Interview with Lenny Wolf, may 2011
Back in 1988 and soon after a young German rocker moved to LA to pursue his musical ambitions, Lenny Wolf achieved his dream when the debut album of his new band Kingdom Come reached platinum status. The comparisons with Led Zeppelin were inevitable and in the end, this lead to the band's demise years Joter. Returning to his hometown of Hamburg, Lenny has not surrendered and still waves the Kingdom Come flag, releasing albums and playing live shows, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a very talkative Lenny when he called from Hamburg to have a good chat about all things Kingdom Come, I also discovered that last year he was involved in a side project with Michael Schenker is what the charismatic front man had to say, starting with new album 'Rendered Waters' - a mixture of old and new material.Congratulations on the new release 'Rendered Waters', which is comprised of three new songs and seven songs re-recorded from the first three albums and one from the LA based band you used to be in prior to Kingdom Come, Stone Fury. What prompted you to re-record the old songs?
Basically I've been wanting to do this for the last three or four years. Especially since the band is playing the old songs differently nowadays, I figured 'one of these days I want to give some of the old songs the chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel again'. I purposely didn't take our former hits like'Get It On','What Love Can Be' or'Do You Like It', and chose songs that I personally felt strongly about. So, last year I had the time to do it.Also considering that our hearing habits have changed quite dramatically, especially for the young audience, I thought'let's just do it'. The most difficult part about doing it was not ruining the so-called red threat of the old songs. The old songs obviously had something, some magic which gave them a particular feel, so I wanted to take a step further and make them more likable to the 2011 hearing habits. Some may like it more, some won't but it's something I had to do for myself. Now I get excited again listening to the old songs.The three new songs have the clear Kingdom Come stamp and sound great.
The riffs and the melodies were already written. I had ideas on the tape, or on the iPhone, to be exact. At the beginning of last year I was flying to Brighton quite a few times to hang out about with Herman Rarebell.who used to be the drummer for the Scorpions. David, a manager and a friend of mine, hooked Michael Schenker, Herman and me up, so were getting together at this rehearsal room dose to where Herman's flat is in Brighton. This would have been something completely new, Herman was very keen about not being just a couple of hired musicians just for the Michael Schenker Group, but again, I wanted to give it a try and it was nice to try things, but musical taste, outlook and creativity, writing is different from how he works. I stayed at Herman's, who by the way was a very charming guy, it was great to hang out with him. So we were just jamming around for the Frankfurt Music Convention. So often, I had to wait for Mr Schenker because he's just being himself, he's a German but he's not as functional as most of other Germans, so I was sitting in the room, sometimes with Herman, sometimes without him, and banging out my ideas and finalizing the pieces. But soon after our Frankfurt Musikmesse experience I realized that Kingdom Come was actually what I wanted to pursue and that is what I did. So, I think the new songs fit in just nicely and make the whole record become just one time experience.
These songs were more or less written. I was thinking about maybe bringing them with me in case something would come out of it but I realized that that was not what I wanted to do. It was great listening to Michael play the blues and I was singing 'Doctor Doctor' and 'Lights Out' and it was fun, but things have to match on a personal level as well and Michael is certainly a very unique character and so am I. Things didn't click in some aspects so I decided to just continue my mission, which is Kingdom Come. I'm trying not to preach, but all my lyrics are a reflection of what I feel. The lyrics of those songs have to do with the universal issue of falling in love, falling out of love, but at the same time I also like to address other aspects of it, political issues or just like a Twilight Cruiser, one of my favourite songs in fact, and without pointing fingers stating my view about certain issues especially with all the terrorism going on. It's a reflection of my thoughts without preaching.What can you tell us about each one of them? “Blue Trees”...
l'm so tired when I hear “Oh baby I'd do anything for you, tonight is the night”. So I was trying to say it's never too late to start something good, it's never too late. Whether you're 20, 40, 60 or 80, it's always a good time to start something new again.
“Is It Fair Enough”
That is a good example about me dealing with issues that are still going on right now, speaking of Afghanistan, for example, or Iraq. I'm questioning myself. I remember when the towers in New York came down, I was in the first row saying kill them all, I'd fucking had it. But as time goes by and you are more informed - and information is a key issue of our generation - you realize that Bush was not the best cup of tea that we had to deal with. There were other issues here like interests in oil. I'm kind of emotionally torn because you can't just leave them alone because when those idiots, the Taliban, come back it's going to be a nightmare for the people living there. On the other hand staying there forever it's a bad idea too. So it's very hard to say what is the right thing to do. I'm the last one you'd get all the answers from but it's a very difficult and sensitive subject, and that's what I am questioning: is it fair enough? We came to give help, but should we stay or not? Again, it's something that kept my mind busy and I had this urge to express myself about it. I tried my best on that song. Politically I'm really torn. It's a very difficult situation. Same with the nuclear plants, just right now what is happening in Japan. I can't walk around with a sunflower in my hair, all groovy, oh baby, let's just shut them all down and let's have fireplaces again and smoke a joint. It's not going to work because we need the electricity, we need the power. On the other hand we have to find other ways to supply ourselves with the energy we all need. It's a very controversial issue for which I don't have all the answers. Without being too political I am just trying to explain that I am interested, I'm thinking about it.
It's about this person who keeps on blaming other people for his personal failure. It's something that I just don't dislike, but I actually hate. I'd like to tell these people: “Get your ass in gear and do something about it”. Of course, there are situations when destiny hits you from a very bad angle or something terrible happens, you're totally down and it takes a certain amount of time for you to recover. But I'm talking about those guys especially here where I live, in the Hamburg so called 'flower power district' where there is a mixture of total losers and Porsche drivers. They're constantly blaming other guys who achieved something and instead of doing something to improve themselves they keep blaming the world but never themselves. I have a major disliking for those people because it is a major bad energy they are putting out and I was just trying to tell that guy in particular: “Hey man, you have no one else to blame but yourself”. This may not be a popular phrase to use but I had to do it, I did. The lyric itself does all the talking.Now “Rendered Waters” is released on SPV. What happened with your 2009 release “Magnified”?
My good friend Martina Pokorny, who is an Austrian lady that owns a 3,000-seater hall, used to be a major Kingdom Come fan. When we went to play the Rocklahoma Festival she joined us and it was her very first time in America, so we became acquainted and liked each other very much. I was almost done with the album and we were talking about the music business, how things had changed and how I hated talking to labels. And then we just said: “Fuck all this, why don't we do it on our own?” I hadn't given it that much thought, but that sounded like an interesting concept. She used to have a label in Vienna many years ago. She made it sound very good and I don't regret anything, it was part of growing up and taking a decision that you are not so thrilled about later on. She meant very well and is a wonderful lady but her ability to promote the record properly was very limited, so from a promotion point of view didn't make sense. So I realized that Kingdom Come has to go with a major label. Co incidentally Oily Hahn, one of the big guys from SPV Records, called me and asked me what I was doing, so I got signed for many years before I finished the record.Previous to that “Ain't Crying For The Moon” was released in 2006 by Frontiers. Did they not ask you to return to them?
Frontiers did ask me to come back but with them 1 was just one out of many and they gave me the impression that the album was just another round piece of plastic. They wanted me to do a couple of contractual issues that I did not want to do, so I said: 'Sorry, I don't want to do this'. I'm a pretty stubborn guy, money alone does not do all the talking, at least not in my world. To me, it's important that there is a certain relationship going on, the vibe has to be good.You come across as a very independent guy...
Absolutely, absolutely. This is my issue in life now. At least in my book, my success is not called upon how many pieces of plastic I sold. Success to me means being healthy, I can get up when I want, where I want and I can write what I want. I already achieved a certain freedom that I don't want to let go of ever again. I'm not at Metallica's or Bon Jovi's level with three butlers and stuff, but I've been able to reach a level in which I am very comfortable living with and being able to do what I want and where I want to me is pure freedom: being healthy, having friends and a happy family around you, life is good. I guess it's part of growing up. When I was 23 and moved to LA all I was thinking about is where is The Rainbow and where are the girls. I am very grateful that I was able to do that. I had a wonderful time and I've seen everything there was to see but I've calmed down quite a lot and I'm very happy. My inner peace has improved a lot. I'm not chasing skirt, I'm chasing songs now!Would you go back to living in LA?
Honestly, I couldn't say. I like Germany, I'm in Hamburg, my home town, and there is no place like home but on the other hand I wish Germans in general took a valium to get more relaxed.On the last couple of albums you recorded all the instruments, except for some guitar solos by Eric Forster and a few other arrangements. Did you record with what you call on the album credits your 'touring playmates', Eric Forster on guitar, Nada Rahy on drums and Frank Binke on bass, or have you done most of it yourself?
I have to admit I've done most of it myself. I did ask Eric to come down and lay down the solos: he's a phenomenal guitar player - my solos suck, but I'm a great rhythm guitar player. So I did the writing, played the rhythms, played bass and programmed. It's no secret anymore that technology is so advanced now that you have to take advantage of it. I don't have time to waste recording like in the old days.The reason why I ended up carrying the whole load on my shoulders again is not so much because I wanted to, but the last 10 or 15 years I've become more independent at reached a level I'm comfortable with.When I was young I was one of the biggest Beatles fans. My first instrument was the accordion and then when I was 13 or 141 bought the Beatles' complete book, learned all the songs and I started writing my own songs right away. I was always hoping to meet the perfect match on a creative level, like a Page/Plant, a Roger Waters/David Gilrnour, Lennon/McCartney ... those magic combinations. Not just the creative writing, but the outlook and where I wanted to go. I have never found that perfect match. Sometimes it makes me a bit sad but on the other hand if this is my fate, then I guess I have to adapt and live by it. I'm okay with doing it but sometimes I could put some of the weight in somebody else's shoulders. I've been working with so many wanna-be producers and guys that did not click with me at all. When I think about Richard Landis on the second Stone Fury album, what a nightmare that was, and even Keith Olsen... he did a great job with Whitesnake but he was not good for us at all. But Bob Rock who went to work with Metallica right after us, was a Godsend, great guy on a human level and great producer. He was trying to get the most out of us, there were lots of talking and hanging out. And it was one of those meant to be situations. There was a very good vibe and I think that is why the first record blew up.Would you work with him again or is he too busy?
First of all he is very busy and he had some hearing problems for some time. The whole Metallica experience wore him out and he needed two years off because of his hearing problems. I guess it was not easy to work with Metallica when they were on drugs or in rehab. We all saw the Metallica video and I know how Bob functions and he hated it.So, the guys in the band now didn't record on the album, but still appear on the album artwork?
First of all I am a shy guy, I hate putting myself on the front all the time. It's very strange but I can do 99% of the recording and if someone does the other 1% I just line myself up with them. I was never the guy that wanted to be the future solo star. But the band is a great bunch of guys that get together when we go on tour. We all live in different parts of Germany, so it's not like we hang out a lot. It's like a marriage: sometimes not be together can be a good thing to stay together. I honestly have to admit that creativity wise I gave it a shot but I realized that too many cooks can spoil the soup, unless it's the right writing partner.Are there any plans to tour in Europe?
I would love to tour and we will be touring. We've not played in England for 200 years but that's mainly because people did not ask for it. If England gets excited about the new record, we would love to play. To me it would mean something very special because all the bands I admire come from England. But that will depend on how things go.When was the last time you played the UK?
About four or five years ago we toured with Don Dokken in Spain, Germany and other countries, but we did just one show in the UK. I don't know whereabouts it was, but it was in the middle of nowhere. It was terrible: the technical equipment was the worst I have ever seen and there weren't that many people were. Maybe there was no promotion, I have no idea.Lenny, you are Kingdom Come, but have you ever considered reforming the original American line-up?
Kingdom Come was not a band that was formed on the bonding many other bands had growing up together in the same neighborhood. Kingdom Come had not fulfilled all that bonding. A lady named Lucy was running a musicians' connecting agency and she was looking for musicians that I could work with, so she sent those cassettes and set up a rehearsal room to audition people. I remember when James came in, he was such a charming but very clumsy guy. He has a tendency to break everything, but not purposely. He played drums and I immediately knew that was my guy. Then Danny Stag came along, a guy from Pittsburgh and he brought in this mature Jimi Hendrix tone, which I dug very much at that time. And his best friend Johnny B. Frank wasn't a great bass player, but we had two things in common: cars and women, so that kind of made sense. He actually had this very low voice that had a very soothing effect on me. Then there was Rick Steier who was best friends with James, also from Kentucky. I used to call them the Kentucky fried chickens! Anyway, when we were touring in Russia a couple of years ago, we opened for the Scorpions and Alice Cooper. James Kottak, the original drummer for Kingdom Come is now with the Scorpions, but he came with us on stage and we played “Do You Like It” together. I know for a fact that if I could pay the salary that the Scorpions pay him, he would come to Kingdom Come like yesterday. We truly love each other very much. He's a wonderful character. Actually, him and I were the main reason why the band broke up. Now we've seen each other several times over the last few years and we've been looking at each other asking: “Why did we break up?” And honestly we both can't remember! But honestly I don't really know about reforming the original line-up. I've seen Johnny when we were doing a video clip in LA, he's always the cool guy, but I don't know. Danny is probably still busy. Fundamentally, I would really like to see it happen if it would make sense music-wise, but whether we'd get along I have no idea, but with James, anytime.Given the success of your first album - which achieved platinum status - what are your current expectations, given the way the market for music has changed?
I don't know. Two things: first of all, I'm not taking anything personal anymore. Secondly, I have zero expectations and that is why I could not be disappointed. Nowadays the reason why other bands become very successful is not just because of the songs, it's timing and luck: being at the right place at the right time and reaching the right audience, having enough support for the people to at least know about you. One of the problems new is that we have more releases than citizens on this planet. It's difficult to break through if you don't have a huge fan base like Metallica, for example. But again, no complaints. I'm going to continue my circus and we'll see what happens.I know it is still early to talk about another album when 'Rendered Waters' has just come out, but have you thought about recording a new studio album soon with brand new songs?
I released “Magnified” not even two years ago. so it's not like people haven't heard from me in a long time. I've been very creative over the last ten years, I've tried a lot of different things which on a commercial level perhaps was not such a good idea, but again, I am an idealist who has to do what he has to do. If I would have written “Get It On” and “Do You Like It” for the last fifteen years maybe financially I would be doing better than I am doing now. But music to me is something I have to fulfill myself with and you can only do that by creating and trying things. There are a lot of other aspects that I like about music than just rocking out. I love Depeche Mode, I listen to Fleetwood Mac, Barry White and also Rammstein, or even sometimes techno. I'm all over the place, except for reggae - that depresses the shit out of me. With “Rendered Waters” I was very keen on concentrating on guitars, very live open-sounding drums, and my voice has changed - especially after my vocal chords surgery about six years ago - so it sounds more mature. The songs have certainly gained a lot of new-age maturity. So it wasn't about remastering the songs and cashing in on it. It was a big effort, more difficult than writing new songs where you have no guidance at all.How did you feel at the time when you started and everyone was comparing you to Zeppelin and how do you feel now about that comparison?
Now I couldn't care less about it, but back in those days it definitely had a big impact on us and that is one of the reasons why the band broke up. Let's not forget we were a young band, especially me just being a little guy from Germany starting in Los Angeles. At first, being compared with the almighty gods Led Zeppelin was a huge compliment, of course. I still don't see that many comparisons, but I do see some. Then in the end it kind of backlashed, especially after the remark from my guitar player Danny Stag: after weeks and months of being compared, we were goofing around in a coffee shop and he said something like “Who's Jimmy Page!” Some writer overheard that comment, made a big fuss about it and the press in the rest of the world jumped on the same phrase without ever having asked us what had really happened or how it had happened. You know how it is when a band becomes successful: you have your fans but you also have the jealous guys and the people who don't mean well and pee on your leg, it is what it is. Every artist, every human being on this planet who is creating something is or was influenced by somebody who has done something before. Two billion bands have similarities with The Beatles. Nobody cares because there are too many of them and you don't even notice. But Led Zeppelin was a very unique and special sounding rock band who set a big trademark for the rock scene. It's hard to analyze it afterwards, but what I can really tell you is that I couldn't care less about this whole issue, especially after all these years I have proved my point as a writer and a musician, so that by itself puts me at ease with myself on the planet and there is no issue anymore. I'm talking about it now because you asked me the question, but it's nothing worth rambling on about I remember when we were playing in England around 1989 opening for Magnum and we visited a solo show for Robert Plant. He knew we were there and he was greeting us from the stage when we were on the balcony, we had goose bumps and were like five chickens seeing the mighty God performing. I remember Robert Plant always being really cool about it. Just think about this: I saw a band in Arizona covering “Living Out Of Touch”, a song from us, and there is nothing more flattering for a musician that seeing a young band covering your songs, so what I don't understand is why, there was so much whining and complaining coming from people like Mr. Page, who has nothing to be afraid of. I mean, Kingdom Come is so far out, how could he feel threatened or why did he behave like that? You're the richest guy on the planet, you're the trademark, you're the god, what else do you want? Pardon me that my voice has a few very little characteristics like the singer you work with. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to jump out the window and start sounding like Barry White. So it kind of depressed me because I used to look up at my idols and sometimes it's better not to meet your idol because you may get very disappointed.Last but not least, you experienced some hard teenage years. Have you ever thought or been involved in projects to help troubled youths?
You do get to know yourself a lot better over the years, unless you're totally drugged out or you're an alcoholic, but in my case I did find out a lot about myself. I love my mother dearly, she's very warm and giving but she used to drink quite a lot and have a lot of boyfriends. So, there I was, very young and not able to express myself. She was very young, so I kind of ruined her freedom of going out and the young people's routine; she had to take care of me and life wasn't easy. I understand all that but hey, I was a young little kid! There was a lot of inexpressible bad stuff going on which ended up putting me into a reformatory school for difficult children. So I was stuck in a room with eight guys. I still nowadays I get this little aggression inside of me, so with people who step on my foot the wrong way I can become my worst enemy because my explosion level still sometimes frightens myself. I have to work on it, it got a lot better, but as much as I am at ease with myself nowadays, I still get that thing in me and being a perfectionist and impatient is a deadly combination. But I think this little anger within myself is a great driving force speaking of creating songs.
If I had the money like some of my big time fellow musicians around, I would not buy a football team. I'd pay for an open-365-day free studio, including a good producer for young bands to rehearse and record some tracks. Also, in Hamburg we have a bunch of people that feed the very poor and we did a couple of concerts and I submitted a song free of charge for a CD to raise money. Even back in LA we did a few charity gigs but Kingdom Come is not a huge input like Pink Floyd, who can do just one concert and raise money to feed all the people in Hamburg.Please feel free to add anything you wish.
I hope everybody likes the record, and if not, shut up and keep waving the flag!
Interview by Monica Castedo-Lopez from the magazine "Fireworks"