An interview with pirate-metal pioneer Rock’n’Rolf is always a joy. With a great album, that brings back the Running Wild glory days, in the hold the discussion revolves around “Blood For Blood”, the new songs, the inspiration, the style, the band’s DNA, the guitars, the “iron times” and the Greek fans burning ambition to watch the band again. “Ready For Boarding”… Interview: Yiannis Dolas. Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: You said that this album is your best in the press release, do you really think it is?
Rock’n’Rolf: Absolutely! Yes! When it comes to the production definitely. The best production we ever had, but you know, I am very happy with the song-writing, how the fans will react? It’s not up to me. I am just proud of the album and I really love it.
Rockpages.gr: From what I’ve seen so far most of the reactions are positive…
Rock’n’Rolf: Absolutely! Overwhelming! One guy told me that it’s a timeless album, maybe the best heavy metal album of all times (pauses) HAHAHAH (laughs loudly)
Rockpages.gr: Wow! OK!
Rock’n’Rolf: HAHAHA (laughs) the reactions are all positive!
Rockpages.gr: Of course, I love the atmosphere and my favourite song was “The Iron Times”. I think that this is what Running Wild is all about. What do you think?
Rock’n’Rolf: Yeah, absolutely! It has all the trademarks that Running Wild stands for. It’s a very special song, because I decided to do it before a long time, but I couldn’t find the right melody to carry the song and when I was writing for with this album and I had the idea for the melody for a song I knew I could do it now. It’s very special in that way.
Rockpages.gr: Actually, one of my question for every artist who makes an album that’s longer than 5, or 6 minutes, is how do you construct a song like this? You have a basic melody, which you develop and you add something else that comes up and you add it? Or, maybe you have something from another song and you put it in there? How do you do that?
Rock’n’Rolf: In the first place, with this song, I was looking for a melody and the main melody was there. I had all the other ideas and I just put it on tape, so not to forget them and so when I came back to the song to do the arrangement I thought it was going to take a week or so, but the song kind of wrote itself really, as soon as the arrangement was there. And I just had to do the overdubs and stuff like that. Sometimes when you have the first idea for it, the first two or three parts of the song, the first part was the melody and the second was the verse, then came the pre-chorus and then came the chorus and then all the other stuff. So, when you have the basic idea of the song all the other ideas are coming about when you are working on them. There were are other musical ideas, which I didn’t use because if I had more ideas on that song, then it would have been even longer! The story is told in this song and the arrangement like it is today and that’s why I kept it that way.
Rockpages.gr: Is it also a strategy to put the longer track last in the album?
Rock’n’Rolf: Yeah, because you know it’s a good ending. It’s a good thing to close the album, that epic kind of thing. And, for sure if you listen to (all the album) straight you have that in mind, so that’s why I prefer to put it at the end of the record.
Rockpages.gr: The second single of the album, “The Shellback”, is connected with the classic “Black Hand Inn”. How did you make that connection? How come you wanted to revisit this song?
Rock’n’Rolf: First of all, I had the song musically… the riff and everything, the chorus and all sorts of things. When I figured out the song I found this title “The Shellback”, which is a very experienced sea-man and when I was listening to the song I figured that this song could have be easily in an album like “Black Hand Inn”, because it has all this king of Celtic influences, which are very strong on the album. So, I came around with the idea to write the prequel of the album, because “The Shellback” could be the guy from “Black Hand Inn”. To tell what was his life beforehand and how he came to the sea, how he came up with the stories. So, that’s the main content of the lyrics. When the song was done I had the idea to put the basic melody of the song “Black Hand Inn” as an acoustic intro before the song to make sure that it has something to do with each other…
Rockpages.gr: Also, except from the classic Running Wild songs there are also two let’s say party rock songs, like “Wild Wild Nights” and “Wild And Free”. Would you say that this element, the hard rock element, is a part of the nucleus of the band as well?
Rock’n’Rolf: It’s part of my DNA. I grew up in the 60s and the 70s, so when we first started out with Running Wild back in the day in 1976 we were all hard rock fans, because there was no metal, except Black Sabbath. So, we were all KISS and AC/DC fans. It’s all in our musical DNA. It always appeared like on a song like “Raise Your Fist”, which is way more hard rock than heavy metal. A song like “Prisoner Of Our Times” is way more hard rock than metal. But, I don’t divide us in two, because heavy metal and hard rock has the same roots. They come from the same origin and that’s why I never asked myself: “is this a heavy metal song, or a hard rock song?” I think that if it’s a great song, it’s a great song.
Rockpages.gr: So, from your perspective, what would you say that are the basic pieces that create the ideal Running Wild album?
Rock’n’Rolf: Ah, it’s very different, because when I am writing songs there is no formula. Sometimes, I have the melody first and sometimes the title comes first. Sometimes, I have parts of the chorus , I write the lyrics of the chorus, or the lyrics of the melody and all the other stuff comes around them, when I am jamming around with it. So, it’s very hard to say. In this case the song writing process lasted very long and before it was clear which songs will be on the album, and which songs wouldn’t, from the pool that I’ve written all these years. So, it’s really hard to say. You just see which songs could add something more to the record than the others could. I really wanted to make clear that this album has so many more facets than any other had and there is a wide range of styles on the album. Because, it’s really ten completely different songs.
Rockpages.gr: It’s not very usual for artists and bands like you guys who have been around for more than 20, 30, 40 years to make a very very good record that late in their career. So, I am going to ask you what is the secret for this album to be so good, so much better than the last 3 or 4 previous ones?
Rock’n’Rolf: I really can’t tell you! I just wrote songs you know… I just did the record, that’s the way it is. But, I felt from the get-go…I have written the title track for “Blood For Blood” when I was doing the final mix for “Rapid Foray”. So, when I had the song I knew that it sounds very special. And I knew it will become a classic from the first get-go. I wrote it in 5 minutes! I put the first idea on tape and the song was done as a demo. That was the starting point and all these ideas were coming up, so I thought that this album was going to be different than the ones before. Because, the first tracks I wrote was the basic idea for “Say Your Prayers”, which had a different title back in the days when I started and “Wild Wild Nights”, these three completely different songs were the first ones I wrote for the album, so I knew that this album would be special and it was a wide range of styles, because these songs are very very different to each other you know. I just wrote those songs and picked the 10 that went into the album. So that every song would add something to the album which the other 9 couldn’t. So, I think that was kind of the secret to choose the right songs and put them in the right flow, the right setlist that makes the album works.
Rockpages.gr: In our music, hard rock and heavy metal, nostalgia plays a big role. So, I guess when somebody is listening to a new album from a band is comparing it to the old ones. For example, for Running Wild, maybe my favourite album would be “Death Or Glory”, or “Blazon Stone”, or whatever. So, when you are writing for a new album, do you feel that you have to compete with your previous work?
Rock’n’Rolf: I don’ think about it to be honest. Always, when you start up with a new album it’s a new start. The album before doesn’t matter, because it’s an old album to you as a song writer, because you try to do some things, or you want to record in a different way, you feel different. The song-writing has also something to do with the situation you are in. So, you can also see that the songs were written in different times, that’s why they are so different. I don’t think about it, I just write songs and try to put it together. I never try to copy what I have done beforehand. These trademarks that Running Wild stand for were always there, but I would never try to re-do a record, or something like that. I’d never could write a second “Death Or Glory”, it’s not possible! Because, the album is there and there is no need to do that. That’s why I never think about it and I just start from the get-go with the first ideas that I have.
Rockpages.gr: How do you achieve to have a similar sound on your guitars in almost every album? If I hear to a guitar from a Running Wild album, I can say that this is Running Wild and nothing else. Do you use the same equipment, the same settings? What’s the trick?
Rock’n’Rolf: Throughout my career I’ve used completely different equipment, but it has to do with my style of playing guitar. It’s just like Gary Moore, you can give him whatever you wanted and it would sound like Gary Moore! (laughs) So, it’s pretty much the same, it’s all about the style. I changed all my equipment, in the ‘90s I played different amps to what I am playing now, I played analogue, I played Mesa-Boogie, Marshal… very different kind of amps. I have some idea in my head how a guitar should sound like and I guess I play around with a lot of guitars that I use, so especially for the solo and the melody guitars there was a flying-V involved. The rhythm guitars were played with an old Explorer, so it’s just about the style. AC/DC sounds always like AC/DC .
Rockpages.gr: Is this affected with technology?
Rock’n’Rolf: It has to do with the style you are playing. The technique you are using. What you sound like as a guitar player. So, the equipment is just a part of it. You can add something to that if you have good equipment, but a good guitar player is always a good guitar player.
Rockpages.gr: Actually, this year marks the 30th anniversary of “Blazon Stone”, what do you remember from making that album?
Rock’n’Rolf: Oh, it was really fun to do that. We were in a studio in Hidesheim and it was pretty much over Christmas, or something like that, not really that days, but during that time. It was really cold and I was alone in the studio for longer time, because when the drums were done and the bass was done I had to do all of the overdubs, because Axel Morgan (Ed, Running Wild’s guitarist) just came in to play his part of the solos. He joined the band two weeks before we went in the studio. So, he wasn’t able to play the guitars for sure, because he didn’t have enough time to learn the songs. He played his parts of the solos and pretty much I did everything. It has been… a lot of work! But, it was fun to, to see that album rising and be so successful.
Rockpages.gr: Many fans consider the period 1987-1994 the best for Running Wild. The peak of your career. What do you think?
Rock’n’Rolf: It depends on how you see it. If you say that these are the albums you like the most, it’s completely fine, it’s your preference. But, you know, you can compare that! We were starting up as a band and we had to grow as musicians and we had to learn everything. We were just naïve. We were starting out with that. After that we became a different band. The pirate thing appeared and changed the style of the band because there were other musical ideas that we used and everything and the band became way more successful way more than before. And now the band is way bigger than we were in the ‘90s. Way bigger! Everything has grown, but I can understand if you say “I have so many memories of that time and I am so emotionally connected with these albums and they are my favourites”. It’s completely fine, I am fine with that.
Rockpages.gr: Obviously, you invented “pirate metal” and there are other bands that are using those themes, images, they are dressing up, even copying your sound. Do you find this flattering?
Rock’n’Rolf: You know, it’s an honor to see we’ve created our own genre. That was never our plan. We just had the idea to do that and we were the first to do it, so there were many bands who had the same idea afterwards, they came around and they were influenced by Running Wild and their style, but doing their own thing. Other bands tried to copy it in a way and that’s OK. I really see the success of Running Wild had something to do with being so attractive to people to take it as an influence.
Rockpages.gr: Of course, I am going to do the inevitable question… we haven’t seen Running Wild in Greece for so long! Any idea, when will that happen?
Rock’n’Rolf: You know playing live is a problem you know, because we announced so many festivals for 2020 and they were moved to 2021 because of COVID-19 and now to 2022. Nobody can tell us if we can play them, so it’s why I have not accepted any more offers from festivals. Because, they will be announced and the fans will be very excited about “the band’s coming! the band’s coming! The band’s not coming…” I don’t want to disappoint the fans. We will see until we can play live again. I’d really hope so that it would start in the next year, but nobody can tell if it’s possible to run a festival with 100,000 people like Hellfest, which were booked for. We are really sceptic, because in the situation we are now it’s hard to do that, because the fans come from all over the world for that festival, as well as the bands… how they could solve that problem? I don’t know. We really have to see what happens in the next half-year, so then we can see what the future will bring for us. When we will get back to live.
Rockpages.gr: Bare in mind that the Greek fans miss you very much and they are always talking about it.
Rock’n’Rolf: I understand! You know the Spanish fans say the same. Why don’t we play in Spain again? The Russian fans… we’ve never played there before, so when we played in Moscow in a big arena they went nuts! So, for sure I understand, but we really have to see what is possible, because now it has nothing to do with Running Wild, it’s up to this fucking COVID. It’s not only a problem for Running Wild, but for every band. Especially, the younger bands, or the smaller bands that want to book a tour, of book a festival.
Rockpages.gr: Any updates on the biography of the band, the book that was going to be released. Is it going to happen?
Rock’n’Rolf: I never made plans for that. I know that Jens Pohl, who runs the website of Running Wild wants to write a book about the band, but I never had anything to do with that. I heard that he was planning to do that, but I don’t know anything about it. I am not involved in that project.
Rockpages.gr: Would you be interested in writing your biography though?
Rockpages.gr: Send a message to the Greek fans…
Rock’n’Rolf: I really hope that the Greek fans will like the album the way that I like it. I am really looking forward to see how the people will react to that…