Diabula Rasa Interview
Hailing from Italy, Diabula Rasa have been in existence since 1999, albeit under different monikers. They started as a medieval music band and evolved into an act that artfully combines that music with an energetic mix of heavy, power, and industrial metal. Yes, there indeed are electronic elements in Diabula Rasa’s music which make them even more interesting. While they’re not the most productive of folk metal bands – just three albums in thirteen years – the quality of their output has been very good. Now we’ve had to chance to interview main-man Luca Veroli on quite a few topics and I’m glad to the answers we’ve got were very detailed and informative. I hope you enjoy it.
Firstly, would you tell us about the band’s origins? You were initially called Mandragorax, then Tabula Rasa and finally Diabula Rasa. Do you consider all these the same band with different names or as separate projects?
“It’s not really about a massive identitiy crisis.” [giggles]
“Mandragorax was our first bet—more a gig among friends that a real group. You know the importance of starting with experiments before finding your own way: that’s was Mandragorax for us. The idea of Tabula Rasa b(r)and naming came after a show, where our gig changed the standard rules of medieval events in Italy. People started to attend several festivals just because we were there and suddenly we were under the spotlight, stealing the scene to “standard” medieval bands. The biased view of folk music as something boring meant to cheer up elderly, died soon after. As we say in Italy, we “made tabula rasa”, i.e. we gave people the opportunity to embrace an uplifting mix of metal, folk and rarely-heard-before sounds coming from ancient hand-made instruments.”
How did you come up with these names? Do they have a link with the music you play?
“The day we were ready to make things official, we discovered that Tabula Rasa had been previously registered somewhere in Asia, so I looked for something familiar with the original name, but also strong enough to convey a sense of a musical rapture. My recipe: tritone inspiration (aka diabulous in musica) has met the adjective indiavolato (the Italian for “bedazzled”) which has a strong assonance with the Latin diabolus. Indiavolato is also a referral to music “side-effects”. Conscious madness, passion, loss of inhibitions, unfiltered emotions. Tabula Rasa became Diabula Rasa.”
How did you get into medieval folk and heavy metal? What are the sources of your interest in them? Tell us your story.
“In Italy, folk-metal bands started from metal and added some folk instruments to have a different kick. We broke the rules (it’s a thing we’re pretty good at) and started from medieval songs/lyrics. It’s a smooth process. You overlap genres and see where they match perfectly. German bands were inspiring us deeply, because they shared the same path as ours.”
What is your approach to creating music? I believe you use some existing melodies from the medieval times as well as writing original music that resemble those? Who writes what? How does it all come together?
“Exactly. Humans have biologically developed a taste of music that has been subject to evolutionary adaption patterns. Before appreciating music, we are sensitive to certain sounds because on an archetypal level they act as a wake up call for our neurons. This said, if a non-professional listens to a medieval composition, this person will get the creeps. Our work is based on a research that shakes the dust off history and unveils gems that belong to various cultures. The following step is to slightly change the melody to make it fit the modern taste, or to enclose the original composition as it is into a wider music pattern.
Inspiration comes from old archives, including the ones about arts not necessarily belonging to music. It happened that the idea came from gazing at a painting, then asking ourselves which instruments were portrayed there, then finding those original instruments or, in case they weren’t available anymore, reproducing them. There’s something immortal about this whole thing. People discover or rediscover their roots and feel a deeper belonging with the territory. Death and time happen to have a little power over passion.”
Let’s talk about lyrics. Who writes the lyrics? And how much of it comes from old texts and writings?
“Lyrics come from ancient books and old texts. They’re the only thing we never edit. Sacred approach.”
Luca, I’ve read that you’d studied medieval music. What piqued your interest in it? Were you already interested in other styles of music before you were introduced to medieval music?
“I think I should spend a word about where and how we’ve grown up. Ravenna (with its surroundings) is an ancient city located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. It was the capital of the Western Roman Empire and later of Ostrogothic and Byzantine Italy. Fast forward. All of us have been growing in an environment soaked with different shades of music, at the intersection with ancient style and modern sound twists. Medieval music wasn’t enough anymore we wanted to dive inside it and understand it better before playing it. We were born as curious researchers. Our band members have a classical music imprinting, we used to be the “good kids” attending to music academies and consuming our fingers on piano keys. Then our teenage changed the game and we only wanted to shock people, think different, play different, be different. Bye Schumann, hello Rammstein. We’re adults who never grew up.”
To my knowledge, you, Luca, also make instruments such as hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa. Do you think making these instruments gives you another perspective when it comes to playing music with them?
“Indeed. There’s a connection that goes beyond playing music. This turns into making music, literally. When you play an instrument that you’ve built on your own, each string or key keeps the memory of the research of a particular wood, of seasons, of nature forging that material long before you put your hands on it. It’s alive before being alive, but you’re there to give birth to it personally. It happens you become an archeologist who digs and digs until the past sees a new dawn. It’s natural, primitive and empowering. I love to share that unique vibe with our audience. This is my idea of resonance. Each instrument has its own personality, each sounds has developed its own skills. Those coordinates, matched, empathize with audience and allow people to express their emotions with no restriction. Sound, before being a pleasure, is a primal need.”
Folk metal has greatly grown in popularity over the years. What is the scene like in Italy? What are your some favourite bands, both from and outside of Italy?
“The folk-metal scene in Italy is quite new—something like 10 years old. The main reason we listen to folk-metal here today is that a bunch of people started attending international festivals, mainly located in the Northern Europe. They came back with feedback and passionate reviews, so they increased the demand for folk-metal events and gave the kick-off to this genre. Unfortunately folk-metal around our neighborhood is not a big deal yet, because Italians are conservative beyond imagination and every little step towards innovation takes ages to be accepted. We do our best, though.”
What other interests do you have besides music? What do you do when you’re not busy with band stuff?
“As a former Sagittarius, I’m involved in countless activities on a daily basis. You can find me working in the vineyard, with my hands immersed deeply in the soil. You can find me in a thrift shop, where I ramble to discover vintage synths and knick-knacks. You can find me in my laboratory, working on some analogic electrosounds. You can find me in mountains, bargaining for high-quality wood to carve. You can find me in my studio, buried by philosophy books. Did I mention I’ve basically built a house around a church organ? I also dig on beer. Well, that’s an interest, too.”
Your last album was in 2013. Is there a new album in the works? Or do you plan to release new music in the near future? In general, what are your plans for the next year or two?
“Before starting this journey, we [the other Diabulas and I] made a pact. We’d never release something because of discographic schedules. Our projects take time to grow and maybe yes, we’re a little too perfectionist to let out songs that are not fulfilling our rigid standards. Some fans complained, some fans understood this. We’re always ready to rock the party and to bring our crazy personalities on stage. I think it’s a matter of balance. There are times when you only want to lock yourself in a studio recording for 10 hours a day and there are times when you just want to be silly with your audience and share beers with your fans at festivals. I think we’re in the middle of phase 2. Haha.”
Thank you for this interview. Lastly, is there anything you’d like to add?
“I’m so glad your readers took time to go through this interview and let me tell you these questions were a pleasure to answer to. Not the standard one-size-fit-all questions. Here’s the deal: you’re invited to Italy.”