Twenty years in the music business may seem like a lifetime to most of us 'mortals', but it seems that for Peter 'Peavey' Wagner, frontman of the Teutonic metal outfit Rage, it is only the beginning. Days before the release of his band's latest studio effort 'Speak Of The Dead', the German Scull Hunter spent thirty minutes of his precious time answering my questions about the musical direction of this new album, the band's touring plans, as well as sharing some of his band members unusual experiences and hobbies.
Hi Peavey- thank you for this interview opportunity. Congratulations for your band's 20th anniversary, which comes almost a year too late. It must be quite weird for you, being around since 1985, that is.
Peavey: Well, it's actually even longer than that! I began playing music back in 1984. I honestly have to say that I feel quite proud of the fact that this band is still around. This wouldn't have happened without the fans, I guess. They really stayed true to the band.
That's true, but you're equally responsible for this reception, seeing as you have released many good albums these last twenty years. Let's talk about the band's latest release 'Speak Of The Dead', which took you guys three years to prepare.
Peavey: Three years? Not really - you see, we had to work on the live DVD/CD in between 'Speak Of The Dead' and our previous studio album, and believe me - a live DVD takes too much work to make. We actually begun working on this new album last summer.
Alright! I guess there is work involved behind the release of a live album that we as fans are not aware of, after all. Let's talk about the musical direction that you followed on this new studio release of yours. When did you first realise what you wanted to achieve with 'Speak Of The Dead', and what made you take the decision to divide it into two parts?
Peavey: Well, discussions about the album's direction begun two years ago, after the release of the 'Soundchaser' album. There were quite a few people asking us over the years, when would be the time that we were going to create orchestrational music again. You probably remember that, ten years ago, we had released albums like 'Lingua Mortis' and 'XIII', which had orchestrations and were quite popular at the time. Well, we decided that this was the right time to release such an album, especially with Victor Smolski (guitars) in the band. Victor has a classical background, with his father being a classical composer. He studied everything about classical music for more than twenty years, and he was more than happy on working towards that direction. So, after we decided on the direction, the question was whether we wanted to make a whole album sounding like that, or part of it. At the end, we decided to write one long piece with the title 'Suite Lingua Mortis' - a title that reminded us of the band's older days.
OK, so, as far as you are concerned, 'Suite Lingua Mortis' is one musical piece?
Peavey: Yes, it's one twenty two minute long, song. We gave it eight different Ids, so it's easier to switch around in between the songs, you know, and find the particular part that you like. Besides that, it's really one long song.
Well, I have to admit that I found this to be slightly confusing, because, throughout this eight-track musical piece, you move between many different styles of music. The 'Ben Hur' sounding intro that you used, gave me the impression that this would be a concept album - a feeling that was lost as tracks went through.
Peavey: The whole concept was created by Victor. He composed everything, and made all other arrangements. Maybe his intention was to take people on a journey through different styles of music, because he is quite capable of performing every style of music. Why did he come up with so many different ideas? I don't really know - you should ask him that (laughs).
Fair enough! So, how much did you get involved in the compositional process of the album?
Peavey: Well, I begun becoming involved in the compositional process, even before we begun rehearsing the new material, using some ideas that I had left from the past. When the rehearsals begun, it was kind of obvious that Victor had everything already finished - all the ideas perfectly formed in his head, so I realised that I had to make a step back and let him do his masterpiece. In the end, my only involvement was in writing the lyrics.
I don't want to sound negative, especially since I'm quite fond of the 'Suite Lingua Mortis', but as soon as I realised, after listening to 'Beauty', that a change in style was imminent, I felt a bit disappointed. I believe that you could have done something much more with the symphonic piece, and I am sure that people who love albums such as 'XIII' will agree with me.
Peavey: You mean that this song was not long enough? (he sounds surprised).
No, it's not - not as far as I'm concerned (I laugh).
Peavey: (laughs) OK - on the other hand we felt that, if we were to make that song longer, some people would have complained about not listening to some of our heavier stuff. You cannot really satisfy everybody. I think that this album is a good mix: one half is classical orientated, and the other half is really heavy, so that's ideal in the end. Victor did his classical piece, I wrote the majority of the metal songs, so everybody was happy in the end.
The second part of the album is also quite varied, with songs like 'Soul Survivor' approaching the band's 'Missing Link' era, and others like 'Kill Your Gods' sound more sinister and progressive. What kind of feelings and thoughts were torturing your mind at the time that you felt the need to express through these songs?
Peavey: Well, every song has its own separate topic, as far as the lyrics are concerned, but it's also good to know that, as a band, we always write the music first. Basically, we wanted to write more aggressive songs this time round. The 'Suite Lingua Mortis' contain the most experimental compositions, so we decided to create more powerful compositions for the second part of the album. As far as the lyrics are concerned, this is like a min therapy to me: I always like to write about things that are in my head and my heart. Some songs are based on personal ideas and feelings, other carry a political or a social message. 'Kill Your Gods' for instance, talks about the misuse of religion, and the problems that are currently caused because of that.
I knew it! This was actually my next question, believe it or not!
Peavey: Yes, this feeling is everywhere in the air. Every newspaper you read, or political show on the TV that you watch, talks about that thing. It's all about this cultural war, this soap religious sh*t - some people abuse religion for their own sinister purposes, and that's exactly what this song is all about! The same-title composition 'Speak Of The Dead' is an anti-military statement.
Are you one of these artists who believe that music should always be challenging, not only in terms of musical skill, but also in terms of message? Do you believe that the fans of Rage are people who are very sensitive towards these issues that you describe in your lyrics?
Peavey: Hmm, I don't really know - my experience over the years tells me that there is a small group of fans that are really into the lyrics, looking for these 'hidden' messages. These people really understand what it is that I'm trying to say. I am aware that this is a small group of people who are involved to that extent with our music. I believe that the majority of our fans are people who just want to have fun with our music, and don't really care what it is that I write about. It also depends on how well they speak the language, you know?
Which is the one song from the last album that you feel closer to, and which was the one that was the most difficult to create?
Peavey: Hmm, that's a good question - I really don't know! The song 'Turn The World Around' was definitely not an easy one to record. There are so many different notes involved, the riffs are really fast, and most of the harmonies are very weird and difficult - especially the ones that accompany lyrics, which took me a while to create. We also added those cello lines that Victor played, which made things a little more complex. I really don't know how this song is going to sound when we play it live. We obviously cannot do the whole album, since there are so many of our older songs that people demand to hear (laughs).
Yourself, Victor and Mike (Terrana:drums) have been together for quite a while now!
Peavey: Yes, it's already seven years since we've been together in this band.
Amazing! Do you believe that this period in time finds Rage having the strongest line up ever?
Peavey: Music wise, that's definitely the case. We know and understand each other well - I hope that we are growing stronger, you never really know, but so far we still like working with each other very much, and everybody is free to do whatever they want outside this band. That makes it easier for everybody to stay involved.
So, with two very professional musicians by your side, life in the studio must be quite easy!
Peavey: Yes, that's true. It doesn't take too much time or effort for us when we are in the studio. Nothing that we do takes so much time for us, really (laughs). We also don't have to rehearse that much anymore. I remember with the old line ups, we used to rehearse for weeks, meeting three or four times a week in order to play. With this line up, that is no longer necessary. Before we do something, we meet, and two or three rehearsals in general are more than enough!
So, how is that bounding between the members of the band is achieved, if you don't meet up that often? Does this more professional approach affect the band's sound?
Peavey: Surely we sound more professional than ever. I sure hope that we become better musicians and develop our style over the years, because we want to write better songs and become a tighter band. I don't really know if we do not sound as 'warm' as we should, meaning in terms of our personal relationship. Surely I can imagine that if we hated each other, it would be not easy to play together, but there are some bands in this world that manage to do this, and no one really notices that. I don't know whether friendship is a basic ingredient when it comes to playing music in a band - I guess it depends on how professional you are! Anyway, I am glad that we all like each other and we have fun playing our music together. We are not really a band like the Rolling Stones, who do not speak to each other when they're off stage (laughs). Take as an example a band like Nightwish: they haven't spoken a word between them for ages, but every time they were on stage, no one notices their problems.
Tell me a few things about those extra musicians that offered their services for their recording process - I am talking, of course, about the Minsk Philharmonic Orchestra. How different was the experience working with them than it was with the first 'Lingua Mortis' orchestra?
Peavey: Oh, there was a huge difference! The first orchestra that we used consisted of people who had never worked with a metal band before. Classical musicians are normally not so good with timing - they perform freely, being guided by the conductor. This orchestra from Minsk is trained to work with metal musicians. These people we used belong in three of Minsk's biggest orchestras, and they usually get together to record stuff for TV and radio programs, films and so on. Victor had already worked with these guys in the past, for several different projects, some of which involved bands like Blind Guardian and Lacrimosa. These people are used to support Rock/Metal bands, which made the final result sound quite tight, but most importantly, they knew Victor and that personal relationship worked to our benefit. Working with them was a very relaxing experience, because they really understood what it was that we wanted to do.
You can also hear them singing along the refrain of 'No Regrets', if I'm not mistaken - their accent is quite characteristic!
Peavey: Yes, that was a choir that was related to that specific orchestra. It's funny when you hear them singing, because they have indeed quite a weir accent (laughs). Every time I listen to that specific part, I always smile (laughs). We really couldn't have done it any better with them - it's hard for so many people to sing in English because it is not their mother language.
That, of course, raises the question of your upcoming live performances. Are you going to use any time of orchestra with you?
Peavey: That's a hard question. We are starting our tour really soon, and having an orchestra with us for the whole three weeks is far too expensive. We would have to rent an extra bus to accommodate those people, and this would probably break our necks, financially speaking. For this tour now, we will have to work with samples. We are working at the moment with some festival shows in mind, where we would use this orchestra. We would definitely like to work with the guys from Minsk again. It is obviously very expensive, but for a handful of shows we could make it happen. We already have some offers to play in festivals, but we have to check of the costs involved.
I recently checked out the tour section of the Nuclear Blast website, and unfortunately the United Kingdom was not mentioned there. Are there any plans of you guys visiting our island in the near future?
Peavey: We are still working on some festival shows, and I really hope that we will manage to visit the United Kingdom.
Would you like to participate in any of the big Summer Festivals that take place in Germany like Wacken or Summer Breeze?
Peavey: Well, we are confirmed to participate in this year's 'Earthshaker' festival, and we are also hoping to play in others, but nothing is confirmed yet.
You have already spoken of the dilemma to choose which songs to perform, but do you have a rough idea over which these songs will be?
Peavey: Well, we are definitely going to perform the whole 'Suite Lingua Mortis'. We also want to play 'No Fear', 'Full Moon', but the remaining songs have not been chosen so far. We are rehearsing our new material at the moment, so we will find out in the next couple of days.
'No Fear' is not only the band's video for the new album, but also the soundtrack of a movie. How did this all come about?
Peavey: This whole thing was really a coincidence. The director of this German Psycho Criminal movie is a friend of mine. He just called me one day, asking me to write the soundtrack of the movie. 'No Fear 'is one of the heaviest songs on the album, so we gave him that song, and he really liked it. He then offered us material from the film to use it as a video, so in a way we helped each other there - a nice coincidence.
This, of course, is a five and a half minute composition that we're talking about - a lot longer than the average length that is required for music videos.
Peavey: We did a four minute edited version of the song, which served that exact purpose.
Is the video going to be part of an extra edition of the new album, or anything like that?
Peavey: Yes, the song is going to be included on the limited edition of our new CD, and also on the future Nuclear Blast DVD collection releases.
Peavey, have you ever considered writing the soundtrack of a whole movie? Would you be interested in something like that?
Peavey: If we get an offer, we will surely do this. Victor has already done that for three Russian movies. He is very experienced with that sort of stuff, so as soon as we get an offer, we will definitely do it.
Have you thought of a specific script that would be suitable to the music of Rage?
Peavey: That's a good question. I personally like fantasy movies, so probably something that will have to do with science fiction.
How about a movie about a man who likes to collect human sculls? That would be really interesting!
Peavey: (laughs) Yes, the Scull hunter - that sounds like a cool movie to me (laughs).
So, does that mean that you are still into this hobby of yours after all?
Peavey: Yes, I am still doing this. I don't only collect human sculls, but everything that has to do with natural science.
Any other interests that you guys have that would be of interest to the fans of Rage?
Peavey: Not so much about me, I'm afraid. Victor, though, is a semi-professional sports car driver. Check his website (www.victorsmolski.de), and I assure you that you will be quite astonished. He's doing quite well. He's a really good driver. He's working with the Volkswagen team here in Germany, which sponsors him. He's basically driving all over Europe with them.
He also does these Guitar Clinics from time to time, as far as I know -
Peavey: Yes, he's one of the head endorsers for Yamaha - he's in Indonesia with Tommy Aldridge (drums/(Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy) at the moment.
Does he sleep at all?
Peavey: (laughs) No, I think that he's a robot - if not, he's definitely superhuman (laughs).
Peavey, which are the expectations that you have for the new album? What is the feedback so far?
Peavey: Well, I've been doing the promotion of the new album for the last three weeks now, and the feedback that I have so far received is really positive. The album is going to be out soon, so we'll see. Nuclear Blast is very enthusiastic about it, and I think that they are doing a really god job. This is the first time for us on this label, and everything looks good so far.
Peavey, I think that it is time to let you go. Tank you for this interview and my best wishes for 'Speak Of The Dead', which I am sure that is going to do quite well.
Peavey: A big thank you to everybody who still supports our band. Hope to see you all soon!
Interview © 2006