|Kai Hansen - Unisonic - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Tuesday, 27 March 2012 05:00|
Icons don't come much bigger in metal than Kai Hansen. Seen by many as the founding father of the power metal genre Kai has spent the last 28 years enjoying the kind of success most can only dream of, first as a founder member of Helloween and then again after splitting from them at the tail end of the eighties and forming Gamma Ray. In 2012 though he hopes to make it third time lucky with new band Unisonic. Featuring legendary ex Helloween frontman Michael Kiske on the vocals it's the first time since the pumpkin lovin' heyday of the late eighties that the two have worked together in a full band rather than just the odd projects. Being a lifelong fan of both Kiske and Hansen I couldn't miss the opportunity to talk with Kai about this much anticipated reunion, how it finally came to be and what we can expect from Unisonic.
Hopefully soon, there's nothing fixed yet, but there's some planning, some pre-planning to do something here later maybe in autumn when we plan to do another tour. It's pretty much too early to say anything. We have to wait and see but things can happen pretty quickly, we just did two days of press in France and the day after we left we got a message saying we were booked for Hellfest. So sometimes it goes quickly and we hope that when the album comes out and it really goes down well with the fans and there's a good response that quite a few festival promoters might jump on this and say we want this band. So maybe the UK is a chance.
I spoke to Michael a couple of years ago and that was when Unisonic were just forming and you weren't part of the band then. I believe it was being on the Avantasia tour that brought you back closer together so can you tell us a bit about that?
Absolutely, I only just knew that he (Michael) had this new band and was ready and willing to come out of his secluded life and join the rock world again and go on stages and all that. I felt very happy for him because I always thought what a waste of talent with him creeping around and not really doing something big because he actually should deserve it, his voice deserves it. Anyhow, when we did that Avantasia tour it was the first time for him on a stage again with me and immediately we felt there was still a strong chemistry and it was so much fun and went really well plus we got a great response from the audience. It was pretty amazing and the strong bond that we have connected and that led to a situation where we talked about doing something together. There were three options, a project, him join Gamma Ray or me Unisonic. Since the first two didn't really make sense we chose the third one and it feels really good.
You did work together though a couple times over the years.
Yeah, I mean we never lost our connection completely. He was on 'To The Metal' and 'Land Of The Free' and I worked on his first two albums 'Instant Clarity' and um... the other one. So we never lost each other.
So how did approaching the other Unisonic guys about you joining go?
When we said that me joining Unisonic would be the only option that made sense I was still really doubtful because I didn't really know what Unisonic would be about, if it would be something I could really contribute too. I didn't know the other guys so a lot of things had to be sorted out first. So Michael talked to the others and told them that he thought it would be a great thing if I joined the band, and they liked the idea. So we got together and got to know each other. Mandy (Meyer) was not present at that time, it was Kosta (Zafiriou), me, Michi and Dennis (Ward) and we just went out and had dinner to get to know each other and it was fun and full of good spirit. We talked about things and I said that there were a few things I wanted to make clear up front because if I join something and I devote myself to it I can be pretty strict and pretty choosy when it comes down to saying what I like and don't like. If I think a song is crap I say it, you know? And they were all cool, we were all happy and it felt good. Then the final test was to make a date and just do jamming for a few days, see how it works out and see how it feels because sometimes you could be put together with the best musicians in the world and the outcome would be zero because you just don't fit together. You never know. So we did that test and it went brilliantly so in the end there was no reason for me to say no to joining.
But that's not the end of Gamma Ray though is it?
No no no. That's not the end of Gamma Ray. This is just like a temporary holiday from the stuff I do with Gamma Ray. We will switch back and forth. We'll work it so that one year's a Gamma Ray year and one year's a Unisonic year and that we we can work without leaving the other band cold.
Those jamming sessions then. I take it you maybe ran through a Helloween song together. How did it feel looking across and seeing Michael singing 'I Want Out' again after so many years?
Well we did that already with Gamma Ray. Michael joined me on the Skeletons and Majesties tour and we did it. We played it with Gamma Ray for a few shows, played some songs that we hadn't had on the set list for years and Michael joined in for two shows and we played 'I Want Out' so I knew that feeling. But it was different now with Unisonic when we took the line up to Japan because it was more like a band for people to focus on. Especially in Japan where we haven't been since maybe Keeper 1. So that was really great, really big time we got an amazing response.
Looking at the EP everybody turns up on the writing credits so it looks like it's real group effort when it come to turning in material, would you say that?
Absolutely. There's lot's of co-writing, co-working going on on the album and everybody contributed. Maybe Dennis and me did the larger share just because composing wise and creative wise we're a very good team together and it's working really well. But everyone in the band is capable of contributing and there's no ego things going on. Nobody says "Oh I wrote this song and it's mine, I want to keep it being mine!" If it happens that way and there's nothing to be changed and nobody adds an idea then fine but we all work with no problem.
The set list that you might be playing on the future tour, you've got a hell of a lot of material to choose from, Michael's solo stuff and Place Vendome. I doubt Gamma Ray...
What's gonna happen is we'll focus on Unisonic and maybe throw in some old Helloween stuff. I think with that we have a pool big enough to fill even a headline show and I don't think we should go to diverse. If we add Place Vendome and whatever we all did we're gonna make it confusing so we'll keep it limited to certain things.
Could you take us through a couple of the songs on the album then? We've heard 'Unisonic' and 'My Sanctuary' so can you tell us a bit about some of the others, 'Never Too Late' and 'No One Ever Sees Me'?
'Never Too Late' has a bit of a punk approach to it. It's a bit like the song 'Time To Break Free' in that direction. 'No One Ever Sees Me' is Michael's and that one's a ballad and the theme of that was inspired by something he saw about a girl in India that had no rights, her life was completely dominated by her parents and she had to marry someone she didn't want and all that kind of stuff. I think he got the idea from that and it has a lot of classical instrumentation.
There's another one, I believe it's 'I've Tried', that has been mentioned as having a bit of an "experimental" direction. How does that one differ from the others?
Well when I heard the demo first I had to think of Frankie Goes To Hollywood in a way, or maybe something like U2. It's a little bit like that. We actually managed to keep it heavy though, added some more heavy guitars and all that. It's a really good song, it was really sticking out from the demos that I heard up front, very interesting, very cool.
One of the things that you didn't like about Helloween was moving into more of a pop culture place, not so much the music maybe but the image or at least perception of the band...
Yeah it was not really the pop thing because even some of the songs I wrote like 'Future World' and 'I Want Out' had poppy elements. They were catchy and poppy as hell but they still had heavy guitars so I never minded that. What I didn't really like at that time and what I couldn't really dig was we were a heavy metal band and heavy metal is underground and doesn't belong in girly pop magazines and that's where we ended up. I felt uncomfortable with that, I didn't want to do any silly home reports with me sitting on a bed with little cuddly animals and stuff like that (laughs). So that was my problem.
How did you feel walking away from it all then? It must've been a quite a rip.
Actually it took me over a year from the initial thought to the final leaving. At the moment that I had the initial thought that I may have to be leaving I almost couldn't believe myself. So I had enough time to get settled with the thought and think it over, let it really settle in. So when I left of course it was a sad thing but at the same time I was very relieved to be breaking out of something.
Getting back with Michael again must feel like a second chance then? Since you say that leaving Helloween was more to do with outside stuff rather than a unhappiness with the band themselves and the music. That brought a premature stop to what you could've gone on to create together...
Yeah, we've matured and we're much more open these days. I'm comfortable and settled now and we can just carry on where we stopped in some ways, you know? That doesn't mean that there was no time inbetween but it's like a new start starting from where we came from. We just had a break inbetween and now go on.
Following that original break though it didn't take you long to come back with Gamma Ray, did you ever think it would enjoy the longevity that it has?
No, not at all. I was of course hoping for some but when I started Gamma Ray it couldn't have been more than a project in some ways but I wanted it to have the chance to develop into a band. I just knew that I had to go on but I didn't know what the outcome would be. Looking back though history there's only a few people who have left a well known band, formed a new one and had success with that too. There's only a few I can imagine like Ritchie Blackmore. Rainbow after Deep Purple is one of the only real examples of where that really worked so even today I sit here really happy that I got the chance and the opportunity to build up a band that has lasted for such a long time with a reasonable amount of success. .When the first Gamma Ray album was about to be released the guys from the distribution and the record company they were already seeing gold discs but I was being more realistic and thinking that I had a good feeling about the songs and that people would be interested but we didn't have the name tag Helloween and the big budget. Of course Helloween sold on much more than just me, it was a working band, we were all part of it together so with Gamma Ray I was being realistic. I thought it would work well and thankfully it did, I think I was right with my estimate (laughs)
To pick up a copy of the new 'Unisonic (Mediabook)' - CLICK HERE