The Unity – Shuffle in PrideSunday, 5th April 2020
There’s something to be said about tradition in hard rock and metal. Musicians who stand by their talent, their vision, and translate that passion through their creative endeavors. The Unity have amassed a solid following due to their love of melodic hard rock and metal, now releasing their third full-length in Pride. Containing members past and present with ties to Primal Fear, Gamma Ray, and Metalium among others – it’s wonderful to hear veterans willing to forge ahead in tried and true genres for audiences near and far to treasure.
We reached out to drummer Michael Ehré to find out more about the band’s latest album and catch up on all things related to The Unity. We discuss the band’s internal chemistry, some of the social / political content on the new record, video clips, and fair discussion on how bands need to tour to make any money in this tumultuous industry.
Dead Rhetoric: Pride is the third and latest studio record for The Unity. Where do you see this album fit in the discography and style of the band – do you feel like you’ve established key elements and formulas for delivering your songs?
Michael Ehré: I guess with the new album we’ve managed to have a big variety in our songwriting. We are noticing our path, all the songs are recognizable as The Unity songs, but if you hear a song like “Rusty Cadillac” we have never done a song with this special shuffle rhythm that you know from bands like Mr. Big or Van Halen. That’s what we would say we are really proud of, the fact that you can still hear that it’s The Unity. We haven’t sacrificed our style for some new elements that we wanted to have on the album just to have something new on the record.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the variety happens as a result of the multiple songwriters you have always had within the band? Does it make things harder to see what makes the final track listings?
Ehré: We have a luxury because we are a six-piece band and five out of the six of us are songwriters, so this is probably the reason for this variety. We are not 20 years old anymore, we are all around 50 years old, adults, and we know what we want as a band and what the band needs in terms of songwriting and the style of the band. We didn’t have much more songs than the ones that made it on the record. We maybe had demo versions of two or three songs more than the twelve that made the final record. It wasn’t that hard to pick the songs – I once heard from a band that had twenty-five songs to pick twelve, but for us it’s different.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to remain consistent in the sextet lineup since the start – what factors do you believe contribute to that proper chemistry and consistency? Do you believe it’s important to respect one another as individuals when trying to assemble the right players for The Unity and achieve what you set out to achieve as a band?
Ehré: Yes, absolutely. The band name The Unity, it’s something that’s really happening with the band. We are also really proud of being a union. We all know what we want, we all discuss but we never fight. It’s not like twenty years ago when some people in the band had a big ego and wanted their ideas on the record, then the band would split or would leave because of that reason. This will be our last chance to establish a known band, because of our ages. We are all very careful, and handing the situation carefully. We are all grown up people, very experienced as musicians and how to behave in a band. Discuss your ideas, but don’t bring it to the limit and go over the top with your arguments and your ego.
Dead Rhetoric: The lyrical content varies between normal metal topics and some social/ecological concerns that matter on a global basis. Discuss the importance of versatility on the word front, and does it open up broader discussions amongst your fans because you are bringing these issues on the table through songs like “We Don’t Need Them Here” and “Hands of Time”?
Ehré: That’s what we did on the first two records as well, but maybe this time it’s more obvious. You may have seen the video clip on YouTube for “We Don’t Need Them Here”, that was the first single we had for the new album. We knew that the moment that we picked this song, that we can’t make a video clip with a love story, because it wouldn’t fit to the music and lyrics. We came up with the idea that came up in the video, showing all kinds of people that are known in the history of mankind for being very radical. In Germany, from the second World War we are still very carefully handling this theme. We don’t want that to ever happen again, the radicalism from the left side and not from the right side. The main message for us, and the song, if everybody takes care of themselves and not hurting other people, do what you like without hurting other people, it would make life way easier nowadays.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the decision behind using a minimalistic cover art approach for Pride this time around?
Ehré: That’s a good question. We don’t have something like a character or a symbol, like Iron Maiden would have with Eddie or Gamma Ray with Fangface. We always have to think about, an artwork for the new record. We came up with an idea of an old book, a metaphor for our age. We are all around 50 years old in the band, we have a lot of things to tell. Each musician has a long history of being a musician, and we thought about this book being a symbol for that. That was the main reason, actually.
Dead Rhetoric: You went for two different video approaches when it comes to “We Don’t Need Them Here” and “Line and Sinker”. How do you feel about those choices for visual clips, the process of working on them, and how video is perceived in today’s landscape compared to the days of MTV ruling the world?
Ehré: Nowadays for the band it’s much easier to release a video on YouTube and make the people watch it. Back in the days when you had Headbangers Ball on MTV or here we had Hard N Heavy, it was a thing that was happening once a week for one or two hours. I imagine if this were still around for a band like us it would be nearly impossible to be on that kind of show. There are tons of bands around and everyone wants a piece of the cake.
I’m glad nowadays we have the chance to promote ourselves on the internet, on YouTube, and all these different platforms. On the other hand, you have to have the video clip. We have always managed to have at least two, sometimes three, this time we have two. This forces you to deliver something that will catch the attention of the people without a million-dollar budget, you know? It’s not that expensive, but you don’t sell that many records anymore – a lot of people are streaming the music. If you have a Spotify account for ten dollars a month, how can that be split up for all the bands in the world? We have to make sure that with the possibilities that we have that catches the attention, quality, and this is not easy. I’m happy though that we’ve managed to have something cool again for the new record.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to establish yourselves as a strong live band on opening/special guest slots for tours with Axel Rudi Pell, Edguy, and Sinner – and now will be embarking on tours across Europe with Freedom Call and Rhapsody of Fire. Discuss the importance in today’s ever changing musical landscape of the live performances and their overall impact to establishing and increasing the following for The Unity?
Ehré: This also has to do with the decreasing sales of CD’s nowadays. If you want to catch the attention for the metal and hard rock fans, you have to play live as often as possible and for as many as people as possible. That’s why we’ve chosen to do support shows for the first two albums because we know if we go on tour with a band like Edguy or Axel Rudi Pell, every night there will be 800-1,200 people. A pretty good start for a newcomer, because if we were to tour on our own, you can imagine there wouldn’t be as many people coming to the show because not that many people know of us. We went on these tours to spread our name and get more famous, build up a fanbase and this is what happened.
Last year in October and November, we did our own headliner tour. We didn’t have that much people in the audience, but we had between 150-250 people each night and that’s not bad for a band that’s been around two to three years. Another thing is all the bands these days make their money by playing live, not by selling records anymore. If you are Metallica, that’s different – but all the smaller bands, they have to sell tickets and merchandise to survive. These are the main reasons why we are so active in playing live shows.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you assess the development of your drumming from your early days to your current abilities? Are there areas you have to spend more time on, or have you changed aspects of your technique due to convenience and aging to not put as much wear and tear on the body?
Ehré: I remember when I joined Gamma Ray, I played my first show with them back in 2011. I became a member in 2012 and this was a big challenge for me. I was a metal drummer of course, I had played with Metalium, double bass and everything, but Gamma Ray was the next level for me. They had some speedier songs that I really had to work harder on, practice every day for a couple of hours to feel really comfortable playing all those songs. That was the last big challenge for me. Sometimes you have small little ones, but I’ve been playing drums for over forty years now. I’m quite good on the instrument, but it’s not like I can have a jazz band call me and play jazz. In the hard rock and metal genre, I’m feeling really comfortable. When it comes to The Unity, there was only one big challenge on the new record, “Rusty Cadillac”, but I liked it. Now when I listen to it, I’m proud of being able to play that shuffle rhythm and the song developed in this good way.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the development of The Unity now after three albums – are you satisfied with establishing this band and the acceptance in the melodic hard rock/heavy metal community? Do you set future goals within yourselves that you want to achieve to ascend up the ranks so to speak?
Ehré: If I say we are satisfied, that would mean we have reached our goal. We haven’t reached our goal, but on the other hand we are satisfied because when we see other bands that are fighting and struggling, the same level that we have in terms of a fanbase, I’m satisfied. I mention the tour we did last year, and people were following us from show to show, they invested a lot of money and time to see us every night. We had some fans from Japan come to Europe to watch us and see us on every tour. These are high expenses they have, booking flights, they don’t want us to put them on the guest list as they want to support the band with tickets, merchandise, they bring presents. We are working on the fact that it can get better. We hope that the bad situation of the music industry can make it so we can stay in the business a little bit longer. If you don’t sell many records, you don’t have as much of a budget to release a product that has a certain (level) of quality. If that ever happens, we should quit.
This is our aim and goal, to make the best album possible for us. It’s also a matter of what budget you have. One day I don’t know how the bands will survive.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy metal and hard rock in Germany currently?
Ehré: We have a lot of really cool bands here – Helloween, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, I could go on forever. I also recognize from other countries like Sweden, there are really good bands, especially in the AOR/hard rock style like H.E.A.T. and Eclipse, but also Hammerfall as a traditional heavy metal band. There is something happening in Sweden, and Italy has some really good bands like Rhapsody, and Labyrinth. I’m not sure that Germany is the center of metal anymore. We have the luxury of having this big Wacken festival here. When people think about Germany, they think of Wacken as one of the biggest heavy metal festivals in the world. Nowadays there are a lot of bands in other countries that are well-known and really good.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received when it comes to the music business?
Ehré: Be yourself. This is the best advice. If you want to be successful in what you are doing, you should do what you want and not what others want you to do. If you start to write songs because you think a certain band in the moment is really successful, and you try to copy that style, you are always the one that copied the style of that band. The people will recognize if something comes from your heart, or not. If you do what you like, what you love, and what you can do the best, there are for sure some people around that will like it too.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a film and cinema follower as a free-time recreation away from music, what have been some of your favorites over the years that capture your attention and inspire you?
Ehré: I’m a film freak. I have a home cinema with a big screen, a lot of Blu-Rays and 4K movies. The bad thing about this is I’m so busy at the moment I don’t have any time to really watch movies. Someday I will surely watch them. I like superhero movies, The Avengers, more Marvel style movies than DC. And I like documentaries from bands – I watched the Twisted Sister movie, I watched the Motley Crue movie on Netflix. Bohemian Rhapsody, I watched that movie at least three times. This is what I’m into – I like horror movies as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the future hold for Michael regarding The Unity – and are there plans for Gamma Ray in the coming years or are things just on standby due to the Helloween reunion with Kai?
Ehré: Everything is on standby. Kai is so busy with the new record from Helloween, and when the album comes out they will do another world tour for one and a half to two years. I don’t know when they will finish that – 2022 or 2023. I don’t know if anyone will remember Gamma Ray then. We did five or six festivals last year, but the last record we did was from 2014. I can’t tell any news because we have to wait for Kai – I joined Primal Fear last year, I did a record with them that will come out in the summer.
For The Unity, we are working on plans for some shows in November or December of this year, but I don’t have any details as of yet.