Herman Frank – Flying Through FearFriday, 22nd February 2019
Most know Herman Frank in metal circles for his multiple stints as rhythm guitarist for Accept during the Restless and Wild/ Balls to the Wall heydays and the Mark Tornillo-resurrection years of 2009-2014. He’s carved out a solid career as well with Victory as well as his solo ventures – with Fight the Fear his fourth full-length. It’s another solid slab of street level heavy metal, employing a hefty nod to his past with versatility in the mid-tempo to slightly speedier anthems he’s become well-established to deliver. When you want reliable pounding guitars and steady grooves, plus sterling clean melodies on the vocal front – Herman continues to deliver all that you could ever hope and just a little bit more.
Singer Rick Altzi has been in Herman Frank for three albums now, so we felt it was time to hear his viewpoints on his work within this setting. During this thirty-minute talk we also spend a lot of time going through his discography, his evolution as a singer, and bring up discussion on favorite albums, the ever-evolving music business and what it takes to sustain a living these days, and also some talk on one of his passions, car racing.
Dead Rhetoric: Fight the Fear is the fourth Herman Frank album, and your third as the singer. Describe the development of songwriting and comfort level you feel as far as where you take this material – do you believe it gets easier to understand what you want to achieve record to record due to your seasoning as musicians for decades?
Rick Altzi: Let’s see. When I started working with Herman on the first album, six years ago, I felt it was easier then. We didn’t know each other then, and he accepted what I did. We had a good collaboration – and then the more you know each other, the closer you can work together to make things better and better. The last album was a little bit more work, and this album was much more work because he knows what I can do and he pushes me a little bit. He’s getting used to me, and he knows more or less what I can do now, it’s getting harder and harder to do the albums – but they are getting better and better as a result.
Dead Rhetoric: I enjoy the variety of songs on display – you have some slower, stomping action for “Hail & Row” that gives off this epic Whitesnake/Black Sabbath atmosphere, a more fun-loving hard rock vibe during “Don’t Cross the Line”, as well the conventional metal expectations within “Fear” and “Sinners”. Discuss the importance of dynamics over the course of a full-length record, as it’s not easy to keep interest up over an hour-long timeframe…?
Altzi: You are right. On the album, we really don’t have a ballad. On the first album we had some kind of ballad to make the album slow down a little bit. Herman writes a lot of songs, he could easily fill a couple of hours just with the fast songs- but we try to get some diversity for keeping up the interest. If it goes at 170 BPM for more than half an hour, I would at least lose interest. Mid-tempo songs are always nice, and you have to expect that people will like different kinds of songs and tempos. Maybe we can please a wider crowd if we have a little wider approach.
Dead Rhetoric: Is the songwriting done through the internet because of the distances between the two of you- or are there times where you meet up in person and hash things out face to face?
Altzi: We live a good distance apart, I have at least a six to seven-hour car ride to him. On this time, we met up at first for some ideas in the songwriting stages, listening to the material we had. I recorded my vocals in my own studio – I can go out to it whenever I feel, as it’s in my house. It’s easier than flying out to a big studio and knowing that you have to perform in one week, these 10-12 songs. You can’t redo or change things as much as you want because you are on a deadline. It turned out that I recorded most of the vocals that way, and then he came over to me for one week, a couple of months before the mix and we finished all the vocals. He had some ideas for the endings or ad-libs, it’s quite a lot of work together and not over the internet. The rough parts may be over the internet, but then we sit down in the same room together. If you are going to explain to me in an e-mail or on the phone what he wants in a song, it takes forever and I have to send him version after version. It’s better that he comes up to me for five or six days and we go through all the songs. It’s a good way to work.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to recording your vocals, are there certain times of the day where you find you get your best vocals – and do you know if certain days it’s just not going to work out as well for you?
Altzi: An album like this, you record over four or five months. As soon he had some ideas, I would start thinking of recording with some quick lyrics over there – something to show him a melody. Then we write it out when we think we have a melody that sounds okay. Often, I don’t want to record an album after I’ve been out doing concerts- let’s say I’ve been on the road for a couple of shows or festivals, I don’t want to record the next day because it takes a lot out of my voice and you are going to hear the difference on the album. One song that is recorded 10-15 hours after a concert or so, I try not to record that close to it. Mornings the voice is not really as good as it is for me in the mid-day. If you are doing lower vocals, backing vocals, or a ballad- that morning voice could work as well. Afternoons to early evenings are best for me.
Dead Rhetoric: Does your approach vocally vary depending on the needs of the band – given your work through the years with acts like At Vance, Masterplan, and Thunderstone among others? Has it been important to give your own input regarding melodies, lyrics, and phrasing – even if you aren’t the primary songwriter for a given act/project?
Altzi: A good melody and a good lyric is a good melody and a good lyric- so I don’t really change it because I have to change it. Sometimes if there is a melody that doesn’t feel close to what I’m doing, I try to record a couple of different ideas and see if they can handle it to change those parts. Most of the things I do- with Masterplan I wrote most of the melodies and the lyrics on that album we did. Herman Frank, I write half of the melodies and maybe 70% of the lyrics. Normally I have the chance to do some input, but if you are doing one song on say Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall – he sends me exactly how he wants it, lyrics and melody – and I record it like this with minor changes that could be for the better of the song. With Herman, Masterplan, and when I recorded with At Vance a long time ago, those offer some kind of freedom to improve things that I didn’t think would fit my voice.
Just because I like it, it doesn’t mean that everybody else will like it. It’s always good to have different people giving input.
Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to play with such incredible musicians over your career – especially guitar players like Herman Frank and Roland Grapow? Does it bring out an extra level of effort to match what they are able to give you through their skills?
Altzi: I think it’s like when you meet them for the first time, you think about how you’ve listened to their work many, many times over the years. When you know them more personally – it doesn’t stay that glorious anymore. Now you know what they have for breakfast, so it’s not the same feeling that you had when you met them the first time. I am always trying to do my best on an album, but it’s even easier to do my best if the guitarist and songwriter does a great job and puts a lot of effort into it. It’s not so easy to do a recording if the musician didn’t record it well or put much effort into the songs. If they do a good job, it’s easy to record.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it true that you were intimidated at first to join Masterplan, because of the fact that Jorn Lande is one of your favorite vocalists of all-time?
Altzi: Yes. Roland in 2012 he called me to ask if I wanted to join Masterplan. I said, I don’t know- I would like to record a song to hear how I sound. He said he had heard me sing on other albums, and he was pretty sure I could do it. I wanted to think about it- but he didn’t think he was going to look for another singer, he said he would put Masterplan to an end. It was a pity if he was going to put Masterplan to the grave if I just said no, after a couple of days I decided to try it. It was fun, we had a good time- and always when you do something after a great singer, whether it was At Vance after Mats Leven or the singers before I came in Herman Frank – it’s always difficult to step into the shoes of someone else. There’s always a fear that people are not going to like it. I can only do the best that I am doing it my way, and if they don’t like it, I’m sorry.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at your musical career, what are some key pinnacle moments that will stay in your memory banks forever – things that you were happy to achieve, special songs, live shows, albums, or places you’ve visited?
Altzi: There is so much. I was a bass player until 2007, basically – I started to since a little bit in mid-2000. That’s how I got in contact with Olaf from At Vance- I liked the band and I wanted to get a song from him to practice and send it out to get jobs as a singer instead of playing bass. When he replied that he didn’t write songs unless they were good enough for an album, he asked if he could send me a flight ticket to come down and try out for At Vance. That I will always remember – I wasn’t expecting that. All the countries I’ve played – 70,000 Tons of Metal last year, you go to Miami, I’ve been to China, Korea, Japan several times. Small shows to really big festivals – when you stand there playing in front of 15,000-20,000 people at Masters of Rock, that’s great. I like to play small clubs too when there are 200-300 people because it’s a totally different thing. I never regret the fact that I let go of the bass and started to sing.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you prefer the studio or the stage?
Altzi: Sometimes, studio work can be satisfying because when you are doing it at home, I have the feeling and want to record now, and I do it. When you are recording a whole album eight hours a day for a couple of weeks, you can get tired of it. Live also – a couple of festivals every month is great, but when you are doing 30 shows in five weeks you’ll get tired in the end. As soon as the show starts it’s always as fun as the last concert. All the travelling, worst case is flying 10-15 hours to play for one hour and then you fly home again. You spend 40 hours getting the visa together for one hour, and that can be the boring thing about the live shows, all the work around it. As soon as you get on stage, it beats the studio work any day.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe you’ve adapted to the changing climate of the music industry, where you have multiple bands/projects going to do your best to sustain a living through music?
Altzi: When I got into this, the business was more or less pretty bad already. It was 2007, and most of the CD’s had already stopped selling anyways. I haven’t been in the spot where I can 100% make a living out of it. You have to take some studio jobs, you have to do some teaching, whatever. If you have a good season with a lot of touring and festivals, it’s good – but there are some periods where you just have to get your money somewhere else. That’s how it is in this business, if you are playing at the level that I am. If you are Iron Maiden, that’s another story.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe this is difficult for the average fan to understand, because there seems to be criticism about musicians not sticking with just one band anymore?
Altzi: That’s one point. I’m not sure if I would have stuck with one band even if I could. I’m not really into it for the money. If you take Masterplan for example, the last album was 2013- that was 5 ½ years ago. We did a live album, and the PumpKings. Let’s say I spend two months on an album as a singer. It takes three or four years for the next album to come out. Sometimes I just do vocals for friends and their projects because I really miss recording. I like trying new stuff. Even if I got well paid and toured all year around, if you do one album a year, it’s just 20% of the year and the rest of the time is yours. Now I’m only playing live with Masterplan and Herman Frank. I may do a guest vocal and backing vocal in the studio – but I have more than enough live with those two bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have any fears about stepping up to be a vocalist for At Vance when you had primarily done work as a bassist and backing vocalist in other bands up to that time?
Altzi: Of course. When I came to the studio at Olaf’s place, I just had to pretend that I knew what I was doing. It was a good experience and I learned a lot. I have home recordings just for practice, but it was different when you have somebody producing you and telling you that wasn’t good, or trying things again higher and lower. It took some time, and I think that I’m faster at adapting to new things in the studio. I was standing far away in the corner as a bass player looking at the drummer, and now I have to entertain the audience as a singer. Nothing that I regret, it’s fun.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you say your technique has improved and evolved?
Altzi: I’ve learned how to maintain my voice for a lot of shows in a row. Before it was hard to do a one-hour show when I started. On some tours we’ve been doing twenty shows in twenty-three days, only two or three days off. You know your limits with where the voice is, on that part I’ve been better. Technical-wise with timing and pitch-wise, it gets better with practice. I have thousands and thousands of hours in the studio and live work, now I know my voice much better. It’s easier to control it. I hear it when I listen back to the albums I did 10-12 years ago, I hear a big difference in what I’m doing today. My voice has changed, the first couple of years it changed a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies and interests away from music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?
Altzi: I like to ride motorbikes, and I like to drive race cars. Next year I’m building a car, so I’m going to do a small series of six races. Two of the races unfortunately I am going to miss anyway because I have festivals that are already booked. It’s a hobby, I’m glad to go to the track and I’ve been doing this for over ten years. It’s time to build a proper race car and be in a series.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to present three albums as personal favorites in the metal music landscape to someone entering the fold for the first time, what would your choices be and why?
Altzi: I would say – Awake with Dream Theater. That’s one of my favorite albums, I don’t listen to it as much nowadays but when I was younger I listened to it a lot, especially when I was playing bass. A Dio album – Holy Diver or Sacred Heart. And then… I guess I would go with Saga- Images and Twilight. A little bit outside of the metal there, but the prog side. I love to play prog with the bass- my voice doesn’t really fit that music though.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the music industry- and if you had the chance to change anything, what would you change and why?
Altzi: You can’t force people to buy albums anymore. I don’t buy a lot of albums anymore- I love to stream music. Sometimes I bring out my old vinyl and look at the cover art- then look it up on a streaming service to play. Somehow there should be more cents coming back to the music creators so we could create music easier. I know for a fact that At Vance won’t do anymore albums because the money is not there, he doesn’t want to spend half a year writing songs for nothing. That’s where we are, and some people are dropping out because they have to sacrifice work. A little bit more money to the business would be good- it doesn’t have to be like it was thirty years ago, but it could be a little bit better and easier. There would be more touring and better albums coming out.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for you relating to Herman Frank, Masterplan, or any other Rick Altzi activities over the next twelve months or so?
Altzi: Right now, there’s nothing to record at all. Some live shows, twenty shows booked from now to next month – Masterplan in Madrid, Herman Frank shows in March, more interviews of course. In April there is three or four shows – all the way to the end of August, mainly festivals. I have over twenty shows, most with Masterplan and some with Herman Frank. We have another band in Sweden called Gathering of Kings, it contains five singers with 80’s/90’s style music. We are going to play Sweden Rock with that gang, it’s going to be fun. If I can’t make it, somebody else sings it. I have three songs on the debut album – it’s a nice thing. Thirteen members on stage with that at Sweden Rock – two drummers, multiple keyboard players, all the singers on stage. As it is now, a small Swedish label from Rock News magazine released it. We have no one selling it in the United States. Hopefully we can find a distributor there. The next one is already in progress for recording – the next album will come out quite quickly. This is much softer, AOR 80’s/90’s style metal.