Victory and former Accept guitarist Herman Frank’s interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on December 18, 2021
Music video of Teutonic Order from Herman Frank’s new solo album, Two for a Lie.
Author’s note: This interview was done by Christiana Ioannou.
Herman Frank is one of the most important and yet underrated guitarists in the history of German Metal. Mostly known for the great work he did with legendary band Accept when he was with them, he is also one of the creative forces of another key band of the German scene, Hard Rock group Victory, and he has his own solo band that has been extremely consistent for the last decade or so, becoming one of the most underrated musical projects in that particular time.
Despite all the issues with the pandemic, Herman has been quite prolific, releasing a new solo album, Two for a Lie, and a couple of weeks ago he released a new one with Victory, Gods of Tomorrow, the first in ten years for the band and also the first with new vocalist Gianni Pontillo on the microphone.
An extremely consistent songwriter and a brilliant guitar player in his own right, it was a pleasure that he could give us a moment of his time to do an interview with our own Christiana Ioannou with questions written by me, and as you can see, it was a very interesting conversation about music, the business side of things, guitar playing and a lot of different things. Hopefully you will enjoy it.
Music video for Victory’s Love & Hate from 2021’s Gods of Tomorrow album.
Oh. Hi, Christiana.
Hi, how are you?
I’m pretty fine. How about you?
I’m fine. It’s snowing today in Vienna.
Oh, you live in Vienna?
Yes, I live in Vienna. And you in Germany, right?
Yeah, actually in Hannover. No snow.
Well, I’m Christiana. The co-founder of MusikHolics. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Thank you so much.
Going straight to the topic, what do you have planned for 2022 so far?
Nobody can tell (laughs). In this situation right now, nobody can tell. There are a lot of plans. Actually, we want to go on tour at the end of January with Victory for eighteen dates. It’s up to the stars. Maybe, maybe not. Nobody knows yet.
Yeah, that’s true because we’re also checking for events and nobody is sure about the dates and what is going to happen, unfortunately.
Yeah, the corona situation is really bad in Germany right now and in a lot of other countries too. So it might be a little difficult to go on tour, on a tour bus with a lot of people in there. In every country you meet different people. Different countries, different laws. Nobody knows yet. Maybe the festivals in summer will happen. I hope so. I keep my fingers crossed, so we could jump into Sweden Rock, Bang Your Head, Monsters of Rock and things like this.
So, I hope we will see you at the Donauinselfest. Probably next year, if it happens.
Well, you would have to talk to the promoters (laughs).
Oh, I will have it in mind (laughs). Hopefully we will see you.
I would love to! I played in the Donauinselfest, I guess, thirty years ago.
Yeah, it was with Victory.
Oh, amazing! So it would be nice to have you again.
It was a great festival. We really enjoyed it and we had fun there. Actually, we stayed two days after the show in Vienna for the rest of the festival. And I nearly missed the next festival (laughs).
Yeah, Vienna can do that (laughs).
Maybe there was a bar open late at night (laughs). So at night we were driving to the next festival, which was up in the north of Germany. And all of the sudden, when we came back, I guess it was the day after, there was no train to catch. So we had to flight back (laughs).
That was bad (laughs).
But that was in the old days. Now we’re getting older, so we won’t be doing this party stuff that bad anymore.
Nah, I don’t think so. It’s in your blood. I don’t think it will ever go away.
That had been a crazy decade, you know? (laughs) We played Rock and Roll, so we lived it.
And since you mentioned festivals, hopefully we get to listen to your new album. By the way, congratulations on the reception of your recent solo album, Two for a Lie. You have been quite consistent throughout the years with your solo work. What do you think are the elements that define the Herman Frank sound?
Oh, cool, thank you. I guess it’s based a lot on guitar riff music. Some call it Metal, some call it classic Metal. I guess is classic Metal. And the special I think is that we kept the live feeling in the recording. So for me is authentic, fresh, really strong, very fast and very exciting. It’s the same as you would do it in a live set.
Lyric video for Herman Frank’s Venom from 2021’s Two for a Lie.
That’s amazing. That’s truly amazing. When Kevin was doing research for this interview, he found this great quote of yours: “Sometimes you’re looking for some meaning, but some of these songs are just songs. People don’t always wanna hear commentary about social problems.” Would you care to elaborate on that?
(laughs) I guess Rick (Altzi, vocalist of Herman’s solo band) is not the most known poet in the whole universe! He loves to fool around with verbs. He’s from Sweden. Everybody knows that Swedish people are very socialized, so he likes to talk about social problems. So do I. And when I come up with an idea (for the lyrics), it’s about fighting for your life, don’t give up, be the strongest, things like that.
So I think he is of the same mindset as me. I’m getting tired of writing songs about love and things like that. Leave that to other people.
Actually, with the situation right now…
Yeah, maybe that’s true (laughs).
Yeah, social issues… people don’t want to listen to and turn their backs on them.
See, that’s why we write a song about hating everybody (laughs). Just hate these kinds of people.
(laughs) I can relate to that. Actually, we have a question on that. You’re obviously not just a guitar player and a songwriter, but also a producer. How do you think your work producing other bands has helped you evolve when making your own songs?
Every time you enter a studio, doesn’t matter if you’re a producer, an engineer or a musician, you have a chance to learn something. You listen carefully to other bands, especially when you’re a producer or a sound engineer for them, and you listen to what they do, you can learn a lot. You just have to keep it in mind.
I had the chance to work (as a producer) with Saxon, Molly Hatchet and Rose Tattoo… quite well-known bands and quite experienced musicians. And I sat down next to them and I watched how they come up with songs, how they record, how they act when they record their instruments, so that helps a lot and if you do this for a couple of years or a couple of decades and you haven’t learned anything, then you’re doing something wrong.
Of course. So you’re also learning from your mistakes. Mistakes that you did in the past.
Every time (laughs). I guess I learned a lot (laughs).
(laughs) Yeah, of course. This is how it goes.
There is always a chance to do some mistakes. But a mistake is not a biggie. If it doesn’t work, you can come up with another idea. You have to throw some ideas in if there is a mistake. It’s not a biggie. The police won’t show up. It’s better to throw an idea in. Even if there is just one idea working out of ten, it’s better than not throwing any ideas in.
You just have to sort them out. Maybe you have to think about it once or twice. But you can come up with the right idea.
Roaring Thunder from Herman’s 2012 album, Right in the Guts.
All of your solo albums have been quite outstanding in terms of quality, but a personal favorite of Kevin’s was the second one, Right in the Guts. Any interesting memory of the making of that album?
It was a long time ago (laughs). For me, it’s a long time ago. I guess it was more than five, six, seven years ago. I do remember it was the first Rick showed up and I remember one good thing: when he just joined the band, I sent him some playbacks from the new songs and he sent me back the ballad in between one or two days and the singing he was doing there… we just left it as it was (in the album) because it was so fantastic. So that was the point where I started to work with Rick and I really enjoy it. It was a really exciting time. So that’s the most memorable thing I got from Right in the Guts.
Only one thing? (laughs)
(laughs) In between I recorded a couple of other albums, so, sorry, I really can’t remember.
You’re quite a busy man!
For me is always fun to do an album, but as I said, in between there was… Wow, there was Accept in between, there was Victory in between, there was Blah Blah Blah in between…
Yeah, that’s a lot.
Yes, so I don’t remember, especially this thing or this moment. All in all, I had fun. We had a lot of fun recording. I think every musician I have worked with had fun when we started recording and when finishing an album. That’s the best moment ever.
Herman Frank and his solo band.
What are the key traits that a producer should have?
Listen (laughs). And have some vision on the group you want to produce. And you have to leave the band like the band used to be. I mean, it won’t work if you turn Molly Hatchet into Saxon or Saxon into Molly Hatchet. Or Herman Frank into whatever. You have to seek out what the cards of the band are and…
Keep the uniqueness of the band.
That’s the word I was looking for, thank you so much (laughs). Once in a while, I can’t remember all the words in English.
Who can? Not even them.
Yeah! I guess, for the most part, is just leaving the band as it is and bring out the qualities and getting rid of the mistakes and the strange arrangements they sometimes come up with, you know? (laughs) Or help them with any choruses. You have to work with the band, not against them.
Focusing a bit on Victory, what do you guys have in store for 2022? Like a new album or something along those lines?
Actually, we released an album three weeks ago.
Yeah, I know, but you can never know with you guys. Because you’re always doing something.
As I said, we released an album, Gods of Tomorrow, two or three weeks ago. It was a long time ago (laughs). There are plans for touring and festivals. Nobody knows. It’s the same with any other band on the road right now. The album turned out really well. The reviews are fantastic, everybody is excited about it. We had recorded thirteen songs, thirteen brand new songs, there’s a new singer, Gianni Pontillo, and he is the star of Victory in the upcoming stuff.
Yeah, I heard him. He’s really good. He reminded me of good old times.
And he is able to sing all the classic stuff from Victory, so we’re talking about Temples of Gold, The Check’s In The Mail, any song. It wasn’t easy to find a singer who could replace Charlie Huhn or Fernando Garcia, but he is able to do it and we got a chance about six weeks ago to do free shows, one in Germany, one in Switzerland and one in France that had been cancelled (laughs). We got a chance before this big wave of corona and he is fantastic live on stage. If you close your eyes and listen to the old classics, the older songs from Victory, you listen to Gianni singing these songs and it sounds like Fernando or Charlie. He is able to catch up with them very easily.
But is this good or is this bad? Is he losing his uniqueness?
Nah. That’s why we recorded a new album, so he can show his own talents. But as a band, as Victory, you have to play the old classics when you do a live show. You can’t just come up with the new stuff. People expect you to play the old standard songs. Let’s put it that way. The evergreens.
Lyric video of Victory’s title track from the Gods of Tomorrow album.
Have you considered doing a concert online?
That was fast (laughs).
I don’t like that. That’s the simple answer to it. For me, it’s called a live show and I would love to have an audience and to play in a club or in a hall or something like that. I won’t do any of these streaming shows.
I understand. You’re losing the connection with the audience.
I just don’t want to do it. That’s not what it means to go to a concert. No.
What do you think are the differences between making music with Victory and your own solo stuff?
Herman Frank solo is, as I said, classic Metal, and Victory is classic Rock. They’re different types of songs. My songs are really harder, faster and more aggressive guitar and in Victory you get more melody, more space for melody. And if I’m composing for Victory, it’s like I’m going back to my roots where my journey started decades ago. You have to come up with different melodies and different solos and things like that, so they are two different playgrounds.
Whether it’s with Accept, Victory or your solo work, there is a very distinct and unique sound to your guitar playing and tone. How do you manage to come up with that particular style?
Actually, I don’t know! Maybe practice a couple of times? (laughs) Nobody can tell, but I’m very thankful that people notice that and for me is really important to have your own style and your own style of guitar tone, stuff like that. Because I’m using the same amps for thirty years now. Maybe it’s because I have been using this guitar for thirty years now.
I think that’s something you cannot describe in a proper way. People like Gary Moore or Ritchie Blackmore have their own tones. I’m pretty sure they cannot come up with a proper answer as to how they come up with this. That’s just your personality.
Did you have any idols in the past?
Oh, yeah, more than one (laughs).
The Check’s In The Mail by Victory.
We have time. You can inform me (laughs).
Back when I started to study guitar, there was for sure Ted Nugent. There was for sure Ritchie Blackmore. These kinds of guys. I also tried (to study) Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, so all the most famous people from the most famous Rock and Metal bands, you know? These days is for sure Paul Gilbert because he is very talented and does very technical stuff, but he also has the tone and has very nice melodies. I’m a fan of every good guitar player.
Actually, I don’t like these guitar players that just do scales and are just fast. I think they play like they are doing their homework, you know?
Yeah, like they’re playing with no feeling.
Yeah. Guitar playing is not comparable to the Olympic Games.
And music needs to have feeling. Otherwise, what’s the reason?
And music needs to have gaps (laughs). And pauses in between. Hey, these guys start and in five seconds they play every note you can mention. Wow, who should follow them? They are giving me a hard time to follow their lead.
Nah, I don’t think so.
Once or twice. After a couple of songs, I just push “stop” (laughs). Sometimes I’m getting tired a little bit. Sorry, guys (laughs).
Sorry, not sorry (laughs).
I won’t mention any names (laughs).
Victory live in Belgium in 2021.
I’m also adding my own questions. For example, you mentioned Black Sabbath. Do you believe that Black Sabbath of everything? Because everybody says that they were the grandfathers of Metal.
Yeah, they were one of the beginners. I mean, they started with their very own style, but I wouldn’t leave it just to Black Sabbath as the ones that started it. There was also Deep Purple in the early days. Who can tell who started it? I mean… nah. They are not the only ones that started it. But they played a very big part in the early days and they are still very important for this kind of music. On the other hand, look out for Judas Priest. They also started it, in a way.
Actually, I took an interview last year with Primal Fear’s vocalist, who is amazing.
And a great guy. We discussed a lot of things and it was quite interesting to see because he was supposed to be the lead singer of Judas Priest (in the mid-90s, after Rob Halford left the band). And he lost that, but they’re friends, and we were discussing about things and it’s interesting to see different opinions of people about how things evolved (in the genre).
No wonder why. You talk to different people and they all have their own takes and their own side (of the story). “This band is very important, these guys had been idols, listen to this band or the other ones and this one too.” That’s a variety of music.
And as a musician with over forty years of experience, what do you think about the music business nowadays? Both the good and the bad.
It’s totally different than twenty or thirty years ago. I mean, thirty years ago you get a budget and to do something really proper you enter the studio with a producer. And a high quality studio. You also get a sound engineer. These days, most bands or people are sitting in their living rooms and sitting in front of a computer with a keyboard and try to come up with some new albums.
For my opinion, it changed a lot. For my solo albums and the latest Victory album I went into the studio again and spent money for the same cost. I believe you have to be in the same room when recording an album and keep in touch with your eyes, you know? Because you’re performing, you look into the other guy’s eyes and you think “Oh, I’m doing something good. Or I’m not doing something good” and you can discuss it in the same second. That’s the most different (thing) for the music, for the recording, and for the music scene, Spotify kills everything.
Herman Frank with the new Victory lineup.
Really? A lot of people became known for Spotify.
Sure. Wish them good luck (laughs). I mean, if you work as a professional musician and not as a hobby musician, then 99.9999% of the time Spotify kills them. Because they don’t pay anything.
You’re right about that because I have never heard anybody talking about it. About Spotify and how it can actually mess up the whole situation.
I mean, if you read a couple of numbers from very known artists… for example, Lady Gaga. She was getting millions and millions of replays and she perhaps got about $5000 from it. So you can imagine what an unknown band can get from this. So if you want to pay your rent and buy some food, I don’t think Spotify has you for that.
And then that makes the situation even worse because then you are not able to spend your time on creating some music or practicing. Stuff like that. Most people that I know have at least half-day jobs.
Oh, yes, sure.
I never thought about that like this.
Oh, yeah (laughs). Think about all the print magazines. They disappeared. Because you can read everything online, online, online. And think about record companies. Thirty years ago there was EMI, who had, I don’t know, maybe thousands of people working for them. And now? Where is EMI? Maybe they have four hundred people working for them. Where are all the record companies? They disappeared. Wonder why.
Music video for Accept’s most famous song, 1983’s Balls to the Wall, with Herman Frank on guitar.
Actually, the digital transformation messed up businesses. Businesses closed.
I mean, twenty years ago, record companies made some money. You need record companies to make some money. If you sold 100.000 albums, you could get some money out of it. And the record companies also had a budget of money to spend on new bands. If there’s a new band, they may have twenty songs and they may come to me and say “We have a demo of this new band”. These days it’s not happening anymore. Most bands get the money by themselves to make the albums.
If you think about the record sales… thirty years ago it was two or three hundred thousand copies sold to get gold in Germany. This time, maybe fifty thousand, maybe twenty five thousand. So (the music business) is ten times smaller these days. Easily.
It’s sad, you know?
Yeah, it’s very sad (laughs). That’s why I keep saying that if people keep doing and releasing some new albums and keep on touring or whatever, they are really behind it, you know? You have to believe in yourself and it’s not easy anymore.
Because we don’t see the behind-the-scenes of what is happening.
Well, I have seen the behind-the-scenes of the last thirty or forty years (laughs). So it’s totally different these days. From twenty record companies, maybe there are five left.
That’s painful to hear.
That’s why I keep saying it: Spotify is killing music.
Since the early 2010s, you have been making a lot of high quality albums non-stop. What is your favorite so far? And no, you can’t name the recent Victory and solo albums you did this year hahaha.
I can’t name them?
No, from your past albums. Come on (laughs)! You have a lot.
That’s the most difficult question ever, you know? Because every album you release, you love it. So, I compare it with having a child. You can’t go “Oh, he’s the favorite one”. It’s not easy to answer and I wouldn’t like it (to answer the question). I like them all and I love them.
Well, to make it a bit easier, would you like to describe each of your career with a song of yours?
That’s even harder (laughs). I can’t pick one song, you know? Sorry, I don’t do that. I refuse to do that (laughs).
They are your babies, so you can’t say that this one is better than the other one, right? It’s nice because it means that each work had a special place in your heart and everything is equal to you.
In my opinion, if a song wouldn’t be good enough to show up in an album, I wouldn’t record it, so if it’s good enough, I love it. So I couldn’t say that I love this song a little bit more or that I love this song a little bit less. That’s not fair.
A young Herman Frank in the 80s.
So, I will make you another question then: You’ve been in the industry for forty years now. Tell me the differences that you see from the young man that started forty years ago and you today. As a musician, of course.
Once in a while, it’s good to have experience. Once in a while, it’s better to not have experience in the beginning. In the beginning you just do it, you don’t think left and right and you just go straightforward. And it’s different when it’s your own thing, you come up with your own band and you already have to think about your booking agency, your record company, your promotion, blah, blah, blah. Stuff like that.
So you get used to thinking in a business way and I won’t say that this keeps you away from the musical side, but it’s getting more important. As I remember in the early days, we didn’t have more fun–we just simply didn’t think about it that much. We just did it.
So now, in a way, bureaucracy got in the way, right?
If you are trying to make this a living, a profession, you need to think about the business. What you learn in a couple of years. Some people learn this lesson really fast and for some people it can take a little bit longer. So I would have loved to learn these lessons faster.
Lyric video for Herman Frank’s Eye of the Storm from 2021’s Two for a Lie.
For sure. Because the music industry is a big business.
And everybody knows it. It’s like a standard. I mean, selling music is a business. Otherwise, why people just don’t play in the pub in the corner? And we also make the questions like “How much are you going to pay me?” when we perform.
And what about your playing skills as a guitarist? Has a lot changed or improved?
If you talk about guitar style, for sure it has changed in these decades, you know? If I’m listening to a recording from the past, once in a while I get ashamed (laughs). I mean, probably today I would do it a little bit more precise, in a different way or with more feeling to it, but it’s not easy to answer. If you play this instrument for a couple of years and you look, you are always going to think that you can do better or different or whatever. But it’s a moment, an album that you recorded in that particular time, in that particular year.
Well, thank you for your time, Herman. It was great.
(laughs) No more questions about business or guitar?
Well, I have time! I can sit here and ask you questions the whole day (laughs).
I’m sure you will! Let’s put it this way: you talk to the promoters of the Donauinselfest and then we’ll do a live interview.
Oh, that would be amazing.
Much easier, much nicer.
Accept’s Teutonic Terror from their 2010 comeback album, Blood of the Nation, with Herman Frank on guitar.
And you know what? I was thinking that we had a radio show in the past and we had radio shows where we were promoting new bands and new people, but we closed it and I was thinking about taking the radio shows and turn them into video content…
That might be alright. That might be an idea.
Yeah, and we have a lot in mind. We took a big break. A big break for some months and now we’re back and we’re going to kill it. And thank you because this was a boost of confidence. It’s my first interview with someone after a long, long time…
(laughs) You did pretty well! After such a long time.
Thank you! So I will do the same I did with Ralf from Primal Fear: We will reschedule for another interview. Like in 2022.
That’s fine. I will be there.
So, hopefully will be live.
That’s the best situation. The best interview situation is sitting next to each other.
Like doing music.
Precisely. Any last words for the people that are going to read the interview? Where can people follow you on social media?
All the metalheads should stay healthy and keep the face up and the horns especially up.
Music video of Victory’s Cut to the Bone from 2021’s Gods of Tomorrow album.