Krokus interviewed by Steven Rosen from This is Rock
Krokus member Chris Von Rohr is a man who wears many suits. He was originally the Swiss band’s drummer on their first self-titled album and then switched to vocals for the follow-up record, To You All. By the time the group makes it to their fourth album, Metal Rendez-vous, he is on bass guitar and backing vocals and this is where he’ll remain for the band’s most important records. Von Rohr would leave the band—or rather be pushed out—after the Headhunter album and only return years later. He has been back in Krokus for five years now and recently produced Dirty Dynamite, their 17th studio album. Recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios, the record features the guitar playing of Fernando von Arb, Mandy Meyer and Mark Kohler. It is the first time the band have ever used a trio of guitar players and the resulting sound is big and explosive. Here, the drummer/singer/bass player/producer walks us through the band’s history from their origins to current day.
In the very early days of Krokus, you were actually looking moretowards a prog sound?
Are you really talking about the very first Krokus album? Or about which album exactly?
The very first album called Krokus with “Jumpin’ In” and “Eventide Clockworks.” How come you have this album? We never had an American release or something like that.
Back in the day I did have that album in my very large record collection but I listened to some of the music recently on YouTube.
OK. It’s very astonishing because I never met an American guy who even knew the first two albums. This is like surprise surprise but that’s great. The answer is pretty simple. We were just young and any band in the beginning you are searching for directions and when you’re very young you maybe go a little bit for the more complicated thing. You are not ready and so settled and wise that you know that in simplicity lies the answers. For every difficult question in the world most of the time there is a simple answer. That’s what a French philosopher once said—Jean-Paul Sartre.
You thought by being more complicated, you would be more musical?
I think we were looking for our way. We made that album without being onstage. The moment we went onstage with the Scorpions, we found out very soon that this is the wrong way and it’s not our way. We have to go for the more pure and the more blues rock-oriented style.
You were playing drums on the Krokus album and then on the second album, To You All, you became the singer.
I found out the drummer gets the worst chicks (laughs). We found out in this band for the first album, we didn’t have a real steady singer and we were searching for a singer. So the band said, “You are a natural. You are this early David Lee Roth type of entertaining guy from the early Van Halen and you should step forward and do that job as singer.” I said, “OK, you think so? I try it.” So we went that way and for two albums—this one and Painkiller—we had a pretty cool band, which was more in the rhythm and blues thing and not that hard. But it was a great band with a lot of feeling and good groove as well. If I watch the film that we made called As Long As We Live: The Story of Krokus, when I see these things I have to say there was a very good spirit around. But sooner or later we found out that our chance is only if we become a more hard rock-oriented band. For my voice it was not the thing to do because I was definitely a blues singer and not a hard rock singer.
“To You All” and “Highway Song” were examples of the types of songs you felt comfortable singing?
Yeah, “Highway Song” is a perfect example, which was perfect for me to do. The more we played live, the more we found out we needed to go in another style. Basically during three albums we had the chance and the time to develop and find our own style.
Is it true that around this time you saw an AC/DC performance and decided to go in that direction?
No. When we saw AC/DC the first time here in Switzerland in front of 30 people, we definitely were inspired by the raw energy and the simplicity I was talking before. Me and Fernando went to that concert and we said, “OK, we have to change something drastically in our band.” So that was definitely by seeing them and bands like the Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive. They were definitely the inspiration for us to change our style into a very straight, simple, power-driven, raw rock band.
It’s interesting that you would cite Bachman-Turner Overdrive as one of the bands that influenced Krokus.
Yeah, we knew them over here. Of course their songs we knew.
Metal Rendez-vous was the first album with singer Mark Storace. How did that change the band?
Here in my homeland in Switzerland where the band was formed and the band lives, Metal Rendez-vous is the opus magnum of the band today. The Metal Rendez-vous album is considered to be the milestone of the band. Not considering maybe the American market because in the American market it was not so much noticed like the others to follow. We call them The Big Four—Metal Rendez-vous, Hardware, One Vice at a Time and Headhunter—but Metal Rendez-vous was in my consideration the best Krokus album especially concerning songs.
Was Mark Storace the reason these songs were so good?
We were working more than a year without Mark Storace on that album. Even without a singer we were really working a lot to find the Krokus identity on that album. Then when Mark came and even before recording the album, we went on tour in Germany and tried the songs like “Heatstrokes,” “Bedside Radio” and “Lady Double Dealer.” When we finally went to the studio, this machine was really well greased and everything was there on the point. Songs like “Tokyo Nights” we play today and from no other albums in a set of 90 minutes do we play that many songs. So that is for us definitely a measure song-wise. Later we went even a little simpler and a little harder too but with Metal Rendez-vous nobody was comparing us to AC/DC with that album. This had a very distinguished style I think.
The sound changed again on Hardware and had kind of like a Rainbow vibe.
Yeah, very good. On the one side we were coming up with riffs that were very simple as AC/DC because we like to play them live like “Burning Bones,” which was typical. But on the other hand it’s a melancholic side like “Winning Man,” which is still in the live set today too because it’s always interesting what survives the test of time. So “Winning Man” was definitely a winner for us. It’s like a Krokus ballad but always stylish you know. It’s the typical second album like with Led Zeppelin and the second one is not the first one. So the second one you have not so much time anymore to really have that much quality like the first one. But it has a very special vibe too and the Hardware album I like. It was recorded in London and it has a certain touch.
It sounds like you’re really describing two different styles in the band when you mention “Burning Bones” and “Winning Man.”
This band has two sides and two faces. One face is definitely the AC/DC face, which we like and we have no problem to be compared to AC/DC. Absolutely not. Anyway we have the better singer really so what the fuck? We have the Bon Scott (laughs) and yeah, that’s it. The band has two sides and the side that is the AC/DC, which we really like, which you hear as well on the new album. Then we have the other side that is music AC/DC never would play like “Winning Man,” “Tokyo Nights” and “Screaming in the Night.”
Don’t you still perform “Easy Rocker” and “Rock City” from the Hardware album?
Now you come to the point—I forgot “Easy Rocker.” In my opinion, there were very strong songs on that album and they are exactly the two mentioned. “Rock City” we play still and “Easy Rocker” we still play. And “Burning Bones” and “Winning Man.” So there again, yeah, let’s put it this way—song-wise this album is pretty hot. I forgot those songs were all on that album. Maybe we didn’t have in the studio that much time and could be done better.
You brought in Tony Platt (AC/DC, Iron Maiden) to work on One Vice at a Time?
He’s a complete idiot really; a total idiot. I have to say it like this. No, it’s unbelievable. We thought we’d get an engineer who brings us the AC/DC sound and even Mutt Lange was coming in and sometimes stepping in and listening to us and how we recorded. He wanted to be Mutt Lange but he never was a fuckin’ Mutt Lange. He was just trouble and I tell you the truth. I mean it was a disaster with him.
No really and that’s why he never became a really big producer like Bob Rock or Bruce Fairbairn or Mike Fraser. Because he’s a fucking psycho and that’s it really. It’s unbelievable. I don’t like to talk bad about people but this guy has serious ego problems and he brought up ego problems to the band but he didn’t count with me. Because as long as I was in the band, I was definitely knowing what direction we have to go and what we have to do. So this guy I rather want to forget him because it was definitely not good.
What do you think of One Vice at a Time in general?
But the album again was the purest and the straightest AC/DC-like album ever of Krokus. That album I think really broke in the States too. It was that album, which really kicked ass. Unfortunately we couldn’t name it Long Stick Goes Boom because that was the first legendary title, which the English press wrote, “It’s the best song AC/DC never wrote.” We were at the same time in the studio when they did For Those About to Rock, and the management of AC/DC heard about that song because of Platt and the Mutt Lange connection or whatever. So they said, “No way. We have a cannon on the front cover” and this and that. There was a problem so the American record company chickened out and came up with the stupid title One Vice at a Time. Which is anyway bullshit because we go for 10 vices at a time (laughs).
Long Stick Goes Boom would have been an amazing album title.
But at this time we didn’t know what to do. I tell you the good news is that we come up on the 40th birthday of Krokus next year, we gonna put out a new live album called Long Stick Goes Boom. This title is definitely Krokus. “Long Stick Goes Boom” is a great, great Krokus tune and it’s the only song from that album we still play
On One Vice at a Time, Mark Kohler replaced Tommy Kiefer on rhythm guitar. What change did Mark bring to the music?
Unfortunately Tommy Kiefer died as we know and Mark Kohler brought in a Malcolm (Young) rhythm guitar. I have to put it this way—a Malcolm rhythm guitar. Very straight and very to the point. Great.
You covered “American Woman” by the Guess Who. Which connects back to your comment about Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Yeah yeah. It was only Guess Who and CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and a little bit ZZ Top back then. You have to see that America at this time they have no hard rock bands almost. Because we didn’t like bullshit like Grand Funk Railroad or whatever. So the British Invasion was coming and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and America at this time, I remember they have nothing like this. They have no Motley Crue and no Van Halen yet. So we knew only the old bands and we liked the riffs of Randy Bachman. We didn’t like the band as a band and the same with CCR. We liked some songs and the way John Fogerty sang in a very energetic way.
But you liked “American Woman”?
We thought we can do that much better than the Guess Who. Much better, yeah.
Did you listen to even some of the earlier American bands like Buffalo Springfield, Byrds and Love?
Yeah yeah, I know them all. Of course in the ‘60s I was listening a lot to that stuff. The whole hippie stuff and it was interesting. Very good songwriting and very good hooks. It was a time when I was a teenager when I grew up and I grew up with American music as well. I really admired those songwriters. Spirit, Love and Iron Butterfly and all that stuff and of course this is great music and there’s no doubt about it. We loved that a lo
Did you have a positive experience working with Tom Allom on Headhunter?
That was the opposite of Tony Platt. That’s a great fellow and a cool guy. He immediately threw all the demos from the record company away. They wanted us to cover this bullshit and this and that. That was a guy who really knew what he was doing and it was great fun to work with him. He brought us Rob Halford in the studio. This was a magic experience with him and the pure opposite of what I said before.
Headhunter became your biggest selling record?
Yeah, in America. There’s some great songs on it we even play today. “Screaming in the Night,” “Headhunter” and “Eat the Rich.” It was the first album we really used a chrome deadhead (skull) in the front and you can even see it in the Wood Allen movie (Hannah and Her Sisters). It’s a great album and everything is perfect and it still sounds great.
What was it like having Rob Halford in the studio and singing on “Ready to Burn”?
He liked the band because we played a lot together, Priest and Krokus. He just came into the studio and we had a fun. He went to the microphone on the song “Ready to Burn” and that’s it. It was a big party and it was great.
You said Headhunter was great and it was the biggest selling record Krokus ever had—but you left after this album. Why?
It’s completely impossible to understand the split that came then and why the band changed the direction musically after that. It’s absolutely not to understand because you never change a winning team and you never change a winning song. It’s not that I left the band but the management was basically playing intrigues between me and Fernando and the management wanted me out of the band and forced me out. I was not going for myself. This was a very big moment and I call it my Steve Jobs moment (laughs). Yeah, you’ve been forced out of the band you’ve founded and your baby goes down the drain basically. This was not very funny.
When you look back at that moment now, what do you see?
In retrospect everything in life at a certain age you start seeing things a little bit bigger. In the big picture this was probably the best thing that could happen to me. Because I could restart and do my own thing and have a lot of success as a producer and write two books. When you’re out of the band and you have to do it yourself, that’s a big challenge and I needed that challenge it seems.
What did it feel like returning to Krokus in 2008?
When I came back I think the band could take advantage of that experience I had. In one way it’s very sad we missed sustaining the success of Headhunter and build a following and a steady big following like Iron Maiden or Def Leppard. All these guys who kept their style and played and played so we had begun to become a Big A band. This is why it was a terrible, terrible mistake. But for me and the whole evolution of Chris Von Rohr—and later I got TV shows and late-night shows—it opened up to me a whole universe anew including having 20 or 30 platinum gold records with other acts as a producer. Nowadays I’m not bitter about it. In one way it hurts me for the band because I cannot pick up the phone and say, “Let’s do next summer or next fall a big American tour with Krokus.” I cannot do that.
What does it feel like now?
The present is since I’m back in my opinion we delivered two really great Krokus albums. The first is Hoodoo and this one even better, the Dirty Dynamite album.
Didn’t you come back to do the Heart Attack album in 1998?
Yeah, that was just a short in-between thing. It was unbelievable and I didn’t believe this really happened but after they found out there was something missing with this fucking manager Butch Stone this idiot. He now spends more time in prison than somewhere in Little Rock, Arkansas. He really had the nerve and the guts to call me. I had somehow and how should I say, yeah, I made the mistake to say “Yeah” instead of “Fuck you” because I loved the band that much. I said, “OK, I come and do it” and then I found out this band was dead.
What do you mean?
There were problems privately with a woman and miscarriages and what the fuck. The band never had a break and that was another problem. We had this problem in Headhunter and we only needed a year or a half-year break where everybody can go his way that is normal today. When I came back with Heart Attack, it was not much to say. “OK, the album is not that bad. You still feel the Krokus spirit coming back with songs like ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight’ and ‘Wild Love.’’” There was stuff on it, which I pretty much liked. I couldn’t really do it because I found a dead band more or less. Exhausted by touring and killed by disaster management. I have to say that. With another management everything would have turned out different for Krokus in America. And maybe with another record company like Geffen because John Kalodner was always a fan. He wanted the band but the fuckin’ Butch Stone went for a six- or seven-album deal with Arista and Clive Davis, which is used to Barry Manilow or Whitney Houston, has no fucking clue about hard rock. That’s what it is.
While you were gone the band made several albums—Stampede, To Rock or Not To Be, Round 13, Rock the Block, and Hellraiser. Any feelings about those records?
Don’t even ask me to comment these. No, really, don’t ask me to comment because the sales figures speak for itself. I don’t want to leave here a bad feeling with the guys. It needs not to be commented from me.
What did that feel like returning for the Hoodoo album?
It was a really great feeling because we always knew we are the Dream Team. It was really something else to come back definitely after all those years. It was a long time almost 15 or 20 years. It was really a big great step forward and suddenly it clicked again and suddenly there was the old magic here between us.
Dirty Dynamite features three guitar players: Mandy Meyer, Fernando von Arb and Mark Kohler. What has that been like?
The best thing ever happened is Mandy Meyer is back. Mandy Meyer is the guy who played short time with Krokus before Mark Kohler came but then he left for Cobra and Asia and bands like this. We decided for this album here that we bring him back into the band because he has a little bit of the element that the late Tommy Kiefer was bringing of the more melancholic guitar playing. This is now the mix where we have three guitar players and this is absolutely beautiful and this is great. This is the best. I don’t say that lightly but this at the moment is the best Krokus we ever had because it gives us so much variety and opens up a whole new universe with Many Meyer together with Fernando and Mark Kohler. And a great new kickass drummer (Kosta Zafiriou). So the band is in very, very good shape at the moment. It’s a big, big shame we can’t play your country (U.S.) at the moment. This is crazy.
Did you specifically want to include three guitar players in the band?
We were just thinking like the old Buffalo Bill—when he went on the first world tour, every year he brought a new Indian. Give some extra and now we can play double lead stuff without losing the rhythm guitar. We can play those songs better. There are two sides of Krokus like I said—the more AC/DC and Chuck Berry type of lead is perfect for Fernando. But the more lyrical leads like “Screaming in the Night,” “Winning Man,” “Tokyo Nights” and “Easy Rocker” is absolutely built for Mandy Meyer. So this is very beautiful. You have the energy of the early stuff, which Tommy Kiefer played the leads on Hardware and Metal Rendez-vous. So the combination of this lyrical, melancholic lead combined with Fernando is just a match made in heaven. I couldn’t believe it myself because in the beginning I was a little bit against it. I said, “C’mon, I don’t want to use guitar players like Iron Maiden or whatever.” But now I have to say it’s brilliant.
What was that like producing three guitar players on the Dirty Dynamite album?
It was very natural for me just to have one guitar player more. It’s like to have one singer more or something. It’s great to work and it’s still rock music. It’s nothing different.
What was it like recording at Abbey Road?
Concerning the Abbey Road story it’s very easy—music has to do with emotion. We grew up with the Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Hendrix and Abbey Road is just the most incredible famous studio ever. Not because of the technical because technical-wise you can almost record besides the drums or whatever at home nowadays. I wanted especially concerning Mark who was singing, I wanted to give him extra emotion.
Could you feel the Beatles around you?
If you step into that studio and you sing into a John Lennon mic, you definitely give 120 percent. You don’t want to fuck up. We were at the same studio where all those great Beatles records were cut and it was just unreal. It was just too much. Besides the party which is always around the studio with tons of teenagers and young and middle-aged people standing outside by the zebra (the crosswalk painted with white stripes), there’s even an online camera you can look at. It was just unreal and it was the best time I ever had in the last 20 years. And hearing all the stories about the studio and talking to all the guys there who have incredible collections of microphones. As well for me as a producer, it was the highlight of my life and there is no doubt about it.
The guitar sounds and the vocals sounded amazing on “Hallelujah Rock ‘N Roll.” Were you trying to improve the sound of the band from earlier records?
Yeah, extra. Definitely. Recording at Abbey Road, I definitely to even go a step further than with the Hoodoo album. I wanted to give more clear definition to the guitars. They have a much, much more clear sound and almost no transference and more everything than on almost any other Krokus album. I really think so. And with the vocal I said before there too, I wanted to go a step forward definitely. To really try to make again an opus magnum of the new time after the Big Four albums.
“Dirty Dynamite” has that old AC/DC vibe.
No, I rather would say that’s more a feel like Georgia Satellites in this direction. Definitely more swampy and bluesy. It’s not that hard and we have much harder songs like “Go Baby Go” or “Hallelujah Rock N’ Roll” like you mentioned. “Dirty Dynamite” is for me more like southern rock. More inspired by Georgia Satellites or Four Horsemen or something like this.
You’ve been listening to more modern bands?
Well not that much to tell you the truth. I’m not so much excited about these modern bands. I like it more pure because what should I say? There’s more songwriting qualities in it. Do you know this band with songs like AC/DC as well, Airbourne?
I know them very well.
For me this is a lot of energy in this band but where are the songs? You know what I mean? Where are the damn songs? If you start as a new band and have that much energy and you do that style, you have to come up with some new great songs. A lot of the new bands have a lot of energy and there’s no doubt about it but sometimes they lose a little bit of songs.
Talking about great songs, you covered “Help” on the Dirty Dynamite album.
Of course we did it probably because we were in the Abbey Road Studios. We basically were so inspired by this band and not mainly by the songs. Like Lemmy says, “There are no other bands writing songs like the Beatles.” If I travel around the world and we playing Russia or Japan or wherever, the Beatles are gigantic. Even Frank Sinatra was covering them. What the fuck you want to say? We had this idea to turn an uptempo song into a ballad. I think “Help” touches an artist’s soul and I’m sure Paul McCartney one day is gonna hear our version and he will not puke. He will say, “Well done, Swiss band.”
What was so interesting about your take on “Help” was that you brought different elements to it. In a way, Krokus didn’t sound like Krokus on this song.
That’s a very good point you make. It’s a pleasure to talk to somebody who really listens to the tracks. This is Mandy Meyer’s lead guitar on this track. What you said is just perfect and it’s exactly what we wanted to do. Why not trying something a little special? Because nobody was expecting us doing a ballad called “Help.”
It’s a little bit similar with the Metal Rendez-vous album—you have the whole rainbow of the music on that. All the colors in the rainbow in one album and still it’s all Krokus. That’s what I think is important and in the end will make this Dirty Dynamite album a great album. Because people feel there is music in it and not just business as usual. Music and magic.
Dirty Dynamite will touch a lot of people.
This has been amazing because for a long time I haven’t spoken to somebody from America. I feel a lot of competency and a lot of spirit and I really hope we meet and have a drink and talk more about more music. It seems to me you’re quite open with the whole music. Let’s hope we meet once and let’s hope Krokus comes back to America.