INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARTO LEHTINEN
LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
New York native Jeff Plate is a professional drummer who’s best known for his drumming for legendary metal band Savatage which went to hiatus in 2002. Plate appeared on four Savatage albums, including the classic DEAD WINTER DEAD (1995) and WAKE OF MAGELLAN (1997). Plate currently plays with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was formed in 1993. The band is highly successful, and they’re annually playing sold-out Xmas tours mainly across the USA. The band mostly consists of current and former Savatage members, including the band’s co-founder and main composer Jon Oliva. Currently, Plate is also a member classic metal band Metal Church. He first joined that band in 2006 and stayed until they disbanded in 2009. Three years later, the band was back and released GENERATION NOTHING (2013), their first studio album in five years. Metal Church made their first-ever performance in Finland in June 2014 when they arrived at the Tuska Festival in Helsinki. There we had the chance to sit down with Jeff and discuss Metal Church, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and of course, Savatage.
EDIT: After this interview was arranged, Savatage officially announced that they would do their long-awaited reunion show next year at the Wacken Open Air Festival. See ya there!
METAL CHURCH RE-UNION
Let’s start with the most current thing, which is Metal Church. The band returned to stages in 2012, and one year later, you put out a new album called GENERATION NOTHING. What were the reasons why the band decided to come back to the scene once again?
The new reunion? Well, first of all, Metal Church. To me, Metal Church and Savatage kind of mirror each other, two great bands, great people, you’ve got Kurdt Vanderhoof, and you’ve got Jon Oliva over here. They’ve got all these great musicians, and just for whatever reason, things never quite became as popular, always some problem on this site, some problem on that side. When we played Rocklahoma, I believe it was back in… God, what year was that already? 2008, 2009. Yeah, we had kind of reached a point where we are not kids anymore. So, to go out and to perform a show, you expect certain things: your equipment to be good, your help to be good. The promotion to be good, and many times you just don’t have it, and it becomes. It isn’t as fun as it should be. It becomes a job. And for Kurdt, he has some other projects going on; I’m obviously busy all the time. But we did the Rocklahoma show, and there was another case of the band played great on stage, we didn’t have our own crew, and the monitors were terrible. There was just one thing after another, and after that, Kurdt was like, “You know what? This is just not fun anymore. Let’s put a cup on this now before we all walk away from this hating each other. And is liking what we’ve been doing.” Kurdt was very comfortable with that, he understands his legacy and what Metal Church is to a lot of people, but he also is very aware that you can only do something for so long before it beats you up and beat you down. So, anyhow while we were apart, we’ve all stayed friends in our talks. 70000 Tons of Metal called and asked if we would like to do a show, a reunion show. And we all talked about it and said sure. The second part was they wanted us to play the entire first record in one of the shows. So, we said sure. So, we went back and re-learned the entire first record, which kicks my ass. The old drumming and the old music’s great. It’s thrashy, it’s fast, and it’s aggressive. The drumming is awesome, and we went and did this cruise, and the reaction to not only the greatest hit show but performing the first record was so great; everybody talked about it. We said, “We know we have something here; we have a little bit of a buzz. Let’s do a record; let’s try to go back to the old school style of Metal Church.” And Kurdt had this in his head; he wanted to write this record that was more aggressive. And so, that’s what we did, and then we followed it up with… We booked some dates here and there; we went to Brazil Twisted Sister for our show. We had a couple of shows over here, and then we did a run in America, and before this, the GENERATION NOTHING came out, and we were all proud of the record. Kurdt states that this is one of his favorite Metal Church records. So, when it came out, we had a very, very good response to it. And we went out again and went out in the stats, and we did very well. So far, we have done very well over here too.
Speaking of this 70000 Tons of Metal, I read one interview where Kurt stated that he realized that there is still true demand for metal Church after playing that show. Do you also agree with that comment?
Yeah. 70000 Tons of Metal is like, I think there are 2200 fans, but you’ve also got like 30 other bands. And when all your friends and other bans or your peers come to you and say, “Dude! Fucking Metal Church was awesome. You guys were brilliant.” When you start hearing that from your associates, it encourages you to… It’s like; we know we have something in here again. When Metal Church went to stage, it was a great feeling. You know, somebody still wants to see us. Somebody likes us, not only our fans like us but the other bands. Metal Church, every time since I have been on the band, every time we go on stage, I think the band kicks ass. We put on a good show, but also like today, our equipment and the guitars don’t show up on the flight. We get on stage, everything sounds great, my drum set is killer, the monitors are killer, the PA, the whole situation. Kurdt’s got a great gift in guitars; his toggle switch goes in the guitar. So, now he can’t switch between clean and dirty, and it’s always like these little things that make you just want to punch yourself on the head. But here again, the band kicked ass. There were always these outlying little situations that we have to deal with that really make it difficult sometimes.
JOINING METAL CHURCH AND SAVATAGE
Before joining the band, when was your first time that you heard about Metal Church?
Years and years ago. Here I’m making a correlation between Savatage and Metal Church because it was about the same time. Probably in the late ’80s, when I first heard them, I have Metal Church’s first album on cassette, which I think I got from a roommate in like 1988 or ’89. It was interesting because when I got into Savatage, they had already had a relationship with Metal Church. Paul O’Neil had produced one of their records and worked with them. When Savatage came to Europe for the “Wake of Magellan” tour, Kurdt’s solo band Vanderhoof opened up for us. So, that’s when I got to know Kurdt and Kirk Arrington pretty well. We became friends, so then years later, I did the records with Chris Caffery, and we came over, and Chris and I opened up the Metal Church on the “Weight of the World” Tour. So, we toured together, we shared a bus, we shared equipment, and we all just became really tight, really good friends. So then after that, when Kurdt was writing A LIGHT IN THE DARK, Kirk Arrington just had some health problems and things going on, and he couldn’t carry on. And Kurdt called me up and said, “Jeff, what do you think?” I said, “Absolutely.” So, he sent me the demos, and then I have been here since then 2006. So, this has already been going on eight years that I have been with Metal Church. Honestly, back in the day, I probably had the album METAL CHURCH. I remember the song “Metal Church,” and I saw the “Badlands” video on Headbanger’s Ball on TV. There was Headbangers, and there was “Gutter Ballet,” and those two songs were always like on Headbanger’s Ball. And it’s just kind of funny how worlds collide, and you meet people, and things happen, but yeah, I would say probably all the bands I became familiar with at the same time. In reference to that for both bands, when I really got into their old music in the songs catalog, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Because there was a lot of Savatage stuff, I didn’t know about. All over a sudden, I’m listening to like EDGE OF THORNS and GUTTER BALLET and these entire records and going, “Holy; this is great stuff.” Same with Metal Church, you listen to the first record, the second record, the Mike Howe stuff. It’s all great music. There was so much good stuff, but I never even knew about it until I got into the band. So, it is exciting coming into something like that when you know it’s good and then all of a sudden you realize that it’s great.
You also have the fan’s point of view, which is interesting because you see things differently from the other band members?
Yes, I was a fan, but I didn’t know a lot about them, to begin with. So, like when I joined Savatage, we did the “Handful of Rain” tour. I remember sitting on the bus with Jon Oliva, listening to the stories, and listening to the music, and getting this crash course on what Savatage was. And you go, “My God!” These guys have been through hell and made all this great music, and they are still alive; they are still doing it. Same with Metal Church, and unfortunately, both bands lost people to Criss Oliva to the accident and David Wayne through medical problems and stuff.
By the way, did you ever meet Criss Oliva in person?
No, but here is one of the funniest stories ever. I first started working with Zak Stevens, and I was in the band Wicked Witch. This was in Boston. The guitar player had met Zak out in California. So, me and Matt… Matt was his name, the guitarist. He says, “I got the guy, let’s fly him from California to Boston. Let’s put these bands together.” So, that was to me, Wicked Witch. So, Zak flies to Boston, we pick him up at the airport, and we say, “Okay. Let’s go out to a club and have some drinks and get to know this guy.” So, we go to a club in Boston and Savatage is playing. The first night that I meet Zak is the first and only time that I saw Savatage. And it was so weird, I met Jon Oliva that night, and I remember watching the band and going, “That guitar player is a monster. My God!” And it was Criss Oliva, obviously. But Chris Caffery was there, Johnny Middleton, Doc Wacholz. And then it was funny, years later, Zak gets into the band, and I get into the band, and it was just funny how they came about. But I never got to meet Criss in person. But I can do nothing about it, but I just wish I could have had a chance to play with him at some point. Because I think it would have been just great, as much as I get along great with Johnny Middleton and Chris Caffery and Jon Oliva, I think playing with Criss would have been just a great combination, and that would have been so much fun.
WORKING WITH CAFFERY, SKOLNICK, PITRELLI, STEVENS
You seem to be a really good friend of Chris Caffery. At which point did you learn to know each other?
In Savatage, when I first came into the band, Alex Skolnick played guitar, Chris Caffery was playing with Jon in Doctor Butcher. So, then Jon came back into Savatage, and then Doctor Butcher thing got pushed away. When the DEAD WINTER DEAD record came about, Alex Skolnick wanted to pursue other things. So, Paul decided to bring Chris back into the band and then hire Al Pitrelli as the other guitar player. And Chris and I have been together for 20 years now almost. 1995 is when we started working together. So, between Savatage and TSO and the Chris Caffery records and just being friends and hanging out. We’ve become quite close over the years.
As you said, Alex Skolnick left the band to pursue other things, but what was the main reason he wanted to leave the band back then?
At that time, Alex said just like Testament, that’s why he came to Savatage. He was available to play in Savatage, let’s put it that way. Alex, at that point, wanted to get away from the heavier music and start getting it into more of the jazz stuff. Because he was kind of exploring himself as a musician, and he wanted to do different things. I think the opportunity for Alex was there to be a part of Savatage, but he had some goals and some plans and some scheduling things going on. And Alex decided, “I’m going to go do my thing.” And Paul and Jon said, “Okay. We are going to do this, and we need to hire some other people.” And there was nothing ever. There was no conflict, really. It was just kind of a mutual thing.
How about Al Pitrelli, then? How did he end up in the picture?
When Al first came into Savatage, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s seeds had already been planted at that point. Paul and Jon were already doing some classical productions, rock productions. Since before I even knew these guys, along with Bob Kinkel, the Romanov project has been going on. So, when the idea of reforming Savatage into more of the Orchestrated rock band came about. Al Pitrelli was obviously available, but Al Pitrelli is also a brilliant guitar player. He can shred, can do classical music, a Berkley grad, and is intelligent beyond anybody I know when it comes to music. And he’s playing just to fit right into what we were doing. So, Paul not only found his Rock N Roll lead guitar player but somebody he could also work within the studio doing this other TSO-type material, and that’s how that relationship started. So, Al has been a major part of Savatage at the time and the development of TSO. Because Paul has somebody, he could trust musically to kind of like create his ideas and bring his ideas to life. Al is a brilliant guitar player, and I love working with Al.
What is he up to now but doing TSO?
Well, they are working on projects. Paul O’Neill and Jon are in Florida now working on stuff. Al Pitrelli is going back and forth and enjoying some time off, and also working in the studio with them and developing some of these ideas. And like I said, there are two or three different things that are being worked on at any given time. Paul can be all over the place, but he’s always getting something done. And Al was usually right there with him, helping him arrange material, musically bring it about. Al does a lot of that programming and arranging and stuff in the studio. Our engineer Dave Wittman, he and Al worked together all the time. When TSO really became popular, and we had two different bands, Al has always been the musical director on the West Coast. So, he’s the guy that kind of runs the show for the West Coast group.
Zachary “Zak” Stevens is one of those guys you have been working with for a long time. You already mentioned Wicked Witch but wasn’t he the one who helps you get the Savatage gig? And later on, you’ve worked on different projects like Machines of Grace.
Zak is… I owe Zak a world of things and gratitude because he and I worked together in the Wicked Witch band for three years. And we had a very good thing going. When he had the opportunity to join Savatage, I was pushing him out the door, “Go. Go do it.” Because you only get these chances once in a lifetime. When Zach went and joined the band, I couldn’t have been happier for him. Wicked Witch could not place him, so I became kind of frustrated with what I was doing, and I moved from Boston back to New York. I had heard about Criss Oliva’s accident, and I called Zak two or three months later, just to see how he was. What was the band doing? Would he be interested in trying to do Wicked Witch again? He said, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “Why?” And he said, “Jon and Paul like your playing. They like your look, and they want you to come down to Florida and join Savatage.” I like about just shit in my pants because I wasn’t expecting this at all. So, on Zak’s word, he stood up for me and recommended me for that job, and he brought me into Savatage. So, as I said, I’ll always be grateful to him for that. But it was such a great thing to reunite with him in Savatage because I could see Zak becoming the singer that he was. With Wicked Witch, he was great. With Savatage, he became more of a well-rounded vocalist under Paul O’Neill. Zak, I loved his voice. I loved his style. And here again, when Zak left Savatage, it was difficult for me because he was my friend. But I also understood that sometimes when you have a family and are not working enough to support that, you have to make some hard decisions. So, it was hard that he stepped out, but I understood it. And he was still involved with Paul and Jon; he did some arranging and some vocals on a couple of TSO records. Some years later, we did the Machines of Grace project, which was we re-did all of the old Wicked Witch material and just kind of brought it out a little more modern. We recorded it, and we put it out. Another recording I’m very, very proud of, and I’m glad that we did. But as you know, it is so difficult to do what we do at Metal Church when you have a name and a follower. Machines of Grace, even though Zak and I were popular. It still takes so much money and time to get together, to do a tour, to lose money, to lose more money, and then to lose more money and then get aggravated and you say, “We made a great record, and we have to stop the bleeding.”
Maybe you should think about doing a tour with Metal Church and Machines of Grace together?
We actually have talked about that at one point and… We had a situation in America where that almost happened, and then there was a problem with the agent or the promoter or something. And it just fell apart, but I was willing to do that. With TSO, I do two shows a day, three days in a roll. So, I feel, “Okay. I can open up for Metal Church or play 45 minutes with Machines of Grace and then take a break. And then go out with Metal Church and play the show, and it almost happened. So, he is still doing his thing with Circle II Circle, and I like a lot of that music. I’ve never seen the band; I know that’s actually something we’ve talked about too. I was trying to get to Circle II Circle out on the road with Metal Church, where we can share a backline and share a bus, that kind of thing. We all know each other, and musically it makes sense.
I remember when Zak formed Circle II Circle, and the band released its debut album WATCHING THE SILENCE in 2003. Jon Oliva was also contributing to the album, but soon after, he formed his own band, Jon Oliva’s Pain which included the players from Circle II Circle. So in a way, Jon just took the members with him from Zak’s band… It looked really strange back then. Do you know what really happened there then?
I have no idea. That, to me, was the weirdest thing because all of a sudden, Zak Stevens didn’t have a band. His band was now with Jon, but they were still working together, and they were still friends, and they were still like… It was weird. It was just… And to me, the whole thing was crazy in the fact that, while this is all going on, people are saying, “Why doesn’t Savatage play?” But you’ve got Circle II Circle; you got John Middleton playing, you got Chris Caffery and me. You’ve got all this stuff going on, and I just kind of scratched my head and said… I just don’t know?
SAVATAGE SPECULATION AND TSO TALK
About Savatage. When I saw the Savatage 2002 at Wacken, since then… Since that happened, you have not done any shows, and members have formed their own bands and played in other bands. But somehow, Savatage is a sort of some legend, at least here in Europe. What if someday Savatage comes together once again? Do you think the success will be huge, and influence over the band will be really massive?
I think so. I hear every time I come to Europe, with these guys, I always get questions about the band. I always hear somebody yelling Savatage from the audience. Today I heard it. Every show, I hear the name of the band. And I think there is also an interest through some promoters and stuff like that.
Is it all up to Jon?
My take on all this is that the music belongs to Jon and Paul; they will do what they want. If they decide to take a song in TSO, perform it. That’s their right. If Jon Oliva wants to perform stuff with Jon Oliva’s Pain, that’s his right too. So, I am just more than proud, and I felt fortunate to be able to play in that band and play that music. The thing with TSO also is I think there is a lot of Savatage music that a lot of people have not heard. When you play this music with TSO, instead of thinking of a club full of 500 people, you are playing in an arena for 10,000 people twice a day, five days a week. It’s like people are being exposed to where TSO came from, and the real routine is in the songs that Jon and Paul put together years ago. So, I can fault them for any decision that they’ve made. I’m also very proud. I think that the “Dead Winter Dead” tour and the “Wake of Magellan” tour. The people over here, especially in Germany, have never forgotten that and they would love to see that band. I included those six guys, come back over here, and do another tour, and I think it would be great. I really do. Because there are certain things that you never know when you will be able to see again, if we did one tour over here, people may think that that would be the only tour that’s, it could be true. So, I think they would come out and…
What if Savatage one day would make a comeback, so which line-up would you prefer then?
I think for Europe to do the right thing, it would be that band. Me, Johnny, Chris, Al Pitrelli, Zak and Jon. Because here again, when I came over here for the “Dead Winter Dead” tour, I had never played in Europe before. And that tour was fantastic, every night it was so loud, the people were going nuts. Even Jon Oliva was taken aback by how the people loved that record. When WAKE OF MAGELLAN came out, it was like number seven on the pop chart or something like that in Germany. This was big stuff. So, we were doing festivals and big shows and everything.
I forget who the singer on Savatage’s Wacken show in 2002 was?
He was just a hired tour singer at Savatage?
He was somebody from Florida that Jon knew him, and some other people around knew Damond, so we brought him from an audition. Damond was great. Damond could sing the Jon stuff great; he could sing the Zak stuff great. And here again, things were changing so much at that time, and TSO was starting to become big. That was just Damond came in at the tail end of Savatage, and when he came over here and played. A lot of people were like, “Who is this guy?”
Including us. “Laughs.”
Sure. Even me, when he joined the band, I was like, “Okay.” And then Damond would go up there and on the stage and kick-ass. He did a good job for us. But we’re going through many changes back then; we had Jeff Waters (of Annihilator) on guitar at one point. We had Jack Frost playing rhythm guitar then. It was becoming a little too diluted, I think, as far as the members. Al had played at Megadeth for several years, so he wasn’t involved with Savatage anymore. I was sad to see the whole thing end; I would love that DEAD WINTER DEAD lineup to be able to play again. That would just be fantastic. And like I said, I’m very proud that I obviously did something right because people are still asking about it. So, we made that much of an impression in an impact on our fans. I feel good. We did a good job; we did what we were supposed to.
One more thing about the Wacken show in 2002. I remember that you started the show with “Commissar,” and then I was in the camping area. I ran immediately to check out Savatage because there was a rumor going around that Savatage would quit sometime soon, and that what actually happened soon after.
There was when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra project came to life and started becoming popular and working a lot. Of course, there was a lot of talk about all of that was going on, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra was such a project that Paul and John needed to be involved in so much. They decided to shift their energy towards them, which I understand. Paul and John put a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Savatage, and it’s a shame because you come over to Europe, Germany especially, they still can’t wait for the band to come back. But in other parts of the world, it’s just so difficult to be in a band for so long, somebody like Jon Oliva who has been doing it for like 25 years or something. And you still go, and you still have difficulty with shows and with promotion and with this and that. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra happened. We were fortunate that it did. And now here it is 2014, this will be the 15th year that I have toured with the band, and it is still getting bigger.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra enjoys this commodious success, which is something that Savatage never managed to reach. How the TSO thing became that big that so fast if you know what I mean?
When we did DEAD WINTER DEAD…
And the song “Sarajevo”…
Yeah. This is the key song to everything because when we were in the studio and Paul says, “I want to do this Christmas song.” And we are all like, “What! Are you crazy?” I can remember him and Jon going back and forth on this, and Jon is like, “I don’t want to do that.” Paul is like, “Come on. Please, please.” The arrangement, I mean, is perfect for Savatage. It’s like, “Yeah. That completely makes sense.” If it fits into what the record is, it fits into the story. But that song took off on radio in America, like Savatage is over here in the hard rock world. That Christmas song took off over here, and all of a sudden, you had little kids in the old metal moment that loved the song and couldn’t get enough of it. So, they had a hit song that Savatage would never have been able to capitalize on. So, in Paul’s wisdom and the management people around him. It’s like, “We have a hit song. Let’s take advantage of this. We have the group of people to do it.” So, that’s how the TSO thing really kind of all came together. And then the first album CHRISTMAS EVE AND OTHER STORIES. The centerpiece of that record is that song, the instrumental song. Our live show’s centerpiece was still that song; it’s one of America’s most popular Christmas songs during that time. So, it’s huge. So yeah, the fact that they had worked… Here again, Jon Oliva. He works all these years to be a success and all of a sudden, the thing you think would never… This isn’t what we are supposed to be doing, and this instrumental Christmas song becomes the biggest hit that he’s ever I have been involved in. So, you have to jump on these things and take advantage while you can, or else you may miss them.
When did your first tour in Europe with TSO?
Three years ago and now again this year, in January. We did Berlin, and we did London, Prague, and we did a show in Vienna, Austria. I think we did 21 shows, 27 shows on that. I’m not exactly sure. But TSO was known for the talent on the stage in the story that goes along with it and the narration. This time, when we first came to Europe with it the narration, because it’s an English and many people speak English. But if you are listening to a story and it is not your native language is hard to take it all in. When we came to do it this year, there was very little narration and just more music. And we did probably seven or eight Savatage songs, with the different vocals. We did “Gutter Ballet,” we did “All That I Bleed,” and we did “Handful of Rain,” “This Is the Time.” Great songs. And Paul decided on what singer would fill these parts, and we went out, and it was more of a rock show. And I think the people in Europe like that a lot better, so we hope that next year we can come back and do a little bit more with it and…
It would be great to see you in Scandinavia as well next time?
Yeah. That would be great. But then, of course, we have our Christmas tour this winter in America, and we have a new record that Paul is working on. So, he’s always working on something. There are always two or three different things going on.
Is Trans-Siberian Orchestra always linked to Christmas somehow?
There is a Christmas theme tour… but it’s still a Rock N Roll show, and I don’t know if you have ever seen it.
Not so far.
But it is. It has a story to it. It has a message; it connects with so many people. But at the core of it, it’s a rock band. We have some great musicians on the stage, we have some great vocalists, plus we have a string section, and then you have a narrator. Which kind of changes it a lot, but in the end, it’s really just a Rock N Roll show. With an incredible light show and the following we have, it just amazes me. Like I said, after 15 years now in TSO, we are still getting stronger every year.
I have learned that TSO tours are always doing amazingly well in the States.
Yes. You have two bands going at the same time; you are selling out arenas twice a day. Nobody does that, and no one does that. And then the beauty of it, it is the core guys who started this are still together. So, when we do a spring tour, we can all join forces again. As we did in January, I and Johnny and Chris and Al Pitrelli love working together. So, it’s always a great thing when we can do that. But people can say what they want about Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but we do what we do very well. The production, the performance, the presentation is spotless. We work very hard at it, and it is very, very successful. People to say, people who say accused Metallica of selling out, when they come over the BLACK album. All over a sudden, they went from great to super great and superstars, and they have been set for life ever since. So, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is not only for me as fulfilling musically. I get to play, and I play like myself. I play like a rock genre during the show. But let’s face it, Christmas is not going away anytime soon. So, we have a strong future in front of us.
THE FUTURE OF METAL CHURCH
Going back to Metal Church again, you are now doing these few festival things in Europe, but what are you going to do after those shows?
We have a record that is already being started, and my drum tracks are made. That’s all I will tell you. It will be out soon. We have a couple of shows in America with Accept in California. San Diego and Los Angeles, basically.
It’s a perfect lineup, actually.
Yeah. Here is the thing, it’s got a following. The band that we have right now, I’ve been in the band now for seven years. Ronnie and Steve have been in the band for close to nine years. Rick Van Zandt, our new guitar player, is the new guitar player, but he’s been here for five. So, I mean, this is the band, and now people are starting to realize that this is Metal Church. We have done the shows either in America or Europe, wherever we play, people really enjoy this group on stage. And I think we played very well. So, we have the shows with Accept. We are looking to put some more shows around that in America, and then what we are doing here in Europe is to plant the seeds for next year. Come back, maybe try to hook up with a bigger band and do a double bill. Or possibly do our own tour; it’s a little more expensive. We can get a night liner and a proper backline and stuff and come and do a proper show with the crew, with the light show, with some production. And do things the way they should be done.
Many older metal bands say that Europe is the place to be for metal bands because the whole genre is totally dead in the States. Do you agree with that?
I disagree with that, but you have to define when you say in the States. When we play in Southern California and Texas, the place is full; people love it. We played in Cleveland. It was great. We played in New York City, and it was great. Honestly, all our shows were actually very good. But Europe, I think it’s just… I think it’s not only metal, but it’s a lot of music in general. People in Europe just are so passionate about live music and the festival thing; this doesn’t happen in America as it does here. Where you have people camping out for three or four days and just partying and having a fan, and in America, it’s sad, but we don’t do that because there are so many legal problems. The European people are very friendly; they are very appreciative of the bands that they like. They show their support, but they also have such respect for each other. That when they go out to a festival, I’ve never seen a fight in a festival over here. I’ve never had.
It is “a true metal brotherhood” that we have here in Europe “Laughs.”
It is that, but it’s just this crazy thing. Who knows how many people I’ve been playing in front of in Europe, maybe a million? I don’t know. But I’ve never seen a fight. One time actually, at Z7 in Switzerland when we played there with Savatage, some guy got in a fight, and Johnny Lee yelled at them, and it was over. I mean, it’s amazing. That’s what I love about the fan base over here. People come to see their band because they want to see the band; they are not looking to get drunk. They are not out looking to pick out a chick or pick a fight or do something stupid. They are out there to see their band, support their band appreciates it. In America, it’s not as disciplined, and it’s unfortunate. But Metal Church, we go out in this markets and we surprisingly the last tour… We go out in America and the RV with a trailer; I set up my own drums. We are driving our own RV; we are doing this because we have to build the band back up. But we go to the clubs and play, and they are full, and people love the band.
Of course, it’s a huge difference to tour with Metal Church than TSO tours, but I think it’s a nice change for you, right?
Yes, it is. When you are playing in a club, and you got people from near to that by the secular way, screaming at me and loving the band, you can’t replace that. The same thing with TSO, you are playing in an arena, and it’s full of people, and you are part of such a big show. They are not really watching me; they are watching the show. So, you are part of a presentation. With Metal Church, you are just five guys on the stage, all fighting together to go out and play and perform as well as you can. And that’s the beauty of it. It isn’t about the lights, and it isn’t about anything. It’s about the songs. And I’ve got to hand it to Kurt Vanderhoof. “Gods of Wrath,” “Beyond the Black,” “Metal Church,” “Start the Fire”… He wrote those songs 30 years ago, and we played these shows, and these are the songs that people still sing every fucking word to. There are fists in the air, and they love it. And they also like the new stuff, but their old music has made such an impression on these fans. They don’t let it go. And I think for me and Ronny especially, he still gets beat up about singing David Wayne songs or singing Mike Howe songs. Ronny has been here longer than both of them, whatever. But we go out, we play these songs with our hearts and as best as we can because these are great songs. And if we don’t do that, we will hear about it, especially from the European fans, they don’t miss anything. But anyhow, I think that our future is good. We have a good attitude, and we have a good band; everybody understands our role in what we are up against. But we go out every night, and we play well. We stick together, and we know eventually something good will break for us. We need to hook up with a bigger band, do a much larger tour. Put the band in front of a bigger audience.
Are there any bands you would like to tour with?
I think the obvious; I’d like to go out with Maiden. That would be awesome. But bands like Maiden, Priest, Megadeth, Motorhead, Accept. Here again, old school metal. It all fits together. There are many possibilities, and there are even some newer bands; we cross paths with many different people who love the old Metal Church stuff. It’s like, what’s to stop us from going out with Avenged Sevenfold or Stone Sour or somebody else. All that’s possible. But it’s got to be right for us to do it. What is better for us to do our own tour or do it with the other band that makes more sense?
Touring with some other bands from different genres could help you reach a younger audience who has never heard about Metal Church before?
No. Do you know what’s surprising? In America with the last tour, I could not believe how many young people… I say young, I say 21 years old, 22 years old. Young boys and especially young girls who were in our audience singing the words to “Fake Healer.” I’m like, “Why does this girl know this song?”
It’s probably because of the Internet.
It’s the Internet, and it’s probably her parents. But the young crowd is starting to hear the songs and going, “This is really good.” It’s amazing. When I’m playing, I’m looking at people and going, “My God! She knows every word to every song.” There was a girl in the Netherlands the other night, I couldn’t believe she sang every word to every song we played, and she just had a blast. She was a young woman. There was a crossover, but it’s all passed on from somebody, but it was great. When the band has been around for 30 years, somebody who is now 55 years old was 25 years old when the record first came out. So, now they’ve grown up, they have kids, they still listen to music. As I said, we have a good project coming out with Metal Church. The line-up is good, and everybody really plays well. I love it.
In fact, by asking, this is kind of out of the area. But I saw Rick three weeks ago in Sweden Rock, and he was there playing with Q5. That was a great show too.
He knew these guys from Seattle. And they called him up and said, “Would you like to come and play?” “Sure. Why not?” It’s interesting how you get to in your lives… As I said, we are not kids. I’m 52 years old. But you work your life to a point where you can do these things, and it’s comfortable. This isn’t life or death for me. I have a great job. I have a great life outside of this. So, I can do this and have fun with it. At the same time, I know that the band’s potentials to really take off again; we just need to get lucky. A phone call from somebody, somebody. Who knows? We did a show with Twisted Sister down in Brazil; we could easily work with a band like that. Metal Church, and this is something we go through all the time. We end up at festivals where there is a lot of death metal, a lot of extreme metal: the name Metal Church, the name fits. Often, our music is sure to back 30 years ago you would say Metal Church was heavy metal. It’s still metal, but it’s still really more hard rock. It’s more melodic. It’s got great rhythm, and it’s got great melodies. It’s got Kurdt’s songwriting. Kurdt’s songwriting is not like Anthrax. It’s not like Hatebreed or Machine Head or stuff like that. All great bands in their own ride, but metal has just taken on such a different… There aren’t so many different kinds of metal anymore, and Metal Church is still true to what it always was. But what was metal 30 years ago now it’s so much different. So, we get these offers to play these festivals. And I think a lot of times it’s interesting because the audience when they hear us play they love it. Because we are just a breath of fresh air.
Right. We thank you for your time. It was a pleasure to talk to you about Metal Church and Savatage.
Thank you, guys.