Interview with guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 13, 2014
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Interview pictures by Marcus Tallberg
Metal Church's name has surely passed the lips of most Metalheads over the course of time. As with every other band, Metal Church has had ups and down during a long career that has spanned well over 30 years. Many of us are most familiar with their first two albums; Metal Church and the follow-up, The Dark, both of which are rightly regarded as classics. Metal Church's 10th album, Generation Nothing, was released in the fall of 2013 on the band's new label, Rat Pak Records, and the band has been working their asses off to promote it by playing a good number of shows (Winter Tour 2014 in their home country and some festivals in Europe).
The Metal Crypt caught up with Metal Church founding member, guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, at Tuska festival in Helsinki Finland on June 28th, to talk about the current state of Metal Church, past times and many other things as well.
Luxi: First off, thanks for coming over to Finland and playing for your Finnish fans here. Was this your first time playing in Finland? How did you like playing at Tuska festival? The crowd seemed to really enjoy your performance while you were there on stage...
Kurdt: This is the first time Metal Church has been here, yup! The show was great! The Festival looks awesome! Of course, we talked earlier about the airline losing our luggage when we came over, mainly our guitars. Some of the luggage we got, like fortunately Jeff (drummer Jeff Plate – ed.) got his pedals and some of his stuff but none of our guitars showed up so we had to slap together gear to get through the show. We might have had a few technical difficulties but it is really nice to finally be here. It's really great.
Luxi: Now you are doing a bunch of festival shows here in Europe and tomorrow you are going to play at Graspop festival in Belgium, which is your last show for time being here in Europe. What will happen after that?
Kurdt: That's our last show and then we go home on Monday. We are working on a new record and doing some stuff like that then we'll do some shows in America with Accept in September and that's all we have booked right at the moment. But they are actually starting to book festivals for next year and we're starting to talk about those already.
Luxi: Are you trying to get your new album out before then?
Kurdt: Oh yeah, it isn't necessarily a follow up to Generation Nothing, we're just having a bit of fun in the studio right now and it should be out by the end of the summer.
Luxi: How much pleasure do you get playing at the bigger festivals? Do you love to play in front of bigger crowds more so than playing at small clubs?
Kurdt: Playing at places like Tuska is the best, especially for a band like us that has been around for as long as we have, seeing people out there singing our songs in a country very far away from where we are from, there's nothing more flattering than that. Especially after all these years to have people still care, there's nothing better than that. The festivals are fun because they are big and you can play "rock star," that's fun, but there's a lot of fun about the clubs, too, when they get all packed and hot and sweaty. When everybody's in to what you're doing and the band is playing well that's what it's all about. Nothing beats it when everyone has a smile on their face.
Luxi: Obviously some of the downsides of traveling from one place to another when doing these tours, are the stops at airports when you need to wait and wait to get to the plane. Do you ever get used to it? Have you come up with ways to kill time when you are waiting?
Kurdt: I don't think that ever gets fun, haha! Thank God for the Internet and cell phones and stuff. Everybody just starts staring at a screen but it makes it easier to stay in touch with home and take care of business. We can't do what we did when we were kids, which was kill time with drinks and drugs. You can't do that at our age. Well, you can, but it's probably not recommended, haha! Hangovers last three days now. I get to the hotel, wake up and look for the gym now. Makes me feel healthy and like I'll be able to keep doing this for a little longer.
Luxi: Generation Nothing is the title of Metal Church's 10th studio album. Could you tell us about the title?
Kurdt: Absolutely. It isn't necessarily about a particular age group, but it kind of is, it is more about a particular mindset. It is kind of about today's kids, you know, their friends are fake, their activities are fake, their music is certainly fake, everything is computer generated and on Facebook. They don't have the motor skills to do anything but they can fuck around with an iPhone. They don't know how to actually play instruments anymore so everything they do is virtual so the whole album is kind of about the ramifications of that. And as much of a fan as I am about the cool things of the digital age we have to find balance, especially the younger generation who've grown up with all that technology. We didn't grow up with it, we've certainly adapted to it and welcomed it, but we know the difference between virtual and real. A lot of kids don't, especially in America with the obesity problem and kids who sit around and don't do anything. We used to get home from school and go out and play. Kids today just come home and do this (mimics playing a video game – ed.) The album is about that. We've got a generation of half-baked idiots who can run a computer but can't function in the world.
Luxi: Do you believe a lot of people today care less about their surroundings and live like there's no tomorrow?
Kurdt: I don't think they know the difference. I don't know if they even think about it. It is all about what is on that little or big screen. Anything they want is all right there for them. We can interact in ways that aren't real and a lot of young people don't have social skills anymore. It's kind of fucked up! That's not the way it was intended to be. There are some wonderful things about the digital age, especially the good side of what it's done for the music industry. It took me a while to get to that point but I've embraced it. It makes it possible for old guys, like us, to keep playing because there's a direct link between the artists and fans. Those are the good things but there are people who don't know how to have balance and that's what it's about.
Luxi: Musically, you have taken a few steps back to Metal Church's old sound for this new record, the sound you had on your debut album and The Dark, while still having a modern twist. When you started the songwriting process for Generation Nothing, did you have a clear vision of how the album should sound or did it all become clear during the songwriting process?
Kurdt: We had a clear picture and it was very deliberate. We knew we had to get back to that but I also wanted it to be an updated version. With a band that's been around for a million years like us (*laughs*) with all the various lineup changes, it is real easy to get frustrated chasing the past. We didn't want to do that but still get to the essence of what the band was. It took a while to get my head into that frame of mind because I'm not 22 anymore and I don't feel the same way about things and I'm not that pissed off anymore. It is hard to get that back and I needed to channel that but in a way that is real and not try to fake it. It took some work to get my head around that and write in that respect.
Luxi: The time gap between this new album and the previous one, This Present Wasteland, is five years. What kind of things delayed Generation Nothing?
Kurdt: We split up and threw in the towel for a while. We weren't, well, we were trying to things the old way. We were trying to do things old school, with record companies. Those rules don't apply anymore. Now, we do everything on my label, with Rat Pak Records, and they do distribution and promotion and we do everything ourselves. I make the records on my label and we're in complete control and that made doing this much more appealing. If we sell a record, we know it, so if there's a download, we know it, except for the piracy, obviously. And that shows in the record and it is why it's better than the last couple; we were more into it. I've always made the best record I could, at that time, and that changes over everyone's career. There are good records and some that aren't very good and you have to live with that.
Luxi: Perhaps it's a bit too early to ask you this but do you have any new material ready for Metal Church's next release?
Kurdt: We only have a couple of new songs and they have the same vibe because we got our stride back on Generation Nothing. It's going down that road but I don't want to repeat it and make the same record. We will take a couple of chances that will hopefully expand the horizon of what Metal Church sounds like, but in a way that everybody gets.
Luxi: Generation Nothing is the first album on your new label Rat Pak Records. Were you unhappy with Steamhammer, the label that released your last four albums? How has Rat Pak been to work with?
Kurdt: My label is Body of Work Recordings but we're running my label through Rat Pak Records. Rat Pak is doing product distribution and promotion but I'm making the records. We are working in conjunction with them and it is great. We can make the records at our pace, deliver it to them and they promote it. Steamhammer was great to us over the years but the industry has changed. It wasn't their fault and there are great people over there but we don't need them anymore. We've only done one album with Rat Pak, we wanted to see how it would go. Joe, the owner, and I have become good friends and we've now signed with them for three more albums. Now we can really start working together because each party is committed to the other. The experience with Generation Nothing was great. I now have someone I can call and ask about what is happening versus leaving a message at a big office and getting a call from someone in Germany and blah, blah, blah.
Luxi: How has the music industry changed since Metal Church got started in the early 80s? There are so many labels and so many artists today...
Kurdt: Well, I can't keep up with it, so I just stick with my 70s rock and listen to that, hahaha! Most new bands are crap, I'm sorry to say. The Generation Nothing factor is starting to rear its head in new rock music. This generation has rap and hip-hop? That's done so much damage to the art form, it isn't funny. The art form of rock music is paying the price. The bar for what's acceptable as pop music, or even just music, has dropped so low and the kids accept it because it is their thing and they have no musical skills so no one is getting any better. There are exceptions, bands that are flying the flag of rock music, but the majority, you know. There's this big festival in America, Coachella, and I had never heard of it and felt stupid when I realized how big it was. Then I saw some stuff they filmed and put on TV and was shocked and horrified to see this huge crowd of kids dancing and on the stage is a fucking DJ! I coined the phrase "generation nothing" right there. They are missing out on so much.
Luxi: It seems harder for bands to survive with all the competition today; you need to be lucky, right?
Kurdt: I don't know if it is lucky and in some respects it is easier today. When we were coming up you had to beg for the almighty record deal. They don't have to do that today but it is still hard to get people to notice you. I don't think it has gotten more competitive just way more crowded. Suddenly, anyone with a computer is a producer. No, you're not. Just because you have the software doesn't mean you don't have to listen and learn. There are a ton of people putting out records that a just coasters, haha! Someone like you must get tons of that stuff everyday and when something sticks out, it must be great, but you have to sift through a whole bunch of stuff.
Luxi: What about people who download music for free...
Kurdt: Piracy? I have a lot of trouble with that because again, Generation Nothing thinks it should be free because they don't know what it takes to make these records. They don't know how much money, skill or time it takes to make records because they grew up thinking if you have a record out you must be reach and don't need the money. Metallica wasn't fighting for themselves, they didn't need the money, they were fighting for the little guy because they could see what was coming. It's a big problem but people are starting to realize it and spending the $10 to download the album. You take the good with the bad.
Luxi: Metal Church changed its name to Shrapnel in 1981 – and then back to its original name Metal Church again in 1983. Was it easy to get recognized and get gigs for a new band (Shrapnel or Metal Church) some 30+ years ago?
Kurdt: Shapnel was the name we used when I went back to Washington because we were just doing covers and trying to get the lineup together. Once we had the right lineup, we went back to Metal Church. We didn't want to play high school dances as Metal Church, haha! And it was easy to get recognized because the whole movement was happening, even in America. We were part of something new and exciting and people knew something was going on. There were only a few bands, like Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and us, besides the British ones, at that time.
Luxi: Metal Church was also the nickname for your apartment in San Francisco in the early 80s. Should I be a bit envious of your old apartment now? It all sounds like you were lucky enough to live in some sort of a castle... ;o)
Kurdt: We called it the Metal Church because it was where we hung out and partied and listened to the imports records from Iron Maiden, Saxon and Motorhead, haha! We called it the Metal Church because we were goofy kids and then, when i couldn't come up with a band name, we just called it "Metal Church" because we all lived in the same apartment building.
Luxi: There's this story of Lars Ulrich trying out to play drums for Metal Church...
Kurdt: What happened with that was he came to San Francisco and hung out for a while, but he was on his way to L.A. to live with his dad. He wanted to start a band but we just hung out and never played together because he had to move to L.A. He met James and the rest is history.
Luxi: What made you move out of San Francisco and back to your original hometown of Aberdeen, Washington?
Kurdt: That's where I grew up and I couldn't get the band together in San Francisco. New Wave was still really hip and cool and trying to find people who could play, wanted to play metal, weren't on drugs or at least not fucked up too bad, just wasn't coming together. I said "screw it" and moved back to Washington and got it together with guys I knew in high school.
Luxi: Anyways, was it your 4-track demo, known as Four Hymns, that got the recording deal for Metal Church?
Kurdt: No, we made the first record on our own and that's what got us the record deal with Elektra.
Luxi: That was the album that was released in Europe with the bonus track?
Kurdt: Um, yeah, it was the first record that had "Big Guns."
Luxi: Those early days seem to have been very hectic for Metal Church. What do you remember about them?
Kurdt: I remember most all of it! Doing the Master of Puppets tour with Metallica was huge because we had our own fans, too. The shows were crazy and we were young kids so we were immortal, you know. We could drink and do drugs and party our brains out have no repercussions. We soon found out that wasn't true, but those were they days we were living in so it was a lot of fun.
Luxi: The tour with Metallica was just in the States?
Kurdt: Nope, States, Canada and Europe. The whole tour with Jason Newsted after he joined the band.
Luxi: Back to the present for one more question; what would you like to do or achieve with Metal Church within the next 5 or 10 years?
Kurdt: There are tons more I want to do! With the changes to the music industry, it took the chains off us old guys. I'm hoping my best work with both Metal Church and Presto Ballet, my prog band, is still ahead of me. There's some things I'd like to try with Metal Church, maybe some concept work or thematic stuff.
Luxi: You feel like Metal Church has been "born again?"
Kurdt: Yeah, this current lineup has been together longer than the original lineup was. That speaks volumes for how well it is working. And I understand there are fans who prefer Dave (original singer David Wayne – ed.) or Mike (Mike Howe, who replaced Wayne on Metal Church's third album, Blessing in Disguise in 1989 – ed.) and there are bands I'm a fan of that have changed so much that I'm no longer interested. But I think with Generation Nothing, we've caught some ears because the record is good and people realize we're serious. It's great to go to shows and see nothing but bald heads and gray hair and people holding their kids' hands.
Luxi: Thanks a lot for your time, Kurdt. It was a pleasure to interview you and all the best with the band as well!
Kurdt: Thanks! As long as people keep showing up, we'll keep going!
|Other information about Metal Church on this site|
|Review: The Dark|
|Review: Metal Church|
|Review: Hanging in the Balance|
|Review: This Present Wasteland|
|Review: The Weight of the World|
|Review: Blessing in Disguise|
|Review: A Light in the Dark|
|Video: Watch the Children Pray|
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