Releasing one of the most impressive debut albums of 2017, The Unity have announced their arrival in fine style. Formed by the Gamma Ray duo of drummer Michael Ehré and guitarist Henjo Richter, the pair have recruited four of Ehré's ex-Love.Might.Kill bandmates and recorded an album that takes its cues from 70s and 80s metal and hard rock. Crafting that sound into a collection of songs that sound hugely relevant today, not only have this fledgling outfit come up with something rather special, but also that's refreshingly different to the bands they're already known for. The Unity look set to be with us for some time to come, so Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid prepared to quiz drummer Michael Ehré about how exactly this union was formed.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to SoT Michael. Recent times have seen your Gamma Ray bandmate Kai Hansen turn his focus to numerous projects outside of the band such as Unisonic, Hansen and a Helloween reunion. Was that downtime for Gamma Ray the starting point for your new band The Unity, or had the motivation to put this band together begun before then?
No, actually that had nothing to do with our decision to put our band together. It was more because of the fact that Henjo and me had musical ideas that followed more of the direction of our musical roots. Of course we have had a lot time to do other things besides Gamma Ray but that was not the main reason to start The Unity.
Obviously you and Henjo are known for your work in Gamma Ray, and more, but what were the bands and music that you were both influenced by that inspired you to start this new outfit?
We both grew up with bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple, Dio, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. With Gamma Ray we have our own musical direction, which is cool, but some of our ideas didn't fit into that direction, so we thought it would be a good idea to start a new band and bring in all these ideas.
If you're going to start another band, when you're already in an established and well loved act, then there's no point in having them both sound the same. Did you go into The Unity with the intention of doing something a little different, or was it a case of just writing songs and seeing where they led the band?
You're absolutely right. It would have been absolutely senseless to make a Gamma Ray 2.0. No one needs that because there can only be one original. Though we knew the direction we wanted to follow we also tried to extend our boundaries to avoid becoming boring.
Each of the six members of the band is a song writer in their own right. Did you all sit down and work together on the album, or did you bring individual ideas to the band - or was it a mixture of both approaches?
It was a mixture of both. Sometimes someone had a very clear idea which we followed and sometimes we only had a cool riff or a catchy melody. So we started to work around these ideas. Everyone in the band was welcome to bring in his ideas and thoughts. That's why I think the album has a cool variety to it.
And along with the two founding members of the band, the rest of The Unity is made up of ex band mates of yours in Love.Might.Kill. So how did they come to be four sixths of The Unity?
That was quite easy: when Henjo and me had the idea of forming a new band we had to bring in other musicians. I mean we're not Modern Talking [a German pop duo], hahaha...in 2011 and 2012 we released two albums with Love.Might.Kill, but after that nothing really happened. One day one of our two guitarists left the band because of his regular day job. As Love.Might.Kill and Gamma Ray knew each other long before we started The Unity it was an obvious choice to ask the remaining guys from L.M.K if they´d like to join us. Thank god they liked the idea and here we are!
Love.Might.Kill last released an album in 2012, was there an element of unfinished business about coming back together?
In 2012 I joined Gamma Ray and then our guitarist Christian left the band…it was hard times for L.M.K. To be honest the band didn't really come to an end because, well, we never ended it. I don't know if we will ever will start up again but now it´s time for The Unity and we are putting all our energy into it. Let me say it this way, we started something new…
One of the things that makes The Unity's self titled debut album as impressive as it is, is that it definitely sounds like a band and not a 'project'. Was that always something that was important to you?
Absolutely! We worked for more than two years on the album and we all knew that this is not a project or one-album-thing. This is a band! A band that has started, a kind of a newcomer with experienced members. We have a lot of plans and we will surely continue!
There's a definite 80s feel to the album, but executed in a contemporary style, ensuring The Unity don't sound retro. Even though you're obviously known for the power metal of Gamma Ray, is your heart actually closer to the sound of The Unity?
I'm listening to and loving many different styles of rock and metal. My heart has enough space for both bands…
And how have the Gamma Ray fans responded to The Unity so far?
As far as I know they responded in a very good way. They gave us a warm welcome and they were very curious about our sound and the music we'll play. I´m pretty sure that not every Gamma Ray hardcore-fan will like it but most of them will for sure. We already played some shows and the reaction were fantastic! We included one Gamma Ray song in our setlist, which was also very cool!
The album has taken 18 months to come together. By modern standards that's quite a lengthy period. How come it took that length of time to get the album completed and released?
Because we wanted to have the best output possible and that takes time. I mean we're not working in a factory. Music has a lot to do with emotions and feelings. To create those emotions and feelings is not that easy. We always asked ourselves: "is this good enough?" or "can we make it better?". That takes a long time but it was worth it.
You also chose to produce the album yourselves. Is that an illustration of just how clear your vision was of how you wanted this album to sound?
Absolutely! We're all very experienced musicians. We knew what we wanted and we knew what we really didn't want. So, we thought it was the best solution to produce this album on our own, and it seemed to work out fine.
The album has come out through SPV/Steamhammer. How big a part did the label play in helping the band and album come together?
SPV was very, very important for us because from the first moment onwards we had the feeling that they stand behind us 100%. Their ideas and knowledge was so important. Without them it would have been much harder for us.
You've just completed a tour with Sinner. How did that go?
It was fantastic! The Sinner guys and their crew were so nice. We really had a great time together. It was very important for us to show that we're a real band and not a studio project that tries to make a little money. We want to work hard to make The Unity successful and we want the people to know that.
And you also played Metalfest Open Air. It must have been exciting to take The Unity to such a prestigious festival?
It was amazing! We didn't know what to expect as we're a kind of newcomer band but the audience was awesome. Even our signing session was a great success. In July we will play the Bang Your Head-Festival in Balingen. We can´t wait!
Do you have any more live dates lined up?
We will be on tour in autumn again. Unfortunately I can't tell you any details now but the dates will be release soon.
I take it that going forward, the plan will be to run The Unity alongside the activities of Gamma Ray and if so, how easy or difficult do you envisage that being?
Yeah, that's the plan. We will see when we will start with Gamma Ray again. No one knows that at the moment. So, let's see how it will work out…
So what's next? Will it be back to Gamma Ray, or will you begin work on the second The Unity album?
As I don't have any idea when we will start with Gamma Ray again I think we will start to work on the second The Unity album. We've already spoken about ideas and plans. It will be really hard for us because our debut has got really good reviews so far...the mountain is high but we will climb it!
(Click here to read our reviews of The Unity)