Doro Pesch / The Heavy Metal Queen talks ‘80s New York and writing the Triumph And Agony album

Doro Pesch, the Metal Queen, talks about her time in ‘80s New York writing the Triumph And Agony album with Joey Balin, the challenges of having Für Immer included on the record and how one of her songs was the first to include three languages.

Interview: Sid Kissinger

It is impossible not to be swept along by the Metal Queen Doro. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and the passion with which she talks about her near forty-year career is wonderfully abundant. The albums Burning The Witches, Hellbound and True As Steel led Doro to become the first woman to front a Metal band at the Monsters of Rock festival in Castle Donington on 16 August 1986.

“It started for us in ‘86 when we played the legendary Monsters of Rock festival in Germany and Castle Donington England,” Doro told MetalTalk. “That was for us the most important day. We did not know that at the time, but people started to give us a chance. We hopped on tour with Judas Priest, who were my favourite band. We went on tour with W.A.S.P in the UK. I’m a big W.A.S.P fan, and that was awesome.”

Triumph and Agony followed in September 1987 and would propel the band to even greater heights. “We could then tour with the legendary Ronnie James Dio,” Doro says. “I couldn’t ask for more. I don’t know if I was lucky, but I could tour with my favourite bands in the world, Aerosmith, Motörhead, Saxon.”

Doro was a big Kiss fan. “Gene Simmons produced one of our records, and it’s a dream come true every day. Still every day.”

Triumph and Agony was recorded in the US, but Doro was across the pond on a short promotion tour before that. “We were meant to stay for three dates, but after two, I knew I wanted to stay,” Doro told us. “Everything fell into place. I got hooked up with great people, but I wanted to have an American manager.”

With a German manager already on board covering Europe, Doro found Alex Grohl, a psychologist, who began advising her and later became her American manager. “Alex was from Switzerland. He could speak German and English,” Doro says. “I had had a hit, so Alex connected me with some people and suggested I check out the Metal scene, clubs and record stores.”

Doro was introduced to Joey Balin, who would subsequently produce Triumph and Agony, and the pair explored New York. “I was in heaven,” Doro says. “Record stores opened 24 hours in New York, and I’m a big vinyl collector, so that was awesome. Joey was a musician, a little bit older than me, and a nice guy. We checked out the clubs.

“I don’t drink much, and in Europe, we had great Metal clubs as well, so one night when Joey asked what I wanted to do, I said we should go to the apartment and have a little jam session, which Joey thought was a good idea.”

Doro Pesch - 1980s
Doro Pesch in the ’80s

Travelling to America in the ‘80s was not as easy and cheap as today, and Europe was quite different in many countries. “I told Joey about my first promotion in Hungary for our first album Burning The Witches,” Doro says. “They took away all our records when we got to the border because they said it was pornography. The album cover had a naked girl on a candle, and the warlock was about to light her. We were almost in fear that we would go to jail. It was a different vibe and was scary.”

Doro told Joey to enjoy being an American who is growing up in total freedom. “You can go wherever you want, say whatever you want,” Doro told him. “Joey was interested in that, and then we wrote our first song, East Meets West,” Doro says. “When east meets west, there’s going to be a hell of a mess.” The song was recorded onto a Walkman and played to manager Alex Grohl the following day, who was impressed. “He said you guys should carry on. You have good chemistry,” Doro explains.

The second song was Three Minute Warning, “a fast, almost Speed Metal song, with a story a little about Alex, like a stranger in a strange land,” Doro says. Alex found it “pretty cool.”

Doro had been a curious teenager, and Joey introduced her to an Ouija board. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew in Germany that was totally forbidden in the ‘80s. Joey said maybe I could talk to dead people, or souls, or spirits, and I thought that was amazing. “We played it so many times. It ended badly because we had to move out of the apartment as the house nearly burnt down. But I asked Joey if he could ask the spirit if he, or she, had a message for me. The message was ‘make time for love’.”

Thus, Doro had her first ballad. “We had three songs, so we recorded at the Power Station studio, which was the best studio at the time. It didn’t look fancy, but it had magic, a good atmosphere.” Steve Rinkoff, “such a talented, young, great guy,” was the engineer who later became the engineer for Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. With the Triumph And Agony album underway, Doro was looking to expand. “I said to Joey, who is a great guitar player, that we need a Metal guitar player,” so Joey introduced Doro to Tommy Bolan.

“Tommy came into the studio, and he was so full of energy, it was insane,” Doro says. “It was so unbelievable. Tommy played stuff, and he was immediately on the floor, on his back, sweating, bleeding, you know, playing. Then we thought, wow, this record is getting better, and better, and better.”

Then came All We Are. “We invited all our friends,” Doro says, “and you could tell why they were singing. Everyone’s face was lighting up, and they had such a lot of fun singing. We thought this could be a single or even the first single.” All We Are was released as the first single from the album, along with a video directed by Mark Rezyka shot in the Los Angeles river basin.

“Videos were so important back then,” Doro explains. “It was so expensive, probably twice as expensive as the old recording, but it came out great. Everything was almost mixed, and we were really sad that everything was over, the same as ending a tour. You feel empty. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Doro asked if they could write one more song, “just for the hell of it.”

“Joey asked what kind of song would I like to write,” Doro says. “I said I would like to write the most fucked up song, the most aggressive, meanest, fastest song.”

Für Immer was the result and became the second single from the album, “kind of a ballad in German, which was unheard of back then.” With lyrics in English, German and Spanish, this was something unique in the world of Heavy Metal in ‘87. “Now, everyone likes Rammstein,” Doro says, “and loves to hear some German lyrics.” As for the Spanish, “we toured in ‘86 with Judas Priest, which was my first time playing in Spain. Spanish Metalheads are so Metal, so passionate, and I thought I wanted to say thank you to them.

“There was one guy in the Power Station who spoke Spanish. He was tweaking our Marshall amps, and he wrote something down. Later, I found out that it was perfect. It says, there’s a promise in the sound, and the song is called Für Immer, forever, you’re deep inside my heart forever. So that was perfect.

“It was something different and special. I still love it. All over the world, people always try to say it well, in Brazil, Russia, all over.”

The album was released. “It became a big record,” Doro says. “We didn’t plan it, and we didn’t expect it, but it felt good. Making it was a lot of magic. Cozy Powell played on a couple of songs, and boy, he was so powerful. Great people and everything fell into place.”

To have released Triumph and Agony in ‘87, with three languages, was something unique and special. Its success makes it the complete album, with amazing hits and amazing stories at an amazing Metal time. “Für Immer is not really a Metal song,” Doro says, “but it is unique and special. You have to take risks, do whatever you feel. Always follow your heart, and you can’t go wrong.”

The album would become a timeless classic, with the song All We Are just there, timeless, forever and evergreen. Has Doro played a gig since, where the song is not on the setlist? “Since ‘87, I don’t think I’ve played one gig without All We Are, ever,” Doro says. “Sometimes, it has been played three times. The Metalheads, the diehards, were sometimes trying to sing All We Are during the set, and it was quite a riot that you can’t wait until the last song. We played it, and then it was the last song in the set, and the fans were screaming for it again. I don’t think it gets boring. Everyone is still gung ho and singing their hearts out. It is still one of my favourite songs.”

The studio recording is a song where the friends were smiling and singing, and we suggested that happens too, live, with everyone together smiling. “Totally,” Doro agrees. “You can sing it, belt it out, and for at least five minutes you can forget everything around you, all your problems and everyday stuff, and just feel good, singing.

“It’s nice to watch every night. I look forward to playing it and see the reaction. Sometimes people like to outdo themselves and sing it even louder and stronger, and it’s great when people are really drunk and forget the lyrics and sing something similar. It’s great. It’s like Heavy Metal party time.”

Jeffrey Gillespie was brought in to do the artwork, “that was the icing on the cake,” Doro says. “That was the first time that the warlock really looked like the warlock.”

Warlock - Burning The Witches
Warlock – Burning The Witches

Doro talks about the Burning The Witches album, where a friend had designed the artwork. “We sent in really nice artwork. The warlock lighting this naked girl chained to the Candle, I thought it was perfect for Burning The Witches.

“And then the record came out, and it was so unbelievable. It was so different. The warlock was a fat guy with an asp on his head. He didn’t have the Metal hair. We always thought it was this evil witch, like sin. Then there was a fat guy in, and we were fuming, but the damage was done.”

Gillespie met Doro, then produced several sketches. “I couldn’t decide which one was best,” Doro says. “It was all great.”

Triumph And Agony Live has been produced in several formats, including one large version, featured in the Guinness Book Of World Records. “There is a coloured marble vinyl for collectors and fans, and there are some box sets where we have some little figurines of the warlock hugging me that is just in the making. It will come out on cassette as well, old school. There are buttons and all that stuff we loved in the eighties.”

The Blu-ray was recorded at Sweden Rock in 2017. “That was the first time we played Triumph and Agony in its entirety,” says Doro. “We then did many tours in America, Spain, and other festivals like Norway Rock and Graasspop. The CD is a mixture between Sweden and Spain.” This was the first time Doro had played the entire album live. “There were certain songs we had never played live before,” says Doro. “For example, Make Time For Love. Für Immer was the bigger ballad, and you can’t have two ballads when you play festivals.”

During the lockdown, Doro was working on the best-of compilation. “It had 56 songs, and I wanted to do special versions and live versions,” she says. “I was listening to the Triumph And Agony recordings, and I found Make Time For Love, which I thought was really nice. The plan was to do a new record, but we could not get together with lockdown, so I thought for the next anniversary, let’s do it.

“It was easier to do because all the guys could fix it in a home studio, for example, a wrong note or lick.” The live album is packed to the brim with energy. “I think live is the best form of any song,” Doro says. “When fans embrace a song, you can feel it much more. The heart, soul, power and energy of live music is what I live for. I always feel I can sing ten times louder and better.

“When I’ve hurt my voice, I don’t feel it on stage. I feel it after the gig, or before the next show, but live, I treat it like it could be the last show.”

Triumph And Agony Live is released on Rare Diamond Productions, Doro’s own record label. “Many years ago, I got so many records back, as contracts were up and some labels did not exist anymore,” she says. “Albums like Calling The Wild, Fear No Evil, Fight, Classic Diamonds, and I thought about forming my own label so I could make picture discs and special editions. I can do all these things for collectors and diehards.”

Doro will tour the UK with Michael Schenker in October. “I’m so excited. I played with Michael at the Monsters Of Rock in 1986 in Germany, so it’s about time we did something together again. I love him, and I love his guitar playing.”

Doro – Triumph And Agony Live is out now on Rare Diamonds Productions.

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