Enjoy the full audio and text highlights from the first half of our conversation below, and then come back on Friday for the second half in which Andre tells us all about the recording of Angels Cry before moving on to his more recent experiences in Symphonia and as a solo artist.
0:00 Scene in North America
3:00 The internet and its effect on music consumption
8:00 Current music scene
10:00 Producing in the digital age - real vs. artificial
17:00 First Viper album - Soldiers of Sunrise (1987)
20:00 Second Viper album - Theatre of Fate (1989)
22:00 Viper anniversary tour
24:00 Departure from Viper (back in the day)
29:00 Original Viper record deal
32:00 Current status with Viper
33:30 Emotional experience playing with Viper again
37:00 Learning how to sing
43:00 Effects of age on the voice
45:00 Classical piano and composing music
48:00 Choosing between classical and metal
52:00 Performing as classical pianist
55:00 Merging classical and metal (future album?)
Production in the digital age: I struggle to do it, because I am an old-fashioned guy in this regard. I do it more for myself than probably for the listeners. I'm not sure if the very young generations and the very young listeners can really recognize something that was completely produced in an artificial way, or it was a real production. But I believe they do. Sometimes I get really surprised and astonished with some comments from young people that I see on the internet or somebody comes to me in a concert. It's very interesting how there are teenagers nowadays, 15-year old or 16-year old, who are becoming interested in Led Zeppelin, for instance, how they did those recordings. Deep Purple, you know, the early Kiss or whatever, because that was music that has been done for real. That's actually the way I started in music. I started very early in a very early age, but there was no other way to do music back then. Either you did it, or you didn't. There was no correction. You had to deliver it.
Still, when I run a production on my own, for instance this last solo album, Turn of the Lights, there are some points in the production that I want to make sure they follow strictly the rules, that somehow I have learned in the past, that somehow I grew up doing or working with. For instance, I would never, never, never use fake drums in my record, which, nowadays, it's a drastic cutting of costs for any production. You just play some shitty drums somewhere and then use the sound replacer all over the drums. It will sound great and powerful. Or sometimes you don't even play. You just program them, and then they're going to sound such as a natural drum anyway, because the samples are perfect. And if you have a good engineer, they can fix it in a way that you hardly can tell it's not a real drum. But I do it more for the sake of the whole atmosphere, because I believe it makes a difference when you have a good drummer playing good drums with a good sound. This is halfway already, you know, and once you have that on tape, all the rest comes on top of it, and it becomes easier to work. So this is one thing. The other thing is all the guitars. I really want to have real amps and real effects and real hardware, too. It works like as a whole. The whole record is like this. There's not much editing. There's not much synthesizing or simulating of things. The things that are on the record have been created right at the point. If there's a weird sound going on with the guitars or with the voice, there was some kind of idea that came up right at that moment, on the fly, when we were recording it. So this is what I personally believe gives some kind of extra life to the whole thing, and it doesn't sound so much of a pasteurized production as we so often hear nowadays.
Recording with Viper in his teens 25 years ago: That was funny. That was so funny, so really funny. You can just imagine. We were a teenager melodic metal band from Brazil, from South America. Honestly, if today there is still not so much room for metal bands in Brazil. Of course, the market has grown a lot and bands have started touring here more often, and our own bands also became bigger and bigger. But back then, we were seen as aliens, like 'What are those boys doing? What the fuck is that?' So we found a producer who invested some money in this first record. And then we had rented a studio which was a normal studio for pop music or samba, whatever Brazilian music they used to record there. There was also no producers available at all for this kind of music. There were the traditional producers of Brazilian music. It's the same as if you say, 'In America, I would have to hire some country/folk producer to make a metal album,' which sometimes might even work out. In our case, back then as teenagers, we didn't even think about it. But we knew there was something called 'producer' that we should have on the album. So we called a friend of ours who was the bass player in another band. He was a little bit older than us, a couple of years older than us, and supposedly had a little bit more knowledge than us about the whole thing. The whole record was done basically in a week. It was like, 'One, two, three, go,' and the whole background was recorded almost live. Then there were some overdubs for the solos and stuff, and then it was my part to do the voice in two or three days. And I remember the last days my voice was completely ruined. I had no technique at all back then, and I completely ruined my voice. I had to record this last song called 'HR,' which translated means 'Heavy Rock', and we were even thinking about calling somebody else to sing it because I was not able to sing a single note. But then we said, 'Ah, we can do it a little bit more punk rock like,' so I could sing with my rough voice, which I was able to let go at that moment. So, in the end it was okay. That was the curious thing.
On the next album, things were completely different. I'm talking about '87 when Soldiers of Sunrise, the first Viper album, was recorded. In '89, then yes, it was a huge jump from one level to another level. We hired an English producer called Roy Rowland who came to Brazil. The guy was really good, and we were so lucky that we had probably one of the best studios in town available for us. It was an old studio back from the 50s or the 60s, you know, from the cinema times. They used to record full orchestras there, and they had wonderful equipment, like live board and tape recorders and all kinds of microphones and all kinds of rooms and acoustic piano and orchestra available, and everything. So it was a completely different reality, and that's why I believe this second and last Viper album (for me, it was the last one I took part with the band, and I was 17 years old), that was a landmark for me. It was there that I really started to learn how to work with music and how the work in the studio is really like.
DVD/CD plans for the Viper anniversary shows: Absolutely. There were some huge shows. We played some huge festivals during this period. There was our hometown of Sao Paulo where I'm speaking from right now, although currently I live in Sweden. I'm back here to organize the forthcoming tour of my solo band now. Anyway, there was this huge show in Sao Paulo, our hometown, with Viper, and it was sold out. And we were lucky to have a very good video team working for us in this very particular event. And this is registered on video, it's registered on audio, so, as far as I know, they're working on it since last year. So it should be accomplished pretty soon, in about one or two months, then it's going to be out at least here in Brazil. And in case some foreign labels would be interested, we are absolutely open to the idea of releasing it somewhere else.
How the anniversary tour with Viper happened: I was friends with everybody again, and we started seeing each other again. So it's a long-time relationship, since we were teenagers, so this is something that time cannot really erase. When the idea came now last year that we should do an anniversary tour and celebrate the first album, everybody was very, very positive about it. So we just needed to figure out when it would be the best time to do it, when everyone would have some free spots in their agendas to match together and to actually make it work, and it did work. We had a very nice tour with beginning, middle, and end.
The first record deal with Viper: To be really honest with you, when we were so young, especially when we're talking about the late 80s, when almost nothing happened in the scene, it was already a blessing if you could get a place to play. So when somebody came to us and said, 'Look, I have here the possibility of making an album of yours' (that was for the first one), and then for the second one there was a plus. 'I have the possibility to make an album of yours, and besides, this album can be released abroad.' I mean, we didn't need anything else than that, in our minds. We were not concerned about, 'Oh, we're going to do a career on top of this. We have to have an eye on the money, the commercial side of it' and whatever. We were happy enough to have the chance to play and to record an album and to have our names printed in a vinyl record label and the back cover of the record. So it was not about the time that we were really concerned about these kinds of things. Those kinds of concerns, I have to say, they came later in our career, when things started to become more professional. Now I'm specifically talking more about the Angra times, when I founded Angra and the band took off in Europe and in Japan. Then, it was a different perspective, a different experience, you know. It was much more like, 'Now it's about time to become a professional in music.' There is also its pros and cons. Everyone has to go through this if you want to be a musician.
How and when Andre learned how to use his voice properly: Good question. I guess it was not yet by the second Viper album, although I was already searching for it. Because I noticed that it's not difficult to sing. The most difficult is not to learn how to sing. The most difficult thing is how to learn how to keep your voice in good shape. It's like an athlete. Sometimes to develop some skill goes a little bit fast when you have some kind of talent, but to keep up there and not let it down, then this is the real trick. This is the real secret. So I had been searching for many different teachers and coaches for vocal training until I found one that I identified myself, and I stayed with that one guy for 6 or 7 years. And he gave me the basics of singing, of opera singing for instance, because he was an opera singer. This guy was so honest to me that at one certain moment I came to have a class with him, and he said 'This is going to be our last class.' And I said, 'You're kidding. Why? I have tons of things to still practice and learn.' And he said, 'No, because I already passed you all the fundaments of technique, of breathing, and placing the voice. If I go further now, I will turn you into an opera singer, a lyrical singer, and that's not what you need, that's not what you want. From now on, you have to discover your own way.' And this is interesting, when you ask me. Because when a young singer starts--I remember myself, when I was 15, let's say--of course, I had my idols. Of course I wanted to sing like Bruce Dickinson. I wanted to sing like Eric Adams from Manowar. I wanted to sing like Geoff Tate. Not like Dio, because the voice was way too different, but anyway. Those clearer singers, I was really after them and trying to copy them and imitate them. I was going crazy when I was younger, because I was wondering to myself, 'How come those guys can sing so clear and when they go up there they can shout like hell? How does it work?' And I tried, and I never got it, I never made it. Until one day, I don't know what the heck happened, but I did it. It's like a key that clicks like this. It's like learning how to ride the bicycle. You're a child, you cannot stay up, and suddenly one day you stay up and you never lose that again. You never forget that again, even if you stay years without practicing. So then my biggest quest was to improve this and to find a way that this way of singing would not ruin my voice. So I was actually practicing lyrical singing for quite some years. I don't think this is the most important factor on my singing. I used to say that.
If you want to be a good singer, it's mostly more important to be a good musician together. Only singing is not enough, in my opinion. So if you have the possibility to play an instrument, whatever instrument it is. If it's drums, if it's bass, guitar, or some kind of woodwinds would be perfect, you know, you also train then your breathing technique, and so on. But anyway, it's very important to play an instrument together to give you this more complete musical mind. Otherwise, you're gonna be just a singer. And I don't mean it cannot work. It does work, and we have numerous examples of those who never study it, never did anything, never had any kind of degree on music or whatever, never played an instrument, and they sing like hell. This is a natural born talent. But in my humble opinion, I think it helps a lot when you have contact with some other musical instrument and you open up your mind to a wider musical universe other than just concentrating on singing perfectly.
Choosing metal over classical: There was at a certain point a crossroads, when I was basically done with my university and having my music degree. And the band Angra was becoming bigger, bigger, and bigger in Europe and Japan. Then I had to make a decision: will I become (at that point I was not really thinking about being a classical piano player, but maybe become a conductor, you know, or a composer, whatever), or will I dedicate my career to the rock music and try to combine those both things together? That last one was my decision. It was not easy, but I think I did the right one. Still I think, because in a way, the metal music is…even though many people think (and I give them some reason for that) that metal is quite conservative musical style, that the metal audience doesn't accept so easily the new or the changes, or they are more stuck in what they already feel comfortable with. On the other hand, I think the metal music is one of the musical styles that is more open, of all of the musical styles, for mixtures, for different influences, especially talking about classical music. Which I think completely fits to metal music, because there are so many common elements between both styles, like the power, the potency of both sonorities, the solos, the lines. The themes, if you compare some symphonies or operas or whatever to the heavy metal themes from albums, they really match somehow. So I think in a way in the 20th century, metal, when it appeared in the end of the 60s or beginning of the 70s, it was the followup for classical music. If you look back in time and you see somebody like Mozart or Paganini or Liszt, what else were they other than metal musicians in their time? That's what I really believe in. That's why I always believed in this mixture, and I forced somehow this mixture since the beginning of my career. Of course, I was not the first one in history. There were tons of people before me: Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jon Lord, whoever you name. But I think those are the ones who had the same kind of approach as I had, and I still have it.
A classical album in the works? It is something that I indeed plan for the future, and it has to be very well planned and very well arranged, because it would be a sort of coronation of a whole career, and I think it would be the best thing I could deliver in the future for the fans.