Lion King', who is your favourite and why? What are your thoughts on Disney bringing their animated films to life these days?
"Pumbaa! He is hilarious and adorable. I really liked the live action 'Beauty And The Beast' - I think that it's a great way to integrate new technology with graphics and retell classic Disney stories in a new way."
You've done numerous albums, some involving metal music and so, could you tell us how you became interested in metal music? Do you feel classical music and metal music have strong correlations with each other?
"Yes! Industrial Metal is my main love and after hearing Marilyn Manson when I was 13 secretly, since I was not allowed to listen to anything but classical music in my household, the next big revelation came when I turned 18 and moved to Los Angeles to attend the University at the University of Southern California where I studied Classical Cello Performance. I felt my world open up when I was able to go online, watch YouTube videos, and discover so many amazing bands and artists - including my favourite band, Rammstein. I feel all music is just music, there is good and bad music in any genre - but to me personally, there is something about both Classical Music and Metal Music that has a lot of deep emotion and power.
From your experience, do you feel that classical music of any kind should receive more respect and recognition than it does currently?
"To be honest, I don't really play traditional classical music any more, but I think that there are so many amazing musicians online who are using technology and social media to connect with a new and young audience. I feel like if you want more people to recognize something, it also has to be made accessible and energetically open, not closed off because for members of the general public who have never had experience with Classical Music, it may seem intimidating. I think that Soundtracks are an amazing way for people to hear orchestral music, and it has really reinvigorated people in being curious about instrumental music based on the tradition of European Art Music."
For those looking to get into playing the cello or erhu, what tips and tricks could you offer? What make and model of cello are you currently using?
"Lots of practise! I practised 8 hours a day from when I started the cello at age 7 - in the past 10 years as I've gotten busier, I haven't been able to do as many hours but that foundation of technical ability is very important to establish when starting an instrument if it's something you'd like to pursue professionally. I would recommend find a good private teacher, and taking regular lessons - but most important is the follow through and practice.
My Acoustic Cello is an 1880 Gand & Bernardel that I purchased 7 years ago, I love him very much and his name is Cello Guo! I have a few bows but my favourite is by Lothar Seifert, with a Wholly Mammoth Ivory tip.
Do you have any greetings or thanks that you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
"I love and appreciate everyone who has supported my music and art, because without people to watch and listen, what is the point of music? Music and art is to communicate our own emotions and interpretations of the human experience, and I love being able to share that energetically with others.
Ahead of Fleshgod Apocalypse's tour of the UK and after they had finished their USA stint, GMA initiated contact with and interviewed frontman Tommaso Riccardi through Skype. Having formed back in 2007 in the beautiful city of Perugia, Fleshgod Apocalypse have since then ramped up themselves year after year, delivering four extremely well-received albums:- Oracles (2009), Agony (2011), Labyrinth (2013) and their latest offering King (2016). All whilst playing all over the world supporting and headlining, last year they headlined the Sophie stage at Bloodstock to a packed-out tent and are kicking off their UK/EU tour today by performing tonight at The Audio in Glasgow (SCO).
After which they will play at three other UK venues in Manchester, Bristol and London before setting off rampaging across Europe. Where they will be performing in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Switzerland and of course Italy. After which their string of summer festival appearances take them to Germany, Belgium, France, Finland and Spain (all dates for the tours and festival appearances can be found here)
Let the interrogation begin!!!
"We never thought about it (Eurovision), that could be a good idea though I mean there are no restrictions on the music genres so you know it could be interesting to see what happens"
Having played in the US, Tommaso admitted he still felt the jet-lag from the whole tour (USA is at least an 8-hour flight from the UK; 5 hours behind, so you can understand). 'King' as said stands as the band's fourth album and was released earlier this year, so by asking for a background explanation to what is going on behind the lyrical content and what the artwork portrays, Tommaso was able to give a in-depth account to what makes the album not only what it is, but also tick.
He admits that the formula used for this albums is the same formula used for all FA albums, that is by having an idea as to what the band wants to sing about, they can break it down into smaller 'chapters', as for the artwork the "visual is strictly connected with the concept itself", essentially the artwork explains visually what the album concept is about, in fact FA likes to talk about "human beings in the terms of how our behaviour, our feelings reflect on the world we have around us and how these two different worlds: the outside world and the inner world influence themselves", essentially from this you can gather that FA are somewhat philosophical when it comes to the albums in question, whether it has to do with their Italian heritage is a question for another time.
In context with 'King' they became inspired and guided by modern societal influences but not of a political nature, adding that the band prefers to look at something in a purely philosophical way (this lead me onto thinking maybe FA could become the next band to be questioned if lyrics can be educational). Tommaso believes that people are becoming lost in modern society and in doing so getting addicted and hooked on needless things, adding that 'King' is on two different levels and Tommaso goes on to explain these levels:-
Two tracks that really stand out are: "Healing Through War" and "The Fool" and so Tommaso was pleased to explain the meaning behind each of those songs (you can watch and listen to "The Fool" below via YouTube):-
Next year the band will be ten years old, so speaking about how FA came about mixing classical elements with Technical Death Metal in the very beginning, Tommaso welcomed us into the Fleshgod Apocalypse-sphere as it were. The FA sound "came from a very simple intuition at the beginning" and "like every idea you have it's really a matter of experimenting and developing, and seeing where that idea can take you", with references harking back to their Italian background and subsequent heritage as Tommaso continues to explain:-
"Essentially in different ways we will have been fans or in any way have had influences also as kids by classical music, and of course all of us at that time were already into metal music (for a while having played in previous bands and projects), but I really think that the fact of this idea mixing it with classical music came simply from also our heritage. Of course being Italian is something that really makes it part in that we had also a lot of very important musicians and composers, so in a way it was really something that came from a very simple intuition, that then in due time of course to integrate all the different aspects and to understand the mechanism of our music and understand also the ways to reach a certain balance between all of these elements".
Because of this it would seem that the band arguably could have created their own genre as a result, but as Tommaso highlighted if you have an idea and you experiment and develop that idea, it can lead to things, but naturally the band did not set out to create a new genre because it had to be created, but rather as said, followed their instincts as Tommaso goes on to elaborate:-
"It's something that's never up to the musician himself to say because of course its feedback from people who support the band and listening to the music that's the most important thing. For sure we really tried to be as much as possible as original, but not in a way that meant we are just looking for something that has to be different just because, but simply I guess the fact that we incorporated certain elements, and the fact that of course those elements are obviously influenced simply by our own personality, in some way created something that at this point starts to be something that you can say 'OK this is Fleshgod Apocalypse'. I mean I guess that at this point there are certain elements that are recognisable as Fleshgod Apocalypse elements so we're just trying to keep on following this inspiration and this thought that we have, just trying to do our thing".
Speaking of doing their own thing, we had one of our readers ask a question some time ago about how fast (and if he has tested it) the FA drummer Francesco Paoli actually drums. At this question Tommaso delightfully chuckles and admits that Francesco unfortunately hasn't taken a 'drumming speed test' before going on to talk about said musician:-
"Francesco is really... I mean obviously he is a drummer at this point, but you always have to consider that Francesco is someone who started playing drums just because the band needed a drummer; he started in late 2008, previously as you know he was the vocalist and guitarist at the very beginning, but actually before we started touring. Then he decided to start studying drums, because it was a need of the band, so this is just to say that he's really a musician and not just an instrument player, that means that also his interest is always always the fact of giving the music what the music needs.
So actually it is true that he is probably one of the fastest drummers out there, but in the mean time he is not even that kind of 'nerd musician', he's really dedicated to the music and also the fact that he's the main composer and in a way he's like the 'artistic director' in Fleshgod Apocalypse, that gives you an idea of that he's a very transversal musician and he really does what is needed, so even for the speed and kind of techniques he uses, essentially the music requires it. I couldn't say how fast though, I guess what we really care about is the quality of the music and how the technique can be used to make music what it is."
Attention was then turned to (along the lines of 'quality of music') towards Francesco Ferrini, who in 2010 joined FA as the pianist and on orchestration:-
"He's (Francesco) been working with us actually since the beginning in the meaning that for example in "Oracles" we still didn't get to the point in which we had a full orchestration throughout the whole album, but we already had interludes and parts, orchestral parts and of course piano parts because already in "Oracles" for example the title track was a piano song and he was already working on that part of the music even before joining the band as a live member. Then from like late 2010 / beginning of 2011, he joined as a full member also in the live shows and of course since then and since "Agony" we actually introduced the full orchestration into the whole music. He started also working on composition and arrangements together with Francesco Paoli, so now it's these two guys that mainly work on the composition".
Consequently the first album that Francesco Ferrini appeared on was "Agony" and this partially formed the basis for the next question, well the other part was focusing on a specific track. One of the less aggressive songs that FA have put out, of which the music video matched the level of aggression exerted - virtually very little. 'The Forsaking' is a lovely number, it is piano-driven, full of dramatic twists and turns and as the music video goes (you can watch it below), the setting is rather majestic. Speaking about the venue, which presumably was in Perugia, I was wrong but wasn't completely far from the truth as Tommaso goes on to explain:-
"Yeah well nearby it's Città di Castello, that is like 60km (37 miles) from Perugia so yes it's in the area". What can you tell us about the venue and have you played there? "No actually we haven't, that's a theatre that is mainly used for ballet, opera and classical music, sometimes other kinds of music like jazz shows, it was really interesting that the piano that Francesco used to do all the private parts in the video is the piano that has been played a few years before by Michele Porchene (I am not sure of the name so I apologise if wrong) for example, so that is an Italian artist on piano and it has been played on by a lot of crazy musicians. But actually we've never played there, actually during tours we had the chance sometimes to play in actual theatres, but we still didn't play a full show in an ancient theatre like that and that's obviously something that could be suitable for future shows but also a live video, because I think it would be the perfect frame for one of our shows."
It's always cool to see bands play and perform in some of the most unorthodox of venues, be it a castle, theatre, church, vineyard (in Australia) or hell even right down to Metallica playing in Antarctica and The Defiled playing on an iceberg.... but what about Eurovision? Well Lordi did it and won it for Finland, soon a flurry of metal acts made the leap into the song contest: Eldrine (Georgia), Terasbetoni (Finland), maNga (Turkey) and Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko (Albania). So what about Fleshgod Apocalypse? Clearly Francesco has his eyes on the possibility as he explains:-
"To be honest we never thought about it, that could be a good idea though I mean there are no restrictions on the music genres so you know it could be interesting to see what happens, you know it could be interesting actually... you could probably have given me a good idea now (laughs)". Well Lordi did it. "Oh ya ya, that's what I mean, we could really consider to try and do that, it's one of those things that obviously fascinates me just because I like music things like that, like the Grammy awards, stuff like that so I really, you know I would never say no to anything like that just because I like the idea of participating in a contest that is so important, that's the only thing I could think about".
Aside from Eurovision being an interest, I asked Tommaso what hobbies and interests does he and the band have, how the band survives on tour and reflecting on a musicians life essentially:-
"One of the things that I love the most and I know it's a very simple thing and also probably very, VERY typical for an Italian but I really really consider food and wine as something that is a real form of art. So every time I get the chance, I really try to just see some friends and go to some place that I like, there are a couple of places here in my home town, especially a couple of wineries that I really love and we also like the people that work there, they're my friends. So whenever I get the chance and I've come home from tours I try to catch up with my few good friends and just go for some good food and wine, because I really like to experiment and try all these different things. Besides that I really like skateboarding, this is something I've discovered really late so even though I'm 33 I'm actually a beginner (I started at the age of 30), but still it's something that really frees my mind, so every time I can during the warm season (summer) I really try to go skating.
For each of the other guys, Ferrini for example he's a real expert in cinema - I like cinema but he is one of those guys who really checks out everything, so he is really into cinema so he spends a lot of time watching movies and of course going to see movies at the cinema. Paolo (Rossi) for example is a big football supporter of our home town - A.C. Perugia Calcio (it's possible that Paolo's parents named him after an ex-player of the club of the same name), when Perugia plays at home he always goes to see the match at the stadium and really follows Serie-A and Serie-B.
Francesco Paoli is the only member who has a kid for now, so of course he spends a lot of time with his kid and most of the times I see that when he has a couple of days off he always tries to go skiing, because he really likes it. So you know normal things here and there, because of course now the band became something that really takes a lot of our time and also energy, so it's so important to sometimes to try to distract yourself from what you do, even if it's your passion, sure you become used to touring and recording music, but you also learn how to manage your energy - it's about getting used to a certain lifestyle and consequently seeing if that lifestyle is alright for you.
For each of the guys and for me, I really like touring, I like seeing different places and discovering things, how different cultures work. I really like to see the world, obviously on tour you just have a very short amount of time everywhere you go, but still you get that experience that is different obviously than from going on vacation and having time to check out a lot of things, but still it's really interesting but of course it is something that takes a lot of energy both physically and mentally, because there's so many constant changes that it is impossible to call anything a routine, so that's obviously an exciting part, but also sometimes a very stressful part because you continuously switch from one lifestyle to another and that's of course very stressful.
I think this works until you're really doing what you do with friends and the good thing that in Fleshgod Apocalypse is that we're friends first of all and that means that, when we jump on stage it's not just doing our duty but it's something that we really share and I really think that, that's the only way to really take the touring life in a good way, because I could not imagine how it could be to be on tour for so much time and don't get along with each other, you know what I mean? So for us we're lucky in the meaning that we really... sometimes we also fight on every little thing but it's always a very constructive fight, so it's always getting better altogether and finding the best way to bring things together."
If you recall earlier in the interview, Tommaso revealed that he likes food and wine, well with AC/DC having already revealed their own wine and Iron Maiden their own beer, has or would Fleshgod Apocalypse ever release(d) their own wine?
"We actually already do, we have our own brand out there, for the whole "Labyrinth" promotion we put out two different wines, a red wine and a white wine, and we are putting out the new wine 'The Fool' for the promotion of "King", so it is already something that in which we are into because we, well it's really a part of our heritage so we really liked the idea so, at the beginning we wanted to do it so."
So guys Fleshgod Apocalypse have their own brand of wine coming out for the promotion of "King", so be sure to be sober enough to start drinking it (Tomasso chuckles). So how did you get into playing music and listening to metal?
"I've always been a fan of music and part of my playing when I was a kid was something that started pretty early and got me curious in the beginning, I actually started with the piano (he was 6 or 7 at the time), one of those small digital piano's from which I spent a lot of time pressing the keys and experimenting, and then my parents listen to a lot of rock music - Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Rolling Stone - and also a lot of Italian music, we had so much good Pop Rock music in Italy in the 70's and 80's; I'm from the early 80's, so I listened to a lot of my parents stuff and when they saw that I was interested in that they also introduced me to classical piano, so I've been studying classical piano for a few years when I was a kid, and then I remember that I was on probably like 5th grade when I was around 10 years old.
I remember my brother who is 9 years older than me, that when he got his driving licence I was going around with him sometimes on Sundays, just driving around the countryside and I remember that he was the first person to introduce me to Iron Maiden and I recall that it shocked me in a positive way because I remember he was listening to 'Fear of the Dark'; that actually came out when I was around 8/9 years old and I remember I was actually quite hit by this music, it was so different and then when I started intermediate school, I also had a friend of mine who was a super big fan of Queen and he gave me my very first CD as a present and it was "Hot Space" (1982), I was so blown away by Queen in particular so I started to temporarily listen to some metal music, Iron Maiden namely so after that of course discovering Metallica and then listening to Queen, Aerosmith, some rock bands from 70's / 80's.
When I was 13 years old my brother who was actually playing a little bit of guitar, pretty much acoustic guitar and so then I came pretty curious about the guitar and I remember I was continuously taking his guitar and trying to find notes by ear without knowing anything about guitar, and then I think the last push was the fact that my sister's boyfriend was a singer from a local rock band in my area and they gave me my very first electric guitar as a present when I was 13 years old and from then on I just started playing a little bit of rock music and stuff and then of course after a couple of years I formed my very first metal band with some friends of mine, and from then on of course I've been keeping on playing metal music until I found myself in Fleshgod Apocalypse.
My parents are happy of course that I was playing, they didn't push me in any direction, it's been something completely by myself that I started to do just for passion so of course they cared about me taking care about school like every parent, but in the mean time they were happy that I was playing and doing some local shows. But of course they didn't have an idea how this could or not become a job, but really they've been really supportive in that they never have pushed me in any direction, just let me do what I have in mind.
When I was 19, so right after school they asked me if I wanted to do this or that, continue into college or go to music college, or something like that, but at that time I did not know where music would take me in the end, so for many different reasons and because also I have a passion for science (his father is a researcher in medicine), I decided to study pharmacy in college - that I have been continuing also during the first years of Fleshgod Apocalypse, in the mean time I kept playing as a self-taught musician, then obviously Fleshgod became my main job and in the mean time I graduated in pharmacy, so at this point I'm a musician but at the same time I have a graduation in college, so I know something about chemistry and stuff like that. Now of course they're super happy about this and always following me, continuously communicating when I'm out - sending pictures and stuff."
Having finished their US tour, Tommaso happily stated where they have also played, where they hope to and the like:-
"We've actually been to Japan twice, we've played China, Hong Kong, Taiwan (Taipei), Indonesia, Australia, we've been to South Africa twice, Mexico twice, Costa Rica, but we're still missing South America and that's a shame, BUT we're working on it of course because I know that South America is crazy and we've been already trying to organize for a couple of times but due to timing reasons we had to pass, but we're working on it. Until now Asia in general has been amazing for us, and it's been growing really fast, I've also seen that in this particular moment with "King" we have a very high position in the charts in Japan and Australia too, so obviously we're planning on organizing a new Asian tour for "King". It's been a blast since the beginning and especially China and India, we've been to India last year and these are all new markets where there's a lot of people discovering metal music right now and it's really interesting because they didn't have the possibility of getting this, because of Governments and stuff like that.
So to see them opening up to this kind of music, to see now that it's happening is really interesting as we see fans and new fans emerging. Although I'm not very aware of what happens over that side of the world when it comes to bands, I know of some bands but still to be honest I don't know very much about what's happening with bands out there, but I see there's a lot of things happening even though it's still mainly an underground music. I do though see these bands on Facebook and continually listen to new things from all over, there's a lot of fans who send me links and stuff - there's also a lot of people interested in playing music, so of course it is a market that is destined to grow up also in terms of putting out valid bands and valid music - when a new scene starts it's always stimulating for new music to come out.
How do you keep yourself amused on tour?
"What I really try to do and I think I speak for the whole band, is really try to use that small time we have to just walk around and try to check out the places, also places we've already been because also as I've said it's always such a short time that you have because every day you play in a different city, for example in San Francisco we finished the show at around 11-11:30pm and were leaving around in 4:00am and I spent around 3 hours walking around the city at night, just because I think that's the best part of touring - it would be foolish just to.... I mean sometimes of course we do watch movies or just relax because that's obviously a good thing to do and I really like to spend time talking to other musicians and just listen to music, or sometimes just partying - that's of course a part of touring, whenever I can I also try to spend time around the city because I really like to just be outside and do things.
So that's the main thing that we try and do is seeing the place and of course now, we start having a lot of friends around the different countries - so whenever there's a good friend of ours that lives in / near the city, we obviously try to hang out with friends and spend a little time with them. Sometimes of course there's party time, but not everyday because of the show we do - it's physically challenging, so we also try to be as much as possible normal but there's of course times where you drink a little bit and you party and listen to music. It's healthy for your mind just to chill out and forget for a minute all the things about the shows and things like that."
What plans have you got for the rest of the year? (UK tour begins 13th March).
"Our last show on the tour is in London at the Underworld on 17th March, so we go back to Italy the day after and we have got ten days off over Easter, so obviously we'll try and spend time with our families and then we're leaving in the very first few days of April because we have a European tour in direct support to Ensiferum. I've seen a lot of the clubs we're playing at, there are some good clubs and so it looks set to already be a good tour so we're excited about that. Officially we're confirmed for some European festivals (having just played Hammerfest in Wales; 10th-13th March) including Hellfest (FR), Metal Days (SI), Graspop (BE) amongst other festivals, we're also trying to add other few festivals in Europe for the summer. We're working on some things for May and probably other tours between Europe and the US for the last part of the year, but nothing official has been confirmed yet. Pretty much the idea is promoting the new album as much as possible, but also going back to all the places we've been in the last few years and obviously having the chance to play new songs and play new shows."
Finally have you got any greetings you wish to send out to fans, etc?
"Of course obviously I'm supposed to say this but I always take care about saying thank you to all our fans everywhere because of course the support of fans and people who listen to our music and believe in the project is the main reason why we are here, so thank you all! Of course the same for our families, you know it would be quite impossible to be able to do this, a kind of 'crazy life' we do without the full support of our families so that's the two most important things that I would say"
Their UK tour started 10th March, lasts 7 days and finishes up in London as Tommaso said.
"See you there and thanks very much for your support!"