Interview Roberto Diaz (Anima Mundi)

“The Lamplighter certainly is the most introspective album by Anima Mundi”

(August 2013, text by Henri Strik, pictures by Arthur Haggenburg and Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

One of the musical highlights of 2013 undoubtedly is The Lamplighter (see review), the new album recorded by the Cuban progressive rock band Anima Mundi. However, before this fourth album could be released many things happened. Therefore band leader and guitarist Roberto Díaz was so kind as to tell Background Magazine all the problems they had before this album could finally be released!

Roberto Diaz

First I would like you to congratulate with the new album. It's once again an amazing album that I consider to be a masterpiece. How do you look at the album yourself?

Roberto Díaz: “Thank you. I think all Anima Mundi albums are different. They all represent a certain period in our artistic and musical development. For me it's hard to say whether The Lamplighter is our best album so far or not, but we all agree that it's just a step forward for the band; it's a new and different musical adventure. It certainly is the most introspective album by Anima Mundi. It invites the listeners to be part of a mutual and warm experience.”

Why did you name the album The Lamplighter and why did you decide to present it in two suites and an epilogue?

The Lamplighter refers to the eternal possibility mankind has to turn on the light of love and understanding whenever we need it. It also symbolizes the consciousness of our inner self. We decided to divide the album in two suites and an epilogue because we composed three different musical structures which are well-defined in the album. In the first suite The Lamplighter  we overrule the major and relative tones. This suite is more vocal orientated and conceptually contain the songs in which the main idea of the lamplighter as a character is introduced and developed. The second suite Tales From Endless Star  is mainly instrumental. Musically it's ruled by minor tones and it contains more contrasts of shadows and lights. Conceptually the songs lead us in another direction to a more universal approach. It's about the universe, the sun and the human race. Epilogue His Majesty Love actually is an independent song. We could say that the rock and roll approach conceptually closes the album as a love anthem.”

Left to right: Virginia, Manuel, Roberto, Yarosky and Emmanuel

Would you please briefly explain the lyrics of the two suites?

On Suite The Lamplighter we introduce the lamplighter as a character. He is our inner self and independent to all the things that the human mind has created. In fact he doesn't know anything about our defeats, our victories and the differences of the human race. The lamplighter just has one message: light the lantern of your heart. It's a parabolic dialogue between our inner being, our feelings and the always ambiguous mind. Suite Tales From Endless Star is another approach to the concept of the lamplighter. In the first suite there's a relation between the inner self and the mind, while the second is dealing with the relation between the universal being and the human race. This suite will introduce you to the concepts of The Dream Child Behind The Mask and Endless Star. These are symbolic names for the cosmic forces of the sun or the universe in a general sense that put us in a temporal relationship with the sun, the creation, the human race and our history. We are here on earth living the wonder. What have we been doing in our lifetime that existence has given us?”

Roberto Virginia Carlos Yarosky Manuel Anaisy

In 1998 you already started to work on the music that has now been released on this album. Initially you wanted to record the album with an orchestra? Why did this never happen?

“Yes, we certainly wanted to have an orchestra on the album! Tales From Endless Star was conceived to be recorded with the band and a symphony orchestra. Well, it never happened mainly due to economic reasons. So far it wasn't possible for us, but when we decided to record a new album this suite was the first one to be included. However, we made new arrangements so that it could be played by the band. It now has a very orchestral approach which will give a certain atmosphere in a concert hall.”

Yes, indeed, it does. It's obvious that the keyboards mainly took over the orchestral parts like flutes, cellos and violins. How difficult was it to replace the orchestral arrangements by keyboards instead?

“It's impossible for a band to approximate the breathing of a symphonic orchestra. That really is impossible. In an orchestra several instruments play its own melody or harmony lines at the same time. This is a big difference with a progressive rock band that has to be connected to other musical solutions in order to get a similar approach. So, in my opinion we only get an approximation of an orchestral sound. You can create the sound of strings, winds and brasses with different kinds of keyboards including the classic Mellotron, but also by using drums, guitar and bass. By doing so, you can create a sound quite similar to a symphony orchestra. When we started to write the musical arrangements we were strongly aware of each phase in the music. You see, live on stage we don't use any sequencers, loops or tapes to support us on stage. When you attend an Anima Mundi concert you're listening to music produced entirely live. For that reason we have to be very precise by knowing what we are going to play live. Finding this balance takes time.”

I guess many fans, including myself, expected The Way, part 2, but that wasn't the case at all. Did you change the sound on the new album deliberately or do you think it still sounds similar to The Way?

“So far each Anima Mundi album sounds differently; that's obvious. This time we were looking for other harmonies and atmospheres. These are the strong points in the music on The Lamplighter. However, I think The Lamplighter has more in common with The Way (2010) than with Jagannath Orbit (2008) or Septentrión (2002). For me it's clear that the third and the fourth album contain more styles and sounds that can be easily recognized.”

Rehearsing in Apeldoorn

As far as I know the main part of the new album has been recorded in the Netherlands. Can you tell me what was recorded in our country and what was done elsewhere?

“Yes, we did a lot of hard work in the Netherlands. One of the main issues was the entire set up and pre-recording sessions of the complete album, including the final arrangements that we conceived in our beloved rehearsal room, a kind of musical laboratory in the basement of Job Roodenburg, our manager. We have called it Elegast Underground and it's located in the city of Apeldoorn. Both the drum parts of José Manuel Govín and the vocals of Carlos Sosa were recorded in the Netherlands. Therefore we used the Audio van Hooidonk Studio located in Leiden. Then we went back to Cuba where we recorded the bass, guitars, keyboards, percussion and the vocal lines of Emmanuel Pirko Farrath, who finally replaced Carlos. He left the band during the production of the album and the preparations for the 2013 European tour for The Lamplighter. The clarinet sessions were recorded in Spain and played by our former band member Anaisy Gómez.”

How was it to spend almost two months in the Netherlands recording music and doing some concerts in Europe? Did you never get homesick for Cuba?

“At the time our long stay in the Netherlands was the best thing that could happen to Anima Mundi. We just have had an amazing time and one of the best in the history of the band. For the recordings of The Lamplighter it was indispensable to stay in your country since we didn't have the possibilities to record an album in Cuba. So the studio at Job Roodenburg's place was a perfect alternative. We took advance of the fact that we were staying in the Netherlands so we also started to perform on stage. We did a kind of tour across the Netherlands and we went to places like Veruno for a prog rock festival in Italy which was magical. On the one hand we missed of course some things from our homeland and especially our families; on the other hand we had a wonderful and magical time in Europe.”

Did your tours through Europe in 2011 and 2012 have any effect on the compositions and the recordings for the new album?

“Yes, definitely, they did. Some amazing ideas where born during those tours. Some of these ideas even appeared on The Lamplighter album.”

When did your former lead singer Carlos Sosa decide to quit the band and for what reasons?

“For Carlos Anima Mundi wasn't his main musical goal. His musical interests clearly go in another direction. For instance, he sings for the National Choir of Cuba and in cabarets and musical shows. That's why the Anima Mundi tours had become a big problem for him. Last year he almost couldn't come with us to Europe; this was really a stressful situation because we almost had to tour with another singer. Actually he already quit the band, but we made some agreements. However, now it was the time for Carlos and Anima Mundi to go our separate ways. So he didn't complete the album and he stopped all activities with the band. It was the best for the both of us.”


How difficult was it to find a good replacement for Carlos and would you please introduce the new singer to our readers?

“Frankly speaking it wasn't difficult at all. Emmanuel appeared the same day just three hours after Carlos had made his final decision. We arranged an audition for him, but we already knew that his voice strongly differs from Carlos' voice. We knew him already before the audition and afterwards we decided to take Emmanuel as a replacement for Carlos and stop searching for a similar voice. It would be better if the new voice for Anima Mundi should totally differ from a pale or even similar voice. This new chapter will guide us to another direction both for the audience and the band. After the surprise of the first performances nobody will ever compare them again. Emmanuel is just different and provides the band some new and distinctive touches.”

Was it difficult for him to sing the vocal parts that originally were written for Carlos' voice?

“Each singer has his own vocal reach. Carlos and Emmanuel not only have different voices but they also differ in style, performance and character. Carlos' voice is more high-pitched while Emmanuel's voice is deeper, darker more introspective with a dramatic touch. I think The Lamplighter is an album more appropriate for Emmanuel's style of singing. I wrote the vocal lines for The Lamplighter in a lower key than the previous Anima Mundi albums, so it wasn't that difficult for Emmanuel. Just Light The Lantern Of Your Heart and the final vocal lines of His Majesty Love were transposed two tones lower. The other songs were similar to the original ones.”

Why did you ask former member Anaisy Gómez again to contribute on the album to play the clarinet?

“Anaisy Gómez has always been involved in the Anima Mundi albums since 1999, except for The Way. For The Lamplighter we contacted her again for the recording of the clarinet parts which she recorded in Spain. At the start of the album we thought about using the bass clarinet together with the tenor clarinet. Later on we had to abandon that idea since we didn't have enough time to include them. Instead we replaced the parts of the bass clarinet by a bassoon produced by the Mellotron.”

Who came with the idea to ask the Belarusian artist Ed Unitsky to create the art work for The Lamplighter? Did you have any influence on the final design?

“Well, the idea came from Mark Johnson, a prog rock lover and a freelancer from the USA. He thought that the music of Anima Mundi and the artwork of Ed Unitsky would perfectly fit together, and he was right. He contacted me and after that I got in contact with Ed which was the beginning of an amazing opportunity of collaborating with Ed. Yes, we had some influences on the concept of the design. Unitsky is a very open-minded artist, who's always willing to listen to the band's ideas or concepts in order to give them exactly what they want. This was also the case for the artwork of The Lamplighter.”

Was the music of bands like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd again an inspiration for this album or did you also listen to other bands that influenced you?

“The influences of the prog rock bands you mention are always present on Anima Mundi albums. However, our music has also been influenced by the symphonic music of the great classic composers. I think it's about fifty-fifty.”  

Did the new album turn out the way you had in mind?

“I think all Anima Mundi albums turned out the way we had in mind. This applies to all bands and composers. As far as The Lamplighter is concerned, the final results come pretty close to the initial ideas. It got its own mood when it was still a work in progress. Each album is a complex process wherein the arrangements, sound engineering, causalities, musical searching and experimentation model the final results. It's always hard to foresee what would become the final sound of an album.”

Why did you decide to break with Musea Records and release the album independently? Do you think this was a wise decision?

“That's quite simple. We have just been looking for the right time to be independent. We think it's better for us because we are now able to be more in control strategically as far as releasing albums is concerned and for economic matters.”

What are the future plans for the band?

“Playing live on stage as much as possible and create new music, that's all in fact...”

Thank you for answering all my questions!

“Well, thanks to Background Magazine for having always been interested in our music!”

More info about AnimaMundi on the Internet:

       review album 'Septentrión'
       review album 'Jagannath Orbit'
       review album 'The Way'
       review album 'The Lamplighter'
       review DVD 'Live in Europe'

       review concert June 2011 in Helmond
       review concert September 2012 in Helmond
       review concert October 2012 in Zoetermeer
       review concert June 2013 in Zoetermeer

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