INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN
PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
(Thanks to Lana Morganella for helping with the transcription)
Gamma Ray has become one of the leading names in the flourishing power metal genre. When it is widely known that most of Gamma Ray’s albums are well written and catchy power metal. Kai Hansen’s Gamma Ray visited Helsinki early this year by playing a one-off gig in Tavastia Club. Unfortunately the whole interview schedule went totally upside down due to Henjo’s accident on the ferry the night before. Therefore our private interview session became a normal general press event where several people asked all kinds of things.
First of all we have to ask what happened to Henjo?
DIRK SCHLACHTER: Well, simply as that, he just fell down some stairs on the ship here on the ferry to Helsinki. It was wet and slippery, so he fell down and hit his elbow, back, and head.
KAI HANSEN: He can barely move now…
DAN ZIMMERMAN: He’s on a lot of different kinds of painkillers.
But you got a replacement from the Finnish Gamma Ray tribute band and you don’t have to cancel this show because of Henjo’s injury?
KAI HANSEN: That’s true, yeah. This is like a real bad luck thing, but on the other hand, we have so much luck in this bad luck, that it actually happens on the way to Helsinki where this guy lives who plays in a tribute band and who can play most of the songs and stuff, so that’s really cool.
So is he going to continue with the tour?
KAI HANSEN: Well, as long as Henjo is not able to play, he will, yeah.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: We can’t tell that yet, cos his boss will get angry
Do you still have the Finnish keyboard player?
KAI HANSEN: So, our big game plan is to replace the whole Gamma Ray band by the end of this tour by Finnish people. (laughs) Well, not really, but we kind of have a Finnish connection now.
Do you have any idea how long it will take before he can play again?
KAI HANSEN: The doctor couldn’t say, he said it would take at least ten days until he can start physiotherapy, whatever that means, so we don’t know.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: There’s nothing wrong, his bones are alright, so it could be very quick but you never know.
How much you have to change the set list now?
DIRK SCHLACHTER: We had to change two songs and as for the new songs, the Finnish guitarist learnt them in our bus and learnt them very quickly.
KAI HANSEN: Actually we’ve changed three songs. We play “I Want Out” instead of “Send Me a Sign”.
Kai, you’ve chosen to celebrate your birthday here in Finland. What gives us the honor?
KAI HANSEN: (laughs) Well, it was not really my choice to do the tour at that time but it’s just a birthday so I don’t mind. I’ll spend the day tomorrow on the ferry and the evening on the bus.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: When you turn 40, you stop counting
KAI HANSEN: And stop celebrating, there is nothing to celebrate
How many songs are you going to play from the new album on tonight’s setlist?
KAI HANSE: Three songs. Well, actually when we started rehearsing for this whole tour in Europe, our big plan was to play six or seven songs from the new album, but then again the tour started so early after the release that we had to cut it down again to a minimum. We saw that people like to hear old songs, they just do, and with a new album it’s always kind of tricky. I think it always takes awhile to really go down and then we can start to play more or different stuff. But in the beginning, you play the best known songs of the new album, the favorites or whatever. So, that’s okay.
Why does it always happen like that? A band comes here to tour and they play two or three songs from the new album…
KAI HANSEN: It is fun. Actually I wanted to play the whole new album before we started the tour and we had a bit of a discussion about that. I said that we’re going on tour and we want to promote the new album, not the old shit. And for us, it might be more interesting to do that. But then again, it’s kind of a selfish thing because the fans want to hear the old stuff, they like to hear the old stuff when a band tours once every one or two years. We have fun playing the old stuff or the new stuff anyhow, as long as they go for it. To become classic it takes some time. And new songs are not yet classics. That’s why they are not as famous as the classic ones.
You say you have some kind of Finnish connection right now because of two Finnish guys in the band right now, but otherwise you have had the Finnish connection as the new album has been mastered at the Finnvox Studio…
KAI HANSEN: That’s true as well, yeah. Well, that was not because it was a Finnish studio.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: It was just because we were working for a long time on the album and we took a long time mixing and everything. If we did it by ourselves somewhere in Hamburg , we would take like three days for mastering. We needed somebody else to do it, some other pair of ears.
KAI HANSEN: A neutral pair of ears, so to say, somebody who judges from outside and who’s not into the material. We didn’t want to put the burden on us, so if it sounds shitty to anyone, it’s not our fault. (laughs) [I can’t hear much after this]
You rely on the Finnish metal know-how?
KAI HANSEN: There are good people there, absolutely. And everything that comes out from Finnvox sounds great I have to say that. They are doing a great job on the mastering.
You recorded the album at your own studio, but I read you were in kind of a hurry because the rent contract was about to expire. How is your new studio? Total construction?
DIRK SCHLACHTER: It has been a studio before. In the control room, we have to set up all of our gear. There’s still a lot of work that we didn’t do yet, so when we come back from the tour we have a lot more to do.
KAI HANSEN: The remodeling is pretty much done. We wanted to make the control room exactly like our old one, except that it’s much bigger and it has daylight. We managed to get all of that done so far, but we have to put the gear in.
Is it easy to follow the latest technology?
KAI HANSEN: No, we’re not too much on that because I think we can do whatever we want to do on an album with what we have. We don’t necessarily need to buy new equipment because we don’t need it. The equipment is all ours, and not rented ones.
You are doing gigs here in Europe, but you will start doing some gigs in North America this time?
DANIEL ZIMMERMAN: We go to North America in May and we’ll do five shows there. We’ll do three in Canada. Wacken is done, then Summer Breeze and many other festivals
As for Freedom Call, you are also busy with your own band Freedom Call, when this Gamma Ray tour is over you go to the tour with Rage..
DANIEL ZIMMERMAN: After the tour, I will fly over to America to do the Freedom Call tour there and then America. It will be busy months for me.
How do you share the time between Gamma Ray and Freedom Call to avoid booking conflicts ?
DAN ZIMMERMAN: When Gamma Ray is having a break then I do Freedom Call
Is that so simple?
DAN ZIMMERMAN: Yeah it is so simple (Laughs)
DIRK SCHLACHTER: It is his hobby ….
KAI HANSEN: So far there hasn’t been that much collision on that matter. Daniel takes care that there is not collision
Freedom Call had some radical line-up changes as the guitarist and bassist left, so what’s up right now with Freedom Call?
DAN ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, everything is fine now. We found a new bass player and a new guitar player. One is from eastern Germany and one is from my home area. They’re good musicians and song writers, they can write good songs and this will help us to improve. It will give us new and to fresh influences to the music hopefully.
You’re not able to tour with Gamma Ray and Freedom Call at the same time?
DAN ZIMMERMAN: Well, I would try it, but I don’t think it’s good because then we would have these collisions of interest. I can do it for one show, it’s no problem to play two shows, with Freedom Call and then with Gamma Ray in one day. But I have no experience how it feels like with three weeks when I have to play two shows a night. I don’t know, it’s the only thing which I cannot estimate.
KAI HANSEN: And of course it is even harder for us to fuck up the supporter… (Laughs)
How does the touring life feel after two decades I mean, you have seen all same places many times before?
KAI HANSEN: It is still fun and feels good
Back in the Helloween days, it has been said you left the band back then you were tired and fed up with all the touring commitments?
KAI HANSEN: The things with Helloween were different. We had more extensive road touring and we do tours with Gamma Ray in blocks, three weeks up to max four weeks and then we go home again, which is very important for me. With Helloween things were different at that time, we were booked for half an year for tour and it wasn’t my cup of tea, I don’t like that at all. I feel like it was like it is ripped out of your roots, cos your life at home moves on like friends and family at home, everything moves on. When you get home you feel like a stranger. Of course when you are on the road such a long time, well for a while it is great to meet other people and to be elsewhere. But in a certain time point, it doesn’t matter anymore you don’t give a fuck anymore where you are, who you meet and all that stuff. And it isn’t very nice. At least for me I don’t like that much.
There has been a lot of speculation about the Gamma Ray Live DVD, what’s up with that?
DIRK SCHLACHTER: There are some ideas. It will be recorded in Canada. Plans are quite fixed, something has to be arranged to have more details. But that’s the plan at the moment.
KAI HANSEN: Originally we were planning to filming it in Stockholm. For some reason it wasn’t a good reason to do there. So we switched to another plan. To make a little bit diffent than a normal concert DVD as we are planning on making some kind of road movie with the concert.
What do you think of Helloween’s new “Keeper Of The Seven Keys pt III” album?
KAI HANSEN: Honestly I don’t care, let them do it.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: It was a good move as to the promotion
KAI HANSEN: When I heard about it for the first time I thought it is a brave move, cos both the “Keeper’s” have the certain magic and the stuff. That was up to the whole chemistry in the band and people in the band and of course Michael’s voice. Without that, well I thought “Opps, will that work out?” I don’t know? If you start seeing it as different things what was in the past, then it should be ok.
On the “POWERPLANT” album you went and covered the Pet Shop Boy’s sing “It’s A Sin” why did u end up doing it?!
KAI HANSEN: Just because I heard the song on the radio so many times. I have never been any fan of Pet Shop Boys. But I heard the song I had the impression this could be a great heavy metal song.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: Sometimes it is cool to add heavy guitars an double bass to some pop songs. During the production we have the freedom to carry out all kinds of ideas.
If you should quit either the guitar playing or the singing which one you would keep?
KAI HANSEN: It is really hard to say. It is kinda 50-50. If I had to make a choice now, it would be the singing cos I feel naked without the guitar. Sometimes I do shows with StormWarrior which I really enjoy, but to do it as a full time thing…. I don’t know… It is kind of strange as I really like playing the guitar.
DIRK SCHLACHTER: You know we really need our instruments to hide our bellies… (LAUGHS)
Was it hard on you to start singing again after Ralf Scheeper’s departure?
KAI HANSEN: It was a natural thing, in a way. Because of all these years when he was singing and wasn’t able to get to the rehearsal cos he lives in Stuttgart. I used to singing the rehearsal room and on all the demotapes made I did all the vocals. It was a just matter of daring to go official with that and hope that people would accept that. I knew from the past of course when I sang in Helloween, many people said that too bad you stopped singing as we liked your singing. Of course at that time I was shitting on my pants when doing “Land Of The Free”, thinking “Oh my god…” I have self confiness as well. It was good and I didn’t have problems.
But did you have a purpose on trying to lure Michael Kiske to join Gamma Ray?!
KAI HANSEN: Kiske ?? Hehehe… In general it would have kind of a nice idea. But with his..kind… opinion about metal and what he thinks about it. When he hears the double bass, he doesn’t like it and when he starts hearing the distorted guitar he doesn’t like it.
Was he already that extreme at that time?!
KAI HANSEN: Back then, no it wasn’t that extreme. We were joking about it actually. But then it never happened. We both thought that doing something together with some project thing or having a guest role might be good. And his music taste had gone to the different direction already at that time and we knew I guess it wouldn’t work out for a long time. There would have been a collision thing and another discussion about the musical direction. So, no!!
But did you ever consider having possible canditates to fill up a singer slot?
KAI HANSEN: We did not actually, no. But we thought we were sitting in the cafeteria and talking who is going to take over the vocals. We were thinking if there is any singer that we could even image about and so on…but there was none.
So you didn’t take the contact to Finland?
KAI HANSEN: Hahahahahaah… Well Finland of that time, wasn’t in the metal wise really existing, well at least outside of Finland, it didn’t happen at all. Well of course we could have gone that “Gamma Ray is looking for a singer and send tapes in”, we thought about that but all the hassles around that, no way.
How do you see heavy metal in general for you, is it maybe just a career, hobby?
KAI HANSEN: For me it is a part of life style. It came so much to me when I was young, growing up and finding myself. And that was the music I loved and it came everything what I needed and I still have the same feeling. There is nothing else for me in that much.
What do you think of the German metal scene in general, there are a lot of metal bands but they haven’t made a breakthrough like Finnish bands have and you have festivals so on?
KAI HANSEN: Honestly maybe that’s because German bands are more traditional ones, sticking to old roots of heavy metal. The Finnish bands may have more invented the way to keep another faces like Children of Bodom. I haven’t heard that combination of melodies and aggressity in the metal stuff before. It is like different and you don’t find German bands doing that.
When you started Gamma Ray more as a project band than a normal band?
KAI HANSEN: It was, it couldn’t be anything else. Because I though the band needed to grow. You don’t just put four or five people together to say that it is a band now. The time shows if it becomes a band and you can’t give it a try. It took a while from Gamma Ray to become stable and have a good chemistry. In the beginning it was a Hansen/Scheep project. That was written on demotapes. And the record company wanted me to run the whole thing under Kai Hansen which I didn’t like that idea at all as I don’t like solo projects. So we were looking a band’s name until found Gamma Ray.
Was the stuff written for Helloween, which was released on “Heading for Tomorrow”?
KAI HANSEN: Not totally, there is a lot of new stuff that I wrote after leaving Helloween. Of course there are some ideas that I took over that I had before like “Silence” that had been carrying for a while already and other things “Holding The Ground” is from the past. Some stuff is new and some stuff I had which could have been used in Helloween.
What’s up with Storm Warrior, as they are working on a new album?
KAI HANSEN: Yes they are working on a new album. At the moment they are working…I think they made some live recording that they will put out and the next thing is to make a new album. They are gonna be pretty much on their own feet and I am not gonna be producing the whole thing, maybe helping them like mixing or not? Surely I will listen to their demos and give opinions on them
You have played a couple of gigs with them. You are not coming to be a permanent member with funny stage names?!
KAI HANSEN: No, no not becoming a member. Sometimes we do these extra gigs just for fun like playing the stuff off from “Walls of Jericho” and so on
Isn’t kinda funny to play the old Helloween stuff with StormWarrior?
KAI HANSEN: Yes because this band and how they play the stuff is pretty much influenced by old Helloween and it is not that controlled and it is just “go for it”…and it belongs to the music, I think?
Have you ever written any songs in German?
KAI HANSEN: Yeah we once did “Send Me Sign” in German as a fun thing, when we were fooling around the studio
Several metal bands seem to sing in German?
KAI HANSEN: Yeah it has become a trend in Germany.
I know, but how about a Finnish band singing in German…?
KAI HANSEN: Finnish band singing in German????? Who is that?
KAI HANSEN: What??
Yeah they did some albums in German and toured together with HIM in Germany.
KAI HANSEN: Really? That’s kind of strange “laughs”
Mille Petrozza of Kreator told that he collectes bad heavy metal albums and one of them is Trio Niskalaukaus singing in German
Do you want to say any comments about rumours concerning possible Helloween reunion thing?!
KAI HANSEN: It is nothing but a rumour and nothing has been confirmed yet and I would be willing to do that as it would be a lot of fun. But on the other hand it very much depends on Michael because he is the key point if it happens or not?
Kai, the last question, what is the most important album in the Gamma Ray career in your opinion?
KAI HANSEN: Very hard to say… Hmm.. I think that “Land of the Free” is a kind of a key stabbing stone for Gamma Ray because it came out at that time when Metal was claimed to be totally dead and we did exactly that everybody said it is not gonna happen again. It worked pretty well. Therefore it is a very important album.
SPECIAL THANX TO EDEL RECORDS AND JOHANNA KIISKI TO GET THIS INTERVIEW DONE !!!