Skull & Crossbones – Under Tyrant’s RuleTuesday, 26th September 2023
Photo: Michael Vetter
The power, the strength, the might of Teutonic heavy metal. It’s been a part of the genre for decades – no matter what feels trendy, there’s nothing quite like the sound or force of soaring vocals, twin-guitar harmony/riff action, plus the rock-solid bass/drum foundation to bring everything home. That’s what we have in newcomers Skull & Crossbones – forming out of the ashes of Stormwitch’s 2018 Bound to the Witch record, where four of the five musicians left that group. Arising with an addictive debut album in Sungazer, these gentlemen appear poised to make that climb up the ranks – developing killer melodies, hooks, and anthems that should appeal to most traditional followers of the movement.
We reached out to guitarist Tobi Kipp to learn more about the origins of the group, the initial singer switch up to strengthen that part of the lineup, single/video choices, thoughts on the legendary German metal scene, the need for the band to play festivals to gain traction in the scene, favorite albums/shows, plus future plans.
Dead Rhetoric: Skull & Crossbones formed a few years ago with four ex-members of Stormwitch. What can you tell us surrounding the circumstances that led to the formation of this group, adding vocalist Tobi Hübner to round out the lineup? And did you know straight away the style of heavy metal you wanted to develop, or was it a feeling out process to arrive at your sound?
Tobi Kipp: First I can say, Volker, Jürgen, Marc, and myself were very tired of the constant trouble with the Stormwitch management. We had plans for the future. We wanted to play more gigs, especially in other countries. We had requests for Brazilian shows, but the management refused all these gigs. We decided for ourselves to quit and do our own thing. That’s the story of what happened with our time in Stormwitch – short (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Then how did you pick up Tobi as the singer – did you know of him through other bands?
Kipp: At first, we had another singer before Tobi joined us. He wrote to us after we made it public that our first singer quit the band. He wanted to be a part of our band. We ended up having some jam sessions together, and he showed us some arrangements for the first songs that would end up on the Sungazer album. For us it was clear that he was going to be the singer for Skull & Crossbones.
Dead Rhetoric: And was the name Skull & Crossbones an easy choice to make for this new outfit?
Kipp: “Skull & Crossbones” is one of the songs on the first Stormwitch album Walpurgis Night. Because of that, the four of us built our time together out of Stormwitch, and we decided to use this name in tribute.
Dead Rhetoric: Sungazer is the debut album for the band on Massacre Records. What can you tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort? Did you have any challenges, surprises, or obstacles to work through in this process, and did the COVID-19 pandemic allow you to spend more time on the finer details to be completely satisfied with the songs?
Kipp: About the songwriting, Volker and I, we do most of the instrumental parts. We make a demo, and we send it to Tobi to try out some vocal arrangements. We discuss the ideas, and at the end Volker and I are neighbors so we can hang out together and exchange instrumental ideas. That’s very cool. We started to write the first songs in 2019, with our old singer. We started to write, and the problem was we couldn’t play live through the pandemic situation. We took our time to write the songs. But after Tobi joined us, we had to change some of the parts for him because he needed more space for his vocals.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the Michael Vetter cover art for Sungazer? How important do you consider the visual imagery to set the tone for what people will hear on the record?
Kipp: My personal thing is the art cover is very difficult. We won’t do a typical metal cover with the skulls, demons, etc. I think we decided it was very cool, I like the colors and when we play live, we have our album cover on stage, and it looks very cool. It fits with the title Sungazer.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it an easy process to figure out what singles to release for the album?
Kipp: At first, for the video clips we were going to choose “Sungazer” and “Manhunter”. It was very difficult because we like all the songs. At the end we decided to do a proper video for “Sungazer” and then “Nature’s Legacy” is also a strong song. We did a lyric video for that song, and our ballad is going to be the last single.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of heavy metal within Germany versus other parts of Europe and the world? What do you enjoy most about the scene, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of all parties concerned?
Kipp: I think in Germany, many great bands came from Germany. For example, Running Wild I am a huge fan of, Avantasia, Helloween. At this time, these days there are so many bands around the world, it’s hard. I like the metal scene because the fanbase is so much like a family, and so much fun to be involved with.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Skull & Crossbones when it comes to your live concerts compared to what people hear on the record? What have been some of the more memorable shows/festivals you’ve done to date with the group?
Kipp: Our live shows are musically very close to the recorded songs. For us, this is important. We have no keyboards in the background, we don’t use samples live, and it’s a classic rock/heavy metal show. Twin guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. And of course, we are singing the background vocals live. We haven’t played many gigs since November 2022. The coolest show was our first show with Tobi, we presented our songs from the album for the first time live and it was amazing for us.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Skull & Crossbones currently facing in establishing a presence and following as a relative newcomer to the scene?
Kipp: One of the biggest challenges is to get spots on festivals. There are so many bands, in my opinion festivals are the most important shows to play as a newcomer. Because the range is much bigger for an audience.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies, passions, and interests away from music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?
Kipp: That’s very difficult to answer. I spend all of my free time making music (laughs). Because we all have normal jobs, families, and the free time I used to play in another cover band. But that was for fun.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are three of most important heavy metal albums that helped shape your outlook as a musician on the genre – and what’s the best concert you’ve attended purely as a fan in the audience (metal or otherwise), plus what made that show so special to you?
Kipp: My best concert I think, I was 14. I began to play the guitar with AC/DC riffs and other stuff. For me, to see AC/DC live for the first time was very impressive. You saw them on videos, you play those riffs, and then you see it live as a teenager, it was amazing.
There are so many good albums. For me personally, I love Firepower – Judas Priest. That was amazing. Port Royal – Running Wild. And of course, Keeper of the Seven Keys from Helloween. Both part one and part two.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the importance of social media platforms in establishing the brand of the band for Skull & Crossbones? Do you believe it’s difficult to stand out amongst the magnitude of other bands, labels, etc. that are also trying to capture the attention of the fans/followers?
Kipp: I think social media platforms are so important nowadays. There is no way around them. You have to post content constantly. This is a new time. It’s difficult to stand out amongst the other bands, this is really hard, I think.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received regarding your musical activities? At the same time – have other people ever sought out advice from you about the music business – and if so, what sort of ideas/thoughts do you try to get across to them?
Kipp: As a musician, you have to work really hard. Especially at the beginning because you have to do a lot of things by yourself. The gigs, the promotion – and as I said we all have normal jobs, so you have to do all these things in your free time. I hope that as things progress (the following) will grow.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Skull & Crossbones over the next twelve months as far as promotion, shows, tours, festival appearances, etc.? Has work already begun on the follow-up effort – and if so, how do you see the newer material shaping up compared to the Sungazer debut?
Kipp: First of all, in 2024 we have plans to play more festivals to establish our band in the metal scene. Our album is released now, and we can send the (promoters) materials to these festivals. There are a few new ideas, but at the moment there is nothing concrete. I hope by the end of next year that we can release our next album.