This interview with Mat Sinner took place last fall during PRIMAL FEAR “Apocalypse Over Europe” Tour. Little time earlier the band released its most recent work “Apocalypse” and announced a sensational label change from Frontiers to Nuclear Blast celebrating the new deal with the brand new single “Crucify Me”. So, we didn’t talk the whole interview about the latest studio effort. We found a space to discuss the new label deal, the band’s perspectives, some historical aspects and we touched other Mat’s projects such as Rock Meets Classic. Right now PRIMAL FEAR in preparing for summer open air festivals, so it’s a good reason to overview what’s recently happened in the German heavy power metal legend’s camp.
Are you planning any serious style changes with the label change, like going back to the roots and stuff?
I think, what we’ve developed the last years, and having in mind the feedback from people and charts that say that «Apocalypse» is the most successful album of Primal Fear... You know, the first time in our home country we’re in the top 10! And this is not the point to change music. We have worldwide fans and they are waiting for the new music of Primal Fear, they buy our albums and download them. And I think it’s not the right point to change something now. Why should we change something if we’re successful? We would only disappoint our fans. So, the next Primal Fear album will be another metal album in the way of «Rulebreaker» and «Apocalypse». Of course, with new ideas, new influences, but basically the music will be the same.
But some people are quite nostalgic for your debut album and “Nuclear Fire” and they want you to hear faster stuff…
Yeah, but 20 years is 20 years. I think we can’t write faster song than «New Rise» on the «Apocalypse» album.
But the single «Crucify Me» really reminds me of your older albums...
I don’t know. It was written at the same time as «Apocalypse»…
How could you record a single so fast after the album? If it was ready together with all the stuff, why didn’t you include it to Apocalypse?
It was the idea of Nuclear Blast, their wish to announce the signing with a new song. And so we did it. It doesn’t have to be on the “Apocalypse” album, on Frontiers records. It’s the new song and fans should enjoy the song and not think why
it is not on the album.
Is it right that the cover artwork was created by Stephan Lohrmann who worked with you before in the Nuclear Blast era?
Yes. And this is a statement, I think that the album cover to the first Nuclear Blast single has epic Primal Fear style and going back to the roots of Primal Fear. And I think it’s a perfect statement. Nuclear Blast, new song, special look.
You mentioned before that you have big plans for the future with the new label. Can you tell more about them?
Well, we’re still in the planning mode what we are doing. Open air festivals and so we have to plan some songwriting preparation and studio time for the next Primal Fear album, so we have very much to do and many things are coming up and we have to plan it, but very carefully. It doesn’t make any sense to rush things.
It’s logical to maybe release something special like a live album?
We had it already in 2017, there is a live album and a live DVD. I’m not a super-friend of these things because they need a lot of attention, they need a lot of work and the making of a studio album is much more creative process than a live album.
So, we have to wait for the fruits of your labor, right?
I think it will be faster than you expected but it can be only in the beginning of 2020. That’s the plan for now. But if the touring goes on and on, I think, it could be a little bit later. The plans for now are early 2020.
I’ve noticed that you write many songs for Sinner and Primal Fear in collaboration with Magnus Karlsson? When you write do you know
that this particular musical idea goes to this or that project?
We don’t do it like that. We have a plan for which band we are writing. So, this is a special direction and exactly in this direction we write songs. And on the Sinner writing sessions we never create songs for Primal Fear, never. And vice versa. And that’s a good thing that, for example, I’m working with Magnus and we really have a plan of what we are doing. And this is also a key about ten years of writing songs we’re still very creative and very nice to each other. So I think that this is very important that we two have the same vision of things. So there is no chaos, there is no creative – how can I say this? – creative madness and just “let’s do something” and putting this in this band and that in that band. It’s not the way we’re working. For example, on Monday we meet and during the whole week we’re writing between 10 in the morning till 1 o’clock, 3 hours every day. And this is only for Sinner. We do it like this.
So, you see it all in a pragmatic way?
We both are collecting ideas. All the time. If there is an idea, it would be recorded, sometimes on the phone with your voice like blah-blah-blah. Then we can play it to each other and say: OK, let’s pick up this thing, this melody and continue to make it something nice.
What instrument do you use when you’re writing?
Let’s go back to the Apocalypse. It has two versions, the ordinary and the one with bonus tracks. It’s not a concept album but in some way it is, right?
There is one difficulty to write a concept album. First of all, I’m not intereste
d in writing a concept album, and second is: I wrote lyrics for 10 tracks, and Ralf – for 4. And our lyrics are so different. You can’t combine Ralf’s lyrics and mine, it’s not possible.
But it has a general concept like sound, subjects, right?
Yeah. This was my idea – to make it like this. But there is also some job shared. I said: OK, I can write lyrics for 10 songs, 9 songs, the rest has to be done by Ralf. And I’m concentrating on the 9 songs and Ralf is doing his 4 songs and this is different kind of mentality, character, words. All this is very different. So, the main subject is the status of the world but not as a complete concept.
So, which version of the album can be considered more finished, more complete?
It’s very easy, it’s the jewel case. The jewel case is the album. Everything else is just a bonus for fans. There is also a bonus DVD, blah-blah-blah and whatever. This is just a bonus that has nothing to do with the concept.
For the epicenter of the album is the track called «Eye Of The Storm», although most of the people prefer «Supernova». I think it’s a classic epic Primal Fear track like «Waiting For Darkness» but with smaller instrumental bridge. Why? Did you try to make it more listenable from the commercial point?
There’s just composing, trying to find the right arrangement. And for this track it was the best to keep it like this.
It seems there are dozens of guitars with different sound on this track?
Yeah, there are a lot of different guitars, 16 or something like that. And it was very nice, it was always very nice to create t
his kind of things.
Let’s talk about your work as a producer. Have you started producing since the first Sinner albums?
No. The first two Sinner albums were produced by Dirk Steffens who produced at that point Accept too. The third album was produced by Christian Tsangarides who produced Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and more. The 4th album was produced by the American pop producer. The record company wanted it. And then I started to produce albums slowly by myself, slowly... The first album really produced by myself was «Respect» by Sinner. And then the second album was «Bottom Line», then «Judgement Day» and then came «The Nature Of Evil». At that point, 20 years ago, I really knew exactly where I wanted to go. So it was a learning process.
You’ve mentioned that you’re still learning after all those years.
Yeah. New technology, for example. And in two years in recording an album there can be a new technology in the market which you want to use and try also other sounds and amplifiers, microphones. It can be really different things coming up. For the good or for the bad. You will see. Also people change. If you’re in the studio with the guy who could be two years ago the nicest person, he could be an asshole 2 years later. Whatever happened in his life, but humans are humans and there’s always a new situation.
It seems to me that «Apocalypse» is different in terms of production comparing with previous records?
I think there’s nothing different. I didn’t go into the studio and try to change something. It was exactly the continuing of what we did sound-wise, recording-wise with «Rulebreake
r». Different kind of melody approach or kind of riffs and sounds but the production strategy was the same. No changes.
I have an impression that many musicians became successful in the early age. You had some success with Sinner, but Primal Fear was formed when you were much older and later step by step you got more and more real recognition as a producer and composer?
I think it was a bit different. I think when we created, for example, and released «Danger Zone», the Sinner album, everybody had jobs, no one wanted to go on tour for a long time. And metal was not the biggest thing on the market. So we were very happy to make albums and just enjoy the time. But not viewed it as a job. It was never a full-time job. And, I think, with time it separates the people who think they can survive in the music industry and the people who think that this is too hard to do all the travel and all the work and being separated from their families for a long time and so on. And it separates the people. And if you’re in an age like 24, 25 or so, in 36 you have different view on it all than in your 20s. And I think for me it was like, as we started with Primal Fear, the biggest success was Sinner in the same year. It was 1998. And we didn’t plan Primal Fear to be a long-time band. It was just making an album and see what’s going on. Nobody thought of what would happen with this band. So this was a certain point where we decided years later that we can tour the whole world and that we can make some money for the living out of it and decided to spend 100% of our time on music.
So, Primal Fear now is more popular then back when you started.
After 20 years it’s mostly
different. Primal Fear started already with very nice success. And for us it was new, it was a new situation, we really appreciated it after years of hard work. But now it seems like the overall reaction around the world is very-very good to us. So I don’t know if we can make it with the next album to the next level of status. We, of course, really hope we can do it with the great album, but we have the chance now to reach that next level. So it is our responsibility to make the music for that kind of point and it’s our chance. We can do it. So, let’s see. The signals from around the world are good.
It’s not a common situation after 20 years of a band…
Like I said, it’s now our responsibility, it’s our chance. Let’s see what we wanna do out of this. You can’t push it, it comes naturally. We can have a bad month, writing shitty songs and don’t do anything, so… You wrote 5 songs and all are shit – what will you do? So, you can’t push it, you can’t be a robot.
And also «Rock Meets Classics» can give you more recognition?
You work hard to get respected with such a big ensemble. I say ensemble because it’s more than a 90 people in the tour. And if you want that everybody on the tour is listening to you, you have to be respected first. Nobody will listen to you if you’re not on spot and it’s a hard job, it’s a very high responsibility and we have to work hard that nobody else takes your job away.
Did you have any fear to start it back then, 10 years ago?
No. It was just a very interesting thing, I think, for every musician with ambition in writing songs to work with an orchestra is something very special
. And at that time, some years before I had started to get into the orchestra and there were some things that we worked out on «Seven Seals» and «New Religion». We worked on many elements and for me it was like a logical way to explore more into what is possible and what is not possible. Of course the first tour was ‘learning by doing’ but the second tour already was great and now it’s also a point where we can rely on the producer thing. You reach a certain point when for me it’s like a routine. Nobody can fool you anymore. You go there and you feel self-confident in your job and you really know what to do. Not asking other people to do.
But the first time you used orchestra in Sinner, right?
It could be on «Judgement Day», but not in that way, so the first huge promotion with an orchestra was on «Seven Seals». That was the first album that really went hard on these things.
When you started Primal Fear what was it like to give up the microphone for Ralf?
No problem, no problem. Because, I think, for that kind of music, Primal Fear, Ralf has much better voice and he’s mostly singing what I’m writing, so… cool! For me it would be terrible to do touring singing on that level. I think, after 3 or 4 days that would be terrible.
I’ve noticed that Ralf changes his style over the years, sometimes singing in a more aggressive way. Is it his choice?
It depends. Sometimes when the vocal lines are already done he tries to make it similar to mine. My style of singing in some way is more aggressive than his style, so he repeats it.
Some of Sinner fans are very nostalgic of your 80s music…
Nostalgia is always the same with every band. I don’t know one band with fans that are different. But for me as a musician living in 2018 it’s also important to improve what we did in the past. Living in the past can be very dangerous.