Interview mit Michele “Meek” Guaitoli von Visions Of Atlantis

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VISIONS OF ATLANTIS release with „Pirates“ already their eighth album, nevertheless the record marks the preliminary goal of a journey of self-discovery and new beginnings. Breaking free from old shackles, freedom and one’s own identity are not only thematically dealt with on the record, but also define the path the symphonic metallers have taken in recent years. Singer and songwriter Michele Guaitoli has played a significant role in the new direction and also in the fact that „Pirates“ is the highlight of the band’s history so far. We talk to him about musical self-discovery, the inevitable influence of Nightwish on bands of this genre and the pirate theme.

Visions Of Atlantis Logo

Hello Michelle, thank you for taking time to do this interview. How are you these days?
Thank you for hosting us and taking some time to explore the depths of the new album “Pirates” with us!

Visions Of Atlantis Bandfoto
VISIONS OF ATLANTIS; © Stefan Heilemann

A few weeks ago, you were on tour in the United States as support for Dragonforce. How was it to travel around the US and how were you received by the fans?
I could talk for hours about the magic experience we lived during the seven weeks in the US. We played 37 shows in front of a great audience, surrounded by a wonderful team and most of all, playing our music live – after two years and a half of forced stop due to the pandemic. The response of the crowd during all of the shows has been beyond good. We’ve been reading some “live-reports” and I remember a reviewer wrote something like “after the show of VISIONS OF ATLANTIS you could totally tell that everyone was ready to board their ship and become a pirate”. I think this expresses quite properly the feeling we had.

Did you have the opportunity to see something from the country between the gigs and do some sightseeing and vacation?
We had some nice days off and of course the schedule, even if busy, allowed us to have some quick walk around the cities. We had time to visit the NASA space station in Houston, we went to Broadway in New York, we had some fun in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, we went to the beach in Pensacola… the opportunity of visiting the countries you play in is one of the blessings of living your life on the road.

You are still playing some European club shows now. What are the differences between touring the US and playing in Europe?
I am answering to this interview exactly one day before the beginning of our European tour. Tomorrow we’ll play in Bruck and der Mur, Austria. The US crowds were really crazy. Everyone jumped, clapped their hands and screamed during our shows, and we even experienced some circle-pits and pogos, which is kinda unexpected – but super-apprecciated! – for a Symphonic Metal band. My hope is that this is given by the darker and heavier sound of the new tracks… let’s see if Europe will react in the same way!

Finally, you and all other bands are able to tour again without restrictions, protective masks and so on. Does it all already feel normal to you or are there still some concerns regarding the pandemic and possible future problems?
I am sure i can speak in the name of all of us by saying that we are crazy excited: finally we’re back in a tour bus here in Europe too. During the pandemic we had the lucky chance of performing a couple of festival shows, but of course with all the restrictions the atmosphere was… weird. In the US we could re-experience the kind of live shows we were used to, with people jumping, clapping, singing without masks and without social distancing. It’s time to bring this back to Europe too, and all our hopes and expectations are for this not to change anymore.

Visions Of Atlantis Pirates Coverartwork„Pirates“ is your second album with VISIONS OF ATLANTIS. What has happened since you joined the band, how well have you grown together and what impact did the pandemic have on the band and the creation of the new album? It’s now the second VoA album in a row without a line-up change, I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of the band.
The line-up of VISIONS OF ATLANTIS has reached a wonderful stability after I joined the band. At the beginning of course we had to “get to know each other”, but in the two years before the pandemic (2018, when I joined, to 2020) and during the pandemic itself our internal relationship has grown fastly and intensely. We’ve been playing a lot and we’ve been staying together, sharing tour buses, rooms, trains and flights so much… luckily right now we found a deep connection, we are all willing to understand each other even in the darkest moment, we are supporting each other, empowering each other… and I believe that this is clearly noticeable in the new record. If “Pirates” is such a huge step forward compared to “Wanderers”, that already was a step forward from “The Deep And The Dark” this is surely given by the reborn fire in the heart of all of us. The pandemic surely gave us the time to work in a deeper and more accurate way on all the details of this entire production, but I am sure that even without the pandemic, from now on things will only keep on going in this direction.

What do you think you do better compared to „Wanderers“, in what way have you developed in the last three years?
We’ve grown as musicians, we’ve grown as composers, we’ve grown as arrangers. We completely changed the team too, as the production has been put in charge of Felix Heldt, for the mixing and mastering we hired Jacob Hansen, and even the songwriting has changed as for this record the composing team was an alliance between Clementine, Felix and myself. Basically everything changed on this level as for the previous record Clemi and I could only participate with a couple of songs, and we never had a producer who wasn’t mixing the album…

What is your influence on the songwriting and the album and the band in general?
To be really honest, I believe my influence has grown a lot between “Wanderers” and “Pirates”, and this is fair enough. When you join a new band as a new member, if on one side it can heavily empower the project, on the other side it can destabilize the overall balance. The other band-members just don’t know you, and there are a lot of elements that have to be put on the plate before giving space. Just think of Arch Enemy, where a guitar player as Lumis never recorded a solo before the last record. After “Wanderers” Thomas, Clementine, Dushi and Herbert really bonded with me and allowed me to give more and more to the band. Right now I can proudly say I composed almost half of the new record (“Master The Hurricane”, “Clocks”, “Legion Of The Seas”, “Freedom”, “In My World”, “Some Lines In Mercy”) and my musical vision is not only appreciated but also extremely welcomed by the entire band. What can I say? I feel lucky, proud and happy of having become part of a family that not only trusts me, but also believes in me, which has not to be taken for granted.

Visions Of Atlantis Bandfoto
VISIONS OF ATLANTIS; © Stefan Heilemann

„Melancholy Angel“ has the melancholy already in the title, but also otherwise „Pirates“ as an album is very melancholic. Where does that come from? „Melancholy Angel“ seems like the fight against your own inner melancholy, so are the lyrics and the melancholic tone also something like self-therapy?
When it comes to the huge majority of our lyrics and the concept, all the credits go to Clementine, as she is the lyric-writer for basically all our songs and she is the one who creates the entire universe VISIONS OF ATLANTIS belongs to. We always start writing the vocal melodies, and around the vocal melodies we build up the songs we write. The final lyrics are the last one to come, so Clemi does her lyric-writing job on musically finalized tracks. As the entire record sounded darker, heavier and deeper since the very beginning, the decision was to have the lyrics following this overall mood, to provide consistency and coherency. I wouldn’t say that our lyrics are meant to provide something like self-therapy but we strongly believe that through music, and of course through our music too, the listener can find relief, can find help in dark moments and can find hints to face issues…

The pirate theme seems a bit overused at first glance. However, in my opinion you implement it very well, the music really exudes the feeling of freedom of the pirate life. Why did you choose this theme and what does it mean to you?
Well, the pirate theme is nothing new in the universe of VISIONS OF ATLANTIS. The band had songs called “Silent Mutiny”, “Seven Seas”, “The Siren And The Sailor” and so many others sea-related tracks way before “Pirates”. We just decided to go all-in with this theme to develop a strong identity. The pirate-theme might be used already by some bands but surely not in the Symphonic Metal jar (or at least not that we know) and in general not in the same way we are approaching to it. You are right, our vision of the pirate-world is romantic: we look at their freedom, at their will to travel and at their strong independency. We’re surely not the alcohol drinking pirates, nor the outlaws that could be easily associated to the pirate universe.

What is it like to play the pirate in the video clips and on stage? In the music videos it looks like it’s great fun.
Oh, believe me, it is pure fun. Of course acting is part of the game, and if you don’t like acting or if you don’t like playing a “role”, well, this is definitely not your cup of tea. But it happens that we all love acting. One of Clementine’s dream was indeed to act for real, and with this latest videoclip she could totally get really close to that world. I’ve always loved acting too, and I am a huge fan of role-playing games such as “Dungeons And Dragons”. Herbert is on the same page and Dushi and Thomas found this entire new wave really exciting. The coolest thing is that you can really express yourself in ways that weren’t possible before. Bringing this to the stage is even better. As you can understand, all in all, this is something we’re fully embracing with a huge smile on our faces.

In my review I wrote – of course a bit exaggerated to point out the improvement – that „The Deep & The Dark“ and partly „Wanderers“ sounded like a bunch of kids trying to imitate Nightwish in romper suits and with clown noses. „Pirates“, on the other hand, seems very grown-up and mature to me, as if you’ve finally found your sound and a lot of self-confidence. What’s your opinion on that?
Well, you described with a little bit of teasing something that I would define as a research for a unique personality that has finally been found. Nightwish are an inevitable influence for every Symphonic Metal band. They basically invented this style and who denies an influence from them and plays Symphonic Metal is lying. It might be a strong statement but I truly believe it. Detaching from your influences is a process that takes time and that needs indeed a strong personality. Let’s start by saying that VISIONS OF ATLANTIS is a band that has re-born exactly with “The Deep And The Dark”. It might be considered the sixth record of the band, but we tend to consider it the first album of the new era of VoA. And yes, it started defining a Symphonic Metal band with strong Nightwish influences. The band tried to find its way in the thematics and the sound, but most likely from the listeners’ point of view, there was still too much of Nightwish and too few of VISIONS OF ATLANTIS. “Wanderers” is the next step. If with “The Deep And The Dark” VOA started a journey, “Wanderers” is what the band found in the middle of the road. Less Nightwish, more personality, but probably a still not defined identity. Now here we are. With “Pirates” I really believe we found our own sound and our own style, especially with songs like “Master The Hurricane”, “Legion Of The Seas”, “Freedom”, “Mercy” etc. Despite the easy “connection” for those who are not really into the jar, we finally sound like VISIONS OF ATLANTIS. Those who say that “Foo Fighters sounds like Nirvana” will surely keep on saying that “VISIONS OF ATLANTIS sounds like Nightwish”, but for those who are into the genre, it is clear to me that right now VoA are a unique entity.

Do you have any other symphonic metal bands as role models, or do you draw your influences from completely different sources?
When it comes to writing, there is absolutely no reference involved. We write our music without thinking “We want to sound like that or that other band” and without aiming at “A song in the style of that track or that other track”. Clemi usually sits on her piano and follows the flow, I have a lot of ideas in my mind and I put them down as they come. It truly is unpredictable and without any pre-influence. For sure I listen to a lot of music and no one really knows what happens inside our brains… but our personal tastes are really variegate and move through all the sub-genres of metal.

I think the flutes and bagpipes are used very well, and the folk elements fit the music perfectly. Do you plan to use these elements further in the future and maybe even expand them and how did the collaboration with Ben Metzner come about?
Everything came up really spontaneously. We didn’t plan in advance to use a bagpipe or a flute on the album…but we found ourselves writing songs like “Heal The Scars”, “In My World”, “I Will Be Gone”… and we found ourselves in need of those instruments to transform our ideas in music. Felix Heldt, our producer, also produces dArtagnan, which is Ben’s band. Quite easy from now to understand how things got together with him, right?

What are the main differences and the similarities for you between singing for VISIONS OF ATLANTIS and your other band Temperance? It’s very interesting that you joined both bands in 2018, was this a coincidence or were you really bored without a bunch of bands?
The only real similarity is the one of having more singers involved, apart for this the two bands are really different. Temperance is a modern, direct and vocally pyrotechnical band where our interplay is based on fun and vocal agility. The sound of the band can’t be defined with just one style as there are hard rock songs, as well as symphonic metal songs, as well as power metal songs, as well as pop-songs etc. VISIONS OF ATLANTIS has a way more defined identity, which got even clearer with the latest album. Where Temperance is direct and modern, VoA is theatrical and symphonic… it might not be super-clear if you only judge the styles of the two bands by the singles, but if you listen to “Pirates” and, for instance, to “Diamanti” – the latest album from Temperance – most likely the only point of connection will be my voice.

Let’s conclude with our traditional brainstorming. What comes to your mind first when you read the following words?
Current favorite album:
Ghost – Impera
Jack Sparrow:
a fellow pirate lost in the seven seas.
Best Movie-/Series-/Book-Universe:
“The Matrix” / “Breaking Bad” / “The Lord Of The Rings”.
Best thing about touring:
the shows!
Worst thing about touring:
the lack of italian coffee.
Something that makes every bad day better:
waking up with a purpose in life.
VISIONS OF ATLANTIS in ten years:
playing concerts with the huge show we have in mind, with all the needed props, light effects and special FX.

Thank you once again for your time, Michelle! The last words are all yours.
I can only give you a huge “thanks” for this extremely nice interview. The space you gave us to provide insights about the new record is absolutely precious… and of course a big thanks goes also to all of those who reached these lines! Thanks for your support, thanks for your interest: are you ready to join us and become a real pirate?

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