It has always been a mystery to me why some unique and outstanding bands possessing true talent have to struggle for years to survive in the music business while others make just one record and rise up to the stars. Rough Silk are among these less fortunate groups who always get much less than they deserve. Being around for over 12 years, they have released five excellent albums and a best-of compilation and gained solid following in their native Germany, but still happen to be relatively unknown abroad. A strange situation given the band's undeniable talent and the fact that its keyboarder Ferdy Doernberg has played with almost any famous musician on the German metal scene. The release of Rough Silk's sixth album "Symphony Of Life" via Breaker Records is expected to finally bring the talented five-piece into international spotlight. Co-produced by Jon Oliva of Savatage, the record combines all the best elements from Rough Silk's previous albums and is a must for… well, everybody, I guess. We interviewed Ferdy by telephone when he had a short break in his intensive touring and recording schedule.
MetalKings.com: OK, let's start with your last record "Symphony Of Life". Why did it take you so long to release it? I remember you saying in an interview that the album would be out in April 2000, and it's October 2001 when it actually hit the stores.
Ferdy: Yeah, that's right (laughs). The main reason was that Jon Oliva of Savatage offered us to co-produce the album and then, as you know, they had a big delay with the new Savatage album. So it took years, and at one point we said, "OK, now we can't wait anymore," and just started to record. In the end Jon managed to co-produce something from America, we just sent him tapes and stuff like that. That was one of the main reasons. Another reason was that the album was finished in the beginning of April this year or something like that, and after that we had to look for a new deal as well. Massacre didn't want us anymore and the contract ran out, therefore we had to make a contract with Udo (Dirkschneider, owner of Breaker Records - ed.) and everything, so it took some time.
MetalKings.com: You know, I heard rumors that you left the band and that was the reason for the delay, is that right?
Ferdy: No, definitely no, never. Rough Silk is my band and I would never leave it.
MetalKings.com: Why did you need an outside producer? You produced the previous two records by yourself.
Ferdy: I produced this one as well, but the thing was that Jon Oliva offered us to co-produce it, and if somebody like that says "I will do it", you don't say no. But as for us it was more important that he brought up some ideas, made some input. We don't need anyone who says, "hey, this is wrong and this is right." We know that ourselves. I engineered the whole album and mixed it. But then he said, "hey maybe at this point you can do something!" "Yeah, a good idea!" Like that, you know. We are big Savatage fans and we became friends on the two tours we did together, and it was just cool with him, he is a nice guy.
MetalKings.com: Will you work with Jon once again in the future?
Ferdy: You never know what happens, but at the moment I think that we will do the next album alone again, because it was very difficult to get together, he had no time, and we don't want to wait so many years again to make an album. We already wrote most of the songs, and I hope that the next record will be out in a year or something. Many songs are written already and we start recording it in February.
MetalKings.com: Great! You recorded a part of "Symphony Of Life" in the United States. What was it like working there?
Ferdy: It was cool, but I already worked there before with Crimson Glory, and so I knew it. It was in the city of Tampa where Jon lives, and also the Crimson Glory guys live there, so I spent some time with them there anyway. It was cool, of course, I like working there. But it was not so much that was recorded in Tampa, it was mostly Jon Oliva's vocal part.
MetalKings.com: As far as I understand, "Symphony Of Life" is a concept record. Can you tell me something about the concept?
Ferdy: The musical concept is like "metal meets world music". We have all these acoustic instruments like Turkish satz, buzuki, Hawaiian guitar, slide guitar, Irish flute, percussion instruments from South America, a lot of stuff. And the story is like a journey. One the one hand it's a journey through time, because it's got two backflashes in it, it's like a fairytale, let's put it like that, and also a journey through the continent. The main figure is a musician, he is on the road very much, he visits different countries and has problems with the business side, like managers, record companies, all these people, you know, that try to tell him what his music should sound like, and on the other hand he has troubles with the new age stuff like cyberspace, computer world, all these things that make everything so unnatural. Silicon, for instance, there is silicon in CDs and silicon in computer shifts, and also there could be silicon in breasts (laughs). It's like a journey, you know. The story is very complex, so it's not very easy to tell in two sentences.
MetalKings.com: Will the Japanese version have any bonus tracks?
Ferdy: No, because there is no space on the album anymore. The album is 72 minutes long, and the longest possible time, I think, is 74 minutes. But we have two radio edits as bonus tracks anyway. On the other hand, I think that the Japanese market is not as strong as it was before.
MetalKings.com: You have a new deal with Breaker Records, while your previous albums were released via Massacre. Why did you decide to change the label?
Ferdy: Because the contract was done and they didn't want to renew it. Many of the people that signed us are not working there anymore. They had many changes in the company and the people who were there in the end didn't like our style that much. So it wasn't so easy anymore for us with them. Also we had troubles with them because they had all these distribution changes all the time, and at the end it was the best for both sides.
MetalKings.com: Are you happy with the deal with Breaker Records?
Ferdy: So far yes, I like Udo, Udo is a good friend of mine for years, we recorded our first album "Roots Of Hate" in Dierks Studios with Stefan Kaufmann, the drummer of Accept and now a guitarist of U.D.O. I know Udo since 1992, and I've always been an Accept and U.D.O. fan. The "Faceless World" album is, in my eyes, one of the best German metal albums ever done.
MetalKings.com: Let's talk about line-up changes, for Rough Silk has had many of them over the time. Your previous drummer Herbert Hartmann has just returned to the band. What was he doing all this time and why did he decide to return?
Ferdy: He's a teacher, he studied to become one for a long time. At the point when he was leaving the band he had to do exams and practice and stuff like that, and he didn't have any time anymore. That was the only reason, there were no problems in other ways. And now as Curt has left the band because he wanted to do heavier music and we decided to go back to the roots, to the style we had on our first three albums, we all looked at each other and said, "Hey, the best drummer for this kind of music is Herbert." (laughs) And that's what we did. He's still a teacher, and he has problems with getting holidays for touring, so in this case we have two substitutes. One is Mike Terrana, a friend of mine, and on the other hand my brother Curt would step in again. Herbert would play in the holiday time, we'll see how it works.
MetalKings.com: OK, and what is Curt now doing? Does he have a new band?
Ferdy: Yes, he plays in Amok, which is a punk band from Hannover, together with Olaf from Thunderhead. He also played in my side projects. We're brothers so we're still together.
MetalKings.com: And what is your former singer Jan Barnett now doing?
Ferdy: I don't have contact with him anymore, but I heard that he tried to be successful as a Schlager singer. Do you know what Schlager is?
Ferdy: It's like very commercial German music, a bit cheesy, easy listening, you know what I mean? I don't know what stuff like that is called in your country. So he tried to make money. But I heard that he wouldn't… He tried that already as he was leaving us, but he didn't get a record deal with his stuff, so maybe he doesn't do anything. I don't know.
MetalKings.com: As far as I understand, the only guest musician on "Symphony Of Life" is Jon Oliva. Why do you always refrain from inviting outsiders to participate in your albums?
Ferdy (starts talking in a very agitated manner): No, no, I'm not doing this. On my solo albums like "Storyteller's Rain" I had a lot of guest musicians from different bands, people from Helloween, Axel Rudi Pell, guys from Edguy. I like working with other people, of course, but I think in a band - and Rough Silk is a band, you know - the band members should do it themselves. There are a lot of albums at the moment - I don't tell you names because I don't like to have quarrels with other people - that are very impressive albums and you are listening to it and saying, "wow, how great is it!" And then you read the booklet and you find stuff like "additional guitars by…", "additional drums by…", "additional keyboards by…", "backing vocals by…", "orchestral parts played by… and arranged by…" And you say, "OK, what is the band doing?" Nothing! You know what I mean? Rough Silk is the band that can do it themselves. We can really sing good harmony vocals without any help from outside, and we can arrange orchestral parts ourselves and play all this stuff. Also we were very much interested in using all these other instruments and to learn to play them ourselves, not just to phone somebody. Because it's easy - you phone somebody, give him money and he does it. OK, cool, but what's the point? It's cooler to do it yourself. (laughs) That's why.
MetalKings.com: And how many instruments do you play?
Ferdy: Speaking about instruments that I can really play very well, it's keyboards, of course, piano, accordeon, guitars, slide guitars especially, dobro, all these related instruments, of course. As to the instruments I can play, but not well enough, it's mandolin, drums, bass andtrumpet. I can play all rock-related instruments well enough to know what they can do. I can play easy drum tracks without any problems and I know what drummers can do and what they cannot. When I'm in the studio to produce somebody I can just say, "hey, that's wrong, try that a little." I know what it is, but I'm not a good drummer like Mike Terrana, of course.
MetalKings.com: Let's go back to some points in the band's history. When I bought the "Wheels Of Time" compilation and read the liner notes that you wrote. I was really surprised to find out that you played a Russian tour in the early 1990s. How did it happen? What cities did you play?
Ferdy: It happened because we had the same management as Accept at that point. Gaby Hoffmann, the wife of Wolf, Accept's guitar player, was managing us and there was a festival chain in Sokolniki Park in Moscow…
MetalKings.com: Sokolniki Park?
MetalKings.com: You know, I'm calling from Sokolniki now, just outside the park.
Ferdy: Oh really? That's funny. You know, on my sheet they wrote I would speak to Romania, and it's Russia, right?
Ferdy: That's funny! (cracks)
MetalKings.com: My name is Roman, and that may be why they made the mistake.
Ferdy: Yeah, they wrote Romania. That's funny! (we both burst into laughter). So am I talking to Moscow?
Ferdy: Good! Well, it was nice, it was like five weeks before the military took over, so we must have been the last metal band from the NATO bloc or whatever you call it that played in the old Communist regime. As we were home we were watching TV and said, "Oh my God!"
MetalKings.com: It was in 1991, right?
Ferdy: Yes, the year when the military took over.
MetalKings.com: So it was only Moscow?
Ferdy: Yes, but it was like 14 shows. We were there for 14 days and played every day. It was like going to work, because all our instruments could stay there so we could play, there were like 50 bands and they changed the playing time all the time. It was great for us and also we had a lot of pictures from this Russian tour in our first video "Through The Fire".
MetalKings.com: I have another question about "Wheels Of Time". This compilation features a song by Billy Joel called "Pianoman". I know that you are a big fan of Billy Joel, but what surprised me was the choice of this track. I thought you would do something like "A Matter Of Trust" or "We Didn't Start The Fire", why this particular track?
Ferdy: Well… (pauses) I think if we had done something it wouldn't have been a rock song. Maybe I would also like to record "New York State Of Mind" or… there are so many great songs… but that song was typical for us because many people call me Pianoman. And also we wanted to show where the Silk side comes from. So it wasn't interesting to record a rock song, for us it was much cooler to do this kind of song. And the lyrics are great, because I worked for many years as a bar piano player, Billy Joel did this too, so it was cool. I like this song. But in fact it wasn't my idea, it was Curt's idea.
MetalKings.com: Until recently "Pianoman" was the only cover version that Rough Silk has done. However this year your tracks appeared on the tributes to Accept and ABBA…
Ferdy: …and also the Scorpions tribute.
MetalKings.com: …yes, and why did you decide to do it?
Ferdy: We had the offer and we were talking about it, whether to do it or not, and… (pauses) I wasn't too sure that it was a good idea to do it. Finally we decided to do it but to really change the songs, to make our own versions of them. We just kept the basic ideas but we changed them a lot, so I think that, for instance, the Scorpions song is really a Rough Silk song now. Just to cover them wouldn't have been interesting for us.
MetalKings.com: My next question is about your first solo record "Just A Piano And A Handful Of Dreams". This album is extremely difficult to get over here…
Ferdy: …and in Germany, too. SPV still have it, but they don't distribute it really anymore. I'll try to get back the rights and give it to somebody.
MetalKings.com: I'd like to ask you about your own studio, Droehnwerk. Why did you decide to build one and whom do you record there besides Rough Silk?
Ferdy: I decided to build a studio because I wanted to be free to record whatever I want. Like if we had solo albums and nobody would buy them, but I like this kind of stuff (laughs). The first album I did there was my first solo album, I recorded it in my living room, it was not really a studio yet, but I started buying equipment, and then I bought some more equipment and more equipment. I did a lot of studio jobs with other musicians such as Axel Rudi Pell and Roland Grapow and Helloween guys, so I saved all the money and in the end I could build a new room, a real studio with a recording room, a mixing desk room and stuff like that. That was the main reason, I did it for myself. But then I got some offers to produce local bands from Hannover, I also recorded parts of the Taraxcum album, parts of the new Freedom Call album, the keyboard parts that I played - they didn't credit me on the album but I did it there. (laughs) So if some other people call me and ask me to produce them I can say, "of course, sure." But in reality it's basically for myself, because I can work whenever I want and on whatever I want, I don't need to ask anybody or pay money to people.
MetalKings.com: Your first solo album featured guitarist Henjo Richter, and it was done before Henjo joined Gamma Ray. How did you get to know him?
Ferdy: He's an old friend of Marcus from Helloween. Marcus played bass and we recorded parts of that album in Marcus' flat, and Henjo was just visiting and he told me he was a guitarist too. I said, "OK, if you want come on and play." Marcus said like, "Oh, I got a friend, he plays guitar and he would be happy if he could do it because he hadn't played on an album before." So I didn't really know that he was joining Gamma Ray later, I was a little bit surprised myself.
MetalKings.com: Another question about "Wheels Of Time". How did you choose which songs to include?
Ferdy: We just made a list, we tried to pick up songs from every album. I personally like every song Rough Silk has ever done, because I wrote all the lyrics and every song has a piece of my heart, you know what I mean? It's not easy to choose a song. Now I would like to have some other songs there, but we packed the CDs as full as possible and we just had to leave some songs out.
MetalKings.com: Why didn't you include "Ready For Take-Off", the Japanese bonus track for the "Circle Of Pain" album?
Ferdy: "Ready For Take-Off" is OK, but I think we wrote better songs than this one. So we thought that we did not have enough space on the CDs and we had nine unreleased tracks there already and we decided not to do it.
MetalKings.com: Do you still perform tracks from your early records at live shows?
MetalKings.com: Are you planning to release a live album in the future?
Ferdy: We talked about it but the problem is that at the moment the whole market is changing so much that nobody would buy a normal live album, they would all like DVDs with video tracks and whatever, and it costs a lot of money. To record a concert and put it on a CD is cool and easy to do, because we got the recording equipment ourselves and it wouldn't cost us much. We could just record all the shows and, if we had enough material, to bring it out. But if we have to pay a TV team with cameras and whatever, I think it will cost as much as doing a new studio album with new songs. For me new songs are a bit more interesting at the moment than just live songs. We'll see what happens but at the moment it looks like you can't just bring out a normal live CD anymore because nobody would release it and people won't buy it. I think a DVD doesn't make sense because it's too expensive. If we played on a festival where other bands would record as well and we could use the stuff, then we would do it, but if we have to pay for it ourselves, it will be more expensive than a new album. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: Well, but you have a recording from Wacken Open Air 1998.
Ferdy: Yes, I have this, but it is not good enough to bring it out on a CD. The sound quality is not good and we don't have instruments on single tracks so we can't remix it.
MetalKings.com: How many videos have you released so far?
Ferdy: For the first album we had "Through The Fire", that was a professional video clip with Russian footage, pictures from the Russian tour. We were filmed by a TV station and they gave us the material so we could use it, so this one was very professional. For the second album we made a video track for "Never Say Never". Unfortunately we sent all the original material to the record company, Mausoleum, but then they went bankrupt and they never gave us the material back. I never saw it, I never had a chance to make it perfect. I think it was great, we did some real shooting in the night on an old cemetery and stuff. I think it could have been a great album and a great video, but we never got it back. Nobody knows where it is. Then we did a video for the "Circle Of Pain" album with the song… oh fuck! (laughs) That soft ballad…
MetalKings.com: "Wrong Side Of The Moon"?
Ferdy: Yeah, right. Oh, I'm getting old (we both burst into laughter again). Yes, this one, and then we had another video track for "Mephisto" and that was it because for the other albums we didn't do videos anymore. MTV didn't do this "Headbangers Ball" anymore and Viva stopped doing "Metalla", so it's too expensive to make video clips if nobody shows them.
MetalKings.com: I forgot to ask you something when we were talking about guest musicians. Who is Anke Hansen?
Ferdy: It's a girl from Hannover who sang in local bands. She's friends with Curt, my brother, and so she sang on this ABBA tribute song, and she also sang the intro for one song on the "Beyond The Sundown" album. She doesn't have anything to do with Kai.
MetalKings.com (laughs): I see, I see. The press release for "Symphony Of Life" says you have worked with Metalium and Crimson Glory. I wasn't really aware of this. On which records did you work with them?
Ferdy: For Metalium I played all the keyboards on the first album, with Mike Terrana and Chris Caffery participating. The album credits say that somebody else played this stuff too, but this was just a sound engineer who did sounds of explosions and something. I played all other keyboards. With Crimson Glory, I did the last European and American tours as a tour keyboarder, and I played on the extra tour version of the "War Of The Worlds" mini album.
MetalKings.com: And you also played with Roland Grapow on tour, right?
Ferdy: Yes, and also on his two solo albums.
MetalKings.com: Roland performed some songs from Helloween live, and songs like "The Chance" originally had no keyboard parts. Did you add one or were you just headbanging on that?
Ferdy: Sure, I added it. Actually this track and also "Dr. Stein" have keyboard parts anyway, because they have this live keyboarder called Jorn and he also played a part. They always have the keyboards live.
MetalKings.com: Let's talk about Rough Silk albums in general. Everybody says that his latest album is his favorite, but if we leave "Symphony Of Life" aside, which Rough Silk record do you like the most?
Ferdy: I like all the albums, but like it is with every musician, the last album is the favorite one. I still like "Beyond The Sundown" very much, as well as "Circle Of Pain" and the first album. Maybe these are the three favorites. On "Walls Of Never" I really like the songs, but I don't like the production. We didn't have enough money, Mausoleum couldn't pay enough, and some of the tracks were just demo versions, we couldn't redo them. But I like the songs, I think there are still great songs on "Walls Of Never". With "Mephisto" I had the problem that Jan Barnett, the old singer, wanted to do something completely different. So we had some problems in the studio. I still like the album, I think it's good, but it's not a typical Rough Silk album.
MetalKings.com: Speaking about "Circle Of Pain", it has a really powerful and impressive concept. What inspired you to write it?
Ferdy: Life! (cracks) Really, I am a big music fan, I like music in general, I like everything from folk to metal, from jazz to industrial. I like a lot of different musicians and music styles. Also, I am a big fan of singers-songwriters such as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, especially the people that write sarcastic and ironic lyrics like Randy Newman. I always tried to combine these things with heavy metal, and maybe that's what Rough Silk stands for - "rough" for metal and "silk" for all other influences. "Circle Of Pain" was the first album where we tried to use real acoustic instruments, not samples.
MetalKings.com: What are your touring plans?
Ferdy: At the moment the plan is to start in February to tour Germany a lot. We are also going to play with other bands, so there are a lot of things coming. Before that in January and in the beginning of February I'll tour with my solo project together with John Wesley Harding, singer-songwriter from America, we'll do acoustic shows. In December I'll record a new Axel Rudi Pell album, so I'm busy.
MetalKings.com: What are you going to perform on your solo tour? Songs from "Storyteller's Rain" or from your first solo record?
Ferdy: Yes, some stuff from "Storyteller's Rain", one song from the first record and "Friends" from Rough Silk. Also I'll play with John Wesley Harding, I'll play slide guitar when he sings.
MetalKings.com: Is there any chance that Rough Silk will come to Russia again one day?
Ferdy: I really hope so, maybe now as we are on the label of Udo and he has good connections to Russia, I really hope that we will come. If anybody invites us and we don't lose money, we'll go. We don't want to make real money, but we don't want to lose money, it's like that.
MetalKings.com: Are you going to play some major open air festivals like Wacken or Bang Your Head? You know, some fans are coming from Russia especially to attend these festivals.
Ferdy: We're still talking about Wacken, maybe we will play. As to Bang Your Head, I played there with Axel last year, and I spoke to them about Rough Silk, but the problem is that they already have too many German bands, and they want American bands, so maybe next year.
MetalKings.com: OK, we're about to end this interview, it was really a pleasure to talk to you. Is there any special message that you would like to send to your Russian fans?
Ferdy: Yeah, of course. I'm really happy that people are interested in my music, that people know my music. I really hope that we will be able to come to your country, because last time it was great and I think that it will be even better now as the situation has changed a bit. I've heard great things about Russia from Udo and from Mike who was touring there with Rage.
MetalKings.com: Thank you very much for calling and good luck with Rough Silk and your solo projects. Good bye!
-- Questions asked by Roman the Maniac with invaluable assistance of Dead Ripper , MetalKings.com
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