With so many cool bands out there to check out I offer you some minor guidance by introducing you to PILEDRIVER. Answers by Michael Sommerhoff (guitarist with PILEDRIVER).
Anders Ekdahl ©2018
How hard was it to come up with a band name and how does the name fit the music?
Michael:Well, the name “PILEDRIVER” is borrowed from the Status Quo-album of the same title. It was their first record on which they presented the sound Quo got famous for. The album also contained the hit single “Paper Plane” that brought Quo back to the charts after a lengthy period without success. We are fans of the period from 1972 up to 1977 that we consider as Quo´s “heyday”. Since we had the intention to revive and to continue that sound of the “real Quo” it made perfectly sense to call the band PILEDRIVER. But to be honest – in retrospective we would not do that again. Nowadays there are too many bands around that also call themselves PILEDRIVER. For a couple of years now the desire to become a band of our own right grew – we´d like to stand on our own feet. And I think we achieved our goal to a certain degree on “BROTHERS IN BOOGIE” and especially on our latest album “ROCKWALL”. Since we played under the PILEDRIVER name for some 20 years we feel that it wouldn´t be a clever move to change the name now. We´d lose the goodwill we built up during the last 2 decades. So we will stick to the “brand”.
What was it that made you want to be in a band in the first place?
Michael:The prospect of beautiful girls coming to our concerts and falling in love with us…;-) But this is not the whole truth, I can assure you. There was another reason that made me wanting to play guitar in a rock band: Status Quo, who are falsely called “the 3-chord-wonder” and who are sort of “british cultural property” today. The “Frantic Four” (you might know that this is the nickname of the original Status Quo line-up consisting of Messrs. Parfitt/Lancaster/Coghlan/Rossi) got me started playing guitar and founding a band. Without them PILEDRIVER would not exist. I was lucky enough to have been born early enough so I was able to visit the Quo-Concerts in the 1970s when they had their heyday. Live in concert they were fantastic, unbeatable and unmatched! If you weren´t there you won´t have an idea what I am talking about. By 1977/1978 they were kind of a religion.
But I have to say that my admiration is reduced to the output of the 1970s period. When Rossi and Parfitt continued without Lancaster and Coghlan in 1986 to me and many others the magic was gone.
As I am no musician I have no idea how it works, but how do you make your own music based on what influences you? What parts do you pick?
Michael:Apart from Quo I do like quite a lot of bands, such as AC/DC, UFO (with Michael Schenker on lead guitar), Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and especially David Gilmour. And in the last couple of years I discovered that I also like jazz music. Chuck Loeb for instance is one of the great jazz guitar players I really dig.
So musicwise I think it´s easy to identify our “sources” and the ingredients – of course the original Quo from the 70s, but also a shot of the aforementioned artists. Put it all together and add our personal input – there you have it.
You are influenced by the music you listen to – even if you don´t want it. Of course I don´t purposely pick any part of a song someone else wrote. But I studied quite a number of songs, learned the chord progressions, harmonies etc. And out of this knowledge I create my own stuff. I´d like to put it like Keith Richards who once said: “The songs are flying through the air – you just have to grab them!” Sometimes I just mess around a little bit with my acoustic guitar and then all of a sudden I come across a catchy riff, melody, tune – and then I have to elaborate it. Sometimes a song is finished in a day, sometimes it takes a few months until I can finish the puzzle – I mean, until I have all the parts of a song and can put them all together so they fit perfectly.
When you are in a band does it feel like you are a part of a worldwide movement?
Michael:To be with the guys of the band is like being part of a family because we know each other so well and for such a long time – nearly 25 years. And when we go on stage together it feels like coming home. What could be better? I feel very lucky that we are still able to do what we love best and what we did since our teenage days.
How important is it that you look the part in promo shots and stuff? How important is the graphic side of the band?
Michael:I am not quite sure if I get you right. I guess you mean the importance of the outward appearance, the look and the presentation of the band. Well, if you look at playing in a band not just as a leisure time activity but want to do this on a serious basis you have to look at it as a business. To us PILEDRIVER is (of course not only but also) a business because it takes a lot of money to finance the CDs, DVDs, BluRays etc. we release and to put the band on the road playing gigs. Therefore we are not leaving things to chance but think about every aspect of the band before we make final decisions. It all needs to be consistent. PILEDRIVER is a classic hard rock act – so the band has to look like that – not like a country & western act. Otherwise we would confuse our potential “customers” – if you see a picture of a band you ought to know what their music is about. And the music should have a signature sound. The most successful bands were and are the bands who are recognized immediately when one of their songs is played just for a few seconds. So there are many things to take care of to develop a good band in terms of commercial success. And sooner or later a band needs to have commercial success – in these days rather sooner. Otherwise the band will split up because nobody can afford to generate losses on a permanent basis.
What would you say influences your lyrics? How important are they?
Michael:We are musicians and it´s our job to entertain people, to make sure the audience has a good time when they come to one of our gigs. Nevertheless the lyrics of our songs are important to me. I´d like to quote from the liner notes I wrote for the booklet of our latest album ROCKWALL: “It still is only rock´n´roll, it´s still only entertainment – but with attitude!” We know that we can´t change the world but with all this terrifying and alarming developments I feel that I can´t write about one night stands for instance. We want classic rock to live on but we don´t want to revive these stupid rock´n´roll clichés. In a world like this the lyrics should make sense. We´d like them to be serious and worth reading them.
And especially nowadays I really don´t think it is hard to find serious themes to write lyrics about – there are so many sources of inspiration thanks to all the autocratic leaders in the world, the countless populists with their simple answers for simple minds, the religious fanatics who want to kill everybody who doesn´t believe what they believe – to me it´s a never ending list of topics I would like to write about. I am satisfied with lyrics when the words are like a wake-up call – because we all need to wake up very soon if we want to avoid that history will repeat itself. I don´t want to climb into a time-machine that takes me back to the 1930s and 1940s. You know what I mean.
Is the album as relevant today as it was in the 70s and 80s? Is digital killing the album?
Michael:When I was introduced to music I listened to the songs on an album from beginning to end. It was the time of “concept albums” – the Pink Floyd releases of the 1970s come to my mind (“Dark side of the moon”, “Wish you were here” and records like that). But listening habits have changed dramatically. Especially younger people just listen to one or two certain songs of an album. And I guess the term “listen” is no longer appropriate. The digitization of music has led to such an extensive catalogue of songs you can choose from as a consumer that everything is very superficial these days. Yes, I am convinced that the digitization kills the “concept albums”. Nevertheless we have just recorded and released one – ROCKWALL and also it´s predecessor BROTHERS IN BOOGIE are concept albums. Maybe that is a mistake but that´s the way we work. We don´t release just songs. You should listen to the tracks in the order they are on the CD. And yes, the CD will disappear.
Where will the future of format end – digital versus physical versus whatever?
Michael:In the long run there will be no more physical audio media. The same goes for films – DVDs and BluRays will also disappear. When kids will be introduced to music in 2040 they won´t know and won´t need any physical media. They will find it funny and strange when they learn how we used to listen to our favourite records…
How much of a touring entity are you guys? What is a live experience with you like?
Michael:PILEDRIVER is around for some 23 years now. I did not count the gigs but I estimate that we have been on stage a thousand times since we started. I can´t put my finger on it. To experience “PILEDRIVER live in concert” without actually going to a concert I advise you to watch our BluRay we released in June 2017. There you have it. It´s all about fun, energy, movement, loudness – and our friendship. That´s why we still do it today. We´re not around to earn money. But that does not mean we are around to burn money – we can´t afford it.
What lies in the future?
Michael:Currently there´s quite a lot going on in the PILEDRIVER camp due to the release of our new CD ROCKWALL. I do many interviews like this one at the moment. Before I chatted with you I did an interview with a russian mag – they did not want to print the cover of ROCKWALL. Guess why…;-) 3 Video-Clips have been shot by the end of November 2018 for promo-purposes (Agitators, One for the rock, Farewell). And it seems that we will be on stage many times within the next 12 months because gigs keep coming in and fill our date-sheet. A European-tour as a support for a major act is also on the cards. So let´s see what the future holds in store for us. We hope that we will be able to visit your country as well!