A Rocknet Exclusive Interview With Michael Weikath by Mike McCarthyIt would seem the reason for having a Helloween on Halloween exclusive here at Rocknet is obvious, but there's actually something beyond the pun. It was last Halloween, you see, that Helloween's brilliant "Master of the Rings" album was released here in the United States. That might not sound like a terribly big deal, but it actually was because the previous two albums, "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon," had not--and still haven't--been released here, meaning this was the beginning of a new era of Helloween music for U.S. fans after an almost five-year absence.
Since releasing "Master of the Rings" here last October 31st, Helloween has released two more albums worldwide. The first was a hard-hitting new studio album entitled "The Time Of The Oath." The second, their just released potent new live album, "High Live." Now we just need a U.S. tour . . . For now, however, we're pleased to bring you the following interview with founding member guitarist/songwriter Michael Weikath. Happy Helloween indeed! Happy anniversary, too!
MIKE: I don't know if you remember, but I interviewed you for my publication, "Ant," just over a year ago right after "Master of the Rings" had been released here in the United States. In fact, when I told you it had been released here you were surprised because you hadn't been told it came out here yet.
MICHAEL: I remember that. I quite remember. Though I can't recall your name right now so you better tell me.
MIKE: Sure. It's Michael McCarthy.
MICHAEL: Michael is easy to remember. [Both laugh]
MIKE: Yeah, especially for you. [Both laugh] This year's interview is for the Internet publication Rocknet.
MICHAEL: Right now I spend up to 10 to 12 hours on the net. In fact, this morning I happened to download that navigator 3.0, and, wow, that's a good machine. Even better than the one I had before.
MIKE: I think I still have 2.0, which is OK.
MICHAEL: I had 2.0.1 from the CompuServe CD and it was nice, but it was kind of like a stupid horse that wouldn't go. Well, I just configured that other stuff this morning. God, I'm very pleased. Wow. Damn good.
MIKE: I'll have to check that out. So, how about some Helloween? You have a new live album out, which is called High Live, at least here in the United States. Is that the title worldwide?
MICHAEL: Yeah. You must like it, huh?
MIKE: I got a kick out of that.
MICHAEL: All the kids in America must be like, well, I just went out and bought the new High Live. [Both laugh]
MIKE: Who came up with the title?
MICHAEL: Me. When I grew up high live was a real tight expression in Germany and around the world as well. It was some hip thing to say. Like, we're having a high live here. So, I just kind of remembered that because I couldn't guess anything concerning live. Live here, live there, that's boring. Live in the cellar, whatever you have. So, I just came up with that one. Merely as a joke. Then we had a concept idea of us being on the cover looking completely finished after a great party. Then we couldn't find anyone to take that picture and we couldn't even arrange for a party because we didn't have time. I thought, we're such a great rock `n' roll band, not even able to do the fucking party after all. [Laughs] And so no pictures being taken of a party and that was done with live pictures. The title remained anyway. According to the title, I went drunk with champagne in Spain. And during the recordings of the tracks we have on that live record from Italy I was so completely drunk that I couldn't exactly stand anymore. I'd already been swaying and I went so dizzy. I just thought, God, I just hope I survive this. After all, it was a lot of fun. It's just that, in fact, it was the first time I've been drunk on stage. Originally, I would have felt quite insecure, but with a band like that and the surroundings I could really afford that, I think.
MIKE: Well, the tracks all came out great. Guess that means you got away with it.
MICHAEL: I had a good time. Really. I was a little afraid because I thought, these are the first recordings here in Milan and, God, you've got to take more care. I was so pissed when I came down there. I had already checked out various kinds of champagnes and beers because the time waiting for the show was so long. And it was so hot and there were so many people. Listen to me. I always take care that everything runs down smoothly. So, it's usually not my way, getting drunk right before.
MIKE: The Japanese releases of "Master of the Rings" and "The Time Of The Oath" each have two extra tracks. Are there extra tracks on "High Live" outside of the United States?
MICHAEL: No, this time it really comes out the way it is because we hadn't prepared for any other tracks. I have the Japanese and European ones and they are the same except for the packaging. The Japanese came out with a gatefold double thing and here in Europe they have the two CD set in one single cover. Oh, and in Japan it comes with a smoking pumpkin T-shirt that's wrapped in plastic around the CD.
MIKE: That's great. I got a kick out of the stickers in the Japanese release of "The Time Of The Oath."
MICHAEL: They have to do that because they're really afraid of import albums from Europe, which they have anyway because there's some maniac fans there who collect everything. You can't avoid that. This is why the Japanese have always been very aware of how to package their product.
MIKE: Have you released a single from "High Live?"
MICHAEL: Not yet, but the plan was to take "Eagle Fly Free," but we didn't take it because we thought we'd rather promote the recent albums and not one from before. We found it very unlogical. We found a lot of people at radio stations all over Europe, America, and Japan that said, this is such a great track we'd like to have that as a single. We said, well, maybe you should have spent more care on that album [Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II] when it came out because now it's long ago, isn't it?
MIKE: I'll say. You've had four new studio albums since then.
MICHAEL: But they said, yeah, but we like that track. So, we came out with a "Forever And One" video for the Japanese. We did that somewhere in Barcelona or so. We brought it to them and there was a meeting of the American and European Castle [Records] guys. They saw the video and they said, wow, that's a good track, where's that on? We said, well, on the last album guys! [Both laugh] So, that's how we came to "Forever And One" being the new single.
MIKE: "Master of the Rings" came out here last Halloween. Since then we've got "The Time Of The Oath" and now "High Live" . . .
MICHAEL: It's like some kind of overkill, but that's really quite American, I think, because Americans are really used to huge coverage of whatever it is when it's there. They tend to get bored if it's not happening like that. I'm not sure if we can supply the Americans with so much material from now on though. That's it for a year or so. You've got enough to hear, enough to enjoy, to sort out and whatever. So, go on and have your fun. [Laughs]
MIKE: I noticed there's only one song from Pink Bubbles Go Ape on High Live, "The Chance." Also, there's nothing from Chameleon. Do you ever do any others from those albums at your shows anymore?
MICHAEL: No. We've done so before, but we found out that it somehow didn't work properly. Andi [Deris, who's been the band's singer since "Master of the Rings" didn't particularly like "Giants." Later on during the tour we played "How Many Tears" again. We thought doing "How Many Tears" with the line up the way it is now would have been quite interesting, but on the other hand it eats up so much space on the set and we wouldn't have liked to have that on the new live record. Then there's always strategic things to think about because we didn't want to pick too many of those old tracks because the rights belong to our former record company. And we also wanted to pick tracks that we can play with Andi singing and Uli [Kusch, who's been the band's drummer since Master] playing the drums.
MIKE: At this point, do you regret doing the Pink Bubbles or Chameleon albums?
MICHAEL: You must know that by that time I wasn't really asked much about anything. I never really felt too comfortable in Helloween at that time. During the Chameleon album the tracks I've done were more or less picked [by others]. I'd prepared different tracks, and you could say maybe I could have pushed things a little more, but, for instance, "Where The Rain Grows" was ready by that time. It's just that nobody wanted to play it.
MIKE: Wow. That's easily one of my favorites.
MICHAEL: Yeah. We've heard that before. But they were like, keep it, Weiki. Well, there's no regrets at all, I just regret the whole time. I regret having been around by that time. It's also quite conceivable that nobody really feels well playing that old stuff apart from "The Chance" now. That's always been in the set list and nobody has bad feelings toward it, but any other track would just remind us of that time. It's like deja vu, you know?
MICHAEL: It would give me a very, very hard time to have to stand on stage and play it. Uli and Andi aren't connected to those records anyway. Andi didn't like Chameleon when it came out. He thought it was a wrong move and I think he was completely right. And we just over-rehearsed that Pink Bubbles Go Ape album for over a year until it was finally dead. Then we recorded. I wasn't really interested in that stuff. As a guitarist, I didn't like it, except for the tracks Roland has done because I think he's done a great job. On my behalf, I think we could have skipped all the rest. Sorry. That also includes mine.
MIKE: On High Live, I see Kai Hansen, who hasn't been in the band for years, listed for some solos on the older tracks . . .
MICHAEL: That's such crap. Obviously, they just didn't recognize that [we've had a line up change and he isn't in the band]. I think they just [scanned] those in from the old albums and changed the fonts and didn't take a glimpse at it.
MIKE: They must have thought he was still in the band if they did, which is really strange since he's been gone for six albums now if you count the live ones.
MICHAEL: A bit embarrassing.
MIKE: I was surprised that you put "Future World" on High Live since that's one Kai had written.
MICHAEL: Everybody likes to hear it. We've been out with Skin and the guitarist, Micky, spent time at the side of the stage nearly each day. I thought that was very kind of him. He didn't see it that way. He just enjoyed what we did and he told me that "Future World" is still the main anthem of what we're doing. He didn't know who wrote it, but he personally liked it so much that he kind of went wet when he heard it. You have to take that into account. You can't just leave it out because it was written by Hansen.
MIKE: It's a great song.
MICHAEL: It's a very original number. It always reminded me of "Acacia Avenue" a little bit, but who cares? It's a good track and everybody likes it so we have to play it.
MIKE: Which of the last two studio albums have done better, Master or The Oath?
MICHAEL: Time Of The Oath. It's massive. We could double all the sales of Master we've had in the world and it would still be more. In America, I think it's 10,000 units better. It took time to catch up with "Master of the Rings," but then it really took off.
MIKE: Do you have a favorite of the two?
MICHAEL: It's very hard to say. "Master of the Rings" is definitely the more American album. What Time Of The Oath lacks is on "Master of the Rings" and what "Master of the Rings" is lacking is on The Time Of The Oath. I like both albums. "Master of the Rings" will always be great for the mood and as a remembrance of the time and what it was. With Time Of The Oath, I will never forget this tour. It's been like during the Keeper I era, the reactions. The album is a bit like Keeper I. The covers are similar and also the feel is similar.
MIKE: Was it the artist who did the Keepers covers that did Time Of The Oath?
MICHAEL: No, not at all. It was a good friend of mine. In fact, a friend of Andi's came up with original artwork, but there were details in there we didn't exactly like. In some previews you can see that old cover. I had it mailed here by someone at CompuServe. We took it on diskette and put it on the computer and worked on it. This particular guy is now, by the way, supposed to play in Gamma Ray. Anyway, we spent three days, eighteen hours each day, to finish that. It's not so original since we had it before, but it's just to show in the looks that we kind of went back to where we belong. To me, it was also another deja vu. I went, OK, OK, so we have another Keeper on the cover. [Laughs] Right on. [Both laugh]
MIKE: The tour . . . You went all over Europe, Germany, Japan. What were the highlights?
MICHAEL: It was definitely Sao Paulo and South America in general. Brazil. We had 60,000 people in Sao Paulo. We liked the people. All the time we spent there not playing was just hilarious. Completely new input. So much like people in Germany used to be some 17 years ago. Spain was good. They seem to have developed this love for life, which is good because everything's becoming so cynical. When we went there nine years ago, they didn't really care much about anything. They came out of dictatorship and they were used to not asking questions. You go there right now and they really have a culture of critical thinking and they are so heartfelt. Nobody really expected that.
MIKE: Sounds like a major success. Any chance you'll tour the United States in the future?
MICHAEL: We're supposed to do that with Iron Maiden in about two years. They will have their new album finished by then and we will have ours finished. I've e-mailed fans in America about that thought and they went apeshit. We share a lot of fans. I just hope it happens.
MIKE: I understand Bruce Dickinson and his new band Skunkworks opened for some of your recent tour. How did that go?
MICHAEL: Quite OK even though you could tell that he didn't exactly like the thought of opening up for a band like Helloween. He's used to different things. He's been to high stardom and everything. You really have to get used to the thought that you're not where you used to be before. Before we split for a different leg of the tour, I went to Bruce and said, well, see you around at the next stages of our careers. He said, well, yeah, I'm probably gonna be a plumber by then. [Both laugh]
MIKE: I thought it was ironic that you toured together since you've recaptured your old vibes with Helloween on the past couple albums and he's abandoned his with Skunkworks.
MICHAEL: He's changed everything, yeah. He's spent so much effort in trying to convince his fans that in fact Skunkworks is a lot more interesting than Helloween. That's his way and he has to do it. He's merely working for his behalf. That's quite OK. There was no conflict at all.
MIKE: I understand you recently contributed to a tribute album for Judas Priest. How'd you get involved with that?
MICHAEL: Some guys at Rock Hard here in Germany had the idea of collecting various stuff for Century Media. The main editor there called me up. He sensed that we have some connection to Judas Priest so he just merely asked us. We said, we're doing some B-sides for the new record. So, then we can record that particular track there.
MIKE: Which track did you do?
MICHAEL: "Electric Eye." You haven't heard that yet?
MIKE: No, I haven't, actually.
MICHAEL: It's on the B-side of "The Time Of The Oath" single.
MIKE: Ah. I have the "Power" single, but I haven't seen that one yet.
MICHAEL: Sorry. Awful. They just don't ship the singles. That's because Castle America would guess that not so many singles would be sold because, I mean, you can't expect it to become a huge success just because we bring out a single. They're just a little cautious. They try to watch the resources and all that.
MIKE: One thing I've seen people debate on the Internet and at chats is whether Helloween is a progressive rock band or a metal band. I guess I could see people maybe calling Chameleon or Pink Bubbles progressive, since those were kind of experimental and different, but I've always perceived you to be a hard rock band. What do you perceive yourselves to be?
MICHAEL: There's always been the intention to get progressive with some ideas before. Also, I tried to get back to that idea with "Mission Motherland," which I guess would be called progressive. Nectar, this progressive Anglo-European band, did a lot of stuff like that. I think that is also what Dream Theater is after because that record with the beach on there--I don't know what the name is, but I've got it--really, really sounds like Nectar, being as lose. Nobody really likes that record, but I like it for that because it reminds me of the 70's. This is where the progressive ideas come from. They also come from Pink Floyd. The Animals album. You might as well say the tracks "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" and "Halloween" were progressive. They were utterly progressive. Maybe it's because of that people have called us progressive.
MIKE: What do you want people to call Helloween?
MICHAEL: Good. Great. I want to have it. [Both laugh]
MIKE: Speaking of wanting to have things, I've seen something called The Pumpkin Video in the import Helloween CDs I have. Are there any plans to release it in the United States?
MICHAEL: I wouldn't know, but you 're not the first one to ask about the video. I try to pass on information that I get via the net to the record company and management because a lot of fans send me e-mail. Maybe we can try to sort things out to meet the wishes of America. You just need to know where to put those videos to have them sold. Where to ship it and where it would be successful. But one could at least place one or two videos in shops. I will try to work on that idea. I can't promise anything. At least if your system is compatible with the Japan one you can order it from Japan.
MIKE: You've put out a lot of B-sides during the years. Ever think of making an album of them?
MICHAEL: We'll probably do one like that in some years. I had that idea before, but many people say it would look like a sell out. I always think of recollecting all that stuff. It would already add up to an album. Maybe two. We'd have to split it into Hansen, Kiske, and Andi stuff. I'd like to look superior nowadays in comparison to the material we've done before.
MIKE: Here in the U.S. the drug heroin has been in the news a lot lately because it's making quite a comeback, especially among musicians. The keyboard player from The Smashing Pumpkins died from it. The singer of Stone Temple Pilots has been in and out of rehab. The singer of Pantera says he died from it and came back . . .
MICHAEL: Which singer? The former singer or the actual one?
MIKE: The current one, Phil.
MICHAEL: Why would he do that? It's stupid.
MIKE: I don't know, but he says he did and there are countless musicians doing that lately. Is this something happening in the music world in Germany right now?
MICHAEL: No. It's always been around. That stuff used to be big in the 70's and it's been developing continuously. It's not that it's some kind of hip thing or something. People here, they swallow a lot of ecstasy pills because of that techno habit they have here and they are more or less onto coke and all that. But that heroin thing, it's not like we have a new rush or something.
This seems to be an American thing. Compared to that thing where they want to try and make people stop smoking, I think they should have put their resources onto a different field. There's obviously more consumers of heroin now than maybe smokers, I don't know.
MIKE: Well, at least among the famous. Even in the acting world, you keep hearing about it.
MICHAEL: This is what I've said for years: you build up negative characters and lead them to stardom, make them big and visible to the crowd and the public. The people they recently picked for becoming famous, well, they're useless characters usually. They don't know how to control life. You can watch it on the screen and you know this guy doesn't know what it's all about. As a private being, he wouldn't know how to save his own life. In a car crash, I think he might faint by looking at blood. Useless people. Negative idols. Anti-heroes and all that. How would you even expect those people to survive their fame and all this? You have to pick the right people to present to the public to achieve something positive. As long as you pick idiots like that and make them famous . . . it's not astounding that people would tend to behave the way they do. Same thing with James Dean. I recently saw an interview from America from way back in connection with a jeans advertisement. The host was completely thrilled and like, yeah, Jamie, before you go, anything else you might say to the use of America? James was already making his way to the door, being quite bored and obviously pissed or hooked on something else, and he turned around and went, um, ah, well, just be the way you are and stay cool, bye. Everybody raved about that. They went apeshit for a crack like that. So, people like that will always sell to the American public. It's like someone said in an e-mail: you might even sell some pig to the American public, you've just got to make them attractive enough and put up enough media to, well, sell them. The Germans always catch up with that stuff three or five years later. To me, it's particularly boring. I've heard it from you guys and I know what it's all about. I always think, you stupid fucking German idiots, why can't you at least be as hideous as the Americans the way they are when they are and not five years later?
MIKE: It's very interesting when we see these singers on TV complaining about being famous. I think, well, why'd you sign the major record deal?
MICHAEL: They should just stay home. [Both laugh] Those guys are not the right people to do it. They have dysfunctional brains. They don't think logical.
MIKE: Who do you feel is more to blame, the public for making them famous, or them for going along with it when it's obviously not something that makes them happy?
MICHAEL: It's the media, but I think the public is to blame for just going for that shit, for those people. What is so great about those guys who don't know what they are, and who they are, or what to do next? People always assume these people know and they don't fucking know. They can't distinguish between stupid and clever and good and evil. Whatever's brought up to be famous has to be accepted as positive because it's like, that's hip and you have to be like him. It's so damn stupid because it's not really critical. I will always get mad about subjects like that because I've seen it for twenty years and it's always the same shit. People always fall for some kind of idiot. The usual simple people can identify with those people because they also don't know what they're all about. Like, look, guys, someone as stupid as we are, but he's made it. So, we must be like him and maybe we'll achieve the same thing.
MIKE: Must be why there are so many bands coming out now that all sound the same and can barely play their instruments. It's amazing.
MICHAEL: Same thing with Bill Haley and all that. Those guys could barely play their instruments in comparison to what's going on nowadays. Rock `n' roll was so simple. We must not forget that. It's basically what these grunge bands are trying to do. They're trying to re-create rock `n' roll, but they don't know how to because they've never dealt with rock `n' roll before. What's been so great about Guns `N' Roses? And how much have they changed? Not a lot. If they were so great right from the start, they should be great right now. So, why do people care about those grunge bands and whatever's coming up there if they had Guns `N' Roses before? They should stick to their fucking favorite band. These bands can't be that special if after one or two years nobody takes care of them anymore. So, who is that, the media or the public?
MIKE: I think it's both. Right now, for example, both the media and the public have been debating about Kiss and Van Halen with the Kiss reunion and Van Halen's constant changing of singers.
MICHAEL: I think it's some kind of kindergarten, but as long as you're paid enough it's quite OK. Actually, I wouldn't want to be in Kiss because it might be like being in a gas chamber or something and not exactly dying in ten minutes or so. It takes longer. [Both laugh]
MIKE: Any thoughts on the Van Halen developments before I let you go?
MICHAEL: I love that stuff. They really fuck the audience. Those guys can afford it because they have enough money that they don't need to care about what's happening next. Those guys don't even need to be credible anymore. They fuck the whole public. But it's that certain age they come from, the humor you have. They've been raised like that. They at least know how to put up a sensation.
MIKE: That's for sure. Thanks for taking the time to bring us up to date on Helloween and sharing your thoughts on all these other things. Be sure to read the interview at Rocknet on Halloween when you're on the net.