"Fields of Blood" is your third concept album about Scottish history. Why did you decide to revisit this topic?
It's very simple. Two years ago I was in Scotland with my family, for my family it was the first time in Scotland. My son was 12 years old at that time and I showed him all the battlefields and the famous castles, and told him about the history of the Scottish people. I told him about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Queen Mary and the battles of Culloden and Stirling and Bannockburn and after two-and-a-half weeks he said to me, "Hey dad, I'm totally overkilled with all these battles and the famous people and castles, I don't wanna go to Scotland again" ha-ha! But when I told him about all this stuff I noticed that I did not finish telling people what I'm feeling when I'm back in Scotland, you know? And the concept is a little bit different this time. We went to a lot of museums and in one museum I saw an old man sitting in the corner. He was working in the museum and he was sleeping and I thought, "This old guy is a clan member and now in his dreams he is going back to his own history." And then I developed the story of Edward McLean, and that this guy who was working in the museum was Edward McLean of the clan McLean, and in his daydreams he took a journey into his own history meeting all the people, Malcolm II, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, fighting against the Vikings, all these battles and experiences he had. I slipped in his role and I'm telling people that it is more the emotional side of the Scottish history. On "Tunes of War" it was more like history lesson and "The Clans Will Rise Again" was more on the mystical side of Scottish history and this time we have the emotional side. So you see, we have pictured everything so far now, and I think we are at the end, and I think with the song "Fields of Blood" we wrote the last song about Scottish history.
When writing lyrics about actual historical events do you do all the research yourself, or do you look for help from historians or experts in the subject?
When I was in Scotland two years ago I did a lot of research myself. I took a lot of photos in the museums and on the battlefields to catch the moment, you know? And at home, I did a lot of research again in the Internet, you can find everything in the Internet. I watched some movies, some documentaries, and on Netflix there's a really good movie "Outlaw King". It's totally different than "Braveheart", because "Braveheart" is not historically correct, it's more entertainment, you know? But on the other side Mel Gibson had this vision to do this movie and what he did is he caught the atmosphere and the feelings and the emotions of the Scottish people fighting for freedom. That was brilliant and nobody cared if it was historically correct. You get this impression that you are in the movie fighting for freedom, staying side by side with William Wallace. That is great, that is awesome. And "Outlaw King" is more quiet and is more history based. What I like about "Outlaw King" is that it's such a dark and dirty movie, you know? I think it's more about what the Highlands represented and what the history represented and also what Robert the Bruce represented, that he's not the god of Scotland. But on the other side, he did a lot of good things. But that is the reason why we called him an outlaw on the album.
On the previous two "Scottish" albums you used bagpipes, but this time you have a lot, and I mean a lot of bagpipes all over the place. Was there any specific reason for that?
When we started writing the songs we said, "OK, we need more metal, we need more epicness, we need more hymns and we definitely need more bagpipes." The only thing we didn't need was more cowbell, ha-ha! We wrote some songs specifically for bagpipe parts. When we did "Tunes of War" and when we did "The Clans Will Rise Again" we wrote heavy metal songs and then we added the bagpipes. This time we wrote songs for the bagpipes, you know? Heavy metal songs for the bagpipes, but not like In Extremo or these middle-age bands from Germany or other countries. The bagpipe has a really different tuning, you know? The guitars are normally tuned to A at 440Hz and the bagpipe is something totally different, and we tuned the guitars to the bagpipe tuning. And for the first time we also used an Irish bagpipe, it's a little bagpipe which we used in "Thousand Years" and also in "Fields of Blood", it's called uilleann bagpipe and the other bagpipes are the great Highland bagpipes.
The video clip for "Lions of the Sea" was supposed to be filmed in Scotland, but it didn't work out because of the whole Covid-19 situation. Why didn't you just wait until you were able to do it the way you intended?
The thing is that the album release date was 29th of May, and the date for the video shoot was beginning of April. We booked all the flights to Edinburgh, ferry was booked, we wanted to do it with 25 people over there near Portree in the Isle of Skye. And then came corona and the social distancing thing so we couldn't do any fighting scenes, and if we went to Scotland we could have the quarantine there. So we had to cancel everything and it was like a hit in my face, you know? It's the last album about Scottish history and for the first time we wanted to do a complete video shoot in Scotland. It took a lot of money to realise that but corona made it to ashes. So we had to do something different. We used some live stuff from Japan that we recorded last year and got some stock footage from movies and then created a video. But it should be something totally different, like the story I told you at the beginning, introduction with Edward McLean at the museum and then him in his daydreaming move to the highlands and everything. It would have been great.
You invited Noora from Battle Beast to contribute vocals in one of the songs and I'm wondering, she has one of the most powerful heavy metal voices, so why did you ask her to sing a ballad?
Because she has also this soft side, you know? And my favourite song of Battle Beast is "Black Ninja" and what I like to hear from her is at the end of the song there is a solo and these high screaming parts, you know? And she has the role of Queen Mary, so she can't scream like hell in this song because it's a ballad. But she made it awesome I think, she did a really great job on this one and I love this song so much.
The title track is a long, epic, multi-part song I wouldn't expect to hear from Grave Digger. What was the idea behind it?
OK, we thought that "Fields of Blood" should be the last song we write for the Scottish trilogy of Grave Digger and at the end it should be a long one, epic one, to represent everything we have done on this album or what we have done on all three albums. That is the reason why it's so long and has so many different parts.
I remember reading somewhere that the band became honorary members of one of the Scottish clans after "Tunes of War" was out. Is that true?
Yeah, that is half and half, ha-ha! It is true, but in the end it was a clan living here in Germany. There were all Germans, nobody was Scottish. I don't know why they called themselves the Clan of Cavanaugh. But the record company thought it was a really good idea, great press news. So yeah, what can I tell you? It was stupid, it was a little bit of a lie, but in the end it did its job.
I've got a couple of questions about the band's history now. After the first three albums you had a break, you did the Digger album and then you came back with "The Reaper". "War Games" and "The Reaper" were released just seven years apart, yet the styles of those two albums are completely different. So, what changed during that period, besides the line-up?
I think we made a big mistake with the Digger album. We were young and we wanted to earn some more money and we were really hungry for fame, you know? But it wasn't the right time for Grave Digger to go commercial. So it was the end of the band, because people didn't accept that we made this music and cut grave out of Grave Digger. During the break we made some music, and we called ourselves Hawaii, there's a demo tape, but I think when we came back we were so frustrated about the metal scene and that was the reason why we made this aggressive one "The Reaper" because we could say to the people, "Look, this is Grave Digger, this is the brutal side of Grave Digger, the frustrated side of Grave Digger." That was the reason why we created "The Reaper" album.
Talking about the early times, I've heard that the early demos will be released on CD later this year. Is that correct?
That is a secret! How do you know about that? It's a company from the Netherlands, they are releasing demos from the early ‘80s on CD and also the Hawaii demo tape and the "For Promotion Only" demo.
You guys had a twin-axe line-up for a while. Why didn't it work out?
Because of the misconnection of Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Hermann, ha-ha! We tried that, but in the end Grave Digger only needs one guitar player. On one side it's easier to work with one guitar player because all guitar players have big, big egos, and on the other side, we just don't need a second guitar.
Stefan Arnold left a couple of years ago, after over 20 years with the band. What happened there?
Yeah, you know, it's like in a marriage, sometimes it could last perhaps two months or five years, sometimes 20 years or 50 years. And we went into different directions for years, Stefan and I, and that was the reason that I told him after "The Living Dead" that I don't want to work with him anymore. There's something in the background but I'm not a guy who brings all the stuff from the background to the playground, you know?
This year you're celebrating your 40th Anniversary and you're releasing your 20th album. If it wasn't for the pandemic, would you celebrate the anniversary in any way?
Yeah for sure! But Covid-19 stopped everything so far. We had a huge Wacken show planned for this year, a couple of other festivals like Rock Hard, Rock Harz. And now we have to move everything to 2021. We have a lot of ideas and we have a lot of good productions in the pipeline. So we will celebrate the 41st anniversary, ha-ha!
How is that possible that in 40 years of Grave Digger's history you have never played in Scotland?
I have no idea, ha-ha! We never had any requests from Scotland. We played a couple of times in London, we played in Birmingham, but never in Scotland. Perhaps with this new album the government of Scotland will invite Grave Digger to celebrate the 40th anniversary at the Stirling castle, ha-ha! We will play all three albums in a row, ha-ha, with some bagpipers supporting Grave Digger. Let's see, ha-ha!
OK, last question. There are no gigs, you have more time, and I know you are already working on the next album. I assume it will be a concept release again?
Yes, we are working on a concept album again. We will start working on the songs next month. We're also discussing with the cover artist. It all depends on Covid-19. We have a headlining tour booked for February and March next year in Germany and we have booked a lot of festivals next summer. If nothing happens we will definitely release the new album in the middle of the next year.