This was the longest interview I've ever done. And one of the best, that's for sure. I mean, I've been a fan of German melodic metal gods Axxis since 1990, and finally MetalKings.com got a chance to speak with singer Bernhard Weiss. Since the interview was not timed to the release of a new album, we found it expedient to cover the entire career of Axxis, starting with their blistering debut "Kingdom Of The Night" on EMI in 1989, through experimental albums "Matters Of Survival" and "Voodoo Vibes" of the mid-1990s, subsequent two years of silence and line-up reshuffling, to the glorious return with "Back To The Kingdom" in 2000 and its follow-up, no less fabulous "Eyes Of Darkness" released last year on Massacre Records. Throughout all the spins of their career, Axxis have always remained recognizable and true to themselves, and Bernhard's trademark vocals have always constituted a major share of the band's sound. Moreover, he's a great person to talk to, and we all had a fantastic time during this telephone conversation. I just hope the Massarce staff won't kill Bernhard for spending one hour fifteen minutes on a telephone conversation with Russia, that must cost them a fortune!
MetalKings.com: Let's start with your latest album "Eyes Of Darkness". I have read in an interview that you were under some kind of pressure to finish the album as soon as possible. Is that right?
Bernhard: It wasn't pressure, it was something that we wanted to do for the fans, because they had to wait for three years for the "Back To The Kingdom" CD. It was a long time from the "Voodoo Vibes" CD to the "Back To The Kingdom" CD, and we didn't want to release an album every two years, so that was the reason why we wanted to put ourselves under pressure and said, "Hey, we wanna release the follow-up to "Back To The Kingdom" next year, we don't wanna make fans wait for too long." So we put that pressure on us ourselves.
MetalKings.com: So it wasn't contract obligations or something like that, was it?
Bernhard: Under our contract, we have to release a CD every two years. So, it wasn't the pressure from the contract, it was the pressure from the band, because for us it is very important that we are selling CDs and releasing CDs and going on tour, and when you have a CD you can go on tour and you can do the whole business, and that's the reason why we didn't want to wait too long for releasing the follow-up to the "Back To The Kingdom" CD. That was a very easy reason, nothing to do with the record company. There's another good thing with Massacre Records - you know, we had a worldwide deal with EMI before "Back To The Kingdom", but for that album we signed a deal with Massacre, a smaller label here in Germany, and that's wonderful, we have all the freedom, we can make all decisions by ourselves, and that's very important for us.
MetalKings.com: And it's also great for us, because if you had still been signed with EMI, we would have never had a chance to interview you!
Bernhard: You know, this is one of the reasons why I think that a smaller label is 1,000 times better - because they are dealing with us like rock stars, like Michael Jacksons, you know… (everybody laughs). A contract with EMI was not good for fans, magazines and web-sites, for smaller ones, especially if they are coming from outside Germany. There was a big problem for Axxis - throughout all our career [with EMI] we had no chance to release a CD outside Germany, to get interviews with people outside of Germany. We were totally in a prison called Germany. (laughs). And that's very strange. That's a disadvantage of a worldwide deal with a major company… especially in our case because other bands have a wonderful deal worldwide, they can play in Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain - and Axxis never had this chance. Our first step outside Germany was made only with Massacre Records.
MetalKings.com: When I first heard that you are going to release a new album, I was quite surprised by the album title and its cover. You know, it's quite darker than what I expected from Axxis. Was it intentional, did you want to make some changes to your style, or did you just like the title and use it for the record?
Bernhard: You must imagine, when we were on EMI we had an entire arts development department and they were creating the covers with us together, but it was a very easy kind of artwork, and I don't like it, because for me it is very important that we have this fantasy style. For example, our first CD "Kingdom Of The Night" had a wonderful cover, you know, the logo is very important for me, because we have a wonderful logo and I want to have this logo big on the cover. For "Back To The Kingdom" it was a pleasure to work with Dirk Schwiegelschon, he's a Swedish guy, and he created this castle with the wolves in front of, and then we tried to find out someone who could create a bit darker cover, a mysterious cover, it was very important for us, because all the songs on this CD are a little bit more emotional, a little bit more mystic in some cases, for example "Eyes Of Darkness", "The Four Horsemen", the cover version, or "The Sun Goes Down", they are a little bit darker, that's the reason why.
MetalKings.com: Now you have your own studio. Why did you decide to build it? Do you record any other bands in that studio?
Bernhard: For me it's very important to be independent from companies, and that's the main reason. You must imagine, we were producing a record ("Matters Of Survival") with Keith Olsen in Los Angeles, and it cost a lot of money to produce there. And we had another CD called "The Big Thrill" which was produced in Philadelphia and New York. They put a lot of money into the band, and I think that it was a cool CD, but in the end of the day the songs are more important than the production. And if you listen to some CDs by other bands that sound not so good, but the songs have got power and energy, that's more important for the fans. Now we have enough knowledge to produce our own CDs, it took 10 years, but now we know how to record stuff with hard disc recordings and other things, and now it works. That's why we're trying to put some more money in our studio and get our own production. I've got a lot of other bands here in Germany that record in our studio, because we are producers and we try to release other CDs by other bands, not only rock bands, but country-and-western bands, for example. We have produced two releases of a country band here in Germany. We have put out another release of a speed metal band sounding very dark. The main reason is, "Hey, we need money!" (everybody laughs). If you are a professional, it's very difficult to earn a lot of money in this business, and if you have a family you need money, that's why you have to work for other bands and with other bands, not only with Axxis, because that doesn't bring enough money.
MetalKings.com: I see. Another question about "Eyes Of Darkness" - there are some additional musicians on the album, I mean, Mark Grossmann and girls called Gretha and Jenny. Who are these people?
Bernhard: As to Mark Grossmann, we needed a wonderful "darkness speech" in the beginning of "Eyes Of Darkness", and Mark is a professional speaker here in northern Germany. He's making a lot of promotional jingles for television. I saw a videoclip for Davidoff, a perfume, you know, and he had this wonderful dark voice, and that's the reason why we invited him to this production for "Eyes Of Darkness". And as to Jenny, it is very easy, she is our fanclub leader, but she can sing, and we tried to check her out in the studio and it worked great for some background chorus lines.
MetalKings.com: The song "Lost In Love" is marked on the cover as Musical Edit. Does it mean that there is a different version of this track, a full version or something like that?
Bernhard: No, it's a bonus track, and it is marked as Musical Edit because a friend of mine created a musical here in Germany. It was not really big on television, but it was a small success for him. And he asked me if I wanted to make music for this musical, it's a kind of love story. So we created music for this musical, and we put one of those songs on the CD. But it's very different from the regular Axxis style… yeah, that's a love song!
MetalKings.com: Is it real orchestra that is playing on this track?
Bernhard: Some instruments are real, and some not. We got a string ensemble to do the strings, and some violin in the background is also real, but cello is not real, this is only a sample, because we couldn't find a cello player here in Germany.
MetalKings.com: Can you comment on the meaning of some songs? The first one I would like to know more about is "Tears Of The Trees".
Bernhard: OK, no problem! This is a song off our first CD "Kingdom Of The Night", and this is a very special song, not only as far as its meaning is concerned. The song was our key for the door to the big music scene, this was the song that we sent to a record company called EMI in the beginning, and this song brought us the record deal, so this song is very important for us. The meaning of the song is a very natural thing, that's what I try to do with all my lyrics, not only the sex-drugs-rock'n'roll thing, I try to put some more natural meaning - for instance that the people, the human being, are killing the nature. "Tears Of The Trees" is a song where I let trees sing about their fate, their destiny in this world. You must imagine, the song is 14 years old, and at that time there were a lot of environmental problems around the world. Today there are a lot of such problems too, but these days we got a lot of political stuff here in Germany related to environment, and that's the reason why I wrote this song.
MetalKings.com: And what about "One Million Faces" (from "Eyes Of Darkness") and "Flashback Radio" (from "Back To The Kingdom")?
Bernhard: Oh, "Flashback Radio" is very easy, because for me it's very disappointing that so much computer-style music is played on the radio and television. I don't like this kind of style, it's very cold, and I like to see a band live on stage who are sweating, who are playing like human beings, who have a lot of energy and power. Today there are lot of bands even on the rock scene who create their music with the help of samples and drum loops, and I don't like this kind of style. That's the reason why I wrote this song, it says that I like all these flashback radios where I can listen to real rock music, where I feel the real energy and power of rock music. "One Million Faces" deals with the war in Yugoslavia that was a big political thing here in Germany, because for the first time German soldiers were going outside Germany and tried to help these people out. It was a huge political problem, because after World War II they told us that our soldiers wouldn't have to go out of Germany again. But now the times have changed, for example, Russia is now in NATO, it's very interesting how small the world is today. And I like it very much that a lot of things have changed in the political sphere.
MetalKings.com: And you already wrote a song about Yugoslavia in the past, right?
Bernhard: Yeah, "Sarajevo" (off "Voodoo Vibes" - ed.) is the song. We played four years before that in Sarajevo together with Motorhead, and four years later there was a war. That is why we wrote the song about Sarajevo, because we never expected that a war could happen again in Europe, and when it did happen, for me it was a surprise.
MetalKings.com: What surprised me a lot in "Eyes Of Darkness" is that it contains a computer game called "Rockmine". Whose idea was that?
Bernhard: That was more of a joke. I'm a PC game fan, I like all these games like "Doom" or "Quake" or whatever, I'm totally addicted to PC games, and that's my big fault! (laughs) I've got a lot friends that are working with PC games, and once I met some students, very very young students who could create games. For me it was wonderful to see how they are working with numbers and figures and all the stuff to make characters move on the screen. I asked them if they could create a game for Axxis, a very small game, maybe the beginning of a bigger game. They said, "it's no big deal, we can do it for free for you." And we put this game on the CD to make it a bit more worth the price, because CDs are very expensive here in Germany. I don't like price politics of record companies, and that's why we put a lot of things on the CD - to make the CD more worth the price. We put a videoclip for "Shadowman" on this CD for that reason too.
MetalKings.com: Why "Be A King" is only a bonus track for "Back To The Kingdom"? Why didn't you include it in all versions of the album?
Bernhard: "Be A King" is a bonus track for the digi-pack. We got this special CD our here in Germany, and the record company said they needed a special track for this CD. That is why we had to write an extra song. It's a promotional thing, Massacre Records asked us if we wanted to release a special version of the CD, and that's why we had to put "Be A King" as a bonus on that release.
MetalKings.com: Your choice of songs for cover versions is always very original. You never cover rock songs, you go for something else, for instance, "The Four Horsemen" by Aphrodite's Child. Why did you choose this song?
Bernhard: "The Four Horsemen" is a song that I like very much, because you can play it with a regular acoustic guitar, you can play it with an orchestra, you can play it with a rock band or you can play it with a jazz band, it doesn't matter. This song works in every style. The chords are very easy, but a lot of emotional things are happening in the song. In the beginning it's very mystic, and then you get a wonderful chorus line, and then you get this pomp thing in the second verse, and in the end of the song there's a kind of solo played in a very old style. And that's the reason why I like this song very much, it fits the CD, it fits the mystical atmosphere of "Eyes Of Darkness", and that's why we chose this song. The reason why we choose original songs is that I don't like to play cover songs of rock bands, because there are so many rock covers out. I try to search for some forgotten songs, something less known here in Germany or outside Germany. That's how we found "The Four Horsemen" and "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" that is included in "Back To The Kingdom".
MetalKings.com: Can you tell me what your former band members Walter Pietsch (guitar) and Marcus Gfeller (bass) are doing at present?
Bernhard: You must imagine, for 10 years of playing in Axxis we got a lot of success here in Germany, a lot of things happened. After these 10 years Walter told me that he has made up his mind to do other things like working as a producer. The most important reason behind his departure is that he wanted to work by himself without other members in his company. He works as a producer in Germany and he's very successful here with pop music. He's working with Viva and MTV in a very close way, and that's the reason why he wanted to quit the band and be responsible for himself, not for four other band members anymore. It was very difficult, you must imagine that me and Walter had a fight all the time. It was a very creative fight, but I always wanted to go in one direction and he in another direction. For instance, listen to the "Voodoo Vibes" CD where he added a lot of modern styles that I don't like. It was not Axxis anymore. And that was the main reason why we told him, "Hey, it's better to leave the band and do other things like that outside the band." "Voodoo Vibes" is a wonderful CD, there are wonderful songs on it, but this modern production is a little bit strange for me, you know. And that is why it was better for Walter to leave the band and do other things. But we are in good relations, because we are working with other bands together, it's a regular friendship. And with Marcus there was a very easy reason. When we invited him to join this band, he lived in Germany, but he is a native of Switzerland, and during the recording of "Voodoo Vibes" he returned to Switzerland. That was a problem for us because we couldn't do rehearsals spontaneously and it was very difficult to organize the band. The distance was too long, and that is why he quit.
MetalKings.com: You mentioned "Voodoo Vibes" and I would like to ask you whether you still play songs off this album and its predecessor "Matters Of Survival" at your live shows?
Bernhard: Yeah, we play "Helena", sometimes "Sarajevo" and sometimes "Fly Away". "Fly Away" is a good song but it sounds a little bit strange on the CD, because we were working with special modern-style sounds, and this song only works in the traditional Axxis style. If you listen to this song live on stage, it sounds 1,000 times better. "Voodoo Vibes" was only an experiment, we were a little bit confused about the situation. You must imagine, everybody in the media is telling us about crossover bands, they are saying that computer-style music is great and wonderful, and we were confused, because we are playing regular guitars and writing our songs on guitars. Everybody was talking about crossover and hip-hop, everybody was mixing hard rocks guitars with hip-hop grooves, and I thought, "Hey, it's not real hard rock anymore!" I would read all the articles in "Metal Hammer" and "Rock Hard" and I could only find hip-hop rock music and whatever there, it was not my rock scene anymore. That's why we tried to mix the special Axxis style with this modern style. But that didn't work, it was an experiment, and now we know that it doesn't work for the fans and for us too.
MetalKings.com: You know, I think "Voodoo Vibes" is a great CD, I love it very much!
Bernhard (surprised): That's interesting! Usually most of the fans are close to the traditional Axxis style, the style that we created on "Kingdom Of The Night" and "Axxis II", these song-oriented melodic lines are very important for them. And you can find these melodic lines on "Voodoo Vibes" as well, because the songs in the demo versions sound like all other Axxis CDs, but the studio production is a little bit strange for us and very very strange for the fans. We got a lot of letters and e-mails saying, "Hey, what do you do with your songs?!" For example, there are drum loops in "Life For A Life", even though they are played alongside with real drums, and for many fans it was disappointing that we are working with modern styles. And that was the reason why we chose the regular Axxis style again on the "Back To The Kingdom" and "Eyes Of Darkness" CDs. If you see this Axxis logo on a CD you expect the Axxis music. If you need a Mercedes car, you don't need a Volkswagen engine inside. Most of our fans expected music in the regular Axxis style from us. But it's very surprising for me to hear that you find this album great, that's wonderful!
MetalKings.com: If you had a chance to change something in the past, would you erase "Voodoo Vibes"?
Bernhard: No, I would do everything in the same way, because we were total greenhorns in the beginning, then we got a worldwide record deal with EMI. This deal was horrible for the band, but it was our step into the business, and now, 15 years later, we are working sometimes more successfully, sometimes less successfully, in this rock scene, and we are making money with it. I can live from music, and this is wonderful for me. Without these mistakes, this would have never happened. So everything was very important for us, the "Kingdom Of The Night" CD, the bad deal with EMI, the "Voodoo Vibes" CD, because now we know what we can do and what we cannot do, and without "Voodoo Vibes" this wouldn't have been possible. The "Back To The Kingdom" CD wouldn't have been possible without the release of "Voodoo Vibes". I think all the mistakes that we did in the past are very important for us, because we learned a lot of things from them.
MetalKings.com: Now let's go back to the past a little bit. Everything that I read about Axxis starts with the phrase, "In 1988, Axxis had their first demo out." What happened before that? Can you tell me a little bit about how Axxis was founded?
Bernhard (laughs): There were so many things. We did a lot of festivals, even a Metal Hammer festival here in Germany, but nobody would notice the band. It's a very interesting thing, we were playing at the Metal Hammer festival and nobody recognized us. We are coming from Dortmund, this is a big football area here in Germany, maybe you know it, and Metal Hammer and Rock Hard, the biggest metal magazines in Germany, are based in Dortmund, too. We were playing in that area and nobody noticed us, I don't know why. Then we sent this demo to EMI and they went totally crazy about "Tears Of The Trees", which was on that tape. It was the first time a rock band used keyboards on a song, and you must imagine that when we played with a keyboardist on stage, everybody was totally confused, because keyboards and rock music didn't fit together at that time. Even Black Sabbath used to hide their keyboardist behind the stage. But when we sent our tape to EMI, they liked the band very much, I don't know why, especially the songwriting. So we were playing live, and then the first record came out, but nobody noticed it. Then EMI pushed the CD a bit more, and I don't know what happened, but soon I found the CD here in shops, and a lot of radio stations liked "Living In A World", they played it, and it was like a fire in Germany. We were selling a lot of CDs, it was the best selling debut rock CD of all times in Germany. It's a typical German thing, you know - if you are not successful, nobody takes notice of you, but if you are too successful, it's bad for the media. That's a special German thing, you know.
MetalKings.com: Not really, I must say. In Russia it's the same. If a band is famous, it is badmouthed my many fans who say that it has sold out and stuff like that. But if a band is unknown, nobody is interested in it because they believe it's not worth knowing.
Bernhard (laughs): That is really bad, you know. For example, for the Americans or Englishmen patriotism is very important, especially as far as bands are concerned. If a band is successful, they say, "Hey, cool! Our band is successful! That's wonderful!" I didn't know things are like that in Russia. For example, you had a wonderful band called Gorky Park, they supported us here in Germany. There was another band out of Russia, a wonderful band with wonderful musicians, Kruiz, I liked them very much. But I can feel that there's no support for these bands from your country, from your record industry or whatever. It's disappointing, because your musicians are great, they are learning the instruments, they are totally into their instruments. A good friend of mine is from Russia, he's a former guitarist of Mind Odyssey and now he's with Rage.
MetalKings.com: Ah, yes! Victor Smolski!
Bernhard: And he's coming from our area, he's living in Hum, and I'm living in Dortmund, it's the same area. And he's telling me so many things, it's unbelievable. And he's living in Germany, because he has more chances to play here than in Russia. For him it's very disappointing, because he wanted to build up his career in Russia, not in Germany, but there's no chance for him.
MetalKings.com: You mentioned that you toured with Gorky Park (in 1993 - ed.). What are your impressions about that tour?
Bernhard: I can tell you a lot of things. With this band there was a lot of girls in the audience. It's unbelievable, but Gorky Park got all the best girls (everybody bursts into laughter). You must imagine, they are supporting us and they are finished before we start. It's eight o' clock, they finish, and all the girls are gone. (everybody laughs) Before our show no girls are in the audience because Gorky Park are entertaining them backstage! (everybody laughing again) That was unbelievable! And I liked them very much, because they are wonderful musicians, and they are very kind and friendly, partymakers, you know. We had a lot of parties with them. For example, on Reeperbahn. You know Reeperbahn? (we laugh and say yeah) It was unbelievable for them to make parties, drink beer, there are a lot of restaurants there. And it was really cool, we had a lot of fun with them. It was a wonderful tour, some gigs were sold out, not all of them but some were, and it was a wonderful package, we fit together.
MetalKings.com: Yes, that's fantastic! If you don't mind, we'll ask some more questions about the band's early days. Your first three albums were produced by Rolf Hanekamp. Can you tell me what other bands he has worked with? I don't know any other band produced by this man.
Bernhard: Rolf Hanekamp is a German producer and he was BIG! In the early days of EMI, they had their own engineer and their own studio. And Rolf Hanekamp was working in this studio, he produced people like Herbert Grohnemeyer or Claus Laage (not sure about the names - ed.), these are people singing in German only, and that's the reason why you're not aware about them, but they are very big in Germany. He's more of a producer of German-speaking bands, and this was his first step into the international business. Axxis was a chance for him, and that's why he was working with us. EMI told us he's a good producer for rock music, especially if a band is song-oriented, not speed or black metal, but song-oriented styles. And we were song-oriented, we liked pop rock songs with heavy metal guitars, for Axxis it is very important that we could create wonderful melodic lines. And that's the reason why we fit together with Rolf in the beginning. And it was a good production, it was an interesting production, I think, because we couldn't play in the studio, we were totally greenhorns, working with a click-track and all the stuff was horrible for us. But we learned a lot of things from working on the "Kingdom Of The Night" CD. And maybe the reason because the CD was so successful is that it was spontaneous. We were very bad with our instruments, and the playing is kind of easy, but the most important thing is the melodic lines, and that's the reason why it was successful.
MetalKings.com: I got a couple of questions about your live album "Access: All Areas" (1991). Where was it recorded? Is it one show or a compilation of recordings from several shows?
Bernhard: We recorded it in the area of Munich, in the town of Tutling, it's a very small town, we played Saturday and Sunday there, and both shows were sold out. We got a recording mobile and we recorded these two gigs. Then we checked out the songs, whether they are played good or bad, and after that we put everything together. I think the first seven songs are from the first show and the rest are from the second show.
MetalKings.com: The bonus track for this CD, "Back To The Wall" - is it the original demo from 1984 or is it a re-reworking?
Bernhard: It's the original demo. But you know, a lot of people are e-mailing me and asking us to re-record the song. The problem is that the song was written when there was the Wall in Germany dividing it into East and West, and it doesn't make any sense to re-record the song now because the lyrics are history, they are no longer actual.
MetalKings.com: And whose idea was that to make a live record after only two studio albums out?
Bernhard: Ah, this is a good question! Our A&R in Germany, Bob Arnz, told us, "Hey, let's re-record some demo material!" But I didn't want that, I didn't like the idea of re-recording demo stuff, it sounds like we're selling out or something like that. Then he came up with the idea that it was the right time for a live album. I was a little bit confused, because a live record after just two CDs looks somewhat arrogant. But the problem was that we needed another release, because before that we were releasing CDs every two years, and now he told us that we needed a CD in the middle of these two years because "the fans need more Axxis." That's why we recorded those two sold-out gigs and put them on a live album. And it was very successful in Germany, I never expected such a success for a live album for Axxis.
MetalKings.com: Yeah, I think it's an excellent record. But have you ever thought about making another live album?
Bernhard: Yeah, maybe we'll do it next year, we're working on it. Axxis is not a studio band, for Axxis it is not enough to just record good material on a CD, it's very important for us to create this live atmosphere on a CD. If you listen to "Access: All Areas", you'll see that all the songs are a thousand times faster than they are on studio CDs, and the singing is more aggressive than on studio CDs, and that's the reason why I think the time will be right next year to release another live album.
MetalKings.com: And what about a DVD containing Axxis history, live footage or something like that?
Bernhard: There are a lot of plans in this direction. The problem is not the money, but the fact that we have so much material that it will take months to watch all these videos and cut all the best scenes out of them. We have wonderful backstage scenes, wonderful footage from our world tour where we are with our tour manager and all the stuff, there are wonderful family recordings on video, and it takes so much time to pick up the best scenes. Moreover, it's very expensive to rent a video studio only to watch all the scenes. Maybe that's why it will take some time to release a DVD, but it's very important for us. I like this format, and I think now it's good time for a history production. But there's another thing, that's a secret I can tell you, you are the first interviewer to know. Yesterday I got an offer from EMI, they want to release a best-of compilation of Axxis with best rockers and best ballads, a double CD. Maybe that will work and we will release it next year. We'll have to deal with them again and we'll see what happens.
MetalKings.com: That's great, I'm really glad to hear it! But will there be any unreleased tracks on that compilation, have you thought about that?
Bernhard: Yeah, we have a lot of unreleased tracks, we wanna record them next month and we will put them on that best-of CD. There's just one problem. Nobody can find the tapes of the "Kingdom Of The Night" and "Axxis II" CDs, and that's a serious problem, because the only thing that we've got is the CD, and it contains already mixed material. We don't have tracks separately. EMI is totally confused, the company is splitting, it is very small in Germany now, and they have lost all the tapes of their bands, so now it's a problem to remix the material. I don't know what we will do with the CD. Maybe we'll only master them and that's all.
MetalKings.com: One more question about videos. How many videoclips Axxis have made?
Bernhard: Ah, let me think about it… There is "Kingdom Of The Night", "Stay Don't Leave Me", "Touch The Rainbow", "Idolator" and now "Shadowman" - a total of five. (Following this Bernhard asks us whether Axxis CDs are available in Russia, and whether is it possible to buy those on EMI through Amazon.com or other Internet traders. This makes us tell him a long story of the economic crisis in Russia and all the problems that metalheads have to go through to obtain the music they love. And then the story takes a turn…) Bernhard: … and maybe you know this… You know St. Petersburg? And we wanted to play there at the White Nights festival. It was a long time ago, seven or maybe eight years, I don't know. We got the offer from a promoter in Russia to play there. We went to St. Petersburg, we got all our stuff with us, and there was a big problem with the mafia. We had a case with all our equipment on the plane, but we didn't get it after we landed, because in Russia they didn't wanna give us this case. I don't know why, but it was a big problem, because without the case we couldn't play on that festival. It was our only experience with a gig in Russia. (laughs nervously) It was a very strange situation for us, but we spent three days in St. Petersburg, we did a lot of sightseeing, it was wonderful, but we didn't play there. It was a shame for me, it was my first and only Russia experience. (laughs) (To this we reply with the story of the infamous Royal Hunt gig in Moscow back in summer 2000, which you can read in full in the "Gigz" section.) Bernhard: Wow! That's a problem! But for example, I know Udo very well, and he manages to go on tour in Russia every time. It's unbelievable for me, because it's a lot of stress for him, it's a lot of stress for his German promoter, who's a good friend of mine, but it works. For me it doesn't work, we tried to arrange a tour in Russia, but we couldn't find the promoter, we got deals but they wouldn't sign it, etc. It's so complicated and so much risk that we can't take it, we are not so rich.
MetalKings.com: OK, as we are unlikely to see Axxis live here in the near future, can you describe your live shows?
Bernhard: It's a lot of power, rock and energy. On the other hand, we use a lot of comedian elements, we're very funny, we work with signs, we go into the audience, we take a lot of people from the audience on stage, it's a very close contact with the people. It's very important, because when you listen to a CD it's only music, that's all. And Axxis is a live band who's working with fans very much, and it's very important for us to be spontaneous with the fans. Nobody can see this in Russia, and it's very difficult for me, and it's important for me to come and play some gigs, only some gigs, that would be enough for us, but we cannot organize it. Maybe the times will change, our agency is speaking with people from Russia every year, and we're asking them whether it's possible to play there, maybe we'll come as a support band for U.D.O., we're working on it and we'll see what happens.
MetalKings.com: Bernhard, who influenced you as a singer?
Bernhard: Oh, there were a lot of people… In the beginning I liked the Scorpions very much, especially the "Lovedrive" album, it came out when I was 12 years old. Another singer who influenced me was Rob Halford, I like this guy a lot, I would listen to "Breaking The Law" from "British Steel" on vinyl all the time. That's the reason why I tried to develop my style in this direction in the beginning, when I had no band. Another singer that I liked very much is Ian Anderson from Yes, he's a wonderful singer with melodic lines that I like very much, and maybe that's the reason why I'm singing in this direction now.
MetalKings.com: What does the name Axxis mean?
Bernhard: Ah, that's a good question! In the beginning when we started and didn't have a record deal, we were called Anvil. But you know Anvil from Canada and we didn't know them when we started this band. We got a big Anvil logo on the stage, and it was a wonderful thing - it was a small name with a wonderful set. But then we found out that another band was called Anvil and we had to change the name. We changed the name to Axis, axis is a geometric, mathematical thing, it's the middle point of everything, everything is turning around an axis. But then we found out that there was a publisher in Germany called Axis (everybody sighs), and we added one "x" into the name, so it means nothing anymore. But in the beginning the meaning was "the middle point of everything."
MetalKings.com: A question about songwriting: what comes first, music or lyrics?
Bernhard: There are two things that I must tell you. First, a song only works if we can play it on the acoustic guitar. Our point of view is that if a song is really good you gotta be able to play it on the acoustic guitar on the beach or wherever. It's very important for us that the melodic lines and harmony lines are working in an easy way and then you can produce the song with rock guitars, huge drums and whatever. But the main thing is that the song gotta sound good on the acoustic guitar, and then it works. The lyrics are sometimes difficult: unlike other bands we're singing about natural things, for example, in "Fire And Ice" or "Tears Of The Trees". OK, we have some sex-drugs-rock'n'roll lyrics too, songs about being live on stage or about our experience with girls after the shows. It's a very interesting situation - in the beginning of my rock career I respected girls very much, but then I was a rock musicians and I found out that they wanna have sex with me only because I'm a singer in a rock band. It's a very strange situation for me, I can't deal with it, and that's why I don't have groupies, you know. I'm a singer, but I have no groupies, I don't like it.
MetalKings.com: You mentioned acoustic guitars, and my next question is about acoustic stuff. You have three acoustic tracks on the "Another Day" single released after the "Matters Of Survival" album. Are they live versions or were they recorded in the studio?
Bernhard: We recorded those tracks in the studio, but we used to play them live on stage. Marcus, our colleague who is now in Switzerland, would bring a huge double bass on stage, and it looked wonderful for the audience - we were playing 1.5 hours with full power and distorted guitars and then we were doing 15 minutes of only acoustic stuff, with the acoustic guitar, the voice and the acoustic double bass. It was wonderful, it looked great onstage, and it sounded great. After these 15 minutes we would play with distorted guitars again, and it was like a break for the people, you know. And it was great to have a bass player who could play double bass like a classical musician, it was a cool thing. We don't play this stuff now, because our bass player Kuno (Niemeyer - ed.) cannot play the double bass, he's only an electric bass player and that's the reason why we are playing with only acoustic guitars on stage.
MetalKings.com: And have you ever thought about making a full acoustic album?
Bernhard (pause): Yeah, there were ideas in this direction, but the problem is that every band has done that and we are thinking, "Ah, if we do this, it will look like we wanna make money with it." If we had been the first, it would have been cool, but this idea came to us very late…
MetalKings.com: Do you still play guitar yourself at live shows?
Bernhard: No, it's a shame, maybe sometime in the future, because I miss something on stage. But on the other hand, it's wonderful to work with the people, and the guitar is disturbing me, I have something in my hands, and I cannot move. You must imagine, when I'm live on stage, it's like aerobics in a sauna, I'm running from the left to the right, and the guitar is disturbing me. That is why we rearranged all the songs with the keyboardist Harry (Oellers - ed.) and the guitar player (Guido Wehmeyer - ed.), so now it works better. But maybe in the future… We discussed this thing a lot of times in the rehearsal room last week, we thought whether I should play the guitar in the future again, and maybe I will do this, maybe.
MetalKings.com: My next question is about the "Collection Of Power" mini-CD (2000). This disc contains a track called "Moonlight". When was it recorded?
Bernhard: Oh, I don't know the exact date, maybe it was in 1993 or something like that, 1993 or 1992. There was a very interesting thing, it was a demo track for Keith Olsen, we checked this guy out as a producer for "The Big Thrill" CD, but it didn't work because he had no time. We needed a demo for him to show him how we can play in the studio and how we are in the studio without any tricks or stuff like that. So there was this song "Moonlight", we played this song in the rehearsal room a thousand times, we listened to it, but we thought it was not good enough for the Axxis production. And we were very surprised when we released this track on "Collection Of Power" and everybody was telling us, "Hey, it's a great song! Why don't you play this song live on stage?!" It was a surprise for me!
MetalKings.com: As far as I know, your song "My Little Princess" is dedicated to your daughter…
MetalKings.com: What does she think of Axxis?
Bernhard (laughs): Now she's five years old, and it's wonderful for her, she's in the kindergarten and she is now a star! (everybody laughs) The only girl in the kindergarten who's got an own CD with an own song, and it's wonderful! Every birthday we have to sing this song together with all her girlfriends, and she likes it very much! I think it's wonderful for me too, it's a present that a regular father cannot give his daughter. But I'm able to do it, and I did it, and it's wonderful for me and for her.
MetalKings.com: Are any Axxis members involved in any side projects or playing in some other bands?
Bernhard: No. When we started the search for a new guitar player and a bass player, it was very important for us to find some people who are not very well known in the scene. For me it's not that much important to play with professionals, it's much more important to find real band members. A band member is very difficult to find, it's like a family. I played with Walter together for a long period of time, but then I needed a new guitar player for the band, and for me it was not that much important to find a good guitarist, I wanted much more to find a friend. That's why I don't wanna play with professionals, give them money for every rehearsal or something like that. For me it's important to play with people who are good on their instruments, not artists for a circus who play very fast or something (imitates a Malmsteen-like guitar passage), but someone who play with a feeling. Side projects are under consideration, we are thinking of doing something as producers, maybe with Axel Rudi Pell and Schmier from Destruction. Schmeir is a fan of Axxis, Destruction is a very heavy speed metal band, but Schmeir has been to all our concerts when we are playing in his area. Maybe I'll work with him in the future on a side project, but we have no songs written yet, and it's only an idea. In Axxis we only can play this particular style, we have no chance to try other styles on Axxis CDs, because we are tied very closely to this style. That's the reason why it's a lot of fun to do other things with other musicians.
MetalKings.com: What kind of music do you listen to at home?
Bernhard: Oh, it's interesting! I haven't listened to music for three years, because after we built our own studio, I can't listen to music like a fan. Maybe that's a mistake, I don't know, but my approach is too analytic, when I listen to music I try to figure out where they recorded it, in what studio, whether they used these amplifiers, what producer they work with. I analyze everything very closely. Maybe that's a mistake, because a fan doesn't know what kind of amplifiers they use, he doesn't know how the singer can sing and he doesn't know how the recordings in the studio went. For him it's more important how much energy is in the song and how much power is put into the music. But for me, as I'm now working as a producer, it's more important how we record stuff and how the recordings are. It's somewhat strange sometimes to listen to music for me. On the other hand, a lot of music is now made on computers, and I don't like this kind of music.
MetalKings.com: What is the secret of Axxis' songwriting? It you listen to an Axxis song once, you will be singing it for the rest of the day or maybe for the rest of the week.
Bernhard (laughs): Like I've told you before, if you're singing a song along with a very small acoustic guitar and a song sounds great in this situation, then it works. In this case you just have to find catchy melodic lines. It doesn't make sense to go to the rehearsal room and play a song, it may sound great just because you have a wonderful sound, it's loud, and you won't notice that the singer sings on only one note. For me it's very boring. Especially if you have a voice like mine, it does not have this distorted tone color like David Coverdale - he can sing the blues over everything, and I don't have this blues touch, I need melodic lines to incorporate my voice into a song. Maybe that's the reason why we need good and catchy melodic lines and that's why you can sing these songs, well, all night long.
MetalKings.com: Imagine that you meet a person who has never heard Axxis. What album would you recommend him to get an idea of the band?
Bernhard (sighs): That's interesting! (pause) I don't know exactly… I would say the "Kingdom Of The Night" CD is one of the best CDs that we have ever recorded, and I think that the "Back To The Kingdom" CD is very cool, but "Eyes Of Darkness" is cool too… (seems at a loss) I don't know, there have been so many developments in our music. OK, "Kingdom Of The Night", "Back To The Kingdom" or "Eyes Of Darkness", one of these three CDs. The songwriting manner and the style may be the same, but the songs are totally different. A lot depends on our ideas, on our feelings during the recording session.
MetalKings.com: Some people call your style "happy metal". Do you agree with it?
Bernhard (surprised): Wow, that's a good term! I have never heard this before, but "happy metal" sounds great! I think it's a good explanation of our music. We are mystic sometimes, we are a bit melancholic on some songs, but on many other tracks we are happy, and happiness is very important in our music. When I listen to music, it's very important to get a good mood. What I don't like in heavy styles is that sometimes the music is very disappointed, it makes me feel bad when I listen to it. For me it's very important to get a good mood when I listen to music. That's the reason why I think the term "happy metal" is cool!
MetalKings.com: Well, thank you very very much…
Bernhard: Thank you very much, it was very interesting to speak with you. I was very surprised that you know a lot of things about Axxis. You know all Axxis CDs, it was very interesting for me.
MetalKings.com: We really hope to see you live one day in Russia. Good luck and bye-bye!
Bernhard: Have fun! Bye!
Roman The Maniac / Lynx
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