Words by Jenna DePasquale
It was a video that went viral as the world began to shelter in place in March of last year -- Italians enjoying music together from the distance of their balconies, often singing along in harmony. The footage became the symbol of resilience in a country that was among the first in Europe to be brutalized by COVID-19. With over 4 million reported cases in the Mediterranean nation alone, it was inevitable that it would impact one of the most notable metal acts to arise from Italy, Lacuna Coil.
"When everything started, we were touring in South America. Actually, we were almost done the tour," recalls Andrea Ferro, who performs lead vocals for the band alongside Cristina Scabbia. "We landed on a Saturday in Milan and on Monday the lockdown started. We got lucky that we didn’t get stuck somewhere else."
As soon as the gothic metal quintet touched down in their city of origin, they were met with the duty of being one of the earliest bands to cancel their upcoming shows. An extensive Asian run had been planned for that spring -- a tour of a lifetime for Ferro, who had been anticipating playing in the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Japan before eventually moving into the southern hemisphere for an Australian leg. "It was a total disaster," says Ferro in regards to having to cancel flights, hotels, and of course, breaking the news to fans. "We realized immediately that it was a situation that wasn’t going to go away in a month."
As a founding member of Lacuna Coil, Ferro recounts the importance of growing up in Milan's underground skateboarding scene in which he was exposed to the likes of Metallica, Black Flag, and Run DMC. As skating eventually took a back seat to music, he became enchanted with some of the darker, more melodic works emerging from Paradise Lost and Type O Negative. After recognizing the vocal talent of Sabbia, who worked at a local metal bar at the time, their interests culminated into Sleep of Right, aka Lacuna Coil. But despite the vast experiences he has gained in his 27 years touring the world, nothing could quite prepare him (or any of us) for a once in a century pandemic.
"There was this sensation in the beginning. I don't want to say it was funny, but it was something curious, something weird and different from anything we've experienced in our lives thus far," Ferro reflects. "Then it turns into more frustrating things, like people dying and not knowing how long the situation would take or when it would be over or better. It was a very frustrating few months and we fell really flat."
In September, however, Lacuna Coil held a special event that would provide the glimpse of normalcy that was needed to carry on. The Live From The Apocalypse livestream featured a riveting live performance at The Alcatraz in Milan. While there could be no live audience in attendance, the venue was filled with heart. "Just getting to work for one day made everyone so relieved, so happy, whether they were pushing cases or building a truss," Ferro describes. The concert was such a success that Lacuna Coil made the decision to release the recording as both a CD and DVD, which will be dropping June 25 via Century Media.
As Lacuna Coil continues to pick up the pieces of 2020, Andrea Ferro shares the source of longevity, the influence of Italian culture, and the power of music.
What role has living in an international city like Milan played in your career?
I always say that if we weren’t born in Milan, we’d probably have no band. Since the end of the ’90, early 2000s when we started, we had practice rooms, metal bars, metal discos. We always had chances to hang out and meet other people and find other musicians. Other labels were here. You see a chance to kind of make something of the music business, even though we never imagined to become a band running around for more than 25 years. That was out of every expectation we had back when we did our demo. But at least we had a chance to live the lifestyle. We were dressing black all the time and hanging around people like us. The city helped us being what we wanted to be
Can you recall what being an artist was like in the earlier days of Lacuna Coil?
Obviously, when you start you just want to sound like your favorite band. You don’t have your identity in the beginning. You have to work together. You have to learn from someone who’s more experienced than you, like a producer or something like that. Once you have enough knowledge and enough self-confidence, you feel the way you should go and the way you shouldn’t go. You identify the style of the band as well as the lyrics. We've been lucky that we grew up in the era where you have the chance to improve with every record, instead of nowadays you have a chance for one record and if it doesn’t work there are a million other bands on the internet ready to try for you. We’re lucky that there was still a time when labels invested in the band and built the band. They see potential, so they give you the help that you need.
For us, it was our third record that started to get really popular and pushed the band into a completely different level. Obviously you need time to learn. Nowadays, things are a lot quicker because you have easier ways to get knowledge. You have a million YouTube tutorials, from music business school, to playing whatever instrument, to singing in whatever style. Kids these days have more stuff available in terms of becoming a good musician. But we really got the luxury of trying for real. We got into the studio and people were spending money on us to see where we could go. I believe in the long term investment that allows others to have a proper fanbase. This is very hard to have nowadays. If you don’t become some kind of sensation for some reason, then it’s really hard because you have so many other bands that give you competition. Very often I get asked from younger kids or younger bands, ‘how to become a band like yours?’ But it’s really hard to tell because the way we did it almost doesn’t exist anymore.
What do you think are some of the consequences of focusing on rapid consumption over longevity?
It’s harder to find new headliners for big events. When you look for big festivals, you always have the same 10 bands that play in the headliner spot. Nobody is becoming so big anymore. There’s a lot of middle-range bands that can be the new thing or bands that have been maintaining their success all these years, but they’re not getting to the same spot as Disturbed, System of a Down, Metallica. It’s hard to find a new generation of bands that can reach that level with the speed of success nowadays. But it is what it is. We have to be able to deal with it.
As you may know, in American culture we have this fixation on working 24/7, so there was this push to remain productive even during a global pandemic. Did you feel this pressure as well?
A lot of people asked us, 'you've been home a year and a half, have you written five albums?' And we wrote zero because we didn't have a stimulus or any will to write. Normally, we base our songwriting on our life experiences. We tour, we meet people, we go see places, we get into situations -- those are the things that give us creativity. You collect all of these inputs, and then after two years of touring, you go home and reflect on what happened in our life and then you write. This time, we basically started touring
Nowadays, we're starting to feel better about it and we're starting to have some ideas that are coming. But it's been tough. We couldn't go anywhere and we didn't want to write about the pandemic. We didn't want to write about the lockdown or going to the supermarket to buy toilet paper before someone else steals it. We just want to see the outcome of the situation in our life.
That was definitely some bands' responses -- write a post-apocalyptic epic album inspired by the pandemic. But it's totally valid to take a step back to process what's going on around you. If you're living in a place that's been ravaged by the virus, that's probably not your first coping mechanism.
That's exactly what I mean. Obviously, the situation will have an impact on how we feel or how we write on the next record, but we don't want to talk directly about the cliche of what happened. We'll see. We're still looking somewhere else to find inspiration, like into some other stuff about the underground history of Italy. Usually we have so much to talk about based on the experience of our normal lives. This year, we've basically done whatever we could from home. We worked on other things that aren't strictly music, or just other collateral projects. We've been keeping busy all year. We've been doing a lot of hanging out on the internet with the fans and working on side projects, collaborations.
What do these collateral projects entail?
We have just released a new comic book from DC here in Europe. We are drawn on the cover. This is a band edition they have done called Dark Nights: Death Metal. They've also done it with Opeth, Megadeth, and Ghost. Every month there's a different band on the cover. It's in German, French, Spanish, Italian. The story runs throughout the band editions. It's a weird take on Batman. That's one of the good things that have happened.
Another cool thing is that we did our first card game, which is called Horns Up. It basically takes place at a concert. You start at a place and then you have to reach the stage first. That's the idea behind it. It's the same style as Magic: The Gathering. There's a bouncer, the fans, the mosh pit, the merch guy, food, beer, the line for the restroom. It's just a little game we started to sell online as a little kickstarter to see how many people were interested, and it did way more than we expected to do. So, we are now developing it to have in our store online. We'll probably also bring it on tour once we can tour again. We also have a special deck, which is a black deck. That's uncensored. Those cards are more about the rock and roll lifestyle. But the original deck is for everyone, even kids.
That's Awesome! Are there any other ways that you have been able to maintain connections with your fans?
Our fans did a great thing. Every Saturday, they do a Zoom karaoke with our songs. They can only have 100 people because that's the maximum amount of people for a Zoom meeting. They've sold out pretty much every week and they just do it for fun. It's a mess. When you hear it, everyone's out of tune and out of time, but it's just great. Sometimes me and Cristina join them and do some songs together and just blast some music for an hour while we see our friends from around the world. It's just a way to stay in touch. It's great because they started it on their own, and now they have t-shirts. They're a great community.
I think the greatest experience with Lacuna Coil is definitely the legacy that has been created in these 20 plus years of playing and recording music. The fans have made these connections and they become friends. Sometimes they got married or they had kids, and now they come to shows with their kids. That's the greatest impact I think we've had as a band beyond the pictures and the signing of autographs. That's when you know the band has meant something for the people. It goes beyond the success or the business.
One unintended positive of the Pandemic is that you got to do your Live From The Apocalypse livestream. Did you intend to do another live album after your 2018 live release?
No, it just came because of the situation. We already did a live album plus a DVD not long ago for the 20th anniversary of the band, which was a career-spanning show that we did in London. We had a live circus. It was already a crazy production. We weren't planning on having another one so close to the release of the latest album, but since we couldn't tour, the only thing we thought of was to do a show where we play the full album Black Anima with all of the bonus tracks included.
We had to be very clear with following all of the laws and rules on distances and stuff. Just rehearsing was complicated because of the regulations we had to do. We wanted to put some people in the venue, maybe just 100 or 200 to give you a feeling of having a live crowd, but we couldn't because of the permissions. So, we only played for the empty venue, which was a pretty big venue. It was definitely weird. But in the end, I think it turned out to be a very intense performance. We watched it afterwards, and we thought we could actually put it on a CD or vinyl, even DVD. Even if it wasn't meant as a production to be on a DVD, it was still very tense and a specific portrait of the moment. Everyone was feeling displaced and not knowing about the future. It was such an intense moment that we thought it would be a good idea to make it available to watch again. A lot of people were also requesting it after the streaming, so we said why not. We talked to the label and we made it happen.
I'm sure just being in that space again provided some sense of safety and security.
Definitely. Plus we got to see the crew that we normally work with. People were just so happy to be doing what they'd normally be doing. They had been missing it for so long. Everyone was in such a good mood to be back there doing what they like and to feel normal for one day. They could see a light. That was a very emotional day for everybody.
Did any other local venues host similar events?
Yes, different ones around Italy. I think one very cool one was at a very ancient Roman arena that's smaller than the Colosseum . They normally do classical music, like full orchestra stuff, but sometimes they also do rock shows. I know Kiss has been playing there and some other bands. They did a mini festival. I think Ghali was playing and some other trappers. It was a DJ kind of production. It was cool. There have been a few other online things, but we were one of the first ones to do it, along with some other bands like Trivium.
Living on the American West Coast where most buildings are post-20th century, it is hard to fathom that level of antiquity.
R: Italy is the classic beauty while America is the pop beauty. That's why we like America so much because it's so different from what we have here. In Italy we can go one mile walking and see an ancient fountain or temple or castle, but when I'm in America I see different things. It's the beauty of the old and the new. But here we definitely have a lot of history for sure. Whenever they dig for the subway, they find something ancient and they have to stop and make a detour. Then it takes forever to build the subway because they always find a Celtic or Roman temple or something like that.
Most of your songs are in English, but have you considered doing more in your native language?
We do have some Italian songs, but not many. It’s not always easy to do full songs in Italian because it’s a melodic language, which works for melodic music, but it’s a bit tougher to put it in the heavy stuff. Let’s say you start with a guitar and just the vocal melody, then it’s easier just to put in some Italian words. But if you start with a riff and a double kick bass, then it’s harder for us to incorporate it. We’re not against it, but it’s never totally easy to do. When we started with metal and rock music, it was always in English. Every band was coming from the U.K. or from America. Even the ones from Europe, like Sweden and Germany, were singing in English. Very rarely did you have it in different languages. When we can, we’d like to add more of our heritage, like Italian influences in the melodies and the graphics when it fits.
Looking towards the future, what do you anticipate most about being able to tour again?
In general, we've missed hanging out with people -- the people you've known for a long time, but only see every year or two when you come to town for the show. We've been missing seeing different places. Even trying different foods. We love touring. We've been doing it for so many years, but we still love it. We love to play for a live crowd, for people who have been waiting to see you for a long time or they've never seen you before. It's still as fun as it always has been. We love to play for the fans who know us, but also for the people that are new to us, like at festivals. We've been missing that exchange of energy a lot. Seeing our crew, being on the bus, traveling, stopping in random places to eat -- just the lifestyle. It's been our life for so many years, it's hard to have gone without it.
'Live From the Apocalypse' from Lacuna Coil arrives June 25th via Century Media Records. Pre-order the album - HERE