Emanuele Casali

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. What are you and your band mates currently up to?

Hi guys! Thank you for this space. During these days we’re making some important decisions: the singer left the band, but our bass player Andrea sings very well so we are thinking not to look for a fifth element for the band. Anyway we have to test the situation. Honestly, I really would like Andrea to sing while playing the bass. You know, it’s not so common to see a band formed by a drummer, a lead guitar player, a bass player who is also the lead vocalist and a keyboard player with a guitar around his neck… maybe this is also a good moment to start writing something new, stay tuned…

What is the significance of the group’s name?

That’s a cool question! When we started to play together in 2001 a friend of ours named Dario created the first version of the band website. The band was born in February but after several weeks we didn’t decide our name yet, so Dario as a good friend suggested we call the band ASTRA and we liked it very much. Since that day we’re ASTRA!

From Within is Astra’s latest album, but not it’s first. What makes this one different from previous releases?

Our first release About Me: Through Life And Beyond sounds different from this one because we tried to write something direct and not too complicated. In the first album our drummer Filippo, who joined the band after the writing session, recorded only two tracks. In the second album he gave his support at all, and things changed. If you listen to old songs like “Me, Myself And I” or “Circles” from the first album and compare them with “Promises You Made” or “The Hitman you can understand what I mean. “From Within” represents a step forward in our way to play and our style. We tried to create our own sound and I think we did it.

Astra is known for having achieved success as a Dream Theater cover band. When you recorded your latest album, how difficult was it to try and refrain from sounding like them?

We always try not to sound like Portnoy & Co. but it’s not easy because most of the time people don’t go through what they are listening to. Nowadays when you talk about Progressive Metal the first name you think is Dream Theater. If you play that genre it’s easy to compare your music with the DT style. If you have been the Italian official DT tribute band from 2002 to 2006 and you start writing your own songs the problem becomes bigger, maybe it’s the biggest problem if you’re trying to make your own personality. I think this second album is not a copy of a DT way to play and many reviews prove this.

Astra had an opportunity to perform with Jordan Rudess. Tell us about that experience.

It was really a big honor! We performed during the Italian Dreamers’ 10th anniversary party and Jordan enjoyed the whole concert. We were excited when Jordan came on stage to play “The Spirit Carries On” with us. He played the piano and I played the hammond parts on the second keyboard. I was nervous because he is one of my favorite musicians but he made me calm when he began to play the first notes of the song. His smile was reassuring. The most cool surprise for me was to read some months later an interview on a magazine in which he said something like “Astra are great, especially Emanuele the keyboard player!” Again it was an honor!

Aside from DT, which other bands have influenced the group’s sound?

We have many different influences like Pantera, Toto, Mr. Big, Guns ’n’ Roses but I think the most significant band for all of us is “Queen”. We wrote Never Say Goodbyewhich is our personal tribute to Freddie Mercury, a pure Queen style song. We wrote it after a gig in Sion (Switzerland). We spent a day in Montreux and when we found the Freddie Mercury statue in front of the lake we decided to get in our studio and to recreate the feelings and sensations of that moment. I had a piano part ready to be used and of course we did it!

What other musicians have inspired you, personally?

You’ll need an entire week to read my own personal list ahahahah! I love many musicians and of course not only keyboard players. Anyway, one of them is David Paich from Toto but you can’t perceive his influence on this album because there’s one missing song called Voice From Within which is the most representative of how this wonderful musician inspired me. Guess what? …this song named the album. The reason why the song was not included in the album is a long story to say and that was one of the reasons we had to delay the release of the album. I’m very sorry about this because I think it was the best song we’ve ever written. Maybe we will release it next time… or maybe it will be a ghost track, we don’t know.

What are some of your favorite releases of 2009? Are there any lesser known bands out there that you think people should know about?

Recently I’ve listened to a band called Astra that released an album called From Within, do you know it? Seriously, there are many bands that should be mentioned and one of them is Europe. I liked Last Look At Eden very much. It’s their third album since the band reunited and it’s very catchy. They continue to twist their own music and that’s why they are an example of being always yourself even if you renew your own style.

Are there any plans for Astra to tour outside of Italy?

We can’t talk about touring at the moment; anyway we will perform during the Power Prog & Metal Fest in Hainaut (Belgium) on April 10th. We hope we will organize something abroad and I’m sure that our management Chiara Pellegrini Agency will help us.

Do you have any other projects you’d like to promote?

Of course! First of all there are two bands to be mentioned and they’re both Italian. The first is DGM, the other Metal band in which I play the keyboards, and the second is Empyrios, a thrash prog band formed by good friends and musicians. Anyway I think the whole Italian metal scene is great and I’m proud about it! Please do support Italy and all Italian musicians, we will not disappoint you!

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