GAMMARAY (2014 - English Version) - Dirk Schlächter (Bass)

The guys from GAMMARAY are back in town! Their awaited album “Empire of the Undead” has been released a few days ago and it’s time for us to discover their new stuff on stage. But for now, let’s talk with a chatty Dirk about everything. And a little bit of GAMMARAY of course…

SBM: Well first of all, thank you for this interview. The tour is on and the album was released a few days ago. What were the first feedbacks concerning “Empire of the Undead”?

Dirk: The album? The first things we heard were pretty good, because the first thing we knew, before everybody knew it, was that in the sound check of “Metal Hammer” and German “Rock Hard Magazine”, both sound checks are for the April issue, we were number one. And that is something really special, we knew that but we were not allowed to communicate this. (Laugh)
That was very special, so that meant that the press people really liked the album. But the bad thing was that the tour started and the album was not out yet. But now it’s not a problem anymore, people had time to listen to the songs so it should be fine. And in Germany it’s on the charts we’re number 13, it was in the boxes in the shops with the number 13! (Laugh)
That’s really good we didn’t expected that, and from the fans, so far, we’ve heard that everybody was complaining about the cover, but concerning the music nobody’s complaining.

Secret Sfred: And what would you say about the cover?

To be honest, for me, the cover is not the most important, but of course if you are used to the old style of covers we had by Hervé Montjeaud, who always did a great job, it changes. Normally Kai contact him and give him ideas, how is the music, but I don’t know why this didn’t happen actually…
We had this idea for the white cover because we were sick of these multicolor covers! Something simple and basic, that was the idea and it just went out like this: it was a photo from Kai wearing a real mask, the mask you see on stage between the drum set, this is the mask from the cover. He made it like this on the photo and the rest was done on Photoshop or whatever, I don’t know. I care about the cover but I’m not involved too much, I said “Leave me alone with this artwork shit”. (Laugh)
I care about the tour and the audio and technical stuff in the studio, that’s my job, so if I’m also too much involved in the artwork my head will explode! So we knew that this would split the fans apart: some would say “Oh it’s something different and we like it” and some would say “WHAT’S THIS?!” and it exactly happened like this.
And with the merchandising, with this, you could only do black and white merchandise and many people still love the colored merchandise.

SBM: Yeah but just like you said, the main thing is music!

Yes it’s that for me, of course it’s bad also because the merchandise is a very important thing for a musician, to fill the fridge and pay the rent and it’s an important point in earning money as well. And you have to also think about this, and this has been forgotten.

SBM: It’s a pity because you had a great potential with this title “Empire of the Undead”. What’s the idea hidden behind this title?

Well you can take it very directly; it’s just a title of a story, of an album, which is in this case is pretty much into these old “Tales from the Crypt”, these comic stuff, these horror stories, we always loved that. So this is one side.
And on the other side, when you put “Empire of the Undead” into the real world, into the social aspect, you can get the impression that the “Empire of the Undead” is already there, many people are working like undead and have a life like an undead already although they’re alive. So it’s about this and you can also reflect this in the lyrics of some songs, where you can see it directly: the real world social aspect of the reflection of the “Empire of the Undead”; the cartoon comic side, horror story in the real world. And both things are reflected in the lyrics.

Secret Sfred: You talked about horror movie, and there is this song “Demonseed” where a woman screams in the beginning. Does it come from the 1977 horror movie “Demon Seed”?

No it’s not from a movie, a woman did it for real.

Secret Sfred: Ok. And concerning the cover and the photo shot is there a link between the ones of “Empire of the Undead” and the ones from “Power Plant”? Is seems that white has replaced blue.

Oh yeah… I told Kai when he started doing the photo session with the white faces. And the good thing was that we all put these grey shades, we were looking like undead, but with the white thing I told Kai “Wow! White thing? Rammstein did that, this band did that” and so on.
There’s about five bands doing this, and he just didn’t know it. And I was not involved in this idea of photo session, if I was I would have said it before but I just received the email saying “Bring some normal clothes and we’re going to be like white statues”. And originally it was planned to do hairs too, but we said “Kai we can’t do this with the hairs too, it’s the same thing that Rammstein did”. And so we showed him the pictures and we said to the photo director that we wanted to look like undead but not like white statues and he agreed and these pictures are pretty good.
Of course it reminds everybody of the blue pictures from “Power Plant” but it’s a little different, it fits more to the title of the album than the blue pictures to the “Power Plant” album. Everybody thought it was a crazy idea but it was a good idea: just because of the pictures we were on the cover of several metal magazines all other Europe.

Secret Sfred: And we have a question about your studio, with the fire…

SBM: Yeah as it burned before the end, have this incident changed something on the album, although most of the songs have been done?

Of course there was a break, it was planned that after the South American “Hellish Rock Tour” we went directly to work in the studio. We rehearsed, made the drum set and everything and we still had to finish three songs, we had some ideas but they were not done yet. And for every song of the album we settled our guidelines, every song was rearranged by the band, all of us, together in the rehearsal room or in the studio.
We have been playing these songs all together, without keyboards; just two guitars, bass guitar and drums, and we did the final arrangement of the songs together. That makes the songs… different; you can hear it, when somebody writes a song at home and plays it to the others that say “Oh it’s a nice song!” and then we put it directly to the production. Then you start recording the drums, maybe you change something but you haven’t played it, so you don’t have the feeling of how it’s going to be when you’ll play it.
So we had still these three songs but we had no studio anymore so I could arrange very quickly that we could rehearse in the rehearsal room of my other band “Neopera”. We’ve rehearsed there for two days and when it was finished we already had some work on “Demonseed” and on “Flying High”, a song from Henjo, but “Avalon” was not finished yet.
We just had this basic idea and nobody in the band was really satisfied with the first idea, so we spent the second day doing this and I got an “Ok” from another studio, so we could go there the weekend to record the drums. We had to finish the song so we did that and went to this studio. So normally we could have done this in our studio so we lost some days only, but there were so many things to do with the choirs, the recording, so that’s why the album was not released before the start of the tour.

Secret Sfred: And how is the studio now?

It’s destroyed… It’s not totally destroyed but the thing is that you can’t use it anymore. The firemen tore big holes into the walls to look if there’s still something glowing or burning. Our recording room was not burnt, it’s just full of water and the building is destroyed and on the first floor rooms really burned so the steel maintaining all the construction melts already.
So some parts were burnt, like for example the storage room of our tour equipment, like the cases, the cabinet, the stage set-up, all we normally had, is totally destroyed, nothing is left of that. But all the guitars, the gear, the pre-amp, the machines, everything is safe. Some instruments are really full of smoke and are black but you just have to clean it and they are fine, but some got a lot of water and they suffered a little more from the water than the fire (Laugh).
But the building is destroyed so right now we have a rehearsal room that we share with another band and a storage room for the equipments and for the live stuff, that’s all we got.

SBM: Let’s go back to happier stuff now! You were talking about “Avalon” and it’s quite unusual to have a long and epic track as first song of the album instead of a short powerful song. Why have you made this choice?

That’s a good question… Actually it’s an obvious thing to put some short double-bass speed song at the beginning of an album, a kind of “We’re back! Here we are!”. “Avalon” is not in this opera style arrangement, it’s a very epic song, that’s right, but it’s not so complicated, it’s very simple, too simple to put it like a big opera thing at the end of the album.
And we were listening to some combinations and we had the idea very quit: we only had the chance to put it at the end or at the beginning of the album. And the beginning was cool, and then you are in the right mood for the rest of the songs…

SBM: Actually it’s my favorite one.

We play it live as well!

SBM: Yeah we’ve heard it during the sound check.

And we’ll play it as first song and it’s the best position because it’s also a song were you just listen and let this epic mood and feeling catch you and that’s the best position.

Secret Sfred: And on the over side we have some very heavy songs like “Hellbent” or “Empire of the Undead”. Was it a will to come back to very heavy songs?

Oh yeah of course it was also time to have this punchy basic feeling again, these double bass speed metal thing. Concerning “Hellbent” I really like this song, it was a great production, we did the arrangements and the guitar riffs and all was recorded before the old studio burned, where we have spent time together, the guys and me, to record that stuff.
And “Empire of the Undead” was already there but we didn’t want to do just another double bass song. We wanted to do something basic but also on a high level…

Secret Sfred: You seem to always work together during the writing and recording process. You’re reached now almost 25 years of activity with GammaRay, and other power metal bands like Stratovarius, Angra, Rhapsody of Fire etc… have split up now but you’re still there! What’s your secret?

Letting our freedom without fighting too much… We have our free times where we don’t see each other very often; we learned to respect the others, we’re not discussing too much, we know what is good or not. In the 90s we have been talking about one guitar riff, how to play it, we’ve been talking for about two hours in the studio, but now we just do it because we know each other for such a long time and there are of course things I don’t like, things that Kai and I don’t like, how Henjo is doing something, but I know what he can do, and we know this kind of respect I think.

Secret Sfred: And concerning the new guy in the band, Michael, how did he join the band?

It came pretty surprisingly… We were very surprised when Daniel said he wanted to leave the band. And we already had on offer to play on a German TV show in Berlin, and Daniel said he cannot play this, he already left. But we wanted to do this so we had to find somebody who can just play this stage show. Just this show and then we’ll see.
I was thinking that maybe I could convince Daniel to stay or whatever, I didn’t really realize it at the moment. So we started to talk with Kai, we said “Do you have any ideas about who can do this?” and he said that once, on a jam session thing with Uli John Roth, I don’t really know what it was but, Kai played with Uli John Roth and Michael was playing the drums.
So he said “Oh yeah I played with this drummer blablabla…” and I said “Oh cool, what’s his name blablabla” so I contacted him and asked him “Can you do the show?”, just the TV show.
And we started the rehearsing for the show; we had to play four songs, three GammaRay songs and “I Want out”. So we rehearsed, we practiced and on this show I felt immediately good vibes, there was a good feeling with him. He is also from Northern Germany, he has the same sense of humor that Henjo and Kai have; and me as well. And he also has quite the same age he is also in the 40s… So for the friendship, everything was fine from the beginning and after that show I didn’t feel like I was playing with somebody new. Of course Daniel had his style, this powerful strength German style of playing drums, but it was very fresh and nice from the beginning. So after that we directly asked him if he could play the festivals which were coming up. But 2012 was the Unisonic year for Kai so we had only four or five festivals so we had so time to practice with him for these festivals, and that went fine. And we started to think about a new production, we started to think about “Hellish Rock 2” and we asked Michael to join GammaRay as a real member and now he is!

Secret Sfred: Was he a fan of GammaRay?

A fan…? I don’t know. He knew who we were and he knew the music. He had some albums, he was from the scene. He played in Metallium for many years…

Secret Sfred: And do you still have news from Dan?

Actually I talked to him some months ago and we met him on the “Hellish Rock tour” of course in Nuremberg or in shows close to his town. We still have a good relationship; he’s doing this cover band called “Justice” but he stopped Freedom Call a long time before GammaRay.

SBM: I have a question concerning the recording. During this period fans were invited to see the band playing live at the studio. How did it happen, who had this idea?

That’s an idea from the record company; it was at the end of the recording. Now companies need to find new ways to promote CDs and the whole thing, they need to do something special to make it interesting and it was their idea, doing a lot of stuff, combined with the recording, combined with this special edition DVD and everything, it’s a good idea (Laugh)

Secret Sfred: Do you like it?

Yeah… I mean… Hum… it’s ok! Of course it’s very basic, but for a GammaRay thing it’s something special.

Secret Sfred: And did the press like it?

Oh yeah everybody liked it, at that time nobody was saying “Oh no it’s boring”, but I don’t know what they said after.

Secret Sfred: I guess! Because when they saw you play they haven’t seen the cover yet! (Laugh)

Yeah! (Laugh) Also because of that, but I think that for everybody it was something special, like a special private concert, and we haven’t done this before so it was a good idea I think.

Secret Sfred: Many bands release some Japanese editions with bonus tracks and you did a European edition…

Yeah we needed to. The Japanese and the company want this. We hate this (Laugh) because we always need to do some more for the Japanese market and they need this for their own version to have something to compare or to be more special than the import stuff.

Secret Sfred: And you chose to do a European version.

Yeah, I think the bonus track was on the special edition…

Secret Sfred: Yes it’s on the white cover one.

We wanted to make this special edition more valuable, it’s more expensive, you have the DVD in it and with this bonus track it’s worth the money.

SBM: The tour just started but we don’t have the chance to have you at the Hellfest…

No but we’re here right now! (Laugh) We’ll be there next year maybe. The thing is that when you do a tour, you don’t do too many festivals. There will be some festivals or a tour. It’s business because people won’t come to the show if they have a ticket for the Hellfest.

SBM: Well Dirk I think we’ve reached the end of the interview so we leave you the final words to conclude or say something to the French fans.

Secret Sfred: Maybe in French?

Oh no… sorry. I started leaning French at school, and then in eighth class you could also choose French but it was more hours at school. At that time I was 15 and my mother said “You’re going to learn French” because she was English and French teacher. At that time I didn’t really liked school so much, I was good at school when I was a kid or in the fifth or sixth class, but during the eighth class I started thinking that I was not interested in school anymore, like a typical 15 years old teenager.
So I started to learn French and it was easy for me because I’m comfortable with languages and I was pretty good but I was too lazy, I didn’t want to have more hours in school, so I was bad on purpose, I didn’t participate during the lessons. So I was bad and after half a years I had a bad mark and my mother said “Ok it’s fine, you don’t need to go there, you’re not good in French”. She didn’t get it, that I was fooling her. If only she would have explained me how cool it is to be able to speak many languages… Now I know it, when I was on my first tour I said “Shit, it would be nice now to speak French”.
That’s why I don’t speak French… Sorry!
So the message is “Stay away from the drugs and go on learning some languages!

Secret Sfred & SBM: Thank you Dirk!

Thank you guys!
Critique : SBM
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