The Unity – Steady and StrongFriday, 19th May 2017
While Gamma Ray is on extended hiatus due to Kai Hansen shifting gears for a Keepers of the Seven Keys lineup reunion world tour, guitarist Henjo Richter and drummer Michael Ehré felt the need to explore some of their common musical interests by starting a new band. The Unity contains more melodic metal and old school hard rock influences that their power metal priorities in their mainstay musical outlet – exuding quality songwriting, musicianship, and diversity throughout on their self-titled debut album. Especially relevant to those who think highly of groups such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, and Judas Priest during the 1970’s and early 80’s- and desire newer artists that consider that style timeless.
After taking in copious playbacks of their record, seeking out Mr. Ehré on Skype would be the next priority. The man’s discography and live experience includes work with Metalium, Uli Jon Roth, and Firewind to name only a few – so the discussion would jump around from obvious questions regarding The Unity and the long development of this record, to talk about entering Gamma Ray back in 2012 and the subsequent pressure to replace a long-standing member, as well as thoughts on the art of metal drumming and the state of the scene. Even fighting fatigue as pre-production rehearsals prepare The Unity for their Sinner tour, Michael seems happy and excited for where his life is and will be going during this conversation.
Dead Rhetoric: The Unity started due to a mutual love of common musical interests for Henjo and yourself while performing and rehearsing with Gamma Ray. Where do you see the sweet spots between the two of you as performers and songwriters, and did you know straight away the type of direction you wanted to take this band?
Michael Ehré: Yes. The direction was clear from the first minute because Henjo and I quickly discovered the same musical influences and roots when we came together in Gamma Ray. Which is for example, a band like Whitesnake, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Dio, Judas Priest – we were pretty sure that the ideas that we had in mind were not really fitting in to a band like Gamma Ray. Our idea was to check out this chance to form a new band and follow this slightly different musical direction in comparison to Gamma Ray.
Gamma Ray is a pretty busy band, that’s true- but even if you are in this band, while touring and doing records- there is a lot of time left during the year where you can do other things rather than doing nothing. So we thought it was a good idea to form a new band and go in this musical direction.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering you recruited most of your bandmates from Love.Might.Kill, is this the logical continuation of that work, just with Henjo’s input also aiding the cause?
Ehré: On the one hand yes, on the other hand no. Because when I started Love.Might.Kill back in 2010, I was following the same musical influences that I do now with Henjo because, that’s where I come from and what I really love. Sure, I love what Gamma Ray is doing too, I have different genres in metal that I really like but maybe you know that I played in Metalium where we played some really true heavy metal and back in 2010 I had the wish and wanted to do something that is not only built on double bass and speed but also have some dynamics in the music. A cool slow song, also mix it up with fast stuff – I wanted to follow these roots that I grew up with. The coincidence was, Henjo has the same musical influences- so when we talked about building up a new band, it was a clear decision to ask my bandmates from Love.Might.Kill because the last album came out in 2012. After that our guitar player Christian (Stöver) left the band, and I was pretty busy with Gamma Ray. We didn’t really split up, but you know the machine started rolling. We knew the chemistry is right.
Dead Rhetoric: The process from development to completion of your self-titled debut album took 18 months – was this a conscious decision to take your time to get things just right, and how do you feel the overall process went? Were there any specific surprises, challenges, or highlights you’d like to tell us about?
Ehré: It was a decision that we made and we said that the album takes as much time as there needs to be to be the best that we can deliver. We are not 20 years old anymore, so if we do a record, let’s do it right. I (must) say that it took longer than 18 months to be honest, it was nearly two years – there were a lot of times when we thought, ‘okay-now it’s finished’ and we stopped listening to the album. One or two weeks later we would listen again and we knew it wasn’t finished- some parts had to be renewed or made better. That’s why it took so long. When we started, we didn’t have any record company so we didn’t feel any added pressure, we didn’t have any release date. When we finished the record, then we started to look for business partners that understand our ideas and like the music. Partners that (can) push the band to another level, you know. That’s why it took so long. With Love.Might.Kill we put out two records, and those records were quite good, but nothing really happened. This time it was clear, if we are going to do this, let’s do it right and let’s make decisions that we are really thinking about and we all knew we would be on the right way.
Dead Rhetoric: What made SPV stand out as the best choice for The Unity to sign with?
Ehré: SPV was the first label that we contacted, because I know their work from other bands, I know what they are doing and I knew if they believe in something, they really push it. That’s why we decided to ask them first, and thank God they were the first (label) and they were the only, because they were interested. They wanted to meet with us and talk about our plan.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe having multiple songwriters in The Unity keeps any sort of sameness away for the record – encouraging openness and variety?
Ehré: That was at least what we hoped. When you are in the middle of it, the songwriting or recording process, when you are in the middle of the production of an album, it’s hard to keep up your objectivity. You are so into this production at the moment that we always ask ourselves, ‘is there any danger that this record can be boring?’. We have 12 songs on the record, this album is almost 60 minutes, one hour of music. These days when everybody is only able to concentrate on one thing for maybe 2 or 3 minutes, it was really a challenge- and also a danger for us to make a record that’s one hour. This is my opinion, we made it in this way that doesn’t get boring. It has a red line… I don’t know if this is the right translation, it’s just one product with different songwriters, but if you listen to it, it has a kind of variety without losing the direction so to speak. We tried to sort out the different variety of songs.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of heavy metal drumming currently? Where would you like to see things develop and improve, or make newcomers think about either in the recording or performance aspects?
Ehré: All the young drummers get better and better. That’s what I see in the metal scene. If you look at all these modern metal bands, I have a 12-year old son and he grew up listening to hard rock and metal but now he’s more into the modern stuff- I know what kind of bands he’s listening to like Asking Alexandria, Bring Me the Horizon, Parkway Drive- if you listen to those drummers, they are really, really good. Good technique, they have power, they have speed, they have endurance. Compared to the time when I grew up, it’s really different because all of these young musicians – not only speaking about drummers, but musicians in general- they have much more opportunities to learn their instruments, and in the proper way. For example, when I was 12 years old, like my son is now, it was hard for me to get a drum kit because they were really expensive. Nowadays, you can get a cheaper kit, but also in good quality. If you are a beginner, you only need 150 Euro, about $140-$160 which is not very much money. My first drum kit was a kit made of plastic, I hit the drums and it totally broke down. This is the one thing.
With the internet, they have access to nearly every drum lesson you can imagine, and then can learn so much. I’m not always a fan of that because it’s always better to have a personal drum coach. Because sitting face to face a coach (can) give you better advice because he or she sees what you are doing in the wrong way, and can tell you how to try things another way. It’s not always good to always follow the internet- but you have access to everything you want. The parents grow up in another way than my parents did- we are maybe more relaxed and we have more understanding for young people that they want to learn an instrument, some of the thinking has changed. Things have changed during the last 20 years and that’s why I think the drummers nowadays, may be better than most of the drummers 20-30 years ago. Of course, there are exceptions when you are talking about Cozy Powell or Nicko McBrain- but there are also a lot of other drummers, not famous drummers, that were maybe not that good. When you listen to records nowadays there are a lot of unknown drummers that are really, really good.
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