Interview with guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza
By Peter Atkinson
All photos from https://www.facebook.com/KreatorOfficial
German thrash metal stalwarts Kreator are winding down what has been a productive 2013 in fine style with the release of their new live DVD/CD Dying Alive, an aptly titled “Legends of Thrash” co-headlining tour of North America with Overkill and Warbringer, and the promise of a busy 2014 already ahead of them. Thirty years into a career that saw them ride the crest of the first wave of thrash in the mid ’80s, come crashing down like much of the rest of the metal world during the ’90s, and enjoy both a musical and commercial resurgence in the new millennium, the band are still going strong and remain vital and relevant.
On the phone from Seattle, Kreator founding guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza [who is joined in the band by original drummer Jürgen “Ventor” Reil, Finnish guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö and bassist Christian "Speesy" Giesle] offered the following about the new DVD, lessons learned over a long career in the trenches, the new and old school of thrash, and getting put on the spot by a pair of 12-year-old girls.
So how is it in Seattle today?
Mille Petrozza: Seattle-ish (laughs). When we got in this morning it was raining, but it’s alright. It reminds of the weather in my hometown, Essen, it’s very similar. There’s not much happening. We’re waiting around right now, just hanging out before we go over to the venue. It’s pretty relaxed, we had a show yesterday in Vancouver that was really awesome. Really great audience there. And we’re looking forward to tonight, I think tonight should also be good.
I guess an obvious place to start is the “Legends of Thrash” tour with Overkill, since you’re right in the middle of it. How has that gone?
Mille: I think this is the perfect match for the fans. We have both Warbringer, who are not that new anymore but still pretty new compared to us (laughs) and Overkill who we’ve always wanted to tour with, and it never happened. We never had a full tour with them, even back in the day, we did festivals together over the years and a few dates here and there so finally we got it and the fans love it and we love it.
We really like each other, all the bands get along great. There’s no drama, no egos. The fans who come to the shows get 100 percent from everyone every night, two full headlining sets and all the bands are in great shape, so there’s a lot of excitement and energy. It’s good. Its a good tour, definitely a good tour. The match is a lot better than when we went out last year with Accept.
That leads to my next question. This tour seems to be a more natural fit, even though having two of Germany’s premier old school bands out together seemed like a good idea on paper, your audience is still a thrash metal audience, Accept’s is more of a classic metal audience, or so it would seem?
Mille: Yeah, it was more separated then. There were the Accept fans and the Kreator fans, this time it’s the thrash metal fans. Everyone is into the music, no matter who is playing. It’s good, it’s definitely very smooth.
It was a good tour, the tour with Accept, we had a great time with the guys. We had great shows, it wasn’t like each band’s audience was hating the other band, but a better match for them probably would have been to play with Sabaton or someone like that. It was a fun tour and we made some great new friends. And for us, it was just as legendary because we all grew up with Accept, they were one of my very first concerts when I was a kid. I learned a lot from that tour because those guys are real pros and gentlemen.
You share a parallel with Overkill in the resurgence you’ve been enjoying over past few years?
Mille: Yeah, I agree. When we play, the crowd reaction is very similar as when Overkill is onstage, it’s the full thrash metal treatment (laughs). The crowds have been big and the reaction has been very enthusiastic.
How has it been touring with a band like Warbringer, who were probably all in diapers when both you and Overkill were starting out and were obviously been influenced by the old school thrash bands like yourselves?
Mille: It’s cool, you know. Those guys are still really hungry, and I like to see that. They’re a hard-working band. I’m definitely aware that I’ve been playing music for as long as some of those guys have been alive, but it doesn’t feel like it. Those guys have done their homework, they’re not just doing the same thing we were doing all over again, they are coming at it as a new generation and bringing their own spin to it. And there’s a lot of friendship there.
It’s like that with many of these younger bands. We did a tour in Europe with Fueled By Fire and it was the same thing. They were cool kids and they do respect the old school, but they have their eyes and ears open for newer stuff. They are kind of like us, just younger.
I don’t really feel older, I feel better than I did when I was 20 because when I was 20 I was distracted by other things and nowadays I focus on the music a lot more than back in the day. In the past, especially on the first couple of tours, there were so many other things that were interesting to me, you know, especially alcohol and drugs (laughs), and nowadays that just isn’t relevant anymore.
It’s all about the music and today it’s a lot more intense and I feel the energy and the power of the music more than back then when I was trying to, I guess you could say, live for the moment. Of course the music was important, but today I’m more aware of what I’m doing.
I saw you in, it must have been 1987, when you were here with Voivod on what I guess was your first U.S. tour. I could see where you would be easily distracted, a bunch of kids let loose on the states for the first time when thrash metal was really exploding.
Mille: We were just teenagers at the time, almost. Maybe we were just 20 years old and it was good. We experienced all that then, the craziness and just living life to the maximum, because we didn’t know any better. We were part of the first generation of something exciting and it was great to be a part of that. It was an amazing time.
We learned from all that as well – although it took a while to sink in (laughs). Now we’re experiencing different things, and we see the new generation coming up. We look at them as equal musicians, not as they’re the dumb kids and we’re the experienced older guys, that’s not our style. They go through a lot of the things that we have gone through back then and we can see ourselves in that. And they have made some of the mistakes that we have made and maybe we can give them something back and help them out a little bit. And they give us back energy and enthusiasm that is sometimes missing when you are on the road for so long.
Sometimes you feel a bit lost because you have to deal with technical problems or travel problems, whatever, and sometimes you just get burned out from the road you’re just fucking stressed out and then you see a band like Warbringer and they are all enthusiastic and they love the fact that they’re there, out on the road doing what they love. Sometimes that is a good reminder of how lucky we are to have been able to do this as long as we have. I’ve never done anything else than play music and to me that is a gift and I don’t take it for granted.
You guys can also teach them a thing or two about handling adversity, since you had that rough patch in the ’90s and were able to get things back on track and come out arguably stronger in the end?
Mille: You live and learn. At the time of Endorama and the ’90s there was so much pressure from all over the place. We had just signed a new major record deal, we had problems within the band, the lineup wasn’t really stable at the time, there were some personal problem. Also, I think we were a little burned out from all the touring that we’d done from ’85 to ’93-’94. So it was a time when we had an identity crisis and I’m just glad it’s over and we survived. We never split up and we never put out an album that we were ashamed of. I stand behind every release the band has ever done.
So yeah, it’s a part of history. Albums like Endorama, Outcast, Renewal and Cause For Conflict are definitely part of the Kreator history. It’s interesting to listen to those albums now because I can get back into that time frame and then I listen to other bands’ albums from that period and I mean there was just not much happening at the time.
Yeah, you definitely weren’t alone going through what you went through at that time.
Mille: I don’t know what it was. Maybe we were all too young to realize that we have to stick together and stick to our guns. It was a learning experience. It was very hard. To be honest, I don’t really even like to talk about the ’90s because it seems like such a dark era for metal. It was really strange.
It’s kind of ironic that you’re in Seattle now, which was pretty much ground zero for what helped do metal in at that time?
Mille: Yeah (laughs). But I never blamed the Seattle scene for it, because Seattle had some really good bands coming out and a lot of good music came out of there. I blame the industry and the ignorance of some of the people involved, as well as some of the glam bands who took it over the top and gave metal a bad name during that time.
At least you can have the last laugh. You’re still around and doing well and a lot of other folks from back in the day have long since left the music business or are stuck doing the nostalgia thing.
Mille: Oh yes, definitely. Exactly. I admit there’s some satisfaction in that (laughs).
Back to the present, once this tour with Overkill is done, what do you have planned for 2014? Or are you just going to take a break for a while?
Mille: I don’t think we’ll be getting much rest (laughs). We’re already getting new offers in for touring. I just got an e-mail today from our producer Jens [Bogren] asking when the next album was going to be coming and he asked me what our plans are, and I had to admit I haven’t written one single song yet for the next album because we have been touring so much.
I don’t want to work under pressure anymore, I want to take my time for a new album. I don’t want to write a new album that’s not better than the last one was, so it takes a little while. I think I’ll need some time off for that and we probably won’t have a lot of that. There’s already now a lot festivals that have been booked and we will do a tour in Asia and then Australia next year, so there is a lot of stuff coming up. Maybe even another tour in the U.S., we were talking about that already. This time we didn’t hit all of the spots that we definitely want to play, especially in Canada and the Midwest. So I think we should do another U.S. run.
We’ve released enough over the last few years, including our new live DVD, and we’ve toured enough to really build some momentum. So 2014 will be festivals and more touring. 2015, songwriting and recording and then maybe in the beginning of 2016 releasing the next album. I might start to write some in 2014, we will have three months off this tour before we do another concert so I might start writing.
Your first DVD was a compilation from several shows, and the other one was basically a repackaging of a couple old VHS videos. Since for Dying Alive you were able to stage the entire event and have it done in your own backyard, did it feel any more special or personal?
Mille: There was definitely less pressure with the new one because we controlled the whole thing, the whole production, everything. There was nothing out of our hands. I knew the guy who was producing, I knew the director very well and I knew how many cameras would be on the set and I knew how many people would be working on DVD, so I just knew it was going to be great from the beginning.
We had this great tour we’d done, 45 shows in Europe, and it was coming to an end so we were very well prepared for the show. We were tight. And I knew this was the right time to do the DVD. Organization-wise, it was so much easier. The guy who was doing the editing was in Essen, so I could go there and look over things. It was definitely the most satisfying production and the smoothest production of the DVDs we’ve done.
As you said, Live At The Pulse of Kapitulation was a video from the Berlin show we did in 1990 and another concept video we did back in the day that was re-released as a DVD in 2008 or something like that, so I don’t know if you can really count that one (laughs). With Live Kreation, we had problems with locals who were filming the shows and there was not enough material to have one whole show on the DVD. This time it all worked out the way we wanted it to work out.
I could see where you might have run into problem with Live Kreation, filming shows on the other side of the world in South America and Korea?
Mille: There were many problems. The team in South America were not really professional and the people in South Korea also did some stupid shit (laughs), so yeah, that’s why Live Kreation ended up being several shows spliced together.
For this one, you even got to have a full-blown movie premiere treatment.
Mille: Yeah, it was at a huge movie theater [Lichtburg Theater] in our hometown. That place was where we had our first movie experiences as kids. I watched all the big movies in that theater, it’s the biggest and best German movie theater and it’s very historical place. We asked them to do the premiere there and they agreed. There were many, many fans coming to that show, so it was a great night. Seeing the band perform on the big screen was really, really cool. It was definitely a strange experience, but it was a lot of fun. It was a great night.
Kreator have accomplished a lot of things and been a lot of places over the years, what do you still hope to achieve or where do you still want to go?
Mille: We’ve never been in New Zealand, I think we only played in Africa once, we’d like to go to Iran, if possible. We get so many letters from people who live in countries where there’s war or the political situation is a little touchy and bands either can’t or won’t play there, but we want to play for these people one day. I don’t know when, but we want to as soon as it’s possible. We were able to do that after the Berlin Wall came down and it would be great to experience something like that again.
We’re doing a lot of touring in Asia next year and maybe some more places in China would be cool. We were just in China, in Beijing, before this U.S. tour and it was really good. So we want to do more there.
Over the last week or so you got a lot of Internet mileage out the interview you did with those two 12-year-old girls [for the Kids Interview Bands series], how was that experience?
Mille: Oh yeah, they were cute. Those girls were really, really nice. I wasn’t prepared, to be honest, I just came back to the bus, and I knew I had an interview scheduled, but I wasn’t expecting it then and someone came onto the bus and it was like “OK, the next interview is coming in. They’re little girls!” And it was like “OK.” I thought it was going to be the dad or something, and all of a sudden they were asking me all of these questions.
And the first one, they asked what my favorite holiday was and to me, being German, “holiday” means a vacation, it means that to most Europeans. So I’m talking about going to the beach and reading books and relaxing, and what they meant was like Halloween or Christmas (laughs). So it got off to a weird start.
It was definitely a unique experience and this is an excellent idea, the idea of kids interviewing bands. I’ve watched a couple of other bands being interviewed by the girls and most musicians show a different side of themselves when they talk to them. And it’s not like your typical rock magazine interview.
Mille: Well there’s different ones where you can tell that the guy who’s talking to you hasn’t done his homework. I can tell that you have been with the band for many years so this is a different, this is more like an interesting evening conversation, but some of the interviews you do are a little boring. People ask you the same questions without a certain twist that makes it an interesting conversation.
With these girls it was totally different (laughs). It was a nice surprise. It was definitely interesting and a unique and original concept. I asked them if they wanted to stay for the show, but they couldn’t because they had school the next day, and I don’t think they were metalheads (laughs).