Interview with vocalist Robert Gonnella
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 23, 2020
Anyone who followed the German thrash scene in the early eighties surely came across the band Assassin from Düsseldorf. Robert Gonnella was the first vocalist for these German thrashers from 1985 to 1989 as then returned for a second tour from 2002 to 2014. He sang on the band's classic albums, Upcoming Terror (1987) and Interstellar Experience (1988).
Robert moved to Beijing, China, in 1994 to live there with his wife. While there, he formed his own band called Raging Mob, which consisted of three Chinese musicians and one from America. They recorded one self-titled full-length album that was released by the small Chinese label Mort Productions on December 19, 2008.
In 2012, he moved back to Germany while still focusing on his main band Assassin. Two years passed and then he decided to quit the band due to some disagreements with his band mates. After some brainstorming, the sky cleared, metaphorically speaking, and he formed a completely new band. After a couple of months finding suitable guys to join this new band, Raging Rob was born in 2014. As for what happened after that, it's better if we just let Robert tell the story of his new band and what lies ahead...
Hey Rob! How's it going in Düsseldorf, Germany? Is the Corona situation bad in Düsseldorf at the moment?
Rob: Hi Luxi, hi everyone! Everything's okay in Düsseldorf. I am with my family and staying home. Nothing much is going on here at the moment, I guess.
Everyone who has ever followed the German thrash metal scene obviously knows your history in Assassin. After you left the band in 2014, did you regret this decision?
Rob: No. I don't regret my decision to leave Assassin. The band changed and it wasn't the same as it used to be. The band's style didn't fit me, so I left.
Can you tell me what your proudest moment in Assassin was, being it a single gig that you will always remember or some single recording?
Rob: Well, there were many great moments while I was in the band. One of them, for example, was Wacken. Playing at the Wacken festival in 2003 was one of the greatest things we ever did. It was really great.
You moved to Beijing, China, in 1994 and lived there for several years. When you lived in China, you were in a thrash metal band called Raging Mob, which you have kept going, but naturally, with a different lineup. Could you tell us how you found the three Chinese musicians and the one from America and start making music together?
Rob: Yes. I moved to Beijing, China, in 1994 and stayed there until 2012. In the beginning, I did not have a band in Beijing. When Assassin was coming back around 2000 or 2001, we started to rehearse, and I wanted to have a band in Beijing to keep fit so I would have experience and practice. I found a new band with an American guy and three Chinese fellows. We called that band Raging Mob. I made the connection through our manager, Yu Yang, at that time. To add about Raging Mob, we made a record in 2008 and we took part in Wacken Metal Battle China. We won it in 2010. We had some good success.
You released a self-titled album with this lineup in China in December 2008, and it got some good reviews in the music magazines. Is this album one that still makes you proud, even today? You played quite a lot of shows in China with Raging Mob. I am curious to know what those shows were like, as I myself have never been to a concert in China. What is a Chinese metal crowd like? How do they behave or act at a metal show?
Rob: Yes, as I just said, we released a 10-track album in China, also called Raging Mob.
We played many concerts around Beijing and Tianjin, in the north of China. They were strangely organized. For example, they don't like one band or three band lineups. They like eight bands lineups and each band plays sometimes three, four songs. That's something which I never really liked. Sometimes you couldn't change clothes in a dressing room. It was a very underground way to work with things.
GETTING A NEW BAND TOGETHER
When you moved back to Germany, you formed a new band, Raging Rob. Was it clear right off the bat that once you settled down in Germany again, you would put together a new band and start playing metal music?
Rob: When I moved back to Germany, I was still in Assassin. We had just released the Breaking the Silence album and then we did a South American tour. We also went to Italy. Then, my fellow bandmates were working on new material using computers and all that, which I didn't like. We didn't rehearse at all. That's when I decided to leave the band. I immediately formed my own band, Raging Rob, and got some good close friends to join it whom I had known since the '80s. Frank (Nellen) who was the drummer in Assassin in 1987-89 joined the band. And yes, it's no surprise that we play old school thrash metal.
Was it a time-consuming process to find the right guys to play in Raging Rob?
Rob: It was not so difficult to find the members for Raging Rob because I knew people from the '80s when we rehearsed in one building that had many rehearsal rooms. There were many friends who were guitar players, bassists and drummers. I called up Dirk (Preylowski). He was in Warrant at that time and he joined in as the guitarist and main songwriter. Rudi (Görg), also a friend from the '80s, recommended his friend, Maik (Jansen), who also joined this band. Frank, the old Assassin drummer was the last person to complete the lineup. It took maybe a couple of months to find the right guys and then we were ready.
Would you say that you feel blessed and very fortunate for having a chance to work with these guys and make new music with them?
Rob: Of course! I felt very blessed, especially having Dirk Preylowski, our guitar player, in the band lineup. He was the main songwriter and he did a lot of the work in the studio, guitars, bass and also helped out with the production, with the mixer, Markus Frehn. Frank, our old friend and a great drummer, was really great and I really enjoyed making music with him.
How important was it for you to get Frank Nellen behind the drums, who has a long history with Assassin, just like you do?
Rob: It was great that Frank joined immediately after he heard we were about to form a new band, combining old Assassin material with our own new stuff. It felt just like the old Assassin days, having the right spirit and stuff. It was very important for me that he joined the band as well.
ALWAYS THE TRUE ASSASSIN
Raging Rob was formed in 2014 and four years later, you released your 12-song debut album, Always the True Assassin on the small Chinese label Infected Blood Records, in 2018. Could you kindly tell us about the songwriting process for this album and what it was like to record it? Do you feel you got the kind of album that you had sketched in your mind in advance?
Rob: Raging Rob is definitely '80s thrash metal. We're all over 50. I think Maik is 40-something. We wanted to make '80s-style thrash metal like the old Assassin days. That was the aim of recording the album Always the True Assassin. That's why I altered the title. The album was released on a Chinese label, Infected Blood Records, in 2018. We rehearsed a couple of years, with some breaks in between.
Finally, we went to the recording studio. First, Frank recorded the drums in a separate studio. Then, Dirk recorded all the guitars, bass and solos in another studio, where I also recorded my vocals. As for the sound on that record, Dirk, Markus, the producer and I, we really enjoyed the outcome and it's like old school '80s thrash and that's really cool in my opinion.
What made you decide to cover "Resolution 588" off Assassin's Interstellar Experience album? Is it one of your favorite Assassin songs and also nice to play live?
Rob: We decided to choose "Resolution 588" because it's such a great song from the Interstellar Experience album. I especially like the drums on it, which Frank plays in a very special way, with a hi-hat in between in a fast rhythm. That's why we recorded it and it fits the album very well, too.
I bet you have some new material ready for the band's next outing, would you like to share some thoughts about what you have composed since 2018?
Rob: Dirk has some new material ready, but because of the Coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately we cannot rehearse. We will be waiting for better days to come.
Have you guys talked about when you might enter the studio and record your next album?
Rob: We never really talked about making the next album, but, in my opinion, and maybe some other people's opinion as well, it would be a great if we made another album. But let's see...
How important is it to stick to your roots and do what you love doing most, i.e. playing old school thrash metal?
Rob: As I said, I'm over 50 now, so I know '80s thrash by heart. That's what I have always done and something that I am going to do in the future. I guess it will always stay that way for me. That's the thing I can do best. I'm a bad actor, so I guess playing other kinds of music wouldn't fit for me.
What do you think of the current version of Assassin and have you been in touch with Jürgen Scholz (Assassin guitarist since 1984) over these past years?
Rob: I don't really like the new Assassin style. Sometimes I get a birthday wish from Jürgen, but to be honest I don't have any contact with the rest of the Assassin members.
...AND THE FUTURE?
As for playing live, it's naturally very hard to guess when it will be possible for bands to start performing live in front of other humans because of this virus situation. How much effort have you put in to getting some shows booked for the fall?
Rob: We actually played one live show with Raging Rob earlier, but right now, as I said, we are taking a break due to the Corona situation. When we will get back to playing live again, we don't know yet, of course. Everybody also has a personal life, but I definitely would love to play some shows again.
How much do you miss playing live and having normal interactions with people through live shows?
Rob: Yes, I definitely miss playing live shows. I really enjoy playing shows with my band. I hope we are able to play some live shows in the future.
Well, I think that was all I had in mind, so thank you, Rob, for your time in chatting with me and all the best for all of your comings and goings with this band. If you have anything else in your mind you'd like to say, here's your opportunity to do so... ;o)
Rob: Luxi, thank you very much. I really want to thank you for making this interview.
I definitely hope the band can play some live shows in the coming months and perhaps even another album. Hopefully, all this will come true someday.
All the best and health to you and everyone else, too. Thrash 'til death!
|Other information about Raging Rob on this site|
|Review: Always the True Assassin|
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