Interview with Roel van Helden
February 3, 2017 – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Photography by Graham Hilling
We spoke to Powerwolf drummer Roel van Helden (without makeup on!) prior to their co-headlining show with Epica at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London this Friday. Read on to find out about Roel’s expensive hobby, the peculiar circumstances surrounding the band’s live recording from Summer Breeze 2015, and how the band chose songs to cover!
Hello, my name is Toby and this is Graham, we’re from Metal-Rules.com.
It’s actually very appropriate that I do this interview. You are from Metal-Rules, my name is Roel. It’s meant to be [laughs]!
Did you have time to check out London at all today?
Just a little bit. Normally when I have time in the afternoon, I go around looking for record stores. It’s a really expensive hobby of mine to check out record stores and buy shit, but today I was mistaken. I went to Island Records, I walked for 20 minutes, I had it on my phone, but I realized it’s not a record store, but a record company [laughs]. But in the end I found one, and I found some albums that I bought. I got some punk rock stuff, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, with the NOFX singer.
How’s the tour been going for you guys so far?
Very, very good. This is really a co-headliner tour, normally you have a headliner and then a special guest, but this is truly a co-headliner tour. In some countries Powerwolf is more popular than Epica, and in some it’s the other way around. For instance, in German-speaking countries Epica profits from our popularity, they play in bigger venues than they normally would, and here in London, and two days ago in Belgium and tomorrow in Paris, it’s the other way around. Last time we played a smaller venue when we were in London, so now we’re glad to be here with Epica, now we can profit from them.
It’s like a symbiotic relationship, and the guys from Epica; I have known two of them for a long time. The bass player [Rob van der Loo] was even in my class when I was 13 years old, they’re from Holland, so am I – the rest of Powerwolf is from Germany, and we were in our first band together. We played really crappy covers like “Anarchy in the UK” from the Sex Pistols, “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and stuff like that. So I’ve known him for more than 20 years, and I’ve gotten to know the rest of the band a little better and they are really cool people.
This is the first time we tour together, and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last. It works really well with the people in the band, and I think for the audience there is some overlap, but it’s still not quite the same genre. The bombastic stuff is with either band, Powerwolf is more for the party people, for the Sabaton fans, and Epica may be a bit more for the serious more prog-y fans.
Where does the root of your imagery come from? Obviously centered around werewolves and religion, a peculiar combination, wouldn’t you say?
[Laughs]. I’m the wrong one to ask, I’ve been in the band for six years. The band has existed since 2004, and the whole image and the themes just evolved. Every night I sit in front of the mirror putting my makeup on, and I ask the guys “why, why do I have to do this every night?” [laughs]. It’s really a drag, and the person who came up with that is no longer in the band, he was the first drummer [laughs], so we got stuck with it. It is expected from us now, if we don’t do it then people will be disappointed!
How important do you think it is for a band to kind of have a gimmick or a theme that they’re associated with?
I think it is important. Of course you have to have good songs in the first place and entertain the people, but the entertaining part is easier when you have a gimmick. It’s a show, so it helps with the entertaining. Of course, you have to be able to play your instrument a little bit, and write decent songs, that’s the most important.
What songs from Blessed & Possessed have sparked the best audience reactions in the year and a half that you’ve been playing them live?
“Armata Strigoi”, definitely. There is a singing part in the middle, kind of like Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark” where the whole crowd can sing along. We always do that, that singing part has four different sections, and Attila [Dorn], our singer, always sings it first, then the audience repeats, and they learn it, those who don’t know it already, and then in the middle of the song we let the crowd sing on its own. That’s by far the best live song we have off the latest album.
You don’t seem to be playing much material from Return In Bloodred live, any particular reason for that?
Well, when I joined the band there were only three albums out, the fourth one was coming, so we did play some of those songs live then. We just keep the songs that work live, and we don’t play the songs that work less live. It’s a natural process, so the old stuff isn’t as much fun to play live as some of our newer stuff.
You released a Tour Edition of Blessed & Possessed, containing a recording of your show at the Summer Breeze festival in 2015. I attended that show myself, why did you choose to include that show specifically?
The Summer Breeze festival is always awesome. It’s one of our favorite festivals, and we had such good luck then. There was a big storm, it was really hot; humidly hot, and really the typical day for a summer thunderstorm. We were afraid that things were going to get cancelled, because the storm was really bad. As far as the main stage was concerned, everything got delayed one hour. So we actually got the headlining position, and the real headliner, Trivium I think, they kind of played at the time of a ‘deadliner’ [laughs]. So the storm was a blessing for us! We played when it was dark, so then of course you have a better show, because the time that we would have played, was still in daylight. So it was good luck, and that festival is just awesome.
The bonus CD Metallum Nostrum from Blessed & Possessed features cover songs. How did you go about choosing which songs to cover?
We all made a list of favorite songs, then we just got together and talked about it to see what would fit our singer’s voice. And then to be honest, that CD is the result of us talking and trying it out in the rehearsal room, some songs just didn’t work, some songs did. I’m happy with it. A lot of people were pretty much pleased with that as a bonus, because normally a bonus is a crappy live DVD or something like that… I’m not talking about ours of course [laughs], that one is really good! We really did a lot of work to make that decent bonus CD. The Judas Priest songs [“A Touch of Evil” and “Night Crawler”] I especially enjoyed, if you listen to it, the drumming on those songs is almost exactly the same as Scott Travis [Judas Priest drummer] does. He is such a good drummer, why change anything? On other songs I kind of did more my own thing. You can hear on those Judas Priest songs that I’m a really big fan of them, I wouldn’t want to change it, that would be blasphemy [laughs]!
Have you started thinking about the follow up to Blessed & Possessed yet?
Yep. We have started writing, but it’s still in the early stages. The follow up will come around the summer of 2018 I think. We’re taking a year’s time to write it, then record it in early 2018 and then recording takes a few months and then we’ll release it after the record label has arranged all the stuff. So it will be halfway through 2018, but we will still be playing a lot of live shows this year.
You have yet to play the United States, and I think requests for that dominates the comment sections on your social media posts; do you think that will happen in the foreseeable future?
I’m not sure. The most common comment is actually “please come to Brazil” [laughs]. Also we sometimes get comments that say “please come to Poland”, even when we just played there one week ago [laughs]! I’m pretty sure we’re going to South America someday, North America… I don’t know. The thing is, what we have learned from other bands such as Epica and Sabaton, who are friends of ours, is that you have to be there every year, and you have to start from the bottom and it’s really hard work. There are no direct plans for that, but who knows, maybe in the future?
What are your plans following this tour?
Summer festivals. First we’re doing a cruise somewhere, not the 70,000 Tons of Metal, that’s right now. So a different cruise, a lot of summer festivals, Wacken for instance, and some more big ones, and after that there’s talk about maybe going to Russia. And I think that’s it for this year. Russia is awesome, it’s really cool. We’ve been to several cities, but Moscow three times. First time there were 500 people in a small club which I think by normal standards would only fit 200 people [laughs], it was dangerous! Second time there were 1,000 people, and the third time 2,500, so I’m very curious how many people will show up this time! You really feel like a rock star; after the show, when we have to go out of the building to the shuttle bus, we really have to have security escorting us.
Anything you want to add in the end?
Thanks for reading the interview, and make sure you mention it’s appropriate that I did this interview since my name is Roel! Roel = Rules [laughs].
Thank you very much, and good luck with the show and the rest of the tour!