In the world of Hard Rock/Metal music there are bands and artists that come and go, but the truly great one’s have continued to create that magic and deliver exceptional melodic, hard rock/metal for an entire new generation to appreciate. The bands and artists that have made that mark on the music scene have transcended time and have a staying power that makes what they have done something worthy of Epic. No country is the cornerstone for greatness in Metal Music more than Germany. With bands like the Scorpions, Bonfire, Jaded Heart, Mad Max, Frontline and now with the German super-group Phantom 5 creating iconic hard rock songs that have withstood the test of time and new material that has given the young metal fans a taste of the 80’s, the country has cemented itself and theirs is the flag that flies when I think of excellence in melodic hard rock. Now, thinking about these great bands that have given us their exceptional talents and offered up a smorgasbord of classic, melodic metal songs, there are two that immediately come to mind and they are Jaded Heart and Mad Max. For over 30 years these 2 bands have set the standard for melodic rock excellence and the backbone of those bands, the man that drives the rhythm and delivers a booming beat like no other, is the one and only Axel Kruse. Not only an incredible musician, but an exceptional person who appreciates the fans and the music that we have all come to know and love. I had the honor of sitting down with Axel and with a kid in a candy store grin (I’m a HUGE fan) had the opportunity to chat with hard rock royalty and ask him about the Phantom 5 project, Mad Max and the hard rock scene from his eyes………………………..
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: How did the Phantom 5 project come together? I know that you and Michael are in Mad Max together. If I was to pick member’s from Germany’s elite hard rock bands, these are the bands that I would choose from….
AXEL KRUSE: From the beginning it was the idea from Frontiers. Serifino the label owner, it was his idea. He always do this type of project. He wrote Michael (Voss) an email in February of last year and he asked if he would like to do it. Michael said “Of course, he would like to do it, but let me check with the other guys.” He did and we agreed.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: You guys just decided that it was a good fit. It came together really well.
AXEL KRUSE: Actually we all knew each other. That was the first step, “Yeah, of course we can do it.” Michael know’s Francis (Bucholz), I knew all of the other guys except Francis, but that was no problem. It worked out pretty well.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: The album is excellent. The first time that I listened to it, I remember that it came into my store about a week in advance of the release date. I get to listen to it beforehand. I remember putting it on the car and think “Man, this is exactly what I thought it was gonna be and even better.” It was amazing.
AXEL KRUSE: We knew that we had to do it like the people expect. They know Michael and Me, they know Jaded Heart, they know Bonfire and if the Bonfire singer is on the record, we can’t do speed metal or the modern style of metal or whatever. They would kick your ass. LOL. It’s the music that we like most, so it was easy to do. Robby had so many riff’s and licks and songs at home so it was easy to do. We already have some songs for the next one, so….
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: That was actually my next question. Is there plans to do a 2nd PHANTOM 5 album?
AXEL KRUSE: We talked about it. We would like to do it, but now it’s on Frontiers side because of the money and time etc.., but if they have plans to do it, we are in.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: I have a lot of friends and I who grew up listening to this music and when I heard that this project was happening, I was all in. LOL. I got the album out to my customers and some of my best friends have the album now and we talk about it all the time. We love it.
AXEL KRUSE: How did you get started with this business. Is this your main business?
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: I actually started Rock In the FastLane 3.5 years ago. It’s starting to grow every year and it’s getting bigger. The main reason that I started it is because I love the music and I have been a fan for so long. This is something that I love to do. It’s escalated and we are doing a lot of things and I get to interview someone like you who I have been a fan of for 30 years. It’s an honor. I have a respect for what you guys do. I don’t just look at it as something that is really cool, for me it stands the test of time. The Phantom 5 album is the same way. I believe that 30 years down the road I will be listening to it, God willing, and it will sound just as good as the day that you guys released it.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: The German bands have a very unique sound. I know that when you hear a Jaded Heart Album or Mad Max or the Phantom 5 album and you listen to an American band, you can tell the difference. You have knack for the big hooks; songs that stay with you. I know that when I listen to, say, “Renegade” from the Phantom 5 album, I know that song is you guys and I know the hook. When you structure a song as a band, say for the Phantom 5 album, what do you look for? Do you look for the big hook or do you just go for what feel’s best for you?
AXEL KRUSE: I think both. Actually we work like this, where we have the riff or nearly the whole song. Then we drop it into like a computer type thing or a demo. Then Michael and Claus are listening to it. Then see if they can put some lyrics in it or some hooks in it. I think that you can feel, pretty fast if it’s working for you or not. If it’s not then scratch it. Start a new one. I think with this album it was really easy. In all we produced 15 songs and 12 made it on the album. Not many trashy songs.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: I remember when I heard the “Inside Out” and “Mystery Eyes”albums when you were in Jaded Heart. Back then, it was difficult, here in America, to get the albums from the bands from Europe. My brother and I would always find a way to get them. I remember the “Mystery Eyes” album when “Heaven Is Falling” kicked in I was blown away. I consider “Mystery Eye’s” epic, for me and still one of my favorite albums of all time. Then with Mad Max you brought out “Night of Passion” and then in 2012 you released “Another Night Of Passion” and great tunes like “Falling From Grace” and “Back And Alive,” one of my favorites. It has that kick, one of those tunes that you want to hear in the stadium.
What do you consider your favorite album that you have done, based on your performance? Once the album came out you heard it and said “I really nailed it on this one?”
AXEL KRUSE: That’s a tough one. There are so many right now. You always like the one that you just released. For me I like the Jaded Heart albums from the mid 2000’s, they’re more my favorites. I know you may not like to hear it, but especially when Johan joined Jaded Heart. We had really big problems with the other singer. His ego. He wanted to be the second Bon Jovi. Really stuborn. That’s why we changed the style. I think that the album’s that came out after 2003 or something are better than the one’s before them.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: You can tell by the sound. It’s a little heavier. It’s hard to work with a guy with an ego. Makes it harder for the band.
How about any upcoming album’s or any projects that you are working on? Anything new in the works? Mad Max wise?
AXEL KRUSE: With Mad Max we have one more festival in early September. The label may want to release an album of greatest hits stuff or new stuff, we don’t know yet. With Phantom 5 we are just waiting for a sign from Frontiers and if they want, we will do another record.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: Now that the Phantom 5 record has been released and has been out for a while, how do you feel about how it has done, personally, since it’s release?
AXEL KRUSE: We’ve been pretty lucky. In the first days we hit the charts here. Pretty good in Europe and especially Germany because of Francis, of course and because of Claus. All of the responses were so fantastic. There’s nothing, when you count to 10, there is nothing under a 7.5. There was no bad reviews or bad word. It’s not normal these day’s. Everyone has a different taste in music. If you are a reviewer for a Phantom 5 record, but you like Slayer, of course you don’t like the album as much in the review.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: Your sound kinda transcends genre’s. It’s melodic, but still has the heavy element to it.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: How about some of your influences as a drummer? I know that when I listen to you, you have a real, nice driving sound that is prominent on all the album’s that I’ve heard. Who are some of the guys that have influenced you in the past?
AXEL KRUSE: Actually, I started with Cozy Powell. He was my favorite. I like the guys that are more the same. I’m not the double bass drum hero. I like to play 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, directly in your face, straight on, but with power. That’s my style. I know what I can play, so I don’t try to play Dream Theater stuff.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: I would love to travel over to Germany, over to Europe to see some of the bands like Mad Max, because they never come to America and especially Pittsburgh. The concert scene here, especially for the European bands is almost nonexistent.
What is the concert scene like in Germany? I know that hard rock/metal is still very much alive and well in Europe compared to the US. How do you guys handle the differences in crowds, going from playing in front of 10,000 at a festival in Europe to playing for 500 at a smaller venue? Which do you prefer?
AXEL KRUSE: Playing is the same no matter where you play. I like playing in front of any crowd. I prefer the smaller venues because you can see the crowd and see their faces.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: Since audience participation and interaction can make a good show a great show. Since connecting with the audience is so important; if you had one question to ask your fans/audience that would help them to connect, what would it be?
AXEL KRUSE: There is really nothing that we can do to get the audience to participate. All of the countries that we play in, the audiences are different. In Germany say, there are some audiences that are crazy and into it and other’s that are calm and just listening to the music. In France, the are calm, but everyone that is there bought a ticket, so if that’s the way they want to enjoy it, then that’s ok. They are still fan’s because they paid money to see us.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: What is the first album that you remember owning?
AXEL KRUSE: The first album that I remember owning was Status Quo “Rocking All Over the World.” I still have it in my album collection.
ROCK IN THE FASTLANE: Vinyl is making a strong comeback. There is nothing that sounds like it. I remember my parents bought me Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” when I was 5 years old because I liked “Smoke on the Water.” I started early.
AXEL KRUSE: Yes, album sales in Germany have gone up 60%. People are listening more to them.
Axel and I spoke a little more and since this was a Skype call I got to see his record collection and a really cool, German version of a Kiss pinball machine that he has. We chatted about metal bands that we like and vacations and things so being able to speak with a rock icon was truly special.
I would like to thank Axel Kruse for giving me the opportunity to sit and do an interview with him. This was a great experience and I wish Axel and the bands that he is in, the Best of luck and the success that he deserves.
Check out the bands that Axel is involved with at: