Interview with Kurdt Vanderhoof
Metal Church have been around since the early 80's when the band released their debut album 'Metal Church' back in 1984 with a steady and powerful line-up that would make Metal Church what they were back in the early 80's. With the line-up been: Kurdt Vanderhoof, Craig Wells (guitars), Kirk Arrington (drums), Duke Erickson (bass), and Dave Wayne (vocals). The band released 'The Dark' back in 86 both released on Elektra Records. Back in the day Metal Church were very successful and played with the likes of Metallica, Anthrax and many more... Later on in years Dave Wayne sadly passed away which left a big hole in the bands career. The band have had Mike Howe (Heretic) on vocals and now Ronny Munroe. The bands current line-up is: Kurdt Vanderhoof, Rick Van Zandt (guitars), Jeff Plate - Savatage (drums), Steve Unger (bass) and Ronny Munroe. The band have released The Weight Of The World' 2004, 'A Light In The Dark' 2006 and now the bands latest release 'This Present Wasteland' in 2007 on SPV. I managed to have a chat with long time guitarist Kurdt Vanerhoof about the line-up changes, Dave Wayne's death and the current album. Here is what he had to say.
Ok Kurdt, I'd like to asked at what age did you learn to play the guitar?
"Well I actually started playing the drums at the age of 5 and I continued to play them until I was about 11yrs old. I then switched to bass guitar for a couple of years and then I switched to the guitar. I switched from bass to guitar because I could not find a bass guitarist for a band I was forming back then. With a guitar you can do a lot more playing and writing and been more creative with it. Writing songs for the drums was very difficult and playing them at home was a nightmare haha!!
Who as a guitar player are you influences?
I was inspired by Alex from 'Rush', Pete Townsend from 'The Who', was my biggest inspiration. He wrote so many great songs and kept them so simple. People misinterpreted that when you write a good song it needs to be fancy, but it is harder to write a simple song than it is to write a more complex song. There was also something about 'The Who' back in the hay day with really influenced me and hit me. I was also influenced by Ted Nugent... I am not really a lead guitar player kind of guitarist, I am a rhythm guitarist and I never do lead unless I really have too."
Before forming Metal Church, what was your 1st band you were in? Can you remember their name and much about them?
"I use to be in a Punk band called 'The Lewd', that was my 1st original band, but before that it was just high school bands. We recorded a single in 78 with 'The Lewd' called 'Kill Yourself' and then I left to form Metal Church, but they did carry on without me. They recorded an album and I had a couple of tracks on it. I was a big fan of the 1st generation punk stuff from the UK."
When did Metal Church actually form?
"I think it was in 1983, and I tried to start it in San Francisco right after I left 'The Lewd', but nothing was really happening back then because the New Wave of Punk was taking off, so I couldn't find the right metal musicians to form a band. I moved back home to Washington state to form a band that I was in when I was in high school. I was in a band with the drummer of Metal Church Kirk Arrington, who was also my step brother and we started the band off here with people who were not influenced by trends at that time. We then later on re-located to Seattle."
"So where did you find the rest of the guys such as Dave Wayne?
"Well Craig and I went to high school together and Craig saw Dave's message on a message board in a music store in the south of Seattle. It was easy at that time to find the right musicians but I had to turn everybody onto the N.W.O.B.H.M. back then with the likes of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc... When I was living in San Francisco Lars from Metallica was going to be our 1st drummer and he would come over to my house where I lived and would play the guitar at my house, when he was suppose to be a drummer. I had my doubts that he was a drummer back then (laughing)."
You have had a couple of line-up changes since the early days, even Metallica's guitar tech John Marshall. How did you get a hold of him and the rest of the musicians? What's Mike Howe, Kirk Arrington doing now?
"Well John was Kirk's guitar tech back in the day. I am always in touch with him and the rest of the old members, were all good friends. Kirk left the band because he had been struggling with been a dietetic, he had some health issues that is why we got Jeff from Savatage. John Marshall is raising a family as well as Mike Howe.
Moving on, why did Dave Wayne leave the band the first time around?
"Well he was fired!! You see some people can handle success and some can't, Dave was doing a lot of drinking and drugs back then and it just wasn't working out between us. It got that bad he actually moved into our rehearsal rooms and we were not getting along, so we had to fire him."
The debut album must of been a great success for the band. Please tell me more about that album?
"It was a great success for the band, it was the album that got us started and still to this day people say it is a cult classic. It was out 1st album and we knew what we wanted to do but didn't know how to go about it. It was released on our own label 1st which was called 'Ground Zero' before Elektra Records released it."
The 2nd album 'The Dark', was released back in 1986, do you think it was a big step forward from the debut album?
"Yeah it was in a sense of were we actually spent time in the recording studio and working on the songs. I listen to it now and I am not that fond on the sound because it was sampled drums and it was the 1st time we had worked with a producer by Mark Dobson. It was a huge step forward for us in the sense of spending a couple of months in a studio recording the album. We had people from the label telling us what we should do and we had never been told before, so it was a new ball game for the band. Now we just record the material all by ourselves."
You had some success with a promo video for the song 'Watch The Children Pray', that must of been great for you back then!! I think MTV should have a 80/90's metal channel playing all the videos from that era, don't you agree?
"Yeah it was a great success for the band, it gave us the lift to be heard and become more popular. Yeah I agree MTV should have a channel that plays all that stuff!! The new generation has totally been ripped off, it's not even funny. It's just total crap on MTV right now, too commercial!!"
How did you get Mike Howe from Heretic into the band after Dave was fired? Also who else did you audition for the vocal job?
"Well we actually auditioned a few people but I can't remember their names. Mike came about when I was asked to produced a Heretic album 'Breaking Point', which was pretty good. Mike at that time knew we were looking for a new singer, and I was no longer in the band at that time but I was writing songs for them. Mike asked me if I could get up an audition for him to try out for Metal Church, so I did ad he got the job."
Didn't you record some solo records also for SPV after leaving Metal Church?
"Yes I did, it wasn't anything like Metal Church, more like Hard Rock/ Blues. I also have another band which I'm still doing called 'Presto Ballet' which is very much like Kansas, Rush, Genesis type of thing."
So why did you decide to come back to Metal Church later on, for what reasons?
"Well basically people were still interested in the band and myself, I really didn't know. Been in Metal Church played a big part of my life, so I thought I had to get the band back together after we broke up. The amount of interest we were getting was unbelievable, so that's why we reformed. I got the original line-up for the 'Masterpiece' CD, but it just didn't work out in the end. It sounded like a good idea on paper, but when we came to record the album etc.. it just didn't work as well as I expected. Nothing really worked out from the beginning to the end really which was a shame."
After Dave Wayne leaving the band before recording the 'Masterpiece' album, what did you think of his old band 'Reverend? I thought they were pretty cool, reminded me of a Anthrax/ Over Kill feel to the music. Also do you Miss Dave at all?
"I thought they were ok really. It was kind of strange that he got the band together with some of the Heretic guys, I was glad that Dave was playing. As for missing Dave, well not really. Dave & I didn't really get along that well, for a number of different reasons. The fact that he pasted away was really sad and I did go to his funeral. There were rather a lot of people there, but it didn't really get publicized. He died after a car crash, and he got his legs messed up really badly and and after he was released out of hospital he stopped going to his doctor and he let himself deteriorate and to this date I don't know why."
After the band broke up once again after the Masterpiece album, you decided to reform the band later on once more and released the album 'The Weight Of The World' in 2004. How did you find that line-up?
"Well the band got back together and it was Ronny that really got us back together. A friend of mine saw that he had a 80's tribute band plying in a small local bar and he called me to tell me about Ronny's voice. He does sound a little like Dave Wayne, so I met him and we talked and later on jammed together. He is a great singer and I'm glad to have him in Metal Church."
So where did you find Steve Unger as the bassist in the band?
"He was a friend of Ronny's and they had played together in a band in the past."
How do you see the debut return album 'Weight Of The World' as a come back album? Also why the title?
"We chose the name for the album 'Weight Of The World', because we had a new album out with a brand new line-up, so there was a lot of pressure within the band. We didn't really have any other names that I can remember for that album. I see the new album as a fresh step forward for the band. It still has it's heavy roots and melodic ones too, but it's a new chapter within the bands history."
"Was that the only artwork you had for that album? Do you also see the artwork as a reflection of that album?
"Well it was the best we could do with no money!! I don't see the artwork reflecting the album at all really. You see we were doing everything ourselves and we had no money, nothing really. We didn't even have a record deal then, we were going to release it ourselves. I did the artwork myself, it was my 1st attempt doing any artwork."
Do you think it sold OK for the band, considering it was you're debut comeback album?
"Yeah it did OK, I think the people out there excepted the new line-up and it differently sounded like Metal Church."
Besides shopping the album to SPV, who else did you approach? Also did it sell well for the band?
"Well we just went to SPV first and because I had a history with them and we got signed right away. We were lucky in that retrospect. I am happy with SPV, I think that big labels are now a thing of the past. I think it sold pretty good, about 12000 copies."
Did you record any promo videos for 'The Weight Of The World' album? Also you toured the UK and Europe for that album, was that tour a success for the band?
"No not at all, we really didn't have the means really. The tour for that album was a success indeed. People coming to the shows and checking out the new line-up was cool and see in us do the old material was received overwhelming response from the crowd."
"Next album the band recorded was 'Light In The Dark', why the title? Was it anything to do with a part 2 of 'The Dark' album?
"Well yeah it was, it was right after Dave had died. It was also the 20th anniversary of 'The Dark'. It was the Metal Church extended family. We wanted to do something that would memorialize a pasting of our 1st family member."
Ho do you see 'Light In The Dark' as a step forward from that of 'Weight Of The World'. Did you also produce that album ourselve?
"It is a good progression. The band was getting better with the new line-up and getting use to working with one another. Also finding our new direction, but to keep it with old school sound. Yeah I produced the album, and I think it sounds better that 'Weight Of The World'."
Where you happy with the artwork for that album? What songs from that album stand out for you and why?
"Yes I am, we wanted to bring back the guitar. I guess that's our Eddie haha!! As for the song, I really like the title track, I also like 'Meet Your Maker' and I had a really good feeling about that song when we recorded it. We sold pretty much the same amount as we did for the previous album."
What bands did you tour with for the 'Light In The Dark'?
"Well basically we were just touring ourselves and doing some festivals."
So you now have a new album just been released titled 'This Present Wasteland', tell me a little bit about that record. Why have you gone for yet another dark cover?
"Well when I saw the promo CD's they had printed the artwork too dark!! It was meant to be darkish and scary but the promos are way too dark. Well like I said we wanted to keep the guitar as our mascot just like Iron Maiden have Eddie, we have the guitar. When the title came up we wanted something desolate looking. The title is about 2 things, firstly it's about the state of the music industry and what's happening and the way that people are making records with invalid music. What I mean is, that everything is computer generated from pop, rap, and shit... It's manufactured shit! That's the way it is these days."
Did you record the album as a band ourselves? Also do you feel comfortable recording an album ourselves now?
"Yes we did, we do everything ourselves now. We do feel comfortable recording right now, and if we could afford to bring in somebody we would. It would be great because I could just concentrate on playing the guitar and to have an extra set of ears to the recording would help us out a lot more."
Who would you like to work with if you had the chance as a producer?
"God there's a lot of people I'd like to work with!! Maybe Terry Date, Andy Sneap, it all depends on how they are with us and we would have to get to know them first."
How long did it take to record the new album? Also does the whole band write the material?
"The new album took about 3 months to record. I usually write the songs up as demos ad then give them to Ronny and he puts the lyrics to them and then we usually put the arrangements to the lyrics and ideas."
Do you hard it hard to get the band together to rehearse the songs for the next album what with Jeff been in New York and you been in Seattle?
"It's ok really because Jeff will fly in when we are ready to rehearse for the new album."
Are you happy with the way the new album turned out or do you feel it could of sounded better?
"Yeah I am happy with it. Every record I have recorded in my life I always listen to them now and think, damn I wish that could of sounded better."
Are there any songs from the new album that you like and also dislike and why?
"I really like the song 'Needs Of A Dead Soul', because it really has a good vibe to it and it has a cool Black Sabbath kind of feel to it. I also like the song 'Monster', I like the riff in that song and the vibe with the different changes within that song. I really don't dislike any of the songs on this record."
So when do we expect to see the band touring Europe and the UK?
"I am not sure right now, we hope to hit the shores of the UK and Europe I hope in the winter time or early next year."
OK Kurdt, thanx for doing the interview, good luck with the new album. Send my regards to the band and I hope we meet again very soon. Do you have anything to add before we finish?
"Yeah thanx to our fans for their loyal support. We hope you like the new album and stay METAL!!! Hope we meet again soon Jason!"
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