Good evening Kai, and congratulations on your new arrival. Let me start by saying that it’s really an honor talking to you today! On behalf of Metal Invader, and as a personal fan of yours, thank you for your time and this interview in advance.
Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure!
It’s been almost three decades since you ‘ve been in the studio with your old mates, how did you feel about it?
Well you know it was partly déjà vu, felt like finally coming home. There are a bunch of guys that I’m currently working with, but I didn’t know anything about them, about their characters, or how they approach songwriting procedure… you know… as familiar it was, so challenging it was, given that we ‘re talking about a new territory as well.
It’s been a while since last Gamma Ray album was out, and besides that nothing but small bits here and there … How was it going back into recording mood again? Did you miss that thrill?
Absolutely… sure, it’s been a while since Gamma Ray released Empire, because the whole Helloween project started going on, so there was no chance for something else to come out on Gamma Ray basis. It was very nice to go back in the studio, get into the procedure of recording an album again for sure! I‘ve definitely missed that.
In a composition level, you ‘ve just undertaken one song on the new Helloween! Given your plentiful songwriting resume, we were anticipating for more action of yours, especially as we ‘re talking about a reunion album!! I guess you had a bunch of ideas that you weren’t sure if they fitted to this new Helloween path that we’re dealing with?
That’s true, absolutely, when I started writing I really had some kind of problem because I didn’t want to go and repeat the past or something, I just wanted just to come up with something newer that is Helloween but with a different perspective maybe. Some ideas I just kicked them away because I felt that they were not really fit in, or I didn’t get the right inspiration for it, so I brought out two or three ideas that in the end did not end up in the album cause not everybody in the band was sure about it… I mean if they were really fit in on the album or not. With Skyfall everybody was sure, so here I am. Actually, I was very critical to my own stuff… you know … It would be easy to just write some classic speed Helloween tunes, but I didn’t want to do that! So I was so overcritical that I really couldn’t manage to be pragmatic. I had the intension that I had to write something that should be more outstanding and that of course is always hard to achieve.
Could you share with us the story behind Skyfall, for me being best album’s moment by far… Even the video, being produced by Martin Häusler, it’s the most elaborate in band’s history. Portrayed via truly cinematic 3-D animation, this clip is a real high-end experience…
We had the intention to do a high tech video; I mean that was a big production. Of course it would have been nice to have the whole 12minute version of the song on this video but we thought that maybe we would overdo it, and it would cost too much money after all. So we skipped that idea. If there’s anyone out there that has tons of money and want to donate in order to make a 12 minute video, feel free to inform us haha. We chose Skyfall because it’s a really epic track, reminds a bit the old Keeper’s time a bit, and it was definitely a good choice.
Is chemistry the key for a great album? How difficult was working along with other six members, each and every one of them having their own perspective towards writing procedure? All of you got some miles on your back in the metal scene; I guess everyone has its one red lines …
Well we didn’t have a certain plan for this album right from the start, and we didn’t put any marching directions. So, all the songwriters came up with what they think it was cool. Of course after putting all ideas together, we worked on them all together and that made it a Helloween album and not a compilation of different songwriters instead. We actually spent two weeks in the studio in the beginning before we started the production to do some band work and team up so that everybody was somehow involved in every song. I think that helped a lot to make it a band effort. It worked out pretty well. Of course we had controversies and arguments about different points of view but therefore our producers came in, kind of having the last call as we trust them cause they respect first and foremost the songwriters. They tried to balance in a way every different opinion. So overall we tried some things here and there, some were taken over some were not. We worked a lot on it and it was quite an effort, we were though really working very nicely.
Through the years you did tried so many things and was involved in so many projects. If I may mention few of them, you were guest vocalist on Blind Guardian’s “Follow the Blind” and “Tales from the Twilight World”, you worked also with Angra on their first full-length, “Angels Cry”, and “Temple of Shadows”, let along Avantasia’s Metal Opera albums with Tobias (Sammet), or even Stormwarrior, and Ravenclown! Was any of these projects a game changer for you in a personal level? And why?
Actually yes, as I look back, Blind Guardian was the first time I did something like that, it was kind of exciting and of course it’s a big honor to be asked to do such guest performances. I always chose projects that run personal friends of mine… others may were saying … wow this is so cool, I aint going to miss it, but that’s not the case for me. It always opened up a different level and I always liked to work on other peoples’ music, because it’s easier for me, and I’m not being stuck in my own song of my own band. This is just about performance and being on a very nice level of creativity. I really like to do that but I’m very choosing so I really get a lot of requests from people that say hey I’ve got a project going on … could you sing, or we‘re doing an album could you participate or so… and I mostly was sorry by saying no, but I don’t wanna be a guest, and I really I’m very choosing as I said, usually I do it with people I know personally… well, that’s it.
The sign for those anticipating Halloween’s reunion, came with Avantasia’s 2010 world tour, where you played live together with fellow Michael Kiske, after more than twenty years since you’ ve left the band. Did you instantly felt the Helloween fire burning inside of you, making you wonder how a complete reunion would be like?
This reunion has been on my mind for years, even before I did that thing with Michael and Avantasia. Always thought that It would be cool at some point team up and do something together again, to close our personal circle, given as well that so many in the world would be really happy to see that, maybe including us. With Michael it was when we ended up on the stage with Avantasia and being up there together, certainly felt like there was this kind of magic. It was that feeling we always have had and we talked a lot about it in this tour, and that’s how we ended up forming Unisonic together, cause at that point a reunion was still out of the question. So we did that Unisonic thing together, it felt so good, it felt so right, and well here we are!
After this tour it was announced, via Kiske’s official website, that you were about to join his band Unisonic. In 2011, you did so. The band released its debut in 2012 and embarked on a world tour. Back at the time in a common interview of yours you said that there’s no chance of Helloween to be reunited… 9 years later which was the turning point for making this huge step?
Well the turning point is related to time. I think I needed some time in between my split/ or my departure, and this possibility of reunion. Some old scratches had to be wiped out and so… many things go down with time cause you see at the end it was not really about looking back from a nowadays point of view, it was uncessecary or so. You’re getting wiser with time and you are ready to balance your priorities. It took some time, and of course back at that point it looked really impossible cause there was always Michael Kiske being pretty much completely turned away from the metal scene, almost the music scene, being somewhere else with his mind. It took time until things were set personally and between us in order to make this possible.
Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind and Dennis Ward, the album was recorded in part at the H.O.M.E. Studios in Hamburg (where everything started in 1984). The same recording console used for Helloween albums such as “Master Of The Rings”, “Time of The Oath”, and “Better Than Raw” was utilized to record the band’s new material. The material was mixed at the Valhalla Studios of Ronald Prent (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Rammstein). Are you satisfied with the overall outcome?
There are always things that I would do differently you know… it’s all about metal taste in away…on a vocal level or on any other part… So the production overall sounds very well and our producers of course did a great job, especially for feeding everybody’s needs, in terms of making everything possible and so on and so form . The sound is always about metal taste after all.
In this same “back to the roots” mentality, how was it to record along with Ingo Schwichtenberg’s drum kit?
It was great to have his drum kit! Absolutely! I was very happy when I entered the studio and saw the drum kit of his right there. I was feeling very touched!
Your first electric guitar was a white Ibanez Les Paul copy, while you were saving up for a Marshall amplifier by delivering newspapers … if I’m not mistaken. Tell us a bit about your equipment and musical search journey till finding your sound. For almost 20 years, you ‘ve been playing with ESP Guitars…
Yes that’s right! Well I used Gibson Les Paul, I used Flying V from various companies, old ones you know… I like old guitars somehow, I have my own collection of good vintage stuff Stratocasters, Les Paul, Flying V… you name it, you‘ve got it! ESPs of course are my custom order and I started out with them in Helloween’s Keeper album. I love this form, and it fits to my body very nicely, so I’m stuck with this one, you know, I always had a good time with it. 30 years I‘ve tried various amplifiers, pedals etc… in the end one time when I had new equipment on a tour my guitar was out, and I played with another, and said, look! this one sounds great too. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter with what you play, what it does matter is to sound like you!
In my opinion power metal tends to become a term really mistreated in a way. Lots of today’s bands brag themselves for playing power metal, but for me that’s not the case. They lack the quality and variety that came from bands like Gamma Ray. You brought speed along with technical perfection and melody that was triggering our rock n roll souls in the most powerful way. Do you observe today’s metal scene? Any thoughts?
I listen to bands that come out now! Sure. The latest band I’ve heard and I really really like is Beast in Black. I really love their albums so far, and you know I’m following the metal scene. Power metal… ok, that term really doesn’t mean something to me because for me everything is heavy metal … just varies on speed, melody, aggression or whatever else. Lots of bands from the past have fast metal songs, i.e. Judas Priest’s Exciter, or Deep Purple’s Highway Star with these high speeding vocals… So power metal to me it’s just a term that defines something that we are related to, but I cannot really get it. I just can’t tell the difference, for me it’s just heavy metal bands playing fast.
Were high expectations exceeded with this super-sized package of Helloween’s creativity in your opinion, what’s the feedback you’re getting so far?
So far it’s amazing. Both fans and journalists told me that they love the album, that it’s great, fantastic. All messages from fans, that heard what we‘ve put out so far, are overwhelmingly good. Of course, there are always not that positive perspective of our work, but I would say that 98% in total are happy with the outcome, so I guess we‘ve done something good, yeah!
I guess trying to reschedule a tour like Pumpkins United was a complete nightmare; tour dates for the promotion of your new album are already announced! You stay optimist or there’s always a feeling of uncertainty due to the current circumstances?
Well uncertainty remains because even though shows are already announced, nobody knows what will come up until then, are there going to be any announcements about another wave of dramatic increase, or about us getting vaccinated twice? …. Nobody knows that… I’m staying optimist. I’m really sure though that postponing twice would be a complete nightmare for agents and management.
The floor is yours!
Thank you very much, have a nice day, stay safe, and hope to see you in Greece then!