"Fly our flag, we teach them fear, capture them the end is near...", "Breaking the waves, a ride on the wild raging sea...", "Fire, fore and aft, man the boats and put to sea...", "Thundering foam that hits the keel, like powderblazed by flints..." - The list of pirate hymns goes on like the endless sea which Captain Rolf raises his flag of the Jolly Roger. Like the "no quit, live free" attitude once on the high sea, Running Wild embarks on a tour that marks the twentieth year of their existence. To pay homage to the greatest band ever, I was granted the immortal interview with Rock'n'Rolf...
So Rolf, what is Running Wild up to these days?
Just now? Holiday...ha! ha! Just some interviews. I think we will start the rehearsing for the tour about December, or something like that.
I have a lot of great questions to ask, and I must say that it is an honor to talk to you, since I have been a fan since eightyfive.
Oh...that's a long time.
The Masquerade tour will mark the twentieth anniversary of Running Wild. What would you say would be your greatest achieve mentor most rewarding experience?
I think that the best experience we ever had was a very big show we played in Prague in Czechoslovakia. We played their football stadium and there were about thirtythousand fans, or something like that. When we started our intro, everybody started to scream, and it sent shivers down my spine. It was great.
You get that same reaction, obviously, from the German fans as well, right?
Absolutely yes, but not in that kind of stadium.
How many fans come to the German shows?
Between one thousand five hundred and three thousand. In the German concert scene, you really have to accept the fact that there are not too many people who go to concerts anymore, so it is really great for Running Wild if you have two thousand people there, because most German bands on tour have only two or three hundred people.
When and how did you become so interested in pirate history?
It was a very weird thing. We started that stuff with the Under Jolly Roger album, and everything started with the song "Under Jolly Roger". At that time we were looking for a title for the whole record, and I said that was a great title for the record so lets do it. So we did, and then we had to do the cover like that, because it fit to the song. So we did it, and so we said lets do the stage clothing like that. So we did it, and then we said lets do the set like that, and when we looked back we said, "Oh, wow, we look like pirates!" So it just came; we didn't plan it. And then at the times we were rehearsing for the Port Royal album, I really became interested in reading books about that. That is why the titles "Port Royal" and "Calico Jack" are like that. We thought it was kind of the whole thing that Running Wild stands for, or which stands for Running Wild. It just came.
What about pirates interest you the most? Is it the way they lived?
The first thing was the "real story", not this Hollywood-Shit. It was more like "Who were these kind of people" and "What were their interests?", and the thoughts behind being a pirate. Most of them really wanted to break free from society and all the shit that happened in the former times. So it was much more freedom then being a criminal. It was much more to live free on their own laws.
You have just recently become interested in books like Communion and the UFO reports and findings?
Funny, it was the same thing. I think it was back in ninetyone when I started reading books about the UFO phenomenon and other phenomenons.
That started with "Sinister Eyes" from the Pile of Skulls album, right?
Yes, that was the first time I had written about that, because I was really impressed by these two books, Communion and Transformation. At that time I started reading a lot of books about that stuff so it just came out to that theme being a part of Running Wild lyrics, because it deals with the same thing. It deals with corruption, it deals with being oppressed and stuff like that, so it is exactly the same thing Running Wild was talking about all those records before, but in a different kind of metaphor or symbol.
Where did the basis of the song "Genesis," from the Black Hand Inn LP, come from?
It bases on a lot of books, but in the first place on two books from Zacharia Sitching. I think he studies the bible and stuff like that. So he had a lot of old tales and a lot of old books to read and to study to do his own thing just like his books. I read it and it is exactly some thing in which I can think about what happened in the past, really...cause there were a lot of things really. When I started to study for myself, I noticed that there were a lot of guys like Eric Fondanagen...I think he is the most popular who deals with that kind of stuff. I read a lot of books by other guys and I said "O.K., let us put all those things together to one song", and that became "Genesis". Also for me it was Genesis, to put all things together into one song and one history. I also studied a lot of parts of the bible and I figured out that there were a lot of hints, but sometimes in a kind of wrong way or in a falsified way which said exactly the same thing this scientist said.
So you took all the names, the proper names you used, from those books?
You have a special edition of the Masquerade LP called "The Treasure Box." On the second CD we will see songs that never made it to Running Wild albums like "Angel of Death," "Deliver from Sin," "Apocalyptic Horsemen" or stuff like that...?
No, not really, because we had time to just record the new album. We didn't have time to do a single. I think in this box we have some songs that were just released in Japan. I think it is the new version of "Beggar's Night," a new version of "Uaschitschun," but I don't know correctly if it is like that, but it was planned.
The new version of "Uaschitschun" was supposed to be on a single off of Pile of Skulls.
Yes. It should be, but it was never released. There should be a single called "Sinister Eyes." The cover was made, but they didn't bring it out, so the song just lies there so we can use it for this kind of thing.
How many songs are on the second CD?
I don't know, really, because I just talked to Thomas from our record company about that stuff, and he said it was just planned and how they did it now I don't know. I didn't phone him again, so I just wait for what comes out.
Jörg Michael, your drummer, seems to hold the title of "Germany's Most Wanted Drummer". He's in a number of bands. Is he permanently in Running Wild?
He is the Running Wild drummer in the first place, but he also has the freedom to do other things. That is the kind of contract I have with all these three guys that are playing in the band now. They have the freedom to do other bands or other projects. Jörg will do another band, a Finish band, and he will do it in the next year, so Running Wild will do no shows so he can do another record and another tour with another band. It is no problem for me because Running Wild is not the kind of band which is on tour for half a year, so there is a lot of time off, and I think it is much better for the musicians to do other things and to do their own life.
Will Masquerade see the light of day in the United States?
I really don't know. I hope so. In the former times, the past, we had these big problems with the record companies in America, because we just had an independent label. The contract we had with the distribution companies changed from record to record, so it was a big problem for us because I know we have a lot of fans over in America but they can't get our records.
I heard a rumor that it was going to get released here.
I don't know really, because every time it changes. If it comes out then it is great for us. This is also our last record for Modern Music, and after that will come another record deal so I hope that will change in the future...that we will get a permanent publication over in America.
Would you like to tour the U.S.?
Absolutely. We did a tour, but it was very long ago...
That was with Voivod and Celtic Frost, right?
Yes...and you did eight shows.
It was fun, and it didn't happen again because, you know, it costs a lot of money for a European band going to America, so we didn't have the kind of record sales over in America that we could pay for it from that. We didn't have the right company or the right support for Running Wild. We can't do a tour over there, because it would cost all the money we get over in Europe. It is a real problem.
You limited your tours recently to mainly Germany. Are you planning to go outside of Germany for the Masquerade tour?
We stopped that about two tours ago because we did about four tours over all of Europe. We played France; we played Spain; we played Greece and stuff like that, but I figured out that we can't get further, you know? We didn't sell more records there, we didn't get much more people there. Every time we played Spain we had a thousand five hundred people per show, but it didn't go up. It didn't go the next step for us. So we stayed just to festivals around Europe because all the money we get on the German tour we had to spend in the other countries. It was big trouble for us to do the full tour and the full show there because it cost a lot of money to get all the pyrotechnics there and to get all of the stageset there. There are a lot of people involved. As far as I know there is one show planned in Switzerland and I think we will come up with some more shows after that, but I don't know where and when because my agency is just around booking.
What was it like on the "Summer Metal Meetings" tour with Iced Earth, Gamma Ray, Grave Digger and Rage?
It was great! It was about four shows and it was a festival. It was under the flag of traditional heavy metal. Every band that was playing there was power metal and traditional heavy metal stuff, and we had about two thousand people per show. It was absolutely great to make all the magazines and all the press and media to show that this kind of music is still around.
That is what we are fighting for over here, where it is even more dead.
Yes, but the funny thing is over in Germany there is a new kind of underground scene. Every time when I talk to fans they say that they didn't buy these big magazines anymore, which tell only about grunge and hardcore, you know...alternative. They're just no longer interested in that kind of stuff, so there is a new scene coming up, and there is a lot of fanzine interviews that I did in the last few weeks with new guys and just kids doing fanzines. There is something changing in the next years I think.
When you work with Andreas Marshall, who does your covers, who comes up with the ideas? Do you tell Andreas what you want, or does he come up with the concepts?
In the first place, I come up with the idea. I just do on paper what I have in my head. I send it to him, and he starts to figure out the meaning of the covers and the meaning of the songs, and he works on it for a few months and then came the cover. Every time it was great and exactly what I wanted to say...what I had in my heart and in my head.
Does he present a bunch of different cover ideas, or just one which happens to be perfect?
Just one. Every time he does one I think it is the best work he has ever done.
He keeps getting better and better.
Absolutely, because he is exactly on the same kind of line that I am...it is absolutely great that he can feel what I have in my head. It is absolutely great.
He does almost every German band.
He works a lot for Blind Guardian and a few other bands. I think now he is the most wanted painter in Germany.
Will we ever again see any Indian or old western lyrics like you did on "Billy the Kid," "Uaschitschun" and "Little Big Horn"?
Oh, it could happen again. I just write a song that came from my heart from an idea . Maybe in the future, because you know on Masquerade, I think there is one song about piracy, "Lions of the Sea." I think in the future there will come some more songs, but on that record there is much more stuff like "Masquerade" and "Underworld." They are the things that count.
There are no singles for Masquerade?
No, because there were two problems. The first problem was that singles don't sell as much as five years ago. It is really hard in Heavy Metal scene to sell this kind of stuff. The people in Germany didn't have any money anymore to buy two CDs at one time. The next thing was that this is the first release which is not over EMI, but over Rough Trade, and they didn't do any kind of singles before, so we didn't want to be the first to try.
Have your views on music changed at all over the last twenty years?
Yes, because there were a lot of experiences. I think if you are around for such a long time there are a lot of bad and good things going on with you also. I think the attitude I have to my music and to my lyrics never really changes. I don't think so, because I didn't make any kind of compromises. Running Wild is exactly what I am about, and I am about what Running Wild is. I think if I do music from the heart, not to think what is trendy now or what you can sell, you will never really change.
If you keep to what you are doing, and keep to traditional Heavy Metal, it tends to make you feel better.
Do you think that Heavy Metal has become better or worse?
That is a big problem because what I feel from music...the new kind of bands which are around now are trendy or successful and are absolutely not the kind of stuff I like. The kind of stuff I listen to is exactly what I am doing myself: Judas Priest, the first Iron Maiden stuff, and AC/DC and whoever is around that kind of music. If you think about Pantera, or whatever, it is not my music. Absolutely not. It is not what I feel. I know they are great musicians and everything around them, but it is not the way I like music.
You like to play "Real Heavy Metal."
Yes, absolutely. Just the traditional stuff. I would call it the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that started back in the early eighties. That is the kind of thing that is in my heart.
I always admired your guitar work, especially your pickingstyle. It almost looks as though your hand is not moving. Where did you ever develop that style?
It just came. In the first place, when I bought the first guitar that I ever had, this was back in 1972, I started just playing around a little bit. When I bought the first real guitar, a Gibson Explorer in 1978, I was a real big Kiss fan. Paul Stanley kept his guitar about his knees, so I just wanted to be the same thing and play in the same way. I did it, but I never figured out that I played in a different kind of style until the first guitarist said, "What are you doing there? That is totally different then other guitarists." I never noticed that I play in a different way.
You do, and it is amazing. I show people videos and they comment on the lack of hand motion.
I'm just moving two fingers. It just came from holding the guitar in such a low position. I never thought about that or never figured that I was creating a new style. It just came out. I noticed that back ten years ago, that I play a different style. There is a lot of things you can play in a much more easier way if you play the fast stuff like "Masquerade" or "Black Hand Inn". It is much easier for me. I look at Thilo and he is really working! It is really great for me, because I can play much easier, and much more controlled.
Does your drive to make music strengthen as time goes on?
I think music is really exactly what everything means to me, because if you ever look on our world now, I think the word "feeling" is a little bit forgotten. I think music is one of the last points that is really engulfed with heart and feeling.
Music is much more of an emotion.
Do you enjoy touring a lot?
Yes, absolutely. But If you have to tour two to three weeks over Germany, you went everywhere. So there is no real thing about touring two or three months. We did it before a few years ago over Germany, but we figured out that it doesn't work for Running Wild. We look forward to it in the future, and we hope that it will change.
I know of the bad press between you and the guys in X-Wild, but do you still have any contact with them at all?
Absolutely not, because for myself I had some reasons to just kick them off, and I am not really interested in what they are doing. I never heard the records. I never heard it. I think I am going my way and they are going their way. There is no problem, and I will never give them trouble. They have to do what they have to do.
Do you speak to any other former members?
Sometimes I come in contact with Majk Moti. I am in contact with Hasche. I call him about once a month. Sometimes I meet them again, but not too much contact, because they are just living around in other areas. Hasche lives in the south, and I am living in the north.
If you had to choose your favorite Running Wild album or song, which would it be?
...I know, that is tough for me too!
(laughs) Every time you do a new record it is the favorite one for yourself. I don't really know. I think the song "Blazon Stone" is one which means a lot to me personally.
How about the album as a whole?
Oh, great! I think it is the most sold album so far. We sold about 100,000 copies in Germany. I think that was a new start for the band. The first real kick came with the Death or Glory album, but that doesn't count any more because it is the least sold album in the back catalog stuff. I think Blazon Stone was the first one that made people take note of Running Wild in a much bigger way.
On Masquerade, you kept along the same lines as Black Hand Inn i.e. the dark sound with a number of anti religion type lyrics. Have you ever thought of using any different enhancing instruments, like keyboards or woodwind instruments?
No, not really. If I think about Heavy Metal...in the first place, it is guitar, bass, drums and vocals and nothing else. We just use some voicing programs in the intros, but not really in the music because every time when I am doing a record I really want to do it in the same way live. I think if you do a record it is much more converse of what you do live. I think that what really counts is the live show.
Running Wild has always been the standard for how I describe Heavy Metal to be. One of the reasons for this is because your choruses are outstanding, and they really drive the music that you play. Good examples are "Jenning's Revenge", "Genesis", "Treasure Island", "Heads or Tails" and "Prisoners of our Time", and some of the new songs like "Lions of the Sea" and "Rebel at Heart." Are these choruses based off a melody in your head or do you draw influences off of earlier songs?
If I am writing a song, it just comes out of my heart. I never think about anything if I am writing a song. I think about the chords I play and I think about what should be the melody, to show what feelings I have in my head about a certain thing. If you have a song like "Lions of the Sea", it really has to be a kind of hymn. So it just came out of me. It is not that I plan anything about that.
The feeling I get, especially in "Jenning's Revenge" is that I am on the bridge of a great pirate vessel and there are hundreds of guys singing in unison there.
Yes, exactly. Every time I am writing a song, I try to create moods. I think that this is the sound of what Running Wild is all about: moods. If I have a kind of theme or kind of story I want to tell, I really think about what the music should feel like to create this mood.
When you write, do you first come up with the chorus and base the song around it or do you just play around?
Sometimes like this, sometimes like that. Normally the first thing I have is the title of the song and what the song should be about. Then comes the riff. Most of the time the chorus is the last thing I create. But sometimes it is the first thing. It is really different.
Have any opening acts that you played with ever caught your interest?
Yes. There were a lot of bands, like Rage, and on the last tour it was absolutely fantastic with Grave Digger.
Did you ever hear of the band Lonewolf from France?
Yes, yes...they gave me a record on the last tour.
They sound exactly like you and they idolize you guys. They actually took the name from the Blazon Stone album.
I have known them for a lot of years, cause he is a great Running Wild fan back when we released the Gates to Purgatory album.
How did you start producing bands like Kreyson and Kelly Wild?
It just came because the first guy we worked with, when everything started in a much higher level with Death or Glory, we started to work with Jan Nemec. He was in the studio when I was at home and he called me up and said, "I have this Czechoslovakian band here, Kreyson. Would you like to do the co-producing?". He knows that I like this kind of music, so I said O.K. I went there and I was listening to it and it was fantastic, so I said lets do it. It was much more like I was sitting there to give some hints because I produced myself nearly every album for Running Wild. So I had a lot of experience in the last years.
Is it true that the songs on First Years of Piracy will never again be played live?
No, no. It was much more that we wanted to show how these songs would sound like with a band in that year, and because the songs were very old...nearly ten years old... and because we had a lot of line-up changes as you know. We wanted the people to see that the band is a little bit different and sounds different. There are a lot of things that we are playing live again: "Prisoners of our Time" and "Under Jolly Roger" for sure. I think that "Under Jolly Roger" is the same kind of feeling for Running Wild as "Hell Bent for Leather" is for Judas Priest. So there is a lot of stuff we are playing live.
What other songs do you plan to play on this tour?
I didn't think about that, because every time it is chaos. There are too many hymns that the people really love.
Does it change every tour date?
We really have to change. There are still a lot of songs we really have to play, but we can't play. So every time we have to change.
Why did you disapprove of the "We are Running Wild" video that was made in 1985?
The only one we released was the Death or Glory one. There was this old video we did on the Branded and Exiled tour. It was horrible. We never wanted to release that because it was really embarrassing. We decided to wait for the right stuff and the right people to do it. When we first watched it after it was done, everybody looked at each other and said, "No way!" It would really do Running Wild harm. There are some plans to do a live Running Wild video again in the future. We just can't do it now, because this is our last album for Modern Music, and if we have another record company, it would be a real problem. There was a plan to do it on the last three tours but every time we went on tour there was a different line-up.
Who's idea was it to release the crate in the limited edition of Masquerade?
I think it was the record company. The Treasure Chest has a lot to do with pirate stuff.
It fits perfectly. The whole idea was fantastic.
I think it was Thomas of our record company. I said it was great, because it fit to what Running Wild is all about. In the Treasure Chest there's a book of about forty photos from the beginning of the band. The first photos I gave them were from 1981, when we were an absolutely amateur band. Great to remember!