Mind Over Metal: I really want to talk about your new album. Is it supposed to be a loose adaption or loose sequel of the Tunes of War album? I am also wondering why you chose now to make a sequel to that album?
Chris Boltendahl: A good thing needs time. It is like a good wine. [laughing] No. We never thought to do a sequel to Tunes of War in the last year. When Axel Ritt joined the band he said “Hey, what are you doing on the next record?” and we said we are thinking about a sequel to the Tunes of War and we said hey that is very difficult to do but let’s try it. The main point was that it couldn’t be the same concept like Tunes of War so not a historical one. We had to find something different. We thought to do an album about the spirit of the Scottish people and that fit very well with the new one. Then we said let’s go and we started to compose it.
Mind Over Metal: You guys really started to get darker and heavier when you started plumbing the depths of history for your song inspiration. How do you go about finding new things to write about normally? What triggers song writing for you?
Chris Boltendahl: I took all of my interest from different parts, from movies and from the Internet. I did a lot of research. I have friends in Scotland and I have a good friend at the University of Edinburgh. All of this helps to bring all of this stuff together and merge together.
Mind Over Metal: That’s cool. I wanted to ask if you feel an especial significance—not burden, really—but an honor attached to yourself as the longest standing member of Grave Digger, a staple in German heavy metal over the last thirty years now. Do you feel as if you have to rein things together? How does the whole creative process happen?
Chris Boltendahl: Through different lineup changes in the last twenty years?
Mind Over Metal: Exactly.
Chris Boltendahl: The procedure changed a bit. With Manni, The Grave Digger was easy to write, then it started to get a little bit difficult to write the right riffs. He is a really talented guitar player, but he is more on the progressive style and Grave Digger is really traditional. The main problem wwas Manni wanted to bring a more progressive touch to the band and I don’t like that so much. We had some personal problems in the last two years and it caused us to split in the last year.
Mind Over Metal: Yup.
Chris Boltendahl: Ritt is a good friend of mine and a traditional Metal guitar player and when Manni left the band, I gave him a call and he said let’s try it. From the first minute when we brought all of the riffs together in the studio it was a great atmosphere and we noticed that all the things were great things. We only had to bring it together and it was a great experience because of the song writing. It wasn’t so easy to write songs in Excalibur and that took a really long time.
Mind Over Metal: There is an old adage that goes “there are two points that determine a line; three confirm it”, and you are the third in person in the last couple of months or so that is a formative member of a classic German heavy metal band. I was talking to Wolf Hoffman from Accept a few days ago and Michael Weikath from Helloween a little while back. You all play with slightly different styles but you have strong roots in traditional metal and power metal. I think it is interesting that in America, where I am talking to, the music you play—traditional metal—subsided for so long. But did it stay as strong in Germany over the years or did you find yourselves having to fight over the past decade or so?
Chris Boltendahl: We all grew up with this kind of Metal and we are all fans of Dio and Black Sabbath. All of this stuff which came at the end of the 70s and early 80s from the UK, and from Great Britain. We never looked so far to the US, we know the bands like Anvil from Canada. They also play good and really their own music. I think the German bands are more influenced by Priest and their own history—bands like Accept and The Scorpions. From this time in the early 80s, bands like Helloween, Grave Digger, Rage—they all developed their own style. I think that is the main reason that all of these bands are still alive and still playing in the top 10, top 20 in the league here in Germany.
Mind Over Metal: Yeah, it is absolutely remarkable after all of these years. I am thirty years old as well,so you have been making music as long as I have been alive. It is amazing to me that we are really reaching a critical point in Metal’s history where there are bands like yourselves. There are the fathers to the genre that are still making new relevant music and that is a beautiful thing.
Chris Boltendahl: Yeah, I think at the end we always have good ideas and we make music from the soul and heart. We never looked to any trends or something like that. It is another reason why we also have a really strong fan base. Today our new record placed 28 in the German Top 100 chart. This is the second best place we ever reached in the history of Grave Digger and that is after thirty years and that is amazing.
Mind Over Metal: That is amazing. Wow. So, are you guys surprised at your own success? How do you… I don’t know what to say to that.
Chris Boltendahl: German people are so hardworking, they are totally “correct” in everything they are doing. We have a special mentality.
Mind Over Metal: It lends well to Traditional Metal I guess.
Chris Boltendahl: Yeah. That is the reason why a lot of people know, bands that come from Germany, especially the old bands, they always get high quality. That is the reason why they choose better—the new Grave Digger album—than newcomer bands. They want to go safe. The people don’t have so much money and they don’t want to invest in so much money in shit bands. They take bands they know well, and they buy their records or join the concerts.
Mind Over Metal: Yeah, and do you feel as though you want to keep the same Grave Digger sound there is a need to go harder or faster or anything like that?
Chris Boltendahl: It always depends on the mood and where we are when we start with song writing. If a story or content needs heavier stuff we do heavier stuff and if we need more progressive stuff we do more progressive. But it has to sound 120% like Grave Digger. All the rest we bring together and the rest are sorted out directly. Grave Digger is a part of my life. I am now 48 and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It is a part of my body and my mind and everything I am doing. That is great. I feel it. I feel what is good for Grave Digger and that is how we start composing and bring the song together.
Mind Over Metal: Speaking of having done it for so long, one thing I do want to ask you—we were mentioning how some of the German metal bands you know have their own sounds. One of the most distinguishing aspects of Grave Digger is yourself; you have a nice throaty gravelly timbre to your voice that is very recognizable. I was actually thinking about preserving my throat, I actually came back from a throat doctor just this morning because my mom has a history of thyroid stuff, I am a DJ on the air; my livelihood is dependent on my voice, as with yourself. I was wondering if there are any scare moments that you have had, where you might have lost your voice?
Chris Boltendahl: Not so often. There was a moment when a thought it, it was after long. My voice was a little damaged. It came back very soon. I never canceled any shows because of problems regarding my voice.
Mind Over Metal: Never?
Chris Boltendahl: No, never.
Mind Over Metal: That is funny. I am almost positive that Wolf said the same thing about Accept …or maybe it was Mikael from Helloween one of them said they said they have never canceled a show. The fact that you say the same thing reinforces that whole German work ethic. That is cool.
Chris Boltendahl: Helloween is not right. In 1986 we did a lot of shows together with Helloween. He canceled a couple of shows on that tour.
Mind Over Metal: So it is not them. I may have to double check my facts.
Chris Boltendahl: Grave Digger never canceled any shows regarding my voice, never.
Mind Over Metal: Did they cancel shows for other reasons maybe?
Chris Boltendahl: There was one in 1995. It was a show in my hometown, in Cologne regarding less ticket sales.
Mind Over Metal: Okay. It was never over anything in the band itself. The band was always ready to go no matter what. You guys are bad ass. So what do you do to take care of your throat and voice? Ha, I say this as you are coughing!
Chris Boltendahl: I have a cold. No, I stopped drinking and smoking 10 years ago. What can I tell you? I try to keep my mind alive. To sing, you have to have an open mind. So, if you have a free mind than you can sing. If you are blocked in your head then you have to press and make everything with violence through your voice. I try to keep my mind alive and free of bad influences. When I hit the stage I try to be only in heavy metal. I think I have to bring the best to fans. If I have a cold or something else, I always give my best. It works very good.
Mind Over Metal: That is cool. That emulates an honesty behind the music. I think that is something that a Metal audience is always striving for. A saying about whether or not stuff is always “true.” “True” is always like the keyword regardless of what style you are playing. It is your conviction behind the music you are playing. I feel like there are a lot of bands that have some ironic sense to them or their hearts just aren’t into it. When the sincerity is there it really shines through. I think that is clearly the case with Grave Digger as well.
Chris Boltendahl: I am not saying that we are totally, 120% metal like Manowar or something like that.
Mind Over Metal: (laughs) Manowar is the bar isn’t it?
Chris Boltendahl: Yeah, that is the [something German] in Metal. We also can smile about ourselves. I think that is important. If you are so Metal, like Joey DiMaio, you may be ill in the head. If you do that for bank account you know. We can also smile about things we are doing. When on stage, we smile about mistakes. No one has to leave the band if we play a bad show or a couple of mistakes. Everyone is human. We love Metal. But we are not living this kind of Metal like other bands try to bring to the public, you know.
Mind Over Metal: Yeah, you can still have fun while you are being sincere. Every once in a while you screw up, but as long as the total message getting across is positive then I think that shows through as well.
Chris Boltendahl: Look at me, I am a normal guy. I have a family. I am absolutely a normal guy. I read books. I do paintings. I do a lot of art. I do photography. I am a creative guy. I am not bringing people to death and grave in my private life.
Mind Over Metal: You said you also paint in your private time, do you do anything else other than Grave Digger? Is Grave Digger able to sustain you as an artist?
Chris Boltendahl: In the last 15 years I had a promotion company, and a record company but I stopped that this summer because of the financial crisis. I am concentrating more on Grave Digger. That brings a lot of money to my pocket so I can feed my family, my boy. I have so much creativity; I do photography, painting.
Mind Over Metal: That is part of keeping your mind free like you said—that is opening up your artistic side is there to bring forward not just music, but painting and photography which are different aspects of your brain. That is really beautiful that you keep that going like that.
Chris Boltendahl: Yeah and I don’t have to work the whole day in a bank or something like that. I start my day at 7 in the morning, I wake up my boy and I bring him to his [kindergarten]. Then I check my mails. That is something I like a lot. If you are on tour you have a different life. At home, I enjoy the time with my family.
Mind Over Metal: For touring life, what is going to happen with Grave Digger in the future?
Chris Boltendahl: In the next six weeks, is a DVD from the Wacken festival where we celebrated our 30th anniversary. That will be released in February. In February we start with a tour in Russia and Ukraine. That is around 8 to 10 shows. We also go to Siberia. In March we start a four-week European tour. Then we start with a festival. In July and August we go to South America again. We have some plans. We are not boring.