Kingdom Come’s 1988 debut album made them a household name internationally. With a catchy, commercial appeal and a similarity to the heavy blues of Led Zeppelin, the band immediately shot to the top (the single “Get It On” was a radio darling for quite some time). But with quick stardom comes envious peers and sharp critics. Vocalist Lenny Wolf took the critiques in stride and has persevered, as he has turned Kingdom Come into a long, rewarding career.
Now armed with an all-German line-up, Kingdom Come releases “Outlier,” an eclectic mix of blues and modern, electronic-induced heaviness. It is a solid release, where no particular song claims the album. “Outlier” never dulls and never dips, keeps all the many moods interesting.
The following is a recent interview with Lenny Wolf:
Describe Outlier‘s strength and what makes it a progression from the last Kingdom Come album?
Lenny Wolf: I think that is something for you and/or the listeners to judge. I think I’m too close to the record that I could answer it objectively. It was more like a five-year old kid cruising through the endless audio cosmos hoping for something cool to fly by. I like to give ‘progress’ a chance to improve or at least take some songs and fans to a different level. How many times could I write “Do you like it?” without boring everybody and myself to death? At least I’m trying.
Do you think fans will be taken aback by going from a straight-forward rocker like “Running High Distortion” to the more electronic-driven “Rough Ride Rallye”? Or are listeners more mature nowadays?
Wolf: Honestly, I don’t know, and I can not worry about those issues. Creating is something I do without any commercial or image concepts. Nice to have a hit record, but even if I would write the most commercial way possible, that would not guarantee a hit. I rather stick to my intuition and keep holding up the KC flag.
The eclectic feel of Outlier is a most likely a positive, probably a perfect fit for the times, no?
Wolf: If that’s how you feel about it, I’m glad. Just trying to build a bridge between the two hearts beating in me. The traditional and the new age Lenny. That’s what Kingdom Come is all about. Looking for cliches or the expected? Buy records from someone else.
And many albums by other bands sound like one long song with the same rhythm and style throughout. I like a recent comment you’ve made: “One song by itself cannot reflect the character of a whole album.” How true that is. Can you personally elaborate?
Wolf: You said it perfectly! Nothing I could add. It sometimes can take a long time before I fall in love with songs by other bands. Some hit me fast, others grow slowly. But Outlier is not just a collection of 10 party songs sounding alike. That’s why it may take extra times to listen to get the vibe. Music is an unexplainable universal language, which reaches people without knowing why. And that is good, so …
“Let the Silence talk” is a great tune. It’s right out of Kingdom Come’s past; however, it has a very modern edge to it. Did you get the same impression when writing it?
Wolf: I truly don’t have any master plan when I’m writing or recording songs. The most important factor for that particular song was, NOT overproducing it. Keeping it simple and groovy. Letting the sound carry the words without writing another whining ballad again.
Your first single for this album, “God Does Not Sing Our Song,” is a perfect song for our time. You stated “the title is reflecting my thoughts about people abusing the “name of God” to justify their sick and often very destructive behavior. Do you think there will ever be a time when such fanaticism is no longer a threat?
Wolf: Yes, once mankind has vanished planet earth. Human instincts are often very selfish and destructive. I’m afraid that will never change.
Can lyrics with such substance make enough of a difference?
Wolf: It may make people think, but honestly I believe many people will reflect and may agree, but all good intentions are being forgotten quickly and out the door, once it concerns ourselves. Sorry if I may come off a bit too realistic or negative in my beliefs, but humankind has not really impressed me lately. But I try to do my best, knowing I’m not perfect myself. I mean if my God, John Lennon, could not really make a diffence with his song: “Give Peace a Chance,” who else could?
Speaking of singles, do you still consider “Get It On” as Kingdom Come’s signature song?
Wolf: No. The right song at the right time at the right place. But I have grown up a lot. As a person as well as a writer. If people wanna join my ride, great, if not, so be it.
You once told Powerline in 1989 that Kingdom Come was “Apple Pie Rock.” I took it as a statement that Kingdom Come is perfect music for an America audience. Can you explain?
Wolf: Oh no! That was out of context. Just a comment because I lived in L.A. at that time and I love American ‘simple’ coffee shops and their pies a la mode! Silly me.
How ecstatic were you when your debut album reached #12 in the U.S. charts?
Wolf: For a short time it felt better than sex. A very rewarding and unbelievable experience. Especially for a young “Kraut” to hit it of in the US. Hallelujah!
Do you feel sometimes that America should have continued to embrace Kingdom Come more?
Wolf: I can only thank America for having given me the first chance, and acknowledging my potential. Everything else is up to the ‘Big Guy.’ I learned we can not force anything, and therefore may just take things a bit easier, if possible.
Do you think the initial Zeppelin comparisons hurt? Do you still think back about the Led Zeppelin comparison and get upset about it? Frankly, the criticism was overboard.
Wolf: At first the comparisons were a blessing, but later a curse. Unfortunately, it took the attention away from our potential. I call it fate. Gotta roll with the punches, but it is so long ago. No bad feelings.
And, personally, as a listener, I viewed the comparison as a compliment. There’s nothing wrong with similarities. After all, what would Zeppelin be without the blues?!
Wolf: Zep were sued by some band for stealing. So who are the angels? Screw it. Every young band is inspired by their idols. So were we, among other bands like the Beatles, AC/DC, etc… We could have been compared with Madonna. That would have been a pain.
Do you still keep in touch with the debut band (1987-1989): Kotak, Stag, Steier, Frank?
Wolf: Yes. In fact, just recently we talked about seeing each other before we turn into dust. I talked to Derek Shulman, the guy who signed me to Polygram records in New York, several times. Maybe we all gonna have some serious apple pie in the near future.
Did life become more convenient with an all-German lineup?
Wolf: Yes. It is a pain enough already not living in the same city as it is. Half the guys live in Berlin, Eric and I in Hamburg — I’m a Hamburger without cheese.
How have you grown as a musician and person after (now) more than a dozen Kingdom Come studio albums?
Wolf: How? My chest hair got some white in it! I learned a lot about myself and the technical part of recording songs without any help. That’s why it took me a bit longer, I guess. It would be sad if I didn’t grow as a person after all. Making mistakes is okay, not learning out of them inexcusable! I’m much more at peace with myself than I ever was, without having lost my drive. Sometimes I even think it’s good not to have become a superstar, only trying to make the next million bucks, and therefore more so running a business ‘without the necessary anger,’ which a true rock dude must have. Some huge bands have a psychiatrist traveling with them. How lame is that?! How about the bus driver sitting in his can for hours each day, trying to feed the kids. Does he have a psychiatrist holding his hand?! Amen.
Longevity is something to be proud of — a wonderful career.
Wolf: I’m certainly a very grateful and humble guy, except when I wanna kill somebody on the Autobahn [German freeway].
Briefly, what were some of the highs and lows in that long career?
Wolf: Too many to mention. The music biz is a constant roller coaster. Especially for guys like me who are on a mission. I never thought about doing it to only get more chicks, although I got my fair share, but I do have my visions, which often led to misunderstandings and complications — especially when not talking good English in the early days. Oh well, that’s called my destiny.
You have a creatively healthy attitude as an artist: art first, business second. Have you always had that attitude?
Wolf: Yes. For the better and worse. I certainly learned that the key to true happiness does not lie in the amount of the money we have. It surely is nice to have enough cash, not having to worry, but it really ain’t the key to it.
Business and other input can completely corrupt a sole artistic vision. And you have taken a lot of the middlemen out of the equation by producing, engineering, mixing and mastering the new album. Even though it was probably worth it, that must have been an exhausting process, no?
Wolf: Very exhausting, having to carry the whole load myself. That’s why I think I’m ready for a new adventure — just like an outlier — where I can sit back a bit more, watching things happening, as long as I got the right guy throwing the switches!
Will there be a tour in America, and what are you looking to fulfill the most in a tour? You were always the kind of singer who took singing in front of an audience seriously because the fans are expecting a lot from the band.
Wolf: We would love to play in the U.S. again. But we are not willing to play every dive just for the sake of playing. If the demand for us is big enough, we’ll be filing for a working permit, and (then) rock your hearts as hard as we can. Things have to fit. Kingdom Come ain’t made for elevators or ‘cherry pie’ events.
Finally, another thing you told Powerline in 1989 is that you could see yourself doing this until you are 80. Does that still hold true?
Wolf: As long as I can stand up straight, sounding good, no reason to give up doing what I’m doing. Even though there are other things I enjoy also.