We talk to German metal veteran Peavy Wagner as his band Rage release yet another excellent album...
I am on the line with Peter ‘Peavy’ Wagner of Rage, who have album number twenty three, Seasons of the Black, out on the 28th of this month through Nuclear Blast. He has come from a show in the Czech Republic last night and so after getting back late he is running on limited sleep, but has said he will try and answer anything and everything. Peavy welcomes me warmly and we break the ice with working out the time zone difference and weather talk. It’s really nice and warm where he is calling from in Germany and we are literally breaking the ice here in Canberra. I let him in on the downside of living here through winter (the cold from the snow, but none of the white powder fun along with it). As we have a time limit it is on to the questions.
Peavy – you’ve got a new album out on July 28, Seasons of the Black, and it is only 14 months after the excellent The Devil Strikes Again, what was the inspiration for the new album?
“Pretty much the same, like it was for The Devil album, I have this new line-up with my friends Marcus (Rodriguez, guitar) and Lucky (Vassillios Maniatopolous, drums) and we’ve been together for two and a half years now. This works so perfectly, we inspire each other and have written so many songs. So much so that before The Devil… album came out last year we had written half of the songs for this new album and by late October most of the pre-production was already done. So we thought why should we wait for a couple of years as by then we’ll have enough for about four new albums, so we just decided to put it out. It seems quick now, but if you remember back in the Eighties and early Nineties, it was quite normal for bands to be putting out albums each year.”
Yes, that is when I first got introduced to you guys, with the album Secrets in a Weird World, so I’ve been a long-time fan and feel very lucky to be getting to talk to you tonight. I really enjoyed the new album and the love your ability to keep it sounding new but essentially enabling people to be able to hear it and know instantly it is a Rage album. Do you adjust the finished output or it just is written that way? What method do you use for the process of song writing? Is it lyrics first, or a riff that is there to flesh out into a fully-fledged composition? “Mostly I start with the basic skeleton of the song, have a harmony structure, melodies and basic riffs. I regularly meet with Marcus as he is my companion with composing, we share all the credits and it is a real good team. Lucky undertakes some, but from the beginning he has told me that this is my part, because whatever I do, it makes it sound like Rage should sound. It all comes pretty natural; we don’t really have to think too much about it. That is part of the reason why we manage to write so fast, we already have about 4 or 5 new songs we can use for the next album. We will have to hold off releasing another new album until 2019 though, as we want to do a world tour at the beginning of next year. So those plans will delay our ability to record the songs a bit”.
“However, we are writing constantly and it just fits really well. Marcus and I really work well, being friends for over fifteen years. Plus, he grew up with Rage which was one his first favourite bands. He is inspired by the way I am using harmonies and do the riffing and all his ideas come naturally in this style. It also helps I am back in full creativity, full flow. I am having ideas for one or two songs a week at present. It’s so much; I don’t know if we can handle all that at the moment. We have a luxury problem you know (laughs).”
Well it’s definitely better than being stuck for ideas. “Absolutely, I enjoy this very much. Song writing is one of the dearest parts for me in music. So I am really happy that it flows so good at the moment and I don’t want to stop it. I’d rather write more songs than I need than to have no ideas.”
This is the second album with new band members Marcus and Lucky, what do they bring to Rage both in the studio and as a live entity? “Basically, as I said they are both my long-time friends and both are into Rage, the idea and the entity. Both have been into it since their teenage days. I’ve known Lucky since 1988, back then he was 15 and he came in to be a drum student for our then drummer, Chris Ethiamiadis and he upgraded to become his drum roadie for many years, so he was always with us. The best thing these guys bring to Rage is that they are bringing their understanding of the band from the beginning, so in essence, bringing Rage back into the band. They know how to interpret the original songs for example, they just play it like they were recorded because they were into them. Plus all the new material just comes out in this way as they know how I want to have this band sounding. So you don’t have to explain to them or try and control what they are doing. They don’t want to put different ideas in there to change the trademark Rage sound. This is a very important part when you have people doing what they do and it absolutely fits, and they love what they are doing. This is more than what you can expect from any other musicians who haven’t been part of this. The line up before this one, they were great musicians but they did not know the band before they joined it. They were always trying to bring new stuff into the band, which was in the end, dangerous because the trademark could be changed. For such an old and established band that may not be so good, so perhaps forming another band is a better output for those ideas”.
“Another thing I would like to mention about Marcus and Lucky is that they bring a lot of fun and enjoyment into the band for me and for all of us as we are good friends. That is good because playing with your good friends in a band and travelling together, as you know it is 99% travelling; holidays are a lot more fun and more enjoyable when you are travelling with friends. Besides this, Lucky is the manager of the band. He is very good, having gained experience in the automobile industry so he really knows his stuff and he is doing a fantastic job managing the band. Marcus is a very experienced studio recorder, so we have significant experience within the band and don’t have the need to go outside to bring that in.”
Well having that experience within the band it enables you to focus on the things you want to do and it makes it easier because they understand what Rage is. So with over twenty albums and thirty three years as a band, what do you to keep it fresh and fun?
“Change the line up through the band… (laughs) Actually, the situation that it is now, it is keeping it fresh and fun. When you see us live, you can understand exactly that it is like that. We are a really old band with lots of material but we don’t sound old. When we come out, it doesn’t appear like we are an old band. By the way there might be a chance, next year, possibly in March or so to get to see this, I think we have a couple of shows in Australia.”
Excellent, that was going to be one of my questions later on, is there any chance us Aussies will ever get to see Rage? “I don’t have the exact dates as yet, but I think it is in March, we are doing a world tour from January on, which will also lead us there. We tried this already for a while but now we have really good contacts and we have found a serious promoter who wants to do it. I think everything is pretty much settled now and we are not so far from announcing it.”
Your voice has evolved significantly over the years, Peavy, from the high pitch of youth to a now very metal gruff sound and sometimes growl. Even with that you still manage to keep the harmony there, so what’s easier from your perspective? “I am actually back to a little of the high pitched stuff now as we are doing a lot of old songs in the live set. We just rerecorded some of the very first songs from our first Avenger album from 1984. We did remakes of them as bonus material for the Seasons of the Black album. I am actually combining all these elements now, but of course I have to say I have learnt a lot as a singer over the years. I am very happy that I have a very recognisable voice, unique, that is Rage and differentiates it from all the other singers. Also I can say with the new line up both Marcus and Lucky are also lead singers, they have both had their own bands before and are both excellent lead singers. In the live shows they can support me with all the harmonies and I don’t have to sing alone anymore, which makes it more endurable, easier. Means that there is less chance of over straining the voice on the days when you are a bit rough. In this case, we can just change it up a bit, Marcus can do the higher lines and I can do the lower lines and save the voice. So this has made it much easier now when you have two more guys who can share the live singing with you. It also sounds much better when you have three live vocalists rather than the backing coming from tape.” Sounds great, having the other vocalists there will obviously work in much better with the World Tour coming up. “Absolutely, I will be grateful for this.”
What’s your favourite song to play live? “Whoa, I don’t know how many hundreds of songs we have released so this is really a hard question to answer. We change the set list quite often, so I can’t really say what my favourite is as we are changing so constantly. I am really enjoying playing these songs from the early Nineties, the Black In Mind era, I haven’t played them for so long.“
When you started out did you ever see Rage being this long lived? “Of course not (laughs). But I’m relieved that it happened actually. It is a gift, and I know I owe this to the fans. The fans are really very true to this band, without them I wouldn’t have had this great life. I am really grateful for this.”
It would be an amazing feeling, for you, personally it has been thirty three years. “Yes, Absolutely, thirty three years and twenty four albums. Actually, we must be the most productive metal band in the world I guess. In truth I can’t think of a band that has a similar amount of albums. That’s a question for statistics… (laughs)”
Trying to think of bands in a similar vein, Iron Maiden have been going longer than you guys and only have fifteen studio albums. “Probably Frank Zappa has more… (still laughing)”
Who inspired you when you were starting out? What sort of influences did they bring to your style? “There was a lot of very different influences; my very first influence which always inspires me still concerning harmonies and melodies is The Beatles. I got into them when I was a kid, about four or five years old and later when I got into hard rock it was Deep Purple. When metal came around I was already a big Motörhead fan, so Lemmy has always been an influence. Maybe not so much as a bass player, but definitely with his attitude. Bands like Rush, I loved The Police so there was a lot of different influences from different genres. In the metal genre, the influence of Metallica was there. But here in Germany, early Accept was a big influence”.
One thing I’ve always wanted to ask and you probably have been asked many times but where did the nickname “Peavy” come from? “This was when we were having our first English lessons in school in Germany, around nine years old. At this time I was always drawing cartoons in class and I would sign them with my initials P and W, but my English teacher he didn’t see it as a W, he saw it as a V. So he called me PV and it was one of those names that just stuck, you don’t want to accept it but everyone starts calling you this. It’s stupid, I never liked the name at first but now of course, I am used to it.”
So last question as we are running out of time, if you were organising a dinner where you could invite 5 people who you’ve always wanted to meet (dead or alive) who would be there and why? “5 people, it would probably be occupied by my best friends. The people I have been friends with for decades, I wouldn’t really want to swap places with anyone else.” That is really valid as you want to enjoy the dinner. “Yes, I wouldn’t know what to say or talk with some guy I’ve never met and a dinner is a kind of private, intimate thing.”
Thank you very much for taking the time out to talk with me Peavy and I hope it happens again. “Thank you and we can probably talk next year.” Absolutely I wouldn’t miss Rage in Australia.