Interview with vocalist and bassist Ricky Mandozzi
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 10, 2020
Belgian thrashers Schizophrenia have been building a reputation as one of the most ferocious, aggressive and brutal thrash metal bands by playing intense shows in Europe, sharing stages with their fellow country mates Evil Invaders as well as Malevolent Creation, Batushka, Angelus Apatrida, etc. The band's ever-growing reputation has been helped by the release of their 5-track EP, Voices, plus a couple of videos that they released the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
It's pretty obvious the band is going somewhere, and the members have the determination and drive to make things happening with all the hard work they have put into the band thus far. The only rule for them seems to be, "everybody can thrash, but you know what? We can thrash even harder." This is the statement I would ascribe to them when listening to their latest offering.
We here at the headquarters of The Metal Crypt were impressed by this Belgian bunch so much that we decided to check in with the band's front man Ricky Mandozzi to ask how it all got started and what they have been up to lately, especially now with the Covid-19 thing still making life difficult for everyone.
THE LOCKDOWN CONTINUES...
How's life in Antwerp, Belgium, these days now the country has been shut down due to this unfortunate Coronavirus pandemic that's been raging around the world for the last few months?
Ricky: Well, Belgium is still under lockdown and everything is closed, so there's nothing much we can do. It's a bit of a tough situation, pretty much like in the rest of Europe, the rest of the world actually. There are some restrictions for safety reasons, of course. We are only allowed to go out for necessity stuff like the supermarket or pharmacy. We can go out for walks, of course, but not much.
You joined the band in 2015 when it was still called Hämmerhead, a band which was mainly influenced by the eighties Thrash Metal scene and bands like Vio-lence, Kreator, Destruction, Whiplash, etc. What was it like to join a band that already had made a name for themselves by releasing a couple of EPs plus playing some shows as well?
Ricky: The thing is, I'm Italian and I moved to Belgium in 2013 and I was looking for a band to play with. I was going to start my own project and I had asked Vincent, the drummer from Hämmerhead, to join me. He was really busy with Hämmerhead and a couple of years later, in 2015, he asked Romeo and I to join Hämmerhead, me singing and playing bass and Romeo on guitar. We only played live shows with them.
You even made the video for the song, "Aggression Force" around 2016, in which you play both the victim and his torturer, besides playing with the band. What is this video all about, lyrically?
Ricky: Actually, the video is all about being brainwashed and mind control and that was definitely when Romeo and I decided that we wanted to do something with Schizophrenia and based the band and image on schizophrenia and madness, insanity, but not specifically being mentally ill, more about violence. I think in that video, you see pretty much the beginning of what was going to happen afterward.
When you released this video on YouTube in June 2016, did it help spread the band's name, resulting in more interview requests and even opening new gig opportunities and so on?
Ricky: When the "Aggression Force" video clip was released, we got a chance to play some extra shows in Belgium and we had some extra exposure, but it was more confined to our country. It allowed us to play a few extra shows but that was it. Not much happened after that.
SCHIZOPHRENIA HAS MORE BRUTAL GEARS
When you joined the band, it wasn't more than perhaps a year or so before the name changed from Hämmerhead to Schizophrenia. Would you say this name change was something that you had to do because the band's sound also changed quite a bit, adopting elements from even Death Metal names such as Possessed and Morbid Angel?
Ricky: Well, I'm going to make this straight and clear. Hämmerhead was one band and Schizophrenia is another band. Romeo and I joined Hämmerhead back in 2015, but we never recorded anything with Hämmerhead. We only played live shows with Hämmerhead.
Then in 2016, Romeo and I decided to do something that was a bit more extreme than what we were playing with Hämmerhead. We started writing new music. The music that's Schizophrenia belongs to Schizophrenia and nothing was taken from Hämmerhead, it's a completely new project. Back then, Vincent, our drummer in Hämmerhead, helped us start Schizophrenia, but a few months later, he joined Carnation. We definitely needed to find a name that would suit the band and what we were going to do.
Hämmerhead was going to split anyways because the other guitarist wanted to quit, and Vincent was going to join Carnation. That's why Romeo and I started Schizophrenia.
The backbone of Schizophrenia seems to be guitarist Romeo (Promos) and yourself. Would you say you are the ones that call all the shots in the band or do Marty (VK) and Lorenzo (Vissol) have a say in the band's musical direction?
Ricky: Well, not really. All of us have equal rights in the band. We can all share our opinion in the same ways. It's the four of us, and there are no bosses in this band. Romeo and I are the founders of the band, but we don't decide anything without the approval of the others and the other way around.
Would you say the band has four equally good songwriters?
Ricky: Yes, definitely, contributions are from the four of us. For the EP Voices that we just released, most of the ideas were from Romeo and I because those were songs that we had written together a long time ago. Marty had a huge influence on the arrangement and in developing the songs. Lorenzo did an amazing job on the drums. There are equal contributions from everybody in the band regarding the songwriting and especially now for the music we're writing for the new album. We're all sharing ideas and music so it's four songwriters, definitely.
How did you find Marty and Lorenzo to complete the lineup of the band in 2017?
Ricky: We found Marty and Lorenzo in 2017 because Marty was a really good friend of Romeo's and he was playing in another death metal band at that time. Romeo and I were actually living together, sharing an apartment, and Marty was often at our place, so we saw each other pretty much all the time. Marty was often at our place jamming, so we knew he was a good guitarist. It was a pretty obvious decision to ask Marty to join.
For Lorenzo, it was a bit harder because we had in mind clearly what kind of drummer we wanted, but we didn't know anyone else besides Vincent, who had already left the band. I asked Max from Evil Invaders, who is a good friend of mine and a good friend of Lorenzo, and he suggested Lorenzo. We asked and Lorenzo got the gig right away, and that's pretty much it.
HAVE YOU HEARD VOICES?
You released your 5-track EP, Voices, at the end of January 2020. Why did you end up putting out the EP independently instead of finding a label to take care of its release?
Ricky: We decided to release the EP ourselves the offers that we had before the release were not very good. It was a bit of an investment, but then we get pretty much all of it back. We were approached by some other labels, some more underground, some bigger after the release of the EP, but for the moment we're going to stick to the DIY thing, just keep doing it ourselves. Aside from the cooperation with Dying Victims Productions, which did the cassettes for us, we're just going to keep doing everything ourselves. For the moment we're just going to keep it like this.
You shot a couple of videos, "Perpetual Perdition" and "Structure of Death", in 2019 and 2020 to support the release of Voices. Do you feel that you got the right response with these two videos to promote the EP?
Ricky: Yes, the two videos had a positive impact in the promotion of the EP. The first one, for "Perpetual Perdition" put us in the spotlight again after years of silence. The big change was when we released the video for "Structure of Death", which came out with a bang. There were a lot of people that were interested in us after the release of "Structure of Death," and we started selling, pre-ordering the EP. When it was finally released, a lot of people bought it, so the "Structure of Death" video clip definitely played a crucial role and was very important.
Have you approached any labels with these videos? A properly made video is one of the best tools to get your band promoted for the masses...
Ricky: We didn't really approach labels. Those videos were not really made to approach labels, they were mostly made for self-promotion, but as I said in the other question, in the future when we have enough material for a full-length, then we'll also record new videos and we'll definitely approach new labels, but for the moment it's going to stay like this.
Speaking of new material, how much do you have ready for a full-length album and what else can you tell us about the musical direction of this new stuff?
Ricky: We're actually working on a full-length album and we have some material, but it's definitely not enough yet to record the album. We have some new songs and they are still very Schizophrenia style, but probably there will be a bit more death metal influence. Even though we're still going to play on the edge between thrash and death metal, I feel this next release might have some more death metal influences and the songwriting is a bit more mature. It's taking a little bit of time but now with this Coronavirus situation, we have a lot of time to work on our music, which is a good thing. Hopefully, we will be done with the writing process by the end of this year and then record somewhere next year.
When you enter the studio next time, have you talked within the band two or three new songs into some sort of digital promo kit, for the purpose of getting the band signed?
Ricky: Well, yes, that's pretty much what I said earlier. When we have the album, we will consider approaching some labels. We will discuss it within the band, and we'll see but that's definitely something we had in mind, of course. I think it would be a really good idea for promotion, pushing two or three new songs that are very strong, that should definitely work.
As nobody really knows when this virus pandemic, have you been thinking of doing something like arranging some sort of a "live from rehearsal" type of playing session for curious parties who would like to see you guys playing live?
Ricky: We haven't really planned on any live-streaming because we don't really live very close to each other. Marty and I live in Antwerp, but Romeo lives a little bit outside of Antwerp and Lorenzo lives in Brussels, which is almost an hour drive. Normally, we rehearse in Brussels and right now we're not allowed to leave our cities, so we can't do much about it. We will take that into account if things are going to stay like this for a longer while, we might do some live-streaming, that would be cool.
If it's well done, I'm definitely in for it, but for the moment we don't really know what the situation is going to be even in the next few weeks. We don't know what the government is going to decide about lifting the lockdown measures, so I can't really tell you much about it right now. If something comes up, I will definitely be happy to do it, for sure.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
As the future is still very uncertain as far as playing live is concerned, are you keeping your hopes high that you will get some gigs booked for the band for the fall, even if these gigs ultimately get canceled?
Ricky: We had some gigs planned for this summer, which have been cancelled by the government because in Belgium and in Germany as well, all events are cancelled until the 31st of August. We have similar shows planned for September and October between Germany, Belgium and France, but we're not sure they're going to happen. We're trying to be very positive, but we also need to be realistic. As things are right now, I'm afraid it's going to be like this until the end of the year, which sucks. It's really bad.
I think health should come first and right now the situation is pretty bad, so we don't want to put anyone's life in danger and we also don't want to risk anything. We were also planning to reschedule the shows that we have to skip at the end of the tour because of this Coronavirus, but right now it's really hard to make plans, so I guess we'll have to wait and see how it goes. Maybe after the summer we'll have some more information and maybe we can plan better.
Belgium has always had a pretty cool and vivid underground scene, especially for speed and thrash metal bands. Do you see any reasons that make Belgium such a great country for this type of metal? You have newer bands like Evil Invaders and Bütcher as well as some older bands like Cyclone and Acid that all seem to be popular around the world, keeping the flag high for this genre.
Ricky: Well, it's true, Belgium always had quite a big metal scene, and I think it's because, well, I don't know because I'm not Belgian, I'm Italian. I suppose it's because Belgium had some very good bands back in the day like you mentioned, Acid, Cyclone and Ostrogoth, for example—and of course, Killer, which is another really cool band, and they're still active.
Some of them have always been active, some of them just reunited, and I think despite the trends that come and go, some bands are still there, kind of fighting back. In the '90s you had a huge drop, but I think those bands always kept the flame alive and thanks to some festivals that brought back those bands, there's still quite a big scene in Belgium and thanks also to all these new underground bands that were inspired by the older ones. I think that's probably why it never died, even though it had some up and downs, but it's still very much alive.
As Lorenzo also plays in Bütcher, how much effect does that have on the comings and goings of Schizophrenia or can he manage both bands somewhat equally?
Ricky: Well, Lorenzo can actually do that really well. Even though he plays with Bütcher and also with Skeletal, which is a death metal band from France, he can do it pretty well. Lorenzo wants to be a professional drummer, a professional musician, and so he does his best not to create problems between all of his bands. Normally, he knows far in advance when he has to play a show, so we always have time to find a replacement or Bütcher has time to find a replacement, but it doesn't happen very often that Lorenzo is playing a show on the same day that he's supposed to play another show. He can manage that very well, so that's a good thing.
OK, I have one last question for you and then will let you enjoy your weekend. What do you expect from the fall of this year as far as your band Schizophrenia is concerned?
Ricky: Well, it's hard to say what to expect from this fall. We really hope that we'll be able to get back on stage as soon as possible, that's definitely what we like to do the most, but as much as I try to be positive about it, it's still hard to think that that's going to happen. Hopefully, as I said, by the end of the year, I really hope that we're going to be done with the writing of the new record, and then hopefully, by the beginning of next year, we will be able to record it. That's pretty much it. We can just start scheduling shows for the next year, that's also another big help.
I want to thank you, Ricky, for your time speaking to The Metal Crypt and wish you all the best in the future with the band. If you have anything else in your mind you'd still like to mention in this interview, be my guest...
Ricky: Yes, I would like to thank you for your time and for the interest in our band and I want to tell everybody to stay safe and take care of each other. Hopefully, we will get back on stage as soon as possible. I really wish one day we could play in Finland, that would be really cool, so we get to know each other, that'd be really nice.
Thank you very much and take care.
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