With only days before the next cruise full of metalheads leaves the Port Of Miami, BraveWords sat down with CMM founder and Managing Director Wolfgang Rott who is head of press and marketing for 70000 Tons Of Metal (the cruise just mentioned that's about to embark on journey number three), the recent Barge To Hell along with the MetalDays Slovenia and Burning Sea festivals. The man has a treasured history in this business (he's worked with the likes of LED ZEPPELIN, AC/DC, BLACK SABBATH, IRON MAIDEN, SCORPIONS, VAN HALEN and more!), but as he tells me, the customary mid-life crisis skipped him over. Why do you ask? Heavy metal cruising, a relatively new business model where the relationship between bands and fans gets that much closer, at the same time throwing a vacation in there to boot!
Let's Rott and roll!
BraveWords: I found this to be an opportunity of a lifetime and I've been in the business 25-plus years. But how do you describe this to a metalhead or even a non-metal head.
Wolfgang Rott: "It's very difficult, I learned the lesson when Andy (Piller; CEO Ultimate Music Cruises Inc.) came to me years ago and said 'what do you think about that idea' and I said the idea was great. But there was no experience, nothing, so we had to fight the way through. And when Andy was booking bands and talking to bands, especially for the first one, they were worried about stocking and being locked up with the fans for for five days. There were several bands that I talked to you and tried to persuade them. For the first, one I wasn't sure how it was going to be. I was just presuming and after the inaugural voyage I tried to describe it even to journalists, saying it's a holiday feeling and a festival. But that doesn't match it. And to be honest, this is my third metal cruise - two 70000 Tons Of Metal and now Barge To Hell - and I still can't describe it. It just feels good."
BraveWords: But on paper, it sounds frightening, almost a nightmare waiting to happen. Maybe not a Titanic-type scare, but something just has to go wrong. If you are an outsider to the scene, the last place you want to be is on this boat. Meanwhile I'm hearing from staff that is the opposite, this is a more tamer cruise than anything else; the guests are polite and there's no issues.
Wolfgang Rott: "On the first cruise the experience we had about hundred 50 journalists and five TV crews and that was two or three weeks prior to the cruise. And they became totally paranoid. But you could see from day one to day two to day three, they became more relaxed. And there's a quote from the Hotel Captain that we had last year who said 'the whole crew would love only to do this kind of cruise.' Even with their little strange outfits, they have a very warm heart, they are so disciplined, more than regular cruise people. The biggest thing is is that everybody has one thing in common, that is the music, regardless where they come from. That is very seldom even on a holiday cruise; everybody has their own issues. But here, they are all here because of the music."
BraveWords: Which takes us all away from our personal issues...
Wolfgang Rott: "That's true."
BraveWords: I'm not thinking about work. I'm not thinking about home. I'm thinking about music. I'm here caught in another world. My world.
Wolfgang Rott: "Absolutely. Everybody that I have talked to on all three cruises, say 'now I get it.' I spoke to journalists initially, who were under the impression that cruises were for your mom and dad and even some of those people are here now and they say that you can't describe it. You can't even compare it to a land-based festival. You have all the things you like; the music you like, you have a comfortable bedroom, you have your own shower and your own toilet. You get good food, drinks and you get to hang with friendly people. You won't find anybody aggressive. The crew, the waiters everybody is nice and they're not nice because they are forced to be like that, it's the atmosphere. Maybe it's the Caribbean atmosphere."
BraveWords: This is actually a dream for some of the staff members. Bands that they would never expect to see in their lifetime, especially while they are at work!
Wolfgang Rott: "I actually know many of the cruise people through the three cruises that we did, so it's like coming home. The staff recognized me right away."
BraveWords: And some of their contracts could be at least a year, so their home IS the ship.
Wolfgang Rott: "Yeah. Some of them have actually been here since January 2011. Coming back to your question, I'm speechless. You can't describe it. You have to be here."
BraveWords: Why Royal Caribbean?
Wolfgang Rott: "That was Andy's part. Before we did the first cruise he was visiting ships trying to figure out where the technical possibilities could be, because there are cruise ships that have watersides on deck for example. So you need the space to put up a pool stage. I know that he talked to Carnival, and that would be a little bit cheaper, but he made the decision to go with Royal Caribbean. I think that was a great move."
BraveWords: And obviously as this new format continues to grow, the bands are talking and talking to each other, so perhaps they are easier to book?
Wolfgang Rott: "There still people that don't want to be on something like this, and then it needs to fit their schedule. Many bands are either touring or in the studio so they have plans already. And a big chunk is eaten up by flights etcetera. And there are other bands we've spoken to that will work, but maybe not until next year. Everybody wants to have the experience, and bands are asking to be on the cruise."
BraveWords: When I was talking to MAYHEM, Necrobutcher said that he saw an ad in a magazine that was promoting the Barge To Hell and that he wanted to get on the cruise and I never thought in my life that I would see Mayhem play a cruise, let alone them ask to perform!
Wolfgang Rott: "Well it's not that easy, and I don't want to change Andy's job in booking bands because then you still have to go through management and money issues. And you also have a certain capacity. And we rent the full ship, so we have the full risk. For example, NIGHTWISH's manager was on the first cruise and he told me that he convinced the band to do it, and they play 12,000 seat arenas in Europe. And then coming to play on the pool stays like this … almost nobody is complaining. And there's no 'we want to play in the dark.' For some shows it's important, but most bands don't care. It doesn't matter if it's a big band or if it's a small band. There's a real opportunity here to talk to the fans and also talk to the musicians, in such a relaxed area. That's just great, plus the weather. It was -3 or four in Germany when I left!"
BraveWords: Looking into the future, do you see this as a novelty that will wear off.
Wolfgang Rott: "It's hard to say. The good thing is, is that we had almost 50% repeaters which means people come back and they are talking. They might not go to every cruise because it's a money issue."
BraveWords: And it doesn't matter who you book, even if it's METALLICA, there's still a cost associated with getting to the cruise and getting on the cruise.
Wolfgang Rott: "Yes. Even if you share a four bedroom cabin, you still have a flight for many. And you need a hotel before the cruise so you need a minimum of $1800-$2000 to do that. On the other hand, if you do a vacation somewhere, unless you go camping next door, you spend the same money as well. More and more people are tying in the festival atmosphere with a vacation. More people are doing that in Europe. The Burning Sea and the Metal Days festivals, that's a week-long festival. The main stage starts at three or four o'clock, before that people go river rafting paragliding, whatever. And they come with families, they bring their kids. I think this has a future. Andy and I were excited on the second cruise when it's sold out and we thought should just be on a bigger ship. Maybe instead of 2,000 you go 3,000, but if you go bigger it might kill the atmosphere. Then it's a messy event. With this size, on the third day when you're eating breakfast at least you know the faces that are around you."
BraveWords: I noticed that there was no Barge To Hell branded towels or beach ware on the swag table yet!
Wolfgang Rott: "(Laughs) because it's December. You are right. But on the other hand, we had sun cream last January and it didn't do well. When you come here, you buy your stuff before hand. It's also a baggage issue. Also, if you are coming from the north you need warm clothes so you are packing a lot more than you would normally need."
BraveWords: And the cruise to Nassau is relatively short. The straight line distance between Miami and Nassau is approximately 185.6 miles or 161 nautical miles. You're taking (an approximate) six to eight hour journey and stretching it into four and half days. And obviously there are fuel costs that come into play depending on how fast you travel on as vessel this size.
Wolfgang Rott: "I can tell you, when we went to the Cayman Islands, which is quite far away which means the ship had to go full speed… Andy's dream is to have a metal cruise that goes to Jamaica. The problem with this ship is that it only goes 19 knots. You could reach Jamaica, but port time would be three hours, plus the extra payment on fuel would be horrendous. We are talking several thousand. We had Cozumel, the Cayman Islands and now with Nassau which is the shortest you can get. This ship (Majesty Of The Seas) is from the early to mid '90s and at the time it was the biggest cruise ship at the time. Now the bigger ships go 25 to 30 knots an hour. But as for the short trip, who cares. When I was walking around Nassau, I thought to myself this is very similar to the Cayman Islands. But if I come into a new city, I spend time to learn about it and tour around. I learned my lessons from the past, because I would just be in any European city and I would never leave the hotel. I would know the venue or the arena or maybe a local bar, restaurant but that would be it. I remember a few years ago, I was in São Paulo with a few journalists and our flight didn't leave until later in the afternoon and we had to leave the hotel by noon anyway. So I rented tour bus and I said to everybody let's do a city tour and they looked at me and said 'this isn't metal.' At the end of the tour, everybody said it was great and you had a chance to to get a little taste of where you are. But here it's different, the ship is the attraction."
BraveWords: And the best part of this sea tale is the entire experience.
Wolfgang Rott: "Like every interesting event, the event itself is a lot better than the running order, or the bands that you have."
BraveWords: And it's great for the fans to have the bands play one set on the way to the destination and then a different set on the way back home. So you are bound to catch at least one on the journey.
Wolfgang Rott: "We have 40 bands and I agree, you won't miss a thing. The way it started, at least for the bigger bands, that the capacities weren't big enough for everybody to see so we thought the best idea was to split up the shows. But as it turns out you can set up your own time schedule on a cruise. If your own schedule doesn't fit on one day it'll fit on another day when the band is playing."
BraveWords: This is life-changing and I really won't be able to explain what happened. And I wasn't drunk the entire time!
Wolfgang Rott: "You don't see too many drunks anyway. They drink quite a lot but it's spread out. And people don't want to miss anything. If you lay down in a corner somewhere, you're going to miss too much!"
Check out BraveWords' daily reports on Barge To Hell below:
And don't forget The World's Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise which will sail Monday, January 28th aboard the Royal Caribbean Majesty Of The Seas from Miami, FL to Cockburn Town on Grand Turk Island, and will not return to the real world for four days until Friday, February 1st. Check out 70000tons.com for more information.