Recently Soul Secret released their fifth album Blue Light Cage. The last time DPRP encountered the band dates back quite a few years, so when the opportunity for an interview came around DPRP's Jan Buddenberg jumped at the chance. Next to most of the members of the band (Claudio Casaburi, Luca Di Gennaro, Lino Di Pietrantonio, and Francesco Cavezza), manager Davide Guidone joined in to talk about the new album, its concept and Soul Secret's future plans.
Hi guys, thanks for this interview opportunity towards your latest release Blue Light Cage. A most excellent album and strong contender for my personal top 10 list of 2020. Something I likely share with many, for so far the album has seen some impressive appraising criticism. You must be on cloud nine with its reception?
Davide: Thank you Jan and to all readers of DPRP. I've followed your website for 20 years now! Yes, we are so happy to find out all this good feedback that the press is releasing for Blue Light Cage. I can tell you that I listened to the first demos in a trip we were doing for some concerts in 2018. As we live in Naples, in south of Italy, our trips to centre Europe are very long, so we have the opportunity to listen to a lot of music. Anyway, I told the guys that the songs for this album were their best, without any hesitation. They were over the moon as my criticism is normally very high! So I gave them that kind of boost to go on and finalise the whole process.
Before we go into the present I'd like to take you slightly back though. For the last time we actually featured a review to one of your albums dates back to 2015 with 4, having missed Babel. Can you get our readers at DPRP up to speed with a quick recap as to what has happened since 4?
Claudio: 4 was an hell of an album, but with Babel we overtook ourselves! The Babel "era" was a bit of a transition period in which we slightly changed the composition recipe. The result was our participation to the Night Of The Prog festival in 2017 and Very Prog Festival (now Ready for Prog) in 2018. For Blue Light Cage we changed the recipe again, coming from way more experienced chefs!
Originally Soul Secret started out as a Dream Theater-tribute band. Nowadays you exhale your own distinctive and unique sound, although in the first half of the album there are several DT influences still present in your music. Delightfully I might add. Is this something you consciously aim for in the writing process, or does it come natural?
Luca: It comes natural, as DT are one of our inspirations. But we must say that we have a lot (I really mean a lot) of influences besides them. We really like the music as a whole, no preconceptions. We like an electronic almost dance-like breakdown? We put it in. We need to cool down with some jazz interlude? Got it. We want to have fun with some unisons? Let's have it. With every album, we like to push our boundaries and include influences we've not yet covered. We also love the fathers of the genre from which DT got inspiration too. For example, I really feel like the A President's Speech instrumental section is strongly influenced by King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, but someone who is not familiar with King Crimson would suddenly think about DT.
Your original guitar player left late 2017. As you didn't have a replacement immediately, you've used the services of temporary musicians towards live gigs. From what I gather Francesco Cavezza stepped in a few times as well, so the question arises as to when Francesco came into the picture as a full-time member? Next to bringing a more versatile sound, did he also give a new level of energy and inspiration to the band?
Lino: Actually Francesco and the rest of us knew each other before 2017, also because some of us already had a chance to play with him and enjoyed it a lot! He's a great musician and a funny, smart and very friendly guy, so it was natural for us to call him when the original guitar player left. We knew he was the right one from the start. Sometimes beautiful things take time... so, when we had to start working on the arrangements of the new songs (late 2018), we finally managed to have him as a full-time band member. I must say, it's been great for the band, as he has been a breath of fresh air! His music and enthusiasm was definitely what we needed.
Judging from your Facebook account most of the recordings took place prior to the Covid pandemic. Has the pandemic in any way affected / delayed the recording process and manufacturing of the album?
Davide: Yes, the album was ready at the end of 2019 but we were looking for a label that would be more dedicated to our music and style. You know, everyone has a daily job so our intention is to get enthusiasm by our releases and the label has to give the strength to reach this goal which is what we found in Layered Reality Productions by our new friend Tom De Wit. After this, we decided to release it at the end of March, but the Coronavirus issue made us decide to postpone it. Sadly, things around the globe aren't way better than march, but it seems there is a light at the end of tunnel thanks to a possible vaccine.
Italy was one of Europe's first countries suffering the monstrosities of the pandemic, as early as March. In April you released a special charity track Shine Again which is to be found on Bandcamp only. An impromptu initiative resulting in a marvellous composition with a positive message, with proceeds going directly towards the WHO, to support them in their fight against the virus. What was going through your minds at the time and how has response been so far? Will the song eventually be available elsewhere?
Francesco: All started when the abrupt entrance of the pandemic in our everyday lives subverted our habits. When the lockdown started in Italy, I seemed to live in a post-apocalyptic movie. My house was like a cage! Not to mention all the deaths caused by this virus all round the world. Therefore, I started to think about the new situation we were living in, the new challenges we were facing, all the suffering. I gathered all these thoughts and emotions and started to write a draft of lyrics and music.
In the end, when the song was recorded and released, we had positive feedback, so we think we've done a good job. We don't know if the song will be available elsewhere. Maybe when all this mess will be over, we could think of putting the song on other platforms.
Shine Again featured a guest appearance of Tom de Wit on backing vocals, world-famous in Holland for his own musical releases under the TDW and Dreamwalkers Inc banner. How did this collaboration come to pass?
Luca: When Francesco brought us the demo of the song, we immediately felt his voice to perfectly fit the first verse, so we asked him to record vocals too. Then, we wanted to give a sense of collectivity to the project during a time when “isolation” was the new normal, so we asked Tom to record vocals as well, beside taking care of the mixing and label aspects. It's our first song with three singers at once!
As the album progresses many alternative influences within your music become apparent, igniting images of contemporary like-minded bands such as Pain Of Salvation and Rendezvous Point. The eclectic mixture furthermore sees incorporated elements of jazz, funk and delicate frivolous pop structures. Where do each of you get your musical inspiration from?
Claudio: I've always been fascinated not only by the sound the music has, but also by the movements the hands of the musicians do while playing it. Many times I start from that, thinking about the movement my left hand will do. Music is maths, and maths is geometry, so a graphic construction could be a music composition!
Francesco: I've always listened to a huge amount of music, no matter what the genre was. For me, it's something about what I feel when I listen to something: if “that something” moves me, it means that it inspires me as well. That is where my inspiration comes from!
Luca: Literally from everywhere. If I like something in a movie, on the radio, TV, Theatre etc. I write down the author/title or record it somehow, to analyse it later as to what I liked about it and try to include this in my influences for later works. Lino: We don't give any limit to our musical inspirations! I studied rock, prog, metal, pop, blues, classical and also R&B vocal lines and I try to take inspiration from every genre in my melodies and arrangements.
The Ghost Syndicate features a strong vibe reminiscent to DT's Awake, not in the least through the magnificent contributions of Derek Sherinian. How did this collaboration come about, and what was it like to have one of your own inspirations playing on the album? Luca must have had a field day?
Luca: Awake is my favorite DT album, so I'm frankly flattered by this question. The collaboration with Derek came out in the time frame when we got the news that we were about to support Sons Of Apollo during the Ready For Prog? Fest (formerly Very Prog Fest) in 2018. We contacted him via Twitter and we made an agreement on having him with two solos, a first one in a modal fashion, and a second one more on the signature side. About the field day… yes, totally!
Besides Sherinian there's another noteworthy guest appearance in form of the alluring saxophone melodies in Blue Light Cage, courtesy of Marek Arnold. It gives it a divine atmosphere reminiscent to Images & Words and in particular Another Day. Yours is also a song I can listen to any day, so can you take us through the process of this exquisite song?
Lino: Everything started with this beautiful music composed by Luca for a new ballad. I was immediately fascinated by it, so I proposed to write the lyrics of the song that later turned to be "Blue Light Cage". That was the first time I wrote lyrics for the band, so I decided to put myself, my feelings and my life in it. Words and melody all came together as one from my heart. As my bandmates were thrilled by what was happening, we began to work on details… and there you have it: the choir, the two marvellous guitar solos, the wonderful keys, the great job on the rhythm section and the outstanding sax of Marek to complete it. We are very happy about the result and it is (of course) my favourite of the lot!
One of the best tracks of the album is the outstanding opening sequence Opening Sequence, which is as I've stated in my review the best opening sequence I've encountered in the past 23 years or so. From what I understand there's a little story behind it, which besides its working title, also involves your manager Davide Guidone. Care to share this tale?
Claudio: First of all, thank you SO MUCH (I wish I could write it with bigger letters)! Opening sequence is one of those streams that flows so easily that we decided it was the opener of the album in a blink of an eye. When we posted the very first version of the song in our shared chat, we soon started to think about what kind of vocals was better to bring in, will it be aggressive or melodic, what topic for the lyrics we'll choose, etc. All of a sudden our manager said “why don't you leave it instrumental?” making all the time we spent discussing about vocals and lyrics seem vain. Then there was silence...we all knew he was right!
Davide: As soon as I listened to the demo(it was maybe 1 and a half minute) I was impressed by the energy of this track. Luca and Claudio had some doubts on which vocal lines to put on there and almost thought of taking the track from the album, but I immediately suggested to go on with these ideas to let emerge a strong opening track. I think it shows all the energy and joy the band has in writing music during this period.
The concept of the album is based on an idea Luca had on society in today's day and age. A modern civilisation in which televised addiction has overtaken people's need to actually partake in society. According to the press statement some tracks can be looked upon from a biographical view, while others are closer to observational interpretations. Can you shed some light on a few of the topics?
Claudio: I've in my portfolio only one lyrics and it is Breathe And Recover. It is a stream of consciousness I personally went through on a particularly bad day at work. I was really frustrated with everyone and everything, so I started texting my wife. I remember I hit the enter key something like a thousand times. It's just like I was trying to escape from my mind through my I-phone, projecting myself in a more comfortable place where I would have had the time to take a deep breath, calm myself down and recover the situation. It's always the relationship between you and the society. The television, work, the boss, colleagues, the syndicates... the idea you have of them is the idea the society as a complex organism leads you to have.
Luca: Yes, it all started from that idea and we then developed the entire work from it. After two albums in which I had a story and then wrote all the lyrics, I strongly wanted others to tell their experience and encouraged them to join me. In fact, on this album you can actually read Claudio's and Lino's first ever lyrics. Lyrics by me are on several tracks. In The Ghost Syndicate I describe situations at work that I experienced and lots of people can relate to (the official video is deliberately exaggerated but explanatory!). A President's Speech tries to describe my feelings to what's happening in the world with fake news, and Jump Right In tells the story of a very rational man who decides for the first time in his life to dive without thinking into a new experience (actually, it's dedicated to a band member when he joined the band!).
A President's Speech puts a smile to my face every time, with its fake news subject nodding towards a notorious world leader. In light of the official video that's recently been shared on social media, is it there actually a minor political statement hidden inside the song, or was the timely coincidence just too good to be true?
Luca: Actually it was a coincidence but I must admit it was very easy, given that the topic dealt by the song is tremendously spread around the world!
Lino does all the lead vocals as well as the backing and harmony vocals. For me this is one of the strengths on the new album, especially in Breath And Recover. Who came up with these ideas and how will you transfer these challenging passages into a live setting, since I don't recall anyone supplying backing vocals at the one time I saw you supporting Vanden Plas?
Lino: Even if I am the only one recording lead and backing vocals, everyone of us is involved in the composition and arrangements of music and melodies. Usually at our gigs the backing vocals are played along with the backing sequences and the effects, but I've got to say that we want to sing them live, as other band members can actually sing quite well (have you seen Shine Again? :D). Maybe in the next gigs… who knows!
Well, I did see the video, but didn't make the connection obviously :D. The year 2021 will hopefully see some Covid-relieve and marginal thoughts of touring might take shape again. Are there any developments on that front, maybe involving a collaboration with label associates? Or is this a premature thought?
Davide: Maybe you won't believe me but I booked some dates across Europe already. There is a strong will by everyone to get our life back as before. Anyway, even if people want to listen to live music, there is still this Virus issue going on and many are still sadly dying. Yet I think we don't have to give up and need to go for a better future. So everything is postponed towards spring or autumn, and as soon as we will try to arrange something interesting also with our LRP label.
One final question. Please feel free to share anything you'd like which hasn't been addressed so far, as well as including some of your future plans?
Francesco: We're already working on new material for our next album. Yes, we are restless! As Frank Zappa said: ”Don't stop, keep going!”. And we have an ambitious project in mind, something new with a glimpse into the past… that's all I can say!
So once again big thanks for taking your time in answering these questions. Personally I hope we can catch you sometime next year promoting Blue Light Cage. The album is a brilliantly radiant effort which I encourage every prog-metal devotee to check out. I wish you lots of success following its release. For now all the best and stay safe!
Claudio: It has been very interesting to answer your questions! Thank you so much for all the beautiful words and for all the food for thought you gave us. Really hope to get in touch soon. Bye!
Davide: Thanks Jan and happy anniversary to DPRP for the 25th year! Let's hope there will be at least 25 more! And I am sure we will come back to the Netherlands... I love the country very much.
Francesco: You're welcome Jan, and thanks for all your kind words! Bye!
Luca: Thanks a lot Jan for all the kind words about our work. I think every effort is a work of love that should be treated like that and you perfectly make this shine through.
Lino: Thank you for having us, it has been a pleasure!