Spheric Universe Experience – Return to HomeThursday, 19th May 2022
Hailing from France, Spheric Universe Experience are a progressive metal act that have been together since 2002 releasing material that fits a lot of what may be traditional relating to the expectations of the genre. Their fifth album Home comes out at a time where the band have been away for almost a decade – at least in the studio sense. A return to form when it comes to stellar musicianship, solid hooks and melodies, plus the interplay and intricacies that are necessary to appease the ardent followers of the genre, the band hopes to elevate their following one festival, one tour, or one record at a time.
We reached out to keyboardist/composer Fred Colombo who brought us up to date as to the events that let a decade lapse between records, the songwriting process between the band members, thoughts on the French progressive metal scene versus worldwide support, favorite memories relating to ProgPower USA and touring with Threshold, plus his love of video games and day work as a translator.
Dead Rhetoric: Back Home is the fifth Spheric Universe Experience studio album – and first in a decade for the group. Can you bring the readers up to speed with the prolonged absence of the new material at least on that front – as you did release a live record in 2017 to bridge that gap?
Fred Colombo: Well, yes – it’s been quite a long time since the previous studio album, over ten years. As you said, we released a live EP in 2017 from the European tour that we had with Threshold. In fact, what happened is after the release of The New Eve we tried a heavier approach that was a little bit less progressive. It turned out to be a misstep from us. We felt some disappointment from the fans, and we as a band were lost at that time so we took a couple of years away from Spheric Universe Experience. We all got involved in many side projects in many different genres. We got back to writing this new album in 2016, when we got back from the European tour with Threshold. We started recording in 2017, and it’s been a very, very long process. And that ended in 2021.
This is why it lasted so long between the previous album and this new one. We had some years away; we took our time to make the biggest and most ambitious studio album that we could ever make.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that the previous album The New Eve went in a different direction that the fans didn’t appreciate. Was this something you guys as musicians wanted to do to break free from your past style?
Colombo: Well, I’m not the best one to talk about this because I didn’t want to change direction with the band. I was the only one wanting to remain progressive metal. This is quite difficult for me to explain the reasons why the rest of the guys wanted to shift from progressive metal to something heavier. They believed at that time that we had achieved everything we could in progressive metal after the third album Unreal. They felt it was time to explore some different directions. Definitely the guitar player Vince Benaim, he is very much into heavier metal and death metal. He wanted to bring that into the S.U.E. sound. We released three progressive albums – let’s explore something new. The thing is we have a very progressive name: Spheric Universe Experience. It’s 100% progressive – and the audience expects progressive metal from us, and nothing else.
We actually made a mistake. We played the wrong genre, and this is why we decided to title the album Back Home. It’s all about getting back to our roots.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about this array of material for the new album? And what can you tell about the conceptual story of space travelers that return back home – are you the type of band who works on the musical and storyline components separately or coordinate at the same time to fit everything seamlessly?
Colombo: We’ve been working both musically and lyrically at the same time. It’s a whole package actually. Back home means we are back to our musical roots, but it has a double meaning. It’s also the whole story about the album, a story about a group of human beings flying back to Mother Earth, after years and centuries of living on a distant planet. And they finally realize that the best planet on the universe for the human race is the Earth. They decide to fly back to their mother planet. We write the lyrics closely with the music – its not like all the music is written and then we work on the lyrics. It was all about telling a story and having the music that follows the story very closely.
Dead Rhetoric: You shot a video for “Where We Belong” – what can you tell us about that video shoot? And is it a challenge for the band to figure out what song(s) would be best to introduce to the listeners as a preview into the whole record?
Colombo: It is a huge challenge. When you are an artist, of course you love each and every track on the album. In cinema they call it killing babies when you have many good takes and you have to choose one, and let go of all the others, even though you love all the takes. Here it is basically the same – we have thirteen tracks, all of which we are very proud of. When the label says we need to focus on two tracks as singles, we said okay let’s vote. We are not a one-man band, actually there is no leader in Spheric Universe Experience, we are five leaders. We always make decisions collectively, and it’s a democracy. Our band works that way. The results of the vote were “Legacy” and “Where We Belong” – we decided to make a video for “Where We Belong” because we felt that it was the most representative of the whole album. A strong introduction, heavy riffs on the verses, catchy chorus, melodic, a lot of progressive elements in the end.
The process for the video, it was very exciting because it was only our second official video. We did a video for “The Day I Died” from the previous album, but it was not representative of who we are. “Where We Belong” to me is our first progressive metal official video. We shot it for three days – indoor shooting, outdoors with the singer and I played a grand piano. It was very pleasant, very exciting, we had a lot of fun, and we are very happy with the end result.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see your role as a keyboardist and composer within the band? Do you know when to go full force with your abilities, and when to sometimes lay back for the needs of a song?
Colombo: Every band has their own writing process. As far as we are concerned, we (have) three composers in the band. Vince the guitar player, the singer Franck Garcia who is a great piano player as well, and me. Since the very beginning of the band, what we do is one of us writes a song, the rest of the band makes the arrangements. When it comes to me to write a full song, I write the whole structure: introduction, verses, instrumental sections, choruses and everything. And then the rest of the guys arrange their own parts and their own instruments. In Spheric Universe Experience I have two roles: composer and lyricist. When I write the song, I take full force and do the entire job. When it’s a song written by Vince or Franck, I step back and just do the arrangements, the keyboard parts, and nothing else. It’s pretty much the way we work.
Dead Rhetoric: You are now a part of Uprising! Records, a division of Mighty Music, for this record. Tell us your thoughts about signing with this label, and how you feel about the music industry and responsibilities of a record label that may have changed or differ from the early records/times for Spheric Universe Experience?
Colombo: We are extremely happy that we are now a part of the Uprising family. It’s a very dedicated label. They work very hard and are extremely motivated. We are very happy, because maybe we suffered from a lack of motivation from some of our previous labels. It’s very refreshing to change a label and work with very dynamic people who are very involved in what they do. We feel some back up from the label, and this is one of the first times in the history of the band that we feel that we don’t have to do everything. We have someone backing us and doing the rest of the job. We are able to focus on the music and they can do everything else. It’s extremely comfortable for an artist.
There has been a major change with labels since the early 2000’s, which is downloading. Before downloading, labels used to make loads and loads of money with music. It was a whole different job. They were people who were making a living with music so they would work very hard. From the moment downloading appeared, it changed the whole musical world. Both labels and artists stopped making a living with music. It changes everything. We continue to make fans with record labels, but not making a living at it, we have to work part-time, and it changes everything. You don’t have the full-time to work on your music. The labels are doing things out of passion. Around 2003-05, the whole record label industry shifted from working to make a living to working as a passion. It has changed the motivation and involvement in what labels do. We can’t blame them – I do understand (labels) and that they can’t just work the way that they did before.
Dead Rhetoric: Where does the band find the balance when it comes to your progressive metal style between the sophisticated / intricate musicianship filled passages that can be very virtuoso and intricate, while also creating stronger melodies, hooks and themes that listeners can grab ahold and retain, track to track?
Colombo: You said everything. These are the elements that we try to put into our music. We don’t have the pretension to be up to the level of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Vanden Plas – bands we are fans of. We know that we can’t pretend to reach their level. However, we try our best to include as many cool elements in our music as possible – from technical riffs to our musicianship, melodies and emotions – which is as important because when you play progressive music you can easily forget the emotional aspects. This is something we pay a lot of attention to – we want it to be emotional and we try to compose some music that is not too cold but also heart-warming. This is the music that we have been trying to compose for the past twenty years now, and I hope we are doing it well.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the band chemistry currently? Do you think it’s important to be friends and understand the individual needs/wants of the band members as much as being on the same page and setting specific band goals for the group?
Colombo: Definitely. If a band is not composed of friends, it’s like a company. We are working colleagues, but no longer friends. We have to be friends in real life. The band is not a company. It should be managed as a company because it has expenses and incomes, but it’s not a regular company, we are making art. It has to be different. We have to respect each other, (be) empathetic towards each other. You have to care for what the other person is facing. It’s all about emotions, and when you share such high emotions such as when you are on the stage, and you face the audience, you are with your brothers – you could kill for your brothers, the band is a family. To me, a musical band composed of people that are not friends in real life, they just work together. Maybe they can do quality music, but something will be missing. In Spheric Universe Experience, we are brothers, and something can be felt from the fans when they see us playing together live.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the highlights for the career of the band? Specific albums, shows, tours, festival appearances that will stay in the memory bank or stand out as special to you?
Colombo: I have a couple of memories that are beautiful and that I will never forget. The first one would be our ProgPower USA appearance in 2008, Atlanta, Georgia. We were 25 years old. The whole week we had there, it was the American dream for us as European young guys. We arrived in Atlanta, there was a hummer limo picking us up the airport, they took us to a five-star hotel. The day after we had a meet and greet session with the fans, 50 minutes of signing CD’s, t-shirts, and everything. The people – I couldn’t even believe what we were experiencing. And then the third day we had the show, it was a blast. This is the most beautiful memory we have in our career.
Also, the two European tours we have had with Threshold in 2009 and 2016. Touring is different than a one-shot festival. You are sleeping in a nightliner, you play every night in a different city, it’s a physically demanding experience but so exciting. You discover a new landscape, new people, new languages, when you tour in Europe you change languages every 100 kilometers. There are plenty of memories – I probably have forgotten many of them. We have a band that for the past fifteen years has so many beautiful memories that we could not have ever made without this band.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the state of the power/progressive metal scene and support you receive within your home country of France, as well as the global outlook? What do you think excites you the most, and what changes (if any) would you make for the greater good of all?
Colombo: France is not a progressive metal country. There is a French progressive metal community, but it’s too small. We had very little support from our country. Maybe in the beginning with the first two albums, we had some decent support because we had a specific French label which was Replica Records. A local French promotion that was not the case from the third album. Now regarding the rest of the world – the progressive metal and power metal genres, it’s not mainstream. But there is a solid community of hardcore fans that keep promoting the genre, show up to the festivals and the shows, there are not numerous but loyal to the genre. That’s why these styles are still alive despite not being mainstream, they are dedicated and loyal. It is what it is. I’m not even sure if I would like progressive metal to become mainstream because of the approach, the fans and the bands would act differently. I think that things are balanced the way they are.
It’s supposed to be a subgenre. It’s supposed to be an underground form of music. And that’s nice how it is, and I am fine with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any specific challenges that the band is currently facing to rise in stature or develop a bigger footprint in the scene?
Colombo: The only challenge that you face when you want to be bigger is budget (laughs). Give us millions in a promotional budget and we will rise. If we were signed to Universal or Sony, we would be more successful.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important albums (metal or otherwise) that help shape your outlook as a musician? And what has been the best concert memory for a show or festival that you took in, purely from an audience member perspective – and what made that show stand out to you?
Colombo: The thing is, I’ve got influences from so many genres that go away from progressive metal, so you might be surprised. Number three would be Dream Theater – Images and Words. This is progressive metal. Number two – Final Fantasy 7 soundtrack, which is the soundtrack to a video game. It shaped my musical personality as a teenager, and a lot of melodies and notes that you hear in Spheric Universe Experience have been influenced by that. My top album is The Space Between Us by Craig Armstrong, he is a Scottish composer. It’s neoclassical music with elements of electronica. To me, he is one of the most beautiful geniuses of music of our time. He is melodic, emotional, sweet, and writing for many film scores.
My favorite show. Symphony X in 2003 in Paris. It was the first time I saw them. It was such a blast. I was right in the pit in front, I got such a punch in my face that I will always remember. I was 20 years old. The most powerful thing I have ever experienced in my whole life. The band was so tight, the style was perfect, they had so much energy and so much musicianship. You have seen Dream Theater play live- they are picture perfect but sometimes they lack a little bit of rock and roll energy. Symphony X however were like young guys who move around, it looked easy to them.
In our band, we give priority to the show rather than musical perfection. We have to entertain people, and sometimes progressive metal bands forget the entertainment of the art that is being put forth.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of the world currently? What do you think needs to be considered or worked on the most to make things stronger for the average person as a whole?
Colombo: We need to love each other. We need to respect each other. We need to give love to as many people as we can. We need to tolerate differences. We need to stop wanting always more for ourselves and always less for the others. We need to consider the rest of the world as our family, and we need to give love and nothing else. This is the key. It’s all about peace and love – what else?
Dead Rhetoric: Under your Facebook profile, you describe yourself as a sport fan and video game addict. What sports and video games are you most passionate about currently?
Colombo: Well, I have been playing video games since I was six years old. I’m from the video game generation. I love many genres, from sports games to racing games to shooting games, Japanese RPG’s. I like every type of video game. The type of video game I have been playing most the past two or three years has been VR gaming. To me, it changed the whole way we approach video games. Before VR, we were playing in front of the screen. Now with a VR headset, we are playing inside of the game. It changes everything. You feel like you are a whole part of the environment. To me, it’s a huge difference. This is the most exciting video game experience I’ve had over the last couple of years. I’m a VR addict.
Just like the music, I’m not a hardcore gamer. I’m not about scoring, fast consumption – I like contemplating the graphics, the music. Sometimes I just lay the controller down and watch what’s happening, listening to the music environment, and not doing anything. As an art, I’m not about finishing or beating a game and buying the next one.
Dead Rhetoric: And you are also a translator for a career – how did you get into that and what have been some of the cool experiences you have had as a result of doing this?
Colombo: First of all, I was raised in a bilingual family. My mother is French, and my father is Italian. I heard multiple languages from the moment I was born. Maybe that helps. And when I was a teenager and you have to pick some studies, I was into languages. I studied translating, and I have been working as a professional language interpreter for over 16 years now. It’s a job that I love. I would love to make a living out of music and making that a living full time, but the thing is, you can’t. I am very glad I have this regular day job because it’s wonderful.
The best experience I have had has been translating for football – European football which is soccer to you. I have been translating for many European players, worldwide football like Gianlugi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper or Mario Balotelli the Italian striker, and many other players. This is the best thing that my translating career has brought to me so far.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Spheric Universe Experience over the next year or so? Are there any other projects, bands, etc. that may have work coming out as well from the members that we can look forward to?
Colombo: Regarding Spheric Universe Experience, our manager Lars Larsen is currently busy working on a tour for us. He wants to put together a European tour, we will go public as soon as a tour is confirmed. It should happen in the coming months, end of 2022/early 2023. The other project I have is completely different. It’s called Red Soda, it’s synthwave, retro wave. 80’s inspired music, it’s a project that I started in 2017. It’s a duet, myself on keyboards and a singer. We have some guest musicians on saxophone and other things. We released three studio albums so far, and we have plans to release a fourth album soon. This is my main side project.