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Mexican Holiday


Архив интервью | Русская версия

It’s really hard to imagine how Mat Sinner is able to do all the things he does having just 24 hours a day. He puts on a huge rock/classical crossover show that tours on an annual basis, he is involved in a myriad of projects like Level 10, Jorn, Voodoo Circle, etc. and this is not to mention his two full-time bands, Primal Fear and Sinner, the former running for nearly 20 years, and the latter for more than 35 years. And after all these years, these bands are more successful than ever. Sinner’s “Tequila Suicide” album, released in early 2017, became the band’s first album to enter Top 50 in the official German charts, and even though it’s been a while since the CD saw the light of day, we still found it necessary to make use of the opportunity to chat with Mat about it. After all, he’s an artist we wanted to interview for ages, and he did have a lot of interesting things to say.

What are your impressions from playing in Russia with Primal Fear in September? Has the country and the fans changed since you first came here nine years ago?

I was very positively surprised about Moscow. We had to drive through the whole city to the airport in the daytime, so I could see the city much better than in the evening or in the night, and it was very nice and clean, the buildings looked great - that was my impression. The next thing was that the fans were very enthusiastic, and we had a good time both in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The fans were really nice to us, they gave us a good reaction, so it was really a pleasure to play.

Have you counted how many concerts you have personally played over your career? Do you remember your best and your worst show?

I don't count anymore. (everybody laughs) I know that Primal Fear shows are listed on the website, so if I had time, I could count the Primal Fear shows, but there have been very many other shows apart from those, and I don't count them anymore. It would be nice to have some kind of anniversary shows, but it's too late. (laughs) The worst show... (shrugs) Jesus! That's a very hard question. If you're playing shows for 30 years, there were a lot of shows I was not so happy with, but the really worst show... I really couldn't judge. As to the best shows, I can count 25 shows that were really outstanding, but to name a few... For me personally playing with Rock Meets Classic at Wacken in 2015 was a very nice show and a very big job for us all to do: so many people on one stage and just a changeover of a rock band. The other two shows I can remember as really-really nice were in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in Tokyo, Japan, which were really outstanding emotionally-wise and playing-wise. But overall I can say there were a lot more shows that were really touching, had a great vibe and good things, both festival shows and tour shows.

Now let's discuss the latest Sinner album "Tequila Suicide". In your opinion, why is it such a success? For sure it's a great record, but you've had a lot of other great records before...

Well, I think it was a question of timing, image, preparation. There were a lot of things we did right with this album - the record company and the band: the album cover, which was a little bit of an eye catcher, the Mexican theme of tequila stories, the video clip for the title track... The people were very interested in this album, we made a nice buildup, and it worked out very well.

What does this chart success change for the band?

Nothing. Sinner is my holiday in my career, with Sinner I can do things I don't do with other bands. It's like a solo album for me, there's no pressure, there are no obligations to write or record any music, this is really what I like at the moment, and at this moment I like this kind of music. So I wrote it, and I'm very happy.

You've already told the story behind the title track and album title in many interviews. But what is the story behind the cover artwork? What is this mask and those other symbols supposed to mean?

It's about the Mexican day of the dead. That's a special day they celebrate in Mexico, and they have these special paintings on their faces. El Dia de los Muertos is the right name for this day in Mexico. All the symbols on the album cover are connected to this day, and we follow this whole image in the video clip for "Tequila Suicide". This is all about this special day in Mexico, and I think it's a really mystical thing - this day, these masks and everything, and it was fitting very well to the whole concept.

The album starts rather strangely - with a cover song. What makes "Go Down Fighting" so important for you that you decided to put it on number one in the album tracklist?

It's a song of a friend of mine. Jimmy Coup is a former guitarist of Andrew W.K., and a really well-known person in Dublin, Ireland. He's a great songwriter. We were sitting together and discussing stuff, and he came up with this song, and I liked it very much. I like the energy, I like the fact that it has a bit of punk rock attitude, so I made it my song.

This song starts with references to early Metallica - the year 1984, James, Lars and Kirk. And what do you think of the new Metallica record, by the way?

I think it's a really great album with a lot of energy. I think it's absolutely nice that these guys in their age, after all these albums in between, found their way back to the roots. But our song is going to where the band started. It's not about today, it's about the past, when heavy metal really began.

We were watching the video for "Road To Hell" on YouTube last night, and the first comment below that video was "sounds a lot like Thin Lizzy". Would it be correct to say that of all the influences, Thin Lizzy has a special importance for you?

Yes, of course. I like the music, I like the Irish vibe, I like the band, I like the twin lead guitars, and Scott Gorham and Ricky Warwick are both good friends. We toured together, they were both on my Rock Meets Classic tour, and we could play all the great Thin Lizzy hits. This is a kind of music I really like, yes.

On photos from the "Tequila Suicide" tour, there is also a fifth guy on stage. Who is he?

That's my friend Sascha Krebs mostly. And on some live shows when he can't sing, it is Frank Beck of Gamma Ray. A Sinner live show is not just a rock show. It's entertainment, it's really fun. We have a bar onstage, we have greens onstage, we put girls from the audience onstage, there are confetti cannons, this is really more like an entertainment evening. And from time to time we invite some singers who are singing with us. Sasha Krebs is a singer on the album who sings some parts with me, he's a well known singer in Germany, mainly from the biggest Queen cover band, The Queen Kings, and also my partner in Rock Meets Classic. We are good friends, and when he has time, he's coming with us to shows. Like we have two nice festivals in December, and Sascha will be with us. He's singing two songs.

Has songwriting become easier for you this time, or does it get more difficult to come up with something fresh after so many songs written?

No, it was very easy. That's why I did this album. In 2016 I had the most shows I have ever played with Rock Meets Classic, and all these Primal Fear shows around the world, I can't even count the shows, it was so many. Then I came home from South America and said, "I have to do something else now. I really need to do a different kind of music". I was sitting down and writing songs with Magnus (Karlsson, guitar) and Tom (Naumann, guitar), and it was really nice that I could do it. There was a really nice flow in the whole thing, and that's why the album is that positive and energetic overall. It's a really organic album and happening. Also we recorded all together in the studio as a band, not as single persons. It was really nice to do this album, and I can tell you that at the moment we have already written 25 songs for a new Primal Fear album. They sound really really good, and in the end we will have a problem with deciding which songs will appear on the new album. The creativity in the whole team is really nice.

When you write lyrics, do you mostly tell true stories about yourself, or do you get inspired by books or movies or anything?

It depends on my mood. Some stories are what really happened, some stories are just funny, some stories are politically influenced or influenced by other things that happen these days. It really depends. And I think the music is very important to catch the atmosphere of a song with the lyrics.

We have picked up a few Sinner songs from different eras, and we would like you to comment on them a little bit more in terms of sources of inspiration, meaning, etc. The first one is "Dragons" off the new album.

That one has a nice story. I was sitting with my bass tech, Neil Witchard from England, we were sitting in a bar in Tokyo. We were drinking some beers and were funny, and talking about different things. And we often start writing lyrics, so I came up with the idea of dragons, and it became a very funny song, I think... if you catch the thing behind all that stuff.

Another song is from a few years ago, it is "Black" (off "Mask Of Sanity" (2007) - ed.).

"Black" was in a time when I just tried to sort out different things and listened to different kinds of music. I think it's still a strong song. I wasn't singing that high anymore, I was singing in a little lower range and trying things like Billy Idol, The Sisters Of Mercy and all that stuff, and this was a little bit away from my regular style.

This next one is a little bit older - "Roses Of Yesterday" (off "Bottom Line" (1995) - ed.).

Oh, that was at the time when we first tried to tune down guitars. Before that it was a regular tuning on all the guitars, and we would never come to a point to tune down guitars, because that was evil. That was the first song in which we tuned down the guitars and tried to come up with some darker riffs and stuff.

And what about the lyrical message?

I have to read it before I can tell you. (laughs) I wrote so many lyrics! If you pick out a song from the past and ask me about the lyrics, and we don't have this song in our current setlist, I really have to check what I wrote there. I don't know!

I guess the next one will be easier, it's "Respect" (off "Respect" (1993) - ed.).

Well, that was at the point when all over Europe we had a problem which is now very different. At that time, in '93-'94, there was a problem between black and white. There was a lot of basic racism going on, and I was in the position that I can write words and lyrics, and I wrote down my thinking about this.

In light of the current situation in Europe, with all these terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis, do you follow the news, do you keep track of the latest developments? Do you think the government in Germany is doing the right things, or would you like to change anything?

I think there always two sides that you can see. Some people are overdoing this, and taking it as a chance to get more votes, and other people are thinking we have to help where help is needed. There's always a thin line between terrorists and people who are going away from a war, running away and trying to survive. Among these people there are always some people trying to make the situation look like it's bringing us some terrorists here. Overall, my view is that if there is a war in some areas of the world, and people are running away from the war and the killings, and if there is space in countries like Germany or Western Europe, we should help these people.

We have one last song on our list: "A Little Victory".

Oh! (laughs happily) That's a special one! I don't know when I heard it the last time. It was written at the same time when we wrote "Respect", and we were a little bit influenced by songs by Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi those days. I think the lyrics is a nice story about a musician growing up and trying to make a career, making the first steps in the music business, being disappointed, becoming a hero and everything. It's one of the good lyrics.

Absolutely agree. And speaking about first steps in the music business: are you in contact with anybody from early Sinner line-ups, e.g. Edgar Patrick (drums 1981-1983) or Frank Mittelbach (guitar 1981-1983)?

Yes. I think Facebook made this aspect of life easier. We are still in contact and reading what we're doing. I'm in contact with everybody who's still alive.

Before "Tequila Suicide" you had an album called "Touch Of Sin 2" (2013). How did you pick up songs for this album? Are they your personal favorites from the 80s?

Yes, absolutely. At that point – I can only speak for Germany – the problem was that the old albums, you couldn’t buy them. All these old albums were so expensive, around 100 euros or more, and I said, “OK, let’s do something and try to re-record some of these songs so that they are available in new versions with a new attitude”. So we did this album.

There are two previously unreleased songs on that album (“Blood On The Sand” and “Heart Of The City”). Are they from the 80s as well, or are they brand new?

They’re brand new.

Have you considered including anything from the very early Sinner albums, such as "Wild ‘n’ Evil" (1982) or "Fast Decision" (1983)?

No, because regularly they were not albums. They were just demos of a young band, the songs on “Fast Decision” were not even finished. After we signed to Noise Records, the production company put those albums out, and we couldn’t do anything against it. But there were some lawsuits, and in the end the rights to the songs and the albums came back to me. But those were the demos of a young band, they’re not properly recorded. The first Sinner recording was “Danger Zone” (1984).

By the way, what do you think of those early recordings from the present-day standpoint?

I have a strange feeling, because I had such a lengthy lawsuit over them. It was not right that a lot of people were making a lot of money from that stuff, and the band didn’t get any money. I’m a little bit unsure what to think about this. It’s still part of my past and the beginning of my career making music, but after all these legal troubles and getting back my rights I have my peace now and I’m looking into the future.

Now that Noise Records are back in the business, have you considered or maybe discussed re-releasing the original "Touch Of Sin" and other Sinner albums Noise released in the 80s?

I don’t know. They released the best-of album (“No Place In Heaven – The Very Best Of The Noise Years”, 2016), a double CD or something like that, and I just had a short conversation with them. It could be that they will re-release the first four albums, but contract-wise they don’t have to ask me. They just can do it. The only sad thing is that the original recordings are not there anymore, they were lost in a fire or something. If the original recordings were still there, it would be nice to remix them.

Some of your bands, such as Sinner and Voodoo Circle, are signed to AFM Records, and others, such as Primal Fear and Level 10, are signed to Frontiers. What is the logic behind this separation? Is there a reason why a band like Sinner suits AFM and does not suit Frontiers?

No, I don’t think so. I think this is just business. It doesn’t have anything to do with creativity or any music, this is just pure business.

Can you comment a bit on the singer situation in Voodoo Circle? Why did David Readman quit, and how did Herbie Langhans (Avantasia, Sinbreed) become the new singer?

David has personal reasons, he plays in so many bands (Pink Cream 69, Almanac, Tank – ed.) that the whole timing situation has become rather strange. I think he tried to start reducing the number of his bands. Maybe he was also unhappy with the direction that Alex wants to go. But it’s better to talk to David about that, I can only say what I heard from somewhere, it may not be accurate. And Herbie – when we were at Wacken 2015 with Rock Meets Classic, Herbie was singing the hymn of Wacken, which we performed on that day, together with a German girl from Beyond The Black. They were singing together, and that was the first time we met. He was then joining Avantasia, and Alex was still in contact with him. We did a small tour to check him out and did some recordings, and then we decided that Herbie is the right kind of singer to sing on the new album. And he did a great job.

How did the almost complete Voodoo Circle line up become the new band of Jorn Lande? Will you all play with him live as well?

I don’t think Jorn plans any live shows in the near future. It was just that Alessandro del Veccio, who, by the way, is not in Voodoo Circle anymore, wanted to record a new album with Jorn as a producer that would be really strong and have the right vibe. And he wanted to have the musicians on this album who would be able to transport the vibe that he wanted to catch. So I was asked if I wanted to play bass. Francesco Jovino is living in the same town as Ale, and he is playing on all of his albums as a studio drummer. And then Ale asked Alex if he wants to play the guitar. So it came together, and that’s why the latest Jorn album has this line-up. I think it’s a strong album, I like it.

On this new album, "Life On Death Road", Jorn speaks very negatively about the music business and its impact on musicians. Do you also think that the music industry is a death road that sucks the musicians dry?

Always! (everybody laughs) As long as I make music, it is like this. I think in 2019 - I’m looking into the future – there will be a big change for Primal Fear, and I think then we will come to an easier side of the business. But it’s business. It doesn’t have to suck so strong that you can’t write any good songs. That’s why I told you that, as far as I’m informed, Jorn doesn’t plan any live shows, and that has a reason: the main problem is that he’s a little bit frustrated with the whole music business stuff, not the music, just the business. I think if you wanna survive in this business and you love to play, you have to find a way for yourself through this jungle.

Was it easier for bands in the 80s or 90s? You’ve been in this business through all its eras - do you think it’s getting worse than it was before?

When I signed my first record contact, it was 1984, and if I look at this contract, it’s much more evil than any contract now. For all these four Noise albums, including this last best-of and whatever, the money a musician gets under this contract is a fucking joke. The contracts we have now are much more human and OK.

We guess you get this next question asked a lot, but we really need advice from someone like you: with so many projects going on, how do you find time for everything?

Well, it’s the love for music. I think music is for me a gift, and that’s why I can have a kind of job which I really love. If you really love your job, you can do a lot of things and do them with a lot more passion and ambition than other people who are working for others and not giving a shit about what they are selling or what they are doing. They are just getting a salary or some money at the end of the month, but they are still doing things they don’t like. I’m doing things I really love, and this is why I can do more things. I’m working 14 hours, I’m working 7 days a week, and I don’t have a problem with that, because I love it.

Do you ever get tired of music?

(pause) No, I can’t say this. If I get tired of heavy metal, I listen to some world music or classical music. It’s easy for me to step into another musical direction and have other ideas.

You've been working with Ralf Scheepers for 20 years and as far as we understand, that's the longest connection with any musician that you have ever had. What keeps you together for so long?

(pause) Wow… I think we have one passion, and this is Primal Fear. He has the voice, nobody else would have that voice, and I write the songs and produce the albums – we’re a very good team. We still have great ideas, we still have a lot to say. I think we have good days and bad days, it’s like a married couple, and there are not always rainbows and nice super-days. There are also days when there are discussions and business, but so far after 20 years of working together we still respect each other and want to work with each other, which is really nice.

Apart from this passion for Primal Fear, what do you and Ralf have in common, and what are the differences between you?

Woah, this is a very difficult question, because in our private lives we don’t do a lot of things together anymore. We are so much on tour together that we don’t have to go out or go to bars when we’re at home. We love football, for example, we share the passion for the same team, and we love music. It’s peaceful and nice to be on the road together. We know each other so well that we know all the mistakes, all the falls and all the good things of each other. As I said, it’s like a married couple without sex. (everybody laughs)

Have you succeeded in realizing all your teenage dreams? What are your dreams, or your aspirations of today?

In my teenage dreams I was a great soccer player. I was playing for the national youth team in Germany, but I was very badly injured and I couldn’t continue my professional career anymore. Then I thought if I take a guitar, I can’t be injured that much. (everybody laughs) So I became a really passionate rock musician when I was 16, and my biggest target was to record my own CD. I’ve done it. (laughs) I’ve done a lot more – I’ve played with some of the greatest rock legends in history and become friends with Alice Cooper, Ian Gillan, Steve Lucather, Joey Tempest, Paul Rodgers, Thin Lizzy, Sweet and a lot of other guys. We became real friends with them because we were so long on tour together, and there was a lot of respect to each other, nice stories, hanging out in bars, playing together on the stage. I didn’t even have it in my wildest dreams that I would ever have such a nice position in the music business and would be able to tour and play together with all these super legends.

And what else would you like to do, to achieve in the future?

I’m very realistic. I’m going on tour with Rock Meets Classic, we have Francis Rossi from Status Quo with us, and it will be another great moment – to play with him. There will be some other super-guys from Supertramp, Saga, The Hooters, Gotthard – that will be a nice tour. Before and after that tour I will finish the new Primal Fear album, and the new Voodoo Circle album will be released. So a lot of nice things will happen in the beginning of next year. And you will remember my words in the end of 2018 or in the beginning of 2019 – we will have big news about Primal Fear. I can’t say it now because contract-wise I’m forbidden to tell it, but it will be a very nice thing.

After playing in Russia with Primal Fear four times already, don’t you think it’s time to bring Sinner back to Russia? Sinner have only been here once, and it was back in 2009…

We discussed that with the promoter of the last tour, because he’s a fan of Sinner. Next time he wants to have both bands on the bill, and I said, “Yes, absolutely, we can talk about this”. It’s a hard job for me to be on the stage for such a long time, for two sets – with Primal Fear and with Sinner, but for a good thing, why not? I can do it.

Sinner on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SinnerBand

Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (AFM Records) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov, Natalie “Snakeheart” Patrashova
Photos courtesy of AFM Records
November 6, 2017
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