Heart of Steel: Interviews

Stefan Schwarzmann of Helloween

Interview by Marko Syrjala (MS) and Jarno Huovila (JH)
Pictures by Marko Syrjala

On a hot summer day of June 2004 in Helsinki, we got to spend a very entertaining and informative half hour in Tavastia Club with the new drummer of the German power metal outfit Helloween. This being only his first tour with the band, many will probably recognize him better as the ex-drummer of Running Wild and both U.D.O. and Accept. Therefore, the focus of this interview is not solely on Helloween, but on Stefan Schwarzmann's career as a whole.

After some discussion about how ridiculously expensive beer is in Finland, the interview gets underway....


MS: You're a new member of Helloween, and left U.D.O. several years ago. How did you actually get your job for Helloween?

It was actually a phone call from the band's producer Charlie Bauerfeind, who did the last two records as a producer and sound engineer. He rung me up because we, Sascha [Gerstner] the new guitar player, Charlie, myself, and the drum tech as well, are from the same area. So he knows me from the past and rung me up [to ask] what I can do or what we can do, if I've got time, and business things like that. And it was greenlit.



MS: What did you actually do after leaving U.D.O.? There's been a couple of years [in between].

SS: Several things. I did many studio works with different bands, known and unknown bands. For example Voice, you may have heard about them, they're a band from the eastern part of Germany (formerly German Democratic Republic), and it's a kind of power metal. Skew Siskin, I did 90% of the brand new record, titled 'Album of the Year'. I did a percussion tour together with a classical percussion player, I got single jobs with several DJs and I got a drum school in the town I live. Yeah, it never stops, because honestly, I'm a musician and I don't care if it's, don't misunderstand me, any kind of band or project. I have to play and I wanna play, because it's deep inside and that's why I'm here on Earth.

MS: You've never done anything else for living besides playing?

SS: I have. Driving jobs, cabs, those things.



MS: As for the newest Helloween album, 'Rabbit Don't Come Easy', you don't actually play on the album, it's Mikkey Dee mostly and you only play on some songs.

SS: It's 100% Mikkey Dee [on] the album, and the B-sides, that's been my part. I guess it was a kind of a test. For the singles, we used Marcus Grosskopf the bass player's rehearsal studio, so you've got different sound as well [on those tracks]. That's not a job Charlie did, the B-side stuff. That was just a thing between Marcus and me. And I had two days [to do] everything including getting there and setting my set up, which was also not possible, because my set was too big for the room, so I had to make it really very tight. But as I said, it was [all] a kind of a test you know, because the last time we met each other, which means Weiki, Marcus and me, it was in '87. We shared a breakfast room together at that time. At the time I played with Running Wild and Helloween and us shared a breakfast room and it was from '87 to '88 and that was the last time we saw and spoke to each other. [laughter]


JH: Well OK, the last U.D.O. album you played on was 'Holy'...

SS: No.

MS: Actually, Udo [Dirkschneider] told me that it's you.

SS: No, no. Definitely No.

MS: Who was it then?

SS: I've got no idea. I can say, honestly it wasn't me. [laughter] My last record was 'No limits'.

MS: That's strange, because when I asked [Udo], who really plays on 'Holy', he said "It's Stefan". I [then asked] Stefan Kaufmann of Schwarzmann? "Shcwarzmann." he said. I think it's Stefan [Kaufmann] though. I think he was able to play...

UDO - NO LIMITSSS: I can't say anything about that. Seriously. Because, I'm [being] honest, 'No Limits' was the very last record I did with U.D.O.



MS: Actually, why did you leave U.D.O.?

SS: [Takes a deep breath]

MS: I've heard Udo's version and so I want to hear it from you?

UDO - TIMEBOMBSS: The real truth, to be honest, there is just one album [where] I myself played in the studio, which means, two hands, two feet, as I sit there as a musician, as a drummer. And that's 'Timebomb'. That's the album that I played by myself, the rest was programmed by Mr. Kaufmann. And for me, that was the main reason to leave U.D.O. because it's...

MS: Frustrating?

SS: Absolutely. If I were an asshole or a really bad musician, a bad drummer, or stuff like that, I could appreciate it. I could say "OK, fair enough, I'm too stupid for that.", but that's not the truth. And I couldn't stand it anymore, because it was kind of "Hey, next year you get songs on the album, your own songs you wrote and bla bla bla..." and year and years and years go by. And then there was really a time I said to myself "Hey, there are two ways, the first way is you destroying yourself by keeping your mouth shut and deal with it and lie [to everyone] outside: "Yea, [I] played on bla bla bla..." and deep inside your going "God damned, what a shame." Or you have to make a point and say "OK, that's it." And that was exactly what happened. And everything, left side, right side, top, under, was a lie. That, for me, was the main reasons for leaving. Even with Accept, if I finished the 'Death Row' album, I played, that was me.

MS: Really?

SS: Yeah, exactly.

MS: No credits or anything?

SS: You can read the credits inside the booklet, but come on.

MS: Is it the same with the 'Mean Machine' and 'Faceless World' albums, the same thing with the drums?

SS: The same thing.


JH: But 'Timebomb' was different?

SS: 'Timebomb', as I said, that's the album, that's the one and only album I played by myself. I can also say the reason the reason why, because afterwards, when we are finished with all, meaning the album and the tour, we get fired by RCA, the record label. And so they said OK, anyway, because, afterwards, the whole shit is gone, everything is done.



MS: So, after all [this], you've been a member of U.D.O. and now a member of Helloween, but still you haven't played on too many albums. On the next album you probably will get to play for Helloween?

SS: Yes, sure, which I did in the past as well, I told [you about] the Voice stuff, Skew Siskin or Running Wild and the B-sides. That's the reason I'm a musician. It's not to sit there, not [being] even at the studio, just sitting at home. And everybody else did your job, god damned. "You should play later on on the stage."


MS: OK, when you joined the band [Helloween], how much did you try to play the song the way the old drummers used to do them, like Uli's stuff, he had his own style and you're quite a different kind of drummer than he was. Or did you just do them in your own style?

SS: Definitely my own way, because, I can now say I'm 38 years old and I've found my own style first of all, and the second thing is it's similar in a way to Mikkey Dee, the kind of style, that's what everybody said as well, and I feel the same way and so for me it was much easier to get into the stuff Mikkey played, because it was a way that I would do it. And in some way, but not everything, Uli, he did very... how should I say it, I'm more straight between the eyes killer, you know. And it's different as you said before, especially Uli's style and mine, so I try to find a way in the middle.



MS: Actually, when I first heard that you had joined Helloween, I was wondering how it would work, because your style is SO different, in the past you used to play more straight and with more power than Uli.

SS: That's been those U.D.O./Accept things, which were, for example, those AC/DC things, with 8 bar hihats and that's it you know, "CORRECT, CORRECT, CORRECT, 8 bars, 8 bars, 8 bars" and that's it. You're absolutely right, everybody saw that. You guys saw the show last night?



MS: Yes. NO, we saw you in Sweden [three days ago].

JH: But some friends of ours were there and told that it was good.

SS: Yeah, it was a really really good reaction.


MS: You had a public press conference at the Sweden Rock Festival two days ago and it was a funny one I must say. It made no sense at all. [Everyone laughs]

SS: Yeah, but that's also a part Helloween is famous for.

MS: Happy, happy Helloween…

SS: Exactly. Hey, life is tough enough isn't it?


JH: Did it take you long to get used to the humor the guys have?

SS: No no, especially Weiki and me, we have strange kind of humor sometimes, but the alltime humor, that's Marcus and me. It's amazing. And another good thing is that we're the same age, which makes it much much easier.



MS: So you really get along well with those guys. How's it with Sascha, he's much younger than the rest of you? How is he doing?

SS: He's doing really well, his thinking is really professional, honestly, he's working hard. Really working hard. Sometimes when your feeling like an old fart, he's going "Rehearsal again, oh yes!" or stuff like that. I'm joking, but in someways he's got more "kick ass" and power and "come on boys, let's do it, let's do it" [attitude] and we're sitting there with a cup of coffee going "oh no, not again, please Sascha, no" and stuff like that. But about his thinking again I have to say he's honestly really professional.



MS: Some months ago there we some rumours that he was going to leave Helloween, is there any truth behind that?

SS: Who said that?

MS: It was on the internet.

SS: Really? I'm impressed, this is the first time I've heard this. [laughs] So far, I have to say that's another rock n' roll lie.



MS: Weiki is often putting down the 'Dark Ride' album, what's your opinion of that album?

SS: Honestly, I have to say... [long pause] ...I'm not deep enough inside Helloween, so I don't know the whole 'Dark Ride' album so far. I've got program A, I've got program B, I've got version C, know what I mean? And that's the songs I listened to, the songs that I learned, the ones I have to play. So ask me that question in one or two years when I'm more into the whole back catalogue to be able to say something. Now, it would be another lie, because I don't know the album that well, so that I could say "Hey, the album is bla bla bla..."



MS: Do you think that is was too different compared to the other albums? Or was it just the personal reasons [involved, that made it fall out of favor]?

SS: In a way maybe, that has been a reason. I guess what Weiki is talking about is not the way it sounds, but that the whole feeling was dark. Maybe that's the main reason.

JH: It's not the usual happy happy Halloween thing.

SS: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. I guess that's the main point for Weiki. I'm not quite sure though. If I compare what I hear and what I saw in the past, album photos and what Weiki said about the feeling inside, it does not fit that good into, as you said, the happy happy Halloween [concept].

JH: Basically, I thought it was musically a good album, but maybe not what some fans were expecting.

SS: That could be the reason. But as I said before, I can't say anything about it.



MS: Do you know Roland [Grapow] and Uli [Kusch] personally?

SS: No, I never... ah, Roland I met in Moscow, we played a festival together, where Masterplan was also on the bill, but it was "Hi Roland." [makes a swift greeting gesture]. That was the first time we met each other.

MS: Have you heard the Masterplan record?

SS: No, no.

JH: They actually played Sweden Rock Festival last year, the same stage you were on this year. And they were great.

MS: They even played some Helloween songs.

JH: Yeah, but only two [“The Sun Is Going Down” and “Changes”].

MS: Jorn [Lande] is a good singer too.

SS: Uli and Roland, they are great musicians.

MS: They really are.

SS: Yeah, exactly. So the world has now got another really really really good metal band.

JH: Exactly.

SS: They found their own style, and they've got their own way to think about music, to play the music.

JH: Yeah, just like when Kai Hansen left, we got Halloween and Gamma Ray.

SS: Exactly like that. Exactly. And it's not like... those elbow things, I hate it. "They're bad, they're... come on, crap, shit".



MS: You had Kai [Hansen] as special guest at show a while ago?

JH: I think it was Kai Hansen, Michael Weikath and Marcus Grosskopf, with Ralf Scheepers on the vocals.

SS: In Augsburg, Ludwigsburg, RockFabrik. Yeah.

MS: It was the first time since...

SS: ...years and years and years and years. Yeah.


MS: How about you yourself, you've been to Finland about ten times or so. Do you have any good memories when you played at the Giants of Rock festival with U.D.O. back in...

JH: ...1991. It was on the television too.

SS: Yeah exactly. It was filmed, I've got it too, I got a video tape of it.

MS: Any other memories from Finland?

SS: In 1994 with Accept, I got a rental [drum] kit from, what was it... Premier Finland, but it was a mix between Premier, Tamar, Yamaha, Mabex and nothing fits together and two crew members and I myself had to screw and saw and do whatever to put the kit together. I said "Hey, I promise, when were finished I will destroy those fucking shit [drums]", which I did. [everyone laughs] The local promoter said "Since The Who, I've never seen a chaos like that or a drummer who destroyed...". Hey, honestly, I destroyed everything, nothing was... it was... everything was crap, shit, it was really destroyed. And afterwards I lost my deal with Premier Scandinavia for three years. But hey, fair enough. [laughter]



MS: Any other "good memories" from Finland?

SS: Yeah, actually I've got kind of friends over here. You might know Elakelaiset [a finnish band], humppa, I like them.

MS: Really?

SS: Yeah.

MS: Many Germans do.

SS: Yeah, I met them three of four times, because a friend of mine has a record company Humppa Records, 9PM Records, which is in Furth, close to my hometown and that's the reason why I know the boys and the records and saw them live.


MS: So you're a fan of Elakelaiset. That's a cool thing to put on the internet. "Stefan, the big fan of Elakelaiset".

JH: Elakelaiset recommended by Stefan Schwarzmann.

SS: They also played once [with] half of my Accept kit, which I played in '94, as a rental kit. I said "You need drums, OK, no problem.".



MS: Did you play with U.D.O. back in '89, when they were in Oulu in Kuusrock on the Animal House tour?

SS: No, Animal House tour, no. I joined afterwards. The first record I did...

JH: ... Mean Machine.

SS: Yeah, Mean Machine. The thing is you know, OK, Mr. Kaufmann programmed the stuff, I had to play live. You know what I mean?

MS: Yes, of course. I saw you when you were playing with Ozzy at the Helsinki icehall.

SS: Exactly.

MS: I think that was the biggest time for U.D.O., Mean Machine, huge tour... or maybe Faceless World, it was maybe even bigger?

SS: What really impresses me, most of the fans say [that], especially Faceless World, for whatever reason, is the best album.

MS: Yes, from my point of view it is.

SS: You think so too? [surprised] I'm not quite sure, I have to say.

JH: It's different.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

JH: They don't play anything off it live nowadays.

SS: Oh.

JH: They don't play any older U.D.O. songs, only new U.D.O. songs and very old Accept songs.

SS: To be honest, U.D.O. 2004 is Accept... songwise, if you see the setlist. Which makes sense, it's the next step, the next point. It makes sense, come on. Even Udo [Dirkschneider] and Fitty [Wienhold] the bass player, we met in Sweden Rock as well, in the evening at the hotel and the next day at the venue. It was the first time that we talked to each other [since the split], a serious talk. We're old enough, it's not all bad.



MS: Did you know there were plans for an Accept tour for the 25th Anniversary?

SS: Really?

MS: Yeah, but Udo refused.

SS: That's what he said to me two day ago at Sweden Rock. He said there was no way for him to do it.


JH: I heard it had something to do with Wolf Hoffmann not having Stefan Kaufmann, who can't play the drums anymore because of his back, on as a second guitar player.

SS: Exactly. He's really got a problem with his back. And the next thing, I don't know how it will fit together with Hoffmann and Kaufmann. I don't know. Difficult things. [laughs]


MS: But you will not be a part of an Accept reunion, if they're having one?

SS: I don't think so.

MS: You don't think so, but you didn't say never.

SS: Hey, that's a point in my life so far...

MS: ...never say never.

SS: I learned exactly that. Otherwise [I'd end up like] Pinocchio, you know. [stretches nose]. Mr. Schwarzmann the liar, no no. I'm not interested in things like that. If it will fit for what reason ever, time will tell, but...


MS: From my point of view, you're the only guy who could do it, because Stefan Kaufmann can't play anymore. So who knows.

SS: But I don't think so, because the last tour was played by an American guy, so there's another possibility. Michael Cartellone from Damn Yankees.

MS: He's playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the moment.

SS: Aha, really?

MS: Yeah. They were supposed to come to Finland a while ago, but...

SS: Lynyrd Skynyrd? Since when?

MS: Two years. He's a full member now.

SS: Cool. Cool.

MS: Did you ever meet him?

SS: No. Ah, no, that's a lie, [I did meet him] in my home town. When was it, in '96? The very last tour. It was close to my home town. I was backstage and asked him "How's the feeling after a right arm show?" He was like "What?". Because of those 8 bar things, you know? (laughter)

MS: As you know he's a really professional drummer and has done a lot of stuff.

JH: Sessions and...

SS: ...studio work and yeah yeah.

MS: And as you said earlier, just playing those 8 bar things. For him it seems to be OK.

SS: Yeah, sure. [laughter]



JH: I was wondering if you might tell who some of your favorite drummers are, apart from yourself of course? Any genre.

SS: The reason why I play drums is because my father was a drummer too. He was my very first teacher. And the reason why I'm doing rock n' roll and metal is Mr. Cozy Powell. Rest in peace Cozy. Tommy Aldridge and the first Maiden drummer Clive Burr, definitely those three. And from present I have to say, or maybe since 5 or 7 years, I agree absolutely [with] what Terry Bozzio did for the drums or with the drums, amazing, it's amazing.

JH: Yeah.

MS: What about Jorg Michael?

SS: He's a really good friend, I have to say.

MS: Have you heard the stories around Stratovarius?

SS: Yes. It's a shame isn't it? You've got a really functionable band, which is tight and you know when a band has got everything: speed, power, you know what I'm talking about? And then they go "Hey, it's time to change my life." Why? You've got members that all fit [in the band]. So, never change a winning team.

MS: Actually, they played here [Tavastia Club] a couple of weeks ago.

SS: Really?

MS: They were giving away T-shirts with a print "Strato is dead".

JH: "Strato is dead... long live Strato." or something to that effect. They actually still have a couple of festivals left to play.

SS: I wanna know that feeling on stage, you know? [looking nervously around]. Can't imagine, seriously.

MS: OK, we're going to stop bothering you now.

JH: Yeah, thank you for the interview.

SS: No problem at all.