The news of Brazil’s finest power metal band Shaman breaking up hit us by surprise last year. We talked to singer Andre Matos back in 2004, and he seemed more than happy with his music and his fellow musicians. Andre is not new to quitting established acts and starting life anew, as he had previously parted ways with such great bands as Viper and Angra, but the end of Shaman was something completely unexpected and unexplainable. Luckily, very soon the news came that Andre was now going solo, and his new album “Time To Be Free” saw the light of day in Japan in August 2007. We made use of the opportunity to talk to Andre and find out what keeps this stone rolling along the road of breakups and new starts…
You fronted three bands, and now you are a solo artist. How much difference do you see in being the lead singer of a band and going solo? Is being on your own more comfortable for you nowadays?
To be honest, there’s no big difference between the two things. Curiously, as a solo artist, or a solo band, I have more feeling of a real band than sometimes in the past, when I was a member of a real band. It’s different from what I expected, because I was afraid of it a little bit before making the decision to be a solo artist. I was afraid that there would be some kind of separation between myself and the other musicians, but actually it didn’t happen at all. On the other hand, everybody in the band feels different because of being in a band which has the singer’s name. The biggest responsibilities are on my back right now, so the guys feel a bit a bit relieved in doing what they do best, which is playing. It also created a better atmosphere in the end. It’s a weird feeling, because it’s not what I expected, and I was really surprised.
Many people ask me nowadays if Andre Matos is a solo project or something like that, but I would never call it a project. Projects are things that can finish in a year, or all the musicians can be replaced, and there’s no close distance if you run a project. I would rather call it a solo band, it’s a real band that has the singer’s name.
Can you say a few words about the musicians that are backing you up live and in the studio? We know Hugo Mariutti (guitar) and Luis Mariutti (bass), but who are the rest of the guys?
Let’s start with Luis. He’s been my partner since early Angra times, we’ve been playing together for more than 15 years. Hugo is his brother, he joined Shaman in the beginning of the band’s existence, so me and these two guys have been working together for many years. Fabio Ribeiro is the keyboard player who used to perform live with both Angra and Shaman, so we have also known each other for a long time. Andre Hernandes, nicknamed Zaza, was the very first guitar player for Angra, he left the band right before the recordings of the first album (“Angels Cry”, 1993). He was already a great guitar player back then, and I’m very glad that I have the opportunity to sort of rescue this relationship. I’m very proud of him.
As for the drummer, I now have in the band a different person than the one who recorded the album. The previous drummer was more of a session musician, and he couldn’t really follow the band anymore, so he was replaced by a very young drummer called Eloy Casagrande. This guy is only 16 years old, but I think I was right when I chose this guy, because he’s right now considered one of the best drummers in Brazil. About two years ago he took part in a drum contest in the U.S., the biggest drum contest over there, which is promoted by the “Modern Drummer” magazine. This guy won the first prize, and back then, at the age of 14, he was considered the best drummer in the Americas. You can imagine what he’s doing right now, at 16, and I also can imagine what he’s gonna do when he’s 18. He’s already a huge success, and when we play live, everybody is impressed by his playing. Eloy is a very sweet guy, and he’s also very glad to be with us, because he was a fan of our band before, and he couldn’t even believe that we would be calling him for an audition.
We have put a very good team together, and this team has already had its debut in Japan. We were invited as special guests for the biggest metal festival in Japan called Loudpark, where we played together with Marilyn Manson, Heaven And Hell, Arch Enemy and many other bands. It was a very nice concert, and it’s a good preview of what the rest of the tour is gonna be.
Your album is entitled “Time To Be Free”. What does freedom mean for you personally? Does it mean that your creativity was limited in Angra and Shaman?
Well, this album title can have many different explanations. The most obvious one is, of course, that now it’s finally the solo period in my career, and finally I got released from my previous bands, so I can feel free to develop whatever I had in mind and to do whatever kind of music I like. Now I can bring out some very particular feelings of mine, and being solo means that I am not tied to any kind of musical style. On this album, with the help of producers and musicians I could manage to blend together a lot of different styles that made part of my history in the past, but also have a look at the future, as the sound of the record is pretty modern. I think that sort of freedom is represented at the actual period of my career.
But if I had to explain the album title, I would tell you that there’s a sort of concept behind it. When I write albums, I normally prefer to write over a certain concept, because it helps me to develop the whole ideas together and come up with different parts of the story which in the end will make sense together. Speaking about “Time To Be Free”, I think nowadays we all, regardless of where we live, are living in a very weird world. It’s a world, which is very oppressive, chaotic, and hectic, it’s a moment in the history of mankind when everybody feels a lot of pressure to find some kind of answers and leads, because everybody has basically lost their belief in politicians, religion or anything else that was strong in the past. All these things used to lead people somewhere, and nowadays individualism rules everybody, but it also ruins everybody a little bit. Everybody’s trying to struggle inside to find their own liberty, their own freedom, and I believe that music is one of the few resources that’s able to reunite people, that’s able to gather everybody together and make some changes in people’s lives. Thus, “Time To Be Free” means that it’s time to get released from your troubles, problems, worries and fears.
On the other hand, “Time To Be Free” has one more meaning. You need TIME to be free, to conquer your freedom you gotta work it out first, you gotta struggle hard. You gotta find a way inside of you, and it takes some time. After you work your time out and find your freedom, then it’s about time to be free.
Can you say a few words about the song “Rio”? You previously wrote about Lisbon (on Angra’s “Fireworks” album (1998)), what made you write about Rio this time?
Who knows, maybe one day I’m gonna write about some Russian city, St. Petersburg, for instance. (laughs) “Rio” was written under different circumstances than “Lisbon”. I was in Lisbon for a concert, and I had a very deep impression of the city, which was something almost transcendent. I don’t know if it’s because of my Portuguese roots or anything else, but I felt strongly connected to some deep feelings, and I tried to expose that in the song. As to “Rio”, the inspiration came from another side. It was after I watched a famous Brazilian movie that was actually spread all over the world, I don’t know if you saw it, it’s called “City Of God”. It’s one of the best movies ever done in Brazil, and its scene is basically set in Rio. In addition, my whole family comes from Rio, although now I live in Sao Paulo, the biggest city in the country. So I spent a good part of my childhood in Rio, and I had the same kind of impression that the movie showed. The movie’s basically picturing the violence in the city, it shows how criminals, mafia, drug dealers and all those kinds of people live in such a beautiful environment. Rio is a really beautiful place on Earth, it’s incredible that they managed to build the city in such a picturesque environment. This movie made a very deep impression on me, it showed how violence could live together with beauty, and both things kind of complement each other. That made me write the lyrics for “Rio”, and I think the song creates the same kind of atmosphere, we even used some samples from a carnival samba school CD.
What made you do a new version of your old song “Moonlight” from the second Viper album (“Theatre Of Fate”, 1989)? Was it done to underline the unity of your entire career, or was there a different reason?
There’s a very special reason for that. “Moonlight”, the Viper song, written in 1989, when I was 17 years old, was the very first song I ever wrote. It makes a lot of sense to me that now I’m putting out my first solo record, and my very first song should be on it. For me it represents a lot, it’s pretty symbolic. But of course, it’s a sort of re-edition of the song, as now, many years later I can look at this story with different eyes. Many things have happened meanwhile, I’ve passed through many different experiences, and if I had to tell the same story again, that’s the way I would tell it now. I think it’s very interesting, I basically made a new song out of it, that’s why I also changed the song title to “A New Moonlight” – I wrote some new musical parts and some new lyrics that basically finish the idea of the original song. The whole song now has more of the Queen atmosphere, thanks to the combination of the voice and the piano, I think it’s more atmospheric, more intimate and, in a way, a little deeper than the original version, but still if you compare both versions, you notice the continuation from one to anther.
The Japanese version of the album contains a bonus track called “Separate Ways”, which is a cover version of Journey. Why did you choose this particular track?
This is a bonus track that was released in Japan and is not gonna be released in the rest of the world, because the Japanese always want to have something special, some kind of guarantee for their market. That doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t play it live, we’re actually playing it live, because it turned so great on the album. Actually I had some plans to record a Journey song in the past, because I like Journey singer Steve Perry very much, he’s one of the best singers of the 1970s and the 1980s. Many people told me throughout my career as I sound similar to his voice, and I’ve always found it nice. I had in mind that one day I would like to record a Journey song, but I didn’t know which song. First I thought of recording something like “Don’t Stop Believing”, but it would never match the music style that I’m doing right now. “Separate Ways” was the idea of producer Roy Z, he came in the studio when we were discussing a bonus track for Japan, we wanted to do a cover song, and he said, “Let’s do a Journey song!” I said, “Well, it’s an old idea of mine, but I don’t know which song we’re gonna do.” So he came up with “Separate Ways”, because it’s the most heavy metal song out of all Journey songs, and he thought it was gonna sound good. Indeed it sounded very good, we changed the arrangement a little bit and made it heavier. Even though this song is not gonna be available on other versions, people can have an idea about it by downloading it from the Internet, and we’re gonna play it live, so people will have the chance to hear it anyway.
Speaking more about covers, we were really surprised by the cover version of “More” by Sisters Of Mercy, which you did with Shaman on the album “Reason” (2005). Everybody knows that Andrew Eldritch has a low voice, and you are known for singing very high. How difficult was it for you to sing and to rearrange this track?
Actually I had to wake up very early in the morning to be able to sing this track. (everybody laughs)
And party a lot the night before, right?
(laughs) Yeah, it was a very good challenge for me. I’ve always liked to try different things, and this cover song was a very different thing to try. Back then we even shot a videoclip for it. The song was also the idea of the producer, this time it was Sascha Paeth, he had worked together with Andrew Eldritch and Sisters Of Mercy in the past, he knew the song and he knew that we could do a good version of it. As you know, Shaman split in 2006, and this was the very last hit of the band, it was broadcast on TV and radio and so on.
Looking back at your days with Shaman, are you still satisfied with the way that the album “Reasons” turned out, or do you now think the band went a little too far in its experiments?
I think it was a very honest approach, because it was definitely what we were feeling like, it was the sort of music we were listening to, and it was an honest decision for us back then to compose a whole album like this. It was really different from the things we’d done before, but we never were afraid of daring something or trying something new, we never got stuck to something just for commercial reasons. The whole atmosphere in the band was a bit darker, maybe it was a sign that the band would come to an end pretty soon, and you could already see it on this record. It’s very different from the kind of music I’m doing now. Right now I consider the music that I’m doing with my band to be a mixture of everything. There are elements of this period of Shaman in it, but there are also elements of the previous Shaman record, the whole period with Angra, and the period with Viper, so now everything is more diverse, while “Reasons” was done in a very established, solid musical style. It was closer to the gothic direction, which doesn’t have much to do with my musical direction right now.
So far “Time To Be Free” is only out in Japan, and you have also signed a contract for Brazil. And what is the situation in Europe?
I must say that we are very close to releasing the album worldwide. Not all the contracts and releases could happen simultaneously, and in a certain way it’s cool, because it creates a sort of expectation, but I can tell you that Russia is one of the first countries that’s gonna release the album. It’s gonna be released in both Russia and Brazil at the same time, and next year we’re gonna have it released in the rest of Europe and probably other countries. (Shortly after the interview Andre signed a European deal with SPV/Steamhammer – ed.)
Don’t you think that when you release an album in just one country, it hurts the sales, because the songs leak to the Internet, and people all over the world are already familiar with them by the time you have the album out in their home regions?
I agree with you, but I also think it’s useless to fight against the Internet. People who are going to just download the album will do it anyway, even though the album could be released in their country simultaneously. But I still believe that one of the biggest lucks of the metal scene is that we have one of the most solid fanbases. The real fans are gonna buy the record anyway, because they are collectors, and they want to have this piece of music in their hands to fully appreciate and enjoy it. It’s also the case with me – if I like something, I will never be satisfied with Internet downloading and a CDR, I wanna have the cover artwork and the lyrics together, and I wanna be part of this team, if you know what I mean. In the end, it’s useless to fight against Internet facilities, and it doesn’t make a lot of difference if the album is released earlier in one country, or if it’s out all over the world simultaneously. We just should be able with this new situation.
Shaman had a deal with AFM Records in Europe. Looking back, do you think it was a good deal? Do you think they did everything they could for the band?
If we speak specially about the Russian market, it worked out a little better before, when we released the album “Ritual” (2003) and the “Ritualive” DVD (2004) on CD-Maximum directly. The second album, “Reasons”, was released on AFM Records all over Europe, but I felt it worked out better in the beginning, when we had a proper contract with the Russian label. That’s why I’ve chosen the same way now, and my deal now is exclusive with Russia, and for the rest of Europe it’s gonna be a different thing.
Now we come to the question that you’ve been asked pretty much: in Angra it was not the musicians who had the rights to the name, but the management, and in Shaman you were the frontman and a founding member, but once again, it is the drummer, and not you, who has the rights to the name. How did it happen?
He just stole the name. It’s a very bad story, but there’s no reason why I should conceal it from you. We all, the four guys, founded the band together, we worked hard for many years, and that was a collective dream, so to say. We were sharing everything, there was no difference of any kind in income, payments, and it was a very democratic situation. But then the band split, and the drummer was faster than the rest. He took the name for himself, and he thinks he’s able to run the band alone, but we don’t believe so. We believe that this band only made sense when the four guys were together. That also explains why the other two guys are still playing with me, even though the band has my name now. They were very nice and noble to accept such conditions and stay with me, and we’re still carrying on together. We’re not happy with the situation around the name Shaman, because we think it’s something that should belong to the four guys together, and if somebody wants keep the name for himself, it should be agreed with the rest of the guys. But it wasn’t, it was like somebody was stealing the name from the rest.
You played with three bands that enjoyed success, and you left all of them. What keeps you going after all these years?
I must be honest to you: I was never afraid of changes. People sometimes thought I was crazy, they said I was out of my mind when I would come up to the point when I had to leave a band or put an end to it. They only understood it later on, when they listened to the music. Nowadays I have much more people saying that every time I took some kind of decision like this I was right. To be honest, what I can’t stand is not being honest, first to myself, and then to the rest of the people – the fans, the musicians, and so on. I could never really accept the situation which is not comfortable anymore, which is not creative anymore, which is not healthy anymore, just for contractual reasons or money reasons or anything like that. We rejected a lot of guarantees, a lot of success, a lot of money many times, but we did it for the sake of music, for the sake of our integrity as musicians. I have always been a person who’s not afraid of changing, of trying something new when I feel that things aren’t going right anymore. That’s what it felt for various reasons when I was in the three previous bands that I founded. When the band would come to a point when I felt that it was stuck, I really preferred to build something completely new again than insist on something that was already going to die. Right now I’m putting together my solo career, and of course, I can’t split from myself. (laughs) I’ll stick with the name Andre Matos for the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure.
You cooperated with Tobias Sammet on the first two Avantasia records, but why aren’t you involved in the third one?
Well, I will be, because the third one has two parts, and I’m gonna sing on the second one. When they were working on the first one that’s out now (“The Scarecrow”, 2008), I was pretty, and they were pretty busy doing different things, so we couldn’t match, we couldn’t meet to do it together. But the second part is already planned, and I’m gonna start recording my parts pretty soon.
You lived in Europe for a few years, but then you returned to Brazil, and you are still living there. Don’t you think that living in Europe it would be easier to achieve record deals and gain more popularity for your bands?
(laughs) Maybe yes, but I miss my country too much! Europe is sometimes too cold for a poor Brazilian, and I need good weather, I’m not so much to cold as you guys. (everybody laughs) Sometimes I was suffering very hard in the wintertime (laughs), so I had to go back to Brazil and relax a little bit over here. Sao Paulo has medium temperature, it’s not too hot and not too cold, which is a contrast to other parts of the country, such as Rio – those places are too hot, and I couldn’t live there, either. São Paulo has a sort of tempered weather, and I’m fine living here, even though it’s a very big city with a lot of traffic, pollution and everything. But I was born here and I’m used to it. I have to say it was a great experience living in Germany for more than two years, because it changed my mind about Europeans completely. In Brazil, we have this impression sometimes that Europeans are cold and distanced people, and I learned that it’s not like this. You just need to know how to press the right button in everybody. People in Europe are really friendly and faithful, and that’s something I really appreciate in European mentality. I also appreciate the way they work and the fact that they are so well-organized. It made me learn a lot for my personal life, so now I behave like a Brazilian sometimes and like a European on other instances, and I’m fine with that.
And what do you think about Russians?
I think you are fucking brave warriors! You won World War II, people think it was the United States, but I know it’s not, it was Russia who won it. I’ve always been a big admirer of Russia, and that’s no hypocrisy, I’m not saying it just because I’m talking to you. Back then when I was a kid, I was very impressed with the Soviet Union. When I saw military parades on TV, I was astonished, I wanted to be there and experience it personally, because it impressed me so deeply. And because I learned classical music and I graduated later on as classical composer and orchestra conductor, I couldn’t be unaware of great Russian music. I’m a fan of the biggest Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rakhmaninov and Prokofiev, as well as Russian orchestras. I’ve read a lot of books about Russia and by Russian authors such as Dostoyevsky. I have a very old dream to find myself in Russia one day, to get to know your country much better, and hopefully one day I will have a chance to be there. I think this day is gonna come pretty soon.
We would be very delighted to come to your concert over here! By the way, how does your current setlist look like? Do you only play your solo songs, or do you also include songs from other periods of your career?
It really depends on where we are playing. The setlist in Japan is one thing, the setlist in South America is another thing, and the setlist in Europe is gonna be different once again. Of course, it’s time to be free, so I’m free to do whatever I’ve composed and sang in my whole career, so the setlist can vary from Viper songs to songs by Angra, Virgo, Shaman and new stuff. Maybe we will play some cover songs that I like, I’m completely open for any kind of setlist. The difficult task is to figure out what suits better for each of the territories. Of course, I wanna do something that also pleases the audience, that’s why when we rehearse for our shows, we rehearse a lot of different songs, even though we’re not gonna play all of them live, but we want to have them in case we decide to play a different song each night.
We asked you this question three years ago, but we will have to ask you again – do you plan to do a second album with Virgo?
(laughs) I hope so! But I must have told you back then and I’m telling you now that Sascha and me are busy with our own stuff. Sascha is one of the best and most famous producers in Europe, so his schedule is full until – let me think – 2011. (laughs) I’m kidding but probably something like that! And me, I had to restart everything again, so I had a lot of work with the solo album. Right now things start to get a bit quieter, but I was working very hard so far. There has been no time to sit down together and do it together, but when I was in Germany in early 2007 to work on the mix and final recordings for “Time To Be Free”, we were talking about it again. He showed me some new songs, he didn’t stop at all and he’s been composing in the meanwhile, and I found them very good. They suit Virgo very well, so we definitely wanna do it, it’s just a question of time. Many people are expecting this album, and I think it’s gonna be stupid if we don’t do it.
Finally, how do you see the future for your solo career? How much touring do you plan to do? Have you already started writing for the second album?
(sighs) We have already started touring. First it was here in Brazil, we did some test shows, where we were trying the setlist, moving around with different songs and seeing people’s reaction, which was really great, better than expected. Then we were suddenly invited to this Japanese festival, and that was a big proof, because it was a huge concert in front of 95,000 people in Tokyo, and after that we’re basically ready for everything. We’re continuing now, we’re doing some touring in South America until the end of year, but there’s already an offer for a big tour of Europe and Asia in the first half of 2008. That’s possibly gonna include Russia as well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, so we’re gonna be able to meet pretty soon over there.
As for the second album, I think it’s about time to start thinking about it, and I don’t wanna keep the break between the two albums for too long. When we’re touring during 2008, it’s also gonna be the time of hard work, as we will try to compose songs on the road. And when we’re back from tour, we will start preparing the pre-production for the next album.
Andre Matos on the Internet: http://www.andrematos.net
Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (CD-Maximum) for arranging this interview
Roman “Maniac” Patrashov, Natalie “Snakeheart” Khorina
November 29, 2007