When I think of Metal Church, right off I think way back to sixth-grade, when I used to take the bus home from school every day. Our bus carried high-school kids and middle-school kids both, so there was this one older heavy-metal girl who sat all by herself towards the back. You know the type, long hair with the bangs that covered her eyes, high-top sneakers, tight, faded jeans, and most importantly, it seemed like every time I saw her, she was wearing a Metal Church The Dark tour shirt. I was totally entranced by her, and by the album art reproduced on her shirt. The Dark was the standout in a series of lackluster Metal Church album covers, a wide-open suburban doorway with nothing but darkness and two very red eyes peering out. I bought the record on the strength of the cover alone. But the music far surpassed any mere cover, it was tight and melodic yet completely brutal, with David Wayne’s godlike vocal range trampling all over everything. Metal Church were the perfect synthesis of the two seemingly conflicting camps of power metal (Candlemass, Helloween) and thrash (Megadeth, Exodus), and they stood alone.
And then, abruptly as that girl disappeared from the bus (graduated, transferred, who knows?), it seemed that Metal Church disappeared from the music scene. Riven apart by internal conflicts and personal demons, Kurdt Vanderhoof left to bury himself in studio technology and David Wayne bolted to form Reverend. What remained of Metal Church soldiered on, but it wasn’t the same, and I wasn’t interested.
Years pass, and some more years pass, and then, seemingly, out of nowhere, Metal Church has returned! Initial doubts of motives, and the tarnished reputations of other recently reformed “classic bands” soon gave way to open-mouthed awe. From the company that gave you the return of Manowar, Nuclear Blast proudly presents Masterpeace ! And it lives up to the name in every respect! At this crucial point in the lifetime of Metal Church, with the future wide open, I spoke with Kurdt Vanderhoof, founding member and guitar player both of Metal Church and progressive side-project Vanderhoof.
This is probably one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever conducted, as Vanderhoof is an articulate and opinionated man whose dedication to rock and roll and making music is downright inspirational. Vanderhoof is also very critical of the current state of what MTV passes off as metal and underground metal, and I think these opinions very much need a forum. Besides that, what he says is hilarious… and true. As far as my personal “Canon of Essential Metal” goes (and I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone on this one), Kurdt Vanderhoof is a legend. I’d just love to say something here about going to confessional with Rev. Kurdt at the Metal Church, but I don’t think I could pull it off. Oh, what the hell. Let the sermon begin.
You’re going to hate me for asking this one, as I’m sure this is the kickoff to every interview, but hey, we got a format here! How did this all come together again?
When I was putting together the live record, the official live record, not the one in Japan, the record for Europe, I got in touch with Craig Wells (original Metal Church guitar player), because I wanted to do a few guitar “repairs.” And he informed me that David Wayne (Metal Church vocalist) was living about five minutes away from him. I had no idea that David was even back, the last I had spoken with David was 8 or 9 years ago, and he was living in LA at the time. Basically he suggested, because Duke (Arrington, bass), Dave and Craig were all living about twenty minutes away from Kirk (Arrington, Metal Church/Vanderhoof drums) and myself… Kirk and I had been working together on the Vanderhoof project. And Craig suggested that we go in the studio and write some songs, since I have a studio now. It was, “Why don’t we get together and make a record?” That’s literally what happened. No big plan, it was basically by accident, geographical convenience.
What’s the current lineup now?
When we made this record, we didn’t have any idea that we would have any opportunities to be touring and stuff, we didn’t know that anybody was going to give a shit! But we’re completely flattered by it! It’s John Marshall (guitar), David Wayne and myself, Kirk Arrington and Duke are not able to tour, because they have families and they basically… grew up! (laughs) We’re doing this, and we’re getting a great response, but it’s really hard to tour, and you have to make a lot of money to be able to support your family and it’s just not something they’re able to do.
How are you finding Nuclear Blast so far?
Oh, Nuclear Blast is great, man! Really nice folks.
Are you a particular fan of any bands on the roster?
Not familiar with a lot of them! Again, being here in America, it’s really hard to… I had no idea all this metal stuff was going on! When Vanderhoof was over in Europe on tour with Savatage a little over a year ago, I had no idea that metal was even… around, as popular as it is over in Europe. So a lot of the new bands, I really didn’t even know about, had no idea. Obviously, the climate in America is not very heavy metal, and a lot of the stuff is more underground. Like it was in the beginning, which is kind of cool. But I’m starting to dig around more, to try and find out a little bit about them.
How quickly did Masterpeace come together? Did it write itself?
Well, actually when we decided to do it, I wrote all the music and it was kind of quick, but I had to get my head around to thinking in terms of, you know, heavy metal again and Metal Church stuff. I hadn’t really thought that way or tried to write that way in quite a few years. But as things started coming together, Dave and I really started having a blast doing it. It was like, wow, this is fun! We shook off some of the cobwebs, and started thinking like we used to, or tried to, within the sixteen years difference.
The album title, does it have any particular meaning?
It really doesn’t A lot of people ask about that, but basically, for this album I wanted an album title that was contrary to the standard metal blood-and-guts album title. I also wanted to do something a little more creative, where it leaves a little more to the imagination. It means anything you want. That was intentional, to be kind of vague and to have some different kinds of imagery.
Did you design the cover, then?
Yeah, I came up with the idea. I wanted to do something to bring back the Guitar-Cross again too. That is the original guitar off the first record, too.
Quick aside just for me. Did you come up with the cover design for The Dark , as well, because that’s probably one of my favorite album covers ever?
Well, thank you. Yes I did, as a matter of fact.
Back on track. What are your favorite tracks on the new record?
“All Your Sorrows,” “They Signed in Blood,” and “Sleeps With Thunder,” I think.
How do you think it stands up to some of the earlier recordings? I mean, because the first record is pretty much universally regarded as a classic.
I don’t know, we kind of wanted to approach this record like the way we did it in the beginning. Just basically doing it ourselves, which we did. We wanted to recapture some of that feeling, but you know, it’s sixteen years later. I don’t know if we should compare our first album to this album. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Obviously in sixteen years we’ve grown up, we’ve changed a lot, and we don’t really feel the way we did when we were twenty-two years old. I think it’s a good statement of where Metal Church is now. That’s a hard one to answer. Some people really, really like the new record and think it’s the perfect follow-up to The Dark . And some people don’t. I’m perfectly comfortable with that.
Whose decision was it to cover “Toys in the Attic”?
Well actually, I had the idea, and we jammed on it when we were putting the songs together in rehearsal. It was like, “that’s cool, let’s play that one!” Nothing overly thought-out on this record, and that’s definitely how we approached our earlier stuff.
Big Aerosmith fan?
Oh yeah, definitely. Not too much of a fan these days. I’m not into the bluesy cabaret thing. They’re still a great band, but it’s not the same thing. I wish they were still on drugs. But not die.
As far as Masterpeace , I loved the record because it sounded completely fresh and new without sucking up to any current trends or scenes…
Well, thank you very much! That was the one thing I told the guys, if we’re going to try and do this, I’m not going to do something modern and hip and cool. Dave, you’re gonna sing, it’s gonna be melodic, some people aren’t going to like it. The people who like the Panteras and all that kind of stuff are going to call us wimps, but I don’t care. I’m not going to do anything that’s not melodic and musical. (laughs) I’m not going to put a DJ in it. There will be no sampling. No drum machines.
I know, because it wasn’t like, “oh look, Metal Church is back! Why are they trying to sound like Korn?”
I hate that stuff! I hate that Limp-Wristed and Korn and Marilyn Manson. We’re in REALLY serious trouble with rock and roll in America. We’re in serious trouble and we’ve gotta fix it! HELP!
And as well, it’s not all, as you said before, steeped in nostalgia. It’s as if you had never broken up, and here’s a snapshot of where Metal Church is progressing to this day.
Great! I’m glad it’s coming across. That’s what we hoped for, as much as you can control those things. We didn’t want to follow any formula, we just got together and said, “let’s make a Metal Church record from where we are now.” And we all hate everything that’s going on in rock right now, so we wanted to have an alternative to alternative!
I read that you did some shows in Europe. How did they go?
Well, we weren’t ready because we did have to get a new drummer and a new bass player. We weren’t prepared. They were all right, but not great. It was a little tough. We just didn’t expect this kind of a response. It was like, “oh my god, they like us! Oh my god, they want us to play the Wacken Festival! Let’s get a drummer and bass player! Let’s go! Cross your fingers! Here we go!” No. It was great to have that many people into it, but we didn’t feel too good about the shows. It was just one of those things we jumped into too soon.
Do you plan to do any more gigs?
We’re supposed to go back to Europe for a month in October. We’re trying to do something in the States, but again, it’s a little tougher here. But there are some very very good indications in the industry that people are going to stop buying crap music, so maybe in a while we can start doing some stuff here.
How did you all get hooked up with Nuclear Blast so quickly? After the initial reformation announcement, everything seemed to happen so quickly.
Basically, it happened to where we put the word out that we were going to do this, and the label that Vanderhoof was dealing with in Germany (SPV) sent word out that Metal Church was getting back together. And Nuclear Blast Europe called us. We wanted to stay with SPV in Europe, but Nuclear Blast gave us an offer for America, and we said okay.
I read in Metal Maniacs that the reason you left Metal Church in the first place was to go work in the studio and learn that end of things. What made you step out from behind the desk and start playing again, both in Vanderhoof and Metal Church?
Just because that’s what I do! (laughs) I really kind of got out of Metal Church to do that, but I also couldn’t be completely honest about why I left Metal Church. There was a lot of fighting going on, a lot of drugs flying around. and it was just a very, very fucked up situation. And I had to get out of there. But at the time I didn’t want to get out and go, “well, that guy’s an asshole, and that guy’s a drug addict and fuck them,” you know? (laughs) At the time I left, Metal Church was just getting awful, and it was really unfortunate. So when I got out of Metal Church, I formed another band immediately called Hall of Flame, which was just a straight, beer-drinking rock and roll band. We put out a record on IRS and toured with ZZ Top and Blue Oyster Cult and did some stuff. Unfortunately, that fell apart due to the classic “bad label syndrome.” But, yeah, I have to do it, because I don’t know anything else. And I don’t care about anything else. If it doesn’t rock me, I don’t do it. (laughs) I don’t know if that’s smart.
Works for me.
That’s where I’m at now.
Do you plan to do any more studio end work? I know you produced Masterpeace .
Oh, definitely. I just started working on the second Vanderhoof record. But I’m kind of in two bands right now, so it’s eating up my brain. I love the Vanderhoof thing because that’s really my favorite type of music, the stuff that I grew up on. We’re early 70’s rock, lots of analog, we basically do everything you’re not supposed to do, which is have lots of vocals, harmonies, be very musical. Have an album that goes into lots of different places, and it’s about music, and it’s definitely in the early 70’s style.
Could you talk a little bit about Vanderhoof? I know nothing about it.
I guess the record is coming out through Nuclear Blast later this fall. It came out in late 1997 in Europe. We did some touring with Savatage for a couple of months in Europe. We had a great time and we started to do really well and I was just starting to put together the second record when this Metal Church thing happened. So that got put on hold for a while. It’s definitely more of an early 70’s thing, and on the second record we’re going in a more progressive direction, more along the lines of Kansas, Rush and Yes. Lots of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep influences in there. Lots of Hammond organ and vintage synthesizers. Definitely making the records like the records I grew up on. Like early Queen records and that kind of thing. It’s basically where the music takes a lot of different directions within the same record. Where it isn’t like “you’ve heard one song and you’ve heard the whole album” type of thing. It goes from a full-on rocking type of thing to weird ethereal types of stuff. It’s a lot of fun, I don’t know if it’s going to sell, but I don’t care. (laughs)
So are you going to bring back concept albums?
I would absolutely love to do that. I want to do like a double concept album, you know, like Yes’ Tales From the Topographic Oceans , where it’s like two songs! (laughs) Just all the bombastic big stuff! Those were the kind of things for me, when I was a kid, that had the magic. It was big, it was grandiose, very pompous. People got tired of it for really obvious reasons, but I think it’s important that we bring some of the magic back into rock, on whatever level, be it metal, be it rock, be it pop, whatever. Bring some kind of class back into the whole thing. Yeah, I’d love to do the concept record, I’ve been dying to do my own Quadrophenia for years.
What music are you listening to right now?
What’s in my CD player right now? Let me check… I think it’s either the Sex Pistols or Gentle Giant. Oh, actually, it’s Jethro Tull.
That’s quite a contrast there, between the Sex Pistols and Gentle Giant.
Oh, yeah. But see, there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad. Old King Crimson’s great, I love Heap, old Grand Funk, I love Oasis. (laughs) I mean, it’s great pop music. There’s tons of stuff. I’ve just discovered Marillion.
(laughs) These guys are funny. (laughs) I don’t know, man, I listen to all kinds of stuff, except new stuff. I just really, really have a hard time with what’s happening to us… with a handful of exceptions.
Oasis. Stone Temple Pilots, I think are a great band. God, who else… oh, the new Buckcherry is a great record. It’s good straight-ahead AC/DC rock with all of the clichés. They’re clichés because they work. You know? It’s rock and roll, man, we don’t want to change it so much that it’s not rock and roll anymore.
I’m going to name five bands that I think are up for MTV Awards and all that…
…and I want your reaction to each one. As much as you want. A rant would be good.
Oh man, if you get me started, believe me, you won’t get a word in edgewise.
Absolutely stupid. They have no business being in the industry.
Great show. No talent.
Ehhh… Kind of funny, kind of stupid. Don’t pay any attention.
At least they can sing!! I’m glad to see that at least that the kiddie stuff, the Sixteen Magazine stuff, is still valid. It’s not something I’m going to listen to, but at least they can sing.
Oh… OK, yeah, if you’re a girl, great.
What about the state of modern metal? Death metal is coming back, black metal is huge, hardcore influences are seeping into metal (or vice versa)…
I don’t listen to stuff that is Satanic-influenced. I don’t like that. I don’t like that (mock black metal scream) stuff. Like when we played the festivals over there, we played a couple of shows with Dimmu Borgir and they had their shit together, but starting off they were like, (growls) “Son of Satan,” and I was like, “OK, that’s enough for me!” That whole thing is not musical enough for me. They’re great players and they know what they’re doing, but I’m also Christian and I don’t really want to have Satan singing at me.
What sort of music first inspired you to pick up a guitar and start a band?
The Beatles. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That was my first memory from when I was like three years old. I saw that and the next day it was like, that’s what I’m doing! As far as I could tell from that point. I started playing drums when I was like five. And then it really hit me, like Rush! And I’ve just been into music my whole life. My dad was a DJ at a radio station that played Adult Contemporary at the time, and they’d get all the promo rock records, and he’d bring them home to me, because they wouldn’t play them. So, I’ve been record collecting since I was like four years old. I’m a lifer.
Back in the day, you were always grouped in with the thrash genre, but yet Metal Church always seemed so separate from that scene. Was that a conscious move or what?
I don’t know if it was necessarily conscious. It was something that, at least for me, I’ve always wanted to keep things musical. But I’ve always loved aggressive stuff too. That side was really important. I think it was natural for where we were.
Is Metal Church a part-time thing now?
I guess that remains to be seen. We don’t know. I mean, back in the day, when metal was the thing, it was definitely full time. It’s going to be as full time as they’ll let us be. I’m very much into the Vanderhoof thing, and we’re going to be continuing that. We’re just going to have to wait and see. I don’t know. I hope I’m busy all the time. I’m sure as hell busy right now. (laughs) This is great, I mean, I can’t complain as a musician about having too much work. My god, who can ask for more?
I’m putting the new Vanderhoof record together. But we’re going to stop and get rehearsals ready to get ready for the tour. The European Metal Church tour.
How long do you see the bands that you’re in lasting?
Oh god, bands are so… tough to keep together. I don’t know, the whole Metal Church thing, as far as John, Dave and myself are concerned, we want to keep the thing going at whatever capacity we can. If nothing else, just keep making Metal Church records, because we love to do it. Not for money, there isn’t enough money in it to make a… (laughs) We got accused of that, “you guys are jumping on the bandwagon just to make money!” Hey dude, if you knew how much money we were making, you’d be like, “oh, I guess you’re not doing it for the money.” It’s really hard to make money in the music business.
Even if all of this falls apart, you’ll still keep going in the music business?
Oh, absolutely, I don’t know how to do anything else.
Metallica has one, it seems like every other band is getting one. When is Metal Church going to get their own VH1 Behind the Music ?
(much laughter) When we sell fourteen bazillion records like Metallica. I tell you man, we would have a very interesting one. (laughs) Well, we kind of did, because John Marshall is on the Metallica one. So there’s a little but. But the credit only said “John Marshall: guitar roadie,” it didn’t say “John Marshall: guitar roadie/guitarist for Metal Church.” It was like, “HEY! Wait a minute!” (laughs) Come on. (in a fake sad voice) He’s not just a guitar roadie, mannn.
I’ve completely run out of questions. Is there anything you would like to add for the readers or the American fans?
Help us save rock and roll before it goes away! Don’t buy computer-generated music!
Show us the way! What should we do?
Kids, learn to play your guitars and start new bands that are good!!! Please!! Us old guys aren’t getting any younger! I mean, it is kind of cool, because now us old guys get to go out and do it again since there’s no new bands to take our place. But it’s still kind of a sad scenario when you think you think about it! (laughs) Learn to play your instrument, learn to sing and learn to write songs.