RUNNING WILD – Locomotive
On July 30th, 2009, German power metallers Running Wild performed what was billed as its ‘farewell’ show at the 2009 edition of Wacken Open Air. Filmed and recorded for CD and DVD purposes, the performance was issued as The Final Jolly Roger in June 2011 through Golden Core / ZYX. 13th studio full-length Rogues En Vogue had been released in February 2005 via GUN Records, which by 2009 seemed to be Running Wild’s swansong effort. However, this wouldn’t actually be the group’s final hurrah.
“It was about 2006 where I said goodbye to Running Wild for myself,” divulges Rolf Kasparek, vocalist, guitarist and co-founder of Running Wild. “I figured out that the last album was so heavy for me to write, and all the ideas didn’t come out of me in the right way. There were a lot of things that I had to throw away because I figured they were not strong enough to go on the album. In around 2009 the guys from Wacken came over to me, and said ‘Why don’t you do a show for the fans to say goodbye?’ I said ‘Okay, let’s try this,’ so we did it. At that time I was really sure that I would end Running Wild and not do it anymore, because it didn’t feel right anymore.
“When I was writing the Toxic Taste stuff, I figured out how it can feel when you write songs. Everything came out so easy and so natural, and when I was writing that I figured that it was the right feeling again because it felt like the old days. When I was writing songs like ‘Under Jolly Roger’ or ‘Riding The Storm’ and songs like that, they were all written in a very short period of time. I said ‘Okay, let’s try this out,’ but in 2009 my batteries were empty so to speak. I really needed a break and really had to go away fully and not do it anymore, because it didn’t feel right anymore. Today when I look back though, I see that I just needed a break to refill my batteries again.
“Toxic Taste was just a fun project. It was around 2010 that some record companies came to me, and said ‘What about re-recording old stuff from the first nine records?’ They’re no longer available because of Universal in England owning the rights to them, but not putting them out again. We were talking about that, and said ‘Let’s do this, and re-record 20 songs or something like that.’ They needed some bonus tracks for that, and when I tried to write the bonus tracks the songs for the album came out. The first track that I wrote was ‘Piece Of The Action’, which was way too strong to be wasted as a bonus track. The second one was ‘Riding On The Tide’. The songs that I was writing were way too strong to be wasted as bonus tracks, and didn’t make sense to me to be used as such. When I wrote these strong songs it made more sense to do a full album, because four songs were half an album. If I could’ve written half an album, I could’ve written a whole album no problem. They said ‘Wow, a great idea. Let’s do a new record,’ which became Shadowmaker.
“Shadowmaker is a very modern version of Running Wild. You hear this is typical Running Wild, but we have choirs on the album and I never did that before. It’s new to Running Wild. With this album Shadowmaker, I wanted to make sure it was in the present and that I’m heading for the future. Not holding onto the past and just trying to recreate it, which wouldn’t make any sense to me.”
The tracks present on April 2012’s Shadowmaker were consciously authored within a short timeframe. “They all came just naturally in a way – I was just writing,” the singer muses. “The last album took me half a year or something like that to really get the songs right and everything else right, but in this case everything went so naturally. I had a production team this time around, but on the last album I had to do everything on my own. We had to do the record because it was the last record for GUN Records, to fulfil the deal. This time there were some guys helping me out so I could really focus on what was important to me, which was to play guitar and sing the songs and just have an overall look at the production.
“The first song I wrote was ‘Piece Of The Action’; I did the song in ten minutes, because the arrangement was there. It took me several hours to put down as a demo for sure, but all the other songs were written in a short period of time. The only song that took longer was the last one that I was writing, which was ‘Dracula’. Originally I wanted to take just four days or something like that to do the arrangements and everything to put it down on tape, but the song was done in two hours. All the parts were there, everything. It just felt right, and so it just came out natural. That’s why I said ‘Okay, the time is right to do a new Running Wild album,’ because the feeling was right.”
Shadowmaker benefited from the involvement of longtime friend Peter Jordan, as well as Niki and Katharina Nowy. “Katharina is just my assistant; she did everything for me that could take my focus away from music,” Rolf enthuses. “Niki Nowy is a mixer and a very great engineer, so that’s why he did the co-production. He did the final mix, he recorded all my vocals, and he did the mastering and everything. PJ recorded the chorus and everything; we both did this together, and he did some other stuff in the studio. We worked in about two or three different studios, and put everything together. I could really focus on being a musician during the production, but on the last record it was different. I had to do everything on my own.”
However, Shadowmaker can nonetheless be viewed as a solo affair. “This is a solo album, absolutely,” the mainman confirms. “Running Wild became a solo project throughout the last 20 years, and this album is really a solo project. I wrote all the songs and all the lyrics, and I played most of the guitars. PJ played four guitar solos on the album because he was involved in the project, otherwise I would have played them all on my own. It’s really kind of a solo project.”
The compositions ‘Black Shadow’, ‘Shadowmaker’ and ‘Into The Black’ lyrically mark a trilogy of thematically united tracks. “‘Shadowmaker’ is about old prophecies, about in the Bible where this guy comes around when Judgement Day happens,” Rolf discloses. “He’s a debt collector of the universe I would say, so everybody will lose their soul. ‘Black Shadow’ and ‘Into The Black’ are a statement about what state the world is in today, and what mankind is heading for. If you look at the behaviour of a lot of people, and how they use their computers… A computer is a slave to me, and sometimes it feels like people are becoming slaves to computers. I don’t think this is the right way to be. If you just use technology, then it’s okay. It’s no problem, but when it’s the master so to speak you’re in trouble. I always use a computer when I’m in the studio and everything for sure. We put down everything using ProTools and do the final mix and master using ProTools and stuff like that for sure, but I’m always aware that this is my slave to work for me. That’s why I wrote a song like ‘Into The Black’, to say ‘Something is going very wrong. Just think about that.’”
‘I Am Who I Am’, meanwhile, is more autobiographical. “It’s pretty much my philosophy towards life, how I see things,” the axeman states. “I always look behind the curtains. I don’t accept the first layers of everything; I just wanna see behind that, what is real. I’m always a guy who takes a stand, and I never give up in a way. I always fight, because I wanna get further with what I’m doing. Not only with Running Wild, but also in my private life. It’s my philosophy towards life.”
A nod towards the past, tunes like ‘Riding On The Tide’ and ‘Sailing Fire’ sport the pirate theme prevalent within former Running Wild songs. “When I was writing the riff for ‘Riding On The Tide’ itself, it was pirate-esque,” Rolf surmises. “The melody for ‘Sailing Fire’ feels like the open sea and everything. The melody felt like that, and that’s why I wrote such lyrics.”
1987’s Under Jolly Roger was the beginning of Running Wild’s association with the pirate theme. “It was a really hard record, because there were a lot of problems in the band,” the frontman remembers. “On the other hand though it was very funny because a new kind of image started with this album, with the idea for the track ‘Under Jolly Roger’. It was pretty much different, and fans liked the album. We really sold a lot more than the albums before, and the press hated the album (laughs). It was really great for us because fans really took with the band. It became a very special album, and even the song ‘Under Jolly Roger’ became a very, very special song for Running Wild.”
The record pre-dated the emergence of the so-called pirate metal genre. “I think there are a lot of bands out there who are doing their own thing with this, because they don’t try to copy Running Wild,” Rolf admits. “They just do their own thing; Alestorm and all these bands, they’re very much different than Running Wild.”
Under Jolly Roger could perhaps become one of several Running Wild albums to be reissued through Universal Records. “I think the first one that’s coming out is Gates To Purgatory (December 1984),” the vocalist recalls. “We did some re-releases on Sanctuary which included bonus tracks, so there are no more songs that I have to put on them. This is the problem. I just did an interview with Malcolm Dome though for the liner notes of Gates To Purgatory; maybe he will be doing this for all of the records, but I don’t know. I really hope that they put out all of the records, but at the moment they’re just trying out the first one.”
‘Me & The Boys’ is seemingly a track penned for the fans of Running Wild. “I wrote the song because when I was growing up, Slade were a very big influence for me,” Rolf cites. “That’s why I did the song, because I really liked the band and still do today. That’s why I wrote that song.”
Closing number ‘Dracula’ took longer to write. “I didn’t wanna write a song about the Dracula movies with Christopher Lee,” the guitarist stresses. “I was pretty much more into the story of Bram Stoker with not only a blood-sucking guy, the evil guy, but also the tragic figure where he’s suffering from the situation he’s in, from the curse. He doesn’t wanna go to hell. The song is kind of a mixture between pretty much a normal Running Wild part, but on the other hand some parts are different to what I normally write. It’s kind of a mixture musically. I just wanted to represent both sides of this person Dracula. Everything came very naturally – one part after the other – so I didn’t have to think about it. It just came out like that. When the part came out, I knew exactly which kind of melody I wanted for the vocals and what part of the lyrics should be there to tell the whole story from the beginning to the end.”
Live dates aren’t pencilled in the calendar for 2012. “The promotion of the album will take me way into the summer, and after that we have to finish Giant X,” Rolf clarifies. “We’ve talked about maybe doing some festivals in 2013. I will ask the guys who played the Wacken show with me if they want to play these shows, but I really can’t promise that these three guys (Peter Jordan, bassist Jan-Sören Eckert, and drummer Matthias Liebetruth) have the time to do it. PJ will play live with me though, for sure.”
Giant X is a collaboration between the Running Wild singer, and Peter Jordan. “PJ came over with a song,” he begins. “I said ‘Do you wanna write lyrics for that, and who would you want to sing it?’ The song is called ‘Burning Wheels’; we put it out on the internet, and many people said ‘Wow, this song is great.’ I didn’t write songs for Giant X. The songs have all been written by PJ, because I didn’t want any influences from Running Wild in Giant X. It should sound different, and that’s why I just write the lyrics and sing the lead vocals. They’re very different lyrics. There’s a new song called ‘Rough Ride’ and it’s a very sexual song to speak (laughs), if you read between the lines. The other song we did was ‘Now Or Never’, which is a song about a guy who’s in a very bad situation. He’s looking forward though, and he says ‘Now or never, I have to get myself together and just look towards the future.’ The title for the song ‘Burning Wheels’ says it all, which is kind of a racing song. There will be totally different stuff on that album though. It will be different than Running Wild, because it’s pretty much more typical rock ’n’ roll stuff I would say.
“PJ plays all of the guitars and does all of the production. We wanted to get the opportunity to do a full demo with ten songs. but we had to cut it down when I started production for Shadowmaker. I couldn’t do two productions together because PJ was involved in the project, in the production for Shadowmaker. Giant X is a rock ’n’ roll heavy metal project, but one song has a slide guitar and is very bluesy, and we got a ballad and everything. It’s totally different than Running Wild, but also heavy metal and hard rock. Some record companies – even SPV – are very interested in that project.”
Giant X is likely to remain a studio project. “When I play live I play as a part of Running Wild,” Rolf figures.
Of Running Wild’s 14 studio albums, its mainman cannot select a favourite. “There are a lot of songs which are really important to the band, but I could never pick out one album,” he insists. “I know that Running Wild’s biggest song is ‘Under Jolly Roger’, or ‘Bad To The Bone’, or ‘Riding The Storm’. They’re all great tracks, but I could never really pick a whole album. It’s impossible, because I love them all and that’s because I did them.”
The same can be said for Running Wild albums he favours lesser than others. “For sure, there are some songs which are not as good as I figured when I did a record,” Rolf confesses. “Every time I try to put a set list together if we do a tour or festival, it takes me one week to put the list together because there are so many songs that I could play. The fans like so many different songs, so it’s pretty hard work.”
Running Wild originally surfaced in 1976, using the moniker Granite Hearts. “It was just some schoolmates trying to play rock ’n’ roll,” the axeman reflects. “We renamed the band Running Wild in ’79. I was 18 then, a long time ago (laughs).”
It would be implausible to believe that Rolf felt Running Wild would still exist 36 years later. “When we started out we were kind of amateurs,” he reminisces. “When we put out a demo, we were so proud that we had our own demo back then. In the early 80s, when we did the first record we said ‘Wow, we have a record.’ We were proud of that, but we really hoped that it would last that long. I remember the day when I had the first record, I said ‘What will things look like in 20 years? How many records will there be?’ It was an interesting question. Today I look back, and Shadowmaker is our 14th studio album. There’s been a lot of live stuff, and a lot of singles, EPs and everything. There are a lot of things I’ve done throughout these 30 odd years.”
The early days of the outfit were spent performing at “very very small clubs and everything. We didn’t play many shows though. It was very hard in Germany to get any offers for a show, but we always tried. We were in rehearsals for a long time just writing new songs and working on that. At first we just did it for fun, but we really focused on getting professional.”
The influence of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) kickstarted Germany’s metal scene during the late 70s. “A lot of guys said ‘I wanna play heavy metal,’ and there were a lot of bands coming up in the amateur scene,” the frontman recollects. “Running Wild was one of them, and we just went further than that. In about ’83 or something like that, in Hamburg there were a lot of bands playing the small clubs and everything. Three or four times a week you could go to a rock ’n’ roll concert.”
How much Running Wild can extend its 36-year tenure is hard to determine. “I hope we continue for a long time,” Rolf ponders. “I will keep doing it if I feel as good as I feel right now, because the passion to do this is back. I really wanna keep it, but I really can’t promise whether I’ll do another three or four albums. I really hope so though.”
Shadowmaker was released on April 20th, 2012 in Germany, on the 23rd in the rest of Europe, and on the 24th in North America, all through SPV Records.
Interview published in April 2012.
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