Ronny Munroe and Jeff Plate of Metal Church give Metal as Fuck an insight on their reunion shows on 70000tons of Metal, a new album and getting ready to bring their music back to the world.
It's Thursday. 70000tons of Metal has been plowing through the ocean for days and Metal Church have finished both their highly anticipated sets. I'm one of the last members of the press to sit down with Ronny Munroe and Jeff Plate, but the day is still young and these veterans of the music industry still have a lot to share with their fans. Given that Metal Church broke up most recently in 2009, I'm keen to find out how it was that this floating music festival managed to get the first two reunion shows of Metal Church on their annual cruise from Miami. "We've been offered this since it started," Ronny explains. "We've been broken up for a while, and Kurdt [Vanderhoof] decided that now was the time to get back together and what better place to do it than on a cruise ship."
Jeff elaborates, "We know a lot of the guys who put this show on, and we've been brought up several times. Then this year we talked about 'if we're going to do something with Metal Church we'd better do it'. And the opportunity came up where all of us were very open this year, along with the weather in our respective home towns. I'm in upstate New York, which is about 0 degrees right now, and they're in miserable Seattle. Get on a boat in Miami and go to the Turks? Ok! That sounds like a good idea. It was kind of nice that this is the third year, when they’ve got some of the bugs worked out in the production and the staff, crew, everything has run so well. And I mean we didn't know that coming in, but having been here and played. Going on it's been very impressive; it's been a lot of fun." "It'd be nice to come back," Ronny adds.
I check what I've heard. Does this mean that this is looking firmly like more than a splash in the pool for the American heavy metal band? "We've got plans. We're going to start working on a new record and maybe do some festivals this summer. We'll keep everyone posted as soon as we make up our minds on that. We wanted to see how this went, and it went very very well," Ronny divulges. Jeff explains, "I mean the buzz, the reaction from the fans, and our peers (you know the other band members) who have been standing around watching us. Everybody really dug the shows. Like we just said before you came in, it's a blur. You get up there and you play, and you start mingling around and talking to people and it's 'Hey your show the other night on the Pool Deck? That's the talk of the cruise so far.' 'Really? Wow!' So we prepared, we came here as well prepared as we could, you know apparently we've delivered. It's a good thing to get a response back from everybody."
With plans for a new record, there isn't anything firm but the first ripples have begun. Ronny gives us an insight, "Kurdt has sent me a couple of things here and there, but it's nothing really that has stuck yet. We pretty much stopped doing that to focus on [70000tons of Metal]. So when he gets back he's got a few things to do, and then he's going to bury his head in writing some new stuff. It'll be phenomenal. He's a great writer. I'm really looking forward to it."
With new material possibly on the way, what was returning to the beginnings of Metal Church like for Ronny with the playing of the entire first album the night before? "You know what? I love singing all the old stuff because that's what the foundation of the band is. Of course I like stuff that we've been involved in, but that's the classics and that's why we came here. The whole people picking the set list and all that. I like doing whatever we're doing. I'm here."
Jeff explains the experience of the fan picked set-list for the band. "Well I think we kinda knew pretty much what it was going to be. There are certain songs that are everybody's favourites, they've always been everybody's favourites. There are certain things that you have to do. So when the greatest hits list was set, it was very close to what we thought it was going to be." He returns to the matter of the first album, the eponymous Metal Church, "When the idea came up of doing this entire record, there were five songs on there that I never knew until we started working on this. I've had the Metal Church tape sitting in my [stereo]. I've known Beyond the Black, Gods of Wrath, Hitman, In the Blood, (My Favourite) Nightmare… but holy cow this stuff is awesome! It's great stuff!"
It's not just great stuff for Jeff either, "Kurdt has talked about, since digging back into that and reacquainting himself with the old Kurdt Vanderhoof, he wants to maybe take some of that from then, bring it up to now, write some new material that is a little more similar to the old stuff. Yeah we'll see how it works out but we have all the faith in the world in Kurdt. He knows how to do it." Ronny adds, "He's just one of those guys."
A reunion show is a daunting prospect for any band, but when the lineup has long changed since the early records, playing a first album in its entirety has to hold its problems for the newer members. "The idea of doing that first record, this was kicked about last year. So we all knew what was coming, and we're all kind of busy. I've got my Trans-Siberian Orchestra which takes up my three months at the end of the year, but we all had enough time to do our homework," Jeff explains. "And I was working on the material when I was on the tour, when I got home at the beginning of January, I was just spending a whole solid two to three weeks playing that record over and over and over. And then we got up to Seattle and we got together for five days. Like I said everybody had done their homework so it all came together. And me and Steve [Unger] and Ronny and Kurdt have played together quite a bit in the past so we have a pocket, we have a groove, you know the thing is kinda tight to begin with. And when we got together it all just really felt good, but we certainly had to work on some of the stuff. Like I said, you know, (My Favourite) Nightmare, Merciless [Onslaught], a couple of those songs are really pretty complicated and aggressive so you gotta... it's like balls to the wall. You gotta go, and it all worked out."
Vocalist Ronny elaborates, "It pays to be a professional basically. You get the material, you need to have it. We don't learn it when we get together, we learn it before. Then we come in and we tighten things up and that's the way it should be. It works very well with us. For me, I think for all of us out there on the Pool Deck gig it was like we never even quit playing. That's the way I felt about it."
"We got together in Seattle and played through the entire greatest hits set and part of the first album the first time through," Jeff continues. "We got there, set up, ok boom lets go. Start to finish. You know we went through about twelve to fifteen songs and it's like, ok we're going to be alright. And then the ones that were a little more difficult, we knew we had to work on a little bit more obviously. You know when you play some of this stuff so many times it doesn't take a lot to bring it back."
So the set wasn't a great surprise, but do they believe any songs were missing? "For me actually, to have one of the songs we were involved in, A Light in the Dark, in the top ten was enough for me." says Ronny. "I didn't think we were going to have any of that. So that was cool." "I was a little surprised Mirror of Lies wasn't in there," admits Jeff. Ronny agrees, "Well me too, we had the video for that." Jeff explains their confusion, "When A Light in the Dark came out, we did the video for that and it actually seemed to do pretty well. You know the fans always really dug that song live. But here you go. The fans have really liked this classic stuff, the older Metal Church stuff, all these years and if that's what they want to hear. For the most part we were going to play it anyhow like I said, but just to be reassured of that. I thought that set was pretty banging even without a couple of the other things that you'd think about."
The first Metal Church set was on the Pool Deck, where the bands can see the ocean behind the sea of fans. Ronny describes his experience as surreal, though Jeff was getting rained on. Laughing, Jeff demonstrates what he saw from the drumkit by pulling his hair over his face, "The wind and the rain were coming in from behind me, during Badlands I think, it was literally pouring at me. There was rain all over the kit. Everything was wet. My hair was completely stuck to the front of my face. (Ronny: "But you still kicked ass.") You know you don't see a whole lot sometimes." Ronny commiserates, "Well I did and it was phenomenal. The crowd's reaction and all of that was great. When it started raining some of the people still stood there, a lot of them went undercover but they were all still there. We got a great reaction from the crowd. It's just very cool to be back."
"Well time will tell," Ronny replies when asked if this is a permanent reunion, "We'll do a record, and we're just not going to do things the way that we did before. We're not 25 anymore, not saying that we're old, but we need to do things the right way." Jeff continues, "Everybody understands that this is a complicated business. A lot of things had to fall into place. We gotta get a good record put together and done first, to be honest that's the first thing. There's a distance between some of the band members but that's really not so much of an issue. It’s really getting the music to the ears of the fans, in their hands and then getting with someone who can put us in the right environment, at the right show, working with the right band."
"There's a couple of bands here, like last night Helloween. I was watching them and going 'Metal Church, Helloween, that'd be a hell of a show!' So you start talking about this with some of the band members, and they're like 'Yeah, that's a good idea'. So you start networking a little bit. Kurdt is old-school metal. He's not a death metal guy. He's not a black metal guy. He's old-school melodic metal, thrashy to a certain extent but it's really more melodic. And that's kinda the show he wants to be involved in, and a lot of times you can get stuck on a bill with the Cookie Monster bands and it's like, this isn't us. We're not that. We should have someone opening up for us who is more suited to our audience, and vice versa. If we opened up for, say Helloween or a band like that. You don't want to go up there and be an oddball on a bill. It makes the fans kind of confused," explains Jeff. "They're choosing sides. Especially if you're with a Death Metal band, that's a different breed. Plus I don't think we're really that angry anymore!" Ronny laughs. Jeff adds, "We've got our issues but we're definitely not angry!"
Given that the first Metal Church album was released in 1984, I have to ask how much the industry has changed. Jeff answers, "This was something Kurdt was asked earlier, about the difference between that music then. The music then wasn't really corporate. When Kurdt was writing the first Metal Church stuff he wasn't thinking, 'Well I need to sound like somebody, I need to do this because somebody's doing that'. He was writing what he wanted to write, and that really what was going on for pretty much all the bands back then. You know there wasn't rules. Now a lot of the new metal, and you can say this with any style of music, there's several bands that sound similar whether it's country, or whether it's pop, whether it's rock, death, whatever. But now it doesn't seem to have the freedom that music used to have years ago. You know when all of a sudden, the song would take a left turn and 'Where did that come from? That was cool!' Now you're almost afraid to do that. You know everything needs to be a little too structured and a little too straight forward. A little too processed." Ronny adds, "It's sad because when you start writing for other people, that's when you lose your way. You should write for yourself, and that's what Kurdt has always done. He doesn't conform, and I really like that about him."
Metal Church have never been to Australia, and I'm delighted to find out that they'd love to come and have been talking about the possibility of making the long journey. "That's one of the things that Kurdt has mentioned. You know that country we would love to get there. He's mentioned that himself personally. He'd love to get to go there, and not that that's an excuse for us to get back together and play, but we know that there's an audience there. You know that there's an audience in Asia that really hasn't seen this band with this lineup," says Jeff. "Metal Church is, and always will be , Kurdt Vanderhoof. Without him it doesn't exist. But now we've been together with Kurdt long enough where this is a pretty good unit. And he trusts us, and we love playing his music. So it would be nice to take this to some places who have never seen it. We had a pretty good run over in Europe a few years ago. We didn't get to Greece, we didn't get to Russia, Italy, some of the places like that. Definitely some places around the world that we would love to play because we know there is a following there and we would love to see. Australia is definitely one of them. I've heard from people who have been there that it's fantastic."