Interview with RONNIE JAMES DIO

February 2005

rjdHaving an Italian word for “God” as your pseudonym is pretentious for anyone – save for Ronnie James Dio. If only because of the voice. There’s both heaven and hell in it, hard-hitting lashing and celestial caress. Then, the poetry to delve in and relish. All this makes the veteran singer more than a mere vocalist. Ronnie is one of the most interesting and intriguing characters in the world… in the world of music at least. The character’s so deep it needs to be explored, and any conversation is but an attempt to look under the skin of Dio. Yet why not try?

– Why there’s an almost two-year gap between “Evil Or Divine” DVD and CD?

“Evil Or Divine” was the last project we did for our previous record label, Spitfire, and as that DVD would be their last original release by DIO, they decided to take advantage of the audio track and make one more CD. That decision took them two years, therefore the lapse in time between releases.

– What, at this age, feeds the vigor of your live shows?

It’s always the combination of the music we write and play, the musicians who perform them, and the great audiences we’ve been lucky enough to play for.

– Where does your template of making a song out of two – a soft build-up and hard-hitting main body – come from?

I like to write and sing fragile pieces, but I don’t often want to do a full-on ballad, so I introduce some pieces with ballad-like structure. These pieces are meant to put the listener in a more ethereal mood until the hammer falls. We are, after all, a heavy band, and the contrast between soft and loud makes it even heavier.

– What comes first to you – lyrics or a melody?

Sometimes melody and sometimes lyrics. It depends on the tempo and feel of the song. Slower pieces usually begin with melody and faster ones with lyrics. I write for the song and it leads me to my conclusion.

– Always keeping your poetry in high value and taking its imagery on both artful and conscious level, I still never get the meaning and the origin of the tiger in “Holy Diver”. Neither Blake’s nor Kipling’s tiger doesn’t fit there. What’s behind this image?

The tiger symbolizes strength, while its stripes suggest impurity. The lines “Ride the tiger. You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean” means that you must take advantage of the strength you have and not judge the heart of others by what seem to be impurities – these stripes – in the package it comes in.

– And then, rainbow, what does it mean to you? You used this image before while still in ELF…

A rainbow is a natural phenomenon that is so awesome and so seldom seen, that it never fails to draw a response from us all. Rainbows have always made me realize how insignificant we can be in the grand scheme of things.

– How do you think, what percentage of your fans – sticking out the ‘Devil’ sign – do actually listen to the lyrics and get the message you put in?

I think most of them listen and understand their interpretation of the message and its essence. I try to write so the song can mean different things to different people, and I find that it does just that.

– Did you ever feel that you don’t lead the audience but you’re being led?

No. I’ve always followed my own path and never have felt dictated to by our audiences.

– What determined your foray into the fantasy concept of “Magica” which, in fact, is another take on this world?

I felt that a few albums we did before “Magica” were confusing musically, and wanted to restate our objective by doing a complete fantasy project to reconnect with that portion of our appeal, to ourselves and DIO fans. Fantasy has always been a great part of DIO music, and allows me as a story writer to reflect on this world, by creating another with most of the same problems.

– Do you really see the world in such dark colors you picture it on your last albums?

Not always, but writing allows me to focus on a subject, and the horrible things we do to each other keep appearing without end. I’m therefore very influenced by what’s around me, and thus many dark images are aroused. Let’s change the world and I’ll change the song images.

– Does humor belong to your music now – like way back in RAINBOW?

Yes it does. I write about people, and they are not only good and bad, but funny as well. Perhaps the humor is too subtle to notice.

– What defines your approach to the sound? I mean, the Nineties’ albums were very heavy, then the arrangements started to mellow a bit, but “Master Of The Moon” is very dry. Is it to make the lyrics more frontal?

I think as far as my interpretation of heavy goes, “Master Of The Moon” is the heaviest production for me since “Dehumanizer” with SABBATH. Everything can be heard so well, yet blends together when listened to as a whole sound. The vocal sound was not recorded to be far in front, but like the other instruments, its richness of sound in recording makes it very hearable.

– Don’t you think you completely changed the BLACK SABBATH sound? Since you joined – except for the reunion with Ozzy – the band sounded much closer to DEEP PURPLE than it did before that.

I don’t think I completely changed the SABBATH sound. I believe that my writing style did make Tony, Geezer, and Bill rethink what they wanted to do as musicians, but SABBATH’s most important asset was their sound, and I think it was recorded so much better than ever before by our engineer, the brilliant Martin Birch. As for DEEP PURPLE, those were some of my main roots and I guess it shows in much of my work, even with SABBATH.

– You were never ashamed to call Ritchie Blackmore the idol of yours, but didn’t you feel a little bit strange knowing that Ritchie’s younger than youself?

Mozart would have been a hero of mine even though he might have been a twelve-year old prodigy. After all, Ritchie’s not that much younger than I, and it’s really the talent that counts, isn’t it?

– The first RAINBOW album was a firm continuation of both DEEP PURPLE and ELF, while on “Rising” your emerged as a very different songwriter and remained as such ever since. What happened between those two records?

The first RAINBOW album had almost all of ELF as musicians, and I think that Ritchie allowed us to still be that band, and to also draw on his PURPLE roots. Line-up changes and more of a commitment to why Ritchie and I started the band together made for a different direction. Therefore you get “Stargazer”, “Rainbow Eyes”, “Light In The Black” and other second line-up RAINBOW music that allowed me to be more of a storyteller and therefore to plunge myself more and more into the fantasy style that I carried on.

– Are there any plans to release your pre-ELF material, which is the subject of a certain website with downloadable files?

There are no plans that I know of, but I’m sure someone will attempt it. I really find no joy in rehashing someone’s learning experiences. No joy.

– You covered Alice Cooper and AEROSMITH – without mentioning JETHRO TULL, Ray Charles and others, in the early days. Is there any song you’d like to do yet? And can such a song find a place on a DIO album?

I did the Alice and AEROSMITH covers on tribute albums. Alice stunned me with his stage productions and spurred me on to create my own. The song “Dream On” has always been a favorite of mine, so both projects were just tributes. I don’t really have a need to do anymore.

– Is it you who comes up with an idea of the artwork for an album?

It’s usually the songs and their attitudes that lead us to album art. My manager, Wendy Dio, and I have generally created and chosen all of them.

– You recently parted ways with Jimmy Bain. Does your affinity to him stem from the fact you were a bass player too?

No. I admired Jimmy’s playing and his musical awareness. He was and is special as a person and player.

rjd1– Do you use any instrument now, when composing?

I compose on guitar and keyboard almost exclusively, with the occasional use of bass to write with. I guess we never go completely away from our roots.

– Did your voice come naturally to you or were opera and trumpet playing that shaped it?

I’ve been given a strong and flexible voice that realized its potential because of my trumpet training. My instrument technique was transferred to my vocals and has allowed me to do it properly and to last this long. Opera was something always around me when growing up and influenced much of my later style.

– Being in rock ‘n’ roll for so long, how did you escape the rock lifestyle and never got into any scandal?

I was raised by great parents whose respect I never wanted to lose, and abusing myself was certainly not the way to keep their respect.

– You never dabbled with drugs either. Was it due to you having a pharmacology degree?

No. It was because I saw how destructive it was, and how it dulled your sensibilities and ate up your talent and your life.

– You’ve been always thought of as some kind of sage who always has some word of wisdom to share. How do you see your role in this life?

I only observe and comment per my own rules. If I’m right, then my purpose has been served. So far I think I have been.

– You once said it’s uniqueness that makes a person important. What, in your eyes, is your uniqueness?

My voice and my ability to use it. My commitment to excellence, and a quality that allows me to be everyone.

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