Guitarist Ralf Hollmer tells the story of Vampyr
The burgeoning German metal scene of the early/late 80’s, like in England, gave the metal fans millions of bands. Unfortunately lot of them faded into obscurity after releasing one or two records, so they vanished of sight pretty quickly. In my opinion the reason of it was not only the oversaturated market, but the lack of support from the labels. In this interview very symphatic, down-to-earth person Ralf Hollmer told us about Vampyr.
Ralf, do you still remember how did you turn into the hard rock/heavy metal scene? What did you find so exciting in this music?
I was only 10 years old when I bought my first LP – Black Sabbath ! Then came Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple etc. etc. So it was always „my music”.
Were you into the established acts or did you prefer the underground ones?
There wasn’t that much choice at that time. So you only knew the established files. A few years later the first Scorpions or Sammy Hagar records with Montrose came…
How did you end up becoming musician?
I had an uncle who was only 3 years older than me and had the same taste in music. So we heard and did Black Sabbath or Grand Funk Railroad at home as if we were playing (I with a tennis racket as a guitar and he patted on pillows – he later became the drummer in our first band Exodus in 1976…).
How did your choice fall on guitar? Were you self-taught or…?
The guitar has long been my favorite instrument and I got one for my 15th birthday. And from then on it was practiced, practiced, practiced. There were no tabs, no YouTube, no internet, so we taught ourselves everything (there was no money for a music teacher either, and at the time they were all boring anyway …). So we heard e.g. Blackmore solos on record and tried to play it out somehow.
At the early/mid 80’s a lot of new heavy/speed metal bands were popping up such as Grave Digger, Helloween, Running Wild Avenger/Rage, Atlain, Warlock, Stormwind, Stormwitch, Axe Victims, Brainfever, Steeler 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?
We had some good metal bands in the area (Tyrant, Gravestone, Stranger, Stormwitch etc.) which we knew well, of course. Unfortunately you saw yourself more as a competitor and did not work together enough… And with my first band Exodus we were role models for people like Matthias Dieth or Andy Susemihl, who later played at Sinner or UDO. And that’s how I got contacts…
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? Did you like the N.W.O.B.H.M. groups?
In November 1979 (then with King Karl von Tyrant) we were at an AC/DC concert in Ravensburg (Germany) – it was the last tour with Bon Scott. And this evening changed our lives! The opening act was called Judas Priest and we were all thrilled. A year later JP came on tour itself and had Saxon as opening act – sensational! A year later we were again at Motörhead and Iron Maiden – all the major bands of the N.W.O.B.H.M. have shaped us and our music!
How and when did Vampyr get together exactly? Was the band established by you and Lubosch „Ironhead” Sterzik on guitars, Markus „Nil Conan” Maier on bass, Roman Sterzik on drums and Wolfgang Schwarz on vocals?
Lubosch „Ironhead” and Roman are brothers and played together in the band AlCent. And this band once played as an opener for Tyrant (I was a founding member and was with Tyrant until 1983). So I knew him. Markus „Nil Conan” Maier and Wolfgang played together in the band Destroyer and merged with the Sterzik brothers in 1983. They still lacked a guitarist, so I got there and from then on we called ourselves Vampyr.
Did you know each other earlier? Was Vampyr the very first band for all of you or did you have any musical experiences prior to it? If yes, what kind of outfits were they?
There are some answers to the previous questions… My career was: 1976–1979 Exodus (German „classic” hard rock band), 1979–1980 Beastfood (almost made of metal, together with King Karl), 1980–1983 bully.
What were the bands that influenced you, that inspire you to form a metal band?
All mentioned bands of the N.W.O.B.H.M. (and from about 1982 came the US bands like Metallica, Anthrax, etc.). We already had leather and rivets at Tyrant and with Vampyr we wanted to look even cooler – and so we invented the „spikes” as an outfit (they were long, very pointed and all made by the bass player himself). Later there were some bands with similar spikes, but we (I think) were the first…
Who came up with the moniker with?
We wanted a name that made clear what kind of music are we playing. Vampyr sounded simply cool and heavy and that was the opportunity to have a cool logo.
You came from Ulm (Baden-Württemberg); how was the metal scene in the town at this point?
As I said, we had great bands, but there were only a few gigs (clubs etc.) in Southern Germany during this time. Gama did not support us here either. The bands often had to rent halls at their own risk and organize concerts themselves. The scene in the Ruhr area was better off – the infrastructure for rock and metal was already there.
What can you tell us about your early rehearsals? Did you start writing originals or were you mostly jamming on covers?
With all of my bands (including Vampyr) we made our own pieces from the start. (Back then we had nothing to do with covers.) We wanted to make our own music that sounds at least as good as our musical role models…
Did you record any demos before you released Cry Out for Metal?
At that time, Gama was looking for new metal bands (and they had Gravestone and Tyrant under contract). We only recorded a „demo” in the rehearsal room once, and when the Gama people heard the Sinner piece, the deal was perfect. (They already knew me from Tyrant.)
Do you still remember how got you signed by Hot Blood Records that belonged to Gama?
The contract went very quickly. It was actually designed for five years (or five albums). But after the first album Cry Out for Metal none came… What you should know, back then it was much more difficult and expensive to record an LP than it is today. Digital technology has made it a lot easier. As a band, you were happy if you were lucky enough to get a record deal (we didn’t have to invest any money, but also sales didn’t make us rich either…
Were you prepared to record the material when you entered the studio? How did the recording sessions go as a whole?
We had rehearsed very well before the studio appointment and were well prepared. We had a week in the studio and took full advantage of it. During the day we recorded the basic titles and the vocals and at night Ironhead and I played solos on them… It was just stupid that Gama accidentally deleted the master tapes from 4 tracks, and we had to return to the studio a few weeks later and quickly resume these 4 tracks. (You can hear it a little: a few pieces on the second page of the LP sound a little different.)
Do you think that the very best thing about the album are the guitars, they sound really cool and clear, but the other instruments are good, too, thus making this record accessible?
Yes, we are still very happy with the sound today. It sounds powerful and the guitars have power. I think that at that time (1985) not many bands had such a good sound. We were very involved in the mix at the time (and with our nighttime recordings we were able to influence the guitar sound well).
Was the band quite good at playing with a great level of energy?
Vampyr live was very energetic. We played everything a little faster, but still very precise and we just looked good with the spiked outfit… 🙂
Please, give us detailed your opinions regarding the material!
Sinner I still find a very good metal number quickly and varied Indianapolis is just fast and powerful with good text. Hell Bent Angels is a typical 80’s mid-tempo number (similar to Accept), Syther Man is very quick again with good breaks. Mercy Killing and Vampyr are also quick pieces that I played with Tyrant before. Metal Hymn 86’ is a great hands-on number – I like my solo sound best! Warrior and Breaking Metal represent our mix of fast and mid-tempo numbers back then. With these two songs I also really like Wolfgang’s vocals.
Was the quality pretty good for an old school ’85 album?
As I said, the sound was very good for that time. What we didn’t like was the cover – just shit !!The production was finished and we wanted the following cover:
But Gama didn’t like it, it wasn’t „hard” enough for them. And a normal picture (warrior, sword and virgin) was too easy for us. Unfortunately, our official logo was not finished at this point and so we agreed that there would be a photo of the band on it. Unfortunately, the execution (not agreed with us) was very bad…
Looking back, in your opinion was 1985 a great year for German metal with records such as Branded and Exiled (Running Wild), Hellbound (Warlock), Tales of Terror (Stormwitch), Hellish Crossfire (Iron Angel), Harder than Steel (Metal Sword), The Enforcer (Warrant) etc.?
Yes, it was a good time with a lot of good bands and records. Unfortunately, there was still no Internet (YouTube, MySpace, Facebook use). I am sure that some of the bands outside of Germany would have become much better known…
Were there any shows/tours in support of the record?
No, Gama was not interested in tours, they had enough money from the record sales. In retrospect you have to say that they had good bands from Southern Germany under contract. Gama should have made packages here and sent them on tour. The bands often fought individually…
A lot of bands such as Vampyr, Warrant, Stormwind, Metal Sword etc. disappeared after the release of one album. What was the reason of it?
At Vampyr, the reason was that we couldn’t agree on the style with Gama. At the time, they only wanted bands that played trash and could record everything in 2 days, and we wanted a good production with our mix of fast and medium-speed pieces (similar to Judas Priest back then). In addition, the end of Gama was already in sight…
Would you say that the market/scene become quickly oversaturated?
No (there can be too many metal bands???). It is the case with everything that when a new trend arises, many jump on it and only the good (or happy) survive. This is the case with all types of music. And not even 1% really make a living or even get rich – and they have ruled for decades (e.g. Iron Maiden, Metallica, etc.)
Before the disbanding, the band was recording a second album, but never released. How did this stuff sound like compared to Cry Out for Metal and what can you tell us about it?
We had ten songs ready. A good mix, but the fast numbers were a bit harder and more brutal – with lots of good breaks, etc.The quality of the demo was not good (4-track device in the rehearsal room), but when pressed on LP the pieces would have been well received.
Was the line up the same or did you go through some line up changes around this time?
No changes, we were the same five vampires until the end…
Why and when did Vampyr’s story come to the end? What have all of you done after the break up?
When we couldn’t record the second LP and we didn’t have enough gigs due to the work on the new tracks, there was some frustration. When Wolfgang wanted to quit completely, we broke up (we had all professions). It was definitely too early for that!
How about you and your former bandmates these days?
We have had contact with each other over the years. I played with my first band Exodus (Germany) again. Wolfgang became a producer with his own studio and sang in a southern rock band called Brandon Wolf. Markus is still playing in a rock cover band and the two Sterzik brothers made their money from bars. „Ironhead” also records a lot in the home recording.With the exception of Roman, everyone has been active over the years.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene these days?
Naturally! My favorites at the moment are Five Fingers Death Punch and Alter Bridge. It was a few years ago when it got faster and faster (you couldn’t hear any instruments at all) and the singers just were growling… Fortunately, that has changed a bit and there are very good bands again. And I want to give you information that is not yet known: I am currently rehearsing with Tyrant (we have already confirmed for festivals in 2021). And it looks like we’ll be doing a couple of shows with Vampyr next year. too. So it continues!!!
Ralf, thank you for your answers! Any closing words?
Metal fans are tolerant. Everyone can hear or play the metal that he likes. There is no good or bad metal. Musicians have to be played honest and well – then everything applies!