Whether you remember them as just ‘Digger’ or even ‘Hawaii’, they will always be Grave Digger to their fans going back the past 40 years. Back again with a new album, Fields Of Blood, the German heavy metal icons are as strong as ever. 2020 may have not been the year we all had in mind but be sure Grave Digger will be back with a vengeance in 2021. On the release of their 20th album we spoke with guitarist Axel about what the band has learned over the years, the music scene in Germany, the future of metal, whiskey, and of course the C-word.
RAMzine: First of all, how are you and how is the situation in Germany?
Axel: The situation in Germany is the worst disaster you can imagine. There are some music industry organisations for example GEMA (which is a society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights in a German government-mandated collecting society and performance rights organisation), where you can tell how much money you’ve lost because of no live shows. But the money you get is just credit and completely billable with your further income. Germany is a very rich country and the government pays 9 million Euro from the tax income for Lufthansa, or they close to 7 million Euro for the Deutsche Bahn for example. But not a f*cking cent for solo self-employed. Of course, politicians are only interested in supporting companies who will give them a job, when they were kicked out of the government at the end of their career, so they take the taxes from the poor, give it to the rich and the rich will take care of you.
Simply, indirect corruption has worked fine for the politicians for decades. Everybody knows, nobody cares. Musicians are not system-relevant and it’s a lot cheaper for the government to kick thousands of artists to social care, instead of supporting them. The devil only throws his dirt on the biggest pile, you know. Most of my colleagues will not survive the crises, neither will the venues. The complete music scene is slowly dying, everybody is watching it, but nobody cares. Live music is gone.
RAMzine: Do you feel recent events have damaged the music industry in the long term?
Axel: Yes, definitely. If the governments won’t open up the live music events in spring 2021, the complete scene is dead. Not just hit but really dead.
RAMzine: This year marks 40 years of Grave Digger, what has the band learned about music over the years?
Axel: Well, the fact that although in the early days of rock and pop, you had some bands, who worked with some help of technical stuff to let them sound better than they really were, but these days they sound ridiculous. You feel bad? No problem, let the backing track of the MacBook do the job. Your voice is gone? No problem, let the backing track of the MacBook do the job. You want to take more care about jumping around instead of playing in high quality? No problem, let the backing track of the MacBook do the job. You’re old and you want to do one more tour to earn once again as much money as possible, but you can’t sing your old hits anymore? No problem, let the backing track of the MacBook do the job. For every problem, there is a backing track available, no need to practice anymore. And guess what? The audience doesn’t care! There should be a warning on the ticket like “ATTENTION! What you hear in the hall and what you see on stage could be something totally different and may cause some confusion”.
RAMzine: While we are on the subject of 40 years of Grave Digger, do you see metal and rock surviving another 40+ years?
Axel: Yes, but differently. I guess, we are pretty close to the part where you can’t go more extreme regarding outfits, shows, image and Punch and Judy shows. I think, in a few years, as every time, the opposite with more sing-along chorus parts will appear on the scene like 30 years ago and so on. It’s always the same, but every new generation is of the opinion it’s the new big thing for the very first time. It’s a natural way of life. I’m old, I saw them all come and go.
RAMzine: Having switched up the band positions, do you feel Grave Digger becomes a new band again?
Axel: We only had a change from keyboards to drums, which is pretty funny, because Marcus (Kniep) is a way better drummer than keyboarder, just kidding! We’re not a new band, but the manual skills of the band are better than ever in this line-up. We’re now able to play songs that we couldn’t do in the early days.
RAMzine: 2020 also saw the release of your new album, Fields of Blood, how would you describe it?
Axel: For the very last time real bagpipes, historic drummers and songs about the highlands. It was an awesome time to compose, arrange and record the songs, but now, the story has been told.
RAMzine: This is the third in the ‘Scottish Highlands’ trilogy, what is the connection between Germany and Scotland?
Axel: We thought it would be the time now to move back to the highlands and finish the last part of the trilogy, which includes a completely different way of songwriting. Think about the bagpipes, for example, it was a real challenge for me to arrange them because they have a completely different tuning compared to a guitar and a very limited range regarding melody hooks.
RAMzine: Do you think Scotland should be independent?
Axel: Well, I’m German and it would be pretty presumptuous as a foreigner, to tell the Scots what they should do. I personally think the UK made a very, very, very big mistake regarding Brexit, so I really understand the movement in Scotland for their independence.
RAMzine: Noora Louhimo of Battle Beast appears on the album a lot, how did the collaboration come about?
Axel: She came to my Meadow Studios while she was on tour with Battle Beast in Germany. She was one of the most professional singers I’ve ever met in my career so far. The day before the recordings, she performed a Battle Beast show close to my place. She got a room in a hotel, while the rest of the band took the travel day to move over to the next venue. Then she was picked up by our singer Chris at noon, got to the studio, sang all lead and backing parts in perfect quality within 3 hours. She then changed her clothes to her stage outfit, did the video recordings for the song ‘Thousand Tears’ within 1 hour and after 4 hours I brought her to the next railway station where she travelled to the next location to keep on touring. Simply awesome!
RAMzine: Who else would you like to work with in the future?
Axel: Paul McCartney, Brian May, Jeff Beck and Brian Adams. Imagine the sales by just telling the people these names.
RAMzine: Your videos have a lot of humour in them, is it important to not take yourself too seriously in modern times?
Axel: Yes. Although Germans are not that well known for humour, imagine our videos with zombies, the reaper and tons of coffins would be taken seriously? You have to be Scandinavian to do so.
RAMzine: You have also collaborated with a whisky company, can you tell us about this? Is it important to explore new horizons as a band?
Axel: Not just the whisky distillery, we also have the Grave Digger “Heavy Metal Breakdown” double IPA beer, we do have the Grave Digger red wine and we’re working on a new energy drink at the moment. To be honest, I’m the driving force behind these collaborations, because I’m a great fan of awesome products. The Ziegler Distillery here in Germany, who’s manufacturing the AUREUM Grave Digger Single Malt editions “Classic”, “The Bruce” and “Tears Of Blood” is one of the most successful distilleries here in Germany. By the way, the classic edition got the silver medal at World Whisky Masters in 2016, so it’s not just the brand, it’s a really great whisky in the end. I forgot, there are the three “Guitar Editions” as well, an awesome product, please have a look at this video.
RAMzine: Finally, what does the future hold for Grave Digger? Will you play in the UK next year?
Axel: We’d love to, our last show in London at our last European tour was a blast, awesome audience! We’ll wait and see, as I said, the British did some really strange things regarding the cooperation with the rest of Europe, so I hope the Brexit crap won’t prevent us from touring in the UK. I myself love touring the UK!
A huge thanks to Axel for taking the time to speak to RAMzine