PILEDRIVER – Interview – January 17th 2017
George “Snaki” Karatzas with Michael Sommerhoff (guitarist with PILEDRIVER)
1. Welcome to BeRock Radio guys, the most melodic place! I am George, please make yourself comfortable! We’re glad to have you here.
Tell us about the current line-up and some words on how you came up with your band name, PILEDRIVER?
We´re a five piece band _(drums, bass, keyboards, 2 guitars). Well, of course that´s not special at all; what makes us different from other artists is first that we have very different musical backgrounds. For instance Rudi (keyboarder) and I had a classical piano and a theoretical education, the musical roots of our drummer Hans are located in Jazz and Swing music, and my “partner in crime” Peter, the lead guitar man, is a true fan of the 1980s heavy metal music; he´s heavily influenced by Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, George Lynch and others. And when all these “ingrediences” come together the musical output has a character of its own. Don´t get me wrong – up to a certain point our album BIB is an hommage to the real Quo, and in places you can hear these roots – of course we´ve done that purposely. But there are tracks on the album that sound like us, these songs are independent, take “Last Words”, “Together” or “Natural Born Rockers” for example.
Second thing that makes us different is that – according to my knowledge – there is hardly another band around that produces the kind of music we create. People who like classical melodic hard rock, boogie and shuffle tunes and similar music have to put on the old records of artists who have reached the end of their career or have already “left the stage” – they are not around any longer. So to us it seems there is a “gap” we have to fill because there is no new stuff for these audiences that are still there and that we are trying to reach with our music.
To state it clear: we don´t think that we have invented something new. In the musical segment we refer to everything has been played before. That´s perfectly clear to us.
Well, and the name “PILEDRIVER” is borrowed from the Quo-album of the same title. It was their first record on which they presented the sound Quo got famous for. The album also contained the hit single “Paper Plane” that brought Quo back to the charts after a lengthy period without success. We are fans of the period from 1972 up to 1977 that we consider as Quo´s “heyday”. Since we had the intention to revive and to continue that sound of the “real Quo” it made perfectly sense to call the band PILEDRIVER. But to be honest – in retrospective we would not do that again. Nowadays there are too many bands around that also call themselves PILEDRIVER. For a couple of years now the desire to become a band of our own right grew – we´d like to stand on our own feet. And I think we achieved our goal to a certain degree on “BROTHERS IN BOOGIE”. Since we played under the PILEDRIVER name for some 20 years we feel that it wouldn´t be a clever move to change the name now. We´d lose the goodwill we built up during the last 2 decades. So we will stick to the “brand”.
2. Let’s start by talking about your latest work, “Brothers in Boogie”, which was released in 2016. You’ve managed to have some amazing hard rock tracks with an amazing sound. What was your secret in creating such a great combination?
Thanks for the “flowers”, George! We appreciate that very much… Well, I can´t exactly tell you the “recipe” for such an album. I think it took different ingredients; first this time we wrote without trying to write and sound like someone else. We let ourselves go and listened to the music within… Second we worked without any time pressure because we did the whole thing for our personal delight. Third the guys in the band come from very different musical directions as I told you before. And fourth we had a very good producer – Stefan Kaufmann is a very experienced man in classic hard rock and heavy metal since he is the original drummer of ACCEPT and former guitarist of UDO. He played an important role and made a great contribution to the final product.
3. Let’s talk a bit about the music. What were your inspirations while writing the tracks?
Musicwise I think it´s easy to identify our “sources” and the ingredients – of course the original Quo from the 70s, but also a shot of AC/DC, ZZTop, Foghat and UFO. Put it all together and add our personal input – there you have it. Lyricwise there are some political statements: About the madness caused by religious fanatism, the misery of the refugees, the greed, selfishness and arrogance of certain people, abuse of children through pedophile priests and politicians… Well, we are musicians and we can´t change the world but with all this terrifying and alarming developments I feel that I can´t write about one night stands for instance. We want classic rock to live on but we don´t want to revive that stupid rock´n´roll clichés. In a world like this the lyrics should make sense. We´d like them to be serious and worth reading them.
4. Did you encounter any problems during the recording of the album? If so, how did you overcome them?
Fortunately we no real problems. We started recording work at Peter´s home in the middle of 2013. Peter is my buddy, my “partner in crime” for more than 2 decades now, plays a real mean lead guitar and shares vocals with me. We did the preproduction in his studio and then – only 2 years later – we moved to Stefan Kaufmann´s studio, pushed the reset button and recorded it all once more. But I think it was worthwhile working that way. The songs developed as the years passed. We took “all the time in the world” to create a record we could be proud of. And yes, we still think it´s a good one. We like the album and we can´t wait to bring the songs to the stage again.
5. Are you pleased with the feedback from media worldwide? Such as from reviews and fan reactions.
Yes, we are very pleased with the reaction. Much better than expected. There was not one real bad review. Well, the only guys who rated the album below average were those who clearly did not listen to the songs but wrote reviews nevertheless because they were told to do so. Most of the critics and – more important to us – the classic rock fans were very enthusiastic and encouraging. Critics from overseas were very surprised when they learned that we started as a Status Quo tribute band. And because they digged our album they started to research the back catalogue of SQ who are not well known in the US and Canada. Strange…
6. What are your plans for the promotion of the album, but also generally speaking?
The album was advertised in all relevant magazines, online and print. We did quite a lot of interviews. In November we reached No. 1 in the Amazon Download-charts in Germany and France. And the album stayed in the Top 20 for a few weeks. So we can say that it was a great success for us, much more than we had hoped for. Before we hit the road for a European tour we will release a Blu Ray on April 28th this year. The disc will contain our 20th anniversary show that was filmed in Germany in October 2015. Seven Tracks from the BIB-CD will be on the Blu Ray plus quite a few extras. For example it will come with a live CD from that concert and a brand new track which will be on the follow up album that is planned for a release in October 2017. All in all the Blu Ray will have more than 2 hours running time. The promotion campaign for that product will start by the end of February. So we hope that more fans will visit our concerts once they´ve watched the concert film. Otherwise a tour would not make any economic sense. And of course we can´t afford to lose a lot of money.
7. Should we wait for a video clip? What plans do you have for live shows/tours, will we see you in other European countries as well?
Last Sunday we shot a video clip from “Last Words”, the final track on BIB which is one of my favourite songs – it´s a very important one to me because I wrote it for my dad who passed away in May 2012. I guess in about 4 week´s time work on the clip will be finished and then it will be released as a teaser for the forthcoming Blu Ray and of course to give BIB some more support. The tour will lead us to different European countries. I can´t tell you any details because plans are not finalized yet.
8. For the past 4-5 years, we’ve been seeing a boom in Melodic Hard Rock. Do you believe that rockers want more quality in the music and listen to more of this genre? What is your opinion on this?
Yes I think you are quite right. It all comes back in cycles. I believe the time is right for classic melodic rock. The people are tired of trash metal and all the sick stuff that goes with that kind of “music”. As I indicated before: The old rockers have sadly left the stage. So there´s a gap now that has to be filled. Therefore I think the time is right for melodic hard rock.
9. In recent years, the music industry has changed. We see that a lot of people prefer digital purchases, which are more convenient, faster and more accessible. What are your thoughts on the future of physical copies, such as CDs?
I don´t like it but nevertheless I am convinced that the CD will disappear in the not so far away future. As you said it: Digital Downloads are more convenient. And as a customer you are more flexible and don´t have to buy the whole album if you on like a few tracks. The older guys still buy physical copies because they are used to do it that way. But the following generations will prefer new technologies…
10. It’s not just the music industry that has changed over the years. Nowadays, we see social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc…) have become hugely widespread. How much support do these sites offer to a band and in what way?
When I started my first band in the middle of the 1980s there was no internet and in consequence no social media sites. Today it is much easier “to spread the word”. You post tour dates, pics, video clips – and in a jiffy your “clients” know about it. From that perspective I like the developments and the new possibilities we have to market our products. On the other hand a lot of people steal what you created without feeling that could be wrong. They don´t feel guilty and think it is a natural right to get music for free. But in the long run they will feel the impact of what they do themselves. If a large part of the audience does not pay for the music they like there hardly will be produced new exciting high quality products. The musicians and the record companies won´t be able to afford it any more.
We experience it ourselves: I found a Russian website on the internet where you can download the whole BIB-album for 1,45 Euros – a single track for 10 cent. And don´t think that we get just a single cent. Like many other musicians we are ripped off and we can´t do anything against it. I wonder what these thieves who steal other people´s work would say if they had to work for free. Sad but true.
11. Name a few bands that you admire and the reason why. Hmm…something tells me the first name will be Status Quo! (laughs!!)
Yes – of course I have to name the “Frantic Four” (you might know that this is the nickname of the original Quo line-up) because they got me started playing guitar and founding a band. Without them PILEDRIVER would not exist. But I have to say that my admiration is reduced to the output of the 1970s period. When Rossi and Parfitt continued without Lancaster and Coghlan in 1986 to me and many others the magic was gone. Apart from Quo I do like quite a lot of bands, such as AC/DC, UFO (with Michael Schenker on lead guitar), Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and especially David Gilmour. And in the last couple of years I discovered that I also like jazz music. Chuck Loeb for instance is one of the great jazz guitar players I really dig.
12. Thank you for your time, I wish you all the best for the future! The last words are yours for this interview. Feel free to say whatever you want to all BeRock’s Radio minizine readers!
I thank you very much, George – for your “rave review” and your support. I really hope we will have the opportunity to visit your home country and do the odd show there. All the best to you and your listeners, mate! Keep up the good work and cheers, Yours Michael
Interviewer: George “Snaki” Karatzas