In 2018 White Skull celebrated 30 years as a band. Having released ten full-lenght albums, some of them considered as one of the best in the genre, the Italians are truly a band that deserves recognition. PowerMetal.no had a talk with founder Tony Fontò about the 30 years of White Skull.
Wow! 30 years of metal! That is quite an achievement, congratulations! I must say it’s an honor to be talking to you.
Tony: Thank you for all your compliments! We greatly appreciate this opportunity to talk with you and all your readers.
How do you feel about celebrating 30 years as a band?
Tony: We surely feel very young inside and happy to have this big celebration, although the mirror never lies. Indeed, 30 years have gone by and we are loaded with memories and pride. It is an achievement we are really proud of.
In this interview I want to take a trip down memory lane, and ask some questions regarding some important milestones in the bands career. First off, let’s go back to 1988: how did it all begin? How was the band founded?
Tony: In the beginning, there was myself on guitar and vocals, Roby on guitar, Dasty on bass guitar, and Mariano on drums and vocals. Four friends in love with rock music. We were inspired by our idols; we wanted to write our music and play in front of an audience and possibly tour around the world!
Do you remember what the idea behind the band was back then? Was it «let’s play some rock ‘n roll» or did you have a plan on what type of music you wanted to play? Who were your musical influences?
Tony: We formed the band without focusing on any specific genre. As you just said, it was about playing some good rock ‘n’ roll, have a couple of beers and lots of fun. Our inspiration would come from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Saxon, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Kiss, just to mentions a few. We were not pros; our music was a blend of all the above.
The band was founded in 1988, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the first studio album was released. How were the years from 88-95? I know you released two demoes, where Save The Planet (1994) was a full-length album. What can you tell me about those years; how was the demoes received and how did the band develop during those two demoes?
Tony: Back in the late 90’s it was hard for a band to be noticed, especially if you were playing your own music. From 1988 to 1991 White Skull had several lineup changes.
In 1991, when Federica joined White Skull, it was clear that the band had finally reached some stability. Now with this line up; Federica Sister De Boni, Tony Mad Fontò, Max Faccio, Fabio Pozzato and Mariano Bressanin, we published our first demo tape titled White Skull containing our first 4 songs.
Early 1992 the drummer was substituted by Alex Mantiero. New songs were written and many gigs played in several pubs. In 1994 the second demo tape Save The Planet was published. White Skull was then finally being noticed by the Italian metal scene, our songs were chosen to be in two Metal Compilations: Area Sismica and Nightpieces 4. In 1995 our first album was released.
And in 1995 you released your first studio album on Underground Symphony. How was that; to finally be released on a label? And what do you think about the album today?
Tony: It felt amazing, almost unbelievable. Our dream was becoming reality and we couldn’t wait to play live. I only regret I did not have the experience and wisdom I have today. I am sure the end result would have been much better.
The following years you released Embittered (1997), the EP Asgard (1999), Tales From The North (1999) and Public Glory, Secret Agony (2000). During those years you had a stable lineup, toured with some great bands and released, in my opinion, some of the greatest power metal albums of all time. How were those years? Did you feel that «now we have made it»? What do you think about the albums released in that period?
Tony: Thank you, that’s a great compliment for us. The band was very engaged and really busy those years. We were recording songs, handling interviews, promotion, playing live…never resting. It was intense but without any doubt it felt like living the dream. Those albums are great, and Tales From The North a true masterpiece.
After Public Glory, Secret Agony, your vocalist Federica left the band. How was it to lose her, her being such a distinctly vocalist?
Tony: It was very hard for the band. Unfortunately, we did not realize right away that we had lost what made White Skull unique: her voice.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but having a female vocalist was maybe not so common back then (when the band started recording and playing live). Can you tell me some about why you did choose a female vocalist?
Tony: In 1991, I decided we needed a singer. This role was previously covered by the drummer and myself but, to be honest, singing was not our best skill. Fabio, the bass player, noticed Federica in a small-town festival. We invited her to a rehearsal. Initially I was skeptical about having a female voice in a metal band, but I immediately changed my mind after realizing what a powerful singer she was.
After Federica left you decided to hire a male vocalist in Gustavo Adrian Gabarrò. Why a male this time?
Tony: I had no choice. I could not find another female singer that could match Federica vocal traits. Moreover, I was advised by a few managers that a male singer would have reached a larger audience. Please keep in mind that back then female singers were not as common as now and at the same time not really «wanted» in a metal band.
With Gustavo you recorded three albums: The Dark Age (2002), The XIII Skull (2004) and The Ring Of The Ancients (2006). That was a creative period for the band I assume? How do you feel about the album with Gustavo on vocals in comparison with the rest of the White Skull’s album?
Tony: Gustavo voice is very similar to Federica’s. She also agrees with this statement, haha! This gave the band the good feeling that White Skull would have continued as before even though I had to take over the lyrics. Federica had a good knowledge of English, unfortunately Gus knew little about it. I would say it was experimental and creative. The three albums differ also because of the lead guitar change. I would not compare these albums to the previous ones, it would be unfair. It is a chapter of White Skull story with many positive events for the band.
After the 2006-album Gustavo left the band. Why was that?
Tony: The Ring of the Ancient tour was about to start when Gus called me. Health issues and private life matters had become unbearable for him therefore he was quitting the band. This was shocking news. You can imagine how this felt initially. We had invested so much and it was all gone. But we did not want to quit therefore we started looking for a new singer.
And once again White Skull hired a female vocalist. This time it was Elisa Over, somehow an unknown vocalist. Where did you find her?
Tony: Several female singers replied to our selection notice. Auditions were based on Federica’s songs. Elisa was not the first choice. The one we had selected declined as she realized the commitment to the band would have been too much for her.
Elisa only recorded one album with White Skull before Federica came back. What’s the story here? Why did Federica come back, and how was it to be reunited with your original vocalist?
Tony: Unfortunately, the experience with Elisa was not positive. Too many personal and professional differences led to her departure from the band.
I knew Federica was living in the States. She was out of reach and therefore out of consideration. We started the auditions for the singer when one day our manager came in with breaking news: Federica was moving back to Italy and want to rejoin the band! White Skull’s original voice was finally back, they joy was overwhelming.
In 2017 White Skull released the 10th studio album, Will Of The Strong. How would you say that the band has evolved since the debut album back in 1995?
Tony: According to technical skills and performance we have definitely grown. As «regular people» we all found a way to manage our musician and personal life. The stability of the band is the result of this compromise. We could – and can, never write the same song over and over. I feel blessed with the talent and ideas that every musician brings in every songwriting. As far as this flow of positive energy continues the band will keep delivering great metal.
When the band first was founded, did you ever think that White Skull would survive thirty years?
Tony: It was never a concern to me how long the band would have lasted. I mean, I never gave it a deadline as this was never lived as a project. This is indeed a way of life, we embraced the idea of metal music in our lives as we realized this was an extension of our personalities. This is who we are, this is what we do.
White Skull has been present during almost the whole power metal era; can you describe the development of the genre, and how has it been to be a part of that development?
Tony: In my humble opinion power metal have not really changed much over the years. We see the historical big bands still going around playing their hits. Just to mention a few, bands such as Helloween, Gamma Ray, Accept and Grave Digger are still stay faithful to what we consider power metal standards. White Skull likes the epic sounds therefore we use keyboards and some melodic lines in a good balance with the punch that this genre requires.
During the years White Skull has been around the music business has also changed; how has you, as a band, experienced that?
Tony: Music business has changed drastically. The internet and mp3 being the two big reasons for this change.
Online music stores allow the user to purchase immediately a single song or the whole album. Hopefully this is being properly regulated and managed so all musicians get the righteous profit for their products.
But honestly, I liked it the way it was before. The competition was more fair. The value of a band was based on the songwriting and live performances. The reality is highly distorted by digital programs. Image, sounds and music tricked to attract the interest of the audience. The image prevails on the content of the product delivered. This business is now too fast, just «a click away» as they say. Everything is immediately available online and it changes a second later. We get constantly bombarded by a load of nonsense news. No more human contact needed, just a digital inquiry to any of the dedicated apps.
In order to be visible in this new world we have the band website and we are present as a band or musicians in the common social media. We have specialized staff dedicated to the maintenance and update of these digital IDs and deliver band news only when needed. However, as I said before, we prefer to play our music live and meet our fans and friends and believe that the digital world shouldn’t be the substitute of the above. This whole experience can’t be downloaded…
What do you think about the power metal scene today?
Tony: Power metal followers are less and less, but this is also happening to metal in general. The new bands are not equal to the old ones that continue to be the headliners of the current metal festivals.
Less and less audience is present at the concerts, the digital world seems to have taken over the needs and the expectations of the listener…
What about the future? You have survived thirty years – will you survive another thirty? And what about the next album?
Tony: I will turn into a metal mummy, haha! We have no plans to stop, but I find it hard to believe we will make it to the 60th anniversary. In 2019, we will put together new songs and then it will be up to the label company and the budget available.
Once again: it’s been a pleasure talking to you!
Tony: Many thanks to you for this nice talk. Until we meet again, maybe during a White Skull show in your country? Horns up!