PILEDRIVER – Interview – May 2023
Franck Michaud (The Metal Mag, France) and Michael Sommerhoff (Guitarist with PILEDRIVER)
1. You just released a box set full of goodies, did you plan it or the pandemic helped you think about it?
As part of the promotional campaign for the “ROCKWALL” album starting at the end of 2018, we were also planning a concert film on which we wanted to capture the “live performance” of the songs represented on the CD. So the only plan was to record a show for which we had looked at the cultural center in Herne, because we knew that we would have something like a “home game” there. But to be sure to be able to play and film in front of a “full house”, I had previously contacted Robby Walsh, the singer of PURPENDICULAR. I arranged with him that his band would “headline” the evening with IAN PAICE on drums; In retrospect, this (not exactly cheap) decision turned out to be the right one, because almost 1,000 people came, who completely filled the cultural center and gave us a great “backdrop”.
At the beginning of May 2019, there was an inquiry from Great Britain if we were willing to perform at the SQ fan convention planned for the end of September 2019 – which was of course a purely rhetorical question, especially since the event was bound to take place at “Butlin’s Minehead Resort” – the place where the SQ story began in 1967 (that year Rick Parfitt joined the band). A “must go” for us as fans of the SQ original line-up. So we agreed, but on the condition that we could bring our film crew and record the gig – of course we wanted to document this event. Yvonne Hanvey, the main organizer within the fan club, gave us her “go” – and a permission to play original song material and not just Quo tracks. When a little later the inquiry came from the Netherlands whether we could play at the “Arrow Rock Festival” in the IJsselhallen/Zwolle at the end of January 2020, it “clicked” – and the idea for the “Live in Europe” project was born. When the decision was made, however, we had no idea that we would be documenting the last shows with Rudi Peeters.
2. Losing a member is painful; does it signify the end of the band?
After Rudi’s death, we didn’t have any motivation to make any plans at first. To make matters worse, in September 2020 there was still no end in sight to the pandemic; there was complete uncertainty if we were ever able to go on stage again, because in December 2020, as is well known, the authorities in Europe imposed the second “lockdown” – and concerts “with a mask” in compliance with the german so called “A-H-A” rules or “drive-in cinema gigs “would never have been an option for us. So yeah, I thought Zwolle was where we played our last gig and thankfully filmed it. But fortunately I was wrong. It goes on – now we can finally tour again! And since we know Rudi’s philosophy of life, we know that this is exactly what he would have wanted; meanwhile we bring back the necessary strength, energy and enthusiasm, which is absolutely necessary for this variety of Rock’n’Roll. “Exuberant joie de vivre” – that’s what made STATUS QUO stand out on their “Heyday” on stage, and due to their musical roots, this of course also applies to PILEDRIVER. The whole thing lives from our joy and the energy we lay in our performance – otherwise it would not work.
3. How did you create this piece of art? Have you all been part of it as a band or you had to get engineers to get the most out of it?
Well, “Live in Europe” was a real piece of work, I can tell you. After we had bid Rudi farewell in September 2020 we took a long time out. Early last year we revisited the material, and then we eventually decided to put hands on it again to finish the project and dedicate it to our late band mate. Of course it takes more than us musicians to create a product like the one you hold in your hands now. First there were the camera operators and the director, and after playing and filming was over it was time to call in the cutters, producers, sound engineers, designers and many other guys without whom this DigiPak would not exist. We are very grateful for the fantastic and really professional support we luckily experienced.
4. While this package must cost a lot to produce, as the LPs are back. Do you intend to press a few in the future?
You´re quite right: the production of “Live in Europe” did cost a fortune, and we are very aware of the fact that we won´t sell enough units to amortize the money spent on the project – thanks to the “free internet” and all those streaming services that make a bunch of money out of other people´s work and are not willing to grant the creators their fair share. No, we are not intending to press Vinyl records since the expected sales do not justify the additional costs. But it wouldn´t surprise me if somebody else did that – without permission. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a CD of my former band “ACID” – a heavy metal band I played with in the 1980s und early 90s. Well, we recorded an album in 1989 that was released on Vinyl only. And these days I had to learn that some thieves located in Russia released the record on CD – of course without our permission.
5. You have a few live dates coming, how did you find them? Who’s gonna play the keys? Will the tour restart?
We have an agency who does the booking for us. And of course we want to play as many gigs as possible since we have a new product on the market. The first shows after the long break are already behind us, and with Thomas Frerich we have found a worthy successor who is a real “stroke of luck” for us, both personally and musically – “Tom” has fitted seamlessly and perfectly into the band; he works “full-time” as a music teacher at a secondary school and therefore has a well-founded “music theory” education – it is not a contradiction when I add that he is a real thoroughbred musician and (of course) “rocker” whose musical roots are considerable intersection with ours. And so the story continues…
6. Will you play abroad such the States?
I personally wouldn´t mind playing a tour overseas but I doubt if anybody was prepared to pay for the costs. So we will stay in Europe and play shows in Germany, the Netherlands and France, maybe Spain, Italy Portugal. We´ll see.
7. As you are big Status Quo fans, have you met the guys? Have they already played as guest at your shows?
Peter (lead guitar player and co-founder of the band) and I were fans of the original “Frantic Four”-Quo. Well, to our regret this band split up a long time ago; and the current version of SQ doesn´t appeal to us, to be honest. In 2005 we had the honor to play with John Coghlan, the original Quo-drummer. He was in Germany to do a few shows and needed a band that could suit him. And we were the lucky ones. Great memories! And John really is a nice guy, very down to earth, very friendly and approachable. The same goes for Alan Lancaster (RIP). We were lucky enough to meet up with him for a chat in our dressing-room after our show at Butlin´s Minehead Resort in England (the gig that was also recorded for the “Live in Europe”-project).
8. Is Rockwall Records your label?
The company isn´t owned by the band members. Two other corporations own the shares of RR, and I own part of the shares of these corporations that do something completely different: they organize advanced business training courses. If you´re interested just go to www.sommerhoff.de.
9. How did you survive the pandemic? Have you exchanged through the net? Did you use this time to compose new songs?
We did not meet up for a couple of months after Rudi´s funeral and came back together not earlier than February 2022. Meanwhile I spent a lot of time exercising six-string-fingerpicking and learning songs from Tommy Emmanuel (my favourite guitar player who I adore!) and other great acoustic guitar players. And I also developed ideas for new PILEDRIVER-tracks. I’ve been carrying the title of the follow-up album for ROCKWALL around with me since the summer of 2018 – at a time when ROCKWALL hadn’t been released yet – that didn’t happen until October 12th, 2018. There are now a lot of “bits & pieces” on my laptop, but nothing is really ready to record. I hope to be able to put the “snippets” together into new songs later this year. From March 2024 we could then start recording. The farewell to Rudi was reflected both in the ideas for the lyrics and of course for the music. Surely 1 or 2 songs will be influenced by it at the end, at the moment I’m working on a track where we will probably only work with acoustic guitars. But at the moment “everything is still in flux”.
10. Have you started a musician audition or did you just ask friends who can play with you?
I never played with other musicians than Peter, Marc, Tim and Rudi. During our timeout I just played on my own. My bandmates have other musical projects but to me one band is enough. I put all my energy and time into PILEDRIVER.
11. Who deals with the website?
We have an agency that takes care of the technical side of our homepage. But the editorial part is mine.
12. Which bands you haven’t shared the stage with and would love to?
Unfortunately most of the bands I adore do no longer exist! But I sure would have loved to support UFO with Michael Schenker on guitar and Pete Way on bass. When I played with my former band ACID I always tried to sound like Michael Schenker. He is one of my all-time-guitar-heros! If you listen to the tracks of the ROCKWALL-album that I wrote you will clearly hear the influence of UFO.
13. Since you are very seventies oriented, what do you think of the new music scene?
To be honest, I don´t know many bands of the current rock music scene. Nowadays I listen to guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel, Mike Dawes, Mike Howe, Dominic Miller, Chuck Loeb, Chet Atkins and many others. These guys really do inspire me – and that´s important if you want to write new material.
14. Are you going to attend Wacken and over German festivals?
I guess you guess the answer… No, I won´t attend any festivals – except the ones that PILEDRIVER will be part of. As I said before: most of my heroes tour no longer. If David Gilmour was to perform live again I would surely attend one or two gigs.
15. Do the war, pandemic and other events going to influence your lyrics? Your music is very joyful to sing about this?
Yes, it is always important to me that my lyrics reflect on important developments and events. The lyrics should make sense and convey a message. For instance ROCKWALL was a play on words, which on the one hand was supposed to draw attention to the increasing divisions in society, which some well known autocrats were busily driving forward, and the associated dangers for freedom and democracy, but on the other hand also meant that music can bring down walls, in other words: music is the connecting element that helps to overcome hatred and prejudice and can bring out the good qualities of people. However, we are aware that we musicians have only very limited or no influence on political events. But that’s not our job at all, and we don’t have the necessary expertise to actually form or allow ourselves a well-founded opinion. Unfortunately, we have to take note every day in the so-called “social media” that unshakeable opinions are always accompanied by very little knowledge. There is a clearly negative correlation between opinion and suspicion – unfortunately and with long-term consequences that we can currently only guess at.
16. Tell us about your gear, have you tried new ones?
Yes, concerning the gear there were major changes in the recent past. We guitar players sold our Marshall and Engl amps and switched to Kemper Profilers. Because they offer so much more, there are so many amps and possibilities you can choose from. And most important: No matter where you play – you have always the same sound, for example you don´t need microphones any longer. And of course our new equipment weighs significantly less. Our Roadies love it and are thankful everytime they have to carry all that stuff. So we all are fired up and ready to go! Let´s see what the future holds in store for us…