When we asked to review the pre-release of “XI” for Metal Nexus (Please see: Metal Church “XI”, for the review), we had no idea that Metal Church would be so gracious as to offer us an interview. When we found out that the interview was going to be personally handled by Kurdt Vanderhoof himself, there was collective gasp among the staff. The Man himself! We are truly honored!
Prelude to the interview:
I realize that this in not conventional but I think it has to be said, so here we go…
Honestly, I was overwhelmed when preparing for this interview. What does one ask a legendary band like Metal Church that has been in the business for so long, been through so much and been asked every question imaginable a thousand times? Once I settled down, wrapped my head around the task at hand and talked to as many people as I could to get their input about what they would like to know about Metal Church, something altogether different emerged, so please bear with me for a moment:
This has become very personal for me, so let’s lose the mask so that I can speak to you as Pat Quick, the regular guy before I ask my questions as Odyssey, the writer. When talking to anyone about Heavy Metal, Metal Church is sure to come up; almost without exception. As fans and musicians, your influence is universal, undeniable, far reaching and very personal. We have had a thirty year relationship with your band and its music that is part of the foundational DNA of the genre, our personal music (composing, playing and listening tastes) and our everyday lives. Metal Church has had the rare ability to touch us in a way few bands have aspired to; inviting us in as brothers and sisters instead of as mere spectators. We have rejoiced with you during the highs and hurt beside you during the lows; through all of the ever-changing iterations Metal Church. I don’t share this with you as shallow flattery or “hero worship”, instead as statements of fact. With that said, I think am safely speaking for fans all over the world that may never have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: THANK YOU! Thank you for persevering over the course of thirty years. Thank you for your time and all of your hard work! Thank you for pouring your hearts and souls into your very special brand of Metal! When I talked to friends, fellow fans and colleagues about what they would like to know, I got very few questions. Instead I got a flurry of “favorite band”, “favorite song(s)”, “Top-10”,“favorite albums”, “most influenced by” statements about Metal Church along with stories dating back as far as thirty years about what your music has meant to them over all these years (many of them my own)! As artists, musicians, hell, as human beings, you need to hear that your efforts are relevant, meaningful and do make a difference in this world; not just everyone wanting something from you. For that: a heart-felt and sincere THANK YOU for “making it personal” for all of us!
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Hey Pat! Thanks very much! Your kind words are most certainly not lost on me! I can‘t tell you how much I appreciate it. – Kurdt
Odyssey: Let’s go straight to the burning question everyone I’ve talked to is asking and so excited about: After Ronny Munroe left the band in 2014, what sparked the reunion with Mike Howe after 23 years? Did it feel like a reunion or like a new band? From your perspective, what has been your fans’ response to Howe’s return? How did this affect your mindset, song-writing style/process writing “XI” versus your last album, “Generation Nothing”? (as an addendum: I just listened to “XI” and it is stellar! You never disappoint, but this is the album Metal Church fans have been anticipating! My review to follow shortly…)
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It has felt totally like a reunion! The response has overwhelmed all of us. It feels like its 1993 again in a very strange kind of way. Well, I intentionally wrote for Mike on this. The Howe era of MC was a bit more on the melodic side and I much prefer that. So the songs were written to try to pick up where we left off on “Hangin”. And from what I am hearing these days, it seems my plan has worked. LOL And I can‘t tell you how happy and grateful I am that people seem to really like this record.
Odyssey: How have you maintained that unmistakable “Metal Church” sound and passion over so many years and band members? How do you go about choosing band members to this end? Since you are such a long-standing band, how does adding a new member affect Metal Church as a whole? What is your relationship with Firewolfe guitarist Paul Kleff and Savatage/Tran-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Chris Caffery (Jeff Plate’s association with Savatage/TSO would be a best guess, but I don’t want to make inappropriate assumptions) that prompted taking them on the road with you while Rick Van Zadnt heals? Any news on his prognosis/recovery?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: I really have no idea actually but I‘m extremely happy to hear that it has remained consistent. I have always tried to make the best record possible at that time. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but you have to keep making music and realize that all careers have ups and downs. When Rick had to go into surgery the night before the 1st show, we knew Paul had already learned a majority of our set so it was an instant decision to fly him at the last minute. He really stepped up and saved our butts! He is a great musician and a good soul. The Chris Cafferey thing just seemed like the logical choice for the tour. He has been one of ours for many years and we now have a chance to play together which I‘m really looking forward to. Rick will be back in action with us when we head over to Europe in May. He is doing very well and will make a complete recovery from surgery to repair a detached retina.
Odyssey: In regards to touring: I see that your are touring in the United States and overseas for a large part of 2016. Is there a difference in the crowd’s response to Metal Church here versus internationally? How has touring changed over your many years on the road? Do you prefer small venues, large venues or festivals and why? If you could choose three bands, who would you love to tour with? Have there been any lesser known bands that you have toured with that we need to watch out for? What have been some of your favorite tour mates? Any good tour stories we have never heard before?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: In Europe it‘s a bit different only because I think the genre is more popular there but, metal shows are metal shows no matter where you go, and that‘s very cool! Both large venues are great but for completely different reasons. I like playing both. Touring is still basically the same but with all the new technology i.e. smart phones its a bit less of a headache LOL You can be in touch with promoters, hotels, music stores etc… at any time. We used to have to stop at pay phones all the time or our tour manager would be in his room 24/7 on the phone. That‘s only one way its changed. For me, I actually enjoy it more now than I did back in the day. I would love to go out with Queensryche. I think that would be a great show. I would love to do some shows with The Darkness. Love those guys! There really is lots of bands I would love to work with. I hope to come across some new bands as we start getting back to work. The Metallica tour holds very fond memories for me and of course Anthrax.
Odyssey: Since you have been around the block more than a few times, do you find it hard/easy to appeal to new fans, especially those that have fallen into the “what’s cool”, “what’s real Metal” and splintering it into these (what I believe are generally, artificial) sub-genres? Speaking of the younger crowd, are there any new guitarists, drummers, bass players, bands, etc. that you admire and/or are currently influencing your musical palette? How has the modern music world changed (positively and/or negatively) for you over the years: especially after the break up due to your well documented frustration with the industry and then resurrection years later?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: That‘s a good question but you really can‘t think about it like that. I make music and I try to put as much integrity and passion into it as humanly possible and hope that it will translate and speak to people. Some people it will and some it won‘t. So I just try to do the best work I can. My current fav bands are Blackberry Smoke , The Darkness, and I am really digging the last couple of Opeth records. I really was very reluctant to embrace the new music industry at first. But since I have I have found that it is PERFECT for someone like me. I like to make my own records and put them out. So its really all DIY now. We work with Ratpak Records and its all VERY hands on and no big corporate thing. It‘s just music fans making music and putting out records. Ratpak work very very hard and its really my dream arrangement now. For Metal Church and Presto Ballet.
Odyssey: As it stands today, what is your vision of Metal Church in the future?
Kurdt Vanderhoof: Well, its really exciting because with the new music industry, we can continue as long as we feel it! And with Mike back its such a great positive vibe in the band now and we are having a great time. Im actually in such a state of gratitude that I still can do this , Im very very fortunate. Life is Good!!!
As is traditional for any Metal Nexus interview, the floor is open to you (rants, parting thoughts or anything else you would like us to pass along)…
Kurdt Vanderhoof: It really means a lot to us that people have stuck with us all these years. I bow to you all!!!!