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Interview: Matthew Greywolf (Powerwolf)

Pure metal...interviews

If you are ever given the opportunity to talk to Matthew Greywolf, guitarist and founding member of the German Heavy Metal outfit Greywolf, you will probably realise what it was the that 'scouts' of Metal Blade saw in the band when they decided to offer them a contract. Powerwolf have only just about released their debut album 'Return in Bloodred', and I was more than happy to spend thirty minutes, trying to ask their axeman all the right questions.

Hi Matt. What would you say if I asked you to start this interview by presenting the band to our subscribers? When did Powerwolf first get together?

Matt: Well, I have to say that there was nothing like a specific moment in time when we decided to form Powerwolf. I play music with my brother Charles (Greywolf: bass) for something like ten years now, but we never had a complete line up which would help us start writing our music seriously and release albums.

The two of us were something like two years with the drummer (Stťfane FunŤbre) and the Organ player (Falk Maria Schlegel) writing our stuff and looking for the right singer. It was a bit difficult to find the one weíre looking for, because we didnít want to have the typical German Metal singer.

I think that there are hundreds of typical German singers out there, that the world doesnít need another one (laughs). The whole point was that we wanted to have somebody special, but you cannot look for somebody special just like that - it has to happen. We spent a lot of time rehearsing with many different singers, but it never felt good.

At some point, I spent holidays with my brother in Romania and thatís where we met Attila. That was a little bit strange because we never thought that we would meet our singer in Romania. It was a real strange story - it happened by accident. We met a strange guy in a pub, and he started talking to us, because, afterwards he told us that we looked like we were musicians. We started talking about music in general, and when we told him that we have a band, he sounded very interested. At the end of our conversation, he asked us for our number just in case he was to come to Germany so that we would jam a bit.

We were laughing with what he suggested - we never thought that he was serious, so we just gave him our number and after a while, we totally forgot about it. When we came back to Germany, a few weeks later, we had a message on our answering machine form Attila who informed us that, in a few days, he would come to Germany to visit some relatives and he would like to come to our place so that we could jam a bit. We still didnít believe that he would come, but he did.

When he did visit us, we played some instrumental stuff to him and when he added his vocal lines to them, everyone was simply blown away! No comments were really needed - he was exactly what we were looking for. We then decided that we would continue playing with him, and thatís how the band was formed.

I have to tell you that after listening to your album for the very first time, I found it really difficult to believe that you are a German band. Based on your influences and the general feeling of the album, I would assume that youíre a US outfit.

Matt: You think so? Thatís very funny - no one has told us something like that before!

I wonder why- did they tell you that you sounded like a typical German Metal band then?

Matt: No, as I told you before, we didnít want to sound like a typical German band.

Thatís exactly my point. Anyway, we will talk about your Ďinfluencesí in a few moments - let me just tell you that I personally believe that Attila was the best possible choice for the frontman of the band.

Matt: He brought a lot of input into the band. He had all the ideas about the lyrics and the general feeling, the bandís nameÖeverything came with Attila. Before he joined us, we were something likeÖwe were a little bit aimless I guess. We played Metal, we had our riffs, but we didnít have a vision as to how this band should be, and he did those things for us. Thatís how he came into the band. He is a really strange person, but he has a very special kind of appearance and vibe which comes also in the music

Matt, a few minutes ago, you told me that you have been playing music with your brother for something like ten years now. Would you say that all of the compositions which are featured in 'Return in Bloodred' are ideas which you had from the past, or did you start composing your material after Attilaís arrival in the band?

Matt: I think that some of the very basic ideas for the songs were stuff that we have been playing for quite a few years now. We didnít write any songs before Attila joined the band, though. When he first joined the band, we played to him some of our old ideas and thatís how we started our song writing process, but to really work the songs the way they sound now it happened after we were complete as a band.

OK, Attila came to Germany, he played with you guys, and you decided to hire him as a singer. What happened after that - how did you manage to cover that long distance between Germany and Romania? Does he now live permanently here in Germany with the rest of the band?

Matt: No, he doesnít, but for him it is not a problem. Part of his family lives in Germany, and he also spent quite a few years as a child here and thatís why he can also speak German. Heís used to travelling, actuallyÖI donít know, I think that heís back in Romania again. He visits Germany from time to time and we rehearse. We donít work like many of the other bands who obviously rehearse two or three times a week - we just gather together when thereís something really special going on, and we work hard. If thereís nothing really important going on, then we donít need to meet each other so often. It works quite fine, because he travels a lot - he loves travelling, soÖ

Would you say that you and your brother Charles are the main composers in the band?

Matt: I think soÖmusically, yes! All the vocal melodies and the lyrics come from Attila - heís a very talented lyricist, but as far as the music is concerned, the main ideas come from me and Charles.

I have to be honest with you Matt. When I was arranging this interview with David from Metal Blade, I was trying to get to talk with Attila, but I was then informed that he doesnít speak English at all. Now that you mentioned the lyrics of the album, am I to assume that he wrote his ideas in German, and then you guys had to translate them into English?

Matt: Yes, and itís a really hard work. It works though, because Attila is very good at speaking languages. He doesnít understand English that well, but heís very good at imitating the words. There are some lyrical parts though, that I donít think that even he understands whatís said there (laughs). One thing that needs to be said about the lyrics of the album is that we wanted to keep the choruses of the songs as simple as possible, so that everyone could sing along to them. The lyrics are not that complicated language-wise.

One of the main reasons that made me like 'Return in Bloodred' so much is because I was mesmerised by its charm really fast. It only took a few times in order for me to get into the spirit of the album, which sounds like a combination between early Savatage and Death SS. How does this sound to you?

Matt: Yeah, this is perfect (laughs). I have to remember what you said in case someone asks me (laughs).

Well, almost every song of the album is based on a heavy but quite catchy guitar riff (Savatage), and theyíre presented in a nice, atmospheric/theatrical way (Death SS).

Matt: Yeah, I know what you mean. Both me and my brother are big fan of the 80ís Metal scene and bands like Savatage, but we generally prefer darker Heavy Metal bands. I simply cannot stand these German happy Metal bands like Helloween - thatís not Metal as far as Iím concerned.

Powerwolf

Itís good to hear that coming from your mouth, and I have to say that I was also more in favour of the American Metal bands of the 80ís.

Matt: I can safely say that the bands that have influenced my music the most are Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate. These bands are the essence of evil Heavy Metal for me, and the place where I get most of my inspiration from. A lot of people ask me if our intention is to sound like an early 80ís Metal band, but thatís not the case at all. Our roots are there, but we also like to sound more modern.

When did you first start composing the songs of the new album?

Matt: I think it was some time last spring. Generally, it didnít take us so much time to write the songs, mainly because we had so many ready ideas. We had a really magical atmosphere when Attila came into the band. A lot of songs like for example 'We Came to Take Your Souls' were written in fifteen minutes or something. The way we work is a little strange- songs have to be composed naturally. We cannot sit down and develop ideas based on a specific plan. When we started working on that specific song, we only had the basic riff. Attila listened to it, and immediately came up with an idea, and fifteen minutes later we had the song ready. This is how it works, and I believe that the only songs that took quite a long time to finish was 'Son of the Morning Star', because of the orchestration and everything. The rest of the songs were quite spontaneous.

OK, so when you went into the studio, did you already have a contract with Metal Blade?

Matt: Yes

Which are your memories of that incident?

Matt: I donít really know. They heard something about our project, and they obviously thought that there was something really special going on, so they contacted us and asked us about our plans in general. We met and talked for hours about music and everything, after which they said that 'we believe that you have something really good going on, so go into the studio and record it'. Thatís how it all happened. It was really good to see that they believed in our music.

I guess that it was also quite important the fact that you managed to record your debut album at Studio Fredman with Fredrik NordstrŲm as the producer. Were you the ones to suggest that the album should be recorded in that specific location?

Matt: It was indeed our choice. We sat down and though who would be the ideal person to record our album. We have already heard some of the albums that Fredrik have produced, and we also knew that heís really into Heavy Metal, being a member of Dream Evil and all. We didnít want to work with a producer who would have to be explained what to do. We played the songs to Fredrik, and he said 'Ok, no questions - I know what you guys want to do', and so it worked out perfectly!

Itís a real wonder that you managed to find him available. I know that if heís not touring with Dream Evil, heíll probably be recording five or six albums at he same time.

Matt: I donít know, maybe he was impressed by the bandís name (laughs). I just told him 'weíre Powerwolf, we play Heavy Metal and we want to work with you'. Everything was very simple indeed. I called him, we talked a while about music and I think that he liked the idea that we had for the album, so everything went well.

How much time did you have to spend in the studio, and which are your best memories for recording an album there?

Matt: It was great (laughs). We recorded the album in eight days, but we worked something like twenty-four hours a day! Fredrik was there during the day, but we were given the keys to the studio, and we worked all night - it was perfect. On the first day, he explained to us what does what, and we just went on recording and recording. It was indeed a great experience, quite intense because we spent eight full days into the studio.

Ah, thatís why you all look so pale in the promo photo thatís featured on the back of the promo!

Matt: We didnít put any make up on -we just took the picture right after we came out of the studio (laughs). After those eight days, we flew back to Germany and recorded some more vocals, some choir vocals and did the orchestration, before we flew back to Sweden in order to mix the album. Thatís a very good way to work.

The result is really good, especially now that I know that the album was recorded in such a short period of time.

Matt: Yes, we didnít need more. To be completely honest, on the eighth day we told Fredrik that we didnít know what to do there - we were playing Playstation games (laughs). We were really well prepared, and we were really relaxed too. Before we went there I thought that eight days is quite a tight schedule, so we would really have to get everything done in a good way, but the way we were working from the very first second was the best possible.

Matt, is 'Return in Bloodred' a concept album?

Matt: I think so, yes. I have pictured the album as a complete story, not just lyrically, but also musically.

OK, so what was the original vision that you had for this release, and how much of that did you manage to achieve by the end of the day?

Matt: I donít think that I will be able to explain the lyrics to you, because I simply cannot get inside Attilaís strange mind (laughs). I can try though. Heís very influenced by Romanian mythology and he takes those stories very seriously. When we met him and he started talking about what he does, he explained to us that he has read hundreds of books about the history and culture of his country. I really think sometimes that he is a bit insane (laughs). For him it was very natural to sing about these stories, but I am quite honest in saying that I donít really understand most of the lyrics myself. For Attila, it was clear from the very first time as to what he would sing about. This is a very big part of his life. Some people asked us if we had seen many vampire movies or something, and Attila gets really pissed off when he listens to things like that, because he hates Vampire movies. He claims that these movies are very bad, because they do not tell the truth about anything.

I have obviously never seen a live performance of Powerwolf before, but I would expect something more special than an average Heavy Metal performance - something more mystical and theatrical if you prefer.

Matt: It is true; you must expect to get many visual effects, but not the most ordinary stuff. We donít want to work with pyrotechnics and things like that. One very important thing is that Attila, before becoming a singer in an evil Metal band, used to work in an opera. He was a singer there, but he was also acting, so he is really into that kind of entertainment, so you kind of understand what you must expect from us now. The whole concept isnít ready yet, but you should expect to see quite a few things. We are definitely not a live band that is simply going to stand on stage and play their songs.

What about touring? Have you already prepared your schedule?

Matt: Not yet. We have one show so far lined up, which is at the Summer Breeze festival in Germany. We have not planned anything else yet, because we think that if we are to go on tour, we will want to make a good tour, which is going to give credit to our music. We donít want to end up being part of a six band package where every band has to present their material within twenty minutes or something. A lot of people who have listened to 'Return in Bloodred' are expecting something really special on stage and that is something that we intend to give to them. We will wait for the best moment in order to do exactly that.

The album has been quite recently released in the Metal market. Whatís the feedback that you have been given so far?

Matt: I donít know yet. I can only talk to you about the media reaction. In Germany itís quite good, but I really donít know more than that. I believe though that this is an album for every type of Heavy Metal fanÖweíll see.

Donít get the wrong idea here, but I was a bit disappointed by the fact that there are only nine songs in this album. Itís a forty-minute release, so I would expect that there would be at least a couple more songs there. Did you have any more songs that you chose not to include in the album, for any good reason?

Matt: We didnít prepare any single note extra to the ones which are included in the album. I am happy to hear you say that you would like to have heard more songs from us. I would have been upset if things were the other way round - if we had recorded fifteen songs and people thought that after a while the album started to sound boring. I personally prefer short albums. I am happy to hear someone saying 'oh, it was only forty minutes long, so I want to listen to the whole album again'. Having gathered these nine songs together makes me feel like itís a complete release. I believe that if we had integrated one or two more songs, then the whole circle would have collapsed. Maybe we were quite lazy (laughs). Well, if you have to record an album in eight days, I really donít think that itís a good idea to work with fifteen songs. Better focus on a short album and do it good. Maybe we will have more songs on our next album.

I will be more than happy to wait in order to find out if that will be the case. Are there any songs in 'Return in Bloodred' which have made a bigger impact on people from the music press?

Matt: I think that 'We Came to Take Your Souls' is a very special song for us because it is something like a statement, like saying 'hi, weíre Powerwolf and we came to take your souls'. We all really like it and we believe that it will sound really good live. Besides that, I really like 'Black Mass Hysteria' - I canít really specify why, but it has a good riff and I really like playing it (laughs).

When youíre writing songs, do you compose them thinking how well they will eventually sound live?

Matt: Definitely! Regardless as to whether weíre rehearsing or writing songs, we always see ourselves standing on stage. It is really important, because when you write an album, you tend to forget about whatís really important, especially now that we live in the time of the evil Internet and MP3s. It is really important that a band can perform their songs really well while theyíre on stage. This is what we had in mind, probably with the exception of 'Son of the Morning Star' which has all that orchestration and everything. We write songs more effectively if we think that weíre on stage.

Tell me a few things about the remaining two members of the band, Falk Maria Schlegel (Organ) and Stťfane FunŤbre (drums). How did they become part of the picture ?

Matt : Both of them are proper members of the band. I cannot remember when they both joined the band because theyíve been with us for quite a few years now. I think that everything happend the classic way : we had an announcement in the newspaper and they just came up. I remember that Stťfane was really into Heavy Metal and we were very impressed by that. We also has an old drum set in the other room where we had already rehearsed with some drummers, but the first time that Stťfane started beating this poor drum set, we thought 'what on earth is going on', because he was ten times louder than any of the drummers that we have previously played with. With FalkÖwell, I guess that he was just there (laughs) - I donít remember anymore.

I am asking about them, and especially about Falk, because I can see how important the Organ really is to the general sound of the band.

Matt: Yes, we really like a lot to use the Hammond. We didnít plan this, but something that I really hate is the cheesy keyboard sound that many Heavy Metal bands are using nowadays. We were very happy when we found a different way of using atmospheric keyboards, which we sometimes use as a church organ and others as a Hammond. I think that it gives a little bit of a seventies feeling to the music I really adore John Lord and Deep Purple, so Hammond gives a little bit of a classic feeling to the music and also adds to the horror atmosphere that we like to create.

Should we expect the following releases of the band to have a similar character? How have you envisioned them?

Matt: I think so. We really love 'Return in Bloodred', but we havenít started yet to write anything new, and I donít think that it will happen before we finish with all our obligations concerning our debut album. I already explained that I cannot sit down and start writing an album - it will happen automatically in a way. When the time will come, we will gather and bring together all our ideas - then we will see what happens. I can say for sure that each and every member of this band is in love with 'Return in Bloodred', so I donít believe that you should expect any major changes.

Powerwolf

What do you have lined up as far as the promotion of the album is concerned, apart from the interviews that you are currently doing? Any videos in the horizon?

Matt: No, Attila doesnít want to make a video. Heís afraid that a Powerwolf video will end up looking like a typical vampire movie (laughs). Attila is a very strange mind and if he says no, thatís it. You can talk to him for hours, but if he doesnít want to do something then he will not do it. I have to say though that with the exception of Germany, it is really hard to get a Heavy Metal video played on TV, so I really donít see any sense in making one.

There are quite a few bands that share exactly the same opinion with you.

Matt: I mean, I would rather spend that money on touring or good merchandise - something thatís really related to the music, instead of producing a very expensive video that is probably going to be played twice, at three oíclock at night. Real Heavy Metal fans will get to know the album by simply buying it - they do not need a video for that!

I read on the press release that you will also release a digipack version of the new album. Is it going to include anything extra for the fans that will choose that over the ordinary one? Most Metal Blade digipack releases include things like small documentaries nowadays.

Matt: No, there will be no bonus features on the CD itself, but the booklet will be really special because it will have the story of the band written in a very medieval/Romanian way - not the typical story that you normally read in most Metal CDs. The intention is to get people into the atmosphere of the music, to see the feelings that we shared when we first decided to form the band.

Letís hope that I will see you soon here in England.

Matt: Cross your fingers and maybe it will happen. The only certain thing is that we will do the Summer Breeze festival in Germany, and there will be some more festivals coming up.

OK, we will keep both our eyes and our ears open and hopefully we will hear something. Thanks for the interview, the last words are yours.

Matt: Let me think about it - I never know what Iím supposed to say (laughs). Check out 'Return in Bloodred', and since your website is called Get Ready to Rock, I will say Get Ready to fu*k*ng Heavy Metal!


Album review

Interview © 2005 John Stefanis


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