Interviewers: Arto Lehtinen and Marko Syrjala
Place: Tuska Metal Festival Helsinki Finland
Kai Hansen already gained the Helloween rank’s reputation in the ’80s and until he went on by carrying his metal mission with Gamma Ray. Here is the extensive dinner conversation with Kai Hansen and Dirk Schlachter.
We are going to publish this interview in the internet magazine called Metal-Rules.com. Do you surf a lot on the net looking for some things and information written about you and Gamma Ray ?!
Kai Hansen: There is quite a lot of pages. I am always checking them out, for example, developments, news, and the other stuff. There is a connection to the Helloween pages and the Blind Guardian pages, and they are all together in an interesting way.
How much does it bother you as almost every Gamma Ray album can easily be found on the net in these mp3 files ?!?
Kai Hansen: Yeah, everything is available. I wouldn’t say I like it, of course. I mean, I wouldn’t say I like the piracy stuff. I think it is ok to make an official release, but on the other hand, it can be on sale as some promotion if people can listen to a song. The downloading is another story because what does bother me is MP3 that hasn’t got the quality offer of CDs, so if you want to have a real thing, you still have to obtain a CD, I think. But in the old days, people did tape trading. It was the same thing.
NEW ALBUM AND RALPH’S DEPARTURE
I was under the impression that you were supposed to have some sabbath year, taking the whole year off from everything and focusing on your family life as your second child was born, but instead, you have been more or less busy during the whole year, right?
Kai Hansen: Seems like yes? The double album took a lot of time to produce and record and arrange everything and then mixing and promotion now and some gigs now. So we are quite busy, but at the moment it is pretty easy, it’s not like a real tour when you are on the road all the time. We have this gig here today and then fly home tomorrow and be there for a week and then the following weekend. We have three days to spend in Hungary and the Czech Republic, so it’s easy now. It’s not too stressful, but the time in-between, of course, is a lot organized, and plans have to be made.
Recently you released the anniversary album Blast From The Past, which includes re-recorded versions of the old Gama Ray tracks.
Kai Hansen: That’s why everyone does. Well, these best of -complication albums are done by record labels of the remaining tracks. We wanted to make a document of the last ten years of Gamma Ray, which is different from anything else. It isn’t a new idea to re-record the stuff, we don’t claim that, but that way this album represents over the last ten years with having the sound of the ’90s and we present by a band as it is nowadays, therefore, it makes sense. Of course, it would have been easier, but we don’t want to take it easy.
Weren’t you pleased with the stuff in terms of production, old tracks, or Ralf’s voice, or did you want to put the updated touch to the older material?
Kai Hansen: Ralf did a good job, no doubt about that, but it is different when I sing the stuff, and it is more closer to what we are nowadays and some of the songs we had already played live with this new current line-up, and we know how it sounds, and it sounds different that we would say. It’s much better if you wanna play songs like “Last before the storm” “Changes” it is much closer even for Daniel and Henjo to re-record them because now these songs have become their songs as well because they put their own kind of spirit into the songs as well. They sound different and sound more like Gamma Ray nowadays, and it made sense, absolutely, I think.
Is it true that Ralph Scheepers left because he found it difficult to travel to Hamburg for rehearsals, or what is the main reason for his departure?
Kai Hansen: It is a little different
Dirk Schlatter: His wife lives in Stuttgart, which is about 700 kilometers from Hamburg, but that wasn’t the main reason, instead of the main reason why we fire him is that we wanted to start to rehearse for the recording of “The Land of the Free.” We asked him to come to the rehearsals, which wasn’t usually a problem for Ralf, but he has a regular job, and he said he couldn’t do that. We should have waited 2-3 months, but we didn’t want to, and he was still one of the candidates for the vocalist job of Judas Priest back then, and he was still waiting for an answer from them, and we couldn’t wait 2-3 months.
Kai Hansen: We wanted him to move to Hamburg, and we had been talking about that like even two years before that, and he was like “Yeah, I would like to do that,” but he wasn’t able to make his mind, and finally we set for the Land of the Free album. We wanted to do a real good album, something that gives a real kick to the band. Therefore we needed to rehearse together because it usually was like that I was singing on the demo tapes and in the rehearsals when Ralf wasn’t there. It was more or less fairest to sing whatever I had come up with before, and Ralf wasn’t maybe that spontaneous enough to go for quick changes in the production, and I wanted to sing that different, so I was sticking to what I did; therefore, it didn’t really? I mean, there was a problem, Ralf sang great, but it didn’t come from the heart. If you develop your own stuff, it comes from the heart, and it is much more natural, but to build your own stuff, you need to be with a band and in rehearsals. He couldn’t do that, and he wasn’t really willing to? So we said this isn’t going to work out if we do an album, and the Judas Priest would call and say, “you are invented to be our new singer” what will we do then ?! He couldn’t say it, and that’s the point, and we decided to have to split ways.
Is that a reason why Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween) teamed up with you by doing a track on the album?
Kai Hansen: No, no, it was just a thing that came up. It was a kind of a reunion thing between Michael and me personally cos we hadn’t talked for some years when you were still in Helloween after you got out. His mind was maybe free to talk about the past, and we came to a lot of conclusions that I had come to before? We just got together and talked about the stuff, and so, therefore, it was? I don’t know? It just came up that we said we were doing a new album and got the song “Time to Break Free”? Dirk didn’t like my vocals?
How come Dirk?
Dirk Schlatter: I didn’t like it cos it sounded too much, Kiske? (Laughter?)
Kai Hansen: Yeah, he thought it sounded like Michael Kiske, so let him sing. Of course, it was a big confusion rumor that Kiske would join Gamma Ray as a new singer. We tried to fight against that rumor, cos it was just a rumor, and there was nothing behind cos Michael is pretty far away from what we are doing, you know, metal-wise, and besides, he isn’t into metal anymore.
Speaking of Noise?. Well, several bands, for example, Voivod, Kreator, and Celtic Frost, used to have a lot of problems in legal aspects with them in the past and left the whole label, but what kind of relationship do you have with them anyway?
Kai Hansen: Well, of course, I think as a band, you are always having problems with your label. It’s just a natural thing that everything doesn’t go that smoothly all the time. But in general, I am pretty happy with Noise. Of course, we have to say we have certain standards, and special treatment may be better than other bands have. Maybe some bands overrate their own standard, and perhaps they want some things from a label that a label is not willing to pay for. Just because they think that a band doesn’t sell enough, then it is worth it. But a band wants to have this, so they want the big money and huge promotion. And Noise is the label that they are not spending the money like this, you know. Get to fight for this. If you can’t do that, I mean if you have to work to achieve that standard. Well, to say if you want this and this and that and if you are worthy of it, then you get it. But if they think you are not, they won’t give it to you at all. So that pissed a lot of bands off, and something was going for some bands that were the worst, which was not sounding too far, I think, you know, contract-wise. Anyway, if a band hasn’t been pleased with the expected success always, they blame the label for that. It’s not their playing, not their songs, and it’s the label and the promotion or whatever else. So, therefore, many bands left Noise, and so far, I didn’t see any reason to go?
But I guess. Noise does a good promotion, especially in central European countries like in your home country, and invests a lot of money on Gamma Ray. I mean, when Powerplant came out, I was in Germany. There were huge posters in record stores, and you could listen to the album for free and things like that?
Kai Hansen: For the last album, they did a really killer job? There is a new contract with Noise, cos the old one was running out?.
What do you think bands usually end up on Nuclear Blast? For example, Stratovarius went there?
Kai Hansen: Everybody goes to Nuclear Blast. They can offer big things, big money, they have big power, and they are a big label? I mean, everybody is there, that’s really what I didn’t like. I don’t like to be a number whatever under many. I rather want to be number one on Noise. Well, I don’t like to howl the wolf?
By the way .. Michael Kiske was just signed by Noise, and he promised to get back to metal music?.
Kai Hansen: I don’t think so. I pretty much know so?
So there is no chance or any other way to see the Helloween reunion with the classic line-up (apart from the drummer!)
Kai Hansen: Yeah, I don’t think so
What about U.S or Canada, as Gamma Ray hasn’t toured there at all? Why is it so difficult for European Power metal bands to tour in North America?! Is it just a lack of promotion, bad record sales, or what?
Kai Hansen: It’s just a money thing; there is a big underground scene? We could go to the States to play for at least 3-500 people a night?
Dirk Schlatter: Everyone is “Yeah, come to play here,” but the band, the crew, the bus. They all cost? They say there that we can, but? But after all, they can’t pay anything?
Kai Hansen: There are not promoters to those shows because in The States, they have to pay to certain clubs to play, so you can’t be lucky. I mean, we could consider ourselves lucky to get paid, let’s say 1000 US dollars for a show, but that won’t even cover the flight cost, neither the crew nor the equipment shipping? Otherwise, it does make sense to do a tour there, because it’s not that we don’t go to tours with big profits, but we don’t want to spend all the money on tours? So far, it is not worth it?
For example, the US band Danger Danger supported UFO on their Euro tour; they said that we usually couldn’t get to Europe because of a lack of promotional issues and stuff like that?.
Kai Hansen: And it didn’t bring anything for?
Well, maybe I sold a few albums more, but that’s all?
Kai Hansen: Yeah, that’s it, there isn’t enough press coverage
When listening to power/heavy metal albums of nowadays, which are absolutely razor sharp and high skilled played and produced in every inch. Still, instead, the most interesting point is, in my opinion, they are very progressive and symphonic, including a lot of classic music elements which Stratovarius, Rhapsody, Blind Guardian, and companies usually have on their albums. In contrast, I find the Gamma Ray stuff has been focused more on the straightforward heavy metal delivery. How do you share this standpoint?
Kai Hansen: Everyone does what he likes, and we have some symphony stuff too, but I think? Well, a song should be like that. It can be produced with two guitars, and that’s the base of our songwriting.
Dirk Schlatter: In the production, maybe we say about some song that this would need big orchestra arrangements and if fits so we do it, but we don’t use that kind of concept for everyone after all.
METAL SCENE TODAY
Is there any competition between European trad metal bands at the moment, is the scene one big family and do you think the traditional and let’s say old school metal has made a huge and massive comeback in your point of view like especially here in Europe after several years of a slump because of all these grunge/alternative stuff used to rule at the beginning of the ’90s?
Kai Hansen: I hope so?
Dirk Schlatter: No, no, whenever we meet them, we punch them all like shit?. (Laughter?.)
Kai Hansen: Yeah? Always..(Laughter)?. Seriously it has been very friendly during the last years, and yes, it is like a big family and union thing because power metal wasn’t that big that makes people united and pull the same string? Now it is getting back you can feel that the competition between bands in certain standards is rising. It is not that easy-going friendly anymore, well I mean it is still friendly. Still, something is cooking cos bands try to sound better and look better and have more ambition to get ahead of others because actually what happens that the fan base is pretty much the same for several bands, the same people go to concerts and buy albums. So everyone is fighting to get them on their side more than other bands? It’s a feeling, and I can feel that way, I think? And metal is definitely back, and I mean, it is still growing indeed.
ABOUT GAMMA RAY COVER ART
Why did you decide to hire Derek Riggs to design and draw the cover art of Powerplant and Blast from the Past cos you used to have a Finnish dude designing the cover art of “Somewhere out in Space”?
Kai Hansen: In the end, the cover he did for the “Valley of the Kings” was outstanding and looked killer indeed. Then we had him doing the album cover for “Somewhere out in Space” it didn’t look half as good as Valley. We decided we want someone to rely on. I wanted to sell as much merchandise as Iron Maiden (laughter?) No, I have always liked Derek Riggs and his works. Since he is no longer working exclusively for Iron Maiden anymore. If you look at his old drawings, he did the stuff in the direction before with pyramids and the stuff like that, and it fitted to us very well. So it was easy to ask him. He knew if he does it and it will be good all the time. There won’t be any fuck ups, and we have seen that so many times that an artist can do it, but the result is not what you wanted, and the time was running out, then you have to take it as it is. We don’t like to do that anymore.
What is the purpose of using the Ying Yang symbol almost on every front cover of the Gamma Ray albums ?!?
Kai Hansen: It came from the “Insanity and Genius” album, and it presents a side of insanity and genius, which is like fire and water where it is united two one whole round thing? That was it, we thought and decided to carry on that symbol with us. It is just like a sign to make the whole thing that is in balance, there is gotta be two sides and two units, and that’s from black to white. And there’s the whole color thing in-between, and that’s the same for the band.
The lyrical side is about a wide range of all kinds of various topics, from the sci-fi stuff to the everyday reality, but as for the sci-fi side, where do you usually get ideas to write about sci-fi things, by watching sci-fi movies and TV-series like X-files or by reading sci-fi books?
Kai Hansen: I think it is many books and movies and maybe more like philosophical thought and view to start from. If you look at life as it is now. You always think about what we come from, which is the basic question of mankind and the next one where we go, and the obvious answer is space for both the questions. I think there are many background issues; like many speculations, several types of research have been done on that, and there is an old Indian culture that was sciences. Maybe some people were here before, not people, maybe aliens. If our technology development goes on like that and our earth is becoming very limited in resources and everything, we have to look for new space. Of course, the topics can be written limited, but there are many less scifi things than there are fantasies, swords, dragons, and all kinds of stuff in Metal. So I think we are doing pretty well with that, and you know it is not like we have to need to continue with the scifi stuff. I think there will be a time when everything is said. So far, for the new album, we have something different on the mind, which has, however, a little part into it? But it’s a different concept anyway.
PART OF KAI HANSEN HISTORY
Let’s take a rapid glance at your historical side in the end. I found some details about old bands before Helloween, so have you any tapes/material left from “Gentry,” “Second Hell,” “Iron Fist,” or “Powerfool” days?
Kai Hansen: I do!
Well, do you plan to release them someday?!?
Kai Hansen: No? Well. Yes, but I have already thought to put them on a hard disk to another media because they are all on the tapes and the time rots quality. It is the sticking stuff that I want to secure them, and if I do that, it might be a chance to cut the best ones together and give them away to a fan club for people interested in them.
Another interesting aspect was found of you that you used to play the drums as a kid. Have you ever tried to play drums again?
Kai Hansen: I wanted to? It was like having a self-built drum kit, and I was drumming around. That’s why I wanted to have a drum kit, but my parents didn’t buy me the one; that’s the point. I did play because we had a little drum kit from when I played together with Piet (of Iron Savior) like in Second Hell; Piet and I were like playing the drums and then changed from it to the guitars in rehearsals. I could do some stuff as we did some recordings and the first recording where Piet and I played the drums? It wasn’t a real thing? (laughter?)
IRON SAVIOR etc.
Speaking of Piet and Iron Savior, now how was that compo founded? As a matter of fact, you are an old friend of Piet?
Kai Hansen: Yeah, I mean, it was just like that in the beginning; it wasn’t planned that I take part I was only? When he did the first album, Piet asked me to produce the vocals, and I did that; in the production process, I did some singing and little influences on the songwriting and watching that it starts to get together. It was coming down just fine, and I was doing the tours as well, and I was a kind of member of Iron Savior. But it was always like that I don’t have that much time for that band, cos busy with Gamma Ray and that’s what I told Piet that Gamma Ray is a priority and if I don’t have time so I can’t help. That’s how we think about it. It looked strange that I am a band member, but I am never on tour. He has started doing his new album and I will maybe road for it for a month at least, maybe doing some solo playing, some singing. But of course, the time is limited.
Kai Hansen: Gamma Ray is a priority, and the family, of course, well the priority in a way, but that’s enough. Whatever comes between, if I have a little time, I spend it on those things.
And the final question is, Well, when will the next Gamma Ray studio see the light of day?
Kai Hansen: Hopefully, in the spring, I hope so?