Interview with guitarist and vocalist Philipe Piris
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 17, 2023
German thrash metal is doing great these days, since the early eighties really, despite a few low points in the mid-1990s. There seems to be something special in German DNA that allows the country to produce quality thrash metal acts. It can be said there's an unending list of success stories and one of the better thrash metal bands to cross my path in recent years is this 4-piece act by the name Tempest.
This outfit from Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, released their debut full-length studio album, Point of No Return, independently in May 2022. It is such a fine and well-executed piece of Bay Area thrash; we contacted them to learn what's happened in the band since we interviewed them last back in October 2018.
The band's front man Philipe Piris (guitar and vocals) gave us a fair update of what's been going on since 2018, so read on and let Philipe reveal some secrets of powerfully riff-driven thrash metal and all that jazz...
How's life, Phil? Business as usual, eh?
Phil: Hi Luxi! I am doing fantastic, and hope you are doing great as well! To be fair, in the light of the current situation how well the band and I are doing could be called business as usual, I guess.
Last time we talked was back in 2018 when you guys released your 6-track affair, When Hate Has Domination, and a lot has happened since then. COVID restricted peoples' lives (no festivals, no shows, etc.) so I am wondering how these past years have been treating you and Tempest?
Phil: Wow, it's been a rollercoaster, some highs, some lows. We had some lineup changes, and the split between Tempest and Marco, one of the founding members, was an especially hard decision. On top of that, we had to find a new rehearsal space. However, we have found a fantastic and stable line-up with Gabor still hitting the drums, Simon Humpohl on guitars, and Daniel Gerth on bass. In general, the pandemic has treated us astonishingly well. We were able to regain our creative spirit, write an album which is doing well in the underground and establishing us further as a force to reckon with, and the gigs which we are playing are highly anticipated and mostly quite crowded.
I guess we can't complain, unlike many other artists and people in general out there hit hard by the pandemic, war, global inflation and the entire shitshow of misery we are currently facing.
Point of No Return, which came out in May 2022, is the band's debut full-length studio album. Can you kindly describe your process for writing the songs and eventually recording them?
Phil: Right after When Hate Has Dominion, we basically returned to rehearsing, writing songs, and playing gigs. Then the pandemic hit, and life took some unexpected turns for everybody. During this time, the creative gap between Marco and I became apparent, as well as the fact we wanted to steer the band into different directions in general. Unfortunately, the band and Marco then jointly agreed to part. This, as sad as it was, was for me personally a breath of freedom, creatively speaking. I was free to write some ideas I had floating around and take leadership over the creative processes. Although this was not immediately in my mind, soon there were enough songs finished to slowly progress to the next step – a full-length album!
Simon joined the band and Peter, our former bass player, unfortunately had to leave the band shortly after, and the pandemic basically put band rehearsals to a stop. Only people from two separate households were allowed to gather for a long time in Germany. Gabor and I used that time to rehearse the new material, and when the summer of 2021 hit and the three remaining members were allowed to rejoin, we invested into some recording gear, set up everything for recording drums at my home (with the courtesy of my wife, and I am eternally grateful for her patience enduring months of blistering loud drumming at home – love you!), and "just started" to see where it would end. We stepped up the DIY game, you could say. All the recordings were done at my home. My vocal cab consisted of three mattresses to cancel out room reflections, the drums were recorded in my "man cave," and the guitar and bass were recorded straight into the interface. Daniel joined midway through the recording session and smacked the bass tracks on the album. We then sent the mixes to Widek, which we found over the platform Fiverr and we could not be happier with the results!
As you mentioned, Simon Humpohl and Daniel Gerth joined the band in 2020-21. Did these member changes bring anything new into the band?
Phil: Creatively, I still have a strong grip, but, of course, there are some influences left and right. Simon contributed some riffs which turned out to be the backbone and main inspiration for the song "The Divide." Simon, via his different way of writing riffs, is able to ignite my creative curiosity and spark some ideas which can turn into great songs, while Daniel is a great, intuitive musician with a great feel for what a song needs. He complements the role as a perfect bass player for the music we play, not too much in the foreground, but giving the music a strong foundation.
But that all said, Point of No Return very much carries my creative stamp on it.
Were Simon and Daniel longtime friends making it easy to ask them to join the band on a permanent basis or were they random fellows who had to go through an audition before joining the band?
Phil: I have known both of them for years as good friends, although from different yet slightly overlapping circles. Simon used to play guitar in a hard rock band called Tomahawk which was been founded by him and other mutual friends, and Daniel in fact is one of my oldest friends. We have known each other for 16 years, founded our first band Visnu together and were inseparable for many years. So, with this lineup, it's kind of like a "coming home" vibe to me and asking them was a natural next step as the positions became vacant.
How is the chemistry in Tempest these days? Would you say it's better than ever?
Phil: Absolutely! The current chemistry is dominated by ambition and friendship, without too much pressure. We all know it could end anytime, so we are enjoying it, but with drive and commitment to the project and reaching the next step. It's a perfect balance that the band never had before. We were either struggling too much in the creative process to simply "get stuff done," or were too ambitious, chasing expectations above our level with too much pressure. We are currently in a comfort zone in that respect, and speaking for myself, I have never been happier in any band project than I am right now.
Despite the fact Tempest comes from Germany, you have adopted a very Bay Area thrash metal style instead of following the traditional German thrash sound à la Kreator, Destruction and the like. What makes the Bay Area sound so special for you guys?
Phil: The Bay Area thrash sound is a more compelling, more melodic approach and is more influenced by British heavy metal. It's simply catchier, I think. Of course, German thrash metal has a certain darkness and eeriness to it which we all enjoy, but me being the creative head of the band, my favorites are Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Slayer, Forbidden, Overkill – that stuff. And also, for Marco and me, the newer albums of said bands were a huge influence on us. I guess, that is also yet another differentiator between our style and a lot of other thrash metal bands, who rather seek and old-school/retro approach. But none of this was a conscious decision. In the end, I just wanted to play music similar to the stuff I listen to.
That said, I am super curious about our next output. There could be a wider range of influences presented, now that Simon and Daniel are fully integrated in the band. As stated before, Simon already left some interesting traces in "The Divide," so I am curious to explore more of that.
How important is the interaction between striking melodies and powerful riff barrages within the sound of Tempest?
Phil: Super important – it's one of our trademarks, I guess. If you listen to "Through the Pain," you can hopefully hear what I mean. But in general, music stands by rhythm, and is brought to life by melody, so for me it's absolutely crucial to have some sort of "catchiness." Occasional chaos can also be "the catchy thing" within a song, often reflected in the chaotic ends of the mid-part sections in our songs. But yeah, just plain brute force pounding bores me very quickly.
Are there some (thrash) musicians that have influenced or inspired you as a musician to do the kind of stuff that you are doing nowadays?
Phil: A metric shit ton of musicians, actually. Of course, these names are my personal choices since the circumstances of Point of No Return led to me being the main creative songwriter. But my influences are James Hetfield, Jeff Hannemann, Kerry King, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Dave Mustaine, just to name a few. But, of course, me being a huge Iron Maiden fan, I guess that also will reflect somehow within the music, although we do something completely different.
But yeah, I guess that's the beauty of music – inspiration is everywhere, just got to grab and go with it!
There's a song called "UltraNation" on this album. Is that song about Vlad the Slaughterer and his regime of evil?
Phil: Unfortunately, not a bit. "UltraNation," was written in 2016 or 2017, I believe. I was at an airport, coming home from a business trip, when there was a diplomatic crisis between the US and Russia, and I believe it was the time Donald Trump called Kim Jong-un "Little Rocket Man." There was some talk about an emerging cold war, precautionary nuclear strikes, and all that nuclear war bingo bullshit. I was quite afraid of the future ahead, so I wrote an anthem slamming nationalistic antics that might lead to full-scale war. The "UltraNation" is the Murica of MAGA, which would willingly go to war just because one buffoon says it's the right thing to do. Or Russia, which willingly accepts the invasion of an innocent neighboring country for the glory of a megalomaniac, as a matter of fact...
How much did the ongoing war in Ukraine (or between west and east if you will) inspire you to put some of your thoughts into the lyrics on the album this time around?
Phil: As you can read in the previous answer, a lot. The song "Unbroken" heralds the willpower of the Ukrainian people, who did not give up in the face of death. This bravery is unseen during my lifetime, and truly seems unbroken, as the title implies.
In general, the last four years have been full of downward spiraling in the sense of freedom and peace for the world, and this is heavily reflected in the lyrics.
The album was recorded and edited at Pipp-Studios in Germany and mixed and mastered at Nova Studios in Poland. What made you to split the process this way?
Phil: Pipp-Studios is simply my home, my man cave over here. Pipp is my nickname, and I didn't want to write "Recorded at Phil's home," so I just called it Pipp-Studios, which brings me to the reason we split the mixing and mastering.
When Hate Has Dominion was mixed by our former guitarist Marco and mastered by Ramon Smith. I can record a bit and have some knowledge in that field, but I am still an amateur, and I cannot achieve the results which we had in mind when it comes to mixing. We wanted this record to be mixed by Ramon, but a misunderstanding led to Ramon not being able to meet our deadline for getting the mix done and the album released. However, what was unlucky at first, turned out to be a win-win situation. Widek offers his services on Fiverr, the freelancer platform. We contacted him and he did a GOLDEN job! Highly recommend his services and not the last time we will work with him.
You released Point... independently. Did you try to find a record label to release it or was it your original plan to release it on your own?
Phil: Since the recording and release of the album was such a natural, calm process that took place over at least half a year, there was no pressure to search for a label. But to be honest, I like the DIY way. It gives us full control over every step, and even though I do not have a huge distribution network, I know where to get the stuff to make the CDs (I put them all together from the single components at my home and distribute them worldwide – real DIY attitude!) and how to offer them. We are close to selling out the first batch of 200 CDs, which for me is just mind-blowing! Of course, I will not turn down a good label deal, but if we roll as we roll currently, I am absolutely happy!
What kinds of plans have you made for 2023 regarding performing live with Tempest? Will your focus be on festival slots so that you'll have the chance to play in front of bigger audiences, or do you prefer doing smaller club gigs where you usually get more time to perform live?
Phil: Our focus is currently playing wherever the flying f*** we are allowed to play, to spread the word we exist! However, we had a great run this year, playing some cool underground festivals and building up a fanbase as well as organizing some cool events in our hometown, which were packed as well. We are eager to build further upon the success of this year during 2023, and we have some cool stuff already in the pipeline in that respect. This year, we also played our longest set ever: 80 minutes! That was a very cool experience as well. Looking forward to 2023!
Nowadays when it's very difficult to earn a buck selling your music, it's pretty crucial to go out and play gigs as many bands actually get most of their money selling merchandise at the concerts. Are you in the same boat?
Phil: Yes, Merchandise is the way to go! We take a lot of pride that we offer quite a few shirt designs, and our merch booth is always the first thing I prepare nicely when I get to a venue, and the first place you will find me after gigs, and for a long time! But it pays off – our merchandise pays for itself by now, meaning that we can acquire more merchandise and other necessary equipment to step up our game by the profits made selling merch.
What is the current situation of venues for metal bands in Aachen and other cities nearby, after COVID? Many people, unfortunately, are saying that after COVID there really aren't many places left...
Phil: It's tough. Venues are indeed closing, the pre-sales for medium-sized bands suck, the bigger bands cancel one tour after another. One could think "This is our chance," but actually, when the venues don't have the big fish, they cannot survive, so the cultural scene is slowly dying and drying out.
However, that said, the underground seems to be indeed thriving. The smaller concerts and festivals we played and organized were packed.
Are you aiming to shoot a few promotional videos in the future because, as we all know, they can really make a difference as far as getting the band's name out faster?
Phil: A video is definitely on our wish list. We just have to find the time and the financial resources to do it properly. There is nothing worse than a half-assed music video! I would rather have only a lyric video, or an intentionally awful and cheesy music video (think black metal music videos here). But yes, a music video is important to spread the brand further and is a thought/concern we have in the back of our minds.
What's your take on the current thrash metal scene in Germany? Is it as good as it used to be in the late eighties or are you at least a little bit concerned about it?
Phil: It's fantastic. We have great bands, great people, and there is a thriving community on that front. Bands like Pripjat, Fabulous Desaster, Dust Bolt, and Space Chaser are at the spearhead of the current thrash underground. We are within similar circles, but a few tiers below these bands currently. However, I think we are slowly pushing up to take our spot. But yeah, there is a thrash/heavy metal community in Germany, which is strong and also within range.
Eugen Lyubavsky, guitar player of Pripjat, recently organized "Riffing for Tolerance," a charity event with six awesome speed and thrash metal bands with all profits going to his home country Ukraine, the crème de la crème of the German metal underground played there, and the venue was sold out with 400 tickets! Just shows that if you have the right concept in mind, people will come and visit!
Well, I think that's all I had in mind for this conversation, so thank you, Phil, for your time for getting this interview done and, of course, all the best with any future endeavors with the band. Any closing comments perhaps?
Phil: First off, thanks for having us once again! Always a pleasure to talk to you! If your readers out there want to grab Point of No Return, head to our Bandcamp https://tempest-thrash.bandcamp.com or check out Spotify via https://open.spotify.com/artist/5jKaKKiNvljpyN5pFzP5f4?si=Mu-5_x0eSvuWJYO5kZC-vg
And last, but not least, support your local scene! Visit concerts, buy merchandise, organize concerts and so on and so forth. Without the fans, we musicians are just idiots hanging around in soundproof bunkers, making strange noises! We are grateful for every single one of you out there!
Keep it thrash & fuckin' bash!
|Other information about Tempest on this site
|Review: When Hate Has Dominion
|Review: Point of No Return
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Philipe Piris and guitarist Marco Schäfer on October 28, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
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