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Michael Kiske and Dennis Ward - Unisonic - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Matt Phelps   
Sunday, 22 June 2014 04:00

Unisonic, the supergroup spearheaded by ex-Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske and Pink Cream 69 anchorman Dennis Ward, are gearing up to release their second full length album, 'Light Of Dawn', in early August. An EP entitled 'For The Kingdom' has already paved the way for said sophomore release and has revealed a heavier sound and style has crept into the band's new material. I got the chance to sit down with Michael and Dennis in London recently to learn a little more about how Unisonic has changed over the last few years and what we can expect from the new long player.



Dennis, Michael, it's good to be talking to you again, thanks for sparing the time. We need to start with my most pressing question. Two years since the last album, five years since you actually formed but still not even one single show in the UK. What the hell is up with that?


Dennis Ward - Nobody likes us here (laughs). You have to keep in mind that we were, still are, a new band on our first album. Headline shows are pretty much forget it. Not that we have the amount of material we'd need to do a headlining show. Now we would so it is coming into the question because we want to do more promo stuff here and try our best. We're a little late with the new album to get any good festivals for the summer obviously but so far there's actually been no offers.


Michael Kiske - I don't even know what we're selling over here. It's not like you just pack your guitar and just go to a country to play. I just know that in certain countries we're doing very well. America, I haven't got a clue, I don't even know if we're existing there.


Anyway, the second album will be released in August. How did you approach this one differently to the first?


MK - Well, we did the same thing except this time everything went a lot smoother because we know each other so much better now. I knew Kai from a long time ago so that was pretty much the same thing. I knew Dennis a little bit from the distance before, we'd made two Place Vendome records together. Mandy I didn't know at all but when you start a band you gotta develop, you gotta get a feel for what it is and that is something that happens when you go on tour. So the first production was a lot more intense because of insecurity, who's working and stuff like that. I was a lot more stiff, a lot more protective which is totally different now.


DW - It developed to the point where doing the album, an EP and touring together and getting to know each other better just made things way easier. I know what we're looking for more now with the feel and the song writing process went a lot faster this time. There were less songs rejected than ever before (laughs). The first album we did some stuff, we didn't even know what we wanted, we were just trying shit, what about this, what about that. Reggae song? No? OK! So it developed into what it is now. It was a process that had to be and now it's easier, a lot of fun.


MK - The first record, from having the idea of making a band to having it done was about three years.


DW - It was about a year and a half actually.


MK - Well to me it felt like three years! It just seemed like forever and it needed Kai to finally get into the boat to finish it up. This time it was different. Kai wasn't even available a lot because he's been busy with Gamma Ray. He was just doing guitar stuff here and there for us. He didn't help in terms of writing because he didn't have the time but we had such a great output that it wasn't a problem.  


DW - It did go well considering that my side of the song writing only started late last year. It was intense at the beginning of the season but now we have the record done. To me that's a pretty fast process.




I was gonna ask about the song writing because this album, from what I've heard of it via the rough mixes I have, is a lot heavier than the first one. Was that a conscious decision?


DW - It came about with me being the main song writer and I just threw these ideas out and there's actually songs like 'For The Kingdom' that were just normal mid-tempo songs and then Kosta came in with the idea to speed it up. Only with his drumming, everything else stayed pretty similar to when I made the mid-tempo version and now it is what it is now. The only song that was consciously written as a double bass, well it's not even double bass it's just a fast song, was 'Your Time Has Come', which was one of the rough mixes you got. But other than that there's a song like 'Shelter' that was also just a mid-tempo song before Kosta decided to beef it up. 'Manhunter' was also an up-tempo, not really fast, song but it has an almost Maiden vibe, Michael's idea to make it faster by the way, and it's just turned into this. We also consciously decided we were gonna use keyboards as well. We have Gunter Werno on the keyboards because we want tasteful. Not just keyboards but good keyboards, good ideas. However, it's still gonna be a guitar record. We always knew it was gonna be guitar record, we got two of the best guitar players in Europe so we're obviously gonna feature this.


MK - For me I'm just in a band now. Everything has its own dynamics. I wouldn't write a speed song, that's not the way I write songs. I basically write them on an acoustic guitar. If I was to produce it it would end up like my solo records, singer/songwriter crap. Simple. If you like that you like it, it's nothing like this. But a good melody is a good melody it doesn't really matter. A song is a song you can make whatever you want out of it. So if I have a good melody and a song that works on an acoustic guitar we can make a rock song out of it. That's what happens when you're in a band, stuff happens that I would never do on my own.


DW - Absolutely. Kai as well although not being involved directly with the song writing process still managed to throw in arrangement ideas that I would have never ever considered. Never. He threw in a few ideas where it was like wow that really is a twister. You get that mp3 and you think oh for fuck's sake it's better, I have to change it (laughs).


MK - And at the last minute too. He was not there most of the time. He knew the songs and stuff and had his input but when Dennis was already in the mixing stage and we thought we were done then Kai suddenly says how about this. Sometimes it's a bit painful because you have to re-do something but then again you have some kind of a final look at it and his look was very fresh because he was off doing other things so the changes made sense. Most of the stuff once you've heard it a couple of times has sunken in, it'll feel right to you. But if somebody else has a fresh listen he might come up with something that you never would.


Writing wise how do you determine between what's best for Unisonic and what you might use elsewhere like with Place Vendome for instance?  


DW - For Place Vendome I don't write anything anymore. I did on the first album and to be honest it was too much work. Then on another note I found out that Frontiers was insisting on publishing sharing that's where it stopped for me. I don't need to do that.


MK - It's just working if you don't get anything out of it. The reason why I said yes to that third Place Vendome album was really to get out of a certain contract. You see I still owed them a solo record and I'm planning to so something like that again. I will do something with a friend of mine who is an insane guitar player. He will produce it and we will just write everything together and it will be very different again, more guitar orientated but I didn't want it to come out on Frontiers. Frontiers are good for certain things. Clear deals, you do that you get that, or whatever. But to build something, they don't do anything with it. They just release it and that's it. I want it to be released on earMUSIC so I agreed to give them the third Place Vendome.


So we're unlikely to see a fourth then?


MK - I doubt it. It's not impossible but I would prefer to be so busy with Unisonic. When we take a break for a year and are just hanging around who knows, maybe we might do something.


DW - Never say never (laughs). When you're sitting around looking at your watch thinking "Okay, Kai's on tour let's make a Place Vendome record." (laughs)




Let's get back to this new Unisonic album then. Michael, you always used to record your vocals on your own. Was that something you did again this time?


MK - Yeah yeah yeah yeah. I always do that.


And Dennis, how do you feel about that? As the producer wouldn't you prefer to have him in the room with you?


DW - In the beginning when we did the first Place Vendome I was like ahhh Jesus Christ what's gonna happen here but on a good note I let him have all his freedom to do what he wants, go crazy, and IF I have a slightly different idea I might say why don't you try this and he'll try it. If it's better then great if it's not then it's not. It's very open, very easy for me.


MK - It's awesome but I know what I like anyway. I'm open for ideas if someone has a creative suggestion or whatever. But if I like a song, if I am happy with the performance and he would go "IT SUCKS" I would still keep it. If he has an idea that I can follow I will try but I have to be convinced of what I'm doing. I don't believe in vocals where you don't do what you think is right. I think it's wrong to do it like that. You shouldn't please anyone else. I'm happy when they like it and I'm unhappy when they dislike it but that is not really ever the case. I don't deliver anything that sucks. If he asks me to try something a little different I do unless it's something I really love. I have to be convinced about it. If I'm unsure, the ballad for instance, if these guys had said re-do it I would have re-done it. I wasn't sure but they loved it.


DW - Nothing came up this time. I have had it though, the last Pink Cream album for example, it was the first album where I let Dave go at it on his own because he really wanted to try it and I thought well we've made a hundred records together so do it. However I really had to come back a lot and say no you gotta do this instead and please do that again too while you're at it. In this case I don't have to do that and that is a relief off my back because I can concentrate on other stuff and it saves a lot of time.


MK  - For me it also adds to the quality because I do not have to do time scheduled singing. Singing is a mood thing. If I don't feel like singing then I don't want to sing. I don't like it when you have that "sixteen hundred tomorrow we do vocals" thing. What if you don't feel like singing. Sometimes I start at eleven in the morning because I just get the groove. Or sometimes in the evening. That way I can get a lot done in an even shorter time that if I do it the normal way. I used to work with producers so I know how it is and that is nice if you don't know what you're doing but I usually know what I like. I've done this for a while now. There's a certain brand, a Kiske brand, I just do my thing anyway. It's not that I sing different on every song, I just do my thing.


If we can talk about some of the songs on the new album then? Lyrically I guess it's all so much more personal when you focus on material for Unisonic?


DW - Absolutely. We are all over the map with this. We try stuff and I am open to any ideas. There's very few things I won't write about unless it's like in the wrong way. For example, if I just throw this in for a second, I have produced a death metal band for many years and people go how can you do that? And I say because he's an artist and he's telling his frickin' story. He deserves that. He told this to me and I have to agree, if I write a song about death and destruction and chaos and you think I'm a bad person then Steven Spielberg is the Antichrist! He's absolutely right but with our lyrics I can't portray or have Michael portray an evil person. It's gotta be a story and it's gotta come across like that. You're the listener please enjoy my story. We try to keep it at that and not go crazy.




Some of the songs then, 'For The Kingdom', the title track of the EP you've just released, what's the story behind that one?


DW - We're trying to keep it on a positive note, the whole album, we always have. We decided that from the beginning. Somewhat esoteric, almost a save the whales kind of thing, our "Kingdom" we're talking about our planet, our earth. And we're talking about everything you do is an influence to yourself and others, don't forget about your kingdom. We're here for the kingdom, it's for the kingdom. You can turn that around pretty much how you want to. We keep it open to other interpretations.


MK - I actually understood that one as being like an optimistic rocketship to the future. I do believe in humanity. I know that we're still babies, spiritually. There's a lot of things going wrong and stuff like that but generally I think that most people are good hearted. If you give them a chance they can shine.


'Not Gonna Take Anymore' is another one of my favourites from the album. What about that one?


DW - Yeah, not gonna take it anymore, stand up for yourself. You don't have to tolerate everything. All the incidents that have happened in the past, justice has prevailed and has gone to show that you can do the right thing and it'll turn out the right way. Again that's open to interpretation but you just think about when stuff gets tough don't take too much crap. Deal with it but deal with it with a positive note. Not "We're not gonna take it!", kick your ass, not like that. What we're saying is quite the opposite of that, deal with it but don't be a dick about it either.


MK - Sometimes you have to be..., not a dick, but you have to sometimes have an aggressive sort of stance. Sometimes you've got to break things down in life to see clearly again and to start something fresh. I had been in a relationship for almost twenty years, it was totally dysfunctional. It was just rolling on. It was not good for me, it was not good for her and it needed to be broken apart. Often in life, say someone has a job for instance that he hates and he's totally unhappy with it but he's just scared of what will come if he quits the job. That is understandable but what's the point? You wanna get sick? You wanna get cancer after a while from the stress you create for yourself because you're so unhappy? Sometimes you have to risk it and you have to be destructive. Something good comes out of it if it's for a good cause.


Let's talk marketing for a minute then. You touched on it before of how difficult it is in some countries to get a foothold. The new album is coming out on quite a few variations with a gatefold vinyl version and a deluxe CD, all nice shiny hooks to pull in the punters. How much input do you have when it comes to working on these ideas?


MK - We generally have total control. If we hate something it's not gonna happen but most of the time they suggest something and it's totally cool. They know who we are and they know what kind of band we are and they have a good feel of what we'll like. You have to do things like have CDs that are, as you say, physically attractive to people so they see that it's worth the money.


DW - We haven't had any ideas where we've thought Oh Jesus what do they want from us. It's all been pretty much down to earth and stuff that I would like to have too. I mean who wouldn't want their album to be on a cool vinyl? That's just very cool (laughs).




With a position like yours with your collective histories you must also be able to command a better deal for yourselves too when it comes to new contracts?


MK - Yes. It's much more difficult for bands who start new. It was one of the things that I used to hate that people always used to remember me from the past. They always compared my records to the Helloween days, even though my records didn't have anything to do with it and there was no intention to. But in the times we're in now I realise that it is a total bonus that you have a fan base. It's like when I'm involved with any kind of project or like with Unisonic there's immediately press there interested in what I'm doing which is something a new band doesn't have. It's quite difficult to build a career now and for labels it's hard for them to make money. So it's like they don't invest easily in unknown bands not knowing what's gonna happen. It's much easier to give names that are known on the scene some money for a record than younger ones. So it's turned out to be some kind of a life saver.


DW - Another problem is the notch is set pretty low these days and there's nobody there to control it because anybody can make a record and bring it out themselves if they want. Therefore there's a whole bunch of crap out there. That being said there's a whole lot of good stuff that gets lost because it gets lost between all the crap. There should be like a military control over crap music or something like that and not allow it (laughs). Sometimes I'm getting stuff put in my hand, and no disrespect to anybody, but I'm really amazed some people can actually give me this stuff without shame because it's so crap. Every so often I'll hear something that's really got something like the singer is really special or there's something great to it and you go cool, thanks a lot. Every now and then you get some good stuff but I'd say it's like one in a thousand.


One last quick question. If you could pass on one piece of advice to a young band starting out what would it be?


MK - To me the main thing would be to make sure you have your own identity. Record companies like to form you, they treat rock bands nowadays like casting artists. Everything is designed for a "market". Rock music used to be the opposite of all that. It used to be a music that is honest where you do what you really believe and you try something that means something to you and you create your own market with it. I think if you want to have a chance with all these bands around then you have to be different. You have to have your own identity.


DW - I get that asked a lot actually and I agree with what he says but to get to that point I think the solution is to write songs! Too many bands are too busy looking for cool clothes and how does my logo look... It's all great, it's important, it really is but write some frickin' songs! How long have you been together? Four years. How many songs have you got? Oh we almost got an album. Well that's pretty pathetic. All the bands that I know, all these old bands, they used to have shit loads of songs. How are you gonna develop as a band if you can't write songs and then criticise them and make them better? It's a process, write songs and improve the quality.


To visit the Unisonic store on Amazon - CLICK HERE