Steel Mill meets the Primal Fear vocalist
Interview By Ville Krannila / August 2007
You are currently finishing work on the brand new Primal Fear album. How have the sessions gone so far?
We have finished mixing and the material is now going to be mastered while the band is shooting 2 videos actually this Thursday and Friday.
About the sessions I can tell many positive things, the first time I have recorded some of the vocal tracks at my own little studio here in my house. I got myself a ProTools System and a good mic and also a good PreAmp with Compressor in the chain. It’s really great to record your own stuff but sometimes you’re getting a bit to perfect and you record many lines over and over again….
How would compare this album to previous ones, especially Seven Seals which was a great milestone for the band?
I can really say it’s a great follower to Seven Seals, I have played some tracks to my very close friends and they say that what they have heard is even an increase to Seven Seals. That makes me proud of course. You know sometimes it’s so hard to still judge it when you have been in preparations for the songs and then in the studio for a period like over 6 months. I am sure our fans will love the album, it’s got the whole range in it again, from very fast songs to very slow and mellow tunes…and the melodies this time really keep sticking to your mind.
Let’s go back to the beginning, starting out your career, who were your biggest influences?
It really depends on whenever you see it as a start of a career….I was about 15 when I started to learn to play classic acoustic guitar ……and of course I sang to the first accords I learned on it…something like C-Major, F-Major, C-Major, a-minor, C-Major, F-Major, G-Major….which is “Blowing in the wind”
I sang along to lots of tunes many years before…like Sweet and believe or believe it not: Bay City Rollers.. My school mates always said that I should form a school band which I actually did when I was 15. Then one day I was invited to a mates’ house for a party (it must have been 1980 or 81) where I found a live album (Unleashed in the East) from that band called Judas Priest….as he was playing the first song of the record “Exciter” it totally knocked me off! After banging my head and screaming along to Rob’s voice (It was the first time I read his name on the album) I ran to the next store and bought the album. So it was a bit late when I got into Priest but I was only 16, so it was early again for those days..
Actually at the same time…..I remember walking around in Esslingen (my home town) with my mates late at night screaming the last notes of “The Green Manalishi” in those shop alleys where the sound is really hally and compressed (I didn’t know at that time that it’s compressed, it just sounded great) and so many people yelled at me to stop that noise…..maybe they thought some girl is getting attacked screaming her last tunes or whatever.. JWhen did you first discover your style of metal voice?
So I found out that I could do it, too… now I know that it’s a certain technique called belting but at those days I was totally amazed that I could do that.
The first records you made were with Tyran Pace, right? I actually have the second album “Long Live Metal” and you already had that distinctive voice back then. What can you tell about those days and records?
Yes, that’s true. The first album was recorded in 1983 (Eye to Eye)
I was in two bands before Tyran Pace, one was the school band I had started with and the second was a band from the bigger city Stuttgart. (Beast of Prey)
I remember doing everything for music…after school I was buying me train tickets to drive to our rehearsals….I was infected and I never got rid of it. Of course there have been also hard times with some assholes who ripped money out of the band, saying they were managers etc… in the end I knew why Queen wrote that song called “Death on Two Legs” about their manager who did the same things…
Learning how it is to record an album also was very tough…..I really never was satisfied with my vocal sound….and it’s funny….it’s all coming back to me now….it’s all a matter of a good mic and compressing right, just like in those shop alleys back in 1981!
You started Gamma Ray with Kai Hansen few years later, at the beginning it was actually just you and Kai in the cover of the album (Heading for Tomorrow). Was GR originally envisioned as Kai’s solo project?
The thing was: Record companies do have their own vision of things…so they tried their best to sell the first album as good as possible, which is no crime in the end. So they put the grey cover over the blue cover where it said Kai Hansen and on the blue cover Gamma Ray. Shortly before Kai had found the name Gamma Ray it was meant to be a solo project, yes. But then he decided to make it a band as we had our own kind of thing going on which is only possible in a band, not as a solo musician
From the Gamma Ray albums, which one today is your favourite and why?
From the ones I sang on….Insanity and Genius ….after my time they had also some great albums…Kai was and still is a great composer!
What happened at the end of your tenure with Gamma Ray, was it simply that Kai wanted to sing his own songs that brought the departure?
There were different things…..it was a tough time for me driving from Stuttgart to Hamburg every weekend which is 700km one way. But I still had my job to get myself food and to pay my flat, so I couldn’t move up to Hamburg…..it’s also somehow that feeling I had that I never really belonged there (Hamburg)……and in the end it came like it had to come…..they wanted me to move up, otherwise it wouldn’t have been very convenient to compose new tracks for the next album.
BUT at the same time Kai and Dirk have started to sing their demos on their own and did that also on the album (Insanity and Genius). Basically I have no problem with that but it was two songs and the feeling was strange anyway at that time…..
AND: I had made my application for a British band called Judas Priest and got positive response from the coordinator Jayne Andrews saying that the band (Priest) have listened to my material I sent in earlier and they liked it. (It was the 12th July 1993).
I said this to Kai…..he said it to all other members of GR and then they asked me what I would do if Priest would take me…you can imagine what I said…..
So all these things came together and the feeling was down the drain and it was not possible to continue.
There was few years between you leaving Gamma Ray and starting Primal Fear with Mat, what happened during that time?
I was jamming with some mates doing Priest covers, just for fun and also to prepare for the possible job for Priest
Was there pressure recording the first PF-album, obviously it was a new band and there were lots of expectations?
That’s the funny thing, we never saw it that way……there were no expectations at all because no one knew Primal Fear before……so Mat, Tom, Klaus and me just went into the studio and recorded four tracks as a demo…. I sent it to Japan were JVC was still waiting to get some material from me and…click….we had a deal. We were just doing music without any pressure and it worked….and that’s still the same thing nowadays…. We do whatever we feel is good….if it’s not, no problem we keep writing many more tracks….
Is it true you also auditioned for a Judas Priest vocalist position in the mid-1990’s?
As I mentioned above I received two very positive letters but that was it….I never got invited…Glenn was doing his solo album and was very busy, so it took more than 2 years for them to finalize the short list…I can imagine that’s a hell of a job, to find a guy to replace Rob in Judas Priest so I pay my respect to Jayne and the band.
In the end it was very disappointing for me and I really thought about putting away the mic forever…..but then again, it was good…..after some time I felt such a big rock falling apart from my soul…..suddenly I felt like new born and exactly at that time I sung some backing tracks for a new Sinner album when Mat and I sat together to make some plans about a new band……here we are: Primal Fear was born.
That’s hard to tell ….I mean when we are composing, we never think about integrating anything from any band on purpose. It’s also a matter of combination of guitars, bass and drums…and when one has a very similar voice to another one who is already popular it’s not easy to say: Hey but I’m doing what I can do and want to do……and that’s surely not to sound like someone else on purpose!How much Priest-influence do you think you have integrated into the music and vocals of Primal Fear? It also seems PF has developed its own distinctive sound over the years?
You have also recorded few Priest-covers, including amazing rendition of “Exciter” on Priest-tribute album. Probably not the easiest song to sing, how do you approach material like this? Did you listen to Rob’s vocals on “Unleashed In The East” to draw inspiration?
As I mentioned above….”Exciter” was the song which brought me into JP and into metal in general…..it was a great honour for me to pay tribute to the mighty Priest with that cover we did with Gamma Ray. It was also a sign for the people out there that Kai and I are still good friends and every bad vibe has been deleted.
Your instrument is your voice and the songs you are doing with PF obviously demand a lot with different scales and so forth. As a vocalist, how do you keep your voice in shape?
Well, I drink a lot of beer… No….to be honest, I don’t do so much….we just rehearse 3-4 times before we go on a tour and hit the studio but when there is no activity I just do nothing…..so I also wonder why I still can do it…
How do you view the metal scene these days? When you started out with Primal Fear, heavy metal was underground. Now it is getting more recognition and more bands are coming out with killer records. Do you think metal will ever regain the glory days of 1980’s?
I won’t say it will regain the same glory like in the 1980’s but what I do know is that there will always be a base of fans who are into metal. It’s pretty tough for both, the fans and the bands….as you have said, there are so many killer bands coming out with good stuff….how the hell should all that be bought by the fans…
Simply: Yes! I mean it’s always a good advantage to have songs with melodies that stick into your mind….and if you find the right combination you could possibly achieve to land a hit….wouldn’t that be killer!“Seven Seals” in my opinion contained a really strong hit single in the title track. Do you think bands like Primal Fear need hits singles to go forward or are you satisfied with the fan base and scope you got now?
We are very satisfied with our fan base all around the world and it’s getting more and more luckily!
Do you have any plans to record a solo album outside of PF one day and if so, what do you think it would sound like?
Yes I do! It’s planned already and as I have my own system at home now, it makes it a lot easier. I’m sure I will do some covers on it as well to pay tribute to the band Sweet I was growing up with……
Thank You very much for Your time!
Thank you for the questions!
Check out www.primalfear.de for more info!