The legendary Metal Church had been booked to the almighty Swedenrock festival 2006 for the first time. Of course, it was more than obvious the man behind Metal Church Kurdt Vanderhoof needed to be interviewed for Metal-Rules.Com. The Seattle five-piece has struggled through the years since the early ’80s and now returned to the limelight with a renewed line-up and a new album, “THE LIGHT IN THE DARK.”
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen and Marko Syrjala
Transcription by Blake Wolfe
A friend of mine made a tape, and he recorded the second album by Stryper on the A-side, and on the B side, he recorded THE DARK album by Metal Church. That’s the way I found Metal Church.
Oh, nice! Stryper’s good, though.
Have you seen them lately?
No, I haven’t.
Because I’ve heard rumors that they’re really huge in the United States.
No, not many people know they’re back together.
But you know, the people who find religion, religious guys, there’s lots of ’em.
I think that’s great, especially in the metal scene, that they’re doing that. It’s really important because everything is always so dark. I mean, we’re not a Christian band – we’re a band of, basically, Christians, so that’s kind of why it’s called A LIGHT IN THE DARK. We’re not as obvious as Stryper, and that’s not our thing, but we’re not Satanic, and we don’t play with that shit at all.
Have you ever played with Stryper?
Actually, Stryper was supposed to play here, but they canceled.
Oh really? Wow!
OK, let’s not talk about Stryper (laughs). How many times have you been to Sweden before?
One time and we didn’t get to play. It was on the Master of Puppets tour. We made it to Sweden, but Metallica’s bus broke down in Copenhagen, and we got here in the dead of winter, in Gothenburg. We got here, they broke down, so the show was canceled. We spent the day here, on our bus, and the heater broke on our bus (laughs). It was January…
Oh god, it was fuckin’ freezing! We weren’t used to that. That was the last time we were here.
Actually, I had the impression that Metal Church was supposed to play in Finland in ’89, with Fates Warning and Slammer.
That’s possible – I wasn’t actually in the band at that time, so yeah, I don’t know, maybe.
What do you think about this kind of tour? You’re touring right now with Victory, and you’re sharing the same bus and playing in the same festivals?
Oh yeah, it’s awesome! They’re great guys, great band, too.
Did you know them from the ’80s?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t know who they were, but obviously, I knew who Herrman (Frank) was. I didn’t even know he was in the band. We got on the bus, and we go ‘that’s the guy from Accept – FUCK!” (laughs).
Accept played here last year.
Yeah, we did some shows with them last year, too.
Do you think that this kind of open-door festival is important to you promoting your new album?
Oh, absolutely, yeah! I like Swedenrock because it’s not just metal; it’s rock, too. That’s really important to me when everything’s not (does bad death metal growl) all the time. You’ve got Queensryche, and Journey, Def Leppard–
From Journey to Venom.
Yeah, it’s great!
What about the Bloodstock festival in England? You’re playing there as well.
Well, a lot of the band’s I’ve never heard of before, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Have you checked out any of the other bands at this festival?
Not yet, but that’s what I’m planning to do tonight.
Eh, no (laughs).
Do you basically have the last word on what bands you want to tour with?
Not really, no. It’s a lot to do with management and the record company. It’s kind of like ‘if it works out…’, that kind of thing. We don’t get to sit down and decide who we get to tour with. It has a lot to do with managers and who they know, that kind of thing.
I read in an interview that you got invited to tour or do a gig with the Norwegian band Mayhem, but you declined?
Oh yeah, no. I don’t want any part of that shit. Fuck that. They can chop their goat’s heads off or do whatever they want, but I don’t want anything to do with that. Metal Church is not about that. No thanks.
You have this tour going on, but you also have a new album. How has it been going so far?
Oh, it’s amazing. Losing Kirk was a tough thing, but having someone like Jeff come in was just the perfect fit, and we couldn’t be happier. The band’s tighter than ever, the band’s playing better than ever, so it was just perfect.
It must have been a tough decision for Kirk to leave the band.
He’s doing a lot better, but it was hell dealing with his diabetes and all. He just wasn’t in any kind of shape to do it, and we wanted to keep going.
If you started working on a Vanderhoof solo album, would he join you to play?
We might. We talked about that a little. He’s doing a lot better now, but what I’m gonna do next is the next Presto Ballet record. Since the Vanderhoof thing kind of morphed into Presto Ballet, the Vanderhoof thing, I’m not sure where to take that. I might want to take that off in a different direction. Maybe just straight-up guitar rock, you know?
Was it easy to get Jeff to play in Metal Church?
Actually, it was. He was in kind of a situation with Chris Caffrey, and he wasn’t really all that busy. We had gotten along with him great, doing a tour with him and Chris Caffrey. I knew him from when Vanderhoof toured with Savatage. It was a perfect fit – it was very ‘hey, you interested in doing it?’ and he was like ‘Yeah!’. Boom, done. It was perfect. We obviously didn’t have to audition or anything like that.
I have met three guys from Savatage, and they are always willing to do anything because nothing happens in Savatage.
Is it still going on?
Maybe, they think, or something. We don’t know either (laughs). Neither does Jeff.
When Metal Church went on the road after the Masterpeace tour, the band kind of split up, but when you started working in Metal Church again, was it hard to find the band’s new musicians?
No, actually, it wasn’t, really, and that was kind of the inspiration behind doing it because it just kind of fell together. I found Ronny, and that was like, ‘this guy, if we’re gonna have a shot at doing it again with a full lead singer, this guy’s really good.’ To find Jay Reynolds, he just called me one day out of the blue. He heard Metal Church was back together, and he was booking some shows in Portland. He called me and wanted to know if we wanted to play a few shows, and we’re like, ‘that’d be great, but we need a second guitar player.’ There’s a big long silence on the end of the phone – ‘can I audition?’ I was like, ‘yeah, come on up!’ and that was it. The whole thing was quite easy. That was a good sign that we should do it.
More people are used to seeing him as frontman for Rottweiler. I saw them a couple of days ago at Wacken. What do you think about them? They are still around, I guess.
I’m not quite sure what their status is at this point, but yeah, I thought they were a pretty good band.
Had you heard him sing before?
No, I saw him when he was singing in an ’80s tribute band. He was doing a bunch of ’80s covers and stuff in a bar. So it’s kind of like Rock Star, how they found Ripper Owens, that sort of thing.
How many fans ask about the old line-ups, that kind of thing?
Everybody does, and that’s fine. We’ve been around for a long time, so they absolutely ask about that, and that’s great. It’s very flattering. They want to hear the old songs – that’s why the majority of our set is the old stuff. When I go see a band that’s been around for 20 years, I want to hear the old stuff too. We throw some of the new stuff in, too, though. But that’s great – the fact that they love the shit that we’ve done is extremely flattering. Especially being able to do this after all this time. I didn’t really expect to be doing it at my age or still having anybody care (laughs).
When you had done this Masterpeace tour, why didn’t John Marshall want to go on with Metal Church anymore?
He really couldn’t. He’s got a job, a couple of kids, a wife, and a house, you know.
Yeah, normal things. We really don’t make enough money to support anybody. It was just natural – the growing-up process.
How did you get along with him?
Oh, great. He’s one of my best friends.
He never played with you in the ’80s but on Masterpeace.
Yeah, John is one of my best friends. Excellent guitar player.
Were you surprised when he went to Metallica to help them out when James Hetfield had burnt his hand?
Oh no, because he had done it before. He had been Kirk’s roadie for years. It was perfect because he had done it when James broke his arm skateboarding.
Yeah, the first time. It was the first part of the Master of Puppets tour.
Picking up the new album, A LIGHT IN THE DARK… Hey, your city mates are playing right now…
I’m surprised. They were really good. I saw them three years ago. That album TRIBE was…
Meh. They had some really bad records. How’s that new album?
It’s the best album since…
Well, PROMISED LAND. I’m just surprised because this is probably a different band than three years ago. They have a look like they did in the ’80s. It’s really cool.
Speaking of A LIGHT IN THE DARK, I wondered about the title because “The Dark” kinda goes back to the ’80s and THE DARK album. Is this some kind of connection?
Well, there are a couple of meanings behind that. Number one, it’s actually the 20th anniversary of the release of that album. It also signifies that since I’m the only original member, it’s kind of a new starting point for us. So it signifies the beginning of something new and represents what Metal Church has always been about – like what we were talking about earlier, the Satanic thing. The metal scene has always been very dark and very Satanic, that kind of thing – we’re not that. We’re in it, but we’re not about that. That’s kind of where the title came from.
And there’s the new version of the “Bless The Children,” I guess as a tribute to the late David Wayne?
That was something because most people know that Dave and I didn’t get along well in the last few years after the Masterpeace thing. I also wanted to clarify that just because we didn’t get along, I didn’t wish him any ill-will at all. I was also very sad that we didn’t get a chance to mend fences. Somebody, if they die, you never get a chance to reconcile or work things out, so that makes things a little bit difficult.
I’ve heard the promo of your new album so far, and you play a couple of new songs like “Mirror Of Lies,” and they sound outstanding in the live situation. The balance in the studio and on stage is much different for you because it sounds much tighter on the stage.
We did this album pretty straight-forward. It was pretty raw and straight to the point – not a lot of bullshit. We’ve got one big epic song on the album, so we try and cover all the bases, but definitely keeping it old-school. We wouldn’t want to try and update it by making a song like Godsmack or Limp Bizkit.
Yeah, fuck that. We’re Metal Church; we’re gonna be old-school and do what Metal Church is known for. That was really important to us, to keep it traditional.
You produced the album yourself. How was the process?
It was a little bit difficult because, unfortunately, I didn’t have my actual studio to do it at this time. I had one right after we did Weight of the World, then we went on the road for two years, so I moved out everything. When I got back from working with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, it was time to do the new Metal Church album, and I was looking for a spot to set up the new studio. I just set it up temporarily, and that brought a lot of problems.
Just kind of a makeshift situation, so we had some technical difficulties while making the album.
How do you compare it to the previous album? What’s the biggest difference between The Weight Of The World and the new one?
I would have to say, Ronny Munroe. On this record, and especially after doing the first album and touring for a couple of years, he really kind of came into his own. He kind of started finding his own voice a little bit more, and he was a little more sure of himself, a little more confident. I think his performance on the record is a lot better.
That’s one of the things we had to ask because, after the first album and tour, that was one of the things we heard. He really sounded like David Wayne, and now he’s having more of his own style. Was it some kind of pressure for him on the road to join Metal Church?
Exactly. He came into it going, ‘Man, OK, I gotta give it all I got…’ Yeah, he’s doing great. We couldn’t be happier.
Does it bother you when people compare the new album to The Human Factor or other old albums?
I don’t know if it bothers me. I guess maybe, in a way, I was prepared for it. Any band that’s been around for a long time and has a complete member change, you can’t avoid it. It just comes with the territory. The fact that anybody’s interested is great.
What kind of numbers are you selling these days?
I think we did 30,000 or something.
In the States?
In the States? Maybe 10,000. Metal’s not that big there right now, not traditional metal unless you scrap metal, like Slipknot.
A good example is Ronnie James Dio. Holy Diver – 3 million, The Last In Line – 1 million, and the last album sold 35,000. Still, he’s selling well in Europe.
Yeah, in America, it’s a whole different scene. It’s all fucked up over there (laughs).
There’s a lot of old-school metal bands there like Jag Panzer and Nevermore.
Yeah, Nevermore, they’re still around, but I never see them when we’re home – I always see them when we’re over here. We live in the same city, and we never see each other.
How many people do you usually pull to your gigs in the States?
It depends. We average 300-500 typically.
Don’t you find it funny that you sell so few albums and get so many people to your shows?
Yeah, I think it’s like, ‘Oh, Metal Church is playing! Wouldn’t that be fun to see! They’re still around?’ Then they have no idea that we still have an album out.
Might you think the reason is the internet, people reading and taking an interest in seeing you?
Yeah, I’m sure the internet has a lot to do with it. A lot of our older fans just like the band, and they’ve gotten older and don’t have time to listen to music, but when they find out the band’s still around, they always like to check it out.
It’s the same for all bands. When KISS did their reunion tour, they played for 6 million people, and when the album came out, it sold under 500,000.
That album wasn’t very good either.
When I check out some metal forums, young kids are posting there and asking about the old bands – ‘who’s going to see this band?’ and ‘what’s happening with this old band?’, and they’re really interested.
And that’s great – the kids are listening to the older stuff. You look through the ’90s, and most of that music was fucking garbage. It was just fucking crap – nobody could play, nobody could sing, nobody could fuckin’ write songs. Unfortunately, the generation that came out of that era doesn’t have anything to offer. Fortunately, the younger kids now have gone through their parents’ record collections and started listening to Zepplin and Sabbath or KISS.
Many dads bring their kids to this festival, and they all have KISS signs on their backs.
In the ’90s, it was awful.
Yeah, the ’90s were an awful, awful time for music—a lot of rap and hip-hop.
There were many good bands in the ’90s – Megadeth, Pantera, Sepultura, Paradise Lost.
And a lot of those bands don’t ever get any attention, especially in America.
What do you think about this reunion thing, like Exodus, Agent Steel, Death Angel, coming out of nowhere?
I think it’s great! I mean, wow, people still want to see these bands. It’s kind of the same reason we’re doing it. People seem to care, so let’s play. Let’s do what we love to do and not give up on the whole thing.
Was the LIVE album some kind of the first step for the Metal Church reunion?
Yeah, it was. That kind of brought us all together. The first line-up didn’t work, but that was actually how we all got in contact again.
I bought the live album in Germany, and I wondered why the layout looked so cheap – it was only the tracklisting, etc.
Yeah, no information, nothing. Ah, that’s SPV (laughs).
I had nothing to do with it – I made the record here.
Where did you find this old live tape?
We found it in the storage unit of studios, where we did the first record. All the stuff was just stored there, and they were cleaning it out because they had to move the studio. I said, ‘fuck, you found all this? Yeah, I’ll take this stuff home.’
It had been recorded somewhere in Texas?
Yeah, ’86. It was on The Dark tour.
Will any DVDs be coming from you?
There’ll be a DVD of Dynamo, live in ’91, in the band’s Mike Howe/John Marshall era. It’s not a real good DVD, but it’s something we wanted to document that period of time. Everyone focuses on your first couple of albums, but we don’t want to deny the three albums after Mike Howe and John Marshall. So it’s not really ‘good DVD quality, but more of a documentary, a collector’s item. We’re actually working on a film right now, which might morph into part of the DVD.
When you left Metal Church in ’87 or something like that, did you work on Metal Church’s background?
I left the band because I wanted to spend my time learning how to make records. I wanted to learn studio production and engineering, that kind of thing. That was kind of where I found me feeling much more at home, more comfortable.
So basically, when Metal Church split up in the early ’90s, it was gone, that’s it.
Pretty much, yeah.
The last album, HANGING IN THE BALANCE, wasn’t released until 1993 by…
Blackheart label by Joan Jett.
How did this happen?
I wish it didn’t, because that ended the band, but that another story I can’t talk about (laughs).
No, I legally can’t. Well, that was just knowing other people in the industry, people showing interest, that kind of stuff, which happens all the time. Unfortunately, it was a bad decision.
How about your solo albums? I wanted to know more about them because I got the first of your solo albums a year and a half ago. It was quite hard.
It’s straight-up ’70s rock.
You are a ’70s man?
Oh, big-time. Well, as I said, I’ll do another Presto Ballet record, then probably another Vanderhoof record, but again, because Vanderhoof kind of turned into Presto Ballet, I’ll probably do the next Vanderhoof record more straight rock. Just guitar rock, no keyboards. We do all the keyboard stuff in Presto Ballet, so I have a lot of different musical outlets.
How about a solo tour?
I would love to if we can. That would be great, but it depends if anyone’s gonna pay any attention (laughs). Critics may love it, but it doesn’t mean anyone’s gonna buy it or pay to see it.
Do you release the solo albums by yourself?
No, through SPV. Presto Ballet is on Inside Out.
When Metal Church was a big thing in the ’80s, they used to play a lot of thrash metal gigs.
Yeah, that’s who we played with all the time.
Metal Church was labeled as thrash or speed metal band, but I guess you weren’t thrilled about it?
We weren’t, never were, really. We were more of power metal, classic metal, I don’t know what to call it, but we weren’t thrashed. We played fast a few times, but not all the time.
And you played with Exodus, who had a very violent reputation in your area.
Any funny stories to tell about the old school days?
Oh god (laughs). Well, doing shows with Exodus was pretty crazy, but we were just part of that scene at the time. It was a very exciting time because that’s what was happening – there was a galvanizing sound for that generation. Everyone was into that whole thing. We were just part of it – everyone else had their own identity. And there you have it (laughs).
Do you guys keep your eyes open on the metal scene, and what’s going on there?
Ronny Munroe: I do. In the States or Europe or both?
Yeah, in general.
Ronny Munroe: I’m constantly listening to whatever’s out there – new, old bands
If I want to know about anything going on, I’ll ask him.
Do you read Blabbermouth a lot?
He reads Blabbermouth a lot, yeah.
Munroe: Yeah, it’s a daily thing (laughs).
It’s like metal’s National Enquirer – some true, some not.
What about David Wayne when he left the band after Masterpeace? It didn’t happen on good terms.
Actually, what happened was we didn’t actually break up or anything like that. He was going off to do Reverend, and I was going to do the next Vanderhoof record. A year after that, I got a call from our manager saying, ‘have you seen David Wayne’s new album?’ and we’re like, ‘no, send it to me, I’ll check it out.’ David Wayne and the Metal Church logo, with a guitar cross in a cemetery, called the album Metal Church. We’re like, ‘you’re fuckin’ kidding me!’
A lot of people were confused.
I know! It was like, ‘what the fuck is this?!’ That’s where it was like, ‘fuck you, man. You’re actually in the band, and you’re trying to steal the name?’ That’s where we ran into trouble.
Was it actually him or his manager?
Probably a combination of both. He could’ve very easily said, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’
That was just a really bad move. That’s too bad because the record’s actually pretty good, but he fucked it up.
It comes off as being a Metal Church record.
How bad was his traffic accident? Nobody has talked about it.
I don’t know – I wasn’t speaking to him or anything; this is just what I’ve heard. He messed up his legs pretty good, and I guess he didn’t do any of the follow-up medications or any of that kind of thing afterward, so that’s what killed him. Why? I have no idea.
The ’80s metal genre has very bad karma. Paul Bailoff died, Chuck Schuldiner, and Piggy from Voivod, a lot of people have gone.
Well, we’re getting older, so it’s gonna start happening, especially if you’re still trying to live the way you did in your twenties. That’s not gonna help.
I guess that’s the interview. Thanks for your time!
Thank you very much.
Special thanks go to Susan Kverh from Playground Music to get this interview done !!!
The Official METAL CHURCH site :
The Latest Metal Church album: THE LIGHT IN THE DARK