Interview with vocalist and bassist Paul Speckmann
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 17, 2023
Death Strike, a punk-fueled thrash/death metal band originally formed in Chicago, Illinois back in 1984, recorded their groundbreaking debut album, Fuckin' Death, in 1985. It soon found its way to the tape-trading scene, then Nuclear Blast Records released it officially six years later. Since the original release, the album has been re-released on a number of different labels.
Death Strike was a short-lived act, while founder Paul Speckman's other band, Master, has had a long career with 14 studio albums with the latest, Vindictive Miscreant, released by Transcending Obscurity Records on November 28, 2018.
Paul relocated from Chicago in 1999/2000 to Uherské Hradiště, Czech Republic, where he's continued to churn out music with Master for the last 23-24 years. Death Strike has been resurrected, after Master was put on ice for a short moment due to the huge demand from fans. However, Paul & co. are not about to create any new material with Death Strike; gigs only.
The Metal Crypt contacted Paul to ask about his plans for the latter half of 2023 as well as 2024.
Hi Paul! How are you doing these days?
Paul: Doing well. Thanks for asking and I am so sorry I'm late. I was outside mowing the lawn.
FINLAND – ARE YOU READY?
No problem at all. To get started, I heard from a friend of mine a while ago that you are going to play two shows in Helsinki, Finland on October 19th and 20th 2023 and one of those shows will be done with Master and the other with Death Strike. Where did you get the idea for those two shows?
Paul: Alex really likes Death Strike, so he's always trying to get me to come back. We did some shows with Death Strike and some Master shows with Alex as well years ago. He's always pestering me to come back, so we thought we would try it again. We don't really get many offers in Scandinavia these days. Any time we have a chance, of course, I want to come back. I think the last couple of shows were in Finland. We had two shows in Finland a few years ago. It's nice to come to Finland.
Any gig offers from other northern European countries like Sweden or Norway?
Paul: We had two shows in Norway maybe a little over a year ago. We don't get offers in Denmark very often and hardly ever in Sweden. That's just the way it is. I don't know why.
Have you planned something special for each night?
Paul: Well, I changed the setlist around a bit. I got rid of some old songs and put in some other old songs. I guess that's a change. When you play as many shows as I do, you normally play the same set every night. It's just the way it is. Just recently I told the guys, "Okay, let's get rid of five songs and let's add five other old songs." We've been working on those. It is a new set.
The problem is when you play in a band, quite a few fans want to hear certain songs every time you play. "Pledge of Allegiance" or "The Truth" or "Mangled Dehumanization," I'm going to have to play the rest of my life. Lemmy was always forced to play "Overkill" whether he wanted to or not. I read an interview where he said, "Oh, I don't have a choice. The fans still want to hear these songs."
That's very true. Some songs are mandatory numbers that you need to play every time because your fans expect to hear them...
Paul: Yes, but like I said, sometimes it gets old. I would rather change the whole set and play something completely different. Then your response from the crowd may be confused because many of them love your first couple albums. Maybe you like the later albums. This is a problem sometimes.
TWO NIGHTS OF DECENT HEAVY METAL
Have you heard of any of the Finnish bands that will be on the bill for those two nights?
Paul: Honestly, no, but it doesn't matter. I always look forward to hearing new bands. Obviously, I have to trust the promoter. If he thinks these bands are good, then they must be good. That's how I look at it.
Do you have any idea why this event in October is called "Two Nights of Decent Heavy Metal"? When I looked at all of the band names that are going to be on the bill, I would call it "Two Nights of Brilliant Heavy Metal" or something along those lines.
Paul: Yes, I understand you. When I looked at the poster, I was confused as well. A lot of my friends around the world are writing and saying, "This is great metal, what on earth do you mean decent metal?" I don't know if it was a mistake on Alex's part or some joke. I'm not really sure.
It must be some twisted inside joke, I guess.
Paul: Yes, okay, maybe.
"WE ARE OUT OF THE BAND..."
This won't be your first time in Finland because you've been here quite a few times before. The last time you made it to Finland was seven years ago in 2016 when you were on your "Epiphany of Hate" tour with Master. You "almost" made it to Helsinki 2019 with Death Strike, but then something odd and very mysterious happened when you were already here. Could you enlighten me about this unfortunate episode?
Paul: Sure, there's no mystery at all. I'll tell you the story. I went to bed that night, and we had a Death Strike rehearsal maybe on Wednesday or something. I went to bed that night, and the phone rang in the middle of the night, and it was the promoter, Alex. He read online that the guitar player and the drummer from Master and Abomination no longer wanted to work with me, and they quit the band. This is what happened. It wasn't his fault, and it wasn't my fault. The flight tickets were already booked, and the guys didn't come to me and tell me about it. They just wrote it on Facebook and said they no longer were working with the band. I told Alex it's in the best interest to cancel. We had no choice, really.
Obviously, this was some years ago, and after COVID, the guitar player came back to the band. Alex is back in the band. The drummer, Zdeněk (Pradlovský) plays in like five or six other bands. We see each other frequently. It's like we're rehearsing in the same rehearsal studio, my drum set and his drum set. It's water under the bridge and we have a different drummer. Alex is back in the band. It was bad for the fans, and obviously, it was bad for the promoter, Alex. I realized that, and it was also shit for me. I had to put together a new band, and that actually worked out for over a year. Things were going well, and then COVID hit and ruined everything again.
With the COVID situation, the guys ended up staying in America, which I couldn't blame them for. They were afraid to come over here and they didn't want to be away from their families, et cetera, et cetera. They went home, and I wrote something online that I'm looking for some new musicians, after the COVID bullshit was lifted. The guitar player said that he would be interested in coming back, and another drummer that I had worked with 10 years before, he was also interested, and we've been working together ever since.
We had a really busy year last year, a really busy year this year, and next year looks busy as well. Things are looking up. I just want to say really quickly that I apologize to my fans. At the time, I didn't respond to the message from the guys, and I didn't respond to anything about what happened, because it was just embarrassing, the whole situation. Now, three years later, looking back on it, okay, shit happens. For my fans out there, we're going to be there this time, and we're not going to cancel. The flights are booked, and we're coming, and so we'll see you there.
THE LEGACY OF DEATH STRIKE MUST GO ON...
That's nice to hear. Death Strike released just one album, Fuckin' Death, originally on Nuclear Blast Records, which is considered something of an iconic metal record. Is one of the main reasons you want to keep the Death Strike alive that there's a whole new generation of metal fans out there who didn't have the opportunity to hear the album when it came out back in 1995?
Paul: Exactly. I do these Death Strike offshoot shows probably two or three a year, not often. When I get an offer, I'll do it, because as you said, it's great to share the songs in their original form. They're slower, more like they were back in the day. As you said, it's good to share them with the newer fans as well as the older fans that never got a chance to see Death Strike back in the day. We recorded that demo, but we never played. The band was together for maybe two months. We recorded the demo and we split up. That was the end of it. It was really a short-lived thing. I never played a show with the original lineup, which is a sad thing, but at least for the older fans and the younger fans, it's a chance to enjoy the music. Of course, I enjoy playing these songs as well, so it's a highlight for me, too.
Would you say playing live in front of your fans is your lifeblood?
Paul: Yes, of course. I'm not going to name any names here or criticize anybody, but there are some guys that put out music and never go out and tour, never play concerts. These concerts are my life. There are 72 concerts coming, probably over 100 by the next two months, but I'm still working on more stuff. Without these concerts, there is no life for me. As you said, it's my lifeblood. That's it. I want to get out and play whether there's 20 people or 5,000, sometimes it happens both ways. The point is, I enjoy it so much that I can't live without it. This is what I do.
Have you ever thought about making second Death Strike album?
Paul: No. In my opinion, you can never go back and capture a moment like that. It was 1984 or ‘85. You can't capture that moment again. It was a different time in my life and a different time in metal, period. We were just experimenting. This was one of the earliest "death metal" or whatever you want to call it, recordings, and we were just guessing, we were just trying to do something new and fresh. To go back to that, I don't think it's possible. I know some of these guys think they can go back and re-record an album or redo an album, but man, it's a different time and place. There's no way you're going to capture the same feeling.
For example, a lot of people complain about this today, "Oh, have you ever heard Speckmann sing on the Death Strike album?" There's no way I can sing like I sang on the Death Strike album. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I never sang before, and you know what? There was no practice for the vocals in the studio. I sang those songs for the first time and the last time in my life when we did the demo. That's why they sound the way they did, raw or whatever. I was in my early ‘20s, my voice was different than it is at 60 years old.
Of course, I can't sing like I did then, I'm 60 years old now, come on dude. I smile when people get goofy about it, and they're like, "Oh, he was a good singer on that first demo." Come on, dude, the first demo was 1985, it's fucking 35 years ago. Of course, I was a great, young singer who didn't know what the fuck he was doing, smoking pot, drinking and just screaming his ass off in the studio and hoping that it came out cool.
I guess you could say it was a very cool learning experience for you to be in the studio environment and recording those Death Strike songs as a young bloke, right?
Paul: Sure, but when we did the Master album, let's say a year later or whatever, I had a lot more practice. My voice was a bit different, but I had a lot more practice and I had a bit more control. Some people like Death Strike better than anything, but as I said, it's because we went into the studio and we didn't know what we were doing. We were writing the vocals in the studio sometimes. Like with "Re-entry and Destruction," we wrote the vocals in the studio. Nobody knew what the fuck was going to happen. We were actually looking for a singer. We couldn't find anybody, so the guy said, "Paul, you're going to be the singer." I said, "Fuck it, I have to try it." I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
THE 2023 LINE-UP AND LABEL MATTERS
What's the line-up right now that you have for Death Strike and Master?
Paul: Alex is back, as is drummer Peter (Bajci), who we had when Zdeněk quit the first time, which was in 2010. We had Peter for about a year and then Zdeněk came back. Peter played about 50 concerts with us. He's a great drummer, and now he's really great because he's been playing with us again. He didn't play for five years, but he came back and started practicing and started playing a bunch of shows with us, and now he's great. We recorded a new album. It's been finished for about three months.
The record company, Hammerheart Records, wants to do a special release, and they're not pushing it. It's coming out in February 2024. It's a great album. The record company thinks it's the best album we have ever recorded. I'll say that maybe people will think that it's great. We'll see. Time will tell. It'll be coming out on Hammerheart Records and Napalm distribution in February. It'll be the first record that I've put out where we have distribution that's not mail-order catalog or underground BS bullshit.
Hammerheart Records reissued my entire catalog on CD last year. You can find the CDs in stores around the entire universe, period, in every country of the world, USA, et cetera, important places where Master and Death Strike were never available. Like in the USA, where they haven't been available in 25 years, maybe. Now the fans can find my records everywhere across the globe, even in Japan, for example. This is a good thing. The good thing about having the new album coming out next year in February, is it will be the first opportunity for me since Nuclear Blast to have a record available worldwide at the same time. I have my fingers crossed that it works. I hope people buy it. We'll see.
Did it demand extra work from you to get those reissues released and did your label want to get some extra material for them?
Paul: There are no extras on the reissues. They wanted to do them in their original form, cover, et cetera. The only difference is they're all remastered and sound better. It's the same with the vinyl that they are releasing now. They sound better after remastering, of course, in my opinion. Next year and the year after there will be some extras. We're going to start doing special box sets with old stuff that people have never heard, a lot of old live recordings, et cetera. The problem is that everything pretty much has been released. I'm looking for live shows and things, and I've been finding them, a lot of old stuff that nobody has heard before. That's one good thing.
...and there's no decent live footage available from Death Strike that would definitely make some Death Strike fans happy and satisfied, including yours truly.
Paul: There never was a show from Death Strike. Let me give you a good example. For one of the Death Strike shows in your country, there's a live recording. It's 40 seconds. Some dumbass didn't record the whole show, and the sound on that 40 seconds is incredible. I was in shock. I was so disappointed that whoever shot that 40 seconds didn't shoot the show, because the sound was incredible, really great. It's sad. I don't know, maybe some live Death Strike recording will come out. We can only hope.
You have released so many songs during your career, does it get harder and harder to write new material that you are pleased with?
Paul: No. I'm writing riffs all the time and they're still coming to me. I don't have that writer's block that people have. I still have tons of songs and I just go with them and hope for the best. If I like them, they're good, but that doesn't mean everybody's going to like them. It's like a crapshoot. I recorded this whole album, I sent it to the record company and they're shitting a brick, they love it.
I sent just a couple of tracks to some friends around the world. I'm not supposed to do that, but I did it anyway. Everybody really likes the new material so I can only hope that the rest of the world likes it.
When you jam and find a cool riff, do you try to record it right away or memorize it some specific way so that you are able to work on it the next time you grab your instrument?
Paul: Oh, here I'll tell you where there's a problem. I was recording on my dictaphone, it's a little dictaphone and before that, I had a little cassette recorder. You can record on your phone and so I recorded it on my phone and stuff and then one day I lost 100 riffs, my phone went down the tubes. I got a new phone and some guy found all of them and put them back in my new phone. I got all the riffs back, so that's good. From now on I'm not recording on my phone because I'm not going to risk that.
Yes, but like you said when I find a good riff I try and record it as soon as possible just so I can check it out later. That's the thing. I'm recording riffs not every day but let's say every couple of months or whatever I record three or four songs. When it's time to record an album, I go back and listen to them and in reality, most of the riffs are shitty. I find a couple that are great and then put them together with some other riff and write a song, that's how I do it.
IS THERE STILL LIFE IN CADAVERIC POISON?
What about your other projects, like Cadaveric Poison? Is that band still active in one form or another?
Paul: Okay, there you go there again. We recorded that and it was actually a good CD, I liked it. The guitar player, Simon Seegel, recorded all the songs and they sent it to me and asked me to put lyrics on here and sing them and I did. I like Cadaveric Poison, but after that, he quit his band and quit playing music altogether.
Then, maybe six months ago, his original band got back together and I wrote to him saying, "Let's do another Cadaveric Poison record." He said, "I just got back into my band again, we're starting to play, give me some time." There's a possibility it may happen in the future.
Do you have any other new projects brewing, which you haven't talked about in public yet?
Paul: I think I've got enough projects out there, don't you?
Yes, you seem to be busy enough nowadays. It's just I am always curious to get some first-hand info for my interviews, you know. ;o)
Paul: I know, but at this point, I'm just trying to concentrate on Master for a while.
What will happen with Master and Death Strike in 2024 as far playing live and perhaps even some recordings are concerned?
Paul: I think 40 shows are upcoming with Master with 25 in South America, so that's going to be great. We're going to do a special tour in South America, mostly Brazil but it doesn't matter. We're going to do a special tour, where we only play the first two albums. We're going to open with "What Kind of God."
Are you aiming to get on some bigger European festivals next summer?
Paul: That's another big problem, we don't get offered many festivals. It's really sad and I don't know what the problem is. I'm hoping maybe the new album will help, we'll see. Obviously, I'm open to playing at as many festivals as possible, but we only get a couple every year. What really confuses me is that when you look at these bigger festivals you see the same bands playing year after year after year and it confuses the shit out of me.
Yes, I have noticed the same thing. Sad but true, yes...
Oaul: I don't understand why they don't give other bands a chance to play at these festivals.
We're playing at Protzen Open Air Festival in Germany in June next year, which also will be the 20th anniversary of the festival. That one's already confirmed. There's a big Czech and a Slovak underground festival, I don't remember the names of them. I don't have them in front of me and I don't want to screw up my phone. [*laughter*] There's a couple of big festivals in there that are coming up as well. I'm hoping we get some more offers. It's really frustrating because through my friends, I can get 75 shows or whatever on my own with no booking.
We don't have a booking agency, and nobody seems to be interested in booking Master. I don't understand it. I do all this stuff through friends and through the underground. I guess you need a booking agency to get these bigger festivals because they sure don't offer them to me very often. Once in a while, I'll get one for really good money and we'll go there and play a great show and everybody's happy and the next year goes by and I'm struggling to get festivals. I don't have an answer. It's like I said, the same bands are playing over and over. I guess they have good management maybe.
I can only hope that someday somebody in some booking agency will be interested in us again and help us out, but every time I get a booking agency, they don't do shit.
They don't do shit for me. They talk about all the shit they're going to do for me and then I end up with one or two festivals and their tours all fall through but they're booking other bands like Incantation let's say, and I wonder what happened to my tour? It falls by the wayside and it's confusing really.
Yes, it is hard to say why that is, but I think the festival organizers are looking for bigger fish, i.e., safe bets for their festivals, so perhaps that's why...
Paul: It makes sense, you're right, a safe bet, okay good point. I got you, whatever, the point is we fight on.
Well, I think that's all I had in mind for this conversation, so I, for one, would like to thank you for your time and wish you all the best with your comings and goings in the future.
Paul: Thank you. And I'm sorry again I was late, so I apologize for that.
No worries at all, it doesn't matter really because you didn't forget our interview slot completely.
Paul: All right, buddy, have a good day.
Thanks. You, too. Bye for now...
Paul: See you soon, yes... Bye-bye.
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