Interview For Rock Brigade Magazine (June 2003)
By Ricardo Franzin
Translated By Marcelo Hashimoto
The story everyone already knows: Roland Grapow (Guitars) and Uli Kusch (Drums), after receiving a nice kick from Helloween, decided to focus on their recently formed Masterplan. Originally conceived as a side project of the pumpkin band, the group immediately reached the status of priority for the two, who soon built around themselves a great line-up, with Jorn Lande on vocals, Jan-S. Eckert on bass and Janne Wirman on keyboards. The five recorded their first album, self-titled (With Wirman being replaced by Axel Mackenrott soon after the recordings), and, thanks to the quality of the work, it was clear that Masterplan wasn't inferior to Michael Weikath's band. Quite the contrary, because the strong and very well executed power metal that can be listened on the CD beats a great part of what Helloween has been doing recently. So, it's a really excellent album. Besides, it counts with the appearance on one if its tracks of no one less than the also former Helloween Michael Kiske on vocals. So, a really
nice job, heavy and undoubtely good. But not everything is music when it's about a Roland Grapow interview. Lately, specially, it couldn't be. As the more focused readers might remember, as soon as he left Helloween, the guitarist has been in Brazil on a promotional trip and gave some really heavy statements about his former bandmates to Rock Brigade [Issue #192]. Really pissed about Grapow's hits, Andi Deris and Michael Weikath, vocalist and guitarist from Helloween, respectively, took the opportunity to shoot him too, again on an interview to this Rock Brigade [Issue #202]. Now, in a new interview with the guitarist from Masterplan, we touched once again those so troublesome subjects. However, wisely, Grapow decided to avoid making the problem even worse and focused on making things calmer. Knowing that music must talk louder, and stimulated by the opportune success of his Masterplan, the guy was extremely diplomatic on his answers. But he gave some good few stings here and there, as you might read
How are things there in Germany, Roland?
Everything is great! At the moment, we're having a break, relaxing after the tour [with Hammerfall]. We are so relaxed that I almost forgot I had this interview [Laughs].
The Masterplan album has already been released in Europe some months ago. What can you say about the reactions and reviews it had?
Here in Europe, everything's been really amazing. The record was considered "Album Of The Month" in seven, eight, nine magazines. Besides, sales have been very good and on polls from the two bigger metal magazines in Germany we appear as the number one band. The tour with Hammerfall was also very well succeeded, even if they don't have exactly the same style we do. Actually, I think we managed to get more fans among the Hammerfall audience, because the reaction we had on all concerts was excellent. So, everything's been great. People have been only talking positive stuff about the band, specially the press. Famous musicians have been complimenting us as well, like Dave Mustaine and people from Anthrax, for example.
I believe that many of those compliments and positive reactions came from the fact that many people expected that the record would sound totally like Helloween, but it, without a doubt, has a very strong identity. What can you say it's the reason for that? Maybe it was due to the production, since Andy Sneap is not used to work with bands on that style? Or maybe due to the vocals, which are totally different from Helloween?
I think it's a little bit of everything. First of all, me and Uli decided that we would never more compromise our music. When we wrote songs for Helloween, we we always had in mind that they should fit into the style of the band. Even so, I wrote some relatively different songs, like "Escalation 666" and "The Time Of The Oath". However, in general, the whole direction of the albums was calculated for it to fit into Helloween's style. With the new band, this pressure doesn't exist anymore, we stopped caring about doing songs on the Helloween style, even though we have many elements of this style here and there. And we are proud of it, we don't want to get rid of them. However, many of the more modern influences I wanted to use in the sound I can use now. Besides, I wanted a better production. That's why we chose to work with a totally different producer. The control over the album itself, that is, the arrangements, the tunes and everything else were basically my choices and Uli's. By the way, this is
another very different stuff from the other records I've made. In the past, no one had control over anything. Maybe the producer, but the people on the band just said: "Ah, okay, just do anything there, it's none of my business.". But this is wrong. You need to be focused on each note of your record. I think that because we have done this with this album, it became so powerful.
Considering that you've said, about production, how much of the album is yours and Uli's responsability and how much is Andy's?
The cohesion of the sound and the fresh production itself are obviously Andy's responsability. He took us to the limit, to make us sound as together as possible. Because of this care of his in making us "play together", the level of this production is much better than anything else we have made. Therefore, I think it was worthy. Some weeks after we started recording, when I went to hear the rhythm guitars along with the drums, I was astonished. I thought: "Wow, what a sound! This is much better than anything I've ever recorded in my life!". And I think this is what people have been liking about this album. It's not like we have done something that special, that no one has never done before. However, for me and Uli, being former members of Helloween, it was important to reach such a high level, because now we have a quality standard that we must keep in the future. That was the sound I've always wanted to have and we had so many bad productions in the past I've thought I could never do it. And that's why
I'm so happy with the Masterplan album.
Several songs that are on the Masterplan record are infinitely superior to many that entered on the last Helloween albums. Is there some song on this CD that was offered for some Helloween work but it was rejected by the other members?
Entire songs, no, but a lot of parts, yes. The introduction of "Soulburn", for example, was originally made for Helloween. Well, one that definitely should've been of Helloween is "Into The Light", the ballad. It should have entered "The Dark Ride" and, actually, it was already entirely recorded. Only the vocals were missing. Beside that, one or two parts more, maybe. All the rest is new material and was written specially for this record. Oh, there's also "Enlighten Me", whose basic idea already existed on "The Dark Ride" period, maybe even on the "Better Than Raw" period. But, don't get me wrong. When Jorn put his vocal melodies on these songs, they changed completely, became totally different. They don't even sound the same. The only one that didn't change that much was "Into The Light". It still has the same vocal melody we had done for "The Dark Ride". This song was one of the favorites of Roy Z ["The Dark Ride" producer] and of the managers, but it ended up not being finished.
We had about fourteen or fifteen songs and we knew that this one was one of the best, but the problem is that it was a ballad. For "The Dark Ride", we needed very much faster songs, because we had too few, and we couldn't put another slow song. Therefore, at the end, Andi didn't even try to sing it. And he always avoided this song, I don't know why, maybe because it is very hard to sing. Maybe because he didn't like it, but never said anything to me. Anyway, to me, to Uli and to Roy it was one of the best, we have always loved this song. Then, we decided to record it with Masterplan. Which was good, because it fits much better on the Masterplan style than on the Helloween style.
Masterplan's original keyboardist was Janne Wirman, from Children Of Bodom, who ended up even recording the album. However, in the pictures and line-up who appears is Axel Mackenrott. What happened to Janne?
Janne is a very nice guy and extremely talented, but it wouldn't be nice to force his separation from another band so he could join ours. Actually, when I invited him to play on Masterplan, the group was still basically a project, me and Uli didn't even knew we were getting out of Helloween. When Masterplan became the priority, we soon realized that he wouldn't be able to keep track with us. Children Of Bodom have been growing in Europe and it wouldn't make sense for him to leave the band. On the other hand, we needed an exclusive keyboardist. Therefore, we friendly decided that it would be better for him to stay with his band and we find a keyboardist who could be 100% in Masterplan. Anyway, about eighty percent of the keyboard arrangements were made by Uli and me, so, his departure wasn't something that important.
And what about Jorn? Is he also 100% with Masterplan? What's been happening with Ark?
Well, in the beggining [of Masterplan] Jorn was really involved in a lot of projects, but from the second semester of the last year to now, things have changed. Due to some personal reasons, he left Ark and has nothing to do with that band anymore. His relationship with the other members of the band wasn't that nice anymore and, therefore, he felt that wasn't his "baby" anymore. Besides, he was beggining to feel that Masterplan's music represented more of his taste, specially after he had heard the final mixing. He saw that it was what he liked and that he could be more well-succeeded with Masterplan than with any other project he was involved. Well, at least it was what I promised to him. So, he is now 100% in Masterplan and the only thing he's doing outside of the band is his solo record. In the future, maybe [he'll join] some side project. But no actual band, like Ark or Millenium. That's it, he's doing a solo record, with a lot of his idols, and some appearances. But there won't be those situations
like hiring him to do full records, like Beyond Twilight, anymore. This is in the past! Masterplan is his home and is where he feels safe. We are good friends, we have a lot of ideas for the future, we will do more tours still this year, festivals and so on.
Besides Jorn, another great singer participates on the Masterplan record, Michael Kiske. How it was to play again by his side?
Honestly, it was a little bit weird. We had talked some times before the recordings, before I even asked if he would like to play on the record. It's funny to be on the same boat again. We kicked him from the band ten years ago and now I am on the same boat, because I was kicked too [Laughs]. You feel close to that person once again. It's funny! We talk a lot about the guys who are still in Helloween, it's a nice relationship. I invited him to sing on the entire album, even before I invited Jorn, but it didn't happen, because he wanted to keep his solo career and Supared. That's why we went searching for our own singer. However, we thought that even so it would be nice if Michael Kiske sang a song next to our future singer. He accepted it and we offered to him a music which is very Helloween, "Heroes". I wrote the melody specially for him and I think the results went great. It's another way to show people that we have a nice relationship again and that he's still a great singer for this kind of music.
You said you talk to Michael Kiske about the guys who are still in Helloween. What kind of stuff you say about them? Because I interviewed Kiske some time ago [Rock Brigade #198] and he was somewhat nasty about Michael Weikath. There was also our interview here in Brazil, in which you showed yourself not that satisfied with Weiki...
[Laughs] I know, I know! Well, not that there had been problems, but a lot of fans, specially Helloween fans, started to hate me after that interview [Laughs]. And I thought to myself: "Hmm, maybe I let myself to be driven too much by emotion.". Many people say that I sounded sad or bitter [on that interview], but, in my opinion, I just said the truth. With Michael [Kiske], we don't talk anything that negative. We just think about how people must be treated, how do you must work with others, having more respect to people who works with you. It's not like we talk about personal stuff of each one of the guys in Helloween, because this is already past for me. But of course I went through so bad moments and that's why I might have done that interview on a wrong time. However, when I felt that the record was almost done, everything changed. Actually, I was already very excited about the album when I was in Brazil that time, but no one knew how good it would be. I just kept saying on interviews that it would.
However, people don't believe it blindly, they want to hear the CD. Anyway, I don't want to give any other interview saying negative stuff about Helloween. I'm really happy at the moment, so much that I should even thank Weiki for making us leave. Because now we have a chance of having a better future. Not so much financially, but in the way of being satisfied with our art. We have something now that is totally under out control. And this is a lot more fun, we can enjoy it a lot more.
I understand that you don't want to say anything else negative about them, but Michael Weikath and Andi Deris have been recently in Brazil promoting Helloween's new album. On an interview to Rock Brigade, they commented that interview we made last year and, of course, the said a lot of shit about you. About Uli too, but more about you. Is that something that worries, bothers you?
No. To me, it's more like a sign, it's the same thing I've said before. If they still talk bad about me, it's another sample of the jealousy they feel about the fact that Masterplan is being so well-succeeded [Laughs]. It's not easy for them, I think you can imagine. It's like it was a fight, a rivalry, like the ones that exist between soccer teams. One wants to be the best and more well-succeeded than the other. Helloween is a great band and we, who knows, will be also great someday. However, when they sent us away from Helloween, they really thought we would fail. But this will never happen, because now we are stronger than ever. Me, Uli and Jorn are a real team, we have an incredible power. There's no hate between us, we honestly love to work with each other and everything else. We don't think about Helloween anymore. The only stuff that reminds me of my past are the golden records and some posters hanging on the walls of my studio. Therefore, why should I talk about those two guys? With Markus
[Grosskopf] I still have a good relationship. I met him in France two weeks ago and several times in Hamburg since I left. Everything is fine between us. However, we don't talk about Helloween or about the past.
The funny thing is that Weiki wasn't so direct, but Andi said some really offensive stuff about you on that interview.
Maybe because he felt that I said too much shit to you last year [Laughs]. Therefore, perhaps he wanted to say something that made him to look nice again. I believe it's even natural. However, to me, this thing is over. I don't want to have any kind of friendship with them. I don't hate them, but I don't have any kind of respect for these guys. Specially because they never respected me.
Speaking about respect, they said that one of the main reasons that they took you off the band was the fact that you supposebly had no respect for Helloween's history and legacy, and even wanted to change the sound of the band, like it happened on "The Dark Ride". Is that true?
[Ironically] Oh, sure, that's why Masterplan is so different from Helloween. We have a lot of Helloween elements on this record [Masterplan]. But they really believe in what they're saying, and that's the biggest problem. The two are always together and talking about us, maybe that's the explanation. They need to blame someone, but, on the other hand, not even they are exactly sure of what happened. But someone has to be blamed, and obviously it would be me, because Uli never did anything wrong. However, think about it: Why did Uli keep his faith in me? There must be some reason, right? Another thing: I still have a great relationship with Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen. What about them? It could be that, in the future, I might have some friendship with them [Weikath and Deris] again, but at the moment I really don't care about it.
Anyway, I think it's important to mention that both Weiki and Deris complimented Masterplan, saying they liked the record, that it has good songs.
It is really very nice of them to say that kind of stuff. I really feel very thankful for those comments. I've already read some interviews with Weiki in which he says some negative stuff, but, on a general way, I think he really liked the record. Andi always says he's happy that we got success with Masterplan, because that makes him feel better. However, I don't think they should feel bad or guilty about us. We're totally separated, it's been two years that we don't receive any money from them anymore, we are in different worlds now. I think that, specially for the fans, it was an advantage, because they gained another great band. Me and Uli worked a lot to start on the right foot this time, we didn't want to just make another record. This is our future, therefore, we knew that we had to take care of our career much more than we did on the period with Helloween. Helloween was already such a famous band that, when we [Uli and I] entered, there wasn't much choice. It was never easy, I always had to copy
some things here and there so that my songs would fit into the style of the band. After some time, I got stronger and tried to create my own style, because I didn't want to copy Weiki forever. Weiki was always the guy who makes the most Helloweenish songs and I never understood why I should make the same thing in another two or three songs. I think it would make the records kinda boring, because everything would end up being the same. That's what we realized on Masterplan, that is, it's nice that you have several "figures" on a same record. Therefore, we have a very heavy track, one or two ballads, mid-tempo songs and so on.
Speaking about Weiki's songs, he said he had offered one song that entered "Rabbit Don't Come Easy" to "The Dark Ride". This song is "Do You Feel Good", which never came to be finished during "The Dark Ride" sections. The reason they mentioned was that Uli didn't have much interest in doing a good job on it, and the drum arrangements ended up being horribe. Is that true?
Oh, no! It's nothing like that! On this point, he [Weiki] is completely crazy! What really kills is that he always think he's too important. Nobody liked that song, the producers, Uli, me, even Andi and Markus weren't that fond of it. But now he blames us because we're not there anymore. It's not nice that I say that Andi didn't like it too, because now he must say he loves this song. Weird... The melody is the same. The drum arrangements are a little different, because Mikkey Dee put some stuff of him there. But Uli had already done a really nice job. I still have the tapes here at home and honestly I don't see so many differences between the two versions. By the way, in my opinion, the best songs on the new Helloween album were the ones written by Sascha and by Andi.
I was going to ask exactly that, by the way. What did you think about the Helloween record, generally speaking?
Well, I don't feel it has depth. I think that, besides that, the production doesn't have that kind of greatness. I really thought that some parts are very good, but, generally speaking, he looks to me like a rushed written and recorded album. It has a good sound, but it's not as strong as other records we did on the past, it's not like "The Dark Ride", "Better Than Raw", "The Time Of The Oath" or "Master Of The Rings". I don't know, maybe I feel that because I'm not with them anymore. I really feel like an outsider now, but the best songs are the ones by Sascha, two by Andi and the ones by Markus. Those are really good.
If you and Uli were still in Helloween, would "Rabbit Don't Come Easy" be the same record? Would it sound the same?
No. I think that songs like "Heroes", or even "Kind Hearted Light" and "Soulburn" would have been very benefic for the record. This is what I meant when I commented about depth. All the songs are soo similar one to another, all of them are of the happy song type. Nothing on the CD sounds like something new to me. It's a good record, but not that strong. It's not the kind of stuff I'd wish to buy.
On Masterplan, you have on the line-up a singer, Jorn Lande, who is probably capable of singing anything he's asked to. On this aspect, do you think that the vocals of Andi Deris might be a limitation for Helloween, and perhaps that's why the songs always sound the same?
People have been saying that he [Deris] is singing much better on this new record. But I don't see much difference. I think he already sang very nice on "The Dark Ride", to be honest. The reason for that, by the way, is that all the melodies of that record were written in tunes that fit his voice. Roy took a lot of care about it, that is, in avoiding him of having to sing too high. However, anyway, I think he did a good job, although I think that this new Helloween record sounds more like a Pink Cream 69 work [former Deris band]. It's a mixture of Pink Cream 69 with Helloween, I'd say. I think the band is getting more and more far away from that typical Helloween style, which became famous with Michael Kiske on the vocals. Anyway, it was never the intention of the band to do a new "Keeper Of The Seven Keys", I must say.
Back to Masterplan, you just finished doing a tour with Hammerfall. How is the band sounding live? Are you able to reproduce all that cohesion one can hear on the album?
Well, on stage you can't reproduce 100% the cohesion you have on studio. When you go through recording an album, you play each one of the songs about twenty times and then choose the best of them. However, there's not doubt that this band, live, sounds much more together than Helloween. Me and Uli play together for like ten years, therefore we already have a great chemistry. And, now, there's no one on stage to destroy our feeling anymore [Laughs].
Do you miss playing live with a second guitar, like in Helloween, or do you think it's even better that you are the only guitarist, like in Masterplan?
When I went on tour with my solo project, to promote the "Kaleidoscope" record and opening for Gamma Ray, I was the only guitarist. Who did the "background parts" was the keyboard. And I really loved the experience. I have always been much more influenced by bands with that composition on stage, that is, keyboards and only one guitar. Bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow and even Stratovarius are bands which really kill on stage. Therefore, I don't miss the second guitar at all. To me, it doesn't make sense to have a second guitarist if he's playing the same shit I am [Laughs]. That doesn't make the sound stronger, specially live. Actually, only makes it more fuzzy. Of course, when I'm doing solos you can feel the difference, but then again, the keyboardist can make some arrangements similar to guitar sound. Besides that, we don't need to do live an 100% faithful copy of what's on the record. If we can reach about 80%, I think it's very acceptable.
What about the setlist? Do you play the entire CD, something from your solo career, something from Helloween?
Well, since we were opening for Hammerfall, we only had 45 minutes to play, therefore, we did about eight or nine songs from the album and a medley, which started with "The Chance", from [the album] "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" [of Helloween], then it came "Sunset Station", from [the album] "Worldchanger" [of Jorn Lande], and it finished with "The Departed (Sun Is Going Down)" [from Helloween]. That is, the whole medley didn't have more than five minutes, but it ended up being very nice. However, honestly, people didn't seem to care too much about this medley. I really have to admit that. There's a really great difference between the Masterplan songs and the Helloween songs. "The Chance" is a song already fourteen years old, it has nothing to do with Masterplan. That's why in the future we don't want to play any Helloween songs on our shows. We'll still do that this year because we don't have enough songs for when we are headliners.
Well, when you are headliners, you'll have to get more songs to play. Are you going to include others from Helloween, maybe something from your solo career?
No, no, I don't want to play anything from my solo career anymore, also because it's something very different from Masterplan. It's something more on the Yngwie Malmsteen line, and I really want to get away from this direction. I'm not even playing with Fender guitars anymore. On this moment, I'm kinda going back to my roots. I wasn't a very famous guy in the 80's, therefore, few people know I used to play with Gibson guitars. I used a lot of them, like Explorer and Les Paul. However, when I joined Helloween, I've used BC Rich for a while and right after that I started with the Fenders, already on my first album with the band, "Pink Bubbles Go Ape". That's why a lot of people only know me using Fender. But everyone associates Fenders with Yngwie and his neo-classical style, which has nothing to do with Masterplan and has nothing to do with me as well anymore. I want to get far away from this.
You have always been considered as a guy who copies Malmsteen. I think it will be hard to get rid of this mark.
That can be seen as a certain insecurity I had, because I never found my own style. On "The Dark Ride" I started finding my place, because, since I've played eighty percent [of the guitars] in the record, I was able to develop my technique. Pick a song like "If I Could Fly" or any other of the good songs Andi has made for that record. I'm playing on a more melodic way, but not so fast. I left the shredding on the side to focus more on the feeling. On Masterplan, I was worried about having solos with more melodies, so people might be able to remember them. My greatest idol in guitar is Michael Schenker and he was great in doing it, that is, in putting melodies on his solos. His solos are like a music inside the music. It has always impressed me the way he does it, both on M.S.G. and U.F.O.. I wanted to try doing the same for Masterplan, but on a more modern way. I still use some elements from that neo-classical style, but they appear only on two or three moments in the album, it's not such an exaggerated
thing as before. Besides, I'm tired of this kind of music. I don't even listen to Yngwie's material anymore.
What is your best solo on the Masterplan record?
Oh, it's hard to say... I like a lot the solo in "Heroes", it's a lot on that Michael Schenker line I was talking about. I don't know why, but it's the kind of stuff I really like. I also enjoy playing this solo live a lot, it's very fun.
How is this song sounding live? Because on the studio version there's the duet between Michael Kiske and Jorn Lande. How did you resolve that?
Of course it's very different, but it's me who sings the parts that, in studio, are from Michael Kiske. Obviously, I'm not so good as him, but as the shows went by, I was getting better. It came to a point where I had a reach almost equal to his. Besides, on a live situation, with all those reverbs on voice and the audience, you can't notice big differences. I think we were able to do a good job with it. We recorded our concert in Gothenburg and, listening to the tape, we can see that result is very close. I'd say about eighty percent. Therefore, I think people still enjoy the song, even though it's me singing those parts [Laughs].