Interview with Bobby Tufino of Dialogia

Interview with Bobby Tufino of Dialogia

Dialogia is a word one seldom hears, In fact, I have never heard the word until recently. If the term seems to lead one to focus on the word “dialogue”, it is on track. In an ocean of voices, this release calls and shines for a new definition for itself as it enters the now bloody Metal arena. Antichrist Magazine’s Stewart George catches up with Bobby Tufino (guitar, backing vocals) and asks about their take on “Sleep-Deprived Sonic Intoxication” and their new release entitled “Nostrum”.

Hello Bobby, let’s start with what is Dialogia. Please define what the word is, what the band hopes to convey with it and why choose that word as the band’s name.
Before I answer that, I’ll mention how it’s pronounced: Die-uh-low-jee-uh. The concept is the work of Alejandro Nogales, who wrote most of the music and performs lead vocals, among just about everything else. “Dialogia” is a portmanteau of “dialogic” and the suffix “-logia.” I’m giving you my interpretation here, but the idea of dialogic art is that a new piece of art is in constant dialogue with the works that came before it, and vice versa. Similarly, those older works are informed and transformed by newer art. To me, it’s like writing a new death metal song that is influenced by Blessed are the Sick; maybe you just feel that ancient evil DNA in your new song every time you hear it (and so will listeners, whether they know it or not). But at the same time…now you listen to Blessed are the Sick, and even though you’ve heard it thousands of times, now you can’t help but recognize that vibe that permeates the song that you wrote. That classic and divine work has now been transformed. And it goes further: you can listen to tunes from Blessed… (Morbid Angel’s 2nd lp) and hear the Possessed influencein them, and on and on. You can probably trace it all back to Robert Johnson and his deal with the Devil. Living art is necessarily in dialogue with other living art.

As far as “-logia,” that is a Latin root that most associate with the study of something, and that is applicable for our purposes, but it’s also the root of the word “lodge,” as in the meeting place of a secret society, for instance – something fraternal, implying brotherhood. It was important for Alejandro to make this album with people that he considered brothers. He and I have been friends for nearly 30 years, since our days in Bolivia. We’re good friends with the guys in Daylight Dies, so Guthrie and Barre’s performances (guest vocals and guest guitar solos, respectively) also fit the bill. And in the end, I think we’ve built friendships with some of the other participants, or at the very least the goodwill to collaborate again. This album was made somewhat in secret; nobody knew it was coming until it was beyond mature. The sudden appearance fits the concept of work done strictly in the shadows.

The name of your release is entitled “Nostrum” which is a Latin word meaning “our”. It seems that the band name, the title and the cover tie up together in conveying a meaningful conceptual trifecta, the relation among all three elements.
I suppose that definition is applicable, but to be honest, we focused on the definition of it meaning a false cure; snake oil. This is a concept album. We have intentionally cloaked it in metaphor and haven’t been too explicit, but I’ll say that there is a general sense of illness in the world, and it seems like everyone claims to have the cure, whether it’s some ideology, or a religion, or anything else along those lines. Anyone who offers a salve for the wounds of humanity is a snake oil salesman and is absolutely not to be trusted. Anyone who goes in search of such a cure may or may not be a fool, but they are destined to find a nostrum, at best.

When did you start participating in Dialogia and what made you to want to be a part of it?
I guess 2007, as that’s when we wrote the very first pieces of music that ended up on the album (they are the intro and chorus/post-chorus of the song Stratagem), but it wasn’t until probably 2010 that Alejandro said “let’s make an album.” As far as what made me want to participate, my friend wanted to make a record and asked for my participation. Simple as that.

What’s your role in song writing?
At first, it was just me helping Alejandro with arrangement ideas for his material, or contributing the odd melody or riff. Gradually it became a more solid co-writing role, but in general this album is his triumph more than it is mine. We have drastically different writing styles both lyrically and musically, but I think the contrasts really work overall.

As time moves on and with the constant life and death changes placed before all peoples these days, many bands are finding themselves expressing themselves taking on questions that we know how to pose but have a hard time answering. Think of the realm of fantasy where nastiness is so far away we know of it but doesn’t not affect us as a whole but things in today’s reality remind us of the opposite.
This is tough to respond to without going into specifics about the story, but I’ll point out that the album begins with a question: it starts with a song called “Earth,” and the first lyric is “where do I end, and where does the Void begin?” Although the story has fantastical elements, it is firmly rooted in the mundane existence that all are forced to share, and that some seek to transcend; whether that transcendence is in the form of escape or exploration is another relevant question. As to the Void, I’ll only say that it’s a fearful concept to some and a comfortable one to others.

Everybody, regardless of music genre, finds a niche that they enjoy as the listener. In your music, there is a forward drive that feels meditative-like at times. Is that what was desired during a song’s creation and the mixing process?
There are absolutely meditative elements; it’s awesome that you’ve recognized that. Part of the concept of Nostrum is accessing hidden levels of reality. That’s been attempted by humans for years, be it via religious rituals, or intoxicating substances, or even simple meditation, all creating an entry point for a presence of some kind. So yes, that’s a big part of it. Legulus, especially, has an ostinato figure that is intended to be trance-like. Sacrosanctum’s interlude features a hypnotic repeating pattern in preparation for the guitar solo and the madness of the subsequent drum solo. The most blatant example is late in FearBlack RedEscape, where we mostly abandon rhythm guitar in favor of synth and bass (and a truly transcendent guitar solo from Bobby Koelble). This is the deepest point of meditation and reflection musically, as well as lyrically.

The songs have a spacey feel yet, they have sorrowful moments giving me the impression of being inside a secluded mind, with thoughts that speak through you and are crossed along with power riffs.
This is true as well. There are moments of loss and regret, but those are not major themes, and we never really sustain those vibes for too terribly long, because the character in the story tends not to stay in that state for very long, even when it is perhaps warranted for him to do so.

What ties the songs to the artwork for the release?
Actually a lot of elements tie directly into the lyrics, but mostly the idea was to capture that sort of dreamy but foreboding feeling that the music embodies. You have this beautiful and somehow “pure” female form on the cover, but she’s holding the very Earth in her hands and howling faces form all around her. She looks serene and unafraid – she is, in fact, the personification of Truth – but she doesn’t look particularly safe to me. Also, we wanted something with that kind of Michael Whelan/Necrolord vibe from the albums we grew up with, where you could stare at them and find new little hidden elements. I’m really happy with it, and there is additional artwork in the booklet that’s just as good. I should point out that this is original work, created for the album by Dasha Pliska. The artwork has been done for several years, and she’s only gotten better since then.

While covering the use of the word “spacey” in terms of use of synthesizers , I hear that the synths used in some parts are not so upfront like many bands that do not offer a harmonious balance when using them.
Again, good catch – that’s by design. Synths provide an important audio bed for certain songs, but they are usually not intended to be at the forefront. Think of it like the sound of rain outside when it’s been coming down all day. At some point you’re not really focused on the sound of the droplets, but you’re peripherally aware of them and they create the atmosphere that you’re in. Sometimes the synths ARE up front, though, as in the section of FearBlack RedEscape that I mentioned earlier, but only when it’s required. Personally, I’m not a big fan of ever-present keys in death metal.

The use of backing vocals is prevalent in your recording. There are female and male clean vocals used which make me think of their use in a more European style.
It’s an interesting comment, because we intentionally used them pretty sparingly. For the truly clean vocals, we were more inspired by stuff like Slowdive than by the usual “death metal with clean vocals” stuff that has become so commonplace. We’re also both big fans of classic Anathema, and definitely the male/female duet on FearBlack… was inspired by that. You’re totally right about the European aspect; the darker, more atmospheric stuff coming out of Sweden in the early 90s is overall the biggest aesthetic influence on Nostrum.

Your involvement with the Metal scene in South Florida, your time as a Metal DJ, travel, connection with other bands and creativity, changes in personality and experiences.
From 1998-2003, I was a DJ at WVUM 90.5 FM in Miami, while I was in college studying electrical engineering, with a focus on audio technology. It was awesome – back in the days of purely physical releases, it was so cool getting to hear albums before they were out, not to mention all the free concerts and festivals and things like that, getting to interview some of my heroes…it was a great time. I went to so many shows and met so many of my influences, most of which were very cool. As far as my involvement with the scene, I made friends with members of several local bands. Xaphan from Kult ov Azazel is still a very good friend, as are the guys from Hibernus Mortis (R.I.P. Doug) – rumor has it that they have a new record pretty much in the can. It was awesome getting to be friends with Santiago and Charlie from Aghora and hearing how their songs developed before they released an album, and they introduced me to Sean Reinert – what a cool dude he was. Genius.

As far as changes in personality, there wasn’t much of one, but I learned two important things during those days. First, I met lots of awesome music industry people, but I realized that I did not want to be involved in the music business. I knew that I would end up jaded, and I have seen that happen multiple times. The other thing was that I did not want to work as a recording engineer, after all. I got what I wanted out of my studies in the sense that I learned about recording and mixing and whatnot, but I realized quickly that I would HATE working on music that I wasn’t into, which you pretty much have to do in that line of work, at least for a time. That realization led me to work in the tech industry as an engineer, always in the field of audio technology, which is really awesome and has taken me to Japan many, many times – hail to the greatest metal bar, GODZ! When I die, I want to have my ashes spread over that bar.

Having session musicians in the recordings.
What can I say? My best friend and I made an album that features Bobby Koelble, my favorite Death guitarist. My 15 year-old self would not believe it. Daylight Dies is one of my favorite bands, and having Barre and Guthrie on the album is also incredible. Guthrie was a big surprise for me, because I didn’t even know that he could sing melodically.

I have to say this – I think we have one of the best rhythm sections in metal on a couple of the songs, Conundrum and Stratagem. Obviously Jasper Barendregt is on the whole album, and I can’t say enough good things about his playing; he can just do it all, from the most extreme moments to delicate little cymbal accents. That dude blows me away every time I hear the album. But the other big surprise for me was Johannes Zetterberg’s fretless bass playing. Alejandro had been a fan of his work for several years, and he added SO much to the songs that I mentioned. He knew exactly how to make those parts sing without overplaying or being too flashy. Impeccable taste, really. I would love to hear those two make an album together someday.

Beyond that, Alejandro always had visions of a choir section and real strings, and I really didn’t see how he’d pull that off, but he did – we have some great singers, and the strings really added an extra dimension of melancholy to the closing song, Unlocked.

The songs themselves have a playing time of 4-6 minutes each but the track “FearBlackRedEscape” is eleven minutes long.
Yeah, and at one point it could’ve been more like 15! That one had to be long; we’d just about finished the songwriting when I threw out the idea of adding one more tune that sort of weaves the whole album together. It incorporates key melodic themes from the rest of the album, and really contains elements of all the other songs. I love that kind of thing; a concept album isn’t a concept album if you don’t have recurring themes. Some people don’t like long songs, and to be honest I’m not as into them as I used to be, myself, but I don’t think this one drags at all.

Dialogia’s Bandcamp page states there is a protagonist in the songs. A “He”… Explain what development ensued in coming to that idea.
I think as soon as this was going to be an album, the overall concept was there. Alejandro came up with it, and we fleshed it out together over a number of years. We both wrote a lot of lyrics; his tend to be more poem-like and abstract, and mine are a little more direct. We wanted to strike a balance of telling the story without really spelling it out. If maybe 20% of people who follow the lyrics get the idea of what’s going on, then we’ve succeeded.

Did Dialogia have any demos before this full length came out?
Nothing that we released, but yes, we demoed everything with drum programming before we started working with Jasper. It’s a trip listening to how the songs evolved, let me tell you. The song Conundrum, for example, was a real point of contention among us for years. It started out with all synthesized choir and acoustic guitar parts, and I just wasn’t super into it; Alejandro had a clear vision of how that song would end up with the real choir and real nylon and steel string acoustic parts, but I couldn’t see it and was really skeptical. Now it’s one of my favorite songs and I’ve eaten my words! Adding Zetterberg’s bass parts to it just took it to another level.

While technology has made it possible for an endless multitude of people to start bands, I am seeing that there is an overflow of these fly-by-night bands, an overkill, actually. This makes it difficult for bands with good solid material go up against bands that are not good. How does Dialogia stand aside from low quality bands trying to be in a similar genre as you?
That’s really hard to answer. I think determination and patience have been the key for us. We had the luxury of taking as much time as we wanted to make it (although it took years longer than we’d have liked), so we really really fine-tuned the songs. A band is only as good as their drummer, so getting Jasper, who in my opinion is one of the best drummers in metal, obviously sets us apart. We also spent the bulk of our modest budget (this is a wholly independent effort, after all) on a really pro mix and mastering job from Tymon Kruidenier and Brett Caldas-Lima, respectively. I listen to plenty of stuff that’s raw sounding and totally rules, but that approach was never going to fit for Nostrum. Sure, you could probably mix The Gleaming Fracture in a really raw way and it would work, but something as sonically complex as Conundrum just wouldn’t have worked otherwise. I’d say that we found the perfect team to make this album.

Analog versus digital recording. If you had used analog recording equipment for “Nostrum”, what possibilities or short comings could have been encountered?
Man, it would’ve been impossible. For one thing, we did this album mostly remotely; there were very few times that Alejandro and I were working on these songs in the same room, and except for the drumming, we recorded the album in our home studios. Man, editing these tunes by splicing tape…”I cannot fathom such an atrocity”, as Pat from Hellwitch once said. Digital sounds great, and it just saves a ton of time. Doing it in analog would’ve been cost-prohibitive and I’m not at all convinced that it would have sounded better. Alejandro’s mission statement from day one was to make a state-of-the-art record, and we did.

Describe the type of Audience is Dialogia looking to draw into its compositions.
Don’t care! Anyone that cares to listen. As far as who’s likely to gravitate towards it, I’m guessing that it’ll naturally appeal to people that are into early 90s death metal of the atmospheric variety, even some more melancholic stuff. That said, I think it has appealing elements for just about any death metal fan if one chooses to really dive into it. The biggest challenge is that it is a long and dense album that’ll yield great rewards upon repeated listens, but who’s got the attention span for that these days? Only really dedicated listeners – IF they come across the record – so I guess that’s who it’s for, in the end. Shikata ga nai.

A song which breaks the mold in your release is “The Gleaming Fracture” as it is the most aggressive of the compositions in your release. What drove you to insert a song with a little higher aggression in “Nostrum”?
Honestly, the storyline called for it. Earth was always going to be the opener, and it’s mostly pretty melancholic, although it gets intense at the end. We needed a song that lyrically and sonically reflected the protagonist’s state at that point, the beginning of the journey. It needed to be furious. We knew more or less what track 2 needed to be before ever writing a note. It came together really quickly once that opening chord manifested itself.

During the recording sessions, were there any last minute changes in how a song was originally written?
Yeah, but only a few. The chorus to Gleaming… changed a bit, we re-wrote a riff in Conundrum, and the vocal arrangement for the duet in FearBlack changed based upon the performance that we got back from Marisa Frantz. Barre’s second solo on Stratagem TOTALLY changed the feel of that part, even though the riff underneath never changed. But for the most part, the songs were fully formed once we got to tracking.

You had been involved in other projects and worked with several people. Between then and now, were there times when you could have said, “Fuck it, I am done.”
Eh, not really. I just always loved that god-like feeling of going “there was no song…now there is!” That’s way more rewarding to me than releasing stuff, so I’ve got a lot of songs written for my death metal band, Hypgnostic, which has been in hibernation for several years. I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure if I’d put any more effort into this or that, but never really a “fuck it” feeling out of frustration. I definitely had some “fuck it” feelings making Nostrum, as it was a reeeeally long and sometimes painful process, but boy am I glad that I stuck with it. The result is better than I could’ve hoped for and it’s pushed me to take other musical endeavors to this level of completion. I didn’t think having my stuff professionally mixed was that important, but the first time I heard the mixed and pre-mastered version of Gleaming come out of my speakers loud as fuck, I knew that I’d been wrong about that.

Any side projects, prior releases? (note: what’s available and how to obtain)
I had a project in Miami called Fleshless Burning Dreams, and I still stand by those songs for the most part. I may revisit them, but that’s never been released. At one point Alex Marquez was going to play drums on those tunes, but that project just kind of stopped.

My main creative focus is Hypgnostic. That project is full-on death metal, pure and simple, but I’m guessing that some of the elements that I developed in Dialogia will work their way in there. I threw some of the drum machine demo tunes onto Soundcloud at one point, so they can still be tracked down, but those are really early songs and we’ve written more since then. It just got darker. I’m not planning to release anything else in demo form, but that project is in the process of being revived. The big question is who to get to play drums on it…Alex was once again going to do it at one point, but it never worked out.

Now that the debut is out, where do you go from there in terms of evolution and sound?
We’ve talked about future works, thrown around some conceptual guideposts, but I don’t want to elaborate further. Our creating new material is a given, but releasing it into the wild is far from a certainty. If I had to guess, I’d say that anything we release in the future will be recognizable, but quite different.

Add last comments here.
Thanks so much for the interview! I know there’s a ton of new music to listen to every day, but this album is worth any death metal fan’s attention. We put a lot of years into Nostrum, and it shows. Much like the cover art, listeners will find new details every time they listen to it. I encourage anyone to listen to it the way that you would have as a kid in your bedroom: loud as fuck, whether with headphones or loudspeakers, with the artwork in front of you. It’s truly a journey, and 100% worth your time. Come: explore the noxious.

www.dialogia.info

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