SHAKRA – The Swiss Powerplay Connection
Hailing from one of the best countries for instinctual, grass roots oriented hard rock, Switzerland’s Shakra has been pumping out albums since 1998. There’s something to be said for persistence- especially in the time period where melodic hard rock wasn’t looked at in as much of a favorable light. Guitarist Thomas Muster and company follow their passion and their creative minds, and its served them very well- their latest album Powerplay – their 9th studio offering- recently made its debut in their home country at number one on their national charts!
Having followed the band for at least a decade, I felt it was more than overdue to conduct an interview with the quintet- and Thomas quickly answered all the questions I could muster about their latest album, their long history, as well as the changing digital music consumption climate. Something tells me he’s already cooking up the next batch of Shakra tunes for a future release.
Now that John Prakesh has been in the band for a few years, how would you compare his vocal delivery and outlook with Shakra in comparison to Pete Wiedmer and Mark Fox? Has it been easy or difficult for the long time Shakra fans to accept these changes through the years?
No, suprisingly most of our fans had no problem at all with these changes, though the voices of all three singers are completely different. I know there are a lot of bands out there like Judas Priest or Motley Crüe just to name two, where it didn’t work with another singer. The majority of the fans just did not accept a new singer. Don’t ask me why it works with SHAKRA. I guess it’s about the way we write our songs, the guitar riffs, the vocal lines we create. These things give SHAKRA a special shape, not primarly the singer. But of course I love to have John in the band. Not only he’s a great person, of course he’s also a fantastic singer!
"Powerplay" is the ninth studio record for the band. Can you give us some details regarding how long the songwriting and recording sessions took, if there was a specific game plan or outlook you wanted to get across- and any special challenges or surprises that happened? According to an interview I saw online recently, John stated you had 33 songs ready to go- how do you decide which ones make the final cut?
I guess we had about 30 song ideas, just ideas, not complete songs ready to go. You know when I’m at home I’m cleaning the appartment, I’m doing the laundry and I’m cooking for my wife haha. And I’m writing songs. All day long. I just play guitar and see what happens. Sometimes nothing comes to my mind and sometimes I write a song in just 5 minutes. It happens or not, it’s not possible to make a plan about it. You just have to keep doing it. There will be some good songs in the end J A lot of shit also, but if you write 5 songs, at least one killer will be among them. I guess I was writing songs for about one year, then I got together with John working on the vocal lines. And finally we spent about 3 months in the studio recording all the tunes.
It appears that some of the upbeat tracks such as "Life Is Now" and "The Mask" have a little bit more of a modern rock outlook, taking hints from North American artists like Alter Bridge and Shinedown in terms of tone and production values. Is it important for Shakra to continually look to current artists in your genre to develop fresh, interesting ideas within the band’s established outlook and songwriting ethics?
I don’t think that it’s important for us. It just happens. Sure we don’t sound exactly the same as we did back in the 90’s, but that’s a natural and personal evolution. When I was younger I was listening to AC/DC and all the 80’s metalbands, but nowadays I’m more into Rush or Dream Theater and Thom loves a lot of those american modern rock bands. That doesn’t mean we sound like these bands, we still sound like SHAKRA, but certainly there are some small influences we process in our music.
Where do you see the major differences when it comes to recording albums versus playing out live with Shakra? Which do you enjoy more these days?
It’s something completely different and I have to say that I love them both. Playing live is just fun, pure rock’n’roll. Recording in the studio is more like „working". I mean when I’m recording my guitar tracks then I’m usually in the studio from 9 to 5. That sounds a bit like an office- job, right? And so it is, just a job, but a job I really love to do!
How would you describe your relationship with your record label AFM- who you’ve released albums for since 2005’s "Fall"? What are the major differences you’ve seen through the early years on Point Music versus the promotion, publicity, and chart success you’ve now achieved on AFM?
Well, AFM is much more professional in every way. I mean, Point Music was just a very small Indie-Label, actually it was more like a music distributor. Ha, you’re talking about chart success? Man, we just entered the swiss charts at #1 ! For the first time in our career! That feels not too bad, believe me! So finally it’s all a result of the hard work not only of the band, but also of all the people working for us.
If you had to look back at your nine studio album, two live album discography, which albums are you the most proud of, and if there is one album you wish you could back and refine, re-record, or re-tool, which one would it be and why?
I’m proud of all of them. But I’m not someone who likes to look back too much. I remember I once read somewhere that Rush maybe wants to remaster their „Vapor Trails" album. I thought ok, well, why not, if they think so… But a few weeks ago I read an interview with Alex Lifeson saying that it’s probably better to leave everything the way it is… well I think I understand what his thoughts are. I mean every album shows just the condition the band was in back then. Just take our „Fall" album. It sounds strange in some way. But we had a real hard time back then and you can hear that on the album. But it’s ok, it’s a part of the SHAKRA history.
How difficult is it to decide on a set list for Shakra- especially in an opening slot situation or festival setting where you may only get 40-50 minutes on stage? Can you describe what the band is like in a live setting- and what some of your favorite shows through the years have been either in Switzerland or abroad?
It’s getting harder with every album to create a good set list, especially a short one. Right now we’re working on it for the « Powerplay » tour. As we like to play a lot of the new stuff there won’t be that much space for older material. Well, we have to find a cool mixture, it’s not easy at all, but we’ll make itJ Yeah, we played a lot of great shows here in Europe, we supported Guns & Roses and Iron Maiden a few years ago. As much as I like such big arena shows, I still prefer to do headliner shows. I mean if we open up for G’n’R all the fans are not there because of SHAKRA. They are there because of Axl. That’s why I prefer to play in front of 1000 people who really want to see SHAKRA!
You are closing in on your 50’s- how do you view life at this age compared to your early years playing in bands? Has your viewpoint about music and life changed- what do you consider the most important priorities?
Well, when I was younger I had one thing in my mind: Rock’n’Roll all nite and party every day, to say it in Kiss’s words. Now I’m nearly 50 and got two things in my mind: Writing songs and staying healthy!
You’ve admitted a strong affinity for the band AC/DC through the years. What’s your favorite song and album from both eras with Bon Scott and Brian Johnson fronting the group? Do you also remember the best show you witnessed from the band through the years?
Actually nobody wants to grow older. And I’m 48. But there is one concert I could not have been attended if I was only 25 or something: AC/DC back in 1979 with Bon Scott here in my hometown in Switzerland! I’m not sure if it was the best show of them, but it surely was a very special show for me! My favorite AC/DC songs? Not easy… Sin City and Thunderstruck.
Do you have any concerns about how fast the world seems to be moving with technology advances and instant communication with cell phones, texting messaging, and social media platforms? What do you do as an artist to unwind from the music business as far as hobbies or outside interests?
Social media? Of course we use facebook etc. just as a promotion tool. I don’t like it at all as a private person. I do not have a very strong « notification need ». Beside that, I like new technologies. By the way, I also love brand new gear. I‘m anything else than a vintage freak.
Unfourtunately I’m not able to unwind from the music completely. It’s always in my mind. Sometimes I’m trying to watch a movie on TV with my wife and at the same time I hold a guitar in my hands. After 30 minutes I ask my wife what the hell they are talking about in that movie…? And she’s telling me, better go to your studio to record something instead of bothering me while watching the movie… holy shit… but that’s finally the reason why we are able to release an new album every other year!
The Swiss hard rock scene has always been a healthy one with veteran acts like Krokus, Gotthard, and yourselves along with a mixture of new talent. Why do you believe musicians in your country gravitated to this style of music- the energy, the passion, the excitement, or are there other factors where people just need this emotional release?
To be honest I have no idea. I think you can go to any other country in the world and you will find rock acts like we are. The only difference may be, that these bands are not that successful in their countries. We just play our style of music because we love it. It’s our passion.
Will there be a third live album in the near future- especially since the last one "My Life My World" hit the streets in 2004? Would you ever consider putting together a long form Shakra documentary that would go through the whole history of the band?
Yeah, you’re right. It’s almost 10 years ago since we released MLMW. I guess it’s time to talk about a new DVD, but we have no plans to date. You know, I was watching the Rush documentary « Beyond The Lighted Stage » just the other day. What a great band! What a history! Compared to them we’re only a modest Swiss band. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to tackle a project like thisJJ
Do other younger musicians come up and ask for your advice? If so, what suggestions or tips do you give them to focus on?
Oh god, I do not have any coaching talents. Really, that’s not my cup of tea. The only thing I can say is: if you love to do something, keep doing it !
The number of releases in the hard rock/ metal genre appear to be increasing, a necessary evil of sorts as people can afford home studio gear at a much more cost effective price. What are your feelings on the scene in 2013- how can the labels and artists come to terms with this digital download driven market place?
Good Question. But I don’t have any answer. If I had a solution for this problem I would not talk about it, I would solve the problem! But unfortunately I don’t have one… It’s always the same with everything: there are two sides to every story. I mean the internet offers a fantastic, great world of knowledge and information. Within a few seconds you’re able to find everything you need. On the other hand, the internet kills the CD’s because you also find every song you want there. For free. But it’s not possible to stop it. But fortunately it’s also not possible to download live shows or all the mechandise stuffJ
Tell us your favorite story you’ve heard in meeting a Shakra fan through the years… ?
I met a fan last year and he told me that he’s been travelling for the last 6 months all over the world. He told me that he never saw a person with a SHAKRA-shirt in Europe, in America or in Australia. But he met a SHAKRA-fan in the jungle of Borneo, far away from any civilization…. That’s funny!