Metal-Rules.com interview with Dan Zimmermann: Drummer for Gamma Ray & Freedom Call
Interviewed by EvilG,
July 24 2000
One of my personal favorites and one of the most respected power metal bands is Gamma Ray. The thunder behind Gamma Ray is the great drummer Daniel Zimmermann who joined Gamma Ray prior to the release of their 1997 album Somewhere Out In Space. Since that time, Dan has also been a part of Iron Savior and now the glorious Freedom Call. Thanks to the awesome people at Noise Records, I was given the chance to speak with Dan about his pre-Gamma Ray bands, what Gamma Ray is currently doing and information on his other band Freedom Call.
I know this is older news, but can you take us back to and tell us how you landed the Gamma Ray drum spot?
It goes back to 1993. I played in a cover band in the south of Germany, the name was Lanzer. We went to Kai’s studio to make a production CD and Dirk was the producer so we got to know each other. It was good working with them. At the end of 1996 I heard that Gamma Ray needed a drummer so I decided to call in and Dirk gave me the opportunity to play one audition and they liked it.
The cover band you were in – was it metal or something else?
Yeah, it was metal, rock n’ roll and some harder things like we played some songs by Metallica like “The Unforgiven.” We also played some pop songs – Simple Minds and others. It was just a party band.
I assume you were a fan of Gamma Ray and Helloween prior to getting the job with Gamma Ray?
Sure! When Helloween came out with Walls of Jericho and then the two Keeper CD’s, I was really a fan of it. I watched the development of the scene then Kai formed Gamma Ray and I was really happy to get this job.
So, what was it like to actually work with someone who is considered a metal legend like Kai Hansen?
Yeah, haha…for me it was something special. I was really happy when we started recording my first album with Gamma Ray – Somewhere Out In Space. What I liked about it is that Kai respected me. I had a lot of ideas and he gave me the freedom to play how I feel and how I can play. He didn’t force me to play only things he wanted. It is cool to work with these guys.
I know Gamma Ray has a new release out, the Blast From The Past CD. Firstly, why did you decide to do a best of CD?
Kai, wanted to do something special because the song writing for the new album is not so well developed yet. We have some ideas together but no real songs so it takes some time to make a new album…and Kai said the time in between the PowerPlant release and the new album will be too long so we decided to make a best of. Kai (refers to) mark one as the first three records and Land of the Free, Somewhere Out in Space and PowerPlant is mark 2. He wanted to take the old songs and change them and have the (current) line up record the stuff.
What did you bring to the songs that was different drum wise?
I did more straighter things. I told Kai that I would interpret the songs different from how Thomas Nack did – the drummer before I came. He played more…it was too much for me. I prefer heavy and straight stuff so I changed it a little bit. We changed some of the songs like “One With The World” has a different drum riff and we changed some arrangements, it was good work.
I thought it was cool that fans participated in the selection of the songs – were you disappointed with any of the selections or do you think anything crucial was missed?
No, fan selection was what we expected. Every member in the band likes all these songs. Maybe there is one song which I miss. This is “As Time Goes By” from the Sigh No More album, but anyway I like all these songs and like to play them and we are very happy with the result.
What are the new album plans after the best of package? What direction will the music take – will it be in the same vein as PowerPlant or will it be more experimental?
We will see. It depends on the songs. Maybe if the songs are cool…maybe some more commercial songs, maybe some more rock elements. But we’ll see when the song-writing starts and especially when we start rehearsing then we will see which direction it will go. I think there will be no style change, it will be the typical Gamma Ray style with fast double bass songs. We have no idea if it will be a concept album again or not.
What do you think is your best or personal favorite drumming performance in Gamma Ray?
I think it would be Blast From The Past. To me it is the best thing because I could do what I want. Through these three years I’ve had good development, so I think Blast From The Past is my best performance on CD up to now.
Is there any favorite song in particular where you really liked how it turned out?
On the Blast From The Past album I like all these songs like “Changes” and the groovier songs from Sigh no More like “Dream Healer” and I enjoy playing this – “One With The World.” I like the fast double bass stuff, but these songs are a little bit different from the typical Gamma Ray style so I enjoyed playing these songs.
I’ve noticed in the credits in the last Gamma Ray albums that you thank “all my students.” I assume you must teach drums?
Yeah, it’s more like kids. I have about 10 kids and they give me so much. I show them how they should play or how they can play drums but everybody, every student, is different. For me it’s a big challenge to give everybody my advice, the way they can get it and see a final result…the way for them to get there is very interesting for me. It’s a personal thing and I learn a lot.
Are these student big Gamma Ray fans or just drum fans?
Some are Gamma Ray fans and some are just drum fans. They are right at the beginning and they just love the instrument.
How do you find the time to teach when you’re in a full-time band, well more than one band actually…
I think there is enough time. I can’t do all these drum lessons every week but if I find the time I call everybody and tell them that these certain days I can do drum lessons for anybody who wants to have one. Sometimes I have about 13 hours of drum lessons. As soon as I get back or find the time I do the drum lessons again.
How do you feel about the new power metal craze that seems to be sweeping across the metal scene right now? Do you see a lot of the newer band that are coming out as rip-offs of the pioneers?
All these new bands and young bands…I think it’s no rip off. At the moment, especially in Europe, the metal is becoming more common again. More people are interested in metal and I think all these bands – they want to take part and they just like to play the music. I think if you make a band and you write songs, you don’t think of money when you do this. What I don’t like is all these projects. Like making a band just with names to sell more records, this is not cool.
So what are some of the newer power metal bands, or other bands for that matter, that you particularly like?
Yeah I like, for a newer one, HammerFall. They are not REALLY new but I like them and I like Edguy – these guys do a good job.
Do you listen to any other styles of drumming/music that inspire your own performances?
My favorite drummer is Tommy Aldridge and Simon Phillips. Of course they are rock drummers not real fast metal double bass drummers. I listen to different styles. I listen to pop music…it depends on how I feel. If I want more roots stuff I listen to Pantera and if I feel good I can listen to easy pop music like Inxs and Peter Gabriel.
Besides Tommy Aldridge, what other drummers do you look up to or have influenced you?
Simon Phillips (Toto, Symbiosis) – I like the way he plays. It’s so powerful with a lot of dynamics. I can listen to 1000 drummers and I can hear which one is Simon Phillips. It’s special and I just love how he plays! I also like the performances of Dean Castronova (ed. note: Dean Castronova is a drummer who has played with various artists, including Tony McAlpine, Marty Friedman, Ozzy Osbourne, G/Z/R & Bad English) for his double bass work, it’s really good.
Does playing double kicks at the speed you do take its toll on you playing live or have you become accustomed?
Yeah I become accustomed to that. When I start a tour, two weeks before, I start practicing and I have to build it up like a sportsman would do…to build up my legs and everything. When I have a break for a longer time or some weeks and I don’t play at all, it’s hard to hold the speed over a long time. I have the technique and everything and the power is no problem but I have to build up the muscles and practice a little bit.
I read that you are no longer going to be drumming with Iron Savior – is that just because you filled in on one album (one full-length anyway) or is it that you didn’t have the time to do anything else with it?
The problem is that right now I have now time because there is Freedom Call also and Gamma Ray. It’s enough, there’s not time to make for a third band. But at this time when I played with Iron Savior and I did the record Unification…when Piet wanted to do a new album and I was on the PowerPlant tour with Gamma Ray, then he asked Thomas Nack, the old Gamma Ray drummer, and so he stayed with him. I think it’s better for Iron Savior too because the character of the band was more project with Kai Hansen and having me on the drums so now it’s more a band.
Let’s talk a bit about the band Freedom Call that you also a part of. The CD Stairway To Fairyland is GREAT. How did this band get started and how did you get involved with Freedom Call?
I was with Chris Bay, the singer, who’s a good friend of mine. We’ve played in several cover bands and known each other for 10 years. When we played in these cover bands we thought about having our own band one day, with our own songs. In 1998 we started writing new songs together. At first we did not have the intention to make a band out of it but we just started writing songs and it was very creative. On the first demo we worked very well together so we decided to make a band out of it and everything went on it’s way.
So how much input do you have into the writing process for Freedom Call?
We write the songs together. I bring some of the ideas and I write most of the lyrics and Chris, because he can play guitar a little bit, brings everything on tape to me.
Do you feel there are things or elements that you can express in Freedom Call that would not fit into Gamma Ray?
Yeah…A lot of people, they try to compare Gamma Ray with Freedom Call and I can say that it’s different because the way, the basis, how we write the songs is totally different. We first have the melody and we build the rest around while in Gamma Ray the guitar is more…it’s comes from the guitar and the riffs are more complex. So it’s made different and we have more keyboards in it.
Yeah there are more classical/symphonic type of elements in Freedom Call.
Will Freedom Call be doing another CD this year?
Yeah, right now we are in the studio and we are almost finished. Chris has three more songs to sing. On two songs we have to do the keyboards. In July we will do the mix and hopefully the new album will come out in October 2000.
Since it’s mainly written, can you tell me how it’s been sounding?
This time we had less pre-production than we had for Stairway To Fairyland. With Stairway To Fairyland we tried to copy the demo, to bring the demo to the record. This time we left more space for the creative part – for the sounds, for the voices. We tried to get through the drums very fast with the basic recording of drums, bass and guitar. Then we left space to do spontaneous things. This is a big difference. I think the whole thing sounds very tight and the songs are typical Freedom Call – fast, melodic tunes like on Stairway To Fairyland but this time we also have mystic feelings and we have interesting songs with interesting arrangements and it’s not only fast stuff. There’s slow, groovy, heavy songs…it’s a good mixture.
Do you have an album title picked out yet?
It will be called Crystal Empire.
And what is the Crystal Empire?
Crystal Empire is the positive thing, it is the continuation of the tale of Taragon, it will be part 2. There is the dark world, and of course it’s always the same with a little fantasy…the Crystal Empire is the good world. So it’s a journey to the dark world and back.
You did an EP before Stairway To Fairyland called Taragon which was not available in North America and I’ve priced import prices on it and it’s like thirty dollars for five songs!
We have three deals. One with Japan, one with France and one for the rest of the world. Our German record company didn’t want to do it so it’s just released in France and Japan. We are sorry for that, but we hope that in the future that with the next album that they’ll make a special thing to put in, as a bonus CD, to put in the EP as a bonus CD.
That would be cool, especially for us over here in North America!
Yes it would be cool.
I’ve read that you were in a tribute band to Uriah Heap. Is that band still on the go or was it something you just did to fill in some time?
Yeah it was more to fill in some time. I’m out of this band now because the band doesn’t play very much. They played about five shows over the year and for me I do not have the time to rehearse because they rehearse very much so I’m out now…but Henjo is still in.
Has there been any serious talk of the next Gamma Ray tour coming to North America cause I know that I’ve been asked that by people who know I’m interviewing someone in Gamma Ray. I know it’s not just your decision – someone has to sponsor a tour or get you over here. So has anyone expressed interest in getting Gamma Ray to North America?
Yeah we had an offer to do a tour with Stratovarius but the problem is that these promoters don’t pay that much and Kai doesn’t want to bring money with him. We also have some technicians. The offers were really not good, I know of these offers. So if we can find a promoter who pays us more then we would like to play in North America and Canada.
You played some months ago in Mexico, it’s too bad, considering you were close to the States, that you couldn’t head north for a couple of shows.
Yeah, this would be nice. We should of done that but we had no real good offers to go there. It would be easy to connect from Mexico to the States…but we are sorry. I hope that we can come one day. The Stratovarius tour is very interesting to do and I think it would be fun but Kai doesn’t want to bring money with him to play.
What do you think is the big difference in why (real) metal seems to be struggling in the US while you can do so well in Europe?
Hmmmm….yeah (sighs). It’s a good question. I don’t know the American metal market so well but in Europe this melodic power metal has a big tradition because when Helloween out with songs, their new style at the end of the 80’s. It has a typical European sound. All these European melodic metal bands like we do it, like Gamma Ray and all these bands do it. Maybe this is the reason and it’s not that famous in the States. but I don’t know really.
There is a following, but it’s obviously not as big.
I know this summer Gamma Ray is playing at a number of festivals. Will any new Gamma Ray material be unleashed at any of these shows?
At the festivals we’ll play at this year we’ll only play songs from the Blast From The Past album and no new songs cause they are not worked out and it’s just some ideas. Right now we are out from the studio and we are looking forward to playing live at the moment. We don’t want to goto the practice room. We just want to go out on stage and play.
And how about Freedom Call? Will you get to play any shows or will that be after the album is done?
Yeah we’ll play at the Wacken festival on Saturday and we’ll play two new songs. Then on the 10th of September we play in Bologna, Italy at a festival but we’ll play a real tour after the release of the album. There are no dates fixes but we’ll try to get on as a support act on a bigger tour so a lot of people can see us….we’ll do our best.
That’s all the questions I had for you. Is there any other news you can pass along to readers?
Yeah. Right now I can only talk about the plan. At the end of the summer we’ll have the time to write new songs and practice the songs. Then the plan is to enter the studio at the end of the year in December to make the new album followed by a big tour and hopefully we can come play in the United States.