Lessons from the Master: An interview with Paul Speckmann

This year alone, Paul Speckmann has played on three full length records—and every one of them is mandatory: Master’s An Epiphany of Hate, Johansson & Speckmann’s Edge of the Abyss and his latest band, Cadaveric Poison, released their debut full length. Since the mid-80s, Speckmann’s been snarling his sardonic vitriol over pummeling riffs, and over thirty years later he seems less likely to stop than ever. We caught up with the Chicago-born, ex-pat inveterate death-thrasher in an attempt to figure out how he remains such a potent force in the international extreme metal scene.

Speckmann had just returned home from an extensive US tour in support of Master’s latest bombshell when this interview was conducted.

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First of all, Paul Speckmann, the one and only, the Master, the Commander, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You're still living in the Czech Republic/Czechia, is that right? How’s the ex-pat life treating you in 2016?

Life is good, my friend, chilling out most the time. I walk the dogs at 6:30 am, have breakfast and then I am off to the forest for a 25 km bicycle ride with another friend from California! This is the normal routine during the week. Things have slowed down a bit between tours and I enjoy this routine for sure.

How often are you stateside? Do you come back more often to play shows, or to visit family and friends?

Funny you should ask a question like this now. I just returned from the USA a few days ago after playing 22 shows in 23 days, but there was little or no promotion so you probably never heard about it. I have 3 brothers in the States but I only managed to meet up with two of them as the oldest of the three is going through a mid-life crisis I think and just couldn't wait two hours for me as we were stuck in California traffic on the way to Santa Ana. Regardless my 75 year old aunt and her 89 year old husband managed to wait for me at the venue and share dinner at a local establishment! Do I sound bitter? I only visit America when on tour, I haven’t the time to waste visiting so-called friends!

Did Alex Bouks play with you on this most recent tour?

No, Mr. Bouks did not make this tour, I never contacted him as I assumed he was still busy working his phone job at the time. I would find he was free only after the killer guitarist Patrick Shea was enlisted along with US Master veteran Ruston Grosse.

How sorry do you feel for us Americans who are stuck here?

I laugh all the time about this. In songs like “Smile As You're Told,” or “Subdue the Politician,” I clearly share my thoughts on the good old USA! Things appear to be difficult over there as prices rise and homelessness continues. I saw many people living under bridges on the US tour in nearly every city, but surprisingly I wasn't approached by too many beggars this time around. Maybe Killery or Donald Duck will make the changes to improve the situation, but this is highly doubtful of course. I definitely feel sorry for those who are stuck there, at least I can leave and go home!

You moved CR to play in Krabathor, but what made you decide to stay after Krabathor broke up?

I started a life for myself over here, obviously, and why would anyone change a good thing. I have been here for 16 years and life is great. Freedom is the key word here.

Your international project Johansson & Speckmann just released its third album. Personally, I think it’s the best album the three of you have done yet. How much of the songwriting process do you take a role in?

Let’s be honest here I only write the lyrics for these songs and sing them of course. Rogga is the genius behind the songwriting process. Certainly in Master I write the music and the lyrics. This all began when Rogga sent a song for me to sing on his Mega-Scavenger project. We spoke about a complete album shortly afterward. The first and second album's lyrics were written by both of us, but this time Rogga told me to go for it, so hopefully the lyrics are also acceptable for people. When someone sends great music it's not hard to write good lyrics for them.

Does J&S ever play live, and if so, are you on bass as well as handling vocals? How come you don’t play bass on the records?

I am not interested in also learning the bass for other projects. First of all we have never played live as I am too busy with Master for this as we still play over 100 dates across the globe per year. But now that we have three albums under our belt, maybe we will do a few festivals next year if there is interest and the price is right! It's up to Rogga I guess!

Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration for some of your lyrics on Edge of the Abyss? Specifically the song “Misanthropy.” To me, it really has a “from the outside looking in” sort of feel.

No sense lying here. The truth of the matter is like with Cadaveric Poison and Master’s Epiphany of Hate, I wrote lyrics the same way. I put each song on and listened to it a few times and waited for the lyrics to come. This is the way I have done it for the last 15 years or so. I read many books and I suppose maybe some of the thoughts and ideas appear in the songs. Somewhere deep in my mind these lyrics come out. I suppose you could call it poetry, because this is what it is basically. There is no deep thought process going on here, I guess I am just a good lyricist! People thought a lot of On The Seventh Day God Created Master, when in all reality I wrote the songs the same way! It’s not rocket science. I will say that most of the subjects on these records are current or relevant, as I like to sing about what is happening at a particular time in history, but a lot of this maybe comes from watching news and reading every night before bed. Knowledge is power, my friend!

It seems to me that you’ve been in at least one metal band at any given time since you were about 17. Was there ever a time in your adult life, since you started playing metal, that you weren’t in an active band?

No, I have always been playing in some band or another since my teens! For some, Rock and Roll has always been a hobby, for me it has always been a way of life!

Have you heard any new records or demos this year that you’ve really enjoyed?

This is not a fair question for me really, because I do not listen to bands other than the old Metal and Rock and Roll bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, UFO, early Scorpions etc! There must be something great out there, but the last album I enjoyed was from Satan!

You’ve seen a lot of bands come and go, a lot of fly-by-night acts and trends just wash away like so much detritus in the ever-flowing stream of time. On one hand, it’s evident that you walk your own path, heedless of fads, but I'm sure you’ve always been, at least peripherally, aware of what’s going on around you. So I’ve got to ask, what do you think of the international metal scene in 2016?

This is a difficult question, my friend, as mostly today I experience clones live. The past great bands are dead and gone, or many of them and the last thing I am looking for in a new band is the word Revival, and many of the youth today play old thrash riffs or stuff the pioneers have already played or recorded, and I hardly ever see or hear anything new. I realize every time I say this someone gets peeved, but the truth hurts. I am the first to admit that I was influenced by Motorhead, Sabbath and GBH and Minor Threat, but when you listen to Master records you are not hearing this over and over on every song, or maybe you are?

I hear you about all the revivalism in today’s music, and how sounding like the geezers before you was probably the last thing that was on the minds of you guys and the bands like you back in the late 80s/early 90s. But what do you think of some of the newer records made by those people who’ve been around and making records as long as you have? Like newer stuff by Autopsy, or Incantation, or Kreator, I mean.  

I have to be honest here, my friend, I haven’t listened to all of the newer records, although I did find the Autopsy record called Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves entertaining.

How about when Headsplit Records approached you to release the first Master on cassette? Dylan is a really enthusiastic guy. I think a lot of us younger metalheads just feel jilted by having been born too late, you know what I mean?

Sure, Dylan did a great job with the cassette, I should have bought some copies for the last tour as my promotional were sold out very quickly!

Do you ever find yourself, like, regretting contracts or deals you made as a younger, perhaps less-knowledgeable metalhead?

Actually I might have said yes some years ago but Nuclear Blast and I have since cleared the air and Markus was a big part in the getting Master and my various projects to the masses, so nothing but respect from my side.

How did the reissues of the first two Abomination records come about? Is Doomentia just working its way through the Speckmann catalog?

Yes, Lukaš and Doomentia have been releasing stuff from the catalog for many years, starting with Slaves To Society on vinyl and working their way back to the Master debut. They have also released some special items like the Warcry 7-inch demos. Lukaš always puts a personal touch on the reissues which is a bonus for fans, and I always try to find some special pictures and or liner notes etc. for these.

These days, what's the hardest part about touring?

Driving around in a van in the USA is still difficult, but I still enjoy the sunrise in the morning across the USA! Obviously, seeing the few friends that show up and family of course is also a positive aspect on the road. It just seems people are too busy to visit every concert, and many times we are following in the footsteps of some other band like this past US journey. Surely we all wish every day was a Friday or Saturday right?

What's the best part?

Meeting the fans that do show up and spreading the Master message. I also found it rather gratifying poking fun at the latest puppets running for president on a nightly basis. “Subdue the politician,” from the latest record of Master, called An Epiphany of Hate, was especially fun to share every evening across the USA!

Have you ever considered writing a memoir? If so, what would you call it?

Speckmann, Surviving the underground will be released one day. Unfortunately no one was willing to publish this when I sent it around 5 or so years ago, as truthful books seem to antagonize the world rather than share what really happened on occasion! When you have stories that are not so beautiful about the heroes of Metal, people seem to get offended rather than enjoying the other side of the glamour!

How did Cadaveric Poison come about? When I first heard about this latest band, I was expecting something rather thrash-oriented—especially considering Simon Seegel of the great Witchburner is your guitarist. But Cadaveric Poison’s way more death metal than I had anticipated. Was that a conscious decision?

This is also the same thing, brother, Simon sent the full album after we recorded a 7-inch a few years back. I sat down, listened wrote and then recorded the lyrics and hoped for the best and of course there are some killer songs that we wrote together! I suppose Simon and I will probably record another album in the future as I like his style for sure.

Besides taking all of our money with your many bands, what else do you like to do? How's the beer over there (assuming, of course, that you drink it)?

I walk in the woods and search for edible mushrooms for my soups and stews. I enjoy cooking and also helping my father in-law with the wine making and the Slivovice. I have to be honest, I spend most of my time relaxing or working on the computer looking for more fests, tours and concerts to play. I also visit the post office often to send out the many orders that come every week for all these products from the many bands as you so well put it, brother! The beer in Czech is some of the best in the world, it's not the piss water they serve in the USA. But I will say some of the newer craft beers I tried on tour last week were certainly not bad at all.

How did you get into foraging for mushrooms?

This is the Czech Republic and people begin foraging from a child. I fell in love with this 16 years ago and this is one the most relaxing things to do. I grab the dogs and the wife and head out to the forest whenever the weather permits, it's raining now as I write this and hopefully the rain lasts a few days also I can go pick mushrooms.

Your daily bike rides remind me a lot of my friend Scott, who’s a huge Master/Speckmann fan. He says hi, by the way. But he goes on daily morning runs through the forest, but even he’s ten years your junior. Needless to say, I'm very impressed with your healthy lifestyle. Is that something you've always been into, living healthy, I mean?

No, after smoking cigarettes for 30 years, I am just trying to get some of my youthful energy back, and after quitting tobacco it's certainly working! I was into exercise in my teenage years but began smoking dope around this time and took up tobacco at 23! I also enjoy the ride in the forest, as I live in wine country, and farms also surround the place. Everyone is working during the day so it's quite peaceful taking these journeys through the woods. What is healthy living, no meat? I am a carnivore until the end.

Paul, what’s your secret to remaining a potent and inimitable force in extreme metal?

Believing in myself and getting plenty of rest, I recommend an afternoon nap whenever possible.

 

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