Iron Allies – Union in SteelTuesday, 25th October 2022
Respectful admiration for their body of work over the years led to a new metal band featuring vocalist David Reece and guitarist Herman Frank with Iron Allies. Both part of the Accept family during various points of their career, this new band harkens back to that classic, traditional metal sound they’ve become well-known for. Blood In Blood Out as a debut album contains that ambitious drive we all expect from these musicians – creating anthems for the current generation to bang their heads while screaming the choruses in glorious celebration for the cause. We reached out to Herman who was in a jovial mood to discuss how he reached out to David through the internet, the creative idea flow, the recording process for the debut album, what future setlist may look like when playing live with Iron Allies, his best times to capture riffs during the day, plus what’s on the horizon over the next year.
Dead Rhetoric: Iron Allies is a union of veteran musicians probably a long time coming. How did the initial discussions go between vocalist David Reece and yourself to develop this band – and was it apparent right away the qualities/style you wanted to execute that make things distinctive compared to your previous output?
Herman Frank: Long story – it came up in my mind that I wanted to have a band with some older musicians. In my mind, David came up. I never met him personally since last year. I really liked his way of singing, it’s a rock/metal bluesy voice. He’s a native speaker from America, he does the lyrics differently, pronounces things differently – it’s a different way of singing compared to the European guys. There are a lot of great European singers as well – I think I have two of the best within my band Herman Frank as well as Victory. There wasn’t anybody else I could think of. I had a little time and a fresh mind, so I love Facebook for this (kind of) thing. I searched for David Reece, I found him via message – I asked him if he was interested in doing some music together, if yes, call me. He did – ten minutes later (laughs)! He was very honored, and he has known me for over thirty years now, your name is all around. Yeah, why not?
We are known for rock/metal, the classic style. I have been doing this for over forty years now, I didn’t want to go into nu-metal or whatever, reggae. It was very clear from the start on, we would have music that everybody knows us for, we have the same pair of shoes all the time. I sent him two or three songs, put some vocals on it. I did some melodies back in my home, he sent the stuff back two or three days later, I listened to it and said, ‘wow’. It was different, and perfect. They were “Martyrs Burn”, “Selling Out”, and “Freezin”. I pushed the video button; he saw my thoughts and he made a thumbs up symbol. He thought my audio was off, it was perfect, so let’s go. From that point on, we started working on this – we were open-minded, but never a big discussion on what we were going to do. I sent him my songs, I had the idea of my vocals for these directions – he performs way better than I do, but he got an idea of what I had in mind.
It took us over nine months to have fifteen to twenty songs, and we had twelve songs on the record. It was tough to choose the twelve songs, because every song I wrote with David, I really liked it.
Dead Rhetoric: And how did you decide on the other members to fill out the lineup? Obviously, some of them you’ve already played with in other bands, did you have in mind specific people to round out this lineup?
Frank: We had been thinking about whether we wanted to add some big names to this (band). The main part though is David and I – what else do we need? If we advertise this worldwide, did we want to deal with another ego (laughs)? I have had such a great experience with Michael (Pesin), the other guitar player – he’s in Victory, and it’s a pretty good relationship. He knows my style, he covers my style perfectly, he lives in Hannover so we are able to practice together, so why should I go with another guitar player from England or the Netherlands?
It was the same situation with Malte (Burkert), the bass player. David had played some shows together with him, he said he was a nice guy, there’s no stress when you play shows with him. I prefer to be friends in the tour bus than have a couple of egos around me. And that was the decision there. Francesco (Jovino) – there’s no question about his drumming. He is known from U.D.O., Primal Fear – and he nailed things in the studio. Everybody is becoming friends with each other. I’m looking forward to going with these guys on tour – it will be very nice, very easy going.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe the songwriting and recording sessions went for the debut Iron Allies album Blood In Blood Out? What songs came together the quickest/easiest, and were there any in particular that went through numerous revisions or incarnations before reaching the best final output for the record?
Frank: We made the decision about the songs that we wanted to record before we went into the studio. I worked a lot with David back and forth on the songs, especially with Zoom on video. This was really helpful, as you could listen back to things at the same time, almost face to face. These days you have to save money, because there is no big advance money anymore. You have to take care of what you can for the studio, and Horus is not the cheapest (studio). We went there for sixteen days, and we were well-prepared.
A couple of things that we changed in the studio. I used a different ending here and there, doubled choruses, something like that. Especially with the drums – Jovino didn’t send any demos. That was the hardest part to decide, to go for this and that, deciding where to have double bass patterns and where to just be more straightforward. We also recorded the bass in the studio and most of David’s vocals. Most of the guitars we kept from the demos that were recorded in my own studio. Because I really don’t like – I am a precise player. If you go in precise and edited, it sounds like crap. The most energy, I am looking for that in my songs, I have that in the guitars when I create the song, compose the song, and play it for the first time, I’m really into. 90% of the guitars I kept. I did make some changes when I heard the final vocals from David, sometimes you need to make modifications for a couple of endings, overdubs for the choruses. My work in the studio was more playing the game of a producer.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your lead work, is that something that’s also planned out or do you improvise with your best work in the studio?
Frank: I’m always improvising. I may have a classic theme in mind, these are parts you have to think about, create. All the leads, you let the song run and play over it. You keep what you like, and if you don’t – you do things another time. You listen back, find out what’s nice and then look at what notes you don’t like. It takes a little time, but in the end, I tried to lay down things that may be more than one take. You have to recognize what you are doing, performing in a better way with the right expression.
Dead Rhetoric: You filmed a video for the title track – already receiving 70,000 plus views in under a month on YouTube. Do you enjoy this promotional tool in the social media platform era versus the bigger budget videos that were made back in the 80’s/90’s for MTV and other major media outlets?
Frank: Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you had a huge amount of money to make videos. These days you have to spend a couple of thousand to make a quick video. These days, the real fans are clicking to see these videos. You can find people out there though that will buy likes. On this side, I don’t believe in that promotion thing anymore. These videos are for the true fans to watch what we are doing, and what kind of music are they presenting us. I’m not (enjoying) the making of videos. It’s a part of my talent, maybe I could do better. I would prefer to shoot a video at a live concert, it’s the real thing. You stand like a puppet in a video, I hate that (laughs). The next video I would love to be sitting in a chair and just move me around.
Dead Rhetoric: How much of a balancing act will Iron Allies be as far as recording, touring, festival situations versus the main work you have with Victory and your solo band as well as David’s work in his solo albums and projects?
Frank: David and I decided when we started this thing, we wanted to do things right. Our main focus is on this band – we are all professional musicians. We will spend the most effort on this right now. We are already talking with our booking agent about the festivals next year. There are so many bands around, maybe they will wait and see what kind of success we have. We hope with nice reviews and the sales, we will be able to jump on the train very quick. We will do at least ten festivals in Europe.
Dead Rhetoric: And will it be a challenge to figure out the setlist with the long history you both have in the metal realm?
Frank: I would love to do shows for just five hours. No festival will book that band. For sure, we will play the whole Iron Allies album, and for headlining shows, we have enough stuff from Herman Frank, older Moon Doc songs, or David’s career with Bangalore Choir. I doubt that we will do Accept songs. Leave that up to U.D.O. and Accept. It’s not that I don’t like the songs, I would like to show people my original kind of music. We have so many songs out of both our careers. We will do our own originals.
Dead Rhetoric: I agree. Both you and David have done so many records away from Accept, if people want to hear Accept songs…
Frank: Then they can go see Accept. They should visit an Accept show, or any cover band. I would like to do a medley maybe of an Iron Maiden song, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Van Halen, W.A.S.P., or even a Rammstein song, yeah! I would have to talk to David.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to develop the lyrics and vocal melodies, is this something you discussed with David for certain tracks – or did you give him the freedom to do things as he wanted?
Frank: There’s no doubt about it, he’s a native speaker. His American English is way better than mine. He’s born in the US, he’s one of the best poets of any singers I’ve ever known. I mean Charlie Huhn was great during Victory, because he was a native speaker. If you compare David’s lyrics from all the European singers, the European singers can’t think in the same way with the language. He uses great lyric lines. I’ve learned a lot of fancy words – like ‘tinseltown’. I asked him, what is tinsel? It’s the thing that you put on a Christmas tree, hanging in these car selling places. The engineer and I, we had been in the studio, we heard the song “Selling Out” – he sent it as a demo version. We said, what is he saying – schnitzel town? It sounds in German like that. We waited for the song, and we both thought the same thing. He recognized that there is a German word schnitzel in our language – so we asked him about it. He said there is no Schnitzel town in Germany – it’s in Bavaria (laughs). He started telling us the story about this.
The most that I discuss with David is the sound of the vocals. For sure “Blood in Blood Out”, he was using a different verse for that song. We had the main riff, and I suggested we use that phrase there – he said I was absolutely right. He changed the whole story. He would discuss some riffs with me, with verses and harmonies. It’s 90% music Herman, and 90% lyrics David. We will stick to this way. He has the talent for writing lyrics, singing, and we both agree that he doesn’t get mad when I make a suggestion to sing a different line. There are no bad feelings.
Dead Rhetoric: You are both professional enough as musicians that you want to get the best work for each song. Sometimes you have to take the ego out of things and look at the bigger picture…
Frank: Maybe I was the same way when I was 20 or 25. These days, everybody has a lot of experience. Sometimes I will stand up on my point. He believes in me, trusts in me. Sometimes you have to step back on your ego. It can be as simple as choosing the twelve best songs out of twenty. You have to know if the lyrics are good, or if it won’t work because the song isn’t good. It was back and forth. It was easy going – David has the next idea or option in mind. I wish we would have made the decision to work together thirty years ago. It’s still much more fun to sit down together for four weeks together in a house, in a rehearsal room, meet every day and start on the songs. It’s a shame we did not meet earlier. It’s getting more difficult to come up with new riffs, new verses, new choruses. Everybody expects the same style, and a lot of stories have already been told. It’s not that easy.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your creativity, do you find there are specific times of the day where you have more energy to write your best riffs?
Frank: It happens that I can wake up in the middle of the night with a riff. I used to record to a cassette in the older days, just a recording thing and sing on it, whatever the riff is. Then I will listen back when I am awake. Once in a while I can’t even remember. The best riffs for me tend to come about in the morning, around ten o’clock or so. I grab a guitar, doing some practice licks and scales to stay in shape. I will record things on my iPhone and go to my studio in Hannover and the work starts. You have a couple of bars and work out a whole song. Some take a couple of hours, some take a week or two, it can be horrible. 70% of the day is not fun. It’s discipline.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities related to Iron Allies and other musical endeavors for yourself over the next twelve months?
Frank: The future is wide open. It depends on the success of Iron Allies. The media is jumping on it, I have a lot of messages on all the social media platforms, it’s overwhelming. You can’t expect to answer everybody. I am working on the next Victory album, because I can’t stand still. I just love to do music, write music, and go on the road. Whether it’s Herman Frank, Victory, or Iron Allies, whichever outlet gives me the chance to do a concert, I’ll go.