INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
German metal legend Helloween has returned with its sixteenth studio album “Helloween.” The album is the first full-length studio release showcasing the band’s revamped lineup, also known as “Pumpkins United.” Singer Andi Deris, guitarists Michael Weikath, Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Dani Löble joined forces with former Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen in late 2016. In 2017-2018, the band toured the world successfully, and now, in June 2021, the band will finally release the long-awaited reunion album. In this in-depth interview with Andi Deris, we went through the birth of Pumpkins United, the following tour, the album’s recording, and songwriting process, a partial album “track-by-track” review, and many other things related to the album. We also discussed the band’s future plans, and a thing called German humor.
The last time we spoke was in 2015 when you were in Finland to promote the “My God-Given Right” -album. A lot of things have happened since then, and before we start the actual interview, I have to say this in brief. I still remember when we spoke about the possibility of someday doing a Helloween tour together with you and Michael Kiske. You said that you are dreaming that, someday, when the other singer is singing his parts, you could watch your band on stage, have a cigarette, and think proudly, “that’s my band on stage.” “Laughs”
Andi Deris: Which I did [laughter]. Which I did.
PUMPKINS UNITED HELLOWEEN
This Pumpkins United Helloween, or should I say the Re-union, was officially announced in November 2016. And like I just said, you told me already in 2015 that you would like to make a thing like this happen in the future. So, how much work and preparation did this Pumpkins United project required before you were ready to go with it?
Andi Deris: Yeah, lots of preparation, first of all, and what we told you and everybody else that we tried to get to know each other and mine the possible threat minds on the way [laughter]. So it takes a lot of time. I mean, Michael Kiske, he was visiting me on the island. And we were hanging out here for three weeks and really getting to know each other, not only on the conference table, blah, blah, blah, across each other. And yeah, you have a good time here. And you can smile, make some jokes, and in the press conference room, so to say, well, there’s the management of the record company, and everybody has these high expectations, blah, blah, blah. But the band, actually from the beginning on, break them out, briefly. I still put a smile on my face because we told everybody– well, to cut a long story short, we told everybody to fuck off and leave us alone. They are not on tour with us. They are not on stage every night. And even though we’re talking about a future album, we told them, “Hey, you are not the ones who have to go into the studio for months and months, 10 or 12 hours every freaking day.” Maybe see somebody whom you don’t like. I mean, this is the worst nightmare you can have. This is not a fucking construction company where you don’t have a choice. We’ve been here in the happy situation to be a more or less successful band. So we should be grateful to the universe to be here and not kick it in its teeth by treating it like a goddamn job. So the main thing that we want to do now is to get to know each other, Kai hanging out with Weikath again, get to know each other. There’s 20 years of gap. Sure, they had a chance to chit-chat sometimes for five minutes backstage on some festivals where we played, where both the bands like Gamma Ray and Helloween played. But concerning Michael and myself, we needed time just to– how should the Pumpkins United idea work so that the people understand, yes, they really like each other. It really works.
It’s not just the business bullshit going down here. That would be the first thing occurring in my mind. I would go to whatever show Van Halen United. I would probably think, “Okay, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar probably, live now in front of the cameras, kicked themselves, their teeth in.” Exactly that happened. By the way, Michael Kiske told me, “As if we don’t want that to happen.” So, if we say yes to Pumpkins United thing, then we have to have a good feeling in the back that gives us the confidence to say, “Yes, this would work.” And we have a good time because we’re traveling the world and not kick fate in his face because if you get the chance to do like that. And then you should actually be grateful and do the best thing out of it. If you feel it doesn’t work, don’t do it. Why would you do it? Because of the business decision? I told the management as well. I mean, “you’ve earned very well with us.” We had number two and number-one albums along the way over the last 20 years, so why would you complain if you have to go on with the five of us? Without Pumpkins United, you still do good business, so shut up and let us do our work here. And our work here is to get to know each other, and that’s why it took quite a while. So Michael went over here twice, and I went to Hamburg. Weikath met with Kai. Everybody met in the rehearsal room, and we jammed. And this took place three times to find out if it’s possible to share vocals, just speaking for myself and Michael, but the same for the guitarist, share guitars and share vocals without actually giving each other shit. It’s my part. Don’t say, “It’s my song. It’s my song.” All that could appear, I mean, you never know. It might be that Andi goes, “If I Could Fly,” the only guy who sings that is me and nobody else. And why? I’ve written that. It’s my heart’s blood. Nobody sings blah blah blah bullshit.” Or Michael Kiske could go like, “I Want Out.” It’s my hit. You never sing on it. Blah blah blah.” And it would become completely understandable. That’s the twist. But nothing of that happened, so.
However, after the official announcement, it took almost a year before you started the “Pumpkins United” tour. So basically, when you put this thing together, you proceeded with everything really carefully, in baby steps. And if I remember correctly, this line-up was originally supposed to be a live band only?
Andi Deris: That was the intention. We break them out from beginning on when they came up with, “And we could do a possible album blah blah blah blah.” I was like, “Yes, we could, but now leave us. And it will only take place–” that was all the seven of us agreed. We have to have a great tour which great memories and no stupid feeling in your guts and like, “I don’t like that guy. I have to see him every day,” blah, blah, blah, bullshit. If that’s what happened, let’s put it on the table, look if there would be a solution, but, thankfully, it never happened. So the tour was over, and we met again after the tour, then again with the management in Hamburg, Germany. And then it was a party. Everyone had tears in his eyes. We knew we had the whole world, and it was over now. And we’ve all been so happy. I mean, I’ve never seen Michael Kiske drinking himself nearly to death because of being happy. Yeah, what shall I say? I mean, it was the most perfect positive outcome you could dream of as a band. I’m not talking about success. Certainly, that’s a big part of it.
But the band itself is like giving yourself a shoulder tap and go like, “Yeah, Michael, you look great,” or, “Hey, Andi, without you–” “Oh, Markus, you’re just my hero,” and blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, I wish I would have had a chance to have such a great feeling back in the days when I started out because there were quite a few years where I thought maybe it’s just the wrong thing you’re doing because the chemistry doesn’t work, I’m talking about my old band. It was so many things that killed your dream because why are you in the band? I mean, if you are an ego kind of guy, that is okay. But then you probably be better off to be a solo artist and make your stuff the way you want to do it because you don’t want to compromise. So why are you in the band in the first place? That’s a big question. So, I think everybody who decides for a band– or nearly everybody. I mean, I know there are still psychopaths in other bands. [laughter] But if I would decide to go in a band, then I had the dream in my– I had the dream in the back of my mind. I’m going out there with my friends. It feels like my friends, and I were conquering the world, that thing. So, you want to have friends next to you because you want to share this great thing. Alon is always– I don’t know. “Alon, you happy?” “Yes,” but only half of the Glory. If you would have a good friend next to you who could share that emotion, it’s always double as great. That’s how I feel, so.
And this is something that, at least, the seven of us agreed. We would have a tool with great memories we would always have in common in a perfect world. And even when we’re old farts or 76, 77, or 80, if we’re still alive, you’re sitting there with your red wine. And you’re like, “Ah, you remember back in the day,” blah, blah, blah. I mean, this would be great and all. And I think that the goal was achieved here. And then, from that point of view, to answer your question, from that point on, it was quite clear, “Okay, now let’s talk about an album.”
As you just said, the tour was a great success in many ways. Were you surprised at how big of a thing it eventually became? For example, in Helsinki, Finland, the last time Helloween played there for more than 5,000 people here instead of the usual 1,000. I would say it is a remarkable increase.
Andi Deris: It was the same thing everywhere, all over the planet, yeah. I remember that even the management had some positive troubles finding the big enough concert halls because, indeed, in a week or two weeks sometimes, it’s just everything was sold out. So, you had to find a bigger place. Then even the bigger place was after another two or three weeks sold out. We had to find an even bigger place. And it was like– for me; it was fantastic because we’re just sitting at home like great, well. That’s unbelievable. But they had to work their asses off in the office, so. Yeah. It’s hard to describe. You are in a state of constant disbelief. So, it’s like every news that comes in telling you that again it’s sold out and again there’s a bigger venue and– I don’t know. It’s hard to grasp. You know it’s true. Why would they tell you lies? But you’re sitting back and home, and you’re like unbelievable what’s happening here.
But I guess it was just a positive thing, or “problem,” for everybody?
Andi Deris: In a very positive way, yeah. But it’s a kind of constant dopamine production here. You’re constantly on that cloud, and you’re like, “Wow, what’s happening here?” But yeah, it’s great to just stay on the cloud and flow with it. I mean, that’s the great thing. Great thing.
THE NEW ALBUM A PARTIAL TRACK BY TRACK
The tour ended up in Hamburg in December of 2018. And it took another year before you announced that you are now working on a new studio album. So, at which point did you decide that you are going to make an album together?
Andi Deris: Well, for us, it was quite clear during the tour. We said, “look, I mean, we should do it, shouldn’t we?” And everybody agreed that yeah, we’d be stupid not to. Then we took like six months to write songs and said, “Okay, let’s see what we have, like material on the table.” And we had that meeting in 2018 April. Or 19? It was in April of 2019. Then we had the first listening session, and everybody was quite hooked. It was like oop. Look. We have good ideas here, and we have good ideas there. I think it looks like we can do it. Okay. We should do it because everything landed. So it was not too much, only Andy material. There was not too much, only Michael material. It was also some good ideas from Kai already was the first part of” Skyfall.” And he said he has these lyric ideas, but he would have to have another at least four parts, so it looks like becoming a longer song. We said, “Hey, perfect. Then you concentrate on the long song, and we’ll concentrate on this direction. This direction is already there. We should go into maybe some crossover stuff which I came up with,” Mass Pollution,” than to have a crossover material. And Sacha had” Best Times,” which were like the two perfect songs for crossing over. The Keeper days with the modern Andy era and” Best Times” already was having that” Keeper of the Seven Keys” vibe,” Future World” style, pop-metal, so to say. So yeah, everything was already there, more or less. So, we were quite confident that we’d have a great album if we finished the material.
I was a little surprised to see the writing credits for the new songs because Kai Hansen on the album writes so few songs. But on the other hand, “Skyfall” is a great anthem, and it was a good choice as the album’s first single.
Andi Deris: Yeah, and it’s long. That’s what people always forget. If you write a 13-minute song, it’s like composing three or four songs. Because it has so many middle parts and different go-away of the song parts and blah, blah, blah at the end of the day, it’s at least the work of three songs that I would write. So also, not to mention the arrangement, because yes, you have all the parts and everything is written. But still, it doesn’t fit that great. You have to find another part here, and you have to build a bridge here. I know that shit when we have written the king for a thousand years. The result is great, and you are happy. And everything is great. We did it. But what a work. What work. It’s so time-consuming. So, I totally understand. Kai has only this only in records, one 13-minute song because it’s actually as sweaty as writing three or four songs, I have to say.
One song I also have to pick up is the album-opening tracks “Out for the Glory.” It’s a great track, and, to be honest, I think it’s the strongest song Weiki has written in a long time. In my opinion, there are a couple of albums where he didn’t actually “shine,” but this is a great tune. It sounds old-school power metal and could have been on the “Keeper” albums or even in” Master of the Rings”?
Andi Deris: Yeah. Even there, if I could sing it, I never tried it [laughter]. But “Out for the Glory,” yes, it could be some by Andy. But it’s a completely different approach. I think it’s a song that is definitely for Michael Kiske. That’s why I never had any discussion at all like I would like to sing on a blah, blah, blah, bullshit. No. It’s definitely Michael. This is so, so obvious. And I think that Weiki had that in the back of his mind to write these flying melodies with Michael. I just hope he– I do know he realized that this is a style he definitely should come up with in the future because of my limitations; when it comes to limitations, I think Weiki never gives a shit about limitations because he’s whipping me through it. If I can sing it or not, I have to sing it. Period. But now, with Weiki, I think he realizes when he listens to his own song that this is one of his biggest strengths. Michael Kiske should definitely and will– I’m quite sure he will realize that he should definitely go back to these flying goosebump melodies. It’s a perfect style for Michael. “Laughs” It’s always a very difficult thing to talk about Michael’s because they always have to add the surname! “Laughs”
“Fear of the Fallen” is the second single, and you’ve written that one. I would say that stylistically, that song could have been included in any album you’ve done with the band before. But the difference with the older material now is that Michael Kiske sings a lot in the song, and it truly gives the song more dimensions. There are many songs on the album where the vocal parts are divided into a bit of the same style, so how did you decide who will sing which parts or melodies, and was it challenging to make those decisions?
Andi Deris: Yeah, but for “Fear of the Fallen,” it’s pretty easy because you’ve got the verses, which you share. You’ve got the reference, which you ID. And you’ve got all these lower parts coming down, which were exactly right for two singers. So, it goes like; me, you, me, you, me, you, you, me, and me. Song over [laughter].
So it actually was an easy thing to do?
Andi Deris: Yeah, honestly, I was quite relieved for the” Fear of the Fallen” because I had this melody. So when I just sing it like this, you realize I’ve got– there’s no time to breathe. So, I thought, “Wow. I mean, I don’t need to make my mind up about I have to break the lyrics here because I have to take a breath here. No.” Just yeah, I sing that sentence and let Michael Kiske fly over you and start the next sentence. Then I fly over him and start the next sentence. Perfect world. I never wrote a song that easy.
And then you have the time to have a cigarette during the breaks! “Laughs”
Andi Deris: Yes. Not enough breaks. But now you remind me the next song I write, I definitely have to give Michael is such a long part that I’m able to finish a cigarette [laughter].
MICHAEL KISKE’S ABSENCE FROM THE SONGWRITING
I was wondering why Michael Kiske didn’t take part in the album writing process at all?
Andi Deris: Well, was the big question when the finished album was on the table because Michael Kiske was then sitting there, everyone was there, and he was like, “I should have given you my ideas. But I was too scared that you say it’s not enough because I always have it on my acoustic guitar and just– it’s just my voice and the acoustic guitar”. And I looked at him and said, “Well, Michael, what the fuck are you talking about? I mean, my basic ideas are only guitar and voice. I mean, that’s how a song starts. You have to give me these ideas”. Markus was sitting next to Michael Kiske and told him that that’s exactly how he started writing songs. He actually started to take my ideas in the very beginning. And look how great songs they were, like “Hell Was Made in Heaven” or this new “Indestructible,” those were some super great songs. And he just had these basic ideas. And I just mailed it to him in the studio and gave it to listen to him. That’s how it sounds now with drums and blah, blah, blah. And Markus was like, ‘Yeah, that’s bull’s eye, yeah”. And suddenly, he found the balls to order a computer and record his own ship, program his own style. It runs and blah, blah, blah. And at the end of the day, Markus now, nowadays, he presents you his demos. When you go like, yeah, everything is there. So, you just have to rearrange a little bit here, a little bit there, but the song itself is there. And it doesn’t exactly have a structure; you should start like that. Try to do it. Even if you say I don’t want to do it because I lose too much time, I’m personally super happy if you just give me your acoustic ideas because I got the imagination. I’ll nail it down in half an hour, and I’ll give you something to listen to. If you say, “Oh no, that’s too brutal. It’s too hard. I did not imagine it like double bass”, whatever. Then I strip it down to normal groove, and you listen to that. And from there, I go on working with your song. It’s not a problem. But he had to find the confidence, I think.
Maybe Kiske still had his doubts or fears because of the feedback he got from his songs on the “Chameleon” album?
Andi Deris: Yeah, that might quite be. I don’t know. I mean, that’s something the future will tell. I definitely know that he promised to give me all his ideas for the next album. And as soon as possible, I told him because it always takes a long time for me. And when I’ve presented ideas from you, and I don’t want to piss you off. When I like your idea, I try to put myself into that idea of yours such– in such a way that at the end, I think it’s my own idea. And then I can start to work on it. And this takes a while. And I told Michael Kiske, if you give me your ideas now, I can give you some results in four or five weeks. That’s how long I need to adopt it, to make it mine. You just have to have the patience and never think that I will agree or something– I mean, or smile about an idea because it’s not good enough “Laughs.” Something like that doesn’t exist. It’s just not there. Each idea has a certain aspect where you, as the inventor, the songwriter, went on; otherwise, you wouldn’t present the idea. And I need to learn what this essence is. I want to understand it and then take it further.
I think he understands that nowadays, Pumpkins United Helloween is nothing about ego shit. It’s just about what’s your strength, what’s your idea and for me personally, it’s alright. I remember the shine in Sascha’s eyes when I told him, “I mean, this great melody from “Best Times.” We should definitely try to make a song out of this. It’s fantastic. I love it.” He was like, “Oh. Really?” And this is exactly what I feel as well. If I present you a song and you go like, “Wow,” it makes my day. And that’s the thing we have at the moment. And that’s why I’m quite confident that in the future, we have even more output because of that, “I don’t need to be scared about my fellow band member brand.” That he gives me some stupid smile and say, “Oh, what’s that man?”
It sounds that we don’t have to wait another six years for the next Helloween album. Am I right here?
Andi Deris: No, definitely not. But as always, we will take our time. That’s what we learned. Don’t rush it. Give it time, and it will be rewarded afterward.
THE RECORDING PROCESS AND THE MANDATORY COVID QUESTION
Let’s discuss next a bit of the production and the recording process of the album. Charlie Bauerfeind was once again sitting behind the recording desk and, as we spoke last time, you’ve been working with him since “The Dark Ride” album. Was it in 2000?
Andi Deris: Yeah, since 2000?
Charlie was in charge again, but now your old friend Dennis Ward was also in the studio. He’s a well-known producer, he’s played with Cain and Michael in the Unisonic band, and he’s also your old bandmate from Pink Cream 69. What role did he have in this process, and what did he have to give to the project?
Andi Deris: Well, Dennis is a very, very experienced engineer. Meanwhile, he has produced so many bands. But for me, his strength is his calmness. He’s really bringing you down to concentrate on something even though you tried it ten times to play it, and it’s not there. He doesn’t give you stress. He gives you the calmness you need to go for 11 and take number 12, which most of the time banks it. There are lots of producers and engineers out there where certain people cannot work with. For example, we had Roy Z in the year 2000 for” The Dark Ride.” Roy Z was producing Iron Maiden before that, and he was producing Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson’s solo stuff. And he was great, but for example, Weiki– Roland Grapow had no such problems with Roy Z, but Weiki had super big problems because Roy Z is like this energy ball, going, going, going, going. He is one of these guys who you don’t actually need cocaine when he’s around or speed or whatever. And Weiki as a guy, he hates that. He needs to complete– his tranquillity, he wants to smoke a cigar, his coffee, and then he goes to work. So, he starts to rehearse or to record or whatever. As soon as he’s getting some nervous thing going down here, like a guy who’s constantly walking up and down the studio, then he’s getting – I don’t know what’s the right word – he’s getting out of his mind. He’s getting, “I can’t stand that. I can’t work with that guy.” Then there is the complete opposite, and Dennis is exactly that guy. Weiki can smoke a pack of cigarettes and two liters of coffee, and Dennis is still sitting there like, “Oh, when you feel like a free report, you don’t feel like, ‘Okay.'” So, personally, I think he’s the perfect guy for Weiki. Also, you have to see that he is a very good musician, not only a great bass player. He’s always a good guitarist. He’s a good singer, and he helps a lot. When it comes to arranging, you don’t need to record. I grab a guitar. Dennis grabs a guitar. We jam along and sing second voice you, main voice me, “Oh, go up a tone up there. We could end up in the major then. Let’s try it. Okay.” You don’t need to explain it. Just tell him that way, and it works. Yeah. So, you can see how much time you spare. You don’t need to program the whole shit and record it and listen to it. No, you just jam and jam and jam. That’s the way we do it. So, for me, Dennis is a perfect guy to arrange the bits in still unclear pieces.
Did the ongoing COVID pandemic affect the album recording process in any way?
Andi Deris: Well, fortunately, the pandemic did not hit [before primary recording]. So, the pandemic hit and the finishing lines of our vocals, and the finishing of Weiki’s solo guitar. So, everything was more or less done in November. I would say, to 95% done. So, fortunately, we had no pandemic thing in the back of our minds. Everything was recorded in Hamburg in November. Most guitar parts were recorded in November, mainly Sasha and Kai. Weiki then flew here in January, and his guitar was recorded here. The solo guitars were almost ready by that point, and the vocals were also almost finished. So, all the remaining missing parts were recorded here in January. Michael flew back home a week before the lockdown began, so the pandemic didn’t find us until everything was ready.
So can I say that you were a bit lucky?
Andi Deris: Super lucky. Yes. I have to say everybody was talking about pandemics when we’ve been finishing with the recording. And Charlie and I mainly were sticking our head out of the studio during a pandemic, “What going on here?” So, people are missing big time of the pandemic, really? Weiki had no problem over here. He went to the mayor and received an allowance sheet to allow him to travel during the lockdown because he’s living 18 kilometers away from here. So, he’d always have to call a taxi and being driven to the studio back and forth every day and sometimes twice. No problem at all. He had this little sheet of paper on his Michael on Halloween production, blah blah blah. No problem.
So the only problem we thought we run into was for the mix tone. Because actually, Charlie and I were supposed to fly to New York for the final mix tone. And suddenly, the United States closed the borders completely, so nobody was allowed to fly into the US. Everything was closed. Then we had a little chat with Ronald Prent, who was the leading mixing engineer in New York. The guy who had made Rammstein and all that stuff. Great guy. Dutch guy, I think. And we had a chat with Ronald. And he said, “No. If you guys over there in Tenerife would have a stable glass fiber connection, we could make it work. But you had to have at least a 600, 600, which means 600 up and 600 down. And I have exactly that. So we had the same line, so we were technically compatible. And in half an hour, we made it work. So we had, on the Macbook here, we had Ronald on the screen. Ronald has Macbook, and he had us up on the screen. On our two big screens, we had complete remote control of the studio in New York. Vice versa, he had completely remote control of the ProTools in our studio. And we had an audio connection of 96 kilohertz, 32-bits, which is like triple CD, with a latency of 0.1 milliseconds. It was unbelievable. So it was like, everyday work was actually, “Oh, let’s go to New York.” So we just went down into my studio. And it was like being there. Ronald was always saying from New York, “Oh, you guys know exactly where it is. You overtake the studio.” So then we make the volumes, and the levels, and blah, blah, blah, which we controlled from here and heard it on our speakers through the mixing board of New York.
It sounds that you liked how things worked remotely. Maybe you will use it again in the future and because it surely saves a lot of money and time?
Andi Deris: You could definitely save money and time. Yes, you could. I mean, honestly, it’s always nice to be there just for your own egoship or fly into New York and play in the studio. When I was there, I would like to touch the real knobs on the mixing board. I mean, being there is definitely– but it might be a mixture. It might be the set-up is always the most consuming, awesome work most of the time, but also a nerve-consuming thing. The set-up, the first one or two days until it finally runs. I could imagine that this is something that we could do in the future. Go there for a few days, hook up the set-up, and when everything is flying perfect, spot on with stuff on the screen.
It’s a new and interesting way to work, and that would’ve not been possible to do ten years ago?
Andi Deris: No. Impossible. Ten years ago, we only had a super lame wifi connection over here, an internet connection.
THE COVER ART OF HELLOWEEN, ALBUM RANKING, AND A BLAST FROM THE PAST
One great detail on this album is the cover art, which looks awesome. The cover combines many of the familiar elements found in Helloween’s past, and it looks absolutely incredibly great. And what’s best about it is that it’s a real painting, not computer graphics. Eliran Kanton did a great job with it.
Andi Deris: That’s what we wanted to have, if possible, an oil, and he really did it on oil. Yeah, so what we see is just a photograph of the real oil painting.
Where is the original painting now?
Andi Deris: Helloween will have it soon. [laughter]
Does that mean the painting will end up on your wall?
Andi Deris: No, it should be in the rehearsal room actually because that’s where we have all the gold records and the other stuff that we like, we don’t want to throw away. I mean, I just want to see it there up the wall. The painting looks fantastic. I like it, and it definitely needs to be behind glass. I mean, this is the way to go. I’m not a big fan of 3D computer stuff because – I don’t know – it’s missing something, and I cannot describe what it’s missing. Some people would say it’s magic, so whatever it is. But for me, painting in that quality, how would you ever beat that? I can’t describe it, but yes, it’s thumbs-up, [laughter], super-nice, I think.
This is a personal question for you but let’s try how you answer. This new album is the 16th released Helloween album. If you were to rank all these albums in order, how high would this new album rank then?
Andi Deris: Well, honestly, the new one is always number one, your newest baby, which needs all of your care. Well, for me, I’m not talking about the quality. I’m not the one to decide if the songs are better or worse or whatever. I mean, you can’t. Being a member of the band, it’s a very subjective thing. How can I ever be objective? It’s impossible. But from the inner feelings and everything, the anxiety and excitement and everything, I’ll put it all together. It very much reminds me a little bit of the “Master of the Rings” album. Even though I have to admit, and during the days of the “Master of the Rings,” there was a constant stomach ache going on because I never knew if it is good enough. Even if it’s good enough, will the people accept me being the new singer of that band? And there were so many things that actually gave me that– nowadays, I even look at it as a romantic feeling, I mean, of un-sureness, unknowing or insecurity, stomach ache, get feeling, everything. It was so intense back in the days. It was going to win or lose. That’s what it was, and we were aware of it. And that’s why you had this feeling in your stomach, not only negative.
As I say, it’s a very romantic– first; it’s nearly like being completely in love with a girl who gives you the intense– or, you think you see a signal that she would probably like you too, but you don’t know it yet. This feeling, this unsecurity, stomach ache, and hell and heaven and everything together, that was the “Master of the Rings” for me. And this album has a touch of that because it’s that new beginning, even self-titled Helloween, showing everybody that’s a new era but on a much higher security level. Put it that way. So the existential fear of the “Master of the Rings,” I do not have that much over now. It’s like you can’t compare it like that. But the rest is very comparable.
I got your point, but I’m sure that the successful tour before the recording did help how the results became. I think it gave a lot of confidence to you and everyone in the band?
Andi Deris: Well, the confidence, yes, that too. But more or less, the knowledge that this lineup is accepted, even loved, which I did not have back in the days. Nobody knew Helloween would be accepted or even loved. So that was a lot of existential things going on with us.
I still remember the “Master of the Rings” show you played in Tavastia Club, Helsinki, back in the day. That was in ’94, and I was serving in the Finnish army at the time. I had to take my “own vacation” from there to get to the concert. And I was in trouble afterward. “Laughs.”
Andi Deris: [laughter] Being put in jail for watching a Helloween show. “Laughs”
SPECULATION AND WHAT IF?
This question is a bit of speculation, but you decide how you want to answer. This Pumpkins United thing has turned out to be very successful on many levels. Everything is now going great, and it seems that this is the permanent lineup from now on. But what if this combination won’t last together for a reason or another together. If somebody decides to leave the band or something else happens, do you think the band will continue in another form? I mean, have you thought about that or discussed it?
Andi Deris: Yeah. That’s definitely theoretically on the table. What would we do if this lineup is not here to stay? As you know, life writes its own books, so. You start a band– everybody starts a band without thinking about, “Oh, this guy will not be here in four years. So we have to make a plan B.” No, that’s not normal. For us, it’s quite clear, if you ask me now, this is nothing that we discussed and put on the table. But I would say for everybody’s quite clear that if the reunion would not work in four years, the thing blows out, and Michael is gone, and Kai is gone– which I desperately hope not. But if it would happen, then we would certainly go on as five-piece as we used to do in the last 20 plus years. That’s no question.
I mean, I know that five of us, we were so in love with everything that we achieved because suddenly you realize, okay, you’re climbing up the ladder step by step and step by step. So that’s why I think it was the perfect timing to bring in Kai and Michael because nobody can’t tell you, “Oh, you did it because you did not have success anymore.” This is something nobody can say because the last albums went TOP 10 and all over the world. So yeah. So at least you can’t tell everybody, “Look at this.” I mean, there was no need to do it. Put it that way. It was just a matter of everybody had it in the back of his mind, “We should do it.” And honestly, we are not so young anymore. So people were getting too old to do it. We have to do it when we can still play music in the prime of our time. And they’re still capable of doing this hard job. If you compare it to a job, this genre of music, you have to be at least fit enough. The voice set has still to be up and running. Otherwise, the people will probably be disappointed watching you in the show. So it was the right time to do it now because I think it would be too late in five years.
I totally agree. And also, when you have done it now, people don’t have a reason to start talking; “Oh, yeah, now the guys are just making their pension money.”
Andi Deris: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s why I’m saying I think that that was– now looking back on it, it was definitely the best time to do it because nobody looks at it like, “Oh, they have to make another big-money come in thing, and then they say goodbye.” If we would have done it at the age of 60 or something like that, then people would probably say, “Oh, okay, they need to collect.” I think it was the right time to do it that the people realize, okay, it’s clear that we want to do it. And now, Helloween is already very successful. And now, even in that successful time, they bring in Michael and Kai. So it’s not about that, it’s about something else, so. And this is, thank God; we did it now because I would not like to answer stupid questions like, “Oh, did you just do it because of the money because you think in five years, you want to say goodbye to your job? Blah, blah, blah.” So this is probably the question that would arise.
UNITED FORCES AND EXTENDED VACATION
The upcoming Helloween tour, called “United Forces,” is scheduled to begin in March 2022. However, do you see that it would be possible to see the band on stage in 2021 as well, as I’m sure you have offers on the table waiting??
Andi Deris: There are. We had like seven or eight festivals, for example, on the paper, which are all canceled already. And I just wonder if Wacken, for instance, is still holding their date. If it takes place, we will have only half of the people. How would they like to manage that is another big question because how would you like to separate only half of the audience in Wacken so that they have distances? That’s another question that arises, so I don’t know how they want to solve that problem. But for us, I’m quite sure that we’re not going to do any show this year.
That is entirely understandable. But when the tour finally starts, the album is already nine months old. It’s a shame, but do you see it as a big problem?
Andi Deris: Yeah, that’s a shame to one point, but then the decision was made to do it now because we were still in that COVID bullshit. And I think it’s the right time to show a little bit of, yes, we’re going to release because we believe soon, we’ll be able to be out there. I actually don’t care if it’s nearly a year gap between the album’s release and the final tour. But I’m just speaking for myself. I never had a big problem when my favorite bands released an album. I’ve got it now, and they just came to Germany one and a half years later because they tour. So there’s no big difference. It’s only for those people who are first on the tour list, which would say, “Oh, we could have seen them half a year or nine months earlier.” Yes, true, but if we would have started in the United States with the tour, then Europe would have to wait a year anyway. You know what I mean? So for me, it was never a problem. I was just hoping to see them sooner or later. And when they hit Mannheim or Heidelberg or Karlsruhe, or you name it, in the cities around my old little hometown, then I was just happy. Oh, I have to wait another six months for the dates, but they are coming, you know?
And it’s a positive thing also that you have an extended vacation on the island “Laughs.”
Andi Deris: Exactly [laughter]. I have lots of little things to do here and enjoy life even though, yeah, you’re right. I mean, being people who are constantly every two years on tour, this time, it’s a bit strange. Now, when you sit here, you got to like the finished product. Everything is there. You want your people to listen to it and go out there and have fun and make a party, to go out, but it’s not possible at the moment. So yeah, it’s the way it is, and whatever we say will not make it happen anyway, so [laughter].
A couple of months ago, I interviewed Michael Schenker. And, of course, he had the same problems with COVID, he can’t tour, etc., so he said that he said he’s instead been doing a lot of “ordinary” stuff at home, fixing his house and garden and things like that. Things he usually never had the time to do, you know what I mean?
Andi Deris: Yeah, there would be lots of things I could do and should do, but I’m too lazy [laughter]. Even during the times when there’s nothing to do, I’m still too lazy to get my ass up even though I’m experienced because we had lots of work until actually night. There are still lots of things to do with the album. Now, I have an excuse that every day I got like four or five interviews. It’s a good excuse as well, so at least I’m doing something [laughter]. I just said to Weiki that I only want to have four days a week; otherwise, I cannot plan with my family when there’s always an interview in between. It’s like, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that because there’s an interview, blah, blah, blah. So I told Weiki, if possible, I want to do interviews at a certain timeframe and only on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that would be perfect, and yeah, that’s the way it is now. And I just finished the production with an old singer-songwriter, and I’m happy that I made him happy because this was his dream come true, and I would never have time to do that. And yeah, it was fun as well.
Because you still have nine months before the tour, would it mean that you could record another Andi Deris solo album at this point?
Andi Deris: If there are enough songs [laughter]. That’s always the thing. I mean, my band is the main thing, so each and every idea I put down on record, I want to make them listen close. And there were so many times when Weiki picked up some songs which I never thought would be something for Helloween, the best example, “If I Could Fly.” Back in the days, I presented it to the band, and I made them listen to it because it’s only fair to let your band listen to everything, and I thought, okay, this song will never make it on a Helloween album because it’s not Helloween. But Weiki was totally falling in love with it, and I said, “But it’s definitely not Helloween. It’s everything, but it’s not us.” He said, “Well, don’t you worry. People will love it.” And I said, “Why? Why would you come up with this people will love it?” He said, “Because the same thing happened with “Dr. Stein.” He’s written “Dr. Stein,” and he thought it’s just– he presented it as a B-side. He said, “It’s just another stupid song?” and that “we could use it actually as a B-side because it’s not bad.” And everybody around him was like falling in love with the song and said, “Well, it’s not a B-side [laughter].” It’s not Helloween at all. He said, “Yes, it’s not Helloween,” but even though it’s got that– let’s put it on the album.
I think that it’s one of the things that make Helloween very different from most other bands because you have such a wide variety of material. You have combinations of very different styles and arrangements put together, but it still sounds the same band, no matter who’s even on the lineup. You definitely have your own recipe.
Andi Deris: I think that’s where Weiki was proven entirely right through the time because then look what followed– or actually how it all started. You have a power metal band, and the biggest hits are “I Want Out,” “Dr. Stein,” “Future World.” You go, “Okay, but that’s pop metal.” Yes. But I think that’s why he thinks that the mixture is very important and you have power metal all over the place. Everybody loves it, but you have to make some cool-down things where you go; first of all, you have to bring it down as a listener to the album. Still, having a party, don’t bring the mood down. That’s not what he means. He’s bringing the music down, but the mood stays up, and this is only possible with certain songs. Certain songs still keep your mood up even though it’s not a power metal song anymore.
I think that description fits perfectly with the new album there are so many different styles of songs on it. For example, on that album, “Out For The Glory,” it’s definitely a power metal song.”Fear Of The Fallen,” I would call it heavy metal. “Best Times” is a pop-metal song, and then we have “Skyfall,” which is just an EPIC song, “Laughs.”
Andi Deris: Exactly, and that goes through everything. I think that’s what Weiki meant, and I think, as you say, it’s definitely there again on this album. It’s been on the “Keeper” albums. I can totally understand that people love to go through the album because it’s got that asset. You never have the feeling to be bombarded with 40 plus minutes with some just bombardment, bombardment, bombardment, which is great, but to a certain extent, even I, as a fan of that music, have to kind of give a break to my brain and when then there is a song– as I mentioned when there’s a song which my brain is giving– it got some rest. However, my mood is still being kept up, perfect because you’re ready for the next power metal. Here we go again. But your mood never was down. But that’s super tricky. There are only a few songs that can achieve that, and if you have these songs, happy, happy. But, with a plan, I do write a song like this; it never works. Never works. It’s there, or it’s not there, and that’s why I was so happy when I listened to Sascha’s “Best Times.” I was like– for whatever reason. It had exactly that, and I’m just happy that most people feel the same. It keeps your mood up without actually bringing you down in the music, and this is something– yeah, sometimes you got it, sometimes you don’t, for whatever reason.
And, on every Helloween album, you have at least one happy, pop-metal song.
Andi Deris: Yeah. Even on “The Dark Ride,” there’s “Mr. Torture.”
SKYFALL VIDEO AND A THING CALLED GERMAN HUMOR
So the video, “Skyfall,” that’s hilarious, I have to say. Who got all those crazy ideas, and how was the filming process overall?
Andi Deris: Well, a little bit of everybody, we could do this, we could do that, we could do this, we could do that. And I think Martin, the director. He was just checking out and writing down all the stupid ideas, and at the end of the day, he excused himself for not being able to fulfill all the ideas that were on the table, which was crystal clear from the beginning anyway. Each and every verbal bullshit that we let out could be good or not. I mean, you just write it down, and as a director, I think, that’s not my business. I don’t know about filming and stuff, but I think some ideas are doable and some ideas that are just not doable, I think. Yeah, nice idea, but it needs too much budget or too much time or whatever, but yeah, I mean, it’s an idea. You put it on the table, but at the end of the day, it’s just about Martin telling us what’s the reality. Also, with the budget or time-wise. There are probably lots of ideas that could be doable but would make too much preparation time or whatever. I think that’s the main problem we run into in the filmmaking industry, I guess. I’m a newbie here. I don’t know. But Martin is the guy who has to decide, and so if there is a stupid idea you can do, you do.
I would say that a kind of “stupid humor” is always a part of Helloween music videos. If you think of the videos of, for example, “I Want Out” or “Kids of the Century”?
Andi Deris: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it depends on how you look at yourself. Speaking for us, I know that everybody in Helloween is not taking anything seriously, so when it comes to videos, that’s for us the main playground to be stupid because nobody in the band knows that we don’t– we are not cool. We are just normal idiots. I personally, I’m standing there in a– you have to be cool now, dressed up like, “Yeah.” But I am not cool. I want to smile, and I’m stupid. I grin all over the times, and suddenly I shall stand there like serious and motherfucking– you see it in my face that I can’t. Nobody can. That’s not the band. We are stupid in a rather positive way because I know even when we are sitting out there or hanging out at the airport, every second sentence is stupid. The constant slapstick show and we enjoy it. And suddenly, you’re supposed to be a damn serious metal band, and it doesn’t work with us. It’s just not possible.
Right. I think it was the perfect question to close this discussion “Laughs.”
Andi Deris: Okay. Good.
HELLOWEEN LIVE PICTURES FROM THE “PUMPKINS UNITED” -TOUR IN HELSINKI 2017 BY MARKO SYRJALA