interview with Black Phantom

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Have any of you played in other bands? Yes, and we still do. Luca Belbruno, Andrea Garavaglia and myself are still in MESMERIZE, one of the oldest and most respected Heavy Metal bands in Italy, active since 1989. Manuel Malini and Roberto Manfrinato play also in ERUPTION, a tribute band which plays covers of the most important Classic Heavy Metal bands of the Eighties. 

How is it that you started playing music? It happened in High School, almost 30 years ago. In order to play rock music with my classmates, I had my parents buying me a bass guitar for Christmas. I was already listening to Heavy Metal music at those times, but I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to play. Hopefully I’ve learned a little bit during these years!

What are your names? / Who plays what? / How old are you? Manuel Malini – vocals, Andrea Tito – bass; Luca Belbruno – guitars; Roberto Manfrinato – guitars; Andrea Garavaglia – drums. We are all in our forties.

Have you had other previous members? No, even if we are very experienced musicians, the band is relatively new, since we just formed three years ago. So, this is still the one and only original line-up.

Did you make music even when you were young? Yes, I’ve always liked to create my own music, even at the beginning of my career. So, I’ve always had my bands playing tunes written by me, even at the High School, back in the day.

Where are you from? Milan area, Italy. Basically we are all coming from the same area, we don’t live that far from each other. That makes things logistically easier to manage, compared to other existing bands.

What year did the band form? 2014. So we’re still kind of fresh! The band was born as a solo project during a pause of my main group MESMERIZE. Actually BLACK PHANTOM developed and became a fully operating band quite naturally, basically because we are all enjoying a lot what we are doing!

What's your style of genre? Traditional Heavy Metal, in the genre of classic bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, with a very bass-oriented sound, high-pitched vocals, and a modern and contemporary songwriting.

What inspires you? Both Music & Lyrics-wise, everything that moves my heart and catches my mind.

How often and where do you rehearse? Once a week, sometimes twice, if it’s near to an important incoming gig or event. Our drummer owns a recording studio, so besides having the chance to properly record our albums there, that is the place where we regularly rehearse too.

How have you developed since you started with the music? Of course with time, practice and experience, my way of writing songs and playing bass has developed and improved. If I had to define what changed, I’d say I’m more essential and ‘straight to the point” now, compared to the beginning of my career… very often “less is better”. 

Do you have other interests of work outside the band? I’m pretty busy with both BLACK PHANTOM & MESMERIZE to think about other projects, right now. Anyhow, I’m open to the odd collaboration here and there, if it’s not too demanding or time-consuming, of course.

Are you looking for a booking agency, and what are your thoughts around that? As of now, we’re booking gigs by ourselves. This doesn’t exclude that we’ll hire one in the future, but their proposal shall be reliable, and not just a way to pick money from the pockets of the band.

Are you looking for a label, and what are your thoughts around that? No thanks, we already have one (Punishment 18 Records), and we’re very, very comfortable with them. We’ve been already working together very well in the past and, besides that, they’ve made us the most honest proposal of all the ones we’ve received, so it was a no-brainer to choose them. 

What made you decide to make this music? Well, that’s exactly the music I’ve grown up with, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve started listening to Heavy Metal when I was 14 years old, and from that moment it got in my blood. At 16 I got my very first bass guitar, and then I immediately started writing my own stuff. So, it wasn’t actually any big decision, it came really and totally as a natural thing.

What are your songs about? At the beginning of my writing career, I always based my songs about stories, of many different genres, but always stories. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, and so on… both original or inspired from already existing  works, such as comics, movies or novels. As of now, I’ve slightly changed my usual process, so I tend much more to write about common life, human interaction and more personal subjects: probably with the passing of the years I’ve found that real life can be as much as interesting as fiction!

Who does the composing and writes the lyrics? Being BLACK PHANTOM my own solo project, all the material has been written by myself. In the future I’ll involve the other band-members much more also in the writing process, and not just the arrangements one, as it happens today.

Do you start with the music or the lyrics? Music, always. Lyrics are usually the last thing that complete a song, in my way of composing. Anyhow, I have a block notes where I write down all my thoughts and sentences that may be useful for lyrics, so when it’s time I already have some material to pick up and use.

Do you compose in a certain environment? Yes, my own house, on Saturday morning. That’s the most productive moment of the week, where I can play my acoustic guitar and put down all the ideas that filled my mind. I tend to record or write down all the material I come up with, in order to organize it later, creating proper songs to be presented to the band.

Have you done any covers live? Yes, we’re adding a bunch of covers to all the songs from our album “Better Beware!” in our current live-set. The covers we’re doing now are unusual tracks of major bands of our genre such as IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and HELLOWEEN. 

What language do you sing in? English. That’s universal.

What are the least and most people to attend one of your gigs? Well, as I’ve told you as BLACK PHANTOM we’ve just started playing around: as of now we’ve just played at our release party at Rock’n’Roll Club near Milano. I really couldn’t give you exact numbers, but the place was filled to the brim, so it was definitely OK!

What ages are most of your concert attendants? Our kind of music is Traditional Heavy Metal, so it’s not strange to see that the vast majority of the audience is not really a teenager anymore! It’s kind of natural, I think: most probably the youngest ones are attracted to more modern sounds and styles. Actually, we aren’t bothered so much by the age of our audience…as long as they’re having a good time listening to us!

Do you always play the same songs live, or do you vary? As of now the selection of songs in our live playlist is not that vast, because we just have one album released…. So it’s basically the songs of the album, plus a bunch of cover songs of historical Heavy Metal bands. I think we are fully aware regarding which songs of our CD are stronger than others, so I guess that, when we will have a limited time to play, the tracks that we’ll choose will most probably be always the same.

Do you have a regular place you play live often? I guess that the place I’ve played live more often is the already mentioned Rock’n’Roll Club near Milano. We’ve been there a lot of times with MESMERIZE, and we’ve always felt like home: that’s why we’ve chosen it for the release party of BLACK PHANTOM.

What was your first gig like? Uh, it was in December 1990, at the Xmas Party of my High School. I clearly remember it as if it was yesterday… while it’s been 27 years ago! I remember that during the very first sing (by the way, an Iron Maiden instrumental tune) I was completely stoned! Thankfully, from the 2nd song onward, I relaxed a little bit! Ahahah!

What was your latest gig? As mentioned earlier, it’s been the release party for our new album “Better Beware!”, and it’s been a blast! That was the first time where we played our songs live, and we are really satisfied about the feedback of the audience. A very good start!

Have you had to cancel a gig? Never with BLACK PHANTOM: as of now, of course, since we’ve just started. With MESMERIZE it happened just a couple of times, for unpredictable health problems. Not bad, in about 25 years!

Where have you played live this year? As of now, just the release party I’ve mentioned earlier. We’ve just started playing around, you know J

Where do you plan to gig the coming year? We have two nice Open Air festival around here before the summer, then in autumn we’ll start playing in clubs all around the North of Italy until the end of the year. 

When did you start to sell merchandise, and what do you have for sale? We’ve started with the basics: besides selling our own CD in a special version with 2 additional exclusive postcards, we have a very nice t-shirt, printed on both sides. Up till now we’ve sold this stuff at our Release party only, but from June onward everything will be also available via web.

Where can people buy your merchandise? Our Facebook page, that will be the place!

What do you think about people downloading music instead of buying records now a days? If the download is a way to test the music before buying it, for me it’s OK. But if you just download it and enjoy it and you’re not paying for it… well, that’s theft, in my opinion. Simple as that.

How do you think the music industry have changed because of this? The music industry has changed, but not just because of that. It’s the world that has changed: I think that, compared to years ago, it’s people that are not giving value to music as much as they did before. And with value I’m not just talking about the money, I talk about interest and time to listen. 

What do you think of my work? I really appreciate it! Your work is really admirable and the space you’re giving us is undoubtedly an help to small bands like ours.

How do you think and know that this interview will help you in the music business? Any additional visibility to Black Phantom, no matter how limited, is a small treasure for me… so, thanks again for your interest and the space you’re allowing us!

Do you have any role models or idols? It’s not a secret for anybody that Steve Harris has been my model since the beginning of my career, both musically and songwriting-wise. The fact that he’s still around, alive and kicking when he’s 60 is a great guidance for me, and a hope to keep on doing what I love best even if I’m not what you’d call a youngster!

Why do you think that they exist? Hmmm… tough question! I guess that everybody needs an idol, not just to praise him but also and especially as an example to follow and a source of inspiration… I think it’s part of human nature, to look for guidance from somebody who already did it.

Is it easier to find inspiration from older bands, or bands that are more active today? For me, inspiration may come from any kind of input, both music or lyrics, and I don’t’ find any difficulties in finding it from current bands instead of current ones. Of course, then, my preference usually goes to the band I’ve grown up with, so basically it’s older ones… but I don’t have any preclusion to the younger ones.

What have been your biggest obstacles? Luck of time! I would need a 48-hours day to fulfill all my interests and develop all the ideas I have in my mind (while of course carrying out all my duties at work and in the family!) 

What advice would you give other bands or artists? Write what you feel, play what you feel, be true to yourself… and especially, have fun!

How do you get psyched for a gig? No need to get psyched, for me. I’m always kind of calm before a gig, I just want to enjoy every moment of it, actually… No need to put pressure on me and my mates.

Do you have any new material? Oh, yes! 2016 has been a very productive year for me, so I’ve already written a lot of new stuff. Of course, right now we are kind of busy with the promotion of our record “Better Beware1”, so it’ not time to work with full band on this material yet. I guess that I’ll start exchanging demos of the new songs with my singer Manuel by the end of the year… but before that, let’s concentrate on plating live!

What are your web sites? As of now, there’s only our Facebook page… it has everything it takes, so we don’t plan to have other sites, actually.

How can people reach you? Again, our Facebook page… we’re kind of quick in replying to any incoming message.

What are your plans for the future? We’ve spent quite some time working on the songs of this album, and sometimes it’s been hard work. Now the time has come to have some fun, and that means playing around! So our plan for the near future is to have a lot of gigs and spread our music in the most extensive way. 

Do you have something to add? Well, first of all thanks for the space you’re giving to me and BLACK PHANTOM with this interview: it’s been quite long, but all in all enjoyable! Then, to all the readers, give us a try by listening to some of our songs on our YouTube Channel! Thanks a lot!

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