Piet is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the brilliant German band Iron Savior. He’s also guitarist in another new band called Savage Circus which features ex-Blind Guardian drummer, Thomen Stauch, along with 2 member’s of Sweden’s thrash/speed/power-metal gods, Persuader. I got to speak to Piet about both of his bands and the plans for each in the coming months.
So how is everything in Hamburg?
It’s ok. At last springtime has made it to Hamburg after having tons of snow for weeks. It’s really unusual for this time of year, usually in March it’s springtime with lots of green and flowers coming out and shit. But now it’s here so I’m kinda feeling better.
I saw on the weather channel the other day that you had a tornado in Hamburg.
Right, it was two days ago. I saw that, it was amazing. It’s very unusual.
Enough about weather, let’s get to the metal!
What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to join Savage Circus and when you realized that the plan was basically to re-create some of the classic Blind Guardian sound?
I thought “Hey, this will work!” Actually, I knew Thomen was planning on working with Emil and Jens and I was familiar with the kind of singing that Jens is delivering. So I thought if that was a plan, it would definitely be cool because we have the perfect singer for this and Emil as a guitarist is a very valuable person. And maybe I could play a bit myself and that would be kinda nice so it’s something really interesting to me that I wanted to be a part of.
Were you surprised that so many people still have an interest in that style, the Blind Guardian middle era?
Not so much. People are not getting this from Blind Guardian anymore. It’s happened before, just look at Helloween. Helloween suddenly were “Chameleon” and didn’t do classic Helloween anymore. But people were demanding it. They wanted to here classic Helloween but the band that made the album wasn’t delivering it anymore. Look at the scene today, I think there are more Helloween clones out there than anything else. From a rational point of view I thought that if Blind Guardian are not doing it anymore and on every Internet poll, “Tales”, “Imaginations” and “Somewhere” are the three albums that nave the nose in front on every poll, so this is what fans are going for but there’s nobody who dares to do Blind Guardian. Having Thomen with us, we might be entitled to do so and to give the fans back what they obviously are demanding. Looking back at it I’m happy we did it because it worked out quite fine.
So how is it to be in a band where you don’t have to do the lead vocals? Do you enjoy the freedom in a live situation?
Yeah, absolutely. We just returned from our initial shows in Japan and it was really cool, definitely a different thing from Iron Savior being guitar player and lead singer in one person. It is super cool, I really enjoyed it even though I also enjoy to sing. I really love my job in Iron Savior, but it’s a lot more stress. With Savage Circus maybe playing is a bit more difficult because the stuff is more progressive and challenging, but there’s no vocal duty so I can focus on the guitar.
Did Thomen write the music and riffs or did he have to micro-manage the song writing process to ensure that the style that came out sounded the most like mid-era Blind Guardian?
Well, Thomen started out with the initial ideas of “Evil Eyes”, “It – the gathering” and the ballad that you find on the album, those go back to ideas that Thomen initially had. He was writing those songs together with his Spanish buddy, he’s lived in Madrid for a couple of years now. His Spanish buddy who is a guitarist helped him to put this material together. When he played those, it was clear in what direction he wanted to move and therefore we focused the song writing in this direction. We did something different on “Ghost Story” and maybe on “Tomorrowland”, but that was intended. We didn’t want to do a pure Blind Guardian emulation. That was something we wanted to do with the band, but also to add something more to it which I think tracks like “Ghost Story” and “Tomorrowland” are standing for because they’re not too typical Blind Guardian. The song writing basically was done by all of us. We were in constant contact through the Interet, sending MP3s back and forth so by now it’s actually hard to tell who did what. Of course I remember the stuff I did, but we all contributed with equal parts, I’d say.
One of the key Blind Guardian things that I think you nailed down really well is the way Blind Guardian have a lot of lead guitar throughout songs that are not necessarily guitar solos, more of a lead melody line. Did you write and play most of those or was it shared?
It was kinda shared. On stage it’s shared very simply by Emil doing all the leads that are not main solos and I do the main solos because most of the time during the leads I have to do some sining or second harmonies or shit like that. On the album, Emil also did a lot of solo stuff so it’s about 50/50. But there’s so much stuff on it that I can’t point it out clearly. I know basically what I did and basically what Emil did, but there’s been a lot of recording.
On the recording, did you both play rhythm guitars or did you just do those yourself?
I did those myself because in recordings that’s something I really go for. I’m a one rhythm guitar fan. It’s just more tight. It’s different with other styles of music, but with this it’s obvious you don’t want too much personality in your rhythm guitar but it needs to be exact and nailed 100 percent and that is so much easier when done by one person. If you’re Poison or whatever and do some more individual kind of music, it might be cool to have two different persons playing on the left and the right side of the stereo field. But if you want this pure metal guitar wall, it’s better if one person does it.
You played bass on the album as well. Is that something you plan to continue to do or has there been talk of a permanent member on bass?
No, not really. I just played the bass because I was recording all the stuff as a part of the song writing so I was really familiar with the stuff and it was just faster for me to play the bass instead of having someone else come in and have to learn the songs just to play basically the same thing I would play. If you listen to the music, it’s not the kind where bass is the most important instrument. It has to be there and it has to be played well but it’s definitely not an instrument that needs to be featured. So I said “OK, I can do it”.
Do you think the next Savage Circus album will go in the same direction as DREAMLAND MANOR or do you think you will wanna try anything different?
I think that concerning the energy on DREAMLAND MANOR it will definitely be the same. I don’t know if on the second album we need to do this super duper Blind Guardian emulation thing that hard again. For my taste, I’d really love to do it, but Jens and Emil are younger people in their mid 20s and maybe they want to add something new, which is cool. If you listen to Persuader, their band, they have cool ideas that would definitely fit into this thing. I think you can expect something that has the same power like “Evil Eyes” on the next album, but also that you might find two or three more tracks like “Ghost story” on it.
You seem to be giving equal time to Savage Circus and Iron Savor, do you think you will reach a point where you will have to chose one or the other? Or don’t you see and time problems coming up with that?
I can’t say for sure, but at the moment it looks like it’s quite OK to handle both bands. With Iron Savior of course I’m in a key position so I can make plans and make them fit what I do in Savage Circus. With Savage Circus, I’m not the main dude but besides that I have some weight in the band so if something makes it really stupid for Iron Savior we can always straighten it out. It’s a matter of wanting things and not wanting things. I really want to continue with Iron Savior because I really like the balance between Iron Savior and Savage Circus. Iron Savior is straight ahead heavy metal which I like a lot and Savage Circus is the playground where I can put all the progressive stuff. Therefore, I really have a heavy interest to keep both things going.
On the import version of DREAMLAND MANOR there’s a cover version of a French pop band called Plastic Bertrand. What possessed you guys to cover something like that?
It’s a very old song, I think it was number one in Europe or at least in Germany when I was 17 or 18. It’s a punk song and I like it. It’s a cool song. It just popped up from me “let’s do this!” Thomen liked it right away. Emil and Jens – I don’t know how old you are, but they’re 24 and 25 – so when I said “let’s do a Plastic Bertrand version” I got back “What is a Plastic Bertrand?” He’s a Belgian guy who had this one big hit, “Ca plane pour moi” and this is it.
The song is sung in French I assume?
It is in French, yeah.
But Jens doesn’t know how to speak French, does he?
No, he does not speak French at all. But Emil knows some French so Emil wrote down the lyrics at home in Umeå and told Jens how to pronounce it.
Savage Circus is playing one show in the US that I know of, Prog Power in September. Are there any chances for more shows in the US or Canada with Savage Circus?
We sure do hope so. Our booking agent is working on that thing but this one show is booked already, everything is set and contracts are written so we definitely come to the States in September. But I hope to do a little bit more once we’re over.
To my knowledge you’ve never played in North America with Iron Savior. Is that a goal that you have or are you doing well enough in the other markets that it doesn’t matter that much?
Of course it would be cool to come to the States with Iron Savior, but coming over to the States and touring is quite expensive. That’s the main problem. You have to pay a couple of long distance flights that add up to quite a lot of money. You have to hire some equipment or you have to ship your equipment for heavy kind of money. So far, unfortunately, Iron Savior never got an offer that would at least be break even. We got some offers but they were bad, not rip-offs but it always ended up that we would have to pay to go.
It would be awsome if you could get Iron Savior, Persuader and Savage Circus all on the same bill.
That would save some money. With seven people you would have the benefit of having three bands. That’s a bargain, I’d say.
In your role as a producer, are you scheduled to work with any bands except for Iron Savior and Savage Circus?
At the moment I just started recording with a German band called Mercury Falling. They’re progressive and have interesting stuff that they do. Let’s see what comes out, I’m not so familiar with their material right now since we just recorded the drums. But I must say that I have to cut down on working as a producer a bit because Iron Savior has to get going with the next album. I have three songs by now and the rest is left. Savage Circus has drawn a lot of time and energy from me but as I said, I really want to keep Iron Savior going so I can’t produce as much stuff as I did before. I think doing Savage Circus and Iron Savior will result in me doing one or two productions a year, not more.
Is June 19th still the release date for the next Iron Savior cd?
(laughs) Well, not so much I must say… It was planned once to have that but reality came differently.
Will there be a new Iron Savior cd in 2006?
Yeah, definitely. I can promise that. Actually right now I have a lot of material in my head, what I need is to find the time to put it down and put the songs together. Also Yenz and Thomas, our drummer and bass player, have been quite creative and come up with a couple of songs so I’d say that 50 percent of the album is already written. What it needs now is another four weeks, then all the stuff will be there and we can start recording the shit. It’s pretty realistic to say that the next Iron Savior album can be expected in late summer or early autumn this year.
Can you tell anything about the cd? Have you gotten to the point of discussing the title or song titles or is it too early yet for that?
At the moment I have a working title I kinda like, MEGATROPOLIS.
Will that continue the storyline of the Iron Savior?
Errr… I don’t know. On BATTERING RAM I discontinued having a real concept album and I might want to do the same thing on MEGATROPOLIS. I really liked it to be free of this concept on BATTERING RAM lyric wise. After doing it four times in a row I really felt too tied up in that thing. I really like the Iron Savior story but I think it’s better for me now to write about the Iron Savior when I feel that I really want to do it and not think “Uh-oh, I’ve got to come up with eleven songs about the Iron Savior!”
You’ve been asked this before and I’ll ask again just to see if there have been any developments: Is there a plan to have some kind of novelization of the storyline of the Iron Savior?
When I’m too old to be on stage I can retire and sit down at home and write the story of the Iron Savior. Actually, it has been on my mind for many years by now. That was the whole idea of the Iron Savior. I had this idea of a book before I started recording the first Iron Savior song. It’s definitely something that I have on my mind but I just can’t find the time. Writing a book takes time and if I do it I really want to do it properly. Comes time – comes book.
Do you have any interests like Atlantis outside of your Iron Savior storyline? Do you watch documentaries or sfi-fi shows like “Stargate Atlantis”?
Yes, I do. I don’t have my alarm clock set for this but whenever things like this pop up somewhere in a tv guide or just find it on the tv, it stays on. It always catches my interest and it always did before. I was fascinated by the Atlantis saga from my very early childhood on. I really think it’s a huge story. If it’s myth or not, if it’s history or not, you never know. Myth and history is blending together in a very unique mix.
I understand that you’re interested in history as a whole from what I’ve read in other interviews. Are there certain eras or do you like to read history in general?
It’s more or less history in general. It’s not like I dig deep into history and read like crazy about it, but whenever something like this pops up it catches my interest and I stop by and watch a documentary on TV or read an article.
I wanted to ask you about your guitar sound that you have for Iron Savior. That’s one thing that has always stood out for me, I can hear ten seconds without vocals and tell it’s Iron Savior because you have a very distinct guitar sound. Could you tell me what equipment you use to get that sound? Is there anything in the amps or pickups or anything that you use that is not so common?
Actually I must say no. I use equipment that anybody else can get quite easily. It’s no secret that I play a BC Rich guitar, a Mockingbird. The pickup I use is a Super Distortion. This runs through my Line 6 POD 2. The setting I use there is a bit unusual. To make it clear, you just have to switch off everything. All the internal speaker simulation shit, just switch all that shit off and get to the basic sound to do what I do with some eq’ing. No big secret.
Maybe no secret, but the sound is very identifiable as the Iron Savior guitar sound.
The funny thing is that today I bought a Mesa Boogie Rectifier because I’m just interested in playing around with it. And I played around with it for one and a half hours, adjusting the sound and believe me, it’s a completely different amp to what I usually work with. I started playing some of my guitar things on it and thought “Hey, its sounds just the same way!” If you know your guitar sound, and I’m an old bastard, I’m 41 and know how I want my guitar to sound, you can put me down with any equipment and I’ll fool around with it for an hour and sound just like me.
Do you think it’s time for Iron Savior to release a live dvd? If so, does your label agree or are they offering some funding to finance such a release?
I would love to have a dvd. With Iron Savior we have fans across the world. I’m thinking of a very remote fan in Tibet and there’s no chance for this guy to see an Iron Savior show. I don’t think we’ll make it to Tibet in the next 25 years or so. For a guy like this it would be just great to have a dvd to see Iron Savior live. On the other hand, I’m running a label and dvds are not the hottest selling thing anymore. It is OK to have a dvd and if the possibility is right to get a decent dvd done then of course we will do it, but it’s nothing that we really go for or want to push.
What is your view of the current power metal scene in Europe? Do you think it has peaked or that it will never peak?
Metal comes and goes in waves, that’s my impression after touring in it for over 20 years by now. What definitely has changed is that the variety and numbers of the bands have increased quite a bit throughout the past five or six years. That is because of all these cheap ways of recording an album that sounds quite reasonable but doesn’t add anything in particular to the scene in general. All these Helloween clones out there, tons of Helloween clones! That wouldn’t have been possible ten or 15 years ago, because then recording an album was kinda expensive. You would have to go to a decent recording studio paying at least 500 or 600 bucks a day so recording an album was only possible for bands who had a record deal. The company thought carefully about if this was a good idea to invest this kind of money into this artist. Today we get tons of demos that we could put out for free because the musicians don’t want anything for them. There are productions out there for free, piling up like crazy and there are lot of smaller labels who are doing it. Great, you have a variety of bands, but you also have a lot of crap going on. You have these underground fans who say “We really go for this variety of bands, we love it, life never has been better for us!” But I must say I can’t agree. There’s too much crap out there, or maybe crap is not the right word, productions that are unnecessary and add absolutely nothing to the scene. They’re not new, not original. They’re just there and taking away success from other bands. It’s not that I don’t want other bands to be successful, that is ok. But being successful demands a little bit more than just reproducing what others have done before. That is my point. And I’m saying this with Savage Circus emulating Blind Guardian! (laughs) But at least I didn’t emulate Helloween!