MOONSPELL Interview: The Philosophy of Hermitage


We are getting close to a year, some parts of the world are now over a year, of living in this pandemic. It has been beyond difficult, but there have been some good that has come out of it as well. One good thing, is the release of new music. Moonspell has been working hard during these tough times with the re-release of The Butterfly Effect in 2020, then a quick jump back in the studio to work on their upcoming release, Hermitage, which will be out February 26th, 2021.

While the idea of Hermitage began in 2017,  the philosophical lessons and insight, still fit for today.  Moonspell takes on a classic musical approach with some Pink Floyd influences and some eerie yet soulful soundscapes. To say this album will age well, is an understatement.

Moonspell is nearing 30 years as a band and has evolved every bit of the way. With Fernando Ribeiro (vocals), Ricardo Amorim (guitar), Pedro Paixao (keys, guitar), Aries Pereria (bass) , and new member, drummer Hugo Ribeiro, they have created a soundtrack to this pandemic. Take the time to shut everything else down and off, turn it up to eleven, close your eyes, and get ready for a journey of understanding, insight, lessons, and a reminder to love one another. Gaining wisdom from hermits, Fernando uses these concepts for educational purposes and a new way of thinking.

He once again took some time for Metal Nation to talk about life and Hermitage.

How are you holding up these days?

“It is hard to say to say that everything is all right because Portugal is in their lockdown now until maybe the end of March. Even though we are a small country with a small population, the size of not even New York, but things got really sour in 2021. Our cases just went through the roof and our hospitalizations as well, so yeah we had to take extreme measures, but we are fine, we are all healthy and home. Our kid is now homeschooled, which is a big mess everywhere. It is too hard on him, he is just 8 years old so I hope he doesn’t get a nervous breakdown with all the responsibility of being homeschooled and spending so much time in front of a screen. Other than that, we are releasing a new album and making promos, trying to keep our heads above the water. So yeah, I think we are alright, and I hope you are alright too because there has been a mess for everyone in every country in the world.

I didn’t realize you guys had to go back into lockdown, that is tough, especially when you have a kid in school.

“Yeah it is tough when you are a father. With Moonspell, I have the privilege of seeing the world, touring, there is a lot of hardship involved with being in a band, but there is a lot of good stuff as well. I think what complicates my mind most is that my kid will lack options. When things get heavy from school, I will say well let’s pick and choose because if you are tired and you want to play, we’ll just skip classes, it’s no big deal. I don’t try to make excuses for it, children do have a limit and as a father I have to realize when he’s tired and when he needs to play and punch me in the face or use me as a punching bag *laughs* to get out the nerves or whatever. So I try to manage that here at home, but it is hard for a father when my son wants to go in the streets and we can only do it for a certain period of time near our place. We just try our best. Every time the lockdown is a little bit lighter here, we just go to the seaside and let him run and let him chase the seagulls, *laughs* because they really need that, well not the seagulls. *laughs*”

*laughs* I think it is great that you give him mental health days. It is tough times for sure, but we will get through it.

“Yeah we have to *laughs*. We have no other choice, it is all or nothing like one of our songs. *laughs* don’t think anybody really saw this all coming. In Portugal it is just a little more frustrating because we had a soft first wave. Portugal is a very lucky country, we have been away from wars and big disasters. Our neighbors Spain were really on their knees with the first wave and there was a lot of information being traded by people in leadership and it seems like there were so many contradictory opinions and fear of losing the political power and reputation, that they haven’t done the right things with people. So people are more frustrated with the third wave in Europe and this new confinement in Portugal has taken much more of a strain on people’s resilience and mental health. Everyone’s really on the verge. I can feel it and I can sense it when I go to the supermarket, I think the third world war will start in the grocery section for something like that. People are just so tense. I have stuff like music and listening to music, and reading, and I try to manage my expectations and my mental expectations. I feel this is very very important for musicians these days especially since we are so busy all the time. Nowadays I am very thankful that I have family and that I have my kid. ”

Speaking of Moonspell, with the upcoming release I have to ask you how are you feeling about this album? Does it feel any different to you than previous ones?

“It does. I am feeling more adult about it, I think it is a grownup album.  Maybe more for grownup people even though youngsters can listen to it too. It is like a midlife crisis album, I have to say. The type of music, the type of lyrics, the kind of approach, the kind of cover. Sometimes people will ask me, ‘Why are you so blasé about your music?’ and I say, ‘Well, music is a question probably of talent, but also of luck of timing and being in the right place with the right music and as we are already almost 30 years going, everything has already happened to us with making the right album for the right time, with making an album that probably wasn’t the right mood for the fans.’ A lot has happened with Moonspell and we have a lot of experience when it comes to releasing an album, so I am very relaxed about the album. It is not a question of being proud or wanting to say it is the best album, I am 46, I am already a little bit tired of that, we always have to do our best, well that goes without saying, or to pitch this to people. I just really feel that we did a very nice musical journey. I think it sounds like Moonspell, definitely, but it has a lot of novelty as well. I don’t think it is an album that follows that standards of symphonic or gothic metal, this album is all about the dynamics, all about the highs and lows, all about soft, mids, to hard, it doesn’t have a formula, but it has, I think, what we are trying to build as a signature sound of Moonspell. Going to the UK, and working with Gomez (Jaime Gomez Arellano), was really good to bring this together. I am quite at ease with the album. When you hear Hermitage, it is a place of quiet and pain and suffering, but also enlightenment, so I hope this album brings that into people. I am really happy with the packaging and how it came out. I think it is a job well done. So I hope people agree. I can only cross my fingers because now it doesn’t depend on me, it depends on people picking it up. Obviously some people won’t like it, and this is just life, but on the other hand, people who are just picking it up and giving it the time it needs, are really enjoying it. All our videos are raging according to our PR’s. I tend to get a little bit away from that, just because, well I don’t know why, because I think my job was done when we left the UK. Now I just get to talk about the album, which is a pleasure, but I don’t want to force people into listening to it. Music for me has always been an act of freedom, and not really marketing or promoting, even though it helps, and I know it is necessary, but this album is a blind date, and I hope people will like the date *laughs*.”

For me it was not a grower, when I heard the first single, I knew I was going to love the direction of the album. When I received the promo, I listened to it over and over. I wonder if your relaxed response is either consciously or subconsciously a realization that this is a special album.

“Yeah I think so. It is more to do with my growing and personality. I think that sometimes with the music business, we really have to pretend that everything is fine, and being in a band is really not an experience of everything being fine, it is a lot of struggle and a lot of egos, it is a lot of conceptions about music, and sometimes it is kind of a negotiation. Then you arrive to the final result and it obviously pleases you, but you have a long way before getting there and I think this album fell in a very particular time of our lives. When we went to the UK with everything happening around us, it made us feel more special, just the fact that making a new album in 2020 in a foreign country with all the travel restrictions was a privilege. We tried to make the best we can and sometimes the best is not enough. People are thinking of something else or have other things on their radar, that’s why I am relaxed because I think that Moonspell appeals to a lot of sensibilities. Like for instance, you just told me that you liked it immediately, so you are probably one of the few people who has told me that you loved it and to me that is great. I am really open to all of it and I am really relaxed because the dice have already been rolled, we already have the album, we cannot go back and change this or that, and it is like a document that we have now, but one thing I have to say, maybe this will be one of the albums that will give us more reputation in a few years. When I say it is a grower, I think I say it because there is a lot to find out, even though it is a more simple album, with not so much layers, and not so overproduced, like probably some of our albums, it has a more natural feeling. I think it is an album that we tried at least to establish almost like a dialogue with our fans. Many of our friends that got the album beforehand have said, ‘It feels like you are playing in my room.’ I will say, ‘Well you have a nice stereo maybe’ *laughs*, but I have listened to the album under different formats and different circumstances and the best is when you are in your room definitely. So it seems like we are there, hopefully as guests not intruders *laughs*. It is really not like an entertaining album. It happened a lot with the early gothic albums, some moody stuff that I listened to, sometimes it is rock, but sometimes you also want to be quiet and alone listening to it, which has everything to do with this album.”

It is very personal and more of a feeling type of album, it has so much emotion. I think that is probably why people are saying that it feels like you are playing in their room alone with them. It reminds me of a lot of classic rock albums that I grew up with. You say simple, and I get what you mean, but I feel it is more complicated on an emotional level with an almost nostalgic layer but with present day emotions.

“Thanks. I never thought of the classic rock influence but I kind of agree. One of the best coincidences of the album was we started writing it in 2017, and back then I went to visit my uncle and he had this really cool, fake, leather bag from the 70’s that I wanted. So I asked him if I could have it and he said I could have the bag and all the contents within it. When I looked through it, it had about 30 vinyls: about 10 Pink Floyd albums, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, and Deep Purple. In that summer I was listening heavily into this, little did I know that my colleagues were also in this kind of trip with Pink Floyd and The Doors, etc. So I think yeah, it does have a classic feeling to it, I agree completely, because the way its’ done, the way the pieces of the puzzle are combined, is very classic. Especially the vinyl edition, it starts with an intro, and has an outro, and it is a double vinyl. I think it does have a nostalgic feeling. Not really the lyrics or the context, but the way it is. It kind of reminds us of the old experience of listening to music, like with the classic rock. I was even joking with Ricardo, he did a brilliant job, but I told him, ‘No strings attached, the solo is not metal anyway. You like metal, but your favorite guitar player is David Gilmore’. He does this solo on ‘All or Nothing’, that I call the Gary Moore part because I think it is already like Gary Mooreish kind of guitar sound and he uses the Telecaster to record a lot of the album. I think it is a time for us to do this, we are not getting any younger. We toured with a band in the states that weren’t even listening to stuff like Eagles, Rush, and I really liked it, but I am not crazy about the vocals (Rush), if I might say so, I hope people don’t kill me *laughs*, so one thing leads to another and musicians are like a sponge. I was also listening to a lot of doom metal, which I think is sometimes a little classic, like the grooves of Black Sabbath vibe as well, and even was listening to post heavy metal and post black metal, I am bad with labels, but I was listening to Black Phoenix who is doing stuff that sometimes reminds me of like dark country stuff. I think music on one side got predictable, I can tell where it is going, and other times it comes with a sense of wonder and discovery, like going through a dark road with your headlights on and you just see bits and pieces until you reach a place.”

I grew up on a lot of classic rock so maybe that is why I loved the album right away, but I am really surprised to hear that it hasn’t had the same response with everybody, because to me it is very clear how special it is. I can definitely hear Pink Floyd, but I can also hear Queensryche and Katatonia. Then you add your philosophical lyrics and the story of the hermit Manfred Gnadinger, which brings it to another level. I know philosophy is near and dear to your heart as well as literature, but then you added a real person with a heartbreaking story, brings a lot of soul to it. Although I don’t think it is a downer, I feel it is probably more uplifting.

“It is always definitely about people, it really strays away from the folklore or mythology, it is always a bit about us. Manfred happened north of Portugal, on top of Portugal is the Galicia where he lived in Spain, doing his thing, running his little business, he really integrated as much as a hermit can be in society or away from it but still a good omen and a good influence and I started writing about it. Nowadays this album can and will be connected under the lights of the pandemic mostly. I think we cannot really escape every aspect of our lives, from home to the streets, it is controlled. It is like a clenching fist that really squeezes our freedom bit by bit. The Hermitage talks about freedom but it also is about community in a weird way, because a lot of the hermits that I read about were not just going to the desert as a metaphor to fight their demons, most of them came back and they brought society lessons about love, lessons about peace, lessons about enlightenment, they were not like saving their experiences and their overcoming to themselves, they were generous. If not people wouldn’t study them and put them into books. First time I wrote Hermitage was in a notebook in 2017, and even though social distancing was not enforced by law, I think we were already doing it. One of the first images I have, was of us stonewalling ourselves against the others by fighting online, by creating disharmony, where we could have took the change to creating harmony. So it sucks, as people say just pointing fingers, it is not a political album or as someone said, ‘woke’, which I didn’t even know what that was, I had to look it up, it is more philosophical and even existentialist, you know, where do we go from here and how the hell have we arrived here. I think that is the questions I wanted to ask.

*We discussed The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel which was on of the books on Fernando’s book club, how he read many books about hermits, and talked further into his book club, which everyone who loves to read should check out*

Fernando might not want to push people to listen, but I do. There is so much going on in Hermitage, I feel we all can learn many important lessons about life, how to treat one another, how to think on a deeper level, and how to feel about what our world has come to and what we can do to fix it. The classic rock vibe brings the music straight to your soul with that natural sound that is comfortable and sentimental.  It is an album that I am sure will be around for a long while and will continue to teach people the meaning of life.

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