Primal Fear – Jaws of Death – Interview

Primal Fear

Jaws of Death (Nuclear Blast)
An interview with vocalist Ralf Scheepers
by Scott Hefflon

What was the impulse behind quitting Gamma Ray and starting Primal Fear?
There was a day when Gamma Ray sat down and discussed me moving from south Germany to north Germany. I’d been driving seven or eight hours each weekend for the five years, because I still needed to work because there wasn’t enough money coming from music for me to do it full-time. Everyone needs a normal life and to earn money…

What do you do?
Electronics. I went to school for it, and I’ve been working for the same company for 20 years now. It’s not fun all the time, but it can be sometimes. So Gamma Ray had the discussion of me moving up to Hamburg, but I said I need a few weeks because there were contracts going on, and I had to quit my flat. The whole relationship wasn’t really that good anymore anyway. Kai (Hanson) was singing his own songs, and I wondered why they needed me as a vocalist when they were just going to sing their own songs anyway. After that, we went our separate ways, but we’re still friends. We had a good relationship before, and had some success.

Tell me about the time period between Gamma Ray and Primal Fear.
As you probably know, I was one of the guys trying out for vocalist of Judas Priest. After two and a half years, I got the rejection from them. I was in a cover band during the time, and Jane Andrews – the person who coordinates their affairs – always gave me a good feeling that I was one of the top guys up for the job, and I thought I was. They were impressed with my voice, and I hear I was one of the top five guys. I kept myself in good shape, but it never happened. I never spoke with any guys in the band until last year when they played here, and they were very nice and supportive. Now I’m happy in Primal Fear and they’re happy with Tim Owens, so it’s quite OK.

What kind of cover band were you in while waiting?
A Judas Priest cover band.

Did you look around for a permanent gig after you got the rejection from Judas Priest?
Not at the time. After the rejection, I really wanted to quit the whole shit. When you’ve had an offer from the top band, what else is there? It was a really big disappointment, so I just sat around and did nothing. There’d been offers from other bands, but while I was waiting for the answer from Priest, I couldn’t really join another band. I met Mat (Sinner, bassist) and Tom (Naumann, guitars) from Sinner when they asked me to sing a couple lines for them. It’s kind of funny because we come from the same city and ran in parallel music circles for 15 years, but I never knew them very well. We got to know each other, and Mat convinced me to not just sit around and waste my voice. I still had a company in Japan, JVC, who was waiting for material from me, so we recorded four songs and I sent it over. They loved it, and they returned with a contract.

Was it called Primal Fear at the time?
No, we didn’t have a name yet. And the band members weren’t the same as Primal Fear. We only had one guitarist, so I asked Kai if he’d come in and play some solos for the first record.

How did Primal Fear get signed to Nuclear Blast?
We sent our record around, and we almost signed to another label, but they had internal troubles. Nuclear Blast really liked our stuff, so we went with them for distribution in Europe, America, and the western world.

I hear Mat works at Nuclear Blast now.
Yes, but he didn’t then. He really knows a lot about the business, so he can do a lot for the band, and he also does a lot for other bands as well.

I know it’s ancient history, but how’d you hook up with Kai and Gamma Ray in the first place?
It’s OK, it’s good for my brain to remember all this… I was in a band called Tyran Pace, and we recorded three albums. We had problems with managers – they got us into bad situations and got our accounts into the negative. We split up the band and had to play covers to bring in the money. So the guitarist and I were in a cover band for two or three years, playing the charts up and down.

Are cover bands and tribute bands common where you live?
Not in my area, but in East Germany and Southeast Germany they have a lot of cover bands.

I don’t mean to be insulting, but where I’m from, being in a cover band is, shall we say, not the most respected profession in the world.
(Quietly) It’s the same here. I mean, people go there, but I remember our first show, it was 45 minutes before people realized there was a band on stage. It’s musical prostitution, but it pays.

How long, grand total, have you been singing in bands?
17 or 18 years.

How old are you?

How old are most of the singers that you see out on tour?
It’s funny, when I started singing, I was the youngest, now everyone I meet is much younger. We were on tour with Hammerfall, and most of those guys are about 28, and now we’re on tour with Metalium, and they’re, like, 23 or 24. Everyone’s in their mid-20s.

Then there’re the older guys, like yourself and older, that’ve been doing this forever.
But there’s still always something new. We’re going to Brazil next week, and I’ve never been there before. But I still keep my electrician job. I see people living well, and I want the same, so I get my lazy ass out of bed every morning and go to work. We’ll come back from Japan having played to a huge, screaming crowd, and then I’ll go to work the next day. It keeps my two feet on the ground.

Tell me about the differences between the self-titled album and Jaws of Death.
One major difference is that we’ve been on tour together all this time, and we really grew together. We have much more of a direction and focus now.

Does it bother you that the bird on the cover looks a lot like the Hellion on Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance?
It’s just an eagle, ya know? Saxon used an eagle as well… We didn’t think much about it when we chose it, it just went well with the title.

Aside from Priest, who’s influenced you over the years?
The record company writes a lot about us being like Judas Priest, and I don’t really like that. But anyway… Our influences also come from early Accept, Iron Maiden, and Saxon as well as Judas Priest. We grew up on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), which is what they called it in the ’80s. I don’t like the expression because it’s true metal, and what else is there?

What other bands, perhaps more underground, that influenced you?
They’re probably all “big names,” as you would call them. I remember once when Tyran Pace played a festival with Metallica when they weren’t very big. James Hetfield stood at the side of the stage and watched us. A couple years later, they became quite big with Ride the Lightning.

Odd thing is, the way the industry and the culture are now, you can’t really mention “big” bands like Maiden and Priest that transcended genre and geographical restrictions. You have to rattle off a handful of examples – say, Primal Fear, Gamma Ray, Helloween, Stratovarious, and Hammerfall – to get your point across.
That’s probably true. But there are still classics like Rage and Running Wild.

What other types of music do you listen to?
When I’m on tour, I fall asleep listening to classical and opera. It’s not that I’m a fanatic, I just appreciate the singing and the structure. I also like Phil Collins.

Phil Collins, as in the guy from Genesis?
Yes. I also like Bon Jovi.

Really? Are you a fan of glam or pop rock?
No, I just think he’s a great songwriter.

What about black metal and death metal?
I like In Flames and Children of Bodom, but I don’t like the vocals because it’s not singing.
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