Interview For Where The Rain Grows Site (04/15/99)
By Tony Webster
Roland was one of my favorite interviews I think I ever have done (and I've done a lot of Helloween interviews much less other bands) and he was a very down to earth guy and spoke very good english. Roland and I talked about his upcoming solo album, Michael Kiske, his career, Ingo, the new covers album, etc.
So what does your new solo album "Kaleidoscope" sound like compared to the first album, "Four Seasons Of Life"? When will it come out?
The main difference is more song oriented. I wrote everything last year when I was with Helloween on tour. I was inspired everyday from every show we played with bands like say Iron Maiden where we played like 45 or 50 shows. I still had this great feeling when I was in the hotel an hour later after being on stage, and so I started writing songs. I think you can hear it in the new songs and unlike the first one this album is not classical influenced. This is more of a band project because I wanted to support and feature each member of the band who is playing on it. All of the instruments are emphasized where on my first album it was only the guitar that was emphasized. The other main difference is that I have an actual singer on the album, I am not singing on it this time.
Speaking as a guitarist, what do you think of the three guitar attack Iron Maiden now has?
I think it's funny, man, it could be interesting but if I was playing in the band I would not be so happy about it, however it can be very interesting to the fans. Maybe they can get a different sound live and a better sound at that, but why not? Like the old American band Lynard Skynard!
Now Helloween is working on an album of covers right?
Wešre still doing it!. We just did all of the rhythm guitars now in my studio, and the keyboards are done plus the bass and drums. It has taken longer than we thought because we rearranged all of the songs and the guitars sound more like the Helloween kind. It's boring just to cover songs and have it exactly like the original version. So myself and Weiki just have to play the solo parts and after that we send the tapes to Andi who will do the vocals, then we go and mix it.
So you don't have any Grand Funk Railroad songs on this upcoming covers album, and youšre a big fan of them as many people know...
Well, we did not want to copy just our musical idols, plus we did a Grand Funk song with me singing as a b-side for "Master Of The Rings". These songs on our covers record are very good songs that everybody liked when they came out in the past. and we also liked these songs. We arenšt huge fans of the bands on the record but these certain songs by these bands we are fans of. We thought it would be a little interesting to pick these songs and put some Helloweenish guitar on it and this is interesting so I would not want to change any Grand Funk tune and the other guys are really into Kiss but we did not want to do a typical cover record.
How much of an influence did Grand Funk Railroad have?
Early in my career Mark Farner of Grand Fun Railroad really inspired me into music. Worldwide I see every once in a while people saying they were inspired by their live album. I think not too long ago there was a reunion tour or something and they sold out a bunch of huge gigs in the USA. The problem is that they do not come to Europe... they went to Japan, America, etc. I saw on the internet they did 100 shows last year and nothing here. Nobody cares in Germany.
Are you playing on Ulišs Rainbow Tribute? And if so, what song did you play on?
Hmm, I forgot! [Laughs] Ah, it was "Stargazer", that's right!
Why did you decide not to sing on your latest album "Kaleidoscope"?
Because I have two reasons for it. The first was easy, last year I had an offer from the big festival promoters like Wacken Open Air and stuff like that to play live. I did not want to do it because I cannot sing well and play those complex songs on "Four Seasons Of Life" at the same time. I needed a singer for a live gig anyway so that in turn led me to recruit Mike Vescera for my next album. Also a lot of people in the press gave me a hard time, they did not like my voice. So I realized after six months and everything after it all calmed down with the press that I should not be a singer. I am really good with some types of songs like Mark Farner and Grand Funk but I am not a powermetal singer and you need more range in powermetal, especially with stuff I like. Honestly I never really rehearsed much vocally and when you sing Helloween-like stuff you need to practice singing 100% like I practiced guitar 100%. I think Mike Vescera did a great job on the album and when you hear it you will be
surprised, even he was. His wife even said this is one of the best albums he has ever sang on, because he sings a little bit clearer like he did when he was in Loudness or in Malmsteen and I like his voice like this. I always told him I loved his voice when he did the ballads so I was happy he changed his voice a bit. Everyone told him in the past to sing harder in the past and I told him not to do that this time so I think you will be surprised at how well he sang on this album.
So you have a studio called "Crazy Cat". Why did you name it that?
Oh! I have two cats named Oskar and Felix and it was named after them. Also we have a dog named Tammy and if you listen to the song "Reaching Higher" and there is this little intro to it where I play the harp then my dog is howling, going "raouu", and then I wrote in the book "Special Guest: Tammy" for singing on my album [Laughs]. If you see the booklet there are two pictures of her: one with myself and one with the bass player Barry Sparks.
Now you have Mike Terranna on drums?
Yeah, he lives in Hamburg now, I see him very often now. Mike Terranna is on drums, Mike Vescera is on vocals, Ferdy Doernberg is on keyboards then for one song, just one solo part I had Jens Johansson from Stratovarius, I met him when we played in New York the last time so he played a solo on an album and we recorded everything in the hotel room.
Speaking of New York what was it like playing a show in the USA for the first time in 10 years and were you expecting that many people to show up?
Honestly not, man! I was really surprised and I liked it a lot... I mean it's hard to say but it was very similar to Germany. People do not look so different compared to South America, Japan, South Europe, etc. I thought to myself "Oh, they still remember us after all these years" because many of these people or many people in general do not know Helloween has had five records since we have been to the states last so there is still a scene for us and I really enjoyed it. The only problem was that it was really low budget and my guitars well they are still in Brazil so I had to rent my equipment... Maybe when I go to Brazil and tour with Gamma Ray for my solo album I can see my equipment! We start touring in two weeks like in Spain and Holland and we are going to play Wacken this year as well. The promoters of Wacken always asked us in Helloween to play there but we never had time or something came up so we have never been able to do it. Then I decided that before I finish my record in
January to call the promoter so when we talked I got on the festival with my solo band.
So, are you going to write any songs for the next Helloween record?
Oh, yes of course, man... I mean, it looks stupid now that I write a solo album with like 10 or 11 songs on it but for the last Helloween album I had none, and the one before I just wrote the music for one song. I also just did an interview for "Burrn!" Magazine and the girl said I did a great job but asked why I did not take two or three songs for Helloween and I told her that four songs are normally meant to be on a Helloween record but honestly I have a lot of time 'till we go into the studio for I am going to write a few songs for when we do. If I don't have any on the next record it's not my choice!
How did you end up getting into Helloween in the first place?
Well, Weiki called me in August 1988. It was the day before my birthday and I had this musician's magazine in front of me and Helloween was on the cover in big letters and stuff... and I was like "Great, man! You ask me to play guitar in your band? Which guy are you from this picture?" and he told me and I was like "Oh, my goodness! He looks wild!". Then we met each other a day later and he played all of the songs to me and I was really interested but the problem was that I had not played in a band for three years even though I was a very well known amateur from Hamburg I was 29 and I felt that I was getting too old for this band thing. The other point was that Kai Hansen was still in the band and they went on tour for three months and he told me after three months that I should join the band. I worked on that, I let my hair grow a little bit, and I went to the USA for vacation with my future wife and so I had a couple of Helloween shirts and I was sitting in Los Angeles in a bar and they did "I Want Out"
and I was so proud to be asked into this band. So after the tour Weiki came to me and asked if I was still interested and I said yes. However he said that Kai was thinking of not leaving the band after all, and he told me to wait a couple of days and then Kai ended up after all and then I joined the band on Christmas in 1988 and I finished the "Keeper 2" tour with them in 1989.
What do you think of the metal scene worldwide?
I would say more or less that Europe is really strong, and a lot of american bands that are still around are coming to Europe to play in Germany and a bunch of different countries are doing well here. I think this is the biggest market right now, and Japan used to be huge but it has gone down lately and I am disappointed in this because of the economic situation. What sucks about this is that I think my new album much much better than my first one both songwise and performance wise but the situation with Japanšs economy is going to prevent a lot of people from knowing this. Last time I had so many more interviews in Japan, I went there for promotion for a week. This time I just did like three phone interviews and they told me that there will not be any single for the album because they cannot afford to release a single. I also want to tour there too and play in front of those people. I would do it for free too, I don't care if I make any money off of it or not, just pay for the flight and the hotel room
and I will come and play there. The market is really bad... Gamma Ray last time played 8 shows, and this time they played only 4. Last year with "Better Than Raw" we played only 7 where on the "Time Of The Oath" tour we did 13.
How did you start playing guitar?
The reason was Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. I was 12 years old and my father already bought me like an acoustic guitar which was very small. After three or four years of having it I looked in the mirror and thought I looked cool like Mark Farner did so for six months, I would shred on this guitar. And my father pulled me aside and said he was going to start me with guitar lessons. So I went to this teacher, you know, and I was in this classroom with five girls and four boys or something like this. I was so shy when I was younger, I was sitting very far away from the teacher and when he would call on me, my face would get red and I would be like "Fuck!" [Laughs]. And all of these theories and crap annoyed me and I hated these. I could read music just fine but I just wanted to play and hear it with my ears, you know? So the guy told my father after six months that I had no talent and to take me away. So I said to myself that I would learn myself and I listened to Michael Schenker, Uli Roth and old
stuff from the 70's which was not so old back then and I played all of it half speed at first. Then I ended up learning this stuff. Mark Farner was not the biggest influence but in the beginning he got me to start. I came to realize his style was too bluesy for me and I wanted to be more melodic and fast like Michael Schenker and Uli Roth. I ended up in a band when I was 14 and we had two guitar players and a singer and drummer and no bass player. I played with them and we did gigs in Hamburg. Then I was 17 and I entered another band and we won all these contests. Then the next step was to have a record contract... And I joined this band Rampage, who also had a really awesome guitar player and a bass player and drummer, and we had very melodic guitar playing and we were influenced a lot by early Saxon and Judas Priest, since this was like maybe around 1980. The main difference was that we had a three-piece choir on stage with us and we also sounded a bit like Journey and it was quite interesting and we did
two records, and this was the period when Weiki saw me playing live on stage then it reminded him eight years later to call me [Laughs]!
What was the name of the first band you were ever in?
I think the name was Prisma or Virus... But I am not too sure, it was so long ago!
One of my favorite songs you wrote for Helloween is the song "Music" of "Chameleon", what did you write this about?
Hmm, honestly this song was already recorded differently with the band Rampage... It's on the second record we did. Uh, maybe it's influenced a bit by Grand Funk, only the older version was blusier. I quite like the song the way Kiske did it.
Speaking of Kiske, what happened with the split?
Well, there never really were problems before but he started living differently and had this religious beliefs and stuff which does not bother me or anyone else in the band but musicwise he just was not fitting with the band and where we wanted to go and was not on the same page with us. He wanted to always later write stuff that we did not want to write. We wanted to be harder and more aggressive and he wanted the opposite, because we tried on "Chameleon" to change the style and be melodic as possible. I don't know why we did this but we did and I am quite proud of "Chameleon", it's a great record and people seem to like it more now than before. He wanted to stay on this path, but we not only lost our fanbase, and a lot of money because the record company would not promote the album, but people would watch us on stage and it just did not fit at all. I spoke to Weiki and Markus after the "Chameleon" tour and I was just upset and the whole situation was bad, because we lost our record deal in Europe and the
japanese label was not happy, and the singer wanted to stay on this type of music when we did not want to do the same style on "Chameleon" anymore. I also was going to go look for an actual job because we were all broke. It was really bad so we decided to make a change. So before we started rehearsing we had the new demo tapes for the next album and Kiske had the same type of songs he did on "Chameleon" and we just did not want to do that stuff anymore so we decided to not work with him anymore, it was not him as a person, but it just was a musical conflict.
Now do you ever see Kiske anywhere or talk to him?
Uh, honestly I met him only twice since he left and he was always friendly to me and I really do not mind talking to him, because I still like him as a person but he seemed so far away even if we live in the same city because his thinking is so far away from my thinking. I like him but I cannot stay with him for a couple of hours at a party, in fact he does not like parties anyway since he hates beer, does not smoke, etc. I do not do these things either but the problem is he thinks very differently from me. He is still a great person and a very nice guy. However maybe sometime in the future him and I could do something on an album again, I don't care I mean the past is the past and maybe if he makes a guest appearance or something on one of my solo albums, it would be cool.
During the whole "Chameleon" era, you guys had a lot of problems with Ingo and I am wondering how you dealt with the situation and how you got through it?
The situation was very hard on me, because I would see him and he would go from one day to another like totally crazy, because of a nervous breakdown. He was a proud quiet guy, who was very laid back and did not talk much. He never talked about his feelings or anything and then he always had a beer in his hand. I don't know if he took a lot of drugs. Then one day I saw him crying... This guy who was so cool and laid back and who was a good drummer, and he was crying! He was telling me he saw this and that and the devil, and was going totally nuts. It was really hard and it was my first experience in seeing someone like this, and when someone is changing over a period of a few months you realize there is something going on from one day to another. It was getting worse and sometimes we would think he is getting better, then suddenly he would act all crazy again ten minutes later. We went on tour again with him and we felt insecure because we did not know what would happen with him, and we were scared
something bad would happen while playing live. Sure enough we went to play a show in Hiroshima, Japan and he stood up on his drum riser in the middle of a song and he then fell onto his cymbals, and we had to stop the show. That was one of his last shows, and we took him to the hospital and he was there for awhile and we had always hoped that he would get better and he would be himself again, but the problem still persisted. It was really a bad experience for me.
Does getting through a bad situation make you stronger as a person and help bring the band together?
It makes you stronger, definitely because you know how to deal with things of this sort and we all had to deal with it.
What about Ritchie Abdel Nabi? What happened to him?
Well, it is the same situation on how I got into the band, Weiki always goes to shows and sees musicians in Hamburg. He told us there was a nice drummer around and that he was a good guy and had a nice feel with the drums and we said lets check him out. He was a very nice guy and a great drummer but the problem was at the time he could not play double bass and he had to learn it in a short time. It was a little bit too much for him and how we worked songs out was too fast for him, he was taking a long time and when we were doing this Andi was already in the band and said that he was too slow for us. He was working on one song for days so we had to change drummers and we got Uli. However Ritchie was still a very nice guy.
On your first solo album you had Ralf Scheepers and Axel Rudi Pell as guests... Are you a fan of both of these guys?
I like Axel, he is very nice, and Ralf Scheepers has one killer voice and his singing style, it's sort of like Michael Kiske but different in a way.
So the last thing I have to say what do you have to say to all of the fans out there reading this?
I think they should check out the new solo record because this "Kaleidoscope" record is very strong and I feel I did a great job as a songwriter on this record. It's more song oriented than before unlike the first album and I wrote the songs with each member of the band in mind and it helped a lot. I pushed myself a little more to make it like this and and solos were not as important for me as good songs were this time, where on the first record I worried more about the solos than the actual songs. I did it more or less a guitar job like I do in Helloween instead of this classical style. I wrote songs from my heart and whatever I had a good gut feeling about and the recording went fast too, only six weeks for everything! That's what we needed for the cover record... six weeks for just the guitars!. So I think the fans should check this album out and even fans in the USA as I hope to have a deal there sometime soon because I have so many nice american musicians on it too. Someone also told me that in a
positive way it sounds really american as well because I always was listening to american music a long time ago anyway and maybe it helped, plus I have an american singer on it so check it out!