Interview For Rockezine Site (02/01/03)
By Tressy Arts
After having played in Helloween for thirteen years, guitarist Roland Grapow got an e-mail saying that he was no longer part of the band and neither was drummer Uli Kusch. The official reason Michael Weikath gave was that Roland and Uli spent too much time on their side project, Masterplan. Roland and Uli did not let this bring them down, instead decided to put all their effort into making Masterplan a real band. Now with Axel Mackenrott on keyboards, Ark's Jorn Lande as a singer, and Iron Savior's Jan-S. Eckert on bass, they released their first, self-titled album in January, which became album of the month in several well-respected magazines and reached the 42nd position of the german album Charts. So Rockezine sat down with Roland, who was just in from the tour with Hammerfall, to have a beer and a chat about his new band...
Now you have your own band, do you feel that you can express yourself more freely in your songs, that you have more freedom in your song writing? Do you now write the songs you always wanted to write but did not get the chance to with Helloween?
Definitely, I have much more freedom. As Masterplan is a new band, we could try out every idea we had, we had no limits. With Helloween we could never deviate too much. Weiki always wanted to continue in the vein of the "Keeper 2" album. I found it really boring, and I tried to come with new ideas. For me a musician is an artist, and should always try to make the next album more interesting. With some new elements or a new concept or something. Masterplan has all freedom from the beginning and we really enjoy it.
Did you and Uli write the songs for your album?
The music was written by Uli and me, and Jorn joined in the middle of the process. He wrote more than 50% of the vocal melodies and the lyrics. He had a big influence and next time it will even be bigger.
He will stay with the band?
Yeah. Masterplan is not a project, thatís for sure. Jorn is really a part of Masterplan. He still might do another solo album, but he will not play in any other band. He split up with Ark, not because of us, he already did it in August.
And Jan, is he still in Iron Savior?
Yes, but his main band is definitely Masterplan. But he still helps them out, if he has the time. So I hope Iron Savior and Masterplan will never play at the same time, 'cause then we have a problem. Iron Savior is not at the moment looking for another bass player. It's kind of a tricky situation, but I guess that when Masterplan gets too big, something will happen.
Could you tell us something about the new album?
It's a very colourful album, but it's really melodic still. Compared to Helloween we have a wider range.
What are the new elements you have brought in, compared to Helloween?
Well... Oh, fuck it, we're just better...
Could you specify "better"?
Better is not limited. No, better is not the right word. It's always a personal taste. But I enjoy it much more, 'cause I don't want to have this "Kindermelody" any more in my songs. I'm too old for that. There are more progressive elements here and there, a lot of people say we sound like a modern Rainbow. We have some oriental elements as well, and downtuned guitars, which we tried once in Helloween, in "Escalation 666", but the fans didn't like it. But I love it, for me it's metal. And why not, what's wrong if you have it on one song. It's not the whole album. And Jorn's voice, everybody says he sounds a bit like the old Dio or Coverdale, so that might also be why people say we sound like Rainbow. There are also people who say it's the grown-up version of Helloween and Stratovarius. I kinda like that description.
You had the album mixed twice, why was that?
Well, everything was recorded in my studio in Hamburg and then it went to England to Andy Sneaps' studio in Nottingham, where he mixed it, and then sent the mix to me. But it was not the album I wanted to hear, and Uli felt the same, it sounded strange. Andy is more used to Machine Head kind of metal, so he didn't see all the overdubs we did and all the small details. So I told him "Hey, don't kill me, but I think you are not the right guy for mixing us.". And he said ok. So I sent it to the Finnvox studios, had it mixed over there, and it was incredible. So I sent the mix to Andy Sneaps and he liked it, so in the end everyone was happy.
When you play live, do you play Helloween songs as well?
Well, we have a little medley of about three or four minutes, just a short bit to show where we came from. The reactions are really nice. As we are a support band, it would be a waste to spend more time playing Helloween. People love the Masterplan songs, the reactions have been really great, specially after the album had come out. People were already singing along! And Hammerfall are now big Masterplan fans.
And vice versa, do Helloween still play the songs you wrote?
Well, I don't know. They have enough material.
What was it like to be a support act again, after years in a headlining band?
[Making a sad face] Terrible. [Laughs] No, it's okay, we're a new band, we're not supposed to headline right from the beginning. We have to learn, we still need to grow accustomed to playing together. Now that we have done seventeen shows, I feel we are a good band, but the first few shows were really bad. And we are still not at our full potential yet, at maybe eighty, ninety percent. In one week we will really kick ass. The main disadvantage of supporting is that our stage is so small. Jorn is always waving his microphone stand around when he sings, so I have to stay in one place 'cause otherwise I run the risk of getting severe injuries.
The name Masterplan was thought up by a mexican fan. Why did you let the name of your band be decided by a stranger?
Well, Uli and I know what we're doing musically, but thinking up a name and an image is something different. So we put a contest on my home page in Brazil. A lot of stupid ideas came across, but I liked the idea of this mexican guy. He wrote: "You are master musicians, you have your future in your hands, why don't you call yourselves Masterplan?". And I didn't want any of those stupid aggressive names like "Iron So-And-So" or "Metal Blah Blah Blah", that's not us. So Masterplan it was.
Fender or Gibson?
Ever since we did "The Dark Ride" album I switched back to Gibson for the main guitar parts, as the sound is more aggressive. I like Fender, but in the end I think it's been good for me to get back to where I came from. I started with a Les Paul, but then I was on the Yngwie-trip for a long time, and I played a Fender guitar for ten or eleven years. But I'm really happy to be back on the Gibson again, because the sound of Masterplan for me is not a Fender sound any more. I have played two or three songs with a Fender, but all the rhythm guitars and overdubs and most solos are played with a Gibson. It's totally different, more melodic, more basic. When I have a Fender guitar in my hand, I play more of the neo-classical stuff, more Yngwie, Paganini, blah, blah, blah. I really appreciate the Gibson at the moment.
What do you think of the Internet as a medium for music? A blessing or a curse?
Well, it has good and bad things. It's perfect for reading interviews, it's faster than any magazine. But the downloading of music is a downside. I never downloaded anything in my life, I buy the stuff I like. Also because of the artwork.
Speaking of the artwork, is there a special meaning to the artwork of your album, an old book with the four elements on the cover?
Well, we wanted the old book, sort of a Masterplan bible. But AFM thought it was too boring, so they got this extra picture of the four elements, and thatís great. The musicians are the elements and Jorn as a singer keeps the four elements together.
You know, in some magical traditions, there are considered to be five elements, the fifth one being spirit...
That's great! Jorn is definitely spirit. And we also have this song, "Spirit Never Die"! See, it all fits together!