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Interviews

Interview For Rock Brigade Magazine (July 2002)
By Ricardo Franzin
Translated By TJ

Guitarist Roland Grapow got kicked off Helloween, but didn't rest on his laurels. Immediately after his exit, he formed Masterplan, together with (also fired) drummer Uli Kusch, singer Jorn Lande (Ark), bassist Jan-S. Eckert (Iron Savior) and keyboardist Janne Wirman (Children Of Bodom). The band's first album is already recorded and it should be released soon. Besides counting on the musicians cited above, there is also the guest appearance of Michael Kiske (former Helloween) on one of the tracks. Grapow was in Brazil in May and we took the opportunity to talk to him not only about the new stage of his musical life, but also about the tumult involving his exit from Helloween. The conversation was long and yielded some good moments, as you are about to see.

How did Masterplan come together?
Well, let's go back to about a year ago. We [Helloween] were in Japan and I talked to my record company there about my next solo album. I told them I would like to do something different this time, something heavier, and they said it's ok. I had some talks with Uli Kusch, because I knew that he had written some great songs, which have never been used in Helloween, maybe due to being a little too progressive. Anyway, since we weren't going to use those songs, I told him that we could use them in a collective project of ours. I'd said that we ended up sounding kind of like Symphony X, but without all the shredding of Michael Romeo. Anyway, it was different enough from Helloween to justify a new solo album. We had about five finished songs and Uli had a ton of new ideas, but it had nothing to do with Helloween. However, when we left the and, I began writing some songs kind of along those lines, since Helloween was not part of our lives anymore, why worry about not sounding like them? We finished composing in October [2001] and we were ready to record, but we still hadn't found a singer. First, we asked Michael Kiske. He said he would do the album, in the studio, but we wanted him in the band, to play live and everything. He didn't agree, he said he's not a metal singer anymore, but that he would do the CD. But we couldn't do that. Because of that, he ended up singing only in one of the songs. We tried Russell Allen, but it was the same problem: he wouldn't join us, because he wanted to continue with Symphony X. I said: "Alright, but we'll make a lot more money than them!" [Laughs]. At last, we came to Jorn Lande. I had already heard the Ark CD and I thought he would be perfect, but I could never make contact with him. He never replied my e-mails, but I managed, through his girlfriend, to talk to him. He came to the studio, heard the material, liked it and said he wanted to join the band. He wrote lyrics, melodies and recorded the album with us right away.

You said you wanted something heavier. I believe, then, that the album will be more aggressive than Helloween material, besides being produced by Andy Sneap.
Not that much. I think we had already achieved a pretty good guitar sound in "The Dark Ride". This time, in Masterplan, we managed to improve, still, a little on this aspect. In my opinion, we have an album which has good songs, a good portion of them along the lines of Helloween, but with a different singer, whom definitely can't be compared to Michael Kiske or Andi Deris. Jorn has a very unique voice, which is close to Dio's. But of course that there are some tracks with vocal melodies typical of Helloween, after all, it was me who wrote them, together with Uli. At first, Jorn was afraid, because it was always himself who wrote his own vocal melodies. And his voice gives a different spin to everything. Even if we have songs based on Helloween, when he puts his voice, that song sounds fresh, never like Helloween.

Do you think Masterplan will be a definite turning point in your career?
Definitely. And that was the plan. I never wanted this band to be my solo project. Even if all songs were composed by Uli and myself, thatís not how it should be looked at. I wanted to write an album which, for me, would be the perfect album for Helloween to do in this point of their career. With my experience, I thought I could do that. It's impossible for Helloween to go back in time and make "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" again, because Kai Hansen is not in the band anymore. Michael Kiske is not, either. Uli and I form a great team, for the first time I feel like I'm working as a band. In Helloween, we were always fighting each other and the songs were being written individually. There were Weiki's songs, my songs, Andi's and so on. And it was weird, sometimes I had to play things I didn't like, in a way I didn't think was right. Now, the responsibility is bigger, but at least I don't have to give up anything. Neither does Uli.

Anyway, people will look at this album as the album of the former Helloween members.
I think that's something that will be divided. Some will say it's the album of the former Helloween members, others will see it as a band. Obviously the most hardcore Helloween fans might not like it, they might think we've gotten too distanced from Helloween. They will also compare Jorn with Andi Deris, of course. Some people will say Andi is the best, others will say Jorn is better.

I doubt anyone will say Andi is better.
[Laughs] Everyone who has heard the album so far say that the vocal work is unbelievable. Ark has good songs, good musicians, but Jorn is the main reason for the band to be growing. I'm sure that I have done the best album of my career. I already felt like that when we were writing the songs, but when Jorn came and did his parts, my God, I couldn't believe it. I became a fan of my own band. The same goes for Uli, Janne, everybody. Speaking of Janne, the first time I met him was in a finnish TV show. I was there with Markus [Grosskopf] to do an interview about "The Dark Ride" and he would play with his solo band, Warmen. When they began to play, I was stupefied. I turned to Markus and said: "Man, those kids are going to kick our asses. They play a lot better than we do. Helloween can't hold a candle.". Markus agreed. That was one of the things that pissed me off the most about Helloween. I no longer had pride in playing live with them, of our ability as players on a stage. In the studio, it's alright, you can do what you want, take hours to record the guitars and so on. But live it's different. And that's why Helloween never was known to be a good live band. I always envied bands like Stratovarius, which are killer live, they seem like a machine gun. That was what I was trying to reach with Helloween, but it was impossible. Now, with Masterplan, I believe I'm going to achieve it.

Why is Helloween so bad on stage?
Laziness! The band lacked will power. I was the oldest Helloween member and I always had that willingness. I always talked to the other guys about it. I'd tell them: "Let's do something, let's kick some ass.". But it never materialized.

Isn't it also lack of motivation? Take Weiki on stage, for example. It's obvious that he doesn't care, and is more concerned with smoking than with playing.
Look, I'm going to tell you a story. Last time we were in South America, we played in Colombia and the concert in Medellin was the best of my career. When that gig was over, I was feeling such an energy that I went to him and said: "Man, I can't take anymore people coming to tell me that Weiki, live, is a ridiculous sight.". Then, I asked him: "Why don't you grab that guitar and lean to play it?". Ops, I shouldn't have said that [Laughs]. Anyway, it wasn't nice, it was impossible to be proud of this band. And I told 'em that. It was probably one of the reasons I got fired. They never liked it when I brought that subject up. Weiki wants to pose to people like he owns Helloween, but, for me, he never had that image. I owe him a lot, it was him who brought me to Helloween and gave me the chance to be a professional musician. In fact, he is the reason why I'm still doing music, so, because of that, I still feel obliged to say: "Thank you, Weiki.".

You think you could go back to Helloween in case this internal attitude within the band changed?
Well, when I joined Helloween, the band was very, very good. Everything was different. Michael Kiske was incredible live. We worked our asses off at the time, we played songs like "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" and "Kids Of The Century", which are a lot better than what we played nowadays. And why didn't we play them anymore? Because... [Just moving his lips, Grapow completes "Andi can't sing them"]. That's frustrating. It's not right to limit the band because of a new member. I don't want that to happen to me again.

Maybe "The Dark Ride" wasn't a limitation, because there was a change in direction.
We had a lot of problems for that record. By the way, the name is perfect, because it makes it clear that we were in a really dark period. There were fights, fights, and more fights while we were doing the album. I was one of the most attacked ones. They said they weren't sure if I should be in the band, because I had made a solo album. Of course it was only jealousness, but I said that I'd change, and that I would let go of my other stuff so I could concentrate totally on Helloween. And that's what I did. Rest assured, between all of us, I was the one who worked the most on "The Dark Ride". The problem is that we didn't have a sufficient number of good songs to record. There were too many of Andi Deris' songs. As you know, his songs are all kind of slow, more commercial. I think the record would have been perfect if there was three or four more faster songs, in the classic Helloween style. Even so, it was a valid thing to do, because we wanted to try something different from what all these italian and scandinavian bands were doing, which was to copy Helloween. Those bands sound more like old Helloween than Helloween does. Which is to say, we tried something different, but, when it didn't work out, no one wanted to take the blame.

So they blamed you and Uli.
You can say so. In fact we were fired by the managers. Weiki told me over the phone that this decision wasn't taken by the band, but by the managers. And I said: "This is unbelievable! How can you let this kind of decision on the hands of the managers? You're the leader of the band.". They didn't give a shit. It's over, you're dead, you're history, we don't even want to know what's going to happen to you. That's why I feel so frustrated. How can you be treated this way after all those years? My last concert with them was in Spain, in front of 25.000 people, and at the end of How Many Tears Weiki came to me and hugged me right there in the stage. After I left the band, I asked him: "Why did you do that?". And he replied: "Because I already knew you were out.". Thanks a lot, what a great friend.

It's a lamentable attitude.
It's just jealousness. It gets to him, the fact that he's not the guy who has all the attention turned to him. But that's something which is totally stupid, because he is Michael Weikath, he wrote the best Helloween songs, what is the reason for having that fear of sharing the success of the band with the other members? I would never criticize his style of writing and of course he is the biggest reason why Helloween still exists, but I think he made a big mistake by letting me and Uli go. Not that its hard to replace me. Technically, any one can fill my shoes, what I play in Helloween is nothing out of this world. The difference is that both me and Uli can compose and that will be the biggest lost for the band.

What do you think it's going through their heads now?
Well, they have a much bigger pressure upon them than me and Uli do. After all, we formed a new band, we don't have to prove anything to anyone yet. They, on the other hand, have a legion of fans who are skeptic about what is going to happen. They are already saying Kai Hansen should go back, and that Weiki is a dictator and blah, blah, blah. There are a lot of rumors, too. For example, the drummer they got only played in Metalium before. He's from Hamburg and I know of all the rumors that go on in Hamburg, And those rumors say that this drummer never played on the Metalium albums, it's all drum machines. Their new guitarist is a totally unknown guy. Which is to say, they traded us for two pretty young guys, with not a lot of experience.

It is clear that your role in Masterplan will be different. Now, you are the leader, while in Helloween the leader was Weiki. How do you think you will handle this situation?
Actually, Weiki never was the leader of Helloween. We were five guys and no one took care of anything. For example, we would go into the studio, each one would record their parts and then leave. Whoever was the producer had to finish the job.

That's not a band.
No, definitely not.

Would it be correct to say that you had no respect left for the other members of Helloween?
I think it's like a marriage. At first, you are completely in love and do everything for the other person, always wants to see them happy. In a band, you do that in the beginning, too, which is to say, you fight for it, to have a band with happy people. Later on, however, you no longer care. That's what was happening in Helloween. Sometimes I'd say something stupid, sometimes Weiki would behave like an idiot. That happened because no one was responsible, there was no leader. After a while, we all started hating each other, no one would stand having to look at each other's faces. They came to the point of telling me, about two years ago, that they didn't like my style of playing, because I copied Yngwie [Malmsteen]. I said: "Thank you very much. So, what's the reason for me to be in the band?". We were reharsing the songs for "The Dark Ride" tour, and they told me that. They already wanted to kick me out.

Who?
All of them. The thing is that I always went home after the rehearsals ended. I have my family, I like to stay home while I'm in Hamburg. Here in Brazil, for example, I go to parties and things like that, but when I'm in Germany, I don't want to spend all my time with the band. So, I'd go home and they would make up stories about me. But when they started to complain with me, I said I'd change. I made a compromise to stay completely focused on the band, not do to any more solo albums and, even if I wanted to make one, I'd show all the songs to them first. If there was one which they wanted for Helloween, I'd give it to the band, no problem. So, they said they would give me a chance. I was in the studio every day while we recorded "The Dark Ride", I did 75 % of the guitar parts, because Weiki didn't even show up anymore. By the way, the situation was completely deteriorated. If it wasn't for Roy Z, I think the album wouldn't even be finished. And what's funny is, at the time, everybody loved the album, except for Weiki, but now he says that no one was satisfied, only Uli and myself. Weiki trashes this album so much, but so much, that I'm even starting to think that it indeed sucks [Laughs]. Even the fans will end up thinking that, because he insists so much.

Can you contemplate a possible comeback to Helloween or even thinking about it gives you the chills?
After a while, you end up forgetting the bad stories. The time is passing and I no longer feel that bad. I have contact again with Markus and Weiki, but I have no interest in Andi Deris anymore. Honestly, he didn't give me any kind of help when I got kicked. He just said: "Well, I have to take care of myself.". I don't need anyone with that kind of attitude.

But Andi is still in the band, so, a comeback with him would be difficult, right?
With him in the band I wouldn't come back, that's for sure. Anyway, I don't see Helloween in my future anymore. I don't mind being in a band which has a leader and where I don't have a very active voice. Helloween was a mess, no one made decisions. If anyone had an idea, the others were against it, and it never reached a consensus. Because of that, decisions were being made by outsiders and that started to create intrigue and frustrations. That kind of ambience is where I don't want to be at anymore. And that will go on, because the main problem is still there.

Who is the main problem?
I'm not telling [Laughs].

Címon, tell us!
In fact, it's two problems. And you know which.

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