In Europe the metal band Primal Fear has been been kicking ass for over ten years now. They have played for thousands of fans in just about every major music festival you can think of including Wacken Open Air, Bang Your Head, Sweden Rock, Metalmania, Monsters of Rock and a bunch more.
Ralf Scheepers, the singer of Primal Fear, has a voice that should be legendary amongst all metal fans. His multi-octave range has been delighting fans all over the world, but in the U.S.A. both him and his band are still largely unknown.
Hard Rock Hideout had the opportunity to speak with Ralf about Primal Fear’s up and coming U.S. tour, their new album 16.6 (Before The Devil Knows Your Dead) and some of the history of Ralf’s storied career. Enjoy!!
HRH: How old were you when you first started singing?
Ralf Scheepers: I first started singing when I was nine or ten years old. I noticed that when I sang along with the radio it wasn’t that wrong (laughs). I never intended to be a musician, it just came with birth. I tried out in a school band when I was sixteen years old also playing the rhythm guitar and singing which I couldn’t really do at the same time. In the end, I just put away my guitar and started singing in heavy bands in the area of Stuttgart. That is how my career started.
HRH: What drew you into heavy metal?
Ralf Scheepers: Actually when I was 16 – 18 it was exactly the age when New Wave of British Heavy Metal came up with bands like Iron Maiden Saxon, and Judas Priest. When I first heard Unleashed in the East the first time, I was totally knocked out. It brought me into heavy metal.
HRH: I have listened to some of your music with your band Tyran Pace, and was blown away with how good it was. It is a shame that not too many people got to hear that great band you were in.
Ralf Scheepers: Thank you. When I look back at it, I thought my voice sounded like a little kid of course a voice evolves. It was just the beginning of everything.
HRH: A lot of singers’ voices start to deteriorate as they age, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all with you. On your last couple of releases New Religion and 16.6, you are singing better than ever. Your voice hasn’t lost anything over the years. If anything, it has only gotten stronger. What are you doing to keep your voice in such great shape?
Ralf Scheepers: Thank You! I ask myself that too. I try to be healthy. I am 44 of yearsof age now. I need to warm up voice a lot more than I did twenty years ago. It is a pretty tough way we are singing. With the heavy metal singers belting it out every night. They really harm their vocal chords with the stuff they are doing. Everyone mostly sings too loud. That is the same with me. I really scream like hell. Nowadays the technique is really good when recording in the studio. I am really happy that I can record my stuff at home. When I am recording at home, it doesn’t mean that I have technical stuff which helps me. I take my time because I am a perfectionist. I don’t leave stuff on the hard disc. Maybe five years we would have left it on the hard disc. This way it it sounds better and more and aggressive the way I want it.
HRH: With the screams you have been cutting loose on your albums, you have one incredible instrument.
Ralf Scheepers: Thank you.
HRH: You recorded a bunch of cool albums with Gamma Ray back in the early 90’s. Why did you leave that band?
Ralf Scheepers: We were together for five years. I was living still in Stuttgart, also now. Gamma Ray is coming from Hamburg, the other members. The technology wasn’t where you could swap mp3 files and load your dat files into your sessions and compose your songs that way. That is the way we are doing it now between Sweden and Hanover. Back then it wasn’t possible, the technology wasn’t there. The guys wanted me to move to Hamburg. I couldn’t do that. I needed to work to pay for my way of life. Music wasn’t paying for it. That was one of the reasons we parted ways. The other reason is well known. I made the application to Judas Priest. I told the guys that I did it. They asked me what I would do if Judas Priest asked me to be the singer. I said I would go, without disrespect and everything. They understood, but in the end there was another factor. The feeling was not that good anymore. Before I made my application Kai and Dirk started singing their own songs, which is their own right of course. In the end it was a sign that they may not need a vocalist anymore.Everything came together within one month and we went our seperate ways. I was a short time of bad vibes for a couple of months. We are still friends. I don’t want to talk shit about Gamma Ray, and they don’t talk shit about me. It was a good time, it was a learning phase. I really appreciate the time. I don’t want to talk bad about it. It was only good.
HRH: So you still keep in touch with Kai Hansen?
Ralf Scheepers: Yes, we met in Norway at the end of April. They played the night before we played. We arrived one day early. We met them and had a good time. It is always a good time.
HRH: Tell me a little about you trying out for Judas Priest.
Ralf Scheepers: I didn’t try out. I sent demo tapes, CD’s, and live video from Gamma Ray. I got this letter back from the management from Jane Andrews that the guys were interested. There was a really long time that I had to wait. Glen Tipton was writing his solo album at the time. So many guys sent their application in they had millions of tapes to listen to. I understood it would take a long time. I got the promise I would be invited, but I never got invited to make the audition. From the view of now, everything is ok. I totally understand why they took Tim “Ripper” Owens. He is a really good vocalist, and a very nice guy. We now have contact with each other, we are musical friends. Everything is fine. Also with Judas Priest, when I met the guys KK, Glen and Rob. Everyone is nice and fine. We have respect for each other.
HRH: I have heard your cover of “Metal God” from the Primal Fear album “Metal is Forever”. I can’t believe you didn’t get the job.
Ralf Scheepers: Thank you. I am more satisfied with the”Exciter” cover with Gamma Ray. I am really happy with. I just came into the studio. It was a time that we were already separated. We still had a good time and were good friends. We said lets do this tribute thing, Exciter from Judas Priest. We all liked them. Everyone in the band liked the live version of it. I was signing it live and it was really amazing. We were having a good time and you can hear it. It was really good.
HRH: After Gamma Ray, you had a band called Just Priest?
Ralf Scheepers: Oh yes, It was just a time that I didn’t know if I might be the vocalist of Judas Priest. I was preparing myself a little bit, to go through all of the albums and learn the songs. Which I already knew before, but learned to sing it for the possible audition that never happened. We played some shows here and there in Stuttgart. It was no big deal behind it.
HRH: Was Just Priest the precursor for Primal Fear?
Ralf Scheepers: Yes, the thing is, there was one show where a couple of the guys of the cover band couldn’t do it. I invited Matt and Tom from Sinner to do it. As I sung in the studio for Sinner some lines. We had a good conversation. We said lets hook up and write some songs. Japan was waiting for material from me. They wanted to continue to work with me. I asked Matt and Tom to write some songs together. They did the Just Priest show, and we all became friends.
HRH: Moving foward to Primal Fear, 16.6 is your eighth album. You have maintained the same lineup with minimal changes over the years. Magnus Karlsson joined Primal Fear for the new album. You worked with Magnus briefly on New Religion right?
Ralf Scheepers: Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to say. We had some problems in the studio with the guys that we had back then, which really denied to play the guitar, and didn’t like the compositions and everything so. We invited Magnus to play some solos here and there and also Henny who is also a member now. The reason why Stefan left because his wife got pregnant again, he still had his daytime job which was getting pretty much for him. He said he in a friendly way that he couldn’t do it anymore, and we went our separate ways in a very friendly way. We immediately called up Magnus because he is an outstanding talent and a good composer and song writer. We called him up if he wanted to join Primal Fear. He was happy to do it. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It is pretty important for a band how a guy acts on stage, and he behaves on the tour bus, and if he can cope with everything in the end. He is one of the guys that can cope better than one of ours. He is great. He is fitting perfectly into the band both musically and personally. He is a nice guy. The thing with Henny, he was again taking the place for Tom Naumann because we had problems with him in the studio. We called up Henny because we had a good time in the Nuclear Fire era. We called him up. He was absolutely hoping to be the guitarist again. Hopefully we have our final lineup now.
HRH: What was it like working with Magnus on the new album? Was the recording process different for 16.6?
Ralf Scheepers: Yes, the difference was Matt, Henny and Magnus met up at Magnus house in Sweden to compose 80% of the album. They made a demo and preproduction there. The sent me the stuff into mp3 files, I extracted it and loaded it into Pro Tools sessions and bounced my ideas onto it. That is how we work now. Many of the lyrics and some of the vocal lines were already fixed by Matt, as he is a vocalist too, and Henny also made a lot of the melodies on the album. The rest of the 20% of was from my side on 16.6. Hopefully next time, I will have the time to team up with the guys to compose songs in one room together. It is still a good thing to compose songs in a rehearsing room or one room. It is good vibe if it has the original feeling behind it. There are also advantages in composing it in different parts of the world. You can take your time, and think on your own about your ideas. There advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of working.
HRH: The one thing Primal Fear has not done yet is conquer the United States. You are kicking off your first U.S. tour starting with the Rock Gone Wild Festival in August. Are you excited to come play in a major festival in the U.S. in front of a bunch of new fans for the first time?
Ralf Scheepers: We are very excited. Everyone is looking forward to it. The thing with America to be honest is always to be honest the time of musicians was holding us back. Guys were still working like Stefan and Me. It was simple as that. I still have to work to keep my life standard. Music doesn’t pay for my family and my house and stuff. I have to go to work. In the end, everyone is looking forward to come to the states now. It is about time to bring good stuff over there to a tour, even if it is a small tour. Hopefully we picked the most important cities of the States, without being disrespectful to the other cities. We would like to come everywhere, but it isn’t possible.
HRH: 16.6 is doing pretty well in Sweden and Germany right now.
Ralf Scheepers: Yes, we are really lucky to be on the charts. We are at 46 in Sweden, 52 in Japan and 28 in Germany. We are hoping now for America. The album came out last Friday. Hopefully we will get the chance to hit the Billboards there. It is a dream of course.
HRH: Has piracy hurt Primal Fear?
Ralf Scheepers: Yes this is one thing that really made me a little bit mad. There is so much work with this stuff you know.. Of course I always understand both sides. The end result is very good media to have good advertising and stuff. It can also have a bad side where people download this stuff, even if we have this water sign in the audio files that is really dangerous. A guy can really get caught if he puts into torrent or wherever. You really get him it. It is a really expensive thing that the record companies do to prevent piracy. In the end, it hit us again.
There are always black sheep out there. We could give out any samples to whoever for magazines or whatever. I don’t want to blame anybody. Sometimes if the music goes to a friend, and he does it in the end. It is always a bnd thing when you see your album out there one week, or even one month before it is released. It brings you down a little bit.
HRH: It takes money right out of your pocket. That really has to hurt.
Ralf Scheepers: I want to explain that. The money thing is a hard factor to talke about. We aren’t doing this to be millionaires anymore. The eighties are over where musicians and rock stars were wealthy. Nowadays, rock stars are still having a day time job to keep their life going, and this is also coming from this piracy in the end.
HRH: Primal Fear and Sinner have new albums out now. Will you play all Primal Fear songs in your live set, or will you throw some Sinner songs in there now?
Ralf Scheepers: We will only do Primal Fear songs. We set the songs together. We rehearsed the stuff because Saturday we had the first show with four new songs in the set list. The festival set list was 60 minutes. But if we go on a big tour, we will have a 90 minute set list with six songs off of the new album. We are really looking forward to that. We have a good vibe, and I think we can really deliver the goods.
HRH: On several of your album covers you have had a metal eagle, and on 16.6, you have a dark raven like figure. What does the new figure represent?
Ralf Scheepers: We wanted to have a new shape again. We wanted to get away from the Seven Seals and New Religion shape. We wanted to keep the eagle at a Primal Fear mascot somehow. This time we chose this dark shape more because it really fits with the title. Of course, the word devil is not new to heavy metal. The sentence before the devil knows your dead is pretty strong as an album title. This is a good expression for a heavy metal album. We sent the idea off to our artist, and she sent this cover back and everyone was amazed. We thought it was great.
HRH: You just released a video Six Times Dead (16.6). Do you have any more videos planned for 16.6?
Ralf Scheepers: No, this is it. The videos are not played on MTV anymore or on Vivo here in Germany. I don’t know how it is in the States with all of the channels that you have, but here in Europe it is not played so much. We did this video so it could be played on Youtube and the homepage, and myspace or wherever. The fans are watching it online more than on television.
HRH: Where is the best place for fans to find out more information about Primal Fear?
HRH: Thanks a lot for your time today Ralf. I will see you at Rock Gone Wild in August.
Ralf Scheepers: Thank You! I am looking forward too it.