INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
One of the greatest voices in metal, Michael Kiske, is finally back in business. Best known as a former Helloween singer from the band’s golden era, the KEEPER OF THE KEYS, is now returning with his brand new band UNISONIC. Although it’s been seventeen years since Michael last performed onstage his name is still well known in today’s metal/rock world. Even though he has not performed Kiske has kept himself busy over the last 17 years. He has released four solo albums and been involved with several different projects including: Tobias Sammat’s Avantasia –albums, Revolution Reneissance with Timo Tolkki, Supared and recently he’s been working with the Place Vendome –project which in a way was in a key role for Michael’s decision to return. The Place Vendome line up also include current Unisonic members: bassist Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69) and drummer Kosta Zafiriou (Pink Cream 69). The Unisonic line-up is completed with former Krokus and Asia guitarist Mandy Mayer. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael at the Swedenrock festival and here is what Michael had to say about his current activities, solo career, Helloween days, Iron Maiden and various other topics…. ENJOY !!
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS AND PICTURES BY PATRICK CLEMENT
TREANSCRIPTED BY MARTIN HEAPS
Well first of all, after 17 years, how does it feel to return on stage?
MICHAEL KISKE: Very good, very good. I mean I’m a bit excited, and before these kind of things also a bit nervous but when we’re on stage it’s kind of good, it is very exciting, very exciting for me especially when you haven’t done anything like that for such a long time… very long time.
In the past I’ve spoken with many people, like Tobias Sammet, who have seriously tried to get you on tour but you always refused to do it…
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, yeah I always didn’t want to do it.
What finally made you change your mind?
MICHAEL KISKE: These two guys, Dennis [Ward] and Kosta [Zafiriou], they just asked me at the right time, that’s how it is in life… you just go through phases and then just some day it’s the right time and they just ask you and you feel ‘yeah let’s do it’. Better now than never, you know, I’m not getting younger.
That’s a fact for everybody.
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, it’s true.
So, well tell us more about your new band Unisonic!
MICHAEL KISKE: Not much yet! [laughs]
But it’s more than just a name?
MICHAEL KISKE: Well it’s bit more than that, I just told one of the guys from the management here that we wanted to be ready with a record already, to have something to play, but I’m actually quite happy that we do this first. Because now we feel a lot more like a band and it’s good to have that first and then go into a studio and try and make a record. We have a lot of songs, already… but not enough, we have enough songs, but not enough where we say ‘yeah that’s it!’ you know? It’s good that we’ve done this tour now, it’s not a lot, it’s like four shows, this is the biggest of course [Swedenrock] I’m very surprised they’ve booked us anyway, you know, no record, new band…
So Unisonic is a big name already “laughs”
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah! It’s unbelievable. I’m really thrilled, really thrilled and I’m very honoured to be honest with you, we did a signing session there, was like all these people there, hundreds. Unbelievable! And they also had my solo records! And stuff like that, was really impressed, it’s really good that I’m doing this, because I was out of touch, I was a bit gone for a while. But Unisonic, I think the main work lies ahead of us now, but I think it should be possible to have a record finished and released definitely this year, I guess fall or something, early Winter maybe it should be possible to release something this year.
You already mentioned Kosta and Dennis but what about Mandy Mayer (ex-Krokus, Asia). How did he end up for this band?
MICHAEL KISKE: Mandy’s awesome! Do you know him?
I have interviewed him in the past.
MICHAEL KISKE: He’s just the sweetest guy, and a great guitarist and I didn’t even know him, it was just Dennis who just right away said ‘Mandy’. And I’m very happy as you can’t possibly have problems with him, that’s impossible.
I know Mandy from the past when he was still playing with Krokus and it was really fortunate thing what happened for him when original band decided to reunite couple of years ago and…
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, absolutely and that’s why we’re all so happy he has a good chance now with us.
So in that way you both have a kind of a common history here?
MICHAEL KISKE: It’s very nice you mention that because I’ve thought the same way, you know, it’s like he deserves it. And it was Dennis who just immediately said “Mandy!”, and he’s a sweet guy. I didn’t know him mainly before… yeah, I didn’t know him….
Do you already have a record label for Unisonic?
MICHAEL KISKE: We have a label extremely interested, I mean they want it.
Do you perhaps mean Frontiers Records here?
MICHAEL KISKE: Absolutely, they want to have it at any cost but we haven’t made a decision yet, and I’m not having any- it’s the management that make that decision. I don’t even want to think about it, you know? But I know there is also a major label, we are having discussions with a major label too. We want a label that really will do something for us.
You want label which really supports you and understands what’s best for you.
MICHAEL KISKE: Yes, exactly, yes, in many- you know support or whatever it is to break us into any country, that’s more important than pre-money or anything like that. That is a label that wants to do something for the band, that’s important. It’s very, very difficult these days.
UNISONIC: Kosta Zafirou, Mandy Mayer, Dennis Ward and Michael
PROJECTS AND CHEMISTRY THINGS
Although you haven’t done any shows since your departure with Helloween, you’ve been active in the music business and you have recorded many albums and done projects during that period. I especially liked the album INSTANT CLARITY which is the best solo album of yours so far?
MICHAEL KISKE: Well I had some help there, you know, Kai Hansen was there and Adrian Smith… I’m very happy for Adrian to be back in Iron Maiden, he’s very well placed there.
MR: Do you want to tell some more about those albums and projects you did during that period?
MICHAEL KISKE: All solo projects, yeah and then… well, what do you do when you don’t have a band? You do projects “laughs”.
But going back to Unisonic, you mean this is a real band now?
MICHAEL KISKE: This is a band, yes. This is not a project, this is very different. Place Vendome was sort of a project but more band like with the same people, you know, which actually got us the idea- it kind of sounded so good, and I was doing things on my own and I’m quite good when I keep things simple like in the 2006 record of myself, singer songwriter style I was not trying to over blow it but keep it a bit more simple. It works with me. If I try to do something like what I did with Supared or something like that, it doesn’t really work. I think my simplicity combined with Dennis’ experience in producing, he does a lot of things I can’t do, and he’s really good when it comes to this stuff. I’m happy that he’s now there, I can now write a simple song and swap it over and he does his stuff with it, and I’m sure it’s going to make me better and them better, you know, we do something together. That’s the benefit of a band, but you can’t make it. It just happens, it just falls into place. It’s just the right thing to do.
You’re talking about chemistry within the band here?
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, yeah. I tried to make bands earlier, Supared for instance, but it didn’t work out. A band isn’t just 4 or 5 people making music together. It has to become something else, something the individuals aren’t. Chemistry, like what we used to had with Helloween for instance. The phase with Kai Hanson, I always say that, I have a big taste in music, I like a lot of music, you know. I like some of my favourite Iron Maiden or Judas Priest records and stuff like that but I also like Oasis, I like U2, I have lots of Classical Music, a very big understanding of music and I love a lot different of music, you know? Why did I say that? I wanted to say something but it disappeared? It’s been a long day! Chemistry? That’s weird! “laughs” … Ahhh… Now I know why! I have a big taste in music but I still like those KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS records the most, just for one simple reason, the chemistry was working, the band was working. When Kai was in the band, and not only because of his genius or whatever, he is very good, but his personality… sort of everything was in balance and it worked, you had some teams here, some teams there and everything was cool. Then when he got out and new person came in – Roland is also a cool guy, it’s not a question about that, OK – but it’s like the chemistry didn’t work anymore and it was totally different, like Michael trying to get rid of me and stuff like that, and there was stuff going on and nothing worked any more .
Roland (Grapow) has told the same kind of stories in his interviews…
MICHAEL KISKE: Oh yeah, it was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. But I experienced this phase, you know, with the KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS records and I’m happy that I did because now I know what happens when you have a real band, when you have chemistry everything falls into place, you don’t have to do much you just let it happen somehow.
Tell something about recording and making your last Helloween album CHAMELEON. It was the time of change, it was a radical change of direction, but overall it was such a good album in my opinion?
MICHAEL KISKE: I still think it was an honest album, but it wasn’t a band any more, it was basically three songwriters making solo records. The band thing was not there anymore. I like it, but I don’t like it for the reasons I told you, I don’t like it as much as the KEEPER records because that’s the band. CHAMELEON is a cool record, I mean ‘Longing’ is a good track of mine and… ‘I Believe’ is a good track of mine. There are a couple of good songs on it. But we were not a band anymore and the time was very set, I mean Ingo (was very sick, that was the last thing he did, after he did the drumming he had a breakdown… It was not a very pleasant time. But I think the record shows that in the way, there is some very dramatic stuff on it when you like look at some of the lyrics in there.
What kind of memories do you have from your last tour with Helloween in 1993?
MICHAEL KISKE: I don’t remember much about it. I just know we had a lot of resistance with this because it sounded so different. Which is always difficult especially in the metal scene which is very wrong, you know, and Unisonic wants to be a Rock band not a Metal band to have a wider range that you don’t fall into that box, you know, because I think the band needs to be creative. We had the same conversation with that one interviewer here before, and she asked exactly those questions, because it’s very important, and it is like so important especially these days as you have every band is trying to please a market, they think right away ‘For what market to we make this record?’ And this is wrong, really wrong it should be the other way around it’s like we actually have the industry – I’ve said this many times in public – to make a simple formula for people to remember, not the industry should design the music, the musicians should make the music and then the industry should find or build a market for that. That way you have a true music culture going on, but it’s vice versa. And fans have to understand because they control the market. If they screw every band that allows creativity and cherish every band that just reproduces them shelves, they’re fighting against free music and fighting against creativity. I understand, that when you as a fan get a record of a band and it sounds totally different to what you expect, I can understand you a little confused or something and maybe also a little bit down but give it time.
You mean that fans should sometimes be more open-minded?
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, give it time. Often records that you don’t get the first time, you’ll get it the third time and it’ll get even better, and maybe you’ll like it even better. I’ve had that many times in my life. That there were CDs that I didn’t understand right away but I was always very open, maybe I listened to something else and then next day I put it on again and then suddenly I loved it. Maybe I don’t but, you know, very often that happens but people have to understand music is about being creative and expressing yourself.
Yeah, it’s funny, I remember when I was like ten years old when I first time heard the album IN ROCK and…
MICHAEL KISKE: Deep Purple?
Yes and I told everybody “Ahh… that’s old people’s music, don’t want to listen stuff like that!’… but just one week later it did literally blow my mind and ….
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, yeah, but that’s why we’re living, you know, for learning, and music has to do with that. We have a German expression “Beardekutz” if you translate that it means sort of “educating art”. It’s a word that people don’t think about a lot but… I’m coming from the spiritual end, I’m a kind of spiritual person and to me this is like a fact, when you express yourself in a song and when you put your heart into it you really mean what you say – whatever it is – it doesn’t matter what it is, that spirit is captured and that is what you carry out to the word and that is what people put in their souls when they listen to the song. And by that, if you do something untruthful I think it’s unhealthy for people – they might like it, because it’s what they wanted – but if you eat that, spiritually, if you listen to that – and it’s not honest – it kind of damages you in a very substantial way. It’s like growing up in a family where people just lie to you, for instance. It wouldn’t do you any good but it would certainly do you some damage. If you grow up with parents that are honest to you, big heart and strong or whatever, beautiful people, it will help you to become strong…and develop, and art has this mission, actually, to be real, to be honest. And in metal music that’s what I always criticise. I don’t hate metal that’s just what they make out if it; I just hate certain things in metal, in the metal scene. Certain ideologies or certain ideologies that are spoken about but they don’t live it, you know? Music should be art and true art is nothing where you need to read a book about it to understand it, then it’s a failure to me, it has to affect you directly. I mean, art has to affect you directly. It has to be true to be healthy for the culture. Take Wagner for instance, he’s one of my idols, I love this man, you know. He already said in the 19th Century, that the new master of art is the industry… And he was already right! It was like the industry is the yardstick these days for ‘good’. If a record sells well, it’s a good record, but these two things don’t necessarily have much to do with each other. The thing is you can have a shit record and it gets produced or someone puts it in a movie and it sells millions, and you can have an awesome record that doesn’t get promoted and people don’t know it exists and it doesn’t sell. So the quality of the record doesn’t say much about it. I’m not saying that quality has absolutely nothing to do with it, I mean you have quality records that sold a lot, but then you have a promotion and it was heard by people, but it’s not a yardstick for quality.
Michael, Michael Weikath, Ingo Schwichtenberg , Markus Grosskopf and Roland Grapow in late 80’s
INTERNET AND MUSIC BUSINESS
How do you like the Internet, overall?
MICHAEL KISKE: I love the internet! I’m really addicted to the computer technology, I’m playing computer games, I have like a very strong PC with like the strongest video card you can buy, and I have it connect it to the flat screen and I play all my games in full High Definition with surround sound and all stuff like that. I’m pretty crazy about that!
What about Internet and music business?
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah well in music it has two sides. I like the idea that bands can get known through it, you know, you can make a MySpace page for instance and put your songs on it, you can even be successful just with these things and these are good things about it. You can make productions with the internet, like with PLACE VENDOME, we didn’t sit together and do anything, and I just got the tracks and sang them in my studio. I mean these things are awesome! You can just make a lot because there are a lot of benefits about the internet. But obviously, this kind of stealing music and copying and downloading it this has damaged the industry so much, and they do everything more and more wrong. And that’s a very sad side to it. Again, the same thing I said earlier, musicians should think about culture and what does culture actually mean? What is actually meant by it, and that goes also when we’re talking about that, I think as a musician you can make your fans understand, ‘If I want to support this band… if I want another record out this band I better buy this CD’. You just need to tell them, you know, it depends on what type of fans you’re actually getting, you know, all this boy girl group, caste bands, they’re just a summer fashion anyway nobody expects them to last long, usually they have a one hit single and the next year they’re gone again, they’re just a product… you know. But in rock it should be different, you know?
Fortunately in rock world it still is real deal in most cases but…
MICHAEL KISKE: In some cases, maybe it is in your country, and people tell me, some people tell me it is. I’m not aware, you know, I haven’t really followed it that much, it’s good if it is that way.
Actually there’s one interesting thing that was in the news some time. The CD sales are going down all the time in almost every country in Europe but not Germany and…
MICHAEL KISKE: Ah, in rock music you mean?
Yeah, metal and rock fans stay loyal! You know, they want the real thing!
MICHAEL KISKE: Me too! It doesn’t matter what music I mean as I said if I show you my iPhone you’ll probably be shocked what’s on there, it goes something like Simon and Garfunkel to Maria Mena “laughs”.
I’m not shocked about that!
MICHAEL KISKE: I’m listening to so many different styles of music…
WORKING WITH TIMO TOLKKI, TOBIAS SAMMET AND KAI HANSEN
Because I come from Finland I got to ask about your collaboration with Timo Tolkki?
MICHAEL KISKE: “Ha-ha”, what about him? … I haven’t met him.
You’ve never met him?
MICHAEL KISKE: No, no haven’t met him, only on the internet, you know. We have used e-mail and stuff like that. Actually he wanted to meet me once, he wanted to invite me to U2, but I had something to do, I don’t know what it was?
That was surprising info for me because you’ve worked with him in many occasions during the last ten to fifteen years. How do you like your works with him?
MICHAEL KISKE: I really like REVOLUTION RENEISSANCE –album. That one turned out pretty nice. I actually listened to it again a couple of weeks ago, I’d forgotten about it and then I’d saw a YouTube video or something like that and it was very good, very nice. I like the lyrics, I like the message, and I like the song. I actually offered him another song, to sing another song because I liked it.
There is a rumour going on that he at some point was trying to get you to sing for his old band Stratovarius when they were seeking a vocalist?
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah, yeah, but I didn’t want to go into any band at that time. Yeah, yeah he asked me about that.
When was that?
MICHAEL KISKE: I think around the time when it (the album) was produced. At that time I wasn’t interested in anything like that, it has to be – like I said with Unisonic – want to be a rock band and have like all the possibilities, that’s very important for us. I don’t know if it would have worked, you know. I don’t even know him. Like I said I have had some offers in the past….
OK, tell me something about your working with Tobias Sammet?
MICHAEL KISKE: Tobias, Toby, I really like him. You know, he got me into doing this again when he did the very first one, was it EDGUY or AVANTASIA? About 1998 or something like that… I didn’t want to do it first but when he talked me into it, on the phone… He’s just a very nice guy; I like his sense of humour and everything. The funny thing is that I never met him either! Yeah, never met him either but I’m sure we will meet someday “laughs”. The thing is it’s usually connected with personalities. For instance Kai Hansen, I like him very much, you know… I think I would always sing a song for him if he asked me. I just connect the best time of Helloween with him.
Tell something about your working with Kai and his Gamma Ray band. You did a guest vocalist role in LAND OF THE FREE -album which is… excellent, it could have been the next Helloween –release after KEEPER –albums…
MICHAEL KISKE: Well he should have stayed in the band and if you ask me, he was very well placed in Helloween, during that time. If he wouldn’t have left the band the balance would have maybe been there and everything would have been different. He was actually the one who ended it if you ask me. Kai Hanson should never have left the band. He should have stayed in the band because he didn’t do anything different musically. He was very well placed in the band. I think it was the wrong decision and he shouldn’t have made that.
He said once that didn’t like the style of the management back then?
MICHAEL KISKE: That’s what he says, that’s what he says.
MICHAEL KISKE: That’s what he says to himself! I think he believes it but I think he just had a crisis by that time. Some type of a crisis and… It was sort of… We all treated him good.
Can’t hesitate to ask, how do you like the current incarnation of Helloween, anyway?
MICHAEL KISKE: Honestly? I haven’t listened to anything. Because I felt hurt, like it’s an honour thing, you know, I just kind of faded it out. I didn’t listen to anything, I just like the idea, I know what their last record is, I like the cover – it’s a beautiful cover – looks really nice, I like the idea of what they’ve done – haven’t heard it, but everybody tells me it’s cool… It’s very brave to do that, I didn’t expect anything like that! So it’s like, for me they get this…… You know?
How about your album PAST IN DIFFERENT WAYS which is actually a collection of renewed versions of old Helloween tracks originally written by you?
MICHAEL KISKE: That’s also very nice, yeah. That was, I’m very happy I did that one. That was kind of… I never hate the music I did in Helloween, that’s been twisted like that, again and I’ve never said anything about that, you know, but of course, I was-, when you hurt and you’re pissed about something… it’s connected with the music, and I had to do that somehow, to make peace with it. That’s why I can play these songs now live and feel good about it.
I got to say that “Kids of the Century” did sound really good today!
MICHAEL KISKE: Yeah it’s an amazing song, definitely. We played a little punk with it but… [laughs]
Tell us about the rumour with the Iron Maiden thing you had when they were seeking a replacement for Bruce Dickinson in early 90’s?
MICHAEL KISKE: That was just, that was just a rumour, I mean we know the guys, they’re very nice guys and everything, but first of all what you should never forget is they’re a British band, they would never fucking get a German singer! Their fans are very nationalistic.
Yeah, I believe they are “laughs”
MICHAEL KISKE: And it wouldn’t work. It’s just rumour and some people…
What if they would have chosen you anyway then?
MICHAEL KISKE: I don’t think that I would fit, to be honest with you. I don’t think I would have done it. I like Iron Maiden. I have my favourites: NUMBER OF THE BEAT, PIECE OF MIND and POWERSLAVE. Those are my favourite records but I also like SOMEWHERE IN TIME and stuff like that. I wouldn’t have fit that type of band, I don’t think, I don’t think I would have fit in there. I need to be in a rock band. But they impressed me very much – Maiden – with their Flight – “Route 666” tour. Wasn’t that amazing! I’ve never heard them play better! They really practised or whatever it is… I mean, they were always very good. Iron Maiden was always a good live band but they sounded better than on the record, occasionally! Great idea with the plane and Bruce Dickinson needs to get like an “orden” – What is that “orden” in English? It’s like a thing what you can get when you’re doing great in the army?
You mean getting medal of honour or something like that?
MICHAEL KISKE: Whoever had that idea of the ED FORCE ONE and stuff like that, needs to get, you know, an honour medal or whatever. That was Bruce Dickinson and that was really brilliant. I mean, it was brilliant from a financial aspect anyway, that was why they did it, but also from the promotional aspect – everywhere this plane appeared and “Awww! The Iron Maiden plane” stuff like that. It was like one of the best things they could have done.
Okay Michael. Our time is running out now. Thank you very much your time and see you later!
MICHAEL KISKE: No problem and thank you guys!
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UNSONIC LIVE PICTURES FROM SWEDENROCK 2010 FESTIVAL