Interview with Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear)

On the eve of releasing their 10th album Delivering The Black, Ralf Scheepers, lead singer with Primal Fear chatted to Mick Burgess about the making of the album and the biggest world tour the band will be playing in their 16 year history.

Your new album Delivering The Black has just been released. You must be excited now that it’s out?

I am absolutely excited. Everybody in the band knows they’ve been doing a great job and giving their best effort and the reviews have been brilliant so far. It’s such a great reward to hear such good reviews and we can’t wait to hear the feedback from our fans now that the album is out.

What is the meaning behind the title?

We wanted to deliver the message that this album is a little darker than the one before. We thought it was a strong sounding title and just sounded right for the record.

When did you first start working on the new songs for the album?

It was approximately one year ago. Mat and Magnus work together a lot over Skype for Primal Fear and for other artists too and they know how each other work. They then sent stuff over to me and I added my melodies to it. I’d work with Mat in my house and develop the ideas. Some of the songs already had melodies and lyrics as Mat is such a great songwriter. It’s a real team effort and I relaxed my voice beforehand so I didn’t have to record it all in 10 days like we did back in the early days so I had plenty of time to record my parts and that took some of the stress involved in the process and I think my voice sounds really powerful as a result on the record.

You’ve gone for bigger more epic arrangements on “When Death Comes Knocking” and “One Night In December”. Did you want to open up things a bit and spread your musical wings?

“One Night In December” is an outstanding epic track. It’s over 9 minutes long and that might sound boring but it’s not. Everything is in there. There’s a fast verse with aggressive vocals then a mellow chorus with a catchy melody. Then there’s all the atmospheric instrumental parts with symphonic samples and it all sounds huge, dramatic and exciting. We’re all really pleased. We wanted to progress as a band. We are doing the music that we like and we also want to please our fans. We wanted to put in a little more atmosphere and melody and as you say, we wanted to spread our wings a little more on this album. We actually started in this direction with Seven Seals with the ballads and strings and we just wanted to take that idea even further this time without forgetting our roots by doing heavy tracks and thrashy songs.

Born with a “Broken Heart” is a more laid back affair. Was it important to you to have light and shade on the album?

We didn’t want to do a piano ballad so much which is why there’s still the distorted guitars in there, it’s not really a soft ballad that could be easily done by a boy band but we wanted to do something a little more laid back to give the album that variety.

Liv Kristine from Leave’s Eyes guests on backing vocals. Who’s idea was it to include Liv?

Mat was jogging listening to the demo and he thought that the chorus needed something. He wanted a female voice just to add some colour but not a duet like “Everytime It Rains” that we did with Simone Simons. We had already done that so we just wanted to add some colour to the chorus and we asked Liv. She adds a great vibe to it. It’s not too loud in the mix but really adds to the song. There’s an alternate mix on the Japanese bonus track where she is standing out more in the song and she does harmonies in the bridge too.

How long did the whole recording process take?

It took around nine months to a year including the time taken to record demos and work on ideas. It took around three months from laying down the initial drum tracks to doing the final mix.

Mat has produced or co-produced pretty much every Primal Fear album. What sort of producer is he like in the studio?

He knows what he wants. It’s always good to have one guy who knows what we need and how to do it. There has to be one person who in the end makes the decision and draws the line on what is done. There’ve been more compromises in the past than there has been for Delivering The Black but we all knew the direction for this album beforehand and everybody knew where we wanted to go. In the end though someone has to make the final decision and that is what Mat does and he’s well experienced in knowing what we want and need.

This is your 10th studio album in 16 years. That’s an impressive work rate. You clearly like to be creative and release your material quickly. Would the thought of a 5 year recording process like a Boston or Def Leppard drive you mad?

We have four writing members and everyone is so productive. We all write and contribute so it’s not that hard when we get together to create our music. When I receive a great demo from Magnus and Mat it is so easy to find a great melody in 15 minutes. When I hear what they have done that is exactly what I want to do so that’s how we can work so fast.

It’s been pretty much an album every two years apart from between 16.6 and Unbreakable where it was 3 years. Have you ever gone through a period of writer’s block where you just couldn’t create anything?

There’s been times where I have personally had a block due to things going on in my life like getting divorced but the other guys always help to overcome that. We work so well together as a team.

You have a deluxe version of the album available too. What have you included with that?

There’s the videos to both singles, “When Death Comes Knocking” and “King For A Day”. There’s also two additional tracks. “Man Without A Shadow” which could almost be a Sinner song sung by me and “Innocent Man”, which is a mid tempo track with a catchy chorus and very melodic. We thought it was really hard to choose the bonus tracks as they were all so well played and recorded. It was a shame to leave them off the regular album but they need the bonus tracks in the business.

You’ve released the album again on Frontiers. Have you noticed any differences since your Seven Seals album was released Nuclear Blast back in 2005?

You can’t really distinguish between them. We are doing our job as musicians and the labels do their job too. Sometimes you wish you had a little more promotion or more support here and there but we can’t complain. Frontiers have given us a great base to work from. They’ve done a great job producing the album and helping to make the video clips by supporting us with money to do that. They are also personally fans of the music and that’s important to us too. They were also fans at Nuclear Blast but we felt maybe they were losing focus on a number of bands and we were becoming a number. We felt it was the right time to move and have a fresh start but without forgetting the great things that they did for us. They did a great job for us and there’s still a great vibe when we meet the people that we worked with at Nuclear Blast. Sometimes you just have to change the team and that’s why we joined Frontiers.

As far as touring goes, will you be hitting the road in support of Delivering the Black soon?

We’ll be going on a huge tour starting on 24th January where we’ll be out for 4 or 5 months across Europe including Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the Czech Republic and I hope the promoters are working on some UK dates as we really want to play some shows over there. We have a four week break and then four of us will take part in the Rock With Classic event with Alice Cooper and everybody’s really looking forward to that. When we come back we’ll have a 3 week break and then head to North America for 4 weeks. We’ll then do some summer festivals. After that we head down to South America. We’ll also go to Japan this year and negotiations are underway for our first visit to Australia. That’ll be amazing for us to go there.

Magnus will be absent from the forthcoming tour. Why is he stepping aside?

Magnus has three kids so he has an agreement with his wife that he won’t go out on tour for long periods and he has a day job as well and we absolutely respect that. We’ll support Magnus as he has supported us. We treat him how we like to be treated ourselves so we totally support Magnus over this.

Tom Naumann your original guitarist is returning to help you out. It must be good to be able to call on Tom to step back into the band?

We asked Tom if he was able time wise and if he wanted to do it and he was really happy at being able to hit the stages with us again. It was great to be able to call on Tom as it meant that we didn’t have to bring in a new face and he knew how we all work. It’s great for him to be back.

When you’re out on the road, it must take a heavy toll on your voice. How do you look after your voice on tour?

I have to warm up my voice properly and really look after it on the road. I have to try to get as much sleep as I can but sometimes that’s not possible on a tour bus as the crew is there too partying until 5:00 am. I just try to look after it as well as I can and hope that I don’t catch any colds that are going around so that I can do the best performance that I can.

You applied to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest. Did you actually get to play with the band at an audition?

I never auditioned and never saw the band but I got close to it but then they got Tim Owens. I still have the letter from Jane Andrews, their manager on my wall. Tim became my buddy over the years. It would have been amazing to sing with Priest but the same thing that happened to Tim would have happened to me. Everything happens for a reason and maybe I wouldn’t have formed Primal Fear if I had got the job so they are happy and we are happy.

Do you have any plans to follow up your 2011 solo album?

I think it was just a one off. The record company didn’t take up the option for a second album and I’m not ready to do another one yet and I just don’t have the time with being so major, major busy with Primal Fear.

Other than releasing the album and touring, do you have any other plans for 2014?

I will be working with an American band called Black Welder. I’ll be composing songs and doing melodies for them but they’ll have to be patient as my priority this year is Primal Fear. There’s also a band from Norway called Tomorrow’s Outlook that I’ve also been working with but again everyone will have to wait until I have some time where Primal Fear are not touring as this year is going to be so busy out on the road.

Primal Fear’s new album Delivering the Black is out now on Frontiers Records.

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  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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