This Friday (14th) The Unity’s sophomore album Rise will be released via Steamhammer / SPV (order here). When drummer Michael Ehré joined Gamma Ray back in 2012, he bonded with Henjo Richter (guitar) and both wanted expand their creative endeavors and decided to form the hard rock/melodic project The Unity. It took them almost 18 months to record their debut, however, that hard work paid off. After the group received a lot of praise from 2017’s self-titled album, the band didn’t want to slow down from the positive momentum and decided to record their second record. We were lucky to speak to Ehré on how the project began, the making of Rise, and more.
Can you tell me how The Unity formed?
You know, back in 2012, I joined Gamma Ray as their new drummer and Henjo (Richter), the guitar player from Gamma Ray, we recognized that we have the same musical influences. We both grew up with bands like, for example, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Deep Purple and stuff like that. We knew that it was really hard to bring in those musical styles to Gamma Ray because Gamma Ray is more of a traditional heavy metal band with lots of speed metal songs and lots of double bass and stuff like that. And Henjo and me decided to work on stuff for a new band, which later became The Unity. That’s how it started.
It all started with Gamma Ray.
Absolutely. I mean, Henjo is in much longer than I am with Gamma Ray. We were in contact before. But when you spend so much time together on tour or in the studio, you’re talking about so much stuff and you do experience a lot much more in a person than you do when you’re not working with them. So the decision to form a new band was quite obvious because … I mean, Kai Hansen, who’s the main man from Gamma Ray already has his second band called Unisonic besides Gamma Ray. So we said, “Okay, why can’t we do another band? But follow a different musical direction.” So yeah, that was the idea.
What pushed you guys to create Rise since you released your first album with The Unity just last year?
Our first record came out last year in May and immediately after the release of the album, we went on tour in Germany with a band called Sinner and later on with Edguy and we could see our fan base grew from week to week. It was clear for us that we didn’t want to spend too much time between two records, especially nowadays. When you see that there’s something going on and your fan base is going, you have to bring out a new record, not as soon as possible, but you shouldn’t waste too much time because otherwise people forget about you.
And then what’s happened in January of this year, we got the offer to play a tour in October with Axel Rudi Pell, who is really famous here in Germany and all of Europe. And that was a big chance for us to play in front of a lot of people because, I mean, we already know that most of the shows will be sold out. So we said, “Okay. When we have this offer playing in October, we have to have a new record.” And that’s why we started to work on the new album, which later became Rise. And that’s why we had this tight schedule.
How would you describe the overall sound of The Unity?
Our style and sound is a mixture of traditional hard rock and melodic metal. On one hand, we have a lot of energy in our songs and a lot of power. On the other hand, for us, it’s the most important thing to have good melodies and good chorus lines and stuff like that. I think this is the mixture that describes the band’s music style the best.
What are your plans once the album is officially released?
One month after the album, we will be on tour with Axel Rudi Pell and then it all depends on how the record will be sold and if the fans will like the record or not. All of the people that I talked to so far were really impressed and enjoyed the album. But the truth comes out when it’s released. So yeah, we have to wait and make plans after that.
I listened to the album and hear a lot of power metal mixed in and there were parts that reminded me of Edguy, which fits well that you toured with them. The record as a whole, is a lot of fun and hopefully people will agree.
I hope so too. Thank you so much for your nice words. It’s always good to hear that people like what we’re doing. We put a lot of time and energy and the last month were really stressful because we had this tight schedule and when you start the song writing for an album, you never know what it will become at the end. You always try to give your best, but that does not necessarily mean that the outcome will be the best. But yeah, I think we managed to have a good album and we really hope that people will like it.
What’s it like working with multiple projects?
It’s good because you know what? When you look back 20 or 30 years ago, musicians were mostly spending their time with one band. That was because you could make a living with only one band. But nowadays, the music business is really on its knees and you have to have different projects going on at the same time. Otherwise, you can’t make a living off being a musician.
On the one hand, this is not good. Obviously because it shows that you can’t make a lot of money being a musician. But on the other hand, it’s good because when you’re playing in only one band, it can be boring. And when you have different projects that you’re involved, it’s always you. And it’s always fresh to meet different people, different musicians. Last time I played a tour with Uli Jon Roth for six and a half weeks, which was fun. But then when you come back and you start to work on The Unity again, it’s also fun because it’s fresh and keeps you fresh as well.
Best to remain creative. It’s inspiring that you’re always creating and exploring different musical avenues instead of holding onto one tone.
Absolutely. It’s like you have your favorite meal that you’re eating. But it’s when you’re eating, your favorite meal every day it becomes boring. So it’s good to have different meals.
Exactly. I don’t know what I’d do if I ate pizza every single day.
What have been some of your biggest challenges throughout your entire career?
It’s always challenging being a musician because, as I told you, it’s not easy nowadays but, I’m happy and busy. But sometimes being a musician is a 24/7 job. Back in the days when I was 20, 21, 22, I started to study and become a teacher later on. And I guess sometimes it would be easier being a teacher than being a musician. Being a teacher is really a hard job, but you also have a lot of free time. And as a musician, it’s really that I don’t have that much free time. My family always complains because I’m always busy. But on the other hand, I’m happy and that’s the most important part of life, being happy.
You asked me about one challenging thing, but it’s always challenging because when you’re involved in different projects that you always prepare for that stuff. And I remember when I was asked to join Gamma Ray back in 2012, it was challenging because I had to change my drum style a little bit. But that keeps you fresh in mind and it’s also the thing that makes you proud if you make it in the end, because it’s combined with a lot of work and a lot of time you have to spend in your practice room.
I can continue forever. Also the production of the Rise album was challenging because we had this tight schedule. I mean, back in the 70’s when you see the back catalog of a band like, for example, Uriah Heep, they brought out two albums in one year. But nowadays, it’s different. I mean, that we managed to make this album one year after our first record came out is some kind of a wonder for me. I mean, you can always bring out albums, but it has to have a certain quality level and I’m really happy that we managed to make it. But it was a challenge.
Do you think it was easier in the music industry, say 20 years ago versus now?
In some ways, maybe yes. In some ways, maybe not because when you look 20 years back, the recording technology was much different. Nowadays, when you have a computer at home, you can do your own recordings, which is good because you can be productive. You can be creative whenever you want. You don’t have to enter an expensive studio. You can do it at your home. That’s cool.
But on the other hand, the opposite, or the bad side of that is, everyone is doing it and that market is full of releases each month. And a lot of them are not good, to be honest. A lot of them, … I mean, everybody’s able to do stuff and that makes more difficult for the whole business because, you have to share the piece of cake that you have with all the different bands that release their records. And yeah. This is not good.
I agree with you. There is definitely a mix. It’s great that we have the tools in front of us, but everybody believes that they’re a famous rock star or something just because they have this equipment in front of them.
Yeah, and also I mean, the digital age that we’re living in nowadays, you can get your music for free. Many people don’t pay for music anymore. And this makes it hard being a musician because imagine you going into a supermarket and grab everything you want and go out without paying. I mean, this is not working. You know what I mean?
No, I completely agree. There’s barely any music stores out there and it’s really depressing.
Yeah, and even those platforms like Spotify or whatever where you can get music, I mean, it’s like almost getting it for free. You pay something like 10 Euro per month and you can listen to everything that you want to. So how will that work for the music industry, for the bands, for the record companies and everything? How can that work in the future? I have no idea, to be honest.
Seems like it’s taking over 20 years to figure the digital age out. It’s unfortunate.
When you combine different styles with The Unity from hard rock and melodic metal, how have you executed this through the drums?
The songwriting process was a natural process. The approach of developing the drum parts for the album came out naturally. I’m not thinking about it. I wouldn’t have an Afro-Cuban style to do the hard rock style. This is obvious. But I’m a hard rock and metal drummer. I can tell you there was nothing that I was really thinking about, “Can I do this, this way or should I do it better in that way?” It all came out naturally. And I think it’s the best way to let it flow because otherwise, if you think too much about your compositions and about your arrangements, then it becomes something like “meh.” Then you try to make it like two plus three and now you have to add more of this and this and this and this. And then you take the flow off the composition. And this is not good.
It would sound more restrained if you lose the creativity.
What are some of your favorite bands in the German metal scene?
One of my favorite bands in Germany is Edguy. I also like Accept and Scorpions.
Those are amazing choices.
We have a lot of good bands out here. I could continue with bands like Primal Fear or Brainstorm or whatever. But those three are my main bands that I like the most from Germany: Edguy, Scorpions, and Accept.
Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
My hobby became my profession, which is sometimes a little bit hard because sometimes I can’t enjoy listening to music as much as I did before. Because when you wake up with music and you go to bed with music or thinking about music, then sometimes you wish you could free your mind of that. Music’s still my favorite thing to do. But what I also like is watching movies with my son and wife or going to the cinema and so that’s kind of a hobby. I’m collecting a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays.
Movies are a great escape. Anything else you’d like to add or say to your fans?
Yeah. I’d like to say thank you for the unbelievable support, especially for our new band, The Unity, because we never expected to receive such reviews and make a lot of new friends and fans with our new music. We really hope that the fans out there will like the new record at least as much as they enjoyed the first one. So I’d like to say thank you.