INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Transcription by Duke
Ralf Scheepers is known for his fantastic voice and marvelous capacity and, above all, Primal Fear’s charismatic frontman. 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 ’90s. 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 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 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 interview’s priority issues. 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 !!!!!
THE CURRENT TOUR
I guess this is your second time here in Finland. Last time you played here at the 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 drive in the North of Finland and then have only 200 people in the 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 fewer 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 the sixth night in a row with a show, so I was a little bit happy as a vocalist. Of course, we could have done it, no problem.
Although there have been some surprises there, this must be such a good package tour for both of your 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 many 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, and I have them on my t-shirt in my suitcase!
That tour didn’t last too long. It got canceled after a 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 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 had 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 the 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 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 behind that leak?
No. We never found out. If you just go ahead and punish one guy, you have to punish ten others the next day. 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 the 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 democratically. Also, for the songs we choose, the titles are also picked democratically. Basically, Matt comes up with the titles, and we throw them around and see if we take them or not.
The album titles always have a connection with the cover. Take the DEVIL´S GROUND. Does it have 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 fits 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 a 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?
Not so much. We have a good mixture of everything, I suppose. We wanted 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 a 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 goosebumps 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 record company’s fault, more like the distribution. I have to speak a bit with Matt about that afterward; 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 Primal Fear’s music, which 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 thought about changing the team a little. We weren’t satisfied with the work they did for SEVEN SEALS and thought that they could have done a bit more in foreign countries. And as Matt was working personally for Nuclear Blast, there were some problems for him, personal problems. Simultaneously, the band wasn’t satisfied with Nuclear Blast’s work 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 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 it, we might record the first note at the end of 2008.
How about the lineup on that album. Are you able to reveal any names that would appear on the album?
The 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, as 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 sometimes. But now Mat came up to me and had a suggestion to do it now. So why not?
CHANGES IN LINE-UP
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 lineup 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, and we didn’t have this good vibe. Some people didn’t want to do their jobs, and there were ego problems and stuff like that?
Is it 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 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 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 but 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 the band and left his previous band Annihilator?
Wait, Randy! Give us two minutes. There’s a question about you! I think he should answer. 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 lived there for about three years, and then I started endorsing a drum company. I performed 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 tour offers…
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 for 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 Trivium.
RANDY. Ah, ok.
He didn’t say anything bad about you, but he was a little disappointed that you and some other guy (Joe Comeau) denied him the use of old material for the Annihilator DVD?
RANDY: Well, I won’t go into too much detail, but some things in the past aren’t settled, and to make a long story short, I said, “Let’s settle that, then let’s talk about the DVD.” I 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 rumors which say that you did some gigs with Helloween in 85-86. Is that true?
No, I didn’t. I never sang for Helloween. When 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.
It’s 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. The 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 make 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. Afterward, 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 with 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 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.
Another band from your past is, of course, Gamma Ray. You met Kai first met with Kai HAnsen around 1989?
Well, actually, it was earlier in -88. Kai was leaving Helloween and remembered 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 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 an ancient track originally written by Kai for a band called Second Hell. How much did you change the original version of the song for the Gamma Ray album?
I didn’t know that. You’re the first guy to tell me! Kai did 90 percent of the songwriting. 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 perfect; Kai is perfect with his composing and a really nice guy. If you have problems so you can’t continue, then afterward 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 Gamma Ray’s overall response, and how many people did you pull at shows in Germany?
I don’t think that compared to now, it was so much down. There were always coming to many people, over a thousand people, which 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 who are the truest and 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 rumors about the breakup and about the reasons behind that decision. One was that you wanted to concentrate on your work in an electronics company. One rumor 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 sang on the demo, he sang 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 the 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 the only thing I heard was that Glenn was going to do a solo album at one point. 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 the 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 Primal Fear’s birth, but some of the other guys continue Judas 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!