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Friday 30 June 2017

The Spotlight: Interview With Metal Church (By Paul)

Metal Church Interview

Ahead of their much anticipated show at Bristol's Thekla, we were extremely lucky to be interview Mike Howe and Kurdt Vanderhoof from the band. On a balmy evening a couple of hours before the gig we sat on the waterside next to the floating venue.

Mike returned to the band after 20 years in 2015 and the first product was the excellent XI. It seemed a good place to start so I asked Mike and Kurdt what it was like doing their first show together at the D&R Theater in their home base of Aberdeen, Washington. Mike: "that was scary as hell". Kurdt added "not only because of that but because of Rick" (Van Zandt - Metal Church lead guitarist). Mike explained that Rick had been hospitalised the night before the show. Kurdt laughed "yeah, it was like, welcome back a Mike!"

I moved on to ask about XI, which to me captures the essence of old school thrash with a freshness. Kurdt said "that was kind of the intention". How did the album come about? Kurdt explained "when Mike and I started working together again it was kinda like riding a bike. He hadn't written for a long time but when we knew, it was exciting, we were working together again and this time we didn't have anyone else telling us anything about it. We did it and when we said it was done it was done. We liked it so we continued to work on it and there were no outside influences for the first time. So that was great. Each song kept developing and it got more exciting and I think that shows a lot in exactly what you said; there's an enthusiasm, an excitement about it and I think that was good because that's what we were feeling". Mike added "it took us back to the eighties when we were young and we got to relieve what we had in the past".

I wanted to know about the reasons for the band's limited UK appearances and so I asked them how the British audiences worked for Metal Church, noting that the band play more regularly in Germany and other European countries. Mike explained "they are all offers, you know, promoters have to offer us the gig, it's not like we go hey, we're coming, you pay us, that's what it's about, whether we get offers from local promoters to bring us here. These were offers we could do. It's difficult being in a band and on tour, pulling a budget together that you can afford to go to all these places. This time it worked out."

Metal Church's sole U.K. gig last year was at the Underworld in London and I was fortunate enough to be there. I asked the band how the gig was. Mike and Kurdt agreed "it was great." Kurdt added "kinda like the last time, the crowd was great. I loved playing there". I noted that the band were receiving good responses all over the place, and having checked out recent shows in Europe on YouTube but I wanted to go back to that Underworld gig and the bizarre sight of a fan in full work suit who stage dived. 

Do the band get many stage divers these days? "It sounds familiar but I don't remember" said Kurdt. "We don't get many stage divers but it's funny watching, as our crowd and audience has gotten older with us so when they start moshing everyone's moshing just a little bit more carefully; you know, you can fall and break shit! Everyone's just gently moshing these days. It's hysterical but they still go fuck it, we're not stopping!"

I then asked about the venue for the gig. "On a fucking boat" said Mike. "It's really cool". (For those that don't know the Thekla is a former cargo ship that has been converted into a club with the main stage and auditorium deep in the hull of the ship). The band played 70000 Tonnes of Metal (with former vocalist Ronny Munro) and Kurdt noted that this was more 7,000 tonnes of metal. I wanted to know whether the band ever got to see anywhere that they played, especially with their heavy touring schedule (the band were flying to Greece seven hours after the show ended). 

Mike acknowledged that they'd been on the road for over four weeks which was is a big tour. They don't get time to see anything. "It's a big shame. I've never been to Dublin, we'd never been to Dublin, or Ireland and we played recently and we saw like, this much of it (gestures minuscule size). Kurdt adds "we see what's in walking distance of the bus". I asked about their gig at the Limelight in Belfast and Mike admitted it was a difficult day with some sound technicalities which meant hanging around and waiting. "You are kind of trapped there waiting for things to start" he noted. The gig was great though, both Mike and Kurdt noting that the audience was "raging".

I wanted to explore how much fun the band appeared to be having on stage, which was apparent at the Underworld in 2016 (and was totally the same during the night's show later) with loads of smiles. Mike joked, "we huff laughing gas before we go on stage (cue much laughter). "We're all high as fuck!" adds Kurdt. "It's the old guy pills they give you these days" laughed Mike, "its like the beginning we just talked about, we can't believe that we're here doing this at fifty something years old, so we are more grateful; the joy comes easy." 

Kurdt added "we're having fun, because when the whole thing started, the whole metal thing you know, you felt like a complete twat if you were still doing that on stage now, we are just having fun, we're smiling and we are really grateful to be there and more grateful that anyone is in the audience". "It's fun, we are having fun so we're not going to hide it, we're going to have fun". "We're going to enjoy it" added Mike. "It's metal but I'm not that angry anymore you know" said Kurdt. "As a kid it's real easy to be all tough and metal. Now, I'm 55, doing that shit would be stupid".

I moved on to ask the guys about the content of their songs. I'd noticed when listening to the Metal Church back catalogue just how current and topical heir material is. Kurdt immediately noted The Human Factor for one. I wanted to know whether the current state of the world continued to influence their writing. "I don't know if you can help but draw on it" said Kurdt, continuing that he and Mike do write topically but that on XI they wrote lyrics that sang well. 

"Maybe they didn't attach a big bunch of meaning to it, you know, it was more let's be a little bit more creative, let's not try to be so on point with everything, let's have more lyrics rather than narrative and I think what comes from that is more listenable". However, Kurdt was clear that the earlier stuff definitely does apply today too. Mike added that they were trying to be more organic. "We just wanted it to happen naturally, not force it or overthink it. I think that worked really well for us".

We moved onto the metal scene in the 1980s and I referenced the Big 4. Kurdt was quick to correct me. "It was the big 5. They kicked us out!" Mike added "actually we quit the big 5", cue much laughter. However, neither Mike or Kurdt felt that the band was overlooked in the thrash movement. "It was the big 5 in the beginning but because of the way things happened for us, with the line up changes, and management changes we just fell away from it. I get asked about it a lot, you know, are you kinda, not necessarily bitter but do you wonder about what happened and I say no. I know exactly what happened. It was bad management, bad record deals, bad decisions and line up changes, all those kind of things kind of fuck up your momentum".

Kurdt explained that the band are now the underdogs, noting that this is kind of cool. "Now we are the cool guys with the history. We get a lot of respect regardless which to me is amazing". "It means a lot" added Mike, "respect from your peers, it shows what you are doing is viable". I commented that the material continues to hold up well as the fans know it all. "What's really weird", adds Kurdt, "is that the fans are singing along with the new stuff and that never happens with bands, the heritage bands or the old guy bands. They all want to hear the old stuff. Our fans want to hear the old stuff but they are also into the new stuff. That is pretty huge for us". The band are playing a good chunk of new stuff in their current set, four songs in fact (Reset, Needle & Suture, Killing Your Time and No Tomorrow).

The Classics Live release captures essence of Metal Church live, but I wanted to know what the plans are for the next material. Mike revealed that "he's [Kurdt] already got a huge amount of songs structured already, written and ready to go. We have to get back, get off the road to get together", "and Mike and I will finish it off when we get home" adds Kurdt, hinting at an early 2018 release. Exciting times indeed.

We then moved on to the final question, the inevitable favourite sheep question which generated incredulity much mirth. Mike identified three, the Rockfell, "with really cool, like glasses on", the Ryeland who had "such a sad face, he's like a bear" and finally the panda bear resemblance of the Hampshire Down. Kurdt added the Herdwick and the Boreray. So for once, the black metal Jacob sheep didn't get a look in.

Interviewing for us, a huge honour. Getting to meet such legends as Mike Howe an Kurdt Vanderhoof is incredible, humbling and real fun. These guys were great company, really receptive and appreciative. Huge thanks to tour manager Tim Harding for setting it up and massive cheers to Kurdt and Mike for giving up their time. We can't wait for the new album and a return to U.K. shores.

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