Former Ephel Duath bandmates Davide Tiso and Luciano Lorusso George formed the band Red Rot, who recently released their debut album Mal De Vivre. Tiso fills us in on their reunion, the album, the status of his numerous other projects and more.
Chad Bowar: What led to you and Luciano forming Red Rot?
Davide Tiso: When I moved to the US in ‘09 I kind of lost touch with most people, including former Ephel Duath members. Then life happened, it’s at a different speed in here in California in comparison to Italy, and years passed. I guess the pandemic forced all of us to freeze for a bit, and maybe pondering on who really matters in our life. It surely did that to me. In 2020 I reached out to Ephel Duath members I didn’t talk to for years. Lucio and I started talking regularly, sharing music, talking about collaborating on something new.
I got quite inspired by the opportunity to play again together and I started writing. We set up to right from the start to get an old school kind of band going and we firmly wanted Red Rot to be anchored into extreme metal. After writing a few riffs we felt we had a clear direction and the excitement grow, positively affecting the writing process. Songs were coming at avalanche rate.
How did bassist Ian Baker and drummer Ron Bertrand come to join the band?
I met Ron while I was playing bass for Botanist. We bonded during a Japanese tour in 2019 and we decided to make music together. When Lucio and I were set to form Red Rot, Ron was the first person I thought to join us. It was Ron who suggested Ian as a bassist. Everything clicked quite rapidly. Ron was born as a technical death metal drummer but we asked him to play for Red Rot focusing on impact, groove and an old school extreme metal kind of approach. Ian is a prog metal kind of bass player, we asked him to keep a warm and rounded bass tone and to play as a link to drums and guitar, flowing between pure rhythm and harmonic embellishments.
What inspired the band name?
When it was time to give a name to the music coming up, I thought about two elements: something sulfuric, malignant in its essence, combined with the idea of rot.
I found out that the Red Rot present in the vegetable tanned leather of old books that remain stored and untouched in humid location is a result of binding component turning into sulfuric acid.
This idea of old knowledge left rotting into its self created sulfuric essence clicked with me. It took quite a long time for me to start playing rotting sounding music: my career started playing sophisticated jazzy sounding metal. Now I feel I added sulfur to my music and Red Rot is the result of it. Apparently the damage caused by red rot is irreversible, I like to think that Red Rot’s music could do the same.
Describe the songwriting process for Mal de Vivre.
I write the guitar parts and the songs structures alone. Then I send them to Lucio to listen to. Once we both feel that the song in question fits the mood we are after I bring it to the practice space to jam with our drummer on it. We record right away a drum structure for it. Then Ron embellishes it by himself and sends me a recording of it. After guitars and drums are set we pass on vocals.
Lucio usually obsess over it for a few days and record a pre-production right away. He mostly reacts to drums, snare in particular. His vocal style is extremely percussive and solely linked to drums. My guitar’s intonation is just a guide for melodic vocals inserts. Only after we have the vocals Ian writes the bass parts. The goal is to never have the bass conflicting with the vocals. I’d say that mapping drums parts that are launching pads for vocals and having bass parts that stay out of the vocals patterns while enforcing my guitars are the two most delicate steps in writing for us. This is our formula, it works quite well for us and it gives us pre-productions that are very close to the final recordings.
Many of the songs on the album are only a minute or two long. Was that the plan going in, or just how things turned out?
The element of urgency in Red Rot is important to us. The songs’ structures are a direct consequence of that. Burst of energy let loose all at once cannot be sustained by a more articulated flow. So I’d say that it came natural to us to pursue this element of brevity with intention.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
The strongest memory comes from the pre-production: that moment when Lucio and I figured out that it was actually working. The sound we had in mind was reachable and we had it in our pocket. Dialing in the Red Rot type of voice tone was the last piece of the puzzle and the most thrilling personal memory for me. I’m a huge fan of Lucio’s screaming style. When we recorded Ephel Duath’s “The Painter’s Palette” his natural screaming tone was quite higher. It was during “Through my Dog’s Eyes” that things got deeper and more intense in terms of vocals. Red Rot vocally starts where we left of with Ephel Duath and wow, aging did only some good to Lucio’s vocals.
How did the pandemic affect the process?
The pandemic gave Lucio and I the chance to focus on Red Rot full time, all day. Having months of complete focus and free time to experiment: I can’t imagine a better setting to start a new artistic project. The pandemic also meant pure flow of creativity for me. Some people got stuck but I’m relieved to share that I really thrived. After the first few months of mental adjustment I entered in an extremely prolific phase and I literally did nothing but writing new songs and watching movies. It got a bit crazy after a while because I wasn’t able to keep up with that regimen but I managed to get really a lot done. When, after quite a few months, things slowly started to open again, I didn’t mind the idea of going back to work because I accomplished so much until that time, and a mundane distraction was welcomed.
How would you characterize the album’s style/genre?
I consider Red Rot a progressive death metal band with some doom, hardcore and oblique trash influences. The sum of it is a weird mix that could remind of bands like Morbid Angel, Voivod and early Katatonia/Paradise Lost, all infused with the abrasiveness of Converge. This is a band focused on impact and emotional release, to achieve that we opted for an organic and old school kind of production, focused on one take performances rather than sonic perfection. What we are playing and singing is raw: only a raw production can be the right choice for us.
Is there a lyrical theme or concept?
Red Rot lyrics deal with mental instability, mental illness, paranoia and the darker sides of being. The darkness of Red Rot should be approached like a purge more than something infectious. Our music is not thought to be a downer on the listener’s mood, rather an opportunity to have some sort of a cathartic release. A physical workout for the mind. I want the listener to pound their fists against their daily problems through these songs and have a crazy, liberating laugh afterwards. The daily problems will remain there after a few spin but hopefully, letting go of some anger and sweat, those problems could be seen from a more neutral and less engaged perspective.
The album flows well. Was it difficult coming up with the track order for 17 songs?
It was a calibrated and thoughtful process to ordering the songs up. I initially suggested to order the song chronologically. Numerically from first written song to the last. Thankfully we scrapped the idea. Then we asked ourselves: which is the song that we want to be heard first? We both picked “Ashes” that represents almost like a dark mantra into Red Rot. “Ashes” almost sounds like opening a door into our little twisted world.
After agreeing on the opening song, we looked at the whole bulk of material: we had 18 songs. We recorded and mixed all of them and eventually decided to leave one out. It’s quite interesting that the song we left out was the one that during the pre-production phase was pointed at as the candidate for the first single. We decided on a tracklist based on songs’ flow. Lucio and I did it separately, and when we proposed it to each other we were pleased to realize that we came up with the same order and, quite surprisingly, we both wanted to remove the same song.
How did you come to sign with Svart Records?
I started shopping for the right label when the master was ready. I created a private SoundCloud link and sent it around. Quite a few showed some interest. Svart was the one that offered the most fair record deal out of the bunch, with terms and conditions we felt well protected the interest of the band. They are not the most communicative label I dealt with so far, but they get things done quite well and on time. I feel Svart understands what this band is about. It’s working well so far.
What has the response been to the singles you’ve released so far?
We released three singles so far. “Ashes,” “Dysmorphia” and “Near Disaster”. The first is a blackened, twisted anthem kind of a song. Dark and cathartic, almost like a vortex eating itself in terms of song’s structure. People seem to like it but I have the feeling that it confused most regarding our sound. With the second single, “Dysmorphia”, I believe we had the chance to make more clear our attitude for the public. The song is punch in the face, direct and straight to the point, but also moody and infused with the right amount of twisted melody.
The third single “Near Disaster” was a last minute choice and definitely the one that got more attention. We were set to release only two singles but we strongly wanted a third and I’m very glad we push that idea because it end up being a successful. I’m relieved that Svart backed us up on that. “Near Disaster” is a proggy death metal song infused with some trash, and people really seemed to enjoy that from us. I guess the prog element in Red Rot represented a way for us to gain some Ephel Duath fans along the way.
How did you develop the concepts for the “Dysmorphia” and “Ashes” videos?
I developed the concept for “Dysmorphia” together with director Leonardo Candidi and the actor Satya Schulberg. We met weekly for a few months to gather ideas. The main core of the video is PTSD and Dysmorphic Disorder that gets especially triggered in the video by the element of the mirror. Satya is a very expressive actor and he managed to add a beautiful layer of grace during the performance. Grace is such a powerful tool to express any sort of emotions in video, no matter the range. The video is not a celebration of self destructive tendencies rather a look inside the transforming motion of it: the complete take over that the mind has on us when instability becomes unbearable. The open, collaborative aspect of filming “Dysmorphia” was truly invigorating. The final result shines also because of that.
“Ashes” and the visualizer for “Near Disaster” come from the vivid imagination of Niklas Sundin that brought to life elements of our singles and main cover artworks adding shamanic elements to them, like the cave and the hunter. We are currently working on more videos. We feel that Red Rot is the kind of band that can shine with the right visuals. The length of our songs help us in that regard, making the projects more manageable but also excitingly challenging: creating a whole storyboard for a 92 second song is not that easy, especially if one is looking to have the main character evolving, mutating or completely transform in that short amount of time.
Do you have plans to play live shows?
Yes, we are currently looking for the right agency. Our singer Luciano lives in Europe and we need to plan accordingly and way in advance.
You’re a member of other projects in addition to Red Rot. Give us an update on any album plans, touring, etc. for those groups.
Karyn Crisis and I have a wonderful third album for Gospel of The Witches in the works. When is the right time for the both of us, we’ll release it. Howling Sycamore has also an album ready but that got kind of side tracked by the pandemic. I still need to figure out the best way to deal with those songs. It was an album of slight departure from the first two and I need to consider how much I feel like pushing the band’s sound out of its natural flow.
The life of an underground musician can be a challenging one. How have you navigated those waters for 25 years?
I’m an underground musician at heart, and I love that, it well defines a part of me. My personality is quite introverted and I’m not inclined to compromises: I was not probably built for the big stage and anything that comes with that. I work well when I’m not in the spotlight and I never really wrote music suited for that. I feel more comfortable in situations where I’m not forced to have to explain myself and success brings a certain level of social pressure that would probably dilute my will to make new music.
A successful band and an underground band take the same steps, walk the same road, but one of the two has way more answers to give and that will drain me in the long run. I have the impression that being an underground musician I’m at the right spot I should be at. I wish music was my main source of income and a full time job but it’s not really realistic to entertain that idea, and I’m ok with that.
You’ve lived in the U.S. for a while now. What are the biggest differences and similarities between Europeans and Americans?
Americans seem to be more prone to open up and engage in conversations, especially if curious about a foreign accent. After that initial sparkle though, they don’t seem interested in getting to know deeper who they are talking to. It’s more of a volatile thing. Where I come from you can make a friend for life after a single night out together. People there make a real effort to get to know someone. I guess I miss that more than my country’s food.
Seen any good movies lately?
“Nitram” by Justin Kurzel was haunting. Caleb Landry Jones’s performance is simply disturbing. What an excellent actor. I was fascinated by how indefinable “Nope” by Jordan Peele is. I have the feeling that the director did that movie mostly to please himself and to honor his eclectic career so far. I appreciate a lot that kind of attitude. Thriller/western plus sci-fi blended all together with a sprinkle of comedy: on paper a recipe for disaster but I thought he pulled it off.
The season finale of “Better Call Saul” is a masterpiece. The bus drive to the airport where we experience the complete melting down of the stoic character of Kim Wexler (portrayed by Rhea Seehorn) is one of the most moving scene I’ve seen on any TV series.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Give a listen to Mal de Vivre if you have the chance. I think it’s a very honest piece of work from a band that is technically new but also not. Lucio and I come from a long history of experimenting with metal and with Red Rot we want to bring the listener to the very roots of our passion for the genre. I hope it will be as fun for you as it is for us.
Thank you for the wonderful questions! Go to redrotmetal.com for anything about the band and to dialogue.
(interview published September 12, 2022)
Watch Red Rot – “Ashes” Video
Watch Red Rot – “Dysmorphia” Video