When an Axel Rudi Pell album comes on your way, you know that it will be a fine heavy metal release, a decent guitar-driven album of melodic metal. The well-respected German guitarist is releasing his new album, the beautiful “Sign of the Times” albums, and our magazine grabbed the chance and spoke with Pell. A very interesting chat follows, as you will witness by yourselves: we covered every significant topic, in an interview about Pell, his band, his new album, his past, present and future. Proceed please!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
Good afternoon, Axel! How are you doing?
I am fine, thank you! How are you, Dimitris?
I am fine too, Axel! Where do I find you now?
I am at home of course, since no one is allowed to go out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Isolated at home, like everybody, heh?
Yes, isolated with my wife at home, we are living together normally. We are allowed to get to the super market to get some stuff, but nowhere else, as almost everything is closed.
How do you spend your free time at home now?
Just giving plenty of phone interviews, like now, haha! I am also preparing some bits and pieces, nothing really special.
Axel, these days you are releasing your new album, “Sign of the Times”. Which are your feelings?
I love the new album, it is great. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule its release due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was due out on April 24 and it was finally released on May 8. Everybody is excited with the new album, especially me, the boys in the band and the record company. We will see how far it goes, but it is a really, really great album.
Your previous album, “Knights Call”, was a big success, both artistically and commercially. Do you think that with the new album you will have again the same feedback?
We really hope so! With the last album we reached number nine in the German top 100 album charts, which was something really cool! That album was streamed over two million and a half times over the internet. It was a big success. During the coronavirus times, it is hard to say whether this album will reach the same amount of people or not. There are still people who would like to buy the real CD or vinyl of the new album, all record stores are closed at the moment though – they will have to get it via Amazon or any online record shop. Of course, the new album can be downloaded or streamed … we have to wait and see. I hope that the new album will be successful too, because it is a good record. I believe that “Sign of the Times” is one of the best albums we have done so far!
When was the new album recorded and at which studio(s)?
As far as I can remember, it was recorded last year, between November and the end of December, in the Twilight Hall Studio (Grefrath, Germany), which is owned by Blind Guardian. We recorded everything there apart from the vocals – Johnny (Gioeli) recorded the vocals at his house in New York.
Is it true that you wrote the new album very quickly?
Yes, yes, the writing process went really fast. I sit down and prepare my demos, this time I was very fast, much faster than I thought before, haha!
How do you explain this?
Because the magic was right in the air! When I sat down and put together all my ideas, my guitar riffs, melody lines and stuff, in order to come up with the real songs and record them at home, I felt something special, there was something special in the air, something I can’t describe. I had so many new ideas!
In the “Sign of the Times” album you don’t co-operate with producer Charlie Bauerfeind, as you did in your nine previous albums. Why did this happen?
I asked Charlie again to be at the production helm for our new album. He answered me that he would like very much to work with us again, but unfortunately, he couldn’t do it, he didn’t have much time, since he was already booked for the recordings of the new Helloween album, for a five-month recording period with Helloween. He said he couldn’t do it, he was so sorry for not being able to work with us in this new album. However, he suggested that we worked with Tommy Geiger. Tommy works together with Charlie, he is his assistant, they have worked together for bands like Blind Guardian and Helloween. Tommy had also mixed our last live album, the “XXX Anniversary Live” album (2019), and of course, our 25th anniversary live album (“Magic Moments”, 2015). I knew that Tommy is a great engineer, a great mixing guy. When I spoke with him, he seemed so enthusiastic and that’s how the whole thing happened.
“Sign of the Times” is your 18th full-length studio album. What does inspire you to compose music and write lyrics after so many albums, after so many years?
I am always writing songs, I still feel inside me the fire and the flame burning for music. I want to go out and show to the people that I still can write songs, which are great, at least I really hope that they are great! That’s what is happening with me, I can’t stop it! I think I will write songs even at the age of 120, if I reach it!
I think that your new album is simplier, more song-oriented and your guitar solos aren’t too long and over the top. Do you agree with me?
Yes, absolutely. That’s definitely what I had in mind before we recorded our new album. It is very easy for me to have long songs with long guitar solos, I can stretch my songs, for example I could add five minutes to the title song of the new album, with a big guitar solo in the middle or something. That wasn’t my intention this time. I wanted to keep things straight and not to play more than I need to in every song. So, most of the new songs are compact. I don’t want to show off and prove my abilities as a guitarist. I don’t need to have another long song!
One of the songs that I really liked in the new album was “Living in a Dream”. This song has some reggae elements!
You know, the song was originally ready, it was done, completed. Then I said to myself, “OK, the song starts with a guitar, I have so many songs which start with a guitar! I think I’ll go for something special!”. I picked up the guitar and started playing something that seemed to me a bit … reggae! Why do I play reggae now, I wondered and I thought that it maybe was a sign from above, haha! Maybe someone wants me to play that reggae thing, haha! So I decided to write down this reggae part of the song. I called the other guys in the band and told them that there will be a reggae part in the next album, everybody was laughing and thought I was making a joke! “Ahhh, a reggae part, come on, you motherfucker!”, they were saying, haha! Bobby (Rondinelli), our drummer, came to the studio and I told him that we will rehearse a song with a reggae part … he asked me if I was crazy, he thought it was just a joke! We laughed so much, it was so much fun doing it!
Let’s go to the lyrics, now. The new songs are more realistic lyric wise, this time they don’t refer to kings, knights and dragons but to social and political issues.
A lot of things have happened to the world these last two years, since the release of “Knights Call”, we’ ve got religion wars, we’ ve got street fights, we’ ve got the climate change of our planet, so many different things … I thought to myself that it was time to write some more serious lyrics, so I did it. Of course, not all the songs of the album are about these things, there are a few songs about love, friendship and relationships in general.
In the cover of the album, we see a clock and the time is two minutes after midnight. Why is that?
Yes, it is a little too late for the world, because of all these things that are happening at the moment. Let’s see what we can do about it for the rest of the time.
Axel, this is your band, so I am wondering which is the contribution of the rest of the guys in the band to the songs.
Of course, they also contribute, they are playing on the album, haha! But, to be honest, they don’t have a big input, because I write everything before we enter the studio, I play all the instruments by myself and I am writing the songs at home. Of course, everybody has his own contribution, for example Bobby, who is one of the top drummers of the world. When he gets to the studio and I present him with a new song, he usually says, “Wow, I know exactly what you want me to play there!” and he starts playing the groove! Everybody has something special to give, as they are all very good musicians, you know. Even Ferdy (Doernberg), the keyboard player, when he is listening to a new song of mine, always asks me if he can change the melody at some point of the song. I think that’s very cool for our band.
Let’s say that you decide to play an album of yours in its entirety on a certain live show. Which album would you choose and why?
No! Definetely no! I hate the live concerts, where bands play all the songs of one of their albums, I would never do it! An album is an album, it represents a certain period of my life at a different time. Why should I repeat it now in complete? I don’t see any reason for that. When we go out on a tour, we play at least four-five tracks from our new record and then some best of songs from our past. Sometimes we select to play songs, which we don’t play usually live, like last year in our 30th anniversary tour, when we played the song “Voodoo Nights”! It comes from our “The Masquerade Ball” album (2000) and we have never played it before live. There are rimes that we want to surprise our fans by choosing some different songs that we don’t play live that often.
Who are your favorite guitar players of all time?
My favorite guitarsts? … Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Jimi Hendrix, … I have to think … Uli Jon Roth and Eddie Van Halen.
You have your birthday in June. You are turning 60 years old.
Well, the conversation is over, bye bye! Hahahaha!
Haha! Which would be the perfect birthday present for you?
Unfortunately, no presents at all, since we are living in the Coronavirus times and there isn’t going to be a big party, everything is closed, haha!
What about your upcoming tour, Axel?
We had to reschedule the first part of the tour, due to the pandemic, so it won’t be happening at all. It would start now, but it is impossible, so we schedule it for April 2021. There is the second part of the tour, which has now become the first part, and it will take place in October-November 2020. However, we don’t know if we can do it, since the German government announced that no show will be allowed until the end of August, nothing will happen at all, that’s for sure. So, I don’t have a clue … we want to get out and play again, but we will have to wait and see, I can’t tell you at the moment.
Your message to the Greek fans?
I really hope that we will be able to play two or three shows in Greece some time. I have been on several vacations in Greece, our bass player, Volker Krawczak, visits Greece three or four times every year, he loves to be in your country. My favorite food is the Greek cuisine, unfortunately, I can’t go to a Greek restaurant now, all are closed, because of this fucking virus, you know. Eventually, in a couple of months, a little light might appear on the sky and everything will be OK again, everything will get to normal again. Stay healthy!
OK, Axel, thank you very much!
Thank you, bye bye!