Vampyr: Metal is not a question of age

The very first issue of Stay Heavy Fanzine included a big article about Teutonic metal band Vampyr. The article was based on interview with Ralf Hollmer — the guitarist of the band. After Stay Heavy went online I got an idea to post not the article but that original interview with Ralf and update it with answers of Vampyr’s bass player Markus Maier. Both musicians did incredible job so the interview with the band which has only one album under its belt looks bigger and better than interview with some of major acts!

Markus, tell me please about your first steps in music. Who were your main influences and why did you pick up bass guitar? 

Markus: If I remember right, I was about 10 years old (mid of the 70’s) when I became a great fan of Queen. With the little money I had, I bought probably all available Records from them. You know, those huge black plastic plates (smiles). Somehow, at least, I was obviously interested in some progressive music. A little later I became very interested in TOTO. Same story. High profiled musicians. More complex music than the mainstream during this time. Then, I remember quite well, it happened. I bought the brand new record of Scorpions (“Love at first Sting”). And believe it or not, I had to buy it two more times, because I really let them run until they died on my record player. Very funny. Probably, this has been the start of my Hard-Rock / Metal interests. My own steps in making music started in the age of, I would say 8 years, when I took some Guitar lessons on a very shabby and old Guitar, liked it and bought my first acoustic concert guitar. I attended those lessons of classical guitar for 4 years. That’s it at first. I remember when I turned 13 I met Wolfgang Schwarz in school (Neu-Ulm City). The school year just started (I think it has been 7th grade) and our music teacher asked all students, “Who want to play in the School-Band ?” and “Which instrument you are interested in?”. Wolfgang immediately jumped in:  “I am the singer and playing guitar”. Another guy (Klaus Reibenspiess) volunteered to play the drums, and another guy Scheufele raised his hands to play the 2nd Guitar. So believe or not, the typical Bass player career also happened to me. I wanted to be part of the game. I could play the guitar. But two already were nominated and … I was the Bass player (smiles). Funny, isn’t it? At this point of time I had no clue, what a bass player has to do. Honestly ! Out of this school-band the band Destroyer developed — we played from about 1979 till 1982 and produced one LP. At the beginning we did not know each other. As I wrote, it has been our first school day after vacation. As you know, now Wolfgang Schwarz and me are friends for nearly to 40 years!

Vampyr was formed in Ulm. What can you say about the local metal scene in this town in the 80’s? Were there many bands outside Vampyr, Tyrant and Gravestone? Can you share any stories about local metal scene, hang-outs with other bands, going to the shows of foreign bands and everything like that?

Markus: The Metal scene in Ulm was pretty much one of the most active in Germany during that time. Beside of the ones you mentioned there were tons of other bands. One I remember, because the guy went also in the late 80’s with me to another school, was Stranger. The guy‘s name was/is Wolfgang Rieger (aka Rikki Rieger). They had one great song called „The Bell“ which was often played in a local radio. Some of the guys ended up playing in Gravestone or Chroming Rose. You can find some information about that in the internet. It was the typical scene. Parties which musicians who thought they are the best and coolest and shouting and defame all others.

Ralf: There was a great metal-scene at Ulm in those days. Beside the three bands you mentioned, there were Stormwitch and Stranger, who were formed just a few kilometers away from Ulm. We (or the Gama Record company) should have made much more of that great potential. They should have marketed all these bands together as a package and should have sent us on tour together. Unfortunately there was more like a competitive thinking between the bands.

Ralf, before Vampyr you formed the band Tyrant together with Carl Tomaschko. And what musicians were also in the original line-up?

Ralf: The original line-up was Carl Tomaschko (guitar), Ralf Hollmer (guitar), Micky Budde (drums), Andre Papack (bass), Kerrmit (shouter)

Why did you leave Tyrant after the release of the first single “I Wanna Make Love”? Was it because some personal reasons or was it because musical differences? By the way, was there any competition between Vampyr and Tyrant?

Ralf: Tyrant wanted a new guitar player at that time. My mother died in the winter of 1983, and shortly after that we had a gig where I wasn’t in a good mood. So we went separate ways. The Sterzik brothers played in a former opening act for us and called me immediately. So we went on to found Vampyr. The decisions of Tyrant regarding their guitar-players weren’t very lucky if you look at what came in the following. On the first album they had Holger Thiele and I never liked his solos. On the second album Phil Zanella recorded solos — he was good, but very young and he left after a short while. On the third album there wasnNo lead guitar player – also not so good. Ironhead (Lubosch) Sterzik joined the band later, but the good times of Tyrant were over. Basically, I think that the guitar work and the sound of Vampyr were better. No, there was no competition, but we have only played one gig together.

Did you contribute anything in the first Tyrant’s album “Mean Machine”? Maybe they used your ideas in some songs?

Ralf: Most of the songs on “Mean Machine” still originate with me. But I also used some Ideas on “Cry Out for Metal”  that we had at Tyrant.

Why did you pick up the name Vampyr but not Vampire?

Ralf: Vampyr is a very old spelling of the name and the Y in the lettering was looking better than the i…

What can you say about the early stages of Vampyr? Did you try different singers or guitarists and drummers? Did you record any demos prior to the album “Cry Out For Metal”? How often did you play live and rehearse?

Markus: We didn’t change a person in the band. And yes, we did some demos prior to the album. We rehearsed each week. Regarding live presence, we did not have too much gigs at these times.

How do you view your deal with Gama Records? Don’t you think it was a rip-off? Did you try to work with other labels or did you just decide to follow Tyrant and Gravestone?

Markus: I cannot say too much about Gama. All the contractual things were done by Ralf and partially by Lubo. Rip-off… Don’t know. We were young, had no money and were happy that somebody gave us the chance to record a LP. What else do you expect? A funny thing is in that I meanwhile live in the city where Gama had their studios (Kirchheim). The building still exists, but there is now a Greek Restaurant and a Club inside.

Ralf: The mistake wasn’t to sign with Gama — the mistake was later not to go ahead! It wasn’t the best company, but in those days times it was much more difficult to release an album than it is today in the digital age.

I know it was Ralf who wrote all the songs on the album but did you or others try to bring your ideas? Did you have a chance to add something to Ralf’s ideas?

Markus: As far as I can remember, Ralf and Lubo were the creative part of the band. They prepared the songs (Harmonics, Patterns, Structure, etc.) and brought them to the rehearsals. Wolfgang added the lyrics and Roman and me we formed our little groove section. But honestly, there was not so much impact by me or Roman. We played the material or parts about 1 million times and after a while the final song evolved. That’s it.

Ralf: I know many musicians and many bands. Most of the riffs and ideas come from the guitar players (also in Vampyr). This sometimes goes so far that they also have the vocal melody in their head. There may be exceptions (Maiden, Dio, etc), but mostly the guitar players bring up ideas and work them out with the other guys in the band.

Can you tell me the story behind “Indianapolis” lyrics? What influenced you to write this song?

Ralf: I had a phone-call with Wolfgang. He said out of his memory that he was very fascinated by the Indy 500 race back then. For him it was remarkable that, even after the worst crashes, they still used to restart the race. I guess it was all about the fascination of the danger to drive there.

The album includes the song “Metal Hymn ‘86” while the album came out in 1985? Why did you decide to name this song this way?

Ralf: We knew that this album would be released in the autumn of 1985 earliest. We wanted to set a sign for the new year! (I think, It would have been worse if we had named the song Metal Hymn 85 ‘, and the LP would have appeared in early 1986 …)

What are your best memories about working in the studio? Is it correct that you were given only a week to record the whole album and in the end the band was forced to re-record some tracks as they were erased by studio workers?

Markus: (Laughs) Yes, you are right. I think It was not even a week. I remember they spent 2—3 days recording just the drum tracks and the rest of the band had 3 days (72 hours in a row) to record the rest. We worked day and night. While one recorded his parts the other ones took a nap wherever they found a corner and a blanket. Really strange. I remember that I was totally exhausted after these days. And yes, some idiot erased something and we had to rerecord some parts. Not all.

Ralf: We recorded the songs in a week in the studio. Ironhead and I recorded solo parts at night. We are still happy with the sound (very safe, the guitars sound good). You can hear everything and the sound is punchy. Stupidly we had to record the songs on the B-side twice. Gama foolishly deleted the original tapes. We had to take holidays again and re-recorded the deleted songs in a very short time. Besides that, the mood and atmosphere in the studio was very good. Tom was a good producer and we were also repeatedly visited by other bands (members from Sinner, Gravestone, Stranger, Killer, etc.), what led into the flowing of thousands of liters of Warsteiner beer!!

The band wanted this picture to be the cover for «Cry Out for Metal»

Were you satisfied with the sound production of the album and how do you view this album today? Do you think the album made an impact on German metal scene back in the day?

Markus: Hmmm…  I would say YES! We were 90% happy with the final product. You have to understand that neither we, nor an average music listener owned very versatile audio equipment these days. The best we saw was the studio equipment. At home the “normal” Hi-Fi set with a record player was something different. And I remember a discussion, that the drums were sometimes too loud and things like that (Bass of course too silent). The remastered version is by far better than the original LP. Even when they did not resampled all the tracks they only improved the master.

Ralf: We recorded the songs in a week in the studio. Ironhead and I recorded solo parts at night. We are still happy with the sound (very safe, the guitars sound good). You can hear everything and the sound is punchy. Stupidly we had to record the songs on the B-side twice. Gama foolishly deleted the original tapes. We had to take holidays again and re-recorded the deleted songs in a very short time. Besides that, the mood and atmosphere in the studio was very good. Tom was a good producer and we were also repeatedly visited by other bands (members from Sinner, Gravestone, Stranger, Killer, etc.), what led into the flowing of thousands of liters of Warsteiner beer!!

But the label had different opinion

What can you say about reaction from press and fans on the album? Did such magazines like Metal Hammer support the band?

Markus: The fans we had were quite enthusiastic. Especially in and around Ulm. Metal Hammer wrote 2-3 articles about us, when the album was released. It was in general very positive, what they wrote.

Ralf: Reactions to “Cry Out for Metal” can be easily summarized. The music was mostly rated very positive but there were many discussions about the outfit and the ugly cover. In many fanzines we were praised. The big magazines like Metal Hammer ‘(4 points) unfortunately wrote too much about the spikes and not enough about the music. We weren’t fast and thrashy enough for 1985. Unfortunately, Gama had a strange marketing policy. Distributors in Germany had to order the album in Holland order… (For, export deals’, the company paid less money to the bands). If there would have been something like the internet back in those days I think, VAMPYR would have run pretty well. After us a lot of bands came with spikes instead rivets …

The band used a lot of leather and spikes. Did you make those things yourselves? Did this image help you to get some recognition or did your music suffer because people were concerned more about your visual stuff than your music?

Markus: I made them for most of the band members. During this time I made an education as „Tool And Die Maker», having access to real milling- and lathe-machines. The spikes are really dangerous and I still have some scares out of that time. The outfit was very helpful for being strongly recognized. This was a major part of our recognition and the fans loved it.

How often did the band play? What are your best memories about live shows with Vampyr? Did you play together with some bigger bands like Sodom or someone else?

Markus: We had around 10—15 gigs in those very special years. We once won the contest of the most popular Bands in Ulm. Beside some money we got, there was the chance to play as supporting act for Magnum. They were on their “Vigilante” tour. That was pretty cool to play in front of about 10.000 people. Even if the sound was really shitty. The technical staff treated us very bad and they were not interested to provide us at least a minimum of technical support. Anyway, it was a great experience.

Ralf: There were not many opportunities for live concerts as it is today. Often you had to rent a hall and organize the whole event on your own. We really played too few live concerts. All band-members had jobs and so we didn’t have enough free time.  For example Sinner + Magnum were better-known bands we played together with. A funny story then was that fans at concerts always tried to get Wolfgang’s spikes off his legs….

Can you say a few words about Andreas “Neudi” Neuderth? How did you get to know him? And what are your brightest memories about your appearance on his TV-show “Heavy Metal Battle”?

Markus: (Laughs) I think you know from the YouTube Video quite well the situation when I broke the LP from the Band before us. I am not sure, who was more shocked him or me. But it was fun (smiles).

Ralf: Neudie was still very young, but very cool and friendly. He had this metal show in private television, “Heavy Metal Battle”, which he hosted with a friend — but it was clear Neudie was the star of the show … (There was a very funny interview after our performance …) Of course it was of interest for us to play the songs of the album live in a real television studio in front of the cameras, but you could see that the technicians there didn’t know that kind of music very well…  But it was real fun!

Is it correct that after the first album Gama records asked you to write heavier songs in the vein of Slayer? Was it the main point to break a deal with the label?

Markus: I cannot confirm that. I know that we wanted to evolve in the direction of more melodic stuff.

Ralf: We wanted to continue playing our own brand of music. We were all fans of ‘Judas Priest’. And we always wanted, that the vocals could still be heard and that you could hear a guitar solo out well.
Unfortunately back then it was just fast, faster, the fastest and that wasn’t  our thing

There is a demo track on YouTube from 1987. What can you say about this track? Did you try to record another album? Don’t you feel any regret that the band released only one album?

Markus: There are about 10 Tracks existing in demo versions after the first album. We somehow intended to make a second album. For sure. And I can tell you, that even this raw material was much better than anything we had on the “Cry Out For Metal” album. And yes, we should have release this second one. But… it didn’t happen. A few years ago there was the idea, that we have do it right now. With today’s possibilities this would be very easy. Even myself I have a little studio in my practice room at home. But so far nothing happened in this direction. We will see, if we manage this sooner or later.

This cover was done for the re-issue of «Cry Out for Metal» via Stormspell Records

Ralf: We started to work on the second album in the summer of 86. We had 12 songs almost finished and recorded them with an old 4-track machine in our rehearsal-room. Gama did not show much interest in the ‘slower’ songs. Unfortunately, our singer, Wolfgang — we rehearsed at his house — didn’t have any more desire to do more with Vampyr. He later founded, Brandon Wolf — a country-rock band, and opened his own studio. So we split up Vampyr. In retrospective I have to say, that we might have given up too early after having released just one album. The new songs we already had developed for the follow-up included some really good ideas and we all improved our instrumental skills by gaining a lot of experience. So I’m pretty sure, that it would have become a great second album… even the cover would have been light-years away from the first one — it would have included our Vampyr-head! We were maybe 5 years too late or 20 years too early …

What did you do after the band split up? Did you try to find another band to join in?

Markus: After the band split up I went to a college, focused on education and made my degree in Computer Science. Started my career within Daimler Benz and stayed many years abroad for the company (several years in the US, 3 years in Japan). In 2006, after 18 years not having one bass guitar in my hands I bought a new equipment. Not having in mind to play in a band again. Just for me. Since 2012 I am back in the scene and playing bass in several bands. Mostly Cover Rock/Hard Rock bands. Gigging in local clubs and festivals.

Ralf: Til 1992 I played in a “normal” Rock-Band and then I made a break — for 12 long years !! Today I don’t know why…  8 Years ago an old friend of mine asked me to play in his band — JAM (classic rock covers — the good old stuff like Deep Purple, AC/DC, Whitesnake and a few metal like Manowar, Gamma Ray, Accept etc. a good mixture for us old men). Fortunately, I said yes, and there I play till today. Still with my two arrows (guitars), with whom we had recorded “Cry Out for Metal “.

In 2008 Stormspell Records re-issued “Cry Out for Metal” with a bunch of bonus tracks. How did it happen? Were you involved in this re-issue?

 Ralf: It was a big surprise for all of us. I found the video “Sinner” on YouTube by accident — we knew nothing about the rerelease. (The rights on the songs were long gone.) But we are really happy about it. Stormspell took great care with the cover and the booklet. And the idea to put some videos on the CD was good, too.

Do you still stay in touch with other members of Vampyr? Have you ever thought about Vampyr’s reunion?

Markus: Definitely! I have regular and intensive contact with Ralf Hollmer, who became a good friend of mine beside of music. Wolfgang and Lubo I also meet from time to time. The only one I do not have contact is Roman (the drummer). Having no idea why, just happened.

Ralf: Yes, we are still in contact. Wolfgang still runs his studio near Ulm. Lubosch and Roman Sterzik  own some restaurants nearby lake Constance. Markus Maier is working with  Daimler in Stuttgart. When Stormspell re-released the CD, we met and even rehearsed the old songs. But we realized very quickly that we would have to give a lot of energy in the whole thing again to do it RIGHT. Stormspell wanted to release a second album with Vampyr.

Do you still listen to heavy metal and keep an eye on what is happening to the metal scene?

Markus: Of course, once you are in the metal scene it will never leave you. Somehow I am still 70% in the late 70’s / 80’s metal scene. That’s just the best age (forget the 90’s). And I am also interested in actual metal, progressive and gothic music (Masterplan, Dream Theater, Maiden, Disturbed, Delain, Evanescence, Amorphis,  Rammstein, Nightwish, Stratovarius, Saxon, Pretty Maids, etc.). The only problem for me sometimes is that metal now is such a complex genre with those sub-categories, etc.

Ralf: Yeah, I still listen to Metal — Metal is not a question of age, it’s a question of attitude (and honour). I still like the classics like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Metallica, etc. Then: Nightwish, Pretty Maids, Rammstein, etc. And also German bands: Edguy, Gamma Ray… Also I hear a lot of Dream Theater. The difference to the 80s is that today there are many more bands. In Amazon, the Internet can you also hear a lot more bands than 25 years ago. Unfortunately, not many metal-bands can live from their music. The big money was made in the 90s …. Metal-Heads used to be be very tolerant in the 80s, Is it still like that today ?? For example — I don’t like ‘growling’, but everyone should hear the metal that he likes !!!.

Markus, I know that you really succeeded in the car industry and used to live in Japan. Was it easy for you to quit music and became successful manager, learn new things etc.? Did you feel something like you are betraying ideals and dreams of your youth?

Markus: Though question. I think I’ve always been realistic enough not to focus extremely on becoming a Rock Star. I liked the scene, liked to play on stage. That’s it. Therefore it was not really a big deal to end my musician career as a young guy and concentrate on “real life”. I knew so many musicians, much better than we. None of them really managed it to become so popular to live from music. Therefore, looking back, I am proud of my history, I would do it exactly the same way again, but I am also happy that I did not end as a disillusioned musician without a fundamental education.

May, 2017