Pyracanda is a well known band among Teutonic metal fans. Their debut album “Two Sides Of A Coin” is a nice example of high quality speed/thrash metal. Apart of that, the band was a stepping stone for guitarist Sven Fisher who later would join Rage and record with them the “Black In Mind”, “End Of All Days”, “XIII” and “Ghosts”. Although Pyracanda split-up after the second (and not very successful) record “Thorns”, the musicians carried on in Ilex and G-Reizzt. Stay Heavy had a chance to discuss all these and many other themes with Dieter Wittbecker, bass guitarist of Pyracanda, Ilex and G-Reitz.
Let’s start with the name Pyracanda — what is this? Who came up with this idea? Did this strange name help you to get more attention or was it a reason to criticize the band?
The name was born a few months before I joined. I think that the boys were aware that another violence glorifying or ostentatious name would not fit to this band. Pyracanda never was violence glorifying or ostentatious. That’s why they chose a cool-sounding term from botany. Something everyone knows and so it is not too cuddly something with thorns. The firethorn. Is green and red and has stings too. Fine. It may be that the name attracted attention because it was without hate, blood and kill in the word. But not negative. Rather relaxed. Metal fans are relaxed and cool guys.
Tell me please about the formation of the band. What was your motivation to form a band? Did you just try to escape boredom?
Hahaha. It was really like Hansi is singing in “Challenge Cup” and “Welcome to Crablouse city.” The mostly sitting band member – I am not allowed to tell a name – really had a crab louse experience with a – let me say – a little bit too cheerful and flexible girlfriend. He was not really pleased about this and was looking for revenge. So he wrote the itching, itching lyrics, looked for musicians and invented Pyracanda. Funny but true.
What about other bands from your city at that time? Were you friends with Desaster or did you look down on them as they were younger?
Unfortunately I personally did not had any contact with the colleagues from Disaster. There were several other band formations around. Bands like Subculture, Vanilla Rex and others. And by the way, Thomas Anders of Modern Talking came from Koblenz… but luckily I did not know him either (laughs). I believe the band we appreciated best was Rage. They came from Herne, a town two hours north of Koblenz. Peavey’s former girlfriend came from Koblenz. She was our photographer. We celebrated a lot together. In Herne and in Koblenz.
Did it take long to write your own songs? Who was the main songwriter in the band?
No – it was just great fun to play with such great musicians. You have to understand – Sven was 17 years old when he recorded the guitar on “Two Sides of a Coin”. We understood each other blindly. The development of the songs was always fun. Often it happened – and that’s really the truth – that Elmar had a great riff in his head, sitting behind his drums he played it for us on – Attention, Attention! – a wooden flute. This has often sounded pretty stupid on the flute – played on the electric guitar it was then usually the hammer. “This guy is awesome.” I often thought. So the songs have been developed in the rehearsals. Hansi wrote a funny text – done – finish – let’s go and drink beer.
Tell me about your first demo. Where was it recorded? Was it popular at that time? Don’t you want to re-release it as it has very good quality and might be interesting to collectors?
Rolf played the bass on the demo. That was a few months before my time. But I know the studio because I recorded a demo there with my old band, too. It was a small home studio from a musician who earned a little bit money in additional this way. Are you sure about the quality? You can find it on YouTube anywhere, too. Omg.
Some of the lyrics of your songs deal with crablouse or venereal diseases. Didn’t the band suffer because of such lyrics? I guess some fans could be disappointed: “Wow, this is very cool music but the lyrics…”
(Laughs) We did not worry about that. Headbanging was more important to us. It was all true stories and pseudo-mystic lyrics have already been made by others. That was never Pyracanda. We were never interested in being mysterious. We came on stage, we did heavy metal and we did nothing else. And the people liked exactly that. No frills.
As far as I understand, Elmar Gehenzig was the most active in the field of lyric writing. Why was that? He was the most interested and productive or did others have problems with English?
Elmar and Hansi. Both of them. You could not guess it at this time – but we all went to school. And English was mandatory (laughs). Yes really. Elmar and Hansi wrote the lyrics – they had a lot of fun and laughed a lot. Sven, Dennis and I preferred to pick the strings. But I notice that you really know a lot about the band. I like this very much.
Why did Dirk Putzfeld and Ralf Koch quit the band after the demo? Was it easy to find a replacement for them?
Unfortunately, we have never really understood that. It was even a pity. Hansi was well known – he was in the heavy metal scene in Koblenz and he was a nice guy and a cool dog. I rehearsed with my old band next to Pyracanda and we knew each other well. It was easy. We liked each other, wanted to do heavy metal and wanted to have fun.
Was the label No Remorse Records the only one who showed interest in Pyracanda? I guess that with your music you could easily get a deal with pretty much every metal label at that time.
Wow – thank you for the flowers. Yes – there were a few other interested smaller labels. But we found Charly Rinne likable and he had some known bands as like Blind Guardian, Grinder and Dimple Minds.
But you are not wrong. Maybe we should have waited a bit longer. But in the end everything was great. We got a great producer, a fantastic studio in Bavaria and were allowed to take all our friends to the hotel. Fun was very, very important.
Did you like your experience of recording in a studio with a real producer (Armin Sabol)? Were you able to do everything like you wanted or did Armin cut down some of your ideas?
Wow! You ask very good questions. Sounds like you have been there. Armin was great. He was very experienced He played guitar with Peter Schilling. It’s his guitar in “Major Tom”. Maybe you know this song – it’s almost German cultural heritage. He then produced Rage and our friend Peavey told us that he is a super-class producer. By the way – it is Armin’s voice saying: “Let’s make an expedition into the animal kingdom. Good evening, Motherfuckers!” But yes – you are right – it was hard to shape our songs with him. You know, there were only three valuable things in our lives at that time. Our music, girls and beer. And on the most important part this man wanted to cut now. I saw flying drumsticks, heard “Fuck You” and I asked “Where is your car?” In the end we always found alternatives and thanks god – he was tough enough to stay in the rehearsal room. Cool guy! And after all we even became friends.
Joachim Luetke made a cover for the album “Two Sides of a Coin”. Is this creature on the cover his vision of what Pyracanda should be?
Joachim impressed us very much. We knew he had already painted covers for Destruction, Rage and Mekong Delta. But anyway. His mission was to visualize the two faces of our life at the time. As already told we had a lot, a lot of fun. But there was also the other side. A good friend died of drug abuse (Good bye Mary Ann) and AIDS was omnipresent (Don’t get infected). Joachim illustrated these two sides of the coin wonderfully.
How was the album received at the time? Were you able to tour in support of the album? I know that in 1990 you did some shows in Hungary. Was this Eastern European country very different to Western Germany?
We got a great response to the album. All the magazines have praised us very much – there have been many interviews, stories concert reports and stuff like that. We had lots of concerts and this tour over Germany, Austria and Hungary you talked about. Eastern Europe was great. The mood was sensational so many people and so much party. You should know that at that time our music was not distributed in Hungary. We knew that and were totally surprised that the first three rows in each concert were singing all our lyrics. In Budapest, a magazine lady told us during an interview backstage that a huge number of bootlegs were being sold there. That explained a lot and we liked it a lot.
The second album “Thorns” shows us a bit different approach to metal. What influenced these changes? Did your musical taste change at that time?
No – we just experimented musically. That was fun. Although I still prefer the first album. But there are also many who find the second album more interesting. Hmm – a matter of taste. Just listen to it. Maybe you find both albums crappy. (Laughs)
What happened to the band after this album? Why did you decide to change your name to Ilex? Was it caused by Sven Fischer’s departure?
Yes – was Sven and Elmar were gone, we decided not to call this band Pyracanda anymore. Ilex was just a name to transition. We made some recordings and got a new record deal. We called the band
G-Reizzt. We were signed by Axel Thubeauville. We knew him because he discovered and produced Doro Pesch and Warlock, Sepultura and Living Death.
By the way, did Sven’s departure change your sound or songwriting process? Would you say that “Peavey” stole him from Pyracanda?
Naturally. Every musician in this band was important. That was the reason for the renaming. But we still had the Dennis Riff machine. But Mr. Wagner did not steal Sven. It was all very harmonious. We were still friends. But Mr. Wagner did not steal Sven. It was all very harmonious. We were still friends. Everything has developed well. Patrick Grün on drums, who joined Pyracanda at the age of seventeen, developed incredibly. For him, it was an important step to Caliban.
Tell us a bit about your time with Ilex. What kind of music did you play and why did you decide to switch from English to German lyrics? Was it a right move?
Listen to our music on the G-Reizzt album and you know it – it is funny. We have tried the German language. This was new for us. German is a very hard language and that fit well with this music. Somehow sounded good and then we left it that way.
Tell me please about your life after G-Reizzt break-up. What you are up these days?
We often meet for a good German beer. All six – Sven, Hansi, Dennis, me, Elmar and Patrick. This is always very funny and everyone goes home drunk – just as it should be. We have placed the Pyrancanda albums on these streaming platforms. On Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and Tinder – oh, wrong that was something else. So on all the music streaming things on the internet I mean. For the 20th anniversary we played a concert in our hometown Koblenz again. That was sold out in a few days and was well received. Our friends from Metal Inquisitor were the opening act and Robert from Metal Inquisitor even sang “Nice boys don’t play Rock’n’Roll” together with Hansi. It was fun and a great party. There are a few videos on Youtube of it.
Are there any plans to resurrect Pyracanda at least for summer festivals and one-off shows here and there like Keep it True festival? Do you have any plans to re-release your albums as there is some demand from fans and they were bootlegged in Russia?
The second album will be re-released in Russia and Ukraine in March 2018. We are currently discussing if we should do this with the first album, too. I’ll let you know, Konstantin.
If you want to say anything to your Russian fans or share any links or whatever – feel free to do it!
I was very happy to do this interview. Patrick always tells me how nice it is in Russia. Whenever he is in Russia with Caliban, the boys always have a lot of fun. I personally arebe very interested in to play a tour in your country. Dennis has a Pyracanda Facebook thing out there somewhere on the internet. The page still looks stupid. I’ll ask him if he can do it again. Nevertheless, you can write us there. If you send us messages often enough from Russia, maybe we’ll come over and drink all your vodka inventory while playing “Challenge Cup” for you. We know that the most beautiful women in the world are in Russia, but what is about your beer?