Interview conducted 10th September 2009
Fair Warning are for many considered one of the true greats of hard rock, possessing an instantly recognisable sound the band have delivered the goods consistently across their career. New album “Aura” is arguably their best yet having all the bands trademarks, superb vocals, great melodies superb musicianship all topped off with the glorious virtuoso guitar work of Helge Engelke. We caught up with Helge to discuss the new album’s creation and his approach to guitar and much more. If you haven’t already check out our review of “Aura” here. Enjoy the interview.
Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. The new Fair Warning album “Aura” has been out for almost a couple of months now, how has the reaction been from fans?
The reaction of fans has been very good so far. We receive a lot of mails from fans telling us how much they like “Aura”. A new album always gets compared with the ones you did before. The funny thing this time is that everybody compares it with a different one. Some say it is like/better Rainmaker, some compare it with ”Go”, others find similarities with “Four” or our first one. Well, thinking twice there is a little weak spot in this way of finding out how fans like “Aura”. Those who don`t like it would not write e-mails, would they? Maybe I should have said: “ We receive a lot of positive mails, none complaining yet”.
I think new album is great, having all the hallmarks of the classic FW sound, yet doing it with a power and enthusiasm that most bands find hard to sustain when they have an extended back catalogue. How do you guys manage to keep fired up for more?
That is down to the chemistry in the band. We all have slightly different tastes, even with our back catalogue we hardly agree on what we like best. Tommy for example really likes the first one. That is not my favourite one, I would pick some songs from each of our records. Then there is this “go new ways” vs. “stick to your guns” discussion, I always liked to experiment with sounds and arrangements, like bringing in new sounds ,what we did since “Rainmaker”, Then sometimes the other guys come and say” What’s this noise”. So it’s a constant, positive, fight and sometimes rather troublesome. B U T in the end, and after all we always managed to find a mixture of all that and I think that is what makes a big part of Fair Warnings identity. There’s one thing we all easily agree on and that is “When we do a record together it should be a good one”. So everybody is fighting for what he thinks best for the record. And nobody is really giving in.
What really struck me is how strong all the band members still are at their respective instruments. Your guitar playing improves year on year, Ule is just a monster on this album and Tommy’s voice has if its possible got more powerful. How do you maintain improving on what many people might already see as perfection?
The nice and annoying thing about Fair Warning is, when looking back we most of the times say, we’ll do better next time.
The album I believed was recorded at a 400 year old manor house, what role did the location play in the sound of the album?
After having recorded our first album, we decided not to waste money in expensive studios anymore, being constantly under time pressure. Rather bring the equipment in work at your own pace. It worked very well since “Rainmaker”, so we try to be affordable houses with a nice vibe and atmosphere to mainly record, vocals, drums and bass.
Where your guitars recorded there as I was under the impression you recorded all your guitars at home?
Guitar-recordings and the mixing was done in my little studio.
How do Fair Warning generally go about writing a song?
It’s Ule and me writing songs and we both work alone. We make our own home demos singing on them and then play it to each other and to Tommy and CC. When it comes to arranging we start to work together, even though Ule’s and my demos are quite clear.
What can trigger the creative spark for a song idea?
With me it could be anything, a riff or a line coming while playing the guitar, some words which make a nice line, a vibe, an abstract idea. I always disliked labelling a song a “rocker” or a “ballad”, because sometimes means that we all say ”Ah, not another ballad”. For quite some time I was wishing I could write a song which could be both. That way “As snow white found out” came about. Took some time.
At what point in the process will Tommy come up with vocal melodies and will that dictate where the song ultimately goes?
Both Ule and myself record our demos with our, well, singing. So the melodies are already there.
The opening brace of “Fighting For Your Love” and “Here Comes The Heartache” sure make a statement of intent, how much work do the band put into making sure the running order is right for each album? What do you look for in a running order and who gets the final say on it?
The running order of “Aura” Tommy did and there were no objections.
Your guitar work is a true joy for me, being a big Uli Jon Roth fan I instantly feel at home in your guitar work, yet you are perhaps more straight-ahead rock than Uli. What lead to you developing your style and what do you see your style as?
My limits. When you start playing the guitar most of us have certain heroes. So had I. Unfortunately I never could decide what to be like when I’m grown up. So it’s a mixture of all my influences. On the other hand, whenever I wanted to sound like somebody else, copying a solo or a riff, it never sounded quite right, it always somehow sounded like me. Took me years to accept that as a blessing rather than a curse. Still I enjoy to hide some “quotes” every now and then in my playing on every record I ever did and see if people find out.
Like Uli you use a custom made guitar with extra frets, I know you own one of Uli old six string Sky guitars so how did you about designing an instrumented suited for you?
I loved Uli’s idea of having the range of a violin on guitar. My guitars I designed together wit a guitar luthier, Thomas Stratmann (it’s his real name, nothing to do with strat), from my hometown Hannover and he built these guitars for me.
The tones on “Aura” sound like you used a whole bunch of gear, can you give us a brief rundown on what you used?
Its all in this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRDOYQ3Mfks
What will you use live?
Hopefully my rack which consists mainly of a Hafler/Bogner triple giant and a Mesa boogie strategy 500, plus some effects and two Ac30 with a Roland 301 for the crunchy sounds. Recently I sometimes replaced the Ac30’s with Fender supersonic amps. For guitars just my main guitar.
If you could only have 1 guitar and 1 amp what would you choose?
My guitar and a Fender Supersonic, but I would not be a completely happy man with just that.
I believe the band have just completed a Japanese tour and have a bunch of European dates coming up, how is the tour going in comparison to others and what you like and dislike about being on the road?
No,we haven’t played any electric shows yet. I just came back from the rehearsal room when I found your mail. Touring will start in October. Playing is always fun, but I really dislike when I cannot use my equipment and have to sound like crap.
What’s next for Fair Warning?
Helge, many thanks for your time.
Thank you Andy.