PRIMAL FEAR – Ralf Scheepers
Interview by EvilG
There are a handful of bands that have come out in recent years who I not only "like" but who I have added to the pile of bands that I religiously follow. One of those bands is Primal Fear. In my opinion, their latest album, BLACK SUN, is easily one of the best releases of 2002! If you love heavy aggressive power metal with ripping lead guitars and top notch vocals, this should be a band you are already intimately familiar with. Thanks to the people at Nuclear Blast Records I was recently given the opportunity to talk with the vocalist of Primal Fear about the new album and the band.
So how’s everything going today? Busy with interviews?
Actually I’m injured. I have a torn ligament in my right foot, but everything is okay. No problem.
Oh really? How did you do that?
I didn’t really watch my step, and somehow when I was going down the stairs, I fell up one stair and I was just bending over with my right foot and I hurt myself pretty much. But it’s okay, no problem.
As long as you don’t hurt your voice.
So let’s get started. I wanted to start off by talking about the new album "Black Sun", which is awesome.
First of all an obvious question that a lot people have probably wondered why you traveled to Texas to work on BLACK SUN?
That was just some bits and pieces we fit in Texas in terms of recording. But we did that because we just want to concentrate a hundred percent on the mixing and not somehow stay at home and be surrounded by maybe some bad things. Maybe the car would break or the refrigerator would break or just some common problems like yelling girlfriends or whatever (laughs). That’s the reason we packed our stuff and moved it over there. It’s always good to be in the States and somehow also get contact to the studio scene there. And also we invited Mike Chlasciak from Halford, who became our close friend, and we let him play two solos, one for "Fear" and one for "Controlled". We had a good time too, it was great.
So would you do it again? Was it a good experience to do that away from home?
Yeah it was a good experience. We already did that on the Jaws of Death album. We went down to Florida in the Morrisound studio. Sometimes it’s good to do those things. Sometimes you just learn a lot of new techniques and so-on, but on the other side you find out that we are not from far away here with our stuff. We can really do it here as well, but the thing is like I mentioned before, just concentrating a hundred percent on mixing and you can do that in the studio, work around the clock or whatever.
Were all the songs written before you did go into the studio there in Germany?
Yes, we always do this. We had twenty songs together actually, and we narrowed it down to thirteen songs and had a very democratic decision of the band.
So obviously everybody is going to say "What about the remaining tracks?" Did they get recorded, or will they be used for B-sides releases?
Actually they are recorded just for demo versions for our pre production and then maybe there’s going to be one or two songs or whatever, maybe more, for the next album. We are just very, very creative now these days. Like I said, we are five people composing and this is just very good.
So perhaps you can tell me a bit about the creative process in Primal Fear and how it works, and how most songs are put together and composed.
Well the good thing, the very big advantage like I said before, is just everybody is collecting ideas and recording stuff, and we sit them together in our rehearsing room when we’re doing these pre production things, everybody is invited to work and give his ideas for the songs. This is the good thing that everybody is involved, and not only one or two people are responsible for the songs. That’s one of the reasons why this album went so fast. It’s just one year ago that we released Nuclear Fire, it was generally 2001, and now in April 2002 there’s Black Sun. So after making a huge tour last year this is just a good effort, I think.
What do you think differs "Black Sun" from "Nuclear Fire"?
I think this time you can really hear that there’s more work in the solos and the guitar composing. You can really hear that Henny and Stefan grew together from playing so much together live and they know each others styles really good. I think you can really hear that composing wise we went a step further in terms of guitar work.
Do you think that a band needs to continually try to sound different on every album, or do you think that once you hit a good thing you should stick with it?
Well I think it’s both things. I think you should somehow stick to your kind of thing. I think the good thing about Primal Fear is that you can really hear it when you listen to the CDs, is that the style is somehow a red line through all the albums. Sometimes you have your time when you want to try out a little bit more, like for example on songs like "Magic Eye" or whatever, we just want to try out something new and it still fits very good into the whole thing and the whole concept.
Do you have any favorite songs from the new album then?
Well yeah. I like each and every song of course because I have to sing it haha. I think there’s one or two songs I really like. There’s one or two I’ll mention…maybe "Light years From Home" is a pretty good track, and "Armageddon" and "We Go Down." But like I said before, I like each and every song.
Since your bass player, Matt, is also a vocalist, he finally had an opportunity to do a duet with you. I was wondering what took so long for this to come about?
Well it was just the story of the song. It’s the story of two contrary opinions in one person, two contrary persons maybe in one brain or whatever. It was somehow an angel/devil story and it was pre-fed to make it for two vocalists. Matt did a great job on the pre-production, and he sings so much live with me doing all the second harmony stuff, so it was just obvious that he would do it more in the studio as well. There was no reason to invite somebody else, he’s doing a good job.
Do you think you’ll do something like that again maybe?
Never say never, but maybe. Why not?
In terms of the line-up, you’ve had a stable line-up for two albums. Has this been a benefit to the band? I guess it obviously helped with the recording process because like you said, here we are just a year later and you have a new album.
Henny, he fits just perfect into Primal Fear. He’s coming more from the Rock & Roll / Heavy Metal stuff from Thunderhead. He’s a great composer and a very good person and we have a good time when we’re together. There’s no reason to change anything now.
One comment that some people make, and I was just wondering if you’re tired of hearing it, and that is people comparing Primal Fear to Judas Priest. Or is it considered a compliment?
Both. It really does, because it’s been a like red line through all my career since I have been singing. Not only because of the vocals also sometimes the guitars or maybe composing wise, reminds them of Judas Priest. I can only say about my vocals when I sing, when I open my mouth I just do what I want to do and I don’t care about who I maybe sound like. But it’s a great honor of course being talked about Rob Halford and Ralf Scheepers in one sentence. It’s a great honor for me because he’s not the worst vocalist around! The thing about the music of Primal Fear, maybe sometimes it does have a little bit of Judas Priest in it, but coming from the background we are coming from, we were into metal in the eighties and as metalheads, we loved bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Judas Priest, etc. So it affected us pretty much yeah.
Do you kind of feel that your style of music has sort of carried on from where Judas Priest left off with their Painkiller album? While they don’t sound like Judas Priest anymore really.
You know, really I think for us it’s not somehow an obvious step that we did that we now want to sound like Judas Priest because they don’t do it anymore. Maybe if we would have been earlier, wow, what a sentence, then we would have done the same thing without listening to Judas Priest or Painkiller or whatever. You know, it’s just like I said before it’s our kind of thing we love and we won’t change anything about that.
Right. The last Priest-related question , I was wondering what your thoughts are on Demolition.
I’m very sorry, but I don’t like it so much but it’s also not a fault of Ripper Owens, he’s a great vocalist doing a great job! I don’t like so much the change of style from the last two albums. I think it’s not a decision of the vocalist or whatever, it’s the decision of the whole band. They want to go that way. It’s not up to me to judge that because I’m not a member of Priest.
Back to Primal Fear, there’s a storyline to Black Sun. Can you briefly outline what the storyline is?
Yeah, no problem. We’re going out in the universe, it’s very obvious, but it’s not the first time for a band to go out there. The universe is big enough for a lot of bands so if everybody would like they could follow us. That story is a very "science fictional" story about how in the future mankind cannot live on this planet because everything is just wrecked up and everybody is fighting and are having wars and unfortunately there’s a little bit of reality in songs like "Armageddon" and "Fear." We sent out our iron eagle. We’ve had them for four albums now and this time they’re supposed to be spaceships combined with some biological stuff in there. We sent them out in space in search of the black sun which should be another planet for mankind to inhabit. And on this trip, on this journey, there’s a lot of adventures going on and basically that’s what we’re talking about in the whole story.
Right. Was the storyline worked on by the whole band or did you mostly come up with the idea for the story?
Yeah, I mean everybody is writing all of the lyrics and when we came up with the idea of naming the album "Black Sun" it was very obvious for everybody in the band that this time we write a lot of science fiction things. When we were ready with these twenty songs and narrowed it down to thirteen songs we found out there’s somehow a red line, and a couple fit together and said "well now we have a story". So everybody is involved in the story.
Are you a big fan of science fiction? Has it been an influence on your lyric writing?
Yes I’m a very big fan of science fictional stuff and actually I’m also a very big fan of astronomical stuff.
Do you read a lot, or is it more movies you’re into?
It’s more really looking into the sky. I have a telescope. Actually you don’t see too much going on there of course but it’s all a lot of planets. It’s all Jupiter and Saturn and Mars. It’s nebula stuff so it’s pretty interesting looking up there. And also of course I’m a big fan of science fictional movies.
Star Trek yes, and also Star Wars is pretty good.
Regarding the eagle that has been on all all your album covers, would you call it your mascot?
You can really say that, yeah. Stephan was the designer of the very first album. He used to draw natural eagles. When we came up to him and asked him would he draw something for us he made this metal eagle for the first album, and we really fell in love with this kind of eagle and I actually have it on my arm as a tattoo. We want to really keep it because it’s a good label for us, for a Heavy Metal band. It has aggression, it shows power and also liberty somehow so we think it fits pretty good for a Heavy Metal band.
So this is something that you’ll continue to use on each of your album covers in different variations?
Yeah, we will yeah.
What does the eagle symbolize? It symbolizes like you said the liberty and strength and all that kind of thing…anything else?
Yeah, it’s that, exactly.
Do you have an idea already for your next album or have you thought that far ahead yet?
No we don’t have any idea yet. We just started to rehearse and to prepare for some festivals and also for the huge tour we will do in September and October this year, then we will think about another album, another concept maybe for the next album.
Last year you played for the first time in the United States at the Milwaukee and the New Jersey Metal festivals, and I actually had the good fortune to see you in New Jersey, and I must say, Primal Fear was easily the best performance of the festival.
Wow! thank you.
And I was wondering how did it feel to play in the USA for the first time? Because not many metal bands get to come over from Germany.
First of all it was a hell of a stretch to fly there Friday and play there Saturday and fly back Sunday, but it was pretty much worth it because we had a good reaction as you also saw and we were very pleased to have such a great response and we’ll definitely come over there again because it’s just great and hopefully there’s going to be more fans in the future which will come. I think it’s such a great, big land over there so it’s pretty hard to do a tour over there, but concerning festivals…why not? It’s always good to come there.
Do you have any hopes of maybe doing a festival or some kind of appearance for this "Black Sun" tour in North America somewhere?
Yeah, it would be great. If there was some interest, and I already heard that there is some interest, we will just shortly fly over there again and do some shows, whatever.
You also recently I believe filmed a video for "Armageddon", right? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah, it was recorded in an old factory hall and it was fucking cold in there, we were freezing our asses off! Actually it was filmed on 16mm film so you can really see the faces because if you record a video in that medium it’s pretty hard with the lights an so on, so this time it’s pretty good surrounding and pretty good material and I think the song "Armageddon" is a pretty good story too.
Do you use and ideas from the storyline incorporated into the video, or is it more of a live performance?
No, actually it was more the line-up of the band and the background with the real factory and so-on. It’s pretty much a Heavy Metal scene we have. We just thought it would be a little bit too much if we just picked up a quick story because it’s such a sad thing and we didn’t want to add some pictures in there concerning the 11th of September of course.
The last video you did was from the Nuclear Fire album "Angel in Black" and it didn’t get played over here unfortunately on our TV stations. Did it get played much over in Europe? Do the video shows play that style of music?
Yeah I remember that they played it sometimes in Germany, on a German channel but unfortunately they really somehow deny Heavy Metal bands. It’s a sad thing because I think Heavy Metal bands deserve to be played. They’re going in the charts here actually, and I don’t know why they just don’t play the Heavy Metal stuff so much. We just hope that we get shown in South Europe and also we have the modern media right now with the internet where they can see the video, and hopefully we’re going to be shown in South America and so-on.
Are you planning to put the full video online for people to check out or?
Yes I think it’s already online. The full thing.
The full thing is? I figured it was only a clip there but I wasn’t sure. I’ll have to check it out.
Okay. Me too because I’m not 100% sure.
Regarding videos and things like that, is there any talk of the band doing a DVD with your videos and some live stuff or anything?
Yeah definitely. We recorded so much live, for example Wacken we did in Germany with a professional film team from the UK shooting the whole show, and also we have a large thing from our own because our technician has a handy cam and is shooting as much as he can. We have the making of the Black Sun album, some scenes from that event and also the making of the "Armageddon" video, and a lot more live things coming on. Also some little clips from the past like our bands like Sinner and Gamma Ray. It’s probably an interesting thing for the fans. And we’re planning to release it somewhere around January or February (2003).
Okay excellent. Looking forward to that for sure.
Yeah, me too.
I love DVDs. For every band that I’m into, I always buy their DVDs.
Yeah it’s pretty cool. There’s so much information an so-on. It’s pretty good.
It’s also good for, like I said, a lot of bands don’t come over here, a lot of bands that I’m into, so I get to see them live on at least DVD anyway. [Cool.] So, would you ever consider doing a side project, or is that something you don’t have time for?
Well first of all I don’t really have the time for it and secondly, I think as a vocalist I’m really concentrating 100% on Primal Fear. I think as a vocalist it’s pretty important to keep to the band you are making music with because otherwise maybe the fans will get confused in what you’re doing because I think for example Jeff Scott Soto is a great vocalist but in my opinion he’s just doing too much. People get confused what band it is. Of course I did one thing for Ayreon. He came up to me some years ago and asked me if I could join for one or two songs on his album and I said "Yeah, of course. Why not?", so I did it for his album, Flight of the Migrator. But I think in the future I will pretty much stick to Primal Fear.
One other question related to that, and I’m sure a lot of people have asked. Would you ever consider working in some form of capacity with Kai Hansen again?
Well, never say never. I mean there’s still a good relationship, but I’m 100% sure that I’ll never be the vocalist for Gamma Ray again. But the thing is, maybe for a song or two why not? I have no problem with that.
So what are your plans for the coming months? Is there just straight ahead touring or do you have some time off before you jump into that?
We have some time off until we play in Moscow at the end of June. And then we go to Russia; I’m pretty much looking forward to that event. And then we’re just preparing for the tour in September which is going to be around Europe and then we head over to South America, Mexico, Brazil and Columbia. And we’re talking about going to Japan again this year, so it’s pretty much more focused on the fall of this year.
Since this is your fourth album, do you find it harder to pick your set list for what you are going to play live?
Yeah, we just started to rehearse this last Saturday and play some new tracks which are pretty good. We didn’t expect that because we had a big break in the studio. So we just met each other, sat in and played and it went pretty good for the first time. So we are just discussing a set list. It’s pretty hard to decide, but we’ll find something so everybody will be pleased and satisfied with it.
Is there any albums that you probably won’t focus on as much? Do you think you’ll be playing more stuff from Nuclear Fire and Black Sun?
I think it’s going to be a great mixture from everything.
And besides the new album, what album would you say is your favorite? I know you’ll say you like them all but…
Yeah, you always like the last you did (laughs). So now it’s like BLACK SUN of course and before it was Nuclear Fire, haha It’s always the new one that you really like.
Yeah for sure. Well I think that’s about all I wanted to ask you about. Is there any other news going on with the band that you wanted me to pass along to people?
No, not at the moment, I think you really know a lot of things as I found out with your questions (laughs).
Ok, well I’d just like to thank you for your time, and for the album and for the album.