Axel Rudi Pell: Heeding The Knights Call!
Axel Rudi Pell is a world class guitarist from Germany whose namesake band is about to celebrate their 30 glorious years of rocking your world! Knights Call is the name of Axel Rudi Pell’s 17th magnum opus, a thrilling collection of hard rock and heavy metal anthems demonstrating a powerhouse collective at the very height of their magnificent artistry. Songs such as The Wild And The Young, Long Live Rock, and the massive Tower Of Babylon manifesto are destined to thrill the senses and set the imagination into flight.
Highwire Daze Online recently checked in with the one and only Axel Rudi Pell to discuss the almighty Knights Call; the formation of a lineup that includes the likes of Johnny Gioeli of Hardline and Bobby Rondinelli of Rainbow and Black Sabbath; previous collaborations with Jeff Scott Soto of Soto and Charlie Huhn of Foghat – and a whole lot more! Read on…
Knight Call is your 17th studio album. What goes through your mind with these numbers? 17 studio album and thirty years of being a band?
I never expected that to be that successful, you know, when I started so early way back in 1989. So, if somebody would tell me, “Hey, in 30 years we’ll release your 17th studio album”, I’d say, of course, humor. I won’t say bad sorry. Of course not. But anyway, I’m really proud of that career. I think I developed over the years for the songwriting, and I’m really proud of the new record.
There are so many amazing songs on this new record. What do you think keeps you so prolific and almost releasing one album per year?
It’s one album every two years, to be honest, or every 18 months or something. Because, you know, I’m a genius. No, just kidding. Just making jokes because you know. But the fire inside myself is still burning. The flame is still there, and I have the feeling I want to show, I want to express myself through the music. I know that I can write songs, and it will not stop. As long as this fire is inside me and the creativity is there, I’m releasing the next album in 2020 probably. So, yes.
Volker Krawczak has been with you since the beginning. What has it been like working with him this entire time?
Oh, he’s one of my best friends. I think I first met Volker in 1978, as far as I remember. I was 18 years old. So, you know now I’m a really old guy. He’s exactly the bass player I’ve always looked for. He knows what to play. He knows he has a steady beat. He’s grooving very good, you know, so he’s cool.
Johnny Gioeli has been your partner in crime for several albums now. What do you think makes you both work so well together?
You know Johnny is probably one of the top five singers around the world. He knows exactly what I want. When I write a song and I write the melody line, of course for the vocals, and I write the lyrics and explain it to him, he knows exactly what I would like to hear. He says, “Hey, hey, I know what you mean.” We did the first record, which came out I think in 1998, yes, which was the time when the first one Johnny did the vocals for, it was a little different. He flew over, I had to explain everything. He’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay, okay, now I know what you mean.” But all over the years, more and more it’s better and better, so now he’s perfect. He’s a very nice guy, too.
What do you think of his work in Hardline?
I don’t want to say anything bad about it, but you know, when I discovered Johnny, I only knew him from the first Hardline record, I think which came out in 1992, this Double Eclipse record. I say, “Whoa, this is a good record, and the singer is great.” So, if at any time I need a new singer, I will call that guy because his sound is really cool. Honestly, nowadays, to be honest with you, I don’t listen to it.
Let’s talk about Ferdy Doernberg. He’s got a dynamic list of credits, five solo albums himself. What do you think of Ferdy’s solo material?
To be honest again, I don’t listen to it either. I don’t listen to music as much as I did a couple of years ago. Because I don’t have the time for it, you know, so that’s the reason why. I have to do interviews after interviews, and I have to settle management things. And, of course, I’m writing my own music. So, nowadays when I’m listening to music it’s the only thing, it’s in the car. When I’m driving to a meeting or something I put on the radio. So, it’s the only thing, so I get very very spare time to listening to other people’s output.
Your newest member of the band is the one and only Bobby Rondinelli. How did Bobby become involved with Axel Rudi Pell?
Oh, I forced him with big money. No, kidding again. It was like, he was, he used to work with Rainbow, you know that, right? With Ritchie Blackmore at the beginning of the 80’s. And a friend of mine was a personal assistant of Ritchie Blackmore, the personal driver at that time. And he knew Bobby from that period. I asked my friend, hey do you have Bobby’s email? I said, can you give me his email and he said of course. He got Bobby’s email, and I wrote him a new email and told him I was looking for a new drummer. He replied – I don’t know who you are but my friend told me you’re a very nice guy. I said, thank you [laughs]. I sent him some snippets of myself, MP3 files, a few Youtube links so you can see and hear what we’re about.
After what was about 2-3 days I said, yeah, why not let’s give it a try. I’m free at the moment. He came over and he worked out perfectly. Bobby and I, we’re on the same wave length. We like the same kind of music and the style of music. So, we got our favorite bands – it’s 90% the same. I don’t have to explain everything to him.
For example, when he comes flying over from the east coast to a German studio, and I play the first song for him – Bobby this is the riff. This is the chorus, blah. He’s like, man I know exactly what you want me to play there. And he starts hitting the beats and it’s much better than I expected in my dreams. So he is perfect for our band and he’s a real nice guy on top – it’s very easy to work with him, he’s very funny sometimes. He’s not talking that much but when he says something, it’s really funny. I love Bobby.
When Pamela Falcon was announced to be working with you on Knights Call, I checked out some of her music and she has an amazing voice. Will you be performing any of the shows with her?
No definitely not because she’s involved in so many different projects. She doesn’t have the time for it. She wasn’t even there when I did a listening party for the new record, she said sorry I’d love to show up but I can’t because I have other commitments in other cities in different kind of areas. No time for that. She did only the choir vocals for one of the those tracks, so it’s not really necessary to bring her. We don’t play that track live either, so [laughs] no worries.
Working with Bonnie Tyler on The Ballads V, what was that like and how did that even come about?
That was quite simply extreme because I thought about – my record company and I, we thought about having a female partner for Johnny to make him a little more different than other things, other songs. The thing was, the first lady which came to my mind was Bonnie Tyler because her raspy voice. I really love her voice since the 80s. I got her email and I think I got her email address from her manager and I wrote her manager and email and said listen, blah – he said, who are you? He had never heard of me of course. Ok. He said, don’t worry but Bonnie Tyler is only doing it when she really loves the song. Otherwise, you can put one million in the bank, she wouldn’t do it. I said, OK that’s fair enough.
So then I have to write the song, [laughs]. The song wasn’t done, but it was half done in my mind. He said, OK. Then I got an invitation to join one of her shows, I think it was November of 2016 and I recorded the song in the studio with Johnny doing all parts of the vocals, including the female parts. So we made a demo, and I went with a burned CD and a stick – went to her show – got an invitation by the manager, met Bonnie Tyler and she was really nice. I gave it to her and she said Axel, to be honest I don’t want to listen to it right now because you’re here. If I don’t like it I can’t tell it to you – so my manager will call you as soon as the next show is over. I said OK, fair enough.
I went off and surprisingly the next day I got an email from her manager which said, Bonnie listened to the track and she loves it! When will the recording take place? I said, woah, that’s cool. So we recorded the song I think it was in January of 2017. She flew over and went to the studio, we had fun. She was there for one day, we talked and had dinner together. She’s very nice.
All this time you’ve been on the same label, SPV. What is the big secret about having a great partnership with your record label?
It’s very easy to answer, they let me do what I want. Other companies they have all these A&R guys showing up at the studio, no we don’t like this song, change this, it’s not commercial enough. You motherfucker! With SPV I can go where I want. They don’t show up in the studio, they let me do what I want. The first time they hear the new music, it’s actually when I deliver the final master. They say – woah! That’s cool Axel. It’s perfect. I say, trust me I believe in you too.
Let’s go back, thirty years with the release of your first album Wild Obsession. Looking back, what do you think of it now?
Truth? [laughs] It was really an experiment. It was recorded and produced and mixed I think in 10 days. It was a quick and rough one. My development in songwriting. It wasn’t that good at that time as I think – the guitar solos are mostly crap to be honest so I don’t like it at all. The production sucks big time. What else can I say? There are some nice songs on it, like Slave of Love – it’s a good track. I can’t remember old songs, sorry. It was an experiment. The band nowadays is totally different.
I recently interviewed Jeff Scott Soto from Soto and Charlie Huen from Foghat. They both said wonderful things about working with you.
I pay them a lot of money, so that’s really nice. [laughs]
What was it like working with Jeff Scott Soto and then Charlie Huhn so early on in your and their careers?
I like them all. Charlie Huen is a great singer. He’s a really nice guy, he’s a very funny guy. Same goes for Jeff Scott Soto. He’s a perfect singer, and he’s funny as hell. We worked quite good together in the studio and life too. They’re both not in the band any longer because you know, Charlie did the first record but then came to the second one and I wanted to change the style a little bit. I wanted to put the direction a little more into this kind of Ronnie James Dio vocal style.
Charlie Huen wasn’t that guy, I thought wow he’s more of a Bon Scott type of guy with a raspy voice. He was perfect for that time. I said hmm, maybe I’ll try someone different. Jeff is no longer in the band because he had other commitments. He said Axel, so sorry but I can’t do the tour even though we just did the record. I can’t do the tour because at that time he was in a Las Vegas outfit. I don’t know, they had commitments – I think they played 4-5 shows a week. He said I can’t come over or I’ll lose my job. I said OK, that’s your decision, man. I can’t understand it but I have to look for a another one. That’s the reason we split but as I said, both are very professional and actually – great guys.
Will we ever see Axel Rudi Pell perform live here in the US?
I hope so man. I really would love to because that was the only place a part from Asia where we never played so far. You know I have two Americans in the band and every time I ask , hey Bobby or hey Johnny what do you think about ARP doing a few shows in the US? They both look at me, are you kidding? This music is not working any longer. I say OK you don’t think we couldn’t give it a try? Of course when you want to lose some money do it, on the other hand they said if you’re lucky you’ll get 120 people for one show. We would definitely lose money and that’s not my intention unfortunately.
We have Michael Schenker coming over, so now it’s your turn.
I love Michael Schenker. I worked with some of those guys. They’re great guys and I think he’s doing a great job, it’s very successful. He just started in the US tour, right?
Yeah, their tour just started…
I think it works, but Michael Schenker – he’s another German guitar player but of course he has a huge reputation coming from his UFO days way back in the 70s playing all over the country. It’s much easier for him to play in the US than for myself, unfortunately.
Hopefully we will see you here one day.
Yeah, would love to.
Now that Knights Call is about to be released, what’s up next?
Playing all over Europe. We’re starting the tour on the 25th of April. The first night of the European tour which runs through May. Then we do a few shows in June and July and the second leg of the tour around October and November. Probably a third leg following in 2019 between March and April. Then I have to write new songs for the next record so, a lot of work for a tiny small guy like me. [laughs]
Any messages for your fans here in the United States?
Of course, I really hope you like our new record. And we really hope at some point we can play in the US, it’d be a dream come true for us.
Axel Rudi Pell is:
Axel Rudi Pell – Guitar
Johnny Gioeli – Vocals
Ferdy Doernberg – Keyboards
Volker Krawczak – Bass
Bobby Rondinelli – Drums
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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