Last week, we sent Andrea off to chat with Fernando ‘Fella’ Di Cicco of Dreamshade about the band’s new album A Pale Blue Dot, the writing process, their literary influences and the power of great visuals.
A Pale Blue Dot is the first release after five years, the last one being Vibrant (2016), and it’s being released as a self-release. It can be a risky move, so, what made you decide to take this step?
“It was a collection of things, I’d say that the pandemic definitely helped us choose what we wanted to do, but honestly, we did test this with the previous singles like ‘On My Own’ and ‘Question Everything’ that came after Vibrant (2016). I mean, for our level of band, it didn’t really feel like there was much of a change in having a record label or not. The audience that we have is doing all the work. And the band is doing all the work. At least, this is what we felt like before choosing to record a new album.
“So, we tested it with these two singles, and it went great and we finally were able to do whatever we wanted – that type of artistic freedom and also self-managing on every level of this business felt like we were doing the right thing. And I still believe this right now that we chose to do an entire album.”
That sounds amazing.
“It actually is! I have to be honest, I mean, it’s very hard to manage everything and we are going crazy, especially right now that we’re in the release process. But still – I feel like we have full control over what we’re doing and I’m so happy to have decided this on this particular record, because we are really proud of it and we feel like it’s gonna change something for us.”
And during that process I’m guessing you’ve also learned a lot about managing and even who you are as a band as well?
“Absolutely, absolutely. It totally changed the perception within the band, of ourselves as a project, because you can’t actually measure how well you’re doing, you know? We’ve been with labels for ten years straight, with both major and independent labels, in Europe, in the US; the albums have been doing great so far but we never saw much of anything, not only of the income of course, but also the type of response. If it wasn’t for the fans we wouldn’t have even known how the albums were performing, right? So, after Vibrant (2016) we had this moment where we really had to figure out what we wanted to do next. That’s why it took a little bit longer, then the pandemic arrived, and the album was supposed to come out in 2020, so yeah, that’s what happened.”
You’ve previously mentioned that the title of the album was inspired by Carl Sagan’s book of the same title. What other influences did you guys have going into the writing process?
“The title was inspired by Carl Sagan’s book, yes, but it didn’t inspire the songs. So – we’ve reached an agreement within the band for the title just after we’ve done the recordings. We had this picture of this collection of songs that we really loved, and we just felt that they were all so personal and humane, somehow, that we felt like we needed to take a snapshot of humanity from afar; and we just happened to find this book, where Carl Sagan happened to have the perfect title for what we wanted to explain. We figured we should just use his, because it would have been really hard to put it in better words, you know?”
You mention the aspect of humanity. What led you to decide to have the album be around this concept?
“We all felt like we had these songs that were talking to us, even if we wrote them, and we felt like so many people could relate to these lyrics. In some songs we also talk about environmental issues and also this morbid technology craze that’s happening – We wanted to really photograph what we’re living through.”
How did the writing and production processes change since 2016’s Vibrant? Are there similarities between them and A Pale Blue Dot?
“When we started writing Vibrant we were just signed at an American record label called Artery Recordings. We felt this self-pressure within the band to perform in a certain way, to write a record with songs that could be on the radio; maybe we felt that we needed to do this at that point, but it wasn’t really truthful. And still, some of the songs on that record are not our favourite, but there are so many others that are really great, in my opinion. We could’ve worked in a different way – the feeling when we were writing wasn’t… happiness. It was very stressful, as we felt very pressured. And it wasn’t due to the record label, it was all in our head, I guess.
But then, I feel like we needed Vibrant to create this new thing that we have now, because without that, we couldn’t have done this. So, when we started doing this new record it all fell into place. We started writing and we finished the whole recording process all together in five months, and that never happens for us. It’s the fastest record we’ve ever written, and it still feels like the type of energy we had in the old days, like in The Gift of Life but with a very modern sound and perspective as songwriters. In my opinion, we curated the lyrics so much more and really poured our hearts and soul in it.”
Were there any elements you carried over into the new album from the previous releases?
“I mean, we’ve always been experimenting; we’ve always been criticised since we started from a very melodic death metal background when we were kids, and we were all very very young, underaged for the most part. We just did what we wanted since the start, even if the band was always considered as a metal band, we never really looked at it that way. So, we draw so many influences from outside metal and rock, that – of course – is reflected in the song writing. But it’s always been like that, we just decide when to show it more and when to show it less. There are certain topics that need the right type of sound when you talk about them. I would never do a record that sounds like the previous one and I would never do a song that sounds like the next on the same record.”
You guys have two new collaborations on the upcoming album – Rose Villain and John Henry of Darkest Hour. How did they come about and how did the collaborators influence their respective songs?
“Let’s start with Rose Villain because it was the first actual collaboration that we did. We were touring Asia in October 2019 and we were at a hotel hall waiting for the bus. I was next to our then new drummer, Francesco, and I’ve already been a fan of Rose Villain for four or five years at that point; and I saw him sending DM’s to her on Instagram. I was like – ‘’What are you doing dude? Are you actually gonna text her out of the blue?’’ He looked at me in a super weird way and said ‘’ Dude – I know this girl; I’ve known her for more than eleven years, we used to have a band together in LA.’’ My response to that was like, ‘’ Are you fucking kidding me?!’’
I went crazy because I felt like this is the moment where I could be fully inspired and finally start mixing the styles like I love to do. Then I told him to try and engage with her and to get us to work together – and he did, right on the spot. She didn’t know the sound of our band but wanted us to write a song where she could sing on, in our opinion. Then, after about four months (I guess), I had a song which became ‘Stone Cold Digital’; I sent the demo to her and she was stoked! I wrote the parts for her and she really did a great job with her performance. And that’s the story behind it!”
Did you have a starstruck moment when you finally spoke to her and worked together?
“I don’t know why, but I’ve been talking to someone about this a few days ago actually…
The first time I saw her was in Milan, where she was playing a show with a very big rapper in Italy, Salmo (he’s really great, one of the best in Italy actually). She was there because they had released this song together and when I heard it was like ‘’Oh, man!’’ – I felt her voice really deeply and I said to myself ‘’One day I’m gonna do this’’. And five years later, it did actually happen. So, I can’t explain what I felt because I don’t know exactly, but somehow, I always knew that it was going to happen someday; I didn’t know how, so that’s why I took advantage of that particular moment. It just felt right, and it’s still crazy to think about, honestly. I don’t know how to put it in a different way!
And our other collaboration with John Henry from Darkest Hour –
I’ve been a fan of darkest hour since a very young age, I was about 14 when I first discovered them. I was coming from a very punk-rock background into metal, and so they were one of the first metal bands that I heard. In 2018, Mike (the guitar player from Darkest Hour) sent me a message on Facebook and asked if I would be up to fill in for Darkest Hour on a month-long European tour. I was like, ‘’Of course I do!” – So, I started touring with them for three year now in Europe. On the last tour, I had this song that I felt like John would be the perfect person to sing on, because he’s been one of my main influences as a lyricist from when I was a kid. He listened to the song and he said ‘’Let’s do it!’’ on the spot. We started recording on the road – we rented a room in the same venue where I first saw the band back in 2007. In that same venue we recorded the song together, on tour, twelve years later.”
How involved have you been in creating the visuals for A Pale Blue Dot?
“Yes – so during the last years we started [curating/creating] way more visuals in general. We’re really lucky because we had one of my best friends on, who also happens to be a very great director; and he’s the one who did our very first video back in the day, twelve years ago. In every album that we drop he’s doing at least one of the music videos, and on this one he did ‘Stone Cold Digital’ – there’s no band playing, it’s more of a cinematic story-based music video. We built the whole thing together, we’ve been sitting down for months, super late nights, figuring out how the story line would work with all the little details that are in it.
We feel like music videos should be used to portray the art that is in the song. Sometimes our messages are quite difficult to explain, or maybe there is so much information that’s hard to grasp when you first listen to a song without anything to watch – so we’ve spent a lot of time on this. The video for ‘Safe Harbour’ is finally a band-based video, so you’re gonna see more of the band rocking out.”
Has this been a way you guys chose to promote the new album, since there are no tours at the moment?
“Absolutely, yes. We’re gonna work on the internet, because nothing is really sure for the future, especially for live shows. We’re gonna have to have some ideas ready to go. Live streams are really good, but I feel like they’re already getting old as an idea. I’ve been watching some of them and it’s great that every band is doing them, but it still doesn’t feel like I’m gonna be able to watch another entire year of livestreams. That’s my take on it, maybe I’m totally wrong. I’m happy for the bands that actually manage to do it, but I don’t know if it’s the right way for us to go. Maybe it’s gonna happen, but for the time being there are music videos coming. They’re expensive, still, but I feel like capturing these very moments for the band is worth it.”
We can’t go through the interview without talking about the pandemic…
So, how were you guys affected, personally or as a band? And were there any things you had to adapt or change for the release of the album during this time?
“Personally, it hit me really hard, in the first place, because I’m a very social person; I meet a lot of people every day, I like going out and meeting new people – it’s one of my favourite things. I like travelling a lot, I do it all the time – I do it for work, I do it for the bands I play with. Coming off 2019 which was the year I probably toured the most with both Dreamshade and Darkest Hour, I basically never stopped until the pandemic hit. Actually, I was on tour in 2020 – in January with Don Broko, then we went to South Africa, then I toured with Darkest Hour, played some festivals, then we went to Asia with Dreamshade. And in February 2020 I did another tour with Darkest Hour (on their 25th Anniversary tour), and as soon as that ended I went back home, and the pandemic started. I had already sensed it on tour, that something bad was happening in Europe.
I was on the road the whole year and it then suddenly stopped. It felt like a prison.”
Where are you looking forward to playing, after it all blows over?
“Wow – I would love to go to South America, because we’ve never played there, and I really hope it’s gonna happen in the future. I’m looking forward to this and maybe there are some opportunities, but I don’t really know what to think about this whole thing, honestly. I’m pretty scared, but I’m also hopeful, so I would say South America. We’ve got a lot of fans from there, especially in Brazil, Colombia; I think we can do great things there.”
Definitely, I hope you manage it. Do you have anything else you’d like to speak about or promote?
“Let’s see – So like I’ve mentioned before, we’re fully independent right now. If anybody feels like they like the record and the songs we’re putting out or they want a piece of physical music and they want to support us they should check out our store (Shop.dreamshade.ch).
We’re selling a double-sided vinyl record of the album – they’re limited, and they look really good, honestly. They just came in and they’re stunning. So, if anybody wants a piece of art before they’re all gone (because they’re selling very fast), they should grab one. The vinyl’s are coloured as well, each one has a different pattern of orange and blue. I’m buying a few myself because I want to have more than one for the future, especially when I feel like we have a special piece.”
I do that too sometimes!
“Really? I didn’t know this back in the day when we were kids, but our first EP came out in 2008, when I was about 17, and we had only put out 1500 copies. We didn’t know where this would go, and it was when Myspace was popular – so we started pushing it on Myspace, working on the graphics and so on, launching our first web store we’ve ever had. We didn’t really know how to manage it, but we happened to sell all of the copies in the first two months. It was our first record ever and it was only five tracks, and right now, I don’t have a copy of it; nobody in the band has a copy of it. I saw someone selling it on eBay last year, for about 600 francs (about 465 pounds).”
Oh wow, did you end up buying it?
“No, I didn’t! I feel so stupid – these guys are selling it and I don’t even have a copy of it; and I’m in the record! I’m gonna keep looking for it though.”
You check out what Andrea thought about A Pale Blue Dot here.
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