Poltergeist – Living the TruthWednesday, 15th July 2020
One of the early roster bands during the late 80’s and early 90’s for Century Media, Poltergeist kept thrash alive from Switzerland when Coroner was gaining critical acclaim as well. Breaking up after their third album Nothing Lasts Forever in 1994, the band would reform in 2013 and have now released their fifth studio platter in Feather of Truth. Featuring songwriting contributions from multiple members, it’s evident that the energy, speed, aggression and solid veteran songwriting execution still is on a high level throughout – worthy of respect and admiration for those who love crunchy, catchy material.
We reached out to bassist Ralf W. Garcia who was more than happy to let us into the creation of this record, the importance of having a stellar producer within the band, thoughts on best memories in the career of the band, plus solid insight into his bass influences and what concerns he has for the world today.
Dead Rhetoric: Feather of Truth is the fifth Poltergeist studio album, and first in four years for the group. How do you feel the development of the songwriting and studio sessions went for this effort – and where do you see the major differences in this outing compared to previous works from the band?
Ralf W. Garcia: It’s not always easy to have a clear or impartial view on things when no real time has passed but from a current point of view I’d say that this album is the culmination of a band which really grew together creatively. Everyone was involved. V.O., Chasper and I wrote songs. V.O. wrote most of the lyrics. I wrote lyrics too. André shaped his vocal lines, Reto took care of all the drum arrangements, Chasper and V.O. designed all these guitar harmony lines and the solos. I synchronized my bass lines rhythmically with Reto’s drum patterns and so on. So I think that this time it feels even more like a real band effort even though the guitars and bass were recorded in our home recording studios to be finalized by V.O. in his pro studio. There’s something in these tracks from each and everyone. That’s probably the biggest difference to past releases where V.O. took care of almost everything by himself. So you might have noticed that all of us are currently quite happy with the result.
Dead Rhetoric: Possessing a great guitarist and songwriter in V.O. Pulver gives Poltergeist a sense of direction and consistency – but can you also tell us about the seasoning he has as a producer and how that helps the band gain the best sounding final product possible?
Garcia: I have known V.O. since the mid 1990s and have been recording albums with other bands and projects at his studio before joining Poltergeist. He gained a lot of experience since 2002. Since he started his career as a producer and studio owner and his work with bands like Destruction, Pro-Pain, Gurd, Panzer, Nervosa, Burning Witches etc. speaks for itself. Naturally he uses all of his experiences, skills and knowledge for his own bands. So therefore, he always has a clear and focused vision of how a Poltergeist album should sound. In my view it helps a lot to mold all these songs and all our different backgrounds together to one recognizable version of this band.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art by Roberto Toderico, who you worked with on the previous Back to Haunt effort? What do you enjoy most about his style?
Garcia: Apart from the fact that Roberto is one of the very best and outstanding service providers in relation to graphics, visual artwork and communication he has this gift to translate a verbal idea with his pencils onto paper. The cover concept was V.O.’s idea since he’s a great admirer of the ancient Egyptian culture and their mythology. He visited the pyramids a couple of years back so the seeds for this idea might have been there for a while now. So we talked about his idea about the goddess Maat and the weighing of the heart against a feather and I sent some rough explanation to Roberto. He just went from there and a few weeks later he presented a first sketch which already was very detailed and impressive. Reto (Drums) and I play together in other bands too so we worked with Roberto for other releases before we even joined Poltergeist. We might be biased in this regard.
Dead Rhetoric: Who would you say are some of your personal influences and heroes when it comes to your outlook and approach to your instrument, or to the genre of heavy metal in general?
Garcia: Well I started to play bass in the mid 1980s. So I’m a typical 80s metal and rock kid and still to this day that background is quite obvious even through many hours with different teachers, a lot of practice and my recently completed studies at Berklee College Of Music influenced my approach to my main instrument, my songwriting and my overall view on music a lot. When I first started out bassists like Steve Harris, Geezer Butler, Rudy Sarzo and Cliff Burton were my main inspiration (like they were for so many other kids and beginner musicians) and not just because of their playing techniques. These examples of musicians especially showed me that there’s so much more than just playing your instrument.
It’s about discovering yourself as a creative person and developing a vision of what you’d really like to do. So in the course of the last three decades these influences are still there but I’d say that songwriters/bass players like Geddy Lee (Rush), John Entwistle (The Who), Jack Bruce (The Cream), Bob Daisley (Ozzy and many others), Dave Larue (Steve Morse Band, Dixie Dregs etc.) and Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death, Sadus etc.) shaped my overall approach to bass and songwriting. Heavy Metal still plays a big role in my personal daily life but naturally my personal listening preferences were expanded to a point without limits and very few dislikes.
Dead Rhetoric: Your rhythm section also plays together in a death metal band Requiem. Do you believe their power and skill sets benefit Poltergeist in the long run with a renewed sense of aggression and energy in the new material – and how do they attack some of the older songs in a live situation?
Garcia: Well you seem to have done your research Matt. Yes, Reto (Drums) and I play together in Requiem. It’s a band that exists since 1997. So we play together as a rhythm section for quite a long time now. I definitely think that it’s an advantage when you know each other well as musicians. Especially as a rhythm section. We can react to each other’s accentuations and rhythmic variations without having to talk about it.
We’re just lucky I guess that we both still have a lot of energy and determination to push the envelope.
In relation to the older songs we tried to play that material as close to the originals as possible but naturally with our own style. Especially some of these older tracks were a bigger challenge than the newer stuff. Obviously when you are part of the songwriting process you have a closer relationship to the song material and the development of all details. When you play stuff that was recorded by someone else you miss these experiences. So what we did was to get closer to the essential core patterns like grooves, timing, feel etc. of certain old songs that are still part of our live set. Naturally everything sounds more modern than the old records, but we really like to play the old stuff too. There’s still that 1980s wild and raw spirit in these tracks!
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the career highlights for Poltergeist – be it specific albums, tours, festivals, or other events where you knew the band was moving up the ranks or making a mark with your music?
Garcia: Well in the late 80s and early 90s there were tours and festivals with bands like Kreator, Sodom, Tankard, Destruction, Watchtower, Hades, Voivod, Coroner and Whiplash for example. Since the reformation Poltergeist played the 70,000 Tons Of Metal Cruise and a few old school metal festivals in Germany like Metal Assault and the Headbangers Open Air. One of the more recent highlights was to play as a special guest for Slayer. We were the only support band and to play for such an iconic band in a sold-out venue was quite remarkable. Currently we’re really looking forward to the release of our new album. Like I mentioned before we all agree that this album just feels right. Naturally we’ll all find details in a couple of years which we might have done differently. But at the moment we’re very content with the recordings.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the evolution of the thrash scene – and do you believe hailing from Switzerland puts you at an advantage or disadvantage in establishing your own take on things, considering the notable presence a band like Coroner had during the 80’s and 90’s?
Garcia: Well that’s a good question. I witnessed the evolution and the changes of the thrash scene throughout the decades. Back then when almost every new album (of which most of them are nowadays considered essential classics) was an all killer no filler thing (obviously of course there are exceptions) it was more than music. It was almost a way of life. Thrash was not just a trend I think. It was a movement (at least from a European perspective) which is most certainly best portrayed in a documentary called “Thrash Altenessen” which follows Kreator and other bands and explains their origins. Then in the early 2000s we witnessed a Thrash revival which more or less still holds on to this day. It seems like this particular style of Heavy Metal still hits the nerve of young people.
I don’t know if being from Switzerland is an advantage or disadvantage nowadays with the internet the global connection of the scene. Switzerland is a small country in comparison so if your own band name is amongst other well-known Swiss bands like Coroner, Messiah, Samael or Celtic Frost then I’d say that it’s definitely a good thing for us.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies and interests away from music when you have the free time to pursue them? And do you have the support from friends and family when it comes to your musical endeavors?
Garcia: Well apart from my daily bass practices and my creative time (songwriting and lyrics etc.) there’s not much else. I work as a guitar/bass tech for touring bands and as stage manager for festivals. Obviously not under the current circumstances. I’m glad that I still can teach bass and music theory. At least sometimes online. So most of my personal days are filled with music or music related topics anyway.
I used to play rugby when I was younger and I still do sports juts to keep fit and healthy. We all are not getting younger. What else…well I like to read a lot. Most of the time it’s books about ancient cultures and/or philosophy, mythology or history. I’m a big history, mythology and philosophy nerd. I always was even as a kid.
As far as the support of my friends and family goes. My grandparents on my mother’s side where both professional musicians. So there was that support. My own parents well they were not so keen on their son becoming a musician. I think I consciously started to listen to metal and rock music when I was around 11 or 12. So after that started there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent me to pursuing the path I’m still on. The support was there more or less but only in a sense that my family never really intervened or blocked. Most of my friends were (and still are) on the same path. So their support was almost always guaranteed.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about the world that we live in today?
Garcia: Good question. Naturally the older you get the more you have experienced and witnessed. 27 years ago I studied social work, counselling/psychology and worked in that department for a number of years just because of the fact that I had to make a living with something other than music. Solely playing and creating music alone doesn’t always pay the bills as you might know. So therefore I’ve seen a lot what goes in in societies and people’s minds.
I’m concerned about the future for the next generations and maybe I’m biased through my own personal experiences but I think mankind seems to maneuver itself very close to the edge and with that “edge” I mean the point of no return for very negative and even disastrous consequences. For example, the implications and impacts of colonialism and imperialism, the relentless greed of capitalism are to be seen in so many aspects like climate changes, social tensions, poverty and so on. But since there seems to be no other commonly accepted model of doing business in the world most of the industries and governments just keep on pursuing the old ways that are verifiably not working. By the looks of it, it seems like the onward surge of the lemmings. Anyway. I personally think that we’ve most likely already passed the point of no return. So the question is what will do the most harm to our world and to societies. The climate with even more natural disasters, the disappearance of the rain forests and the polar ice caps or civil wars or more huge floods of refugees, shortage of water, inequality of health, lack of edible food, lack of education etc. The list is endless and most of us know about it. The question is: can the cascade of consequences be stopped or not? Or does mankind even want to make changes or not?
Music as an art form and especially heavy metal music always was a chronicler and catalytic converter of what was going on in the world and I believe that it’s still the case. So the thing we can do is to watch closely, observe and witness and write songs and lyrics about what we see, hear and feel.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or so shaping up for Poltergeist in terms of promotion, live shows, etc. – as you have something set up in July opening for Destruction in your home country, correct?
Garcia: Yes, we’ll play one of the very first live shows after these lockdown measures together with our good friends Destruction. At the same time, it’s our album release show since the date is one day after the official worldwide release. In the current situation and with all these different national and international regulations it’s rather difficult to plan ahead ‘cause you never know when certain travel regulations will be lifted or extended. So currently we plan for a short European tour at the end of October into November this year and some festival appearances next year. Needless to say we all hope that all upcoming live dates will happen.
At the moment we are still in the promotion phase of the new album and it’ll take another two months I guess. So while we’re doing that we already plan to book indoor and outdoor shows for next year. So far the interest in Poltergeist seems to increase for which we are grateful. Everything else cannot yet be clearly seen. But we’ll definitely work on multiple ways to bring these new songs onto stages as often as possible.