Interview with Paul Speckmann from Master
Interview by LukeLord
When looking at the beginning of the Death Metal movement one of the foundation bands that cannot be ignored is Master. Originally hailing from Chicago and now based in Europe, Master may not have had the commercial recognition as some of their counterparts but there is no denying that Master played a HUGE influential part in the formation of the Death Metal scene. The driving force behind Master is Paul Speckmann, who has been a key figure throughout the extreme metal movement. Besides Master, Paul has been active in many bands- from the legendary Deathstrike and Abomination to the Czech death metal icons Krabathor. Paul is now living in Czech Republic and I caught up with him after his recent successful tour of the States.
HailMetal.Com: Paul can you give us a bit of history - what got you into metal, when did you start and the bands you have played with or been a member of?
Paul: I started listening to Metal when I was about fourteen. I actually got a late start. I began hanging around with a neighborhood friend Mike Baker, of course we hung around when we were kids, but we re-discovered each other the summer before I entered high school. He was a year older and already began. Mike turned me onto a friend Dan Neitzel and Dan and I began weightlifting together and listening to Sabbath, Zeppelin and Rainbow. It was cool because Dan had weight machines in his basement. During this period, I was looking through my older brother’s record collection and discovered a record called Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath. This record changed my life. I began going to Dan’s and hanging out, discovering the cool sounds of Hard Rock. I smoked my first joint there as well.
After starting school, I began to hang around with the freaks and began to grow my hair longer. I befriended a cat called Ronald Cooke, who would later become famous in a band called Thrust. Ron had heard me singing a song called All Good People from the band Yes, and asked me if I would like to audition for his band White Cross. After a less than mediocre audition, I was asked to join the group. My life was never the same after this. We played a few gigs and after a year the guys went their separate ways.
I left school early and never graduated, instead I found a job and began playing the bass at home. Mike Baker said I would never master the instrument, and I set out to prove him wrong.
I began learning tracks from Sabbath and Purple as well as UFO and the other flavors of the day. While returning home from my latest female conquest, I ran into an old friend, Steve Ahlers whom I met from the Cub Scouts of America when we were kids. He was working on his Volkswagon Beetle and we began to talk about music. He spoke about Judas Priest, and the Scorpions. He just purchased a new guitar and was practicing. We began practicing together for short while and another aspiring guitarist called Marty Fitzgerald entered the picture. We soon were a trio and Marty called the band Warcry. We found a killer experienced drummer called Joe Iaccino and began our fight for Metal. We played mostly covers and then began to write a few originals together. This lasted until I discovered a Venom single and life changed afterward drastically.
Joe quit around this time and Warcry managed to play one show with Bill Schmidt before firing him over a mistake live in the song Black Sabbath.
Bill and I began rehearsing together and looking for a guitarist. A year later this still came to nothing, so Bill recorded a demo with another Chicago group called Mayhem. My father just passed on so I was staying in his house until we sold it. I began writing a song called The Truth that coincidentally the band Death would actually cover on their first US tour. It’s a small world after all. I learned this fact from Terry Butler while on tour with Massacre and Denial Fiend in Europe as their merchandiser. I often work as a merchandiser in Europe for a company called Kraft Evention out of Germany. I have worked for them for the last six years between Master tours. Anyhow, I read an ad in the newspaper about a guitarist named Chris Mittelbrun and he seemed to be on the same page as I was. I called him and Deathstrike was formed. We recorded a demo in late 1984 and that was it. Bill Schmidt came back begging and pleading with us after hearing the demo, and asking if he could join the band. We made the mistake and he returned to the fold. We changed the name to Master again. I think the original lineup managed to play two or three shows on our ride together.
Master split up and I began a band called Funeral Bitch in 1986, followed by Abomination in 1987 and 88, and then Master again.
HailMetal.Com: When you first started Master did you have any idea that all these bands were starting around the same time, creating scenes all over the U.S and the world like Death in Florida, Sarcofago in Brazil, Hellhammer in Switzerland and Slaughter Lord in Australia?
Paul: Actually no, I had only first heard a Death rehearsal track along with The Exorcist from Possessed when I received a compilation demo in 1985 with these songs and a song from Master as well.
I did hear Hellhammer years later and as for the others, I still have never heard the actual tapes or records.
HailMetal.Com: Were you involved in the early tape trading scene?
Paul: I became involved in it when Troy Dixler from the Chicago legend Sindrome bootlegged a rehearsal of Deathstrike, and sent it to Evil Chuck, shortly after this, things quickly progressed. After we released the Deathstrike and Master demos people were buying them weekly throughout the world and this is how I came to hear many of the other successful bands that exist even today in some form or another. I remember corresponding with Bill Steer in the early days and I remember when he informed me that he quit Napalm Death and was forming a new band called Carcass. The tape-trading scene definitely connected a lot of us together back in the day.
HailMetal.Com: You are now living in Czech Republic, how did that come about?
Paul: I met the guys in Krabathor on a European Tour back in 2002 when they were the support act for Malevolent Creation and Master. We became friends after spending 44 days on a broken down German school bus. The drummer Skull and I began playing together and improvising during sound-checks before the concerts. Many times the guys complained and told us to shut up. We discussed a possible project in the future, and proceeded to record an albums worth of tracks called Martyr, Murder X the end of the game. During the recording of this rarely heard masterpiece, I was asked to join Krabathor because the original bassist Bruno had decided to go solo with his new band Hypnos. I accepted this position immediately, sold my stuff in the USA and after a bit of work, six weeks later, I made my journey to the Czech Republic. If you believe in music, you will travel anywhere to continue chasing your dream.
HailMetal.Com: Czech Rep. has had a very proud metal history with bands like the mighty Krabathor. Are you still a member of Krabathor? Any other good bands from Czech we should be checking out?
Paul: Krabathor was finished in 2004 when guitarist Christopher moved to the United States and became an American. Pandemia, Fleshless, and Root are worth checking out brother. There are many killer bands in this region, but too many to list.
HailMetal.Com: When you tour the States you have different band members that record with you in Europe is this correct? In October you toured with Estuary from Cincinnati. How did this tour go? Were you familiar with them before the tour?
Paul: I had a different lineup on the US tour because it has always been next to impossible to get work permits or visas for Czech citizens. The Americans just don’t want foreigners in their country, although the entire population of the USA comes from different lands. Alex Bouks from Incantation and Gorephobia filled in on guitar and an unknown drummer also from Philadelphia named Rustin Grosse toured with us as well. This lineup killed on a nightly basis. The tour was successful and now we will return again July of 2009.
I never heard of Estuary before, but I was quite impressed with the band. Zdenka is a killer growler.
HailMetal.Com: Do you think artists now have more control over the recording and design of their albums than they did in the past, and how have you approached the recording of the albums that you have done while with Twilight-Vertrieb?
Paul: I approach all albums in a similar fashion. I write songs for a year or so on a micro-cassette recorder and when the time comes for recording we usually work on the songs for one week and head to the studio. It certainly helps that the studio belongs to the brother of our guitarist and we rehearse just below in the basement. This makes things easier. No one has artistic control over the songs and covers. This control belongs to me alone, maybe that’s why so many people hate the covers of the albums.
HailMetal.Com: Going back in time a bit, when you recorded On the Seventh Day God Created Master , you were at Morrisound ,and there were a few guest appearances with John Tardy and Paul Masvidal helping out. How did they come about to play on the album? What other artists have made some guest appearances?
Paul: They were just really good friends with Scott Burns and had done several recordings with him before. I had problems with Jim Martinelli while in the studio due to his alcohol abuse and we had a time frame in which we had to finish the work of course. So Scott called in Paulie and for the price of a plane ticket from Florida to Florida, Masvidal recorded the tracks. I laugh now as he says in interviews coast to coast that the music was easy, blah, blah, blah. It only took him around 24 hours to complete the tracks and solos, and I actually think he did a killer job. He often says he wasn’t satisfied with the work he did, but many say this was the best work he ever did. On this album, John came in as a favor, six-pack in hand, and ran through the tracks and finished in about fifteen minutes. He is a real pro.
I would meet up with Donald and John Tardy at an airport in Germany to pick them up for the Fuck The Commerce Festival in Germany in 2004 and John would claim he didn’t remember me. Later in the evening I would smile as I saw him surrounded by fans and signing Master LPs. We had a successful tour together later in the year, so all is well that ends well.
HailMetal.Com: Master has always been about brutal, uncompromising death metal, and the latest release ‘Slaves to Society’ is no different. With all the years you have behind you as a musician, how do you keep inspired, and what do you do to keep things fresh?
Paul: The world is full of inspiration. Bush and his cronies have given me tons of inspiration every year since the idiot took office. I laugh as America tries to force its values and so-called democracy down the throats of everyone in all countries. It ¨really amazes me how all the gullible nations think America is the greatest. I cannot see it. I left the place many years ago and this was the best move I have ever made. I like standing on the outside looking in, standing on the outside taking a shit as Discharge said.
HailMetal.Com: It’s been well documented on your website how the deal with Combat records fell trough in the 80’s, how did you end up on Nuclear Blast? After quite a few albums released by them you ended up on another label, what happened with the relationship with Nuclear Blast?
Paul: Mitch Harris and Joe Caper from the band Righteous Pigs turned me on to Nuclear Blast. I met Joe at the woods and had a few beers with him. I then handed him a demo of the Abomination band’s first red demo and he forwarded this to Slatko at the label, and we were offered a contract for Abomination followed by a contract for Master one week later. I managed to get Bill and Chris in the studio after two rehearsals with just the drummer Schmidt and I. We recorded the epic debut in 1989 and broke up again the day afterward.
Nuclear Blast didn’t seem to like Collection of Souls, and Master were subsequently dropped by the fledgling label. Nuclear Blast still owes me thousands of dollars, but refuses to pay this.
HailMetal.Com: Although the first Abomination album had a few hints of the old Master sound (both it and Tragedy Strikes) have a more Thrash feel about them. Was this purely just an idea to start a fresh new band to get away from the original Master sound? Will we ever see another Abomination album or has the band been shelved permanently?
Paul: Yes Master was put to rest by the time we recorded the Abomination demos. This was a fresh start and as you said more of a Thrash band. I only put Master back together to record the CD, as I felt after all these years it was only fair to the fans to put out a proper release. The guitarist Dean Chioles died many years ago of ALS and the band will never record again. As for the drummer Nickeas, he quit music many years ago and is raising a family and running his own Quicky mart.
HailMetal.Com: The first Deathstrike album didn’t see the light of day till 1991. When was the album originally recorded and why was it not released back then?
Paul: The Deathstrike demo as it was called was only a demo and was never released, because we couldn’t find an offer and Master really took priority over things in 1985. We really never shopped for a deal and we didn’t have a clue how to go about it at this time. Schmidt was clever in these things and shopped the demo for Master, which I mostly paid for from the inheritance that was left to me by my father. As I said though the biggest mistake I made in this period was to let him return to the fold. After receiving the contract from Combat Records, the studio where we recorded was a friend of a legendary producer named Kim Fowley. He charged me one dollar per minute to read and re-write the contract. After Schmidt and his mother added a few ideas to the contract, Combat threw it in the garbage. So in the end my money was to be wasted.
HailMetal.Com: The majority of metal bands release albums along the themes of war, death, Satanism etc, yet the release ‘Spirit of the West’ is all about the Wild West, a theme normally covered in country music. Apart from Agony Column I cannot think of another band that has sung about the Wild West, what were the ideas behind recording this one? (The album cover is fantastic by the way; the photo of you on the front Paul reminds me of our own original outlaw Ned Kelly!)
Paul: Actually, there are only a few tracks about the Wild West, the majority of the CD deals with the issues that were being faced in the Western world at the time. Songs like Rights of life, deal with the fact that doctors play Gods. Sign up deals with the army situation and Uncle Sam. You’ll be blamed is anti Bush anthem. But yes, the cover and the idea were quite clever on mine and the labels part for sure. I like to change things around from time to time. Of course I covered the Ring Of Fire as a tribute to Mr. Cash. There is no particular formula in my eyes for Metal. I always do what ever the fuck I wish.
HailMetal.Com: Is there a new album coming soon in the near future? Have you thought about releasing a live DVD?
Paul: I really haven’t the time to write a new album at the moment. Master has about 35 dates coming up in Europe and then I will join the Waco Jesus tour four days later for 26 dates. I have one week at home and then I will do the merchandise for my buddies called Lividity. I will finally enjoy one month at home and then head to South America followed by America, so as you can see I stay quite busy. Maybe in the fall after the Six Feet Under Tour I will find the time for a new album. I hope to release a proper DVD in the future.
HailMetal.Com: You have toured internationally many times, where are some of the more interesting places you have been? Are there any places you would like to get to? Can you share some of the good and bad experiences?
Paul: Of course, South and Central America as well as Japan were quite interesting. The people in these countries are quite supportive of Metal in general. I have been trying to get to New Zealand and Australia for my entire career, but they say that they cannot guarantee the shows, so we will probably never get there. I cannot play shows for door deals as your region is too far to take a silly risk.
In Honduras we had a real adventure. We showed up at the venue and hung out for a bit. They only served warm beer and the drummer at the time Sage Johnson and I were interested in drinking some water on stage as it was completely hot inside. We proceeded to a shop nearby and bought a few bottles. When we returned to the club, the cloak room was ablaze. After watching for several minutes, we used a bottle of our own water to put out the fire. I figured this was the end of this. We took the stage and after around seven songs, chaos ensued. Someone in the crowd started to swing a board at other members of the audience. As blood poured through the air, I was mysteriously tapped on the shoulder. I turned around to see the stage filled with armed police. After looking at the machine gun, I said,“Un Momento Por Favor Senor,“
The officer smiled and I finished the song Mangled Dehumanization. We were escorted by the police to taxi cabs and proceeded to the bus station.
HailMetal.Com: The solo album ‘Speckmann project’ contained the tracks from the unreleased Master album plus some extra songs. Were these original songs re-recorded or just re-mixed?
Paul: This album was recorded because the owner of Nuclear Blast didn’t like the original Master recordings we just finished in Chicago. So after Master broke up, the label decided to offer us a new chance and we flew to Morrissound in Tampa and recorded the debut Master album again. This time the record was to polished, so in the end the Chicago recording was remixed by Scott Burns and was released as the debut. The album was recently re-issued on Displeased with all the solos that Scot forgot when remixed the debut. Aaron spent 5000 dollars of his own money to trigger the drums for the Florida recording so I thought we should release it anyway. It was released as the Speckmann Project. The versions of the songs on the Speckmann project were more thrash orientated.
HailMetal.Com: Did you ever use the infamous Morrisound recording studio? As Death Metal started to become more popular and bands were getting signed from everywhere, many of these bands used Scott Burns and Morrisound, which resulted in a lot of mediocre releases sounding very similar. Any thoughts on this?
Paul: Yes Burns recorded a few great records, but many were total shit and he was only concerned about the money he was making like many producers. He told endless tales about other bands and surely told tales after we left the studio. He made it a point to tell me that Morbid Angel and many other groups spent years trying to emulate Chris Mittelbrun’s guitar sound, but they as well as he never figured it out. Great job Chris. Speaking of Mittelbrun, we met up at the recent full packed Chicago show on a Tuesday in the city and we spoke of a reunion of some sort. We will record a new Deathstrike album in the next year and follow with a tour. I truly look forward to sharing the stage with Mr. Mittelbrun once again.
HailMetal.Com: On you website there is a killer picture of you and Ozzy from 1981, obviously both Ozzy and Sabbath were a huge influence on you. What were your other influences and favourite bands when growing up?
Paul: I was often listening to the first few records from Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, and Led Zeppelin. Butler, Lemmy, Harris and even Chris Squire were big influences on me. When I was in Warcry, I was more concerned with technique and was really working at this, but after hanging around with Schmidt, I was convinced that power and energy were more important than technique, and much of my earlier finesse gradually fell by the wayside. From then on less is more became my motto and I still believe this today. Everyone is trying to be the fastest and most technical and the energy on many occasions falls by the wayside.
HailMetal.Com: When the second wave of Black Metal started around 90-91 lots of Scandinavian bands were signed and released some truly awful sounding albums, yet talking shit about how ‘true’ they were and slagging death metal in general. I remember reading in an interview with John Tardy and him saying something along the lines of “well the guys in my band are all roughly around 180-200lb any these guys are all tiny so bring it on!” What was your take on Black Metal around this time?
Paul: I just thought it was a copy of Death Metal and still do. I fortunately had the pleasure of being on tour with the best Black Metal band ever called Dissection for twelve days. This band really delivered. At this time in 2004, I really wasn’t a big fan of the genre, but the two hour set that Jon and the boys delivered nightly really grew on me after the first few performances. It was quite unfortunate when Jon took his life for Satan. But I will give you one example about what I’ve said.
I was in the toilet in Germany taking a shit when I heard a familiar song being played at the sound check. Dissection was teasing me and playing Master. I came out with a smile in my face. Jon had told me that Master was a big influence to him as well as many other friends of his or enemies I should say like Dismember, and the rest of the successful Swedish scene. The world is really small. He spoke of seeing a band called Nausea in California playing the Master title track. Hell, Benediction told me that they played the song Terrorizer that Schmidt wrote for the first Master demo as an opening song for the first year of their shows. The magazine clearly got their name from this as well. Jesse Pintado and I ran into each other before his untimely death in Birmingham, England and he was going to play Funeral Bitch live in the stage with us, but the idiot sound engineer from Krabathor blew the electric and the show was cancelled, so we just got rip roaring drunk instead.
HailMetal.Com: How is life in Czech Rep. different from living in the States? You wife is Czech correct?
Paul: It’s a bit more relaxed. Everything isn’t so fast and stressful like back home. I can actually relax in the village after a Master tour. This is by far the best decision I ever made. I mean we get fresh eggs from the chickens every week from my in-laws. We make slivovice every year. My father in-law, grandpa and I, make wine the old fashioned traditional way. We have to harvest the grapes and this is just a fucking riot for me. Things are just done in the old ways here and I like this culture and way of living period. I like killing ducks, and rabbits for food. Sure you can go to the store and purchase these things, but it takes the adventure out of it. Yes I married a beautiful Czech woman. She works hard and really helps me in my crazy life.
HailMetal.Com: Australians are well known for the beer drinking abilities - so as an alcoholic Aussie I must know, which country has the better beer?
Paul: The Czech Republic and Germany are the winners as far as beer goes. It’s a natural product, and with the purification laws over here in Europe, you cannot go wrong!
HailMetal.Com: Finally Paul thanks for taking the time to do the interview! Is there anything you would like to add or say to your fans in Australia? We all hope to see you tour down here one day and catch up over a few beers!!
Paul: Yes try and find me a distributor or a license deal in Australia, so maybe we can get the funds to come over and share our music with you. Slaves To Society is a killer album. Check out the real thing and forget the cheap imitators of the genre. Speckmann