After more than five and a half years, MASTER is finally back with a very strong new album entitled “Saints Dispelled” via Hammerheart Records. We hooked up with the band’s mastermind Paul Speckmann (bass / vocals) to talk about the album, new members, politics, mushrooms and beards…

What happened to your longtime drummer Zdeněk Pradlovský? When and why did he leave the band and when and how did you get together with Peter Bajči as his replacement?
“Zdeněk and Alex left the band in 2018 after a dispute over money. The fact of the matter is like any marriage of the minds, 16 years can be a long time. We just weren’t getting along so well by this point after a 16 year journey, so be it. The fact is that back before the Covid nightmare, many of the promoters were offering less than lucrative offers for shows with MASTER, so the fees for the players remained the same as well as mine. So without a raise they left. I put together a new line-up with Americans Pat Shea (guitars) and Ruston Grosse (drums), and things were great until the Covid fiasco took hold, and the guys returned to their families after the Madrid Deathfest. Two years of hell went by and then as things began to open up again, I wrote under one of my t-shirt ads that I was looking to get the band back together. Peter Bajči was the first to respond. He had filled in for a year or so after Zdeněk quit the first time in 2010 to join a Heavy Metal band called KREYSON. Peter called Alex and he returned to fold, and in March 2022 we played the Heidelberg Deathfest together, and the rest is history so they say.”

Ok, so Alex is back in the band now… Does that mean you managed to solve your differences in the meantime and you both get along well again or has everything turned more into a business kind of relationship over the years?
“We’re friends of course. He apologized to me some time ago, shit happens in bands, 16 years together is a long time. People make mistakes, myself included. But it’s better to discuss these things, then make posts on the internet in a drunken stupor.”

Have you guys ever been real friends before the problems started?
“Sure you must be friends to jam 16 years. We have been through triumphant times as well a disastrous events, which brings people together. Alex and I always got along well from the beginning, it’s just sometimes his partner would push him into demanding situations, and since he is no longer in the band, things run much more smoothly these days.”

If you compare the musical skills of your longtime drummer Zdenek to Peter, where do you see the main musical differences between the two of them? What are the biggest strengths of Peter compared to Zdenek and are there any parts in which Peter is still struggling?
“Actually when Zdenek quit the band in 2010, Peter’s first band was recording a demo in Shaark Studios, and Zdenek liked what he saw, and recommended that Peter join MASTER for the Brazilian tour. So for one year we played together, and then Mr. Pradlovský came back to MASTER for another seven years before departing again. There is nothing to compare, both great drummers, but the biggest difference is that Peter doesn’t smoke weed, and isn’t drunk very often. He is a different animal all together. But I have many great memories of time well spent with Zdenek also. And to be honest, we still see one another from time to time as we still share the same rehearsal place with his drumset and mine, Alex plays in both bands, but knows where his bread and butter is.”

In the booklet of the new album it still says “all music and lyrics by Paul Speckmann”… So, how does a MASTER song musically come to live usually? Do you pick up the guitar and record basic ideas and then you develop them from there until you present them to the other guys, who add their ideas? Or is a song already completely finished when you present it to other members, who then just record their parts, based on your rough versions? Do you use a drum machine when you compose songs?
“I write riffs usually for several years I guess I would say, and when it’s time to work on a new recording, I search through my tape and digital micro-recorders, as well as the new cellphone recordings and put songs together. Of course it starts on the acoustic guitar mostly, once in a while I will write riffs on the electric at the rehearsal studio, but it’s mostly on an acoustic, no drum machine needed. I then teach the songs to the fellas and sometimes discuss the length of the songs. Sometimes I write songs that are too long, but don’t notice it immediately and have to shorten the parts. But again this is my decision. Alex writes all his solo parts and Peter his drum arrangements after I show them all the basic riffs. We have been using this system since the first rehearsals for “The Spirit Of The West”. These things don’t change. As they say, if it’s not broken, there is no need to fix it!”

Let’s talk a bit about some of the songs on the new album. The beginning of ‘The Wiseman’ is musically very unusual for MASTER… How did you create that opening section? What kind of instruments did you use for it?
“One afternoon I returned to the studio Shaark, and I saw this steel looking type instrument and played it for a few moments with these xylophone type sticks and I thought it sounded cool and being the multi-talented individual Alex is, he agreed with me that it would sound interesting with the intro to the song. So, I basically played the guitar and bass parts and Alex played the Sela Majesty Handpan C# Kurd13 312, and there you have it! In MASTER I am always looking for unique parts and this time we found it.”

What can you tell us about the unusual ending of ‘The Wizard Of Evil’? Who came up with the idea for that?
“I came up with all ideas on this album, as well as the previous album. As per usual, I was searching the archives so to speak, on my digital as well as old micro-cassette recorders, and found this acoustic riff I had written ten years ago most likely, and proceeded to try and play it. It took some time to play it correctly and then I showed it to Alex. In the end he said you just play it in the studio for the sake of feeling, and so I did and played the bass afterwards.”

Why have ‘Nomads’ and ‘Alienation Of Insanity’ only been used as CD bonus tracks? Both are really standout tracks on the album.
“Actually they are available on the CD as you well know, but not on the LP’s. In all honesty, when I sent the ten tracks to Hammerheart, they felt that the last two tracks were the least strongest tracks, so I said ok, let’s make them bonus for a later time, but in the end they appeared on the digipak. Sometimes communication is difficult with all record labels, and that’s the honest truth. Personally I put a lot of effort into writing and into all the songs on “Saints Dispelled”. I believe Alex and Peter did a great job with the songs!”

Ever since the “Let’s Start A War” from 2002, each MASTER album, including “Saints Dispelled”, was recorded at Shaark Studios in Bzenec, in the Czech Republic, so I suppose you always must have been pretty much satisfied with the final result… Have you ever thought about changing the studio or is that the only professional studio in your area, or even the country, that can handle this type of music properly?
“There are many studios to record at in the Czech Republic, but why go somewhere else when the studio is conveniently situated above our rehearsal studio in the same building, and co-owned by our guitarist Alex Nejezchleba’s brother Peter? First of all they always do quality recordings, and every year or so, improve their technologies, constantly purchasing the best equipment offered here in Czech. After 25 years of recordings in the studio, the studio has become a second home for me of course.”

What about the lyrical side of the songs… do you start to write the lyrics when the music is finished or vice versa?
“Yes, when the music is finished I let the lyrics dictate themselves basically.”

You have always been very critical towards politicians in your lyrics and it seems that hasn’t changed a bit. But since your lyrics always leave a lot of ways for interpretation, I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about each song on the new album and what it deals with exactly?
“I’ll have to pass on this question, the lyrics are open to your own interpretation, and honestly when someone writes about their lyrics, it gets rather tedious in my opinion. Reading the lyrics will give the answers as to what they are about. I don’t wish to force my ideas on anyone, it’s just called food for thought.”

From a political point of view, did you ever regret that you left the USA for the Czech Republic?
“The USA is living under the constant threat of attack at the moment. The so-called strongest country of the world is now being challenged from every corner of the globe. These things have little or no effect on this small country called the Czech Republic. It’s also very interesting to see all these conspiracy theorists online across the globe trying to scare everyone, when MASTER still travels the globe playing concerts every year since the travel ban was lifted. It’s all still rather confusing to me.”

How do you judge the Czech government in comparison to other countries?
“Let’s be honest, all governments and politicians are shit, you cannot trust anyone of them, but no one seems to bother me at my house here in Czech. It’s rather quiet regularly in the village off the edge the city here.”

Would you say that greed and corruption worldwide has increased even more over the last couple of years?
“This theme never changes in my opinion! Greed and corruption will never leave the world as long the new generation sits still and takes it.”

Was the artwork by Richard Schouten created directly for your new album? Is it based on any of the lyrics or did you just purchase the rights for one of his artwork pieces for “Saints Dispelled”?
“No, I had seen a five piece special mummy exhibition of Richard ‘s artwork online called “Omnia Mors Aequat”, and was intrigued with it. Richard has done many pieces of artwork for me over the years, for the SOLUTIONS project, the Nuclear Blast ABOMINATION reissues as well as the “Unknown Soldier” demos reissues for Vic Records, and a Doomentia re-issue of the SOLUTIONS as well! So we have a history together as well as a friendship since the ACROSTICHON days. He never heard the lyrics, I gave him free rain and he killed it in my opinion!”

Do you live exclusively from the money that comes in for merchandise, live shows and album sales or do you still have to work a regular job as well?
“Yes, I live 100 percent from MASTER! I suppose you could say my regular job, is to visit and ship my weekly orders at the post office about a kilometer from home!”

Have you mastered the Czech language quite a bit already, considering that you live there for quite some time now?
“No, I honestly don’t care about this, all musicians and tour managers as well as anyone in the business of music, must converse and understand English. But as many people say, I am just a lazy pig.”

So, do people still communicate in English with you overthere?
“I speak Czech when I need to of course! My understanding is much better than my vocabulary, that’s for certain, sir! But many people do speak English here, compared to 24 years ago when I arrived.”

The entire MASTER back catalogue has been re-released via Hammerheart Records last year and as far as I know, no bonus tracks have been added to the albums. So, do you think that was already necessary at that point considering that a lot of the albums are still pretty easy to find out there?
“Hmm, great question. This was the idea of Hammerheart Records, and I am proud to say they did a great job, the reissues have been selling through the roof. This is first time that many of the original releases are available in the USA, as well as across the world. After “Faith Is In Season”, MASTER basically became a mail order band, this is no longer the case.”

Apart from regular album releases, there’s always been a bunch of MASTER releases via all kinds of different labels over the years. I’d like to ask you about three of them in particular here… Last year The Metalhead Box released a compilation CD entitled “1985 Demo And Seventh Day Demo 1990”, which features the classic 1985 MASTER demo, which had already been re-released a couple of times before, coupled with a 1990 demo which you recorded prior to the “On The Seventh Day…” album. Are those additional songs exclusive to this release?
“No, this was just a special reissue of the original demo for the Metal Box! This was their idea, and a chance for them to share the original demos to a new and younger audience. I personally think this was a clever idea on their part. But, my new label was less than pleased with my actions on this product and I will no longer do this again, without discussing any future endeavors first.”

In 2020 there was a cardboard CD from Mierdas Productions, which featured demo recordings of songs that later were re-recorded for “The Witch Hunt” album. How about this release? Have these demo versions been available somewhere else before or after already?
“They were also available once on vinyl with the Bastards label.”

Metal Bastard Records also released a MASTER vinyl split 7″ EP with DISASTROUS MURMUR in 2019, which featured the unreleased MASTER track ‘Dissociation’… what can you tell us about that song? Is it a leftover from some album session or was it recorded exclusively for the split release?
“This track was recorded during the “Vindictive Miscreant” recordings as well as another track called ‘Widower’.”

How come MASTER never really shot an official promo music video for one of your songs? When I check out YouTube or Vimeo, all I see is MASTER audio stuff or live clips from you guys… Or did I miss anything maybe?
“Never really found anyone interested in shooting a video. There was talk about it, twenty years ago, but the idiot in Czech was trying to get too much money and take advantage of the American guy, so we cancelled it. Besides, as Joe Perry said, “Let the music do the talking”! But, maybe some day we do a video, but not really the most important thing on my mind brother.”

I was very surprised when I noticed that you collect mushrooms… how long are you doing that already and how good is your knowledge in that? Do you also cook them yourself? I assume that you can easily distinguish poisonous mushrooms from edible ones, can’t you?
“24 years of picking. There are only about eight species that I regularly pick, but I have a book as well. If I am unsure, I will ask my wife’s father his toughts. I can cook them of course, but normally the wife prepares them for the freezer for future use. We often clean and dry them as well, jars are in the kicthen for soups, stews, and steaks etc. For me, heading to the forest for peace, quiet and mushrooms, is one of my favorite pastimes, I was actually in the forest a week or so ago, as we had a warming trend here. Unfortunately we found many mushrooms, but you could clearly see they were recently frozen, so we didn’t bring any home.”

What kind of touring activities are planned in support of “Saints Dispelled” and what kind of feeling is it for you when you return to the US for live shows, after you live in the Czech Republic for so long already? Do you notice any differences when it comes to the audience reactions in the US compared to Europe?
“The next tour activity is beginning March 27, 2024 in Brazil and continues until May 05, 2024, around 26 shows. There will be a ten day tour in Europe with the German band ARROGANZ it seems in June, and scattered fests and shows as always in the summer. We stay pretty busy regularly throughout the year. There is a small set of dates in Florida with the American line-up, followed by two shows with MASTER and DEATHSTRIKE at the Metal Threat Fest in Illinois. Sure, the Europeans respect MASTER way more, but for example at the Fests in Illinois, the shows will be killer, a chance to thrash my friends and enemies alike, live. I look forward to this as always!”

You mentioned “an American line-up”… does that mean that Peter and Alex won’t be touring with you when play the US? Why is that? Are you playing those shows with Pat Shea and Ruston Grosse then?
“I always play with Americans when I travel there, it’s not so easy to get visas fore European players, and regardless, I enjoy playing shows with Pat and Ruston, it will certainly be a pleasure.”

Ok Paul, I think that should be enough for now. Final, and not so serious, question: do you still recall the last time when you shaved yourself and what lead to that decision?
“Sure that would be back in 1995 when I was living in California, the reason was at the time, beards were a turnoff to the chicks there, and I made the mistake of shaving, got the pussy, but it didn’t last.”

Isn’t it difficult sometimes to play bass or even sleep with such a lengthy beard?

Ever thought about changing that again one day?
“Never, that’s an important thing for me, image, still half to laugh sometimes at the ridiculous image of other band members, including my own. In my eyes image is half the battle, and everyone know who Paul Speckmann looks like, and how how he thunders through the songs every time! Thanks for the interview brother, hope I said enough?”,

Live pics: Ilia Baburashvili
Interview: Frank Stöver

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