Ashrain – Surrender to the RequiemTuesday, 4th April 2023
Although this seems like a relative newcomer on paper, Ashrain contains some killer musicians with plenty of trustworthiness to draw from. Bassist Peter Baltes being an integral part of Accept, vocalist Iuri Sanson well known for his work in Hibria, and drummer Andy C. a part of Lords of Black in the past. Add in Japanese virtuoso guitarist Nozomu Wakai, and we have Ashrain. This debut album Requiem Reloaded combines influences across the 80’s melodic hard rock/power metal landscape, plus a bit of a modern progressive edge to the mix. We reached out to Peter to learn more about the origins of the group, the remote recordings that took place, discussion about videos/promotion in today’s industry versus the 80’s heydays of Accept, his outlook on bass, plus insight into future plans with Ashrain, U.D.O., and other projects.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the formative stages of Ashrain back in 2020 between yourself and guitarist /producer Nozomu Wakai? How were you able to secure the other musicians and did you know straight away the style of power metal you wanted to play, or was it a feeling out process to arrive at what direction the band wanted to go in?
Peter Baltes: I met Nozomu in 2018 when I did a show with Accept in Tokyo. He was backstage, and we hit it off well. He called me a couple of months later to play some bass tracks for him, the record company loved it and he loved it. I then played some bass tracks for a Paul Shortino album that he produced. At that time he was in Las Vegas, and he came to see me when I was living in Nashville. We really bonded and started working on material. I thought he was one heck of a guitar player, he was straight out of the 80’s, a weird thing. Totally different than a lot of the guys I have met in the US or in Germany. One day he told me about an album he had put out, with other players, and the record company wanted him to redo the album and he really wanted me to play bass on it. After we did that, it turned out so great that we decided we should have a band. He found Iuri Sanson, who I had never heard of. Apparently in Brazil he’s a superstar singer, now he lives in Portugal. And Andy C. is one of the hottest drummers in Spain, he found them basically. That’s all that I have to say about that.
When he played me the first things, I thought the material was straight out of the 80’s. It has a little bit of Dream Theater, some Mötley Crüe, some Dokken, it was a weird mix. It’s not just straight out rock songs, it has a little bit more progressive stuff that comes with it. I was intrigued. When I got to the first track, it was so different than I expected it. It took me three days – I have a weird way of absorbing these (songs). First I played the track through, and tried to figure out where I can be helpful. If I do something different than what a bass player would normally do – that’s how I went about it. In “Pull on the Trigger” there’s a bass intro. He gave me free reign to make things better, and that’s what I did, put my stamp on things. It turned out phenomenal when I got the final masters in, the singer is so good, he makes the album. The songs are catchy, even though they are progressive here and there, they have a catchiness to them. It reminds me of the 80’s, that’s why I always bring it up.
Dead Rhetoric: Requiem Reloaded is the debut album for Ashrain. How do you feel the process went to create and record this set of material? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or highlights that took place?
Baltes: Since we were never in a room together and I never met the other two, I would call this the ‘COVID’ sessions. Where people sit in Portugal, Spain, Japan, and Florida and we made it work. That’s always the way to go nowadays. To go into the studio together as a group, the cost of it alone is tremendous. To be honest and quite clear here, album sales are a thing of the past. It doesn’t make any sense for a record company to spend that much money on studio time. You create like this, put yourself in the mindset of the individual player that you are listening to. Since I listened to the first song, I listen to the guitar riff, and analyze what the drummer is doing. I can get a feel for what they are playing and where they are coming from. Then I go through the vocals, I can sit right here in a spot where there is nothing going on for me to do something, to bind it together.
We are working on a new album now where we are working on the songs. That’s a different process, we have individual bits and pieces where we have gone. I have requested since he’s Japanese, it would be so cool to have some Japanese influences as far as the drums, the way the vocal lines are. Make it like a Japanese album, incorporate these things in for your Japanese and Asian listeners it’s something really nice and for others something really new. I brought up the band The Hu from Mongolia, it’s an interesting concept because the instruments they play are cool. It’s a little different in the way they do it, even though they play metal songs. It comes across different, and Nozomu is the perfect guy to have a couple of songs come across with these Japanese influences. We will see where we can go with that.
Dead Rhetoric: “Put on the Trigger” is the debut video/single choice – did this seem like an obvious first sample of what listeners can expect from the band? And how do you feel about the video medium these days in the digital/internet age versus the time you were making big budget videos in the 80’s/90’s for MTV and other major media outlets?
Baltes: To me it was a good choice. It was an unorthodox beginning which intrigues people to listen. If the guitar would have been playing, it may have been a good riff, but doing it with the bass, it becomes ‘what the hell is this?’. Number two – since we live on different continents, it’s the only way to make a video – I did my parts with the iPhone, put a camera on there, GoPro. Nowadays we are looking at things on smaller devices. It allows you to create more videos, more content, for songs. Back in the day, when we did “Balls to the Wall” for instance, we were right next to Heathrow Airport, had a night shoot with a crane and a wrecking ball, and destroyed a building with a clock tower. It cost over 200,000 pounds to make this video, it doesn’t make any sense. It became… because MTV was the only medium of that day, it became the staple video until this day.
These days are over. For metal bands, it makes a lot more sense to have cool young guys create something. You have a nice visual for your song, and put in a live performance, and maybe some day down the road we can do something different. It’s great, it enables a young band with limited funds to get their name out there.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the challenges Ashrain has at this early stage in development? Does it help to have the seasoning and experience with strong players to get a bigger footprint in the scene compared to other newer artists?
Baltes: It really depends. With the style of music, and this particular style, it might help. Younger players tend to… copy something that has been there already, and try to put their own stamp on it, which I understand. But it makes it very difficult to distinguish them from somebody else. When you have seasoned players with their own sound, their own style, then that stamp is already in there – it’s integrated and very recognizable. That aspect helps. It’s not a big help, but it helps also in the songwriting process. We know when something is lame, or when it doesn’t cut it. When you are younger, you just want to go out and play, let’s just get it out there. There is more effort put into this, you have to keep it at a certain standard than you had before.
Dead Rhetoric: Ashrain is on Metalville as a label. How do you feel about the shifting of what a record label’s duties are in today’s marketplace versus the responsibilities on their shoulders in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s – and do you feel Metalville has the right promotional staff and understanding of what you are trying to do with your music and achieve as a band?
Baltes: I was not involved, so it’s something I have a hard time speaking to. What I can speak of is the average thing that labels used to do, it was a lot of footwork. Which nowadays you don’t need anymore. They literally… we had people who put us up in a hotel, drove us to a radio station, people drove us to a magazine. It was footwork, which today you don’t need anymore because we are sitting in a Zoom meeting. The old label version that we think about is almost not needed anymore. There are younger people that you can contact to put you on podcasts yourselves. The Winery Dogs don’t even have a label, they put the album out themselves and it would do the same. Back then you needed the label to give you tour support, or a fancy tour bus. The money was there, the label would make a boatload on your record sales. You don’t sell the units anymore, therefore there is not as much of a need for labels.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your approach and outlook to bass playing these days? Have you grown or changed throughout the years from the early days of Accept until now – and what would you consider some of your best work that stands the test of time?
Baltes: When I picked up the bass, what I was listening to then was Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, very progressive stuff. I would play accordingly. And then I joined Accept, where I was forced to basically play one note and pedal along. Which makes total sense, I was very young. And that’s what I did – with my right hand as fast and as hard as I could. Over the years I became known as the heaviest right hand in metal. Cliff from AC/DC has that same kind of deal. Forward to today – it comes naturally. Some of my best work – I did some really good work on the Don Dokken album Up From the Ashes, because it was a challenge for me. I think Metal Heart is a good one. All the Accept albums let’s just say past Restless and Wild on, that’s when I matured as a player. That’s my style, I played on Mick Mars solo album, I don’t know when that will see the light of day. That was a different style also.
I’m trying to improve myself, even today. It doesn’t matter what I do – I write a lot of music for film and television. I do different styles and different approaches. I never stop learning – I don’t think I’m good enough. My son is a bass player in a band called Howling Giant, and he’s hands down better than me. The hunger is always there – I was never in it for the fame or the fortune that didn’t interest me. What interested me is that I was able to create songs, play them on my guitar, bass. The creation of something, seeing it blossom and be released and people think it’s amazing what you’ve done – that process I love. And I love playing live. Anything else above that or besides that I have no interest in. The whole rock star life, I never was into that. Over the years I’ve just tried to make myself better. I play a 1959 Precision bass, you hear that in the sound. I sit in the middle, barking like a dog – the sound is a space I can live in. When you hear things I play, you can hear most of the notes. I like that, I’m not buried unlike Metallica – sometimes you struggle to hear what the bass player is playing because it’s not there, even though he played.
Dead Rhetoric: Being one of the originators in the hard rock/metal movement, do younger musicians often seek you out for advice and insight into the music business? If so, what words of wisdom or advice do you try to impart?
Baltes: It does happen. It happened recently when I helped my old singer Udo out, he had a three month tour in Europe and the bass player collapsed after the second date. I flew in, learned the songs, and that was three months. It was very nice, we sat on the tour bus and reminisced. The younger guitar players always ask me questions. Not about how to play things, more about the business, how to do this, what should I do there. Should they make teaching videos? What would I do? I gave them my advice, as you have certain things that you’ve learned over the years. What makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.
The one thing for every musician is to try to create your own sound. Which is almost impossible for a guitar player, there’s not much you can do. But it is the way you hold your pick, how thick it is, some guys have a tiny little thing they hardly move anything, some are really low, some others are thick, the strings are higher. Find your own way, that people will say in ten or twenty years, that was you. Show people something that’s yours. Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie, they always had their own thing they did. Billy Sheehan did the bass solo with the drill. Try to somehow stick out in whatever form that is. Otherwise you are one of a thousand, and that’s where you stay at.
Dead Rhetoric: Discuss the pride and joy you must have seeing your son Sebastian follow in your footsteps as a bass player for Howling Giant – and how would you compare the styles between the two of you?
Baltes: He’s my pride and joy in that aspect. I remember when he was younger, when I was writing for the Blood of the Nations album with Accept in 2009, he would sit in back of me on the couch, stuck on a riff. He would say, hey dad – try this. He would play on the guitar, like me. Later on, he picked up bass. He hears something once, and he can play it. An incredible way of injecting himself into the riffs. The same way I did, but I think he’s even better at it. It gives me incredible joy, not because he’s my son necessarily, but to see that there are more musicians out there not thinking it’s all the same. These three guys rehearse almost every day, they have their own room, record in there, they are their own creation. All of a sudden they have a following, they are on tour now for eight weeks straight. They are creating a following, I listen to their albums, it’s that good that you want to listen to it. Most of the time, for albums I listen to one or two songs, and then I’m done. For them to create something I can listen to on both sides, that’s incredible to me. He evolved, he’s that next stage. One day I’ll be gone, and he’ll take over.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there hopes to be able to get Ashrain on stage, even if it’s on a selective basis through festival settings or one-off shows? Or will this remain more of a project situation due to the distances of the members involved across the continents?
Baltes: I would say… it’s our desire, and it should be because the music is so good, I think it’s something that needs to be seen and people would enjoy it very much. The question is in the end, what’s the demand, and how much will people like it? If there is demand, we are certainly capable of a 45-minute set. What I would not do is take songs from other bands – one member playing his songs from another band. I would never do that. I’m done with Accept, when I play with Ashrain, I will do Ashrain songs. When I play with U.D.O., I have no problem playing Accept songs because it’s who we are. If we make a second album, we will have enough to do a headline set. It really depends, I would love to see Iuri sing live, and play with these musicians live.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about in the last few years, especially coming out of this global pandemic? And why have you changed your mind about that aspect?
Baltes: That’s an interesting question. During the pandemic I lived in Nashville, and that city is full of musicians for hire. The for hire guys, when there is no work, life gets really difficult. If you have a back catalog like we do, you can exist on the royalties, I do tv and film work too. I’m always home in my studio, during the pandemic nothing really changed for me. I was already away from Accept, I was just doing projects all over the world. I would play for somebody in Greece, somebody in Iran, interesting things and I loved it. I got to play with Ray Luzier from Korn on this album, that was one part I really enjoyed. I did a project with Udo and Stefan K., to raise funds for Udo’s road crew, truckers, and everybody during the pandemic. We put that EP out, made a couple of videos, and the proceeds went to them and they really appreciated it.
Mentally, it’s more how humanity changed. A lot of people I know literally reevaluated their lives, what it’s worth. And how far you have to sell yourself, do you work to live, or live to work? It also showed the extent of our governments and how they have immense power over people. Obviously, they have no problem using that. It’s shocking to me how on an everyday basis people became hostile towards each other. It was insane. I remember my mom telling me in Germany going to the grocery store, you need to be vaccinated just to get bread. You couldn’t get in the store. Have a little window, no – it was these demands. It made me think and appreciate the time period of the 80’s, the music that we had, the freedoms and things we aren’t able to do in 2023. I’m blessed, I get to play with new musicians, younger musicians, love the styles and I survived all that. I think a lot of people came out of the other side, and came out better in their heads. You look at the world differently, and that might be a good thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Ashrain or any other musical activities for Peter Baltes over the next twelve months or so?
Baltes: Ashrain we are working on new music. The first album was supposed to come out in 2020-21. The record company didn’t want to release this because of the pandemic. It comes out now, but we are already in the process of writing new stuff, which is exciting. Peter is working on a solo record, and I am doing some commission work. I’m also going back out with U.D.O., in April we will go to Australia, Japan – and I may stay a little longer. It depends. My future is open, I’m a busy man, and I’m creative every day.