Heart of Steel: Interviews

Standing on Devil's Ground 
with guitarist Stefan Leibing

Interview by EvilG
Pics Courtesy of PrimalFear.de and Nuclear Blast
Thanks to Nick for the transcription!

Hot on the heals of one of 2003's THE HISTORY OF FEAR DVD, Primal Fear are back in early 2004 with a new masterpiece entitled DEVIL'S GROUND. With the new album the band thankfully stay true to their sound despite having 2 new members on board - the returning Tom Naumann (guitars) and Annihilator drummer, Randy Black. Although much of the following interview is about DEVIL'S GROUND, I also got to ask Stefan some questions about line-up changes, touring, guitar playing, his practice routine, and some of his early influences. Enjoy...

I would like to start out with the title of the album, Devilīs Ground. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what the title refers to.

The title "Devilīs Ground", and the lyrics are also in this direction, actually the lyrics are very positive. The lyrics of the last track, "Devilīs Ground", explains a little bit about the title. The thing is we wanted to say a little bit about bands that are very positive about Satanism and about black magic and what we wanted to say was to give a warning about speaking so positively about this black magic stuff and so on.



The closing track on the CD, the spoken word one, sounds very unlike the style of what Primal Fear has done to date, in terms of subject matter. Do you guys, or you personally, believe in the devil? Do you think he exists or is he just a metaphor representing something else?

Thatīs a difficult question. I think the devil doesnīt exist as he is described in the Bible. But I also donīt think God exists as described in the Bible. But people need some persons, they must have a picture of something to be able to imagine everything. So I donīt think there is actually a hell with fire and those things, but I think there may be a place where evil men go when theyīre dead and that there is something different for people who have done good in their lives.



There is a song on here that the band, I believe, co-wrote with a band called Vinder…

They call themselves Minder…



So tell me, what song was that anyway and how did that coma about?

This was the song "Secret Illusions" and the story behind it is that the guitar player and the drummer of this band are very good friends of Ralfīs. Actually, the guitar player formerly played bass in a band where Ralf played in the early days. They wanted to have this song for themselves but they asked Ralf, "Could you write a melody and text for this song?" and Ralf said "Ok, letīs do it, Iīll make it". And in the end the song fit so well to Primal Fear that we spoke with the guys and asked if it would be ok to use this song with Primal Fear.

This is the first time youīve done something like this, right?

Yeah, thatīs right.

Are you happy with how it turned out?

Yeah, I think the result is good. I personally think that we really had a lot of good ideas for own songs, so in my opinion if would not have been really necessary to take one by another band. But some of the guys in the band wanted to do it and itīs ok. I think the result is good, and thatīs the most important thing.



There are at least two songs on here that are about, in general I guess, metal, with the track "Metal is Forever" and also "In Metal". So why did you decide to have songs about metal?

We had a discussion in the band if we really should have TWO songs with "metal" in the title. We had two parties in the band and these songs came from basic ideas by those two parties and both had the idea to do this metal title and this little bit cliché song. Both songs were there so we had the discussion, should we really have both with "metal" in the title, these chliché songs, and we said, "heck, letīs do it".



You also decided to do a 5.1 mix of "Metal is Forever" and "The Healer". That is on the limited European edition. Why did you choose those songs and do you think very many Primal Fear fans have the setup to appreciate a 5.1 mix?

The first question, why we took these two songs: "Metal is Forever", we took this song because it is also our video, we made a video to this song. And "The Healer" we took because of the orchestral sound to it. First of all itīs a great song, we think, and itīs also a song with this orchestral sound which gives a good possibility to get an interesting sound in 5.1, you have the most possibilities. 

And your question if many metal fans have this possibility, I think more and more people have a Dolby surround system at home. I think there will be a lot of fans who have the possibility to listen to these songs in 5.1. If they donīt have the possibility, maybe they will in a few years or so, because I think Dolby is a very good investment.


Would you have liked to have the whole album available in 5.1?

No, I think the problem is that if you have the whole album in 5.1 you will not be able to hear it in the car or so, because in the car you have a normal stereo. In the limited edition, "Metal is Forever" and "The Healer" are also included in the normal mixes, which is very important. So if anyone doesnīt have a Dolby surround system, he can anyway listen to all the songs.



Do you have a favourite song from the new album? Or does it change every time someone asks?

I have two main favourites, "The Healer" and "Suicide and Mania" are both personal favourites. But I canīt imagine which I should say at the moment, I just donīt know.



How do you think "Devilīs Ground" stands up against your past albums? And do you think itīs possibly your best album so far?

Actually itīs always very difficult when you have recorded an album to think to yourself "Is this a good album?" Iīm very much dependant on how people react to really say if itīs good or bad in the end. From this we can say that the results are overwhelming. To look at the reactions from people, it seems this is our album with the best responses. So I think this is the best album we have made. Personally Iīm really very satisfied with the result without having even heard what people say.



Besides your new album, do you have a favourite Primal Fear album?

I think "Nuclear Fire" is the second album I prefer after "Devilīs Ground".



Why do you think some fans, or maybe some journalists, had a negative reaction to "Black Sun"? Because I thought it was awesome…

Really, I also couldnīt imagine why. Itīs true that many people were a little bit bored by "Black Sun" or said it was nothing new in it, that it couldnīt meet the standard of "Nuclear Fire". Actually, Iīm very satisfied with the album. Personally I think it maybe would have been better to not have some songs on the record, but all in all I think itīs a good album and I canīt imagine why many people say they donīt like "Black Sun".



It has been said that there was some tension between members in your band during the "Black Sun" recording days. Is that true? And is this what led to first Henny (Wolter) departing and then your drummer Klaus (Sperling) leaving the band?

Actually, there werenīt really tensions in the band. First Henny left the band for personal reasons. He lived about 700 or 800 kilometers from our practice room so he had to travel a lot to practice with us so he got problems with his girlfriend. So it was his decision to quit the whole thing. Heīs still a good friend and we have a good relationship. And at this time Tom (Naumann) was again available for the band. He had left the band after the second album, "Jaws of Death", because of health reasons. He had heart problems so he took time off, about two or three years, I lost count of it. That was the thing with Henny. And the departure of Klaus, he left the band because of musical differences. Klaus is a good friend and Iīm really sad that heīs not in the band anymore.

He wanted to go somewhere else musically with the band?

Yeah, there were differences about style and everything.



So did you ever become discouraged or fear that the band was falling apart because of a couple of people leaving? Or was there never a dark moment like that?

No, actually, that the band would totally quit… we never thought about it.



How did you manage to steal drummer Randy Black away from the most excellent Canadian band Annihilator?

It is really a great band, Annihilator. The thing is, in the beginning of last year we did a US tour, as you might now, and Klaus couldnīt be part of this tour for personal reasons and we searched for a temporary replacement. I had seen a workshop with Randy at the Frankfurt music fair and as we were looking for this drummer for the tour I remembered him and I knew that he lived in Berlin four or five years. So I obtained his e-mail address and contacted him. He did the US tour with us and after the whole thing with Klaus happened we called Randy about if he would like to be part of the band. He said ok, he wanted to do it. He really appreciated this offer and from our side we had really thought about sharing Randy with Annihilator. But actually Jeff Waters and his management didnīt want to share Randy with us, so they said goodbye to him.


So he lives in Germany now anyway?

Yeah, he has a girlfriend in Berlin.

That makes it convenient for you guys.

Yeah, otherwise it wouldnīt be possible if he were in Canada.


So do you think his addition to the band as well has the return of Tom has changed or made any impact on the sound of the new album?

Of course, because we have two different musicians in the band. Of course this plays a big part in how the band sounds in the studio. Even if Tom has an equal style to what Henny has, you really can hear his kind of guitar playing and of course Randy also has a different style from Klaus. All in all, forty percent of the musicians in the band of course have a big influence on the sound.



Youīll be playing and the Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles Sixpack Weekend in Cleveland and so far this is your only North American performance for your new tour. I was wondering, will there be a full scale North American tour at all, or have you guys become a little bit jaded with the idea of touring in North America as a result of what happened with the Metal Gods screw up?

Of course people might think weīre fed up now with touring in the States, but at the moment we do not have a good offer to do a tour, but we work on it. If we have a good occasion or if there is a good opportunity to tour with another band in the States where we think it might be possible for us from the financial view, sure, we will do a tour. If not this year, hopefully next year. But this year, the only thing that is sure is that we will play this festival. Itīs the only festival that is planned at the moment.




Do you guys feel like you got shafted when you did the Metal Gods tour? Because I think I read on your site about how you ended up returning to Germany with less money than when you had left.

Yeah, we had a lot of costs. And even if we had toured for four and a half weeks we would have had a lot of minus. We were supported by our record company but after having played only nine gigs it was a fiasco financially, so in the end we had a minus of about 20 000 US dollars because we had no income or almost no income but had very high costs of lights. Our
advisors were very expensive, we had to get the working commission, we had to pay the roadies for a long time though they were only working nine days and the bus and everything… It was very expensive for us.

So your learned a lesson maybe, anyway? But not a good one.

Not good.


What are your thoughts on being named the headliners of the Wacken Road show? Are there any other bands on that bill that youīre excited to be playing with?

I donīt know if you know, but we had originally planned on being on tour with Iced Earth, which would had been a very nice tour with really big halls that have a pretty nice size. But Jon Shaffer had some problems with his back and he had to get treatment so the thing was cancelled. Then we didnīt know exactly what to do and we thought about doing some of the tour dates anyway in small tours with our own headlining tour, but there wasnīt very much time to prepare everything. And we got the offer to do this Wacken and Road show. Originally Freedom Call should have been the headliner of a three band package. Now itīs a four band package and Freedom Call are not very much amused about not having headliner status anymore. But anyway, we got the offer from the Wacken management and they are happy that they have a band like Primal Fear that gets a few people more. So now itīs a Primal Fear headline tour. Of course we would have liked to do the Iced Earth tour, but now itīs not possible.


Have you heard the new Iced Earth album?

Not yet really. Iīm really excited to hear it, but I didnīt have the chance before. I think Iīll get into a record store sooner or later but I havenīt heard it so far. I think it will be good, Iīve heard that they did a good job so I look forward to hear it.

It is a very good album. Are you happy with how your DVD, "The History of Fear", turned out and is there anything that you would like to have included or tried to fit on there but didnīt have the room?

I think we really put a lot of material on the DVD. We have collected it during the years. Of course itīs a little bit of a pity that our new video is not on the DVD but every day when you release such a DVD, half an hour later you could say "Oh we could have put this on also on the DVD". So all in all I think itīs a good product and people get really a lot for their money. I think at the moment, if you compare this to other DVDīs from other bands which have our status or our size I think this is a good DVD. I think it turned out well.



Do you have any plans to do a live album or another live DVD for this tour maybe?

No. The next CD will be definitely again a studio album because we have enough ideas and there is no reason for us to do a live album or something.



As a guitar player, who have been or are still some of the main guys that you were inspired by?

Good question. When I started playing guitar, I think it was almost 20 years ago now, I was a big Malmsteen fan, but this is not valid for today anymore. But yeah, there are a lot of good guitar players. I like the guitar style of Jeff Waters. I like the solo playing of the Ozzy's guy called Zakk Wylde, even if itīs not my style, itīs more the style of Tom. Steve Vai I like, I also like John Petrucci… But there are a lot of guitar players who are really great.

You seem to like a lot of the more technical players, I guess you could call them that in general.

Yeah, thatīs right.

Do you still like any of the old school players like the classic metal players - the Maiden guys and Priest and stuff like that?

I like the music of these bands, but not so much the solos. Of course I also have played a lot of their riffs when I was starting to play guitar. But if you ask me if they have influenced me with their special guitar style, itīs not so much.



Regarding your inspirations, with cover songs youīve managed to cover bands like Accept and Rainbow and a few other bands as well. Are there other bands or songs that you would like to personally have Primal Fear cover?

Actually we did about eight covers so far in our history. I didnīt think about what I would have liked to do in the future. The thing is, how we do or why we do cover songs or from which bands we do cover songs depends usually on for which tribute album we get an offer to be on. If we do decide to do a cover song from a band then normally we have an offer to be on a tribute album, so thatīs the reason why we do cover songs. I donīt know what cover song I would think fit for Primal Fear.

A Steve Vai song? ha!

I donīt think that would fit so much. It would also be no pleasure for me to play it, it would be very stressful.



Do you have another outlet besides Primal Fear for that style of playing or are you just completely busy with Primal Fear and thatīs it?

At the moment Iīm really busy with Primal Fear and donīt have the time to do other side projects. As you might know, we in the band all have normal jobs besides music because weīre not really full professionals with the music. So it takes a lot of time doing the music beside a normal job and since the beginning of this year Iīm a father too. Iīm the father of a little son and he also needs a lot of time. So at the moment I donīt have time to do a second project. Anyway Iīm very satisfied with what Iīm doing with Primal Fear and at the moment I see no reason to do something different.



So what do you do when youīre not in Primal Fear if you donīt mind me asking?

I have a job as a software developer. Iīm writing software for a big German company. I like to do this because Iīm a tech fan, not only of computers but also electric devices.


And they donīt mind when you go on tour for a couple of months, do they?

Actually, we really can arrange it with our normal holidays or vacations. In Germany we have more free days than you have in the States, so we have about 30 days per year. And if we have overtime, weīre allowed to take free days. Usually we have eight weeks of free time, which makes it possible for us to do Primal Fear as we do it at the moment.

Well, I get fifteen days here…

Yeah, I know itīs a little bit harder in the States.

Iīm in Canada actually so…

Sorry, ok!

Close, but…

But at the moment youīre on telephone from the States?

No, Iīm in Canada, youīre calling to Canada.

Does Canada also have 001?

Yeah, all North America is 001 for the country code. Canada and the United States are the same in that regard.

Ok, I understand.

So in Canada we also only have fifteen days, so itīs no better.

Yeah, thatīs pretty harsh.



What has been your most favourite or memorable concert that youīve played and also that youīve been in attendance at?

What I really appreciated was playing in New York at Kingīs Club. These were our two last concerts of the tour, in New York. The concerts were great and we really enjoyed also the time in New York, a very impressive city. So I like to think back to the time when we played these two concerts. The club was great, the resonance of the audience was great. There are a few concerts I also like to think back to, like in Sao Paulo, where we played in 1999. It was a really great festival, the fans were really crazy. I remember that the local promotor had never made a heavy metal concert before, heīd made samba shows and that stuff. They were not at all prepared for such a huge crowd of metal fans doing such crazy actions. There were security guys were well dressed with neckties and everything and they had no barriers for the fans. There were about twenty of these guys with neckties trying to keep the guys back from the stage. Iīve never seen this before, they had to build a human chain to keep the guys back from the stage. This was also a great concert.

And as for concerts that youīve actually seen yourself, have you had any favourite ones from the past that stand out?

Ok, let me think….......

Do you still go to a lot of bands or are most bands you see now bands you tour with?

The most bands I see is when we play at festivals. If youīre on a festival in Germany like the Wacken festival, you are a weekend there and you have the possibility to see a hundred bands if you like. Actually, I see a lot of bands on such festivals. The most impressive concert Iīve seen maybe was… As I told you, Yngwie Malmsteen was my first guitar hero when I started playing guitar, and a few years ago we played on the Sweden Rock festival. I was there on the side stage watching his whole concert and it was very impressive. He played a lot of the old hits I knew and I enjoyed this concert from the first to the last minute. That was the most impressive concert Iīve seen.

Do you still play any of his songs when you practice?

No, actually not. I like many of his compositions, especially on the early records, but what I donīt like and whatīs also disturbing in my opinion is that thereīs too much of his solo playing and this classical stuff. Even for me as a guitarist it bores a little bit. But I think he has some great songs, he did some great records in the early days.



For playing, are you a schooled guitarist? Did you learn to read music,  and theory, or have you picked up everything through your own ear?

For the first six months I played, I had a guitar teacher. But he was not very good and from this I decided to learn it by myself. I was listening to a lot of music, I was buying books at workshops and normal records. I played a little of that stuff and I listened a lot and I tried to play the music of bands that I was listening to. So actually I was self-tought at everything. Even if I canīt play really from notes on paper, I know what the meaning is and I know whatīs going on with the scales.



Do you still practice every day or is it mostly that you practice when youīre jamming with the band?

I really try to play or to train every day but the last months and also years itīs been really hard to do it every day, because as I told you, I still have to work. With the little free time you have with doing all the things you have to do for the music, like giving interviews, sometimes itīs hard to find the time to really practice some scales. But I do my best to stay in shape and I think it works.


Yeah, definitely. And on that note of free time or the lack of it, I guess thatīs all my questions for you. You have the rest of the night to practice your scales or maybe play with your new baby! ha!

Yeah, but I think Iīll go to bed, because itīs almost midnight.

Thanks for the interview.

Official Primal Fear Site: www.primalfear.de
Stefan's Personal Site: www.stefanleibing.com
Label: www.nuclearblast.de