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FREEDOM CALL - Interview with Chris Bay
By Wojtek Gabriel,
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Freedom Call power metal band
Happy metal. If you’re familiar with the melodic Euro power metal scene and you hear the word “happy”, you probably know right away what band is being discussed. “Master of Light” has been on the market for well over a year now, but as the Germans from Freedom Call visited the UK shores recently to further promote this latest output of theirs, we saw it as a good opportunity to talk to Chris Bay, the founder, main songwriter, singer and guitarist of this hardworking bunch and to ask him a few questions about how happy metal is forged.
As far as I know the last album was mostly written on tour. So, how did it actually work, were you composing the material in hotels, on the bus etc.?
No, it’s not really the truth that we wrote the whole album during touring or being on the road. You need some time to rest before you’re writing an album. So, because you’re always on the run and always on the road you can’t find the necessary inspiration for the songs. I think it’s possible to write a rock ‘n’ roll album like AC/DC or something like that where you just have the spirit of touring on the album, but for this a bit complicated metal stuff with symphonic parts and so on you need a bit time to rest to work on it. But generally, the song-writing was very quick because we are always in a hurry to play the next shows, to play the next tours and as a touring band you always have a straight schedule. You know, the record company is expecting the next album, the agency is expecting the next tour and so on and so on. But anyways, it’s our job and it’s our passion to do that. So, I’m not longing for long holidays or long vacation beside my music because I’m always also writing music when I’m on vacation with my girlfriend so, I think as a musician you always work 24/7.
The album sounds like a straight continuation of “Beyond”. Would you say you have found a perfect recipe for writing Freedom Call songs?
It’s hard to give an understandable answer to questions like this, as an artist about his own music. It’s just what is coming out of me, as inspiration and creative ideas. So, I’m not calculating an album, it’s not that we have a gathering before writing an album and think, “OK, which direction can we go with the new stuff?” It’s just what’s coming out. I’m just sitting in my studio writing new songs and I’m not trying to get inspiration from different other musicians or other productions. It’s just all these ideas which are flowing out of me. I do not want to calculate it so, I’m totally free. That is one reason why I became a musician, because I want to feel free. I do not want to have a boss sitting behind me and say, “Go this way or go this way”. No, it’s my creative thinking about music.
I wouldn’t say that Freedom Call sound has evolved much. Of course, the production is more up to date now, but songs from the last album could have as well been released on your debut album or “Crystal Empire” and they would have fit in perfectly. It seems you don’t like changes?
I think there is a development of the band and the song-writing in comparison to the really early music like “Stairway to Fairyland” or “Crystal Empire”. In my opinion it sounds a little bit more mature and a little bit more experienced but I try to give everything to keep the Freedom Call music alive. I do not want to change the direction of the music and I never want to change the style because it’s Freedom Call. You have millions of bands on this planet and all these bands are trying to become famous, trying to tour the whole world and release albums. We got this chance to find this trademark with our happy metal or fantasy melodic metal, whatever you will name it. And I never will leave this path of Freedom Call. When I’m longing for writing different music I will build up a new band with a new name and with another line-up. But Freedom Call is Freedom Call and there are a million bands that are releasing albums and when we will change our style of music there would be another band which is doing this kind of music better than Freedom Call. So, that’s the reason that I will always go the right direction with Freedom Call. The fans and the listeners all always can expect the Freedom Call music on our Freedom Call albums.
“A World Beyond” is a little bit more complex than the typical straight-forward tunes you write…
All right, so you noticed it, ha-ha! Especially on this song I didn’t want to write the song in this typical Freedom Call style. I just let it flow. I had some melody ideas and I just tried to figure it out where my musical creativity will lead me. That was much fun because it’s a bit different. But I don’t think it’s a typical Freedom Call song. I think on every album we have some songs that are a bit different. For example, we have songs like “A Perfect Day”, maybe you can interpret some rap parts in it because of the singing style or we have songs like “Far Away”, with this Irish style and yeah, it comes how it is so, I do not want to limit myself and I never want to limit the band in interpretation of our music. It makes the albums more colourful.
I would say the soloing is a bit more complex on the album too. Do you guys still learn new stuff at this point in your career, like new techniques or scales etc.?
Yeah, indeed. I got lessons in guitar playing. I’m an old man that takes lessons in guitar playing, ha-ha! A good friend of mine, he’s a genius in guitar playing and sometimes when there’s enough time I’m asking him to show me some licks or some figures in playing guitar and yeah, maybe you can see on this song “A World Beyond” I’m always practicing the new stuff. I just tried it out, what’s possible and yeah, it was much fun.
You’re the main songwriter and Lars has contributed a few songs to the new album too, but what about the other two guys?
Our drummer Ramy, he was helping me a lot while writing the lyrics, to bring the ideas of songs, topics and things like this but he’s not a songwriter in the musical way. And Ilker on the bass he’s also writing for his own project called PowerWorld, he released three albums years ago, and he has good ideas. We’re always trying to find out a way that his kind of song-writing is fitting with the Freedom Call song-writing. Because even if he’s a good songwriter, it doesn’t say that he’s a good songwriter for this band. Maybe he can write perfect songs for other bands. But probably for the next album he will be part of it. And Lars, I don’t have to say anything, he’s a brilliant songwriter, he has very good ideas and he makes the Freedom Call song-writing a bit special. So, I think it’s a perfect combination between my kind of song-writing and Lars’s.
Whose idea was it to record the bonus songs with the other band members as lead singers?
The thing is, it’s very difficult to make something new generally. And for bonus CDs I’m always trying to find some things which are maybe new or are not as often and we have brilliant background singers. A lot of people are thinking, “OK, all these vocals are sung by professional singers on the records and live it’s all samples, there are no real sung vocals”, and maybe this was a chance to show the people that we are really able to sing. Also Ilker, Lars and Ramy. And they are not only instrumentalists, they can also sing like nightingales, ha-ha!
German power metal band Freedom Call
I’d like to touch on the subject of the cover art… I’ve seen many people actually making fun of it. What was the idea behind this cartoon-ish character?
I have a very young and very talented artworker and I just gave him this topic and the name of the album “Master of Light” and I gave him the chance to interpret it in his own style. And when I saw firstly his interpretations I was a bit in doubt, ha-ha! And I expected that there will come a shitstorm because it’s not metal, it’s not epic. On one hand I really was in doubt, that it’s the right cover artwork, but on the other hand I thought, “OK, maybe it’s not the typical cliché for the fantasy power metal style, but it’s unique.” And this is much more worth for me when we have a unique art which is outstanding. You can say you like it or you dislike it, but it’s a special kind of artwork. And in the end, we saw that people were respecting this and I think you always can remember, “OK, that must be Freedom Call, it’s ugly, it must be Freedom Call”, ha-ha!
OK, the last question about the album. We can hear “Master, Master” repeated in the title tune, a tiny nod to Metallica…
Yeah, not tiny, it’s a huge one, ha-ha! I really did it on purpose because Metallica is the biggest metal band in the world and especially this part, I think it’s the most famous part for Metallica and I thought, “Hey it’s a good idea to have a dedication or a tribute to our idols of Metallica”. I didn’t try to give the people the idea that it was written by Freedom Call, but Metallica, yes, with a big blink in the eye of course.
You’ve released a solo album “Chasing the Sun” just recently. Looks like a collection of songs unfit for FC albums?
Yeah, that was the beginning of this idea to release a solo album. Because I’m a constant songwriter. I have my studio in my house and I’m not getting tired so, I’m writing songs constantly. And there were many, many songs which were beside Freedom Call, they were not fitting. I was collecting the songs because I didn’t want to delete them, but in my opinion, they were too strong and too catchy and I had no idea what would happen with this song material. Yes, maybe it would work that I can take some of the songs and rewrite it to metal style but then it’s not original anymore, because the main idea, my vision to write a song was not in metal style and I always try to keep all the original ideas as they are. Because I think it’s the atmosphere of a song, it’s the emotion of the song and I want to keep it as an original. And one day I had more than 8 or 9 songs and I decided, “Hey, let’s release a solo album.” But my first intention was not to be in competition to Freedom Call. The first idea was to build up a new band with other kind of music, but then a lot of people would be in doubt, “Oh, maybe Chris will quit Freedom Call, he’s building up a new band” or something like that. That was the reason I decided to do a project totally out of competition and to make it as a solo album and I’m really happy with this decision. So, it was fun to record it and I’m happy about the reaction and the respect of the Freedom Call fans.
So, did you write all those songs purposely for the album or are they old ideas you’ve collected over the years?
I collected all the songs over the years but not two songs. There’s one song called “Bad Boys” and there’s another song, it’s the first song of the album “Flying Hearts”. These two songs I wrote specifically for the solo album because I needed more song material.
Back to Freedom Call. Who coined the term “happy metal” and when was it used for the first time?
That was in the early days, when we started with Freedom Call. I think it was 1999, in the first year, we did a show at Wacken Open Air and there was HammerFall playing before us at the big stage and we played on a smaller stage and all the people came and started to sing “Happy, happy Freedom Call”, with Helloween melody. That was the first thought about that. But then over the years, we didn’t want to bring in this word “happy”, because we wanted to be more metal. Freedom Call should be metal and we tried to avoid the word happy. But then after 10 years I realised, it is happy metal and that is a chance to become a special trademark for Freedom Call and a very good explanation what kind of music is Freedom Call playing. Because just power metal, there were so many bands that are playing power metal. So, I decided, “OK, then Freedom Call is playing happy metal.” And yeah maybe a lot of people, these true metal people, they are not really agreeing with that, because it’s a bizarre combination in between happiness and metal so, maybe for some people it’s not really working together. I’m thinking in a different way and yeah, I’m happy with all the result and the success and so many followers. They are longing for happiness while listening to heavy metal.
I’ve got two quick questions about some of your previous musical adventures. You sang for Zed Yago for a while when Yutta had left. Did you guys record anything at all, like demos or something?
Oh, it’s such a long time ago, I think it was 1991 or something like that. I met Herman Frank, the guitar player of Accept. I met him in a pub in my hometown, because he comes from the same town and I just went to him and said, “Hello, I’m Chris, you do not know me, but I know who you are, I’m a singer”and I gave him a paper with my telephone number, that was it. And then I got a lot of calls on my telephone and Herman called me and he told me, “Zed Yago is looking for a new singer after Jutta Weinhold”. I was not so into metal, but I knew exactly the circumstances around Zed Yago and I just said, “Yeah, why not.” and I drove to Hamburg, and the we worked I think for 1.5 years together with Zed Yago. We made a demo tape with 10 songs, something like that and there was a big listening session with the agency and the distributor and things like this, but unfortunately it was never released. And then I quit and then I started working with Herman Frank…
Right, you had a band with Herman called Moon’Doc. Why did you guys call it quits, it was a good band…
Yeah, it was definitely a very good band and it was my first touch with producing an album and writing originals and things like this but we had just only one show in 3 years with Moon’Doc, only one. And I always was longing for staying on stage, being on tour and that is my passion. I think it is the more important side of making music, for me is playing on stage, being on tour as opposed to sitting in the studio to write new songs. And that would never happen with Moon’Doc. And then it was very hard work on the next production and then I decided to quit. It took too long for the process for the third album and I decided to quit and build up Freedom Call because I wanted to play shows, to be on stage and be on tour.
Freedom Call started in 1998 so it’s your 20th birthday this year. Do you have anything planned for this occasion, like a special show, party or release?
Yeah, it’s a point of view, ha-ha… I have plans but I’m seeing the anniversary next year, because “Stairway to Fairyland” got released in ’99 and that was the first time we came in touch with public. So, Freedom Call was existing for me in my opinion from this point on. And yeah, there are some things planned for next year but more important than the anniversary because it’s just an anniversary, it’s 20 years I can’t change it. But we will have some special shows and a new album will come out and a lot of ideas are spinning around in our heads. It will be a very good year for Freedom Call.
Interview by Wojtek Gabriel

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Tags: Freedom Call, power metal, happy metal, Chris Bay
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© 1997-2019 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved. Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations or corporations without the prior written permission.
© 1997-2019 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations
or corporations without the prior written permission.