Interviewed by Thomas Schwarzkopf (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
He is a true veteran in the Metal and Hard Rock scene: the German Axeman Axel Rudi Pell celebrates his 25th anniversary together with his band. To get the party started he blessed his fans with a great present: his 15th studio album “Into The Storm” was released a few days ago and a big tour including a special anniversary show is coming up next. Reason enough for me to talk to the guitar-maestro about his new record, the Heavy Metal scene and the reason why a band is named after their guitarist.
Hello Axel, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. How are you doing?
Axel: I’m fine, thank you.
Your band has been around since 1989. Are you still excited when you release a new record?
Axel: Yes for sure, I’m very excited. Each new album is like a new baby, so I’m definitely excited. I can’t hardly wait for the release day and all the reactions to this album, even though I’m an old hand.
Your new album is called „Into The Storm“. Has it a main theme? Maybe lyrical wise? Because the cover artwork shows this pirate stuff.
Axel: Not really … ok it has to do with each other a bit, because when you look at the cover artwork you see this ship, which looks very mystical with this skull, but the story about the five knights continues. They are gone off to experience some adventures and to travel to new planets. That’s what most of the lyrics are all about. It’s written fictitious and more unrealistic. But this isn’t the case on every song, for example “Truth Hurts” is a purely fictional love story, where a couple went separate ways. So the real red line in this album is the fact that most of the tracks deal with more mystical themes.
With „Diamonds Unlocked“ you did already a cover album and also your new record features two cover songs. Why did you chose them? What do you associate with these two songs?
Axel: Let’s start with “Hey Hey My My”. When it comes to this one I was inspired by the American television show “Sons Of Anarchy”. In the end of the last episode in the third season you hear also a cover version of this song. It is very short – maybe two minutes and just consists of singing and piano. When I listened to this version I thought it is a cool idea to turn a rock song into a ballad. I was fascinated by this idea and so I did that too. For sure I arranged it a bit different to get sure it fits to the ARP style. That means we worked with drums, with electric guitars, with keyboards, with violins and I also removed some elements from the original Neil Young song.
The second song is “Way To Mandaly” from Blackmore’s Night. When this song came out back in 2002 I liked this one very much because of its melody. So I thought maybe I could arrange it a bit different and give it a more rockin’ sound.
When I look at your albums, I find always an intro, an epic long track, a ballad and of course lots of Heavy Rockers. „Into The Storm“ is no exception of that. So is this some kind of concept to have each time those ingredients on an album?
Axel: No, not really. It depends on what comes to my mind. I worked over a year on the compositions. It isn’t like this: “oh I need a fast song for the beginning of this album so let’s write one”. That’s not the case. What I mean is it could also happen that I leave out a ballad on a next record. Maybe because I’m not in that mood or just because a potential ballad can’t keep the high level of my other ballads. Or maybe we do three songs with double-bass on the next one. All these things can happen. It depends on various factors. It’s a matter of what I like to do. The only thing which has to be structured on next albums is the psychological order of the songs. That means I can’t put a ten minute track at the beginning of an album. Everybody would think I’m crazy.
Very often you put an instrumental track on the CD. This time it’s called „White Cats“. How did you choose the name of such a song? There aren’t any lyrics, so I think it’s more difficult to find a name that fits to the music.
Axel: That’s very easy to explain. My wife and I … we have two cats at home and that’s simply a tribute to these two critters (laughs). The title features also the line “Opus # 6: Scivolare”. This is just an Italian expression for “sneak”.
The lyrics on your songs are often about medieval things. So where does this passion for medieval themes comes from?
Axel: First of all I truly believe that I lived once in the medieval time. I just felt that some time ago. Another thing is that I’m very fascinated by Ronnie James Dio and the lyrics on the Rainbow LP “Rising” offered much spiritually and mystical things. I just have a penchant for this kind of stuff. I was always interested in castles and together with such mystical lyrics it is just exciting for me. That’s why this is some kind of red line in my own songs.
Your band had lots of line-up changes and also this time we see a new face on the drums: Bobby Rondinelli. How did you get him into the band?
Axel: That was pretty easy. I didn’t expected that, but a good friend of mine has worked with Ritchie Blackmore in the 80’s when Bobby was a member of Rainbow. They never lost contact. Every Christmas and Birthday they write E-Mails with each other. So I just asked him for Bobby’s E-Mail address and then I wrote him a message that we need a new drummer. Bobby said “Ok, I’m familiar with your name, but I don’t really know which kind of music you are playing.” Then I sent him three demo-songs and that’s it. He said it’s exactly his kind of music and that he grew up with this music and has a bit free time. So I said: “Hello Bobby, welcome on board!”.
You’ll go on tour this year and I read their will be a special anniversary show at the Bang Your Head festival. What can you tell us about it?
Axel: Yes we’ll celebrate the 25th stage anniversary with ARP and the 30th LP anniversary with the Steeler-band. We are headliner on Bang Your Head festival, but it isn’t a regular ARP show. That means you won’t see 90 or 100 minutes of ARP. For sure we will play some songs in the beginning of the show with our current line-up … I don’t know how many yet. Then there will be a small Steeler Reunion, maybe up to 45 minutes. Then it’s planned to bring each singer, who ever worked with me, on stage … Rob Rock, Jeff Scott Soto and so on. But at the moment we don’t know if everybody is available. Also our first drummer Jörg Michael will join us on stage. The biggest part of the show will feature some of our musician friends. There will be other guitar players, other drummers, other singers and more. It will be a huge spectacle.
Sounds fantastic, so nobody should miss this.
Axel: Yes, but the whole show will be recorded for a forthcoming DVD or Blu-Ray release to ensure everybody can watch it.
You will also appear on the third Wolfpakk album. Can you tell us something about the cooperation with Michael Voss and Mark Sweeney? Which kind of song is it?
Axel: Michael called me and asked if I’d like to play a solo on one of the songs in his studio and I said “Sure!”. So he sent me the solo-part I should play, but without anything around it. It was just the solo. So I drove with my car to his studio, we had a little conversation about the solo and then I started playing it. I think it took just 20 minutes of my time. I can’t say much more about it. It’s a more fast track and the solo consists of a faster and a slower part. The track wasn’t finished. So I’m also very excited how everything turned out in the end (laughs).
I think everybody knows you are a big Ritchie Blackmore fan. So what inspired you at his kind of guitar play?
Axel: That’s easy: I just grew up with him and his music. Blackmore was the first one I consciously perceived on television, where I thought “Deep Purple – this is great”. It just fascinates me how many things this man can do with his guitar. I couldn’t get enough of him.
Let’s talk about some more general things: What is a good heavy rock album all about, in your opinion?
Axel: First of all good melodies. That’s the most important thing. I don’t care, how good somebody can play when it comes to technique and speed. I like to listen to bands which have some meaningfulness during their play. It doesn’t matter to me if someone can play 2000 notes in 5 seconds. So first of all the melody is important and of course the vocalist.
After being in the music business for more then 25 years, was there a moment when you thought about giving up on music and do something else?
Axel: No, never. It’s the opposite: I got more and more inspired.
When I take a look at the new generation of guitar players it seems like the time of those big superstars is over. I mean look at all those legends like Ritchie Blackmore, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Richie Sambora and so on. In my opinion you won’t find such skilled players in new bands. To me they belong to some kind of dying breed. What do you think about this matter?
Axel: That’s right – I also see it this way. In my case I often even don’t listen to new bands or music anymore. That means at home I just listen to my old heroes and their records. I just listen to the radio in my car sometimes, but I don’t check out new bands. I don’t care about them.
How many guitars do you call your own?
Axel: At the moment I think it should be 23. There are a few I don’t play with anymore, so maybe I sell one or two in the future … don’t really know. I’m not a freak, who needs every guitar which is on the market.
What fascinates you the most about the Heavy Metal and Hard Rock scene?
Axel: I’ve found out that Hard Rock and Metal fans are very conservative people, that means partially they just listen to this one direction of music and no other style is tolerated. If there is a new influence everybody is complaining. This can be a good and a bad thing. See it as you want. The positive thing is that the cohesion is very, very strong – much more than in any other music genre. It’s always fun to see people cheering together, no matter which sub-genre they listen to.
Yeah and maybe this is one of the reasons why you reach with each new record higher chart positions. “Circle Of The Oath” reached number 16 in the German album charts. What do you think is the key to be successful in music business for such a long time?
Axel: Simply my genius (laughs). No, I think the fire is still burning, I still have the same passion like 25 years ago. The music I make is honest. It speaks for itself if you found your own style over the years. It’s not recommended to jump on a train just to follow new trends. Honesty and loyalty are paying off.
Why you gave your band your name? I think every ARP album has a real band-feeling and sounds not so much like a solo record. It could have been easy to give the band another name, so why not?
Axel: That’s right, but I can explain that. In the beginning I played together with Steeler and when I started my new stuff the record company said “we like your songs, but you have to use your name, because nobody knows the new band name. Use your name, the people are familiar with you because of Steeler.” I agreed and the first ARP came out. It was a solid success, so I worked on a second album and again the record company and my management said I have to do it again with my name to maintain the success. I agreed once more. Then “Nasty Reputation” came out which was the biggest success back then. Now everyone said “We just have to use your name – we can’t change it anymore because the name is established now.” I know I could have been more successful with another band name, especially in the United States but … who fucking cares? (laughs)
We come to an end now. Do you have a message to your fans out there?
Axel: Yes, I hope the people enjoy the new album and that we are able to play several tours in the future. Hopefully we hear each other again after another 25 years. Then we celebrate 50 years of ARP!
Yeah, but I think in two years we get to hear the next Axel Rudi Pell album. You are very continuous.
Axel: Haha, yes I don’t know what to do with all my energy. (laughs)
Ok Axel, thanks for talking. Bye!