Interview conducted May 13 2018
Interview published May 19 2018
"I hate bands who use playbacks. With Axel everything
With the new album Knights Call
out, Axel Rudi Pell came to Stockholm for a sold out show and Metal Covenant
were given some time with keyboard player Ferdy Doernberg.
Ferdy has a pretty broad career and tells a little bit about playing all
kinds of instruments, his musical background and what teaching young people
is like today.
Tobbe: Knights Call definitely follows the
path of Axel Rudi Pell and what does the plan really look like when you
guys set out to record a new record?
Ferdy: Actually it's always the same. Axel writes
the songs, writes the lyrics and then does some demo tracks and then,
yeah, first the drums are recorded, then the keyboards, then the bass,
then the guitars and then the vocals. It's always the same actually
and the composition is done by Axel alone, so nobody else composes.
So it's actually all done before we step in and then we can create our
parts and if Axel likes it, it stays that way, and if he says "Ah,
that's not what I had in mind", we'll look for something else.
So in the end it's his work. The name of the band is Axel Rudi Pell,
so it's his band.
I think that the melodies in the songs on the last couple of albums are
sometimes kind of similar to each other and how do you look at the band's
Ferdy: I think it grew together, because when
we did our first album together [Refers to the first album where 4 of
today's 5 members were present. 1998's Oceans Of Time.] 20 years ago
we didn't know each other that well, apart from Axel and Volker [Krawczak,
bass], so of course everything develops. We play live a lot, so we've
played many tours and we know each other as a person more, so yeah,
of course it just grows together.
But I think the style is still the same and I
think that's one of the reasons why Axel's success is so long-lasting.
He doesn't do, like, a heavy metal album, then a grunge album, then
a hiphop album and then another hard rock album, because fans don't
follow that. So when there's Axel Rudi Pell on the cover there's Axel
Rudi Pell in it. And he's original; he's really the biggest fan of this
kind of music himself, so he's not some guy who does it for commercial
reasons and this is really the music he likes and that's what I think
is his secret.
Tobbe: How come you joined the band in the
Ferdy: It's 20 years ago, so it's a while now
I started with a band called Rough Silk, a progressive light band from
Germany, and we toured a lot in the beginning of the '90s with Helloween,
Accept, Saxon and some other bands and we made some albums. Actually
my 12th album, the new one [Progressive Oi!-Pop] just came out.
Yeah, I worked a lot as a studio musician as
well and played on Roland Grapow's solo stuff, and Roland was a friend
of Axel's, and then Axel was looking for a keyboard player, so Roland
gave him my number and I talked with him on the phone. I didn't know
him before and we talked a little bit and then the first time we really
met in person was actually in the studio, and since then I'm onboard.
[Laughs] I came together with Johnny [Gioeli, vocals] and Mike Terrana
[drums 1999-2013] came one year later.
Tobbe: Can you tell me a little bit about
all the bands you play with?
Ferdy: Yeah. I have 5 main bands and also I work
as a studio musician. Of course Axel Rudi Pell since 20 years. And then
I play with Rough Silk, my own first band and we split up for a while,
but we reformed two years ago, played a lot of shows and now we did
an album. It's actually going very well. We played 60 shows last year,
which is a lot. But the old fashioned way; we drive with a trailer and
build our stuff up ourselves. It's more punk rock, but it's cool, and
we like it.
I've done 6 albums as a singer/songwriter and my last one Orexigenic
Songs For Overfed People was out in 2015, and yeah, it's more singer/songwriter
style. And I do a lot of shows alone, with an acoustic guitar, as well.
And then I play in a German pop band, which has German language, and
is very successful in Germany, Rotz & Wasser. And I play with a
local German rock star, in German language, called Matt "Gonzo"
Roehr, and we also play some festivals and stuff. And I work as a studio
musician, so that's it.
Tobbe: So is it important to you personally
that you have all these different types of music to play?
Ferdy: Yes, it is. I mean, some guys eat the
same, whatever, marmalade and bread every morning and one day I like
to eat fish and the next day I like to eat some sweet stuff, so I really
like all facets of life. And it's the same way with music, with books,
with everything. So yeah, when I do, like, a heavy metal tour I like
to listen to jazz music and the other way around, so I'm really diverse.
Each band I work with has a different attitude
and a different message and different instruments, because in other
bands I don't play keyboards for example. With Rough Silk I'm more a
slide guitar player and with Rotz & Wasser I play accordion and
trumpet. So it's interesting for me to do different things, definitely.
Tobbe: So how many instruments can you play,
more or less professionally?
Ferdy: Professionally maybe 10 or 12. Because
of different string instruments. I mean, who can play mandolin also
can play bouzouki and who can play keyboards also can play Hammond organ
or can play accordion, if you work on it. [Laughs] But it has the same
keys, you know. So, actually you can say I work on keys, I work on strings,
and slides, and brass instruments, like trumpet, trombone and euphonium.
Tobbe: But no drums?
Ferdy: [Pause] Hobby-like, but not professionally.
But I can play a little bit, yeah. I think every musician should play
a little bit of drums, because you need to have an understanding for
rhythm and also if you compose stuff you have an understanding of what
a drummer can do, so you don't say [Makes drum-like noise.] and the
drummer says "Hey! I have two hands and two feet. That's it.",
you know. So you have to know how it works.
Do you ever feel that you have to adapt your playing style to different
kinds of music?
Ferdy: No. Actually I do a lot of stuff and
I've played on many albums. I've played on more than 300 albums until
now. And it's always me, you know. I never did stuff where I really
had to be a prostitute or something. Even when I played on David Hasselhoff's
album, I played accordion on that, and I played and thought they would
maybe say "No, no, no. Not like that.", but they said "Yeah!
That's great! Perfect.". Maybe it's because I like many different
kinds of music and it was a song about Paris, like a chanson song, and
I played this French accordion the way I thought it should be and it
was exactly what they wanted. So, no.
Tobbe: Did you do anything else when you
were young than playing music?
Ferdy: Of course; sure. Even though when I graduated
we already had a record contract and were on tour with Saxon. So I was
already touring, but then I did my civil service, in a hospital, and
stayed there and worked in the hospital besides being a musician. And
later I became a musical therapist for people who had brain strokes
and that kind of stuff. So it was a mixture of the medical and musical
thing, but at some point it just didn't work because I didn't have the
time to have, like, a steady day job and be on tour. It really wasn't
Tobbe: Where did you get your musical interest
from in the first place?
Ferdy: My dad was a professional musician. He
was a violin player in a symphonic orchestra in Brighton, I'm half English,
and a classical composer as well. He composed more than 80 published
pieces, like twelve-tone music, very avant-garde actually, more than
my stuff. [Laughs] I think it's the first time ever that a 92 year old
father of a rock musician says to his son "Play me some of your
stuff." and you play it and he says "Yeah, it's okay. It's
a bit boring.". You know, not like "Turn that satanic music
down!" or something like that. But compared to his music my music
was more boring for him. I've got classical training as a piano player,
but I always wanted to be a rock musician.
Tobbe: What's the most important thing when
learning to play an instrument, in your opinion? Is it all practice and
practice and practice?
Ferdy: I teach as well, so you've got to have
talent and you have to practice. Some people have talent, but never
practice and they don't get anywhere and some people practice and practice,
but they don't have the musical understanding or the feeling for music
and they will never learn it. For young bands, or young people who want
to become rock musicians I also think it's very important that they
go out very early and go on stage.
though it's not perfect; it doesn't matter, but you have to learn that
as well. Because many bands stay in the rehearsal room way too long.
They're in the rehearsal room for, like, 8 years and then they have
the first show and of course it's not good, because they don't have
any experience, and then they split up. So I think it's very important
that people go out and learn, yeah, the hard way, you know. Play everywhere.
If there's an electric plug you've got to play there, you know.
Tobbe: In the beginning of your career,
or when you started when you were young, let's say 17 or something, could
you ever imagine doing this for your whole life?
Ferdy: No, actually not. But actually I think
it's healthy, because nowadays the kids, through the internet, know
way too much. You know, you have, like, a band of 11 year olds and they
have in-ear monitoring and want to be rock stars. They want to be Robbie
Williams or something. And we didn't have this information, you know.
For example, at school, our teacher had a band and when we were 12 we
went to the concerts in the local youth club and we said "Wow!
I wanna do that." and then a few years later we played in that
Then we thought "Okay, we did that. What
can we do now?" and "We wanna play in the big city!"
and we played in the big city
So it was step by step and that's
healthy. But if you're in, like, your rehearsal room and you say "I
wanna become a pop star!", and of course that doesn't happen overnight
and then one year later you're frustrated and split up and you'll never
go anywhere. So I think it's way better to do things step by step and
always look for the next goal, you know.
Tobbe: But how do you tell that to a kid
today? Because they are so used to get the results really quick.
Ferdy: Yeah, that's actually the problem. It's
the main problem. Also with my students. They wanna become a guitar
player and they don't wanna practice. They wanna go from 0 to 10000
and it's not possible and then they stop playing guitar after half a
year because they're not playing Yngwie Malmsteen suites or something.
Yeah, that's what it is. That's the internet age and everything. That's
maybe why people, like, YouTubers are the pop stars nowadays, because
they actually don't do anything and they can just be there.
And the other problem is that people nowadays
have too much information about how professional musicians work. For
example, I had one student and he was like "I want to buy a new
amplifier." and I said "Yeah. This and that company have made
a tube amplifier. It's really cheap. It's €400." and like
"No, no, no. My father is buying me, like, the most expensive thing."
and then I said "And you need a guitar. Maybe this guitar? It's
very cheap and very good." and "No, no, no. My father already
bought me a Les Paul and a Stratocaster." and I was like "But
you can play D and C. That's it! And you have more expensive guitars
than any professional musician I know.". You know, that's the wrong
way to do it. And some are like "Now we have a plexi wall around
the drums so we don't hear the overtones of the cymbals so loud."
and I'm like "You're 14. The cymbals must ring in your ears until
mean, it's punk rock, you know. And they don't have that attitude anymore.
They have the in-ears and it's stupid, you know. You have to learn it
the hard way. And that's actually why many young bands give up before
they even start. And when I started it was a way to get out. Nowadays
people don't have to get out of their flat anymore to get entertained.
They do everything on the internet. When they meet with people, they
don't meet in real life, they meet online and do a network party with
3 computers. It's really stupid. But I think always if something goes
one way, it goes back the other way as well. So, we'll see.
At some point maybe people will be fed up with
internet and go back to real things, hopefully. So at the moment, I
know this because I teach, we don't have many kids who want to be in
a band anymore. 3 years ago everybody had a band, because they were
Green Day fans and stuff like that. Now they want to be David Guetta
and if you go to a concert, in the beginning it's "Play" and
in the end it's "Stop". That's it. That's what he does. And
in between he's wearing headphones and a not connected vinyl player
and that's not what I call a concert myself. But okay, everybody has
Tobbe: But you and I are used to hear live
music, I guess.
Ferdy: Yeah. And that's why I hate playbacks.
I hate bands who use playbacks. With Axel everything is live. Actually
with every band I play everything is live, 'cause I really hate backing
tracks and that kind of stuff. I don't tell names, but I've seen bands
over the last years where guitar solos are coming from tape. And backing
vocals, whatever, second guitars, lead vocals. [Laughs] We played on
a festival, with Axel, and when our intro tape was running the monitor
guy came running and said "Guys, guys, guys. I don't have your
backing tracks." and we were like "We don't have any backing
tracks." and "Really? That's cool!".
On that whole festival, with, like, 3 days of
bands, it seems like we and Annihilator were the only two bands who
didn't have backing tracks. Yeah, but I mean, is that rock 'n' roll?
A friend of mine is a bass player of Jessica Simpson, the pop star,
and you would imagine "Okay. That's with a lot of playback stuff.",
but no, they play everything live and they sing the harmonies themselves
and then you go to a heavy metal concert and you see the mini playback
I think something's wrong, you know.
And we, with Axel, for example, we're an old
hard rock band based in the '70s, so it's really no click track, no
nothing, everything is live. Every wrong note you hear is live as well,
but it's part of the game, you know. I mean, if you wanna listen to
the album, buy the album. I think live should be something else. It's
about emotions. That's what I think.
also: review of
the album Knights Call