Interview by: Robert Cavuoto
Hard rock titans Metal Church return with their latest album, XI, slated for release on March 25th via Rat Pak Records. The band’s 11th studio release also marks the return of legendary vocalist and front man Mike Howe. The idea was to see if they could recapture some of the magic from the three albums Metal Church released in the late 80’s: The Human Factor, Blessing In Disguise and Hanging In The Balance. XI combines the best elements of the band’s early roots and modern day lyrical content with a revived hunger that delivers anthemic metal songs! The new CD can be ordered at: http://www.ratpakrecordsamerica.com/metal-church
I had the chance to speak with guitarist and founding member, Kurdt Vanderhoof, about their new release and renewed sense of energy brought on by Mike’s return.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me how Mike Howe’s return has re-energized the band?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: For me personally I’m happy with the new circumstances and getting back to the more melodic side of things as Mike’s era was more melodic and David Wayne’s era was more “Thrashy.” As I’ve gotten older, I’m really into melody, hooks and song structure. For the first time Mike and I are both performing together which we never did before. In the past I only worked with Mike in the studio not live. It’s awesome and we are thrilled!
Robert: Were you and Mike in contact throughout the last twenty five year after his departure?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Oh God, Mike and I have stayed friend forever. There has never been any problem with that.
Robert: Had Mike not come back, what was Plan B for Metal Church?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: If this had not happened, then for me I thought – enough! The band probably would have continued under another name or in a different form. Or I would have concentrated on Presto Ballet. I originally had been in contact with Mike about working with me on a side project with Nigel Glockler of Saxon. He was into it and within a few weeks of that call, our last singer screwed us over. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. My next call with Mike was about joining Metal Church. The stars aligned and it started there.
Robert: What became of the project with Nigel and how is he feeling?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It’s still out there; we just haven’t had a chance to get it started. We still plan on doing. We both have the same musical taste and felt like we should do something together. We are just trying to find the time to schedule it. Nigel is feeling great as I spoke to him a few weeks ago. He is on top of the world.
Robert: Were you writing with Mike’s voice in mind for XI?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Now keep in mind Mike didn’t say “yes” right away. He wanted to write some songs together and see how things go. He didn’t want to do it for the sake of just doing it. He wanted to make sure it was the best record we could make. It was a process and I respected him for that. I then started writing, he dug the songs and then he put down some scratch vocals. I wrote another batch of songs which were even better. So yes, I was writing with Mike in mind.
Robert: Tell me about what inspired you when you started Metal Church and what inspires you now?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It’s such a different ball game in the industry. At first I was really resistant to the new way of doing things. I hate the piracy. What happened was it turned out to be a little blessing in disguise. Now old guys like us can still do this legitimately. Fifteen to twenty years ago you would never have thought it could be done without a major record company. Chasing that record deal is gone now and it’s such a wonderful thing. It’s direct to fans and there is no expiration date on us. That in itself was inspiring; that I can still be in this business legitimately. People still care and want to hear the music that I’m making, which is inspirational to me. We never thought we could be doing this at this capacity, at our age, and still doing good work which is the most important thing. Our career is looking better than it has ever been.
Robert: It must be liberating not to be tied to record company deadlines.
Kurdt Vanderhoof: We still have deadlines, but it’s on our timeline. I make the records now and we do it our way without massively being in debt. The big record sales are gone but you don’t need big sales anymore, you’re not getting $0.11 on an album you’re getting $0.50 on a dollar. The point of the matter is to get the music to the people who love your band. It’s very do-it-yourself
Robert: How do you stay true to yourself and Metal Church’s style with every record?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: You can’t over think it too much. I’m musically schizophrenic and I like all types of music and like to try out all types of music. When I listen to a demo, I ask myself – “If I was a Metal Church fan would I like it?” Or if I was a fan of metal would I listen to it? That’s pretty much the only barometer that I have. I like singers that sing notes and hit pitch. I like songs with melody, harmonies and have a big wall of crunchy guitars. I have to like it otherwise nobody is going to hear it. You do it for yourself in hopes that some else likes it.
Robert: My favorite song on XI is “No Tomorrow”. Can you tell me about its origins?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It was about trying to establish grooves. Mike and I wanted to work on that aspect when putting this record together. We didn’t want it to be smash, smash, smash. We are older guys not pretending we are 25 years old. That would be very disingenuous. We are grown men not living in the middle ages; we didn’t want to sing about stabbing, killing, and war. That’s fine if you’re a kid or in a German metal band [laughing]. When we chose lyrics, we chose them because they sang well. To have words that sounded cool and be a little more artistic, more lyrical then literal. Musically we wanted to establish grooves and pockets yet keeping it heavy. That’s what we did back in the day.
Robert: What can we expect to hear when the band is playing live?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: We are going to have a whole new set list and we will be playing three songs off the new CD. The set will be a majority of the Mike Howe era songs, some of which have never been played live. We are going back to Blessing, Human Factor and Hanging in the Balance along with the new CD.
Robert: What was the worst gig in your career?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It would have to be when we played Wacken when David Wayne came back to the band. That whole era of the Masterpeace CD was a complete disaster! It is something that should not have happened. I went against my better judgment and listened to management and the record company. We went and did that gig and it was horrific! The band fell apart and the reunion didn’t happen so we had to get replacement players and David couldn’t sing. The whole thing wasn’t working and I apologize to the fans for that.
Robert: What has Metal Church always stood for?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Not Satanic and not negative. To keep things heavy and musically interesting. Trying to keep it smart and not insult our fans.