"Do you think music as a sport or do you make music because you love it?"
German power metalers Rage just released their brand new album and we talked with their leader vocalist/bassist Peter 'Peavy' Wagner for the details. You can read below about their new aggressive approach, the departure of Victor Smolski and the Refuge reunion with the Wagner/Schmidt/Euthimiadis line-up among many other interesting topics.
Since your last album many things have changed in Rage’s camp. But let’s take it from the start. Why did Victor leave and you almost announced that you were disbanding?
No, none of this is true. First of all, I fired those guys, Victor and Andre and secondly I never announced the band is through or so. This was never true. This was some misinformation that Victor spread over the net, because he was angry that I kicked him out, I guess. There was no logic in such a claim. Why should I stop doing Rage? Rage is my life. I'm doing this sincerely too many years now and there's no reason for me to stop this. I just changed the team, that's all.
So why did you make that decision? Did you see that with that line-up Rage was not going anywhere?
Yes, it was not going anywhere. It was basically over with this line-up. The thing is that working with Victor, he's solo-style. I tried to make it... I'll try to explain this quickly and easily. He's his own guy. He's not really a team player; he's following his own career, which is of course ok. I knew this from the beginning, when I started working with him fifteen years ago, I knew that he was doing his own thing and he never really had the plan to be part of a band.
So, we agreed to have a working relationship, which was ok for a lot of years, it worked out. But in the last years it became more difficult and in the end it made no sense anymore, because he was trying to change the style of Rage. He was basically following his own deeds, his own career, and he was not willing to be part of the band anymore.
So, it’s like "my way or the highway"?
Yes, the lyrics say it all. (Laughs) I had no bad feelings about Victor, he's better off with his own band. Now he's his own boss, he can do whatever he wants, he doesn't have to do any compromises anymore, and I can follow Rage like it was meant to be.
Then, you had the thing with Refuge, with you Chris and Manni getting back together for some shows. How did that come up? I expected that perhaps Refuge would become Rage...
No, that could not be possible. The thing is that it was completely a coincidence that we sat to work again with this line-up. We’ve been good friends with Manni Schmidt for many years, but I had no contact with Chris Efthimiadis for a long time. There was this bad band split in 1999 and I hadn't talked with him since then. Over the years I really regretted it, I was really missing him, he's one of my oldest friends in my life, since elementary school, we were good friends. He was always one of the most important dudes for me, so I was really missing him over the years. I also heard from other people that he was too regretting the whole thing and he wanted to get back in contact with me, trying to call me and I was embarrassed for a long time.
In 2014, when I realized I was turning 50 I was thinking about where am I, where do I want to be. Do I still want to keep on with these bad feelings for such a long time? I just realized that it's not necessary to go on like that. I said to myself "come on, just reach out to him" and so I called him and we had a couple of beers and talked the whole situation over. We forgave everything and decided to be friends again. It was really good, my best birthday present, to have my old friend back in my life!
People realized that me and Chris are friends again, so a couple of common friends were asking if we would like to play a couple of songs for a local festival and we said "yeah, good idea", and we just called Manni and from the first moment he was with us. So we did this and it spread wide over the internet and we got a lot of offers, because a lot of people heard that we played that show. We got a lot of offers from all over the world to play more shows and after a while we realized that we had to do something about it, so we gave it over to our management and told them to communicate all this and set out the dates and we would do it like a fun thing.
It's not meant to be a professional band. From the beginning on it was clear that we couldn't make it professionally like Rage, because both Manni and Chris have families and kids, they have their regular jobs. It was clear that they wouldn't give up their regular lives for becoming rock musicians again. All we did with Refuge - with Manni and Chris - it was all just for fun, it's not a commercial band that's out there to play tours and that stuff. It was clear that we couldn't be Rage with this line-up.
So how did you end up hiring Marcos and Vassilis to become members of the band?
It was all like a slow process. Firstly, I got back together with Manni and Chris and I just realized what I was missing all these years, 'cause it's a completely different thing if you're having a professional working band, working relationship with professional guys. There's no friendship, there's not really any personal interest in that. So I realized that Rage could not go on like this, in a situation where the music and the whole thing is suffering. It showed that we didn't like to be with each other, so I also had to find a new line-up for Rage. My main priority was to get together with people that think like me, that are my friends, that like the band, that honor the history of the band and the musical style that the band developed over all these years.
So I got together with Marcos and "Lucky", both old friends of mine. "Lucky" was a drum student of Chris back then and a drum technician for a long time. He's been on the road with us since 1988. It’s like we're married [laughs]. And Marcos, I know him for eight years now, he's also a friend of mine, so this was the main priority for me, to get people that like me and that I like. Then, after we started the plan to become the band, I just realized after the first sessions we did that not only they were my friends but also brilliant musicians and it was really a good choice to have them in the band. I think in the new album you really hear how good this works.
So let’s now talk about the new album. "The Devil Strikes Again" indeed, right? I think that this might be the most aggressive and dark album many years now... how did you come up with that approach? Perhaps it has to do with the departure of Victor who had had a big role in the writing process previously?
Victor didn't have a bigger role than me, we always had an agreement, like 50-50.
But still a big role (laughs)...
He was trying to put his stylistic stamp on everything that I wrote. His style is a bit different from what I like. He was always having all this showing-off on the guitar, all this kind of stuff, more technical. I like it more straight forward, more direct, right in the face. I like a good portion of thrash element in the music and Victor doesn't like thrash.
This was all a little bit missing over the years and now that I'm back in charge and with Marcos and "Lucky" that both like very much the musical style and the output from the time before Victor was in the band, it just developed naturally. When we started writing material it was pretty clear that I'm going to share this mostly with Marcos, because "Lucky" was very busy, as he's also the manager of the band, he had all kinds of other stuff to do, so he just said that we know better about songwriting and he'd join in when we have the songs together and we'd arrange the stuff.
With Marcos, I have a perfect partner for writing this stuff, in this kind of style and energy that the band had in the middle of the 90s. Marcos' favorite album is "End Of All Days", so I think that the vibe of the new songs just developed naturally, in that direction.
I feel that the period reference to your new album would be from “Black In Mind” and beyond. Classic heavy/power approach with some thrashy riffs. I believe that a lot of your fans had missed that. What do you think?
Actually I know that a lot of fans missed that. I heard that from a lot of people and we also got very good reactions when we brought "Black In Mind" back on stage last December. I was also personally missing it, I don’t know if you can imagine this, but I was doing Rage for a long time, very successfully, before Victor came in the band. Then when he came in the band, it was for me like a long year of compromise. I thought it very important to have such a good guitar player in the band.
After all these years, I realize it's not that important how genius the guitar player is. In the end, people like the songs, the vibe and the energy of them, which is way more important than if you have a musician that a plays the blue from the sky. Plus, Marcos is also a very good guitar player, but he plays more solo-oriented, he's not playing his guitar to show everybody how good he is or to be praised, he wants to play good songs and bring his energy on stage. So that's a bit of the difference of the reason why you do it; do you think music is a sport or do you make music because you love music?
Who was in charge of the writing process? Give us some details for the making of the album. Producer, studio info etc...
The writing was based basically on my ideas, my songs. Marcos was contributing his ideas to my songs mostly and he also brought in some very cool guitar riffs, which we developed into really good songs. In the end I decided to make it like a songwriting team for the credits, like for example the Beatles was Lennon/McCartney or the Stones was Jagger/Richards. I decided to put both names Wagner/Rodriguez, because this was just fair. I wanted to share the credits with Marcos, even if it's not really reflecting exactly who wrote what. But it makes no difference, it's a really good collaboration and the production was also a collaboration of Marcos and mine. We were both mostly involved in the stuff of all that. The mixing dude we had was Dan Swano from Sweden and he was also very much involved in the production stuff.
I have already picked some favorite songs. I like the thrashy approach of the title track, it reminds me the very old days. Then it’s the more catchy "My Way", probably a radio friendly song or something like that and of course I think my all-time favorite is "The Final Curtain" with the remarkable opening riff and the "happy-catchy" chorus. Different kind of songs in a way... what do you think?
That's a hard question! I like the whole ten songs, how they work together, but of course some songs stick out to different people. I would also like to mention "Dark Side Of The Sun" and "Spirits Of The Night", which are also very important songs.
You have so many albums and all these years and I feel that somehow you had a power that allowed you to refresh your sound when needed, sometimes right after a major line-up change and other times after a weak album. Where this kind of power comes from?
(Laughs) Oh, there are too many elements for that. One is the undeniable love for music and constantly writing and composing songs, which is a kind of communication for me. It is very important for me. I think I couldn't live without writing songs and of course I want to record them and show them to the people. For me it's a kind of communication. The other thing is of course the love from the fans, the true friends all over the world that support Rage all over the years and allow us to live this life and to do this. Without all these fans it would never have happened.
If you have to choose three major peaks of your career which they could be?
Oh fucking hell! (Laughs) I think one very important thing was back in '88 when I got together with Manni and Chris. This was the real start of the band I think, when we developed this very typical, very unique style, that made the band internationally successful. Then a very important thing was when we started to work with orchestra in the middle of the '90s, we were the first metal band doing this. And a third peak... hmmm
Ok , let's stick with two! (Laughs)
We did really good stuff over the years! Also in the '00s we had some really strong albums, like "Unity" or "Soundchaser". But I don't know if I'd want to say that these are other peaks, I mean this is always a matter of taste.
I believe that the very first orchestral element was introduced from you in the "Missing Link" album, so I want to ask you what you were thinking back then and how we end up with an album like "XIII"?
The thing that you have to know is that from my family side I was connected with classical music from when I was young. My parents were having a renascence music group, playing all these weird instruments and my father was a really good cembalo-player. I remember one of the first musical experiences that I got when I was three years old or so, was "Pictures From An Exhibition" from them, with my father playing over and over the cembalo. These were the first melodies I remember, long before any children song. (Laughs) I think I have a natural tendency for classical music.
In the beginning it was a nice idea because I knew this from the Beatles, which were one of my favorite bands when I was a kid, and they were also working with orchestra sometimes in their songs. So, I thought that it was no problem to mix this with rock music and then we got a real chance to do bigger things with orchestration in the middle of the '90s when we got extra support from a record company, so we could do the album "Lingua Mortis" which was the first complete orchestrated album of any metal band, long before Metallica or anybody else was doing this. Meanwhile, of course, this topic is a little bit over-stressed because everybody is doing it right now, and that's why we're not doing it at the moment. (Laughs)
Do you feel somehow that the die-hard fans of Rage are more attached to the past of the band?
I think the real Rage fans like aggressive music in combination with orchestrated parts. Basically if you listen to an album like "XIII" or so, there's aggressive stuff on it, plus orchestration. I think these are both very interesting musical elements and I think Rage fans definitely like this kind of rough-edge , this portion of thrash music combined with great melodies and big sound. It doesn't matter if you work with an orchestra or if you just have big arrangements; I think it's this combination of thrashy-in your face music with the big melodies and harmonies.
I was counting the years and I think it’s been exactly thirty years since "Reign Of Fear"...
...this was '85, I think, it's more years! (laughs)
It's 31 years then! So how do you feel looking back from Avengers to "The Devil Strikes Back"? So long it’s been a very long journey with ups and downs. What tomorrow holds for Rage? How someone keeps going after 30 years with the same passion?
Like I said, it's the love for music that keeps me going. It always kept me going from the beginning on, it never changed really. Of course, I make a living from this band since a long time, basically since the '80s. I think I quit my job in '85 or '86, since then I live professionally from this band, so I wouldn't know what else to do and I don't want to do anything else, as I like it really much. Especially right now, that all the fun's back, all the pleasure of the whole thing, as I work with my friends, Marcos, "Lucky", Manni, Chris all this is really a lot of joy for me, working with my buddies.
Is Liguana Mortis project over?
No, I wouldn't say it's over. The Lingua Mortis orchestra was always an extra part for Rage, like the icing of a cake, kind of a special thing. I want to reanimate this, when it makes sense. Right now I think we are pretty much focused on the metal part, it just doesn't make sense to come on with an orchestra, but this Lingua Mortis thing is always going to be connected with Rage and I don't want to do it like an extra side project or an extra band like Victor wanted to do it. It's a little bit different from what he wanted it to be. I realized at some point that he wanted to have something beside Rage and that he could take over, because I think he already smelled that I wouldn't work with him anymore.
You had to cancel you last appearances a couple of years ago due to low tickets pre-sale what really happened back then? Could we hope to see you again soon? Are there any tour plans yet?
Yes, as far as I know we are already working on dates. I don't really know when they are exactly, you should ask "Lucky", he's the management and he is collaborating at the moment with our booking company to set out a tour for this album, which will start in November and as far as I know there's also a Greek leg again in it. The shows that you talk about were two years ago?
Yeah, I think so.
This was some chaos, it was not our fault. We worked with a promoter that already announced the shows before there was any contract, nothing set up and then there was some disagreements and they just cancelled it. They just announced it way too early before anything was really clear, which you cannot do, it's really unprofessional. I'm sorry for this, it always faults back to the band, but we weren't really involved.
My last question has to do with your past. What was the kind of music that made an impact to you as a person, as a teenager perhaps, and made you want to play music, this aggressive stuff?
Oh, there were a lot of bands! Of course when I was small, my cousin was doing a hard rock band, Deep Purple style, it was around '69 or so, then in the '70s I was really small and my cousin was my hero, he was like sixteen, playing bass in I can't remember even the name of his band, doing this kind of stuff. Of course, I was always following all these hard rock bands and later I switched to metal bands. A very big kick to me was Motorhead back then, in the end of the 70s, which was the reason I wanted to be a bass player, because I liked Lemmy and his Rickenbacker bass so much and other bands that really kicked me were all this early thrashy bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, all this kind of stuff. I was very much into this music.
Thank you very much for your time Peavy...
Thank you very much for your support and hope to see you very soon!