Ralf Scheepers is known for his fantastic voice and its marvelous capacity and above all being the charismatic frontman of Primal Fear. Even though Ralf has gained a lot of attention and respect via Primal Fear, the man has a legacy from the heyday of the 80’s metal. As widely known Scheepers became well known as the frontman for Gamma Ray in the early 90’s. Before teaming up with Kai Hansen to pursue Gamma Ray, Scheepers used to front an obscure trad metal outfit called Tyran’ Pace and released three albums between 1984 and 1986. After quitting the band, he started collaborating more and more with Kai Hansen and working on his new band project after Hansen’s successful Helloween era. The beginning wasn’t that easy for a new band. Through those rough years of Heavy and trad metal, Gamma Ray with Ralf struggled and released three albums having turned out milestones of the whole of of power metal. However INSANITY AND GENIUS was the last album featuring Ralf Scheepers on the mic. New challenges were waiting as Judas Priest showed their interest toward Scheepers. Ralf had sung in a Priest cover band for years. Even though Tim “Ripper” Owens was chosen for the job with Judas Priest, Scheepers teamed up with Matt Sinner to pursue their common interest in Primal Fear. After ten years and seven albums, Primal Fear entered Helsinki as a co-headliner with U.D.O and Ralf sat down with us to talk about several issues. Above all Primal Fear’s new album and new record label were the priority issues of the interview. Of course it was obvious to take a glance at Ralf’s past and ask Randy Black a few questions about Annihilator. Enjoy… Metal Is Forever !!!!!
INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Transcription by Duke
I guess this is your second time here in Finland. Last time you played here at Tuska Festival in 2005?
You are now doing this co-headlining tour with U.D.O. There are two German heavy metal tanks together on tour, whose idea was that tour originally?
Actually it was Matt’s idea, who handles a lot of business aspects. As I said, there are so many tours now that you have to do something a bit extra. After over 20 shows, people have been really enjoying it. It’s just a good package. Tomorrow we are leaving for Czechoslovakia, which is our last stop together. U.D.O. will keep rocking in Austria while we go to Japan. So we kick out after the last show in two days, fly straight home to be with our families for a bit and then go to Japan. After Japan we come together again in Germany for ten, twelve shows until Christmas. It’s going to be until the 21 or 22 do December, actually.
Tonight’s show in Helsinki is almost sold out but wasn’t it a small letdown for you to first drive in the North of Finland and then have only 200 people in Oulu show yesterday?
Oulu show, we were surprised! We were told that U.D.O. always had a sold-out show there and now coming with us there were less people so… (laughs) But it’s got nothing to do with Primal Fear of course. I think there are so many bands on tour so I think people keep the money together and they saw U.D.O. many times. Maybe they think the package is too expensive + in the end we were satisfied with the result because people were happy with the show.
I also heard that you had to cancel some shows in Sweden on this tour?
We only had to cancel one show and don’t ask me the reason why. It was not about us, it was the promoter. It was to be the sixth night in a row with a show so me as a vocalist, I was a little bit happy. Of course we could have done it, no problem.
Although there have been some surprises there, this must been such a good package tour for both of you bands, but what if you could pick up any band with you, what would be the ultimate touring package for you and Primal Fear?
It’s a hard question because we’ve almost done everything. We’ve been touring with Halford in America and with a lot of good bands here in Europe as well. I think this is a perfect package, nothing to complain about it.
You mentioned the tour in America with Halford and other bands. It must have been Immortal, Vio-Lence and…
Yeah. I can’t remember all the names, I have them on my t-shirt in my suitcase!
That tour didn’t last too long. It got canceled after few shows. Why did that did happen?
Yeah, we only did some dates but there was a big machine rolling on the road. There was way too much production and way too many high-liners with luxury whatever which had to be paid. And there were not so many people showing up to pay for this. Somebody made a miscalculation, a management thing, and in the end all the bands got pissed.
NEW ALBUM – NEW RELIGION
Your new album NEW RELIGION has done very well in Japan and Germany, even though you had a problem with illegal downloading before it came out?
Every band has that problem nowadays. It’s just the thing with torrents and that stuff nowadays. Of course it bothers band a lot because you imagine you get your reward for over a year in the studio collecting ideas, recording them and everything. On the other hand, you don’t have to be a whining pussy as well because sometimes you want to have one song or two free. So I understand both sides. But they’re getting the whole album so obviously that bothers us a lot.
Did you ever find out who was that behind that leak?
No. We never found out. If you just go ahead and punish one guy, the next day you have to punish ten others. It’s all bullshit nowadays. I think the industry fucking missed a lot ten years ago to get the right things going, to get it under control so this doesn’t happen. It didn´t happen from the industry and it was a big mistake and they’re whining pussies who now lose a lot of money.
Speaking some more of the new album, where does that title come from? Do you support some kind of new religion? (laughs)
Not at all! It’s something of a new beginning. Of course it’s a strong title for a new album so we thought that when we had changed record label and then we got Henny back in the band, somehow this is the start of a new chapter. That’s the reason for choosing the strong title NEW RELIGION for it.
How do you usually pick out the titles for the albums? NUCLEAR FIRE, BLACK SUN, DEVIL´S GROUND, it sounds like they have a deeper meaning?
One or two guys make suggestions about titles and then we decide in a democratic way. Also for the songs we choose, the titles are also picked democratically. Basically Matt comes up with the titles and we throw it around and see if we take it or not.
The album titles always have a connection with the cover. Take DEVIL´S GROUND, it has some kind of damnation on the back cover?
Yeah, it’s the resurrection of our eagle, our tribal that we always use as a symbol. It’s our mascot somehow; people know that this eagle belongs to Primal Fear. It’s not a new idea to have an eagle, but this certain eagle is Primal Fear.
You have some interesting names like Simone Simone from Epica and Magnus Karlsson guesting on the album but what happened to Kai Hansen who was originally supposed to be one guest as well?
Kai didn’t appear but we had some interesting conversations on the phone. Kai was so busy doing his own album, but we found some other interesting names like Magnus Karlsson from Sweden and of course Simone singing this one song on the album with me. The idea came up almost one and a half years ago when we played in Brazil together with After Forever. We thought it would be great to make a duet with a female vocalist. I heard the Epica stuff as well and she has an amazing voice. It perfectly fit with the song "Every Time It Rains" so we just thought "let’s do it"! She liked the song as well, that was the most important thing. She came and we did it.
Did you ever think about having a Finnish female singer on the album, like a former Nightwish singer, heh?
Of course we did think about that! But we thought that Simone was great choice. Maybe Tarja was too expensive, I dunno? She´s amazing, no doubt about it.
After a few listens, I would say that this album is the most 80’s style album you’ve ever done. I mean there are more melodic and hard rock elements and less power metal on this. Do you agree with that?
No so much. We have a good mixture of everything I suppose. I think what we wanted to do was to spread a little more variety so people can listen more to good melodies, keep the heavy metal riffs and my vocals in Primal Fear and try something new out. This is a good time to try it out and people will accept it because we accepted it first. We always try things out first in the band and I think this was a good thing for the public because people liked it. I think we will continue like that, just try out things and see what happens.
The first single from the album "Fighting the Darkness" is very pop oriented song?
Well, it’s a ballad. It’s like I said that thing with the melodies if you want to get a few more fans, which is our intention. Of course, first we have to like the song. When I first heard it on the demo I had goose bumps and thought it could be a hit. But nowadays it’s so hard to get a hit for a metal band.
LABELS – CHANGES
It’s a bit off the point, but it’s almost impossible to find your new album from anywhere in Finland, did you know about that?
Maybe it sounds like bullshit, but I don’t think it’s the fault of the record company, more like the distribution. I have to speak a bit with Matt about that afterwards; I don’t know what’s happening? It’s tough if they’re not in the record stores. In Sweden I saw our albums. Maybe there’s a problem with the distribution here in Finland? We will see what happens when I talk to Matt about it.
As you must know, Frontier Records is much better known for bands like Winger, Joe Lynn Turner and Journey, how does Primal Fear fit in this family?
I know where you’re going with this, your intention behind it. But if you look back 20 years, Priest was signed to EMI who were also bringing out pop music and whatever. I don’t think it’s a matter of what genre they’re concentrating on. It’s a matter of what work they do and they do great work for us. Apart from what we said before, but I don’t think that problem is with the company. They fought so hard to get us, there were other companies interested to get us and they were really offering a lot to get us. The people in the company stood behind the music of Primal Fear and that was really important for us. They never interfere with our music and that is the most important thing for us.
I can’t help asking about your previous label, Nuclear Blast. You were there for ten years or something like that and now you’re in another company. Did your contract expire, did you just leave or what happened there?
There were problems of course; otherwise it would not have happened. On the other hand, after a ten year relationship we were thinking about changing the team a little. We weren’t satisfied with the work they did for SEVEN SEALS and thought that in foreign countries they could have done a bit more. And as Matt was working personally for Nuclear Blast there were some problem for him, personal problems. At the same time, the band wasn’t satisfied with the work of Nuclear Blast because some people in Nuclear Blast were concentrating on other things than pushing Primal Fear.
RALF’S SOLO ALBUM
You recently did a deal about a solo album, also with Frontiers records. What kind of material can we can expect from that album?
That just happened; it’s very, very fresh information. I have so many songs in my heart that wouldn’t fit in Primal Fear. I won’t do something totally different, just even more experimental than in Primal Fear. I’m going to invite some guests and let them write some songs. So I think it will take a while to think about, we might record the first note at the end of 2008.
How about the line up on that album. Are you able to reveal any names that would appear on the album?
Most important is that they are my friends. For example, Roy Z has become a good friend. We got to know each other on the Halford tour like I mentioned before. I think the most important thing is to have a good relationship. No name-dropping, I’m not a fan of that! It’s like when people ask me on MySpace to sing on their albums – sorry guys! I don’t have the time and I want to be the singer of Primal Fear. If I want to do a solo, I do a solo.
When did you first get an idea for your own solo album?
There was always a little thought in my mind to do something sometime. But now Mat came up to me and had a suggestion to do it now. So why not?
Primal Fear in 2005
Back to Primal Fear. In the past few years you’ve had quite a few line up changes, why?
Not that many, but quite a few.
Do you think that band line up is stable now?
I just hope so. What is most important now that we tour again is that we have a good vibe and a good feeling. We had some problems when we were recording NEW RELIGION, we didn’t have this good vibe, some people who didn’t want to do their jobs, there was ego problems and stuff like that?
Is must be Tom Neumann you’re talking about?
Yes. I don’t want to talk bad about anyone but he was not happy so we had to make a change to get the good vibe back in the band.
How about Henny, is he permanently back in the band now?
Yes. He just had so many things to do with his family and had a lot of obligations so it was really tough for him to be gone for such a long time. Also for me, but I did it in the end.
I have seen Primal Fear three times, and I’ve been thinking like: "That guy is from Sinner and that guy is from Sinner", then when I watch Sinner it’s like "That guy is from Primal Fear!" That’s quite confusing, you’re like a one big family, a kind of?
Yeah. It’s not a problem for us. They make different music, Sinner is different from Primal Fear. Not only because of the vocals, also because of the music. I know what you mean though.
RANDY BLACK- THE MAN BEHIND THE DRUMS
One question about Randy Black, I remember there was a lot of bad blood in the air when he joined in the band and left Annihilator and…
Wait, Randy! Give us two minutes, there’s a question about you! I think its better that he answers, I don’t know what happened when he left Annihilator.
Tell us briefly how did you end up in this band? You’re Canadian originally?
RANDY: Yes. Well, at the point I joined Primal Fear I was already living in Germany. In -95 I was on tour with Annihilator and met my fiancée. Three years later I got the offer to teach drums in Berlin and left right away. I took that opportunity and was living there for about three years and then I started endorsing a drum company. I did a performance for them at the Frankfurt music fair and Stefan, the guitar player, was in the crowd and saw me play. Two weeks later they had a tour offer…
RALF: For an American tour.
RANDY: An American tour, the Metal Gods tour with Halford. Klaus, the drummer at the time, couldn’t get time off from work so Stefan thought "Hey, I saw this guy at the Musik Messe!" and wrote me an e-mail. I saw the dates, said "Send me the music!" I heard the music and said "Yeah, I’d love to do it!" That’s how it started, I went on and did that tour for them. Just as a substitute for a four week tour.
RALF: And then that guy kicked so much ass that we thought "Wow! This is a change for the band in a very positive way".
But didn’t Jeff (Waters) got very angry with you at that point?
RANDY: Omffffffff….. Yeah. But I don’t know why. It was just a very bad situation in Annihilator then so I was glad to be out of it. It was a fun band to play in but…. awww… anyway!
Annihilator didn’t do too much back then, right?
RANDY: True, there wasn’t that much to do.
You have been living 9 years in Germany. Do you speak German now?
RANDY: Yes. A little bit.
RALF: But it’s good training for us to speak English so we stick to English.
I met Jeff Waters just a couple of months ago, he was in Finland with Annihilator supporting for Trivium.
RANDY. Ah, ok.
He didn’t say anything bad about you but he was little disappointed that you and some other guy (Joe Comeau) did deny him to use of old material for the Annihilator DVD?
RANDY: Well, I won’t go into too much detail but there are some things in the past that aren’t settled and to make a long story short I said, "Let’s settle that, then let’s talk about the DVD". Couldn’t do it so I didn’t want any part of it. That’s it? Thanks!
BACK TO THE RALF’S METAL HISTORY
Do you mind if we go a bit into the past of yours?
There are rumours which say that you did some gigs with Helloween in 85-86, is that true?
No, I didn’t. I never sang for Helloween. Just after I was in Gamma Ray, when they played in my hometown I jumped on stage with them and did "I Want Out" or whatever. But I never really sang for Helloween. They asked me of course, but I said "No, I want to stick to my friends and my hometown". I was a young dude of course, 20 years old and just said "I want to stay". So I never really sang for Helloween.
Funny to hear that from you because it’s written everywhere that you did three shows with them in -86 or something?
You know, many things are written wrong.
Tyran Pace was your band that did three albums and then it was briefly reunited later in the 90s?
Yeah, actually we did four albums. First it was EYE TO EYE, then it was LONG LIVE METAL… fuck was it WATCHING YOU? Yeah, it was three albums. Thing is that Olli Kaufmann still was active in this cover band in the area around south Germany, where a lot of bands earned their money from covering songs. Some guys came with the suggestion ‘Why not to do our own music with your name Tyran Pace?" Olli just said "Why not? Let’s try it" and didn’t really think about what was happening then. Afterwards they were so fucking bothered by the press and the people like "Why do you use this name, it’s got nothing to do with Tyran Pace anymore?" They got sick of it and changed the name again because there were so many questions about me that they didn’t want to answer.
It’s been so long since I last time heard Tyran Pace. What kind of response did you get at the time?
So many bad critics and mixed critics and sound wise I wasn’t satisfied for my own part. WATCHING YOU had the better sound of the albums so I was satisfied with that one, but before that it was just shrike and I never heard my voice in there, just some voice screaming. Now I know what I got to do with my voice.
I read an article a long time ago about the German power metal band Scanner which said that you were supposed to be the singer for their debut album. Is there any truth behind that story?
Yeah, that was a little bit different. Their singer had a big problem in the studio and we were in the studio at the same time in -86 recording WATCHING YOU. Frank Bornemann from the studio came up to me and said "Could you help him a little bit, he’s got problems?" We just went through the songs with him and gave him suggestions. But I never actually sung anything for them.
Not even backing vocals?
I think I did some lines, I can’t remember actually? Maybe I did but it wasn’t much.
Gamma Ray during INSANITY AND GENIUS album in 1993
One more band from your past and much better known: Gamma Ray. You were first contacted by Kai around 1989?
Well, actually it was earlier in -88. Kai was leaving Helloween and remembered that there was a guy in South Germany who was singing with a good voice. Actually I called Kai up and said that I was in a cover band doing nothing and said "Let’s do something together?" and he said "Oh yeah, I remember you!" So we came together and did the Kai Hansen solo project which then became Gamma Ray.
Would you say that Gamma Ray was more Kai’s solo project than a real band in the beginning?
Kai wanted it to be a real band. The company wanted it to be a solo thing because of the marketing, that’s why the first one had two covers. The outside was Kai Hansen with the grey cover and inside it was Gamma Ray with me on the cover. The record company didn’t want that because everybody knew about Kai Hansen and nobody knew Gamma Ray of course.
The title track HEADING FOR TOMORROW was a really old track originally written by Kai for a band called Second Hell. How much did you change the original version of the song for Gamma Ray album?
I didn’t know that. You’re the first guy to tell me! Kai did 90 percent of the song writing. For the first album "Mr Outlaw" was a song from me, but then Kai did 90 percent of it and he always did.
I would say that INSANITY AND GENIUS was the best album that you did with Gamma Ray.
I would agree, from the time I was in the band. I think they did great albums after me also. I liked… not LAND OF THE FREE but the one after that…
SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE?
Yeah, it was just perfect! Songs like "Valley Of The Kings" are just perfect, Kai is perfect with his composing and a really nice guy. If you have problems so you can’t continue, then afterwards we just sorted it out so we have no problems at all. That’s why we always enjoy meeting each other and always talk about doing something together again, just for a song or whatever, not as a band or a project but just for a song. Why not?
HEADING FOR TOMORROW did really well in Japan, you even had your own karaoke album. Have you heard it?
Yes, I have! “laughs”
During that period the whole metal scene wasn’t doing too well in Europe or anywhere? How was the overall response for Gamma Ray and how many people did you pulled at shows in Germany?
I don’t think that compared to now it was so much down. There were always coming a lot of people, over a thousand people, which now is really hard to achieve. There’s always this basic amount of fans of metal. I don’t think it will ever die because you have these basic fans that are the truest and they stay there. Of course we have peaks and lows but it’s always there and it will always be there.
You left Gamma Ray after INSANITY AND GENIUS. There were a lot of rumours about the break up and about the reasons behind that decision. One was that you wanted to concentrate on your work in an electronics company. One rumour was saying that the distance between you and Kai was too long and one was saying that you were out because you were seriously trying to get a job from Judas Priest. What’s the truth here?
The fact is that there were many reasons. One thing was that I couldn’t move to Hamburg because of my job. I have to pay for my house and my car and everything and if I would move to Hamburg with no job and almost no money from the band, I couldn’t do it. But they didn’t understand it, for them I had to move up to concentrate on the new album. I said "Guys, I can’t!" Even now you have so many bands where people come out from America and different parts of the world and it’s working, so I didn’t understand that point. And of course I tried with Judas Priest; I was just trying it out. I sent them my tape, they liked it and I was happy about it. So in the end I said this to Kai and they asked what I would do if I got the job and I said "I would do the job, I’m sorry". I’m honest, sorry. And it was a time where they wanted to sing their own songs. Dirk not only sung on the demo, he sung his song on the album and I said, "Hey, you guys don’t really need a vocalist anymore". There were so many reasons, not just one, but the biggest reason was that the vibe just wasn’t there anymore. For me, that’s the most important point. But now it’s all sorted out.
SOMETHING ABOUT JUDAS PRIEST
Now when you mentioned Judas Priest, how far it actually went? Did you do an audition and stuff like that with band?
I never went to an audition. I sent my tape, videos with Gamma Ray and stuff, they really liked it and I know that for KK Downing I was at the top of the list. But I heard that Glenn Tipton didn’t like my English too much because I’m German. That was the very first thing I said to Jayne Andrews, "I’m not going to make it because I’m German!" "No no, it’s got nothing to do with that!" I was waiting for two and a half years to get a reaction and only thing I heard was that at one point Glenn was going to do a solo album. They were waiting and waiting and waiting and I was waiting and waiting and waiting. Nothing happened and suddenly a letter came that they had found their man. That was most disappointing moment for me. Now I have no problems with it because I have a great band going on and Priest had a fucking great singer with Tim Owens. He was really doing a good job.
How did you like Ripper’s debut album JUGULATOR with Priest?
It’s got nothing to do with the songs. I mean, I don’t think he’s responsible for the songs either. I didn’t like it to be honest, but the way he was singing was just great.
Well, how did you like Rob Halford’s return album ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION then?
Very good! I got to know Rob before he got back to Judas Priest when we were in America and he’s a very nice guy. He’s down to earth and he’s got respect for people who are also talented and he always says it too. We still have e-mail contact, somehow he became a mate of mine, and he’s great! An icon who is just a down to earth guy, I like that very much.
Back in the day you used to have your own cover band called Just Priest. Isn’t that band still active?
All that is another thing… I was rehearsing for Priest and did it with some mates from my hometown. This is also why Primal Fear happened. We did some shows as Just Priest and we played in some small places in our hometown. Then the original guitar player couldn’t play and then the bass player so I invited Matt and Tom from Sinner to help me out and they did it. So we got in contact and started talking about a new project. That was the birth of Primal Fear but some of the other guys still continue Just Priest with totally different people and use the name. What the fuck, I don’t care about Just Priest which is a bitchy name for me! But when those people continue and think they do a fucking great job, even better than the original, I’m going to laugh about it!
Thanks for your time Ralph!
No problem guys!
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