By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the Bay Area’s most unique and potent punk/metal bands, the action-rock heroes of ArnoCorps have been electrifying audiences for the better part of two decades. Founded back in 2000, the San Francisco sextet of musical combat veterans aims to take back the Austrian mythology and lore appropriated for American consumption by actor and former Governator of California, “Austroploitation” figurehead Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Dealing out such spectacular rock anthems as “Terminator,” “Predator,” and “Total Recall,” the dynamic outfit led by charismatic vocalist Graf Holzfeuer (pronounced holz-FOY-er) has built a rabid local base of fans while cultivating an international following with regular UK and European tours. In addition to 2015’s reissue of the group’s 2005 debut Greatest Band of All Time (made available on vinyl for the first time through Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label), ArnoCorps also teamed with AT to release the “Two More” 7-inch single which featured the pump-inducing tributes to the Austrian bodybuilding fable that Schwarzenegger would plagiarize for his ’70s film Pumping Iron.
Last year, Holzfeuer and company announced the band’s next recording project, The Unbelievable EP. Answering the longtime demand of their fans to take back some of the more humor-filled tales of the Austrian mythos exploited by Schwarzenegger during the 1990s like Kindergarten Cop, Twins and Jingle All the Way. A Kickstarter crowd-funding effort for the album was met with a resounding response with disciples contributing over $20,000 to the cause. CBS SF recently spoke with the band’s singer about the forthcoming EP, working with SF punk legend Biafra and their upcoming co-headlining show at Slim’s with fast-food focused metal tribute act Mac Sabbath scheduled for Friday, January 27.
CBS SF: The Unbelievable EP finds ArnoCorps tackling a different sort of subject matter with some of the more comedic tales of Austrian mythology. Has the content and tone altered the approach the band has taken for those songs?
Graf Holzfeuer: Well, that’s a fantastic question right there. And I’ll tell you, as far as the subject matter impacting our sound, we have shown in the past it happens. For example, with The Fantastic EP, we decided to go for a heavier sound because it was the Riddle of Steel! So of course, ArnoCorps is always drawing inspiration from heavy metal and punk rock and combined it for the most perfect combination of action-adventure hardcore rock and roll.
It’s like a gauge going from one side to the other. So with The Fantastic EP, dealing with ancient tales of Conan and Hercules and all of these kinds of things — Red Sonja — we decided to be a little more metal. With The Unbelievable EP, we’re actually returning to a more right down the middle sound. We’re possibly a little more melodic in there, but we’re just as heavy I think as we’ve always been.
But I’ll tell you something: The only reason that we waited all these years for these stories is the people weren’t ready yet. You gotta understand, when ArnoCorps is coming out and we’re saying we’re taking these fantastic heroic stories back to the people, if we came right out of the gate with songs like “Junior,” “Twins” and “Jingle All the Way,” people would say, “Wait. Those are goddamn comedy movies!”
You and I know that these are Austroploitation films, but people at the time did not know that. So we had to make sure the subject matter would be taken a little bit more seriously by our audiences. But now, ArnoCorps has been around how long — in the United State, performing for over 15 years. So people are ready. They understand to take ArnoCorps seriously. We have a proven track record now! People know!
Even people that are new to ArnoCorps, they can Google ArnoCorps. They can do research and can see — Whoa! These guys are serious! They take their mission seriously. We’ve been around so long and have gotten this critical acclaim around the world, whether it’s in a large international heavy metal magazine or the BBC in the UK. People think “ArnoCorps. These guys are fantastic!” And they know to take us a little more seriously than they might think at first glance. We’re not low foreheads! We know that people misperceive ArnoCorps all the time! So we’re always fighting that.
But now, people are ready for these stories, and you’re going to hear just as pump-inducing music as you’ve ever heard from ArnoCorps and, most importantly, just as inspiring and motivational! We take a look at all these heroic archetypes and — even though these ancient stories were exploited and bastardized in Hollywood, the archetypes are still there. You can still look at the underlying stories, the arc of the heroic timeline and all of that. So we are pumped on this new music that we are putting out. We predict it will be the greatest record that ArnoCorps has ever released.
CBS SF: You had a really astounding response to the Kickstarter campaign, raising almost three times what your stated goal was for the campaign. What is that going to mean for the fans? I saw that fans who contributed $100 are going to get copies of all three EPs, but what else is the additional money going to allow you to do?
Graf Holzfeuer: It’s fantastic, because what happens now is for each additional amount of money they put in there, there’s a reward. So for example, everyone who put in $100, we’re actually giving out more than what the retail value would be. We’ve always striven to give the people a deal. Unfortunately, the downside of that is the more money we get, the more we have to deliver, so we don’t actually end up with any surplus at the end to do a whole lot of extra.
But the primary thing for ArnoCorps? More time in the studio. We were able to get in there with our producer and engineer Michael Rosen and we were basically able to rewrite all of the songs from when we originally went in there. We sat down with him as a group in one room and just feel the pump with all this music and test it out! We had Inzo [ArnoCorps bassist Inzo Der Barrakuda] in the corner doing squats while we perform to make sure he’s going to get at least two more reps than normal and all these kinds of things!
We do performance tests to make sure it is absolutely the most pump-inducing music that it ever could be! And that is what we did. We’re now finally finished recording, but we’re going to have a guest vocalist in there. So we’re right now working out schedules to get that in there, but no spoilers! I can’t tell you who it is, but we’re going to get some guest vocals on ArnoCorps music.
CBS SF: Is that a first for a studio recording for the band?
Graf Holzfeuer: Absolutely! It’s a first. We might even get two guests on there. Of course, this is for the backing vocals. Nobody’s going to take my spot! On lead vocals? Come on!
CBS SF: So are vinyl copies of the earlier EPs going to be available for fans to buy too?
Absolutely. Those will be available to the collectors and everyone who enjoys ArnoCorps’ music. Maybe the timing wasn’t right and they couldn’t get onboard with the Kickstarter. There is this perception with the Kickstarter that these are donations or something. ArnoCorps accepts no donations! Come on! Everything on there is of value for those who contribute, so by getting in early, they’re getting a far better deal. And of course there are exclusives in the Kickstarter as well, with the patches and t-shirts that will not be available anywhere to buy. But the new vinyl records, absolutely!
CBS SF: The ArnoCorps mission has always been to take the stories depicted in Austrosploitation films back for the people. How do you feel about the many fan-edited videos on YouTube that set footage from those films to your songs?
Graf Holzfeuer: It is unbelievable, let me tell you. Of course, our first take is we laugh at them. With laughter. I mean, it is hilarious. It always looks funny. Secondly though, we love it, because it is almost like if you went into a lab and wanted to prove the point of ArnoCorps — that these ancient stories were bastardized and exploited — by putting ArnoCorps’ music onto the footage of these Austroploitation films and showing how perfectly they matched up! It’s like proof, right there. Everyone can look, “Holy s–t! They’re right!”
So it’s very educational for people. You know, we would never encourage doing that, because I think using the footage there’s copyright issues and all that. ArnoCorps would never do that. But if the fans want to do that, and the movie studios want to let them do that, hey no problemo! Go for it! It’s good exposure. People who see that who originally thought, “Hey wow! ArnoCorps wrote a song about ‘Total Recall’ or ‘Predator!’ And they will be thinking it was about the movie film!
But then they’ll do their research and discover what we’re really doing is retelling these stories the way they were meant to be told! Though action-adventure hardcore rock and roll! They were passed down through the generations! And the way that we depict them, people can appreciate it to a whole different level and apply it to their lifestyle! It’s fantastic!
CBS SF: The band seems like a perfect fit for Alternative Tentacles. Why did it take so long for Jello Biafra to get into the ArnoCorps business?
Graf Holzfeuer: Well he has asked that same question himself. He wondered why it never happened earlier because, you’re right, we’re a very good fit. And, come on, it’s one of our favorite record labels of all time right there! So for us, we were so much in heaven getting on the label and all that. But it was like anything else in life; it was timing. We were on two different labels before that ran their course, so by the time we were free from our previous labels, around 2012 or 2013, we decided “Hey, come on! We are running completely independent now!”
We did our first Kickstarter. Our fan base came through that time as well and we really didn’t need the back-end structure and support of a record label. However, like you say, it was a good fit and historically with ArnoCorps being based in the Bay Area, we love having the link to another iconic mainstay of the San Frantastic Bay Area, Alternative Tentacles Records. So it just felt like the right thing. And also, the timing worked to put out vinyl.
And when it comes to putting out vinyl, I don’t think anybody does it better than Alternative Tentacles. Their whole approach is unbelievable. The detail and everything. They allowed us to do a full gatefold with the Greatest Band of All Time LP. It was unbelievable. It’s a perfect partnership! We could have done it earlier, but logistically it just didn’t make sense at the time. But hey, come on! It all worked out perfect.
CBS SF: ArnoCorps has a definite affinity with wrestling between some of your t-shirt designs and the headlining shows you’ve done with Hoodslam. Do you have plans for more collaborations or wrestling-themed concepts?
Graf Holzfeuer: No more than the fact that we’re aware that much of our fan base follows professional wrestling. There’s like an overlap there. And I don’t think it’s coincidence, because ArnoCorps, in our performing style, we have always been influenced by professional wrestling from the golden age. We admired the fact that these performers could captivate an audience with their pure physicality. So when we’re in the band coming up with a strategy as far as conducting an audio assault, ArnoCorps getting up there and performing and making sure that the audience is engaged, what better inspiration right there?
I think that a lot of bands out there will only look to bands that came before them. You know, just peer to peer. So for example, if somebody else was starting a band similar to ArnoCorps, they might only look at bands like Kiss or Gwar or Alice Cooper. Any band that you would perceive as being entertaining as far as a performance goes. But with ArnoCorps, we didn’t want to follow in those kinds of footsteps or follow any formula. We wanted to be innovative and take a look at the big picture. How can we engage an audience with our physicality?!
So of course we looked back at the greats of the squared circle. And this comes across when we’re onstage. And naturally there are fans of professional wrestling who have gravitated to becoming ArnoCorps fans. So we acknowledge that and we embrace it, but it will never affect our subject matter as far as songs go. We often get asked if we would do any wrestling-themed songs or anything like that. That won’t happen.
The only thing that we’ll do is the occasional cover tune. We used to do “Real American,” which was the Hulk Hogan entrance theme song. We used to cover that because we knew that we were going to be performing on Independence Day, the Fourth of July, in London England. So we thought, “How fantastic would it be to be in London England, the country that the United States broke from to create Independence Day, if we had that whole crowd singing ‘I am a real American?!'” How fantastic! So we went in there and we did that and it was unbelievable. But as far as the influence of professional wrestling, it has more to do with performance and approach to making sure the crowd feels the pump every time and gets engaged with what we’re doing and has an unbelievable time out there.
CBS SF: I know in the past that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been something of a sore point for you and the band given his career in Austrosploitation films…
Graf Holzfeuer: Wait. Arnold who?
CBS SF: Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Graf Holzfeuer: Oh! That guy…
CBS SF: Yeah, that guy. I know he raises your ire sometimes. But what is your take on the former Governator taking over the reigns of the reality show “The Apprentice” from President-elect Trump? Any chance that will someday be depicted in song form?
Graf Holzfeuer: Well, let me tell you: over the years, you’re right, ArnoCorps has had a very conflicted relationship with Arnold Schwarzenstrudel! Because it has been for years our perception that he has sold out his own homeland’s culture and that he has exploited it to rise to financial gain and political gain. However, over the years, we are starting to see a pattern here. We’re beginning to wonder. We’re starting to step back and think, “Goddammit! Maybe it is not him this whole time! Maybe he has been a puppet. Maybe he has been used. Maybe he is the victim here! Along with the ancient lore!”
That is the question that we don’t have the answer to yet. Maybe we will figure it out over time. But we are starting to see a pattern here where we might step back and re-evaluate our position on him. We will see. As far as Schwarzenstrudel taking over this “Apprentice” tv show, I haven’t had the time to take a look at what’s going on in there. I never saw it, because I hate this Trump guy. For years, long before he was involved in politics, I’ve hated this guy’s style! Come on! What’s going on with that low forehead there?!?
I hate his whole emphasis on value as being associated purely on monetary gains. What is going on there? For me, in my mind as a student of mythology and folklore and archetype, it is clear to me that this Trump character is very much patterning his life after the archetypal villain character. Now, does that mean he is a villain? I don’t know! All I know is he is patterning his behavior after the pure archetype of a villain. I’m not sure what the motivation is there.
So maybe there is a chance that Schwarzenoodle here is trying to position himself as the hero character, which he has done in the past. So if he is standing in opposition to Trump, we’re going to step back and watch like everybody else. This is unfolding in front of our eyes right now. We can look at history and look at ancient lore and mythology and look at the pattern of what’s going on! That can give us some insight. We don’t get involved in politics, but we can step back and look at the archetypes and the way that people are utilizing these to present themselves.
So I find it very interesting that we have somebody who is representing themselves as more of the villain character. But this has been done before! For example, the antihero. This became very popular for a while when people liked the antihero. So maybe that’s what this Trump character is doing. I mostly hated Trump because in the ’80s, he took Wrestlemania from being a massive event at the Pontiac Silverdome to his unballsy tiny Atlantic City casino venue. He screwed up Wrestlemania for a couple of years there with the whole atmosphere! What’s going on?!? That’s my biggest gripe with that character! Come on!
CBS SF: It is starting to feel like we elected Cactus Jack as president…
Graf Holzfeuer: Ha! The Villain! You are familiar with this ancient tale! We will be addressing that, of course, on The Unbelievable EP.
CBS SF: Yes, I was very excited to see that.
Graf Holzfeuer: Not many people are familiar. I am impressed that you know of Cactus Jack, the villain. Most people think of Cactus Jack as Mick Foley. A totally different guy there!
CBS SF: Arnocorps has always railed against being labeled a “gimmick” or “tribute” band, but your upcoming co-headlining show at Slim’s in San Francisco is with Mac Sabbath, a band that has been called both of those things. What is your take on what Mac Sabbath does and how did you end up on this historic bill with them?
Graf Holzfeuer: Well, it’s unbelievable, because this is what ArnoCorps has to deal with all the time. And maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe it’s because at ArnoCorps shows, everybody has a good time. And we will never argue with that. That is absolutely true! We educate people and we pump them up and motivate them. We get them inspired and improve people’s lives out there!!
However, we are one of a kind. I will say that, in all modesty, ArnoCorps still is to this day one of a kind. You cannot really directly compare what we do with any other band out there. So because of this, how can you ever book ArnoCorps with similar bands? You can’t! There’s no such thing as similar bands to ArnoCorps. So what people want to do is book ArnoCorps with similarly entertaining bands! And a lot of the time, the most entertaining bands seem to be these tribute bands or these concept bands.
- ALSO READ: CBS SF Talks To Mac Sabbath Manager Mike Odd
I would label Mac Sabbath as a concept band. Because they’ve got some dark humor going on in there! On the surface, they look like they’re celebrating fast-food culture. But if you take a look deeper at all the lyrics and what they’re doing, the way that they’re portraying and re-contextualizing Black Sabbath music, they’re really exposing the truth: That fast-food culture is evil and dark and one of the worst things going on in our culture as far as health and fitness.
When you’re talking health and fitness, who else are you going to talk to but ArnoCorps! The experts in this matter! So we can come in there and join forces with Mac Sabbath in exposing the fact that all this junk food in our culture is absolutely detrimental to the pump! That’s the connection right there.
When we were at our show down in Southern California in Glendale recently, I talked to [Mac Sabbath manager and spokesman] Mike Odd about the upcoming show, and he was really pumped. They had wanted ArnoCorps to play the last time Mac Sabbath performed in San Frantastic, so they’ve been waiting for this for a while. They figured we would be a good team. We had performed with Mike Odd’s old band Rosemary’s Billygoat years and years ago with Thor, the Canadian rock warrior. So we go back as far as performing together.
ArnoCorps and Mac Sabbath perform at Slim’s in San Francisco on Friday, January 27, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.