Before Ancient Rome fanatics Ex Deo play their first London show in support of Nile, eGigs landed an interview with bassist Dano Apekian to discuss the adventures of this melodic death metal act, their interest in the Romans and the difficulties splitting the time between Ex Deo and Kataklysm…all at the back of their tour chariot!
How are you?
I'm doing well, thank you. How are you doing?
I'm fine! How's the tour with Nile been so far?
Great. We've toured with them before in the US so we get along super well and it's always fun to do Europe together. They're cool guys. It's been a good ride so far.
This isn't your first European tour but it's the first time you're in the UK as a tour.
Yeah but we played Bloodstock.
Speaking of Bloodstock, how was that for you?
It was fun, it was great. You're always a bit worried about going on stage during the day with daylight and you want to give a good show. Night time normally works better so you're never quite sure how the crowd reacts during the day. It's like playing a club with the lights on the whole time but I was pleasantly surprised. We were received super well. The crowd were chanting along. No complaints. I was happy. It worked really well and the organisation of Bloodstock is phenomenal so no complaints on that.
Are you looking forward to your UK tour?
I love coming on the European tours any day of the week. Germany and all these countries have always been good for us but after seeing the Bloodstock reaction, I've been looking forward to coming back and see what we've got over here and see how it goes. The reaction from Bloodstock was so strong that I want to come back and give them a little bit more. Just one show at an outdoor festival like that just doesn't give it justice.
How does the reaction you received at Bloodstock compare to the reception at any other festivals you've done?
On the festival side, Bloodstock was great because you can tell that we haven't been there before. Even after the show, there were sixteen inter views lined up. There's a lot of interest around the band. Of course, it's a country I always wanted to visit. We flew in to do the festival and flew back out so you don't really get a chance to enjoy it much. When you come back on tour properly and you're not super busy with all the other little things surrounding the festival, you set up your stuff and meet people, hit the local pubs. We hit two of them before this interview. This is what I like; you come down and enjoy and see more of the culture. And I love the cold weather!
How does your last album'Caligvla' compare with the debut 'Romulus'?
I think it's a more mature album. Maurizio [Iacono, vocalist] has his roots based in Italy and Rome so this is the project that he wanted to bring to the table, his history and his side of the story and introduce it to the metal world. The first time around, it was almost a conceptual album. It was meant to have more guest appearances and throw it out there and see how the crowd reacts. Touring that, we've seen that the reaction has been solid and the band slowly went from conceptual to become a solid band. The concept of Caligula is great. I love him. He's a nut job. I think it works well with the metal world. It's an important part of history as well. When we started writing this album we were like: "There's something here that wasn't quite on the first album," so it started happening naturally. I think the band was more cohesive because it wasn't a new concept but something we've already worked on before. We've toured with it and you go on stage and every time you play these shows, we have our stage get up with the leather armour and all that. We try to give that to the crowd. You're on stage wearing the leather armour and you give a good show, you feel you're part of it and you're representing not a band, not yourself but a whole history and something much bigger than the combined five people that are on stage. When you come round to write the album, you're more in sync with it and the whole band gels well together. The level of the production was a step up but also on a lyrical stand point, an evolution forward. It just seems like a proper step forward.
Is it hard to play in all the armour on stage?
Yes, it's very hard, especially as we don't have the luxury of playing monster-sized halls every night. We are, at the end of the day, in the underground world. In smaller venues, you pack a lot of people inside them and the whole venue gets hot for regular bands, never mind wearing super thick leather armour and trying to move fluently to give a show but try not to have a heart attack! You do what you've got to do to give a good show. You want to give the crowd something that's worth their money.
You made a video for 'I, Caligvla'. Why did you choose this song from the album to do a video for?
Personally, I think the song stands out. It's a solid song. I really like it a lot. It's got a groove to it, a power and energy that I really like. Of course, it represents the album. It sums up everything the album is about in one song. It was a logical choice. It was like a no brainer but at the time everything came together. "You guys, what do you want to do?" "Caligula." Also, it's conceptual; the music video that we wanted to give was in that song so it was the one.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted more guest appearances on the first album. Could you elaborate on this please?
The original album was to [have] a lot more guest appearances but it became more of a problem when the band decided to think about touring and the conflicting schedules of all the other members didn't quite work out. That's why if you look at the band now, it's all the [current] members of Kataklysm. It's like a family. If you're going to take someone on the road, it may as well be your family. That's why I came in because Ex Deo have two guitarists. You can't take five random guys and throw them together and hope it all works well. You can't get better than your own brothers.
What I noticed with 'Caligvla' was the keyboard is brought to the forefront.
Yeah, again, that's the band's evolution and the band maturing as a whole. The guy who does our sample work did it on both albums, just this time around, he felt more in his own element. The writing is a bit more mature so I think everyone together found a balance that worked well. Everyone just stepped up their game and this album ended up being the masterpiece that it is. I was surprised how this album came out. You always have your doubts because the keyboards clash with guitars and there's only so much you can fit into a song with frequencies and the way it's been put together. Everything shines a little bit, so it's great.
The keyboard sounds somewhat Roman. Where did this influence come from?
The guy that does it is a genius when it comes to working with samples. He layers his own work over itself to create certain tones and effects on the keyboard side. I don't know if he uses libraries of pre-existing stuff but some stuff is potentially integrated into it. Sometimes he's just like "Man, I have a feeling this is going to work," and he'll bring it to the table and put it all together. Whatever it is, it's great. It works. There's a lot of back and forth when it comes to stuff like this but I think everyone works to make the end product work. I think that's the best way to do it sometimes when you want to get the best out of something is not to limit and give people a chance to breathe their talent into it. If there's editing afterwards then someone comes in to adjust and there's always room for that.
Obviously Caligula and Romulus are famous ancient Romans. Are you going to continue this theme in your future albums, possibly have Nero?
The interesting thing with Roman history is that it's so vast so you have a lot of stuff to choose from. It's always tricky because you want to tell the story in a way that makes sense for the characters but also in a way that makes it interesting. Even for 'Caligvla', we had a couple of options on the table. For the next album, we'll have to see where people's attentions lie and see which one would make the most sense to give the best story for the crowd but also tell the history properly. You can't tell the boring parts of history because not many people want to hear about that. It's got to be something interesting, something relevant and ties in with what we've done.
You've got such a massive source to choose from. You said there were a couple of other options when you were doing 'Caligvla'. What were they?
Unfortunately, I can't tell you as some of them could potentially be used for the next album. We always work on many angles at the same time. You'll have to wait and see what happens.
Have you ever played in Italy yet?
We have actually.
What kind of response did you get over there?
Not bad. Italy is not the strongest metal scene out there but given the reactions we got, we were very happy with it. It's always tricky because you don't want to go to Italy and not give them a proper show because that's their heritage. So far, no complaints and it went really well.
Do you generally get a lot of feedback from fans in Italy?
Yeah, it's not bad. Luckily none of it is bad so that's good enough [laughs]. It's been going really well. They understand the concept. It's always a battle because it can be a touchy subject at times. Sometimes, certain parts of history can be seen as a political movement depending on how it's represented. Sometimes, you've got to be careful about how you approach it but so far, it's been great.
You've played with Ensiferum who obviously sing about Vikings. Is there any crossover appeal among the fans seeing as you sing about history too?
I think so, especially with Ensiferum. Early on in our touring career, it was the first North American tour we did. Typically, your first tour is going to be a rough one. Once you get to the stage, for 99% of the people, it's the first time they've seen you or even heard of you but you expect it. But the crowd went crazy for every band and the sales and merch went great. It's a combination I think works really well. The pagan scene meshes really well with what we do. It's great. We're thankful for that.
Kataklysm and Ex Deo share line ups. How do they strike a balance in terms of recording, rehearsing and playing lice?
It's not easy. JF [Dagenais, guitarist] is a sound engineer and he's also the main songwriter in both bands. He's constantly working, he's a musical genius. The intention gets split when Ex Deo have something going on, Kataklysm takes some time off and when Kataklysm have something going on, Ex Deo take some time off. I think the focus is on Kataklysm; they've been going for over twenty years so you can't let slide. It's a fine balance but so far, it's working well. The only issue is that both bands are starting to grow. As both bands grow, it will be a different challenge to try and manage it all but I think it's a good challenge to have.
What are the future plans for Ex Deo?
For now, not much. I think Kataklysm will be releasing their latest album in October so they're going to push that as strong as they can. I've seen what their itinerary looks like and it's pretty crazy. My hat's off to them. I think we'll wait and see how their campaign goes. There will definitely be more Ex Deo. It's just a question of when and where. We don't want to rush and we don't want to compromise Kataklysm's effort on their new album. We'll see how long, hopefully not too long but we don't want to hurry it.
That's the end of my questions. Do you have any final words?
No, just thanks for having me here. Thanks to all the guys out there for listening. Without them, we have nothing so thanks a lot.
Thank you for the interview.