Guitarist Michael Weikath
Interview & live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Transcription by Andy Osborn
The history of German speed/power metal force Helloween dates back to the late 70´s when Helloween was formed by guitarist Kai Hansen, guitarist/vocalist Piet Sielck, Ingo Schwichtenberg on drums and Marcus Grosskopf on bass. The band was still called Second Hell in 1981 – and then even later the name was changed to Iron Fist (in 1982) before the band took their current Helloween name in 1983 as the name of their band.
The band´s second guitarist Michael Weikath came to Helloween from a band called POwerfool, replacing Piet Sielck (who actually ever wasn´t quite in Helloween) – and also bringing over such known Helloween anthems as "Cry for Freedom" and "Starlight" that both appeared on the band´s self-titled 5-song EP in 1985.
That, as a brief introduction to Michael´s history as a part of this magnificent German metal band.
Ever since Helloween have released 13 studio albums (off which KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS – PT. 1 & 2 have undoubtedly become instant classics in Helloweeen´s own reportoire), done many successful world tours by covering nearly every single corner on this planet – and simply played their way out straight through the hearts of many new´n´old Helloween fans more than over 3 decades already.
The band´s current tour together with Gamma Ray and Axxis, going under "Hellish Rock Tour 2007-2008", reached Helsinki on December 11th, 2007, and always so curious Metal-Rules.com was there of course to find out how´s the tour been going for them thus far – amongst other things naturally as well. Mikhael Weikath stepped in as a volunteer to talk about the tour, etc., so let´s hand over a microphone to him up next…
HELLISH ROCK TOUR 2007-2008
So, what you could tell me about this “Hellish Rock” tour that’s been going on with Gamma Ray and Axxis? You started this tour Budapest on November 16th already and are not even halfway through it, so parties are not over for you yet, ha-he!
This is the first leg of the tour and there’s going to be an Asian, North American, and Australian part to it too. So all this has just been the first half. There’s going to be a Christmas break and then after that we’ll start again.
How was the response in Tampere yesterday, by the way?
It was very good, just like always. It is very much a rock and roll town if you want to call it that. We’ve already been there three times now but it keeps getting better. It’s always good to play in Finland.
Do you feel like you have a lot of fans here in Finland?
Yeah and it’s good that it’s like that. I wasn’t sure if it was still going to be like this because it’s been a while but the Finns are a very select audience and they know what they want to listen to. I think the Finns were more or less conservative in their rock music taste until recently. If everything changes and they get a lot more modern in their music taste then I don’t know what’s going to happen but it’s been good so far.
Are people to expect exactly the same set from you tonight here in Helsinki, or have you modified your set-list a bit for tonight?
No, it’s a matter of the time schedule. Sometimes the venues will have a curfew and we’ll have to skip a few tracks because of it. As we are in Scandinavia, we decided to fully play it because the tracks by themselves don’t come across strong enough so that’s what we’ve been doing.
You are touring together with Gamma Ray. Is this a sort co-headlining tour between Helloween and Gamma Ray, or is Gamma Ray supporting you?
It’s hard to say, we would like to think we are co-headlining but obviously we can’t play at the same time so they are listed as our special guests. We would have done this tour either way but since it was our management’s idea to do this tour, obviously we have to list them as special guests.
Has Helloween done any as extensive tours together with Gamma Ray before?
No, never. We had a festival in Milan and another one somewhere else and once in a while Kai Hansen has a show with them; and of course Wacken. Before it would have been very difficult because of our different schedules but now that we both had albums come out at the same time we were able to do it.
According to your own website, so far the last dates of this tour, will be played in Japan during February where you have at least those 6 confirmed dates. Obviously after you have done Japan, you also might have some plans to bring this tour to some other corners of the world like USA and Australia, for example? Is something confirmed yet regarding your further touring plans?
Yes, that is in the plans. It’s not online yet because it hasn’t been confirmed but we even have Brazilian dates. But we definitely are coming over there. The promoter we had last time wanted us to do specific shows and we couldn’t comply because it didn’t work out so we owe it to him to come back.
On your last “Keep of the Seven Keys – World Tour 2005/2006”, you didn’t play any shows in the North America. Why’s that? Isn’t there enough interest for Helloween or what?
There were particular reasons for that. Our manager has been dealing with the American promoter and they were very eager to have those shows on the last tour but it just didn’t work out.
Can you tell how many new cities or new venues you will be covering on this tour where you have never played before?
Well, not really. It’s always a good idea to play somewhere where you haven’t been before but if you get a good offer you want to keep going back there. Sometimes there are places you have to play underground places and it just doesn’t work out well. And also you have these venues that promise you 300 people and then you say sorry it’s just not worth it. We haven’t had any profits from our concerts in about 20 years. That’s why we had a change of management because they look at those things. It’s not just for playing places you haven’t been before, it’s about playing places that just make sense. Sometimes there are political reasons like we can’t play in the Philippines even though we have so many fans but the political situation is just too unstable.
I guess going to new cities (or new venues) is also one of those things that keep you all this touring exciting for you – correct? Which cities or countries would you personally like to bring Helloween some day?
Yes, there are but on the other hand we cover the places we are interested in and we wanted to do more shows in South America and there are so many fans. But sometimes you deal with weird people who just want to make money and they don’t even care about what band is playing be it Iron Maiden or Helloween; what they’ll do is cancel the concert at the last minute and not refund the fan’s tickets and just collect the money. You really have to find out who you’re dealing with and that’s the biggest problem with playing places that you’ve never been. Sometimes you go there and you just get fucked; you had good motives and want to have a good time but sometimes it’s just not to be maintained and that’s the problem with new places.
FROM IRON FIRST TO POWERFOOL TO HELLOWEEN
Let´s talk about your musical past next for the next couple of questions. You joined Helloween in 1983 and replaced Piet Sielck when the band had just changed their name from Iron Fist to Helloween. If you try to recall those early days when you joined this band in 1983, can you still remember what kinds of things made you fascinated about Helloween that made you eventually to join their ranks?
Actually he left the band before I came in, but he tells a different story. The band Iron Fist didn’t exist for a while because Markus left. Kai played for a little bit in my band and he reformed Iron Fist and it was my decision to be in there and that’s how it started. Right from the start you had problems because there were two people who didn’t like each other.
You came from this other band called Powerfool, in which you played together with Kai Hansen. I’m a bit curious to know about that band and if you made any demos with them?
Yeah, I barely remember that, it was only like two weeks or two months or something. That’s where we got the idea to play this kind of metal with twin guitar solos and vocals. The people in the original band didn’t really get that idea. They didn’t want to rehearse as much but we had this good idea that eventually came out. “Cry For Freedom” is one of those tracks that we tried but the band members said it was too complicated and they didn’t want to work that hard. So me and Kai reformed Iron Fist. We did some demos that some people have somewhere.
Back in those days, there seemed to be a whole new wave of German metal bands coming out from your country that played speed metal, like Grave Digger, Running Wild, Iron Angel, Living Death, Rage and so on. Anyway, to me it seemed like Helloween was one of the most talked ‘new’ German speed metal bands amongst people back in the early ´80s, probably because you had this more melodic, kinda Maiden´ish vibe in your songs, especially on the classic WALLS OF JERICHO and KEEPER (pt. 1 & 2) albums.
That was exactly what record companies hated and they thought it was the wrong thing to do. We wanted melodies and anthems because that’s what people want. Actually, that’s not true, I’d say 60% of metalheads who like slaughter and chaos in their music and about 40% like melodies.
MAIDEN´S INFLUENCE ON MICHAEL´S SONG WRITING
And as we already know, Iron Maiden had a strong influence on everything back in those days, so can you tell how much Maiden influenced you as a musician back then?
The problem is that people always assume that but they didn’t have that big effect on me and personally I think we played better guitar than them. It’s sounding a little arrogant but all our recording back then was very chaotic and I know we could have recorded better than that. I think we were sure that we could play better solos from them at that time. We all had our experience of eight or ten years of playing in other bands so that really helped. Whatever Iron Maiden did on their first records was smart and great but when they came out with it, we just hoped it was helping the metal scene and we actually criticized that stuff amongst ourselves. They had a strong management and a strong will as English musicians usually do because take Led Zeppelin or the Beatles; if you grow up in the shadow of those bands you have to be professional. This is how Iron Maiden came across because they had a strong idea of what they wanted to do but to me they were just another band. I was a big Deep Purple and Uriah Heep fan and Black Sabbath but when Iron Maiden came around I didn’t think it was very new because they are slightly older. Who knows what would have happened if we did our stuff first? I was really interested in Thin Lizzy and those things and UFO so you can certainly do records without knowing about Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden was considered popular because they played very commercial melodies and it was the same idea for me but I think it would be bad to copy anyone when you start a band.
When looking through the whole career of Helloween, it must be said it´s actually pretty amazing to say the least. 12 studio albums, several world tours, many good album charts and so on. All this makes me to ask from you is there still something you would like to achieve with Helloween, or on a personal level some day?
We just want to go as far as we can. We could have done more and we could have kept a better line up if it wasn’t for all the problems but music changes. Or with the Chameleon, I was into the idea because we were in debt and we needed to sound more commercial to make more money. This is actually what originated, all this strain in other areas. We could have done good records like we have done recently the whole time but we had so much trouble and people always want to have more and being greedy and they just keep fucking up bands. If we had good contracts in the beginning we wouldn’t have needed to change our music but we could have done that differently.
SOME WORDS ABOUT GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL
Talking about your new album, GAMBLING WITH THE DEVIL, a bit up next, how would you say writing this album was different compared to your previous album KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS – THE LEGACY that came out 2 years ago?
Actually, we skipped the whole rehearsal bit with this album. We just recorded demos of the songs and then we were just done. We’ve done that a bit in the past but it was clear that there we some tracks that needed to be rearranged. We don’t want to go into a rehearsal rooms because it just costs too much money. It has to go towards the room and an apartment and we just didn’t want to deal with that. We know how to work with modern technology like Pro Tools and just arrange everything. Markus was given the possibility to come up with these great songs and he’s never done that before.
As my time is running out and X-mas is right behind the door, I asssume you happen to know that the REAL Santa Claus comes from Finland, don’t you? What would you ask him for this Christmas?
Maybe he’ll give me some peace on earth.
Thanks for your time and best of luck for the rest of the tour, Michael!
Thanks very much to yourself.