By Jeb Wright
Krokus is still kicking ass and taking names. This hard rocking metal band from the Land of Cheese is as vibrant and energetic as they were when they were making their long sticks go boom!
The band has been together, in one form or another, for 39 freaking years... That’s a long time to rock and roll, and these boys are not only still rocking, they are having a blast doing it!
Krokus’ new live effort was recorded in their hometown in Switzerland, at a venue they lovingly call “The House of Rust;” a venue they have performed at many times.
While the set list leaves off a few tunes that one might expect, this list does contain some older tunes that many may have forgotten… tunes that really rock, like “Tokyo Nights” and “Fire.” Add in a few newer tunes and a few classics like “Long Stick Goes Boom” and “Screaming in the Night,” and you have a good old fashioned energized rock concert.
In the interview that follows, Marc and I discuss the making of the live album, the set list, his amazing vocals and plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band in 2015…including getting these boys back to America.
Jeb: Krokus is back with a killer new live album. The live sound of this album is great! Krokus is a different ‘animal’ live…
Marc: We were known for being a great live band back in the ‘80s. We always impressed our crowds and our fans with our live performance. People around us have always said that Krokus is a great live band, and that we are better live than on our records. In one way that is great, because we do a lot of concerts and we have done such long tours. On the other hand, it is frustrating to hear that your studio sound is maybe not so animalistic. Like you say, we become a different beast on stage.
Jeb: Well, you’re studio albums are great. When you do a live show, your performance just blows the roof off… Just look at the cover of the new album, and that is what I am talking about. THAT is a Krokus concert.
Marc: I am glad you picked up on that, and you’re like a lot of our fans. In Switzerland, we went up to number three on the charts, which is something pretty special for a live album. People usually prefer to buy a studio album. As you say, we are a different animal live, and that is why this has really worked and it is really something that the fans shouldn’t miss because they have to hear the way we sound on stage. This album really captures it.
Jeb: The 2014 Krokus has a three-guitar lineup. What do you have to do in order to keep the guitars from overpowering you?
Marc: With three guitar players you have to make sure every guitar player gets his place in the performance. We concentrated on this and went over it in rehearsals and made sure no one would step on anyone’s toes. It happened very quickly and all worked out because Fernando [von Arb] knows what he wants to play and Mandy [Meyer] knows what he wants to play and so on. Mandy took over Tommy Kiefer’s parts; Tommy was our first guitar player on Metal Rendez-Vous and Hardware. Because of his drug problem he couldn’t stay on in the band. Mandy is a bluesier guitar player, but he is also more technical of a player, so he took over Tommy’s pieces on epic songs like “Fire.” That song is my favorite guitar solo from all of the Krokus songs. He plays on “Tokyo Nights” as well.
Fernando goes for the boogie rock and the more AC/DC solos, the fast, rough stuff. He loves doing that kind of stuff. It was really no problem sharing the stage and sharing the parts.
Jeb: The set list on this sucker is made for the hardcore Krokus fan. You go way back. You left off some really big hits but added everything from “Fire” to “Hellraiser.”
Marc: I was really honored that the band decided to play “Hellraiser” in the first place. That is one song where nobody else was involved with it other than me. During that phase of Krokus, I was the only one left from the original. It is great that we have put that on record with this band.
Jeb: What was the discussion within the band to leave off some huge hits?
Marc: We went for the best classics; the ones that everyone kind of agreed on and then we knew we wanted to play a couple of songs from the new album like “Go Baby Go” and "Hallelujah Rock n' Roll." We played “Hoodoo Woman” from the one before the new album. We had to honor those songs as well, and they went down very well live. The audience reaction was loud and clear when we played those new songs and we were very pleased.
We were very lucky that the last concert, in August, turned out to be so good. It was in the hometown of Krokus, where the band was born nearly 40 years ago. It turned out great and was just wonderful.
Jeb: Tell me about The House of Rust.
Marc: That is where Krokus was born. The House of Rust is our nickname in English for the venue. The place looks like a huge rusty tube; that’s what it looks like. It is located next to a river and it is a great place to hang out in the summer. The place is known all over Switzerland, and people come and watch bands play here throughout the year. Bands come here and play from all over the world. Any band that comes through Switzerland makes it to the House of Rust. We’ve been using it as our rehearsal space since the reunion of 2008.
Jeb: Let’s talk about your voice. You are sounding great and getting better with age. You may be a better singer now.
Marc: Thank you very much. I guess I stay fit, and that is the basic secret behind that. You have to deliver, and so you need the power and that comes from your abdomen and goes right up through your throat. You have to be in full control of your vocal cords. The rest is what happens through age, you know. You have to learn, inside your head, the nasal cavity and all of that. You learn how to make things resonate. The cavities in your head can resonate like a guitar body resonates when you play a chord. On top of that, you know, it is just…it is just loving what we do. You stay fit to be able to deliver it, and that is the basic thing, I think.
Jeb: You put so much strain and power into your performance. It is amazing. There is that Bon Scott comparison but you have your own personality as well.
Marc: Thanks. As I said, it is just a matter of staying in practice and keeping the machine oiled. The spirit behind it has to be there and we put our heart and soul into our music. When I am onstage live, I serve the songs and the band sound and I do it for our audience. You actually become like a medium. This energy passes through you and you give it out through your instrument and, in my case, it is my vocal cords.
Jeb: "Hallelujah Rock n' Roll" is such a great anthem. After all of these years you all could go in and create acceptable Krokus sounding songs, easily. However, these new songs rock as hard and are as genuine as ever.
Marc: It’s true. We even enjoy our rehearsals. We have a lot of fun. When we finally are allowed onto the stage we just let it rip. We enjoy it, and we love it. We have great communication onstage. The eye-to-eye communication is better than ever when we play live. The communication between the band members is better than ever, no more fighting. We grew up, and I should hope so, as we are 55 to 60-some years old now. It is about time. We are also going through the last round. We are all aware that this will not last forever. Next year we will be celebrating 40 years. It has lasted a hell of a long time through ups and downs, and there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears and here we are again. I think that is why our happiness and pleasure of playing together rubs off on each other and we feel it.
Jeb: Is recording a live album difficult? Is it more stressful on the day of the show?
Marc: Actually, we really took it easy. We did our rehearsals and we take them seriously. We enjoyed rehearsing. When we go onstage we can be relaxed because we are ready. We go through the paces and concentrate on the performance rather than on what chord is next, or wondering how the arrangements go, or what lyrics come next. It is more the performance because everything else is already embedded into your subconscious. Then comes the technical side, and I guess this is what you must be getting at. The technical side is about if all the lights are working, and if the sound is good. Dennis Ward is an American guy who produced the Hellraiser album and he has been involved in the band ever since. He was the engineer for Hoodoo and the last album Dirty Dynamite. We were together when we recorded the last album in Abbey Road Studios and he works hand in hand with Chris von Rohr, our bass player in the band, who also co-produces the albums. Chris started the band forty years ago. Together, they get the technical side honed down and Dennis takes care of us, so when we are onstage we don’t have to be nervous about that. Of course, every band makes a mistake, here and there. What we did is record twenty concerts. Luckily, we didn’t have to overdub, or take from the other concerts very much, compared to what lots of bands do with live albums. What you have is 95% a genuine thing. Sometimes you get too much feedback on the microphone, or something, so you have to fix that. Krokus is proud about the fact that there are no keyboards on the stage, or hidden behind the curtain. There is none of that stuff going on. All of the notes that you hear are coming directly from us. The foot switches that the guitar players use are all direct as well. If you have a Gibson Les Paul guitar going through a Marshall and the sound goes through X-number of pedals, then it is not going to sound like a Les Paul coming out through a Marshall anymore. It is going to sound like it is going through some plastic on the way. We really like to have an earthy sound that sounds like rusty iron.
Jeb: The only thing people are going to wonder is why there are no songs like “Midnite Maniac” and there is only one or two off of Headhunter. Why did you guys leave some of the American hits behind?
Marc: Well, the thing is that in Switzerland our audience tends to be more hard rock rather than metal. Headhunter was the most metal album that was ever done by Krokus. The ballad, “Screaming in the Night,” everyone likes that song; even pop bands like that. “Headhunter,” with its double bass drums and high speed vocals is something that we keep on the side. It is in our set list now because we are preparing to go to Germany. In Germany, we have a wider spectrum of fans coming to our concerts and a song like “Headhunter” will not go lost. We are bound by a time limit as well, so we had to really choose the songs that go off the best in Switzerland, where we recorded. We recorded all twenty concerts in Switzerland. That is the reason why.
Jeb: What a testament to the band that you are able to alter the band’s set to cater to the specific fans needs.
Marc: Yeah, we chop and change. If we play a festival which is more pop rock orientated, then we play “Tokyo Nights” and “American Woman” and “Fire” and “Bedside Radio.” If we see our audience is all dressed in black then we pull out “Hoodoo Woman,” “Headhunter,” “Heatstroke” and those kinds of songs. Everyone loves “Fire” and “American Woman” and “Go Baby Go.” The ultimate opener for all concerts, for every one of them, is “Long Stick Goes Boom.”
Jeb: That song is huge. You can’t turn that song down, you only turn it up.
Marc: It is amazing. It still blows my mind.
Jeb: On this album in the middle of “Long Stick” you throw in a little bit of the Who. Did that happen in rehearsals?
Marc: That is a little bit of a Who tribute. It just came out in rehearsal. It was buzzing in my head for a few rehearsals and during one rehearsal I just let it out, and Chris picked up on it and just gave me a big smile. He said, “We’ve got to keep that in.” He made Mandy conscious of the situation and we rehearsed it and got it down to a T so everyone would know when to start going into “Pinball Wizard.” The bass part is missing, as we didn’t want to overdo it. It is amazing, as a handful of fans picked up on it right away…they had to be huge Who fans. We slip it in there pretty cool.
Jeb: You have never shied away from throwing in remakes. Is that to honor the bands that you loved growing up?
Marc: It is a two-sided thing. One side is that we are fans of that band and of that song in particular. Secondly, we want to gain from putting that into our set list to share it and to rehash and reinvent it…by giving the song new life. We share it with our fans. The biggest success we ever had, apart from “American Woman” was the song “Schools Out” by Alice Cooper. We re-did that song on the Change of Address album and it went up in the American Top 40. It was the only Krokus song ever that hit the American single charts. None of our other songs were hit singles in the USA. We had a lot of album hits, though.
Recently I was onstage with Alice Cooper in Switzerland. He was doing a tour called Rock Meets Classic and I always sit in and do a few numbers when Rock Meets Classic comes to Switzerland. This time we did “Schools Out” and everyone who was on the show joined Alice. I was there, and Joe Lynn Turner was there, and the guys from Uriah Heap were there and everyone else. Orianthi was playing guitar for Alice. She is super. She is amazing and she is so cool. The way she struts is just so cool, and she is just great.
Jeb: Will there be any Krokus dates in the USA?
Marc: The good news is that they are trying their asses off to get us over in the USA. The people around us…Paradise Artists in the USA are trying really hard to get us over to the USA. We definitely want to come over. It is the most positive feedback I have heard in a long time, so we are hopeful. They are talking about the fourth quarter of this year and if that does not work out then maybe next year for the big jubilee; the 40 year anniversary of Krokus. I think we have to come over then.
Jeb: Every night when you sing “Long Stick” or “Screaming in the Night,” age just goes out the window, as you are just onstage doing your thing. After the show when someone says, “Forty years.” You have to go, “Wow.”
Marc: It is a miracle. We are all still alive and kicking and not just that, but we are delivering quality, which is important. It is important for us to do that and that is why we rehearse so often. We want to deliver quality and not just nostalgia. We are not just still doing this because the beer is free. We do it because we enjoy the music and we want to try and bring it over in the best way possible in a positive way, and to leave this in everybody’s memory when we are no longer around. The end will come. When it will come we don’t know. We are still healthy. Let’s not look at that subject. We take it step by step and we will see what happens. We don’t even know if we are going to record another studio album ever again. We are going on tour now, and that is it.
Jeb: Was there any temptation to do a DVD release?
Marc: A DVD complicates things even more. It takes away from the energy from the whole concentration of the band and of the crowd. It is like we are on Candid Camera! This way, without the cameras, we were just doing it like we normally do. It is all about the music this way. Whether we do a DVD as the next step…in my opinion, if the budget was here then I would go for it, because I even would do it for Tom Allom, the guy who produced Headhunter.
Jeb: He has the company that does live stuff like that. I put you and Tom back in touch last year.
Marc: Yeah, of course, what the hell am I thinking? Of course, that was through you. He sent me the Judas Priest Blu-Ray that he did. He told me the whole story about his partner and how they are doing all of that. They have the whole set-up. They can do it so that the band plays live and all over the world cinemas can show the live concert on the movie screen. When the show is over then you can buy a DVD of that show that you’ve just seen live, broadcast from Berlin to these theaters. Wouldn’t that be something cool to celebrate our jubilee…our forty year… it would be, but let’s see…first things first. We need to go on tour, and we have to try to get back to the USA and then see what happens. We have a lot of things to accomplish still, and that is what keeps the fire going.
Jeb: Do you ever feel like pinching yourself coming off stage when you play so well? Does it still get emotional?
Marc: Oh yeah, it really does. You come off stage and you really don’t want to get off stage. You’ve reached the climax and the kids…your fans…are celebrating you and you don’t want to stop. You come off stage and you’re faced with the reality. You hit a brick wall. There are things you have to do like a couple of radio interviews, or you do a Meet & Greet and the whole ball keeps rolling, but the gig has stopped; you’re not singing, or playing guitar, or playing drums; you’re doing other things.
Jeb: When did you know you didn’t need a backup plan, that this was what you were going to do with your life?
Marc: I was pretty young, actually. I joined my first band when I was 14. I came from a musical family. I was never encouraged to do it as a profession. I was told to keep it as a hobby, as I would have bills to pay. I reached a point when I was about nineteen and a half where I packed up my backpack and threw in my microphone—I had reached as far out as I could reach in my home country, the island of Malta. I flew to London to follow my destiny. I really felt this was my destiny. It was all I wanted to do and I was ready to go through thick and thin and ups and downs and somehow get there. I am going to be 63 in October. I have a family with two kids and I am still doing it. I really feel thankful for all that I have achieved and all that I have today. I am happy with every concert that I can still do.
Jeb: Last one: When you recorded “Long Stick Goes Boom,” did you know you had what many consider your signature song? Did you know this song would take you to the next level?
Marc: We didn’t consciously think that. We felt that we were onto something good. This was a song that was written the way I love to write the most, and that is with a couple of other musicians. This song was with Fernando on guitar and Chris on his bass. We were sitting in a motel room before being picked up for our sound check. We were going over the song; over and over. It really felt so good. We were fixing the song, and growing the song, and it felt good. We just had this tiny little amp in a motel room. I have no idea where in the world that was. I just remember it was really hot, and that we were in a roach motel somewhere. I really don’t remember where. We were picked up and taken to sound check, and we went on stage and tried the song out with the whole band. The difference of playing a song like “Long Stick” is that you can’t play it in a tiny room. You have to play it in an auditorium of at least a thousand people because of the resonance, and because it is such a big song the way it is built. It is like “Here come the Romans.” The lyrics were tongue in cheek and had a double meaning. Long stick being a rifle, and then a long stick being….well, you know...going boom!
Jeb: Anything else you want to say about the live album?
Marc: It was a magical night as we were doing the last concert of the Dirty Dynamite tour of 2013. We had twenty recordings in our back pocket and this was the last one. We were so happy after the gig that we hugged each other and we even kissed each other as it turned out! The energy of this being the final one of the tour came across well on the album Long Stick Goes Boom: Live in the House of Rust.” All proceeds went to charity. The next thing I would like to say is that for the USA and Canadian fans to hang on, as we have not forgotten you. All of the touring we did in your country is still in our blood. It was our blood, sweat and tears of the ‘80s. If the spirits in heaven are with us, we will come and tour and burn rubber on your highways again.
Jeb: Okay, I have one last request. If you do make a new studio album, then I want you to do “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth. I think you all would kick that song in the ass.
Marc: That is amazing that you say that song. This song, actually, we rehearsed yesterday. Somebody brought it up and Fernando started jamming on it. You know, it was our concert before last we played in a big festival for about 12,000 by this lake in Arbon. Nazareth played before us and they didn’t finish their set because Dan McCafferty was having health issues. He has a disease or something and he came off stage in real pain. He came off stage and he said to me, “It’s over. It’s just over.” It is a real pity.
I love that song, though. The solo has the Joe Walsh thing in it…the talk box. Dan McCafferty is really special to me. Nobody has a voice like him. He is a real original. He is one of the biggest guys that I have known the longest. I adored Nazareth when I was playing in a band called Tea. We went on tour with Nazareth way-back-when, and he never ever lost respect for the band. Hmm, good idea.
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited