NITROGODS – Bringing Back The Blues Based Boogie Rock
Those of us who gravitate to hard rock and metal didn’t get our start immediately listening to these styles when we were born. Through family, friends and media like the radio or internet, tastes expand and the excitement comes out when a musician or band strikes the right chords, the brilliant melodies, or a memorable rhythm to hook you in. Gateway acts can lead to a movement that isn’t just youthful rebellion but a permanent lifestyle.
That’s the feeling that comes to mind every time I take in the debut album from German three piece act Nitrogods. Two of the three members are ex-Primal Fear players- but this act has more in common with the 1970’s hard rock/blues rock movement than anything related to their metal past. Stripped down to the core, Nitrogods live and breathe for their cause and as a result have a debut album on their hands that rocks in a way I haven’t heard for decades.
Calling from Germany, guitarist/vocalist Henny Walter is a very engaging musician who is up for the challenge of developing this new band and as a result we had a pleasurable chat about his long career in the business.
What inspired you to begin this three piece, down to earth roots based hard rock band Nitrogods- following your time with heavier acts like Primal Fear and Sinner? Does this bring you back to your early years with Thunderhead?
"Yes, that is mainly the main inspiration to go back to this kind of sound. I’ve always been a really blues influenced guitar player more than a metal guy, even though I enjoyed my time with Primal Fear and I enjoyed writing with them. Of course I wanted to go back to my musical roots as I had the opportunity to a new start with a new band. That’s more or less my favorite style of music, all these influences heard in Nitrogods. I like it simple."
Lyrically you went for some light hearted subject matter at times, especially in "At Least I’m Drunk" and "License To Play Loud"- but you take a serious dig at the whole auto-tune phenomenon in the rock world with "Lypsynch Stars". Why do you think many artists attempt to take shortcuts these days- and do they really think the fans aren’t wise and can’t sense their insincerity compared to real live vocals and instrumentation?
"I believe the fans hear it- I’m not so sure if the fans care so much. I think that there is a movement of younger bands or newer bands that want to go back to working without these correctional devices. I have the impression that many people are disturbed by the fact that metal or rock productions sound the same. Everybody is using the exact same plug-ins, samples, master compressors- many albums as a result sound the same. That makes you tired and disappointed when you hear one new band after the other exactly the same- when you listen to old Status Quo records of the 70’s or AC/DC, they were recorded without any digital helpers and the music has a whole different impact on the stereo and I miss that on a lot of new productions. A couple of rock fans feel the same way- I talk to a lot of people who notice that. I can name a few bands… I wouldn’t call it a movement but they are going back to recording more in an old fashioned kind of way. For instance, Graveyard from Sweden, Rival Sons from Los Angeles, 77 from Spain- all this stuff is very well received by the fan community because it reminds people of the old times from "Let There Be Rock" by AC/DC to "Blue For You" from Status Quo- I guess we also belong to this movement or phenomenon, musicians notice that people get tired of the same things as far as the production values. The Pro-Tools sound, as I would call it."
How did the guest appearances with Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty for "Whiskey Wonderland" and Fastway’s Eddie Clarke for "Wasted In Berlin" come into play on this album? Will this be something of a tradition to continue on future Nitrogods albums or live appearances?
"I played a tour in Germany, it’s an annual tour with a classical orchestra with a couple of guests called Rock Meets Classic- and Dan McCafferty was in it, Lou Gramm from Foreigner, and Bobby Kimball from Toto- and I was the guitar player for the set up. That’s how I got to know Dan in 2010. Dan was my favorite guy out of all these old rock stars, he was traveling with the crew and the band, hanging out at the bar with us, very, very down to earth. One of those times at the bar I had him promise that he would sing on my next band’s album- but he’s the type of guy that stands up for his work so when I called him and asked him if he would like to do it, he told me he had to like the song. I sent him "Whiskey Wonderland" and he came flying in to my hometown of Hannover and recorded it with us in the studio here. I think it fits, the song is perfect for his voice. The exchange of verses with Oimel Larcher, our bassist/vocalist is great. I have always been a fan of his vocals, I am not neutral when it comes to that (laughs). Eddie Clarke has played with Oimel and Klaus at charity gigs a couple of years ago- so Oimel asked Eddie to donate a solo for Nitrogods and he spontaneously came up with a solo even as he was recording his latest Fastway album. It would be a nice idea to continue this, I have tons of people I would love to see join in for guest appearances on a Nitrogods album but the hardest part is finding a schedule. With Dan it was hard because Nazareth plays about 200 shows a year. It depends on who is available and if we have the right song for the person. I’m not going to do something just to have somebody on the album. If the opportunity is there we will go for it."
Stylistically it’s as if you are taking elements of the Southern rock/ Texas blues scene and meeting them with UK acts like Motorhead and Status Quo to create this highly energetic sound. What do you enjoy most about those 70’s and early 80’s sounds that you use as a reference point in Nitrogods?
"Good question- because of the way it is put. What do I enjoy most about the sound… it’s very honest, pure, authentic, maybe because it is played live in the studio. Most of these records from the 70’s are recorded with a band playing together in the studio at the same time. They just used overdubs for solos and vocals, and I believe you can feel it in the music. It’s got high impact being dynamic and live, you can listen to the bands speed up and slow down. You can never adjust a metronome to a 70’s/80’s AC/DC or Status Quo album because you will go out of beats per minutes in three or four parts (laughs). The band itself play so well together and I miss it on all of nowadays productions. Even when people start playing with click tracks, which we had to do even on the Nitrogods stuff, you lose bands playing live together. That’s what I enjoy about the old albums- plus the fact that when these albums came out I was 12 or 14 and that was the greatest experience for me to listen to these albums. The albums you never forget in your life are the ones you listen to when you are 14 or 15, that album will always be special to you even when you are 50 or 60."
Is the production philosophy of "Nitrogods" similar to your musical philosophy- back to basics with very little overdubbing or computer enhancement?
"Absolutely, yes. We try to get close to the way we recorded in the 80’s with Thunderhead on tape machines- we did not record on tape machines, even though I wanted to. It proved to be too much of a pain, it’s much more comfortable to edit parts on the computer and if you start cutting tapes it is tougher. We didn’t use any Auto-tune, Melodyne, Beat Detective, none of these plug-ins. We used a lot of vintage equipment, on guitar I played a 1966 Gretsch guitar on 80 percent of the songs through a 1963 Vox AC30, which is hardly any distortion, it’s very mid-range and very loud- I think you can tell the difference, it sounds way different than modern productions, albums, or equipment. I even would like to take it one step further and really record together on tape, but my fellow musicians told me that this is too crazy. I remember those times recording with Thunderhead, you had to be right on the money and only a couple of tries. It’s not so easy to punch in and out on a tape machine, you have to have it together to play right."
Did you have a special guest for the harmonica play on the album or did one of the members do those parts?
"No- I was going to ask a friend of mine who is a great blues harp player but he was on tour during the recording of the album so I played the blues harp. I did it as good as I could, but I’m sure it would have come out better if the other guy could have done it. The mouth harp doesn’t need a virtuoso playing it, it just needed a rock vibe and I’m good enough to do that."
Your drummer Klaus Sperling also is the drummer for Freedom Call- is it difficult to coordinate schedules for him to play, record, and do shows for both acts?
"Yes, that might occur because we are even releasing albums on the same day- and we share the same booking agency as Freedom Call. So these guys will have to take care of that- when they book a tour for Freedom Call they know they can’t book a tour for Nitrogods, and vice versa."
Do you find certain situations have to happen in your life to be more musically creative? How do you manage deadlines as well?
"The situation was I obviously left Primal Fear and Sinner- I was all of a sudden facing a new start and that definitely helped made it possible to come up with Nitrogods. I suck at deadlines. I have a hard time. I just let them wait. I take the time I need to do something right. I’m a person who takes a long time to do things- I can’t write a Nitrogods album in three weeks and put it together the way I want it. It’s one and a half years to get everything together- the ideas, the lineup, the sound, the songs, the arrangements, putting it together for live shows. The people that give me deadlines are in trouble, because I never make them. I hope nobody gives me deadline troubles in Nitrogods or I will be late (laughs)."
What type of balance do you create between your music career and time for your wife and children? Do your children show any interest in picking up instruments themselves?
"Yes- my children are very young, my boy is 4 and my daughter is 3. They have everything- drum sets in their rooms, guitars and amplifiers- to them it’s like an everyday article like a Mickey Mouse puppet. At their age it’s nothing special right now, like another toy. They’ve seen me play live, my wife took them to a show and put noise reduction equipment on their heads and they like hard music. Every time in the car they go crazy about heavier stuff like Probot, the project of Dave Grohl- they go mental about that. The last year with me working on Nitrogods, that’s the most my family has seen me since my kids were born. Before I was constantly touring or recording in a different town. They weren’t used to having me around – they saw me every day and they got sick of me (laughs). I guess I have to go on tour more so they’ll miss me."
You place great importance on developing a band with Nitrogods- especially considering some of the statements I’ve read following your second split with Primal Fear back in 2010. Explain your philosophy of what aspects make a ‘band’ in your eyes?
"Yes- very well. That was the main reason why I left Primal Fear. When I started playing guitar and playing with Thunderhead, we were like 21 and we would run into each other, take the world by storm- practicing in our rehearsal room sometimes 8 hours a day, writing and practicing. We were friends, got a record deal, and went on tour- that is a band. Nowadays, with Primal Fear… it has turned more and more into a paid musicians situation, Mat and Ralf are the only constants. They are all great musicians and they deserve success but it has nothing to do with the way I want to be making music. I want to have friends who hang together and do other stuff outside of the music, going through tough gigs and tours, and everybody has to bring their share of sacrifice to live this life- that’s my idea of playing music and making rock ‘n’ roll. I know friends break away and people start arguing- then what do you do? You have a successful band, you record a new record and a tour is awaiting. You look for people to do the job- and if it’s someone from your hometown or from another country, you fly them in with record company money and that is how bands nowadays get into these situations with 1 or 2 bosses and hired guns. That’s not the way I want to play- so that’s why I left."
How was it seeing Thin Lizzy back in 1979 on their "Chinatown" tour?
"How did you know about this?"
Well, I did a little research about this on your personal experiences…
"Yes, that is true! I would even say it was a life changing experience for me. I guess I was 14 and it blew me away. They had Snowy White playing guitar on that tour, which hardly anyone remembers his time in the band. It was a great show, I went out and bought all their albums after that, it was crazy. That’s surprising that you know about this."
I’m a big Thin Lizzy fan, even though I live in the United States where most people only know "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Jailbreak"- but I read interviews in magazines about Iron Maiden being influenced by Thin Lizzy, so I went back and discovered their catalog.
"Another one of the bands who have a whole different liveness than modern productions. The "Jailbreak" album somewhat has a bass-less tone to it, but there’s a certain charm to it that nobody can get away from. Great songs, and it’s played so tightly. The band went from The Eagles sound to West Coast to even soul- they knew how to put it all together."
Are there any touring plans in place beyond Germany for Nitrogods? Does your attitude differ when you are playing in clubs versus bigger festival shows?
"We would love to tour, but no one really knows about us yet. If we manage a support tour that fits, we will gladly do it. We are playing to do a little tour with a couple of rock bands, 77, Charger and Motorjesus- they all play the same style of music we do and this 4-5 band package will do something together in April, that is what our booking agent is working on. We haven’t played bigger festivals with Nitrogods just yet, all the shows we’ve played are biker parties and little clubs. But I am sure this music will go over great- this music needs to be played live. We jam, we stop, we improvise. We have no click track on stage, no laptop- 3 men, 3 instruments. Sometimes I will extend a song with a bottleneck solo, or sometimes we will have guests come on stage by surprise and they’ll jam with us on the blues harp. It’s a way different ball game then my former bands, this band needs to get out on the road."
What is your favorite tour memory you’ve had in your life with any band at any time in your long career?
"Hmm. One great show was with Primal Fear on the Progpower USA festival in 2007. That was my birthday on October 6, it was a sold out theater and the crowd went crazy singing happy birthday to me, that was my first time in the United States. It was a great night. That comes to my mind- I’ve had thousands of great and funny experiences."
With such instant communication social media means, how do you weigh the pros and cons over what the business is like these days- and how easily fans can communicate their love and hate for bands or moves they make?
"I’m sure the internet gives unknown bands like us an opportunity to gain or reach a certain amount of people that probably we wouldn’t reach without it. After all.. I’m not so sure, with all the social networks going on, people have become lazy and they get bombarded with spam, sometimes band spam. I get tired of people that constantly invite you to be a part of their street teams, I ignore them and I am sure other people are the same way. You click everything away. That on the other hand makes it hard, so I don’t want Nitrogods to be a spam band. If you hold back a little and you don’t inform everyone about the latest farts you had or foods you had on tour then I guess people will take you seriously. An example is I have new Nitrogods t-shirts with the skull logo and the pistols that I put on our official website. A couple of days later I got an email from a fan who saw us play at a show in Germany, and he was asking us if we had any Nitrogods shirts because he didn’t find any on Myspace. That makes me think… I posted on our official homepage, we have pictures and a shop there and he’s too lazy to make one click over to Facebook or our official site. If I want to update something I have to post it on too many social media sites- you can go overboard but it’s a fact that gives unknown bands a vehicle to promote themselves. It’s got its good and bad sides."
Have you already started songwriting for the second Nitrogods album? Would you ever consider any special covers- even ones in the non-hard rock genre- to add to your own original compositions?
"Yes, we didn’t have much time in the last couple of weeks, but we’ve started writing one song when I was at practice for a club show. That’s about what we have so far, but it’s good. At the moment we want to make our own mark, so we just want to have originals on the Nitrogods albums."
If you could assemble your all time favorite hard rock/ metal band musician by musician- either past or presently living- who would you put together and what would their sound be like?
"Ok- that would be Angus Young on guitar, Jimmy Page on guitar, Steven Tyler on vocals, John Bonham on drums and Cliff Williams on bass- oh wait, who was the bassist from Status Quo, wasn’t it Alan Lancaster? I would choose Alan on bass. Then they would have to do some boogie woogie, and I’m sure it would be great! (laughs)."
Any thoughts on the impending retirement of one of the oldest German hard rock bands The Scorpions?
"These guys are superstars in my country, they are from my hometown and I know them very well. They are nice guys, I know Klaus and Rudolph and they have been following the careers of their hometown fellows. You have to have respect for what they have achieved, staying on top all of these years, decades. You have to have the fight even when you are 50 to plug through. I doubt though that this is their final tour as they announce it."