In my capacity as a music journalist, I have had the chance of meeting up and chatting with Grave Digger’s frontman Christ Boltendahl many times over the years and there’s never been a single occasion where I have found the said experience to be anything other than highly enjoyable. With their latest album “Healed By Metal” currently winning over many ‘metal hearts’ around the globe, the focus of this interview was in the creative process behind the ten new compositions on offer, the band’s touring plans as well as an attempt on my part to persuade Chris to get his band to visit Greece one more time.
By Ioannis (John) Stefanis.
Chris: Hi Ioannis. Sorry for the two minute delay (note: what a German thing to say) but I had to finish my last interview properly.
- No problem Chris. I understand that there are many interesting things you have to share with people regarding your latest album “Healed By Metal” – things that I hope you’re willing to share with Get Ready To Rock as well.
Chris: Of course.
- Ok then – let’s crack on. Well, it is great to have Grave Digger back with another strong album, the eighteenth in line (note: leaving aside 1986’s “Stronger Than Ever” which was released under the moniker Digger). What we have here is another example of classic, riff-orientated Metal, the kind that made a name for the band over the years. To your fans out there it feels almost effortless releasing such an album – was that indeed the case? Was the creation of “Healed By Metal” a simple case of you instinctively doing what you know best, or part of a well-arranged plan?
Chris: We are not the kind of band that does things without a plan in mind (laughs). Every time we see each other and we are ready to work for a new album we have a very clear plan in mind and, in this case, the plan was to base our music on good solid guitar riffs and catchy choruses in the traditional Grave Digger style. We first started the process last April, when we met in the studio for eight days and everybody put their ideas on the table. We worked around these ideas very hard and the end result was that we came out of the studio with twelve songs in our hands – twelve songs that were not finished but pretty much formed. Then we started the pre-production during which time I focused on the lyrics. The whole process, from beginning to end, lasted between six to eight months.
- Wow, that was quite some time.
Chris: Well, we were not working on the album every single day of the week but that’s how much it takes for us to bring complete ideas to life.
- Most of the people I know who play in classic Metal bands claim that there are no new riffs to be created in this kind of music – a logic that you guys are happy to defy. How is it possible to continue recording good quality music in that specific genre and what would you say is the motivating force behind your music?
Chris: I would say that we are inspired by our own creativity. As you well know, we have been playing this style of music for many years now and every single member of this band is a much accomplished musician, so at the end what we do is simply play the type of music that we love – the music we grew up listening to. We are lucky to have acquired our own style over the years and that, I believe, is the most important thing to have. When people say to me “oh, you sound like this or that band” my response to them is “well, we sound like Grave Digger, thank you very much” (laughs).
- Well, with the exception of the keyboard player, Marcus Kiep, who joined the band in 2014, the rest of you have been playing together for a good seven years now, which is a long enough time to help you develop a certain chemistry.
Chris: Yes, the rest of the band has been together for almost eight years, while the core members have been playing together for more than twenty years and that certainly makes things easier when bringing new music to life, but, at the end of the day, it all boils down to good quality control, you know? I have to really feel that a certain song deserves to be released under the Grave Digger moniker – if not, then we simply discard it. We create many riffs when working on a new album but not all of them are good enough to make it to a Grave Digger album. The quality level in the decision making process is very high indeed. Because our music is pretty guitar-oriented, we place much focus on the quality of the riffs we choose to utilise and so the decision making process is very tough indeed.
- So what you are saying is that most Grave Digger songs are born the moment the selection of the basic guitar riff is made? Are there no instances where a catchy vocal tune will be the point of inspiration for the creation of a new composition?
Chris: We follow both approaches; sometimes it’s a guitar riff, sometimes a vocal line that Axel (note: Ritt – guitars) will pick up and build a riff upon. We kind of feed each other ideas and that is very good indeed.
- Most of the reviews I read so far are pretty complementary of “Healed By Metal” and I am sure that most of my colleagues have shared their personal favourites with you over the course of this interview period. My personal take of the album is that the closer it comes to the end, the better it becomes – something quite unusual as most bands tend to place their strongest material at the start of an album. I feel that songs like “The Hangman’s Eye” and “Hallelujah” are two of the strongest, most impressive tracks of this album. Was this another well calculated move on your part?
Chris: (laughs) It’s good to hear people’s various interpretations of the album because I never think of things in such ways, you know? Some people have said “Healed By Metal” is a very cheesy song while the rest of the songs are stronger while others say that the same-titled track is the best of the album, you know? I like such contradictions; if everybody shared the same opinion things would be pretty boring for me, you know? I have done many interviews so far and everyone seems to have their personal favourites and that, for me, is a great thing.
- Ok but what about you? Which are your favorite tracks of the new album? Which are the songs that will find their place in the set list during the upcoming tour?
Chris: For me the best songs are those who work best in a live environment, songs like “Healed By Metal” and “Lawbreaker” – I can imagine people singing along to those tunes in our live shows.
- Well, you’ve already had the chance of presenting some of the new material live as you’ve finished a South American tour that was mainly focused on Brazil – a country that has been a favorite destination for the band over the last few years. It seems like you have a very strong fan base in the country made famous by football and Samba. How did you enjoy you shows down there?
Chris: Our Brazilian fans are quite passionate and we love that. We played in two places in Brazil that we’ve never played before, in Belem in the Amazonas and Recife which is in the north of the country – both hot placed with great levels of humidity and so it was a totally new experience for us. The great thing about being a musician in a band of our status is that you get to play in places all around the world, in cities previously unknown to you where you get the chance to perform in front of one to two thousand people who go crazy. What can I say; being a touring musician is the greatest gift I was ever given. If I die tomorrow I will do so knowing that I have experienced so many great things in life. I tried to make many people happy, help them have a good time listening to our music (laughs).
- That is great to know, however, it’s better not to contemplate such things as we do want to have you guys around in the years to come (I laugh).
Chris: Thanks – we hope so too (laughs).
- The change in the way the music industry operates means that the main focus of any band, in order to remain able of sustaining itself, is touring. When the time comes to choose of potential places to visit, is the decision making simply based on pure economics? What is the main criteria behind such a decision?
Chris: Money (laughs).
- Well, we do like an honest answer when we are presented with one (I laugh).
Chris: Yes, at the end of the day I cannot be in the position of having to put money out of my pocket in order to do a show at a specific location, you know? The only money I make in order to sustain myself and my band is through music – that is not a secret. I do play in places where the amount of money on offer is not that huge but, at the end of the day, I want to be able to feed my family and I want to offer my musicians a decent salary, you know? On the other hand, we are happy to travel around the world and present our music to our fans as this is the most important thing for us.
- So it all boils down to having a local organiser you can trust making a decent offer and playing in these parts of the world where past experiences have been positive for you and your band.
Chris: Yes, that’s exactly what it boils down to. Money is an important factor but not the ‘be-all and end-all’. I would never play in a place like Afghanistan as I have a responsibility toward my family to remain safe and I hate having to place myself in strange situations for no reasons, you know? There are different things to consider when deciding which places you can play and which you cannot. One consideration is certainly the salary involved but personal safety, for instance, is even more important.
- I totally understand and I am sure that you have already experienced your fair share of uncomfortable situations over the years.
Chris: Yes, for sure. Please don’t get me started (laughs).
- I was checking the Tour section of your website just before you called, to see if there are any Greek dates featured there and, sadly, I have not come across any.
Chris: Well, you know that Greece is my favorite country and I’m not just saying that. I visit your country at least twice a year, and mostly on Crete which I absolutely adore.
- Well, is there a chance to have you over following the culmination of the Summer Festival period – one that finds you playing shows in massive festivals such as Graspop and Wacken?
Chris: We do want to come over but we need to be provided with a proper offer by a local organiser. Last time we came because Haris (note: Katinakis – a well-known and well-respected Greek promoter) arranged a couple of shows but, sadly, the current political and economic situation is not that good (note: tell me about it…) and so I am not sure if it will make sense to bring over big live shows as I am sure that people will prefer spending their money on more important things.
- Well, you will be surprised to know that people have not stopped supporting live shows. In times of great economic instability such as these, music and the arts are important in keeping the band in a positive mental state so, if anything, I think that we should be having more shows than we currently do. It reminds me of the time back in the 80s when people would sacrifice anything in order to be able to see their favorite band. Metal is a revolutionary type of music and it is in times like these that we needs our bands to be here for us. If there’s any chance you can arrange to come to Greece I think you should do it as those fans who love Grave Digger will gain strength and hope from that.
Chris: I promise to talk to my promoter and see what can be done in that respect. We are going to play some European shows after the summer festival season is over, in places like Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France so…let’s see. Before we release our next records we will have time to play a few more shows so I hope we will be able to play for our Greek fans after all.
- I am not at all comfortable asking such a question to a band that has been around for as long as you have but I need to ask it anyway; how do you see the future of the band at this moment in time Chris? You mentioned earlier your intention of working on new material which is a pretty welcoming thought.
Chris: In the next five years we will have our fortieth anniversary (laughs) and I am sure we will arrange something truly special in order to celebrate but there are no clues as to what form these arrangements will take so I cannot share anything with you at this stage. There will be a few live shows but you will definitely hear new music from us as well.
- As a veteran of the Metal scene whose opinion does matter, have you personally come across any new music that you feel deserves people’s attention – any bands that you feel are capable of ‘carrying the torch’ so to speak after bands like Grave Digger decide to ‘call it a day’? How do you perceive the future of Metal music?
Chris: I think that a lot of ‘dinosaurs’ will die out during the next fifteen or so years and some bands must call it a day anyway as they are too old to be playing this kind of music but, as far as Grave Digger are concerned, we definitely have another highly productive ten year period ahead of us, providing that we all manage to stay healthy (laughs).
- What about an advice on the young Metal heads who are thinking of forming a band as we speak? What would you recommend they do and what should they avoid doing?
Chris: Don’t look right, don’t look left – just do your own thing, follow your own course, and just keep on going! Belief in one’s self is the key.
- Chris, I believe my twenty minutes are up. It’s always a pleasure talking to you. Good luck with everything and please keep the Grave Digger machine well-oiled and charging at full speed.
Chris: Eυχαριστώ πάρα πολύ (note: thanks you very much in Greek) and have a good night.
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