Anima Mundi is a Cuban band that released their fourth album, The Lamplighter on the 15th of June. They released the album at a special presentation, on the invitation of the Cultuurpodium Boerderij in the Netherlands. They also launched the 'Lamplighter Tour' from this location. The eight stop tour included a show at the famous, 'Night of the Prog' at the Loreley Festival. Yes, it has been a very good three years since their critically celebrated third album, The Way, was released. Now they return in triumph with their latest release. As a fan of the band, Mark Johnson was lucky enough to find some time in their busy schedule for them to answer some questions for Sea of Tranquility.
Mark - Roberto and Virginia, welcome to Sea of Tranquility. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule promoting your new album The Lamplighter and rehearsing for your tour to answer some questions for your fans.
First off, how was the experience of working with Ed Unitsky to create that amazing album artwork for the The Lamplighter? Do you have plans to work together in the future?
Roberto – The experience was unique; Ed is a great artist and professional! In just few words, Ed is capable to reach your ideas and transform them into magic artwork, which easily is able to guide you to another world. He is a wizard! He was also able to create amazing results that you can now perceive in the album CD booklet. The communication between the band and Ed was constant and with open minded creativity during the time the album was being produced. Anima Mundi is very satisfied and pleased with the beautiful artwork Ed created for The Lamplighter. Yes, we have plans for futures collaborations. We are fans!
Mark – Ed is absolutely otherworldly in his creativity. I am so glad you took my advice and made contact with him. I'm hoping to receive your 'Live in Europe' DVD and CD combo in the future, but how much fun was that tour back in 2011?
Roberto –The 2011 European tour meant a lot to Anima Mundi. A favorable situation after The Way was released opened up an opportunity for Anima Mundi to be invited to the Prog Sud festival in France, and also some other gigs across Europe, specifically in Holland, Germany, Belgium and France. So you can imagine how amazing and full of fun that tour was.
The band was fortunate to play in great venues before warm and amazing audiences. For first time and after 15 years of making progressive music, we were performing abroad. It was a dream come true, the beginning of a new age for the band. This good tide has been flowing through 2011, 2012, and 2013 on each of the European tours so far. Each time reaching higher and higher.
Mark – I was so happy when Anima Mundi finally received the recognition the band deserved across Europe. You really amazed those fans. Following your Facebook posts during that time, you really found some excellent support and friends. Would you like to talk about that experience?
Roberto –Yes, we have had so much love, support, enthusiasm and more experiences and emotions that are really hard to put into words. That fills you with joy and energy and also encourages you to keep creating music. It has been pure magic.
There are so many names and familiar faces that we love. They spread the word helping the band in one way or another. We would especially like to thank Job Roodenburg, Heidi Burgs, Mira Zuli, Philippe and Patricia Setán. They have supported the band in a very directly way. Without their help the Anima Mundi success wouldn't be possible in the last 2 years.
Mark – Some of 'The Lamplighter' actually made it onto the 'Live in Europe' DVD and CD. I haven't seen the video yet. How did the fans react to the new material? Did you play any other songs from 'The Lamplighter' on that tour?
Roberto –For the DVD & CD Live in Europe we played "The Return Part I" and "Endless Star", which we also played for most of the shows. The fan response was amazing, very warm and receptive. However more songs were added for the 2012 European tour, specifically: "His Majesty Love", "The Dream Child Behind the Mask", "The Return Part II". The reaction of the audience was tremendous, because at that time, the songs were presented in a more completed arrangement. The early tour was like a laboratory to test our new works before we went back to the studio.
Mark – Before we discuss The Lamplighter, please tell us about the changes in personnel that the band went through.
Roberto –When Carlos Sosa and Anima Mundi parted ways, Emmanuel Pirko Farrath entered in the band in a very sensitive and dangerous moment, a moment of challenge. At this moment, the band was facing an incomplete album, with the vocals part needing to be recorded in a month. The album had to be finished before May. We had a European tour already booked with a released date for the 15th of June!
In Cuba it isn't easy to get a rock singer, and even worst, a prog rock singer or at least a singer capable to be on board of the prog rock ship quickly. Cuba is not Europe or USA. There are not a bunch of rock singers, singing in English, out there waiting for you.
Although Virginia and I already knew Emmanuel's voice from live performances, we had him audition for the band. Although Emmanuel had a totally different voice to Carlos, we realized that his voice fit in perfectly with the new songs. Emmanuel has a more dramatic voice, sometimes dark with an anecdotic touch like a story teller. His voice is also warm with some tenderness and mystery, all at the same time. The band welcomed Emmanuel and Anima Mundi got a singer very interested in working hard for Anima Mundi and at the same time be part of our family.
Then a restless period began. Emmanuel had to learn and record The Lamplighter album in just a month! He worked very hard and we felt proud of him. At the end of the recording process, we were satisfied, but we also wished we had had more time to work on some things in the vocal sections of some of the tracks. But we had no other solution; the album had to be finished because the tour was already booked. It is fair to say that for Jagannath Orbit and The Way, Carlos Sosa had more time to work on the vocals. We spent around 3 and 2 years on those albums. With The Lamplighter Emmanuel had just a month.
Mark – Ok, let's talk about The Lamplighter. Tell everybody the concept and story behind the album.
Roberto –The first Suite The Lamplighter is philosophical based on the idea of a dialogue between the pure human energy, essence of spirit who is not contaminated The Lamplighter, and the human mind that frequently used to be full of clouds and fears and for that reason is most of the time in the darkness. The Lamplighter appears like a metaphoric character that lives inside the human house The Heart and is always calling us trying to save the human mind represented by the forest of twisted roots.
The Second Suite talks to us about The Sun, Earth, The Human Race and Time. "The Dream Child behind the Mask" is a worship chant to the Sun as the origin of our cosmic home. "The Return I and II" are a reflexive approach to the meaning of the existence and the importance of using the life time for growing as human. "Endless Star" is an epic piece of music that leads us to a cosmic perspective of what we are.
Mark – How soon after 'The Way', did you start working on the new album?
Roberto –We already had developed some ideas for The Lamplighter while we were producing The Way. Specifically the second suite was already planned and "Light the Lantern of Your Heart" was almost completed. When The Way was finished, I started to work on some lyrics, the concept and some new music as well along with Virginia. However it wasn't until 2012 that we started to get more seriously into the producing and concept defining process.
Mark – I like the way you guys split the songs into the traditional two sides of an album. Was that on purpose, or just the way it worked out?
Roberto – A little bit of both. We had three different moods for album. It was clearly that "The Lamplighter Suite" is composed by similar musical color and concept and the same for "Tales from Endless Star". So we decided to separate them as if we were listening to a vinyl album. Then the epilogue "His Majesty Love" is just this, a colophon for the album, more in the style of a rock and roll song. So it was a happy coincidence. It was the way it worked out and it satisfied our memories of the age of vinyl…
Mark – 'The Lamplighter Suite' opens with 'On Earth Beneath the Stars'. Set the stage as to what you hoped to accomplish with this amazing opener and welcome back after three years.
Roberto –Yes, we were looking for a different kind of opening for this album. We wished not a typical strong beginning but something different. I thought to create an introduction with a similar approach to the opening of Stravinsky's Firebird suite. Then we structured the opening starting slowing and almost as if someone were walking in the forest coming through between light and shadows, then suddenly Emmanuel voice will appear out of the blue…That's it!!! This introduction created a magic atmosphere for the introduction of The Lamplighter speech. Then step by step, the first movement is incorporating more of the whole orchestration, growing at the end; recreating the main theme with the synthesizer solo. I would like to say that this opening not only worked very well in the album but live performance too. I think it was a good welcome back after three years.
Mark – I noted in my review how much more influence the guitar has on this album. Was that on purpose, or did the concept demand less emphasis on keyboards?
Roberto –I think what you have perceived is the fact there are less keys in the solo role than guitars in this album. That's true. The musical structure of this album is designed as if a band and orchestra were playing together, joined together by electronic effects and devices. So clearly, the guitars are soling throughout the album. However, The Lamplighter is full of keyboards - keys everywhere. Mellotron, flutes, bassoon, strings and human voices. Virginia's personalized full orchestra tones are present throughout as well. Also there are magical celestas, vibraphone, atmospheric and spacey oboes, flutes and pads, synthesizers and Hammond organ. Sometimes the keys are performing a solo but it looks like a full orchestra showcase and not a typical synthesizer or organ. It's just a different structure in the design of sounds, I think.
Mark – Roberto, please describe the types of guitars and effects you used on this album, and how did you do that cool guitar riff on the opening of 'The Call and Farewell Song'?
Roberto –I played Fender Stratocaster and Epiphone Les Paul limited edition for electric guitars and for acoustic nickel strings: Fenix 12 strings, Ibanez 6 strings and Spanish classic nylon guitar Pablo Quintana.
I used for the main setting board and controller Line 6 POD X 3 LIVE. In it I set the main ambient, amp and cabinets. For the effects board I use fuzz and overdrives not distortions. Fuzz: Fuzz Face, Big Muff and Octavia for overdrive: B K Tube Drive, Fulltone Full-Drive 2 Mosfet and Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive Mod. For delays I used mostly Line 6 settings making emphasis in the analogical ones. Memory Man and Binson Echorec and also used some ping pong delays. For modulators: Phase 90 MXR and Vibra Tremolo Marshall BT-1. Expression pedals: Dunlop Wah Cry Baby GCB 95, Digitech Whammy and Volume pedal Boss FV 500-H.
I was looking for a quite percussive even funny riff for "The Call and Farewell Song", beginning just a polyphonic line on the introduction of the Fanfare on the snare march. So to reach that tone play on the riff using an Epiphone Les Paul on the bridge pick up position, volume knob a half sweep down and plying muted on a BK Butler Tube Drive saturated signal.
Mark – Virginia, on the same song, 'The Call and Farewell Song', that cool marching keys and drums precession is wonderful. Tell us about its development.
Virginia - I remember that I had the four main chords first, thinking of some music written by Debussy that I use to play sometimes. Then the melody of the marches appeared. These particular lines I remembered sounded a little bit like Prokofiev. I liked it. When Roberto wanted to prove it along with the band it was quite difficult to add any other piece of music, due to it was a closed cycle, musically speaking. I had an idea of combining other song parts and simpler, like a kind of a blues put together with these bombastic marches. Roberto wrote the vocal parts like a kind of blues and those two different sounds linked as ideas were really good.
Mark - Virginia, please describe the keyboard set – up you designed and used for this album.
Virginia - I used for this album the keys I have in Cuba: Korg N364, Roland XP-80, my great Nord Electro 3 with excellent Mellotron sounds, and a Korg DW 8000 with a little old tasty lead sounds.
Mark – You may have noticed I drew many comparisons to King Crimson on this album. Was that fair?
Roberto - This is fair. King Crimson's early sound could be a good reference for The Lamplighter but not the only one. There is some of Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, ELP and also so much of classical music everywhere. I think the album has something to do with the ancient atmospheres that King Crimson used to compose in the early times, with lots of wood winds and parts where the voice is almost alone with just a few instruments. Also the reflexive breath from the lyrics could be related with the Pete the Sailor way of writing.
Mark – Although Emmanuel Pirko Farrath's voice takes some time to get used to after Carlos Sosa's almost Jon Anderson highs, I do think his voice fits this music perfectly, the more I hear the album. Were you worried about the fans embracing this change?
Roberto - Yes we were worried. The band knew that such a totally different voice could be the root of some problems, some of them purely musical and technical such as: changes of tones, new arrangements and transformations but other totally subjective problems related to the perception of the audience. Everybody knows that usually people are more impressed by people whose voices are in the vain a high pitch reach, which many people consider a symbol of high quality, that isn't always true.
Anyway, there will be always people who prefer Carlos and those who prefer Emmanuel's voice. The band can't follow all the opinions coming from out there. There is nothing to do about it but to make music and go ahead. Anyway we feel relaxed after the tour, Emmanuel gave a great tour!
Mark –'Light the Lantern of Your Heart' really stretches out those beautiful keyboards again Virginia. This song must have been especially fun to make and play.
Virginia - Yes, this song is beautiful. I loved it since the first time I listened to it, and I love this version on the album.
The band had a little participation in the arrangement of this song. When we listened to it for the first time in the rehearsals the arrangement was almost completed by Roberto. In the beginning, the voice parts were planned for church organ and voice; and the instrumental parts of intro and coda with an orchestra. It was necessary to arrange it for a band and then it was a little difficult to put drums and bass, even guitars, in the voice parts. But the final effect is beautiful and this song is very moving also when it is played live in concert.
Mark -'The Human House', closes out the 'first side' of the album. Describe the idea and inspiration behind this song.
Roberto – "The Lamplighter Suite" ends with "The Human House". As I mentioned, this suite is about the relationship between the pure human spirit and the human mind which is always fed on fears, differences and dualities. Musically, this bombastic coda is a symbol of the liberation of the mind by the light that burns inside a wise heart.
Mark -'Suite Tales from Endless Star', opens with the track, 'The Dream Child Behind the Mask', which may be my favorite track on the album besides your two showcase instrumentals. How do you feel about the evolution of the progressive rock genre? Do you believe in incremental change or more revolutionary, sweeping change? Where would you describe Anima Mundi on that continuum?
Roberto - I believe things in progressive rock are going more in the mood of an incremental change, even though some are trying to sweep away with the entire ancient magic of the genre. I think each prog artist is trying to find his own way. I know how difficult it is, so I'm very respectful about it. There are many right ways to make good music; it's a matter of perspective.
About the position of Anima Mundi in this continuum, I can tell you that we are a band which doesn't feel compelled to do something totally new. We aren't interested, we never think about it. We are a band who plays music from the heart and not from the mind. Our approach to the music is more from the emotional perspective of joy and elevation than from experimental. We don't feel attracted to the modern stuff of pop music, house, rap, metal post rock etc… in contrast we use to take more from classical music and rock and roll like in the sixties and seventies way of making prog music. It is obvious for that reason that most of the critics call Anima Mundi a retro prog band.
Mark -'The Return - Part I' is Roberto's showcase guitar instrumental. Please tell us about the different guitars that you used on the track.
Roberto - What happens in "Return Part I" is that I made multi track recordings for different purposes. But in fact I just used one acoustic guitar for the whole song, a classic guitar Pablo Quintana. All the acoustic guitars were recorded with 5 different active microphones recording at once. So you feel a natural stereo ambience, with a very nice feel by the way.
Mark - The 'Endless Star' is another great instrumental showcase for each of you. Describe the instruments and explain your individual motivations for each of your roles.
Roberto –It is a piece of music with lots of multi-track recording work. I use Fender Stratocaster mainly for the solos and riffs but also Epiphone Les Paul for some heavy chords and all the spacey effects. There is also a big display in the use of slow gate, modulators, effects, delays and reverbs. It is maybe along with "The Dream Child Behind the Mask", the song of the album with more use of different guitar effects and guitar sounds.
I used the famous color of the vintage delay Binson Echorec immortalized by Pink Floyd's early works, (I used just a simulator not the original). It offered me a wide range of spacey and abysmal effects for "Endless Star" and "The Dream Child Behind the Mask".
The musical motivation for the instrumental showcase in this song is to unite the classical sonority of the symphonic orchestra with sounds from outer space. It is a mix of both the ancient and the futurist.
Mark – Do either of you want to discuss the inspiration for 'The Return - Part II'?
Roberto – "The Return Part II" is a reflexive approach to the meaning of life. Life is a sacred journey, and you should go deeper and deeper inside before your time runs out.
Mark -'Epilogue' actually completes the album. Who is 'His Majesty Love'?
Roberto - His Majesty Love is defined like the state of ultimate wisdom and joy. From the universal love perspective everything could be understood.
Mark – Did you play 'The Lamplighter' in its entirety during the tour?
Roberto - Yes entire The Lamplighter album was played during the tour, although not in each concert, due to the festivals not providing enough time for the whole performance.
Mark – Did you record the recent European tour for CD/DVD/Blu-ray?
Roberto - No we didn't. No recordings on this tour.
Mark – I know you guys would love to play the USA. Do you believe there will be a US tour in the future?
Roberto - Yes we do, we think so, and it's just of matter of time.
Mark – Describe how you plan to distribute 'The Lamplighter' to fans.
Roberto - The fans can contact Anima Mundi Music, (AMMUS), as an independent label for our own music through our web shop at http://www.animamundimusic.com. We also have distributors in Europe, Japan and America.
Mark – Do you, Roberto, Virginia, or any of the band members have any plans for side projects in the near future?
Roberto - I'm interested in recording an instrumental solo album. I have collected material for it already. Mangrove's drummer Remco Engels and I have plans to make an album together, but at the moment it is a project that just has begun.
Mark – What is next for Anima Mundi, after the tour, of course?
Roberto - We are preparing material for a new album. We hope it will be ready for 2015. It's too early to provide information about it now, but it's a work in progress. I think it's very important for the band to play as much as possible. We are already planning the European Tour for 2014.
Mark – Are there any other statements you would like to make?
Roberto - Thanks to Sea of Tranquility for this great opportunity and especially for you Mark for the support that you have offered to our music all these years. We send a warm regard to all the readers and we hope to play live in the States soon.
Mark-Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We at Sea of Tranquility wish you and Anima Mundi much success with the launch of 'The Lamplighter' and all that you do in the future.
(Click here to read our review of The Lamplighter)