INTERVIEW WITH AXEL JULIUS OF SCANNER
The German power metal outfit Scanner has soldiered on since the late 80’s navigated by the guitarist Axel Julius. Despite long breaks and line-up changes, Scanner have always been active by releasing albums. Their latest output called JUDGEMENT presents razor sharp power metal to the bone. Metal-Rules.Com contacted the band’s mastermind Axel Julius to talk about the new album and something about the past.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Well , our last show we played was in Cyprus last weekend and we are in summer holiday mode for a few weeks now. After that, we will start to work on our new album.
Scanner recently made the first ever visit to Finland, well I can’t help asking what kind of expectations did you have beforehand and were you surprised to see the legion of the Scanner metal maniacs singing Hypertrace ?
It was a nice experience to meet the metal maniacs in Helsinki, we wished we had have more time to see more of the town and meet the people. We did not expect nothing in special, but it was nice to get the warm welcome from the fans. For us it was a long day with a long trip going from Germany early in the morning to Amsterdam first and then making it over to Helsinki where we were entering the stage late past midnight. So the after show party was a bit shorter this timeJ.
THE JUDGEMENT – The story continues
The most recent Scanner output called THE JUDGEMENT saw the light of day 2015.. there is a 13 year gap between the new and previous albums. Why such enormous hiatus between albums ? Was Scanner on hold or did you have to look for certain musicians for the Scanner rank or were you kind of fed up with the whole metal thing ?
Well, after SCANTROPOLIS in 2002 the band has found new, so to speak what does not mean that we had split up in the meantime. We definitely did not split. But after we knew we would not continue with LISA and some of the former line- up we were again looking for a singer. We decided to concentrate more on the traditional strengths of SCANNER to distinguish ourselves from the female singer concept of Scantropolis clearly. Then with Efthi we played our shows from 2003 on, and the poor man had the almost impossible task to interpret 4 SCANNER singers + Ralph Scheepers. Not an easy task. Especially since one of the singers was a woman. When our line-up has finally appeared as stable, we decided that it would be time now for a new SCANNER album.We started doing so in 2013 after we had built our own studio. So we must no longer produce so expensive and with too high risk somewhere else. After our show in Moscow in November 2013, we have included ourselves in the studio and finished our album.
But to explain 13 years of hiatus in releasing a new album; In 2003 our first effort, it was not to run into the studio to record our next album, but first just to play primarily live and having some fun.I mean, actually we had a repertoire that could be put together out of five albums and we delivered an entertaining show of SCANNER classics with it. This can make very much fun for a while. But the point was the requests for a new album became naturally louder. And then you do not you tell the fans that you do not intend to make a new album, but promise a new one coming soon. But when you are playing for the second time, same locations, telling the same story and the new album was not done in the meantime, things get tight and somewhat embarrassing. However, the time had come to make the album finally.
You Axel have been responsible for the mixing of the album, but how did you end up having Svante Forsbäck to take care of the mastering ?
Well. I like and appreciate his work on VOLBEAT’s album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies very much and when I saw he did RAMMSTEIN as well in the past. I got the idea to ask Svante if he would master our album.
How come you didn’t want to take the mastering by yourself ?
The thing is that you are not a 100% objective anymore after recording and mixing an album. And a pair of fresh and objective ears can make a big difference for the mastering job. Secondly Svante has a whole bunch of special mastering equipment in his Studio and is specialized on this. So for me it was the best choice to let him do the job, since my capabilities in our small studio compared to Svante’s in his studio are very limited.
With the Judgement, we had started a few times without a result, because we were not motivated to release a new album at all. We preferred rather to play live for a while and to wait for the right constellation. How to create the songs it depends; sometimes you come up with a simple riff idea and let it inspire the song around. Sometimes you have a whole idea of an arrangement around a melodic chorus or verse or you start the whole process inspired by lyrics, which already exist.
Do you usually come up a riff and ideas for songs by yourself or do the other band members bring something on the table or do you share ideas in a rehearsal room ?
In Scanner everyone can bring up his ideas for a song etc. but mainly I do the composing. I’m always inspired if somebody else has a good riff to offer too since this is very motivating for me and for the one who is introducing himself to the band’s work also, I think. Otherwise, it would just feel like a one man’s project, which I never strived.
Could you tell a little bit more the lyrics as far as I know they are all based on the sci-fi thema ? And does the front cover of the album refer to the lyrics ?
The cover describes the scenery when the SCANNER returns to earth, while there is devastation and the war of religions on its climax. The alarming thing today is that almost all people who rely on religion are still directly related to violence also, especially when it comes to conflicts. One can see that especially in the extremes in Syria and Iraq with the IS. In addition, the current development in Turkey is alarming with Erdogan’s megalomania.
So the question may arise what religion actually contributes to peace in general. Or, isn’t religion the root of all conflicts and misleading evil perhaps.
The exciting question is: If there was no religion and man would not believe in a higher power would the human race be more able to live in peace than all the millennia with religion? This is the question the title song “The Judgement” is dealing with. The main idea in almost every song of the album is that something is going wrong on the planet in terms our ethical value system. This runs up through all religions and societies. But today,it is really getting worse and is actually unworthy for a highly developed and technologized human race of the 3rd millennium still having to deal with these ultra-archaic mindset.
What’s the hardest part of writing and composing new riff for the Scanner album in general ?
It is always the start and beginning and to get into the flow. If you are in the flow once everything works fine and feels like leaded by hand of ghost.
LINE-UP CHANGES THRU YEARS
We have made several auditions at that time and Efthi was one of the participants. He was definitely the best of all and after a short interview checking his ambition and his attitudes; we knew he was the right man for SCANNER.
Before Efthimios, Scanner had the female vocalist during the era of 2002-2003…, I can’t help asking if your purpose was to draw more attention to the band by having a female vocalist or how did you end up a female vocalist ? Yes, it was like this. Since we were so unlucky with our singers before, we wanted to check it out if it works out better with a female singer. We had a very good female background singer, which did a great performance on Wacken O.A. with us as well and we offered the job to her. But she was quite a bit anxious to be a front singer and scarified the offer although she did an awesome SCANNER- demo for our record company. However, the idea of a female front singer was already born with it. Therefore, we started to search for HER.
What has been the main issue for such changeable line –ups thru these years ? And what keeps you motivated to guide Scanner all these years without calling its quit permanently?
It was different from case to case, some wanted to change their whole life, some did not want to be as professional anymore as we do the thing and others were just overestimating themselves with their ambitions of a solo career. Well, SCANNER is my baby, and you don’t stop loving it and caring about it if someone leaves the band, even if it means to start from the beginning nearly. I’m a fighter, if not so I would be fan of Bayern München and a public servant with a nice house and a much nicer garden.
When members have come and the gone, have you kept the contact to some of them or when they have quit the band, is it like an end of a marriage and the contact lost permanently ?
It depends what was the reason for quitting and if they had gone just for their own benefit if you know what I mean. If somebody leaves because of health problems or incompatible reorientation in life, it is much easier to keep in contact with than with somebody who left you in the lurch and causing you some big problems with it afterwards. But in general, you are right saying it feels similar to the end of a marriage somehow.
When looking for new members, how do you usually track a possible suitable musician down ?! Do you have an official audition session ?!
If we have no musicians to choose from recommendations of people around us we invite those candidates found by announcements to an audition. But the easiest and best way is always if friends recommend others because they mostly know who could be a fit for us.
BACK TO THE TIME OF THE HISTORY
You started the pre-Scanner back in 1985 called Lions Breed, which later evaluated to Scanner with the three members out of five – Did you want to start a new band with a new approach or were you advised to make changes ?
Yes, it was a new approach with a new drummer and singer and we had been advised by our management to change our band’s name not to get in any trouble with rights etc. when changing the record company. In addition, we changed our style slightly and the band’s image with this line-up change, so it was the best solution for the band. .
The debut album came out on Earthshaker records, which released albums from Holy Moses and Living Death, how was Earthshaker Records – what kind of label were they ?
Well, so to speak, it was the one man label of Axel Thubeauville, a man who had an extraordinary nose for interesting and good metal bands. As you already mentioned a few, not to forget DORO who was discovered with the band Warlock by him too. And honestly spoken there were plans to get Doro into Lions Breed after Earthshaker had dissolved the deal with Warlock. Axel Rudi Pell was also one of our mates there when he was still in STEELER.
When you started Scanner, was one purpose to get rid of the deal with Earthshaker Rec ?
Yes, somehow, because we wanted to join a bigger label with better conditions as fixed in the contract with Eartshaker Rec. and the label has had some problems anyways.
HYPERTRACE came out on Noise, I can’t help if having a deal with Noise like a dream-come-true feeling for a German metal band back in the day because of Kreator and Helloween were on the label ?
Mhh, not really, I mean ok, it was cool but for us it was just the next step in our career and we had offers from other big labels and record companies as well. Moreover, honestly spoken to have the choice was not easy at all. Finally, today I have to say we have made the wrong choice with Noise, definitely. Today I would have preferred to sign better with EMI or SPV back then.
Yes, and DiveBomb Records got the permission to release the first two albums as Re-Releases for a limited time, now Massacre Records got the Rights for these. “Mental Reservation” and “Ball of the Damned” are with Greece Ear Metal Records. And “Scantropolis” is to contract out still.
The debut Scanner album HYPERTRACE features the current Primal Fear singer Ralf Scheeper, do you still keep the contact to each other or do you keep your open on what Scheeper is doing with Primal Fear ?
No, there was just one collaboration with Ralph Scheepers (ex- Gamma Ray, Primal Fear) on “Ball of the damned” where he sung “Puppet on the string”. And a few years ago we had planned to play a special “Hypertrace” -show with him, but he had to cancel it because of other obligations. On this album he was singing in the choirs and supported MAJOR.
Have Helloween or Blind Guardian members collaborated with you and Scanner within these years ?
No, there was not any collaboration so far.
Are you on Massacre or independent label ? What kind of deal do you have with Massacre ?
We are on Massacre Rec. and we have a tape transfer agreement.
THE STORY OF SCIENCE FICTION
Since HYPERTRACE the lyrics have dealt with the sci-fi thema. As far as I know it all starts with the WW II as the army has created a selected commando team as genetically transformed. Does this sci-fi story line continue by going thru each album ?
Yes, the story dealt around this period. However, no, it did not continue so far. It stopped with “Terminal Earth” already because the new singer did not want to continue the story and our imageL. Then the following album “Mental Reservation” was a concept album with a very different story again.
How did you get interested to pen about such topics in the first place ?
Well I was studying Astronomies at that time and had a fable for SF in general. So had MAJOR, our singer, and he liked PERRY RHODAN lecture a lot. So the idea came up to this band concept.
How far does the sci-fi story can go on ?
With “The Judgement”, the story continues somehow, because the SCANNER has returned to Earth after some time of absence and is reflecting about the current events as you can see in our cover artwork. The scene in the artwork was forward-looking somehow to the current events and we are dealing with these subjects of religion and violence on this album also.
As far as I know you work as a produce under a different name, am I right or mistaken ?
You are right. I used the name Nigel Boston e.g. in the past.
What is the next step for Scanner ?
We are going to write the new album this autumn and produce it this winter.
I for one thank you for the interview for Metal-Rules.Com I hope all the best for Scanner… Of course the last words are yours…
Thank you, Arto, for the interesting and nice questions. And a big thank you to our fans for their support over the years, keep it heavy.