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Metal Church

Toen een paar jaar geleden Mike Howe terugkeerde in Metal Church waren de fans erg blij verrast en het doet me dan ook deugd om te zien dat dit geen eenmalig experiment was, maar dat Mike ook op de nieuwe plaat ‘Damned If You Do’ de vocalen voor zijn rekening neemt. Tijdens de release van ‘XI’, het eerste album waarop Mike na lange afwezigheid weer te horen was, spraken me met deze sympathieke zanger en voor opvolger ‘Damned If You Do’ besloten we om gitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof eens met een aantal vragen te confronteren.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Hi Kurdt, let’s go back a couple of years in time to your previous album ‘XI’. Why did you feel that you had to bring Mike Howe back in the band and how difficult was it to persuade him to rejoin?
We didn’t really had to, but the fact that Ronny left made me realize that I didn’t feel that there was going to be a fourth singer for Metal Church and when Mike wouldn’t be available or into it I was probably just going to end it. It was kind of interesting that a week prior to our other singer leaving I had gotten in contact with Mike just as a friend, because we hadn’t spoken in quite a long time. When we were without a singer shortly thereafter, I asked Mike if he would be interested in rejoining the band. So it was almost like it was always meant to be

Is it different working with Mike now than it was a few decades ago and if so, in what way?
Actually no, it’s quite similar like in the old days. The cool thing about it now is that we’re not only get to work together in the studio but now we get to take it on stage too, because we never played together in a live setting as I was not actually in the band at that time.

What did this reunion album with Mike Howe mean for the band both from a commercial as well as an artistic perspective?
Artistically for me it was great because the whole Mike Howe era with Metal Church was much more melodic and much more hard rock oriented which is what I prefer. That was great from a creative standpoint, but from a commercial standpoint it kind of elevated the band and legitimized us a little bit more instead of me being the only member from the beginning with everybody else being new. We captured the old sound again and made it a little more like Metal Church again. The fact that Mike’s even singing better now than back then is certainly a bonus.

In 2017 the ‘Classic Live’ album was released. What was the idea behind this album?
That was just to capture what we were doing at that time live. As the band came back together we just wanted to do something that kind of encapsulated the history of the band very briefly, because we may do another proper live album in the future. I still want to do a double live album and a DVD and all that kind of stuff. At that point I don’t want to rehash all the old stuff, but I would like to focus on the new stuff with Mike and his history in the band.

On this album a new version of ‘Fake Healer’ was recorded with Todd La Torre as extra singer. How did you get this idea?
Actually I think that we met Todd when we were on the Monsters Of Rock cruise and it turned out that he was a big Metal Church fan and a big Mike Howe fan. He’s in Queensryche which is another Seattle band like we are, so it just seemed like something that could work and it sounded like fun. Todd’s a great singer and a really cool guy and he did a great job on ‘Fake Healer’.

Now you come up with the successor to ‘XI’ called ‘Damned If You Do’, wo when did you start with the actual song writing for this new album and what was the game plan that you had for it?
There wasn’t really a game plan. We started with the song writing about a year ago and I remember it well, because all the Christmas decorations were up…haha! I never do a real preconceived plan, the only thing that I do is to keep it Metal Church which is old-school, powerful but also musical and melodic. Those are the only preconceived notions that I do when I’m trying to put together an album. I’m not really trying to break any barriers or push the boundaries as that has never interested me. I wanted it to be an album that Metal Church fans will buy and that they will know what they’re getting.

Did the songwriting differ in any way from your previous releases and if so, how?
The process was pretty much the same as Mike and I have developed our way of working together. Even if we try to break out of that, it never really works. I think every artist has his way of going about it. I write the guitar riffs first, put the vocal melodies on there and then the lyrics come and that how I’ve been working in the past as well.

On this new record drummer Jeff Plate was replaced by Stet Howland. What was the reason that Jeff left and how did you get Stet on board?
It was just time for a change and Jeff has been very busy with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and stuff at home. The split was completely amicable and we’re all still great friends. Stet came in through our bass player Steve as he was doing a band with some of the former members of W.A.S.P. when we were having a short break. He and Stet became great friends, so when Jeff left it was kind of logical that Stet would joint and it has worked out really, really well.

What are in your opinion the biggest differences and maybe also improvements when comparing ‘Damned If You Do’ to the previous one?
Of course that’s completely subjective but I hope that it has become better although that would be for the fans to decide. I think there’s a difference now with Stet coming in, because of his different style of playing which brought a different element to us. I think this new one is a bit tougher and there are no ballads on this album, which is not by design but just how the album developed.

You’re debut album ‘Metal Church’ is regarded as an absolute heavy metal classic and probably all your new records will be compared to that one. Do you think that’s fair and how do you cope with that?
I think it’s great, because the fact that we have created a record that people rate as an absolute classic is awesome. It’s then also a natural thing to compare our new releases to that one, but I hope and it certainly seems true that they will still accept this new stuff too.

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A video was created for the track title track ‘Damned If You Do’. Why did you choose for this particular song?
Doing a video for the title track just seemed like the right thing to do and we don’t want to overthink these kind of things. We operate a lot on feel in this band and ‘Damned If You Do’ seemed like a logical choice for the video.

In the past you’ve also been active in bands like Presto Ballet, Hall Aflame and Vanderhoof. Are you still planning on doing something with those bands or are they past history?
The Vanderhoof solo stuff morphed into Presto Ballet and there will be a new album coming out before the end of the year. It will be our sixth one and I’m really excited about that record. I try to stay in a constant state of creativity as much as possible and I’m always trying to do other things. I just want to keep challenging myself as a writer and who knows what more will come out of that.

Also an “official track” was released on YouTube for the song ‘Out Of Balance’, so why this particular song?
We didn’t really choose this one, that was more of a Nuclear Blast thing.

What are in your opinion the strongest moments on the new album and why?
Oh boy…I think there’s a couple. I personally really like ‘Guillotine’ for the thrashy style, but I also do like ‘Monkey Finger’ which is a straightforward kind of old-school metal song. I also think ‘By The Numbers’ is a great song but probably everybody should decide for themselves what they like most on ‘Damned If You Do’.

Did you write and record and more material than the ten songs that are featured on the album? If so, which ones and what’s going to happen with them?
We always record lots of stuff and then select the tunes that together make the best record. There are a bunch of bonus tracks for which we’re going to find a home in the future. Some songs you just don’t put on the record because they don’t really fit in, so it’s always good to have a lot of extra material.

Who is responsible for the album artwork and is it in any way related to the lyrics on the album?
Yes, it’s very much related to the lyrics and it was done by a guy in Brazil that has worked with Ratpack Records before. There’s kind of a theme though the album, although it certainly isn’t a concept record, but lyrically there’s a social-political awareness going on and the cover reflects that. The cover is not against the church in any way, but it’s more in reference to the climate in the world right now with all the political lying, fake news and all the evil that’s going on. You have to be extremely careful about who and what you listen to and who and what you believe.

The album will be released on December 7th, but what are you own personal expectation from this album? When will it be a success for you?
I don’t have too many expectations, I’m just happy that it is received as well as it is right now. That in itself is the expectation for me, but of course I hope that it does great as we’re trying to set up a lot of festivals and stuff for next summer. I hope that the album allows us to continue and most importantly that the fans will like it.

What are your plans after the release of the album? Do you already have any concrete shows or tours booked for 2018?
We’re doing Bloodstock and there are a few other festivals that have been confirmed (like Dynamo Metal Fest – Sjak). We’re looking at several other options as well like doing few club shows in Europe and setting up some things in the States, which is far more difficult as metal is not as popular over here compared to Europe.

What’s the ambition level that the band has nowadays as you’re one of the longest lasting band around in the scene now?
Our ambition is just to keep going and just to be able to make music and play shows. Sure we would like to get bigger but the fact that we still get to do this after all these years is as far as I’m concerned more success that I would have expected.

What have been your personal highlights and maybe even also lowpoints during your entire career with Metal Church?
Highlights probably when we got signed by Elektra back in the day when the whole thing was started, doing shows with Metallica and getting Mike back in the band. Some of the lowpoints were when I left the band and started to see how the business really works as we had signed a very horrible contract. We were lied to by our manager at the time, which completely screwed the band financially. Another lowpoint was the whole ‘Masterpeace’ reunion thing with David Wayne, not necessarily on him, but the whole thing just didn’t work. That was a huge dark period for me as I knew it shouldn’t have been done but I got pushed into it. But the good thing that came out of that for me was that nobody is every going to tell me to do something that I don’t want to do anymore.

Okay Kurdt, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
Just the fact that after all these years we still have fans that love us and are interested in us and that’s great. We really appreciate that and the fact that we can still do this is only because of the fans. Just one great big thank you to them!

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