GIOTOPIA – A Talk With GIOVANNI ‘GIO’ SMET (Singer, Instrumentalist, Producer)

Posted on May 14th. 2021

Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM


During a conversation with one of his other musical projects, Giovanni Smet managed to tell me that his passion for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal dates back to when he was 10 years old. Five years later he bought his first electric guitar, a black Fender Stratocaster “Squier”.

He became fascinated by Rock and Metal music and practiced many hours a day, at the age of twenty he formed the band Gitaron. This was only the start of his well-filled musical career, many years passed and Gio founded several projects including Giotopia, an epic focused metal act that has just released a third album entitled “Trinity Of Evil”.

I would have liked to know a few things about this rather unique musical experience so let’s get started right away.

Stefan: Late December 2020 we already had a first conversation following Devil’s Desire and once again welcomes you here at Metal To Infinity webzine. Giotopia has to be one of your most impressive projects, do you agree?

Gio: “Yes, with respect for my other projects, Giotopia certainly is my main project. I feel the musical freedom in all my projects, but Giotopia acquires more organization, hence the production is at a larger scale. The whole story, concept or picture is bigger and, when the listener takes his time to explore the music and story, there is a very interested world to be found.”

Stefan: How did you start the project and with what ambitions?

Gio: “I love fantasy tales and writing. In addition, after my home studio was completed, I started to work a lot with guest musicians for the Gitaron anniversary album. I really enjoyed working with so many talented guest musicians. Therefore, the idea came almost natural to write a fantasy tale and combine it with my music. I loved the fact that the guest musicians would play the different characters of the story. The ambition was clear from the start; to create something unique and interesting, epic storytelling, working with many fascinating singers along the way. I love the aspect of imagination in music. Everybody hears or feels the music in his or her own way. I am satisfied when people are touched by my music, in any way possible, that is my biggest ambition.”

Stefan: You have always relied on a number of guest musicians Giotopia, singers more specifically. Can you explain to me how it works to get the right people together who want to collaborate?

Gio: “When singers can fascinate me with their vocal talents, I place them on my list. I contact them and explain who I am and what Giotopia is. Some people already know about me or Giotopia and others ask me to enlighten them. It is very important for me that the guest musicians are motivated and really into the concept. I believe that is the only way of working closely with so many musicians. After three albums, there are guest musicians that really are into their character. They want to know the background about their character and the whole story, talking with me about vocal ideas in order to really let their character shine. I believe those are the right people for a project like Giotopia.”

Stefan: Who contributed to the first album “A Fantasy Tale On Music – Part I”?

Gio: “On the first album I worked with Fabio Lione (Turilli/Lione Rhapsody), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Srdjan Brankovic (Alogia), YGC (The Losts), Sara Vanderheyden (Cathubodua), Ginny Claes (TheGuardian), Ellen Peeters, Zoya Belous (Esperoza), Mark Van Luijk (A Bear Called Panda), Franck “Wolfy” Moondog (Shadow Breaker), Carmen Grandi (EGO/Neophobia/Charme), Jennifer Thomé (Siren’s Legacy), Eric Tillerot (Magnesis) and Marion-Lamita Peubey (LUX). Back then, Michael Bauwens played and arranged the drums and keyboards.”

Stefan: How do you manage to incorporate the vocal lines of various foreigners into songs you write? There must be clear agreements beforehand, right?

Gio: “Yes, I sing all pilot vocals myself as a guideline and the singers receive the songs with and without my pilot vocals, alongside the lyrics. At that time, the songs are finished on a structural base. All instruments are recorded and awaiting the vocals. The guest musicians know the structure and lyrics of the song, and they have the freedom to do their magic. When they cannot record here in my studio, they send me their vocal lines to my e-mail inbox. I mix the vocals the way I feel it’s right. Sometimes I send the first mixes back to the singers and ask their opinions. When the best result is reached, I start the final mixing and mastering of all songs.”

Stefan: In the end, the first volume was released in a very playful and unique way, how satisfied were you yourself with the end result – How have the guests responded?

Gio: “I always try to be innovative and unique in everything I do. I think it was a cool way to release song by song, or chapter by chapter in the form of video’s.

That’s why I used that concept again for the new album. I believe the listener has the opportunity to follow along the story and get into the feel of the album. That is very important in Giotopia. When you take your time to really delve into the story, then you can fully embrace the music and magic that is Giotopia.

I am always very proud of all my releases. It’s a learning curve of course. I think the new album has improved a lot on all aspects, especially the level of production. I only receive very positive feedback from the guest musicians. I honestly can say that I would do some things differently on the first album, knowing what I know now. I am not afraid to admit that. That’s what’s being creative is all about. We all learn as a musician on so many levels, day by day. Nonetheless, like I’ve said, I am very proud of all my releases.”

Stefan: Did you know right away that there would be a sequel one day?

Gio: “Yes. I didn’t know when exactly, but I certainly knew there would be more to be told. After the first two albums, I left the ending open. Many people asked me about the continuation. That gave me a boost to start working on the next Giotopia album, after the releases of the Horrorwish and Devil’s Desire debut albums.”

Stefan: Tell us more about the second Giotopia album and the entourage that contributed to the vocal parts.

Gio: “The story goes on and there are many revelations on the second album. Many aspects from the first album were revealed in the story on the second album. So, in terms of storytelling, a lot of fascinating things happened. Many guest musicians (YGC, Sara Vanderheyden, Ellen Peeters, Ginny Claes, Jennifer Thomé, Carmen Grandi, Franck “Wolfy” Moondog and Srdjan Brankovic) returned and took on their character again on the second album. We had some new guest musicians, such as Herbie Langhans (Avantasia, Firewind, Sonic Haven), Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind, We Sell The Dead) and Kelly Thans (Vocal Life Of A Kelly).”

Stefan: In what ways does ‘Pt. I’ differ from ‘Pt. II’ and which work do you prefer, why?

Gio: “That’s a tough question, because I like both albums a lot. It’s hard to say one of them is better than the other. Maybe the production is better on the second album, but that’s a matter of taste. There are more heavy/power songs on Part II, in a way. On both albums, I have my favorite songs. I was more familiar of the way I wanted to work on the second album. The vision was clearer, I think. Like I’ve said, each album teaches you new things and gives you more ideas for the final picture. What album or song is better? I leave that for the fans to decide.”

Stefan: In April 2021, the time had come to release the third album titled “Trinity Of Evil”. No less than 12 guests were added to the concept, readers will surely be curious so tell us who they are.

Gio: “The ‘Trinity Of Evil-cast’ (besides myself): Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind, We Sell The Dead), Jürgen Wulfes (Thomsen, Cholane, ex- Moon’Doc), Kelly Thans (Vocal Life Of A Kelly), Sara Vanderheyden (Cathubodua), YGC (The Losts), Ginny Claes (TheGuardian), Ellen Peeters, Jeff Metal, Nienke Verboom (The Civilized), Freddy Richard (Fool’s Paradise, Heavilized), Jennifer Thomé (Siren’s Legacy) and Hannelore Van Gorp.

I am proud of this cast and very satisfied with the result. They really made a great effort to get into their character, with lots of passion and determination in order to tell the story. You can clearly hear that on the album.”

Stefan: Time for a slightly more difficult question…. Are there certain singers with whom the mutual contact is better than with others?

Gio: “I have a great contact with all guest musicians. Some of them really became very dear friends for life. I think it’s very important to have a great mutual respect in order to work together. That’s why the personal side is important to me. I need to be on the same page, sort of speak.”

Stefan: Can you tell us about the concept of this new album?

Gio: “Trinity Of Evil is a new saga in the world of Giotopia. It follows upon the first two albums and the characters return along with some new ones. In the story, the evil witch Vaïriga (Kelly Thans) is resurrected by the dark wizard Lorius (Jürgen Wulfes) because only a true Queen of Witches can control the fire demon Darmon (Apollo Papathanasio). So, the trinity exists of an evil witch, a dark wizard and a fire demon. They plot their revenge to wipe out the world of men and take over the world of Giotopia. Therefore, our mighty heroes need to fight bravely as there are some interesting twists in the story.

The overall mood of the album is darker and more theatrical than previous albums. It feels like things got real, somehow. I think we did an excellent job setting this intense, dark and atmospheric vibe on the album.”

Stefan: I have since listened to Trinity Of Evil several times and my appreciation is great, and genuine. My opinion on the album is already online and would have liked to know if you agree with what I wrote.

Gio: “I certainly agree with your review. You have made the effort to really dig into the vibe and the whole concept, which is Giotopia. It is true that, in order to really appreciate the whole picture, you have to know a bit of the story and follow the lyrics. When you know the story and get familiar with the characters, the world of Giotopia really shines in my opinion. I really take my time to work out the lyrics or dialogues between the different voices (singers). That’s why, the vocal aspect maybe has more attention on the albums. I have a clear idea, which voices go well together. You captured the essence of the album very well and understood what it’s all about. Giotopia is not mainstream, as you also wrote in your review, and I try to be unique with my musical ideas, combining my influences. Thank you very much for your appreciation and for understanding the hard work behind the project.”

 

Stefan: For a country like Belgium, the result is quite unique, maybe even daring but ultimately successful in my opinion. I honestly fear that other countrymen will like this performance as much as I do. What do you think about this point of view?

Gio: “People with an open mind and a sense of imagination, will surely appreciate the concept. In the end, it’s about fighting for freedom, being true to one another, bravery, love and hope, but also about despair, sinister thoughts, the loss of a lover or friend,… Giotopia is a fantasy world, but the emotions are as real as in real life. When people capture those emotions from the music and lyrics, they will find something unique for sure.”

Stefan: You have now released three Giotopia albums on your own merits and ability. Is this financially viable?

Gio: “I try to keep everything in own hands. In the end, it’s not about the money. I made some big investments in order to setup my studio. It’s normal that projects like Giotopia costs money. I don’t have the same budget as other bands/projects. I work with what I have and that’s all I need. When people appreciate and support the project by ordering the albums, it’s all worth it. When they express their love for the album or give me positive feedback, I am still happy as a child yet humble.”

 

Stefan: Can we expect a follow-up to “TOE”  in the future or does the Giotopia story stop here and now?

Gio: “I don’t feel the story is over. As long as I have the same determination and motivation, I will keep Giotopia alive. I enjoy plotting the story, organizing every little detail, working with so many talented musicians,… So, my heart says there will be more Giotopia albums in the future.”

 

Stefan: What else do you have in store for us musically in the coming years, maybe you’ll have a scoop for our readers?

Gio: “At this moment, I am taking a small musical break for a few weeks, to think about what’s next. I am in talks with some musicians to collaborate and I think I will have a better vision in the coming months. It all looks very interesting but nothing is decided yet. What I can say, is that my collaboration with YGC (The Losts) will certainly take of in the near future. We have some clear ideas of what direction we wish to go. It will be a very interesting mix with lots of acoustic, atmospheric vibes. Our project will be called “Sons Of The Migrator”, so be sure to keep your eyes open for that.

I cancelled the collaboration with Jeff Metal for the Devil’s Desire project. Things happened that couldn’t take place in my point of view, so I immediately ended that relationship on all aspects. For now, I am thinking about other singers that could keep that project alive, because I really like the concept of Devil’s Desire.

There were plans to form a live band for the Horrorwish project. We rehearsed once, but then covid-19 happened. So, those plans are set back and I have to wait and see to find the right musicians that can complete the line up.

As for Giotopia, plans are there to do a one-time only live theater show, but we have to wait and see how to really plan everything the right way. In the meantime, another album may happen.”

 

Stefan: Hereby I wish you all the best and thank you again for the interesting cooperation – I leave the last word to you… Cheers !

Gio: “Thank you for this wonderful interview, Stefan! I told you before, people like you really keep the scene alive! All the best to you and Metal To Infnity!”

GIOTOPIA Online

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