On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Grave Digger’s career and the release of their 20th album “Fields of Blood” (here you can read our review), we had the immense pleasure to interview Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt, guitarist since 2009 of the historical german heavy metal band.
We thank him for his time and we wish him all best for his latest studio work!
Hi Axel, first of all thank you so much for your time. I would like to start by asking you a few questions about the important anniversary that the band has reached this year. Unfortunately this is not a good period, are all the celebrations postponed until we will be able to see you in live?
Thank you too! Unfortunately yes, there were many special open air shows planed with a big entourage of about 60 guest musicians like Wacken, Rockharz, Rockhard and many more, but Corona killed it all. We try to perform as many as possible of the shows in 2021.
You have been the band’s official guitarist for more than 10 years now, how was it to join the band? Did you have to do any auditions?
No. Chris and I know each other for now about 30 years, but we only got cooperations on the business side of music, because he was the owner of a promotion company for many years and I do have my own record label, publishing company and recording studios. When my predecessor left the band, Chris gave me a call while he was on holiday in Greece and he asked me if I can do some „Firework“ jobs. Some shows had already been booked and I had only 10 days to learn all the live songs. So I canceled all appointments for 2 weeks, performed the shows and at the end of the year, the band asked me, if I would like to be a permanent member.
What has changed in the heavy metal music market in the last 10 years, in your opinion?
Everything :-) In the early days, you did a tour to promote the album, because your major income was on the sales of records. Today, you do an album to have a reason for doing a tour, because of the upside down way the streaming companies like Spotify killed the sales income, the only way of earning money in music is playing live and selling merchandise. So every band on the planet is on tour the whole year through. There’s much too much music around. Music has become fast food.
We grew up at a time, where you had the chance to get famous, if you put all of your time, energy and money into your career. It’s hard to say, but these days are gone forever. Today, you’re a lucky guy if you can pay the rent and get some food, but you’ll never be able to feed a family or buy a house without 1 or 2 more jobs, or the additional income of your wife. I hate it to say, but my advice is, learn a trade which fills up your bank account and do music as a hobby. This is the only way to avoid the humiliation of having to do musical mess so that your children can go to school.
You are one of the most consistent heavy metal bands on the market, I guess it’s satisfying to continue to release records keeping the original imprint of the band and continue to receive appreciation. Have you ever thought about making some relevant stylistic changes anyway?
No, never and I’m sure this will never happen. Grave Digger is a rock in true German metal and there is no reason to change the once established trademark.
After ten years comes a new chapter set in the Highlands with “Fields of Blood”. Where does this particular attachment to the Scottish lands come from?
This happened by accident. The former bassplayer of the band, Tommy Göttlich, is a History- and English-Teacher, so he came up with the idea of “Tunes Of War“ and it became some kind of history lessons with metal music. I guess, nobody expected the big success of the album in these days and the fact, that the movie “Braveheart“ has been released at that time as well, fitted like a glove.
This is probably a question that many people have already asked you, but where does the nickname “Ironfinger” come from?
It’s because of the gauge of my guitar strings. Only a few manufacturers build these strings and as far as I know, I’m the only guitar player in metal, rock and pop worldwide, who uses this extreme heavy gauge. Some friends of mine, who tried to play my guitars, said that you need to have “fingers of iron“ to perform with these strings. For all guitar players out there, it’s 013 – 056 in standard(!) tuning. I got my own signature string set, you can order it here for example.
How are the Grave Diggers experiencing this abnormal pandemic period?
How is the situation in Germany?
The situation in Germany is the worst disaster you can imagine. There are some music industry organizations like GEMA for example, where you can tell how much money you’ve lost because of no live shows, but the money you get is just a credit and completely billable with your further income. Germany is a very rich country and the government pays from the tax income 9.000 Millions Euro for Lufthansa or close to 7.000 Millions Euro for the Deutsche Bahn for example, but not a fucking cent for solo self-employed. Of course politicians are only interested in supporting companies, who will give them a job, when they were kicked out of the government at the end of their career, so they take the taxes from the poor, give it to the rich and the rich will take care of you. Simply an indirect corruption, works fine for the politicians since decades. Everybody knows, nobody cares.
Because of Covid-19 all concerts have been postponed or canceled.
In Italy, the biggest organizers are issuing non-monetary refunds, through vouchers that can be spent in other concerts, yet some artists that fans paid for might not be able to perform next year. There is now a storm on all social media. Generally, what do you think about all this situation that live music is facing?
Musicians are not “system-relevant“ and it’s a lot cheaper for the government to kick thousands of artists and fans to social care, instead of supporting them. For the system, music is “just fun”, it doesn’t matter what show you want to see, for them it’s only money that goes in one direction rather than another.
Most of my colleagues will not survive the crises, the same goes for the places where the bands plays. The complete music scene is slowly dying, everybody is watching it, but nobody cares. Live music is gone!
Besides music, what are your biggest passions?
Animal shelter and veganism.
Do you like Italy? Which places did you personally visit and which ones did you like the most?
My aunt has a small house at the lake Garda, which I used from time to time, when I was younger and I did some skiing in Italy with my parents as well. I like vegan Italien pasta and of course the great red wine.
What other artists would you like to collaborate with in a Grave Digger project?
I think Paul McCartney would be a perfect choice, because I admire him for his songwriting and his vegetarian way of living.
If you could choose to play as co-headliner with a band, which one would you choose?
Queen, because all arenas would have been sold out! And I love Brian May. Guess why? Great songwriting and his vegan way of living ;-)
Which young band would you personally recommend to discover for heavy metal lovers?
Difficult question. Well, they are not newcomers anymore, but I like the vocal style of the JINJER singer Tetjana a lot, I’m sure, Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy could do the change between growling and clean vocals as well, so I hope AE will develop their style in this direction.
Thanks for your answers and for your time, Axel. I wish you and your band all best, hoping to see you on stage as soon as possible!
You’re welcome, I hope I’ll see you all at one of our upcoming shows.