Interview with Steve Ramsey from Satan
Interview for Metalegion Magazine by Estelle on the 1st of October 2018
Hi Steve! Thanks a lot for taking the time and doing the interview with Metalegion! First I’d like to ask, if you could go back in time, would you change anything career-wise?
We probably wouldn’t have parted ways with Brian (Ross, vocalist – ed.). It’s just one of those things. We were very young when we made the first album and we listened to the press that we were getting at the time. The two main places we were playing, it was in the Netherlands and in England. And both of the main magazines gave us a bad review. One of them the Kerrang! magazine in England. In the one in Holland where we’ve been doing so well gig-wise, the review was very mediocre and it made us think we were doing something wrong. I wish we’d stuck to our guns.
So did this point made you do things in a different way later?
You know, you’re influenced when you’re young, you’re influenced by what you can see. Foolishly we took that information as we needed a change in what we were doing. Really, we should have just stuck to what we were doing.
About your name: I figure you’re not satanists but find the subject of evil and injustice in our world interesting and like to write about that. To what extent do bands like you with more provocative names have to deal with more criticism than the average metal band?
We for sure got a lot of criticism. When we thought of that name – I think I thought of the name and the logo when I was 15 at school – I didn’t have a good time back then and at 15 I thought it was a really cool name for a metal band. Brian still believes that it’s the best name for any metal band ever. But of course black metal and death metal and all that became genres of the music and we were instantly classed in those genres even though we were nothing like that. That’s one of the reasons why we changed things in the early days. Now it doesn’t seem to matter because there are a lot of bands doing a lot worse than us (laughs).
Do you have any outstanding, funny or weird stories about people associating something with you that you don’t represent?
We did this support tour with Running Wild in Germany, in 1985. One of the shows was in a country-sort of village-town and a lot of Christians turned up at the church and stopped their kids going to see Satan (laughs). I remember standing outside the show trying to explain them that we have nothing to do with devil culture or anything like that, that was just strange. After that we changed our name to Blind Fury and we’ve had that through the 80s. It was a bit of a trouble being called Satan.
I can imagine!
It’s funny because as you probably know many comeback albums of old heavy metal bands don’t manage to bring the stuff to people that they’d expected. It’s different with you, in my personal opinion your new album “Cruel Magic” is once again amazing! How is the feedback so far?
“Cruel Magic” was charted in Germany a couple of weeks ago when it was released. If we were in the 80s and it would have been charted Nr 28 in the charts, we would have been quite well off. Now we’re saying “yeah right, whatever, we’re in the charts” (laughs). But we think it’s a fantastic album and people like it too so we’re happy.
Is the reason for your music still kicking that you stayed not far away from the metal scene even in times when it seemed to be dead?
I’ve got no idea (laughs). We actually saw the pitfalls of doing this and we had no intention of ever doing another album. But we decided to do a couple of shows and the reaction – especially when we saw that there was a lot of young people at the shows –, we thought “wow, this is a scene that we’re not gonna get back again”. And just rehearsing for some of the shows or festivals it was obvious that one of us is gonna come up with a riff on a rehearsal. We just started writing songs and didn’t think much of it, then we’ve listened to what we’ve done, we made a demo and said to ourselves “if we don’t think it’s great, then we’re not gonna pursue it”. But it was working out great. So we did the first demo and then sent it around all the labels and no one was interested apart from High Roller Records and Listenable. Those were the only two that got back to us. So obviously we met up with Listenable at the show we did in Belgium and it was great. With Listenable, we had a great time over there. They believed in us but obviously none of the bigger labels at the time believed that it would be success to do another album. Like you said, lot of bands get back together and try to do that and it just doesn’t work. But I think we knew in rehearsal that we still had the same chemistry with each other that we had back in the 80s; just playing together we knew we had that. And I think all those years apart, we had a lot of ideas that we may have put in if if we had stayed together, and they were all still there. So it seems easy to us to do it.
Looking at you it does seem easy to do it!
“Cruel Magic” is more noticeably melodic than the albums before it. Did you want to achieve something different this time than with your other albums from the newer era?
We were sort of looking back at the older albums, thinking what was good about that one and what we like about that album… And we were thinking about that when we made the next one. We thought, on “Life Sentence”, that album was written really as a follow-up to “Court in the Act”, so we wrote the songs like we would be 20 year old. We didn’t use all of the musical skills and talent that we have now. We tried to imagine being young again and that there would be things that we wouldn’t know about certain scales and melodies and harmony, we didn’t use any of that on “Life Sentence”. And then when we’ve done that and it was successful, then we decided to move on and put a bit more of our technical ability in on “Atom by Atom”. I think these two albums are different because “Life Sentence” is a little more catchy, the songs are more accessible straight away. “Atom by Atom” takes it a bit more forth when you’re listening to what we’re doing, it’s a bit more complex. And on “Cruel Magic” we tried to keep the catchy melodies and stuff and still made the music kind of complicated. I think that’s what we’ve done this time, we took the best qualities of the best two albums and put them together. That’s what we’ve tried to do anyway (laughs).
Could you tell me about your most beloved song on the album? I’d love to hear your vision of the song, of the lyrics, some instrumental passages or a story in connection with its creation.
We all have different favorites. The main favorite in the band in general is ‘Ophidian’. It’s so different to the rest of the material, it’s a slow song. We don’t tend to play much slow, and it’s the slowest song on the album. And it’s got a very strange feel about it and the riff is great. The lyrics are about snakes and genesis in the Old Testament from the Bible, the story of Adam and Eve. ‘Ophidian’ is about rising up. They want revenge for humans and for being sentenced by God as punishment for Adam and Eve, there weren’t snakes before that happened. It’s them getting revenge on humankind. It’s a crazy story. That’s the main favorite but my personal one is ‘Cruel Magic’, the title track. I think again it’s a bit different from what we normally produce and it’s a bit more rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a very 70s feeling main riff that Russ (Tippins, guitarist – ed.) came up with and a great catchy chorus. It’s a departure from a lot of the lyrics we write, it’s actually about revenge too. Using black magic as a tool of revenge against someone and telling you to be aware of doing that because you might not see the outcome in the end. And once you’ve started it, you can’t stop it.
Does any of you guys have a connection to mysticism, sort of black magic books or anything in connection with it?
No, it’s just a general thing. Obviously we read books about all sorts of different subjects, that was just one that we hadn’t done any song about yet. Like Voodoo, people using Voodoo as a method of exacting revenge which is an injustice-kind of thing. When there was injustice done to them, this is a path to take to write that. That was a different way of writing what we read about.
Do you have a personal favorite book?
My favorite books when I was younger were horror stories. Lots of Stephen King. The first one I read was “Thinner”, I love that book. I think they may have a movie about it but I haven’t seen it. The book was one of my favorite ones ever.
You are going on tour in the USA soon. Is there any place where you’ve still never been and you would love to go there? Maybe even in the whole world.
We’ve covered most of the USA but we haven’t been to Florida yet. We’re sadly not doing that this time either. It’s like the leg at the end of the bottom of the country – it’s difficult to get down there and get back. So we’re missing it out because of the travelling. But eventually I’d love to do that. We’ve been planning to play in Mexico a few times but haven’t been there yet, so maybe next year finally. I’d love to go back to Japan, we’ve only been once. Maybe Australia and New Zealand. We keep doing a lot of press in Australia and New Zealand (radio stations, magazines) but we never get to go there.
How are your views on the future of Satan, how long can we still expect stuff from you coming?
We’re gonna keep going as long as we can. As long as we’re enjoying it. If any of the other bands think it’s sort of a bubble that’s gonna burst like with other old NWOBHM bands and no one’s gonna listen to heavy metal again; I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Not for us anyway. I think for a band like us all that’s doing is help us come back and we’re gonna stay. We’re not gonna fall by the wayside when it becomes untrendy. I think by then we have secured ourselves a good fanbase again so I don’t really think about the future being bleak, I think it looks very good.
That sounds pretty good Steve!
Could you tell me a bit about your 3 most favorite albums?
First off would be Black Sabbath’s first album, “Black Sabbath”. I just love the darkness about the songs, just look at the cover on the B side of the album. It’s so good. For me, I can really hear that the guys are really being into what they are doing. The performance, the songwriting, everything. I think it was very very before its time. We’ve always tried to be a little bit like that, be different from all the other bands. I think when Black Sabbath wrote that album, there was nothing like that around.
In the late 70s we got into a lot of live albums because some of the bands that we became fans of had been around for a long time. We couldn’t afford to go back and buy the whole back catalogues. It’s great for the kids nowadays because they can just download everything for free. But we would have to go and buy the records. So live albums were a great way of getting a best-of of bands. And there were some great live albums like our favorite one, “Unleashed in the East” by Judas Priest. I remember us buying that and sitting down and learning every note of every song. We could play the whole album.
And stuff like Thin Lizzy, UFO and one of our big favorite, “Tokyo Tapes” from Scorpions. They were one of the first bands we went to see when we were kids. Scorpions kinda got me into heavy metal, I listened to a lot of pop music before I heard them. They just released “Lovedrive” and they were playing some tracks off that in a record shop and I just had to know who it was. I bought the record and I remember how that was kicking me off with heavy metal.
You said you’d be able to play the whole “Unleashed in the East”. Is there any chance you are going to?
We’ve kind of almost done that in the past. But we wouldn’t do that now. We’re still being asked all the time to play songs from “Suspended Sentence” and we haven’t even done that yet, so our own songs come first before doing the Judas Priest ones (laughs).
Sure, makes sense (laughs)! What’s a subject that you aren’t often asked about but you would like to talk more about it?
We aren’t really asked about the lyrics even though the lyrics are quite important to us. That’s the main thing that I think is disappointing when I do an interview myself. Our lyrics aren’t rock ‘n’ roll lyrics, they’re not about burning churches down, all this shit you know. We spend a lot of time and lot of research on some of the songs that we do, because they are interesting subjects that we think people might be interested in.
I also think lyrics are underrated in the metal scene. Thanks for the advice, gonna put more effort and lyrical research into my future questions too! So Steve, thank you very much for your time and have a good night!
Thank you very much! Good night Estelle!