interview by Michael McCarthy
Currently, the lead singer of the famous German heavy metal/melodic rock band Bonfire, David Reece is no stranger to the scene. He first shot to fame in 1989 when he replaced Udo Dirkschneider as the lead singer of another German metal band, Accept. He was only with Accept for one album, Eat The Heat, but it remains one of their most talked about albums to date with some Accept fans loving it while the rest hate it; it was a divisive album if ever there was one. Aside from Bonfire and Accept, David is also known for the band Bangalore Choir, who released their debut, On Target, in 1992. The album didn’t sell very well, as grunge was killing the metal scene at the time, but it’s a classic that is well-loved among fans of the genre and they’ve released a few other rock solid albums during more recent years. In the following interview, David and I discuss all three of these bands as well as his solo work and his new band RPG.
MM: Prior to becoming Bonfire’s singer I understand you were performing as EZ Livin’ with Hans [Ziller; Bonfire guitarist]?
MM: How did you get involved with that project?
DR: A guy named Michael Voss, who ironically is now playing with the ex-Bonfire singer Claus Lessmann. Michael Voss and I go back a long time. You know Michael?MM: I’m familiar with Phantom 5, the new thing he’s in with Claus.
DR: Yeah. And he has an affiliation with Michael Schenker. I actually did a Voices of Rock album with Michael Voss back in 2007 or so. And Hans was looking for a singer for EZ Livin’ and he said call Reece. I was residing in my home state of Montana and he called me one day and said, “Hey, you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.” And then I did the album and the next thing I know he’s saying, do you want to tour? I said, “Listen, don’t blow smoke up my ass. If you want to tour, book shows.” And three days later he booked a one month stint with EZ Livin’ and I was back on the road and we did three tours that year, 2014, and then when Claus decided to leave he asked me if I would be the Bonfire singer.
MM: Were you still doing Bangalore Choir again when you were doing EZ Livin’ or had that stopped already?
DR: No. You know, to be honest, in 2010 I did the reformation and went to do Fire Fest with the old guys but [there was] a lot of water under the bridge and just the drama. I said, I don’t want this fucking headache. I went out and toured with those guys and I just said I’m done. Some things never change. [Laughs]
MM: When Hans asked you to do Bonfire had he told you that all the other guys left when Claus did?
DR: Yeah, things were not good with Hans and those guys. I mean, it was a pretty much – I wouldn’t say it was amicable, but Harry stuck around, the drummer, and he left last December as well. We’ve got a new drummer now. But, basically, Hans said, it’s my band, I’m carrying the torch forward.
MM: How did the songwriting process for Glorious work? Did you do the lyrics?
DR: Yeah. Hans sent me – when we were doing the EZ Livin’ thing – he said I’ve got all these riffs. There’s like 30 pieces and to be honest I only liked four and I was a little bit like, eh. But then I took them home and I kind of just delved into them and started scribbling down words and singing melodies to it and I’d say I wrote 99 percent of the melodies and lyrics to the album. And I wrote a few with my friend John Wilde out of England. We did the remakes of “American Nights” and “Sweet Obsession” just to let the fans know that I’m the new guy, kind of warm up to me, you know? The album’s still in the top 100 in Europe, actually, from last year. And this new one, Pearls, is actually charting really high, too.
MM: Who produced Glorious?
DR: Alessandro Del Vecchio.
MM: Oh, OK. He just produced the new Ted Poley album.
DR: Yeah, and my friend Mario Percudani and I have a side project called RPG, The Reece Percudani Group. Mario did all the guitars on Poley’s record. And Mario produced some of the vocals on Pearls here in Italy. And that’s how Mario and I hooked up, you know?
MM: Where did the idea to make Pearls come from? Were you at all skeptical about re-singing those classics?
DR: Yeah, originally, I just wanted to do a new album. I didn’t want anything to do with the old stuff. But it’s kind of a trend right now for bands to re-record what they did. And our new label, UDR – it’s a huge label – they were all over the idea. And I kind of struggled with it. But then they said they’re gonna do it this way and they sent me the tracks and I just put my spin on it, you know?
MM: Were you involved in the song selection for that?
DR: I was not. Actually, Hans went back to like Strike Ten and a few others, which, to be honest, I wasn’t really familiar with. I knew “Under Blue Skies” and a few of those tunes but he just sent me the list and said, “Go.” I’m not one of those guys you interview and I come up with some big extravaganza bullshit. I just tell it like it is, you know? [Laughs] I don’t mean to be boring. I like to tell the truth about what happens.
MM: Oh, sure, absolutely. Who produced Pearls?
DR: Mario Percudani and Tanzan Music in a village called Ospeledetto, Italy. I actually met up with him because he did the Poley record and a bunch of stuff with Del Vecchio. He’s kind of a Frontiers guitar guy. We started writing a song one day and he played me this thing and I started singing what he said and he said, “No, no, sing it like this.” To be frank, I hadn’t been produced in many years because of this stupid internet file sharing stuff we do, making albums. As a singer, you tend to produce yourself and it’s kind of redundant so I finally found a guy who was like, “I know how you sing, but you sing better like this.” He really pushed me and then they started talking about doing Pearls and I went, you know what, I want this guy to produce me on this album because he’ll bring out the best in me. That’s how I got Mario involved.
MM: There’s definitely, I think, a difference between Glorious and Pearls. You sound great on both, but there’s more of like the classic Bonfire sound on Pearls. I don’t know if that’s because you’re doing the Bonfire songs or if it has something to do with the production.
DR: We didn’t want to follow the bouncing ball. We knew the melodies had to stay the same but I wanted to put David’s brand on it. We added tons of background singers because at Mario’s studio he also has a little vocal studio and a music studio. So, I brought in all of these young people. You want to sing on a Bonfire album? They were like, “Yeah!” We layered tons of new harmonies and we got keyboard players, kind of like The Italian Symphony thing, you know? It was really fun, you know, to watch these young people go, “I’m on an album!” It actually lifted me up.
MM: Is The Italian Symphony the actual name of the string ensemble on the disc?
DR: Yeah, yeah. It’s a bunch of Italian kids at the music school. It’s actually really cool. Just unknown guys that are trying to learn and be somebody, you know?
MM: So, was Pearls entirely recorded in Italy?
DR: All the vocals were, yeah. The guitars were done by Frank Pan’e at his home studio. He’s also a full time member of Bonfire he also plays with Ian Paice of Deep Purple in a group called Purpendicular. And Mario added a few guitars himself, actually. And Hans did his guitars at home. And Mario mixed it, recorded it, and mastered it at his place, Tanzan Music.
MM: I know when you joined Accept a lot of German fans were bothered that they brought in an American. Were you afraid history would repeat itself with Bonfire?
DR: I have a saying with that. Ronnie Dio and I knew each other for a long time and Ronnie was always talking about Geezer and Tony Iommi and the trouble with Black Sabbath and he said I knew when I did that after Ozzy left it was gonna be like the circus guy in the arena that opens the lion’s mouth and sticks his head in it. Everyone kind of wants that guy to have the lion bite his head off. Ronnie said I’m gonna stick my head in the lion’s mouth and if he bites down there goes my fucking head. And I started laughing. It was perfect. And that’s kind of how I look at it. I said, this could be a repeat of the German loyalty, but to be honest our tour last year, a lot of fans started coming out of curiosity. There’s the haters, of course. They’ve got their folded arms they just stand there, “Boo, boo.” But this year the tour has done even better. We just returned from Spain and it was out of control. It was sold out. I think they accept that Claus is done. Claus and I are friends and there’s no animosity there. No talking bad about each other. Who has time for that shit, you know what I mean?
MM: You did “Proud of My Country” on Pearls. Which country is it about?
DR: It’s about both. I changed the lyric line to an American soldier and a German soldier. Because they originally wanted to do it verbatim and I said, “I can’t do this. I’m not a German.” Claus had heard [people say], “Who are you guys,” in a restaurant, “Are you fucking Nazis? Blah, blah. My father was killed over there, you know, fuck you.” And it really bothered those guys when they heard that. Because they’ve got that stigma behind them, you know? So, Hans said, “Yeah, just go ahead and sing it.” I said, “I can’t do it. Can I rewrite the story?” He said, “How are you gonna do it?” I said, “I’m gonna do both. About the suffrage of both sides. Because everybody paid, you know?” That’s what I did.
MM: Right now are you doing a lengthy tour with Bonfire or are you just doing scattered dates?
DR: 65 confirmed shows right now. It’s hardcore. We started two weeks ago and it ends the 29th of December.
MM: Are you coming to the States at all?
DR: Well, we’re trying. It’s just a clusterfuck. Bonfire was never really an established name in the U.S. We had some small festivals offering us dates, but the fees aren’t that high, and we’re gonna have to cover flights and we’re gonna have to play a few club dates around those States. So, we’re fighting with them. They’re like, “Bonfire, what are they? Do they start fires? Is it a hillbilly band? What is it?” We could do the East Coast right now but every East coast place – from New York to Philly right down to Florida – want us to do 80 percent of the door. You just can’t bring an entourage. That’s the problem. Nobody wants to commit to the price. In Europe we have a pretty healthy living and consistent shows.
MM: Are any of those 65 dates outside of Europe? Are you going to Japan or anything?
DR: No, no Japan but Russia. The Ukraine called us now. We’re supposed to go there, but I doubt it. England, of course, we’re doing a lot of UK shows in October, November. Wales, Ireland. And in between my solo band and I do a lot of Czech Republic. Actually, we do a lot of Czech work with Bonfire, too, but I do a lot of stuff like Sweden on my own. So, we’re always, always playing. The more the better. I would love to do 300 shows a year like the old days, you know?
MM: Do you prefer performing live over making albums?
DR: Absolutely. I would rather write the songs and play them live before I actually record them. But with this climate, it’s virtually impossible. In the old days you could sit around a hotel room and write the song and play it that night and see if it worked. Work out the bugs, you know? But we don’t do that anymore. My other band, RPG, that’s what we do. We jam the songs, record them on an iPhone then we go play a shitty little club in Italy or Switzerland, play two or three new songs and if it works then we go home and start tracking it. It’s organic.
MM: I was looking at your discography on your Wikipedia page and I was amazed by how many albums you’ve done that I hadn’t actually heard of. But I checked out your 2013 album Compromise and I was blown away. I think I like it even better than the Bonfire stuff. It’s really amazing.
DR: Thank you. Yeah, that album still sells and I’m actually putting it on the merch booth. Everywhere I play, somebody’s got that and the Accept album, and a few of the other ones, to autograph and they just always say, “Compromise, wow, what an album.”
MM: Did you write all of the songs on Compromise yourself?
DR: Lyrics, yeah, I pretty much came up with the ideas. But I had outside guys – guitarists like Andy Susemihl from U.D.O. and Martin Kronlund out of Sweden. And then a guy named Kelly Peterson produced and played on some of it when I was in Minnesota for a few months. It was great because it was just one of those moments where all of my ideas came together and I just started doing it. Plus, my old drummer from the ’80s had died. So, I went to his funeral – and that song “Everything to Everyone” – a woman was crying in the audience and she said, “He was just everything to everyone,” and that title just stuck in my head. I went home and wrote the lyric on a piece of paper and I gave it to his wife and she still has it on the refrigerator. In red ink, blue ink, brown ink – I ran out of fucking ink. [Laughs]
MM: What was the rationale behind the title Compromise?
DR: This world. The business that I live in. In Bonfire I make compromises every day. The economy with music, you know, record companies – nothing changes. It’s always about everybody else. I have to compromise my ass to fucking perform and take paycuts and to travel, to leave my family. That’s what it is. You have to compromise. If you want something, there’s compromises.
MM: Yeah, totally.
DR: You agree?
MM: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
DR: It’s bullshit, but it’s life. I fight the system, dude, every day, but I always have to give a lot more than I get back.
MM: That’s how it is these days, it seems.
DR: [Laughs] Totally. There’s no money anymore. It’s because I love it. Trust me.
MM: What are your thoughts on Spotify and streaming services? Are they helping or hurting?
DR: They’re getting rich off it. You can print this – I just got a royalty statement from that stuff – it was over 500 sales – and there were about 20 pages and by the time my percentage came down I got eight euros eighty cents. But you’re talking over 100 songs. And I laughed out loud and I saved it and I’m gonna frame it because it was like, this is ridiculous. So, they take so much and act like they’re helping and 99% of the fee goes to them. I mean, I hate all this shit. I wish it was back to LPs. Downloading is murderous. I don’t care what anybody says. If you tell me a record is successful with 3000 copies now, back in 1985 if we said that I would be pushing a broom. If you didn’t do a million copies in those days you were fucking history.
MM: While streaming is becoming more popular, vinyl has been making a comeback during the past several years. What are your thoughts on that?
DR: I love it. We did vinyl on both these albums. We did Pearls and Glorious, of course, sold out in a day. 500 units. Everybody brings those in their backpacks. I’m amazed that they have the time to carry that shit. If I carried an LP, I would be afraid somebody would bump into me and break it. They’ll bring LPs of my past and Glorious and Pearls and I’ll sign them. And I like a good 180 gram record because I think it sounds really good. Really deep and punchy and it looks cool. And the art, you can actually see it. Smell it. I like to smell it when I pull the paper out, you know? I think it’s great.
MM: I like it, too. Is there going to be another pressing of Glorious?
DR: I don’t know. I know they re-pressed Eat the Heat a couple of times, the Accept album I did. I’ve signed a few of those the last few years. Every time they go on tour, I see more of those records and they start selling again, you know?
MM: What are your thoughts on the Accept album, looking back? I’ve always liked it.
DR: It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s the Dio story. Udo’s a very good friend of mine. I know his family. I know his son. His son used to open for me with Bangalore Choir and Udo would come see us. We’ve both had problems with them, obviously. But it was a huge opportunity and it opened the door for me around the world. But it also hurt me. I mean, it’s a 50/50 split. But I’d rather have the opportunity to say that I’ve done it than say I didn’t have the opportunity. But there are a lot of regrets. I mean, you’re talking about living with Germans. With this band, we have some Germans and some Americans, it’s a little easier. But there’s a different mindset in the way they do things. And it failed. And Dieder Dierks told me in the recording process – we’re halfway through it and he stopped the fucking tape and he said, “You realize if this fails it’s your fault and my fault.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “They always blame the new singer and the producer.” And he was right.
MM: I think it’s a great album. I don’t know why there’s such an animosity toward it on the part of the fans.
DR: That’s the German loyalty thing. Over here [in Europe], they wear their leather jacket with their jeans sewn in with all their patches and all those bands that are on those patches they will die for. Break that mold and step outside of it – here today, gone later today is the motto in the U.S. In Germany, if you’re in Accept, man, you are ’til death. King Diamond. Motorhead. Forget about it. You’re gonna die listening to those records. And that’s one thing I love about the Europeans. They do not quit you. They were offended [by the Accept album], I think. It was working. It was working for the Europeans, you know? How old are you?
MM: I’m 42.
DR: OK, so you’re right around there. I’m 55, so you remember kind of when it came out.
MM: It’s definitely a different audience in Europe. I remember when I went to Paris for the first time in 1999 when metal was dead here in the States and all the record stores there still had huge heavy metal sections with big displays and I saw Iron Maiden at Bercy, which is a huge stadium in Paris.
DR: Their mantra is so cool. They go around and look at all the analytics where the most illegal downloads are. Their management does that and they fly and book shows in those countries. Those kids will buy a ticket and merch but they won’t buy their CD. That’s how they’re surviving. It’s fucking great. What an idea. They see downloads in South America so they go there for a month then they go to Indonesia and play there for six weeks. It’s great.
MM: Are you guys going to attempt to follow that model with Bonfire?
DR: I don’t know. We’ve mentioned it, but I know Wacken is on the bucket list for next year because UDR, one of the lead women is married to one of the partners of Wacken. So, of course, we’ll be doing that and Sweden Rock and all the big ones again. We’re doing some big ones this year, but the big pie is next year. I don’t know about Indonesia and those territories. I know the Scorpions spend a lot of time in those countries and make a shitload of money. Because they’re kind of a new band still. They knew who they are but they’ve never seen them before. So, they go over there and play soccer stadiums for 100 thousand people. Three nights in a row. Fuckin’ A.
MM: Did you guys do much touring behind Accept’s Eat The Heat?
DR: Their first break out was they asked me if I knew any U.S. agents. Of course, I did. Because I knew the club scene before that. So, we did 32 shows in a row. It was brutal. We played every club you can imagine. And then we jumped on the last tour and then I got into a fight with Peter and I slapped him and I got fired. We were halfway through the W.A.S.P. Headless Children tour and I got fired.
MM: When you joined Accept, were you totally welcomed or was it more like a hazing situation where they have to give the new guy the cold shoulder?
DR: I was 26, I think, a dumb kid. I got the phone call and actually hung up on Wolf. I said, “Yeah, I’m Mickey Mouse.” He said, “[does German accent] I’m Wolf Hoffmann from Accept. Can I talk to David?” He’d had received a cassette of me through a woman in California that I’d done with Mitch Perry, the guitar player. And Dieder Dierks heard it and said, “That’s the guy. Find him.” They found me in Colorado, flew me to the country of Germany and, of course, I’m excited. I couldn’t sleep that night and everything. And the next morning, Peter’s banging on my door, saying, “I said let’s go to the studio.” I said, “Oh, cool, I’m gonna meet the Scorpions,” because they were doing Savage Amusement. That’s how naïve I was. I mean, I’m going to Dierk’s studio. I was a huge Scorpions fan. So, I get there and there’s Rudy and Matthias in the lobby drinking coffee with Dieder and I go, “Wow, how you doing?” And they go, “Fine,” and they just walked away. I went, woah. Peter took me downstairs to like studio five, the little demo studio. He goes, “Here are some ideas, sing something.” I’m like, “What?” [Laughs] “Do you feel anything?” I’m like, “What?” We spent around 12 hours a day down in this basement ordering food from the kitchen and just doing demos and every band member would come in there to listen to what I did. “Man, that’s good.” “That sucks.” “Blah, blah, blah.” This goes on for like four weeks. And then I get a call that we’re doing a show at The Empire Club and Cologne. I knew that was my final audition. So, the truth is, at the time Bruce Dickinson was the captain of the fencing team in Germany for the Olympics. So, they, of course, all knew Bruce, and KK Downing [of Judas Priest], and they invite them to give their opinion of the guy live. [Laughs] I’m sitting across the street from the venue and I look out the window and there’s like 3000 metalheads because they announced that Germany’s number two metal band were playing live tonight. They all knew who it was. And I’m terrified. And then to add insult to the wound, here comes Bruce, “Hi mate, how ya doing, it’s great to see ya, blah, blah, blah.” I said, fuck, it’s Bruce Dickinson, fuck me, fuck, I’m doomed, I’m doomed. And then KK walks in and I said, that’s it, I’m going home tomorrow. So, we do the gig and there’s like 3000 kids there and they go fucking [crazy] in their head or whatever. And the next morning I’m expecting to pack my bags. I walk up and I hear the band in the guest house talking and I walk in and they all say, “Welcome to Accept.” It was a brutal audition. Probably six to eight weeks total. Brutal.
MM: Are you doing a new solo album yet?
DR: Yeah. I have a project called RPG, it’s The Reece Percudani Group. It’s a real organic Paul Rodgers Bad Company kind of rock, [a] ’70s thing, and it’s fucking great, dude. There’s no limits and it’s all live vocals. I’m really happy about it. We’ve played like four gigs so far this year. We’ve got about 14 tracks ready and we’re gonna try to release it in November. I’m going back to the Czech Republic in July. And then we go to England in September and Norway. So, yeah, I’m dead serious about it. Of course, Bonfire’s my thing, but I just want to sing and write songs, you know? I’m a hired guy for Bonfire, that’s just the way it is. It’s Hans Ziller’s band, you know?
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. Is that cool?
DR: Yeah, go.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
DR: Deep Purple Machine Head.
MM: Name three artists that people would be surprised to know that you like?
DR: George Jones. Tammy Wynette. And Conway Twitty.
MM: Cool. Cool.
DR: I’m serious. [Laughs]
MM: I like George Jones.
DR: He’s amazing.
MM: Yeah. Do you like Willie Nelson?
DR: I love him. My bass player’s bucket list is to smoke a joint with him before he dies, so I’m hoping to make that happen. My bass player’s like, “I’ve gotta smoke weed with Willie before he dies.” Ronnie likes to smoke weed. I don’t, but I asked him today, “What’s your bucket list?” And he said, “I want to smoke weed with Willie.” [Laughs]
MM: Sweet. Now, if someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to one charity or cause, what would you give it to?
DR: I’m a rancher from the old days. I’m a farmer. I would give it to a suffering community of families in the agricultural business, so they could survive. Because they feed the nation. And they work so hard for nothing. And they take care of their families. And they believe in God. And they believe in country. And they do everything they can to survive and they get shit on every day.
MM: What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received from a fan?
DR: Here’s a funny story. It happened like two weeks ago. I’m in a gig with Bonfire and the president of A&R shows up from Nucelar Blast, which is Accept’s label. And he goes, hello, I’m Markus so and so, I’m a huge fan, I have a gift for you from Accept, and it’s in a bag. I said what is it, a fucking bomb? He started laughing, saying that Wolf and Peter thought you would say that. It’s the back catalog with you and all the compilations. It was like 10 pieces. And that, to me, was a strange gift because it’s a peace offering that everything’s cool now. Because it hasn’t been cool for 30 years. [Laughs] That was a strange gift to me. And then the guy proceeds to pull out every record I’ve ever done and says I’m a huge fan, Reece, would you sign these for me? I was like, “What?” It was weird but flattering, you know what I mean? That just happened. And he stood right in front of me in the crowd with his fists in the air pumping every song, going fucking crazy. I mean, he’s around music all day, it’s like fuck it, I’ve gotta go home, I’m bored. But he stayed for the gig and was so nice. It was great.
MM: What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
DR: OK, I constantly get myself in trouble for being honest with the band and protecting my crew and fights break out because somebody’s mad or whatever. As a child, my grandfather in Oklahoma, this town that they lived in was built in an old, dried lake. And one day he got this idea. Now he’s a failed banker from the depression. He was a whiskey runner, a moonshiner. He did everything to make a living and protect the family. And he could build houses. He’s a farm kid. So, he saw that these houses were sinking and he said, if I jack the house up and pour concrete under it, maybe the house won’t sink. And it worked. The guy could have been the richest guy in Oklahoma, right? Or in that community. And my mother used to scream at him [for] drinking all night and smoking cigarettes, “You fucker, we could be like the so and so family with the money and the big land.” You know what he said one night? “Honey, I go to bed with a clear conscience every night that I didn’t take advantage of anybody. We make a good living. Shut your fucking mouth.” That was his integrity. I was about eight years old and I remember that like yesterday. I was stunned because all my friends had nice horses and nice little trucks. He said, “We don’t need all that. We’ve got what we need. And I’m gonna go to sleep tonight knowing that I didn’t overcharge because some fucker’s house is sinking in a fucking dried up lake. Shut up, woman, go to bed,” you know what I mean? It taught me to show integrity. Don’t get greedy. Don’t be greedy. Because there’s no reason to act like Axl Rose and those people. Maybe nice guys finish last. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’ll go to bed tonight with a clear conscience that I told you the truth today and I treat my band right.
MM: What scared you when you were a child?
DR: My father. Not my grandfather. My father, he was an evil man. He’s gone, but he was terrifying.
MM: The last couple of questions are super easy. Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
DR: What’s the fucking guy with all the hair on his face?
DR: Chewbacca, yeah. I had a guy on the Lynch Mob tour, he was one of their background guys, he looked just like him. I don’t know where he is now.
MM: Last question. Rocky or Rambo?
DR: I’m a Rambo guy. The first movie was great, you know? Who was that guy, Brian Dennehy, the bad cop? Brian Dennehy was after him at the border, back in the mountains. In Orgeon or whatever. I like Rambo. I’m from Montana, dude. [Laughs] I gotta say Rambo.
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Special thanks to David Reece for taking the time to do this interview. Thanks also to Serena Furland at UDR Music for putting us in touch.