Interview with Marcelo Barbosa and Paulo Schroeber (Almah)
Cover Guitarra magazine (November 2008, Brazil)
Author: Regis Tadeu www.coverguitarra.com.br
Photos in the article: Pati Patah
Translation from Portuguese: Irina Ivanova
The original article also includes some explanations about playing different guitar parts of Fragile Equality (Almah).
Marcelo Barbosa is the one of the most respected guitar players in Brazil due to his membership in Khallice band, his work as a columnist of Cover Guitarra magazine and for sure due to his famous musical school, which he established in Brasilia. Berklee graduate and the student of such great masters like Greg Howe, Lula Galvão, Hélio Delmiro, Toninho Horta, Guinga and Ian Guest, now he has done a new step forward in his career joining Almah. This project established by the vocalist of Angra, Edu Falaschi has turned into a real band and has just released its second studio album Fragile Equality.
I was impressed to hear this connection between both of you, especially in such songs like Birds Of Prey and Meaningless World. How did you decide “where everyone of you plays” in each song? Did you do it in some intuitive way or was every harmony analyzed in order to refrain from repetition?
Marcelo: This division came naturally enough, we didn’t have any difficulty concerning that. Intuition, good taste and sensitivity were the factors that guided us to this kind of decision. Rapidly, it had become very clear regarding who had to play and where. In Almah we don’t have a lead guitarist and a second guitarist like many other bands. We both have enough of space and enough of power to make decisions. Although we’ve got to know each other only during the process of the album production, our connection, both musical and personal, occurred quickly. For sure, it affected the music we were playing. Interestingly enough, we had known each other with Paulo for so little time before the recording, but on the last days when we were recording guitar solos Felipe and Edu could listen to my solo in some song thinking that it’s Paulo’s one and on the contrary, listening to Paulo’s solo in the other song could think that this one was mine. Edu was even kidding that we joined together and turned into just one guitar player. I consider it as a compliment. Without this respect and admiration from both sides such result could have never been reached.
Paulo: Despite style differences between us, everything was balanced very well. I believe that Marcelo and me are learning a lot one from another, before and after this CD and it makes our collaboration even more healthy and useful. We have complete understanding of what kind of space each of us can have in every song and it’s divided in a very reasonable way. We have a kind of mutual admiration and respect first of all, the critical factor for collaboration in a band.
How did each of you receive an invitation to join the band? Under what circumstances did it happen?
Marcelo: In my case it was in August 2007. Almah were doing a tour supporting the release of the first CD having in its line-up all members of Angra except Kiko (Loureiro) and Rafael (Bittencourt) but with Edu Ardanuy playing the guitars. Right in the beginning, Edu had to leave because of the tour dates of his main band Dr.Sin. He indicated my name for his replacement, and as far as Angra’s fans had already known me due to Khallice, they decided to call me to join the band. I entered the band in 10 days before the first show with me and we had only two rehearsals. I was puzzled a lot, but I accepted this challenge believing in the great opportunity there. Besides the great challenge, it was also a big responsibility because actually at that moment I was substituting three great national guitar names: Kiko, Rafael and Edu. We finished the tour (15 shows, if I’m not mistaken) in the beginning of November and after some line-up changes in the band in January 2008 Edu, Felipe and me began to work at the pre-production of Fragile Equality.
Paulo: It was necessary to have one more guitarist in the band due to some style changing from the first to the second album. I’ve already been acquainted with Marcelo (Moreira, Almah’s drummer) for some years, and he told Edu Falaschi about me and I passed some test finishing the arrangements of two songs – Meaningless World and Magic Flame. I created some phrases and parts of these songs. It was a marathon because Edu is a real workaholic. I remember us working 15 hours (plus or minus) per day at the songs, having some sleep and then beginning everything again. After being approved by the rest of the band and joined officially, I spent two weeks more doing the final arrangements. Everything at that time was very new for me, everything was happening very quickly, but I became very happy by the fact that after many years my work was recognized by these people, and under such circumstances when the CD should have been ready in a short term.
Another thing that impressed me a lot is the tone of the guitars. When have you got it to this level? How did this search go, allowing you to get a much more rude but “organic” sound in comparison with, for example, Angra?
Marcelo: Before getting to this point, we had a few dead-ends. Some wanted to have a sound more “traditional for heavy metal”. Paulo and me were inclining to try something different which could sound good but wouldn’t necessary be the pattern of sound 90% of the bands use. We wanted to reach some common ground and it gave us the direction. After many conversations we came to some common sense, to a mixture of two distinct sounds of the guitar, which summed up resulting in the sound one can hear on the disc. We would like to do a heavy CD, with the guitar sound powerful and definite, but with its own identity at the same time. I became very happy with the result. The experience Edu and Felipe had as producers helped us a lot, especially with the mixing. After everything was recorded, during the mixing each instrument was brought to the same level as the others, and reaching the balance between these sounds was a real art.
Paulo: We were between traditional sound of Mesa/Boogie and Marshall. We ended up with the option of some hybrid sound because we would like it to sound as much different as possible within the style and, by obvious motives, without similarity with Angra, as far as these comparisons were inevitable. Besides that, among all the possibilities the sound should have given us our proper identity. And that became clear also with the solos, because there every one did simply what he wanted respecting the tone, the taste and the imprint of another one.
How have you been involved in the process of writing all the stuff?
Marcelo: This is a good question. I’m from Brasilia, Paulo and Moreira are from Caxias do Sul, Edu and Felipe are from Sao Paolo, so we arranged our meetings, sometimes in SP, sometimes in Brasilia for composing and pre-production. At the beginning there were only Edu, Felipe and me. Then Moreira entered the band and joined the sessions. Finally, Paulo came in. Though we had already come to the finish line at that time, Paulo became very important for the whole process, because he stepped in with many cool ideas and he greatly helped with finishing some songs and also with the composition of the others. Fairly speaking, I couldn’t refrain from mentioning that Edu had enough useful ideas, but no matter whose name is under which song, all of us were involved in the whole process, at one moment giving our view regarding the arrangements, at another changing a harmony or a guitar riff. The geography of the band members made the whole thing a little bit difficult, but finally it worked and the CD took only six months to be ready. Taking into account everything – composing, arranging, pre-production, recording, mixing and mastering, we can arrive to the conclusion, that no CD has ever been done so quickly. (laughs).
Paulo: I spent two weeks finishing arrangements in Edu’s house. It was when Birds Of Prey song appeared. I remember that Edu came up with the idea of this song recorded on Ipod, he even sang the opening riff, and the chemistry was so strong, so in that way the whole song appeared just in a few hours. I feel very proud to compose the instrumental part in the middle. After some time, already in the studio we increased thirds and divided the solos. The basis of certain songs, like Beyond Tomorrow, was quite simple, and we worked the songs up in accordance with our taste. As far as we were totally free regarding the solos, we tried to use some things not very common for the style and we are really satisfied with the final result.
What were the most important lessons you’ve got during the studio work, concerning the tone and recording of the guitars?
Marcelo: I had already had some good experience of studio work, but not the same like Edu and Felipe had. The most interesting thing was the opportunity to see that there’re various ways for production of something, which can lead to a good result. The methodology they use is quite different from that one I’ve got accustomed to, but I believed in heavy metal experience of these persons and the results were excellent. It wasn’t any revolutionary method of recording and tone. As for me, the main lessons concerned personal point of view and relationships. We spent many days very close to each other in the studio, recording from Monday to Monday, mainly from midday till midnight. We were very tired, but that was worth of it. Regardless of all, I believe that after this recording I became a better guitarist both on my technical level and on the level of producer requirements.
Paulo: The main lesson for me was the amount of distortion that was used during the recording. Today I play with the tone which is quite cleaned up, but which is still as heavy as before. Besides that, although I had already had some studio experience it was not on such a level, because this time everything had to be done perfectly.
Marcelo, what’s the current situation with Khallice? Do you continue as a member of the band or are you going to consider Almah as a priority?
Marcelo: I continue as a member of the band, we should play with Symphony X here in Brasilia (the interview was done in September 2008). Khallice is a project I established still at that time when I was a teenager and it’s very special for me. We released the first CD through Magna Carta, one EP with six songs in the first half of this year and we need some time to finish our second disc, we’re going to release it in the beginning of 2009. But everything depends on the schedule of Almah in the next year. To be honest, now I have to consider Almah as a priority, because there’s no use trying to be everywhere investing time, dedication, money, if you are not able to gather all the harvest. I believe a lot in Fragile Equality, Almah is in a very good period with many cool things, which can happen. The things are going really cool and we feel very good. Thus, now it’s a moment to work up in order to make these things real. We have an excellent product in our hands and we need to work at it, to promote it and that’s exactly what I’m doing now. Thanks God, my partners from Khallice completely understand it. When they were staying together for some days during the recording in Sao Paolo we started the ties of friendship with Almah people. When we meet, it can be in Sao Paolo or in Brasilia, we always have a great party together.
Is Almah a real band with its proper and independent way, solid line-up or is it just a side project of Edu, where all the decisions are made by him?
Marcelo: Almah has turned into a real band. We are living and making the most important decisions in a democratic way in most cases. It’s clear that as far as Edu had already had the contracts with international labels and producers with the first CD, a lot of things were in his hands but we trusted his experience within this market. He always discusses the options and the attitude with everybody. We have an enterprise, No Laço Music, where we all are equal concerning our rights as well as our obligations. We know that it’s not so easy to keep this “equilibrio” – from the name of the album – but our intention is to have something cool in our career for everybody of us five, from artistic and financial points of view. It’s clear because no one lives only by the dreams.
Didn’t you feel some kind of embarrassment working with two musicians with bigger experience from the marketing point of view, like with Edu and Felipe?
Marcelo: I don’t think it might be called as an “embarrassment”. To be honest, I’m very happy with everything that happens in the band and with the fact that I’m there. I keep telling that a band is a marriage of five (in our case) people. It is known that in some moments it’s not easy at all to support healthy relationships just with one person. Imagine how it works between five different heads, which one with its own proper life experience, its proper culture – or the absence of it (laughs) – its proper values, and they have to co-exist at one place, to choose ways, to make decisions, which affect all. Regardless of having Edu and Felipe in the band, there are moments of disagreement, but nothing beyond the stuff that can happen in any other work. The importance of this moment means to put the ego away, to be able to talk, to hear and to have a good feeling for choosing the best way for the band, not for oneself. And still it’s going in this way. I think, the experience we’ve got in other bands helps us to avoid certain mistakes. We are working in the way, which I consider to be the most appropriate.