Interview For Melodic Metal Works Site (07/21/99)
So, how is the weather in Hamburg?
Well, it's pretty warm, we are having a nice Summer so far.
That's great. So, you like living in Hamburg? The reason I ask is because it seems that lately, some european musicians have been moving to States.
Yeah, I like Hamburg, but maybe I'll move to the US if I have enough money, haha.
Haha... For example, I just found out that the bass player from Accept lives about ten minutes away from me, right outside of Philadelphia...
Yeah, I know! I was mixing my record in Nashville and found out that the other guy from Accept, Wolf Hoffman, lives there! It is a small world, haha.
Sure is... I have a few questions to ask you Roland. It doesn't seem like there is much stuff about you written in media, which I think is a shame. Could you tell us about your life before Helloween?
Oh yeah, I can try to tell you some of it, but most of the stuff I forgot, haha... I started playing guitar when I was twelve. In few following years I really got into melodic guitar players of Germany, such as Michael Schenker and Uli Roth. They still inspire me and still are unreachable for me, they are just great. They have such a nice tone on a guitar, both of them. So then, as I turned fourteen or fifteen, I did a few school gigs alone, just with my guitar and amplifier and people seemed to like it very much. Pretty soon I found a drummer in the same school. We formed a three piece band, two guitars and a drummer. I did all the singing. The problem was that we couldn't find a german bass player, since all the amateurs in this town wanted to play guitar. Same thing was happening with keyboards. We had only one good keyboard player in Hamburg and every band wanted to have him, haha. So, that band of ours stayed together for about a year and a half. Then, I played in different bands, new one each year.
All those guys are still good friends of mine. We spent a lot of time together and I learned a great deal from other guitar players whom I played with. So, my first, more or less professional band was Rampage, which I joined when I turned nineteen. We did two records which weren't that great, but it was a very good experience. We did a lot of gigs in and around Hamburg, but we didn't sell many records from the two albums that were released, only about 3000 copies of each. And this is how Michael Weikath saw me for the first time. He saw me play on stage and he really liked my performance, my songs, my playing, he was really impressed. And he remembered me about seven or eight years later. So, at that point I was already twenty-eight or twenty-nine and all my friends already got jobs or became students, or just decided to get "serious", haha. But Michael Weikath called me and asked if I wanted to join Helloween. So, my first album with Helloween was "Pink Bubbles Go Ape", after I joined the band on
Christmas of 1988.
Long way to Helloween, haha... Let me ask you this Roland, when you write songs, do you start with music or the lyrics?
Well, I never wrote any lyrics until very recently. But I always write the melodies first, and for me, the melody is more important than the lyrics. Honestly, the lyrics are much better understood for those who speak english well, while for us, germans, the chorus is more fun, haha. When I grew up, we had english lessons in school, and I could sing perfect english words, yet never knew what I was singing, haha. And that problem became even more apparent after I joined Helloween and couldn't do any english interviews. For example, during the Headbangers Ball tour, on the bus, while Weikath and Kiske were doing interviews, I was sitting, listening, thinking to myself: "Hmm, whatever they say, it sounds interesting...", haha. I couldn't understand anything and it looked as if I was very shy or not interested in the conversation, while all along my problem was that I couldn't talk!
Well, you certainly don't have that problem anymore!
Yeah, the last three or four years have changed it a lot. I've had some private lessons in english and when I did my first solo record, "Four Seasons Of Life", on which I wrote some lyrics, I went to this one guy from england who lives in Hamburg, and he gave me some more lessons and helped with grammar for my songs. And then, the next big step was working with american musicians for "Kaleidoscope". So, now I enjoy those english conversations, haha, yet I still have that image with management: "Roland isn't doing any interviews for the band because his english isn't so good"!
Well, it sure looks like the english have been fully conquered by you, Roland, but how about the guitar? Do you still practice the technique?
Oh no, I'm not fighting the instrument anymore, haha. I enjoy playing nowadays. I feel like all my fingers are connected to my brain and it feels great! It is really nice to grab an instrument and to just play, to "feel at home"... When I just began to play guitar, I had a favorite instrument. For example, while at some friend's house, someone would hand me a guitar, and I'd say: "Oh no, I can't play that, it's different than mine", haha. Nowadays, I have ten to fifteen Strats and I like them all, even though they all sound different. Going into the future, I'd like to show more emotions... So it is not about technique anymore.
Roland, if you were to look back at your years in Helloween, would you revive that experience again?
In short, yes! I had to quit my job to join Helloween, but I really hated that job, haha. I am still very happy about that decision, since I always wanted to be a musician, a guitar player in a band. I have to thank Weikath for picking me up. I'll be always grateful to him, and he will never lose me as a friend or as a band member. Ever since I released my second solo record, "Kaleidoscope", I'm being asked this question: "Now that you are successful, would you consider leaving Helloween?". And the answer is very simple, no! Once I'm done with a little promotional stuff for my two solo albums, I'll be completely back to Helloween. And I'm hoping to write four or five songs for the new Helloween album, out of which two or three will make it onto the record. Helloween is a very democratic band, we all decide which songs will be on the album.
Roland, is it safe to assume that Helloween will remain as it is today for years to come?
Oh yeah! I'm laughing at all the rumors though, haha. As there was one funny thing that just happened recently. I'm suppose to play at Wacken, and on the bill it says: "Roland Grapow - Former Helloween". Me and this one guy from Helloween's fan club were joking about that yesterday, haha.
And one of the usual questions, your favorite artists?
Bluesy stuff, Stevie Ray Vaughan, a little jazz rock, fusion, Black Sabbath with Tony Martin, etc.
If you could choose to play with anyone, or any band besides Helloween, who would you pick?
Anyone? For fun? Probably my Kaleidoscope band? Or it would be great to have a session with old Purple members, Ian Paice, Jon Lord. That would be fun! Maybe even with Jimi Hendrix... And I would blow him away, because I would dress even wilder and would do even crazier stuff on the guitar, haha.