Interview For Hard Roxx Site (August 1999)
Roland Grapow is mainly known as the guitarist who took over from Kai Hansen in german metallurgists Helloween. He has however proved himself as a solo artist in the last couple of years, too. In 1997 he released his first solo effort "The Four Seasons Of Life", a record with strong Yngwie Malmsteen influenced neo-classical touches. On that album he not only played guitar, he also handled the lead vocals, something he is not at all confident with today. We are now in 1999 and Roland's new album "Kaleidoscope" has hit the stacks.
Well, Roland, what has changed since the debut? "I wanted this album to sound more like Roland Grapow than Yngwie Malmsteen and for it to be more of a band project than a guitarist doing a solo album. I don't see myself as a guitar shredder, but simply a guitarist who wants to produce a good record. Furthermore the production is more up to date and the band is great.", he says.
Speaking of Yngwie and the band, on the new record three of the four musicians besides Roland are ex-Yngwie musicians; Mike Vescera (vocals), Mike Terrana (drums) and Barry Sparks (bass), which doesn't seem like a good move if you're trying to remove the Yngwie stamp. "I've followed their careers even outside Yngwie's band; Vescera in Loudness and Obsession, Terrana with Tony MacAlpine and Barry with Michael Schenker and I've always thought they were great. It's also because they're in the line-up that I've tried even harder not to sound too much like Yngwie on the new record. As I have his style and now also his band, copying his music, too, would be stupid.", he says with a laugh. "I thought, if as a producer, I guide them towards my kind of music it would work even though it is influenced by Yngwie and of course Helloween. I also found new directions together with them, which even surprised myself.", he confesses.
On the inner sleeve of the new album Roland poses with a cream coloured Strat. "It's my main guitar. It's a Fender kind of body, but made by a guy from Hamburg, Boris Dommenget, who is normally building Les Paul type guitars. He's done guitars for Ken Hensley, Neil Schon and Peter Maffay's guitarist. He's my guitar tech anyway. He's doing all the scalloping, which I have on the necks of my old guitars. The neck on the cream coloured guitar is from a '79 Strat. This guitar sounds much better than my other guitars. It definitely has to do with the wood and connection between body and neck. This is very important for me, so I'm playing around with a lot of old Strats that I'm changing necks on to find better guitars. Even Hendrix did that. He bought all the guitars in a shop, looking for the best wood. Then he gave away all the bad ones as presents for friends, but I don't have that much money.", says Roland with a laugh. This guitar he normally only keeps at home and for recording, but as all his gear was still in South America after the last Helloween tour, he had to use it on his subsequent solo tour. "It was amazing live! For the first time I had a really good sound live. I also played a different amp, a Fender Pro X 1000. People even said after the show, I had never had such a good sound before. I saw Yngwie playing that amp in Hamburg and he said I should check it out, so I did and now I have a good sound without having to have the volume on ten. I don't even have to use my ear protection on stage.", he says.
As his effect racks were also tied down in South America, he did the tour with just the amp and his good old Ibanez tube screamer (the really old model). The pick-ups he uses are the same as Yngwie; HS3's by DiMarzio. Roland has quite an impressive guitar collection. It includes Strats from 1956, '58, '61 and '63, some japanese Yngwie models, the first american candy apple red Yngwie Strat, a Ferrari red Strat, a couple of clean wood Strats, some Les Paul mode guitars by Dommenget, a Guild Brian May model. He also possesses a Messenger hollow body with aluminium neck, a 70's Velino chrome guitar and more.
Back to Roland's solo career. Why did he go solo in the first place? "I wanted to show the fans and critics that I can do something besides Helloween, more different sounding, and more classical sounding. I was into Yngwie a lot at that time, at the end of the period when I was listening to him for several hours a day. Over the years I've learned a lot from him, but now I need to get my own style. I still have a couple of licks from him here and there, but not so much anymore.".
As Roland has now released two solo albums where he's done almost all of the writing himself, I was surprised to see he didn't have a single songwriting credit on the last Heloween album, "Better Than Raw". "The problem is that everyone thinks I didn't do anything for the new Helloween album, but I helped create all the very rough ideas some of the others brought to the rehearsal. I was the guy playing all the Uli songs. Like in 'Push', there are even some riffs I created, but I didn't want any credit for it. There was so much work I didn't have any ideas left for me. I had 'Hidden Answer', which I brought to rehearsal, but they wanted a faster song and that's when they picked up 'Push' instead. Now I've started writing for the next Helloween album, which we will start recording in October. I have a good chance of getting four / five songs on it. If not, the fans will think Roland only does solo stuff, which is not fair.", he says with a laugh.