EX DEO – My heart to Italy

by Irene Donatoni

Everybody knows Maurizio Iacono, Kataklysm’s and Ex Deo’s founder and mastermind.
Such a character, who kindly invited me to speak on his tour bus. We started talking a bit in Italian and that’s how I could appreciate his perfect grammar and the southern inflection. After breaking the ice, I turned on the recorder and started the interview. Here are your answers for Ex Deo fans and MetalPit followers!

Italian version

How well do you know Italy? Why are you so attached to this land?

Well, my blood is Italian. My mother and father were born in Italy. My mother is from Bari and my father from Catania… So I feel connected to the South. And part of my family is in Ravenna. I go there a lot, I try to reach them at least twice a year. I have nineteen cousins, you know, the family is over there, basically all are there… Ever since I was little, I grew up as an Italian. Although I lived in Canada for many years and now I live in the United States, my mother and my grandmother share the same tradition: at home, on Sundays, there is pasta, on Fridays we do not eat meat… all these things! So yes, I have a strong attachment.

What do you like about Italy and… What do you dislike?

(Laughs) So, culture is not to touch! History is not to touch! The way of life is the best in the world. As I said, culture cannot be touched, from North to South. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful country in the world. What I do not like? Of course, I do not like politics in Italy. Having tot prime ministers in 60 years is definitely… too much. This is the main problem. Everyone acts for himself rather than for people. And then it seems there is still this conflict between North and South, which I do not agree with. For me, Italy is the whole Italy. For me, Italy is the whole Europe! You know, with the Roman Empire and so on (laugh) …

Ah ok, you wanna spread out!

Really, it’s such a nice culture… But as I said, the whole Italy is beautiful, you have something really good in the North and something else awesome in the South. And the two parts together make Italy.

You mentioned Europe… What do you think about Italy in the context of the EU?

Look, if Italy returned to the Lira, it would be an advantage for the internal market, with more exchanges and many jobs that would arrive in Italy. But the Lira would not be worth anything and then it would be difficult for all Italians to leave the country (looking at me knowing that I moved to Austria, we burst out laughing). I’d like to travel anywhere… So, in the end, it would be really difficult. Just look at the case of Poland: it is becoming much stronger with the EU. A lot of jobs are shipped there because there is cheaper labor, but I do not know if it would be a good thing for Italy in general. It could be, but other than that, I think it’s just better to have a union with everyone… I like the idea of “open borders”, especially as a musician because I do not have to stop in every country. In Europe there is a new country every two to three hours, and if I had to stop every time and give passports… no, no way! Obviously, nothing is perfect. But I cannot say I’m against the European Union. Of course, it would be better to be less controlled by France and Germany, perhaps a little more flexible to give everyone a chance. Because not all countries are treated the same and it is not right. This is my opinion, but what do I know about politics?

More than you think, indeed! But you mentioned Poland… and it drives me to the next question: the topic is the contents of Metal music and the fact that for a few years now the market has been dominated by Viking and Slavic tribes themes. You started doing something else and you wanted to underline it. With how much success, do you estimate?

You know, I’m super ambitious… and this can be an advantage and a disadvantage. I started thinking about doing something that would revitalize Roman history, because not all people have Viking roots, you know… ok, I like listening to some of these bands, like Amon Amarth, Ensiferum and so on, but I have no attachment to their culture! And then we Latin are millions, in South America, Spain, Italy, France… and even in England we did well: because you know, England was under Roman rules – London was, in fact, Londinium – and people understand this connection, this historical connection. But I do not do it just for that, indeed it is only a small element. More than anything else, for me the Roman historical subject fits perfectly into Metal, there is something brutal, hard, obscure in both… And then we can take in consideration the glory of the Emperors and the theme of rebellion… I also like to explore philosophical ideas.

Of course, I do it also because I’m Italian. And it’s funny because I grew up listening and watching shows about the Roman Empire on TV, and they were represented as the villains par excellence… basically because of Jesus, in fact the most popular films were broadcasted during Easter, when the main focus was on the Crucifixion. In my family we had a strange relationship with our roots: on the one hand there was this, and on the other hand we were proud of the Roman origins for having civilized the known world. So there was not only the negative side, although of course bad things happened as in every population, but at the same time we exported and created democracy with the Greeks, just as we invaded and invented even dictatorships and terrible forms of power. But that’s how we started the concept of the current world, which can be at the same time big and chaotic.
And then we had bathrooms when nobody had them, as well as roads to connect the world… don’t you think it’s something incredible? We should be proud of our history. People try to put this black label on everyone, cataloguing something as “evil” or “bad”. But for me… you know, I explored the world of the Roman Empire more and fell in love with it. As bloody as it was, it was romantic at the same time.

It seems that you are more conscious about Italian past than the Italians themselves…

(Laughs) Sure! To be honest, when I play with Ex Deo in Italy it’s always the strangest show. If I take it anywhere in the world they love it, they go crazy for it, as happened for example in England: people came dressed up as Romans, and it was an incredible show with 800 people full of strength!
But when I go to Italy, everyone is like… (he looks around mimicking astonished people): yet this is their culture and history! So I’m not sure how they perceive it, you know? Of course, when the show ends, they are all with that look like: “It was great!”. But we see that it was difficult for them to understand their own culture, perhaps because all that has been destroyed in history at some point turns out to be disconnected… and people want to adapt to other cultures and influences… maybe Italy is at this stage.

Tell me about it, I come from a region that was under Austro-Hungarian Empire (Gorizia-Trieste), so we have still to deal with other parts of History… I mean, centuries are passing by…

Obviously! I know that at some point, after the First and the Second World War, your place was redesigned by strangers who decided what was here and what there …
I know it because one friend of mine, member of Graveworm, is from South Tyrol, near Innsbruck. You go there and everyone speaks German, they are Austrians. And then there are Italians. I mean, History is complex. We must realize this.

Let me anticipate this question: you listed two dates in Italy for this tour, one in Milan and the other one in Bologna. But this time Rome was not considered. I found it really interesting…

We are not headlining it, Ensiferum are deciding where we go. And then I think that Rome is not a fertile ground for Metal… not yet at least. If we’re headliners with Ex Deo, I could think about it and I’d like to do it, of course. I’ll try, at least. It would be too special… My plan is to create like a theater, as if you were being in Rome, with pillars, columns and so on… But of course it is very expensive and one has to take many risks. For now, I am just slowly tasting the water, even if we have been around for ten years.

You mentioned that Rome is a difficult scene. Would your project be also a possibility to spread Metal as a concept or a genre, in general?

In Italy? Mmm, Italy loves discotheques, you know. It’s very hard to do something like this, there… in the North it’s more accepted, but in the Middle or the South it’s really tough, really few go there. You can take the chance, and I will do, maybe trying a tour… but it is not as simple as we think. In Spain they love it, especially with this last album because it’s about Carthage and has a lot to do with Spain, you know? So there are so many concepts and ideas to put into practice… it’s time that is missing, certainly not the ideas. For example, I would like to make a video in an arena or in an ancient colosseum, it could generate some interest.

After the release of “Meditations”, Kataklysm’s new album, you, however, planned to go further with the Ex Deo project. Is it manageable? Two bands, at the same time, two tours and so on?

Difficult, because Kataklysm continues to grow and even Ex Deo after the release of the first two albums has continued to grow unexpectedly… at some point, I’m afraid it will be difficult to coordinate everything, but we will try or choose.
Kataklysm is really our baby because everything started from that and it’s the one we feel most comfortable with. Ex Deo was something more planned, it is more my son and I love taking him forward, but it’s clear to me that we have to let people decide. But I will give it more time…

Also because you took a pause between the second and the third album…

I had to… for personal reasons. Also because I was going crazy, I needed a rest. If you think about it, this tour lasts six weeks and we’ve been two weeks in Los Angeles and Canada to rehearse, so we’ve been away from home for two months… and even when I’ll be back, two weeks later I’ll have four dates in the United States, for the release of the new Kataklysm album. Then it’s time for festivals and we’ll have to come to Europe four more times…

A real slog! May I ask you how is Ex Deo perceived in the US and in Canada?

It’s harder in the US, but in Canada they love it, they love the idea. We did the first show there before coming here and there were a lot of people. The United States is a little more “spoiled” country, we only did a tour with Septicflesh, our friends from Greece… the tour went well but it was difficult because they could not immediately label it. But they understood the concept, also because in a certain sense Ancient Rome and the current state of America are very similar, they mirror each other a little bit…
But I’ve never pushed Ex Deo to America so much, I’m more focused on Europe. But England is a good indicator because everything that works in England also works in the United States and vice-versa. In England it is making a lot of movement and so maybe something can come up in the States… in this situation, you really have to study the market.

And anyway, you would be labeled from them as a Canadian (he laughs in agreement). Which goal do you have with Ex Deo? In three albums one can see that the patterns are homogeneous, but musically speaking which differences are there? What do you want to reach?

We have three different concept albums… because the history of Rome is so huge, with 1000 years of history. The first was centered on Romulus and the foundation, with some details of Caesar’s life. The second concerned Caligula and the third considered the Punic Wars. So, conceptually for me they are radically different from each other. Where we will go with it… I have ideas, but it’s still too early to say… it has a lot to do with where I want to do it. And I want to expand more in a more philosophical way. I really love the Emperors, their characters were atypical and sometimes they were incredibly intelligent and real intellectuals, while on the other side there were incredibly perverse and crazy people. I like the extreme of both parts that are also present in Metal in general.

However we have to take in consideration that their teachers were Greek…

Yes of course, but they took ideas and they put an army behind them! (We both laugh loudly) Evolution, I guess…

And musically speaking, which were the big differences between the three albums?

I think the one before was a little bit more catchy, so one keeps in mind the melody better. This new album is more of an unicum, the whole album is a story, so you have to play the songs one after the other because we are talking about Hannibal infiltration in the Italian peninsula with elephants. One can’t dissect it, it’s more a storyline. The next one will be more captivating again, with songs that will remain in your head.
However, the third was incredible for us, we sold a lot of copies and had positive feedback… but all the albums have a different flavor, you cannot always play the same thing.

Another question based on cultural issues: so you played also with Septicflesh, Nile and other bands. They are, too, really rooted in the culture from where they are coming from. What do you think about those bands that don’t belong to a particular culture, yet take its archetypes as an inspiration?

In truth, it does not matter where you come from, you will always carry with you a little of your education and the conditions in which you lived. I was conditioned as I grew up with Italian parents, all the time with the family, with the traditions that they brought with them. Yes, of course, they have adapted to the country that hosted them, but they have maintained their genuineness at home.
So I think it’s the same for everyone. You mentioned Septicflesh and there’s so much history in Greece… there’s so much going on, it’s the cradle of democracy! And then the philosophers! Socrates and so on… they all come from there.
It is something that will not die, no matter what people in any kind of conspiracy are trying to do to create a world. There are however regions and things have happened in these regions. And you cannot delete it.

You can’t so ‘mcdonaldize’ all…

Yes, in fact, you can put a US embassy – or as you called them, McDonald’s – in all countries… but you can not change the roots of places. For me, it is important to preserve them. Some people oppose this point of view. Of course, everyone is equal, but we have our own culture. When I go to Spain, I want to see Spain… not Germany. And when I’m in Austria, I want to eat a Wiener Schnitzel. I would not want this to change. I love when I’m on tour and I can explore different things.
Now it seems more like you say, that the world wants to label you even if you feel like this and that. But I stand to what I said: Colosseum and people who speak Italian in Italy, Czech things in the Czech Republic … and so on. This is the beauty of the world: colors. I do not want a just “black and white” world.

And do you think that would be possible, to impose only one color?

They’re trying really hard. They are trying with all their strength. The Internet does not help because, in my opinion, it is making the world very small. The world used to be much bigger. When I was a child, I dreamed of going on a plane and traveling to Europe or South Africa or elsewhere… My father used to say to me: “If we dig a hole here, we would be able to reach Japan!” I was so excited… I could dream. Now we surf on the Internet and… we are there, in another place.
Of course, there are many advantages, such as connecting the world and so on, everyone then has a voice… but the downsides make the world small. This is eliminating the possibility of daydreaming. At least we can still touch with our fingers, before becoming robots!

A last question about your life and activities, going back to the Italian topic… you had a pizzeria, right?

Yes, in Chicago. I’ve been living in the United States for 15 years. I had the restaurant for three years and then I had to close it because it was too difficult for me to run it. I had a partner, but I was always on tour. And when I came back I could not rest and I had to go straight to the restaurant. I always worked. I never had time for me. And I remember when I came home, yes, my son was there, but I could not even see him, I could only put him in my office to play video games while I was working. That was not me. I got disconnected in that way.
It was a great experience and many bands came to see us, like Disturbed, Hypocrisy, Death Angel… it was fun. And we did catering for Ozzfest in Chicago. Ozzy adored it: he sent me a picture saying “the best pizza I’ve ever had”. We were doing very well, we were among the top five in Chicago and we were starting to grow in the country. But I understood that I was not happy and I sold it. It was too much.

Of course, my father was a really good cook and I always wanted to be like him. He is no longer among us, but I did it for him.
Unfortunately… the partner I had owned another restaurant with the same name. At the beginning, when he opened, it was in a fantastic area. But times had changed and twenty years later it was in a really bad district. But it was popular and made a lot of money, so they decided to stay there. But one day they were robbed. My friend tried to protect savings and cash and the boy shot him, killing him instantly. Yes, he was convicted and so on, but it was a real tragedy in our community.
But you know, Chicago is Chicago… I live in the suburbs where there are horses like in the Midwest. The city itself is an incredible place, but some areas are really bad, with drug dealers and so on. Like in every big city. The difference is that in America you have guns.

Really sorry for that. I can just imagine what it means.
Thank you very much to have shared all this with us and for your time…

Thank you, greetings to all the readers!

Right after the interview, I entered Szene’s pit to watch the amazing Ex Deo show, which I reported here.
I could also chit chat again with Maurizio, who fits perfectly the figure of “the warm and welcoming Italian”. Moreover, his competence and sensitiveness for past events and their interconnection with the present day touched my of Historian and Anthropologist soul so much that I can’t wait to meet him again in front of a fresh sparkly beer.

Ubi cerevisia, ibi amici! You know!

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