Just imagine what happens to a person who leaves successful rock band at that point or another. The rock scene has so many examples how big stars have fallen into abyss after quitting their alma maters. But here we have a completely different example. Blond guitarist Axel Rudi Pell left German heavy metal legend Steeler in 1988 and since that time released a huge list of albums that make any listener forget about everything he did before. So please, ladies and gentlemen, give a warm welcome - here's Axel Rudi Pell!
MetalKings.com: Hello, Axel!
Axel: Hello Michael! How are you?
MetalKings.com: Fine, thanks! That's really great that you called to Moscow!
Axel: No problem at all!
MetalKings.com: Well, Axel, I'd like to start from the very beginning of your music career. So how did you get into rock music?
Axel: Oh, that's a long time ago! (laughs) You know, I started to play guitar in the year of 1972 and I watched the band Deep Purple and saw Ritchie Blackmore playing his guitar. So I said to myself, "I wanna make the same kind of music and I wanna destroy my guitar on stage." (laughs) That was my kick which inspired me to play the guitar and my first really professional band was Steeler. I think I founded it in 1981. We did the first album in 1984, we did four albums with Steeler and I left the band in the end of 1988. My first solo record came out in 1989.
MetalKings.com: So about that band Steeler. Who formed it?
Axel: Oh, it was me and bass player Volker Krawkzak.
MetalKings.com: OK, but I guess you know that the band with exactly the same name, Steeler, existed in the United States right about that time. It featured Yngwie Malmsteen. So were there any confusions?
Axel: Yes, they were! (laughs) You know, we recorded our first record and we already had the name Steeler and one day I went to the record store and the sales guy told me, "Hey, Axel, there's another band in the States called Steeler!" (laughs) Oh no, incredible, weird... And I looked at the record, it was already out and ours was close to be released but then I heard that the band split in the States and we said, "OK, then we can carry on with that name." So there was no problem.
MetalKings.com: The first two albums ("Steeler" (1984) and "Rulin' The Earth" (1985)) were released on the "Earthshaker Records". So what was that label? Kind of weird, I guess...
Axel: Yeah, very strange label, it was a very strange guy who released records there. We never got paid for it, by the way. It was really strange, we recorded the first album I think in seven days, the first one, and the second one I guess in 12 days. So it was really a quick shot, you know. It was very cheap produced, but it was OK, it was our very first step into music business, into really professional music and for that reason it was OK.
MetalKings.com: Axel, I think, even on those early albums you had your own music style. Who influenced you apart from Ritchie Blackmore?
Axel: Oh, there were lots of bands. When we released our first Steeler album I think it was bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica a bit, Accept. It was the kind of music I was listening to at that time, we grew up with that music and said, "Oh, we can do it oursevles!" (laughs)
MetalKings.com: Well, actually I don't have lyrics to first two albums of Steeler but I guess they touch some darker themes than later occurred on "Strike Back" or "Undercover Animal". Do you think so too?
Axel: Well, it could be because I do not remember those lyrics to be honest because I didn't write any lyrics for that album, maybe one or two songs. Our singer, Peter Burtz, wrote all the lyrics.
MetalKings.com: You know, I've heard that Uli Jon Roth (ex-Scorpions) played on "Strike Back". So how did it happen?
Axel: (laughs) Well, he's really not playing on that "Strike Back" album. He played a guitar duel with me on the song "Night After Night". But it was not that version on the record, it was the version which was only released on a compilation record called "The Power Of Metal Hammer". And it's a different version than the "Strike Back" version because he played not only the guitar, he played the bass for it too. So I was in the studio with him together and he recorded the solo. I was very excited because he was one of my heroes, you know.
MetalKings.com: Yeah, and you know, for me it was very strange that he played there because that's not really his kind of music...
Axel: Oh, that's right. It happened because we recorded that album in Hannover in the studio and he recorded some of his demos in that studio. So one day we met, we were recording during the day and he at night and sometimes we were recording at the same time so one day we asked him, "What do you think? Would you like to play a solo on that song?" He said, "OK, great! I'll do it" And we had some problems with our bass player and he said, "Oh, and I can probably play the bass too!" and we were like "Yeah, go ahead!" And that's how it happened, yeah.
MetalKings.com: And as far as I know American guitarist Mitch Perry (ex-McAuley Schenker Group, Rough Cutt) played on the album "Undercover Animal". So how did this come to be?
Axel: Oh, that was at the same time when we were in Hannover preparing the pre-production for the "Undercover Animal" album. And there were two rehearsal rooms the McAuley Schenker Group rehearsed for the tour and at that time Mitch Perry was a part of the MSG. And we met in the evening in the pub, we drank a few beers. And when we finished the pre-production we were in the studio, we said, "Oh, maybe ask Mitch to play a solo?" And we took a taxi, went to the pub and he was there drunk and said, "OK, I'll do it!" He came there with a bottle of whiskey, played a solo and then went on a taxi to the pub. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: After that you left Steeler and I've heard you did it because they wanted to make more commercial and poppy music, right?
Axel: Yeah, that's right.
MetalKings.com: So you went on to record your first solo album ("Wild Obsession" (1989)) with ex-Victory singer Charlie Huhn. How did you engage him for that album?
Axel: You know, when were recording the last album with Steeler again in Hannover I think Victory have been there at the same time and Charlie was there, and we became friends, you know, in bars drinking beers and whiskey. And then he was out of Victory and I needed a singer for the new band. I remembered Charlie and thought maybe I can ask him to sing on the album because he's a nice guy. And that's how it happened that he was the singer.
MetalKings.com: For me another strange guest on your first album was Jorg Deisinger from Bonfire. Actually he lives in southern Germany so how did you meet him?
Axel: At that point I knew him for a long time because we played some shows in the south of Germany. So when I was doing my first solo record I just phoned him and asked, "What do you think of playing a few bass parts on the album?" So he said, "Great! Why not?" And he did because I wanted to have different bass players on that album.
MetalKings.com: On your first solo album you re-recorded the Steeler classic "Call Her Princess". What's so special about the song?
Axel: I don't really know. Probably it was because that's the first song I wrote in my professional career and that's why I thought of recording it again because I was never satisfied with the version that Steeler did.
MetalKings.com: So was the song about any particular girl or just a fantasy?
Axel: Yeah, fantasy girl.
MetalKings.com: Well, before "Strike Back" you had a contract with "Earthshaker Records" and then signed with "SPV/Steahmammer". Does it mean that the label came into existance in 1986?
Axel: Yes, that's right. We actually split with "Earthshaker Records" because it was pain in the ass working with them and so we wanted to find a different record company and "SPV" was very interested in us and that's the reason we changed the label.
MetalKings.com: So how did you sign your solo contract?
Axel: You know, after Steeler split I had a contract with "SPV" because in Steeler every single musician, not just the whole band had a contract with that company. So I made demos and had to play them to "SPV" first because of that exclusive contract. And the president of the record company phoned me immediately after he heard my demos and said, "Oh, Axel! That's great! I loved demos and yes, we'll make a record under Axel Rudi Pell name."
MetalKings.com: And what happened to Steeler?
Axel: They split. I think I left on November 11, 1988. And they found another guitar player and another drummer and carried on for about three or four months. They did one or two shows but failed. They weren't satisfied, the audience wasn't satisfied so they decided to split.
MetalKings.com: Axel, I've heard a rumor that the drummer in Steeler, Jan Yildiral, had problems with alcohol. Is that true?
Axel: (laughs) No! Definitely not! You know, he was the one guy that drank less than all. So that's just a rumor.
MetalKings.com: As far as I know your former Steeler bass player, Volker Kravczak, who is now playing in your band, left Steeler after the second album. Why?
Axel: It was a decision from the band because in those times many bands were very popular in Germany and in the USA and band members had to be very skinny persons. And the band thought that Volker is probably a bit too big. So we said, "Volker, can you reduce your weight?" He said, "No way I can do it in a few months. It will take a few years, you know." So we decided to cancel him. He was very angry about it and I really thought that it was bad but we had to do it because we had pressure from the management in the States, from the record company, they said, "Look for another player, he must be a skinny one." So we said, "OK".
MetalKings.com: I also wanted to know why you didn't tour after the first album.
Axel: Yes, there wasn't any tours for the first album because it was just an experiment for me and for the record company to see if the people will like my music under my own name, you know. And we said, "Oh, let's see how the record will move and then we'll do the next record probably if this would sell good and then we'll decide to make a tour or not." So that was the reason why there was no tour. And after the second one, "Nasty Reputation", Rob Rock was in my band and there was a tour planned but two weeks before we had to go on tour I got a call from him. He said that he joined Impellitteri and it was impossible for him to come over. So I had to find another singer and a friend of mine gave me a number of Jeff Scott Soto and I was really pleased that he did the job.
MetalKings.com: Axel, why did you choose Alphaville song "Forever Young" for a cover-version?
Axel: Well, I always thought it was a great melody but I never was satisfied with the original singing on it, you know. I thought it would fit into my ballad style and I can record it. And, you know, one day I met few members of Alphaville at a party somewhere and their singer came to me and said, "Hey man! Your version is much better than ours!" (laughs)
MetalKings.com: That's really great! OK, tell me what's the idea behind the song "Eternal Prisoner"?
Axel: The idea is that you're lost and you're a prisoner in your own body, in your own skin. You can't move out and that will carry on for the rest of your life, you know. So you can't go out of yourself, that's the meaning behind it.
MetalKings.com: Another interesting song, this time from the album "Nasty Reputation" is "Open Doors". How did you compose it and what do those steps mean with three different parts?
Axel: (laughs) To be honest I don't know how I composed it. But the idea is that you hear the walking steps and it came to my mind that a guy is walking through a big rehearsal apartment. It's different rehearsal rooms and different bands playing behind those rooms. He walks and opens the door, hears some band playing, then he closes the door and walks to another door, opens it and there's another band inside. So the first thing was a bit like Hendrix, the second instrumental was a bit like Michael Schenker and the third was Steve Vai.
MetalKings.com: After "Eternal Prisoner" you made the album "Between The Walls" and I always wanted to now what does the name of the track "Casbah" mean?
Axel: Casbah is a special place in Arabian countries where the life is going on something like the middle of the city and people like to be in there, you know. They can shop, they can hang around and all that stuff...
MetalKings.com: On that album you also had a cover-version of Free, I mean, "Wishing Well". What's the reason for choosing it?
Axel: (laughs) Oh, that's the first song I ever played together with a band. It was my first band in 1974 and that was the first song that I ever learned to play live. And I always liked the song and said, "OK, now we'll do it!"
MetalKings.com: In 1995 you released a live album called "Made In Germany" and as far as I know it has two different covers, one for Germany and one for Japan. So who decided to change covers?
Axel: It was the record company in Japan (Teichiku Records). I didn't even know it until it was out. I was a little bit surprised when I got it I said, "Oh, what's that, a different cover?" I didn't know that! And the first album "Wild Obsession", it also had a different cover in Japan. And they change it by themselves, I'm not involved in it.
MetalKings.com: Actually the album has a new track "Fire On The Mountain" which was also recorded live. So do you have the studio version of it?
Axel: No no, it wasn't recorded in studio, just live.
MetalKings.com: And do you have more songs as demos or some unreleased stuff?
Axel: Well, no, actually not. But you know for the new album I recorded two more songs that will not be on the final release but they were recorded at my home on my private 4-track tape-machine but they were not recorded in the studio.
MetalKings.com: In 1997 you released your last record with Jeff Scott Soto called "Magic" and it the CD-booklet you thanked authors of games like "Doom", "Duke Nukem", etc. So do you really like those computer games?
Axel: Yeah, I really enjoyed them at that point, at that time.
MetalKings.com: OK. Like it was on "Black Moon Pyramid" "Magic" also had a bonus track for Japan but no other records have them. Why?
Axel: Oh, that's because I never got extra paid for those bonus tracks by the Japanese company. And I don't see any reason to release any song as a bonus track. So why the track should not be on the European, the world version? The record company in Japan always wants to have a bonus track and I always asked them, "Why? There's no reason to make an extra track for the album! Why you should have it?" And that's the reason I never record anything like that.
MetalKings.com: OK. In the beginning it was a kind of secret that you played on the first solo album of Tom Angelripper (Sodom). So why did you choose that name Bradhacker?
Axel: (laughs) I don't really know! (laughs) It was just a joke! I didn't want to have my name on that record, like Axel Rudi Pell, because that's the different kind of music. And Tom asked me if I can contribute the rhythm guitar. And I said, "Tom, that's no problem but put my name away from the record." And he was like, "OK, no problem!" and so we put the name Bradhacker on it which does not have any specific meaning.
MetalKings.com: But did you really like that music?
Axel: Yeah, you know, that's quite OK, drinking songs, that's OK.
MetalKings.com: Well, you also played with keyboard player, a girl whose name was Julie Greaux. As far as I know she had some troubles with Jeff Scott Soto, right?
Axel: I don't know. She was his girlfriend and he had her with him all the time that we recorded. In Germany when we recorded albums he always brought Julie with him. And then they broke up and he said, "Oh, Axel, you can use Julie for sure but I don't wanna be in contact with her any longer." I said, "OK, Jeff, not problem, I'll change the keyboard player and that's it."
MetalKings.com: And as far as I know you played on a compilation album with German love songs called "Hartzenbrecher". How did it happen?
Axel: Oh yeah, I remember that. You see, I was really shocked about that release because I was there as a studio musician, I was asked to record one song but it was just a demo. And I was pretty shocked when I saw the release on the CD with my name on it. And the owner of that company was a weird strange guy, you know. I got in troubles with him in the past too and he was not allowed to put my name on it. I just played a few rhythm guitars and a very short solo on it but he was not allowed to put my name on it, you know, I was just hired in the studio.
MetalKings.com: You also played on two big project albums like "X-Mas Project" in 1985 and "German Rock Project" in 1991. How did it all happen? How did they manage to gather so many musicians for those albums?
Axel: I can't remember, it was so long ago. I guess somebody just asked me to do some solo and I did but that's a long time ago, I don't remember it. And I think I recorded guitars for that "X-Mas Project" in the summer of 1985.
MetalKings.com: Well, one more thing about Steeler. I know that the first album was re-released in the beginning of the 1990s on "Mausoleum Records". So did you get paid for it?
Axel: No no no. It was a bootleg version. They were not allowed to bring it on the market and I was really angry about that. I phoned that guy but the record company went bankrupt and now they're gone. So as far as I know the record company called "Mausoleum" does not exist any longer.
MetalKings.com: So it still possible that those first two Steeler albums might be released again someday?
Axel: Oh, there was a big rumor about one or two years ago when one guy from Germany decided to re-release them. He remastered them and put them together on a double-CD. But I never heard of it again, I even don't know where the original master tapes are. You might ask our singer, Peter, he has some thoughts about it but I don't know anything. But the re-release could happen one day.
MetalKings.com: So you have nothing against it?
Axel: No, absolutely not.
MetalKings.com: The new album "Shadow Zone" was supposed to come out real soon but it was pushed back by the end of April. Why?
Axel: I don't really know, it has something to do with a marketing plan here in Germany. I think some companies are doing big advertising but they can't do it before April 29. That's why the record company decided the one week delay.
MetalKings.com: So why the new album is entitled "Shadow Zone"?
Axel: The title "Shadow Zone" concerns the artwork on the cover. That's the continuation of the story on the album "Masquarade Ball". You see those four guys on the cover, they were to go to the masquarade ball in the big building, they got invitations to that masquarade ball. And on the new cover they are inside the building but there is no masquarade ball, it was a trap. So the evil got them in there and "Shadow Zone" is the special meaning of a zone between life and death when you don't know where you are at the moment. Because five guys are in the room and now they turned to stone, and on the back you see one of the faces of the evil and you don't know what's happening at the moment, if they are dead or they are still alive. So we have to wait and see for the next record to come out.
MetalKings.com: What about the song "Coming Home"? I guess it has some Arabic influences...
Axel: That's right! The song is about the return of the pharaoh. Now he's awake, reborn and he's a terrible monster right now.
MetalKings.com: And what about the song "All The Rest Of My Life"? Is it about any particular person?
Axel: No, it was written about my dream women but I still haven't found her.
MetalKings.com: So you're not married?
Axel: No no, I'm not. I had a long-time girlfreind but she left me last year and I dedicated the song "Heartbreaker" for her.
MetalKings.com: OK. As far as I know many German musicians have day-jobs apart from music. What about you?
Axel: No, I don't have a day-job since 1993.
MetalKings.com: Well, will you play Wacken Open Air or Bang Your Head festivals this year?
Axel: No, no way. We played Bang Your Head last year and we played Wacken Open Air in 1999 so this time we will not play there. I think we will go on tour in the beginning of April by the end of May here in Germany and Switzerland. We will record one show for a DVD and a double live CD and they will be out at the end of the year sometime in October or November. But we might play any festival next year or the year after, I don't know.
MetalKings.com: So will the DVD feature only a concert or will it be the retrospect of your whole career?
Axel: The retrospect. It will feature a complete live show from the forthcoming tour and probably 1 or 1,5 hours of the bonus material concerning my career. You know, I have filmed on my private camera the recording sessions of almost every album I made but we will start from the "Eternal Prisoner" on. So it's Jeff in the studio working, playing guitars and stuff. And I think the biggest feature will be the making of the new album "Shadow Zone" because I recorded a lot of material of nearly 3 or 4 hours in the studio this time, recording, photo-shooting and stuff...
MetalKings.com: Well, Axel, thank you very much for this great interview. Hope one day you'll play in Russia...
Axel: Yeah, why not? We have to wait and see.
MetalKings.com: So thank you very much again and bye!
Axel: My pleasure, thank you very much! Great interview! Thanks again! Bye!
Axel Rudi Pell Discography:
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