SkeleToon – Revenge of the Power Metal NerdsSunday, 5th December 2021
Those who remember the 80’s/90’s power metal scene can think of the influx of bands who took Helloween to another dimension in terms of 16th notes, uplifting melodies, spirited harmonies, and this unity between bands and their audiences. Acts like Angra, Edguy, Stratovarius and more kept the scene alive – bringing us to this next generation of artists like Italian power metal band SkeleToon. They’ve released five albums in quick succession – having a good time doing it while also reaching into 80’s movie nostalgia for inspiration. Such is the case for their latest effort The 1.21 Gigawatts Club – paying homage to the Back to the Future movie series that penetrated the global landscape during the 1980’s taken into a metal context. Adventure and dynamic twists exist through each successive song – including a blitzkrieg interpretation of the Chuck Berry classic “Johnny B. Goode” to end the record.
We reached out to vocalist Tomi Fooler recently and he brought us up to speed on the philosophy/outlook of SkeleToon, how they were able to write/record five records in six years, their NerdMetal concept, thoughts on the state of power metal, some of his favorite vocalists, and a lot of future work for many members of the band to look for on the horizon.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about your first memories surrounding music in childhood? And at what point did you discover heavy metal, and make the progression forward to wanting to perform in bands?
Tomi Fooler: It was probably when I was fourteen. I was watching a sport bike show, like motocross GP back in the days. There was an advertisement in Italy here, and they were playing some power metal music. I loved it. I was already playing my music, piano lessons with classical music. The song was a Stratovarius song, and it was “Distant Skies”.
It was natural when I took piano lessons I would cover my favorite songs and sing behind it. I realized that trying with vocals gave me more feelings about it.
Dead Rhetoric: SkeleToon started out of the ashes of a Helloween tribute band, Jack-o’-Lantern. Did the seasoning from rehearsals and shows playing out that material shape your voice, delivery, and abilities/confidence to strike out with your own originals? And did the tribute band pull from all eras of the group – or mostly focus on the Kiske-led records?
Fooler: Yeah. I shaped my vocals based on Michael Kiske when I was younger, I loved his voice so deeply. Definitely that changed, and created in some way my own music. When we used to be a Helloween tribute band, we focused more on the Keepers saga due to the fact that I love Michael Kiske and I love that vocal style. I realized it was easier for myself to play this kind of music with my kind of vocals. I tried to move on, but Helloween was one of my two biggest influences in terms of my musical vision.
Dead Rhetoric: The fifth and latest SkeleToon album is The 1.21 Gigawatts Club – your tribute to the Back to the Future movie saga from the 80’s. What can you tell us regarding the initial development of the material from the musical and lyrical content perspective? Where do you see this record in relation to the previous discography of SkeleToon?
Fooler: We planned to create this kind of tribute to Back to the Future back in the early days of the band. Since the very first album SkeleToon released. I planned to release an album each year for five years because I wanted to tell the story about a guy I imagined, a guy named Timmy. It’s in a novel that I wrote and he’s growing up with the listeners. If you listen to the first album, Timmy was around eight or nine years old. Each album on, he gets older. When I reached the period of the age of seventeen, I thought that Back to the Future which is one of my favorite movies ever fit perfectly that kind of way to think about life. As we did with the Goonies tribute two years ago, we tried to create an old story represented by a movie that was so important for us. It was very easy to create it, I just followed the original soundtrack of the original movie, watching the movie so many times and focused on each character and each scene. We translated this into a power metal album as SkeleToon would have seen it.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any songs that were more difficult to develop from the initial stage to the final track compared to others?
Fooler: Yes, definitely. Not only at the initial stage, but at the very end of the recording sessions. It was “Eastwood Ravine”. The last song outside of the cover of “Johnny B.Goode”. It was written by our drummer Henry, and he loves progressive metal so every time he brings that into it. We have so many changes when it comes to the tempos, BPM’s and such, the harmonization as well but I love the result. I challenged myself in this song to create a different type of vocals, following a different kind of music. It was fun, but trust me, very, very difficult.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the pandemic was taking place, were there any differences as far as how the recording schedules went?
Fooler: Actually, we planned before the pandemic to release this album later. In 2021 but later in the year, I wanted to push it into December. Due to the fact that we didn’t have that many chances to support the previous album Nemesis with live shows due to the pandemic, I called the studio to push this earlier. It took maybe one or two weeks more than scheduled, but we decided to go on and release this in October.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve often described the band with terms like NerdMetal and concentrating on the fun aspects to power metal. How do you maintain that balance between the dedication and seriousness for your craft while also having a good time – because many people seem polarized when it comes to certain expectations for the genre and their favorite bands?
Fooler: I don’t know. We started in this way and we’ve tried to maintain it. We are trying to keep having fun without pushing ourselves to certain boundaries. We like to go beyond them. Even if people around say that we aren’t taking ourselves seriously, we don’t care. We are just trying to keep going on like that. About the nerd term – it was an easy choice, we are first nerds and then musicians. I’m speaking for myself as well as the band. Outside of the group, we try to have fun with this consideration from the people and try to make music on it. We are having fun while making fun of ourselves, actually.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering you’ve done albums based on movies like The Goonies and Back to the Future, would you do something maybe down the line on Revenge of the Nerds for instance?
Fooler: Yeah, definitely. It’s the main point of every SkeleToon album. Every movie that we pay tribute to, this has this kind of ‘revenge of the nerds’ concept. The loser guy that used to be the one outside of the group, is now having his revenge in some way. I think it’s the main point of our band. To try and let people know that even if you are not as cool as you want to be, you have something to say to the world. While also maintaining our mood of having fun.
Dead Rhetoric: How has the band maintained a regularly album release schedule issuing five albums in six years when many others now take three or four years between efforts? Does this speak to the work ethic and creative abilities of the musicians within SkeleToon?
Fooler: Actually, I don’t know how we did this. It was almost like placing a bet. Even the label said, that’s a dream coming true, for ourselves as the label. Because you guys are giving to us a brand new album each year. I had so much material and so many songs done – but it wasn’t true. I write each album one or two months before hitting the studios. It happened for the five albums that I would book and reserve the studios, even without any songs that were written until that time. I put myself into it and write music as I wanted to.
I don’t think we are going to release another album next year. I am actually working on another project that hasn’t been released or named yet. It will be released in 2022, so the next SkeleToon album will see the light of day in 2023. And it will be the first time SkeleToon releases an album after two years. Maybe this could be a good choice.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences between your first record label Revalve Records and the current work you do for Scarlet?
Fooler: They are two different worlds. Our first label, and I am so grateful for, was a younger and smaller label in comparison to Scarlet. Scarlet Records is in power metal, and in Europe, is considered among the biggest for power metal. They have been working on the heavy metal scene since the 1990’s. Revalve our first label was born five or six years before our first release. I was happy with both, they take care of their products and our band. I have to say Scarlet has given us huge support because they are a bigger label.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of power metal currently? What pleases you most about the scene, and what aspect(s) (if any) would you like to see changed or modified for the greater good of the movement as a whole?
Fooler: That’s a good question. I think these days power metal is seeing some light again, almost as if it’s being reborn. A lot of bands are playing power metal music, more releases, and more people are coming to the shows. I was surprised two weeks ago when we had our album release party, so many people showed up. I know that it was also due to the pandemic, people had to stay home and now we can have some concerts. I saw so many youngsters and new faces in the circuit. I think power metal is seeing another golden era in these years.
About the music and what I would like to see for the future. I honestly don’t know. I am that guy that is happy listening to the music that gives me memories from the 80’s – acts like Helloween, bigger acts like Stratovarius. I don’t know what could be reserved for the future, but I am positive that it will be fun.
Dead Rhetoric: After being away from the live stages for over a year and a half due to the pandemic, how did feel recently to be able to play live again? Do you believe that audiences will not take for granted the live gig experience for quite some time?
Fooler: Yeah, totally. Now they realize without all these live shows, maybe people realize now they want to go to shows. For myself, after one and a half years, it was like oh my gosh – I was nervous for the gig like it was my first show. I think the crowd that was waiting for the concert was feeling the same way. In Italy when we had our release party, it was the very first day that the government said concerts were okay with people not sitting in front of the stage, without the social distancing. It was only mandatory that people had to have their masks on. They were close to each other so it was amazing to see this situation back again. People were shaking during the concert because they missed this so much.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve done some killer covers over the years on SkeleToon records, from Avantasia and Angra to Cyndi Lauper and Chuck Berry among others. Which one(s) were the most special/challenging to deliver, and have you received any feedback from the artists involved with the originals themselves?
Fooler: Yes. Avantasia and Angra are two of my favorite bands ever. I miss so much Andre Matos. It was a big challenge to sing “Carry On” for the last album Nemesis. I love Andre’s voice so much, and I couldn’t believe that I was doing this for real. I was scared by older people who may have thought that Tommy is just trying to show off, but he can’t be compared with Andre. I received a lot of positive comments about that song.
Other musicians who gave me some feedback – it happened when I covered “Farewell” from Avantasia. I received some good reactions from a singer that isn’t necessarily involved in Avantasia but a close friend of theirs. A lot of people that are fans, true fans that know the band, I consider that feedback a very good result for my career.
Dead Rhetoric: Having been a part of the scene for a while now, what are some common mistakes or missteps that you see younger bands or musicians making that you wish they would learn from and avoid? And do people seek you out for advice/tips regarding your voice or other band / business activities – if so, what do you talk to them about?
Fooler: What I would like to see from younger bands. Take things less seriously- having fun is the key according to myself. Don’t just try to get popular. Nobody here is getting popular – I know I am not going to be the new Iron Maiden. It doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun in trying. So please, youngsters- have fun. Don’t care about the rest, just do what you prefer. Even if you have one person listening to you – you have made a point. I think that’s the biggest advice I can give.
About my voice. I took lessons, I created my own style. I love my favorite singers like Michael Kiske, Tobias Sammet, Bruce Dickinson – but I am not that guy that you have to try this to get better or avoid this to get worse. I am just trying to have fun and do what I like.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider the biggest challenges SkeleToon faces right now at this point in your career?
Fooler: Trying to believe in ourselves. Being aware as I am you are trying to reach a point that is almost impossible to be reached. I would say this – just try and go on without taking yourself too seriously. Because it’s very difficult to be popular – just keep going on.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Tomi like to spend his time away from music as far as his passions, hobbies, and interests to get that fresh recharge?
Fooler: It’s difficult to really answer this question because I am working on three different projects. SkeleToon, the one I told you about before, and another one that isn’t for myself. Most of my time is dedicated to the music. I am a passionate video game player, and a passionate role game player. I love movies, especially classic movies. I fly around, I have my flying license so I try to fly as much as possible. I have so many interests that lately have been pushed aside for the music. I’m a couch guy watching movies and trying to play games as much as I can.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for any activities related to SkeleToon or other possible guest appearances / records from yourself and other members of the band over the next twelve months or so?
Fooler: Surely we are scheduling some live shows. As long as we can go out, we will play live. I have three guest appearances coming up with other bands – one already announced and a couple to be released soon. The other band members, every one of them is working on his own solo project. Andrea our lead guitar player, has released this Project Kasha with the former bass player of Frozen Crown, two other musicians and an amazing singer – it’s some sort of death metal project. My bass player is playing in other bands, making some rock and roll shows. SkeleToon will release tour dates soon. In 2022 we will see my other project released, it’s a symphonic, operatic project with three singers involved, two beyond myself. We are trying to create some music that is more classical style, operatic. It could be considered power metal, but with more orchestration, arrangements, and more instruments. It will be fun, that one too. I think that’s enough for 2022 for now (laughs).