INTERVIEW WITH SCHMIER BY STEPHANIE JENSEN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LINÉ HAMMETT
You can’t say “legendary thrash metal band” without mentioning Destruction. The band formed in 1982 by three young men—Schmier being one of them—in the small town of Weil am Rhein, Germany. They loved heavy metal music and preferred the fastest songs on the albums of that time. This helped develop the thrash metal genre into what it is today and is one of the many reasons why Destruction is included in the German Big Four—a lineup of the most iconic German thrash metal bands that took thrash to another level of brutal.
Destruction continues its legacy with the new album Born to Perish. It still combines their signature aggression with catchy hooks that pierce your flesh, but Born to Perish also features two new players, drummer Randy Black and guitarist Damir Eskic. We spoke to Destruction vocalist and bassist Schmier to discuss Born to Perish, writing and recording with new members, the band’s history, and his views of the German Big Four.
Let’s talk about Born to Perish. What can fans expect?
I think many fans are as excited as we are because it’s the first album with a new lineup. Randy Black, he’s our new drummer, and we finally have two guitarists again. Many fans have waited for this moment to see and hear Destruction as a four piece again. And I’m happy with the album because it turned out great. It turned out the way I wanted it to be and it introduces the guys in the right way. The songs are catchy and heavy as fuck, and I’m excited for fans to hear the new album.
What do you think the new members brought to the band for the writing and recording of Born to Perish?
For the writing, we gave them the chance to contribute some stuff. Randy contributed some really cool drumbeats and drum patterns in two of the songs. And Damir had a lot of space to do solo work, leads, and harmony stuff. They both contributed to their parts. Mike and I have been the songwriters for Destruction for five years. But the other guys definitely put their bits and pieces and put their style in the band. We definitely don’t want to destroy Destruction—bring in new people and sound different. We want to make Destruction sound stronger, and that’s what the new guys did. They did a great job.
You mentioned the fans and how they wanted two guitar players. But what do you think about playing with two guitar players after so many years? How was the writing? Was it a different experience?
We were really excited to finally write an album with no limits. When you write an album as a three piece, you always have to have the handbrake on. Because when it comes to the live situation, you have to be careful you don’t overplay on the album because you’re only playing live with just three people. We don’t use any backing tracks or bullshit, we’re a live band. And we’ve always been a good live band. The second guitar adds a totally another flavor to it. It’s first, more heavy and more brutal. And second, it has more variety because you can do so many more things. When we were writing the album, we put no limits on the guitars. I wouldn’t have done this if I wouldn’t have had a vision in my head. We always wanted to do this for a long time. We were waiting for the right guy. It needs the right timing and the right guy. As much as I cherished being a three piece, I really love being a four piece now with a second guitarist on stage. It feels brutal.
Why do you think Damir stands out from other guitar players?
I mean, anybody who plays guitar will start crying because he’s so good. He’s a super talented guy who stands out with his playing skills. He’s just super talented. And for us as a band, he’s a great extra because he’s a team player. He’s not just a solo player. He adds everything to the band—the rhythm parts, the harmony parts, he does amazing shreds, that’s world-class work he does there. And he’s also a guy who on stage gives 100 percent. He’s like a 100 percent stage action guy, which is what Destruction is about. We go on stage and we destroy. And he fits in with all of those terms that we needed.
Do you say the same thing for Randy, as well?
He’s a drum phenomenon. He’s 55-years-old, or 56 I think, and he plays like a young kid. He’s so solid, so stable, and so tight as a player. The guy has played drums for so long, it’s an enrichment for any band. Of course, I love his physical playing because he’s a physical player. He’s playing really hard. He’s playing rim shots on the snare drum, which is important for thrash metal. He was always one of my favorite metal drummers, and I’m really happy he’s with us now.
“WE’RE ALL BORN TO DIE AND WE WILL AT ONE POINT VANISH. WHAT MATTERS IS WHAT YOU DO WITH YOUR LIFE. IN THE END, WE’RE ALL DEAD. “
Why did you name the album Born to Perish, and how does the title track reflect the album as a whole?
The album is called Born to Perish because the lyrical content is about life and death. We’re all born to die and we will at one point vanish. What matters is what you do with your life. In the end, we’re all dead. The rich man, the poor man, no matter what race or religion, we’re all gonna die. The lyrics are going in that direction. They talk about politics and about life. And they talk about personal situations. A song like “Fatal Flight 17” is about a plane that got shot down over Ukraine. I talk about stuff that matters to me in life. The title track stands musically for the album. It has the brutality of Destruction. It has the speed varieties, it has the tricky guitars, and it’s also still a really catchy song. We try to write songs that stay in your mind. Even if it’s very brutal music, you want to write songs that are catching you when you first hear it. At that point, “Born to Perish” stands for the whole album.
All of your albums improve, from the very beginning to this new album. What’s your secret? Or do you play whatever comes naturally?
I think it’s the love and the passion for music, it keeps pushing us to break down borders. I think in any kind of job, if you love your job, you do it better. We still love and dig what we do. We really enjoy playing music. And playing live, it’s not just being a music player who goes on stage. Our band, playing live became our trademark. And we’re really happy we can still do this. And I think this is why we still sound great. We put a lot in that with care and we do it with hard work.
“IT’S HONEST MUSIC, IT’S AGGRESSIVE MUSIC, AND IT’S THE ROOT OF ALL EXTREME MUSIC. ALL BLACK METAL AND DEATH METAL, IT’S ALL COMING FROM THRASH METAL.”
Thrash metal is still very popular today. Why do you think people still listen to the genre? Why do you think young people are connecting with it?
20 years ago, thrash metal was at a dead end. The older bands were kind of in a crisis. For example, Slayer had the God Hates Us All album, which is more nu metalish. Kreator had an album called Endorama, which was more gothic influenced. So at that time, thrash metal bands were looking for new ways to express themselves. And a lot of bands were also splitting up, such as Death Angel and Exodus. Also, Destruction was without me for some years in the 90s. So, I think it wasn’t always like this. But thrash metal had a great comeback because it’s honest music, it’s aggressive music, and it’s the root of all extreme music. All black metal and death metal, it’s all coming from thrash metal. The first thrash albums were so influential—Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and other stuff. I think thrash metal has something to say, in terms of lyrics. We don’t sing about rainbows, but we don’t sing about splatter also. We sing about reality. When you’re a young lad, you want to have rebellion against society and maybe your parents. Thrash metal is a nice distraction. It’s a nice passion to have. It’s very uncommercial music, also. That’s another aspect that attracts young people. The music nowadays is so commercialized. Thrash metal is a nice distraction from that shit.
“MUSIC IS A GREAT THING. IT’S A GREAT PASSION TO HAVE. IT GIVES YOU HAPPINESS AND JOY.”
Let’s go back into your history, when the band first formed. There wasn’t a whole lot of thrash bands, but you still had a very unique, signature sound that you still have today. How did you create that sound?
I remember when we were young kids and we bought our first vinyl—the first heavy metal albums. We always loved the speedy songs. Back in the day, every heavy metal album had a maximum of two speedy tracks. Usually, the first song on side A was a fast track, and on the second side, there was a fast track. And that’s it. When we started a band, I remember we said something like, “We’re just going to write fast songs like those A and B tracks on the albums. They’re just kicking ass!” And there was a lot of influence from punk rock. I loved the punk rock from the 80s, like Dead Kennedy’s, GBH, The Exploited. That was the influence from the roughness, the speed, and the lyrical content. And, of course, we loved the heavy metal from England, when it came out. I guess it mixed us up. We wanted to be the wildest and craziest band in the world when we started. We were just young kids from the countryside and we wanted to break out of the routine. We wanted to break out of the normal life and just play music. Music is a great thing. It’s a great passion to have. It gives you happiness and joy. It’s what we had when we were young kids. We never thought you could go that far. Now that I look back, it’s crazy.
How often do you meet fans who were Destruction fans from the early days? Do they still listen to your band and go to shows?
Oh yeah! I think there are a lot of guys who still listen to the band. That’s, of course, a proud moment for us. People have been following us for 35 years or so. It’s amazing that someone supports you for so long. The crazy thing is, a lot of daddies bring their kids along. Their sons or daughters listen to metal now. That’s another generation that goes to shows. That’s really cool! It’s cool to have the young kids. The old guys, they supported us when we started. They will always be special for us as a band, also, because they’re still there. I know how difficult it is when your wife at home doesn’t like metal (laughs). I think it’s a cool thing to see the old lads at a show, nowadays.
You’re one of the bands in the German Big Four. Why do you think Destruction is included in that lineup?
Because we were the first German band that released an album in this direction. Our first album came out in 1984, and it started the whole thing. Before our album, there was no band this extreme that released a record before. We were the test of our label to see if people would like our music. I think we are there in the German Big Four because we were the early birds. We were one of the first bands who created this extreme band in Europe, and that’s why we became kind of famous. And we had an extreme image, which also helped us to maintain Destruction in people’s heads. Not so many of those bands in Germany survived. Most of those bands called it quits. People give up playing music. We’re still here. We had our ups and downs. We also had a breakup, I wasn’t in the band for some years. But we always came back together, and I think that’s what matters. That’s why we’re still here and that’s why we’re a part of the German Big Four, because we’re one of the most successful German extreme metal bands.
The other three bands in the German Big Four—Sodom, Kreator and Tankard—did you play shows with them back in the day? Were you all friends?
Yeah. When we started, there were no other bands. Those were the only other bands in Germany that played this kind of music. At that time, there was no internet and there were no big magazines. So we had to find out about them in underground metal magazines that were handwritten by fans. We had to write letters and stuff. Everything was complicated. We played our very first shows with those guys in Tankard, Sodom, and Kreator, at the time they were called Tormentor. We’ve known all of those guys for 35 years. And, of course, we’re still friends. It’s a very longterm friendship with those bands.
“THE GERMAN BANDS ARE A LITTLE DIFFERENT. WE’RE A LITTLE MORE UNDERGROUND, BRUTAL, A LITTLE MORE RUTHLESS.”
Did you ever play any shows with the US Big Four bands? Whether they toured in Germany or Europe or if you came to the US. Were you involved in that scene at all?
The Americans always kept themselves in their own kind of thing. The American Big Four came to Europe to tour. Like all of the other Big Four bands, they’re legendary. But the German bands are a little different. We’re a little more underground, brutal, a little more ruthless. Metallica became a major act. They’re the most famous heavy metal band in the world, nowadays. The German bands always stayed a little more underground. Even Kreator, nowadays, is also really big worldwide. But the German bands were always a little bit more brutal than the American kind of thrash. The American guys were always better players. They’re all a little bit older. The age of the American bands, they all could be our bigger brothers. They started like two or three years earlier than us.
Thrash is a lot bigger of a genre than it was in the past. Did you expect this style of metal to become as big and influential as it is now?
No, we never thought so. People were laughing at us when we started. Nobody understood the intensity of the music at the time. The beginning of the 80s, the heaviest stuff you could buy was Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. But when a band like us came out, it was disturbing a lot of people. We didn’t want to go that far. We never had the plan to be the biggest rock stars. We wanted to play fucking music and have a good time. If you look at the history of Metallica, they became so big because they went off the path. They went from a thrash metal band to a mainstream band because they were starting to write ballads and mellow material, and you reach more people writing that kind of music and you reach more mainstream people. Of course, you also lose the diehards—the people who love the heavy stuff. So we never went that way. We never had the urge to be more commercialized. When we started the band, we wanted to be super uncommercial. We wanted to be the opposite of commercial music.
Do you have any plans for the rest of the year or next year?
We’re talking about the next American tour right now. It looks like we’re going to have some good news for America! We will start touring in Europe in September with Overkill and Flotsam and Jetsam. We will play festivals here in Europe. We will come back to the States in early 2020, I think in spring around March or April. I wish I could announce the tour right now but I can’t, I have to wait until I get the confirmation from our manager. But we have America on the list and we will be back early next year!