Interview with Gamma Ray's Kai Hansen and Dirk Schlachter

Interviewers: Arto Lehtinen and Marko Syrjala
Place: Tuska Metal Festival Helsinki Finland

Kai Hansen already gained the reputation in the Helloween rank in the 80's 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 gonna publish this interview in the internet magazine but do you basically surf a lot on the net looking for some things and information written about you and Gamma Ray ?!

K : 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 too and the Blind Guardian pages and they are all together in a way that's interesting.


How much does it bother you as almost every Gamma Ray album can easily be found on the net in this mp3 files ?!?

K : Yeah everything is available, I don't like it of course. I mean I don't 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 kind of promotion if people can actually listen to a song. The downloading is another story cos what does bother really bother me it's MP3 that hasn't got the quality offer of CDs, so if you wanna have a real thing you still gotta get a CD I think. But in the old days people did the tape trading it was the same thing.



I was under the impression that you were supposed to have some kind of sabbath year taking the whole year off from everything and by 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 ?

K : Seems like yes… The double album actually took a lot of time 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 will be there for a week and then the next weekend we have three days to spend in Hungary and Czechia Republic and so it's easy now. It's not too stressful, but still the time in-between of course is a lot organized and future plans have to be made.


Speaking of this Blast From The Past anniversary album, it is pretty interesting that you have re-done a bunch of tracks especially the ones sung by Ralf Scheeper, but how come I mean it might have a little bit easier to pick up the original versions and then add some unreleased or rare Gamma Ray tracks to this "Best of…" album ?

K : That's way everyone does. Well these best of..comp 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. I mean it ain't a new idea to re-record the stuff, we don't claim that, but that way this album represents over the last 10 years with having the sound of the 90's 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 wanna take it easy.


Weren't you basically pleased with the stuff in terms of production etc of old tracks or Ralf's voice or did you wanna put the updated touch to the older material ?

K : 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 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 record them again, because now these songs have become their own songs as well, because they put their own kind of spirit into the songs as well and they sound different and sound more like Gamma Ray nowadays and it really made sense absolutely I think.


Is it true that Ralph Scheeper left because he found it difficult to travel to Hamburg for rehearsals or what is actually the main reason for his departure ?

K : It is a little different

D : His wife lives in Stuttgart which is about 700 kilometres from Hamburg, but that wasn't the main reason, instead the main reason for why we fire him is that we wanted to started to rehearse for the recording of Land of the Free. We asked him to come to the rehearsals which wasn't normally a problem for Ralf, but he has a normal job and he said he can't do that and 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.

K : 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 normally was like that I was singing on the demotapes and in the rehearsals, when Ralf wasn't there. It was more or less fairest to sing whatever I had come up 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 really come from the heart. If you develop own stuff it comes from the heart and it is much more natural, but to develop your own stuff you need to be with a band and in rehearsals. He couldn't do that and wasn't really willing to… So we said this isn't gonna 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 and that's the point and we decided to have the split ways.


Is that a reason for why Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween) teamed up with you by doing a track on the album?

K : No no, it was just a thing that came up. It was kind of reunion thing between Michael and me personally cos we haven't talked for some years when you were still in Helloween after got out. His mind was maybe free to talk about the past and we came a lot of conclusions that I had come 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 are doing a new album and got song "Time to break Free"… Dirk didn't like my vocals…

How come Dirk?

D : I just didn't like it cos it sounded too much Kiske…(Laughter…)

K : 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 and 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?

K : 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, maybe better than other bands have. Maybe some bands just overrate their own standard and maybe they want some things from a label which a label is not willing to pay for. Just because they think that a band doesn't sell enough, then it is worth of 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 it. 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 worth 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 there was something going for some bands that was the worst which was really not sounding too fair I think, you know contract wise or whatever.. 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, it's the label and the promotion or whatever else. So therefore a lot of 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 invest 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?

K : For the last album they did a real killer job… Actually there is a new contract with Noise, cos the old one was running out….


What do you actually think bands usually end up on Nuclear Blast for example Stratovarius went there?

K : Everybody goes to Nuclear Blast. They can offer big things, big money, they have a 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….

K : 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!)

K : Yeah I don't think so



What about U.S or Canada as Gamma Ray haven'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?

K : It's just money thing, there is a big underground scene… We could go to the States to play for at least 3-500 people a night…

D : 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…

K : There are not promoters to those shows, because in The States they have to pay to certain clubs in order to play, so you can't be lucky. I mean we could consider ourself 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 really does make sense to do a tour there, because it's not like that we don't go to tours with big profits, but we don't wanna spend all the money for the tour… So far it is not really worth of it…


Well for example US band Danger Danger supported UFO on their Euro tour, they said that we usually can't get to Europe because of a lack of promotional issues and the stuff like that….

K : …And it didn't bring anything for…

Well maybe sold a few albums more, but that's all…

K : 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, but 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, whereas I find the Gamma Ray stuff has been focused more on the straightforward heavy metal delivery, how do you share this standpoint?

K : 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 base of our song writing..

D : 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 every one after all.



Is there any kind of 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 slump because of all these grunge/alternative stuff used to rule in the beginning of the 90's?

K : I hope so…

D : No no whenever we meet them we punch them all like shit…. (Laughter….)

K : 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 and it is not that easy going friendly anymore, well I mean it is still friendly, but something is cooking cos bands try to sound better and look better and have more ambitious to get ahead of other s because actually what happens that the fan base is pretty much 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, I can feel that way I think… And metal is definitely back and I mean it is still growing indeed.



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?

K : In the end the cover he did for the "Valley of the King" was really good 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 into 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 the use of the Ying Yang symbol almost on every front cover of the Gamma Ray albums ?!?

K : 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 around 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 colour thing in-between and that's same foe the band.


The lyrical side is about a wide range of all kinds of various topics, from the sci-fi stuff to the normal 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?

K : I think it is a lot of 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 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. There is a lot of background issues I think like many speculations, several researches have been done of that and there is an old Indian culture which were 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 so we have to look for new space.

Of course the topics can be written kinda limited I think, but in Metal there is a lot less scifi things than there is fantasies, swords, dragons and all kinds of stuff like. 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 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… But it's the different concept anyway.



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?

K : I do …

You do… Well do you plans to release them some day?!?

K : No…Well.. Anyway yes, but I have already thought to put them to a hard disk to another media because they are all on the tapes and the time rots quality.. It is the sticking stuff cos I wanna secure them and if I do that it might be a chance to cut the best ones together and give away to a fan club for people who are really interested in them.


Another interesting aspect was found of you that you used to play the drums a kid.. Have you ever tried to play drums again?

K : I wanted to…I was like having a self built drum kit and I was drumming around. That's way 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 me were alike 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 me played the drums…It wasn't a real thing…(laughter…)



Speaking of Piet and Iron Savior now how was that compo was founded as a matter of fact, you are an old friend with Piet?

K : Yeah I mean it was just like that in the beginning, it wasn't planned that I take a part I was only… Piet asked me, when he did the first album, to produce the vocals and I did that and in the production process I did some singing and little influences on the song writing and watching that it starts get together. It was coming down just fine and I was doing the tours as well and I was a kinda 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 priority and if I don't time so I can't help. That's way we took it. It kinda looks strange that I am a member, but I am never on the tours. Even now he has started doing his new album and I will maybe road for it for a month at least, maybe doing some soloplaying, some singing. But of course the time is limited.

K : Gamma Ray is priority and the family of course, well the first priority in a way, but that's enough. Whatever comes between if I have a little time I spend it for those things.


And the final question is Well when will the next Gamma Ray studio see the light of day?

K : Hopefully in the spring I hope so…



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Thursday, February 15, 2001