I love joint interviews. You get to hear so much of what goes into the writing, recording as well as performance aspects from the band members, and a lot of the time you can see how the similarities and differences in approach, that check and balance, is what makes the magic happen. This was the case when I sat down with keyboardist Dirk Liehm and guitarist Todd Wolf from HUMAN FORTRESS at the end of last year. After a five-year hiatus, the band is back and sounding stronger than ever on Raided Land. We talked about the writing, and how new singer Gus Monsanto fits the HUMAN FORTRESS sound. Have a look:
Amps: Dirk, how long have you been in the band now?
Dirk: Since 2009.
Amps: And Todd, how’s he doing? Do you guys still like him?
Todd: (Laughing along with Dirk) absolutely! It’s really hard to find keyboardists for metal bands, so it was a real gift to find him.
Dirk: A gift? Wow! So much love!
Amps: Dirk, how involved were you in the writing of this new record, Raided Land?
Dirk: Quite a bit. First thing to do for the band was the intro for “Restless Souls” It was not that orchestral like it is now. And the first one to record was “Raided Land” and I had to write an intro for that. It was one of the first things I did, too.
Todd: In general you can say we wrote a lot of the songs together.
Dirk: I wrote “Dark Knight” and Todd came and we made a middle part then the second part of the chorus, and “Guard the Blind” we wrote in one day.
Todd: It was a very cool songwriting session.
Dirk: We really work well together. Although we argue sometimes, the goal is clear.
Todd: Sometimes you have these special moments where this idea comes up and a short time later you’ve completed a whole track, and that’s really cool. Sometimes you can spend hours, and it’s no good.
Amps: So normally writing is a group effort, or is it mostly you two?
Dirk: It depends. Andre Hort came very late into the band. First time I saw him was when we shot the video (laughs)! He’s a really cool guy, and he did some really nice things with the bass lines. The songs were ready, but he was the one to write the bass lines and he had his freedom to do it as he wanted, and he did it quite well.
Amps: I know it’s early, but are there any plans for a U.S. tour?
Todd: Well, for us it’s a little difficult because our singer (Gus Monsanto) lives in Brazil. It’s also difficult to get work permits in the United States for musicians.
Amps: Yes! Yes! Quite a few of them! SEPULTURA, HYPOCRISY, GAMMA RAY…
Dirks: Really big bands that did not get permission to enter the USA. So, it’s difficult.
Amps: Hey, I’m just asking strictly for me. I’m selfish, I wanna see you live!
Dirk: (He and Todd laughing) we’re ready to do a tour in the USA, no question. But we’re gonna tour Germany first, and if that goes well we’ll see what kind of support we get from AFM. Dustin Hardman does a very good job promoting us.
Amps: Great guy!! I can’t say enough good things about him. What is it about Germany? Is there something in the water? So many great metal bands come from there!
Dirk: We have a great tradition in metal. When Gus flew over to Germany he said, “I always wanted to do stuff like this, it’s a certain sound, German Metal!”
Todd: The good thing too is that we have many metal labels, many festivals, music schools; you can do a lot of headbanging here.
Dirk: Much bigger than America. I was really surprised talking to radio guys and girls from there when they told me not so big festivals in the States.
Amps: After the hiatus, now we’re back with Raided Land. What’s the general vibe in the band? How is everyone feeling about this record you’ve put out and about looking forward?
Todd: When we decided to reunite HUMAN FORTRESS, for us the focus was to have a very, very strong album with a very, very good singer. We were looking for a singer for a very long time before we found Gus last year.
Dirk: He was the only one capable of singing our earlier stuff as well. He has a great range, he can sing high, low, powerful, and calm. Wow, I was amazed.
Amps: What are some of your favorite tracks on this record? My favorite has to be “Wasted Years”.
Dirk: Oh, I already read your review, so I KNOW what you like (All of us laughing)!
Todd: I think when we were trying to come up with which song to use for the video we weren’t quite sure, but we chose “Wasted Years” because it is quite easy to tell a story about wasted years.
Amps: Todd, who made you pick up the guitar?
Todd: My brother’s KISS records. KISS was my first love for hard rock. I love the combination of power, melody, and hard rocking guitars. Then I got into a lot of the NWOBHM with JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, and SAXON. And of course US bands like BON JOVI, MOTLEY CRUE.
Amps: And what drew you to the keys, Dirk?
Dirk: I think movie soundtracks did it. John Williams “Imperial March” was the first song I tried to break down and understand and stuff like Battlestar Galactica led me to understand how this stuff works, so I started to compose my own stuff. And when I entered HUMAN FORTRESS I already had knowledge of that epic, orchestral stuff. Game soundtracks also inspired me heavily. I loved the role-playing games with a medieval theme.
Amps: What do you both do to unwind away from the band? Do you have any hobbies, or is this all we do?
Todd: You can say HUMAN FORTRESS is like a second job. We spend a lot of time songwriting and of course there’s a business part, so when I have spare time I like to spend it with my family and play with my kids. My son is seven years old and listening to KISS, so he’s on his way! (Thunderous applause from Amps)
Dirk: Me, I have hobbies like movies, some PC games, which is where I get some inspiration, and I do stuff around the house to maintain it.
Amps: What do you listen to now? Is there anything out there that’s moving you?
Todd: I listen to a ton of music, and I read metal magazines, like you, to discover new bands. One band who impressed me is BATTLE BEAST, from Finland. They toured here and she growls like a lion! I also like a lot of AOR stuff like FOREIGNER and JOURNEY.
Dirk: Through the production of the album I got to listen to ORDEN OGAN because the guy who mixed our album is Seeb Levermann, the singer and guitarist. That’s a really cool band. I also like FALCONA, a Swedish band, and KAMELOT.
Amps: Say something to all the HUMAN FORTRESS fans out there who anxiously waited for your return and are happy you’re back.
Todd: Thank you very, very much to our fans in the United States. We are impressed by all the entries on Facebook from there, it’s been amazing.
Dirk: So much love coming from America, wow. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I’m kind of proud that you guys over there love our music. Thank you.
Todd: Damian, what do you think about our kind of music spreading throughout the States? It’s not so easy, right?
Amps: No, it’s not easy but I really think that if you put a good package together, and were on the right bill with say, a couple of other bands who play a similar style, you could pack places, at least here in Dallas where we’re metal hungry all the time!
So there it is. And I stand by my statement. I know that I am FAR from the only Power Metal fan here in the USA, and I think that with the right backing, HUMAN FORTRESS, and others like them could come over here and really put on a great show and rock the balls off of any venue you put them in. Here’s hoping it happens, and soon!