Phil Vanderkill


On the heels of the release of their fourth studio album, "Truck Tales", Metal Temple writer Mike McMahan caught up with vocalist Phil Vanderkill of the Austrian Rockers SERGEANT STEEL. They talked about the release, the writing process, inspirations and working with some legendary production engineers.
By Mike McMahon
January 31, 2021
SERGEANT STEEL's Phil Vanderkill: "There is the matter of "Rest Stops" as a place for erotic rendezvous. The fast and secret sex of mostly lonely people in a dingy environment is somewhat reminiscent of our band rehearsals.." interview
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First off, Phil, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. It is truly appreciated. Also, congratulations on the new release. I had the pleasure of reviewing "Truck Tales" for Metal Temple a couple of weeks ago, and absolutely loved it. Was there any particular inspiration behind that album title, just out of curiosity?

Of course! The phonetic inspiration for this came from the cartoon series "DuckTales", just as THE DOORS "Riders On The Storm" was the inspiration for the title of our 2015 album "Riders Of The Worm". We love this kind of foolishness. There is a fine line between genius and bullshit, and I hope one day that we will walk it without falling down again!
On the other hand, we love the films "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Cannonball Run", both with Burt Reynolds (what boy, straight or gay, didn't want to look and act the same?). The American highways actually play the main role in those masterpieces, as I think. It must be mentioned here that the German dubbing is great, for once. The ingenious dialogue author and voice actor Ranier Brandt, and a few others, have thus shaped the German colloquial language, without exaggeration, for decades. For the purpose of humor and satire, a style of language is created that is characterized by neologisms, apparent proverbs, atypical metaphors and comparisons, style breaks, norm violations and logic breaks. It all sounds very theoretical now, but this absurdity (and here we come, full circle, as far as the album title is concerned) has fascinated us since childhood.
Then, there is the matter of "Rest Stops" as a place for erotic rendezvous. The fast and secret sex of mostly lonely people in a dingy environment is somewhat reminiscent of our band rehearsals.

Any of those "road stories" you care to comment on?

Once, a wannabe rowdy came backstage. He started drinking our beer, and the snacks weren't safe from him, either. Instead of beating him up, I just flirted with him massively. Well, as how it is with young, insecure men who want to "mark the cool", he immediately buckled and was no longer seen. I have to admit, a few years ago, we were openers for the later Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Gus G, it was the other way around; except the tour support, a Finnish Death Metal band, wasn't that romantic. I say it was their own fault. We thought they would just drink pig's blood and eat raw entrails…we couldn't have known that they prefer white wine and potato chips.

Walk me through the evolution of the band, if you would. It was you, Jack Power and Cozy Coxx originally, correct?

You are right. From the ashes of our previous Heavy Metal band, Blood Stained, rose Sergeant Steel. After the typical line-up changes in the early stages of the group, we've been making music as Phil, Jack, Chuck, Ben, Ronny and Cozy for six years.

I know that Jack is listed as the primary writer for the band, but how much input do the remainder of you guys have in that process?

Well, I would refer to the rest of the band as what is considered the executive producer in the film business. Jack has no interest in running Sergeant Steel as "The Jack Power Project". All in all, our sound is the result of a mixture of six unique characters. Even Cozy, as the drummer, has had an incredible impact on the development of the band. You can tell when you compare "Truck Tales" with the previous albums. Interpersonally, we are very close friends, anyway. We also like each other very much in private. We can be called a "Brotherhood", hence the song of the same name on the new album.

That is as it should be. I mentioned, in my review of "Truck Tales", that your vocals seemed to show the influence of Freddie Mercury, particularly in your inflection. Is that indeed the case?

I'll blatantly admit that, alongside Rob Halford, Freddie was the biggest influence on me as a singer and frontman. Not the worst teachers, I mean.

What are some of your other influences?

In addition, I dealt intensively with their sources of inspiration. Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Little Richard and many more. I admire Tina Turner. I could go on and on. Incidentally, I think Myles Kennedy is outstanding among the more recent frontmen.

Working with folks like Beau Hill, on your first record, or Michael Wagener, both legendary in their trade…what kind of effect does that have on you guys, more daunting or exhilarating?

In the beginning, of course, there is this immense awe; but you quickly notice they are full professionals and normal people. We were always taken seriously; and learned a lot from working together with them.

I noticed that Jack is involved in every aspect of the record. Will he override a decision made by one of those guys?

No way. We are a grassroots democratic hippie sex commune!

Any personal favorite track from "Truck Tales"?

I think "Nightmare" comes across the best. Almost everything is perfect with it. The song kills, the arrangement, the mix by Michael and the aggressive metal energy paired with the pop appeal.

How is Austria handling the Covid 19 problem? Are there any plans of putting "Truck Tales" on the road this year, pandemic issues permitting? I do know there is a lot of uncertainty out there right now, as far as the U.S. is concerned, but I have heard there have been some improvements in Europe and abroad.

Like everyone else, our government looks overwhelmed. Don't just rely on the mighty; but do the right thing yourself. Mask up and keep your distance! We are currently living in the third lockdown in Austria. This means that apart from going to work and running your daily needs, pretty much anything else is prohibited. Of course, it is very stressful for us not to do rehearsals and gigs. When there are concerts again, however, we will be ready, and stronger than ever.

What is next on the agenda for Sergeant Steel? Are you working on new material?

I hereby reveal that we make the best possible use of the compulsory break to record new songs. The reaction to "Truck Tales" made us really excited about creating more music. We are humanely and technically capable of doing this without exposing ourselves to the risk of infection.

Again, Phil, I want to thank you very much for your time. I wish you guys the absolute best, in the future; and hope to see you on the road sooner than later. It has been a true pleasure.

Thanks for your valuable support, Mike. You are doing a great job. We will read each other again.

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