Interview with Juergen Breforth [Mad Max] [HORR]
At the start of this month I was extremely priviledged to speak to one of the first signings to Roadrunner Records in 1983, Mad Max. Juergen formed the band in 1982 and has served as one of their two axe-men ever since.
With 14 full length albums as of writing, over half of which have come about since thier 2005 reunion - they are one of the hardest working bands of their era in the 21st Century.
Of course, this being the History of Roadrunner Records [HORR] series - we'll be focusing on those early years with the label. But you'd be remiss to not take a look at what Mad Max have to offer.
All images courtesy of discogs.com
Temple of Bleh So first up, thanks for taking the time, Juergen. I do appreciate it, especially when I just come out of the blue asking for information from 40 years ago .
So how did Mad Max get Roadrunner's attention? Was it Cees himself who made contact and signed you?
Juergen Haha ... "difficult experience" sums it up pretty well. here's the story:
I founded MAD MAX in 1982 and built quite a following of fans in my hometown area. Unfortunately my singer Andreas Baesler left the band because he wanted to become an actor and I had to find a new singer. I found the 17 years old Michael Voss and we started writing and rehearsing new songs.
One day in the rehearsal room we recorded (live without any overdubs), four of the new songs with a super simple cassette tape recorder. We sent this very tape to a couple of record companies and
ROADRUNNER was immediately interested and Cees himself got in touch with us and we met in Amsterdam. This felt like the big Rock n Roll world and we were totally enthusiastic. Cees offered us a record deal for several albums and we signed without thinking. It was like a dream come true for us.
Temple of Bleh Let me guess....
6-7 album deal, with an option after the 2nd record.
All rights and publishing held by Roadrunner forever
No guarantee of tour support
Around $5k (or I guess marks) advance for the debut album.
That sound about right?
Juergen Haha ...exactly ... but, finally in the years to come we got tour support for severa tours with the likes of URIAH HEEP, NIGHTWING, PRETTY MAIDS, STRYPER, PHANTOM BLUE
Temple of Bleh So a good experience then at the very least! What did you make of Cees, personally? Nice guy?
Juergen At personal meetings Cees was mostly focused on Michael Voss. I always was the guy in the band who was very careful with business people.
Temple of Bleh I guess coming from Polygram in the 60s/70s, he was wanting to focus on 'star power'.
Did you deal with anyone else at the Roadrunner office? Or was Cees a one man act at that point?
Juergen Sure there were some others in the Office working for us but Cees did all the important decisions.
Temple of Bleh Did Mad Max have free reign in the studio? Or did Roadrunner try and give notes or direction to the creative process?
Juergen They wanted demos upfront but we decided for the studio and producer. For ROLLING THUNDER and STORMCHILD this worked out great but for NIGHT OF PASSION they brought in the American guy from CRIMSON GLORY and Dirk Steffens who produced for ACCEPT.
Temple of Bleh Ah so they initially wanted demos to approve/reject but you guys said no. Was their friction with Dirk? Why did Roadrunner choose him? Because of his work with Accept?
Juergen We actually did demos of a couple of songs but not all. Our original producer was Kalle Trapp. Dirk Steffens was at least our choice for an additional mix. Roadrunner then wanted another mix for the american market. So they hired this guy from Florida they knew from his work with Crimson Glory. Cees only paid for Michael Voss to fly over to Florida and do the mix together with the american dude. To be honest ... I hate the result.
Temple of Bleh The reason I find the "mixing for the American market" comment so interesting is because it seems Cees was initally totally against his bands targetting an AOR sound for a while. In fact when he first heard Jaguar's "This Time", he first cancelled the recording there and then when he heard that they had departed from the classic NWOBHM sound. So it's interesting for me that with Night of Passion, the label was leaning full on into that kind of sound. It is actually quite jarring to listen to Stormchild, then the reverb drenched vocals and snare on Night of Passion.
Did Roadrunner ever give any pushback on Stormchild? There weren't a great deal of character-driven/concept albums in metal at the time, and certainly none from a Roadrunner band.
Juergen My feeling back then was that Cees just wanted to have this guy because he did Crimson Glory and they sold pretty good. I always wanted a kind of classic DOKKEN sound but when Michael Voss came back from Florida with the finsihed mix I was shocked. I fuckin' hated it. To be honest Roadrunner did absolutely NOT see the concept behind the Stormchild character. This is the reason why I wanted to bring back the Stormchild on our new record.
Temple of Bleh It's weird how they only had Michael sit in on the mix. Usually it's all of the band... or none of the band!
When you say RR didn't get the concept behind the character - is that to say they actively pushed against it? Or were they just indifferent to it's potential? Ie they weren't too interested, they just wanted to squeeze another album out of the band.
Juergen Absolutely ...ok 4 flights to Florida are more expensive than one. They did NOT push against it. Guess they were absolutely NOT aware of the potential of the Stormchild character. And we were not experienced enough to push Roadrunner in this direction.
Temple of Bleh Ah ok, understood. It's a shame they didn't latch on to the potential given what King Diamond would do just a few years later!
Where did the 'Fox on the Run' cover come from? It's a much crisper take on the song than the original.
Juergen You're absolutely nailing it, mate. We had the right character and should have build a whole image around it like Maiden or King Diamond. "Fox on the Run" was our idea because Michael Voss was the biggest SWEET fan ever.
Temple of Bleh Ah nice one - it's a really great version.
Juergen "Fox on the Run" is still big in the rock scene of Spain because it was for many years the opening song of every show for the biggest rock/metal radio show in Spain - The Pirate Radio Show. A lot of spanish fans thought that the song was from Mad Max...HaHa. Really true.
Temple of Bleh Ha! That's great. The slightly increased tempo turns it from a solid rock song, into an essential party song, in my opinion.
Temple of Bleh But yeah it's interesting - Roadrunner signed Mercyful Fate and Satan, both had occult imagary associated with them, and Mad Max has some Christian themes in the lyrics, but the message was always a bit more hopeful - or at the very least, less sinister. But for a moment I considered perhaps Cees was going for a Heroes v Villians roster of bands, some being clear antagonists in the 'Satanic Panic' era, and bands like Mad Max being the response to that - therefore covering all ground
Just going back to the start for a brief minute - I should have asked this earlier. Can you recall a date when you guys signed with Roadrunner? A lot of signing activity seems to revolve around 1983 and the Aardschok festival in Eindhoven - did you ever play there?
Juergen Cees never talked with us about his policy . Yes we signed the deal in 1983. We played the Aaardschok festival in the year where TESTAMENT and STRYPER were on the bill.
Temple of Bleh It sounds like Roadrunner were fairly hands off in terms of the music itself (save for Night of Passion), but they seemed to keep you guys busy, and on the road for the time you were with them. If you could go back in time to when you'd just signed with RR, would you have done anything differently?
Juergen When I founded the band 1982 in my hometown getting a worldwide record contract was my dream. So there's nothing to regret. We did the best we could in writing songs and touring all around Europe. And the fans all around the world still love our 3 Roadrunner albums. So I have made my freedom with everything.
Temple of Bleh I'm glad you see it that way, mate. At the end of the day, we're all just humble servants to Rock n Roll, even the suits at the labels - all everyone wants is for more metal to happen. But the main thing is you guys are still going and churning out music, regardless of labels or pretense.
So how did your relationship with Roadrunner end?
Juergen Wise words, mate. The end was a FIASKO. The "Night of Passion" album was on its way to be released in the USA. Our drummer Axel Kruse and I went to New York (Roadrunner paid for it) and met with producer Max Norman (known for his work with OZZY). He was supposed to mix the album for the american market. But finally Roadrunner blew the deal without telling us or telling any reasons. Way later we heard that Roadrunner wanted to sell a whole package of their bands to the US company. But they only wanted Mad Max as a german version of DOKKEN. That KILLED the band. Michael Voss was gone over night and disappeared. Total frustration. I tried to keep the band alive with different line-ups but it did not work.
For almost 10 years Michael Voss and I did not speak a word.
Temple of Bleh Huh... Since Night of Passion came out in '87, that was the year the US Roadrunner office opened... I wonder why they were planning to sell a load of bands, when Roadrunner itself was just expanding?
Juergen We never really could solve the mystery and never ever spoke to Cees again. I simply don't know it.
Temple of Bleh Have you ever played the Negasonic club, in Belgium?
Juergen Never heard of that club in Belgium I have to admit.
Temple of Bleh No worries - it's run by Guido Gevels of Cyclone (another ex-Roadrunner band), and he tends to get loads of bands who play there that used to be on the label - I was wondering if that was a coincidence!
Leaving your Roadrunner days behind - how is your experience with Steamhammer, these days?
Juergen Steamhammer/SPV has become kind of a home for us in the last couple years. Olly Hahn is a fabulous guy who is really supporting us for many years now. We got the chance to play all the big festivals like WACKEN, BANG YOUR HEAD, SWEDEN ROCK, ROCK OF AGES and soem great sold out tours with AXEL RUDI PELL who is also on Steamhammer/SPV.
Temple of Bleh I love Wacken, I've actually got the symbol tattooed on my shoulder
Two random questions and we can close out. 1. Have you ever seen a ghost or had a paranormal experience? I know Halloween was a few days ago but I'm always interested in this stuff
Juergen Wewere actually booked for WACKEN this year ...Shit happens. No ghost - No paranormal experience ... so far
Temple of Bleh 2. Are there any small bands you've come across that you think deserve more attention? Could be a local band or one you're just aware of
Juergen In these crazy times I am bringing back to life my old band TANNER ...it was classic heavy rock with german lyrics ...we did a fantastic album in 1990 called "Ausser Atem" (Breathless), but the audience was not ready for that kind of music combined with german lyrics at that time.
Temple of Bleh Ok cool - I'll be sure to signal boost Tanner when this goes up. My band for you would be Dream Troll - local band for me that has roots in the NWOBHM movement but it's kind of new school if that makes sense? I find them quite compelling
Juergen I will check the guys out!
Temple of Bleh Thanks Juergen, this has been really insightful, and best of luck with Stormchild Rising and Tanner!
Juergen Thanks so much, mate. I really enjoyed going back in time with you. Looking forward to see your docu. Will share it big time.
Temple of Bleh Thanks mate. And hey if you need anything in the UK when everything's back up and running, give me a nudge! And obviously - I owe you a beer .
Juergen Thanks so much ...that would be a dream to play some shows in the UK when the virus is gone. Cheers!
Thanks again to Juergen for his time.
You can find out more about Mad Max, and their new album Stormchild Rising on their Facebook page.