This interview with Stahlhammer vocalist Gary Wheeler was on 20 August 2002. A few words have been edited to make the text more clear.
GP: Gregory E. Pilling [webmaster]
GW: Gary Wheeler
GP: In the very beginning, how did the original members of Stahlhammer find eachother?
GW: Mike played in a band called El Fisher, but he left them and at that time I left my former band called Blind Petition. Mike read about that and called me. We met in Vienna for the first time and talked about a new type of metal. We didn't know at that time what it could be but we knew it had to be something special. In December 1992 everybody in the scene had no idea what could be coming up next. So we tried to think crossover and began to mix Metallica, Pantera, some Austrian traditionals with one special thing - German language! Peter Karolyi and Thomas Schuler completed the band.
GP: Where did the name "Stahlhammer" come from?
GW: Eisenherz was the unofficial name of the band at first. Unfortunately that was also the German name of the stories of "Prince Valliant" and the copyright prevented everything. One night we went home from Munich and like magic the word Stahlhammer was spoken and the bands name was born.
GP: How did you go about making some demo recordings to first get signed with a record label?
GW: Well that was a lucky chance. Some demo recordings went to the wrong address and a German producer did get them. He called soon. Then we worked a long time on the first album "Killerinstinkt".
GP: Can you tell us about recording your first album "Killer Instinkt"? What ideas did the band have for this album?
GW: One real bizarre thing was to choose lyrics from Peter Rossegger [a German poet] which I personally like very much and put them together with a "Zieharmonika". First we were a little bit afraid of what the people say, but the first time we performed "Ein Freund Ging Nach Amerika" live it was a real big success. Those days we opened a show for Tiamat and made it very hard for them because the style of our debut album "Killerinstinkt" was fresh and raw and the crowd was hungry to see Stahlhammer performing the CD live on stage.
GP: How successful was "Killer Instinkt"?
GW: Well it became something like a cult-album in Europe. So it was really successful.
GP: And how successful was the video for "Another Brick In The Wall"?
GW: European MTV played the video several times, and some other local stations too.
GP: What exactly makes you decide to do a cover of a particular song? For example, why did you choose to cover Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall" and then "Can't Touch This" on the following album "Wiener Blut"? These songs are very different!
GW: We never wanted to do the same thing on two or more albums. The more bizarre it is the better it is to play very popular songs in a typical Stahlhammer arrangement. (Think of Eisbär on the new album!)
GP: How did you first meet Renato Zanella and why did you choose him to work with the band?
GW: Our bassplayer Peter was a member of the Vienna Staatsopernballett, so Zanella did get a copy of Killerinstinkt and later of Wiener Blut. Again, it was a very bizarre thing to cross metal and classic dance.
GP: In what ways did Zanella help to compose the new songs with the band?
GW: Zanella did not ever do any composings. He arranged the dance performings.
GP: Did he help choose the guest performers for the album "Wiener Blut"?
GP: How did Stahlhammer get chosen to play at the opening gala of the Vienna State Opera in 1997?
GW: by the connection to Zanella.
GP: What is the significance of the show Stahlhammer performed at the Vienna Heldenplatz in July 1998? This show was seen by 35 million people on television, so how well did it promote Stahlhammer?
GW: Of course it promoted the band extremely, but it's like Andy Warhol said: "Everybody can be famous for fifteen minutes".
GP: What type of influence did the Falco Cyber Show have on Stahlhammer?
GW: I think the better question would be what type of influence had Stahlhammer on the Falco Cyber Show. (They used the same arrangement like we did on the Feind Hört Mit CD on "Mutter Der Mann Mit Dem Koks")
GP: How much influence does Falco have with other musicians from Austria?
GW: After his death the enfant terrible was suddenly everbodys darling. From then on we all knew what we lost. Yes we all were inspired by Falco, if we liked it or not.
GP: What can you tell me about the guitarist Conrad Schrenk that was with the band for this album?
GW: Conrad played guitars on Feind Hört Mit but he was also one of the founding members of Stahlhammer. He was replaced by Thomas Schuler before we recorded Killerinstinkt.
GP: Unfortunately, I do not know exactly what sort of performances or tour Stahlhammer had after the album "Feind Hört Mit", so could you give some sort of information about what happened following this album?
GW: There have been some tours through Europe in 1999. But the band seemed to break up. Georgij and Conrad left the band because of personal problems. Georgij had one hit with a local band in Austria but I don´t remember the name. [this band is Ohrrausch] Conrad is still working on some solo-projects.
GP: After this album, there was very little information about Stahlhammer for a long time. Some people even thought the band had broken up. Can you tell us some of the reasons why Stahlhammer seemed to "disappear"?
GP: You have left Nuclear Blast. Was there a problem with this label?
GW: Nuclear Blast was not really interested anymore in featuring a band becoming too big to be indie. If you listen to Eisenherz you will feel the difference. Stahlhammer had grown up. The main thing for us was not to do songs like we did in the past. We always crossed different styles of music but never so much like we did on Eisenherz. To change the companies was just the opportunity to realize it.
GP: Is this partly why we did not hear of Stahlhammer for some time?
GP: What reasons made you choose a new label in Canada? It is so far away from Austria!
GW: Our friend and manager Holger Koch from Germany who was a former Nuclear Blast member connected the deal with that label. The deal was alright and so we signed.
GP: What details can you tell us about the new contract with Prime Time Music / Metal Hertz?
GW: Sorry no details, but we hope the distribution will work without any problems.
GP: Mike has sent me some .pdf files (Adobe Acrobat) with a lot of information, but it gives a much earlier release date for "Eisenherz" of Fall 2001, was there a delay recording the album?
GW: Well that was because of my mental diseases at that time. It was also because of some technical problems in choosing the right studio for Eisenherz and of course the right engineer. Sometimes it seemed it would never be finished but now it's done and we are very happy to present it to the metal freaks all over the world.
GP: Some new song titles are mentioned, like "Traum von Mir", "Kein Prietser", and the title track "Eisenherz". What are the new songs about?
GW: Kein Priester is about considering what life is all about, where is god?, why is god?, it's sarcasm. [I] don`t believe in it. Eisenherz is a song the real power that comes from within. It's about standing tall in your heart to be resurrected someday as a real human being. It's about searching for truth, honor, fame of hearts and spirit. Iron heart does not mean anything brutal, cold, or dead. It means everyone should be proud of what he is, [what] he can be. The Iron Heart is still pounding in every human being all over the world. It can change your life forever. Listen to your Iron Heart. It's still there!
GP: What has influenced and inspired these songs?
GW: I think a lot of inspiration came from growing older a little bit. Yes, yes it's that simple! We are no teenies anymore impressing young cuties with some noise. If you like, then we are now over the hill and far away from good and bad. We do want we feel now. Nothing is as bad as it seems. In every bad thing lies something good. Metal music is one good reason to become real free because otherwise you wouldn't become a metal fan. I think Eisenherz is a unique impressing album that shows the dark, but honoring side of Stahlhammer, and my lyrics are really true coming from my heart. I swear it!
GP: How do you write new songs? Does the band make music specifically for the lyrics, or do you make songs and try to match lyrics to a song?
GW: Well that depends on what is there first. We did it that way or the other. Some songs came from my side project Stalynn. The second album of Stalynn was never released but there were really good songs so we took them a gave them the real Stahlhammer touch. Listen to them(Marilyn, Träum von mir, Süsses leid and Krieg). Some songs came from the beginning of Stahlhammer, from a time the band was not "ripe" enough to play them so we did it now. (Bis in alle Ewigkeit). There are songs showing a snapshot of what the band was feeling the last two years too. Anyway the album is more compact and ultimate than ever.
GP: What can you tell me about your new producer Wilfried Schneider and his role in making the songs come together?
GW: Wilfried was playing keys in some famous Austrian bands in the past. On Eisenherz he did some key arrangements and he did some "producing thing" too, but thats a secret. (laughing)
GP: Will Stahlhammer have the orchestral arrangements in the new album like in the older albums?
GW: Oh yes we did some mighty orchestral arrangments on Eisenherz (On "Bis in alle Ewigkeit" you can hear a little bit of "Carmen").
GP: What can you tell us about the NDW cover-song "Eisbär"? Why did you choose this song?
GW: Eisbär is also a song that could be well composed by Stahlhammer. So we had to do it!
GP: Will Stahlhammer release any singles from the new album "Eisenherz"? Maybe "Eisbär" will be a single?
GW: At the moment there is no particular song to be chosen as a single. Maybe there will be different releases in Europe and overseas.
GP: Why did you leave the band after the first album? And now what made you come back to the band?
GW: Well I had problems with the band. I wanted to go other musical ways than them so we parted. Two years ago Peter Karolyi called me on the phone and we met (Peter, Michael and me) and talk it over. We left the past behind and..... I don't know what the world really expected but here I am back again with Stahlhammer giving the best I can, showing them my Iron heart!
GP: Speaking of the line-up, where did you find the guitarist Niko Stössl? and why did you choose him?
GW: We chose him by doing castings!
GP: I understand his range of influences are between Limp Bizkit and The Deftones, does this tell us about a new sound of Stahlhammer?
GW: You can hear that on Hölle and Für immer!
GP: In what regions will the new album be sold? It will be in Europe for sure, and Mike has told me in North America, but how else can fans in other places find this album?
GW: Europe of course, USA, Canada and other countries except Japan, but we work on it. (laughing)
GP: Can you tell us some plans for the upcoming tour? Maybe give some information about what the new stage show will have?
GW: There will be a real big pyro show, a special light show, and of course the chrome masks. How big it will be in every single show depends on the arena and the success of Eisenherz, but if you watch the show you will never forget it, I promise.
GP: Is there a chance you will get to tour outside of Europe? There are many fans over here in North America that would love to see Stahlhammer perform live!
GW: Maybe next year we will tour USA.
GP: What would be the best show you can imagine?
GW: The best would be if everybody, after watching the new Stahlhammer show, is able to feel the power of his own Iron heart (Eisenherz).
GP: Is there a Stahlhammer fan-address? If so, what is the address? How can fans send things to get autographs and things like that?
GW: A new address is coming soon.
GP: What else can you say about the members of Stahlhammer? Tell us about your background and some good experiences.
GW: Well Michael is the godfather of the band, Peter the Hip-man, Niko is the businessman and me, I'm the poet the madman and something I cannot explain.
GP: Are any of you married or have a family?
GW: Some are married, some are not.
GP: What type of jobs did you all have before you became musicians?
GW: Peter was a dancer, Niko, Michael and I were musicians our whole life.
GP: What does each member of Stahlhammer like to listen to and be inspired by? Which other bands have a large influence on Stahlhammer as a whole?
GW: Well I don't think there is any band that had a real influence on Stahlhammer. I told you we're something like a mixture of all kinds of music since music has existed. In a private way for example Michael is a big Randy Newman fan. And me, I listen to Neil Young as well as to the Duke or Sepultura. There is no real true style of music. Just good music and bad music.
GP: I know some of the members have had other bands in the past, can you tell us about any of these?
GW: Michael played in a band called El Fisher and made some albums. I played in bands like Blowin Free, Blind Petition, Stalynn, and some solo-projects of course! Michael did some solo things too I think! I don't have any information about Niko and Peter (maybe they were resurrected by Stahlhammer (laughing) )
GP: Do any members have side-project bands?
GW: Niko is doing some but I don't know about it!
GP: What is Stahlhammer's opinion about the current music scene in Austria and Germany?
GW: What scene?
GP: Is there anything else that is important that you would like to add?
GW: We will let the games begin!
GP: Thank you very much for taking some time from your day to answer the questions in the interview! I appreciate all of the information you have given, and wish you good luck with the band's future.