By David E. Gehlke
Frankfurt, Germany's TANKARD enjoyed the kind of hands-off relationship with their first record company, Noise Records, that their labelmates in CELTIC FROST, HELLOWEEN and KREATOR could have only dreamed of. Notoriously acerbic Noise head Karl-Ulrich Walterbach made it a point to play a heavy hand with his higher-profile bands. He altered track listings, changed cover art and bristled and raged against "directional" changes that would potentially impact Noise's bottom line. And once a band crossed Walterbach, it was impossible to get out of his doghouse.
Yet TANKARD wasn't much of a concern for Walterbach. Behind the leadership of manager Uwe "Buffo" Schnädelbach and a sound and image that paired thrash with beer, TANKARD became one of Noise's most reliable yet unsung bands, prompting Walterbach to leave the group to their own devices. TANKARD's first three albums: "Zombie Attack" (1986),"Chemical Invasion" (1987) and "The Morning After" (1988) has long been considered the focal point of their career, but as displayed in the new "A Thousand Beers" boxset that chronicles their Noise era, the Germans had plenty to offer during the 1990s when thrash was thoroughly unfashionable, with "Two-Faced" (1994) and "The Tankard" (1995) aging far better than many expected.
With TANKARD's 40th anniversary upon them and a new studio album waiting in the wings for a September release, frontman Andreas "Gerre" Geremia rang BLABBERMOUTH.NET to wax on the band's Noise days and to talk about what's next — all the while enjoying a few cold ones.
Blabbermouth: Was it a trip down memory lane assembling all the content for the "For A Thousand Beers" boxset?
Gerre: "The idea was BMG's. It has been a little bit difficult because Noise's rights go to Sanctuary [Records], then Sanctuary goes to BMG. [Editor's note: BMG bought Sanctuary's catalog in 2013.] Finally, they brought out all our old records in 2017. Then they asked us if we wanted to do a boxset for our birthday. Of course, we were involved. I checked out all the stuff I had at home. I didn't open the boxset yet. Just the CD. [Laughs] I haven't seen the booklet with all the pictures, so I don't know, but it's got to be a cool thing for the old fans and especially the new fans who haven't heard about us. We have a lot of young fans at the concerts who are 17, 18 years old. They don't know what happened 40 years ago. It's a good start for the year with our birthday."
Blabbermouth: Did your manager, Buffo, find anything crazy to include?
Gerre: "Buffo has so many photos and so many things. I'm not on Facebook, but I see what he's posting all the time. There are so many old pictures. I think he has a cool repertoire. He's a little bit chaotic. He has to search for anything, but he has everything on TANKARD. That's quite cool. I'm a big collector. I collect everything about TANKARD: CDs, vinyl, t-shirts. I don't think I have everything, but I've tried. I have so much merchandise."
Blabbermouth: You signed with Noise just as the German thrash scene took off. What do you remember most about those times?
Gerre: "We are very thankful to Noise because they opened everything [for us]. We were young guys. We met with Karl and he wanted us to go into the studio in April of '86. I called him and asked if we could postpone it to June since everyone in the band still had final exams. We were 19 years old. Noise did a lot for us. I'm still in contact with some of the promotional ladies who used to work in the Berlin office. But we've never been the number one band on Noise. That was okay. They opened everything for TANKARD because they gave us a record contract. We are still very thankful for that."
Blabbermouth: You didn't run into the same problems with the label as CELTIC FROST or HELLOWEEN. Do you think that also helped prolong your career?
Gerre: "Yeah. It was always about the music for us. It was always, 'Next year we're going to release a new album.' So, Mr. Walterbach would always come into the studio, listen for two minutes and go, 'Yeah, it sounds good.' Then he would vanish. We were totally free. We were allowed to do anything. It was a personal decision for us at the end of the '80s not to try to do the band full-time. We did TANKARD besides all the other things. On the one hand, it was a good decision because we were totally independent. On the other, there were so many offers to play all over the world. We always had to check out what we could do and could not. But now, with the virus, bands like TANKARD living from the music, this is really fucked up, bullshit. In Germany in April and May, I hope some concerts will take place, but I'm really hopeful for the festival season.
"On our new album, we have a song called 'Lockdown Forever'. It's a funny song about the virus. Just imagine you have to stay at home forever. You're not allowed to go out for the rest of your life. What are you going to do? You're going to listen to all of your heavy metal records from A to Z. When you finish, you begin again."
Blabbermouth: You adopted the "beer metal" tag reasonably early in your career. Karl never thought it was a good idea, but you're still going with it. That may have been one of the few things where you disagreed.
Gerre: "Starting with our second album, 'The Morning After', TANKARD has written a lot of very serious lyrics. TANKARD, of course, is a good combination of fun and thrash, but we've always had serious lyrics since '87. You can forget about the first album. [Laughs] We wrote those when we were 14, 15, 16. I think Karl was not one hundred percent into the band because of that kind of image. It was okay. We've never been the status of HELLOWEEN on the label, but that was okay. But TANKARD is still a band that combines thrash metal and fun, but you can also have fun playing songs with very serious lyrics. We always did a combination. I mean, we created this kind of image in the beginning with 'Chemical Invasion' and 'The Morning After', but in the middle of the '90s, we wanted to get rid of it. It totally failed, but now we can still make jokes about our image. We don't take ourselves too seriously."
Blabbermouth: You are right about the lyrics. You had a song on the last album (2017's "One Foot In The Grave") about a boy from Syria ("Syrian Nightmare").
Gerre: "Nobody talks about Syria anymore, but everything is fucked up. There is still war. Now, everyone concentrates on Ukraine and Russia, but nobody talks about Syria. The people are still suffering. It's very crazy what the media does. You have two weeks about Syria, then two years of nothing. It's still the same shit over there."
Blabbermouth: Your first three albums are what put you on the map. What about those mid-'90s albums? Do you think they've been overlooked?
Gerre: "We always talk about 'Zombie Attack', 'Chemical Invasion' and 'The Morning After', but 'Stone Cold Sober' is still an album I love. In 1994 when 'Two-Faced' came out, thrash was very down. 'The Tankard' was a very different kind of album. We had some melodic vocals, but I still like the album. Then in '98, 'Disco Destroyer' was back to our roots. I love all our albums. If somebody asked me what my favorite TANKARD is, I always say it's the first one and the last one because the first one is what we started with and the last one because it's in the present. But if I had to pick out one album, it's 'Stone Cold Sober'. All the journalists said, ''Stone Cold Sober', it's another TANKARD album.' I really love it."
Blabbermouth: Do you think another element is that the European metal scene doesn't like it when bands change their sound? And when you do try to stay consistent, you are criticized?
Gerre: "Some changes are never planned. We don't sit down and go, 'How will the next album sound?' Usually, it's, 'Let's do a new album,' and the songs come out from the heart. We didn't sit together on the new album and say, 'It has to sound like this or that.' With the first song, I tried to do some vocal lines with some melody on it and in the end, we'll find out the results. It's always from the heart and nothing is planned. That's the way we view it."
Blabbermouth: All this being said, how surprising is it to you that TANKARD has made it to 40 years?
Gerre: "We never planned it when we started out in school. We were all infected by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, then it was, 'Yeah, let's try to make a heavy metal band.' Then, it was the first EXODUS ['Bonded By Blood'] first METALLICA ['Kill 'Em All] first SLAYER ['Show No Mercy'] but don't forget about the first EXCITER album, 'Heavy Metal Maniac', a Canadian-master blaster. It's one of my top-five albums. They influenced us. We sent our second demo tape, 'Alcoholic Metal', to a bunch of labels. Nobody was interested, and then we got a contract back from Noise. Nobody knew what the contract said, but we signed it. These were the times. We are really grateful that Noise signed us, but it was a contract from hell. But at least it allowed us to release our first album. I really love 'Zombie Attack'. At that time, it was our expression of music."