Songwriting Interview With Simone Mularoni
Ryan Buckner: Welcome to another exclusive songwriting interview on SongwritingLessonsOnline.com. Today I'm speaking with Simone Mularoni, guitarist and composer in Italian metal band DGM. Simone, it's great to have you!
Simone Mularoni: Hey! Thank you for having me.
RB: So tell me, who were your main influences for songwriting and how did they affect your current musical style?
SM: Well, everything started almost 20 years ago. I grew up listening to my father's albums cause my father is a guitar player. Actually a terrific guitar player. He's more into you know Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, a more bluesy style. So I grew up listening to his vinyl's... all the 70's rock and prog stuff, so Kansas, Deep Purple, Rush, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, you know all the classics. So I started playing the guitar when I think I was 15 years old, playing along with my father's band trying to figure out Smoke On The Water, all of Deep Purple's riffs... I was really into Blackmore at the time. Some friends of mine gave me the new wave of shredders if you want to say that, you know Yngwie, Steve Vai, Satriani... then I completely became obsessed about playing guitar, learning all the songs of all these great guitarists... mainly it was Yngwie who changed my life. Like my father said, he was like Blackmore on steroids. Then I started playing like all the other guys, like 8 hours a day and practicing all the Yngwie songs. That's basically my main influence. Later came all the progressive (bands), you know Dream Theater and Symphony X mostly. And I fell in love with the Michael Romeo kind of style. Whoever listens to one of my songs or solos, you can actually tell that I was really in love with him musically speaking like 15 years ago.
RB: With the tapped arpeggios and stuff...
SM: Yeah, that's his trademarks that I am trying to steal [laughs]. You always try to steal in the beginning from a lot of guitar players and then try to build your own method you know? Your own style. That is what I am trying to do. From a songwriting point of view it was not mainly the solos, I love the structures of Symphony X and Yngwie songs. Then I discovered all those metal bands I really love like Meshuggah and Fear Factory. My goal was to find good music with energy even if there weren't solos. I really care about the songs.
RB: Do you remember any of the early songs from some of those bands that you were sitting down with and saying "Ok, I want to look at this song and see how they did it, and try to see if I can make something of that"?
SM: Yeah a lot of them. Mainly from Yngwie, the first record Rising Force. You know the one with the guitar rising up from the flames, Far Beyond The Sun, Black Star and then it was Rising Force the song from Odyssey. Odyssey is one of my favorites from Yngwie. Then for sure, all of the Divine Wings of Tragedy album. I recorded it like 10,000 times... I was doing backing tracks to play along to with MIDI files. I tried to find the same gear and set up... I was pretty obsessed at the time.
RB: Cool, and I know you guys recently worked with Russell Allen right?
SM: Yeah, it all started actually 2 years ago. We did all the support on the European tour for Symphony X. You know when you go on tour for like 40 days with those guys, in the beginning they are your idols and then they become your friends. So we kept in touch for all these years and when the new album was ready I was listening back to the track called "Reason". In the beginning it was sung all by our singer. Then I thought this chorus and this verse could be really great if Russell sang it. So I called him and asked him if he wanted to do it and here we are. I actually wrote a text message to Romeo because I wanted to share a solo with the new album. But we had a deadline so short, we didn't make it in the end. I really hope for the next one to do that.
RB: How long would you say it took you to become really confident with songwriting?
SM: I actually don't know if I am too confident now. I always try to write good songs. Actually the last two albums I did with DGM, Frame and Momentum are the real first two albums that I am never tired of. Usually when you do a record after you wrote it, produced it and recorded it... when you put it on in the car, you don't want to listen to it. For the other times it was like "Oh stop, I don't want to listen to it again." But nowadays, I am actually happy with the last two so I think the last three or four years I am happy with what we are doing right now. You always want to change something. I think it is normal because six months later the album is out and you are always off... "that chord could be an A instead of an E" for example. Stuff like that. It's useless. I mean when you're happy at the moment, you just finish the song, record it and give it away.
RB: I know what you mean, it's like it's kind of a challenge when you're writing because you're not sure if you want to stop with what you have or if you want to make all these changes... at some point you have to stop.
SM: Yeah, I really don't like to work on the songs for like a month or two months. I always like to start and finish in a few, sometimes hours or sometimes a few nights. If I'm not happy, I just trash all the songs. I don't like to force all the songs to be good. I always try to be a big critic for myself and also the other guys in the band are. When I finish the song I send them the mp3 of the riff and they tell me in a second, "Oh that could be a song on the album" or "The chorus is good but all the rest is scrappy". It's all about being a critic. You've gotta be happy after the song is finished.
RB: How have you practiced songwriting over the years?
SM: I'm 32 now and from 16 years old to 24 I was playing almost every day. I always hated exercises and stuff. I never did the metronome stuff with scales or the classic 16th notes and 8th notes. I prefer to learn a song and try to learn what I like. When I heard for the first time Of Sins and Shadows by Symphony X, that was my exercise for about 3 months. I spent countless hours trying to figure out what he was doing. At the time there wasn't YouTube like now. I'm not that old, but there wasn't YouTube there was only REH videos only for the bigger names. So in the beginning for Romeo, I was like what the hell is he doing here? You know? ... for the sweep/tapping stuff. I almost spent like 7-8 years playing every day after school until the evening and night. And real life is always challenging because then I started my studio and my daily job as a producer. Nowadays when I come home every night I don't want to listen again to double kicks and distortion. I now prefer to write songs than practice technique. Sometimes it's a shame because I always record young guitar players who are really amazing. It's intriguing to see someone playing something new and I'd like the time to experiment and practice the stuff, but it's kind of hard.
RB: I think when you make it [practice] 'musical' it gives you more motivation in the process.
RB: Do you think you have a specific thing you do to write really great riffs or ideas for your songs?
SM: The thing I noticed most over the past years is that I almost never compose with the guitar in hand. Usually the riff comes out from the head. Maybe I am driving or editing some stuff and then I begin to sing in my head you know. Usually it's a more rhythmic approach. I like to write for the drums and the kick. Then when I figure out the metric changes inside the riff I pick up the guitar and find some cool notes. I find this method more various. If I write a song or riff always on the guitar I feel limited. Because my hands always do the same licks and phrases. So I try to figure out the riff in my head before and then try out the different chords, scales, modes and stuff like that.
RB: Would you say that you generally improvise more often than you plan out what you are going to write?
SM: It's 50/50 I think. When I have a riff or melody in my head, it's like it's written. So when I go on the computer recording it, it's done. It's only a matter of recording it. On the other side, when I go for solos or with DGM we do a lot of unison with the keyboards - the classic Yngwie/Johannson kind of stuff – that's basically all improvised. I put the backing track on for like an hour and have fun with the guitar. When something cool comes out I just record it and usually it stays the same until the final master. That's the thing I hate, every time I improvise some cool stuff and I've got to play live I always struggle to remember what I did back then. I hate the process.
RB: Do you normally just write by yourself or do you write together with the band as well?
SM: I'm kind of the dictator in this thing. I like to have control of almost everything. Speaking of only the music, not the lyrics and vocal lines. I usually write the songs, program drums, play the bass and play some keyboards. I like to have the final version in the beginning so I can listen back to it in the car to see if I really like the song. Then I send it to all the other guys and we set up a meeting with Mark the singer to write down the melodies and stuff like that. But mainly it's me like 95%. Sometimes my singer (he is a keyboard player too), he always writes the ballads. All the songs I really hate to compose but like to play. When it comes to the ballads and cheesy stuff it's coming from my singer or keyboard player.
RB: What kind of songs do you like to write?
SM: The heavy and the fast ones. Actually I really love to play, when I'm at home or with friends... that bluesy, you know I'm really into Richard Kotzen nowadays... that kind of style. But in the band we have to follow direction you know? Here and there you listen to some bluesy stuff but the sound is always heavy... I mean it's metal. So when it comes down to DGM I am the man for the heavy and fast stuff basically.
RB: And you've played in other bands besides DGM right?
SM: Yeah, my other band who was my main project before DGM, it's called Empyrios. It's kind of different, I mean all the songwriting and process is the same because it is me. But it is completely different because we are playing the seventh string tuned down to G. So it's more Meshuggah or if you want to call it 'Djent' if you want to say the trend word. We've played that kind of stuff since the beginning. They were my main band since highschool I think. When I have a riff or melody that is too heavy for DGM I keep it for the next Empyrios record. But Empyrios is not as big as DGM so all my time is basically consumed by DGM. Empyrios is kind... it's not a side project because it is a band. Everyone involved in the band is playing also in other projects. It's always difficult for the schedules to find time to record in practice. That's why did only like three records in 10 years. There are two CD's that are out now, one is called Epysode like Metal Opera from a guy from Belgium with Tom Englund of Evergrey, Mike Lepond from Symphony X. You know like an Avantasia kind of thing. I play all the solos on this record. It's really fun for me because I always record all my songs. Recording someone else's songs is challenging for me because they write you some parts that maybe for them are easy but for me are difficult. That's a good method to keep practicing.
RB: What is the most challenging song you've ever written?
SM: I gotta say the song with Russell, "Reason". Not rhythmically. I feel more comfortable playing the rhythm parts than the solos. In the beginning it was more shredding stuff like 10 years ago, but nowadays I care more about the rhythm than the solos. In Reason there is the middle section with the keyboards and tapping. It is really hard to play like the record live. That is the most challenging thing I wrote.
RB: Do you ever have a hard time thinking of new ideas for songwriting?
SM: Yeah, it depends on the period. I never force myself to come up with new ideas. We're not Metallica so we don't have the pressure of labels and stuff like that. So we put out the records when we think the record is good. So I usually have six or seven months after the record is done when I really don't want to write anything and I really have the void in my mind for those months. Then the first riff comes out, and another then a melody. Then maybe in six months I have the new record ready. It depends on how stressful the previous period was for me.
RB: Do you think it is like getting momentum... Once you get a few ideas everything starts to come along?
SM: Yeah. I actually have like 3 riffs from March. I prefer to stay away from the band in a composing point of view. I don't want the albums to sound all the same. The trademarks in the sound will always be the same that's why people follow a band I think. You know I can write like ten songs in ten days now but they would be all the exact copies of the Momentum album. I just want to be clear in my head and start again. Maybe starting from the lyrics this time because we never did something like that. I am always trying to find new methods to vary the composing sessions.
RB: When you are writing do you specifically try to keep in mind the sound of the band?
SM: I think the sound of the band is given by the band itself. Even when I write a bluesy riff, when it's played by my bass player, the drummer and the keyboard player the sound of the band will be the same. That is what I was talking about. I joined DGM and they already release 5 albums before me (since 94). I always pay attention to what we put in the record, I'm not going to put a blast beat or death metal kind of riff in a DGM record. That is the main approach for me when I compose for DGM.
RB: Their early stuff really sounded a lot like Symphony X I always thought.
SM: Yeah, actually I am a close friend of Diego, the previous guitar player. He quit the band only because he was tired of playing heavy metal. He's playing in a blues trio right now. He was more into Yngwie. The other guys were composing more as a band and less as single musicians. Maybe it was more... my drummer Fabio is really into Symphony X. I guess maybe he was the main songwriter for that kind of music.
RB: Ok, so here's the final question. What kind of advice would you give to songwriters who are listening to this and would like to become professional musicians?
SM: Advice... Mainly, I know it's rhetorical, but try to sound your own sound. I'm not speaking about gear or guitars/amplifiers. I think that a band who becomes famous or known is because you can recognize a band after the first three notes. I'm not saying that I invented something because I really think that everything was already written in the past thirty years. But I think what I call advice is to mix the most you can. Like I said before I like Fear Factory then I like Symphony X then I like Yngwie then maybe some blues. That is what I am trying to do to create something new. That is the advice I would give to all the people who are trying to make records and become someone.
RB: I think that is great advice. Get your own sound so you stick out and you don't sound just like everyone else...
SM: Yeah. I don't know if I succeed in that, but that is what I am trying to do every day. [laughs]
RB: Yeah I think it's a good goal to have. Well, thank you very much for taking the time to come on and talk with me.
SM: Thank you. Thank you for having me.