AXEL RUDI PELL
Circle of the Oath
“If someone would have told me that I would have a music career this long I would have thought they were an idiot.” ~ Alex Rudi Pell
51-year old German guitar legend Axel Rudi Pell has released his 15th studio album Circle of the Oath. The disc is ablazed with lyrical majesty, melodic hooks and well-crafted musicianship. ARP has been at this game a while starting his career in 1979 with the thundering German heavy metal band Steeler and releasing four critically acclaimed records before moving on to his own solo career. He wears his influences on his sleeve with obvious nods to Ritchie Blackmore (both Deep Purple and Rainbow), Michael Schenker and Scorpions. With Circle of the Oath, Pell continues his fascination with medieval heroism, fantasy and folklore. The music is steeped in symphonic hard rock occasionally turning up the traditional metal meter. As with his other ARP records there is a slight concept winding the songs together that, by now, fans are accustom too. With his stable line up of almost fourteen years and one of the best vocalists in Johnny Gioelli (Hardline) the record stands as possibly the best Pell has delivered.
Pell’s last record was the triumphant The Crest, a prolific disc that pushed the band into the major leagues. To buy some time, he released the Ballad IV compilation afterwards allowing the group some breathing room to write the new record. The added time gave Pell the opportunity to dig deeper into the songs, analyze their composition and build dynamic impact. Nowhere is that more obvious than on the album’s title track. We spoke to ARP from his home in German to decipher the Circle of the Oath. “Ritchie Blackmore was one of my biggest influences as I was growing up and learning to play the guitar,” says Pell with very good English. “His influence is on all my albums. The first time I saw him was with Deep Purple in 1971. I saw him on TV and that’s when I knew I wanted to play guitar. A few years later I got my first acoustic guitar, then an electric and tried to be a guitar hero in my living room with only my parents watching. Ha, ha. A few years later I got my first real gig and it’s been amazing ever since. Steeler was the first professional band I was in, but everybody still had to have day jobs to pay the bills.”
Growing up in Bochum, Germany, an industrial town north of Dusseldorf, Pell was eager to make his mark. As a young struggling musician, the first thing that caught his attention was when Michael Schenker (also German) joined English band UFO in 1973. “I went to see them in 1974,” recalls Pell. “It was my first real rock concert and was in my hometown. Michael was 18-years old, just four years older than me. I watched him and thought he was a great guitar player. In ’76 I saw the Scorpions with Uli Roth, UFO and Rainbow all on the same stage at an indoor festival. It was huge, maybe 18,000 people. I still remember the date 2 October 1976. It was incredible! When Michael went on to record Strangers in the Night with UFO it was proof that a German guy could make it internationally in the music business. Michael had a great feeling for melody. There are a lot more technical players that play a million notes a minute. But for me, it was always about the melody of the guitar that was the most important thing.”
Among the 19 guitars in Pell’s collection are a number of Fender Strats. One was recently custom made with a distressed body and left-hand headstock. The neck was from India and the body from Mexico making it very light and still able to produce a heavy, dense sound. Particular about his guitar tone, Pell changes out his pick ups to DiMarzio HS-3s. It makes for a durable, light guitar perfect for playing live. “I used to always search for the right tone which guitar goes with which solo,” says Pell. “But after years of trying different things it’s intuitive now. If I want a warm tone, I use the Sunburst Strat, or for a light tone and fast solo that’s also heavy, I use the left-handed Strat. I usually only take a few guitars on the road and only five or six when I go in the studio. I have a working room in my house where I record all my demos which gives me the chance to try out different sounds with other guitars.”
Though Pell has his own “working room” he prefers to use a real studio. “I have a studio about 30-minutes away,” he says. “They aren’t as expensive as they use to be and they add to the live vibe of the record.” It also gives the songs a sonic atmosphere as in the record’s title track Circle of the Oath heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin. “I couldn’t really make a four or five minute version of that song because it’s such a big song. It’s more like an expression of myself. I go inside the music so some songs need to be that much longer to get out what I hear in my head. My record company (SPV) leaves me alone to do whatever I want. That’s the reason I’ve stayed with them for such a long time. When I’m out of the studio and the record it done, I’m already writing songs for the nest record. I’m always collecting little snippets for songs. Every time I pick up the guitar and play something that I like, I record it on my cell phone. Sometimes a melody comes to my mind when I’m out at the grocery store and I sing it into my cell phone - people look at me like I’m mad!”
The Axel Rudi Pell band has remained fairly consistent since 1998 with Pell on guitar, vocalist Johnny Gioeli, bassist Volker Krawczak, drummer Mike Terrana and keyboardist Ferdy Doemberg. “I’m very happy with my own band,” says Pell. “It’s been fourteen years with this line up. Maybe someday I will have a guest like Michael Schenker or Uli Roth. I played with Uli on a Hendrix Tribute and we did a couple Deep Purple numbers including an extended jam with ‘Mistreated’. Actually I don’t think that jam ever ended.” This biggest change in the band was switching lead singers. “I had Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent, Humble Pie, Foghat) in the band first, then Jeff Scott Soto until 1997. After the Magic record we booked a tour and had the dates in place but Jeff was locked into his seventies tribute band Boogie Nights. They had a commitment in Vegas or something, so we parted ways. I made a list of singers that I wanted to work with and Johnny was on the top because of his work with Hardline. I bought the album back in ’92 and I instantly became a fan of his voice. He was a great looking guy, he could move on stage and he was this amazing singer.”
“I tried to get in contact with him but everybody told me not to waste my time as he’d quit the music business, cut his hair off and gone to work with his brother in a new company. It took me several months to find him on the internet. I ran across his name on a web forum from a guy who bought some gear off him in LA. We exchanged emails and within a week Johnny Gioeli contacted me and in a very nice way told me he quit performing and singing. That didn’t stop me, I kept emailing him asking him to be my new singer. I think I drove him nuts but eventually he agreed to do a song, then an album and slowly I got him over here (Germany) to tour.” The first record with Gioeli on vocals was Oceans of Time (1998) and neither have looked back since. “Both Johnny and my drummer Mike Terrana live on the East Coast (US) now, so we would like to tour America but it costs so much to do a tour these days. We are still unknown in America so to break over there would be very expensive, but I would love to play a one off festival there.
Axel Rudi Pell has a very busy schedule these days. “We will be playing Wacken this year, hopefully on the same day as the Scorpions. I would love to be able to play all of Circle of the Oath but I think that will be impossible. I try to create a set list that will satisfy most of the fans. It’s very hard to do when you have over twenty albums. Probably we will play four or five tracks off the new record. I worry because if I get rid of some of the old ARP classics you have people screaming why didn’t you play this or that. We’ll probably do ‘Run With The Wind’, ‘Fortunes of War’ and defiantly the title track.” The Axel Rudi Pell band are confirmed for the Sweden Rock Festival and the co-headlining Rock of Ages Festival playing just before Alice Copper. They are also doing a European tour this spring with Mad Max and are working on the second leg of the tour in the fall of 2012. “It is a busy time for me,” say Pell, “but I’m so happy to be able to play guitar and still work in this business.”
A special thanks to Axel Rudi Pell for speaking with us and to Jon Freeman PR.
Website: Axel Rudi Pell, SPV Records