Schmier (Destruction): „You got to believe in what you do and keep the ball rollin’!“

Photo: Isabela Lopes

When you say “Destruction” among metalheads, most of them won’t think of something bad. Not necessarily because they love destruction per se, but because they’re fans of the band with the same name – the legendary German thrash metal titans formed back in 1982. After certain line-up changes and the making of a new album after three years, this band came back stronger than ever. Despite all the bad things they’ve encountered in their career, just like pretty much every other group does, Destruction seems to be – indestructible. The founder and the frontman of this metal machine, Schmier, kindly accepted my invitation to do an interview for Balkanrock, and shared many interesting and fun stories – starting from the band’s upcoming release and new members, moving to the distant past and Destruction’s first steps onto the metal scene, all the way to recalling their shows in Serbia and giving a piece of advice to all the youngsters out there. Fasten your seat belts, it’s time to dive into “destruction”!

Balkanrock: 2019 already seems like a really big and important year for Destruction – your new album is coming out in August and you’re a four piece again after a long time. How’s the atmosphere in the band given those circumstances?

Schmier: It’s actually great. It wasn’t so easy to become a four piece again because we’ve been very comfortable as a trio. There aren’t many trios left, so it was kind of a special thing for us to be a three piece. But, on the other side, two guitars was a nice challenge again and we just had to find the right guy. With Damir, we found the right guy. He already played some solos on our last album, he’s a good friend of the band and he really fits in the group very good. We want to make sure that we make good decisions, and it wasn’t easy to make this one, but now that it’s done, we have already played many shows together and it feels great. I actually wish we’ve done this earlier, but sometimes you have to wait until the time is right. The time was right for this new album and it was the best decision we made in many years I think. It feels really good for the band, the fans love it, so yeah, the atmosphere is awesome!

Nuclear Blast’s official promo photo

BR: As you’ve just said, Damir Eskić recently joined you as a second guitarist, and last year Randy Black joined on drums. Lineup changes are a common thing among bands and they usually aren’t easy, but here it seems like it all came naturally and that you gave both of them a really warm welcome into the „family“?

Schmier: I think it’s always important how everything comes across. I think Damir is a great and super skilled player, he’s connecting with people through his playing, he’s a very positive person, always in a good mood. When all of this comes together, it fits really good. I’ve also known him for many years and I knew he would fit into Destruction really well with his positive energy, because he also gives that energy to the crowd. I never expected that so many fans would come to him after the shows, also to me, and congratulating him for being in Destruction and saying: “Please stay in the band, we love it!” or “Thank you for bringing back the second guitarist!” etc. We knew it would be a challenge to do this and we didn’t know what to expect from the fans’ side, it also could’ve ended badly, you never know. Our first attempt with two guitars wasn’t so easy, but this time everything turned out so positive which was a really nice welcome and a surprise in a way. It’s been going really good for both of them actually, you can see it from the crowd, crowd loves the positive vibes. Both Damir and Randy are good players, professionals on stage, and fans really appreciate that, as well as the the great chemistry between all the band members which they can probably feel too.

BR: New release, „Born To Perish“ is on its way, as it’s aforementioned. As an artist, you probably look at each album as a new chapter in your career which marks certain things. What do you think this record will mark in Destruction’s long-time history?

Schmier: As it is a special album, a first album as a four piece again, it will definitely mark a special moment. Also, I think this album became a really strong one. You never know when a new team is coming together if it will work out well or not, many fans are afraid whether this Destruction still sounds like Destruction with these new people in the band etc. But I think the positive input from the other guys was helping us out to make a really strong record and that it still sounds like Destruction, it’s a great album. I think we’re gonna look back at it in some years and be proud, it’s a game changer for us. We’ve written a lots of great songs on this record and I’m also looking forward to perform those songs live because now with two guitars it just sounds wicked.

BR: Your fans are used to „never going wrong“ with Destruction because of your continuity in making classic thrash metal tunes, but is there something you would like to point out about this album which would tease the impatience even more?

Schmier: Many people wrote me like: “Hey, I like the new song, hopefully the rest of the record is as good as the song!” and I can promise you that the rest of the record is this good. I think it’s difficult to find a shitty song on the this album because it has a lot of classic tracks, very catchy moments, lot of brutal moments, surprises also. I think the song “Born To Perish” stands for the album, in the speed, technical ability and catchiness, but the rest of the album is just as good. At least four or five songs are, in my opinion, as strong as BTP.

BR: Mentioning your continuity, you stayed true to the core of thrash metal sound throughout all your releases, and the new, just mentioned single which came out few days ago, title track “Born To Perish”, seems to confirm that. It feels like you are finding an endless inspiration in this genre, so did the process of making BTP take it to the next level, inspiration-wise?

Schmier: What we always do is to put out a resume after the last album and look back: what can you do better, what can you change, how can you be more efficient in the song writing or what stuff you didn’t like on the previous album, and I did this also when we started the writing for BTP. We changed some procedures in the writing, recording, we were more focused in terms of taking some time off from live shows when we recorded the album, which was something we didn’t do on the last one. Even though it was good for us to have some breaks from touring, having too many breaks is also a little bit disturbing sometimes. So we tried to focus on this album in a very good way and, of course, we wanted for the new guys to make some impact on it. Randy contributed to some really cool drum beats to the album, and Damir had lots of freedom in shredding the lead guitars, putting overdubs and leads into the song etc. We wanted to put the new guys into the new songs and I think this was the most productive aspect we managed to keep in order to maintain this album exciting – try some new stuff, but also stick to your roots, stick to your guns. We’re a thrash metal band, we kind of started this genre with some other bands so it’s always important to defend your style, to know what you can do best. It’s really funny sometimes when people are putting shitty comments on YouTube like “Ohh, you’re repeating yourself” and stuff, but I’m telling you something, only the most successful bands in the world maintain their own style. Look at the history of heavy metal, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, AC/DC, they always did the same because they also had their own style and that’s something you have to achieve, which is why I’m very proud of Destruction. It’s moving on, but we’ll still be a thrash metal monster all alive!

Photo: Lucas Szumsky

BR: You continued collaboration with Nuclear Blast which you are a part of from the beginning of 2000s. Even though you briefly changed the label in the meantime, you returned to NB in 2011. It seems like that is the label that makes you feel like home after all?

Schmier: Yeah, it’s the best label for a heavy metal band. We tried many labels before NB, in between as well for some years, and we came back. Now I’m very happy that we can have another, hopefully, five to ten years with them again. They are the most caring label you can have in a heavy metal genre. We have all the freedom of an artist, we do everything ourselves, they are not trying to change the band, they give us good hints, they cooperate very well with us. Heavy metal fans working at the label understand the music really good. It’s a difficult time for labels nowadays because physical copies are going down and many of labels are dying, so I really hope Nuclear Blast will always stay at the top of the game and be our home for the next years because I’ve never been in a better and more fair label than this one.

BR: Since Destruction is a part of the German big four / Teutonic four (next to Kreator, Tankard and Sodom) an inevitable question must be related to the possibility of all of you touring together. Is there a chance for that to happen in the near future?

Schmier: The time is running out and I was always the guy who put pressure or tried to put pressure on the other bands to make it happen, but for some years it was really hard. Everybody was busy, everybody had their own problems or line-up changes, so that wasn’t so easy to do. I’m very happy to say we’ve been talking again a few weeks back and there’s some movement again in this conversation. So, there’s a very good chance that this will happen in a near future. I think there’s a possibility for this to happen in Europe in 2021. Not next year because this needs a lot of planning and it’s not easy to have three or four headliners touring together, but it will happen I think, I’ve never been this positive as now after we had that long conversation. I know we all know that the fans really want to have this worldwide, everybody’s asking for it. We all know that the time is running out, we’re getting older and it’s not getting easier to accomplish this, so we have to do this now, in the best years for us when we’re also producing great albums at the moment. So, it will happen, there’s a big hope from me and I also think that the fans will love to hear the new step in talking again about that.

BR: Talking about the big four, all of you started your careers in the early/mid ’80s, the golden age for metal music. When thinking of those days, what would you say was the biggest advantage/disadvantage when forming a band, comparing nowadays?

Schmier: Back in the day the scene was really small. When we started, we were the first heavy metal band in the area. Destruction and some friends, at that time we were the only heavy metal fans, the first metal fans that existed in our area basically. So the big problem was to get shows, to get venues, to get rehearsal rooms, to get recognition. Also, in the beginning because there were no magazines, this was all before the first Metal Hammer magazine started. Actually MH started at the same time, in 1982 or so, which means it was just very difficult to get information, to keep in contact, so there was a big tape trading scene at the time. That’s what we did, we sent cassette tapes with new music from all over the world and that’s something you cannot really imagine anymore nowadays. Nowadays we have the internet and everything is so fast and so quick, and we can get messages so fast, everything is just global. Back in the day you had to wait for a letter for weeks and weeks, you had to wait until cassette from America came over and back and forth… I remember one of the first guys who wrote to Destruction from the States was Katon, the singer from Hirax, he was the first Destruction fan. He sent us some American music and we sent him some European metal, and that was very difficult back in the days. So, as great as those times were, it was very difficult to be a band.

BR: Is there something you really miss from that time which is not really present anymore today, when it comes to metal scene in general?

Schmier: We have the tendency to go back and glorify the past too much. I’m more of a realistic guy. I see how great it was back in the day, but I also see lots of obstacles we had. I think we didn’t have all those great festivals like now for instance. If you think it’s bad on the internet nowadays because of all the fighting about genres, it was worse back then. Thrash metal people and heavy metal and power metal and hard rock people weren’t hanging together, so I think the scene has progressed in a more positive way all over the globe. Also, it was more difficult for us to tour the world in that time, many parts of the world were taboo and we couldn’t play there, and now because of globalization it’s easier to transport bands and to have a communication. I think I’m not missing much from that time, but the greatest thing about being young is the spirit you have, that’s something you may not recreate anymore. When you do something for the first time, the first time when our album was in the stores, the first time you played live, the first time you played in a certain country, the first experience with a woman and stuff… That stuff you will never recreate because when it happens for the first time, it’s always the best. So maybe I’m missing that, the moments, the special moments for the first timers, but in general, experience is something great in life. We live on this planet to get experience, to learn, and I think I’m enjoying that a lot in my age now.

Photo: Monika Wawrzyniak

BR: Going down the memory lane, do you remember that breaking moment in your life when you decided this is what you want to do and dedicate yourself to? How did that moment look like for you?

Schmier: I think it’s something that came slowly. When we started playing music, we never believed we could be professional musicians. It came step by step, even if it came fast because I think we achieved our success really quickly, but we didn’t really understand it, we didn’t really believe it would last. It’s something we enjoyed, but also we thought it would go away and we were like: “hey, let’s have a good time, and in some years no one will remember the band!” And we also had some difficult times when the band split up and everything. So I think looking back is, of course, fantastic because of the long journey of the band, it’s something that you never expected to happen – that now, 36 years later, we’re still in the scene, heavy metal still exists, we can still tour the world… That is actually magic to me, it’s something we’d never thought it would happen. (BR: So it came like a surprise?) It really came like a surprise, and being a professional musician also came step by step. All of a sudden we were famous enough to be able to do that.

BR: When building your name in the music industry, you must’ve encountered lots of obstacles and problems as you have already mentioned, but there you are, still standing strong after more than three decades. What kept you going all this time?

Schmier: I think life in general is about standing up again when you fall down. Destruction had a lot of difficult breaking points in the career, we had line-up changes, we had break ups, we had a great restart in 1999 with a comeback. After that we also had some changes, some difficult years and we came back again… And it’s all about that, you have to get up again, you have to stand up, and I think music is one of the greatest gifts you can have. What we have here is, of course, being able to work on a professional level for so many years, but it’s very difficult in a normal life scenario. Many of your friends don’t understand what you do, you’re never at home, if you have a girlfriend or a wife she’ll always be troubled because of your job, so it’s not easy to keep this alive and fresh. The normal environment will always be in the way for a musician, so you have to arrange your life. I’m still very happy that I could do this for so long and still be a part of it, I cherish every moment all the time. Sometimes I wake up in a different city in Japan or wherever and I’m like – “what the fuck dude, you’re a lucky motherfucker, you can still do this after all these years and still enjoy it!” I think you have to be born a gypsy for this lifestyle.

BR: In the last, let’s say 10-15 years, a certain thrash metal revival happened and you could’ve seen tons of bands playing ‘80s thrash, wearing the exact same clothes from that era, even having the same hairstyles. It’s clear that Destruction had an immense influence on many of those bands all around the world. How do you feel about it and are there some new young acts from this genre you enjoy listening to?

Schmier: In every country we played there’s a lot of young bands playing thrash metal. Here in Germany, of course, some of those bands supported us, and also in America we had a lot of bands supporting us from that young, next generation. We always try to bring some of those acts on tour with us, because I think for me it’s very special that the whole new generation of thrash metal groups is out there. I remember in 1999/2000 when we came back, there was no thrash scene anymore, everything was about melodic death metal, and now we’re proud of this new generation of kids playing thrash metal and understanding the spirit of thrash. We’re going to do a headline tour at the beginning of next year where we might also bring some new bands with us. There are too many new names to mention actually, because I think every country in the moment has some new young talents. I’m really looking forward to see the next generation because with time the big bands will eventually stop playing, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc, they have only a few years left before they retire and the same will happen to the big thrash bands. Slayer is already stopping now, hopefully Destruction, Kreator and Sodom will have some more years, but yeah, the new generation will rise and they will have their chance. It’s just great that noncommercial music that is not supported by the mainstream media and is not recognized by the mainstream people still has such a long life and makes me, of course, proud of our scene. (BR: I hope so too, that the new bands will have at least a little bit of luck like you did back in the days, but that is yet to be seen!) Yeah, it needs luck, and endurance. We were lucky because we were in the beginning, the first bands who did it, but also many bands from our time split up and had their problems, so… You got to believe in what you do and keep the ball rollin’ I think, that’s the most important part. We were lucky, I was 17 when I made my first album, but I know a lot of other musicians who had to be older to make their first success, so it’s never too late, that’s the whole rule about rock ‘n’ roll!

Photo: Fanny Dudognon

BR: Back in 2005 you made a great song, “The Alliance Of Hellhoundz”, which was actually a collaboration with many famous and legendary musicians from the scene (Doro Pesch, Shagrath, Paul Di’Anno, Peter Tägtgren, Biff Byford etc.) Would you like to do something similar again, but with some other musicians?

Schmier: It was a great collaboration, and it was also a lot of work for one single song. But at the moment when I did it I was so much into it, and it was such a great moment to have the chance to get some of the best singers in heavy metal to sing in a Destruction song. I think for me it was outstanding and I would always do it again. It was special to work with these people, Paul Di’Anno and Biff Byford were some of my biggest influences, so it was magic for me. I still love to look back and hear the song and look at the video, and for me it’s a historical moment.

BR: You played in Serbia at the Legacy Festival in Belgrade in 2008 and at Exit Festival in Novi Sad in 2017. Do you have some fond memories from those concerts related to the audience, the atmosphere, the hospitality, food maybe (haha)?

Schmier: Serbia is all about meat so I remember the food of course, there was a lot of meat and ćevapčići, big piles of meat haha. I remember the show in Serbia was also very special for us because it was the first time that we played a festival in former Yugoslavia after the war. We were wondering how it is going to be, are there gonna be people from all over coming to the show… It was nice to see that it reunited everyone, because metal fans are metal fans, they’re here for the music. But then we also had that very sad moment when the promoter didn’t pay us at this festival, and that was the first time in our career that the promoter didn’t pay us twice (in 2009 on our cancelled headline show in Belgrade as well) so that left a really bad impression on the whole appearance of the festival actually. I also remember some other bands didn’t get paid as well. But then we could come back on the Exit Festival which was fantastically organized, everybody made us a really great welcome so that was a great resurrection for us to come back in a very positive way. We also saw there are really good promoters in Serbia now promoting metal. It’s always difficult to find good people building up the scene in a good way. I think many countries have such problems because we’ve been playing in certain places in America for instance, which have some of the best metal scenes in the world, but we had problems with the concerts because of the promoters. I think it takes a lot of experience and trust from the crowd to build up the scene, and of course good concert promoters. I’m glad to see that Serbia now, as I said, has really good promoters and that the bands are coming back to play the festivals, so hopefully you can bring back Destruction in Belgrade for the Thrash Fest tour in February!

BR: A new album is always followed up by a new world tour, and since you already toured the world countless times, which is the place you’re most looking forward coming back to (except Serbia, of course)?

Schmier: Haha, I think we live on such an amazing planet that it’s really difficult to answer this question. Every country has its pros and cons and amazing stuff. Japan, for instance, the culture and the people, that’s a country I always love coming back to. I love Australia because it unites different things, it has a part of Europe, it’s a little bit like America also, nature is lovely, people are very friendly and open. I love to play in Latin America because the fans are just the wildest and the best. But I also love to play in countries where it’s more difficult to play, Muslim countries, like Malaysia, Turkey, which was always great. Of course I’d love to come back to Serbia because, as everybody knows, Serbia has the most beautiful women in Europe, so…  You have to see the world and that is my biggest gift as a musician. I’m lucky that I can see the world and to meet all those fans and all those cultures, that’s why I never get tired of touring, never get tired of doing what we do best, which is being on the road. (BR: It’s rather visible that you’re enjoying what you do!) I think you do the best job when you love what you do.

BR: In the end, instead of sending kind regards and messages to your fans in Serbia, is there an advice you would love to give to all the young boys and girls out there who are trying to make it through with their own groups?

Schmier: Don’t play music for the money and for the success. Play the guitar or any instrument because you love the music and then success might come along. If success doesn’t come, then just enjoy the music because the music is the biggest gift you can have in life. And I think that the important message is not to give up from what you love. If you just do this for the money and the fame, you might never get satisfaction, but you will get satisfaction if you play music because you love it, and that should always be a reason for every musician to play. In this business you need to learn to stand up and to do it again, and you never give up, that’s rule number one in music business. (BR: So you have to feel this in every cell and every bone in your body!) Exactly!