Former Mad Max drummer Uwe Starck talks about the band’s second album Rollin’ Thunder – Part II
What do you recall of the recording sessions?
First of all to the giant mixing desk and the great premises. That was something, such a real professional studio. One must not forget, we were only at the beginning of our career. Then I remember that one of the band (I do not tell who) was so nervous on the first day of his own recordings that he’d pulled in quite a bit of whiskey at home to calm down and at first barely got his turn. He was not Lemmy from Motörhead. He would have accumulated after a bottle only to normal form. We then postponed the recordings for a few hours and later managed to do quite well with the help of another band member. That was an important experience for me later, when I worked as a producer, that you had to go to the studio (and also on stage). The one or other beer is of course completely OK but to record a record, simply costs a lot of money and there must be top performances to be expected.
But there was another experience, which I later took up. At the time, I recorded my drum tracks without metronome. There were errors preprogrammed. The whole band sat in the control room and watched me. At some point everyone looked very skeptical and I was referring to my game. I saw the boys. That made me very nervous and it was very stressful for me. Later, it turned out that a band member had a big private problem, which had nothing to do with my playing. That’s why later, as a producer, I made sure that musicians from the band stopped by for a few shots. After all, such things can later lead to a crash of a band.
Do you agree with that Michael Voss’ smoother voice, higher range, and generally well-suited to melodic power voice is one of the reasons this album is a step up from the debut?
Sure, of course. The Metal Hammer has approved the record and the RockHard. At that time these were the most important metal magazines in Germany. It was and still is important that the band and thus also a singer simply does not pretend. Actually, Michael still sings like that today, of course technically much better. It is also clear that this also generates a different feedback. At that time we did not even think about whether the product could become more commercial. But the album has actually stood out.
Would you say that there was a shift in direction; leaving behind the lame heavy metal in favour of a US style melodic heavy metal/hard rock approach?
This question occupies fans and musicians to this day and is sometimes very controversial. The hardcore music fans and even musicians still consider melodic rock to be a sacrilege and can hardly accept that this is also successful. Since the American band were super successful. The decisive factor is something completely different. Does a band have to bend because the record company has a big influence? This question is always asked. Unfortunately, there are not many companies that leave a band quite self-sufficient. After all, you also invest a lot of money there. Unfortunately, especially at the beginning, a band often has to make such compromises, so that the next record can go to the start.
The truth could be in the middle. A producer who has certain specifications, who can develop a band and a band that is also a bit more open to it, when you get the experience of a record company. As long as I make music now, this question is also in the live gigs in the room. However, I believe that through Wacken and the development of very different directions, meanwhile a greater tolerance and thus acceptance has arisen. With fans and musicians.
Did this album have plenty of awesome guitar solos, nice showoff-ish vocal deliveries by Michael Voss and plenty of all round strong numbers…
Of course, everyone has to judge that for themselves. But I think, even after that long time, that the songs were pretty good and the solos and vocals as well. Comparisons to today are always limping. Today everything is more sophisticated and even in the studio everything can be artificially and quickly improved with computers. We still had to record with large tape machines. If a mistake was made, especially as a drummer, you had to play the whole song again. Today you just cut it out and replace the track. Or the whole record is played with a drum machine. To make it sound livelier, you program in small mistakes and it all sounds real.
Is the album a great blending of melodic elements with pure metal ones, that works really well?
If you look at the bands and releases, I think the elements are very well connected. For the first time, that really happened with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, where Eddie van Halen played a solo. That was a quantum leap. Personally, I hear that super good. Hard riffs, cool keys. Others do not like that. So what. I think that hard riffs, driving drums and melodic keys are the soul of many rock and metal fans. Many boys and also many girls now have a hard shell and a soft core, as they say in Germany.
How do you explain that Rollin’ Thunder is definitely a cool album, and it’s where Mad Max really started to define itself?
That’s hard to explain. As I said, the songs were really good and the production sounded good as well. The perception in the public and also the hard rock scene had increased enormously. So there must be something good about it. You can not always explain everything. It was probably here that we came out with the record at the right time. A good example is Woodstock. That was the greatest thing then, because the zeitgeist demanded it, too. I’m a kid of the eighties and that’s why my emotions about Woodstock are there for a long time but not in the foreground. Woodstock, however, had an unbelievable pull effect and so each time epoch has its peculiarities.
Despite the line-up changes, the band came out with a positive result, correct?
If you are lucky enough to meet a musician like Michael Voss, only a positive result can come out. Without him that would not be so successful. Of course, as I said, the press had taken us all over Germany and there was a lot of positive feedback. The plate was indeed the starting point.
Were all of you satisfied with the record as a whole?
What do you think? At 25, you get a record contract with an international label, record in a large studio and make a record that arrives well and then play, for example, in the opening act of Uriah Heep in Bochum (even in my youth my dream band). There you are so pumped full of andrenalin and do not know where to go with your power. Of course, everyone was very satisfied. You also have to be careful that you do not lose the ground under your feet.
Did you perhaps go on tour to publicize the album?
Yes, there were concerts, including smaller tours with the British band Nightwing and Atomic Rooster. We played in medium sized halls and at festivals. We had never dreamed that and it was the largest ever. So the way then continued sometime.
Why and when you decide to leave the band?
Unfortunately, it was not my decision. Willi Schneider and I were fired by the rest of the band. Obviously we were just not good enough and it was there also the crossroads between professionals or as amateurs continue this way. That was very, very bitter. We could have continued like this (maybe just for a record, as we had drawn for 2 LPs at Roadrunner) but the worst thing was that alleged fame and honor for friendships were sacrificed since childhood. I was destroyed. For me the expulsion according to my understanding of values was and still is something like betrayal. It also took me 20 years to talk to Michael Voss and Jürgen Breforth again. Exact reasons for the sacking but I do not know until today. Self-critical, I was probably not good enough. But I also got no chance to develop myself. That’s the way business is today. Tough as hell.
Thereafter you appeared in the ranks of Carrie and you played on their one and only album Secrets. What can you tell us about this effort?
Carrie was born out of the anger and disappointment of being knocked out by Mad Max. I consulted with Willi Schneider and brought new people. With a simple rehearsal room recording, I drove to the Ruhr area and left there record companies. At the time, we did not even have a singer, just song material. However, shortly before I had seen a front woman named Anelen live and she asked if she wanted to join us. Since she did not want to listen to her band anyway, she said directly after my trip to the record companies. At that time, our later record label had just released Holy Moses with Sabina Classen and sold it to the industry.
When I introduced myself and said something about a singer, I saw directly the dollar signs in the eyes of the record companies. And as a former member of Mad Max I was able to score the last points. So then came the contract. Unfortunately we have no influence on the production and the record was not really well recorded and mixed. Funny that the LP but a few years ago has been remastered again and has significantly more pressure. She only came out in Chile. Is not that incredible? Within weeks, we got over 5,000 clicks on a radio station.
Carrie were featured also on the Metallic Bunny’s Fast Collection along with Atlain, Steeler, Holy Moses and Fact. What kind of goals did this record serve?
Only one goal, namely making money – on the part of the record company. We were not asked. Incidentally, the bands were all under contract with the label. By the way, to date, a really cool LP cover and also the title.
You were the producer of Lee Z’s material Lifetime (1989) and Time Line (1995). What could you tell us about it?
After Carrie broke up, I had a year of total frustration and a complete music break. At some point my wife told me „You have to do something again, you are like a tiger in a cage.“ As fate would have it, Lee Z came under my fingers. All young and very talented guys around the age of 23. I listened to the demos and it was like a nuclear fire in me. I signed them and we recorded the first record in Bochum. The reviews were really good and so it came that the management of Bonfire became aware. They took part in the second CD and I thought that I could record the record with Lee Z for six weeks. My co-producer then introduced the recordings to Warner Brothers and there were two A+R managers. One wanted to buy, the other did not. That’s it.
Then a label in Belgium bought the record, paid a deposit and that was it. They had just been in trouble with a plate from Golden Earring. Years later, after the band had already dissolved, we were able to sell the recordings in Japan. It was a subcompany of Mitsubishi but unfortunately only a small edition was sold. So unfortunately only money put in but nothing deserves. After all, I’m now with my plates on which I was involved in YouTube now around the world on about 300,000 clicks and I’m still happy about it. The Hungarian fans certainly have their share. Great thanks!
Are you still in touch with your former Mad Max/Carrie bandmates?
I later played with Willi Schneider for 15 years in a band and we talk on the phone or play together from time to time. Michael Voss runs from time to time in Münster and we talk a little bit. Andres Baesler is a successful director today but we have no contact except via Facebook. Jürgen Sander ran me so last 5 years ago but also with him I am friends with Facebook. But my current band Roxxter (see Facebook) also requires a lot of time and therefore old contacts come a bit short.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene these days?
No. I have not done that over the years either. You lose yourself in it sometime because there are so many bands. But every day I sit at YouTube and watch and listen to a lot of bands. Today’s Gruooen are far superior to us at that time, but they just go under. For some months I have a more up-to-date band as my favorite band and it’s called Evergrey. The play totally complicated stuff, are hard but also melodious. I recommend you the current single Weighless. There the tree is burning.
Uwe, thanks a lot for your answers. Any closing words for the Hungarian fans?
Thank you very much David for being so extremely well prepared and for giving you and your readers some background information. Best regards to the Hungarian fans. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to your beautiful and historic country, but you’re one of the big global metal family I grew up with. Therefore, you somehow belong to my family. Best regards!