"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Interview

Destruction's Mike Sifringer On Fan Support: "It Gives You Some Kind Of Strength"

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Band Photo: Destruction (?)

Thursday, March 20th, 2014. German thrash veterans Destruction were back in the States for the first time in two years, and for the second time with Brazilian support act Krisiun in tow.

This was show number three for the North American tour, and I reckoned I was in for the prime specimen tonight: bands with a pair of performances under their belts, loosening up and easing into a confident routine, yet with vast reserves of energy yet to be unleashed.

Not long after arriving at Springfield, Virginia's Empire (formerly Jaxx), I was propped on a tall stool in the Alchemy Room, a cozy bar just beyond the box office and separated from the venue proper by a pair of corridors and two sets of doors. Setting a half-full scotch rocks on the modest circular table, I glanced left at an unmistakable figure headed my way from the gloom of the concert hall.

I shook his hand. "Mike," I introduced myself. The rail-thin, grizzled figure chuckled, graying lion's-mane curls bobbing slightly. "Easy to remember," came the thick German-accented English, and I realized I was speaking with metal's incarnation of Scar ("The Lion King"), had actor Jeremy Irons used his humorous faux-German from his "Die Hard With A Vengeance" role.

Mike Sifringer, co-founder of Destruction and only permanent member to date, took a seat. The Alchemy Room was nearly empty, sound checks were still in muffled progress beyond the doors, and we immediately dove into a relaxed Q&A session. Destruction had recently booked Hell & Heaven Corona Metal Fest, and our transcript picks up with the event's last-minute cancellation.

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): How did this Mexican disaster unfold?

Mike Sifringer: There were some security issues. They have two big [promotion] companies over there, and the bigger company tried everything they could to prevent them, but… it’s Mexico. [Laughs] Mafia bullshit, corruption, y’know? So all the bands were there, all the flights happened, everybody got paid, but nobody played. No festival. They lost a lot of money.

OkEx: What’s been Destruction’s greatest disappointment in terms of canceled shows or tours?

Mike: Well, when you plan something… We all need money to pay rent and shit, y’know? So if you plan a two-month tour, and it’s fixed, and then it doesn’t happen, you can’t replace those shows so fast. You sit at home for two months with no money. Not cool. That does happen once in a while, unfortunately.

OkEx: So in those cases, what do you guys do on the side, outside of this band?

Mike: [Shrugs] Nothing. In Germany, it’s not possible to get a temporary job for a month or something. If you find some shitty job, then maybe it’s possible, but for me? That seasonal bullshit where you get treated like a slave? Nope. [Laughs] It’s not easy sometimes. I’m not rich.

OkEx: But you survived in the underground, which a lot of bands don’t. That makes me think of Germany’s so-called “Big Three” original thrash bands: Kreator, Sodom and Destruction. Have you all ever thought or fantasized about doing a tour?

Mike: Oh, for sure. Everybody’s asking. But all three bands have different time schedules, y’know? If we all did albums at the same time, we could all go out, but it’s not so easy. I mean, Kreator has been touring South America lately. Makes it hard to put it together. But maybe next year. Maybe we’ll ask Mille. [Petrozza, Kreator frontman] I would do it! [Laughs] I’d like it very much.

OkEx: So speaking of travel, Destruction is back in the States now for the first time in two years, and prior to that, you toured here with Krisiun in early 2009. I caught one of those shows, and I remember Schmier [bass, vocals] thanking the crowd for supporting “underground music.” That got me thinking about the definition of “underground,” because many metalheads seem to have a strange, closed-off view of its meaning. So as a metal musician that’s survived for three decades, when do you see bands crossing from “underground” over into “mainstream?”

Mike: It’s a radio thing, I guess. Especially in Europe. Germany is full of pop music, and shitty German folk music, and stuff like that. So in Germany, they’ll never play Destruction on the radio. That makes it “underground” for me. Maybe in the States it’s a little bit different. You have more small radio stations, more independent stations, and maybe it’s different. But in Germany it’s tough for metal bands, I’ll tell you. It’s not like that in Scandinavia, though. Finland, Sweden, it’s more easy there. But in Germany… [Shakes head]

OkEx: Interesting, because I hear different stories from different people. Some Germans have claimed almost the exact opposite.

Mike: Well, it depends. I’m living in the South, and it’s really conservative there. In the Northern part of Germany it’s better. There is sometimes metal on TV, surprisingly. A few stations bring stuff from Wacken live, for example, and shit like that. And that’s OK. But it’s still underground – not many people are watching that, y’know? [Laughs]

OkEx: The reason I like to ask is that some metalheads tend to define “mainstream” as “something that more than five people like.”

Mike: No, I’m not like that. I like all kinds of music, including mainstream stuff, so I would say it’s better to keep your mind open to all kinds.

OkEx: Any new stuff out now that’s impressed you?

Mike: Not really. I’m living in the past. I really like the old stuff, like classic rock and bands like Mountain and Uriah Heep. All the old gods from the past are in my big rock collection. Nowadays, I don’t really understand the people. They all dress the same, in black T-shirts with band names you can’t read. The typical guys that just listen to BLAAARRRGGGHHH! [Laughs] It’s true; if there’s more than five people, it’s “pop music” for them. I don’t agree. [Laughs]

OkEx: Well, when you’re the one writing the music, you HAVE to listen to everything. I’ll bet your stuff would sound boring if you didn’t.

Mike: [Nods] There you go. You need to get inspiration from somewhere, but if you listen to the same noisy old tunes, that’s not really helpful for getting new ideas.

OkEx: So when a Destruction song comes together… You mentioned not really liking what’s out there now –

Mike: I like it, but I’m not keen behind it, y’know? There are no sensational bands that make me need to go and buy their new records. But maybe I’ll buy the new King’s X or something like that, whenever those records come out.

OkEx: And Destruction for that matter, which is still cranking out records regularly, music that’s very modern sounding and aggressive. So given your various musical interests these days, how does one of your songs tend to come together?

Mike: There’s always a bit of theory behind the writing of a song. I don’t want to do it the same way I did it before, so I’ll play with tones here, make harmony changes there, and just plan a little bit, so I don’t end up with the same music again and again and again. That’s not interesting. So I try until I can find some new stuff, and that’s pretty much it. I need a little time and patience for that, so I sit, smoke my weed, and just play and play and play. [Laughs]

OkEx: And of course there was a big gap between the band’s early days and the “proper” reformation of this millennium, and people seem to split them into two eras. Are you happier with the material from one or the other?

Mike: No. It was a process kind of thing, y’know? When we split up, we argued all the time. I wanted to go in a more complicated direction, Schmier wanted to stay more “straight up” and shit, and we just weren’t playing music by that time, ‘cause we were always arguing. “Let’s do it like that,” “No, I want it like THAT!” So maybe it was necessary to have a break. But now we’re pretty happy again together, because we missed each other. [Laughs]

OkEx: Since the band reformed, have you found the music world friendlier toward Destruction than before?

Mike: Oh, yeah. Big time. Before the split, we’d been to South America just once, in Brazil. It was great. But now we go there every year, and South America is so overwhelming sometimes. When you get to the airport, everybody knows you, and even the pilot wants to come take a photo with you. It really surprises me just how many people know us down there, and it’s really lovely, man. It gives you some kind of strength. Sometimes people come up and cry, man. They shake. I always say “Calm down, baby!” [Laughs] And they’re saying “You’re God!” and I’m like, “No, not true!” [Laughs] But they cry, over and over, those few people. And it’s really crazy. A lot of people come and say things like, “You saved my life; without Destruction I wouldn’t have survived” and shit like that. All I can say is “Thank you.” It makes me glad.

OkEx: Do you have a favorite Destruction record?

Mike: Mainly whatever the new one is, because we just did it, and my brain is still behind the new songs and shit, so I always say it’s the new one. But then some people come up and say, “Naw, the classics are better,” and I don’t know. I don’t listen to my own music too often. Once in a while, I’ll get myself drunk to get away from it. Because if I listen to one of my songs, I know how it’s played. I know every fucking move. So I’m not really listening to that song the way I’d listen to some old favorite. I have to kill my brain a little bit to actually listen to it and get a different perspective. I do it maybe twice a year. Drink, smoke some weed, shut my brain off, and listen to Destruction. And sometimes I like it! [Laughs] It’s hard; it’s like reading a book you wrote yourself. There’s no suspense, because you know what you wrote. [Laughs]

OkEx: Since “Spiritual Genocide” is still the latest record, I’m assuming your brain is still “keen behind” it. You guys marketed this album as your thirtieth anniversary milestone, so I’m wondering if anything different went into it creatively, something to set it apart as a special effort.

Mike: It’s always the same. We just write music and try to make the best record possible, and that’s all, man. You make something and you never know beforehand how it will turn out, so it’s just about trying your best. That’s what we do.

OkEx: Again on the subject of touring: you’ve jumped several continents recently. Do you ever notice much difference in crowd behavior from country to country, or from culture to culture?

Mike: Yeah, there are differences. In Switzerland they’re really, really quiet. They just stand and watch the band. That doesn’t mean they don’t like it; a lot of them are musicians themselves, and they stand and watch, and afterward say, “Hey, that was a great show.” Even though during the show, there wasn’t much going on. But in Mexico they go nuts as fuck. So it’s always a little different. I think the biggest differences happen with the hospitality of the club, the venue.

OkEx: And I’m sure there are some people, like in the Swiss crowds for example, who stand there waiting for you to make a mistake.

Mike: [Laughs] Right. The Music Police. I don’t give a shit, man. Most of them are pretty tolerant, but I don’t really care too much if I make a mistake. Nobody’s perfect. As long as the whole thing sounds OK, what is a mistake? Sometimes I just say, “I did that on purpose! I wanted to check out new notes!” If you’re a good musician, you have to do that sometimes. No need to panic.

OkEx: What you said about the Swiss, I heard about the Japanese.

Mike: No, that was a big rumor. “The Japanese, they sit during the show and don’t move at all.” Not at a Destruction show, man! They are crazy! I love Japan; they’re not as quiet as everybody says. I think that rumor started back in the day, because there might have been a law or something, to keep seated during the shows. I’m not sure. Back in the ‘70s it was definitely different. They had venues with seats only, and not much room to stand. But they changed that. The Japanese, they love the music, and they’re really educated about it. You can talk with them about song structures and scales and shit like that, y’know? They learn music theory in school, and all the classical stuff. So I like going to Japan; they’re really educated about music.

OkEx: I did hear a story once about Japanese crowds singing along to all the solos.

Mike: Yeah, that’s fantastic. In Argentina they do that a lot, too. They sing every fucking riff throughout the whole song. They know every note and they sing it, and it’s lovely. It’s the football fans, y’know? They learn this at soccer games, that loud “Olé, olé, olé” singing. It’s great, especially when they know all the lyrics.

OkEx: And how about the States? We treating you guys well so far?

Mike: Yeah. I must say, the first show in Worcester wasn’t too great, because the PA was old, man. I mean OLD, like twenty or thirty years. Destruction is a fast band, so we need fucking fast tools, I say. But that PA was a piece of shit, and didn’t sound good, so that’s not very good treatment, but what do you do? Yesterday in New York was much better. In the States, I like to play the most in California, ‘cause they have a lot of Mexicans there, so they have some crazy shows. A lot of people come to the shows too, so I like California a lot. But yeah, the States in general are good.

OkEx: I can imagine the Bay Area, sharing some of the history of your type of music, brings out some intense crowds.

Mike: Oh yeah, and a lot of musicians come to those shows. We know a lot of people over there now, so a lot of other bands come to the show, which is always fun.

OkEx: So, the ultimate Destruction question: is there new material on the way?

Mike: Yep, we’ve started some writing lately. We’re planning on having something out next winter. We’re working on two songs right now, but if you asked me what stuff of ours it’ll sound like, I couldn’t tell you! [Laughs]

OkEx: If, in your wildest dreams, you were to write a record that introduced something wildly different and deviated from the norm, what could you see yourself doing to surprise people?

Mike: Acoustic stuff, I guess, like flamenco guitars. I have a lot of recordings at home that you’d never guess I did. Even pop shit, programmed stuff. I try out everything. So who knows, maybe I’ll bring it out once, and everybody will laugh. [Laughs]

OkEx: Did you ever think of getting some songs remixed for a sort of techno version? Some bands do that.

Mike: Yep, some bands do… Though I must say I don’t like techno at all, so keep your fingers uncrossed!

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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