For a lot of old school Metal fans it’s often the early days of their favorite bands that they appreciate the most. The music and attitude is still very new and fresh at that time and not as perfect as later on when they improve as musicians and become more professional in general. There’s a simplicity in the early songwriting that just can’t be re-created anymore as soon as the band gets older and is able to handle their instruments a lot better. But that simplicity is part of the reason why they became famous in the first place. So, it’s no wonder that it’s mostly the old classics that people still want to hear during live shows. That goes for German Thrashers DESTRUCTION as well. The band released many great albums throughout their long lasting career and did many successful tours in support of them. But could you really imagine a gig that doesn’t include tracks like ‘Bestial Invasion’, Mad Butcher’, ‘Curse The Gods’ and the likes? The ongoing demand for their old stuff is pretty good reflected in recent vinyl and CD re-releases via High Roller (“Sentence Of Death” to “Cracked Brain”) and Floga Records (“Bestial Invasion Of Hell” demo). We hooked up with someone who played drums in the original DESTRUCTION line-up and therefore was involved in the making of all those classics. Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome, Mr. Tommy Sandmann!
Hey Tommy, I hope you’re doing fine and you’re in a good mood to answer some of our questions? Since I’d like to do this in a chronological order, we should start with your youth… At which age (and how exactly) did you personally discover Metal music? Which band, song or record impressed you so much that you became a die hard Metalhead and did you listen to any other music before?
“Yes mate, I am doing fine thanks! At the very beginning it was important to me that it’s handplayed music. Just drums, guitar, bass and vocals. And it had to be groovy and guitar-orientated. Some early ROLLING STONES from the radio. THE BEATLES! My very first bought cassette was the blue album of THE BEATLES (“1967-1970″ – Frank). Later I discovered THE SWEET and bought my very first record. The album “Level Headed” with my favourite song on that album ‘Love Is like Oxygene’. Then it became harder and harder, I discovered STATUS QUO, DEEP PURPLE… And then TYGERS OF PAN TANG, JUDAS PRIEST, MOTÖRHEAD, IRON MAIDEN. In that order. And there we are.”
Did you already find like-minded maniacs in your area at that time or were you pretty much a loner with such a taste of music?
“Rather loners… We were just a few dedicated Metal maniacs…”
When did you start playing drums? Have you been all self-taught or did you have a drum teacher? And what made you choose the drums as an instrument, instead of guitar or bass? Did you have any drummers that you admired at the time?
“Well, that must have been at the age of 16. I knew two local drummers, which showed me some basics. Most things then have been more or less self-taught. I always admired especially Dave Lombardo’s drumming.”
When (and how exactly) did you get to know Mike and Schmier? Were you already playing drums at the time?
“I knew Mike before I knew Schmier. Mike and myself lived in the same town. In Weil am Rhein, the south-west corner of Germany on the edge of the black forest. A small town with a population of among 25.000 people. We were roughly the same age. So sooner or later your ways cross and then you find out, that you have the same music interests and attitude. Mike showed me bands like ROY LAST BAND and YESTERDAY & TODAY which I found pretty cool. I was not playing drums at the time, when I met Mike the first time. He was playing guitar there. So I was impressed about his abilities and ideas. Mike was a member of a local bunch of musicians. I would not consider it to be a band. They were just jamming from time to time. It was Mike on guitar, one more guitar player called Ralf Schumacher and a drummer. The drummer’s nick name was “Güggel”. No singer. It was not what Mike wanted, but better than playing all alone at home. And also the other two musicians were not really into hard Metal, like Mike was. Schmier joined the band later.”
Was KNIGHT OF DEMON your very first band ever? There’s not much known about this period, so would you mind telling us a bit more about those early days? Who founded the band and who was in the first line-up?
“Mike, me and a person called Ulf Kühne (who was a guy we hung out with at that period of time) decided to form an own band. So Ulf Kühne started to shout into the microphone and I started to play drums. KNIGHT OF DEMON was born. There was just a bass player missing… So, the other night in a local club a guy with Heavy Metal clothes on walked in. We haven’t been familiar with this guy, who turned out to be Schmier. So we walked up to him and started a conversation. That turned out in a good contact and a few weeks later we offered him to join the band as a bass player. So he joined in and started to play bass. That’s how it all did get started in the year 1983. And KNIGHT OF DEMON was just a work-name. We were not so happy with the choice. So we kept on searching for another name. And later the band accepted my proposal: DESTRUCTION. We did paint the band logo at the back of jeans vests with cotton colours. We stencilled that. But Schmier misused that stencil somehow and the color was not all over his vest, but the edges of the letters have not been sharp at all… So we called him “Schmier-Maxe” (which could roughly be translated as “Smudgy dude” – Frank), because he screwed that thing up a bit. And out of that incident his nick name Schmier remained.”
Which other bands did you draw your influences from? Did you just rehearse a bunch of cover songs (if so, which ones) or had you also written some own songs with KNIGHT OF DEMON already?
“At the very beginning we played several songs like ‘Doctor Doctor’ from UFO, before we started to write own songs. As I said, KNIGHT OF DEMON was just a temporary project name for a short period of time. The band never performed as KNIGHT OF DEMON. We liked some songs from the early “Metal Massacre” samplers from Metal Blade Records. That was very inspiring. Especially to mention ‘Hit The Lights’.”
How about any recordings from that period… I suppose you never did a proper demo, but how about rehearsal recordings? Did you record any stuff just for yourselves?
“You know, there were no proper recordings taken in that period. We put a cassette recorder in the middle of the room and pressed record. Later we heard the results to get an idea how the song structure sounds, but deleted those recordings later. Would have been cool to have maintained some of those recordings. But we did not know where things would lead us to.”
When and why did you change the name to DESTRUCTION? I suppose it was when you parted ways with your former vocalist, wasn’t it? But since you weren’t much known yet anyway, you could easily have changed musical direction, yet keeping the old name…
“As mentioned, we were not so happy with the name KNIGHT OF DEMON. We were looking for a band name, which described the raw power better. Our choice DESTRUCTION brought it straight to the point. The band was already called DESTRUCTION, as the former vocalist was still in the band. So his expulsion had nothing to do with the change of names. We just found the new name much cooler, than the old one. But yes, the first singer did not like bands like VENOM or MOTÖRHEAD. He fancied Dee Snider from TWISTED SISTER and music of TYGERS OF PAN TANG. We all liked the TYGERS OF PAN TANG as well. But it was not the kind of music, we wanted to play.”
Tell us a little bit about the early rehearsals that you had with Mike and Schmier… what kind of songs did you practice? Was it still KNIGHT OF DEMON material or did you write brand new songs right away after the line-up change?
“I remember, that we wrote one song, called ‘Up The Hammers’. That was an untypical song, compared to the other stuff that crowds know from the band since the official releases. It was not fast, but more classic Heavy Metal style. There are no recordings of that song. Wanna hear a lyric-line? (Sure! – Frank) Ok, here you go: “When we attack the hall – we set the stage on fire…” But this song never made it on a demo tape. It was pretty slow and more traditional Heavy Metal like, which was fine, but not the direction we wanted, stood for and stand for.”
Was it already clear at the time that you would continue on as a three-piece and that one of you guys would additionally take over the vocals? Or were you still trying to find a new vocalist for a while?
“No, it was not a serious option for us to look for another singer to replace the old one. We decided that either Schmier or myself (like Dan Beehler from EXCITER) should take over the singing. But for me it was too hard to play that kind of exhausting High Speed Metal AND sing. Not enough breath for both jobs… Mike never wanted to sing at all. That was never an option. So it was Schmier’s time to take over!”
The “Bestial Invasion Of Hell” demo was the first and only recording of DESTRUCTION before you got signed. Since the demo totally lacks information, it would be cool if you could tell us a bit more background info about its origin. When and where exactly did you record those songs? Did you record them live? Did you have an engineer / producer? How long did it take you in total to record the 6 songs?
“The demo was recorded in early 1984 in a small studio south of Freiburg, still close to the place we all live. The songs have been recorded live, except for the vocals. They have been recorded separate afterwards. We did not have a producer. The recording and the mixing of the songs all together took us one day.”
Were those songs that are featured on the demo the only songs you had written at that time or was there already more work in progress?
“The songs on the demo tape were all we had in our repertoire at that time. I was always wondering, why ‘Front Beast’ seemed to be forgotten. It was the only song on the demo, which never was officially released on a record. Until the band released that song on Thrash Anthems II in 2017. Well done! It was more than time for that.”
Who actually created the original version of the demo cover?
“As far as I remember, that cover was created by a local friend of ours, which did hang around with us that time. But I am not too sure, so better not mention his name. I don’t wanna create fake news, ha ha!”
DESTRUCTION really took off rather quick after that demo. You recorded the “Sentence Of Death” mini album, the 2 follow-up full length records “Infernal Overkill” and “Eternal Devastation” and you even got the opportunity to support SLAYER on their first European tour… Everything looked very promising, but you still decided to leave the band sometime in 1986 (if I’m right)… So, at which point of time did you make the decision that you didn’t wanna continue any longer and why?
“Of course I have been asked these very reasonable question many times. After the split some magazines reported that I left the band because of music-artistic differences. Well, this simple kind of statement is used in many cases of split-ups but this was not true in our case. At that time, there was still the obligation in Germany that all male people had to do military service for a minimum of 12 months or 18 months of civil services instead. Schmier and Mike could make it without doing those services, because in some cases, you could be exempted from those duties. But not me. So, in case I had to serve, I wouldn’t have been available for the band for touring and recordings of albums. At least for the required period of time. And the hair was gone as well, in case of the army-duty. Not so good… But what was more important: I asked myself at the age of 19 years several questions. These were mainly: are you sure, that your skills are good enough to persist for a long lasting sustainable career? Or is there a pretty big chance to state at the age of 30 – 35 that it’s not the case. And then in this age, without having learned a profession the main option is not to get paid well, but often physical hard work. That option did not appeal to me, so I decided to free the chair behind the drums for somebody else, who could help the band as well to achieve the next level. So Oli Kaiser took over. But the decision was a hard one for me, as a young dedicated very enthusiastic Metalhead!”
Did you ever regret that decision, considering how popular DESTRUCTION has become around the world these days? Do you miss playing in a band from time to time?
“No, I do not really regret my decision. Music business is a hard business. The bills need to be paid. The CD sales decreased rapidly throughout the last years, as you know. So it became harder for musicians to survive. Touring is not always a pleasure. Every medal has two sides. I am pretty happy with my decision. But I am still in close contact with the band. We live not far from each other and we meet from time to time. Schmier’s home is within walking distance to where I live. Sometimes he and his girlfriend come over for a BBQ or me and my girlfriend go over for his famous pizzas and cocktails. We also visit concerts together.”
As far as I can recall, the logo you’ve used on “Infernal Overkill” for the very first time, was created by some guy who created it for a DESTRUCTION feature in his fanzine back in the early 80s. Do you still recall which fanzine that was and how he reacted when you decided to use it as the new official DESTRUCTION logo?
“I haven’t heard that particular story, how the current logo did allegedly come out. But no, this story is not true. We requested a graphic designer to create some proposals for a new logo. And the one the band still uses now since “Infernal Overkill” convinced us all.” (well, since it was me who received that particular fanzine with the DESTRUCTION feature in it back then, I can assure you that the origin of the famous DESTRUCTION logo definitely goes back to that… so maybe the mentioned graphic designer just developed that rough fanzine idea a bit further and turned it into a more professional version… – Frank)
The “Bestial Invasion Of Hell” demo had been bootlegged in various formats already before it finally got its first official re-release in 2000 as a bonus disc of the “All Hell Breaks Loose” album and most recently as an impressive boxset via Floga Records… Have you been aware of the vinyl and CD bootleg versions? What’s your opinion about that and how deeply have you been involved in the Floga Records re-release?
“No, I haven’t been aware of the vinyl and CD bootleg versions. It’s also a nice thing to have for a die hard fan. I am pretty happy with the Floga Records re-release. The guys from Floga did a great job. Good artwork and bonus material. And it’s very limited edition…”
In 2007 you returned to DESTRUCTION for a one-off guest appearance at the Wacken festival… How much did you have to practice before that show in order to play the stuff properly again after so many years? Tell us a bit about your personal feelings from that particular show…
“The Wacken show in 2007 was special, indeed. The band brought the old members together on stage. We rehearsed for that show several times. But there were already 3 drummers, which was by far enough. That was Oli Kaiser, Sven Vormann and Marc Reign, who was in charge at that time. No fourth drummer needed. So I participated with backing vocals instead of drumming. That was a great moment to bring the DESTRUCTION family back together. We still have that feeling of shared identity. I find it very remarkable that no one is estranged with any other member or ex-member with the band. That’s perfect. There was a DVD produced around the Wacken appearance in 2007. Including the full show and a lot of additional stuff as interviews of all the members and ex-members till then. Very interesting and very well done. I recommend this DVD to everyone. Honestly. The DVD is entitled “A Savage Symphony”. But there was another very special show in the year 2016 at the Rock Hard festival in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The band promised an absolute old school show. Besides Andy Brings from SODOM as a guitar player there were more guest appearances… So, Oli Kaiser and me took part again on request of the band. I did play with the band the song ‘The Antichrist’ from the 1985 album “Infernal Overkill”. That was the very first and so far only appearance of the band in the original line-up all together on their instruments after 30 years! A band historic moment! Oli played ‘Reject Emotions’ from the “Mad Butcher” EP. Good fun for everybody, not only the fans!”
As far as I know you also contributed backing vocals to a DESTRUCTION recording at some point, didn’t you? Tell us a bit more about that.
“You are very well informed. Yes, from time to time, besides other ex-members, I was invited to join in for some backing vocals on several albums. That’s always a pleasure because the main recordings were all finished and besides the pre-listening of the records, while having some snacks and drinks, we shouted in some lines. Good fun!”
After you left DESTRUCTION in 1986 you became a policeman and you’re still working in that job today… So, I suppose you like what you do? How does a regular day in your job look like?
“Some people said, that joining the police force is contradictory to being a member in a Metal band. It is probably or maybe unusual indeed, but not contradictory. Not at all. Metalheads are good people, who know what’s wrong and what’s right. That’s the basic requirement. Justice was always a very important aspect for me. And yes, I’m still trying to do contribute my effort to make the world a little bit better and safer, which I like. I hope for your support, because being a policeman can be very tough. A typical day in my job? Oh well, a lot of paperwork… ha, ha!”
You mentioned to me that you started drumming again a little bit for yourself about three years ago… So does that mean, that we will possibly hear some new music from you again sometime in the future? And while we’re just at it: what are you current fave bands or records? Any non Metal stuff you enjoy as well?
“Yeah, I’m swinging the sticks a bit. But just for fun. I do not think, that I will release new music in the future. Priorities have changed a bit. I rather stand in front of the stage than on stage. But that’s absolutely ok. No, there is not really non Metal stuff which I hear. Metal in different varieties is what excites me. It always has been, always will. It’s in my genes. Currently I listen quite a lot to the last album “Mass Destruction” of the German Thrashers DUST BOLT. I love the latest album of DEATH ANGEL “The Evil Devide”, but also prog like THRESHOLD’s “March Of Progress”.”
Ok Tommy, that’s about it. It was a pleasure talking to you again after so many years. I’m wishing you all the best!
“Thank you, Frank! Same to you! And thank you out there for supporting the DESTRUCTION family throughout all the years!”