Interview with MESSIAH – Steve Karrer (drums)
Interview by Jack Merry
Formed in Switzerland in 1984, MESSIAH came onto the extreme metal scene kicking and screaming and released two truly ground-breaking albums on Chainsaw Murder Records. We spoke to the band’s drummer Steve Karrer about their upcoming EP, the new album, and more!
Hey and thank you for your time! Please state your name and position in the band.
Steve Karrer, Drummer of MESSIAH since 1990.
You are set to release a new studio album entitled “Fracmont” soon, and to shorten the gap you have a new EP entitled “Fatal Grotesque Symbols.” What inspired you to reunite MESSIAH and start working on your first studio album in 26 years?
The trigger for the final reunion was a good friend of the band. He had asked Brögi if we would play 3-4 songs as special guests at his metal festival in Lucerne in December 2017, just for fun. But since we hadn’t met each other for several years, Brögi invited us to an extensive barbecue party at his home. There we decided together to manage this gig. But we also decided to play a few more songs and so it became a 50-minute show.
The following weekend we added another show and announced both as Secret Gigs. Because we received very positive feedback, we sat down together in January 2018 at my home and after a long and constructive conversation, we decided to reform the band. Simply because the whole thing felt very good and we got along great.
As well as one brand new song, “Fatal Grotesque Symbols – Darken Universe,” you have re-recorded two classic MESSIAH tracks from your first two albums. “Space Invaders” from your 1986 debut album “Hymn To Abramelin” as well as the title track of the second album “Extreme Cold Weather” (from 1987). How did you come to the decision to re-record these particular tracks?
My drum recording was done very fast, so there was still some time left. Then I spontaneously had the idea to record “Extreme Cold Weather” in our current live version. Brögi said we should also record a song from the first album and we decided to record “Space Invaders”. The two songs were recorded live in the studio, except the vocals, and we were able to win two good friends of ours as guest singers. I am talking about Sven Gross from Fleshcrawl and Chrigel Glanzmann from Eluveitie. Both did an absolutely brilliant job. We think that the new song “Fatal Grotesque Symbols – Darken Universe” is a good mix of old and new MESSIAH sound and therefore it harmonizes very well with the two old songs.
When did you first start getting into music and know you wanted to join a band? Which musicians have inspired you throughout your career?
I started playing the marching drum when I was 8 years old. When I got my first, real drumset at the age of 12 years, I knew that this is my instrument which inspires me. I was absolutely enthusiastic about bands like Queen, Kiss, or Iron Maiden at that time, I already wanted to play in a band. With my first school band, we covered songs from these bands.
So I was also very much influenced by Peter Criss (Kiss), Nico McBrain (Maiden), or later also by Dave Lombardo (Slayer).
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
A mix of old-school thrash/death metal with NWOBHM influences.
What themes will appear on your new album, and how has the band’s sound evolved since the last MESSIAH album, 1994’s “Underground.”
As on the previous albums, we deal with different topics. The lyrics are critical about faith in general. The title song “Fracmont” deals with the story of Pontius Pilate. The story is divided into two parts like the song musically. The first part is about the origin of Pontius Pilate and his terrible family of the Pontians. He was the Roman governor of Judea, judge of Jesus and persecutor of the Jews.
According to legend, there were various places where Pontius’ body was disposed of until it was finally sunk into Lake Pilatus at Fracmont (today called Mount Pilatus near Lucerne, Switzerland). Storms, epidemics, bad harvests, witches’ squadrons on Fracmont are the main characters in the legend. Innocent people who disturbed the spirit of Pilatus on Fracmont were executed by the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages. By the way, this text idea came from Brögi, who lives directly at the foot of Mount Pilatus.
“Children of Faith” deals with the influence of “children born without faith” on a religious belief/religion through formative parents, culture, etc. brainwashing by the church on its disciples, including sexual abuse.
Our album “Underground” was more of an attempt for change. During the songwriting for “Fracmont,” it became apparent early on that the influences went back to albums like Extreme Cold Weather, Choir of Horrors, or Rotten Perish.
Who does your album artwork? Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, be it an artist/photographer, another musician/band, or producer?
The album as well as the EP cover is by Björn Goosses from Germany. We are absolutely happy with the implementation of our ideas. This man has got it right! If he were alive, I would very much like to have worked with Peter Steele one day. He was a fantastic songwriter and musician for me.
What is the procedure for producing new music? Does MESSIAH have a set way of doing things?
In the beginning, Brögi recorded an unbelievable multitude of riff ideas and partly also incorporated song structures. Then we worked out his ideas together in the rehearsal room and produced demos. This collaborative process was incredibly creative and each of us contributed to the songs. The new MESSIAH album is therefore a part of each of us and it makes us very proud.
You guys have toured all over the world. What has been your favourite gig to date and why?
Our performance at the Maryland Deathfest 2019 was absolutely awesome. Maybe also because it was the first time we played in the USA with Messiah and we met so many fans from different countries. The fans from Mexico were totally crazy!
What is it like touring? Do you all get on all the time? Or do you have times you need space from each other?
We decided at the reunion not to tour with the band. Since we all have to do our regular jobs and have families, this is not possible. We will concentrate on single shows and maybe short trips of 3-4 days. So we can all get along well (Haha)!
If you could pick 3 favourite tracks from MESSIAH’s discography, which 3 would you pick and why?
Extreme Cold Weather (Album: Same) – All-time classic, very groovy and catchy.
Cautio Criminalis (Album: Choir of Horrors) – I love the songwriting and my drum tracks
Morte Al Dente (Album: Fracmont) – A very varied and powerful song. My favourite song. This is Messiah 2020.
Where do you draw your influences from when it comes to producing new music?
The riff ideas always come from Brögi. He has developed a style very early on, which is certainly strongly influenced by heavy metal. He actually delivers the typical Messiah style. We as a band complement him and direct his partly very wacky ideas into a “reasonable” song structure. Since Brögi had turned his back on making music since the last album “Underground”, it seemed to me after the reunion as if he had been thawed out after many years and the magic was back again.
What is the music scene like where you are based in Switzerland? Any local bands catching your eye?
Our music scene is not that big, but we have some fantastic, younger acts in the metal area. Total Annihilation, Comaniac, Klaw, or our old friends from Poltergeist and Requiem. Check’em out!
Do you think image is important when being in a band?
I think it is important that a band represents something. No matter what form it takes. The visuals are already a big factor. As a big Kiss fan, I think it’s great to present a bombastic live show. Then the clothing of the musicians has to be right as well. I think it’s silly when one person stands there in leather gear and the other in Bermuda pants! It’s nice when you can integrate the concept of the album cover into the stage show. We used to have 2 big black crosses with us. That always worked very well. A band doesn’t have to dress up either, and it must not come over ridiculous.
Is there anyone you would like to tour with, or anywhere you would like to play and haven’t yet?
I would love to perform in South America, Asia, or India. And in Europe, we haven’t been everywhere yet either.
How do you think the music industry has changed over the years? Or is the music industry how you thought it would be when first starting a band?
Everything has become very fast-moving. The number of bands has increased massively over the years. The consumer has no overview anymore and maybe he misses some very cool acts, which just don’t get enough promotion. Therefore they push where the money is still there. Unfortunately for me, the product is often not right. In the past everything was clear and the bands supported each other. They organized gigs and there was an exchange. Also beyond the national border. Today you have to see that you can still pay the fuel costs with a fee.
Do you think it is important for a band to be signed to a label to be recognised in today’s society?
I do think there are advantages. The whole promotion for an album and the distribution is a big effort. As a band/musician you rarely have time for that yourself. Of course, it always depends on the demands of a band. I played in some bands where we did everything ourselves. But it didn’t get around much either.
What are your views on bands who give away their music free on social media? Do you think this is a good beneficial marketing idea, or should fans be paying to purchase tracks?
Unfortunately, the appreciation for music or film has been somewhat lost. Today everything can be downloaded free of charge from the net, which unfortunately has become a matter of course. If I want to drink a beer, I have to pay for it! So why should music suddenly be free? I know that young bands offer their songs for free download on various platforms. So they surely reach more people. If they do it for promotional purposes in the beginning, okay. But later on, no band should sell for less than their value. Who pays the instruments, the recordings, and so on?
What advice would you give someone wanting to start a band, and were you given any advice from other bands before starting out?
Convert your emotions into music. Don’t expect miracles that you will be a rock star one day. But with a lot of joy and ambition, you can often make it quite far. Take a good look at who you form a band with. Especially at a young age, not everyone has the same goals. I never really had much advice from other bands and always listened to my gut feeling.
What are the pro’s/cons of being in a band?
It is great fun to create music with other people and then perform it live. The older you get, the stronger your egos get. Sometimes this can be quite exhausting and lead to long discussions.
What do you like to do outside of music? Any hobbies?
I give drum lessons. In my spare time, I like to go hiking and travelling. I also like to meet with friends.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? How has Covid-19 affected this year for MESSIAH and how has Switzerland dealt with the virus?
Our plans could still be changed by the current situation. We really hope that we can hold our album release party on September 12th in Aarau (Switzerland). But at the moment the allowed number of visitors has been reduced to only 100. We hope for a relaxation of the situation. In October we still have a show in Austria. We are still uncertain about that too. Otherwise, we have postponed the live activities for this year and hope for a relaxation of the restrictions in 2021. We absolutely want to promote “Fracmont” live! Otherwise, we would have enough time until the end of the year to create a video for the new album. That’s one of those thoughts.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Thank you very much for the interview. We are very proud of our new baby and we really hope to present it live to our fans next year at the latest. We also thank all the loyal fans who believed in us all these years and all the new fans who will hopefully follow us in the future. Cheerz!