First of all: congratulations with your thirteenth studio album 'Utopia'. This year it is exactly twenty years ago that your debut album 'Kingdom Of The Night' was released! How do you look back at the past twenty years?
Thanks, yes I've never expected to stay in the business for such a long time. It was a good decision to quit my study in 1989 and jump directly into the cold water. But twenty years... puh… that's really a cool thing. It's always a lot of fun to look back in the past of AXXIS and I speak a lot with my friends about this time. The labels have had a lot of money, the vinyl record was there, the musician have no Plugins or virtual instruments to cover mistakes etc. So we had to play by ourselves and we were like five greenhorns in the studio without any knowledge about recording an album. We've always played live, so the studio experience in 1989 was really hard and difficult, but we've learned a lot. Than the first European tour with Black Sabbath, the first chart entry, the bestselling rock debut of all times in Germany, my first champagne, my first groupie, than the first Rock Am Ring festival, later on we recorded the fastest vinyl in the world, the recording of 'Big Thrill' in New York' and 'Matters Of Survival' in Los Angeles, our first earthquake and last but not least, my first kiss, my first sex... Noooooo... just kidding hehehe. It was really a great time (and it still is) and even if we did some strange things in the past I would do it all over again.
If we compare 'Kingdom Of The Night' with 'Utopia' or 'Doom Of Destiny' it ALMOST sounds as if we are dealing with a totally different band. Of course there have been several line-up changes and the times have changed as well. Your voice makes the whole sound recognizable though. As I mentioned in my review, in this way Axxis shows to be a band that is not afraid to use new influences, stay updated, but still keep to the roots as well. In how far can you agree on this and how important is it for Axxis to “adapt to the time”?
I agree totally. To make a CD interesting for us we need different balls in the game or in other words, it's a lot of fun to play with different styles of rock music. Sometimes we put some reggae colours into a song ('Touch The Rainbow') or we dive into film scores, sometimes we decide to work with female voices, sometimes the double bassdrum is important, etc. I know, it's really not an easy way but it's a good strategy to avoid copying yourselves and it makes AXXIS interesting for us, again and again. On Utopia we put an eye on Alex our new drummer. He likes all this progressive stuff and in the beginning of our production I thought it would be cool to get some of this elements into our songs. All this is always a challenge and I don't want to destroy a song only because a musician want to show what he's able to do. In the end of the day we need good songs and we are not in a circus. The songs are more important than the musicians. Alex has got a great feeling for this and he understands our philosophy, and we're really happy with the result.
One of the striking points on both 'Doom Of Destiny' and 'Utopia' is the guitar sound! Since Marco arrived in the band, he has really put a stamp on the Axxis sound and I must say that these albums contain some of the finest guitar performances in the band's discography. How important was Marco's contribution to the album and in the studio?
Marco is the guitarplayer, and for a rockband the guitar is the most important thing. When he joined the band he got some guitars and some amps. Not bad, but we want to put him on another level. We got a lot of discussions about guitars, sounds, amps, microphone and now, fortunately, he's playing the Fireball from Engl and a Paul Read Sith guitar. I gave him my holy Erik Clapton Strat and he bought one cool Strat for himself and an acoustic Takamine. He has really an open mind for our suggestions and he learned a lot. So, now we're able to invest a lot of money and time in checking out sounds for each song etc. It's great to play with Alex and Marco in one band, it's always good to get in some fresh blood.
Another striking point on 'Utopia' is the lesser use of female vocals in comparison with 'Doom Of Destiny', which make the album sound even more METAL in my opinion.
I liked to sing along with femal vocals and it was a lot of fun to be on stage with a nice girl, fighting – singing wise - against each other, but AXXIS is and was a band with five guys and the female vocal phase is over. We just put some vocals from Natalie Mol into the songs to get this special sound and colour, but we don't want to feature somebody again.
'Utopia' again contains some sensitive and personal song and the most obvious this time is 'Father's Eyes', which can be a real “tear-jerker” in the right mood. Is this song fictional or autobiographical?
This song is autobiographical. My father died in 2008 and I was really really down. In these cases AXXIS seems to be my personal psychiatrists. It helps me a lot to write this song but it's still not easy for me to sing.
For the first time in the band's history you have recorded a German song in 'Fass Mich An'! Please tell us more about this song and the fact that it's the first time you did a song in your mother tongue…
On one hand I'm still influenced by my experiences with the theater project “Prometheus Brain Project” in 2008 and on the other hand I want to get a song that makes the listeners prick their ears up. I think nobody would expect German lyrics on an AXXIS album and that's the reason why we choose this one. It should give the record another colour and another approach for a moment. And by the way, we played this song live now and I never expected such a reaction from fans even if they don't know the album yet. In France for example the people are going crazy. I thought they would hate German lyrics hahaha.
The limited edition of 'Utopia' will contain the special '20 Years Anniversary Song' with a lot of interesting guest musicians! Unfortunately my promo copy doesn't contain the bonus tracks, so I have no idea how this track sounds. Can you tell us more about this song as well?
Sure, it's a kind of medley of songs we wrote over the years. In the beginning of the recordings of 'Utopia' we thought about a special for the fans and the first idea was to record two cd's: the dark and the bright side of AXXIS. Unfortunately the label didn't have the money to do this, so we decided to record this anniversary song with singers/ friends we know very well in the business. I asked Andi Deris, Claus Lessmann, Schmier, Doro, Rolf Stahlhofen, David Readman and Walter if they would have time to take part of this idea. I was really happy that everybody said directly: “YES!! SURE!!” and I appreciate this very, very much. Now I'm really happy that we got this song on the cd. Our management mentioned that these different singers will not fit together in one song. Soul, metal, thrash, rock voices are coming together and it sounds very interesting in my opinion. After the mix our management was totally surprised, that's what we want and I'm sure the people will like it too
And how about your choice for these musicians in particular and how it was with working with these legends?
The choice was very easy, we just asked singers that followed our way over the years, that have worked with us together and people we like very much. All the singers should have an important connection to AXXIS. Rolf Stahlhofen for example was our tourmanager during our first tour. He was the guy who introduced the band on the 'ACCESS ALL AREAS' live album. Million years later I was watching a gig of the Söhne Mannheims on TV and I thought like hmm, this singer looks like Rolf. Okay, now without hair, a bit bigger, but he looks like Rolf. I was totally surprised because this band is really big in Germany, and our old tourmanager is singing there? Cool, what a careermove! So I gave him a call and asked him. He said yes instantly, but only on one condtion: I had to sent him the TOP SECRET video tapes we've recorded in his hotelroom on this tour in 1990. Sorry, but I'm not at liberty to give you more detailed information about this video. Like I said: TOP SECRET hehehe.
The other bonus track 'Taste My Blood', which was composed by Rob and Marco is also missing on my promo. But as I have understood it's suppose to be a bit more different than what we are used to from Axxis. Of course we don't want to spoil the surprise, but can you tell us a bit in what way this song differs from the rest?
Okay, I think 'Taste My Blood' sounds different because of our new style but if you compare it with AXXIS ten years ago this song would fit perfectly to us. 'Taste My Blood' was written in a traditional style and Rob's basslick is the main hook that leads you through the song. I like it very much.
Since Axxis started their career there have been a lot of changes in the heavy metal and we have seen genres and styles come and go. Axxis however, kept on going without any breaks and although you have made progress with each album, you have never really paid attention to any trends. But still I think you also can't deny that Axxis 2009 is not the same Axxis 1989! So, how would you describe Axxis “then and now”?
You're right ! To be honest to you, it would be very boring for us if AXXIS-today would sound like AXXIS in 1989. If you don't go forwards you go backwards. We always try to play a bit with new influences, new technical possibilities and we still take the risk to miss the taste of the people. For example the 'Voodoo Vibes' CD was a lot of fun to record. We've played with samples, loops using the drums as an instrument that doesn't go through the whole song, etc but that was the wrong time for this experiment. Today a lot of great rock bands doing this and the people get used to it. Since three albums we're more in this melodic power metal style without losing our roots, but I think for the next record we have to change something again. We'll see what happens hahaha.
You have of course been a long-time member of the rock and metal community. What is your opinion in the way things have developed within the scene in the past two decades and the current popularity of the scene?
The main change was the digital revolution and the Internet. 'Kingdom Of The Night' was released on vinyl, we had to record everything on analogue tapes spending a lot of time in the studio. Today we got the CD, we're able to produce in our hybrid studio (a mixture of analogue and digital) independently from expensive studios. That's an advantage. But because of this digital revolution the scene has changed a lot. On one hand it's possible to get illegal downloads so the business is loosing a lot of money. They are not able to invest money in young talents anymore. That's the reason why still “old” bands are the headliner for a lot of festivals. And if a newcomer get a chance they will stay just a few years in the business before they're gone.
On the other hand the internet gives us a direct contact to the fans. The networking and connections worldwide between bands and fans is really a cool thing and even unsigned bands are able to promoted themselves without the “big” business, and that's cool. Another advantage is that a lot of bands are able to produce their songs at home. Sounds cool but the problem is that the labels are signing a lot of cheap productions today without checking the live acting. A lot of musicians cover their disabilities on their cd's and therefore they loose the ability to play live, but playing live is the most important thing...
You have already done a couple of shows in the summer and you have a few more planned until the end of the year. But most of these shows took and will take place in your home country. Would you say that Axxis' main audience is in Germany? If yes, how do you explain it?
During our EMI period we only got the chance to play one European tour with Black Sabbath. EMI was happy with the success in Germany but abroad of Germany nothing happened. Okay, we had some success in Japan, but that's all. Since 'Back to the Kingdom' we got another label called Massacre Records that gave us the chance to play abroad of Germany and since that time the band is growing from year to year, so you're right. In the beginning of our career our main audience was in Germany but today we're playing a lot of gigs and festivals in Spain, France, Czech republic etc. Germany is still a big market and we know a lot of people here, that's the reason why we play here a lot.
'Utopia' (as well as especially the previous two releases) contains killer power metal and surely deserves to be heard. You think there will be an opportunity for the European fans to witness Axxis on stage again soon?
Yes I'm sure. By the way, we already played the new 'Utopia' setlist in France and right in this moment our booking agency is looking for a cool second headliner to make the gig more worth for the people. But we're still depending on promoters in all different countries and I hope we get this tour done.
Okay Bernhard, I guess we can wrap it up for now. The famous last words are of course yours…
Buy the CD's of your favourite band, join the gigs and support the metalscene!