Gamma Ray – Kai Hansen

August 23rd, 2005
by EvilG

GAMMA RAY
Kai Hansen Interview
Interviewed May 19, 1999 by EvilG

Kai HansenLet me tell ya it’s not everyday that I get to chat with someone who I’m such a fan of. This interview was rescheduled about two or three times but thanks to Steve (Noise) it finally happened on May 19th, 1999.

For those unfortunate beings who have no clue as to who Kai Hansen is, well hang your head in shame. I won’t bother giving you a history lesson here. If you’re interested, there are a number of places on the web where you can read about Kai’s history with Helloween, Gamma Ray and Iron Savior.


Metal Rules!!
Kai, lately it seems as if all I’m listening to is Gamma Ray’s “PowerPlant” and Iron Savior’s “Unification.” What is surprising to me is that Iron Savior is a solo project! Most bands devote there full time to material that does not sound nowhere near as polished. What are your thoughts on that?

Kai:
Well, there’s a lot of work that goes into Iron Savior actually. For me of course it’s more or less a side project because my main band is Gamma Ray and I’m going to keep it like that. Whenever I have time for Iron Savior I’ll be there. The mastermind, the guy who is doing most of the work and who is responsible for all the stuff is Piet.  So it’s more or less up to him to spend his days in the studio working on Iron Savior.

 

Metal Rules!!
How much time would you say you devote to Iron Savior as opposed to Gamma Ray?

Kai:
I’ve never really measured it. Out of the 10 months of the year that I work let’s says it’s about 8 or more Gamma Ray and 1-2 Iron Savior. As you see on the Iron Savior album, most of the tracks are written by Piet and I wrote two. That’s about the amount of input I do deliver. Nevertheless I’m always there when it comes down to recording or mixing or producing. I’m always popping in and having a look or a listen and giving my advice or comments on stuff and I play my guitars and work on that. But when I work on it I do it with all my heart.

 

Metal Rules!!
Wasn’t parts of the album recorded in different places? For example you recorded your guitar parts in your own studio…

Kai:
Right, that’s the way we did it.

Metal Rules!!
That’s very cool because it doen’t sound like something recorded piecemeal, it sounds like a full band effort.

Kai:
Yeah it does and I think that comes from the touring we did before doing this album. We kinda had this band attitude and Piet and me, we know each other so well and for such a long time so it’s no major problem for us to get into each other’s thoughts.

 

Metal Rules!!
As for touring with Iron Savior…I know you played a few shows in January with Grave Digger and Iron Savior…

Kai:
I wasn’t there, I couldn’t join the tour. They played with one guitar. I was busy in the studio with Gamma Ray, so I could not get away from that.

 

Metal Rules!!
Would a tour with Iron Savior and Gamma Ray ever be likely?

Kai:
Absolutely, yes. we did it once. We did one gig together in Sweden and I played both shows which was really…heavy. The thing is when Iron savior plays first and I’m on stage with them I have to hold myself back in putting out the energy, otherwise there wouldn’t be any left for Gamma Ray. So it’s kind of strange to play like that. I think if we go on tour together I think it will be Iron savior maybe playing without me first and then I might join in at the end and then we switch over to Gamma Ray.

 

Metal Rules!!
What is is that drives you to such high standards of true metal excellence, when so many other great bands have either betrayed metal or said good-bye to it and moved onto other musical horizons?

Kai:
I think it’s more factors than one. It’s basically my love for that kind of music. I grew up with it and it’s a very important part of my life that I’ve spent together with metal.  So I know what it’s about and I know what it has to be and I have a very high expectation of others and I have a very high expectation for myself. So this just drives me to be not satisfied with the easy-going you know? It has to be special and I have to like it.

 

Metal Rules!!
How would you compare the metal scene as you see it in Europe to how the North American scene appears to you?

Kai:
I think the metal scene in Europe is more vital and it’s maybe more true in a way because in America I know it’s more or less up to the bands. A lot of bands in America are just following trends and a lot of people who make music in America don’t just make music for the sake of making music…they do it just to get famous, to get rich, to be somebody. I think that’s not the point about making music. You have to do it because you love to do it and not because you want to be somebody. You have to be somebody first as a person and then comes the second part being somebody for the public.

 

Metal Rules!!
How does it feel to know that your name is mentioned in many metal circles with reverence?

Kai:
I take it as a big honor somehow because I did not invent metal you know (laughing). I was a fan of bands like Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Slade which all were the hardest bands of their time and still melodious in a way. That’s where my roots are and I’ve been following that and with Helloween we developed something that was our own. When we started up we sounded like a copy of like, well whatever you know… But on the other hand, sooner or later we developed our own style and put in our own basic influences which come from different sources like classical music or German Slagger (laughing). I don’t know. We mixed that up together and off we went!

 

Metal Rules!!
What advice, if any, would you like to pass along to a new metal band trying to start out today?

Kai:
Do just the hell what you really believe in. Don’t just follow trends and don’t get disturbed. Search for what you really like, and you can like many things, but try to make your own thing out of it. Don’t just go and say ‘oh great we just want to sound just like Poison today’ and the other day say ‘oh great we want to sound like Nirvana today’…Fuck that! No, that’s not the way.

 

Metal Rules!!
From what you’ve seen of the younger metal scene in Europe, do think there is a lot oh hope for the future?

Kai:
There is a whole bunch of bands coming up at the moment and it’s funny it seems like all the guys who picked up a guitar in the 80′s (because it was the big wave of heavy metal) now they have learned to play. They’ve started to form bands. The technical standard has risen so much – not only recording-wise but as well playing-wise. People already learn a lot faster how to write a good song. So there’s a lot of good bands around and the standard is rising higher. To be special or doing something really good is not as easy as it was in the 80′s.

 

Metal Rules!!
Weren’t you recently in the studio with HammerFall when they re-did the Helloween classic “I Want Out”?

Kai:
That’s true, they recorded that in my studio. They were recording three cover-versions which was “I Want Out” and “Head Over Heels” by Accept and “Man of the Silver Mountain” (Dio/Rainbow). I joined in and did some guitars and vocals on “I Want Out.” It was fun.

 

Metal Rules!!
If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you a few questions about the band that put your name in most of your fan’s heart’s – Helloween.

Kai:
Haha, okay I have no problem with that!

Metal Rules!!
Have you ever had any regrets about leaving the band?

Kai:
Absolutely not because I knew it definitely wouldn’t of been going on like that. The band would of died anyway…I mean, with me the same as without me…it didn’t feel good anymore so I was thinking about it. It took me one year from the first thought to the final process. So I thought it over very well. Before if someone would of told me ‘you will leave Helloween’ I would of said ‘are you mad or what?’ because that was my baby and my thing. But on the other hand it didn’t feel good anymore for several reasons and I couldn’t change it in the band with the others together so I had to change it for myself and that meant getting out. The only thing I kind of regret or kind of see as a bad thing is that I couldn’t keep the name because under the name Helloween I would of sold a lot more albums.

 

Metal Rules!!
Who’s idea was it originally to use the pumpkin as a mascot and why a pumpkin?

Kai:
It just all came together because Ingo came up with the name Helloween because he saw the movie Halloween. Then we had the idea of changing the “a” into an “e” because it was sounding more like hell and it was different. For Halloween you of course use pumpkins and the “o” was perfect to put as a pumpkin. We started scribbling logos and Weiki and me both at the same time came up with the “o” as a pumpkin in the middle…it just had to be like that (laughs).

 

Metal Rules!!
Do you ever think you’ll work with Michael Kiske again with say a guest appearance or something of that nature?

Kai:
I might. At the moment I don’t see any good move to do that because he’s developed into a totally different musical direction and he’s not so keen on heavy metal anymore. For that reason I don’t see any corporation in the near future but on the other hand if he somehow gets back to his roots and starts saying again that ‘metal is cool, I’d like to sing it’ then nothing would be in the way.

 

Metal Rules!!
For the intro to the classic Helloween song “Starlight” you used the intro “Happy Happy Halloween” which was quite funny…who’s idea was it to use that?

Kai:
We had the soundtrack of the Halloween movie and that was on there. We thought it was perfect, just put it in for a little while and then switch to something different.

 

Metal Rules!!
For the first three recordings with Helloween you were the vocalist. I’ve read that at that time you found it difficult to sing and play guitar simultaneously. Was that the case, or was it something else?

Kai:
No it was absolutely true because we wanted to go for a lot more intricate stuff on the guitar and more technical. So it was like getting harder and harder for me without having big experience on vocals. I never had lessons or anything and I was not that fixed on the guitar yet so it was getting difficult. On the other hand we thought it would be really cool to have a real front man, a real singer. We heard Queensryche, the first album that they did, and we thought wow that would be cool to have a singer like that who could be very stable on the high soaring notes and have a lot of expression.

 

Metal Rules!!
I assume then that you’ve overcome the difficulty of  playing and singing at the same time?

Kai:
Oh I have yes haha…

 

Metal Rules!!
Can you tell me about the Primal Fear guest appearance you did on their last CD?

Kai:
Ralph just called me up and said would you like to have a guest appearance on the album. I said sure because it’s always good after having a split to show we are still friends. That proves to anyone who thinks different that it’s like that.

 

Metal Rules!!
Something that I haven’t read mush about in the press is exactly why did Ralph leave Gamma Ray?

Kai:
There were two main reasons. One was after the first three Gamma Ray albums we said – now we want to do a really, really good album, something really killer. But Ralph was not living in Hamburg, he was living 700km away from here. For that reason he only came up for a while for rehearsal or for the recordings. But to do an album which was really good we needed him there constantly. In years before we had been talking about him moving to Hamburg but at that time he still had a job going on…he still does and he’s never going to leave it somehow. He could not really make up his mind to move to Hamburg and there was one problem with that because when we wrote the songs I was always trying to think of his voice but on the other hand it would of been a lot better if he write his own vocal lines, melodies and lyrics. When he came to Hamburg most of the times I was singing in the rehearsal room when he was not there and I was singing on my demos so it was like everything was more or less fixed and he could not really change it. We wanted that to change, therefore we wanted him to move to Hamburg, he could not make up his mind. Then we said either you do it or you die somehow you know…like putting the pistol to his chest. Well….on the other hand he had this Judas Priest thing going on. He wanted to be given a chance. I was the idiot who told him maybe for fun just try it out when it was clear they were searching for a singer because Judas Priest was always his favorite band. We were thinking about him doing the Gamma Ray album and then going to Judas Priest. All in all it lead to the point where we said we’d rather split our ways at that point because it doesn’t make sense to go on like that.

 

Metal Rules!!
When it was clear that Ralph was out of the band was it just natural for you to assume vocal duties or were there thoughts of getting another singer?

Kai:
We were thinking about it definitely but not that heavily because we were used to me singing in rehearsals on the demos. I also had more self-confidence in doing it. So we thought maybe take on a singer but who could it be? Is there anyone we could think of that we’d like and there was no names mentioned. None of us had any idea of who could be the one. So the others asked me, ‘would you dare to do it?’ and I said ‘yes I would.’

 

Metal Rules!!
Are you as comfortable behind the microphone now as you are with the guitar?

Kai:
Yes, I am. I mean sometimes when you’re stuck to a microphone you miss the jumping around part and of course I have to be more careful on the tours with drinking, smoking and partying and stuff like that…and it doesn’t really work out hahaha.

Metal Rules!!
Not for the vocalist!!

Kai:
No, not for the vocalist. As the vocalist you’re somehow the poor guy. On the other hand it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy communicating with the audience via the vocals.

 

Metal Rules!!
I read recently that you had a throat inflammation and as a result you had to forgo vocal duties for a show or two I believe…so how are things now?

Kai:
Pretty good again. It was just an infection I had to fight it with antibiotics and cortisone and stuff but the tour could continue. We only had to cancel one gig and the next day we had some guest singers from the support bands and a good friend of ours learned most of the songs in two days and only had to sing five songs on that show. It was kind of strange, but special as well. From then on I could carry on.

Metal Rules!!
Are you still on tour now, or have any upcoming shows?

Kai:
Kind of on tour. I just finished the first part some days ago. I’ll be gone on Saturday again to go for some festivals in Europe and after that will be South America then we have some more festivals and finally we have Japan and that will be it.

 

Metal Rules!!
I guess a lot of fans over here are hoping you’ll do a few shows in North America?

Kai:
Actually there are some plans of coming over, but nothing is fixed yet. We’re working on something. We kinda have an offer for the Powermad Festival which would be a start for us to jump over and check out how the situation is and get some more contacts and stuff. So, there might be a good chance.

 

Metal Rules!!
Do you sometimes feel that the North American press and listening public has no clue as to who Gamma Ray or Iron Savior are?

Kai:
Oh absolutely, I have a big impression of that! (laughing) Because there is no real media or no mass media for metal, it’s all going underground and it’s all fanzines, little radio stations, it’s mouth to mouth and it’s still not much happening. It’s the Internet of course that makes it bigger again. So we’ll have to see what happens. I’ve heard some more rumors about the awakening of interest in major companies about metal bands again and all that stuff, something is happening, it’s cooking.

Metal Rules!!
I hope so anyway because it’s been too long since anything substantial happened and a lot of the new bands aren’t what you’d call real metal, it’s more of a noisy derivative of some form of alternative music, it’s not metal.

Kai:
Yeah, it’s what I said about these trends you know, they come and go but still the basis remains and it’s there sometimes more or less. It won’t just die.

 

Metal Rules!!
Just a general comment about the “PowerPlant” CD as a whole…when I first got it I was impressed with the cover art (Derek Riggs, Iron Maiden) it kind of has a Powerslave feel to it, then I pop on the CD and more then your last CD I get more of a Judas Priest feel to it…do you find that yourself?

Kai:
Absolutely, it’s a lot more aggressive I would say and I would not deny my Priest influences, especially with Rob Halford as a singer. I like that screaming stuff and I do that more than ever on PowerPlant. It’s got some of that wild energy.

Metal Rules!!
When recently listening to the Helloween EP “Judas” I was thinking when hearing “Victim of Fate” that you have gotten more back to this style now. I think that’s your strong point with vocals.

Kai:
Me too, that’s why I do it again, I have the confidence now to do it again because I think I can do it a lot better than the early days. It’s a lot stronger I would say.

 

Metal Rules!!
Anther question about PowerPlant regarding the lyrics for “Heavy Metal Universe.” I really like them, it has a Manowar feel to it in a way…

Kai:
It does…The first thing I had in mind before I wrote the song completely was just the chorus, and it had to go like that. The chorus had to go like that and it’s a real cliche but it’s great, I love it. It’s what metal is about in a way, it’s a big part of it. I was banging along to stuff like that when I was young and I still love it. First I said -  normally you can’t do it nowadays where everybody needs the more sophisticated stuff and so on…but I said fuck it…..fuck it that’s what metal is and if you don’t like it well fuck you.

 

Metal Rules!!
Another thing that surprised me on the CD is the cover song “It’s a Sin.” I don’t know how you managed to turn that into a metal song, but you did.

Kai:
Yeah we did. It was kind of like, and again here we go with Priest, remember “Diamonds & Rust”?

Metal Rules!!
oh yeah…

Kai:
Right, the John Baez song. If you listen to the original you couldn’t imagine that someone takes it and turns it into a metal song. It took me from when I first heard that from Priest like three years to find out it was originally a John Baez song. I didn’t know, I thought it was a Judas Priest song, that is what it was for me. It’s the same thing I had in mind for “It’s A Sin.” More or less it turned into a Gamma Ray song.

Metal Rules!!
Did you deliberately pick a song that was from a non-metal band?

Kai:
Yes we did because at the moment it’s pretty fashionable to revive the 80′s metal songs and do covers and do tribute albums. I get a little bored with that. it’s becoming too fashionable.

Metal Rules!!
Yeah, I like it but I know what you mean…

Kai:
I like it too, we contributed to some stuff too but I think it’s at the point where it should stop now. It’s been enough. It’s a lot more fun to take a song that is non-metal and turn it into metal, there’s a lot more depth in that.

 

Metal Rules!!
Maybe you could tell me a little about the body paint work for all the photos inside of PowerPlant. Who’s concept was this?

Gamma Ray - Gods of thunderKai:
Well we knew the album was going to be called PowerPlant and we knew we wanted to do some photos that were a lot different from the normal bandshots where four people stand in front of some background. These are shots you always have to do but we wanted to do something different. I always had the intention to get my body painted once, I just like it somehow and wanted to experience it. It fit perfectly together when I had the idea of PowerPlant and this kind of energy feeling in that. I thought blue, white flashes; that should look cool and it would be like gods of thunder. It was fun doing that and it took like three or four days of intense showering to get rid of that stuff haha!!

Metal Rules!!
Was it from head to toe?

Kai:
Well no, it was only half body

Metal Rules!!
Would you do it again?

Kai:
We might, we have some special festival here in Germany…

Metal Rules!!
Yeah, play live like that!

Kai:
A guy (from the organizers of this festival) said you got to go on stage blue. I said, maybe we’ll do it, we’ll think about it.

Metal Rules!!
It would be pretty original.

Kai:
Yeah, should be fun.

 

Metal Rules!!
Well that’s basically it. Do you have any closing words for your fans?

Kai:
Well…stay heavy (laughs), don’t lose the faith. I hope you still listen to this music when you’re old and gray. I hope I still play this music when I’m old and gray as long as I don’t look to ridiculous on stage. We definitely hope to come over to the States. I want to play there again, it’s gonna be a lot of fun even though it’s less people then it once was but I don’t care, it should be fun.

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