If you are a fan of balls out pure Heavy Metal power than you can never go wrong with one of the legendary mainstays in the genre, and I am speaking about none other than Metal Church. I always loved that name since it resonated loud and when the band steamrolled into town as one of the openers for Overkill I was fortunate enough to have some time to sit down and speak to the band’s founding member, guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. We secured some space in the backstage region of B.B. King Blues Club and got to talking about the band’s new members and newest release on SPV Records. Kurdt was a friendly dude who I definitely enjoyed speaking to and to see how the dialogue went down he early part of 2007 and was one of our first covered gigs of the year and not only featured Overkill as headliner, but Joey Belladonna (formerly of Anthrax) and Meliah Rage as support. It was a really intense Metal night that no one left disappointed from. In 2006, Kurdt and his Metal Church band mates recorded and released “A Light In The Dark”; it would be an album that finds Kurdt as the only original member remaining in the roster but yet despite this there is a familiar feel to the recording. We asked him about the old days, the new days, the new members and music and here is the conversation we had.
PiercingMetal.com: We are standing here talking to Kurdt Vanderhoof of Metal Church one of the long-standing pioneers of the Thrash Metal movement. Kurdt, you have been part of the band since the beginning; I wanted to ask you what it was like being part of the growing Thrash Metal movement back then.
Vanderhoof: Well it was certainly quite exciting because it was a real groundswell and everyone was interested and it was just a real exciting time. Back then we were playing with all the bands like Anthrax, Slayer, and Metallica who were part of this movement and you really felt like you were part of something big.
PiercingMetal.com: What appealed to you most about the aggressive music that this was as compared to the more conventional Hard Rock in the States and the NWOBHM from Europe.
Vanderhoof: Well it was the influence of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that got me into it and this was kinda transferred for me since I was also very into the first wave of British Punk as well. For me this got a little tired musically so when I started catching wind about the stuff that was going on in England at that time, it was like the perfect transition. So that was really exciting getting into the Iron Maiden, The Motorhead, The Saxon and the others who were along those lines. It felt like “here is my music” and especially when you are a kid of twenty years old.
PiercingMetal.com: The group has had a very illustrious and interesting career over the years and has maintained a very devout and loyal following – do they help you continue to raise the charge for Metal glory? Whats special about the Metal Church fans the most in your opinion.
Vanderhoof: I think that they have a lot to do with it, because there have been a lot of member changes and all that kind of thing too but I that the fans who have stayed with it have done so because it still always sounded like Metal Church. No matter what the lineup ended up being, we were still doing a lot of the older stuff and everyone seems to be happy that we are still doing it justice and it still sounds good. I think also that a lot of it is because we have always managed to stay true to what Metal Church was all about. We didn’t try to update our sound and we certainly haven’t tried to do that on the last couple of records and we will not try to update it because we are “Old School Heavy Metal” and it would be absolutely ridiculous for us to add a DJ and stuff like that. (I make human beat box noises to spark some laughs). So that is what it is kind of all about we have simply remained doing the same thing and that keeps your following.
PiercingMetal.com: When 2004 came around and you found yourself working with an almost completely new lineup under the Metal Church banner, were you concerned about the fan base and what they would think of it.
Vanderhoof: Oh absolutely, absolutely but after a couple of rehearsals working on some of the old stuff and listening to it, especially with Ronnie Munroe in there, and the job that he can do with the old stuff you are like OK, people are going to be a little bit with the standing with their arms crossed but that is to be expected as I even do this myself when it comes to my favorite bands and they change lineups. Yet I think we have kind of proven ourselves to still be Metal Church. We might have a slightly different sound but we have made sure to still pay homage to the old stuff and this is now a continuation of that. It’s been twenty-two years after all but I think when people hear it, and see it that they say “ok, yes this is Metal Church”. I totally understand any of the hesitation and I totally get that mentality that it’s all new, different and whatever but I ask that they just give it a chance, check it out and then make the decision. .
PiercingMetal.com: Having seen the end-result already I know what we are in for and I am sure most will be pleased. How did you like working with Ronny Monroe when you first placed him in the spot that David Wayne and Mike Howe had once so ably performed in as front man.
Vanderhoof: Well that was kind of the whole catalyst for getting this thing started was finding him. Hearing his voice, and hearing what he could do with the old stuff and then when it came to new material he was making it sound like Metal Church should but also forming his own identity. For me that was a real exciting moment. I felt that it was possible to give this a legitimate shot, and have most of the fans be pleased with the outcome.
PiercingMetal.com: Ronny in my opinion, has great Metal and Rock singer in his blood – have you seen a renewed interest in Metal Church since he began fronting the line on the recordings and at the performances?
Vanderhoof: Yes, quite a bit actually since people have come to see the band and heard him live. The first album he was really kind of finding his voice and stuff like that but it seems to have grown on the second record. (Munroe’s first album for Metal Church would be “The Weight Of The World”, also available on SPV Records). It is after the fans see us live that they get sold. They see him and feel that it is someone who is doing it justice and it’s not just some old guys milking some old history out of the name.
PiercingMetal.com: I’m starting to wonder if you are peeking at my questions because you are just flowing right into each consecutive one on me. So regarding reunions and history I have this thought for you. Reunions are common place in Metal nowadays no matter what the current band is doing, and given that aspect how hard was it to find the Metal world losing David Wayne in such a tragedy. Even though he was not a member anymore, did you find it a little difficult to press on.
Vanderhoof: Well, we were kind of already doing it before he passed away but when he did pass away it was a little strange because he was the first member of the Metal Church family that we had lost. So that was kind of like “wow” and here we are moving into this era where sadly some people don’t make it. It was really a strange moment and in some sense it still is. Of course all of us still give him the due respect that is necessary.
PiercingMetal.com: And of course I apologize for the difficult question. Changes continued in the lineup and you soon found Kirk needing to step down from the drum chair because of his health issues – how did you decide that Jeff Plate would be the best fit for the group?
Vanderhoof: Well that was kind of a “no auditions necessary” sort of thing, and we have worked with him before because I was out with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and I asked him about the spot and he replied “yeah ok”. Done. That worked out perfectly and we couldn’t be happier.
PiercingMetal.com: A new drummer can change the way a band progresses in both musical style as well as overall delivery. I wonder if you found this happening with Jeff slamming the kit.
Vanderhoof: To a certain degree yeah because he is a little more —– hmmm, well lets see, Kirk was a little more fly by the seat of your pants player but Jeff is more of an on the money guy. He figures everything out to perfection, I cant think of any other way to describe it. He is a little more trained and a little more solid.
As we talk, the staff rolls the barrier walls for the crowd by and I inform Kurdt of the last time I caught an Overkill show how they used a simple rail that just did not work. It almost collapsed on me in the photo pit despite the strength of four bouncers who said “run”. After the show Blitz himself was amused that I was still breathing and said “oh good you’re alive”. Thankfully there are stronger gates used now.
PiercingMetal.com: “A Light In The Dark” is now yourself and a completely different roster from the bands beginnings – does that feel strange to you at all?
Vanderhoof: You know it did at first but just kind of on paper because we all gelled together so well and now it is just a continuation.
PiercingMetal.com: I can safely say that it doesn’t sound like a “new” Metal Church to me at all. It does have that progressed continuation sort of vibe to it. You have managed to keep a lot of that old classic style but at the same time you have modified somewhat. This all brings me to my next thought and that is what are some of the things that you like about this rebuilt lineup and how they deliver the Metal?
Vanderhoof: Well for one thing we are a lot older and wiser and with everybody being through this already the professionalism level is way up. That’s a big plus because we are a lot more productive as result and a lot more is able to get done. We get along better and we know how to get along better rather than the egos and stuff of our twenties with booze or drugs or what have you. All of that stuff is gone.
PiercingMetal.com: Yes at this stage of life different things are on the line.
PiercingMetal.com: Would you say this is the strongest album you have recorded to date?
Vanderhoof: I don’t know that would really depend on certain things. Since I make the records myself now, and I look back on the old days with the first couple or three records and they had a certain energy or sound and this was also a period of time so I really can’t say that since I honestly don’t know. It might not necessarily be the strongest one, but it is in fact one of my favorites.
PiercingMetal.com: With the album on the streets for almost a year now, has it and the new lineup been met with a positive response and what is your take on it as well.
Vanderhoof: Yes, it has been met with a stronger response that that of “Weight Of The World”. I think that it is just because it is a better album overall, and while there are some great moments on that record it was also very much a new band finding their sound and redeveloping. OK, this album we have Jeff onboard but we are gelling more as a band and developing better and better.
PiercingMetal.com: In the mind of Kurdt Vanderhoof – Define the state of Heavy Metal music today in your opinion, and where do you find Metal Church fitting in.
Vanderhoof: Well, we certainly don’t fit in much with today’s stuff and the cookie monster stuff or the Satanic stuff which is fine with us because we don’t want to. I think the state of Heavy Metal in America is very underground and its almost as if we are all cool again.
PiercingMetal.com: We stopped being cool? Damn.
Vanderhoof: Well, no, but the media didn’t know that but I think that based on the fact that the industry is considerably different now that it could be a lot bigger than it is. The media just needs to pay more attention to it rather than just ignoring it again. With the record companies merging and all this kind of stuff that it is just underground with the potential of breaking again. All I am sure of is that it is not going away.
PiercingMetal.com: What’s next for Kurdt Vanderhoof and perhaps Presto Ballet, recordings and touring?
Vanderhoof: As soon as this tour is over we are doing another Presto Ballet record and yes there are going to be some shows as well. The Prog thing is a little bit harder to get on the road because the market is pretty small. I definitely want to do some shows with this, so we will see what happens.
PiercingMetal.com: Then what next for Metal Church?
Vanderhoof: A new album after that, so I have two albums to do when I get home.
PiercingMetal.com: Any closing comments for the readers?
Vanderhoof: No, other than thanks for the years of support, we really appreciate it.
PiercingMetal.com: What is the set like for tonight, are we doing a lot of old stuff?
Vanderhoof: Not too strong on the new album, and aiming to give a little bit of everything. We only are doing a 45 minute set tonight so we have to cut half of it out from the normal 1.5 hours. We are going to give everyone the highlights and hoping that we have something in there for everyone to enjoy.
This was a fun and comfortable interview, and one can truly appreciate those. I enjoyed talking to Kurdt because he is clearly someone who enjoys what he does very much, and has such a strong belief in this music that we all hold close to our hearts. They came on shortly after our meeting and the club was packed – singer Ronnie Munroe was definitely singing his heart out and the guys in Metal Church delivered the goods for that all too short 45 minute appearance. Check that new album out when you get a chance, it’s a keeper.
Official Website: http://www.metalchurchmusic.com/