With a new album, a new band and a succession of successful world tours, Claudio Simonetti refuses to give up the GOBLIN.
hen Dario Argento locked his cut of what was to become his first magnum opus, 1975’s Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red in English territories), he felt that the score sculpted by composer Giorgio Gaslini just didn’t have enough of the sort of sonic kink needed to sell the movie’s liquid style and bloody, visceral shocks. Already a huge fan of progressive rock bands like Yes, Gentle Giant, and Pink Floyd, the director scouted a scrappy young Italian prog band called Cherry Five and commissioned them to add aural heft to Gaslini’s existing tracks, dragging heavy, pulsing bass lines, driving percussion, psychedelic guitars and grandiose pipe organs over scenes of screaming women, stabbing daggers, pierced lizards, walking dummies and elevator decapitations. Re-christened Goblin, the band’s music for Profondo Rosso helped make Argento’s masterwork a smash hit and the accompanying soundtrack album sold through the roof, its titular “Tubular Bells” –tinted theme topping Italian charts and setting the high, heavy bar by which all ensuing Italian horror film scores would reach for.
But, as with many overnight rock band successes, with fame and fortune came external pressures and amplification of egos. Not long after the band created the landmark music for Argento’s follow-up shocker, the now-immortal 1977 witchcraft fever dream Suspiria and George A. Romero’s juggernaut 1978 zombie-romp Dawn of the Dead, Goblin imploded, with founding member Claudio Simonetti breaking away and bandmates Fabio Pignatelli (bass), Massimo Morante (guitar) and Agostino Marangolo (drums) splintering off to form various versions of the band while exploring solo projects. But Simonetti refused to go gently into that good night and, throughout the 1980s, began scoring horror and fantasy films both for Argento and a wealth of directors all over the world (some written in collaboration with other former Goblin members).
Goblin reformed in 2000 for Argento’s gory thriller Non Ho Sonno (Sleepless), but they almost immediately collapsed again. A decade later, with the presence of frequent Goblin session player and auxiliary member keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, Goblin reformed as New Goblin and launched a hugely successful world tour.
But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Simonetti soon left the New Goblin project (though Guarini and the original members still record and perform as Goblin), this time to reform his more heavy metal-based project Daemonia and renamed the band Claudio Simonette's Goblin. Via his own label Deep Red and Italy’s Rustblade Records, Simonetti went back into the studio, re-recording his iconic scores for Deep Red, Dawn of the Dead (Zombi) and Demons but with his new band under its new name. The success of these new recordings and releases (and their lush, deluxe packaging) inspired Claudio Simonetti's Goblin to hit the road, performing live scores for those classic Argento movies, followed by thundering full sets of other Goblin/Simonetti soundtrack themes and cues.
And if you’ve seen Claudio Simonetti's Goblin on stage in any of these recent international dates, you know just how powerful this band is.
Now, with longtime guitarist Bruno Previtali and new members, bassist Cecilia Nappo and drummer Federico Maragoni, Simonetti recently re-entered the studio to record a collection of new and unreleased music for what would be Claudio Simonetti's Goblin's first non-soundtrack release. The Devil is Back sees Simonetti in peak form, hammering his signature synth sound against a wall of serpentine prog-rock and metal that feels not only like vintage “Roller”-era Goblin, but something entirely new and fresh and youthful.
FANGORIA caught up with the now 67-year-old Simonetti during his recent world tour, both supporting The Devil is Back and performing the live score for the uncut version of Deep Red. Here, the Maestro gets into the guts of his new disc, his new lineup and the sad state of contemporary Italian genre cinema
FANGORIA: When you returned to live musical performance 20 years ago, you toured and recorded under the name Daemonia. Claudio Simonetti's Goblin feels very much like an expansion of that project. How did it evolve?
Claudio Simonetti: Well, in the beginning, I changed the name from GOBLIN to Daemonia because, while the tracks and themes and songs were the same, the lineup was new and the energy was new. In the early part of the decade, when we were finished with Daemonia, I formed the new version of Goblin with Maurizio Guarini and Massimo Morante but I brought on Daemonia members, guitarist Bruno Prevatali who played bass for this band and Titta Tani on the drums. So when we were finished with the New Goblin project, I decided to reform my band, switched Bruno back to guitar and changed the name to what Daemonia always was anyway, which is MY version of Goblin.
FANGORIA: Let’s talk a bit more about Bruno. He’s an incredible player and adds so much growling menace to the classic Goblin material.
CS: I agree. Daemonia's first bass player was Federico Amorosi and the original guitarist was Nicola Di Staso. Then, after Nicola left the band, Federico called his childhood friend Bruno and he arrived to rehearsal one day and he knew everything, every note and beat of every song. He was totally prepared. He was and remains all about the music and he plays so well. And now I’ve been playing with Bruno for almost 20 years in all my various incarnations. Outside of me, he’s the lone survivor!
FANGORIA: With both the new albums and the recent tours, your bass player Cecilia Nappo has given your look and sound a major shot in the arm. Where did you find her?
CS: For a few years after Federico left the band,we actually played live without a bass player entirely. But I needed a bass player. Goblin without a live bass sound just isn’t right. Fabio Pignatelli, the original Goblin bass player, was very important to the band and defined a lot of that early sound.So I wanted to try something different. I said OK, I would like a woman to play bass, to give us a different look and a different texture. And so I tried many bass players, none of whom really worked out. I had seen Cecilia in some videos from the Italian rock band she is also in called Black Mamba and I thought she was absolutely fantastic. She wouldn’t answer my emails on Facebook, so a friend of mine said, 'I know her and I’ll call her.' So he called her. She then called me and then she came and played with us and she was even more perfect than I had imagined. Cecila’s the complete package, the way she is onstage, the way she interacts with the audience and her sound is so heavy. And then, after 20 years of us playing together, Titta decided to leave the band. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he wanted to dedicate his life to something else. Regardless, once he left, we then brought in Federico Maragoni, who is the drummer for Black Mamba and also Cecilia’s boyfriend, to be our new drummer. And like Cecilia, he adds an entirely new energy and dynamic to our sound and look.
FANGO: New album The Devil is Back is a classic slab of Simonetti-era Goblin mixed with the more experimental nature of your latter period solo work. Why did you decide the time was right to release a new record?
CS: Maybe because with this new lineup, I felt like it was the right moment. Some of the songs, like "Sometimes" or "A New Day," these were made during the Daemonia period but we never actually recorded them. Chi? Part One and Two was originally music from an Italian TV show from 1976 but all the other stuff is completely new and it’s never been recorded before.
FANGO: The first single from the album was the prog-metal piece "Brain Zero One." I know you’re a huge Keith Emerson fan. Was that song a sort of nod to Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery”?
CS: No. It was a joke because in Italian, the word “song” means brano, and this song I called, just for us, Brano Numero Uno. So we translated it as "Brain Zero One," a kind of phonetic joke. Only now that you mention it, am I reminded of ELP’s "Brain Salad Surgery"! But no, it was not about that.
FANGO: The title The Devil is Back is a reference to both the band itself but also Goblin’s iconic Devil logo. Though he looks a bit different here than in previous Goblin releases…
CS: Yeah, the new devil. You will see in the album, I actually put the original painting of the Devil by Louis-Leopold Boilly that served as the inspiration for Goblin's logo. There was this man in bed and the devil was playing violin and the art was originally inspired by the famous “Devil’s Trill” sonata by Giuseppe Tartini. And so my new Devil is actually the original Devil, not the version of that image we borrowed and remade for Goblin’s original logo.
FANGO: You seem to be constantly touring. Is this what we can expect from Claudio Simonetti in the foreseeable future?
CS: Yes. For now this is the best thing for me because I get to play live to all these people; I meet a lot of people, I feel that energy. People ask me if I’ll go back to working in movies again but I’m not really interested in that at the moment. Because the problem, in Italy anyway, is that no one is making good movies anymore. I am hoping Dario will get to make The Sandman soon, so I am ready for that. He has written the script and is just trying to secure financing. But I don’t want to waste my time or energy on bad movies if I can help it. Making music, performing live, traveling: this is what I want to be doing with my life.
SIMONETTI ON SIMONETTI
The Maestro reflects on of some of his most memorable music for movies.
DEEP RED (PROFONDO ROSSO, 1975, Director: Dario Argento)
The most important work we’ve ever done was Deep Red, because that was our first album and our first soundtrack. It was a brilliant beginning to our journey and I never expected the success it would have or the impact it would make. When we recorded the Deep Red music, we were just a prog rock band, struggling in the 1970s and without anything close to ... a hit of any kind. Then, because of Dario, the film and that album, we suddenly found ourselves with a record that sold more than four million copies. Forty five years later and we’re still here, playing this music live for fans all over the world. It’s fantastic and still impresses me.
SUSPIRIA (1977, Dir: Argento)
Just as important to the Goblin legacy as Deep Red, Suspiria is less impressive for its sales as it is in the way we progressed and perfected what would become the Goblin sound. With Deep Red, it was more about simple prog music, but with Suspiria, we really experimented. We really, really pushed a kind of language. We invented something totally new. In all the films I did with Dario, I always tried to change the style, I never did the same thing, with one work being completely different from the other because I don’t like to always play the same stuff. My influences are clear on Suspiria, though. The first musician I loved was Japanese electronic music composer Tomita, from the sixties, also Walter – later, Wendy –Carlos; they were the pioneers of this kind of music. Then of course Kraftwerk and people like that. Later on, I liked the music of John Carpenter, but the funny thing is, I met John Carpenter in LA a couple of years ago and when he saw me he said 'Oh, Claudio! I stole all your music from Deep Red and Suspiria!' and I said “Yeah, but you did it very well!” I like the way he writes his music. He uses just a few instruments, not many. I like his style. But I think all composers inspire each other.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (ZOMBI, 1978, Dir: George A. Romero)
The interesting thing about Dawn of the Dead is that I had never met George Romero in my life until a few years ago, the year before he passed away. It was Dario who brought us in to studio in 1978 and asked us to create the music for Dawn of the Dead for the European version, called Zombi. George’s original cut was comprised of library music and Dario –who co-financed the film - wanted something bigger and stronger. Then Romero ended up using that music for the U.S. cut as well. But no, we never met Romero, we never talked to him, I never knew him. We also did the music for his vampire film Martin (called Wampyr in Italy), replacing the jazz score that Donald Rubenstein did. I’m not sure what happened to our score for Martin in the U.S.
TENEBRE (1982, Dir: Argento)
There’s a heavy disco influence in the score and this was mostly thanks to me because at the end of the 70s, I was heavily interested and involved in dance music. I loved dancing and going to discos so when we recorded Tenebre – which was me, Morante and Pignatelli - I said, 'OK guys, let’s do something in the middle between rock and maybe some disco but still keeping it grounded in rock.' And we did it entirely without a drummer, employing a drum machine, and I used a lot of keyboards, Mellotron and guitar and bass. I like Tenebre a lot, as a score and as a film. We actually played it live in Japan this past October, for the first time. It’s a very popular film in Japan. They call it Shadow over there.
CONQUEST (1983, Dir: Lucio Fulci)
Lucio Fulci was another one of the directors I worked for but never actually met. When they called me in to write the music for Conquest, Fulci had left the film because he had a problem with the producer Giovanni Di Clemente and so I worked with the editor and producer, with no input from the director. It’s very electronic and minimalist. Very simple synth-based sounds. But unlike Romero, I never got the chance to meet Fulci at all. I now know Antonello Fulci, his daughter, but never had the pleasure of meeting him. I wish I had.
PHENOMENA (CREEPERS, 1984, Dir: Argento)
The main theme itself was my first solo song. And I do like to work alone. Sometimes the record company distributing the albums would [publicise] my music for Phenomena as the work of Goblin, but that’s not correct, though other members did contribute cues for that soundtrack. I used a drum machine and a mini-moog and the Emulator and maybe a Mellotron. And those big organ sounds were actually recorded in a church. I used this big pipe organ, 15,000 pipes, but the other back-up organ sounds that weren’t recorded in that church was a Roland synth. I also made a rock video for that theme, which was exciting for me.
DEMONS (DEMONI, 1985, Dir: Lamberto Bava)
I did Demons almost immediately after Phenomena. Dario called me and asked me to write the music for the film, which he had produced and co-wrote. Because I had done the Phenomena theme alone, and because it was a big success, Dario had the confidence to allow me to do the entire film, my way. I consider Demons to be my first really involved, complex solo film score and I recorded it with all of my electronic instruments to get a kind of rock and New Wave feel. And again, I was totally alone making this score, which is my creative comfort zone. Making the earlier film music with Goblin, there was always a lot of great stuff put together because everyone put in their own ideas and we managed to successfully blend them together. But when you collaborate like that, there is always compromise and very often problems. Demons was a great experience for me on every level and I didn’t have to compromise at all and because of this film, I have remained a solo composer to this day.
CUT AND RUN (1986, Dir: Ruggero Deodato)
I made five films with Ruggero Deodato including Dial: Help, Body Count, The Washing Machine, Cut and Run and his last film, Ballet in Blood. Cut and Run is a wild movie, an action thriller and it was a very pleasurable experience for me to work on. Mostly because I really, really like Ruggero, both as an artist and as a person. He’s a very funny guy and we always have a great time together. Creatively, with this film and all of our collaborations, Ruggero left me alone, left me free to do what I wanted, mixing electronic and rock. He loved my music. I have had troubles with lesser directors interfering with the work, but with the bigger directors I’ve worked with, I’ve never had problems. The good directors, the more established artists, hire you because they trust you. They know how your vision will connect to theirs. I had some problems recently working with a young, very strange independent director in Italy named Gerard Diefenthal on a film called Darkside Witches. He wanted me to do exactly what he wanted, to micro-manage the process. When I work with you as a director, I will respect your ideas about the music but you can’t tell me exactly what you want. That’s not how I work. Darkside Witches is an awful movie and I really regret doing it.
SLEEPLESS (NON HO SONNO, 2001, Dir: Argento)
Unfortunately, Sleepless was a really bad experience for me, which is sad because it could and should have been great. After many years of being dormant, I said 'OK, let’s reform Goblin again and do a full soundtrack for a new Dario Argento movie.' The fans wanted it. Dario wanted it. I had tried for many years to put the band back together, but it just wasn’t possible. There was too much bad blood. Too many egos. But when Sleepless came up, I called them and said “Hey, let’s do this soundtrack, maybe we can begin again.” And it seemed possible. But almost as soon as we started to play and compose together, the same problems from 20 years ago were still there. They were even worse because those egos never change. It was really bad. We split into different rooms to record. The soundtrack was pretty good, I think, but after we finished it, we immediately broke up again. It was the last time the original lineup played together. Forever. We will never reform that lineup. I always say it’s like a divorce. You can never turn back with your ex-wife because the same problems are still the same. So it is with GOBLIN.
THE CARD PLAYER (IL CARTAIO, 2004, Dir: Argento)
The Card Player isn’t my favorite Dario Argento movie, but I loved the score. I’m very proud of it. It’s computer-based and purely electronic, using software. When I was brought on to start working on it, Dario told me that, in the film, the murderer used a computer to trap, torment and kill his victims so I said, 'OK, I will play electronic techno music.' I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and one of the actors in the film, Stefania Rocca, she was a big fan of this kind of music and she gave me a lot of CDs to listen to. So I was inspired by this modern German/English kind of electronic techno music. But it’s still very much structured in my signature style, I think.
MASTERS OF HORROR: JENNIFER (2005) and PELTS (2006) (Dir: Argento)
Doing the two Masters of Horror episodes with Dario was a joy and I loved both of those productions. Especially Jennifer. What a film. One of Dario’s best, I think. When I first saw it, I was blown away. Just great work. And so I was very excited to make the music. The Masters of Horror series was very richly produced and had a very classical video so I had the chance to use an orchestra for both Jennifer and Pelts and didn’t have to keep the soundtrack purely electronic based. I was inspired making these scores and I’m very proud of what we accomplished.
DRACULA 3D (2012, Dir: Argento)
I feel the same way about Dracula as I do about Dario’s Mother of Tears. Both are some of the best works I ever made for Dario or for anyone, but the films are, well, to be perfectly honest, not the best. But I love the music. I used a big orchestra, a choir. Just opulent and grand stuff. There are some beautiful themes and moments in those soundtracks. But sadly, sometimes this happens. You work so hard to make this complex, involved and emotional score and the movie it supports just can’t compare. It’s really bad when this happens and it really breaks your heart. Deep Red and Suspiria were beautiful films. Masterpieces. And because they were SO good, the music just works better. They exist together and improve each other. Sadly, the average viewer won’t recognize that the music is good or not if the movie it supports is bad. So in these cases, very often, the work you’ve done doesn’t get the recognition it should.
NECROPHOBIA (2014, Dir: Daniel de la Vega)
Now, Necrophobia is a movie I like very much! It’s a strange film, beautifully made and I love the music I made for this. It’s a case of the film and the music both being good and working together to create a new experience. I actually saw it on Netflix recently and that’s great because it’s never been an easy movie to find. It’s a Spanish film and never received very good worldwide distribution. And sadly, to date, the soundtrack album was never released. But I have many films that have never seen official soundtrack releases. Like Hands of Steel, the score I did for Sergio Martino’s movie, which I really love. But there always seems to be renewed interest in these pictures and I’m hoping to have many more of my scores finally see the light of day and be appreciated for what they are.
Chris Alexander is the former editor-in-chief of FANGORIA (2010-2015) as well as the editor and co-founder of cult film magazine "Delirium." He is the writer, director and composer of the films "Blood for Irina," "Queen of Blood," "Blood Dynasty," "Female Werewolf," and "Necropolis: Legion" (produced for Full Moon Features). As a musician he has released the albums "Music for Murder," (Giallo Disco Records), "Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll" (Future City Records) and "The Drink Your Blood." More on Alexander’s work can be found at www.ChrisAlexanderOnline.com. FB: www.facebook.com/chris.alexander.54966834 IG: @chris_alexander_films