Interview For The French Connection Site
Translated By Marcelo Hashimoto
When you compare your first solo album with "Kaleidoscope", which are the main evolutions?
They are huge! On the first album, everyone feels the classical influences, which are the main part of my playing. I had this album focused on this. Beyond that, I decided to sing on the entire album and, finally, I took the responsibility for everything: the sound, the production... And I must admit that I am not completely satisfied with the work achieved on this album. That explains the main changes on "Kaleidoscope", changes motivated by what was not exactly good to me on the first album. That's why now I have a new singer, a new drummer, etc. From now on, it is more a band than a solo project. "The Four Seasons Of Life" was more focused on the guitars and it was aimed at the guitarists.
The songs of this album were written during the tour with Iron Maiden. Did you wrote it already thinking about a second solo effort or they were also for Helloween?
Oh, I don't have this kind of problem. It is different, you know. I always write something for Helloween and something for me. Since what I composed was less aggressive, it was obvious that it was material for my solo album. When we finished "Better Than Raw", I knew that we would have some spare time, and I decided to prioritize the solo songs. That's the story.
What kind of equipment do you use on recordings?
Nothing particulary good! I have Marshall amps of the 70's type, with master volume. I do the mixing at the same equipment of the end of the 70's with some recent tricks, particulary on the effects and the pedals. About guitars, I use mainly Fenders.
Thus, nothing different compared to Helloween?
Indeed, it is the same thing, except that the recording is slightly different.
In "Kaleidoscope", it's very easy to recognize the typical Fender sound, which is not found on Helloween records. Is that because you've used less distortion?
Exactly! But I must as say that I use on Helloween a Bus Pandora. On Helloween, my sound is much more worked, modified, and ends up sounding less natural. Now, I also use Fender amplifiers, resulting on a more true sound.
That means you will, on Helloween, approach this more natural sound in the future?
Yes, I'm thinking about using it soon. At this moment, I'm working hard with Weiki, for the next Helloween album. And I'm thinking about choosing this sound, because it's that what I prefer and it's more appropriate for my style. Thus, with Weiki, each one of us is working with something that sticks with his style.
On "Kaleidoscope" you worked with very talented artists: Mike Terrana, Mike Vescera and Jens Johansson. Working with them was very exciting, wasn't it?
It was a true dream. It is really exciting! I knew them a little before and, in 1997, I contacted them, tests were carried out, and they joined me without hesitation. When I started to write this album, I knew they would be naturally appropriate for the songs. I also choose them according to their personalities. At that time, the feeling was very important. Many fans were awaiting that impatiently. About that time, I had lots of spare time and I've frequently met fans who pushed me in this direction. Now, knowing that I'm playing live with this group, it's amazing. This will be completely different from Helloween. About the guitars, all will rest on my shoulders and our sound live with the keyboards will have many possibilities.
Precisely, what did these musicians bring to your music?
We all discussed it for a long time. Our influences were amazingly the same. On the other hand, nobody couldn't really improvise, thus, everything concerning the structures was well defined in advance. Mostly because everytinhg was already written, and the changes were very reduced. But, I've heard everyone, and everyone was rather free, because I'm not a dictator. I didn't say to nobody how they should play. There was lots of feeling and we spent the good time in studio.
Because of the sound of your guitar, your playing, the singer and certain guests, some people does kind of a discussion about Yngwie Malmsteen and you. Is he part of your most obvious influences?
Obviously! But I don't wish that to be misundestood about me and about "Kaleidoscope". It's not a copy of Yngwie. Just like him, I have classical influences, but the working methods are different. This may be less true on my first album, which sounded much more as Malmsteen, but on this recent album it's very different. Yngwie always plays very quickly, while I try to bring more feeling to my pieces. Sometimes, I slow down the tempo. In short, I diversify my play as much as it is possible. Moreover, this album is directed much more to compositions. All the songs are focused on everything. I didn't compose anything starting with solos. But, back to the Yngwie subject, I'm an absolute fan. It's mostly because of that I called the musicians who are playing with me on this album. It's really great to have them with me, but the album is definitively not just a copy of Malmsteen.
You joined Helloween in 1989 and nobody knew you before that. Can you say something to us about your musical past?
I played a lot before that! In fact, I played frequently with my guitar a lot. I was the guitarist of a band called Rampage. We had the occasion one day to play with Helloween and the guy remembered me at a convenient period. It was almost a combination of circumstances. They asked me to join them, I've made the tests it happened!
How do you explain the fact that it's necessary from now on touring to promote solo albums?
This promotion is something very important for me, you know. I like to tour, I adore that! The tour goes through Europe; Holland, Spain and Germany with Gamma Ray and also on South America; Chile and Brazil. Many fans are waiting for this moment and we will make a super festival together. The reactions are very good where we play. There aren't also mean people who just await us to finish. The comparisons are frequent, though. I have the Helloween mark with me and that brings something more. But, this is my band, it's something more special. There is on the schedule participations on large festivals. We should also play at Greece, Scandinavia and, in September, at France. I don't have at this moment any date to announce to you. On the other hand, I can say that on some of them we will headlining, thus, we will play on smaller places.
Does that means the Roland Grapow's Band is more than just a solo project now? It's a career in parallel which you do with Helloween from now on?
Yes, it's exactly that. It's a group on my spirit. There's lots of feeling together and, thus, it's really more a project which I carry out in parallel with Helloween. It's, in my opinion, a good idea. There is no huge difference between the two bands and that amuses me very much. On July and August, it will be a period of rest and I will work with Helloween for the successor of "Better Than Raw".
Therefore, a tour with both bands is possible?
Oh no! Not a together tour!
What is amusing, is the fact that you are touring with Gamma Ray and Kai Hansen, who you replaced on Helloween. How is your relationship with Kai? How you were invited to join this tour?
Oh, our relationship is very good from now on. One appreciates each other very much. Each one has a huge respect for the other. He said to me that he liked my solo album a lot. Gamma Ray is a brilliant group, they are all very nice. It was Kai himself who asked me to join their tour. The recording companies had nothing to do with that. If they had some influence about it, that happened only afterwards. I was paid in advance, but it was very nice for me to do it.
And the members of Helloween, what do they think about your album?
Oh, they like it very much. A little too much in my opinion! They must be jealous! Just kidding, there is no problem with them. They know that I gave the best of me on this record, just as I do with them when I'm writing for Helloween. There is absolutely no problem about doing my personal stuff over Helloween's. You can be totally sure about that. I even believe that some songs could have been reproduced on an album of Helloween without any problem. Well, it's my style of playing, I can't do nothing about it.
On your album there is no covers. Will you play any on stage?
Which ones? On the japanese version, there is a bonus track: "Separate Ways" of Journey. But you know, in Japan the contracts are different and it's necessary to have bonus tracks. On stage, we are playing two songs of Helloween, "Dr. Stein" and "The Chance", and also two songs of my first solo album.
Thus, you don't play again songs which you composed for Helloween?
Oh no! Well, have nothing against playing a song that which was written by Weiki, or Kai, or someone else. I will only not play songs on which I have taken part.
When start writing songs, this requires you to be under more particular conditions?
For Helloween, yes! I look at what the others are doing. Because generally we choose a direction on which it is necessary to go. For my songs, I know that I must be more aggressive, it's necessary that I really release myself. On "Kaleidoscope", for example, I remained more natural, and this had some influence on the songs. It goes like that!
Since you said that this solo project was a parallel career, did you already start considering about a successor for "Kaleidoscope"?
I think that we will still work more as a group on the next album. The writing will not be only personal, it will be the result of a group working.
The second album is different from the first. Will you keep this evolution on the next one?
I don't think that the next album will be more aggressive than this one. I can even write different ballads, but not too much. On the other hand, certain songs could be more deep or soft, who knows?
Could you think about an evolution similar the one of Michael Kiske?
It's exactly the direction I don't wish to go! It's not that it is too soft. I like the ballads, I don't have any problem with that, but, on the other hand, the country stuff...
If this album launches you to a success which would exceed that of Helloween, this parallel project would become your priority?
No, I don't dream that much. I won't reach this level, you can be sure about that. Helloweeen has existed for more than 15 years, and has a "fanbase" which is immense. There is a whole history behind it and it's not just an album that would make me reach this level of popularity. You know, the fans of Helloween are the best ones!
What you are trying to achieve, in sales, then?
You know, I don't evaluate anything only on sales, because that is difficult now. We have some recession everywhere in the world, and people can't buy many albums as we would like! Even in Japan, it's harder than it seems. Everyone has less money. I think that we will sell at least two or three times more in Japan this time. In Europe, I don't spend so much time promoting. I've made advertizing on magazines? Not that much. Therefore, how much copies? I really don't know. I only hope to satisfy all those who bought and will buy the album. That is my priority. If 30000 sales are exceeded, it won't be so bad, right?
What've made you decide to release solo albums?
This idea came at one significant moment for me. On my solo records, I totally express myself and that that brings more for Helloween, because this band has its own style and sometimes I feel a little restricted inside it. My solo albums give me the ways to express myself completely and move on all the possible directions.
However, on "Chameleon", didn't you tested a lot of new styles?
This album is a solo album of all the members of Helloween! Everyone wrote songs in their own places, without upgrading capability.
But this album doesn't sound a little like Michael Kiske's solo album with Helloween musicians?
No, I ensure you that we al worked hardly on this album. It was not an solo album of Michael Kiske but indeed an solo album of all guys of Helloween. This album is not the best!
Which one is your favorite, then?
"Keeper 2", for me, it's the greatest! The songs are great! It's impossible to record again an album of this level. Even if the original line-up joined together again, they wouldn't be able to record such a good album. When I'm writing songs, I always keep in mind this album, and I always think of this level that the band had at that time. It's the kind of album that we seldom see being released.
Back to your new album, the tour that you've just started makes you think about a live album?
Perhaps I may record some gigs but it's not on my plans to record a solo album. At least, not for now. Perhaps we can make some bootlegs for the fans!
Do you appreciate the bootlegs, then?
Well, you may laugh, but I hate them! The sound is awful. With that kind of recording, it's impossible to realize what was really going on at the stage. You think about that evening, how amazing it was, and when you try to hear it again, the sound is awful. And that sounds false because you either missed important parts of the gig or you realize that your opinion about it was little biased on the day and you actually haven't played that much. In short, there are always unpleasant surprises.
Thus, the live record of Helloween was improved?
No, actually. In fact, it's even more difficult to play live with Helloween. Songs like "The Time Of The Oath" are not easy to play mostly because of the samplers. For the live album, we recorded three gigs and selected the best performances.
Therefore, there is no place for eletronic stuff in your solo albums?
No! There may be some effects on the intro, but this is not a problem. On the gigs, we play it with keyboards.
What do you think of bands like Rammstein then?
I like it a lot. I like these bands that use more modern influences in their music, like Skunk Anansie. But actually I don't listen to too many new tricks. I like groups like Gamma Ray, Helloween, Angra, Edguy...
Since you've mentioned Edguy, you know that Tobias dedicates a workship about Helloween, mostly for the "Keeper" period. How does makes you feel that your band influenced generations of young people and less young musicians?
Some of these groups now reached their own levels. I think about Stratovarius, Angra... It's true that there is always a certain pride about it. I know these bands and I appreciate them very much.
Will you will keep the same musicians on a upcoming record or try calling singers from, like, Edguy or Angra?
Oh, why not? Everything is possible. Andre Matos is a great singer. I would like to work with him. But I will try to keep with me the same musicians.