Interview conducted April 21 2014
Interview published May 05 2014
With a brand new album to promote,
Empire Of The Undead, the German power metal veterans of Gamma Ray visited
Stockholm, Sweden, as part of the band's European tour with Rhapsody Of
Fire. Metal Covenant took the opportunity to talk to bassplayer Dirk
Schlächter, who definitely is a kind-hearted
and, what I believe, a truthful man, whose answers about his financial
situation, the democracy within the band, etc, had an interesting outcome.
We were looking for a quiet room in the venue to sit in, but since everything
seemed occupied at the moment, we eventually found ourselves sitting comfortably
in Dirk's favorite place; the lounge of the band's tourliner.
Tobbe: Okay Dirk, let's talk about the new
Dirk: The new album, wonderful.
Tobbe: You know what? In my ears, it's your
best album since No World Order! . It seems like you have like taken
a step back in terms of songwriting, if you know what I mean.
Dirk: The things that especially made these songs
so special might be that with the new drummer Michael [Ehré],
we had the Helloween tour last year, so there were plenty of shows to
grow together to sound like Gamma Ray, so we did the same thing with
the songs. Every song was played by the band in the rehearsal room,
or rather the old studio, so the arrangement was done by the band. All
the songs were proven by just playing with two guitars, bass, drums
and vocals. Without keyboards, without production, without thousands
of overdubs. The songs had to sound and work just by the band, without
any adds and all the songs have this. On the last couple of albums,
we did this with many songs too, but there were always songs that came
in late, which were done at home and we changed some arrangements during
production, but they hadn't been played by all of us. This time all
the arrangements were proven by us playing together and I think you
can hear this.
It's still very much in the Gamma Ray vein nonetheless. I was thinking
about your studio burning down, but didn't it feel fresh to now record
Dirk: Oh yes, of course. It was good, because
normally in our old studio I took care of all the technical stuff. You
know, that every mic, that every cable and all the pre-amps are working
and all that shit. In the new studio I was taking care of that as well,
but there was also a guy there who knows the studio and he knew the
desk and everything, so I was more free, and more and more into the
Tobbe: What you basically mean is that you
wrote more songs in the studio, right? Is that why it's so diverse?
Dirk: Yes, but it's also diverse, since for example
the songs Henjo [Richter, guitar] wrote have a certain style, you know.
Then we had some ideas from Michael, who plays the guitar as well, which
is very good. When we're arranging the songs and you come to a certain
point in the song where we're missing a thing to combine the end or
something to make the song go on, he sometimes has an idea as well.
He grabs the guitar and play something. Everybody has put in ideas and
we have really worked hard together.
Tobbe: So now you've got 4 guitarplayers
so to speak, including you.
Dirk: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody has ideas for
the riffs and the arrangements, because everybody is able to play the
guitar, which is a very important instrument in metal music.
Tobbe: Yes, totally. But still all the instruments
are important factors to me and I think that your bassplay is very significant
for Gamma Ray.
Dirk: The bassjob in heavy metal is normally,
let's say, not too interesting in terms of playing great bass lines
or crazy stuff. Instead you need to have the energy and the basic grooves,
which both must be heavy enough with metal attitude, you know. Many
bassplayers are maybe able to technically play the same stuff. It's
not easy to play the sixteenth, eighth and 4 quarter notes in the right
groove, you know there's so many possibilities. Of course I learned
this when I switched and started to play bass again, in Gamma Ray. It
was pretty interesting and through the years I've really learned to
fit in what is needed for the Gamma Ray sound.
Tobbe: So what keeps the fire burning? It's
been like 24 years for you and Kai [Hansen] together and you played some
parts on the first record as well.
Dirk: Actually the first time I met Kai was at
the Music high school in '89, so this is actually exactly 25 years ago.
The first time that we really worked together was some months later
when we played a song at that school. At the end of '89 I started to
join the band in the studio on the first album, just for one song. So
what keeps the fire burning? That's actually still the same that brought
me to Gamma Ray and to this style of metal. Of course I listened to
Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon and stuff like that. I liked it, but
I was not thinking about playing music like this, but when I heard the
demo, you know Kai gave me the demo tape for the first Gamma Ray album,
Heading For Tomorrow, I was really overwhelmed by the energy and the
positive power. I also fitted in as a guitarplayer and that was just
great music and this energy is still here.
course, after production days there are always little things that you
want to do slightly different and in general there's always something
to complain on. Especially when the studio burnt down. Everybody really
had to work in its own place and some things did not turn out the way
I would have done it. I played my bass on my own, Kai played his guitar
on his own and things like that. We recorded 3 songs in the new studio
and this work was of course very diverse, but we worked with people
that really knew what they where doing, so that was pretty good to us.
Tobbe: When did you actually started the
recordings for the album?
Dirk: We were supposed to start in May, but
we started with the first rehearsals in July. We were keeping up ideas
and we played and recorded with 2 microphones in the room. We had a
few sessions just with ideas and we met later to finish the first songs.
I said that we needed to start recording or we wouldn't make it. I was
pushing them to start recording, but they told me "It's better
if we have all the songs" and I said "No. If we wait until
we have all the songs done perfectly, we won't make it. If we're certain
of some songs, we will start". They told me "But then you
will have to set up things again". I said "I don't care, I'll
do it". So I made pictures of everything, of all the tunings, of
the pre-amps, of the setting of the drums and of course the second time
we started, it wasn't the same thing. But then again, it's the same
drummer, the same drum set and nearly the same microphones. You don't
hear any difference directly.
If you go into detail, maybe you can hear something, like they told
me "Have a listen to this symbol in this song, it sounds different".
Anyhow, overall it's the sound of what Eike Freese [mixing/mastering]
did. It's his concept. Of course he had to adept a little and get used
to the Gamma Ray style, because we know what we want to hear. We have
been doing this for so long, so it's always tough for somebody else
to get these things, which for Kai and me are pretty clear. We definitely
know how things should be and somebody else may wonder what he should
do with the tracks. We're not really thinking about how things should
be, it's pretty clear what it should sound like in the end, which is
not clear to anybody else. Eike had to learn some things about our drum
sound, because his style of drum sound doesn't fit, but it's a nice
thing and the result is pretty good. I always say "pretty good",
because when you're a musician and you work in the studio, you get this
kind of perfectionism, so when I say "pretty good", it's already
Tobbe: You know, with everything being spread
on the internet nowadays, which kind of sales figures do you expect?
Dirk: Actually I don't know. The record company
is dealing with how it is nowadays. You know, with this copying, uploading,
downloading and all that stuff. They are already calculating with this.
For us it's a strange policy that they have, but they know what they're
doing and they analyze the results. "If you spread it more like
this and if you use the internet, maybe you'll get slightly more sales".
Maybe it works, I don't know. For us, it's strange that you are able
to listen to every song. Anyhow it's difficult. The record companies
need to think of crazy new methods to promote the albums. Imagine for
example, to give it with numbers, a known band only sell one third of
what it did in the 90's. That's what you need to deal with. This is
really heavy, because this also means that it's only one third of the
money, so it's really hard to make a living out of this. If you wouldn't
have the tour and the merchandise, then it would be tough. Also, for
example, if my wife didn't had a good job as well, it wouldn't be easy.
Anyhow, it's not easy.
This internet age affects us all. It's not only in music.
Dirk: The young people don't feel that they're
doing anything illegal or bad. I mean, we were also trading when we
were young. Someone bought a vinyl and you made a copy on tape, but
that was also kind of a social thing. You met, you talked, you spent
some time together, but still you bought something and now it's 10 times
worse. With a mouse click you have 10 hours of music, so you can't compare
this actually. So that's why the record companies must find new ways
and I hope it works.
Tobbe: Let's go to something more fun. You
mentioned Heading For Tomorrow. Next year is its 25th anniversary. Have
you talked about doing something special for that one, like play the entire
Dirk: If we start working on an album next year,
we might pick that up. Maybe something, maybe something about the title.
Just an idea I'm thinking of right now, you know something with heading
or with tomorrow. Maybe we should do something like this with 25 years
of Gamma Ray, which should be celebrated.
Tobbe: What about having Ralf Scheepers
doing the vocals for a couple of live shows and play songs off the 3 first
Dirk: Maybe, maybe. Maybe we'll invite him for
a song or something. I don't know. Also we could maybe do a nice tour
for this. The first tour was in autumn '90, I think, so it should be
in autumn 2015. We need to do something special and maybe do a special
anniversary tour. Maybe invite all the people for some shows. I don't
know and there's many possibilities, but we should do something and
of course we're thinking of it and collecting ideas.
Tobbe: About Kai's throat and his bronchitis.
Obviously this is something you guys don't prefer, having him sick. Is
this something you worry about on a long term basis?
Dirk: After the shows, he drinks a cup of tea
and goes to bed. We need to take care of it when we plan a tour in the
future. Last year we did 8 weeks in a row with Helloween. He did that
quite fine, but that was only 1 hour of singing and now we sometimes
play up to 2 hours. If things like this happen, you can't do anything.
It was nothing bad with his throat, but some days off would have done
good. First it was not his voice, it was his upper lungs really. His
bronchitis was really heavy, really heavy. Now it's different, his lungs
are pretty okay, but all this singing has stressed out his voice. Sometimes
he's singing and he's dropping the tone and it's really like a broken
cable. When we played in Hamburg, the sound engineer said that it sounded
like there was something wrong with the microphone or with the cable,
but it was not like that. It was his voice that was really bad and now
we have the other singers and that works all right, but we were close
to canceling the remainder of the tour.
Tobbe: It's a financial situation to cancel
Dirk: Also. We where close to say "Stop!"
and send everybody home and do the whole package 2 weeks later or something,
if possible. But we are able to do the shows and it's always bad for
the fans to cancel and it's maybe pretty interesting to see this and
see Kai running around.
I was gonna ask about that last thing, if it's difficult to have Kai moving
around and taking up space that he normally doesn't.
Dirk: Yes, that's one thing and of course, if
the stage is not too big and there's 2 singers in the middle, it's something
I have to get used to. Of course he's enjoying his freedom and sometimes
I have to take a look at where he is.
Tobbe: Would you ever consider bringing
in a permanent replacement, if things don't work out the way you want
Dirk: Actually these shouts or these voices
always come up when a situation like this appears. You can't replace
him, that's the problem. There's many good singers, but Kai is also
a good singer. He has become better and better with every album. Now
he's really on a high level and his expression and his singing are really
hard to copy for someone else. He maybe not be the best singer and his
voice is limited to what he is able to do, but what he does with his
voice is really heavy to do for another singer. There may be singers
who's able to sing higher, louder, deeper, more aggressive and whatever,
but that's not the point, because the variety in his voice is really
Tobbe: Yes, and his character.
Dirk: Yes, his character isn't easy to copy
and it's so good, you know. It's the voice of Gamma Ray and you can't
change that, I don't think so.
Tobbe: Kai is playing with Unisonic as well.
How does that affect you other guys?
Dirk: It does affect time-wise with the schedule
and we really need to keep an eye on the time schedules. For example,
last year we had a meeting about general plans and we talked to them
[Unisonic] and then we said which time would be given for Gamma Ray
and Unisonic respectively. Of course with festivals we look at who has
an offer first. In general we said "Okay". After the summer
of 2014 there will be a Unisonic tour somehow and the Gamma Ray tour
will be done by the end of June and we will be done with all the international
activities as well. But this does not always work. So far it's pretty
fine. It was just, when he started with that, and he said that he just
needed to do this and this and that, then there was nearly a year without
any activities for Gamma Ray and that was pretty bad, because it came
out of nothing. That was pretty hard, because I had to look if I could
do other jobs, in the studio, or for somebody else on tour, or as a
bassplayer for another band.
Actually I took this time and I joined this Neopera project. Well, it
not a project, it's a band with the guitar player from Dark Age, Jörn
Schubert. It's his baby and I did that in 2012, the recordings with
the bass and the guitar and I joined as a member. At first I said that
I would be able to join if I had time to do it, but when Kai joined
Unisonic I realized that there was enough time to do it. It's a new
band of course and you're not really making any money with it, but the
music is really good and I will spend my time and energy after the summer
to promote this. The album was done a year ago and we're just waiting
for the right moment to bring it out and to do the promotion and all
So how much of a democracy is Gamma Ray in fact?
Dirk: When it's about the songs, we are 4 people.
Let's put it like this; if you have 2 people against 2 people and the
opinions differ, what can you do? There's always a little right of the
composer, "The last word of the composer". If it's for the
basic arrangement and 3 of us tells that this is it and for example
Kai says "I hate this, I don't want this!". It happens, like
a little kid. Every musician is a little kid. But if 3 people want something,
he will accept it. For touring, we're all in it together, but the decision
what to do and if we spend money on something, it's up to mainly Kai
and me, and I'm taking care of that shit, that we're not spending too
much money. It's important, you know. It was more easy to spend money
on touring or on anything in the 90's, but I'm still happy that we are
able to do this. But if I don't have something to spend time on when
Kai is on the road with Unisonic, it will be tough.
Tobbe: Are there ever moments when you feel
like quitting music and do something completely different?
Dirk: No, I can't do anything else, but I can
do many jobs that's related to music. Of course I prefer to be a musician,
but I know all the other jobs as well. I can do front of house, I can
work as a sound engineer, a producer in the studio. I can work as a
stage tech and I can even work as a tour manager or something. Maybe
I'll be a tour manager when I'm 60, if I still love to go on tour. All
this is something I have in mind. I have the experience to tour and
of course I know everything about all the technical things around music
and in the studio as well. Of course I've learned to do metal and for
example it's a completely different thing to record jazz or pop stuff.
As a musician I'm pretty open minded. Maybe not as a guitarplayer, but
maybe as a bassplayer I'm able to play all kinds of music. I did that
before I came to Hamburg, you know played in cover bands and stuff like
Tobbe: Where do you see Gamma Ray in 10
Dirk: I hope we will meet in the same place and
that you will ask me this very same question again.
Tobbe: That's a good answer. I didn't expect
Dirk: Actually it's really like this: I hope
we will still be able to do this. We need to take care of our health
and our bodies, you know. I'll be 50 years old next year and if you
want to play this kind of music, you need the energy. Besides the stage,
the touring affects your body. Even if you're in a good condition, it's
heavy. If somebody brings in a disease, there's nearly impossible to
not get it. You need to take care of many things if you want to still
do this in 10 ten.
Well, it's a tough job to travel around the world.
Dirk: When we were 25 or 30, we partied all
night and played the next day. I mean, I think we play better today.
I can only speak for myself actually. For the bassplaying, I'm now more
a bassplayer than I used to be. You know, I was able to play the same
stuff and I could play as fast, or maybe faster than I do now, I'm pretty
sure. Or it was easier for me to play that fast, let's put it like that.
But to play it how it should be, really play the bass, I've really learned
a lot along the road and this never stops. There's always things you
can do better and it's a great motivator to get all this with a clear
head. And when seeing everything clear, it's not about controlling the
thing, it's about doing more, you know. If you want to do this when
you're 50 or 60, it's the only possibility.
Tobbe: There are a lot of bands that continue
to play until they're almost
Dirk: Yeah, but you can also see that in some
of these bands there's maybe a few lineup changes. Some of the musicians
are not there anymore.
Tobbe: When people turn 60 or something,
they also probably want to retire like normal people.
Dirk: Yeah, that's one thing, but I also think
that they disappear because they don't have the right lifestyle.
Tobbe: But it's also hard to work with the
same guys for such a long time and you've been working 25 years with Kai.
Dirk: It's sometimes hard to deal things with
Kai, he can be
I mean, it's me as well. I'm not too easy as well.
There's always 2 sides and 2 people who argue about things.
Tobbe: All right, Dirk. It looks like we're
done. Have a great time tonight.
Dirk: I hope it will be fine. I don't know how
Kai is feeling today. Now we have a singer in the band that I know [Frank
Beck]. I brought him in and he's a really good one. Also one important
thing, he's accepted by the fans. Somebody can have a good voice, but
the image and the aura of a singer and especially for an unknown singer
is very important. Kai has this to 100 percent, but many singers don't.
This guy has this, maybe not like Kai, but it's an experience thing
maybe, but he knows what he is doing and he's a good singer. I was talking
to him today and he said that so far nobody has said anything bad about
Tobbe: So maybe he might be the new lead
singer on the next Gamma Ray record?
Dirk: Maybe we'll invite him for 1 or 2 songs?
It might not be the last time that he will be on stage with us, because
this thing with Kai has happened 2 times before. We had Henning Basse
singing, you know the Metalium and Sons Of Seasons singer. He's doing
things with Uli Jon Roth as well, so he's doing pretty fine, but he
could not do this, there was no time, I called him as well.
of the album Empire Of The Undead
See also: review
of the gig the same night