Juergen, the last time we spoke was a couple of years ago when 'Night Of White Rock' was released. This time I would like to focus a bit more on the early days of Mad Max due to the Metal Mind re-releases of your first four albums. The most obvious question to start with is of course: how and when was the band actually founded?
The very first musical steps of Mad Max happened around 1980-1981, but to be honest this was not very professional…haha! Just having fun and playing our own favourite songs like Status Quo or Rolling Stones stuff!
Of course the band's name was taken from the Mel Gibson Mad Max movies, right? Why did you choose for this name?
Our very first singer (Andreas Baesler, who is now a theatre director and actor) came up with the name. It's actually taken from the movie but back then the very first Mad Max movie was a totally unknown at that time independent movie from Australia. We would have never imagined that the movie would become a worldwide blockbuster.
What were the original intentions that you had when founding Mad Max? Did you have any specific goals in mind that you wanted to achieve in the early days?
In the period before recording the very first album, entitled 'Mad Max I', we focused on writing our own songs inspired by bands like Iron Maiden or Def Leppard. A lot of bands in our hometown only did cover songs, so we were one of the very first bands to come up with an album full of self written songs.
The first line-up consisted of Wilfred Schneider (guitar), Thomas Hoffman (bass), Uwe Starck (drums), Andreas Baesler (vocals) and you on guitar. Did any of these band members already have experience in other bands before joining Mad Max and if so, what were these?
It all started with Mad Max, we had a band before that called Way Out, but this was more like a cover rock band.
Did you record any demos before the first album 'Mad Max' was recorded? If so, which are they and what songs are featured on there?
For the very first album we went directly from the rehearsal room into the studio. At that time we had a very cool rehearsal room and could spend a lot of time there to prepare and write the songs.
The debut album 'Mad Max' was released as an independent release in 1982. Why did you decide to do this?
We knew nothing about the business side of music, but we had a large following of fans in our hometown. So we thought that would be enough to sell a good amount of records, hey there were no downloads or internet at that time, still everybody was buying (!!!) the records. What a wonderful time…haha!
'Mad Max' was rereleased one year later by Roof Music. How did that happen?
The guys from Roof Music (still today a big player in the business) contacted us, that was it! No casting or whatever!
How do you look back on the quality of the debut album? To be honest, in my opinion it's a very mediocre affair with below average vocal parts and a rather poor production.
Who am I to disagree with you…haha! Even making this record was an adventure for us, but the very first edition sold out rather quickly so at that time we made everything right. And having an album out made it easier to get live shows, which was a very important point for us.
Who was at that time responsible for the song writing, since the songs on the debut album aren't exactly top quality either?
Everybody threw in his ideas like guitar riffs or vocal lines or a drum beat that sounded cool. Then we jammed on that stuff and came up with…A SONG!
To make things even worse, the cover artwork done by Peter Grzan didn't help too much either. Whose idea was it to use this awful album cover?
This album cover came out of nowhere basically. We had a cool band logo but no idea for a cover. And there was no program like Photo Shop available at that time.
|Shortly after the release of the debut album, vocalist Andreas Baesler decided to leave, which can be seen as a blessing for the band. What happened here?
Andreas was really a great guy but his love was the theatre and being an actor. So he decided to leave the music behind. The fact that he is a theatre director these days proves his decision right.
His replacement was Michael Voss, at that time still a very young rocker. How did you get him into the band and didn't you think it was an awful risk to have such a young chap as the front man of the band?
Meeting Michael Voss was really the best that could happen to Mad Max. He already had a band in a smaller town near our hometown. He was not only a great singer and performer on stage, the other thing was he could write songs, songs that were really rocking and melodic! The fact that he was a little bit younger than the rest of the band was absolutely no problem for us. Musically he was the BOSS!
Also bass player Thomas Hoffman was replaced by Jurgen Sander. Why was that?
This was more like a time thing. Thomas Hoffman wanted to do other things beside the band. So he moved on to a “normal” life!
The songs on the second album 'Rollin' Thunder were much better than the ones on the debut album. Was this solely due to the introduction of Michael Voss or were there other factors as well?
This credit absolutely belongs to Michael Voss, he had so many ideas that really kicked our ass, so everybody in the band improved a lot at that time. It provided a kind of a pushed to the limit feeling!
'Rollin' Thunder' was released by Roadrunner Records. How did that deal materialize?
This is really a crazy story, a true crazy story! Believe it or not, we recorded a couple of songs in the rehearsal room (not in an expensive recording studio) with a cheap tape recorder put in the middle of the room! It was raw, trashy raw!! This tape we sent to Roadrunner Records label boss Cees Wessels and the rest is history! DEAL!
How do you look back on 'Rollin' Thunder' yourself now twenty-five years after its original release date?
This album started it all and gained us worldwide respect and the re-releases are proving us that the fans all over the world still love the album and that it is strong enough to even gain new fans, a new generation of fans, and the songs still work fantastic on stage!
The album got a lot of positive reviews back then. What did that do for you as a band?
The feeling was awesome, getting mail (no e-mail!!!) from all over the world, getting reviews in the USA, Canada, Japan and all over Europe! We felt that we must have done something right!
I guess that you wanted to take the band to the next level, because after 'Rollin' Thunder' a big line-up change was coming and you introduced a new guitar player with Christoph Wegman, a new bass player with Roland Bergmann and a new drummer with Axel Kruse. What was the reason for this big change?
New guitar player Christoph Wegmann was a guitar hero in our hometown and he loved the music of Mad Max. At this time Michael Voss was not playing guitar in Mad Max, he was the frontman and singer! We thought having a real guitar hero in the band would be perfect. Christoph had fantastic song ideas and played a lot of great solo parts on the album, but touring was absolutely not his kind of thing. Roland and Axel had to come in because the “old” guys were already satisfied with being “local heroes” while Michael and I wanted to take the band to an international level.
In 1985 the third album 'Stormchild' was released, which in my opinion again showed a big musical progression. What changed in the song writing process for this third one?
The new guitar player Christoph brought a lot of ideas and that kind of pushed Michael Voss a lot, so we had now two strong songwriters in the band and the rest of the guys threw in some nice bits and pieces to make it perfect.
The songs on 'Stormchild' introduced more commercial elements in the music of Mad Max. Was this an intentional move or did it just happen naturally?
A little bit of both, the band played tighter than ever before and we felt we could bring Mad Max to the next level.
For the following tour guitar player Christoph Wegman was unable to make it and he got replaced by Angel Schleifer. Why did you choose for Angel as a “temporary” replacement?
“Angel” was another of our guitar heroes from Munich, he was a good friend and the nicest guy on earth! It was that simple! In the years to come “Angel” really hit it big time with Pretty Maids and Bonfire!
What is your opinion about the third album 'Stormchild' looking back at it now?
When it came out it was definitely underrated, classic tracks like 'Lonely Is The Hunter' or the title track 'Stormchild' got great feedback but the rest of the songs failed to impress the critics.
The next album 'Night Of Passion' proved to be a difficult affair for the band, since there seemed to be a lot of problems with picking the right producer for the album, right?
Absolutely! First as band we continued as a four piece with Michael Voss now on lead vocals and lead guitar. This worked out perfectly and in certain ways made things easier for us. We had awesome songs and a vision how to bring Mad Max to the next international level. Working with German producer Kalle Trapp was fairly okay on the personal side but we were “hot to rock” and wanted to work all day and night while Kalle Trapp did more or less his job, which was good but ….you know what I mean!
Finally Dan Johnson, who worked with Crimson Glory and Savatage among others, was to do the job, but the band wasn't really happy with it I believe?
Michael Voss flew over to the USA to do the mix with Dan Johnson, again it was an okay affair but not exactly what we had hoped for.
'Night Of Passion' was by far your most commercial album and the band sounded more like Dokken than as the heavy metal band when they started out. Why did you choose for this style change?
At that time Dokken was by far our absolute favourite band, we especially liked the 'Under Lock And Key' album. There was no chance for us to escape those influences.
Was this change in style successful for the band? Did the album do better from a commercial perspective?
Absolutely! The album was loved by fans and critics and the songs worked fantastic live! And believe me, they still do!
On 'Love Loaded' ace guitar player Joshua Perahia took care of the leads. How did you get him involved?
When Josh was in Germany for the first time to record with Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks, we let him and his band rehearse in our rehearsal room! Since this time we're close friends and I visited him several times in Los Angeles! As a returning favour Josh played lead guitar on 'Love Loaded'!
You also recorded The Sweet cover 'Fox On The Run'. Why?
Michael Voss always was a big fan of The Sweet, so he came up with the idea!
How do you feel about 'Night Of Passion' yourself more than twenty years down the road?
We all love this album, we truly believe that the songs stood the test of time, 100%!
In 1989 the band called it a day. What was the exact reason that the band split up back then?
With 'Night Of Passion' we were offered the chance to bring Mad Max to America. Top producer Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne) wanted to remix it for the American market. The door to the USA was open, but Roadrunner Records wanted to sell a whole package of bands while the American company was only interested in Mad Max! Guess what…Roadrunner killed the deal! Michael Voss was shocked and frustrated more than the rest of us and decided to leave! Sad but true!
In 1999 the band reunited for the comeback album 'Never Say Never'. Why this reunion and what did you do in the ten years that the band was laid to rest?
We all had different side projects. Michael was very successful with Bonfire and Casanova, while I put together a new band called Tanner, which produced classic rock with German lyrics. Besides that we wrote songs for other artists and bands and projects. That's how Michael and I came back together again. Michael and I wrote a bunch of songs together that ended up as 'Never say Never' with two friends of ours playing bass and drums! It's a cool album but more or less a kind of solo album from Michael and myself!
'Never Say Never' was followed by 'Night Of White Rock' (2006), White Sands (2007) and 'Here We Are' (2008). How do you look back on those albums now and which one is in your opinion the best of the four “reunion” albums?
The real “reunion” started with 'Night Of White Rock' and since then the band is really back and each of those albums has its own story. So for us it's kinda hard to pick a “favourite”.
Now the first four albums are re-released by Metal Mind Productions in beautiful digipack versions. Were you in any way involved in this?
Tommy from Metal Mind was so kind to involve us in the project and we contributed with new and additional photos and some bonus songs. Tommy did a fantastic job and from the feedback we're getting, the fans all around the world love the re-releases.
The sound quality of the debut album re-release is very poor, it sounds like it's recorded from an LP. What do you think about the sound quality and why was the sound quality not improved for this re-release?
You're right, it IS recorded from an LP because nobody knows where the original tapes are!
Furthermore there are just a few bonus tracks ('Can't Stop Taking' on 'Stormchild and ' Show No Mercy' on 'Night Of Passion') added. Why wasn't more bonus material included, since you must have tons of extra material in the Mad Max vaults?
We actually don't have a lot of extra stuff from that period of time, but we are talking with Tommy about future projects like a DVD, so let's see what happens!
What do you think about this initiative of re-releasing these albums? Are the music fans of today really waiting for the early Mad Max material?
Yes, they do, the reactions are awesome! There are a lot of new fans just recognizing the old stuff and a very important aspect is that the fans now can get the classic stuff for a fair price!
The band has been together again now for quite a number of years and when I spoke with Michael for the 'Voices Of Rock' release, he mentioned that a new album was “in the making” with a probable release date somewhere in 2010. What the status of the new material right now?
The new 2010 album is almost ready and will be released around summer, but right now and in the next months we will promote the re-releases. The plans are to play a couple of big festivals with a very special “best of” set.
What can we expect of a possible new Mad Max album?
The story of the new album is a secret right now. Sorry my dear friend, let's talk about that in a couple of months!
You've been in the music business for quite a number of years now. What have been your personal highlights and lowlights during your Mad Max period?
One of the highlights was definitely the tour with Deep Purple and Alice Cooper in 2006 and this year our very first USA shows at the world famous Rocklahoma Festival in July 2009 with Stryper, Night Ranger, Ratt, Warrant, Twisted Sister and Danger Danger. The absolute lowlight was the split in 1989!
Okay Juergen, thanks for your time and willingness to answer my questions. As always, the famous last words are yours.
It was my pleasure my friend! Thanks so much to all our fans all around the world, old and new ones, for all your support! Rock your life, live your dreams!