Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Black Rook Interview
1.For those that have never heard of you before, can you tell us a little bit about the band?
(Flavio & Rubens) – Officially, The Black Rook is the duo Flavio Senra (vocals) and Rubens Lessa (guitars). Although the project itself is new, we´ve been playing together in the same bands for quite a long time – since 2000, to be more precise. Eventually, The Black Rook came as a result of all this work, for that all of our experience (all of our brotherhood, indeed) is noticeable in it.
When we speak about The Black Rook musical proposal, we simply define it as Heavy Metal – for that we collect inspiration from the roots of the genre. When we had our first conversations about this project´s musical direction, we decided to follow the “classical formula” that the milestones of Heavy Metal left to us all: simple compositions with strong riffs, great melodies and – of course – memorable choruses. Attitude, heaviness and feeling expressed through music. No more, no less than that.
2.Recently you have released your first full length album, can you tell us a little bit more about your musical sound?
(Flavio & Rubens) – By the time we were deciding which path to take in our compositions, we took a bunch of specific references amongst our all-time favorite heavy metal albums. On the top of this list we put Black Sabbath, mainly the Ronnie James Dio era (including Heaven & Hell´s The Devil you Know, released in 2009). We also collected inspiration from the album Tony Iommi recorded with legendary singer Glenn Hughes, Fused, for its very well balanced mix of heaviness and groove. Still speaking about musicians that once joined Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio´s solo albums are a strong reference to us. Finally, considering we simply adore heavy-doom metal and that we played in bands of this genre before, there´s an inevitable heritage of it in our music. Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, for instance, are references that inevitably come to our mind when we´re composing. If we think and dig a bit more, we may find some other bands that, purposely or not, echo on our music.
3.What are some of the lyrical topics and subjects the band explores with the music?
(Flavio & Rubens) – When it comes to inspiration for lyrics, our intention always was to make songs that could express (somehow) reflections about the human being condition, his place in the contemporary world, the tense relations between individual matters versus public/collective issues, and related topics. Some lyrics are more subjective, others more narrative, but all of them can be, in some perspective, related to any person – we purposely wrote lyrics that, in general, could be easily related to anyone´s life experience somehow, so that each individual could, adapting to his own personal experiences, identify him/herself with the message delivered by the song (through lyrics and music, combined, of course). In addition, it is clearly noticeable that, depending on the interpretation done by the listener/reader, some songs are easily related among themselves – for instance, the last two tracks of our album. We never had the intention of doing a “conceptual album” - and we repeat that, to avoid any kind of misconception or misunderstanding: this is NOT a conceptual album! On the other hand, it is obvious that this complex web of meanings can be identified, in which songs can be connected to each other. This is one of the strategies we had in mind in other to give this album a whole identity, an “album-like personality”, so that, by listening to it, one would not have the sensation that this is just a compilation of ten isolated singles, unrelated to each other, but an album, in its purest conception, musically and lyrically.
4.What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name 'The Black Rook'?
(Flavio & Rubens) – As noticeable by the front cover of our album, we use in our graphic project (and in some lyrics) material related to the semantic field of Chess. Apart from being a fabulous game, everybody knows that Chess also has a strong symbolism within itself, and each chess piece portrays an idea in the game.
It is widely-known that each side of chess represents a kingdom and an army, and that the main goal of the game is to kill the king of the enemy side (by the way, the word “chess” comes from Persian word “Shah”, which means “king”).Therefore, the entire chessboard represents the battlefield upon which the soldiers (pawns, knights, bishops and the other pieces) struggle on until death.
Always keeping in mind that each piece represents an idea, there, on each corner of the game board, stands the rook. Inside the great metaphor of chess, the rook represents the castle's walls, which shall protect the king, the queen, the bishop, and the knights. It conveys the meaning of the solid strength of an entire kingdom. But among all the pieces of chess, the rook plays an important and specific role, for it´s the only “non-human” piece of the game. The rook is a construction made of stones, a castle, a tower, while all the other pieces are miniatures of social roles played by humans – a “king”, a “queen”, a “bishop”, a “knight”, a “pawn”, titles that differ in status, but have one thing in common: under them, there´s a human being. And, obviously, all human shall die one day – due to advanced age or to war wounds. At this point we have the great symbolism of the tower as a huge construction that has witnessed many different men as kings, many women as queen, several men as pawns and knights, live and die in countless wars…and it is still there, resistant, consistent, persistent against time, in its concreteness solitude. These metaphors are present in the lyrics of our title-track (“The distant castle sees crowns fade away / Sad memories to remember and portray”).
But then again, one question could be asked: why the hell to use the name of a chess piece to baptize a metal band? First of all, the symbolism of the rook in chess may be applied to Heavy Metal: it doesn´t matter how much time goes on, Metal, as a musical genre, as a cultural choice, as a way of life, does not fall, does notdie. Even if it sounds a bit “cliché” or “slushy” to repeat that, it´s the truest sentence that a fan of metal can say. We all know that during the mid-nineties the media was assaulted by the “Metal is Dead” slogan, we had metal artists neglecting the genre, considering it “old-fashioned”, “meaningless”, “immature”, etc. If we go back in time and analyze those days, we´ll easily find musicians that in the eighties played typical Heavy Metal, but that, in the nineties, changed their musical style – some adopted a more “grunge-like” sound, other a more “industrial”, and other unclassified examples. But now, in 2014, metal fans can say that Heavy Metal survived this “anti-metal ideology” (or “anti-metal fashion”, we can say…), and the genre it is still standing, just like the rook we were talking about. If we also remember that Heavy Metal has always been a victim of vicious stereotyping just because it goes against traditions and “socially-accepted” ways of living and thinking, we can, again, understand why the metaphor of the rook fits perfectly to describe the genre. It does not matter what is done or what is tried against metal, it will stand, just as a gigantic rook.
Finally, considering that every band name should have an easy-remembered and commercial name, we added the adjective “Black” to it. For a Heavy Metal band, it sounded to us the most obvious choice of color to feature in a Metal band name. We thought that including the definite article “The” in the band name would make it sound even better, giving a certain importance to it: it´s not any ordinary rook, it is “The” rook, “The Black Rook”. This is what our music represents to us, a rock-solid Black Rook, and we believe this representation makes sense to Heavy Metal fans in general, for that, when it comes to their relation with music, we headbangers usually emphasize ideas like authenticity and faithfulness – generally, more than fans of other musical genres. We see this concern for authenticity and faithfulness to metal when, for instance, fans of a specific band shows strong disapproval towards a new musical direction of their favorite band, claiming that they “sold themselves”; or when this same band goes back to old-times metal style for compositions, they´re accused of “being artificial”, “not composing with feeling” or “being a parody of themselves”. When an old-times rock or metal band does a reunion with the original line-up, there will always be a fan to claim that “they´re doing it just for the money”. Even expressions like “true metal” or “false metal” can be included in this list. The point is: for us, fans of Heavy Metal, it´s not only a matter of listening to it, but living defending it. That´s why it made so much sense to us to call our band “The Black Rook”.
5.Currently there are only 2 member sin the band, are you planning on expanding the line up in the future or do you chose to remain a duo?
(Flavio & Rubens) – As we stated in the very beginning of this interview, The Black Rook is, officially, a duo: Flavio Senra & Rubens Lessa. However, when it comes to live performances, it is obvious that we´ll need to recruit a bass and a drummer. Then, we decided to have always some guests to fill out this role. Currently, we have two very, very special friends playing with us: Luis Carlos & Thiago Velásquez, drummer and bassist of stoner metal band Statik Majik. By the way, we truly recommend for those who might not know their music to check out their music (in Youtube, you´ll easily find their official videoclips and also professional footage of live performances). In a few weeks we´ll release a new webclip, in which the 6thtrack of our album, “Rats”, is performed by this entire four musicians line-up. Eventually, gigs will come, and we intend to record them, of course.
6.Currently you are unsigned, are you looking for a label or have received any interest?
We´re still completely independent, and presenting our work to labels, of course. So far, The Black Rook debut album is only available in its virtual format, for that it is expensive to release physical albums. But we really want to release it in its physical version as well. The best-case scenario would be to sign with a label (and even a “small” one would be a “major” to us in this moment!), so then it would be much more possible to release the album in its conventional CD format.
7.On a worldwide level how has the feedback been to your music by fans of metal?
(Flavio & Rubens) – The album was officially released on 25th April, 2014. From that day until now, we´ve already got great feedback from webradios, podcasts, webzines, magazines, blogs and fans of Heavy Metal, from several states of our country and from various points of the world – Belgium, Austria, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Canada, U.S.A, Colombia, Egypt, Malaysia, Japan and more. Of course we would sound like two stupid, megalomaniac and idiot arrogant liars if we posed here as “Heavy Metal Big Stars”, like Iron Maiden, Metallica or other major institution of Heavy Metal. All we want to say is that, considering the circumstances – the fact that we´re, at the moment, promoting the album totally on ourselves, with no label or any kind of extra financial support than our own pockets, with the album only in virtual format -, we think that the album has been receiving good – and, so far, exclusively with the internet promotion.
8.Are any of the band members involved with any other musical projects these days?
(Flavio & Rubens) – At this exact moment, no. To be honest, we don´t have that much time to devote ourselves to other musical projects. It´s not impossible that it might happen in the future, but, right now, we´re focused on The Black Rook.
9.Where do you see the band heading into musically during the future?
(Flavio & Rubens) – We intend to promote the album worldwide, spreading it as much as we can, and keep on producing and releasing material (new songs and new videos).
10.What are some of the bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
(Flavio & Rubens) – As we mentioned previously in this interview, we´re a “Heavy Metal from the Roots oriented band”, let´s say. Black Sabbath – the godfathers of us all – are a clear reference. We can identify in our album some influences of the solo albums of Glenn Hughes, Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford, spread around the tracks. Of course, we´re speaking from the position of composers, therefore, we know exactly where some ideas came from. It´s very interesting that, when we read the reviews of our album, some reviewers, to define our music, name some references that never came to our mind – which is not a problem, of course. The fact is that each listener will “decode” the musical message in a particular way, and compare to this or that band. That´s why it´s kind of relative to us to list bands and bands that influenced us (and there are many, to be fair). We usually prefer to mention that we collect inspiration from the roots of Heavy Metal. And when it comes to music that we´ve been listening to recently, we keep constantly “revisiting the past”, for that we usually listen and listen again to these milestones of metal. However, of course we try to keep updated, and among the several bands we keep in listening at the same time, there are, indeed, some new bands. One example is one of the newest “phenomenons” of contemporary rock/metal scenario, Ghost. We got in touch with their music even before the release of Opus Eponymous (their first full length album, released in 2010), through the “Elizabeth” EP, released in 2008. Since then, we became true Ghost admirers. By the way, they´ll play in our city in a few months, and we´ll definitely be there.
11.What are some of your non musical interests?
(Rubens) – Metal aside, I work as a teacher for junior-high students. I teach Portuguese and English in public and private schools. Sometimes music becomes part of a class because I can’t avoid it, so I like to work with songs in both languages depending on the class of course. Most of the time I choose a subject and then I use a song that handles with a theme towards to a specific text (ok, it’s boring and I think not everybody would like to read about class methods here). Another thing I like to do (but time has turned it very rare nowadays) is writing poems, especially sonnets. I have a sort of them and hope to edit my textual production someday in a book or even make it available in the World Wide Web as an e-book or something like that. There is a quite of writers I really like as Edgar A. Poe, Machado de Assis, Fernando Pessoa, Samuel T. Coleridge, Shakespeare etc. Being with friends, having a good and pleasant conversation is another great thing, I guess to everybody. Not necessarily talking about music, but about so many different things. Those stuffs helped to develop the man I am so far (and I hope they keep helping me in the future).
(Flavio) – As my fellow Rubens, I work as a teacher. I teach Portuguese and Literature to High School level students in IFRJ, a federal technical educational institution here in our state, Rio de Janeiro. Just as music, teaching is one of the most fulfilling activities in my Life, for sure. I am also deeply involved in writing either academic papers related to the research I started in my Phd Dissertation (which was about Literature, Philosophy and Heavy Metal by the way) and literary work itself, poems and short stories. I usually post all of these productions in my blog (www.flaviopereirasenra.com) and I´m in contact with publishing editors in other to publish a book until next year.
In my personal life, Literature and Music have always walked side by side. It´s already been fourteen years involved in these two great fields: on one side, devoting myself to studying, teaching and writing Literature, and, on another side, listening, composing and playing Heavy Metal. And I truly hope to keep on this “double road” as much as I can get.
12.Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts?
(Flavio & Rubens) First of all, we truly thank you for this interview, it was a pleasure and an honor! We invite all readers to check out our music. The Black Rook music comes straight from our hearts, and it is very, very rewarding for us when our songs reach people in some way. We do hope that those readers who got interested in our work after reading this interview really enjoy our songs, as much as we enjoy composing and performing them. Metal on!