Don't Fear The Reaper!! - Manni Schmidt Speaks Out.
German Power/ Thrasher's 'Grave Digger' are certainly no strangers to the Metal scene. Formed back in the early 80's by Chris Boltendahl, who is the only original member left, Chris has continued to keep the faith of grave Digger's spirit alive. The band start out with Chris, Peter Masson, Willi Lackmann and Albert Eckardt who recorded their debut album for Noise records titled 'Heavy Metal Breakdown' in 1984. This saw the band been featured in various metal magazines and fanzines from around the world. Next to follow was 'Witch Hunter' which was released in 1985 and another album 'War games' was released. The band broke up and the name 'Digger' came about and they released one album 'Stronger Than Ever' in 1987 which was a more commercial album. Again the band broke up and in 1993 Chris returned with a new line-up and a heavier approach. A further 10 albums were released and now the bands new album 'Ballads Of A Hangman' in 2009. The bands current line-up is: Chris (vocals), Manni (guitar), Thilo Herrmann (guitar), Jens Becker (bass), Hans Peter Katzenburg (keyboards), Stefan Arnold (drums). I managed to have a chat with guitarist Manni about the new album and the past and the future of the bands history. Here is what he had to say.
Ok Manni, I would like to start by asking you just how long have you been in grave Digger after leaving Rage?
"Well I have been in the band for 8 years now, and we we will celebrated 30 years of the band in 2010. This will be one of the few German Heavy Metal bands to celebrate this."
You were once the guitarist in Rage for rather a long time, why did you leave the band? Are you still friends with Peavy?
"Well I was tired of the music business to be honest. Yes I am still good friends with Peavy, and I played on stage with them at one festival, that was fun and brought back some good memories, I played on the song 'Don't Fear The Winter'. I think when they celebrate their anniversary this year I might do a couple of shows with them too."
As a guitar player, who were you're influences growing up as a child and throughout the up bringing?
"Well when is started playing the guitar it was bands likes Status Quo and AC/DC, my first Status Quo album was the live one they did back in the day. As for guitar players I am influenced by Rory Gallegar, Johnny Winter, and then Uli Roth from The Scorpions, and Michael Schencker. Nobody in my family are musicians, so I was the black sheep in the family (laughing). My older son is almost 12 now and he is learning to play the guitar as I told him that he would be in the front row at the shows were the girls could see him haha!! My youngest son wants to be a drummer, he is 5."
Moving on Manni, what was the first band you were in before joining Rage?
"I was in just local band really, not any known bands. I have a friend who knew Peavy and he told him that I could play like Jake E Lee, so Peavy asked me to come up and try out for the band. So i then became the guitarist in Rage. I was 22 yrs old when I joined Rage."
Out of all the albums you recorded with Rage, which is your favourite and why, also least favourite and why?
"Well my favourite album with Rage has to be 'The Missing Link' and 'Trapped', because we found a good way to compose and play our music. As for least favourite albums, when I listen to the re-mastered albums I listen to the old stuff and on every album I find stuff that impresses me to hear myself just how good my playing was back then. I really don't have a least favourite album."
So how did you become the guitarist for Grave Digger, how did the audition come about?
"Well that was a friendship between Jens Becker the bass player. I have known him since 1999 when we played the Rage & Running Wild tour together and he was playing in Running Wild. So since then we have become good friends, and we even tried to get a band together in 94-96 and in 1997 he joined Grave Digger. So he called me and said he was in the band and I was pleased for him when Uwe Lulis left the band in 2000, Jens called me and asked if I would like to get back into the music scene and join Grave Digger. So I said yes I would like to join the band, I was pretty much ready to get back into the scene after been in Punk Rock bands and working in a record store."
You mentioned the band you were going to do with Jens, who would of been in that band and would you ever consider doing it now as a project?
"Well the band back then would of featured Stephan from U.D.O., Accept, and Ralf from Primal Fear. Ralf at that time wasn;t sure if he could do it or not because he was waiting to hear from Judas Priest to see if had the part of been the new singer after Rob had left the band. Well I am just writing my own stuff right now, and I am trying to get something together but I am not sure about which direction I want to take, it's early stages right now. It would be a mixture of Pantera meets Blues, I am not sure yet, kind of old school meets Blues. I will have to wait and see!!"
Most musicians who do side project tend to do something similar to that they are already doing, do you agree that it is a waste of time?
"Well I can't speak for other musicians, but for me been in Grave Digger I am focusing on this true Heavy Metal thing right now. When I write music for Grave Digger it is 50% for the band and the other 50% is not true Heavy Metal as I do listen to a lot of different styles of music. When I introduce stuff to Chris he picks out things that I would never of thought he would like for the band, so I have just kept the left over's that Chris does not want and I will use them for my ideas."
Does Chris ever see any of the old band members at all?
"No not at all!!"
If you had the chance to play Wacken with the original line-up and past members as a reunion would Chris agree to it?
"I don't think he would, we talked about it but Chris doesn't speak to any of them now."
Out of all the Grave Digger albums that you did not play on, which is you're favourite album?
"Well I think I like the 'Excalibur' and the one I like the most has to be 'Heavy Metal Breakdown'. I am listening to the old stuff right now as we are going on tour in January and I have to listen too some of the older songs because the fans want to hear most of the older songs, so picking the right songs is not easy. We have to play some new songs as well to promote our new album."
What about our favourite album with Grave Digger that you have played on? Want about least favourite album?
"Well I would have to say 'The Grave Digger' because, I just joined the band and a lot of the songs on that album I had wrote in between been in Grave Digger and Rage. I wrote a lot of songs and I introduced them to Chris and he told me he does not just want a guitarist but also a song writer as well. So he listened to all the stuff and was impressed with them. We picked some good tunes for the 1st album together and it is still my favourite. I have some problems with the high pitched vocals on the 'Rheingold' album with the chorus, but all the others are fine. I think I needed a little time to adjust to that album after a couple of months after it was released."
Who else auditioned for Grave Digger besides yourself?
"Well they only told I was the only guitarist they had auditioned (laughing). They are bloody lairs!!"
What do you think is the key success to Grave Digger and their music?
"That is difficult to say to be honest. We just keep doing our thing and we don't look left or right and we just keep on playing. Sometimes we need some new influences and for the new album we have a 2nd guitarist in the band who is called Thilo Herrmann and it is the 1st time that the band have played with 2 guitarist which is a good influences within the band. Thilo was in Running Wild and Risk and he is a fantastic guitar player and a great addition to the band. He has some great ideas for songs."
You said you have a new guitarist Thilo Herrmann, why did you decide to ad another guitar player to the band?
"Well after we did the 'Liberty or death; tour he told me that something was missing and he asked how i felt about adding a 2nd guitarist to the band? T told him that we needed one straight after I joined the band. So we found Thilo Herrmann and things are going great for the band now, we are a lot tighter than ever before!! Thilo left Running Wild in 2000 and he was building his house and he had a good job and family and a few months ago he was thinking of getting back into the music industry. We had no other guitarist in mind and we were happy to know he wanted to come back into the scene and also join Grave Digger."
So let's talk about the new album 'Ballads Of A Hangman', I have noticed that the Grim Reaper has now become the mascot for Grave Digger, just like Iron Maiden have Eddie, you have the Grim Reaper.
"Yeah we have been using the grim reaper for Grave Diggers mascot for a few years now. For the fan club and tour with the the skull with wings it is our outstanding symbol for the band. The reaper is always with us and he will be with us on the new tour. Chris was tired of the reaper on the last tour, so that is why our keyboard player is dressed as the reaper on stage as he is now."
So why the title 'Ballad Of A Hangman' for the title of the new album?
"Well Chris came up with the idea and and I think it is a cool idea and you don't know what is coming when you hear the title track or the title. Chris asked me what I thought of the title and I said it was a great title for the new album, as you never know what to expect. We had no other titles for the album as we knew that title was the perfect choice."
The Artwork is amazing, tell me a little bit about that please.
"It took a couple of months and it was done by a artist from the chec republic and he has done the last 3 album covers. He is an amazing artist who has some great techniques which is the album features a combination of paint and computer work and photography."
So were the songs on the new album co-wrote with Chris or the whole band?
"Well Thilo, Chris and myself wrote the songs on the new album and Thilo had some great ideas when he left Running Wild which he brought to Grave Digger, and so we put them together with my ideas to create the songs for the new album. Chris picked out some ideas and he had some ideas to what the new album should sound like and we had 4-5 sessions, were we sat together and composed and played the songs with the ideas and arranged some of the parts here and there and then went to 'The Principle' studio to do pre-production. First of all Chris wanted to do a concept album and I said we should not because it would of not been a good idea as we would of had to of played it live. It also meant that we were not so free in playing and recording the songs. He had the title in his head but it did not influence us in our writing for the album."
How long did it take to write all 11 songs o the new album?
"Well we had about 20 songs to begin with and we have some great left over which we may use for the next album and it took about 8 months to compile the album together. The album was recorded in 'The Principle' studios here in Germany with Jorg and Vincent from the studio who produced the album. They have done the last 8 albums I think with Chris and me. We are happy with the way the album has turned out!!"
Which songs from the new album do you like and why?
"Well that's a tuff question, I like the album and I keep changing the songs I like everyday. One of my favourite songs are 'Lonely The Innocent Dies' because it is an interesting song with the female voice and who is the singer from Benedictum, who is a good friend of ours. I also like 'The Shadow Of Our Soul' is yet another good song because it is not our typical style and it has a groovy sound to it. What I don't like is the song 'Pray', because it is a pop song (laughing)."
Will there be a promo video for the new album, if so which song(s)?
"Well yes we have already done 1 video for the song 'Ballad Of A Hangman', which is also on our homepage. "
Has the new album been receiving good reviews from the press so far?
"Well Chris has been sending us reviews everyday and they seem to go positive so far."
You have changed labels a few times, the last 2 were Nuclear Blast and Locomotive Records, why did you leave those labels?
"I really don't know why we left those to be honest. I am not sure why Chris left Nuclear Blast, but he is still working for Locomotive Records still now. I think it was about money and so Napalm records offered Chris a better deal so that is why we are signed to them. He also did not want to do promotion on his own band so that was another reason why Grave Digger left the label."
So you're about to tour with Scottish band 'Arkstorm' in Europe, how did they become your support band?
"Well they are on the same label as us, which is Napalm Records and there music is cool and I think there a great support act for us."
Will the bad be doing another live DVD in the near future?
"I believe we will be doing a live DVD for our forthcoming anniversary show in 2010, but it's early stages for now."
Well I'd like to thank you for doing this interview, best of luck with the tour and good luck for the future. Do you have anything to say before we finish this interview?
"Yes thank you to our fans for their support. We hope you like the new album and please check us out live if you can."
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