In time for the album’s release Imhotep's Matt Coe got in touch with Andre Hilgers to ask about his long recording history prior to Rage as well as his thoughts on joining one of the longest running power metal bands from Germany. Succinct may his thoughts be, but it doesn’t discount the fabulous, propulsive performance he’s given to the band through the years.
When you are a veteran drummer joining an equally impressive power metal outfit like Rage, things might be a touch intimidating. Especially when replacing one of the more notable journeyman in the scene, Mike Terrana. Yet Germany’s Andre Hilgers had little trouble sliding into the drum kit slot, and is now on his third studio album with the band for the impressively heavy “21”.
You started on your drum journey at age 7, and spent a majority of your adolescent and teenage years taking lessons in rock and jazz drumming, while also picking up the guitar and singing. Tell us about those early development years, who were some of your mentors or inspirations that you emulated and helped shape your overall style/philosophy when it comes to drumming?
“I started very young. As I heard AC/DC´s “Highway to Hell” I was sure that I wanted to make music. My first album purchase was Accept´s “Metal Heart“, I grew up in the 80’s with a lot of bands or mentors like you said. This time we had bands like Metallica or all the German bands and many more… Today I guess the young musicians have a lot of very good musicians as mentors I think. But Pantera´s output changed my life absolutely. I’m a big fan of Vinnie Paul’s style of drumming, powerful and sometimes very technical. I love that…also I like, Tommy Lee, Tommy Aldridge and Deen Castronovo.”
Tell us about the first original bands you played in- which include Vanize and The Sygnet- and eventually forming the melodic power metal group Silent Force?
“Vanize is one of many bands I played in when I was young. That was also the time that I met for the first time Udo Dirkschneider, a very smart and nice person. The Sygnet was my professional start I guess, we had a great time together on tour and in the studio. After that I formed Silent Force with Alex Beyrodt. We found DC Cooper as our singer and I love his work and voice. We’re still together, but have no time to work on more material.”
You have released 4 albums with Silent Force and been able to do a series of tours with the band. How do you feel about each of these albums in retrospect?
“I love all the albums & the band and hope that we find the time to make a new record. Our way was very hard, but we had great tours and I think we had a good start. But the times change and now Alex, DC and me have other main bands to work with. Still I miss being on the road with this party….”
What circumstances led to you joining Axxis and eventually moving into the drumming position in Rage, replacing Mike Terrana? Also, had you followed the band’s career through the years?
“Axxis and Silent Force had the same booking agency and Axxis needed a drummer for some shows, so they asked me to help out. After 3 years I joined the band. It was also a good time and I love the guys and the music, but there was the time to change something after I joined Rage. At the beginning I thought it's not so easy to replace Mike and thought I would get a lot of bad emails, but there was nothing. The fans were very happy instead of mad, also the guys from Rage were very comfortable to me. Since that time I never spoke a word with Mike…or he with me. We’ve known each other for many years, because I was also a big fan of Rage and Mike’s style at that time. I have only good words for him and wish him all the best he can get.”
You were able to tour the Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic and Wacken Open Air in 2007 with the band before entering the studio to record Carved In Stone. Do you believe these live shows gave you a feel for the music and how to incorporate your abilities into Rage’s established style?
“No, I had the style before. Hahahahaha, the shows were more the time to see how big Rage is on stage for the fans. It was amazing for me to play such shows with Victor and Peavy, because they gave me the chance to live my dream as a musician.”
The new album is your third with Rage, entitled “21”. This record seems to have a heavier vibe than previous records. What was the mindset going into the songwriting and studio sessions- were there any particular challenges or difficulties you encountered?
“For us it was the plan to make it harder, because we split our orchestral material from the rest. That means we also plan to go in the studio this year to record our orchestral album. That was our thought to make this album direct and in your face. There were no difficulties or something like that. For us it is very easy to write new songs. Victor and Peavy are still a great team in songwriting. It's great to see how a small idea grows up to a complete song. We love that work…”
The introduction to the album relates to the card table/blackjack action that goes on in casinos worldwide. Are you much of a card player- and what’s the biggest win you have ever had if you’ve been able to play at a casino?
“No, I don’t play cards. But we made a video in a casino for the song “21” and we had a lot of fun playing roulette.”
Rage is one of the rare power/ heavy metal acts that remains a three piece. I believe there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages in terms of band chemistry and sounds when it comes to a trio lineup. How do you view the other members and has there ever been thought into expanding the guitar play into a four piece (which I don’t think is necessary because Victor Smolski really fills up the rhythms and solos as if he were two or three different guitar players)?
“You ask me and give yourself the answer…hahahaha. No, we never thought about becoming a four piece band. Never ever.”
You’ve recently joined Sinner as their new drummer as well- is it easy or difficult to balance your schedule between Rage and Sinner with recording, promotional, and touring duties for both bands? Do you believe both bands offer you enough variety as an artist, because Sinner is coming from more of a classic hard rock style versus the heavier material of Rage?
“I have absolute no problem to balance it. Sinner is also a very old German metal band which I grew up with. We only make a small tour and have some festival shows. There is no scheduling problem. And for the rest of Sinner its also a fun thing which we love. We all have our main bands so we all have enough to do.”
You are offering special instrumental lesson work on this upcoming Rage tour with Communic and Tyr across Europe. What is it like to be a drum teacher and do you try to teach people based on their individual strengths/ skill sets or do you have a standard format you work on with your students?
“Both, I try to make their skills or technique better for the individual. But I also have students who ask me about what I play in my songs. The main thing is that I have enough students every week. So I like to be a teacher, its my second way to make music, because I see and learn a lot on the road from what I can teach I guess.”
With the number of studio records Rage has to choose from for a headlining set list, how do you hone down the ratio of classics to newer songs? Are there times you rotate in and out a couple of songs depending on the territory you play?
“Yes, sometimes we do that. Last year in some countries was the first time that Rage played. So we tried to play a good mixture from every Rage chapter. It’s not easy because the fans in Romania or Argentina are very different.”
What do you think makes the German metal scene special and unique? There seems to be a great respect musician-wise where everyone is willing to help each other out, making guest appearances on albums, special live shows, and aiding the newcomers whenever possible for the bigger benefit of the music overall…
“Good question, but I think its not only in Germany like this. We have respect for each other, there is no battle or something like that, when another metal band goes in the charts, I’m happy…that’s all for the metal music. So the scene has a chance to grow up more. We have a lot of bands and musicians here as friends with mutual respect.”
In the fall of 2011 you played an acoustic set at a fundraiser for Skate-Aid Night in Munster. How did you get involved and how important do you think it is for the youth to have these outlets for their own personal well being and development?
“That was great, Titus the organizer invited us to play there. It’s a complete other scene there, but in the 80’s it was also the way that a lot of skaters heard metal music. So it’s a good way to give the young people our music….”
What do you think are your greatest strengths as a drummer and as a person? What one area of life would you like to improve upon if you put your time and energy into it?
“I think to be on the ground is my biggest strength. My daughter gives a lot of energy to me and I wanna give it back every time.”
Has fatherhood changed your outlook on music and life in general?
“Sometimes yes, I think more about the right way to live and wanna be a good father AND a good musician, because its not easy to be on the road for a long time without seeing her. Every father knows what I mean….but now she’s 2 and a half years old and knows that papa is a drummer, she loves to play on my drum kit and every time when she’s hearing music, she told everybody PAPA TROMMELT!!! That’s soooooo amazing……”
Photos by Pia Kintrup & Alfedus
Composed by Matt Coe