Today we present to you a very special interview. It’s the first one Ansgar Burke (Midnight Force) held for Epic Metal Blog (he also translated it into English). Thanks to him we had the opportunity to talk to legendary vocalist Jutta Weinhold, German «Queen of Dramatic Metal» (Velvet Viper, ex-Zed Yago). Enjoy reading! (Blaze Breeg)
Ansgar Burke: Hello Jutta, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! First, congratulations are in order, as you have a new album coming out this spring! How did you manage to stay motivated during the «Covid year» of 2020 to pull off an album production both creatively and logistically against all odds?
Jutta Weinhold: I think the most important thing is to keep going, Ansgar. I am in this business for so long – full-time since 1969 – and I have seen good and bad times. This job knows no security and there is only one thing: take it or leave it. The financial risk is always there and you have to know and accept that. An album can be successful or not. Corona hit everyone like a hammer blow and it is hard to find the right words. In the first quarter of 2020 we managed to still play 5 gigs. The last one on 6th March 2020 at the Fullmetal (Festival) and it was really good! The band was in top form and it was simply awesome! After that we stayed at home and followed all the rules. I composed songs together with Holger via Mp3, e-mail etc. Sometimes we practiced together, the two of us, in our studio, with distance and everything. We were creative and thus managed to survive that period well. From June we then started recording with the whole band in the bigger studio.
After 2018 (Respice Finem) and 2019 (The Pale Man Is Holding a Broken Heart) you keep going in 2021. What inspires you today? Are there still topics or stories that you’d like to tackle lyrically (or maybe you will on the upcoming album) or that you like to go back to for inspiration?
I had the idea for Zed Yago in 1985. I wanted to escape the usual bland Rock’n Roll lyrics and thus developed the concept for a daughter of the Flying Dutchman. I always wanted some different content for our music. It should be hard and heavy whilst being inspiration for poetry, literature, sagas, legends, myths and last but not least fantasy. This fulfils me, it is what I like and also read in private and what feels good. The well of imagination is of course endless and once you peered into it you can never stop, there is no end…. and thus, I never run out of material for my lyrics.
Which brings us to the topic of our blog: Epic Metal. In the sense of classic, often also doomy-slow Metal with «epic» themes: Sword & Sorcery from Conan the Barbarian to King Arthur or the Nibelungen. Especially the latter two have made some appearances in your work and offer perfect material for thrilling Heavy Metal in songs like «Merlin», «Parsifal» or «King Arthur» as well as «Valkyries» or «Lohengrin». How do you see the term «Epic Metal» or in other words the interplay of classic, at times bloody, but also culturally incredibly important literature or sagas and heavy guitars and headbanging?
Enormous music needs enormous words and you find these in the literature, the myths etc… «Macbeth», «Metamorphosis» (Franz Kafka), «The Raven» (E.A. Poe), «Maria Stuart» (Schiller), «Stella» (Goethe), to name but a few songs inspired by literature. Then there is the classic scene with Wagner… The Sagas: The Ring of the Nibelung, King Arthur and the Greek and Egyptian mythology with endless ideas. The latter can be also found on the new Velvet Viper album Cosmic Healer by the way.
I am aware that people nowadays engage only very rarely with lyrics. Which is a real shame I think, I always put a lot of effort into my lyrics and I don’t only sing a tone, the tone has a word and that word is the message.
Back in the day, when I bought an LP, I had a dictionary at hand with which I’d translate the words I was not familiar with. But hardly anyone does that anymore today. I love to tell stories from the topics mentioned above. You can imagine that the songs never end up under 15 minutes… Then Holger helps out and we cut the material down. He is very good at that, so that the story itself never gets lost. Every word that gets cut hurts, but at the end of the day it’s all about the music, and that needs to keep its rhythm.
Do you think such topics and emotions can be communicated with any other genre or is it something unique to Heavy Metal?
I knew back in 1984/85 that only Metal is capable of taking on such topics. It would never fit into pop music or anywhere else. Metal is predestined for this and that is good. I don’t want to play music with the half-life period of a pot of yoghurt… that’s why we were and still are at times a bit demanding and the listener has to engage with the music, otherwise it cannot reach them.
Do you keep an eye on current developments in the metal scene? In Classic Metal for instance, we have seen a lot of promising releases in the last few years.
Holger knows the bands from his generation. He points me in the direction of what’s going on these days. I am of course familiar with the old bands. I do like a few of the newer ones. Sometimes I get asked by younger musicians, what they should pay attention to: It is important, in my opinion, to make music that corresponds to your own mindset, only then you can be original and that’s what it’s all about. The world needs more originals and no copies.
Talking of newer bands. Here on the Epic Metal Blog we spotlight tons of exciting new bands from the «epic» spectrum, which are engaging with their 80s inspired music at least a small but loyal group of fans. How do you see the conditions for the metal scene today (apart from Corona related gig cancellations and similar difficulties) compared to previous decades? Especially when you kept the flag of Classic Metal flying in the 90s, when many other bands from the 80s were facing issues.
The (first) two Velvet Vipers CDs and the last one about my Zed Yago concept in 1993 To Be or Not came unfortunately at the wrong time. From 1991 a completely different kind of heavy music was in fashion and thus my albums flew mostly under the radar. You cannot compare these times. In the 80s there were still record companies, you got support and an artist’s contract. In particular the financial aspect for promotions and marketing was covered. With Zed Yago we got a monthly advance payment based on expected royalties. It is a shame that the band only existed for four years. But when egos and other sensitivities become too big, then there’s no other way. I always say: You can easily form a band, but it is usually impossible to keep it alive over a longer period of time. With Zed Yago we had a loose contract but no private copyright for the name, so we lost everything. The name stayed with the majority, but they only had the name and not the soul. I continued with Velvet Viper, because I already had a lot of topics back then that I still wanted to sing about. With regards to new bands today, I find it very sad, that they have no chance to live off their creativity. Most of them have to also have a second job, to fill the fridge. And then the music slips into second or even third place, which is a huge loss for our society. But no one listen to me – laughs. The times are shit for young bands even without Corona.
What are you looking forward to the most when concerts are possible again and you can tour with your new album?
The concerts of course. Cosmic Healer is published on 23rd April 2021. We do have some contracts (for gigs) on 21st and 22nd of April, but of course it is still unclear whether they can happen. No one knows anything for sure. I think the gig-free period will continue for another while. My hope rests on the clubs where you could have gigs and follow the rules, with distance and a somewhat reduced number of tickets. Everything is better than NOTHING. A band has to play in front of an audience, rehearsal rooms are no replacement. A show is always an experience for me personally. When I realise that the people are into it and the spirit is there, then Jutta falls into a fountain of youth, in which she then stays for a while. Invaluable moments. And the new album… We think it is the best Velvet Viper record in this millennium. It takes a while for a band to develop its spirit. That does not develop from one day to the next. We have now reached that level. The album has also been recorded with everyone together in the Jangland Studio, with Lars Oppermann. Micha Fromm on drums, Johannes Horas Möllers on Bass. Holger Marx (guitar) produced and Ralf Basten, who produced the Zed Yago CDs, mixed it. Heavy, hard, epic and – hard to believe – fast. Beyond that, Holger and me worked out an acoustic concept. Acoustic Pilgrimage. With that we want to play smaller live shows. Currently we are delving into our songs to see which ones would work in an acoustic version. This is also a creative activity to stay fresh.
Thank you for the interview and hopefully we’ll see each other soon, «on the road»!
Yes, I hope so too, Ansgar. We have to be patient, stick to the rules and believe that one day things will get going again. A big fat greeting to you and your readers!