Interview with founding member Chris Bay
11th October 2015
@ The Borderline, London
Interview & photos by Oliver M.
One year after the critically acclaimed “Beyond”, German power metal masters Freedom Call are currently touring throughout Europe to promote the re-release of their masterpiece “Eternity”. We’ve met the happiest metal band on earth just prior to their last show in London at the Borderline. I would like to thank Chris Bay for his kindness and for the time he granted us.
Hi Chris! First of all, let’s talk about your last album “Beyond” which was released last year. What was the global reception of this 8th album?
Yeah, I think it was a very special album for Freedom Call. After a lot of changes in the line-up and the departure of Daniel Zimmermann before “Land of the Crimson Dawn”, I think it was kind of a rebirth for Freedom Call with this traditional melodic metal style that we started using in 1999 for “Stairway to Fairyland” and then, for “Crystal Empire” and “Eternity”. I think that we’ve come back to our traditional roots and found the right line-up for Freedom Call. There were a lot of brilliant musicians with Ramy Ali on the drums and our former member Ilker who came back to the band. With this line-up, I think we got a stream of motivation and energy to go back to our roots, our traditional style and that was much more fun for us. We really felt like jumping back in the early years of Freedom Call and “Beyond” was one new masterpiece beside “Stairway to Fairyland” of course, which is our first album and “Eternity”. But it is not only my own opinion; it’s also the response of the fans. I think Freedom Call is back to the early days and we’re feeling very comfortable in this way.
I fully agree with you and that’s why I really like your last works. By the way, you did a great new song “666 Weeks Beyond Eternity” for the re-release of the “Eternity” album in 2015. I love that song. It’s in the vein of what you used to do during your early years…
Thank you. Yeah, that was fun. That was just a recollection of some lyrical and musical works.
Regarding the re-release of “Eternity” in April this year, you wrote the awesome “666 Weeks Beyond Eternity” song to promote this new CD version as we’ve just discussed. Why did you re-release “Eternity”? Do you think it’s your favourite album?
It’s not really my favourite album… I think that asking a musician about his favourite work is something that can’t be answered because on every album, you’re spending a lot of time and a lot of love, passion. Every album and every song are very close to you. So, I can’t say it’s my favourite album! But obviously, for the people, “Eternity” is one of their favourite albums and I got a lot of e-mails, requests about this album. Then, there was the idea to make a re-release to introduce it to the young metal fans because this album was made about 15 years ago. Our young fans discovered Freedom Call when we released albums like “Land of the Crimson Dawn” or “Legend of the Shadowking“. So, we wanted to show them that: “Hey! There are some good albums from our early days!” And there was a plan to make a tour to promote this re-release but it’s not a real special release for me because the songs already exist. We’ve remastered the album because it was released about 15 years ago. It’s a bit different, it has some bonus material but it’s not a real special thing. It’s the same like the best-of albums. It’s good, I feel honoured that you get a kind of best-of album but it’s not a very inspiring work.
Your two first albums “Stairway to Fairyland” and “Crystal Empire” are masterpieces of melodic power metal such as “Eternity”. Are you planning to re-release those fantastic albums as well in the future?
Oh no, I don’t think so. There are no plans to do that. Those were real special things and I think that if you re-release all your old albums, people will get bored because they already have these albums! So… No, there are no plans to do the same thing like we did for “Eternity”.
Let’s talk about your whole career. Since the release of your first masterpiece “Stairway to Fairyland” in 1999, the international press has always compared your music to Gamma Ray and Helloween and it’s still the case today. Are you still frustrated with all those comparisons or did you get used to it in the end?
(Laughs) No, No! I think it’s in the nature of humans to try to compare things. If you buy and eat a new kind of bread, you will try to compare it to another type of bread: “Oh, it tastes a little bit like this or the one you ate two weeks ago…” It’s the same for a car: “Oh yeah, it’s slow like… Whatever!” All people try to compare everything. The good thing is that the people compare us with very good bands. Helloween is one of the sources of German power metal. Gamma Ray is also a brilliant band so, we’re happy that they’re comparing Freedom Call with these great and well-performing bands. It could be much worse! (Laughs) Yeah, I think it’s a usual way for people to explain music. In the past, Helloween and Gamma Ray also got compared with bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath or whatever! So, it’s an endless story. I don’t care.
You founded Freedom Call in 1998 with Dan Zimmermann who was the drummer of Gamma Ray and Iron Savior. Why did he leave the band in 2010? Do you still have some contacts with him?
First of all, I still have contacts with him but he built up a family and became daddy two years ago. He got married and settled down but we have still very good contacts. That was much worthier to keep the friendship rather than going further with the music. The reason of his departure, I think… In this case, you’ll have to ask Dan! (Laughs)… The reason was that he wanted to build up a family. That was definitely the main reason and you can’t do that when you’re travelling around the world, doing tours every year. He was also on the road with Gamma Ray, doing loads of shows. Yeah, it was too much for him. Maybe he got a bit tired of travelling and wanted to settle down a bit but he’s still a brilliant drummer. Now, he’s playing with some local bands in Germany and he’s happy. That’s the most important thing for me. He feels comfortable and happy.
I attended your last show in London in May this year when you were supporting Sonata Arctica during your “666 Weeks Beyond Eternity” European tour. It was a fantastic gig. I have to say that your live performances are very funny, especially when you’re making jokes and telling funny stories to the audience. You’re even considered by many people to be the happiest metal band in the world…
(Laughs) We are!
Are you planning to write darker songs in the future to change a bit your image or is it out of the question for you?
(Laughs) No, I’m not really trying to write happy songs because you need a flow for the song-writing process and the flow is just the mirror of your mind and mood. I can’t calculate to write a song. I can’t say: “Hum, what kind of song am I going to write next? Or OK, I’m going to write a dark, evil song!” I can’t do that, it’s not possible because there are many more people who are able to write dark, horror, depressive songs. I’m not able to do that. Other people are made to do that and much more talented to do that. Not me! I’m able to write happy songs because I’m a happy person, deep in my heart. I prefer to go out in the sun and not at night in a forest or whatever… And burning some churches! No. That’s the important thing, you have to be honest to yourself. Do not try to copy bands or to create something that is not coming out of yourself because everybody is noticing that. You will never have some success or any respect when you try to copy things. That’s the reason why some people say: “Hey! Freedom Call is not metal because they’re too happy!” Sorry, I can’t do something different! (Laughs)
I discovered Freedom Call during your early years in France when Olivier Garnier from the label NTS used to release your first albums in this country. He’s a friend of mine and he used to launch the career of many famous melodic power metal and progressive heavy metal bands in France. Do you still have some contacts with him?
Yeah, sometimes. I meet him every time we’re touring in France. He’s a very busy man, he has also got a family and stuff. Sometimes, he goes to see our concerts when he can find some spare time. After the shows, he says hello to us and it’s always a pleasure to meet him because he was my first contact ever in the professional music business. He helped us a lot in the beginning. We had our first record contract with Olivier. He’s the first person I’ve met in this business.
Have you already started to write some new songs for the next album?
Oh yeah, of course! We have to hurry up! (Laughs) We’re not late so, I think it’s not good to work under pressure because maybe it costs a bit of your creativity. But I’m personally working well when I receive some pressure to respect a release date. I think half of the new album is already written. So, this is already done and now, I’m using all these breaks between our tours to write new songs and make some arrangements. So yeah, I’m busy.
Will the new album be released by the same label Steamhammer?
Yes, so we are working together from the beginning with this label. For me, it’s very important to feel some harmony because I’m not a businessman at 100%. I learned a lot in the last years but I will never become a good businessman because I’m an artist, a song-writer, a performer but not a businessman. So for me, it’s very important to have some harmony. I give a shit of money when I have a good feeling, harmony. That’s what I’ve found with SPV. It’s not about money, I’m fine with that because there are hard times in the music business. But there is a kind of friendship over these 15 years between us, we know each other. That’s cool when I can call someone from the record company and we can talk about private things without problem. I’m feeling much better to get less money! (Laughs)
To conclude this interview, I’ve got two difficult questions. After more than 15 years of career, what is your best memory as a musician? And your worst memory?
The best memory was definitely to build up Freedom Call and to get the first record contract because we have been working for that for years. That was a huge feeling. I started playing guitar when I was 7. Then, I started playing the piano. When I was 13, I did my first show with my band at school. During all this time, I had in my mind: “I want to be a professional musician and get a record contract!” And then, we got it! That was huge!
It launched your career…
Yes. I think we’ve always had great times and the saddest memory was the moment when Dan left the band because we are not only founders of Freedom Call. We are really tight friends but yeah, it was just music. The most important is that he’s happy.
Thank you very much Chris for your time!
You’re welcome! Thanks for this interview and for your effort.