Interviewed by EvilG
Promotional pics by Frontiers Records
There are many great vocalists that come to mind in heavy metal. The legends like Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson are often the top names mentioned in reverence. Well, a fourth name should be added to that list and that name is Ralf Scheepers. The ex-Gamma Ray singer, Primal fear vocalist, and now solo artist has one of the strongest and best voices in heavy metal. Ralf’s new solo album sees him mainly sticking to what we’re known him for, but also throwing in a few twists that you would not hear from a Primal Fear record. We caught up with Ralf to discuss his solo album and to get an update on current activity withing the Primal Fear camp.
Hi Ralf, thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Metal Rules. The solo album is great! It’s a perfect mix of Primal Fear styled metal mixed with some surprises. Have all the reviews been positive? Seems like the album is being favorably received by the press and by fans?
So far yes. Of course there are people here and there who might not know my name. I read one critic, one review, from a guy who didn’t even know Primal Fear so this was kind of odd anyway. But for people into this genre of music, they like it a lot and that’s great.
I guess the most asked question has to be, why a solo album and why now?
I’ve been collecting ideas over the years which I couldn’t really use for Primal Fear in the end. I spoke to Mat (Mat Sinner, Primal Fear bassist) 5 or 6 years ago and said I might like to do a solo album at some point in my career. It was just an idea, and he thought it wasn’t a bad idea. When it came close to doing it, in the end we decided not to do a ballad only album. It would be stupid to do that because Scheepers stands for heavy metal as well. That’s the reason why we composed some songs around it in the last two years. With the team of Magnus (Primal Fear guitarist Magnus Karlsson) and Sander Gommans formerly from After Forever and Mat and also Alex Beyrodt (guitarist) helped me do do a little bit more than my mellow stuff which I’ve been collecting over the years.
Some of the album sounds like it could have found a home on a Primal Fear album while some songs sound much less like Primal Fear. Did you deliberately try to make things different while also keeping the Primal Fear sound so fans wouldn’t wonder “what is he doing?!”?
Yes. We love heavy metal and I love heavy metal so of course it was obvious and it was clear to me to also make heavy metal on this album. I grew up on it and I’m still loving it on stage and of course producing music like that. But on the other hand I’ve always been kind of an acoustic shredder at home. I compose songs on my acoustic guitar because I find melodies on it and harmonies. I’m not so good with an electric guitar but if you can do the acoustic guitar, you can shred a little bit, but that’s it. In the end, that’s the way I compose and that’s the reason why I’ve always came up with soft melodies and stuff. But here and there when people send me a hard playback like the songs from After Forever (Sander) and Magnus which when they don’t have a melody or lyrics and stuff, I create my own thing on it.
Lyrically, are there any topics covered that were more personal and better suited to a solo album or subject matter that didn’t fit within the Primal Fear style?
Exactly. Songs like “The Pain of the Accused” is very personal. Songs like for instance, the last one, “Compassion”, I wrote when I was watching TV and saw the earthquake in Haiti. I grabbed my guitar and just shred a little bit and had this melody in mind…and saw all the pictures. I also donated some money for them as well. I just want to show that the balances in the world are not that fair. There are much too wealthy people and much too poor people. You know, I can’t change the world but I can make people think a little bit. Of course “Cyberfreak” is very personal. There are songs on there that might have a little bit more of a personal note than in songs of Primal Fear.
You mentioned “Pain of the Accused”. Would you like to comment on what that song is about for you?
It’s very personal. I was very, very…what can I say…desperate and I also was very disappointed about one person in my life who took the apology but in the end turned everything around against me. That was something very personal that happened three years ago. I wrote it down in lyrics and sung about it. It was not love, it was a friendship thing and stuff. It was pretty tough. It’s so personal, that I don’t want to get too much into what it was.
I’ve read that some of these songs have been in the can for many years. How did you have your ideas stored? Did you write out music notation or make home recordings to catalog this for later use?
Exactly, the second thing. I’ve always been collecting. It started with Cubase with the first baby steps on Windows 3.11 slow machines. Gear-wise it started with a usual SM-58 singing into the machine and that’s it. But over years you get more and more and the world is always faster, higher, wider. So the same thing happened to my recording system at home. I got a great microphone at home now, I have a good compressor, and I also have Pro Tools here and I’m recording my vocals at home now. That also allows the possibility to collect ideas.
Did you also record your acoustic guitar parts like that?
Exactly and I only did acoustic guitars on “Before The Dawn”. That’s the only song where I played all instruments except the solo was done by Victor Smolski from Rage. But everything else was recorded here at home for “Before The Dawn”. Drums were recorded by Snowy Shaw in Sweden. Bass was recorded by Mat at his house. Magnus recorded his guitars at his home studio. It’s pretty much a home studio production because it would be impossible somehow to bring everybody to one studio. Nobody could cover the costs for that (laughs). Also, with Tim Owens, who I sung the “Remission of Sin” duet with, he done his stuff in America and sent the files to me and I put it together here in one session.
That was what I wanted to ask you about next – the Tim Owens collaboration. Did you give him a vocal melody to follow or did you send him a section of music to sing over to to see what what he’d come up with?
He sung the lyrics and the melody that we wanted but that’s absolutely normal and usual to do it like that. If I’m a guest musician, I also get melodies and lyrics that the people want me to do. Of course I then re-sung what they did and he (Tim) also re-sung what I did before. But anyway, I’m really happy! It doesn’t mean that it’s something like, not original or something because he brought his voice. As soon as somebody’s bringing his voice onto a track it’s personal and it’s his kind of thing.
You have an impressive list of guests on the album. Was there anyone in particular that you asked that couldn’t appear for one reason or another that you were hoping for that maybe on a future album can collborate with you?
Actually it was Neal Schon from Journey. I think he was busy and stuff and he couldn’t do it. But everybody else on the album had the time, and that’s the most important thing. Nowadays people are occupied or don’t have the time to do it within the time that I ask. Often on the other hand it’s of course a business thing with the money and stuff. But I can say that Kai Hanson (Gamma Ray) did it for nothing. That’s a really great thing and he’s a great friend. I offered him something and he said “no, no…c’mon let just do it, we’re good buddies.” That was a great thing and I’m really happy about it and about the fact that all my friends I knew from the music scene over the years collaborated with me.
Magnus Karlsson: Lead Guitars; Guitars; Banjo; Accordion; Keyboards
Sander Gommans: Lead Guitar, Guitars
Mike Chlasciak, Alex Beyrodt; Kai Hansen; Victor Smolski: Lead Guitars
Mat Sinner: Bass, Keyboards
Snowy Shaw: Drums
Yeah, as big Gamma Ray fan, I was quite pleased to see that Kai Hansen has a small role on the album. I believe Kai played guitar on "The Pain Of The Accused" right?
He just played the solo guitar. The rhythm guitar were played by Magnus, the bass by Mat. This song is exactly how my demo was. So it’s a song for me but I wanted of course good guitarists to lay the track. In the end I’m really happy that Kai did the solo because it was really close to when he was about to leave for a tour with Avantasia last December. I think he did it the last minute and sent the solo to me.
Have you ever considered working with him again, I don’t mean re-join Gamma Ray, I mean maybe a guest appearance on the next Gamma Ray album? Or having Kai guest vocally or on guitar in Primal Fear?
Yes. You know, you don’t think about it every day. It just comes into your mind because we still have a good relationship, we’re good buddies. I think it’s normal then to help out each other like maybe I could sing for him or maybe he’s going to do something again for me solo-wise or for us in Primal Fear. We will see…never say never.
Regarding the album do you have a favorite song on there or does it change every day?
That’s a tough question. When you have a baby born, which part is the best part of the baby? (laughs). But there are tracks which stand out a little like “Pain of the Accused” or “Doomsday” as well. Like you say, everyday, sometimes it’s different. Today I really like “Remission of Sin” again (laughs). But I’ve heard it 100,000 times; when you produce an album you listen to it over and over again because you have a certain kind of quality-gate and you don’t release any music before you are sure that it is not good enough. It’s inside of every musician to be a little but of a perfectionist.
I think my current favorite song on there is “Doomsday”. I really like the vocal melodies in the chorus, it just really sticks with you.
Cool, that’s great. I love it, thank you, I appreciate it.
Another great song on here is “Before The Dawn”- a Judas Priest cover. Was that the reason you chose this because it isn’t an obvious choice for a Judas Priest cover? It’s not one of their huge songs I guess you could say.
Exactly, you got it man. This song has a certain kind of vibe I’ve always loved and liked. I was singing to it when I was 18, I was singing to it when I was 28, when I was 38, and now almost, well no not 48 yet but…(laughs). I shredded the guitar to it. As I said, I’m an acoustic shredder and I got the pattern for “Before The Dawn”. I just recorded it here and thought that maybe I could use it for my solo album. So I did it in the end because I like the vibe on it. I’ve always loved “Before the Dawn”.
Do you ever envision preforming any live dates for this project? Or if not, would you consider having Primal Fear play one song live in the set as a treat for your fans?
You’re very smart. Yes! (laughs). First, I think there is no time at the moment to do my solo project live because we’re so busy with Primal Fear. We’re heading to South America next week then we’re focusing on composing new tracks for the new Primal Fear album. But we’re gonna play 1 or 2 tracks from my solo album also with Primal Fear. That’s a great move from the guys. We will see what the future brings. If there’s public demand, first I’ve have to set something together because it’s also pretty tough to bring all the guests on stage. It’s not impossible, as we can see with Avantasia, to do such things but you have to plan it really good.
Yeah I remember that Edguy played the Avantasia theme song live before there ever were any live dates for Avantasia.
Exactly and that’s the way you can do it in the first place.
Is there a question about your solo album have people been neglecting to ask you about that you would like to discuss?
Whoa….that’s a….no?! (laughs). Not so far.
So there’s nothing about the album that people haven’t been picking up on that you hoped they would question or mention to you?
No, not so far. I’m happy that everybody is nosy enough to ask me about it (laughs).
I have to ask for an update on how the next Primal Fear album is shaping up. I know you’ve been writing. How much of the album has been written?
We have five tracks together now. Still baby steps, demos and stuff. We are starting to do it like we did for my solo album which is swapping files over the internet. But when we have the time, when we come back after South America, we will team up in one room because I think as a band it’s still important to sit together to do that, to come together in the rehearsal room. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll exchange ideas and stuff and collect maybe 15-20 tracks again and decide at the end what ones will be used for the album.
Do you think there might be anything like “Hands of Time”? I thought that was a great and different song for Primal Fear to do and it worked out live extremely well.
Yeah it did but you know it was just coincidental that the song came up and I think to repeat the very same thing on the next album wouldn’t be so clever but we’ll see. I’m just one person of five in Primal Fear and we will decide it in a democratic way. We will see what happens.
Do you have a rough idea on when it will be out…will it be sometime this year, next year, or do you know yet?
We hope we can release the album this year but it’s gonna be tough schedule-wise. It’s gonna be late this year or early next year.
I understand that with RS VOCAL WORKS you do vocal coaching and lessons. How do you find time for that when you have Primal Fear, your solo project and promotion, Rock Meets Classic, etc.
That’s a good question and I ask myself that as well. I am a teacher at a music school and I also have some students at home. It’s slowly developing. My RS Vocal Works company is not only vocal coaching, it’s everything I do in my solo work and singing for Primal Fear. In Germany we have a certain way of making yourself your own company. Then you have to write a business plan and stuff and everything is inside the business plan…every activity you do. After working 27 years in a usual, common job like being a technician at the company, which is building cars – I won’t mention the company right now. It was pretty tough on the one hand to go out of all this, of the secure way of getting money each and every month. But there was no choice anymore. I had to decide because I couldn’t tell the guys that I can’t go on tour or I can’t do this or that because I don’t have the holidays for it. In the end I decided to make my dream come true, to live from music. This is a hard thing nowadays but hey…we have to keep busy. It’s great to be busy with the things that you love to do.
Do students come to you mostly as fans of your music, or do you also have people in the school who just want to learn vocals and they happen to get you as their teacher?
It’s both. There are fans of course. When they come to Ralf Scheepers they want to learn the heavy metal style of singing. So there’s both kinds of people yeah.
I’ve traveled to see Primal Fear live three times so far, and every time I’ve been amazed at just how strong your voice is live, how you can hit all the high notes with that insane power. Do you have any things you do while on the road to make sure you are able to deliver that kind of performance night after night?
I’ll tell you the truth, it’s not really easy to do it every day but what I’m doing is…last year, I had a very good tour behind me because I was having a lot of sleep, having a lot of water during the day, and being positive! That’s the most important thing. Last year we had a great team together on the road starting from the bus driver to the roadies and the guys who are working for us became close friends. We can’t really say they are just workers for us or just roadies, they are close friends. We had a very good team on the road and this helps me a lot to think positive. There was no bitching or something in the band anymore like we had before. It was just great! To be positive is a good key to making a good show.
Are there any possibilities of any shows in Canada or the USA for 2011 so I can plan my vacation around it! (laughter)
I think it’s gonna be tough for 2011 but we’ll see what happens in 2012. We had a great experience there too man, it was great in Canada to play in Montreal and Toronto.
Yeah, I saw both shows..they were excellent!
That’s great, thanks!
Is there anything else going on with you music-wise that you want to let people know about?
Well I did the Rock Meets Classic thing as a choir-guy (laughs) with three girls. It was a brand new experience for me to do that, to back up Ian Gillan, Lou Gramm, Dan McCafferty, and Les Holroyd in January. It was a great experience to have so many people on stage with the orchestra and band. To have all the guys, like Ian, and finding out that these people are normal people like you and me. This is great because then you have even more respect. I got to know that so many times in the business that people who are really talented and are really delivering the goods are also personable, just very nice people. That what I’ve found in Rob Halford and Geoff Tate and these guys like Ian Gillan and Lou Gramm.
The Rock Meets Classic thing only tours in Europe, I wonder is is something that might ever grow to tour throughout the world or if not, maybe record a DVD?
This is a tough question because I’m not the promoter of all this. It’s Mat’s business. It started in Europe, it’s not in the whole of Europe, it’s only in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. It’s not so easy to record a DVD because of the rights of the songs because there are only the solo artists from those bands appearing on stage. So it’s not always that easy to work out the rights for a DVD. About touring the world – this is a very difficult thing because there are 60 people on the road, that that would be tough.
Ok that’s everything I had. I’d just like to say thanks for your time and for making some of the best heavy metal of all time! The closing words are yours…
Thank you, I really appreciate your words. Thank you for letting me promote my solo album!