CIRCLE OF WITCHES
What does it look like when you fully dedicate your life to underground music? Dark, surprising and sometimes funny - that´s what pre-20th anniversary interview with Mario „Hell“ Bove – the leader of Italian heavy doom metal band Circle of Witches looked like.
Circle of Witches has been active for almost two decades now. How would you describe the band's journey so far?
Both amazing and exhausting. We‘ve collected so much satisfaction, we met thousands of people who appreciated our live performances, we enjoyed a lot during our trips to venues, having fan with other bands and fixing troubles before the shows. But it was also frustrating as the time goes on, because you put totally yourself into this, leaving families behind, quitting stable jobs that could interfere with music, giving the 101% on stage and off, making relations with other bands, promoters, magazines... It’s never enough. I mean, there is always something that prevents us to step forward. The biggest issue is playing with people who have not the plan to turn the band into something pro. Anyway, I’m stubborn enogh to pull the chariot, change musicians, teach them how to play riffs and hit the stage with the original Circle of Witches spirit.
Looking back at your earlier albums, how do you feel the band's sound and style have evolved over the years?
Our sound turned from stoner rock into something more metal and doom. Our approach to stage and show changed too in a more serious and professional way. At the beginning our goal was to making a lot of noise, make remarkable performances and put ourself into people’s memory as a „funny“ band. We had a very punk attitude, indeed. Going on, we got tired of being something like clowns. Even if we played good, people simply looked at us as a spare time band. So we got a different concept, image and stage attitude, fitting much better our lyrics‘ themes and so we were seen as a serious band. People in the venues started to step into a darker and deeper atmosphere, the right psychological mood we wanted to recreate.
Circle of Witches is approaching a significant anniversary. Can you share any details about your upcoming milestone and any special plans to celebrate it?
Two decades means a life. We always celebrated our birthday with concerts, the best thing we can do. I’m thinking about the release of some singles, maybe along with lyric videos or something like that. I’m not sure to produce a complete album, even if Circle of Witches past plan was a five album concept based upon the natural elements. Nowadays I really cannot say if an album is still something useful and affordable for an underground band like us. New songs are coming, heavier and slower, I’m testing the brand new line up with an evolution of sound. Beside new songs, I want to come back abroad as the covid19 screwed up two tours we scheduled in April and May 2020. Because of economic side effects of pandemia, along with the international worstening after Ukraine invasion, we had to renounce to a third tour we planned in September 2022. I hope our promoters can restore these possibilities asap. Anyway, we are going to release some reissues of old songs taken from our albums and demos to rise the attention looking forward to the 20th birthday celebration. Many years ago, to celebrate this important goal, I thought to build up a little festival here in our city with old Circle of Witches band members and with other bands with whom we shared the stage during these years. Despite my feelings, most of them are not longer active. A lot of that cool guys nowadays are just frustrated fathers and employers with no time for their passion...
Are there any specific highlights or memorable moments from the band's history that you'd like to share with your fans? Good or bad :)
You know, playing in different places and coutries means you’ve so many facts to remember. Once in Austria, I carried the drummer out from the closing venue on my shoulders, late in the night after a hard party the crowd prepared for us. He was drunk and out of coscience and I threw him into snow to waken him up. He simply keep on sleeping and trembling wearing a tshirt in the snow. We left him alone ten minutes, but our pity prevailed.
An other time, in Russia, we were introduced by our local promoter to an important motorcycle club. She lead us to a 25th anniversary party in a kind of Mad Max scenery with a „cinematographic“ car junkyard, flying motorcycles, flamethrowers, and full of sons of anarchy-like people. The promoter said they were very close to the Russian president, there was army ourside this place and some people inside got pistols and automatic guns as well as their kids aside. The atmosphere was kind, music was loud, an insane number of people offered us vodka and some other kind of alcool. We came back in the hotel totally drunk and hitch-hiking a car... I woke up directly in my bed with all my kidneys and liver in the right place. When we came back in Italy, I googled and I found that was a kind of private militia banned from some European countries and responsable of some assaults in Crimea during the Donbass war. Sincerely, I was not feared during the party because people where friendly and openly anti-nazi, but that reading sent chills down my spine. Something funny, a male promoter offered me a lot of c**aine to make sex, but I was not interested in both drugs and sex with him, or that time I realized I’d left my guitar in the venue when I was parking my car in tha house garage... I had to travel back and do 1000 km. Funny but expensive. Or that time we get drunk with Nicholas Barker even I cannot say anything withouth breaking his privacy.
How has the metal scene changed since Circle of Witches first started, and how have you adapted to those changes?
When we started back in 2004, we were coming out from 90s when some great bands were active, even in Italy. I thought (I had that dream) to make my music a job, not as a single professional musician but a band. I can’t imagine things were changing so fast... Internet gave so much possibilities to reach a global audience. Too many groups started to compete for visibility and, at the same time, the global audiance split too much its support. The result was that new bands had bigger difficulties than before in gaining the necessary fan base to develope their carreer. This ment that play and write down good music was not enough. Nowadays you must be a social media manager, a content creator, good at PR, and then after be good musician and composer... We tried to enlarge our fanbase even outside Italy, touring abroad and working on social network, keeping relationship with a lot of people. We also started to make deals with internation promoters and booking agencies to aim bigger venues and festivals. For a period, we did some cool stuff. But things grew worster and worster with small incomes, pay to play and personal matters that mined band’s stability. Time is our personal enemy because during the years we were pushed to look for a stable income and normal jobs.
What inspires you lyrically, and how do you approach writing songs for Circle of Witches?
I got so many interests like Anthropology, History, Occultism, classical goth, fantasy or sci-fi novel and cinema. I use these interests as instruments to reflect upon reality and write tales. I don’t like the stream on consciousness lyrics. I always try to create a story, some allegories to describe certain concepts. So, you can find mage who steal souls to gain power being defeated by an army of deads as well as Lucifer giving the sparkle of intellect and art to mankind like Prometeus. I’ve also talked about real man like the philosopher Giordano Bruno, Spartacus the ancient fighter or Anton LaVey, the founder of Church of Satan.
Even if I have no an usual method, the most of time I start from the guitar or bass riff, from the vocal theme, link them to other parts, fix the right beat thinking about the performance in front of the people. When the backbone’s ready I play it with the other guys in the band to arrange details. Meanwhile I let the music inspire the lyrics. In the past albums, I started with a clear concept, a theme to which all lyrics where related to. Not a real concept album with a story divided into several chapters, but a common theme seen from different point of views through different songs.
Do you have any habits or „needed conditions“ for when you are compose your music?
I just need the time to compose but time is my worst enemy. So many times an usignificant noise in my head turns into a specific riff or melody. So I start to sing that an uncountable number of times until I’m able to record it. I’m afraid to lose memory of these ideas, so I always keep my recording app ready to work on the mobile. The real drama is when I‘m swimming in the pool or having a shower... Sometimes I’ve recorded stuff when I was completely wet, stuck in the traffic or in the middle of the night... You can’t wait for a comfortable time to make art (lol)
Are there any specific musical or thematic influences that have played a significant role in shaping the band's sound?
Back in the early Circle of Witches days, we followed the Black Sabbath’s shadow, with some Kyuss and Melvins tones. 70s rock, stoner, doom, heavy metal is the band’s background. When I write something I don’t follow a specific genre but follow the mood. That’s why you can listen to so many different influences. I’m aware of the music business, those stuff from marketing and other sh*t that can make easier your efforts. Labels just wanna recognizeable stuff they can enlist in the right catalogue or playlist, so fans can choose easier what to listen to following their habits. It’s a strong limiter to free flow of creativity. I know all this but I just try to play, stop. The only direction I give to my songwriting is the live show target. I ask myself if this riff, that refrain or the beat could work on stage and how people will react phisically and psychologically. Sometimes we changed the song structure or speed after the stage because we felt the audiance not so involved. It’s a way to optimize the songwriting.
What can fans expect from Circle of Witches in terms of new music or releases in the near future?
I’m stil not convinced about a new complete album. I sincerely don’t know if people really wanna listen to a LP because even older metalheads outta there where touched by the playlist mood. I don’t wanna waste my time and money to record something people don’t wanna listen to. So probably we will release a bunch of singles and later on we will collect them into an album to sell at concerts. I’m thinking to invest some money in videos and internet promotion instead of producing a phisical album. Before all, now I’m focused on giving stability to the line up as I’ve changed all band members twice in two years. The pandemia forced my ex collegues to find a safer way to earn money so they moved in other cities where it was easier. When our latest tour, planned in September 2022, was definitely cancelled, things fastered (and festered) so I was left with no bassplayer, no guitarist and no drummer, one at time left the band peacefully. So I started to play bass instead of guitar and hired a new drummer, Tullio Carleo, and two guitarsts. One of them also left the band because of his new job, so now we are a trio with the solo guitarist Marco Monaco. Circle of Witches was already a trio in the past, for a long part of its career. Then turned into a four piece with a different guitar job. Now I’m looking for a stable formula, with hundreads of ideas and songs in my mind, but a very stable line up is my priority. I wanna fix definetely the line up and, consequently, the sound. Even if I’ve changed musicians so many times, I’ve always honoured all scheduled concerts working hard with new members. I’ve spent so many time to restabilish the old sound without the chance to search something different. Now, I think, that time has come.
Do you have any plans for touring or playing live shows in the coming months?
We reserve the tour plans for the time we got new stuff. Now we accept just single or a couple of shows. It seems that festivals are closed down to those bands under the „wrong“ agency and so about the venues and concert halls. Anyway, I lost a lot of money when the past scheduled tours blew up and I’m still recovering doing jobs that left me not so much time to tour. Bills are calling, man...
As a band, what are your long-term goals and aspirations?
My realistic long-term goal is to keep on playing as long as health can support my body. After twenty years I cannot see myself gain musical success, I think there are no conditions to do that as a job. Italy is just not the place to play metal or not-commercial music and I see even abroad things are going bad too. The awful truth is that there is too much (unuseful) music around, too much groups, not so many listeners interested to support few bands in a very intense way. I feel myself doomed, that’s why I play doom... (lol)
Are there any collaborations or dream projects that Circle of Witches would like to pursue in the future?
I’d like to play with some friends from other Italian doom and heavy metal bands. There are some thing coming but they are all related to the process of making new songs. Dream project could be hosting Rob Halford or Tony Iommi in my songs... Dream, we talk. I would ask to an international producer to follow us if we decide to write a compelte album in the old style manner.
How do you balance your personal lives and commitments with the demands of being in a band?
Good question... I gave my life a specific shape to play with not so many side responsabilities. I’ve no children, no stable job, I didn’t left my original familyhouse to lower costs. I saw too many friends going abroad to play music and the result was they just worked to pay bills with no time to play and eventually they came back broke. I had many relationships and the first thing I always said, when the things went serious, was „First music, than you“. Tough enough for the most of them, not so for the latter one, the woman I share my life with. I changed several unstable jobs to let me do concerts, rehearsals, travels with no restrictions. After pandemia, I accepted a part-time job to have a little income, the time and the right flexibility to go on playing in the long w.e. . It’s a transitory situation I’ve planned to quit when things will be better on the concert side. It’s not a balance it’s a struggle but also a matter of fortune. I’ve met (or selected) people who can understand my needs.
Lastly, is there a message or anything you would like to say to your fans who have been supporting you throughout the years?
Circle of Witches will blow on twenty candles. Many of you are following us since the first show, some other met us during these years. I’m in contact with many of you and constantly ask us to play in your city or to listen to new songs. My narcissism really appreciates this and give me the energy to keep on this journey. I’m not that kind of „artist“ making art for himself, I play to make people enjoy, thrash, headbang and roar during the shows. So support Circle of Witches sharing our music and our name with your friends, buy music and attend to our concert. This is the only way to make a band grow and push it outside the swamps of underground.