For the Love of Music and Metal: An Interview with Doro Pesch
Too often when introducing a pioneer of any subject, we’re tempted to focus on the pioneering aspect. They invented this amazing thing or they broke this seemingly impossible barrier and while those accomplishments are worth the time and attention we give them, we forget to focus on the person and really listen to them.
There’s nothing new I can contribute to the conversation about Doro Pesch. Frontwoman for Warlock, prolific solo career, German… by this point if you’re a metal fan and haven’t heard about Ms. Pesch you’re the one in the wrong. Instead of gushing on and on, here are the cool stories, unique observations, and all around happy-making words from someone who has been in this business and industry for thirty-five years.
At what age did you decide, “That’s it, I want to make music?”
I’ve always wanted to be a singer, ever since I was three years old. I was a little kid and I wanted to form a band and singing was always my passion. When I was in my first band I was fifteen and it was actually during the early years of metal. We were making the music we do now and it wasn’t much different then, but we had no idea what heavy metal was. It was so new and upcoming and there were no magazines back then, no Internet of course, nothing. My first band started in 1980 and our first album came out in 1983. A few months after, we had the first fanzines and they were actually just hand-written and photocopied and totally homemade. We then played our first concert, then our first festival, and a few years later we knew we were part of the metal scene. The British Wave of New Heavy Metal inspired me big-time: my favorite bands were Judas Priest and Motorhead and Saxon. In 1986 we hopped on tour with Judas Priest and it was our first big tour. But yes, ever since I was little I wanted to sing. Again, there was no heavy metal when I was growing up — there was just rock — but we were doing it all without knowing what we were a part of. We found out pretty soon!
What are some memories that stand out from those early years?
I have so many stories I can’t even begin to tell you all of them. But let’s see, we played the legendary Monsters of Rock festival in 1986 and it was just fantastic. It took place in England, there were 80,000 attendees, and it was probably the most important day of our lives. We didn’t know it then, but everything came after that festival. I think we did pretty well; the fans were going crazy, going nuts, and we decided to give it all a shot. My band was called Warlock and a couple weeks after the festival we got offered to open for Judas Priest on tour. It was a dream come true and so awesome. It was a long tour and ended in Scandinavia, and back then the big stadiums were mostly used for ice hockey. Every soundcheck I’d get warned, “Hey little girl, don’t walk on the ice.” And I just laughed to myself. I thought I was made of steel and nothing could happen to me. That was the feeling I had all tour.
When it ended, one day later we went on tour with W.A.S.P. and that’s when I got so, so sick. I probably had pneumonia, I was so sick. It was a club tour and wintertime and I had such a high fever and the sweats. The clubs didn’t have many dressing rooms, just one for the headliner and the rest of the bands had to change somewhere else and make do. I was just sitting on the stairs at one club feeling so terrible and someone came by and was like, “You Doro?” and I said yes and he said I looked like I was dying. I was so sick! And this man said, “Let me bring you into our dressing room,” and it was Blackie Lawless. He made me come to the dressing room and lie on the couch and he told everyone else I was the singer of Warlock and was sick. I felt so bad I couldn’t even say no. He carried me into the dressing room and told me he’d wake me when it was time for me to go on stage. Meanwhile, he was bringing me medicine and fresh fruit juice, which back then was unheard of. I know you can get it on every corner now and have everything you need backstage, but in the middle of winter, fresh fruit then? No. Anyway, he got me this magic potion type thing that he said was from the best doctor in the world and I took it. He woke me up a couple hours later and asked if I was ok and I said I felt like a million bucks and got dressed and did the show. It was an amazing tour and I will never, ever forget that Blackie Lawless was the one taking care of me and having so much heart and soul and going out of his way to make the singer of the support band feel alright. You think Blackie Lawless is this big, tough guy but he was so caring and I will never forget that.
Do you think that sense of support and camaraderie still exists in music, and in metal in particular?
I think there’s more support now than in the ‘80s. When grunge made it big and metal was really having a tough time, when metal finally became popular again everyone was even more appreciative and promised we’d never let it go again. I think everyone is sticking together more than ever because what we have is very sacred and valuable. In the ‘80s it was just getting bigger and bigger, with tours and MTV, and nobody thought metal would take a dive but then when it did, it made a lot of people realize that support is one of the most important things. I think metal is even bigger now than in the ‘80s, at least in some countries. We all stick together more. Definitely.
It is a loyal community but do you think such a close-knit community sometimes inadvertently excludes people?
I don’t think so. Especially the women, the ladies, I know so many female musicians and singers and we all have this strong bond. We are all great friends and we can count on each other. You know you can call them up at 2 in the morning to ask for advice. Usually we tour with bands that have female musicians and singers and that’s changed, too, actually. In the ‘80s there were maybe a handful and now there are so many great bands and so many women working in this community and in every genre within it.
That’s a question that always comes up and I hesitate to ask it because really, who cares if you’re a man or woman?
Exactly. It’s not even a question. In this day and age, there’s no doubt that talent and passion come before men and women.
Moving right past it then. Do you still enjoy touring or has it lost some of its appeal over the years?
Oh, every country, every city has a different vibe and every gig is a highlight. I treat every gig like it could be the last and is the most important I’ll ever play. I love playing festivals like Wacken and seeing people from all over the world coming together in one place. I love playing small club shows as well, just seeing the couple people in the audience who are die-hards and everyone is so close and there’s a guy head-banging in your face and ah, I love that. I just try to blow everyone away every time. I love it all. We try to change the set list everyday and it’s so many songs but you know sometimes you have to suit the audience.
So you wouldn’t mind getting heckled to play older songs as long as your audience is happy?
Absolutely. I only enjoy myself when I know the audience enjoys it, big time. And usually the songs the fans like the most, I like the most, too. We did a little poll on our last American tour to see what songs fans would pick and I was really curious to see which ones would make the cut. They were exactly the same songs I would have chosen. Fans can even call out the encores if we haven’t played a song and sometimes we will get something we haven’t played in years or a B-side and its always like, “Wow, okay let’s do it!” It is challenging, though. But I love the energy and passion. If there are one or two die-hard fans in the audience, they usually get everyone else into the vibe and it’s amazing.
You’ve worked with so many artists over the years but I have to say, your version of “Killed By Death” with Lemmy is a personal favorite.
Lemmy is the first musician I ever met that I just loved. I was a big fan and I got invited to a Kerrang! party in England. At that time the magazine was super important and I was invited to be part of a showcase they were hosting. I was supposed to play a few songs and a lot of people were there to see if we’d get a record deal or not so I was rehearsing with the band before and decided to go around the corner. There was a pub and it was my first time in one so I went in and saw Lemmy just sitting there smoking with a whiskey cola in one hand and I was just like, “Wow.” I actually asked him if he was Lemmy and he said, “Yes, are you Doro?” and I said yes and we just started hanging out. I couldn’t speak English very well back then so I was a little nervous but we were chain-smoking and drinking and after a while he reminded me I had to play a gig. I walked out and my head was spinning and I had such a buzz. Everyone was waiting for me.
I got up with the band and I had had so many drinks I couldn’t remember the lyrics! Everyone was staring in shock — the agencies and important people — and I just sat down and waited until the band was done. Everyone was telling me I ruined my career, I’d never get a record deal and I said, “I met Lemmy!” I said he’s my hero; my idol and we had a few whiskey colas. Everyone started laughing and forgave me and we got the deal anyway so it worked out! I don’t know if Lemmy would remember that because I’m sure it didn’t mean that much to him but it meant the world for me. From that day on, though, we played together and did many tours and became great friends. We did three duets together and I would say Lemmy is the one I love the most. I know so many bands and musicians but he’s number one.
It was a good thing that you kind of messed up, then! You got a lifelong friend and creative partner. On that note, when would you say is the best time to be creative?
Ha! Right before I fall asleep. Usually when I’m just about to fall asleep and my unconscious is so relaxed, sometimes I hear beautiful melodies and get ideas in my head and then I have to immediately record them. I keep my phone by the bed and sing it out right away and save it. Those moments have magic to them; it’s not the same as when you sit down with the aim to write a song. I think stuff that comes from deep inside, from the soul, especially when the mind is not under pressure, that’s when the most beautiful ideas come. Some nights it doesn’t stop! It just flows and flows and then I have to act on it right then or it’s gone or not the same. If it’s a really special idea, my whole body gets affected. My heart starts jumping and it’s almost like falling in love.
You fall for music every time?
It is my first love. But I also love martial arts! It keeps me calm. I picked up a new sport called eskrima recently, it’s like Filipino stick fighting and I fell in love with that, too. I’ve been doing it a couple months now but yes, music has been my first and big love. Nothing else ever came close. That’s really why I’ve never been married or had any kids; the music is always the most important thing to me. And the fans! Music is always what I wanted to do.