Since acrimoniously parting ways with Helloween in 1993, Michael Kiske has been happily, and somewhat controversially, ploughing his own musical furrow steadily away from the field of heavy metal in which he made his name. Disheartened by the way he was treated by a former band mate (no names but it rhymes with Wichael Meikath) and disillusioned with a metal scene he thought did nothing but celebrate evil and depravity, he has busied himself with a string of album releases which focussed on expression of musical freedom. His latest release, an album of hard rocking duets with American songstress Amanda Somerville, has just landed on the shelves of rock shops the world over and shows yet again just how much his unique tones can lend themselves to any style of music. Having spent the summer hitting stages with his new band Unisonic after an absence from live performance of a staggering 17 years, now seemed the perfect time for Über Röck to catch up with with the legend that is Michael Kiske and get the lowdown on his past, present and, most importantly, musical future.
Hi Michael, good to be talking to you, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
That's cool, I'm happy that people are interested.
I better start off by asking you how you are, pretty busy I guess?
I'm feeling pretty good, pretty cool. I mean we're right in the middle of the process of getting frickin' songs done for Unisonic which goes a bit slow but apart from that it's all good now.
Cool. Well I'm really looking forward to hearing more about Unisonic but we'll get to that in a minute if that's ok. Congratulations first off I suppose on the new Kiske/Somerville album, yet another "project" for you. How did you get involved in this one?
It's like most of these type of things, it was actually initiated by Serafino (Perugino) from Frontiers Records. I was basically just doing my own solo records here and there and this kind of stuff adds something nice between that, you learn a lot from these kind of things. He just asked me if I was generally interested in doing a complete record with a female voice and I thought it was a cool idea. I did one very short thing with the band Indigo Dying, one song, a very nice tune, they should've used it as a single or something. Nothing really happened with it, they didn't do anything with it, it was a very nice song called 'Breathing Water'. Anyway I had my experience with it, it sounded pretty nice, a nice chemistry with a female voice so I was up for that. So he (Serafino) contacted Mat Sinner and Mat is actually the guy who did all the work, you know? He was getting all the people together, he was writing most of the material, producing the record, about eighteen months of work, he's really the one who should get most of the credit. It's always the thing, me and Amanda, we get most of the credit but he was doing most of the work, the singing part is just the fun part (laughs).
So was Mat the one who picked Amanda then? I mean because you worked with her before, didn't you?
Yeah, I worked with her on Avantasia and she played a role on the Aina project, more as a songwriter. I always tell this story because it's kind of a sweet story, but as people we only met, the first time, a couple of months ago when we did the video shoot for a couple of tracks from the duets album. She was doing a video diary and she was saying "Finally I meet Michael, we've worked together before on two projects but we never met personally, this is the first time and I'm a really excited" and I'm thinking "Two times?" I just didn't have that Aina project in my head, I just didn't know that she was really involved with that. And here's the funny thing. I don't know if you know that Aina project, it's like a classic rock kind of thing with orchestration and stuff, but there's one track on it called 'Silver Maiden' that they wanted me to sing on and they sent me a sort of demo version, but it was far too good for a demo, and there was a female voice on it. When I heard that voice I said to the producer "I don't wanna sing it, that girl sounds perfect" they couldn't do any better, that version was perfect, but no, they wanted me to sing it, it was just a guiding voice and stuff. It turned out that was actually her (Amanda) and I didn't know that until I came back from the video shoot and looked at the cover and it said Amanda Somerville on it, writing lyrics, writing some music and stuff. Luckily they used her version as a bonus track later on on the record. That was the first time I heard her voice and I fell in love with her voice immediately. So back to these duets, at first they wanted someone else but that woman is in a band and the band didn't want her to do it, which is understandable, but I'm very happy that it ended up with Amanda because we just mesh very nicely. Not only vocally wise but also personally, when we met we just clicked, it was a great atmosphere, we like each other very much and that is like a beautiful kind of closing for this project that we like each other, it could have been worse you know?
So I take it since you only met a couple of months ago then you would have recorded your vocals separately?
Yeah, I record mine at my own studio, I always like to do that. It's something that not many people understand but I like to have my own rhythm when it comes to singing. I know what I want to sound like and I know when I am convinced about a song. I don't really give a crap if a producer thinks I should sound like this or that. I think to be an authentic vocalist you should really be yourself completely, so you should just sing it and bring the song and tell the story in the way that you feel is right. There's no reason why the producer or guitar player in the band or whoever should know better what's a good performance than you. If you don't know what's a good performance how can you convince? That's why I love to do things on my own, there's nobody there that tells me what to do (laughs). I was in a lucky situation anyway because I had her voice on the tracks already so I kind of sang together with her while she had to do it all on her own.
I suppose an obvious question would be, is the next step to take it to live performance?
We'd love to do that. Unfortunately I had some sort of misunderstanding with Mat, we kinda talked about a different thing. He was doing this classic meets rock thing, I don't know whether you've heard about that one. I don't know how often they've done it, but it's a band and a big orchestra at the back and they have some pretty big people there. Next time in January Ian Gillan will be there and on the last tour they had Lou Gramm and Mat asked me when we did the video shoot if I would be interested in being part of it. By that time I had not been on any stage in nearly seventeen years, so I said that I'd really like to do the Unisonic festival shows first to get a feel again, you know? Maybe I'd hate it and not wanna play live. But after I'd done them and loved them I thought we would still have time because after the video shoot we met for promotion and we had that exact questions from interviewers about playing live and we said well you have to sell a few copies to have anyone interested in making a tour so we'll wait and see what the record does, if it does well we will be touring. I thought he was talking about this classic meets rock thing but it was already decided, he'd needed my confirmation a lot earlier and I didn't know that, I thought we would still have time. So I would be ready for it but unfortunately everything is set now. It was kind of sad because he wanted me to be a part of it and I would have loved to have presented this kind of thing. I mean can you imagine with the big orchestra presenting this? Maybe next time.
You mention Unisonic there. It was a pretty high profile return really wasn't it, going out onto Sweden Rock. Any nerves?
Oh yeah! I was really under pressure. After such a long time. I was sitting there in the bus the whole day meditating by myself but luckily we'd done three warm up shows in very small clubs in Germany. On the first couple of shows I really had to fight with adrenaline and I was not used to that, I was almost out of control, there was just so much energy, especially coming from the audience. When you haven't done that for such a long time you're almost like a baby but I was getting into it very quickly. Second show was better, third show was a lot better, I was happy with my voice, being controlled a bit more, that kind of thing so by the time we got to Sweden it was already quite good, I was relaxed and felt much better. That was very important for me, to see that I can still do it.
Afterwards you said you were surprised it had gone so well and you put an "open letter" on your website to your fans.
Yeah, It was extremely important for me to get that out. I wrote that maybe three days after we played the Czech festival, while it was still fresh. For almost ten years I was not paying attention to anything in terms of the rock world, I was fading it all out because I was kinda pissed about everything and I didn't even know that there would still be so many people interested in me. After the Sweden Rock gig we had a signing session and there was long, long line of people wanting to get autographs and they had everything there. First of all you had all generations, there was a cute girl there, sixteen maybe? She wasn't even born when I got out of Helloween and she was "Oh I love these Keeper records" and she wanted me to sign those and there was everything else there too. From the Helloween years to Place Vendome to my solo records, all the projects I have done. I signed everything I have done in the last twenty three years. The energy from the people just jumped onto me and it was very important for me to get that. I had a pretty negative view of the metal scene. In fact, I still hate a couple of things about the metal scene a lot, this evil glorifying crap, I don't understand that. I like good people and I wanna be a good person. I like humanity and not inhumanity, I don't know why this fascist ideology is circled there so much. BUT... that's not the complete metal scene, you have very idealistic people there too. Also when you haven't been doing any live things like me for such a long time and get your information from feedbacks from certain magazines or you just get the idiots on the internet, you know? The cool fans they don't have such a big mouth, they're more silent. The assholes are the ones who write everywhere, spread their opinions and stuff but the cool people you meet at the concerts and that was something I just didn't have for such a long time. That's why it was such a healing experience for me. I felt really good and I think that I had a bit of a wrong idea about what's going on out there.
A real revelation to you!
Absolutely! It's like medicine to me. I don't need to be cherished, or hear how great I am. I don't need that at all, never did, but the energy that comes from the audience, the excitement, just to feel how excited people are by the things you do. It's hard to express, makes you more want to do records, more want to be good artistically with what you're doing. It's just something that refills your motor in a way.
So we're gonna be seeing you on stage a bit more often in the future?
Oh yeah, I hope so man. We really have to do a lot of work with Unisonic. We're really very different types of musicians. We like each other a lot on the personal level but not only are our musical tastes very different but we fully function in different ways. We have to get that together, try this and try that and it takes a lot longer than we thought it would. We have a lot of material but we're very over critical at the moment. There's still a lot of work to do.
With Unisonic, how did you decide to start it as a new band and not just tour the Place Vendome stuff?
I think it's a matter of timing. You have to go through phases. I will still go on doing my solo records, I mean I have a beautiful deal with Frontiers Records where I can do whatever I want and I need that. To just write and not give a hack about "scenes" or "marketing", things like that, and I have, not the biggest, but a small amount of fans now that like my solo stuff too. They want me to do that, to do my own stuff, be creative and be completely free, and it's good to keep that going because it's artistically a very healthy and good thing to do. It's not easy to sell of course because I don't have marketing, apart from my voice maybe? When you look at all the records I've done they're everything from metal to rock to pop, singer/songwriter, just trying out anything and I like to keep on doing that. But to do everything on your own? On one side it's a great learning thing, before I got into being on my own I did not know much about engineering or producing the records. Now I can do everything from setting up the microphones to making the sounds up to mastering the CD, I can produce a record, that's awesome. That's a great experience and something I've got with me now but also having to do everything on your own in terms of song writing, producing, it's a lot of work and a lot of pressure. I actually like to be part of a group of people now and we all kind of work on it, it has it's own kind of dynamics. If you don't feel right then the others might, they just take you with them. Now I have a management that takes care of stuff things just automatically work now. They just put me on a stage in front of two lots of thirty thousand people when I'd done pretty much nothing in terms of live playing for so long just shows that they know how to do things. And without even having a record out, I was really honoured by that. So I think I'm very well placed in a band, there are a couple things I do I do good but I don't know everything so it's good to have people with skills and other directions where I'm not so good to compensate my weaknesses. I think we can make each other better, they have a good use for a vocalist like me and I have a good use for a band like this. Like it used to be in Helloween.
So how does the dynamic between you guys in Unisonic compare to how it was for you back in Helloween?
Well, we're not there yet! Um Helloween......Well there's two phases in Helloween. The first four years that I was in the band with Kai Hansen, that was to me where everything worked. The chemistry was right and time was on our side. Everything just worked, nothing could ever go wrong. I'm not over dramatising it, there's no stage that we played that we didn't completely succeed. Everything was just working and in terms of the music it's the same thing, everything just naturally fell into place. There was no disagreeing about anything, we never fought about anything, we just had fun with the music we did. We loved the music, we thought it was the greatest music on earth, we were totally convinced of this. I think that's still why it sort of lingers on which is something else that surprised me. The Keeper records are still selling. There's still young people getting a kick out of it, it's really interesting to see that and my explanation is that the spirit was just right. We were an honest band and we didn't care about what other people wanted to hear from us. The last record before the first Keeper was the 'Walls Of Jericho' one which was a kind of thrash metal, speed record, very different to the Keeper records. That was the blueprint that the label wanted us to copy. Labels always want you to do that and we didn't want to, we said "Fuck You". We just did what we wanted to do and succeeded with it and that record sold about ten times as much as 'Walls Of Jericho'. In the end we were right but during the productions we had serious fights going on and we had to go on strike and say we do the record the way we want it or we don't do it at all. If we hadn't have done that in those days you wouldn't have those Keeper records.
The experience of those first couple of years is very strong and Unisonic is not there yet, it's something we have to grow in to. Hopefully it's gonna be almost like that but it's not something you can plan. Not many people know that actually, there are many people who have been in bands but there is something to a band that functions, a chemistry. When you're together with these people everything is just a lot better than if you were on your own. It's almost spiritual. I don't wanna over dramatise these things or make them sound silly but it's the secret of every magical band in a way. There's people who just get a chemistry that make music. Having some kind of spirit you just can't make, it just happens. I mean I don't want to compare us to these bands but a band like U2 for instance, one of my favourite bands, they have such a magic power on stage that I don't think any band has and that's because the people like each other. They're friends from the early days, very intelligent musicians and there's just a lot of heart and soul to the music they make. I think that was the secret to the first four years of Helloween and when Kai Hansen left the band that was just gone, it just didn't happen anymore. It just got more and more into a nightmare, especially for me, because there was one particular person playing silly games behind my back and wanted to get me out of the band and after a couple of years he succeeded, you know?
So what are your thoughts today then on the whole 'Chameleon' era? Do you look back on that with any fond memories at all or is it all tainted by the hassles?
Well, I think I wrote some nice tunes for it. I think 'Longing' and 'I Believe' are very strong tracks and I still think it's a good record to a certain extent because it's an honest record. It reflected where we were in those days but it wasn't a band any more. As a band, totally dysfunctional, everybody was doing their own solo records there. It was just over, very sad but that's just the way it is. I still think it's an interesting record but we just didn't have our own sound any more, we kinda threw it away, which also had a lot to do with Kai Hansen. He had, still has, this very unique guitar playing style, song writing style, he was very well placed, it was a big mistake for him too to leave the band. It's always like that, if you have a functioning band and you try and change one person, it may not change the chemistry that much but it just doesn't work any more. Today Helloween is a completely different band, silly to compare really, shouldn't even be using the name if you ask me.
Why don't you think they should be using the name then?
They just use it because it sells. It's just the bass player and the guitar player, the rest is completely new.
I was a bit disillusioned myself when they did Keeper Of The Seven Keys - The Legacy.
Yeah, I don't know why they did that, I mean they're a completely new band and they should just be what they are now. They should just make whatever music comes naturally to them, that's what I would tell them to do. I mean they're good, they should be who they are and not try to live in the past.
Talking about what Helloween are today, I was wondering if you'd heard their 'Unarmed - Best Of' album because it sounds a little like what you did on 'Past In Different Ways'.
(Much laughter) I'm so glad I did that before them.
What are your thoughts on what they've done there?
I haven't heard it. I must say that I was personally hurt by the way that they treated me and talked bullshit about me after I got out of the band. I have refused to listen to any of the stuff they've done. I haven't listened to anything! The only thing I know is I like the cover, it looks very nice. I also like the idea, you know what they've done, some kind of orchestration, all that kind of stuff. I think that's kind of brave for them to do that. Obviously they got a lot of punishment but for that they really get thumbs up from me. I like these kinds of things, I like bands who have guts to be artists and not just losers who are scared of confusing fans. First of all fans are not that silly, some might be, but all fans are different. Some people are open minded and get excited about what you've created and others want you to do the same all the time. It really depends on what kind of audience you're building around your band. Look at the Beatles, my all time favourite band. In their best years they never repeated themselves, they always made a greater record and they had an audience that expected them to do that. They had a great culture effect on the youth of the time because they were so creative. It's probably not possible like that any more these days because the music industry sucks big time but this direction of trying to be intelligent and not taking your fans as too stupid is important. A lot of bands do that, treat their fans like they're silly and not do too much for them to not understand. You shouldn't think that way, you should try to be real, you don't have to re-invent yourself every time. I'm not telling any band what to do but they should not stop their creativity. If they feel like doing something they should do it. Don't stop your creativity because of market reasons, that's artistically wrong.
Going back to 'Past In Different Ways' for a minute, that was another of Serafino's ideas wasn't it. What did you get out of that personally? Exorcise any demons?
A lot, I must say. My first reaction when he suggested it was "No, fuck you". I was still in that phase of rejecting all that a little bit. Everyone always saw me as the previous lead vocalist of Helloween, which was always gonna happen because it was the most successful stuff. We sold a few million copies worldwide and like I said these records are still lingering on. Nowadays I understand that and I'm totally fine with it and that record was part of that healing process, but my first reaction was no, I don't wanna do it, I don't wanna live in the past all the time, I wanna do new stuff. Then the next day was passing on and I was thinking, then the third day and I thought well this is my music isn't it? Songs that I have written and I still like these songs. Just because Helloween ended personally in a very sad way why should I reject my own friggin' music? It made no sense and also nobody would've expected me to do something like that, which I liked, so I thought OK maybe it's a cool idea. Luckily it turned out pretty nice. I should've spent a little more time on 'A Little Time', that was something I didn't have enough timing for. I had to get finished so that's the only one where I think I could've done a bit more but all the other songs turned out very nice. A song like 'In The Night' works ten times better now than on the original record because it was meant to be recorded more like an unplugged jam session. I mean it's just a rock 'n' roll song, no big deal about it but to get to record it like that was pretty nice. I think some of the songs became a quality that even the originals didn't have, and vice versa of course, you can't really compare it but it turned out pretty nice. It was really the first step in making peace with it all again.
So now you're feeling more at ease with the past, if you were approached, along with Kai, for a 25th anniversary show to celebrate Keeper 2 would that be something you would consider?
The problem is I need to make music with people who are my friends. Just look at your own personal life. I'm sure you have friends that you can trust and I'm sure that you've had your experiences with friends that cheated on you or betrayed you. We all have that and just because of money reasons you wouldn't really make a deal with them would you? You see that's the thing. Mr Weikath shouldn't have played such a dirty game on me, a totally childish game, just because of his personal frickin' problems that he's always just projecting onto other people. It wasn't just me, he wanted to get Kai out of the band, he got Ingo out of the band, later on other people out of the band, it's just the way he does things to put his twisted mind at ease. If that hadn't have happened and everything went down with style, eye to eye, grown up people going separate ways, then no problem. Just for the fun of it, I enjoyed those times, singing 'Eagle Fly Free' was always great fun and just for the fans that would have been a fun thing to do. Also financially of course too, but I don't do that. I mean they were kind of approaching it a couple of years ago, when they did The Legacy, they actually had, I think, a conversation about asking me to sing on that record. I know from someone who had a word with Weikath, that lady asked me if I would talk to Weiki if he wanted to meet me and I said No! The thing is now I wouldn't care that much, I'm a lot more relaxed now, he doesn't have to worry that I would kick his ass. There was a phase where I would have but now I won't. I just don't give a damn. I feel sorry for him to a certain extent. But the reunion I wouldn't do. I wouldn't be able to sing, I'm that sensitive man, it would just kinda close my throat on stage. It's very sad, but he didn't want me to be in the band, he talked bullshit about me where ever he could. He was actually working hard on creating a very bad reputation for me, that was one of his main jobs during the last seventeen years. I don't wanna sing their stuff anymore.
I'm actually asked that a lot. there was a promoter in Paris where I did a couple days of interviews, Amanda and me, and he also asked me something like that. Everybody knows they could make a fortune out of it, you know? But I won't do that. I'd rather do a new band with people I like than do that. The way they did it closed that door.
So regarding working with people you like, you obviously get a lot of offers to do different projects; how do you choose which ones you want to do? Is it down to the music or the people involved?
The first thing is if I like the people. Like when we did the first Avantasia for instance, on that first one I called myself Ernie and that was part of where I was during that time. I was still kinda pissed about everything and I was pretty anti the metal scene. Like I said I'm still anti a certain part of it and that'll always be the case but not all of it any more. I'm at peace and I still love my old metal records like the Priest records that I grew up with, the Maiden ones. I love them again which is great but during that time I was still very much rejecting this. Anyway one day Tobias (Sammet) just called me up. I don't know where he got the number, just one day he was there, and I liked him. He had a good attitude and a good sense of humour and he just wouldn't give in. I said "no" and he just kept talking, Oh c'mon blah blah blah and he kinda talked me into it. It was mainly because I liked him, and then I was listening to his stuff and it sounded a bit familiar, kinda reminded me of some of the Helloween stuff, so I did it you know? That always has a lot to do with it but I have to like the music too. If Unisonic really get this stuff together and becomes a functional band that makes exciting records and we have a long career I won't be doing that many projects any more. The Kiske/Somerville duets just sneaked in before Unisonic that's why it happened and I'm happy it that it happened because I really like it. I really think it turned out nice. So now we've started it and it really takes off and they wanna do a second one I can't say no. That would be totally screwing the work of all the people involved.
When can we expect to see the Unisonic album then? It was originally slated for a late spring release wasn't it?
Man, we wanted to be done with this freakin' record somewhere before the festivals. We wanted to release it early summer, that was the original plan, but because we were so slow with it we had to play Place Vendome material, which was nice too because we never did. Was a nice chance to do that. It was great fun and that stuff is great for live actually. It was exciting to see that that stuff really worked nice live. I was kinda happy that it happened that way because we got the chance to play some of that stuff, but we're still very slow. We want to be releasing this album early next year now but I'm not sure if even that's gonna happen. We're not satisfied yet, that's the problem. We have songs, we like the songs but it's not exactly what we wanna do and that's why it eats up so much time.
Why start again with a new name, Unisonic, when it is pretty much the same line up as Place Vendome?
We don't wanna sound like the Eighties. We don't wanna sound like Place Vendome. When I sing a song by Kai Hansen it has a particular sound, like how he used to write songs for Helloween. They always have a very strong Helloween vibe. And it's the same thing when Dennis (Ward) writes his material and I sing it. It's all a matter of how you produce these kind of things. Dennis produced the Place Vendome records very AOR like, it was meant to sound like those kind of records and that was the fun of it. I never did anything like that before, it was never my favourite kind of music in those days, that kind of cute looking, blow dried hair AOR. I was more into Maiden and Priest. But there were some bands that have written some very good songs, Foreigner for instance, they've written some really strong songs. Maybe a year ago I saw a concert on TV by them with their new singer and they played all the hit singles and I was really impressed, that's them too, wow. 'I Want To Know What Love Is' for instance is a great song, maybe heard it too much, a little overkill, but it's a beautiful track. Now that I'm a little older I'm a lot more open to many things think those things are very nice and the Place Vendome records are very nice and have been very well received worldwide.
Place Vendome's 'My Guardian Angel' was your first return to shooting a video in 13 years wasn't it? How did that feel?
Almost 17. Oh no, I did one video around 96....
Yeah, 'Always' - that was 96 in New York. That was the last time I did a video but it wasn't really a typical video shoot. I was just basically walking around New York. Then again the 'Guardian Angel' video was also a very cheap production, just one lady with a little camera. Turned out very nice even though it didn't cost anything. the Kiske/Somerville cost a lot of money though. That was a big production with a real video crew, I think about ten people at least on the crew alone. That was a very big production, Serafino really invested some money in this. Also the whole package of the CD is very nicely done.
Talking of big productions there is one other name that always crops up from your past apart from Helloween and that would be Iron Maiden. Being a big fan of Maiden myself I know the answer to this question but I'll only regret it if I don't take this opportunity to talk to you about it personally. Were you ever officially approached to take over when Bruce left?
(Laughs) Well.... first of all I'm a German, and maybe you're not like that but a lot of the Iron Maiden fans are very nationalistic and they wouldn't want a German singer in their special British heavy metal band. I don't think that would really work. On the other hand I personally don't think I would have really fitted into the band. I worked with Adrian Smith on my first solo record and I really like the guys, they're great people. Steve Harris is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, same thing with Adrian Smith, he's so easy going. I just love the guys. I grew up with Iron Maiden. When I was still living at my parents' place I had my little room that I covered with Eddie posters. I was really into Iron Maiden big time and that never really goes away. Sixteen, seventeen years old I was totally into them. 'Number Of The Beast', 'Piece Of Mind', 'Powerslave' - that was my most intense Iron Maiden phase. But they never really asked me. In Germany I actually saw it on TV, during those days there was a program called Hard N Heavy, with Annette Hopfenmüller, and she was saying there's been rumours for a couple of weeks but now everybody knows it's a fact, Michael Kiske is the new singer for Iron Maiden. I thought Oh that's interesting, so I called Rod Smallwood and said "OK when do we rehearse Rod?" (laughs) Nah they never asked me. Every time people ask me that question I tell this story but I don't know if it's actually true. But as far as I remember it was a French journalist that told me that he'd had an interview with Steve Harris and the guy asked Steve who are the singers you could imagine in Iron Maiden now that Bruce Dickinson has left? And he said I was one of three that was mentioned. I don't know if that's true. No idea, but just forget Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson, he just belongs there. He fits in so well and he sounds so fucking great these days. He's kinda technically worked on his singing again. Something must have happened a couple of years ago where he changed his technique. Your voice changes as you get older, so sometimes you have to learn a couple things and do them in different ways and he does that very well. He almost sounds like the old days on some of the songs he does now. He never sang 'Run To The Hills' as good as he does now.
Apart from Bruce who else do you rate up there amongst your all time favourite bands/frontmen? You've mentioned The Beatles and U2, who else do you admire?
I have a couple of bands that I really like but my musical taste has just got bigger and bigger. I'm really into the German classical music. I love Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, it's like medicine to me. But I also really like Coldplay and Snow Patrol. I love Oasis too. I hated them for years because I thought they were arrogant and had no manners and stuff but then they hit me with the first single off their last record, 'Out Of Time'. I thought that sounds so much like John Lennon, it's unbelievable. So I just ordered the CD and I liked it so I ordered the one before it and I liked that too and then the next one and the next one until I had all their CDs. The only one I don't like much is the one after the big success, 'Be Here Now', I don't like that much but everything else is awesome. Then I looked into the videos and I noticed that's just they way they are, you know? They probably just come from an area where they don't have good manners, but I don't think they mean bad, they just seem to have a temper and they speak their mind, which I like. I do the same actually, I speak my mind and some people hate me for that. I mean I've pissed the whole German metal scene off a lot, some people really hate me here. Because I kinda describe the things that I find very sick and I also said that if a metal band just keeps reproducing their best selling records to please their audiences where is the difference to what Britney Spears does? It's the same. It's nothing to do with being more true just because it's a different market and you play louder, basically it's the same crap. Some people just don't like that but I don't care I'll keep on speaking my mind. I don't want to hurt anyone, I don't do it to piss people off but I think it's important to speak your mind.
As a musician you should never allow success to ever change you. If I am supposed to do a TV interview or something and you have a hidden camera running you will notice that I won't change when the camera is turned on. I don't wanna be this schizophrenic person that has two personalities. A private Michael and then a Michael that gets switched on when the camera gets turned on. I don't like that. I don't think it's healthy, you shouldn't do that. People like Elvis died because of that. I love Elvis, you asked me about the bands I love, well I grew up with Elvis. I loved the man, thought he was a beautiful person, an awesome vocalist and very exciting on stage. We owe him a lot actually in terms of rock 'n' roll and how it turned out in the end. But he died because he kinda fell into the trap of becoming his own kind of clown. He copied his image, he wasn't really free anymore. He was stuck in the trap of trying to fulfil this image of what millions of people had of him. It's very sad. That's something I will always tell any musician who starts to get successful; don't let cameras, fans, whatever happens, don't let that change you. You're not greater just because you sell records. It doesn't make you a better person just because people think you're the best at singing or whatever. It doesn't make you anything else, you're still the same person. You're no better than the person who sells the bread in the store around the corner, you're just lucky and that's it. It's very important that you don't believe the hype, don't believe that you are larger than life, or that you're a God just because other people think you are. It's just bullshit. It's very important to stay healthy within your own personality. It's very difficult when you get success at a young age too. I was seventeen when I joined Helloween, eighteen when I did Keeper one, I always had a, not necessarily a religious thing, but I always had a kinda contact with the spiritual world. I know that there's a higher meaning behind this, there's a moral meaning of life. I'm totally convinced about life after death, reincarnation and stuff like that, I've always had that in me and that is kind of a safety net. It protects you.
It's not about spirituality it's about values and trying to find out what really matters in life and I always thought friendship was more important than fame. I always thought trying to be a good person is much more important than having millions in your bank account. It's nice to have both (laughs) but if you have to choose it's better to keep your soul, if you wanna put it that way. That kind of devotion, you shouldn't over do it. I mean I believe in strong personalities but you should be able to have devotion too in those situations. To be able to accept certain fates and things that happen to you. If you don't have devotion you can't deal with it, It'll just kill you. Sometimes you have to have devotion and just give in and accept it. That's a quality that has to do with a strong personality. If you look at Gandhi for instance, he had a very strong personality but he was also able to be very selfless if it was necessary, you would't say he was a weak person because of that. To be able to have devotion and to be selfless comes out of a strong personality. People mix it up sometimes confusing it for a weak personality. To sacrifice yourself for someone you love for instance. If you have children you have to do that occasionally. It's all to do with love, these are qualities that have nothing to do with being weak, they have to do with being strong. I'm going a bit far now because when I was eighteen I wouldn't have been able to express these things like that, but I naturally had this spiritual approach to life which is why I never believed the hype. I was always grounded.
So how do you feel seeing these teenagers being put through the ringer on TV talent shows nowadays? You say you always had your safety net but a lot of them don't have that, they're just built up with nothing but hype surrounding them.
Well they're gonna fall. It's gonna happen, that's the cure. It's karma. Like the thing with Icarus. He wanted to fly so high then he goes too close to the sun, everything melts and he falls down. It's just image for arrogance, image for believing you're a God. You have to fall to get healthy again. I don't wanna name names now but there are some people who have been very successful on the pop scene over the last twenty years. When they started off and you see interviews from their early days they're very sweet people, in tune, nice and healthy and now they're "Divas". You can tell success is not good for them. Success makes them very sick and very arrogant and destructive in their heart. For those people it would've been better for them not to have had that success. If it really damages you it's better not to have it. Then something happens in their lives that cures that and that's karma. It might even be a disease or something. Cancer or whatever it is it brings you down to show you that you're not a God. Success at such an early age usually does damage them and then they lose that very quickly again. They have to learn to live with that, some even kill themselves, become drug addicts because they can't deal with it. It's not necessary to be rich to be happy. Obviously to be really poor is difficult but if you have a decent job and you can buy the CDs and computer games you want, have a nice family and friends around you, that's great. Especially when you have good friends. I don't wanna sound silly but it really is much more important than money and fame. It sounds like a cliche but it really is true.
If I can touch briefly on Ingo for a minute. Do you think him being kicked out of Helloween and losing what he had had a bearing on how tragically things turned out for him?
Of course yeah. I mean that was all he had. He didn't know what to do anymore after that. Yet I also must say in favour of the band you couldn't keep him. He wasn't able to play drums anymore. He was such a drug addict, he was doing cocaine all the time and we didn't know that. He was doing that privately behind the scenes. We just knew about his drinking. I actually had some arguments with him in the studio around '91 I think where I said to him you haven't even started playing the drums yet and you've had already drunk ten beers. Then he freaked out because alcoholics don't wanna hear that. I told him, and I was kind of a prophet there, I told him if you don't change that you'll be dead in two years and that was exactly what happened. Obviously like I said, after Kai left everything fell apart and there weren't big friendships going on anymore in the band so they didn't support him either. I understand that they couldn't hold him because you can't go on tour with someone like that, you'd go bankrupt because he couldn't play, he would just fall off the drums and couldn't play anymore. We had these concerts in Japan where we just had to stop the concert because he just couldn't play anymore. They wouldn't have been able to hold onto him but they also didn't help him. I don't wanna go too far and throw oil on the fire but I think friendship was not the biggest quality of Helloween. He was a very nice guy. He was someone who was always so forgiving. Whatever you'd do if you talked to him he'd forgive you. He couldn't really hate. Revenge was something he didn't have in him at all, he would always forgive you. He was very sweet. A weak person, very easy to be influenced, that's why he was so attracted to drugs and he was kinda on a suicide mission. If you're just a little bit grown up you'd know that you can't drink alcohol that much every day and do cocaine every day without getting sick. Everybody knows that doesn't work but unfortunately he didn't have that.
If we bring things back up to date. Kiske/Somerville is just out, we're looking forward to the new Unisonic stuff and there's plenty of other material you've done over the last few years with all the projects and solo albums so I hope sometime in the near future we will see a new live album from you? The last was Helloween's 'Live In The UK' way back in 1989.
Yeah that was a long time ago, part of the great phase. It was the last tour that we did with Kai Hansen. It was recorded in Scotland wasn't it? Man that was awesome, it was great fun and in those days I was just getting ready, just learned enough. I was 19, I'd just learned enough to be a frontman for a band and Kai left, that was so silly. I'm so sad about it you know? We were just getting ready and the band fell apart. Also Kai wasn't really aware of what he had, he was a bit unthankful. So many bands out there would've wished to have had what we had and he just threw it away. I'm sure karma is gonna fall back on him too. One day he'll realise how silly he was. We all treated each other nice, well apart from one person, everyone was pretty nice in that band, all nice people, and he had a very nice position in the band. We all respected him for his guitar style and song writing and stuff. I loved him, really did, I was a big fan of him. I started to get into the band by Weikath and Weikath was influencing me very strongly over the first couple of years and then I was kinda moving onto Kai and liking Kai more. I think that was part of the reason Weikath was trying to get me out. I wasn't leading a war against Weikath at all but I just felt closer to Kai. I met Kai late last year, he came to my apartment because he wanted me to sing a song on his new Gamma Ray record and we got along very nice. We just talked about Wagner actually most of the time, it was really sweet. I don't know if he's still like this today if you're on tour with him but during the time with Helloween he was just always so funny. He was always doing silly stuff and it was all just great fun, he was always good for a joke. It's always very important to have that chemistry like I said earlier. Not only his song writing and guitar playing which was very important but also his personality within the band. When that was gone it was all kinda falling apart in my eyes.
Yeah. We should have done at least five more records and a lot more tours and stuff. Then we would have had something there. We just have two really good records. I'm not saying that the records after that were totally bad but they just weren't the same thing. Just think of what we could've done. We could've developed more on that style and just kept on being the band that we were. We could've been a pretty big band.
Aside from Helloween then what else are you proud of that you've managed to achieve during your career?
Apart from Helloween? Being able to produce complete records and becoming a good song writer, mainly artistic things. The artistic things are the most important for me. Everything else is not really in your hands. All you can do is to make your record an artistic success, if it becomes a financial success that's not in your hands really. People who believe that are idiots. I meet people every day who think you can plan success. People always say "What fans want to hear." I think that's crap. To a certain extent you can sell some records with that but you can never sell big records with it. That mentality is artistically too weak, the music will never have a true spirit. To talk about target fans are target groups and things like that show you don't have any balls and that shows in the music. I don't think that those bands will ever sell big time. When you look at the last thirty years of rock 'n' roll music it's always been the bands who didn't give a damn that made it big. Look at The Who, they've done what they wanted to do. Even though Pete Townshend says today that he hates what they did in the beginning I'm sure he really loves most of those things, he wrote most of the songs. He just loves saying those things to piss people off. It's the same thing with the Beatles, they were so successful because they just did their stuff. They sort of invented a certain time of rock music really. Some of the songs that they have done, out of those whole styles of music have developed. 'Helter Skelter' to me is heavy metal, that's why Motley Crue were able to cover it as a metal song so well because it already was metal. They did many things like that. Bands like U2 and in the beginning Metallica, in the beginning they were always free and just did what they wanted to do. Some of them fell into that trap after the big successes to just copy their biggest records but in the beginning they didn't. They were free and real and that's why they made it so big. So any band that's trying to work out a market or please a certain market they're not kicking ass, they're kissing ass. That's something you can smell, I can smell it.
You shared the stage with Guns N' Roses at Donington '88. What do you think of Axl Rose then? Obviously he get's a lot of crap from people but no one can deny he only does what he wants and does it his way alone. Is he a "true artist" or a diva?
Diva? Sure he is. I mean there's certain behaviour that you just don't do if you're not a Diva. You can't let eighty thousand people down. You know that story where they played with Metallica. James Hetfield had these heavy burns so they had to finish the show earlier. The audience were already pissed off that Metallica didn't get to play very long then Axl doesn't want to go on stage and eighty thousand people completely freak out and pretty much destroy the place. You don't do that. Just think about it, you're a musician, very successful and you have eighty thousand people coming to your concert and paying whatever, I'm sure their tickets are quite expensive, I mean that's amazing. You've got to be thankful for that. I'm not saying kissing asses but you should be thankful for having that many people being interested in seeing you on stage there. How can you say "Oh, I don't wanna go". He is a Diva but on the other hand he's also quite good at what he does in terms of singing and song writing. Guns N' Roses have done some really good records, there's no doubt about that but it's very sad that this side of him has actually destroyed so much. That's why Slash doesn't want to be part of it anymore because he's especially tired of that, pissing off fans just because the lead singer doesn't feel great. It's very sad. James Hetfield said in an interview from when they toured with Guns N' Roses that "we learned what not to do." That's very true.
Well, I'm gonna let you get away now. Just let me say thanks for sparing some time to talk with me today.
Thank you too man, thanks for the interest. I mean I have a lot of interviews to do but I am really surprised just how big the interest is for this. I'm doing hundreds of interviews just for these duets. We have to thank Serafino too, he's a good guy, I really like him and he has some really good ideas and he does a lot of things with passion. I wouldn't have had releases over the last couple of years without him cos most labels don't give a damn about a lead singer that doesn't sound like Helloween anymore. It's just the way they are, they just think in boxes, but he really likes my singing and gave me chances and that's something I'm really thankful for. He's a good guy.
Actually just before you go, I do have one more. More of a personal question for me really. Going back to 'Chameleon', I've always been intrigued by the cover you designed for it. Just the four simple colours, it's very striking. I was wondering what the actual thinking was behind that.
The thing is I've always been very idealistic. After my departure Helloween was always trying to put it that I was trying to force them to do pop or whatever which is bullshit. I mean look at who wrote what songs on that album. Weikath was writing 'Windmill' not me. I didn't force him to write that song with a gun to his head, it's just very silly. The only thing that I was always up for was just do what you wanna do. If you feel like it go for it, I support you. That's how I always was. I'm still like that. I believe in music as a true expression. I know that people have their own personal tastes in music, like they may love metal and can't stand it when musicians change and do other things but it is artistically very right to express yourself in a way that you feel is right. That was the only thing that I was always up to and I just remember that we were thinking about covers and we had this thing where everybody would go home and think about covers. I did about two or three covers and that was one of them. I just thought about colours and about chameleons. I thought about the songs we had written for it, they were very colourful, didn't really sound like the previous record and we were almost like a chameleon there showing lots of colours. And they just picked it, they liked it and picked it, that's how it happened. They didn't have any ideas (laughs). Nobody showed up with any covers, I was the only one with a couple of covers and they picked that one.
Well thanks again for talking to me.
No problem, hopefully we can talk again soon about the new Unisonic record. We have a lot of work ahead.
Hopefully some UK shows in that workload?
Yeah, I'd love that. If we really get this freakin' record done. We are about live playing, that's one of the reasons I said yes to it, I wanna play live again. I haven't done it for ages and the UK of course, that's just one of the countries that you just have to go.
Well I'll look forward to it. I'm sure to be there.
Cool, hopefully next time we can do this face to face. Have a nice evening. Bye Bye.