Metal Church

Jeff Plate probably made his first big splash as a member of Savatage in the 90s and has been inherently a member of the highly succesful TSO as well not to mention a member of the highly respected, Metal institution that Metal Church is... while not scoring someone like Kurtd or Mike (two of the bands’ main personalities) has me a little worried about how in depth some of those questions would be… Jeff not only appears to be as involved and invested as any other member of the band, but he also goes into depths about the issues they recently had with their now former singer and how Mike came back and even briefly touches upon the status of Savatage... Read on!
Metal Church band pic

Hi Jeff… it’s great to have you on Grande Rock. You new album, XI”, really rocks hard! Kudos!
 
J: Thank you for having me Grande Rock! And thank you for the good words on our new album “XI”. We are very pleased and proud of the result. This is certainly the best record I have done with Metal Church. Most important is our fans are very excited about it.
 
 
So firstly do tell us why did Ronny Munroe depart the band?
 
J: As we said when we parted ways, this was unfortunate and understandable. Unfortunate because we felt very good about “Generation Nothing”, and we had a plan. We would hit the road and re-establish the band, re-establish the brand. We had a solid line-up… Myself, Kurdt Vanderhoof, Steve Unger and Ron had been together for 8 years, and at the time Rick Van Zandt was with us for at least 5 years. We agreed to approach this as a team, and honestly we had things going in the right direction. After touring in 2014 we re-recorded the classic Metal Church songs we had performed over the years, to release the songs as they had developed with this line-up. We felt it would be a great way to put a cap on that era of the band and give the fans something special. Ron had become very frustrated with his life at the time, seemingly everything, and also became difficult with us concerning money, so we all realized he was no longer part of the team and we lost him. Ron had some great moments with the band, and at times was one of the best metal singers I had heard.
 
Understandable because even though Ron has no direction or management skills, he is a solo artist and better off on his own. He found a girlfriend online and it seems he was convinced that she could not only fix all of his problems, but also manage his career and make him a star. He then left Metal Church, his solo band, his record label, his wife, his family and his friends to pursue this. He is very lucky. He now has a paycheck, new clothes, new car, food and drink… he has it all.  A courageous move on his part. And now that he has proper management, I’m sure they will achieve the success they deserve.
 
He gave some questionable information and misleading reasons why he left in an interview last year on Ian Spencer’s Hard Rock Asylum. Also unfortunate.
 
I honestly can’t wait to hear this Thunder project, they’ve set a very high bar for themselves with the video teases that were posted. Their versions of “Holly Jolly Christmas” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” are fascinating.

 
 
Why were there all these issues with the band stopping and going it again before that was it Ronny related or something completely different?
 
J: This is a hard business, and at times very frustrating. We called it quits in 2009 because things around us, things we couldn’t control, were going in the wrong direction. This took the enjoyment out of what we were doing, it affected the band’s performance and energy and strained our friendships so we stopped before things got any worse. Once we regrouped, signed with Rat Pack Records and took matters into our own hands, things have been going very well.
 
 
How was Mike Howe approached? Had Kurdt kept some sort of contact with him or not?
 
J: In late summer 2014, Kurdt had called Mike to reconnect, catch up on life, and ask if Mike would be interested in singing in a new project he had in mind with Saxon’s Nigel Glockler. Ironically, a week later Metal Church was in need of a singer, and this prompted Kurdt to ask Mike if he would be interested in singing with the band again. After several months of consideration and listening to the new material Kurdt was writing, Mike was drawn in and agreed to come back on board. It’s the best thing that could have happened to the band.
 
 
Hence, what are the new things that Mike brought (again) to the band and which are the difference between your previous album and the new one?
 
J: Mike is a fantastic singer and a true professional. I love working with the guy. He brings positive energy every day and really helped us come together as a band again. “Generation Nothing” reflected the thrashier side of Metal Church, which is great! But, when Mike came back to the band and began writing with Kurdt, the style as it was for the 3 albums they wrote together naturally returned. “Blessing in Disguise”, “Human Factor” and “Hanging in the Balance” were the 3 most successful records for Metal Church, the fans loved these records.
 
 
Why did you simply called the new album “XI”?
 
J: After going back and forth with a number of different title ideas, Kurdt basically said “Hey, let’s not over think this. There are 11 songs, and it’s our 11th album. 11…XI”! Done.
 
The number 11 had a number of connections to me:
• My birthday is 3/26 – 3+2+6=11
• It is my 11th year in the band
• I have been with my wife for 11 years
• We were married on 3/8. 3+8=11
• My father passed away on 9/2 – 9+2=11
• My sister passed away on 11/11/03
• My sister’s birthday is May 1, which is the 121st day of the year, which is 11x11
• “XI” was on Amazon for $12.62. 1+2+6+2=11
• “XI” sold 11,000 copies in its first week

 
 
Would you like to give us a hint about each track?
 
J: Without commenting on every song, I can honestly say this is the strongest record I have done with Metal Church. It has an edge, a pace, a bond, and variety… there is a bit of everything here, it is complete. “Reset” sets the tone and it’s on from there.
 
 
You’re among the newer breed of people in “Church”, being a part now for some 10 or so years, how did it all happen and are you happy with how things are progressing? The output at least during your tenure with the band has been anything but disappointing?!
 
J: I have been in the band for 11 years. I first met Kurdt when I was touring in Europe with Savatage in 1998, as he was opening for us with his solo band. I then toured with Chris Caffery in 2005, opening for Metal Church in Europe. This is when I became good friends with Kurdt, and was able to hear Metal Church every night, and I became a huge fan of the music. When Kirk Arrington was unable to continue playing, Kurdt asked if I was interested in joining the band and of course I accepted. In 2006 we recorded “A Light in the Dark”, and now here we are. I can say that there have been some trying, frustrating times, but now I feel great about the future of the band.
 
 
Did the change in singers prompt for a slight deviation in the styling of the music – a throw back if you will?
 
J: Yes, of course. The base for anything Metal Church is Kurdt’s writing and playing style that is always the common thread. Mike’s connection with Kurdt’s playing is what brought success to the band years ago. Really, this is just the way these two write together, so the deviation wasn’t intentional, it’s was natural. Kurdt had written some of the record even before he initially talked Mike.
 
 
Looking back at the history of Metal Church the band did pretty well in the 80s but never managed to make it to the next level? Why do you think attributed to that?
 
J: All of the same problems that most bands have had that have struggled or never reached their potential: Drugs, Alcohol, Health, Bad Management, Bad Decisions, Bad Behavior, and just good old Bad Luck.
 
 
Given the current situation of the scene/industry etc., how do you think things will unfold? People keep dying and more and more bands will either perish or permanently retire in the next years, how do you think this will play out?
 
J: I’m not really sure what the future will bring. The music that I grew up on, that influenced me, was created by people that put hours and hours into practicing, writing, performing, producing… all of the above. That is why I believe I grew up in the greatest era of music. I do not see that same dedication in the youth of this era. It’s generational, and we can all be a little biased about our era of music, but I am sure there will be a couple great artists that emerge.
 
 
Is it an opportunity for the less successful old bands to deserve the recognition they do – or will they keep being legacy bands?
 
J: I guess success depends on whether you can still sing, play and perform well. If there is a fan base, I’m sure they will support whoever their band is as long as they are good and still playing like they mean it.
 
 
Also more and more modern inventions are coming out, like some “drumless” drums – where a camera records you and it translates your movements into “hits” or a ball-setup that is used to beat real drums – but is obviously a drum machine, still albeit using a natural skin to produce the sound… do you think that the |human factor| is being pushed aside in music and in metal in general?
 
J: I wasn’t aware of the camera-translating scenario… but it doesn’t surprise me. Drum machines have been used for a long time now, but if you still need to pull it off live. Technology helps and hurts I guess, it makes it much easier to do any number of things. No matter what genre of music, it just depends on who you are and how much you care about what you are doing.
 
 
By the way which are your influences on the instrument and how did you decide to become a drummer?
 
J: I was always athletic as a kid, and drums came very naturally. I saw Buddy Rich several times on television when I was very young. That got me interested. I then saw the band Chicago on a television special in 1974, and drummer Danny Seraphine was my first true influence. I listened to my Chicago “7” album endlessly. Then, a year later, it all changed. I saw KISS on The Midnight Special and I wanted to do THAT! Peter Criss and KISS put me into orbit and inspired me to be a drummer. From there, it was Neil Peart, who really drove me to another level. He made me work very hard, made me think, made me become musical on the drums. Alex Van Halen, Tommy Aldridge, Terry Bozzio, Steve Smith, Phil Ehart, Simon Phillips, Albert Bouchard… the list goes on and on. Two local drummers, Carl Canedy of The Rods and Frank Briggs of 805 were very influential. I was at every one of their shows I could get to and absorbed everything I could.
 
 
Where do you think Metal Church will be 5-10 years from now?
 
J: Making great records, headlining tours and festivals, and just doing what we love to do.
 
 
How do you manage to balance TSO & playing for the Church?
 
J: Although The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has done several Spring and Summer tours, we are mainly a Winter Tour. This allows me plenty of time throughout the year to record and perform with Metal Church.
 
 
Incidentally what’s the word on the good ship Savatage? There were supposed to be some talks and an image of a ship has appeared on the bands FB? The Wacken show or sth else?
 
J: This really is a question for Jon and Paul. We had a tremendous time last year when we performed at the Wacken Open Air Festival. It truly was great, and magical, to perform with that band again. I would love to put the “Dead Winter Dead” band back on the road again, but this is not my decision to be made.
 
 
Any idea what the touring plans are? There are US dates, some Festival & German dates then a long gap and supposedly proper EU dates would be in early 2017 to allow for all the other “stuff” to happen?
 
J: I assume you are referring to Metal Church. We just finished a U.S. tour, and we leave in another week for a string of dates in Europe. We then head to the West Coast to do a week of shows with Armored Saint, and then back to Europe in July and August. We are planning on another tour of the States; South, Southeast and Midwest, in August/ September, and then we go to Japan for Loudpark 16 in October. We have a busy year. And of course we hope to continue touring in support of “XI” next year.
 
 
Any hope of seeing you in Greece anytime soon, either with Church or Savatage?
 
J: A much better chance of seeing Metal Church in Greece. I miss your country… some of the best fans I have ever played for!
 
Metal Church band pic
 
Time for our “weird questions”!!! If you were Jeff Almighty – god for a week – what would you do?!
 
J: And, what do you mean “If”?! I could think of a lot of ‘deep’, ‘serious’ answers to this, but in the spirit of this interview: I would go back to 1975-76, any week of the U.S. KISS Alive tour, and to be Peter Criss. To sit in that throne, watching Paul, Gene and Ace in front of me every night, playing those great songs, the audience going nuts, and my drum riser elevating at the end of “Black Diamond”… I can’t imagine anything better than that!…
 
 
Which are the best 3 heavy metal albums according to you?
 
J: I may not be the best authority on this because I came into metal a little later than most. But I would say “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath because this is probably where this all started. “Screaming For Vengeance” by Judas Priest because this album put this genre into the mainstream and really solidified metal’s importance. This may seem a stretch, but I’ll say “Alive” by Kiss, because this also brought the genre to the mainstream, but it also brought the importance of performance and spectacle.
 
 
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
 
J: Alive” by KISS because if I wrote, recorded and performed those songs, I’d be the coolest guy in the universe.
 
 
Fill in the phrase… “Heavy metal music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
 
J: That’s a tough one. It has to be Kurdt Vanderhoof. It’s all his fault.
 
 
Which is the drummer who influenced metal music the most?
 
J: Bill Ward has long been considered the founder of the style. I think the aggression and heaviness of Sabbath in general contributes to that. Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor of Motorhead was one of the first to use double bass extensively in songs, “Overkill” in particular. And we all know the importance of double bass drumming in metal music.
 
 
If you could go to the past or the future, what would you chose and why?
 
J: That’s a draw: If I go back I could fix a couple things, if I go forward I would know better what to prepare for.
 
 
Which one of the 7 Deadly Sins do you identify with more?
 
J: It has to be Pride, which I can’t quite understand why that’s a sin. Seems to me a sense of Pride brings a sense of Peace.
 
 
Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
 
J: How would I react? Not very well…
 
 
Thx for talking to Grande Rock Jeff. Wish you the best for the new album and your future music endeavors. Take care!
 
J: Thank you! And thank you for the cool questions, nice job!

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