Interview with Helloween Bassist Markus Grosskopf
Interview and pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Helloween started their KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS ? THE LEGACY World tour in Zlin, Czech Republic. As always, the band?s tour is extensive, covering many countries in Europe, both South and North America and Japan. After many months of writing songs, recording and promoting the album the Pumpkin team felt a strong need to hit the road again. Maybe that was one of those tiny reasons why Finland was blessed by as many as 3 dates on this particular Helloween tour that the Finnish Helloween fans found a very pleasing surprise for them.
When Helloween arrived in Helsinki on the 26th of November 2005, we caught up with the band?s nearly 2-meter high bassist Markus Grosskopf for an interview. It was just 1 hour before one of the night?s two warm-up bands entered onstage to make the crowd ready for the band a majority of them had obviously come to see, the one and only Helloween.
We found our way to the Helloween?s backstage, and it was almost immediately sensed from the overall atmosphere that both the crew and the band were in as high spirits as we were. We were quite surprisingly, greeted by a few free, ice-cold beers by the band members. Now that was a good sign to assume Markus might have been willing enough to push through this last interview of today, so we all sat down confortably, and the recorder started rolling…
You have this ?Keeper Returns? ?tour going on ? and you played at Klub Studola in Poland two days ago. How was the response your Polish fans at that particular gig?
It was basically a different kind of thing to play for them, y?know. We started the set with very long songs; we played 3 lenghty songs for them in the beginning of the set that probably were a bit unfamiliar for most of them. They know KEEPER OF THE 7 KEYS ?albums, of course, but then you play ?Occasion Avenue? or ?King for 1000 Years? for them, and they don?t know these songs too well yet. These songs are more like stories; they listen to them and there are parts in our songs that tempt people to do a little bit more headbanging and this kind of stuff, y?know. But then there?s like parts that you just concentrate on listening. And then there?s like more atmospheric parts that you simply enjoy to listen to. It?s different than just your typical headbanging thing. And then comes such songs as ?Future World?, Eagle Fly Free? and all those mandatory songs from us that people know as Helloween ?songs. So it?s kind of a mixed feeling kind of thing as well, I guess. It?s fun to play this kind of a mixed set. Sometimes you have to concentrate on all those atmospheres you try to create during the set with those lengthy songs ? and sometimes you play ?Eagle Fly Free? like you always play it which is a very easy song to play and people respond to that song easily when they hear it. I think it?s pretty interesting to have that kind of a mixed set of songs just because it makes things more overall interesting.
Also, I have noticed that you have been having a pretty mixed crowd in your concerts like seeing all these very young people coming to your shows, and then all those older people who have probably been following Helloween since the very beginning?
Yeah, during the 15 years of time we indeed have managed to reach a couple of generations with our music. It was kind of the same in Poland as well, people of all ages coming to see us there.
Overall, how has this European tour started for you? You have already done a few shows during this tour…
Yeah, this gig here in Helsinki is like our 6th show on this European tour and it?s been good for us so far, once you get things rollin?, y?know.
You will do your Finnish dates with the Swedish band Storyteller and Finnish Bloodpit. How well do you know those guys?
To be honest with you, I don?t know them at all. They just joined to this tour and we?ll go to Oulu and Tampere with them. After this we?ll go back to Germany and do like 3 shows there.
How did you choose them to do these Finnish dates with you?
Maybe some local promoter, I guess? I really don?t know more about this than you do.
You will have your short break during X-mass for touring, but the second part for this tour will continue again on the 6th of January 2006 from Islhofen, Germany. How does it feel to play gigs on your home ground compared to playing gigs outside of Germany? Does it feel much different to play like, let?s say, in front of the Finnish audience than the German crowd?
Well, it?s not so much different actually. Maybe in some countries like in Spain we are more appreciated; like for instance in some South American countries and countries like Japan. We are kind of too familiar faces in our home country for obvious reasons; maybe they know us too well, too – ha-ha-ha!! Maybe we are simply too close to our German audience, I don?t know. But it?s alright.
Talking about your latest album titled ?Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy? a little bit. It?s been out for a while now and it has basically been received very well by both your fans and media. So, what?s that so-called ?winner?s concept? from your point of view? Why do you think it seems like every Helloween album gains so many positive comments amongst the metal community? What?s so special Helloween?s sound and why it attracts so many fans?
That?s a very difficult to answer, man. I think there?s no such thing as ?a winner?s concept? or ?recipe? whatever you wanna call it. I don?t know, we always try to put lots of melodies into our songs, and we try to find the right riffs and licks to make it sound interesting, basically paying attention to how to make the background of the guitars, bass, etc. sound overall interesting. Just to think a little bit about how we can do things a bit more differently than one would normally do. When we started out back in the day we tried to put as much effort into our own music as we could. In the very-very beginning of our career we even weren?t able to play all these ideas we had, but we at least tried to put them into our music as hard as we could. And it was working, y?know. It?s a lot about melting ideas into one wholeness, but it?s also about keeping it interesting. It might be the drums or one single rhythm in which a bass flows along with it , some twin guitar mix, vocal harmonies or melodies or a little part of whatever. But you just have to catch it, it?s there. And then put it in your mind – and from there, to the record. It?s not that easy sometimes.
There?s a couple of epic songs on your latest album, such songs as ?A King for 1000 Years? and ?Occasion Avenue?. What kind of process was it to get those two songs actually done as far as building up a song structure for a epic song. Is it always a hard process to get all these little pieces to ?click? with each other so that the final result could sound pleasing to you?
It?s like… well, first thing you need to do is you have to clear your mind in order to make space for some new arrangements; for a new type of arrangements than you normally do for your songs like you maybe did for your other albums. There?s like a pre-choru, a chorus and a verse and an intro part. And then an intro for next verse or something, y?know, like a leak, and then there?s a riff. But then doing such a ?Keeper? ?song or something like this, you have to free you mind from that and then think to make space for a totally different way of thinking and arranging actually. And it took a couple of weeks for us really, he-he-heh!!
Did you want to have those couple of lengthy tunes for this latest album of yours on purpose, and then wrap them up with all those ?regular lengthy songs? – or, did it simply happen naturally that you got a mixed up selection of songs for this latest record regarding to the length of the songs?
No, the idea was… Or let me put it this way: We already had all those ideas before we entered the studio. People actually expected us to do a record with one long song on it, but we wanted to give them more than one lengthy song on it. So we made two long songs for this record. Both of the songs are like from 11-minutes up to 14-minutes by length; they are like extended extensions or whatever, ha-ha-hah!! Y?know, we wanted to give more to our fans. It?s always like if Helloween does something, people like it or people don?t like it and it?s really hard after those successful KEEPER ?albums to create something new ? and our music always tends to be compared to them. And then we wanted to make this album (KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS ? THE LEGACY) stand out on its own, that THE LEGACY could always stand out on its own thing. We have tried to pay attention to not copy ourselves too much one album after another. Using bits from both KEEPER ? part one and two I think we got it THE LEGACY and giving it a more modern type of sound, we got songs like ?Occasion Avenue? which is sort of like a link to the future, whatever can happen, y?know. It?s just a different spirit, but it?s still a KEEPER ?kind of thing we have got with our stuff we wrote for KEEPER – THE LEGACY. That?s why we actually didn?t choose Michael Kiske or Kai Hansen to be a part of this album. We wanted to show them that we can create ?the old spirit? with the line-up we have now. That was basically the main idea for us as a band, y?know.
Is it any harder to perform these more lengthy songs in a live situation as they obviously need more concentration and focus from you as players?
Hmm… actually no because it?s different to play them. Like you said, you just have to concentrate on playing them a little bit more because it?s like: ?Damn, this part is rushing to some atmospheric part so quickly", for example. It just demands a bit more concentration from all of us to perform those more lengthy songs live as those particular songs are more like stories.
And as I may well suppose those songs are naturally a bit more challenging to play as well, correct?
Yeah, they are bit more ?over-the-head?, here and there. I mean after like 5-6 shows or something. But it might be different to play them after like 30 shows or something, but it?s still like: ?Oh, this part comes next… and oh, that part followes right after that?. Still, as well as we rehearse one certain song for a live situation, it may end up sounding a bit different when we perform it live, he-he! Y?know what I mean. Then it just moves and flows a bit differently than how we might have rehearsed it in one of our band practices. In a live situation it?s like: "There it is… alright… fine… oh shit, I missed it?, ha-ha-hah!! Y?know, in a live situation everything is a bit different. It?s much of fun tho.
There?s a song called ?Light the Universe? that also features Candice Night from Richie Blackmore?s Night. How did that co-operation with her happen anyway?
It was easy because they are both on SPV, and we are there, too, so the connection was already there. The song was introduced to her and just we wanted to find out whether she liked the song and would like to sing on it. We wanted her to sing in that song and we were glad she agreed to do the vocals for it. It was actually not the way we wanted to go over, but then timing became an issue because she was in New York, doing something over there and we were still going through a mixing process for this album, so we wouldn?t have had the time to fly over and she wouldn?t have had the time to come travel to Germany either. So we were just sending a CD back and forth and I think she did an incredibly great job in that song.
Do you believe your co-operation with her might even continue in one form or another?
With her? Who knows if we have another song, but it was not planned to do something like this. And it was like a spontaneous idea, y?know, to get her to song one song for this album. Charlie got the idea to get her to sing that song for our record and that was like very spontaneous. We won?t plan to do things like that for the future. If there?s like an idea from someone that makes sense to us. It was from the original demo-tape from Andi which he did with a girl for some reason, and I just said to him: ?Why just don?t we use a female voice, y?know??
Your previous album RABBIT DON?T COME EASY was released 2 years ago. How do think your methods to write songs for the band have been changing since those days? Do you find your song writing process somehow harder and harder over the years as you naturally expect your next album should be better than the last one?
Tough question. Hmm… For example it?s never easy to do like your 13th or 14th album, , as there?s so much done already; there?s so much stuff we have done before, so we always have to put more those certain melodies into the context that sound like from us and then try to arrange something around it that is not too repeated from all that stuff what we have already done before, y?know. It?s not making it easy to make, let?s say, your 15th or 16th album, but then, y?know, you get new ideas. You can?t invent a wheel again any longer, but you should try to ideas into a new context somehow and make your best out of it and it?s never easy. As I said earlier with these more lengthy songs that was us like a challenge to do this album, thinking a very very different way about what we do and how we do things.
I just found out today that Helloween?s entire pre-Nuclear Blast catalog will be reissued via Sanctuary during 2006. The albums will apparently be remastered and will contain bonus tracks, including b-sides and other rarities, the details of which have yet to be revealed. So, could you go more specific with all those ?details? what will be in these reissues?
Yeah, that?s true. They have got the rights to do so as our earliest stuff has already been long out of print. They asked us if we have some ideas to contribute to those reissues, but actually if they wouldn?t have asked us, they could had done whatever they wanted to even without asking us anyway as they have got some of the rights for them. But they asked us anyway and we were like: ?Alright, just go ahead, we will give some ideas for them how to make them…?. We naturally told them to use our old stuff for those reissues like old album covers, etc. just to stay loyal to that early stuff of ours; and wrap them all up with some special bonus stuff.
Will these reissues . contain any demo versions from some of your songs as I assume you have recorded quite a few those as well… ?
No, I don?t think so. However, I wouldn?t be surprised myself if they found some of that stuff for them, he-he!! There are heaploads of that stuff available from us tho.
You still communicate with them regularly about what stuff is worth using for those reissues?
Yes, but at least in the end of the day they would re-release them anyway. It?s just that they ask for like… an excuse to put them out, he-he!!
Andi Deris joined Helloween in 1994 to replace Michael Kiske. How has he, being a part of Helloween, been changing the band musically since then from your point of view?
(*at this point Andi himself enters in the same room, carrying some little recorder and microphone, and obviously having an intention to interview Katja about something*)
Helloween line-up back in 1983-1987
Speaking of the Devil… there he is… ask him, ha-ha!! Seriously, I think he has done a great job. When he came in as a new vocalist for Helloween, he brought lots of good things into Helloween. Things we needed at that time. Now you know what Michael Kiske thinks about doing Heavy Metal music, y?know. When he was in Helloween, he was thinking this way already when we got rid off him, so everyone said we must be idiots for firing a singer like his quality. But it wouldn?t make sense because he started thinking like this way, back to the way he?s thinking nowadays. Getting Andi, it was like he brought some of a pure energy in to this band like you can hear on MASTER OF THE RINGS. He did a lot of the tunes on that album, y?know. And then we came back to that ?freshness? we used to have before. He wrote a lot of good songs and so on; a lot of singing he did was like released. He was not like an ?just alright? replacement for us, he brought lots of fresh ideas in to this band.
Was it any hard to get his vocal style to fit into the sound of Helloween as he did sing a different way in his previous band Pink Cream 69? Besides that Michael Kiske had quite a different voice compared to Deris as he was using more of these high scales singing-wise.
Well, we knew Andi, we knew his voice and we knew what we were doing and what were after. We just didn?t do it without having an idea about how things were carried on from that point what we were doing at that time, y?know. We had rough ideas and, it?s always a risk. If you don?t take a risk, you shouldn?t be in this business at all. It?s the same kind of risk like doing the KEEPER ?album for instance, but anyway, the point is you should?t be scared. If you are always scared of something, you are only able to do like a half of what you are thinking of doing, succeeding halfway. But then if you don?t be scared of taking another risk or challenges, but so what, life is a risk in itself, isn?t it? And then you have guts to say: ?Alright, this is what I?d like to do. If it?s somehow dangerous or not ? if I don?t try, I?ll never know?.
As for the line-up changes of the band, Sascha Gerstner (Freedom Call) was chosen to replace Roland Grapow in August of 2002. He wrote some of the songs or contributed to them for the last two Helloween albums. My question now is, did you guys feel the material he was writing was naturally Helloween material or did the older members had to work with it to make it fit to the Helloween songs?
He changed kind of song writing, I guess, already from the RABBIT ?album up to this latest album of ours because this is more like an ?into-the-whole-enemy(?)? ?context, if you ask me.
It certainly is a real advantage to have many good song writers in one band…
Most definitely!! That?s what we wanted in the first place when looking for a new singer for Helloween, for being able to write songs for us and who?s not only just being able to play guitar and being there when we need some input for the song writing; being apart of it , too.
Any chances on a live DVD further down the road?
Yeah, well… There?s not a final plan made yet, but then we have been talking about it a little bit where we might record it and how we would record it ? and when it should be released and stuff like that.
Do you have a camera crew with you on this tour that is filming some footage from your shows, so you might pile up some stuff for a possible DVD ?release?
No yet really as we need to concentrate on the shows now as we just started touring. I guess we need to get the whole thing rollin? just a little bit more and then like finding out when being on the right track, what we can do, y?know.
What are all these reunion "rumors" that have been floating around lately? Hansen has said he would do it if Kiske did it, but what’s your take on this even if I know you might not be the right person to answer this hypothetical question?
Oh well… ha-ha-hah!! I don?t know what Kiske has been thinking about this as he obviously has to do a guitar-orientated music; and then it?s up to him if he likes to do so. I really don?t know; I just don?t think if it?s a good idea to do right now. If people just would believe him, y?know, but he did everything to get out of this music – and if we do such a thing like Helloween with that old line-up; with the past members, y?know, it has to be done with LOUD guitars. And all that having Kai Hansen in the band, he should provide those very heavy and loud guitars back to Helloween then.
As you have probably noticed, these reunions seem to be in fashion nowadays, like Priest coming back with Rob Halford, Testament doing many reunion shows all around the globe with the original line-up and… so forth. Also, if you are thinking of such festival as Wacken, they always seem to have at least one reunion show to be revealed each year. So who knows, maybe they?ll ask you to do a Helloween ?reunion show there next year (2006; This interview was conducted with Markus 26th of November 2005)?
They have been asking that from us for nearly the last 20 years… well, I lied to you a little bit; almost 10 years. But then, y?know, it?s a matter of number of things really. I cannot see it happening right now as we have this ?Keeper – The Legacy? -thing going on. That?s why we didn?t ask them to be a part of the KEEPER – THE LEGACY album. We basically wanted to give it a whole different spirit, y?know. It wouldn?t make sense to get these two guys in at the moment in order to create this spirit we have right now in the band. We wanted to show to all these suspicious people that we can do without them, too, and so we created KEEPER – THE LEGACY with the line-up we have got now. And we can always create this special spirit in a live situation or a record as well, it doesn?t matter.
Ok, looking into the future a bit, what kind of plans does Helloween have for 2006? Obviously lots of touring, summer festivals, etc. will be happening according to the Helloween -website?
Yeah, we have plans to go to Japan, Asia, both South – and North America ? and of course we?ll do a lot of different festivals next year, too. And that?ll go on ?til September 2006.
What about showing your faces in Australia; any plans to make a tour in Down Under in the future?
Australia hasn?t been included in the tour list, and frankly it?s never been on the list either, I don?t know why. I think it?s a bit hard to break into their music markets and we don?t know any people whom we could start working with over there for concerts and stuff like that. You simply just cannot go there without having all these contacts around you. It?s also too far away just to go there and play a couple of shows for our fans in that country. The question is how would you go there and present yourself to them; and how many people we could expect to see our shows there, y?know. We definitely need some contacts from there to tell us what?s going on over there whether it?s possible and financially secure to play there as well, y?know. It?s never been a question for us to not play there as no one has really ever asked us before to play there. I think there?s a real big market for us to go there, so… For example Japan has always been a good market for a band like us. We have gone there every time when we have released a new Helloween album. They have got a really good market for us there in Japan.
I also noticed, based on the info in your website that you will play like 5 or 6 shows over there, starting from the end of February 2006…
Yeah, if I remember correctly our first show will be in Hiroshima 24th of February 2006, and we?ll continue playing more shows from there in some of the biggest Japanese cities like in Tokyo ands Osaka, for example.
As X-mass is near , what kind of gifs do you wish from Santa Claus? Anything special?
Huh, I don?t know… I really don?t know. (*Markus tuning down his voice at this point of the interview*) ?Lots of loveee…?
I hope Santa Claus has a lot of that in his sack for me this year…
Ok, that was it. Thanks a lot Markus for your time and all the best for your show tonight…
Thank you. It was my pleasure.
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