Interview For RevelationZ Site (08/19/03)
On a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Wacken Open Air festival, we (Tajs, Nina and Steen) sat down with Roland Grapow from Masterplan and had a little chat.
Steen: The last time I saw you live was at Sweden Rock Festival. I don't know if you remember that concert, but it looked like you had a lot of fun on stage.
Roland Grapow: Of course I remember.
Steen: So how did you experience that concert?
Roland Grapow: I was so surprised. We felt a little bit stupid to play at 11:30. I said "Why? We're such a great band" [Laughs]. But anyway, we did sound check and built up the equipment and things, and at 11:00 I saw maybe fifty people in front of the stage, and I was like "Oh man, I don't want to play here". But as soon as we started everybody were there, everybody woke up just to see us and I think we had a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it. We played two songs for the first time, which we had never played before live. I enjoyed it and it was a great crowd. It was great to know that we started the day with so many people there.
Steen: You incorporated a little Helloween medley during that show. Is that something you'll develop in the future?
Roland Grapow: No, I didn't mind playing some songs from the past, but then we were talking to the record label and other bands like Gamma Ray, all former members of Helloween and everybody wants to hear Helloween songs, but Kai was more famous for the more typical Helloween songs. I guess Uli and I we also did some great songs, but I think that people enjoy Masterplan like it is and don't miss the past so much. At the moment we still do this medley a little bit, but when we do a headlining tour next year with the second album we will have enough material to play our own stuff. Maybe I'll change my mind, but at the moment we don't feel like playing more Helloween. For me it's a different level, I mean when we play Helloween in the rehearsal room it doesn't feel so great anymore. They're still great songs, but a different thing, a different feel...
Steen: So what have you been doing since Sweden Rock? Anything in particular or have you just been on vacation?
Roland Grapow: No, nearly every weekend we play. We went to Sweden again last weekend, for the Pitea Festival, and it was a great festival. At that day, just Stratovarius and we played. Everything else was pop music, like a big city festival, not a rock festival. The atmosphere was so great, everybody was dressed normal, a lot of young people there, a lot of women, great looking women, not a typical metal audience. But they really enjoyed it. We played on a smaller stage than Stratovarius, I think 3.000 or 4.000 people. It was an amazing atmosphere and we played well. We had a few keyboard problems equipment wise, and Axel ended up smashing away at his keyboard, but all in all it was great. Later we saw Stratovarius play and a lot of people said we were better, hehe. No, I like Stratovarius, but I think we want to show the people more, I really enjoy what we're doing at the moment, it's really honest and we have a really good feeling in the band.
Steen: What about the next album, have you started thinking about that?
Roland Grapow: A lot. So far we are still writing ideas. We haven't finished writing any songs, but we have a lot of ideas. We're thinking a lot as a band for the first time, about the concept for the next album. Last time we did a great album by coincidence, it wasn't planned. We didn't know who would be the keyboard player or the bass player. Uli and I wrote all the songs and then Jörn came in the middle of the recording and he was writing fifty percent of the melodies and lyrics, and for God's sake he did a great job and I think that is what the combination is. His writing with our writing makes this unique sound, that's my opinion. This time we have two other members and I've already heard one song written by Axel (Keyboards) and it's incredible. It's really heavy and it's like a guitar song, you know. So I know that we have some good ideas for it. But we try to make something a little bit different next time, not copy the first one because it doesn't make sense. I never did this anyway
with Helloween, I always wanted to write songs and of course you have your influence, you have your style, but if you copy yourself, I think you go backwards. It doesn't make sense now to say "The level we reached with that album, we'll try to keep it...". That's not my opinion, that's just one step for us so we have to go further, try to make something even better, even when people say in the beginning "The first one is better!" because they are used to hearing it for a long time. But I think the next album will be good, definitely.
Tajs: So how is the writing process in the band?
Roland Grapow: On the first album Uli and I did fifty-fifty, so it was a really good team work this time. Normally we always wrote separately in Helloween, so I wrote my songs, finished it, put the lyrics in, everything. Uli did the same. Now we wanted to do something right and iron out the problems, so we sat down and I said "This part is not good enough. I have a better idea, can I change it?" and Uli was like "Yeah, of course, why not?" and that's what I mean, it was the first time we had team work. The best team work song we have on the album is "Soulburn", because the beginning and also the verses are written by Uli, the chorus I did and Jörn did the melodies, so everything is really through team work. And that's what I want to keep because I know that if we don't keep it like this, and go back to the old style of working then it's getting weaker.
Steen: I was wondering if it was any problem getting a record contract and why did you choose AFM Records?
Roland Grapow: We had a lot of offers, before they even heard our tapes. They said "If you want a record deal we'll give you one, Uli and you.", and I said "Well, that's wrong, just to be the former members of Helloween getting a deal is not good enough for us.". We wanted to have someone behind us who really believe in what we're doing. When Jörn was singing the first takes in my studio, I was like "Wow, man!". We were getting goosebumps. The producer, Uli and I were sitting on my couch and Jörn was upstairs singing, the whole house is connected. When we heard him singing the melodies we were going "Wow, we'll get a mega deal!". But we wanted to finish everything first and then get a deal, so we tried Nuclear Blast, SPV and a few bigger labels who are not into hard rock or metal anymore, and then AFM, because I have a good friendship with Tobias Sammet from Edguy. He's so young, but we called each other and we talked about the business scene and he gave me advice and I gave him some. He was
talking so good about AFM and I said I had to check them out because I always believe in smaller labels, where they really have the will to work for you. They see Masterplan as one of their three main bands now and that's what I think is best for a young band to have such a support and not to be one of hundreds at Nuclear Blast or the former members of Helloween. I don't want to have that treatment. So that's why we chose AFM and we have a great record contract anyway, so we maybe even get a little more money than with the other labels. And we know they really work with their heart and soul and not being business people. I'm really happy with this label. Of course you can say Sony, Warner, etc... But I don't think that would be a better choice.
Steen: Do you have any interesting plans for promoting the band in the future? Like TV commercials or...
Roland Grapow: Well, we did the first step and AFM wanted to see how far we can go. They were surprised that we sold more than they expected and they're really happy. I think we're still growing, I mean people are getting used to us and telling their friends even when the promotional campaign is gone already, and they say "Listen to this band, they're great!". That's the best promotion you can have. I think that for the next album we'll do a TV commercial, we have talked about this. To do something bigger and maybe even a more professional video, because this was really low budget. First they said, "It's best that you don't have any video.", and I said "No, we need a video!", and the guy who made it was in fact my brother in law. He also did it for Helloween twice a long time ago and he works for German TV, you know Rock Palatz?
Roland Grapow: It's the biggest Rock TV channel here and once a month they have something very special. They don't do so many rock bands like we are. More the american stuff, all these hip hop bands. We're thinking about doing something bigger, maybe go to America to reach the little market there. I think we have a chance with this kind of line up and with this kind of singer to get an even bigger audience, but we always take care that we don't change the style too much, because we like it and we think it's was a good choice what we did.
Steen: You incorporated many different styles together...
Roland Grapow: Yeah, first people said "I don't know, it's not really this and not really that...", but maybe that's why it sounds so fresh and everybody can pick something out if it, and say this is my best favourite part, and it's the same for us. It keeps even me as a listener of our music interested, and not having all just the same working on the guitar or singing. I think it's really nice to have all this colorful sounding good bands.
Steen: So how did you meet up with Jörn Lande originally? Did you know him from somewhere?
Roland Grapow: No, I didn't know him at all. On the Helloween tour of Europe someone gave Uli and I a cd to check out. Then we put it in as we were travelling and it was Ark. We thought it was really cool stuff, some songs I liked a lot and some I found a little bit too progressive. Then I realized the singer has really good vocals, but then we forgot a little bit about it. Then when we were looking really hard for a singer in October and November, we started recording the guitars and drums and we needed a singer, the right one, to satisfy Uli's and my taste which is a little bit different. We thought maybe it wouldn't be good enough to have a guy who sings like Michael Kiske, you know like another clone of the Helloween style. We should have somebody else, totally different. Then we heard the "Worldchanger" album of Jörn Lande and I said "That's the guy from Ark again!", and I liked him even more on this album and I said "That's the right one.", and then the producer said "If you get this
singer, man, then I promise you...". The album is already good, he said, but then it's getting like "Uhh..." and he was right. But to reach Jörn was really hard and it took six weeks. He never answered my e-mails. I got the e-mail adress from the record label and then some journalist gave the e-mail address for his girlfriend, so I was writing her and I said "Please, please help me and what can I do?". Then she wrote "Don't worry, I'll talk to him." and then he called me and I explained him that I was a really big fan and we had something very good here, and he had to trust me, it would be great to have him as a singer. Then he said, "Ok, send me the tape." and I said, "No, you come here.", because we wanted to check out the chemistry between the three guys. When you meet someone for the first time you feel if it's there or not. And it was there, he came and he was very nice. We'd heard so many stupid rumors about him before and nothing is true. He came to my studio and we were playing the stuff we had
recorded already, and he said "Oh, I'm really inspired and I think I have a lot of melodies for this music." and that day he decided that he would do it. Then I said that we had a song already finished and recorded except the vocals, Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog". This song was for this spanish tribute and they were already waiting for the tape. I was like "Maybe you want to sing today?" and he said "Okay!". He finished the song and then after this we went to dinner and then I brought him to the airplane, so he was just there one long afternoon. Then we decided, yes, we will work together. That's how it came together. Then we gave him all the music we had recorded already. So he was writing melodies and lyrics. Then he came back in February, two or three months later and then we compiled everything and prepared it and that was really great. But then there was still the feeling that it was just this project for him. But then when it was mixed and we were looking for a record deal, I sent him the tape and the
next day he called and said "Oh, man this is so good, I'd like to join this band.". He had left Ark already and he wanted to be a part of the band and sign the contract, so that was the best sign that he's behind us.
Steen: How about that fishy bass Jan is playing. Is that self constructed?
Roland Grapow: There's a little story behind, because a friend of mine owns a rock club in Hamburg and I'm also one of the owners since January, called Headbanger's Ballroom and this has the fish as a sign, so that's why. This club is directly on the border of Hamburg and they have this place called Fish Marquee and every sunday morning he goes selling fresh fish, that's why we have the sign and then our bass player was so inspired, he said "I want to have a bass like this sign.", and everybody said, "That would be so cool!" and I think it's an eye catcher.
Tajs: What do you think about the Internet and MP3 sharing?
Roland Grapow: Downloading and bootlegging?
Roland Grapow: I'm not sure, I mean, I think for the fans it's great. I mean they're not fans if they are not buying our albums, and I think it's still affecting the sales of the bands so much that the whole scene is now in a bad condition, salewise. If you see at the festivals, there are 30.000 people over here, but the sales are every year getting lower and lower. If you imagine, we have such good reviews everywhere and the press people and fans saying "You're so great, blah, blah, blah..." but our sales are not so like in the eighties or in the begining of the nineties anymore. Even bands like Helloween are selling less and less and everybody think that it's because the records are getting worse, but it's not. The whole downloading affects it a lot. Even if you realize that I get e-mails from South America where everybody's saying it's such a great album, but it's not released down there, so what are they doing?. The same is when we play live in São Paulo it's easy to reach 5.000 people but
in the whole country, just a case, I'll tell you the Helloween story, we just sold 2.000 copies. So it's not possible, in a country with so many million people, you play the whole tour in front of 25.000 and you just sell 2.000 or 3.000 albums, so there's something wrong. People always want to have better and better albums but the advance from the record label, the income we have, we live with this little money and we have to share it with five people and then tax... So there's not so much anymore. It's getting harder and harder and I think downloading is one of the reasons, because the scene is still there and people come to the show instead...
Steen: Ok, that's it! If you have any final words for our readers now is the time.
Roland Grapow: Well, I hope that the fans still enjoy us even after the second album next year. We'll soon start working on it in November and I hope to see you soon on a headlining tour in Denmark, definitely. I always loved to play there with Helloween. See you soon!