Mike Exley talks to Peavy as the new Rage release "Speak Of The Dead" gets its feet well and truly under the table here.

Finally. It's taken some ten years and nine albums but with the support of Nuclear Blast, Peavy and I are actually finally able to sit in the same room in the UK and discuss a new Rage record again. OK, I can't say that I've listened methodically to or own every single album the band has put out, but UK audience exposure to this very talented three piece has been sparse up 'til now, with only a support to Helloween some three years ago being the one time I'd seen them.

Then, they hadn't really released an album as interesting as "Speak Of The Dead" is. So it's with interest on both sides that Peavy and I approach what is truly, a great statement from the band. Whether you're a fan of drum wizard Mike Terrana, the rumbling bass and powerful voice of Wagner or simply of guitar virtuoso Victor Smolski, to whom the first eight movements of the new record ("Suite Lingua Mortis"), are attributed, matters not; it's simply enough to say that not only does this record sum up perfectly, the career of a great band, but that it is perfect for its time and will certainly ensure that yet another healthy chapter opens after this one is closed. The band is already booked for the Bloodstock Open Air, for Gods sake? Who would have thought that, even a year ago?

"I know. I think finally the UK is opening up to the kind of music we write, you know? But, that's not only down to us. For years, we were signed to labels like BMG / GUN or SPV that did a great job for us at home, but ignored so many of the markets, like the UK, that they believed were not fertile for our stuff - ha! ha! I mean, we're going to give it a real go this time. I personally feel that the UK is a very strong market. We want to make the most of ouropportunity at
Bloodstock, for sure, and Nuclear Blast have given us the chance to really exploit this, so let's hope it goes well."

It's not just timing and the record company though, is it? The album had to be right for the time also?

"Sure, absolutely. I personally feel that the album is very strong, that this line up of the band is the best it's been and that now, the record company getting that album in the shops is the logical next step. I know fans don't really want to know this stuff, but we're going out there and exposing ourselves to a new audience that then want to find the material - not simply download the thing - and hopefully, Nuclear Blast share this belief?"

But, why should this album, particularly, be the one? It's a great combination of orchestration and power, but you've done this before, right?

"Yes, but not really since "Ghosts" (1999 - GUN) and that was around the time of and just after the break up of the previous Efthimiades / Manni Schmidt line
up. We’ve done some intros which were recorded using keyboard orchestration, but the fans, maybe, kind of determined that we had to build the new line up on a harder approach? I'm not saying that we abandoned stuff like Lingua Mortis (1996), but I think we took the decision to give. Mike and Victor room to grow sufficiently into Rage before contemplating something like this, because it was a very important record for everyone. I think it was definitely the right decision, looking back now!" "Victor comes from a classical family - he has studied classical music;cello, piano, composition and arrangement. When you and I were going to a normal school, Victor was at music college, but now, I think we've reached the right moment to put out something like this, and I know that Victor has thoroughly enjoyed the experience; working with the orchestra from Minsk, arranging the project and creating the beautiful balance that there is on the record between the rock and classical worlds." "From my perspective, I still love "XIII" (1998) and "Lingua Mortis", but I think we knew we could do so much better with the overall sound, the arrangements; just the whole quality of the project."

But, only eight tracks - half of the finished album? Many people may wonder why you didn't 'complete' it? Go the whole hog and have a full album along the same lines?

"Well, I think really that that would have been a bit too much for our fan base. I know many bands say that they don’t care what the fans think and that they
write just for themselves? That’s not really true! To me, this is a great balance of experiment and heavy rock in one album. I mean, yes, it’s classical music arranged in the classical way, but with our depth and strength of ideas, it also makes it a really heavy record, you know? It has dark elements, but also very heavy rock songs like “No Fear”, which I actually think is one of the heaviest songs we’ve written with this line up.” “I don’t know. To make the whole album “Suite Lingua Mortis” would have been interesting but Rage is a heavy band with a strong live element. There was a huge discussion between us, management and record company; how to divide the album actually; how to construct the track list and originally, it was going to be other way round, but, we have to go with one way and, in the end it was like this, with the Suite first then the more direct approach. Hopefully, everyone will like it, but I’d be interested to know what people think all the same. On the road, I’m sure we’ll find out because we’re going to do the Suite as a live entity, only sampling the orchestra.” “I recommend the vinyl version actually , because that’s a double album with one side dedicated to the Suite and the other to the heavy, more direct material. In the old days, that’s how it would have been released?”

Ah, yes, the old days! But, now we have Dual Disc?

“Yes, and I hear that GUN Records might be doing something like that with a TV broadcast; a fully orchestrated show we did in 1997 I think, which will have Japanese bonus tracks and unreleased material on the audio side. I don’t really know to be honest; it’s been a while since I heard anything about it!” “I’d rather recommend our live DVD from 2004 - “From The Cradle To The Stage” - if anyone wants a really good, original price, package? That was two DVD’s, two regular CD’s and some fantastic artwork. It was the last thing we put out on SPV, covered the whole history of the band with all the hits and was a tremendous send off. It came out to coincide with our Twentieth Anniversary; was the first official live album as such, certainly was the first official DVD and it was definitely worth the effort because, it was professionally done, right from production downwards....”

If you’re looking for that, look out for Peavy’s own Eddie, the Soundchaser, on the cover. A kind of robotic Alien character that has become almost Terminator like! Something of a favourite for the artists on the last few releases, he‘s a strong image.

“Yes, he’s starting to take on a personality now, isn’t he? He’s been with us since 1988 - since Perfect Man, actually. We kill him off every now and again, but he rises from the grave somehow. He’s got flesh again now, though. He started out as a mechanical thing, now he’s on a cross; maybe we’ll burn him next time and kill him off again? He still really needs a lower body though. That’s replaced here with the Medieval motif of ‘The Reaper (Death) And The Young Girl’ which is kind of interesting. Franz Schubert used the image for one of his compositions - it was a motif that illustrated mortality in Medieval art, and carvings...?”

We should bring into this now, just one or two of the songs on the record. Particularly, “Kill Your Gods” which is all in vogue at the moment with all the references to, and cartoons of, the prophet Mohammed that we’re constantly seeing reference to on our news screens?

“Oh yes. It’s quite a risky subject to bring up at the moment, but really, I’m not just talking about one religion with that song. It’s a fantasy, I know, not realistic, but it would be lovely if everyone in the world could live without religion because some religions, and I’m not being specific here, are very destructive. They seem intent on destroying any spirituality that their should be in a religion, you know? Sadly, most of the people in the world seem incapable of discussing this subject in a sensible fashion and the real spirituality is being abused. People need to be more mature, braver? And they’re not. It’s a political thing under the guise of religion now...”

Your view of these types of things must, of course, be coloured by where you play. You recently played in Singapore and Korea, I believe?

“Yes, they have a similar mentality there to Japan although the economy is completely different. For a Westerner, it’s not really too much of a culture shock...... I really like their view of life, actually. Of course, they are not wealthy, you don’t travel in luxury, you don’t have luxurious catering, but everyone is very generous and it’s a lot of fun to play there. Victor recently produced a band from Korea (last year) and they have a very active scene there. There are some bands there that sell really well and we played with some local bands who have great followings. But the problem there, mainly, is that no one really buys CD’s. Everything is done on downloads, ‘private’ cassettes and a bit of merchandise. Really a very challenging area for our record companies.”

You mentioned Victor’s production work there. Mike also does a lot of work outside the band. Is that healthy in the current climate?

“Absolutely! In fact, I believe that neither Mike nor Victor would be in this band if I didn’t give them the freedom to work outside the band. And, in fact, I believe it actually makes the band stronger because, particularly Victor can’t be caged. It would be a dreadful waste of talent. Yes, I accept, in the past, it was not always like this with Rage, but, now, it cannot succeed unless it is like this.When I brought these two guys into Rage, they were studio musicians and I needed to finish an album. Now, although they’re still studio musicians, we’re all more mature, we all give each other more time; yet, Rage is top priority and it works very, very well. It’s been like this for seven years now.”

Were you worried that Victor, returning to Minsk (his home town), working with the orchestra, etc., may change the face of Rage too much, not simply for this record?

“OK, I see what you mean. No, not really, because we’d worked on Victor’s solo albums in the past, so I already knew that it wouldn’t be a pressure situation if I let him work ‘away‘ from the heart of the band, which I guess is still Germany. His first solo record The Heretic (Drakkar 2000) was a symphony for orchestra and electric guitar, kind of like a musical score for a horror film... And we spent time digging up ideas on the witch-burnings for this; Mike from Salem, Victor from Russia, me from Germany, so that was kind of odd. I had this letter from someone who’d survived the torture of the period, and I was reading it out, then singing on some stuff too later on. It’s a very graphic record, I would say. Definitely, check it out! Sure, it’s not Rage but it’s very interesting stuff.His second album - Majesty And Passion - was a collection of Bach material put to guitar which I also sang on. No, Victor is one of the most professional people I have ever met. No worries.”

Well, Peavy. It’s been really interesting talking to you. There’s no doubt that this album will challenge the listener, and will cause some debate amongst the fanbase...............

“And, you know, I don’t fear this. I feel the line up is at its strongest right now. When we play live, everyone is super professional and we give a great show to the fans; so I just hope everyone likes it. One song, “No Fear” is being featured in a film at home - it’s the backing to a love scene, ? Another song, “Full Moon” is being released in Japanese / Spanish / Russian and English, as well as German (and that‘s just a joke version, which we‘ve got away with, thank god!!), so there’s seemingly no barriers to what we can achieve right now. We’re super productive; I never stop writing songs, and it’s really, really good right now. Long may itcontinue!“

“See you all at Bloodstock in the summer.”

Thanx to Mike Exley & Dan from Nuclear Blast for their support and help with the interview.

Click on the logo to return to main interview section.