Another interview piece that needs no long introduction. What you're about to read is the transcript of the conversation involving our reporter Dead Ripper and three members of Primal Fear: singer Ralf Scheepers, bass player Mat Sinner and guitarist Henny Wolter. Dead Ripper visited the band in December 2001 at the House of Music Studios in Germany's Winterbach, where Primal Fear were recording their new album titled "Black Sun". The band members were very busy, but they kindly took some time to speak to a reporter who had come to interview them all the way from Russia.
MetalKings.com: OK, can you tell me a bit about the history of Primal Fear? How did it all begin?
Ralf: Everybody was going his own way five years ago anyway. Mat was still doing Sinner with 100 percent, I was waiting for a job for Judas Priest but couldn't get it. (laughs) And as you know I was out of Gamma Ray. So one day Mat called me up when they were in the studio recording a new album, I think it was...
Mat: "Judgement Day".
Ralf: Yeah, "Judgement Day". He had me singing some background lines and we got along pretty good and then Mat came up and said, "Why don't we do something together?" cause I was just sitting around, doing nothing after Gamma Ray so the split came in, rejection from Judas Priest came in so we decided to compose songs and see what we can do. So we made four songs and sent them to Japan cause JVC was still waiting for something. So we sent four songs and they liked it immediately, so we had a record company in Japan.
MetalKings.com: And is it true that every musician has his personal record contract in Japan?
Ralf: No. Maybe other bands...
MetalKings.com: I've heard it from Helloween...
Ralf: Maybe in other bands but not in our band...
MetalKings.com: OK, the response from those recordings was good and you got the contract, right?
Ralf: Yes, we got the contract and we did the first record when the band didn't have a record company here in Germany. But JVC offered us a very good contract and we had several companies here in Germany which were interested in us so we've chosen the best one, it was Nuclear Blast. So we got to record that first Primal Fear album and he had huge success with it, we somehow couldn't believe it. Maybe it was normal due to our histories with Sinner and Gamma Ray so we went on tour first time then, collected some live experience with some new band members because everybody had his own experience but as a new band we had to collect some new ideas how we fit together on stage and everything...
MetalKings.com: I've also heard that before making Primal Fear you worked with Scanner...
Ralf: Oh, it was just a studio project. They just called me up and asked me to do one song. So it was not choir stuff, it was singing one finished song, only one song with my vocals called "Puppets On A String". I wasn't satisfied with that but in general it's OK.
MetalKings.com: And I guess you tried to form a band with some former members of X-Wild, right?
Ralf: No, that's not true. Some wrong information. (laughs) Oh yeah, excuse me, there was something with Manny, the Rage guitarist, and with the drummer of X-Wild who is also ex-drummer of Running Wild (Stefan Schwartzmann) and yes, there was something going on but there was nothing sure so we just met and just talked about something but it never worked out to be something serious...
MetalKings.com: OK, as far as I know you had problems with Gamma Ray because of long distance from Stuttgart to Hamburg, right?
Ralf: Of course it's a problem if you have to travel each and every week, you have about 700km to drive and rehearse, writing songs, meet when we go on tour or something. It was all going on and the guys wanted me to move up but I had no chance to survive out there without getting enough money out of music. So I would have stopped my job, I would have stopped my whole relations here and come to Hamburg and it was a big price for nothing, you know. So it was not enough offering from the other side for me to get up there. Well, I'm not a big asshole or someone who wants to get a lot of money out of something but at least I need money to pay for a flat or whatever, to get my room but it was not possible.
MetalKings.com: OK, later you changed some members in the band like Tom Neumann. So why did he leave?
Mat: Basically it was after we recorded the second album he has some problems in his business, he has a new girlfriend who drives him crazy and we had some commitments to do and we had a lot of problems to get this thing going and it came to a point when we talked in the band that we can't go on this way. So we decided that we go on without Tom 'cause at this point it was the best decision. We looked for a guitarist and we found the replacement for Tom. The problem was that the replacement was an asshole...
Ralf: But it's not Henny! (everyone laughs)
Henny: I think Tom was a better guitarist! (laughs) OK, I'm always making bad jokes but I'm in it for the money! (laughs)
Matt: Anyway, Tom is still one of my good friends in my private life and Ralf is also on good terms with Tom. But at that point it was impossible for Tom to commit the band to every tours and studio things and what we can do businesswise. So we had to make a decision and it was against Tom. And I know Henny for years, he was playing originally kinda same style, more guitar style than Tom, and Henny is also a very experienced and good songwriter, very friendly guy, always looking for cash (laughs) but anyway he is in and it was very, very nice to have him on stage. He's a good performer, very friendly to the fans and always a good talker to the people so he makes also good songs and we really had a perfect replacement for the next recording...
Ralf: And having both feet on the ground that we are. We are not some kind of dreamers, we're not acting like rock stars or whatever, we know how this business works and he knows it as well 'cause he went through hell with Thunderhead. I mean, we knew he is a perfect replacement and actually Tom was influenced by Henny's guitar playing anyway. (laughs)
Henny: That's also one of the reasons why I appreciate these guys. You know, I experienced a lot of good stuff and also a lot of bad stuff with Thunderhead. So I have very much fun with a chance to work on a much more professional level without so much bad stuff because everybody knows it and everybody was doing it for years.
MetalKings.com: So what happened to Thunderhead after "Were You Told The Truth About Hell?"?
Henny: You mean, in 1996? The band just broke up. We couldn't go on tour, it was too crazy...
MetalKings.com: Was it the problem of money?
Henny: No, it was a personal problem. Ted Bullet was a problem.
MetalKings.com: Yeah, but Thunderhead released an album called "Ugly Side" about a year ago...
Henny: Oh yeah, I know Ted has been doing a solo album that he is calling Thunderhead, which is bullshit. So that's not Thunderhead at all.
MetalKings.com: But didn't you have a huge success with Thunderhead?
Henny: You mean the original Thunderhead? Well, he had some success, it was OK but not like with Primal Fear. We didn't have big sales internationally, no big promotion, no. For example, we never toured the U.S. with Thunderhead but we did with Primal Fear.
MetalKings.com: Well, and how did it happen that you toured the United States? Not so many bands, especially from Germany, make it these days...
Henny: Yeah, I don't know many German bands who play there right now so it's a kind of exception to the rule that a German metal band gets to play in the USA at all. It's a big honor for us, I've been waiting for this for years...
Ralf: And those American people are eager to see German metal bands, you know.
MetalKings.com: So how did you like that tour in the USA?
Mat: Oh, it's always crazy. You take a plane, get there by evening and that day you have to perform on a high level, it's not as good as it can be but in the end you come back to Germany and people say, "Was it worth to play the US?" Yes, it was worth to play there but it could be healthier for us to take more time to relax and to have a good feeling. And you play for an hour or a little more, you go on stage and you're so adrenalized and the fans are really loud. Last time in Milwakee it was a really loud crowd... And the gig is like train even when you go off stage. You're almost dead after the show. 'This was it?' 'This was it, OK.'
Ralf: Because the adrenaline kicks you so much on stage and when you're finished you come to senses and you got a big hole, it's like you took some drugs or whatever. You take one drink after the show and you're like totally drunk, I always speak for myself in this term, you know.
Mat: And anyway, for us it was a very good experience, it was a good thing for us. In the end we can say, "OK, we've done something right" and we're also very proud that we're one of the German metal bands that survived the US. And the people were very very nice to us, they treated us very well, the crowd was so loud so it was really good.
MetalKings.com: OK. As far as I know about two or three years ago there was a big problem with sales of many metal bands in Japan, right? Was it because of economic troubles?
Mat: Well, actually I don't think it's about economy, it's just a new generation of metal fans there. And I don't wanna get too low on the Japanese people but they're all going in a very crazy way like Europe did with the punk time or something. The crazier and more colorful you are, the more freaked out you are the more people show up. And if you're making traditional good music based on your roots and stuff like that you have a problem with sales over there but this is... for every band it's the same. Primal Fear is still popular there, we have a huge fan base in Japan, we're selling records over there, we have a good recording deal and "Black Sun", the new album, will be released in Japan so we're talking at the moment to play some shows for the new album there and we'll see. So it's not a land of milk & honey for metal bands anymore. (laughs) But we're still a very well known band over there with three band members who are very respected over there. Henny was with Thunderhead there, I was there with Sinner and Primal Fear, Ralf was there with Gamma Ray a lot of times and with Primal Fear as well. One thing the Japanese have not forgotten is that they respect the metal legends and treat them like that which is OK. Even if the sales are not 30,000 or 40,000 anymore but if you sell 15,000 or 20,000 you are still a very respected band and Primal Fear are still in.
Ralf: Well, the whole process was very fast over there. In two or three years metal was totally dead... Henny: It might be a parallel development like in Germany when metal was dead in the mid-1990s, very dead, it can't be more dead than that and then it came back very strong. So we have a very good standing here in Germany which a couple of years ago could not have been possible. So I think Japan might be going the same way as it did here in Germany, just give them some time and they will recover because they still respect people who have been doing it for 10 years, they remember us.
MetalKings.com: And as far as I know you're planning to release a kind of mini-album with bonus tracks and all that stuff. One of the songs on the release is "Under Your Spell", right?
Ralf: Yes, there's a story and Mat can tell it the best. (laughs)
Mat: So you wanna know why, right? OK. We have a very famous handball league here in Germany who've chosen that song as the intro theme and we didn't know that. And one day their manager called the company, Nuclear Blast, and told us, "What can we do with that song?" They have the song as the intro theme and they invited us to the hall where they played. Each of their games is packed with 5,000 people and they're making a very huge thing, girls with flames and the players getting under the clue and music is loud and the people go crazy. Anyway, it was a very big surprise for us. So we planned a shape-CD with bonus tracks, I mean, a very special thing short before Christmas with a limited edition to 10,000 copies. And so they came with that song and they wanna have that song featured so we said, "Why not? Throw on another song!" We're making that CD and it should be out in special edition.
MetalKings.com: Well, as we all know Japan always gets exclusive bonus tracks. So do you record any special song for them or just select one from sessions?
Mat: Depends on what it is. The last time Japan had a bonus track. The album before, "Jaws Of Death", had two bonus tracks, one for Japan and one for Europe...
MetalKings.com: Yeah, "Horrorscoop" for Japan and "Kill The King" (cover-version of Rainbow) for Europe...
Mat: The song in Europe the Japanese don't have and we always liked to show people different things. So we can have a bonus track in Europe the Japanese don't have. This was totally different, the Japanese don't like it but anyway I don't give a shit, they have another song the Europeans don't have. So now we have "Horrorscoop" on that shape-CD together with "Out In The Fields" (cover-version of Thin Lizzy, Japanese bonus track for "Nuclear Fire").
MetalKings.com: So you covered Thin Lizzy, I mean, "Out In The Fields". Is that band one of your favorites?
Mat: No, it's not a favorite band but it's a band which was very much respected by us. Henny and me are big Thin Lizzy supporters. It's sad that Phil (Lynott, lead singer, bassist and leader of Thin Lizzy) died very early but it's a band we respect very well. The lyrics are great, the music is great and it's one of the biggest Euro-bands in the past. And it was also a nice thing for Ralf and me to experiment a little on the vocal thing and it was...
Ralf: Yeah, it was like the original, it was split between Gary Moore and Phil Lynott so it was a good idea for us... Mat: I was feeling Ralf was like Gary...
Henny: But Ralf is better than Gary actually! (everyone laughs)
Ralf: Thank you, Henny!
MetalKings.com: OK, did you ever think about recording the vocals of Henny or Klaus (Sperling, drummer) on any song?
Ralf: We don't use vocals, it's just choir stuff together.
Mat: Klaus doesn't look that good like the Backstreet Boys! (laughs)
Ralf: He just prefers to drink... (laughs)
MetalKings.com: Mat, as far as I know you work at Nuclear Blast, right?
Ralf: That's why I say only positive things about them! (everyone laughs) But it's positive anyway.
MetalKings.com: And what's your job there?
Mat: I am the director of human resources and I'm responsible for creative things like promotion, A&R and stuff like that.
MetalKings.com: Does it mean that you were involved in the signing of most of the bands to the label?
Mat: Well, it's actually very different. Mostly I'm on the creative side. I'm only working with HammerFall and Helloween, for example. Cause my job in the company is to get the human resources and I'm also looking for personal things. This is the thing I wanna concentrate on 'cause if I'm a musician in the band and work too much in another band so my own creativity really gets lost. We have very good A&R people, very good promoters in the company who are working directly with bands. So I'm looking only for HammerFall and Helloween and I'm also working a little on Manowar. And I'm working only with those three bands. For example, Primal Fear has a very good A&R guy, a good promoter so they just talk to me and say what they can do but the daily job on Primal Fear is done by other people. So I don't have anything to do with that.
MetalKings.com: You see, I always wanted to know why Kai Hansen and his Gamma Ray are still with Noise. Didn't you offer him to join Nuclear Blast?
Ralf: The thing is that he is the best one on Noise now. Politically it's very much the same, he's not worried about what's going on but knows what's going on with his contract. His Gamma Ray is the strongest band now on Noise so he can still work out his deal.
Mat: Well, with Nuclear Blast we have now 60 bands. Of course, if Gamma Ray is a free band we would make an offer to them and we did make an offer to Gamma Ray. But we go to a point when we think that we can go, we got so many great bands and we don't need Gamma Ray. So we gave them an offer but it can happen with Noise or SPV, for example. So that's just the business side.
MetalKings.com: Well, I know that Nuclear Blast is releasing licensed CDs in Russia. I'd like to know how it happened.
Mat: We work with Irond Music, they are nice people. We have some pop fairs like the one in Cologne (PopKomm) so those people showed up and made an offer. I know that the biggest problem in the Eastern European countries is the bootlegging and even if you have a license deal in Russia you still have 100 bootlegs and 5 originals. But if you have a partner over there, you definitely have an office there and you can phone them. So maybe the situation will change in the future but bootlegging is a bad thing for record companies and for artists. We are artists and we have to get some money back from the recording work, and we're releasing records, we're playing shows, we're focusing on our music and if the people bootleg our albums we have nothing so we will have to stop it. So the bootleggers have to think about it. I mean, if they bootleg our album we can't make music anymore. But if people buy original or a little bit original albums we can concentrate on our music. And that's a circle which some people don't understand. OK, it's a money problem in Eastern European countries and also in the South America where we have the same problem. But in the end could it be worse if the band stops making music because they can't do it anymore? So the people should make up their mind and do it correctly. It's the same like I can't drink a bottle of whiskey and drive home 'cause I have to think about my driving license and it's the same here. So if I do this I may lose my license and if the band doesn't get paid for its music it has to stop.
MetalKings.com: But Irond Music is working quite well because after they started releasing licensed CDs the bootleg versions almost completely stopped selling. So they're doing a good job, I guess.
Mat: It's good to hear, really.
MetalKings.com: Well, anyway, sometimes they don't work properly because they cut CD booklets and even use bad mastertapes. There was not a nice story with HammerFall when they put a wrong song in the end of the CD...
Mat: Oh, if they have a bad mastertape they can get a good one. It takes just three days and with UPS it's no problem. Well, if they make a mistake... I don't know, they get originals from us and what they do with those originals it's their business.
MetalKings.com: OK, talking about the roots, Mat, I know that you had a band called Shiva before Sinner. And I know that the band recorded an album. What happened to it?
Mat: We just threw it in a trash can. (laughs) Cause the people who had the studio fucked us up. It was such a talented and really great band but in the end we were not satisfied with the product so we had so many troubles that the album was never released.
MetalKings.com: And were tracks from that album with Shiva later reworked for Sinner?
Mat: No, the only one person on this Earth who has this album is me.
MetalKings.com: And many times I've heard that you don't consider two first Sinner albums to be Sinner...
Mat: It was the same thing. We were just doing first recordings as demo tapes and...
Mat: Yeah, assholes around us. We signed then to Noise and we got to know a publisher in Germany, Waltzer, he was responsible for our first deal with Noise and those people with demo tapes released an album which wasn't even finished. There were guitars missing, chorus, choirs and stuff missing, some wrong vocals on it and so on. They got some English guy to mix this without our commitment and finally released it. We got a lot of legal discussions on the matter and if you make a legal thing like that there is a law in Germany and you have to pay, to pay, to pay. So it was such an amount of money I've spent on that, I stopped it. I said, "Fuck! What should I fucking pay for it? I don't make any money from legal case with them?" So I stopped it. But the real first album was "Danger Zone".
MetalKings.com: As far as I know on first albums you played with drummer Edgar Patrick who later played with Bonfire, etc. So is he from Stuttgart too?
Mat: No, he is from Vienna, Austria. And nobody has seen him for years now, nobody knows if he's still alive or what...
MetalKings.com: You mean, he completely disappeared from the scene?
MetalKings.com: And what about other guys like S.G. Stoner or Calo Rapallo?
Mat: Well, they are still playing guitar around here in local bands.
MetalKings.com: So did you ever think about inviting some of them to play guitar solos in Primal Fear?
Mat: There's still only one guy that I really love, he was one of the most talented guitarists I've ever met, he was Frankie Mittelbach. And about two years ago we played a show with Sinner at Wacken Open Air and we invited some people to play with us. Like we had two drummers, Klaus and Fritz Randow, and there was also Frankie Mittelback invited on one song. He's still a good guy and a friend of mine but all other guys, well, I don't care what's up with them. If I see them it's OK, we're still friends but musically I don't think it would be a good choice to have S.G. Stoner playing a solo. (laughs)
Ralf: You know, when the story is over... It's like a relationship with a girlfriend... When you have done it it's OK, you know. You have a good relationship maybe with your ex-girlfriends but you don't fuck them anymore! (everybody laughs)
Mat: But Frankie looks good...
Ralf: So you fucked him again! (everybody laughs)
MetalKings.com: Mat, after those four albums with Sinner released by Noise ("Danger Zone" (1984), "Touch Of Sin" (1985), "Coming Out Fighting" (1986) and "Dangerous Charm" (1987)) you signed a solo contract. Why going solo?
Mat: It was because Noise fucked up Sinner a lot. And BMG offers me the deal, they thought about giving the name 'Sinner' a different look so they said, "Well, Mat, it's better to make it solo since you're alone on the cover. So making a solo album would be a good move at this point." Cause there were so many changes in the Sinner line-up so they said, "Come on, let's make it a solo album, it would be a good business to do."
MetalKings.com: But after that solo album ("Back To The Bullet" (1990)) you returned to Sinner anyway...
Mat: Yeah, that was the point because the album was released only in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. We didn't have any releases even if Japan is asking for it so they didn't even release the album there and then it was just late. BMG also wanted me to make a pop album together with Tony Carey, American songwriter, but that was not the thing I wanted to do at that point. I wanted to make a metal and not a pop album so they brought me down to the south of Germany to record some songs with Tony Carey, it was a good musical experience, it was fine but in the end it was not the thing I wanted to do. So they came along to have this contract done, they spent a lot of money on those demos with Tony Carey and I said, "No, I don't wanna do this anymore." That is when I reformed Sinner and we did an album for Mausoleum which was a terrible company but that was the only company at that point who wanted to pick us up. We did an album for them ("No More Alibis" (1992)) which wasn't that great. The producer sucked, he was the former guitarist of Shiva, it was a wrong move for that producer too. And at that point I decided to produce the albums by myself 'cause they all sucked so much, it was terrible. (everybody laughs) Then we signed with that Koch Records and that was a new start for the band. We had a proper budget to record an album ("Respect" (1993)) in the Netherlands, it was our first album for Koch. Then we did "Bottom Line" (1995). A nice thing on "Bottom Line" was that Henny played the second guitar on the album even if Alex Beyrodt's face is on the album. It was Henny, me, Fritz Randow and Tom Neumann. For me it was a very good album, it was the right direction but Henny had commitments with Thunderhead so he couldn't stay in the band so we had Alex back in the band. And that was the first album that sold really good and it went in the right way. "Judgement Day" we got mixed in Los Angeles, it was a very nice experience and so the band was back again. Then I met Ralf, we did that Judas Priest cover show together, we decided to make Primal Fear. So we recorded the first Primal Fear album, then I recorded "The Nature Of Evil" with Sinner which was the best selling album in Sinner's career...
Ralf: Because of Primal Fear! (laughs)
Mat: So I was standing there thinking, "Well, Primal Fear is in the charts, Sinner is in the charts... So what's going on here?" I've waited for so long to be in a position like that and I didn't have the time anymore to do both bands. So it was a really terrible thing, we did that "Jaws Of Death" album, the tour, it was getting more and more and more and I said, "I can't do Sinner anymore!" Then came that trouble with Tom and it turned out to be not an easy thing to do. Fritz called me and said, "Mat, what's going on? I can't sit in Hannover doing nothing!" He had an offer from Saxon, so Fritz went to Saxon, Primal Fear was so great, Tom was not there. But we did another Sinner album 'cause we had so much fun. I mean, Henny and me, we recorded another Sinner album ("The End Of Sanctuary" (2000)) with Uli Kusch from Helloween, and Alex was also involved in that album, we did great tour together with Ronnie Dio, it was nice experience but after that there wasn't time anymore. Then came "Nuclear Fire" which was the most successful album of Primal Fear so far, we had success all over the world, we toured all over the world...
Ralf: Huge festivals...
Mat: Yeah, huge festivals this summer, very good response from the crowd. So now we're back in the studio, we have written 20 songs, we chose 12 of them to record for the new album "Black Sun" and that's the story.
MetalKings.com: So is it possible that Sinner will record more albums in the future? Mat: I think if Ralf let me do it... (laughs)
Ralf: Yeah, you have to ask for permission first! (laughs)
Mat: Ralf would be involved in the next Sinner album.
Ralf: The thing is that we have one song for Primal Fear like "Out In The Fields" where we're sharing vocals together. The song really needs two guys singing 'cause there're two persons in the song. We had an idea for a guest musician but why not doing it on our own... Mat: And there could be a Sinner album in the future. And though it is the Sinner album Ralf would be involved. So we'll see... if the time is right, if Henny is there, maybe Tom Neumann is coming back - we will do another album just for fun. Sinner is our hobby while Primal Fear is our work... which is still fun! (everybody laughs)
MetalKings.com: OK, and did you ever think about a video compilation, I mean, the total story of Sinner?
Mat: Oh yeah, but the material that I have is so bad, it would be like the Metalium thing, I don't wanna do this. If there's someone around who gives me money to do this properly... But the next thing that we're gonna do is we've recorded the last Wacken festival where we played with Primal Fear. It is in great quality and we have tons of material from the last Primal Fear tour and we also have videos. We will make a video clip for the new album and I think in autumn we will have a Primal Fear DVD released in a very good quality. So that will be our next thing at the point.
MetalKings.com: You know, the reason why I'm asking about Sinner video is because it's hard to find, for example, your solo clip "Call My Name". I just saw some shots in an old Metal Hammer magazine...
Mat: OK, what we can do is we have three people with a good background in the band. So we may have on that Primal Fear DVD some little spots of Gamma Ray, some little spots of Thunderhead, some little spots of Sinner which might make the thing interesting. We don't wanna put there three clips of Gamma Ray but maybe some little spots that give the people a good overlook, the fans to round up or maybe the people who don't know the band a little more background and this could be very interesting... Do Thundehead have a clip? Henny: No! (laughs) Well, I'm looking good in clips, you know! (laughs)
MetalKings.com: And Ralf, I know that your music career started with Tyran' Pace...
Ralf: Exactly, I was playing with Edgar Patrick as well. He was also in Tyran' Pace. It all started in 1983 when we recorded an album called "Eye To Eye"...
MetalKings.com: And it was released on that Scratch Records like the second Sinner album ("Fast Decision" (1983))...
Ralf: Yeah, those gangsters. It was a gangster label. But then we signed with Noise and got a serious deal. The later albums "Long Live Metal" (1984) and "Watching You" (1986) were my first steps into the music because you have to collect your experience in the studio as well it was the first experience.
MetalKings.com: Personally I think that you're a really great frontman because on stage you really look like you're in the band. You know, you always know what to do during the solo parts 'cause in most of the cases the singer does not know what to do when a solo part starts...
Ralf: Well, every one of us is acting naturally. Like I said before, we're people with both feet on the ground and we still have a lot of fun going on stage, otherwise we wouldn't do it. So we're not acting or rehearse how we should act on stage. I guess people realize that feel, they're coming up after shows and say, "We can feel it! You guys have fun on stage!" Because we have fun on stage, it's always honest what we do.
MetalKings.com: OK, thank you very much for the interview, it was a great pleasure meeting you all.
Questions asked by Dead Ripper Special thanks to Mat Sinner for organization of the interview and all the people at House Of Music for good coffee and lots of fun.
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