Former Mad Max drummer Uwe Starck talks about the band’s second album Rollin’ Thunder – Part I
1984. The year, when the German heavy metal scene got exploded and got bigger and bigger within 2-3 years. Running Wild, Warlock, Grave Digger, Living Death etc. started making a name for themselves at this point, but there were behind them a lot of other acts, that didn’t manage to be big or known. Münster-based Mad Max belonged also to this movement, but they started in 1981. Former drummer Uwe Starck was kind enough to speak about the band’s second effort titled Rollin’ Thunder, that was released 35 years ago.
Hello David, I’m really looking forward to your questions. After all, it’s been a long time and still very close. Let’s start!
Uwe, Mad Max was formed in Münster, in 1981 by you on the drums, Jürgen Breforth and Wilfried Schneider on guitars, Thomas Hoffmann on bass and Andreas Baeslar on vocals. How did you get together? Was Mad Max the very first act for all of you that you were involved in?
I grew up together with Jürgen Breforth and Thomas Hoffmann and at some point we bought instruments and tried to make music on our own. How, so that was unclear. But it was clear that we really wanted to do hard rock music, because my first single I ever bought was Prince Kajuko from UFO. That blew me away. Then soon Wilfried Schneider and later Andreas Baesler came. That was the birth of the band Way Out. We actually managed to play some small concerts at some point. So the way was probably no different for us than for many other young bands. We got musically better and the point came, where we thought a new name and a clear image had to come from. With that, Mad Max was founded.
Is it correct that you took your name from the 1979 Australian dystopian road action film directed by George Miller?
Andreas, our former singer came to the rehearsal room and suggested the name Mad Max. Personally, I did not know the movie at that time, but found the name really good. At the same time, I also saw the good graphic realization for a box in front of me. The name was not my own decision, but of course the entire band.
At the early/mid 80’s a lot of new heavy/speed metal bands were popping up such as Grave Digger, Avenger/Rage, Atlain, Running Wild, Living Death, Stormwind, Vampyr, Axe Victims, Brainfever, Steeler, Warlock etc. from every part of Germany, all started making a name for themselves. Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in the German underground scene at this point? Were you familiar with these bands at all?
Sure, I knew many of the bands by name. At the time the band foundations exploded and that was a good thing, because it quickly formed a big scene in Germany. With Steeler and Warlock (with Doro Pesch) we were then later also at a record company under contract.
Can be Düsseldorf, Hamburg and the Ruhr area named as the most important parts as for the developing, forming of the German metal scene?
Absolute. Above all, however, the Ruhr area was a focal point. No wonder with so many big cities in the immediate vicinity and such a large population. Almost a big city with about 10 million inhabitants. You drive some roads and suddenly you are in the next town.
Was Münster a specific area for metal? Did you have a strong fanbase right from the start?
No. Although Münster is only 70 km away from the Ruhr area but quite rural. With hard rock there was nothing, but already with German-language rock such Udo Lindenberg. Since his bassist in Münster had a live location for 700 visitors and massively promoted newcomer bands with concerts, this also pushed us with hard rock, of course, with several concerts there, forward. Somehow we managed to quickly make a name for ourselves and so we quickly had many fans. We were also a bit surprised but we were in the city and the surroundings of Münster quite alone represented with our music. Since hard rock became very popular at that time, we were able to attract many fans.
Do you agree with that the German heavy/speed outfits were heavily influenced by Accept, especially by their Fast as a Shark song, that can be named as one of the first speed metal tracks of all time?
Hard to answer. It is clear that Accept had a great influence on the development. But as it is, there are of course other bands that have set brands. Fast as a Shark is still a hammer number and certainly also a driving factor for the development of speed metal.
With these huge amount of bands that started their career at this point, was the situation in Germany the same as in Britain with the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement? Were you also familiar with the British outfits?
I think it’s hard to make such a comparison. Since I would have to discuss with our current singer. He is British and grew up in Manchaster. He (Mr. Larry Lee) is a member of N.W.O.B.H.M. and has been successful worldwide. With one of his band called Frenzy, a song has just been released on a sampler, for example, released together with Iron Maiden. In England, I think the rock was just played dirtier and more original and I mean quite positive. Since Germany was and is rather behind.
I believe that one can compare the bands from the Ruhr area with English bands, at least then. Look at all the big football clubs there. Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund, VFL Bochum, Rot-Weiss Essen and many other clubs, too. These are all work clubs and so it sounds tapped, somehow the breeding ground for hard rock. Mining and steel are still symbols of the Ruhr area (in Germany also called “Pott”).
In your opinion, were the German bands easily distinguishable from each other in terms of songwriting, producing, sound etc.?
I do not really think that bands in Germany at the time enormously different. So many good producers did not exist in Germany (maybe 5) and what was good, somehow always something was copied. There was no clear distinction at that time either, as influences from other bands were always somehow recorded and then also incorporated into the songwriting. As for the sound; after all, there were not that many studios that were above all affordable and that also had the sound engineers who were hard rockers even in their hearts.
Your first two efforts were In Concert EP (1981) and the Heavy Metal album (1982). How were they received back in the day? Did you manage to acquaint the band’s name with the fans?
We recorded and financed the EP In Concert in Lüneburg. To get gigs, the bands then only sent music cassettes. Hardly anyone knows them today. However, I thought that we had to present a record to the organizers to make a band bigger. It worked great and we decided to record a complete LP one year later.
Both were financed and released by yourselves, weren’t they?
That was already a huge investment for a young band, but we were convinced that it was just that way. The bill was full, because organizers were aware of us and then later the record label Roadrunner. And with the first LP we were of course at the top of the organizers.
After the releasing of the Heavy Metal record were some several line-up changes. Instead of Thomas Hoffmann joined Jürgen Sander and the new vocalist became Michael Voss. How did they get in the picture exactly? Were they the first choices or did you check other musicians as well?
In life, things are constantly changing. We got more approval and jobs and became better known. As a result, the time required (rehearsing three times a week and often playing at the weekend) increased. At the time, Thomas Hoffmann had a good job, as we did, and that was no longer possible. Andreas Baesler was already studying drama in Bochum at the time and more and more dates collided. So he decided to concentrate only on acting. So we came sometime to Jürgen Sander and Michael Voss. Michael was 17 years old then and we played the first concert with him at a big festival in Vienna. Sensational until today. There were real greats from all areas. Since we were real novices against.
What about their musical background?
Well, what do you have at the age of 17 for a musical background? Michael had an incredible talent back then and is still a great songwriter, guitarist and singer in my opinion. Not for nothing he works together with Michael Schenker today. At the time Jürgen Sander was bursting with energy and that’s exactly what we needed. Was not exactly harmful to us, right?
Were the line-up changes unavoidable?
Yes, they were inevitably necessary due to the very personal decisions of the „old“ musicians. Of course you have to accept that and that was so completely on order. I was a little sad but it later showed that it was right.
Did they bring any new influences with themselves? Did they pump fresh blood in the band?
Of course they have brought us an incredible boost. Michael with his unbelievable musical ability and Jürgen Sander with his absolute power. Another big step for the band.
Have you done any demos or pre-production material before you started writing the new stuff, that became your second album Rollin’ Thunder?
No, we did not do any pre-production on Rollin’ Thunder. The money for this had not been given by our record label Roadrunner. Today, that would be unthinkable, from the rehearsal room directly into the studio. The band did not have the size at the time. That would have been too much of a good thing. The record would have definitely become much better.
Do you still remember, how and when were you signed by Roadrunner? Were there other labels interests in the band, by the way?
When we signed the contract with the Dutch record company Roadrunner, I can not say more. All I know is that it was so voluminous (I believe it was around 20 pages) and we first had to translate it because everything was written in English (legal English). At that time we also wanted to know what we were getting into. Many other bands have and blindly signed such contracts because they were happy that any company was interested in them. But I remember that we were also talking to SPV in Hannover. There they had our first self-financed LP almost a year in the closet and only when there appeared a new A+R manager and contacted us, took things up. But then Roadrunner had just approached us. That was our decision already.
Was Roadrunner already an established, independent label at this point or were they mostly distributing import hard rock/heavy metal records?
Yes, at that point they came out pretty big. That was our luck.
How about the songwriting process of Rollin’ Thunder?
That was up to a song at that time, all about Jürgen Breforth and Michael Voss, with Michael probably had the largest share.
You entered the Karo-Music-Studios during April-May 1984, to cut the album. Were you prepared to record the material?
Before I answer, I have to get rid of a huge compliment first. I’ve never had an interview, which was so super prepared. It speaks as much detail as if you were there. Hammer and respect. Now it would have been just missing that you would have known the times of the recordings in the studio. Where did you do all this research? I am really impressed. To your question. Of course we were prepared but just like many other bands. We rehearsed and rehearsed. Unfortunately, there was no producer who told us where to play better. So one is trapped in his own world and thinks everything is great. Then you go into the studio and find out that some guitar or bass parts do not go together at all. Alot you have to quickly find other solutions and the time is running. We had, I believe, only 7 days to record. The mixing was then again 3 days. The contract did not produce more. This is pretty low.
(to be continued)