(Comrade Aleks presents this interview with Jacopo Semenzato, vocalist of the Venician band Return From the Grave. All photos are by Maria Doglioni.)
Return From The Grave is a good name for a band performing any heavy music, and doom isn’t an exception. Darkness, raw soil beneath the tombstone, chill air, and the moan of the dead walking through graveyard… This name gives enough freedom for your imagination.
Same with this band from the amazing Italian city of Venice, one of the most bloody romantic places in the world. Return From The Grave play damned heavy stuff. They call it rock, I see there powerful doom rock. What will you see? The only thing that matters – if you dig it or do not.
You can check the second album Gates of Nowhere of this remarkable band, and it could be enough for you. But if you’d like to look deeper into the chemistry of Return From The Grave chemistry, then you’re welcome to dose — because here’s an interview with Jacopo Semenzato (vocals).
Hi Jacopo! How are you? Is the season of tourists in Venice still at its peak? How does it feel there?
Hi there, thanks for this interview, I hope you’re all doing well! I work for the transport company in Venice, so I can tell you that now the summer is finished and we’re going into a more “relaxed” period, waiting for the carnival that will be in the first days of February! The last hot season was full of people as always. I think we deserve a more calm situation now, for a little bit!
Okay, Return From The Grave is a pretty expressive name for a doom band, but I see that your last full-length album Gates of Nowhere doesn’t deal with horror topics. What’s the band’s core motive?
The band name came from the idea of Sparta, our guitar player. Mainly he wanted a moniker that could represent well our ideas and our kind of music. Then, for the first record, I took inspiration from horror movies of the ’70s and ’60s (like Mario Bava’s and Lucio Fulci’s masterpieces) and I wrote a concept horror history with all the songs linked together. It was pretty intense and I wanted also to let the reader/listener be able to recognize himself in these mysterious things.
Gates Of Nowhere was something different. I wanted to use some personal experiences and issues to write the new lyrics, and what came out was about life and death, the obscure meanings of existence, and the constant dualism between positive/bad feelings and thoughts. I was completely satisfied with them. I like this approach to the writing process, and I’m sure that in the future I will again use this type of lyrics for the next albums.
The band released the début full length album The Rebirth From The Last Breath totally in a DIY way, and now you have a deal with Argonauta Records, who released the Gates of Nowhere album a year ago. How does it differ to work with the label, or to do all things by your own hands?
I think that Argonauta represents exactly the label that we needed. First of all, communication. Gero, the owner, is not only an intermediary, he’s a man who loves music, someone who can give you advice, opinions, and push you to do your best every time. He doesn’t make deals with bands only to “make money” or something like that, he wants to have something else with the band — friendship and respect are the two main focuses.
Also, Argonauta is little and it’s new, like us! So I think we have the same goals, growing up and spreading the word about us everywhere! Obviously working with a label is different from publishing an album in a DIY way — there’s more possibility to get more people listen to your music. But I want to give evidence to the fact that we’re not part of an enormous label, with tons and tons of bands, so everyone in the Argonauta family have the same consideration, time, and respect. I think this is the best thing you could find in a label.
Gates of Nowhere is really a strong record, and you have shown your best for that period. But how do you value your own work? What do you like on this album most of all?
I think that Gates was a BIG step forward for the band at that period. We recorded it in analog, live in the studio, and we recorded it fast and in a really cohesive mood. Live in studio is the best you can for a band like RFTG. This solution is more powerful, and the sound that comes out is the same you can hear when we play in a gig!
The only issue was about the production — the mixing process was a little bit difficult and long, but I think that it’s easier to speak about these things after some months. When we recorded it we were happy and satisfied, so for me it works. I mean it’s ok, and with the new EP, Three(p), we’ve done better. We’ve learned from our mistakes by making an even stronger sound and songs!
Speaking about the songs on the album, we still like what came out from our minds. You can hear a sort of big variety by listening to the album. There’s strong and powerful songs like “Words In Words” and “Uncovered Fate”, anthems like “ The Rage Of Rays”, and also a sort of “ballad” like “River In the Sky”! And we’re keeping a lot of these songs in our set lists. I think it means that we’re happy with everything!
The band has just finished the recording of that new EP, Three(p). What are these three new songs about?
Three(p) is the best thing we’ve done, without a doubt. I know everyone can say things like “Our last album is the best, bla bla bla”, but in this case I’m sure that everyone who will listen to these three new songs can admit that.
We pushed ourselves to our limit, we’ve used all the past errors to improve a lot in the writing process, lyrics are strong, personal and mysterious, and all our musical tastes are present and strong in the mood of the songs. We wanted to create something a little bit detached from the past. The new tracks are longer, there’s really some moments when you can hear us completely different from the last-full length. There’s melodic peaks, improvisations, doomish riffs, faster riffs, and also some intricate guitar and bass duels.
And speaking about the lyrics, this time I used the Divine Comedy to take a sort of inspiration. One song is linked to the Inferno, the second to the Purgatory, and the third one to the Paradise. But, like I said, this is just an inspiration. If you read the lyrics you can find a lot of things, and also these are the most personal and profound words I’ve ever written.
I also used a lot of different styles with my voice. You can hear me screaming and use an aggressive approach, but there’s also some “natural” parts, melodic refrains, and a big growling moment!! It was a real step forward for me, I’ve never reached this variety of possibilities in the past.
Last but not least, we’ve a new bass player, Davide. It was an incredible choice, he came when the main writing process of the tracks was finished, but he has done a great work by making the songs even more strong and complete. He’s a big perfectionist, he definitely can help us to be more cohesive and concentrate, fantastic news for the band!
The art-work of Gates of Nowhere is very impressive, and the cover art for Three(p) is very simple. Why did you choose this one? And who did the art-work for Gates of Nowhere?
So, for Gates we wanted something really strong. Sparta’s uncle, Sandro, is a painter, and the image is one of his works! I think he’s done a monstrous masterpiece, representing well the spirit of the record itself!!
With Three(p) we were thinking of an even more powerful cover, but in the end things have gone differently. We were undecided between a pair of great artworks, but none of them was really satisfying us in terms of impact and force. So I came with idea of the simplicity. Three is a recurrent number and symbol in this album, so also the front cover and the artwork in general had to be similar! The three drops of blood in a light brown wallpaper are so shocking, with the tiny name of the band and title of the EP, that I think that no one was expecting something like this from us. So this is exactly what we were searching for in terms to amaze the audience!! You will also find some other symbols inside the digipak, really interpretative and bonded with the concept.
What are your requirements for Return From The Grave’s sound? What are the main components of your music?
We are always searching for the “perfect sound”! Hahaha!! I think that with this new EP we’ve found a sound that is really strong, it fits well with our music and the mood we want to propose!
The most important thing that we always want to mention is that you MUST have the same sound in the studio as in playing live. You have to be able to recreate the same atmospheres and riffs in the same way. Now it’s really, really simple to record something in the studio, compared to the past, but the real game is to be able to reproduce everything when you are on stage!
So our goal is to be cohesive, precise, and create a wall of sound that’s characteristic of our music.
Speaking about the songs’ structures, we are not planning anything — we just let the instruments play and we try to find the right riff and choose the best chorus or vocals..
We don’t want to start with a fixed idea, we work together and do the best to let the different parts and pieces be the best possible. We have different music backgrounds, so everybody can take his influences and give a special taste to the music itself.
Return From The Grave – Three(p) teaser
You shot a promo video for the Three(p) album — don’t you want to do a video for one of your songs?
Oh yes, we’re planning to shoot a video for our next single, that will be “Soul’s Grime”!! We will record it next week, I hope it will be out during the first days of November! We are sure you will like it!!
In the meantime you can take a look to our previous video, that we did for “Words In Words”, it’s cool and strong. We had a dancer and an actress who collaborated with us and the result was very, very satisfying!!
Do you already have plans for next full-length album?
We’re not the kind of “big” band that can take like two or three months to record a new record in the rehearsal room. We all work, so it’s normal for us to continue writing and propose new ideas every time! We’re thinking about a new album for 2017. We are for sure passing 2016 by writing new material and playing live.
Also we’re so curious to see how the writing process will be with the new bass player Davide, and we’re sure that he can push the band to do its best. And I think maybe we can write some shorter songs, ’cause recently all the new ones were so long and articulated — we desire something faster and with a different mood and impact!!
Jacopo, Venice is a very charismatic city. How do your surroundings influence you?
To be sincere, I think the city where we live has not a big influence in our music and our mood. We take inspiration, like I said before, from different things, like everyday stories and issues, personal problems and good moments, the meaning of life. But I think also that Venice is so beautiful, and at the same time very, very mysterious, so I don’t want to exclude that in the future we will use these kind of mysteries to take inspiration for some music and lyrics!
Does someone in the band work as a gondolier?
No, absolutely, I’m the only one in the band, like I’ve said, who works in Venice, but not as a gondolier!! Hahahaha!!!
Jacopo, you also have plans to do some gigs this autumn. Where do you propose to play? And what was biggest gig in the history of Return From The Grave?
Yeah, we’ve booked some dates here in Italy, by the end of the year, including a release show near here. We played with the mighty Black Wizard and Pastor a couple of weeks ago, and I think the BEST gig has not been made yet!! Hahahaha!!
We will let you know next year, we’re really planning to do something important!! We try to select a little bit the places where we play, we all work, so the time to play is not so much. We prefer to be a little more selective also because in our region the venues are not so much, it’s not so simple to find a place to play!
Can you tell a story of your favorite song composed for Return From The Grave?
Mmh… it’s a difficult question…! I really don’t know man, maybe I can pick one off the new EP, but it’s not so simple to choose! When you write something you are happy with that, it’s something you have to be proud of! It’s impossible, it’s like choosing who’s the best between one of your children!!! Hahahaha!!!! Seriously, I think that there’s some songs that are better for the lyrics, some that are better for the music — we like to give the power to the audience to decide which is the best!!
I have another standard question for you — which was your favorite book in school?
Mmh, I didn’t like school at all! I hated to study. I was only interested in foreign languages and art. So if I have to tell which was my favorite book at school, I have to pick the art book, especially the chapters speaking about modern art — surrealism is the best, Magritte was a genius.
About books in general, I’ve read so many things in the past, one of the best was for sure At The Mountains Of Madness by Lovecraft, a true masterpiece by a genius who was that man. Incredible reading, like all of his writings. I love mainly horror and thriller books, they’re a true inspiration for me, my lyrics and the band itself!
Return From The Grave – Words In Words
I have a kind of philosophical question for you – how do you think of the modern doom scene? You may answer taking as an example the Italian scene… Sometimes I think that the number of doom fans is equal to the number of doom bands’ members. Does doom look like something inside of itself, if we don’t speak about death-doom icons My Dying Bride, who have a lot of fans all around the world for reasons which I couldn’t understand.
Difficult question! Hahaha!! Doom is a genre, or a sub genre, of something bigger. First of all, we’re not playing doom. I think we simply play heavy rock music with obviously some doom and stoner influences! But we don’t want to be recognized with something, we want to play the music that we love.
About the scene itself, doom/stoner has been so popular in the last years, you can see tons of bands with an old school taste and groove. The “Seventies” revival is still strong, and there’s so many new bands that sound like old ones, having also a strong personality! And they make really good music! Combos like Orchid, Kadavar, Graveyard, Pallbearer, Uncle Acid are really on fire. They’re all making a strong contribution to the scene, even if they’re a bit different from each other!
In Italy we’ve tons of good bands! We’re friends with a good number of them, there’s a lot of respect and we try to play as much as possible together!
I don’t think there’s a way to make doom more modern. Doom is an old school music, a tribute to the masters Black Sabbath and the disciples like Saint Vitus or Pentagram! There’re some bands who try to use doom parts to slow the mood and be more heavy, but for me if you love the Sabbath flavor, if you love heavy music, if you love to bang your head, maybe doom is the music for you!
Jacopo, I’d like to thank you for this interview and I wish you and the other men of Return From The Grave all the best on your artistic way! Good luck mate!
We wanna thank you for this interview, because for us it means a lot, we can spread the voice about us and our music and let the people know something about Return From The Grave!! Keep following us, we always have big news on the way!!
And buy our new EP, Three(p), it comes out next 9th of November, we’re sure you will not be disappointed!! CHEERZ!!!!
All photos by Maria Doglioni