By Kelley Simms
German guitarist Axel Rudi Pell, 53, has consistently been churning out his brand of melodic hard rock with a neoclassical flair with his solo band ARP for 25 years now. However, Pell has gone somewhat unnoticed on this continent, while remaining widely revered in Europe where he has built a solid and devoted fan base. Forming STEELER (nope, not THAT Steeler) in 1983 and releasing its eponymous debut album the following year, Pell eventually went solo in 1989. Now on the band’s 16h full-length album, Into The Storm (released in North America Jan. 21 through Steamhammer/SPV), Pell jokingly explains why he feels so old.
BraveWords: The Axel Rudi Pell band is a quarter of a century old. That’s an amazing milestone to reach for any band.
Axel Rudi Pell: "It is really cool because when I started my solo career after I left the band Steeler, it was such an experiment just to know if the audience will like my solo project. I’m very proud that it’s lasted for such a long time right now. I can’t believe it. I must be really old!"
BraveWords: Speaking of Steeler, did you realize there was already a US version of the same name (which featured a young YNGWIE MALMSTEEN) when you formed your band?
Pell: "No, we didn’t know about them. When our record came out, I went to the record store to get it and the owner of the record store pointed out to me that there was another band named Steeler. I couldn’t fucking believe it! We never heard of the band before. We then found out through several phone calls that luckily this band no longer existed at the time. Otherwise, they might sue us because maybe they would have been the owner of the name. We didn’t know, but luckily we found out (that we could use the name)."
BraveWords: Throughout your career and for 16 albums now, you’ve consistently merged heavy/power metal with classic/melodic rock. As the old American saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’
Pell: "Oh yes, I know what you mean. We found our own style, because we’re not copying any other band. But of course we have influences. I was very influenced by all these ’70s bands like BLACK SABBATH, DEEP PURPLE, RAINBOW, UFO, MICHAEL SCHENKER, and also SCORPIONS. So of course you can hear it in our music. But on the other hand, we found our own style and I’m very proud of it. I feel that sparkle is inside of me and sometimes the fire has to come out, you know?"
BraveWords: Do you feel that you maybe don’t get the respect or recognition in North America as you do in Europe?
Pell: "I think so. But on the other hand, I know our music is kind of old fashioned (for America). Every time I talked to my singer Johnny Gioeli (HARDLINE), I asked him what he thought about doing some shows in North America, he thinks there’s a big problem because only 50 or 60 people would show up at a show and it would be a financial loss. He said it doesn’t make much sense (to tour America) because this kind of music is pretty much over in the States."
BraveWords: On Into The Storm, you don’t stray too far from your comfort zone. What was the writing process like for this one?
Pell: "When I start to collect ideas for my next record, I’m not just sitting down and saying, ‘Now I have to write a record’ and sit there for three months trying to get new songs. I’m writing throughout the year. Sometimes the magic is in the air. For example, when we were trying to get the right rhythm guitar sound in the studio during the recording of Into The Storm, I was just playing any old thing trying to get the right sound together with my co-producer and a new riff came to my mind. So I hit the record button just to get an idea for the next record. I collect tons of ideas. I have a list on a sheet of paper and I write down Idea #1 to idea ... let’s say #678. I put all these little things together and weed out ideas. I might find idea #1 is crap. Idea #2 is even worse. #3 is a great, epic riff. Then I (might) put it together with idea #372 because they both fit together perfectly. And I create a song while the sparkle is there."
BraveWords: American vocalist Johnny Gioeli (HARDLINE) has been with the band since 1998’s Oceans Of Time. He really captures the ARP sound and the chemistry seems to still be working after all these years.
Pell: "Over the years, Johnny has become one of my greatest friends. He’s not only one of the greatest vocalist of hard rock music all of the world you can look for, he’s a great friend of mine and he absolutely feels what I would want to state with my songs and compositions. He’s got this little magical thing going on in his head that knows exactly what I’d like to do. It’s works so well because we don’t see each other very often and he’s not involved in the songwriting process. We haven’t met over the complete last year because we haven’t played live. So, it’s great to see each other back again after a period of several months. It is all about the chemistry."
BraveWords: How did you get drumming legend Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, BLUE OYSTER CULT, Black Sabbath) to join the band for this record?
Pell: "It was easy, really. We have a common friend, Bobby and I. He lives in my neighborhood and I knew him and Bobby always sent e-mails back and forth because they knew each other since the old Rainbow days. So when my drummer Mike Terrana left my band, it was so obvious because Bobby was one of my top-list drummers. So I got his e-mail and wrote him asking him about joining. He replied asking about my music so I sent him some mp3 files. He reconnected with me a couple of days later and said this was exactly the type of music he loves to play and hear and that he was available. So I said, ‘That’s it, you’re in the band. Welcome aboard!’"
BraveWords: It’s obvious that one of your biggest influences is Ritchie Blackmore, but who are some of your other influences?
Pell: "My first really big influence who gave me the kick to play the guitar was Ritchie Blackmore when I saw him on TV in 1971. I thought his guitar looked great and it was a Fender Stratocaster. He was throwing it around and smashing into amps and everything’s on fire and I thought it was pretty cool. Afterwards, I recognized Michael Schenker and he just joined UFO and I thought he was a really cool guy, too. Of course, I knew about Schenker and his former band Scorpions and I also discovered Uli Jon Roth. He was a hero. It was four years ago that I got an invitation from Uli Jon Roth asking if I’d like to join him on stage because he was doing a JIMI HENDRIX tribute show. So I told him that I think he had the wrong guy because nobody plays Hendrix better than him. But he wanted me to join him and it was great. I think we only played two songs but it lasted for nearly 40 minutes. It was so much fun on stage."
BraveWords: Into The Storm starts off perfectly with the hard-charging ‘Tower Of Lies’ and ends with the epic, ten-plus minute title track. How difficult is it choosing the song order for an album?
Pell: "The running order of an album involves some psychological thinking. For example, I can’t start with the title track because obviously it’s too long. People would be thinking, ‘When is this song going to end?’ You have to start with an up-tempo song. Otherwise, when you’re not thinking psychologically, you’ll actually get the wrong order on the album. I can’t start the record with the title track but on the other hand I can’t start with a ballad. Everybody is expecting a fast up-tempo rocker at the beginning, so you have to be careful in picking the songs in the right direction."
BraveWords: Who’s idea was it to cover NEIL YOUNG’s ‘Hey Hey, My My’? It has a unique flavor to it.
Pell: "It was my idea and it is very easy to explain how we got the inspiration for it. It’s from the famous TV series Sons of Anarchy. I think it was Season 3 (actually it was Season 2) in the last episode and there was a cover of ‘Hey Hey, My My’ from a band or artist called BATTLEME. It was a very short one with only a piano and a vocalist and no other instrument. I thought it was cool to make a ballad out of a Neil Young cover. Of course, our arrangement is different because we added piano with the drums, bass, electric guitar and different vocal styles to make it sound a little more in the ARP style."
BraveWords: So, with your pervious answer about playing in the States, is touring in North America out of the question then?
Pell: "We definitely want to play in America if we got an offer. It would be very rare, and I’m pretty sure it would have to be for big bucks. I can’t pay for my own tour. It would be very hard to do it. I just think it will never happen, unfortunately. However, I think it would be a good idea to play on a festival at one point."