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22/08/2008 – Interview with DESTRUCTION

The legendary Thrash veterans DESTRUCTION (official website) certanly need no introduction. They've been Thrashing for many many years and are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, even though there's been a break, so to speak, in the 1990s. But with the comeback in 1999 DESTRUCTION showed they're still a force to reckon with and can take on any new band. Because of the new album, "D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N.", of which you can read the review at this location, and the anniversary, I had an interview with guitarist Mike Siffringer.

Because we talked too long on the 22nd, part 2 had to follow on another day, which was the 27th. It must be said that it was great and an indication that - at least Mike, since I haven't talked to Schmier or Marc yet - is a modest musician, even though he has founded one of the biggest Thrash bands ever.

Destruction logo

You've got a new album coming out, "D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N."... what is it about?

About music and Heavy Metal, like it has always been with DESTRUCTION.

Devolution coverWhen I look at the titles and artwork, I have the impression it's about the downfall of mankind, the destruction of the earth and things like that.

The lyrics and artwork are about that, about destruction of life. There are few bands that talk about serious problems. It's necessary, but it's doesn't always have to be about how beautiful life is and so on. It's all one big stupidity, fucking up everything. In the end there will be no space for mankind.

Where did you/Schmier get inspiration?

Well, it's Schmier who writes the lyrics. He's like a wake-up person, likes to watch the news, what's going on in the world. And it's frustrating and it's certainly not getting any better. There will be wars, if not about oil, then about water, for example. Just look at what's happening in countries like Iraq. It's sad, really, it shouldn't be like this. You could call it the Banana World, with mankind and devolution... being kicked out of the tree, hahaha. I saw "Planet Of The Apes" on television recently. It's a good film and who knows, maybe it will be like that in the future, hahaha.

The film was on Belgian television too, last week, I think. When you were writing the new material, did you work differently than for "Inventor Of Evil" or any of the previous albums?

I fixed the programme on my computer. it's the first time we have a good programme at my place. Before that we used old 5-track machines. Now I have this Innuendo programme, Cubase-like and that makes it easier to compose.

Working with Jacob Hansen, what was it like? And what's the difference with Peter Tägtgren?

He has a different head about frequencies and room/space, how it should sound, when it should be more direct. Hansen is into whole spaces/rooms, splitting the sound (stereo balances), how to put something. Peter is more in your face. I like them both. Hansen stands for mor variety. Plus, he's a good guitarist. So is Peter, but Hansen is more technical. Notice the harmonies in the beginning of "Devolution", that's Jacob.

Oh, I thought you had contacted a choir or so for that. (note by Tim: I was referring to "Vicious Circle - The Seven Deadly Sins", which starts with Gregorian chants. I only noticed recently Mike and I were talking about two different songs, hahaha. But Jacob apparently also made this possible, the chants.)

No, it's Jacob. He's a good musician, but he's mellow. Like when we asked him to play some leads on the album, he declined/refused in a modest manner, underestimating his skills. I like that, the modesty.

25 years: what are you most proud of?

It's like changing humanity. We changed humanity. When I was 15 years old, everyone looked at me because of the long hair and attitude. These days it's not a problem anymore for young people to be a Metalhead, to have long hair, etc. Perhaps for some. When I was young, old grannies were afraid of me, hahaha. That's what I'm proud about. The expectation of music is also better than 20 years ago. Many don't like it or perhaps once in a while they'll listen to it. People are more open-minded now. Metal looks bad, but its fans are nice people, and that's a good process.

Any special events for the 25th anniversary? I noticed you're going on a big tour later this year.

Yes, we'll do a tour. We'll also have the Mad Butcher on stage, like we did before, and some nice ladies when we have the space and money. Such things cost money and it's not always possible to do these things. We'll visit Brasil, Germany, Belgium, ...

Abandoned bandThere are three releases without Schmier. Did you still play Thrash then or was the music completely different?

It was technical Thrash, I think. Have you never heard it?

Nope. I saw on your website that they are considered non-official releases and since they're not available anymore... But the music still was heavy?

Yes, it was heavy. We tried a few things to experiment. I like it and needed that period to clear my head. You always have ideas, but you need to get them out. At that time we didn't have a record contract, so we released them ourselves. All in all it were good circumstances.

Are there plans to re-release the material?

Yes, lots of people ask for it. The singing is not like in DESTRUCTION, but it's still heavy. But whether or not it was Thrash... what is Thrash? For me it's all Heavy Metal or Hard Rock. It's just names.

(note by Tim: we have a little discussion about genres, why it's useful to have tags like Thrash, Death, Heavy, ... and then we come to Metalcore. Mike saying it has the worst stolen riffs or something along those lines. Says Mike: "Heavy Metal, Hard Rock... Iron that's heavy, something with a stone... In the end it could even be classical music in the future." And yes, we even talk about classical music and the link with Metal. Mike: "That's true. There are the classical structures of how tight, how loud it should be. It has a spirit. I like DEEP PURPLE and John Lord, who plays classical piano/keyboards. He likes Johan Sebastian Bach a lot, so do I. We like the same feeling behind the music. Back then they had no drums, no electricity, but big orchestras to sound big. It's all related." What follows is a moment about wine and champagne, something Mike likes very much. He mentioned Geldermann (sec), so I might try that one on a future occasion. But ofcourse the music matters most, so let's carry on.)

Last year "Thrash Anthems", a Best Of of the first 5 releases, came out. Will there be a "Thrash Anthems II" in the future?

You're the second one who's asking this. It's too early to plan this. It depends whether we can do this, maybe in 8 or 10 years. But right now it's too early. Will I still live then? Imagine playing a show in Spain and you're in a plane crash like what happened recently. And if I survive, will I still play music? I might have bone problems. It depends on luck. I would like to go on for a long time. Good examples are Lemmy Kilmister and Ronnie James Dio. They're pretty strong and I hope I can follow their lead.

Working with AFM: how satisfied are you? And how could you compare them with Nuclear Blast?

The start was sad and strange. Two days before we signed the contract, Henner (then label boss) died in a car crash. We were uncertain to sign, because it wasn't the same anymore. In the end everything went well. They do their best. But after the accident, it was strange. It would be different if he was still alive. AFM is weak in South America, but strong in Europe. Nuclear Blast is different. This is a major label. They're huge, as they have more connections, more power.

So you never experienced a situation where the label says "We want another fast/slow/midtempo song." or something like that?

We never had a label that told us what to do. If a label wants DESTRUCTION to change the style... If it concerns technical things like "Try this.." to improve a composition, riff, melody, that's different. We never changed a lot, just tiny things like guitar harmonies. SPV's Steamhammer did have influence. They tried to fool us, they wanted us to change the music and only then would they release it. We refused and so we went to court. They wanted to keep/preserve the name DESTRUCTION. It took us three years and lots of money. It was a money thing, after all. When signed with them, you can't sign with another label elsewhere. It was the 90s, when Nu-Metal was big.

Do you (the band) now have the right to the name and songs?

Yes, we'll have the rights to the old material later. They (Steamhammer) aren't bad guys, just ignorant. In the end they're human. I just want to get the tapes back to remix them. That's why we did "Thrash Anthems". We like the songs, not the recordings with the old technique. Maybe the sound (on the tapes) is still good, maybe it's gone. They're those 24-track tapes, big ones. Labels put them in warehouses, but only if they store them right can it turn out well.

You don't have any copies/back-ups of that? I thought that any band who gives the master to their label has a back-up on their own computer(s).

It was different at that time. Everything was on 24-track tapes, which are like film rolls. To change something you would have to change all tracks. The master could also be a small tape. To do it right, you need 24-track tapes. It's possible with the smaller tape, but the originals rule.

Destruction bandSchmier has HEADHUNTER, Marc has been in other bands and still is in LORD BRUMMELL and Volcano - if I'm correct - and has contributed to ROOKY. You on the other hand have always stayed true to Destruction. Were there never days that you wanted to have a second band? Or that other bands asked for a guest appearance?

DESTRUCTION is my baby. I'm lazy, more of a quiet person. I need space to develop new things. It's not that I don't do anything, since I regularly play accoustic guitar. Not every day and not to get better, since I'm too old. Music is a far field. One band is enough for me. Maybe one day I'll release those accoustic sessions. I like Jazz, too. (note by Tim: is that lifting the tip of the veil of any future works? Mike doing Jazz?)

There are a few guest musicians on "D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N.", like Vinnie Moore from UFO and Jeff Waters from ANNIHILATOR. How did they get involved?

It's a strange story regarding Vinnie Moore. Schmier met him at the Musik Messe in Germany at the bar. They started talking and he (Schmier) asked if he (Vinnie) could do a solo for the album. He had done it with VICIOUS RUMORS when he was younger. Vinie knew DESTRUCTION and I agreed with him doing a solo. He was on tour with UFO and right after that he recorded the piece. About Jeff, we've known him for a long time, also from on tour. We knew he likes DESTRUCTION. It's nice to have good players on the album. On "Inventor Of Evil" we had several singers ("The Alliance Of Hellhoundz") and especially with Biff (Byford, SAXON) it was funny. He walked backstage, at 2 a.m. at night. He recorded the piece on our laptop. He's a hero and very sure about himself. It's not easy backstage, but he managed. He's famous, but he doesn't act like it, he stays modest.

Apparently there will also be a DVD for your 25th Anniversary. How different will it be from the "Live Discharge" one?

There will be better recordings, reunions with old members, interviews, old material, ... I don't now how much different it will be and we still have to talk to the label to know if we'll put it on one or two DVDs. We'll probably record new stuff on the upcoming tour and there might be a live CD, too. The DVD will come out after the tour, next year or so. We have a lot of things to watch and select.

The audience consists mostly of youngsters between 20-30, but not as much 40ers. Don't you sometimes wish there were more people/fans of your age, from when you/DESTRUCTION started?

A lot have families, they have children. Some bring them along, especially on festivals, where you'll see much older people. For many of them it's a holiday. But then there are some that are too lazy. older people are a bit lazier, have seen lots of shows in the past. But there are still enough out there who do enjoy coming to gigs. Plus, we have more variety in age if you compare with Pop gigs, which is kids-oriented. Take TOKIO HOTEL for example. The band might be successful, but the audience is boring. We have everything, even old people of up to 80 years.

Are you serious?

Yes, especially in South America and Eastern Europe this is the case.

Speaking of fans, and in a way of reviews: do you keep certain requests, criticism in mind regarding the music?

When it comes from fans, it's that they're telling us something. Schmier then informs me and I have to listen. It depends if someone doesn't know what he/she is talking about. I don't like narrow-minded people and by that I'm referring to the classic Thrashfans, who say that we should go back to out old sound, like it was in the 80s. Everyone made that period, but why keep on doing the same? It's no fun for musicians to play the same, you have to develop. It must be fun. General criticism is alright. Lots of people talk and don't even know how to play an instrument.

Setlists: how easy or difficult is it to choose enough or the right songs? And do you prefer to focus on the more known ones?

It's a hard fight. We have to play "Mad Butcher" and others, else people won't like it. There is only one solution and that's a long show. Normally we play one and a half hours, but a long Thrash show can be tiresome for both crowd and band. On our upcoming tour we'll play four new songs. It's tough to choose, we must discuss with each other to know which ones. Although we have lots of classics, they're not all classic to me. Lots of people ask for the strangest songs, stuff we've never played live.

Aren't you sort of avoiding the less known songs in most cases?

There's "Curse The Gods", for example. It's not possible to play all songs. We change setlists during tours, so if you can make it to more shows, you'll hear different setlists.

Destruction band25 years of Metal, well, almost, since there was a sort of 'break' in the 90s. Never had any hearing problems?

A lot. I guess they're ok. I like it loud. It's the same with Schmier, he doesn't have a problem. Sometimes, when it's awfully loud, it's killing me. The peeps, I mean, but it doesn't last that long. I can take it, but not too much. I don't use earplugs, since I'm not used to them. They also might change the sound. If the frequencies and sound are good, then all is well. It wa smy dream to play loud. When I played accoustically, I tuned it up to resemble that of an electric guitar. At the time of my first amp it was like BOOM!, hahaha.

Rhythm or lead? And for solos, do you do any special practise?

I prefer riffs, but my left hand isn't so fast (anymore). I can't play scales like Yngwie Malmsteen. I have better ears for chords and find it more interesting to colour with chords. I can't play based on leads, even though I like to play 'em as well, also because of the total colouring.

Do you maintain what you're already capable of or do you try new things from time to time?

When I compose, practise, I put a riff on a beat and try to fix that via the beat, if needed. When you record for a first time, there's ofcourse lots of practise involved to be good enough. I don't buy books about technique. I tried it, but it didn't work. I like to play on the sofa and practise harmonies. That's what I like with practising. Once in a while I try some accoustic stuff for my right hand (times and things like that), but I started it too late. One day I would like to play classical stuff. You can learn a lot by diversifying, maybe even via the piano.

Are you still nervous when going on stage?

No, not really. Only when the sound or technics fuck up. Especially at festivals you can get your cable broken.

Like at Wacken several years ago.

I had problems every two shows and that was very annoying. Now the problems have been gone since two years. But you have to be able to deal with them, else you might get bad feelings if you don't know what to do. One solution to suppress nervosity is a good shot of alcohol and then do your thing. The ROLLING STONES, why do they still play? Because they like to be on stage. They're Rock 'n' Roll junkies, hahaha. It's like bungee jumping, for example. It's a feeling people search for. It's the same on stage, there's the same chemical in your head.

Alrighty, Mike. Wir sind fertig, we're done. Many thanks for doing this interview and in advance good luck with the upcoming tour and ofcourse the new album.

No problem, it's been a pleasure.

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