Interview with Destruction — “I could see a lot of people really smiling and enjoying it because it was kind of the first step into your normal life again.”

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German thrash metal maniacs DESTRUCTION had a streaming concert earlier this year. Those who didn’t have the opportunity to catch the show, fear not, the band is now releasing the show as a Blu-Ray. “Live Attack” is out on August 13th, 2021, via Napalm Records. We had the opportunity to talk to frontman Schmier about the recent experiences they had at festivals, the upcoming DVD, and DESTRUCTION‘s new album. Read the entire interview here…

First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me today. How have you been? How are you doing today?

It’s been a crazy couple of months. I guess everybody is going through their own shit lately. As a musician, you know, it was ups and downs of feelings or there was some hope here and there, and there were new ways of trying things. We were very hopeful with DESTRUCTION. Last year we already played some pandemic shows, some social distancing concerts, and we also did a live stream, which is now coming out as the “Live Attack” Blu-Ray. So, we will try to make the best of things to survive the pandemic and stay sane, because I think that’s the biggest problem… when you are a musician, a touring band, and you can’t go on tour and you can’t work, you cannot be really productive and you don’t have the fans that support you. A lot of people get depressed and they’ll get in serious trouble. I also know some musicians that had to stop playing and had to look for normal jobs and they might not come back. It’s kind of sad to see that, so we tried to avoid this and tried to stay as busy as possible. Now, here are the first steps of hope this summer with the first festivals. We’re all hoping that it continues like this.

You mentioned that you’ve kept yourselves busy. Last year, you already released a live album, now there’s a second one on the way. Of course, “Live Attack” originally was a live stream… was there any particular reason you decided that you should release this as a Blu-Ray?

Our live album that came out last year was also pandemic-related. We did it very spontaneously and there was only audio; there was no video material to show and a lot of fans complained that there were no DVDs with the live album. That’s basically what we’re doing now. It also includes CDs, of course, but yeah this is basically the second half of the one that came out last year, also pandemic-related. Both shows are very special and different. One was a festival with an audience, but a short concert. This one now is a concert that is like two hours but with no audience. So yeah, I think both shows are a part of our way to go through the pandemic and when we did the live stream, we had a lot of people asking to rewatch it afterwards and people always ask us to release it on DVD or Blu-Ray and that’s what we’re basically doing right now.

You also mentioned that you played at some festivals. One of them was Area 53 Festival. Was that the first time for you guys to be back on stage without all these social distancing rules and how did it feel?

It was the first show here in Europe for us, in Austria, and it was a show for vaccinated people, tested people, and already recovered people, so there were no masks. It felt kind of weird to see all those people [without masks], also backstage in the festival, nobody was wearing masks anymore. Now we’re used to masks since we’ve been wearing them for one and a half years. Having an event that had no masks was such a relief. In the beginning it was strange, but you get used to it really quickly and, yeah, I could see a lot of people really smiling and enjoying it because it was kind of the first step into your normal life again. That’s how it felt, at least.

In some countries, they are introducing these corona passports. In countries like France, there have been protests against it. How do you feel about that?

Since people who get tested also can get in, nobody is excluded. For me, I think the only way to progress in this pandemic is to get a vaccine for everybody because otherwise you’re gonna be shocked. I understand that people have problems with this, but on the other side, this is a pandemic, this is a worst-case scenario. We all need to sit together and do something about it and the only solution is, for me, to get the vaccine. It’s not a problem for me, because I have been getting vaccinated since I’m young. I got vaccinated when I go to Latin America and I have to tour Argentina, I didn’t get into the country unless I got a yellow fever shot. The vaccine, it’s part of science, it’s a part of the progression of the world, and I don’t see anything bad about that. Actually, it’s great that we have the vaccine, so we can go back to [normal] life, you know. Let people have their opinion, but I don’t follow it. For me, freedom has nothing to do with the vaccine, because many of those people who are on the street right now, wouldn’t be alive anymore if they wouldn’t be vaccinated as kids against certain diseases that we can get when we are young. I think the good thing about the festival is that if you’re not vaccinated, you can still go, you just have to go and do a Corona test. That’s why nobody had to be excluded, but of course, those real fanatics, also don’t want to get tested. Then, maybe they should go live in the woods and have their own life, you know. This is about being respectful to each other and that is what it’s all about to go through the pandemic. We can only win this fight against the pandemic if the whole world is fighting together. Otherwise, we’re going to be cursed with this shit.

Do you feel like the corona passport might be the thing that will bring live music back, or are you a bit still uncertain about the future?

So far, I was at two festivals now and both were like this, vaccinated, tested, and recovered concept, and both festivals were amazing because I felt like in our lives… that we felt free. And I think it will be a big step towards freedom again for us as musicians and for the festivals. But of course, there’s a certain amount of people who see it the opposite way. And those won’t go to the concerts, you know, and they’re feeling that this is oppression. So, it will take a while for people to understand that doing something is necessary because this is a pandemic. It’s unreal and I just had somebody yesterday, dying of COVID-19 of our friends, you know, so those people who are denying COVID being dangerous are spitting in the face of the death and spitting in the face of the family members and friends of those people who die. That’s why my tolerance towards the COVID deniers is not very high.

I understand that and I’m sorry to hear that. Now, going back to the festival, a lot of people are saying that when corona is over, it’s going to be like the roaring ’20s. Basically, that people are going to go crazy because they haven’t been anywhere at all, but I was wondering, did you notice anything like that in the audience? Was there a different energy than you are used to?

There were some crazy people. Several people were going really crazy in the mosh pit. Security at one point had to really give them a little tap and slow them down, you know, not to hurt each other. In general, I just saw so many happy faces, I saw so many people smiling, just enjoying the event again because it wasn’t possible for so long to socialize, just have a beer with your friends, and just sit and talk, having the feeling of being together again. I didn’t see any wild orgies or so; I think just people were just relieved, I saw a lot of happy faces.

Now, obviously the show recorded for the upcoming DVD was originally a live stream. Nevertheless, do you have any special memories about that show?

It’s really weird to play on a big stage and see an empty hall. I was prepared for it, so I really tried to focus and not get distracted. I talked with some friends of mine who also did some live streams and some people really had problems focusing on the lyrics, or the songs, or on the energy. I didn’t have that problem, luckily. I can really understand that it’s not so easy to perform like this because a live show is, in the end, always an exchange of the crowd’s energy with the band and also playing into an empty hall feels kind of weird, but for me, it worked. It’s nothing that I want to do again or that I’d like to do on a regular basis, but doing it once was kind of cool. It was an experience for sure.

Now, if I understood correctly, you also asked fans to decide the setlist with you. There were a lot of special and old songs that they wanted to hear. How was it for you to be performing and practicing this old material?

It was really hard work, because some songs we haven’t played for over 30 years. So, to get back into the feeling, into the mood… and some of the songs are pretty tricky to play, so it also needed some days of rehearsal to kind of re-catch the vibe and everything. But what we’ve created live with it felt great and I’m sure we’re going to keep some of those songs in the setlist in the future and bring them back on demand. It’s always cool to refresh the setlist with some classics. The problem with a band like DESTRUCTION is that we’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now, so there are so many songs, so many albums, and you cannot satisfy everybody. There’s a certain number of essential songs that you have to play – especially during festival shows – and we have only 50 minutes to play, so it’s impossible to play all the fan-favorites. So to play 2 hours, it’s kind of a cool experience because then you can really pack in a lot of old stuff that is not so expected, and some surprises. It’s nice for us to have a different setlist.

Were the songs that the fans picked a surprise to you?

Actually, no. I expected those songs exactly. I think I know our fans pretty well because we play a lot and sometimes we also do a spontaneous ending of the show, where the last three songs are requests, so the most requested song will come anyway. Then we can choose between songs that we’re able to play and sometimes I hear those songs and I saw this coming, and sometimes it’s a song that you don’t like anymore and you don’t like to play because you don’t like the song, so then we also wouldn’t play them. But, in general, I will say a lot of requests were also necessary to bring back. Our fans have good taste.

AMORPHIS actually celebrated their anniversary with special shows that each were dedicated to a decade of their career, where they would pick a set from songs written in that period. Is that something you guys could be potentially interested in doing? Because then you’re able to play some really rare tracks, which is really fun for diehard fans.

That’s actually a cool idea for the fans. Because there are so many good songs at the end of a career, it’s difficult to choose. We played a show last year in Germany, where we played two shows in one day. That would actually be similar, like one show in the afternoon, a matiné show, starting with early stuff and then, in the end, at night, to play more modern stuff. Who knows, maybe this will be a concept for the future.

How do you guys usually pick the songs for the setlist for a regular DESTRUCTION show?

I take it as a fan of music. When I go to a show, I want to hear the classics of the band. I went to an ACCEPT show a couple of years back, it was a great concert, but during the encore, they didn’t play “Fast as a Shark,” which is the song that brought me into metal music. So, even as the show was great, I went home feeling disappointed. I always see myself like this, I don’t want to disappoint DESTRUCTION fans, so we try to really put in the most important songs every night, the classic anthems will be there, that’s for sure. That’s why our setlist is basically fifty-fifty between songs from the ’80s and the other half is new generation songs.

In a couple of interviews, you mentioned that a band is a business, of course. I was wondering from a business point of view, do you think that these live streams have been worth it? Or have they been solely for the purpose of staying connected to the fans?

I think from the business side, live streams were an experience to connect with the fans; financially they were not a big win. No. Because for filming a live stream, you need to hire the cameras for the whole event, you have to pay the crew, and you have to mix everything in a professional manner so that it sounds good. I don’t know if fans know what we’re looking at, but production-wise, a live stream is between 10,000-20,000€. That’s just the costs of the show. To bring this money back, if you charge $20 per ticket, you need to sell a lot of tickets. So in the end, the live stream was an experience for us to connect with the fans, to stay in touch, a sign of life also, and it was also requested by many. I remember in the middle of the pandemic, I said that we’re not going to do a live stream, because I watched some live streams that didn’t sound or look good. Then, I saw some later that were better, but they were also expensive. I said okay, “if we do a live stream have to do it the right way and invest some money.” In the end, it was worth it because now we’re releasing it as a Blu-Ray. So, it’s kind of closing the circle again, it made us go through the pandemic in a good way. Now we can bring out a memory from the show. I would do it again, but I wouldn’t do it frequently. I know some bands that do live streams every month, or every few weeks, like TRIVIUM and OBITUARY, I wouldn’t do that because I’m not a big fan.

It’s great to hear that you really thought out what to do for a live stream. I agree that live streams have been a hit or a miss. Do you see a future for live streams after corona is over or do you think they will kind of die a peaceful death?

I saw some interesting concepts. There are some companies that have a stage ready that has the cameras and recording tools and a staff that is trained, so they can do a couple of livestreams a day, let’s say they can do five bands in one day. Every band is two hours, one hour to film, one hour to soundcheck, and then the next band comes in. This is a concept that I could see working for special occasions like, let’s say, an album release party, you know, a new album is coming out, we do a live stream, showing some new songs to fans. I could see that work as a special promo, but I don’t think live streams can ever replace concerts. They are not even close. It’s not the same.

Obviously from a listener’s point of view, I thought the live album sounded really tight. I’m not sure if you are the kind of person who listens to himself because I know that some people don’t do that. But do you hear a difference in the way you play without an audience than when you would play if there would be lots of people out there?

When you have an audience, you get even more energy and you can let your guard down, and you can maybe get even more distracted. When you’re distracted, you make more mistakes. As soon as your mind is going away too much from the instrument, then you can maybe forget the lyrics or miss the next part. I think for me it was actually easier to focus. Even though sometimes I had also problems focusing because there were no people, so I think it’s different, but the difference is not that big. When you have a show with a wide audience, you get distracted by the energy, and by the mosh pit, and the flying stage divers. I think it was easier to play without those distractions.

Now we talked earlier about the festivals that you played at. Do you have any other festivals or show coming up this summer where fans can see you?

We have now planned five festivals in Europe. They are smaller editions of several famous festivals – one is a festival in the Czech Republic. Brutal Assault has a small festival called Jozefstadt. Then, we play in Belgium at Alcatraz Festival, which is a famous Belgian festival. We play at Resurrection Festival and Metal Paradise Festival, both in Spain. Then we play one festival in Finland, from the organizers of SteelChaos. There is a new concept of festivals where people have to get tested, vaccinated, and recovered, so it should really work. Hopefully nothing will get canceled, but you never know, it’s still a very uncertain time. The most important steps are now to see if this concept is working and start having more events. Hopefully, this will continue. By the way, can I ask you where you are from?

I’m from Belgium but I have been living in Finland for quite some time now.

Okay, so you’re very international. We hope that Alcatraz is going to take place because neighboring countries have had more strict rules now, because the numbers went up, so we are hoping that it takes place. I heard from my friends in the States that they are doing festivals and everything without any testing, which is kind of stupid if you ask me. Some friends in California just called me yesterday and said the numbers are going crazy because festivals are not tested, not controlled, and then of course it’s spreading during these events and the numbers will go up. So I guess, in America, in some weeks or months, they will start doing the same thing that we do in Europe now. We hope to be the role model for the world to show that it’s working.

In Finland actually, they’re also not doing it (yet). Yesterday, I went to a concert – I’m fully vaccinated, so I don’t really care – most of the young people haven’t had their two vaccines yet and there were a lot of people without masks. There are some rules about restricted capacity, but it makes no difference if people don’t do social distancing, it was very uncomfortable.

So anybody could just go in? That is not a good idea. I think it’s way too early to let everyone in. The concept works because at least I felt very safe. I’m also vaccinated, I thought it felt comfortable to know that everybody’s tested and that people can’t spread it so much.

I think they are realizing that now as well. They are working on the corona pass. Concerning Alcatraz, as far as I know, I think it’s going ahead. Belgium recently changed rules about getting tested for events and the biggest festival that was scheduled for August, Pukkelpop, had to cancel because of that, but Alcatraz was more prepared for that, they are pretty well-organized if you ask me.

I guess it’s about the number of people who are going to the festival. I think it’s very difficult to test 20,000 or 30,000 a day, but if it’s only 5000, then it’s possible.

Exactly! Do you guys have any other things coming up? Are you planning to work on new material?

We actually wrote and recorded the whole new album already. We’re going to release a new song in about three weeks, we will release the first new single. The album is going to be released at the beginning of next year, but we want to give fans a sign of life and show people that the new album is in the making to keep the fans on track. Nowadays, a lot of fans are streaming music, so it’s quicker to reach them, to give a sign of life and a head’s up. We’re also playing shows in the fall. In Germany, some clubs are having open-air stages until October. So we’re hoping to play some shows during the next couple of weeks and stay a little bit in shape. Musicians are like athletes, if you don’t play frequently, [you] suck. It’s good to start up again now and hopefully, we can keep the business running.

That sounds great! Looking forward to the new material. Hopefully, those shows are happening! I guess, unfortunately, our time is up. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans and our readers?

I hope fans will give the festivals a chance this summer. I saw that there are a lot of skeptical people, anti-vaxxers. These moments now are the most important moments for the future of musicians. In other words, we’ll see how those concepts will work. I really hope that the fans will give a chance to the festivals and the events happening, because I see that everywhere, pre-sales are very low at the moment because people are uncertain, people are scared, people are wondering whether the new concept is going to work. I can really say from the bottom of my heart that I was impressed about those two first festivals we played at, they did a great job, exactly the opposite of what you had described. I felt comfortable at the event, because people have been vaxxed, tested, and recovered, so you know you’re safe there. If you don’t have this, like in America, then you will always feel a little bit uncertain and that’s something I really hope for the summer that people are coming out and testing the festivals now. Bring live music back!

Written by Laureline Tilkin
Photos by Maria Sawicka

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