Destrage – The Importance of Challenge

Thursday, 27th October 2016

All too often, bands settle into a comfortable place and stay there. They’ve identified their sound and their niche, and don’t come out from it except for a rare occurrence. And for some bands, it works. But for other bands, there’s the need to re-exam and re-tool the process with each new attempt. Italian metal act Destrage are one band that is hip to the process.

Their last album, Are You Kidding Me? No was frantic with ideas and changes. It continued to branch off of what they did in the past, but a far more extreme form of it that was unrestrained. So the band took a reflective approach, and decided to try things differently for their fourth album, A Means to No End. The result is something far more fluid and cohesive, as well as darker and emotive. But not too far off the beaten path for the act. A Skype chat with the guitar duo of Matteo Di Gioia and Ralph Salati allowed us to see how the process for writing changed for the band, as well as some fun stories from their past.

Dead Rhetoric: With all of the influences and styles that you put into your music, have you gotten any descriptions that make you laugh as people try to place you into a genre box?

Matteo Di Gioia: I think once I read a YouTube comment that was utterly funny. “It sounds like Muse and Dillinger Escape Plan had a secret son and killed him.”

Dead Rhetoric: It was mentioned on the press release that you thought the last album Are You Kidding Me? No perhaps lacked focus which lessened the emotional impact. How important is reflection after you have released an album?

Di Gioia: That was very important and we thought about that as we were writing this one – Are You Kidding Me was a great album where we really went crazy and mad and excessive. It was a “yes” thing because it was so much fun to say “yes” rather than “no” with our ideas. So we thought it would be better to more focused – we didn’t think about it but it’s what happened naturally. The results sounds more gloomy and darker.

Dead Rhetoric: So do you think it veers off in a completely different direction from Are You Kidding Me?

Di Gioia: it’s not a completely different direction. What was different was the approach. Kidding was mostly written with contributions with each player on his own. Sometimes a person from the band would show up and bring a new riff or new idea that they had recorded or written somewhere – then it was trying to put it together into whole songs, like putting a puzzle together. The method [this time] was completely different – we gathered the five of us together in a room and we started from scratch just jamming.

There was some embarrassing silence in the beginning, but once we broke the ice, we came up with a new way of making music that is oriented in the past in terms of the method, but new in the sound. We came up with grooves that were convincing, stick a chord progression or riff on top of it, and put singing on it immediately without even caring about the words….just to put in a melody. Chords, rhythm, and melody – that’s a song. We dumbed down our setup on every possible level. We didn’t want to be fooled by a huge, fat and beautiful sound – we used shitty, little amplifiers and a low volume electric drumset so we could not be fooled by the sound so that it didn’t lie. When something sounded good, it sounded good because the content was good, it wasn’t because the dressing was faking it. We started like that, then the sound design and arrangement came into the picture later.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that it’s important though to go out on a limb, creatively-speaking, and learn something in the process?

Di Gioia: Yeah – I wouldn’t think about it in such a rational way. It’s much simpler – an album is a picture of a moment in time. It’s a tale in time from the members in the band and what comes out, if it’s done with the heart and soul, it will really look like a document of your life in that moment – regardless of genre or intention or premise.

Dead Rhetoric: How much does spontaneity come into play with your songwriting? I also heard you have used post-it notes and billboards to aid in writing/recording…

Di Gioia: As we said before, the previous albums came out with songs being assembled like Frankenstein assembled his creatures. Bits and pieces were done separately at times or in a sequence. So we just had a pocket of ideas. We put all the ideas out on the table and wrote them down on post-its. We put them on the wall and drew columns and each column was a song. What we did later was to try to make sense of the puzzle and taking each post-it and put it in a song to see what could fit the song. After you do that, you have to spend endless hours to build the view, so it doesn’t feel like a mesh-up. It can sound weird sometimes – a few times on Kidding it’s like, “what’s this change?” But that was our style and that was what we felt. We were really into surprising ourselves and the listeners. Sudden changes were allowed. It was part of our language. On this one, everything is much more organic because the songs are written much differently. It comes out more like a stream of emotion rather than an exercise of cerebral [experimentation]…

Ralph Salati: More than a stream of ideas too. It’s more from the art and you wandering in that direction.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that the band has evolved from your earlier records?

Di Gioia: We are less undecided. We know from the beginning if something is going to work or not. Not with precision, but if we have to take a guess, we are more comfortable saying, “No, this song isn’t making it to the album. This is shit.” We are much more confident and we know who we are and what we want. Of course, there is more unpredictability and that’s the beauty of it because we are making music. But we are more mature now – we can waste less time and we went completely nuts on Kidding, so now we can…

Salati: Sit down a bit…

Di Gioia: Not sit down like we are old, but Kidding was outrageously excessive. We could redo it but there’s no challenge in doing something that you have already done. We also met Mattias Eklundh from Freak Kitchen, who collaborated with us two albums ago, and he was saying that he was expecting something new from us. Even though Kidding was unpredictable, now it was predictable – be aware not to be your own shadow in the future. Once you go down that road there is no coming back. It’s a really a hot tub of shit [laughs].

Dead Rhetoric: So do you think that you will continue to challenge yourselves with each album going forward? As you said, the album is a snapshot of the band at the time…

Di Gioia: Yeah, you should be faithful and truthful to that moment. You have to follow your heart and do what feels right. But you shouldn’t do what you feel comfortable with. I think every artist needs challenge. Challenge can come in many ways – for us it was the singer/songwriter approach to the writing. It was very low-fi and uncontrolled but still very true. The challenge is true for everyone – Meshuggah just recorded their last album live – playing at the same time, not with tracking. That’s the way for them to challenge themselves. They wanted to explore the difficulty of recording that way, even though there was no need for it. But it’s super important to challenge yourself as an artist, and I really appreciate what they did.

Salati: Challenges make you grow. This challenge to start from something that wasn’t well defined. Like playing in front of a booth in front of the computer and making videos with the guitars and drums – it changed our perspective about the songs. We were used to working on something that was pretty defined. We felt that we had more control over the ideas. In this case, we came to the ideas together and it brought us to the next piece of the puzzle, so it was very different to us.

Di Gioia: It was a bit desolating – you are naked in front of your music. There’s no fancy make-up or axe effects. What sounds like shit is shit. You are playing live what is going directly from your brain to your hands – you haven’t written it on paper. It’s a very honest way to write a song.

Salati: And you have pretty much no control over it in the beginning.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you contrast the more dreamy elements of your music with the more aggressive and urgent ones?

Salati: It wasn’t the plan…people have asked why this album is so much darker than our previous ones. I don’t think there’s an answer, we didn’t really plan it. If drama is there, it’s because drama has leaked [into it]. We aren’t teenagers anymore – we are facing the fact that life is fucking hard. These times are full of hate. There’s war all over and there’s cruelty, misconception, and race problems.

Di Gioia: You can feel it, even though your life is protected in a way and you are in a lucky country. I think it still affects you. Since you are writing more with your guts and not your brain, the guts don’t lie. We don’t want to be the victims of crimes that weren’t done towards us and we cannot be the voice of the evil in the world, but of course, something leaks into the music.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you go into the concept behind the cover art, particularly the starkly contrasting butterflies? I thought it was a really nice piece.

Di Gioia: I can bore you to death with butterflies! As a film director, I am doing a documentary right now about someone who breeds butterflies. These animals are amazing. They have four stages in their life and they are separate and they have one action. First they get out of the egg, and then they eat as a worm. Then they just transform, and finally after years, they sense that there might be a mate so the only thing they have to do is reproduce. Some of them, if you cut off their head, they will reproduce more willingly. This is also what the person in the documentary is doing. It’s also why one of the butterflies has no head on the cover. I’m not sure why they do it – it’s probably a survival [mechanism]. So yeah, I’m really into butterflies. But it wasn’t my idea to use them in the artwork. We handed off the artwork off to an English artist who came out with the butterfly idea. I saw it and I was like, “What the fuck? Yes!” We didn’t really brief her for the artwork style, but liked her previous work. We wanted a harsh collage so that it didn’t feel photoshopped. There’s no merging – it looks like a cutout.

Dead Rhetoric: I saw somewhere that you guys like cooking – what’s a Destrage-styled dish?

Di Gioia: Sandstorm – it’s an oven dish. There’s some pasta in it of course, and lots of garlic, cheese, and big halved tomatoes. It’s called Sandstorm because the first time I did it, I sent an email to my mom to ask for her recipe. She sent it to me and I was trying to follow each step. There’s breadcrumbs to make it crunchy and I asked how much, and she said, “Enough.” That didn’t really help me, and in retrospect, for me it was probably more than what was needed. It came out like a sandstorm. It came out so dry that you needed someone to spit in your mouth just to chew it. Now I wouldn’t serve it like that – I actually perfected the recipe. It’s not dry anymore – it’s a crunchy awesomeness.

Dead Rhetoric: Getting out and on tour – what’s some of the craziest things you’ve run into?

Salati: Going from Italy to the UK with a camper…that’s already crazy enough!

Di Gioia: We got so many fines! I remember we went to a big hardcore festival in the south of Italy a few years ago with Municipal Waste, Unearth, and more. It happened to be the hottest day of the year in the hottest city. It was unbearable. Like 48 degrees Celsius. People in the south are very relaxed – they are the image of Italians that you have abroad. We were just standing in the sun with no water, so when we got on stage that we started dropping and falling on stage. The first one was our bass player Gabriel [Pignata] but he continued to play. He looked like a ninja turtle! He was spinning on his back. Then our singer fell, and we just couldn’t go on playing.

Something we did was a wasabi challenge in Japan. We bumped into this guy who was basically immune to wasabi. It was in a traditional restaurant in which you sit on the ground. I started eating it and I was cursing and screaming and he had no reaction. Then we started snorting it…that was a bad idea. But the guy was still on his feet like nothing. So I said, “You should put this thing up your ass.” He said, “Give me 1000 yen and I’ll do it.” 1000 yen was like 35 dollars, so we just decided to burn it on this challenge. So I went to give it to him, and I said I want to be sure you it so I am going to stick it up your ass. So he did it…it’s the best homosexual moment in my life.

Salati: And it’s on tape…on YouTube!

Dead Rhetoric: Where are some places that you’d like the band to hit on the road?

Di Gioia: We’ve never been to Australia or America. We have been invited to India because we had to drop it, since it was not well organized. The first place we want to tour is the US.

Dead Rhetoric: What can we expect from Destrage this fall?

Di Gioia: There will be a video coming out, as well as a documentary on the studio time. There will be some playthroughs, as people are interested in our guitar playing and drums. There will be tours and a release party…but that’s a snobby event where no one is invited besides us [laughs]. Also guitar books are coming too. We did a guitar tab book for Kidding, and there might be a drum book. We will come up with some other ideas.

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