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Archive for November, 2010

An interview with Michael Weikath can never be short! The band’s guitarist gets the chance to analyze his way of thinking in every question fired at him. Also, he talks about the new album “7 Sinners”, the 25th anniversary compilation “Unarmed” that dissected the fans, Greece, and the power metal scene in general. Enjoy… Interview by Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Well, it seems that Helloween has a special bond, or relationship, if you ilke with number “7”. What is so special about that number?
Michale Weikath: I think it’s a magic number and it’s also mentioned in the bible, and also I think in other religions, and sciences. Plus, I was born on the 7th of August. Bands usually use pentagrams and stuff like that, which is a star, and I used to wear stars on my jacket sleeve.  When you put that stuff on your record it oozes out a certain impact on to people, which can be positive, or negative, but that’s why war planes, for instance like the Americans, and the Chinese, and the Russians, they all used a star. Because, I think that in a situation of a war it’s quite practical to work with magic. So, I wanted to surround myself with magic a little bit. I’ve been looking for something different, I was looking if there was a seven-pointed star, apart from the five-pointed one, and there was. I didn’t know! Then, I read a little bit about it and I wanted to put it on my desktop of my computer when I was doing the demos, but I couldn’t because I had to scale it to look really really good, and I didn’t find anything large in that form that would have looked good in the big screen. So, I put it on the demos I played to Deris, and I said “Look here, I got that heptagon, “septargam”, we could actually use it for the cover somehow. You get more magic, it’s seven-pointed, and we have the seven sinners”, and he said “yeah, very good!” and so then we got the artwork you see now, and the original star I had on my demos as the iTunes artwork that you see with the titles we have there.
Rockpages.gr: So, who are the seven sinners?
Michale Weikath: Yeah, it’s the five members, the pumpkin man, and the keeper!
Rockpages.gr: Is there a concept, or even a central idea for the new album?
Michael Weikath: All in all, there is a certain concept. So you have the tracks, and we knew about the title track early enough and so everybody tried to put it into that direction, but not seriously. So, it is some kind of a concept album, but not, as usual! When we did “The Keeper Of The Seven Keys” the tracks were selected and done, and put on the album, and then you have an overall mood that it’s been created and the context of the Keeper who has to lock the seven seals, and everything, but the tracks for themselves are independent from that. And here, on this one, you may have a bit more interaction between those things rather than before, but still it’s a loose concept.
Rockpages.gr: I think that the new album carries on from where “Gambling With The Devil” stopped. It might be a little more aggressive, but the atmosphere is the same. What do you think?
Michael Weikath: Yeah, it’s in the same direction and I think that’s the point that you reach… Charlie Bauderfield is the producer, and the material you collect from the four songwriters that we have, Deris, Gerstner, Weikath, and Grosskopf- evens out. You have variety on each record because of the four different songwriters, but still if you have heard the overall production from Charie Bauderfield, it appears to be in one piece, and these pieces seem to be similar, even though you have entirely different songs from each other. But, maybe we have achieved something like a distinguishable sound. Or, at least that is so similar to the last three projects. But, it’s not such as it’s getting boring, so you’d say “Ahh, you are doing the same all the time”. It’s just the songs’ sound impact that it’s similar, which sometimes bands want to achieve a lot earlier. But, still I think that we are doing so many different things. We can choose from a wide variety that we have taken care of creating beforehand with all the criticism and the trouble we’ve had with different albums that we’ve done, with people saying “yeah, but this one is too cheesy, and this one is too funny, and this one is not heavy enough, this one is too dark…”
Rockpages.gr: This one is pretty dark too… the themes from the songs from what I could understand while listening to the record are dark…
Michael Weikath: You may say so, I can understand you. It means that we have all those dark aspects. Deris calls it “mystical”, or “mysterious”. I call it “dark”. You say that there is a little bit too much of dark aspects in there. Even since the “Dark Ride” we followed that direction. Nowadays, you have to go that way in order to serve your concept, and sell records, which you only sell a fifth of what you used to sell before. Each and every artist at minimum has lost four fifths of the sales they had before piracy, and illegal downloading. So, in order to be on the safe side we had to have more of the dark and mysterious aspect to our music in order to sell to the whole world. I had to understand that first, because before I was entirely against it. Now, it seems that there are too many people that like that aspect and buy our records, while there is other people who wouldn’t need it, but also thought that we were too ridiculous before. So, the Sanctuary management we had, they would have had us a lot more serious as a band you know. Something like Queensryche…serious. That’s not what we are, but it appears that the overall sound of the music, and the records gets more serious. Because on the “Gambling With The Devil” I did something like “Can’t Do It”, and then I got a lot of criticism again for that song. Like “all the record is great except for that one sit song in there”. I felt very proud of that song, and I think it was perfect, but there’s people who don’t know what glam rock is, they’ve never heard it, or they have no idea, they have no access to this type of music. On this record I didn’t feel like doing anything controversial, I was just trying to do something in a cynical way, I wanted to make great tracks, like “The Sage, The Fool, The Sinner”, and “Embrace The Noise” that there are not too much people that could complain about it. There’s no surface for them to attack those tracks! So, that’s probably why it seems more honest, and more dark in general, because there are no “cheesy Weiki” tracks on this one…
Rockpages.gr: Well, actually what you said triggers a lot of stuff that I would also like to ask you, and I will a bit later. But first, I would like you to talk about a few songs from the “7 Sinners” album… “World Of Fantasy”…
Michale Weikath: Which I think it’s a Markus track, and this must be the most “poppy”, commercial track. It’s the most easy going melody on the album. It’s reminiscent of German pop music. Actually, there are a lot of people who actually like this track. It must be the cheesiest song, that isn’t exactly cheesy!
Rockpages.gr: “Who Is Mr.Madman?”
Michael Weikath: “Who Is Mr.Madman” is a continuation of “Perfect Gentleman” from 15 years ago who overindulged himself in a way checking out too many women! He is now at an old age, and they made him go crazy. So, he ends up in an asylum, on a wheel-chair… that one was written by Shasha as a continuation of “Perfect Gentleman”, which I think was a great idea, but it has nothing to do with “Perfect Gentleman”. He just got that idea and said “I will continue the song and tell the story of what happened to the guy today”, very good idea I think.
Rockpages.gr: “The Smile Of The Sun”…
Michael Weikath: “The Smile Of The Sun” to me is some kind of ballad-esque, almost minstrel, medieval kind of song in a typical Deris fashion. The chorus gets heavy and it’s more medieval than the rest as far as the mood is concerned. That would be one more wanna-be “commercial track”.
Rockpages.gr: “If A Mountain Could Talk”…
Michael Weikath: Again another typical Markus’ song that has that vibe in the melody that you have to get used to. You either like it from the start, or you don’t like it. That’s just the way he does things. We’ve been surprised that there’s been so many people who actually like his tracks, and the stuff he did in the past. So, he is not just the master of B-sides, and bonus tracks, anymore-he still is- but then it happens that tracks like these would appear on the records, which is actually good, because then you get more material, and people like it so much, so there it is! In the past it was always like “why doesn’t Markus do more tracks on Helloween records?”, there you go. Meanwhile, he is a steady composer every time with at least two, or three tracks.

Rockpages.gr: “The Sage, The Fool, The Sinner”
Michael Weikath: The idea is that you actually never know what you are doing, if you are a complete idiot, or if you are committing some kind of karmic sin, even though you are not aware of it, something that you do might look very very stupid to some people, or very harmful to other people, and you are not even aware of it, so then you look into the mirror and you don’t actually know if you are a wiseman, or a complete idiot, or sinner, that guy. You never know, it could come in different ways, and you can’t foretell fate. You never know what kind of bullshit you’re going to do in the future, or something good…
Rockpages.gr: Is there a song on the album that you think it has the potential to become a Helloween classic, and a fan favourite?

Michael Weikath: I wouldn’t know. “Are You Metal”, the video, I don’t think that’s the instant classic, but on the other hand it’s the most memorable thing. I think that the album is full with some classics, so I couldn’t point my finger to just one. I mean, all the tracks that you have mentioned before could be controversial. Like not everyone will like, and love “The Smile Of The Sun” but a few people will. So, this is very much a 50-50 album in a way, cause there are so much stuff for those people, and so much for those people, and I consider “The Sage, The Fool, The Sinner” a classic, but also “Who Is Mr.Madman” is a classic in a way, so I mean there is a few tracks on the record that I would point out as classics. “World Of Fantasy” is extremely cheesy, but it gets memorable and there will be many people that will point at that song and say that “this is a Helloween classic”. Some reporter said to me that this is the best song on the record, and I said “really, you think so?”…
Rockpages.gr: Well, I suppose that’s the majesty of music… This lineup of Helloween seems to be the most stable that the band ever had. Would you say that this is a plus which helps the band work, and make new albums, and new music?
Michael Weikath: Absolutely, because having trouble inside, with someone who “doesn’t like” anymore, or someone who “still likes” but is not capable of doing this job, or gets ill, is a big problem. You get sad, because you have to get rid of that person even though you like him, or it’s all very negative if you have to change band members, but that’s not just on my behalf. I have to do those things, and decide about those things, every time something like that takes place, but it’s also Markus who has to agree with it, and then there was Deris who has to agree with other things, or who is responsible for a change, or whatever. (…) I am happy about this lineup that we have now, and it is the most stable one. There are persons in this band now who care a bit more about the band. Before, that wasn’t possible. Because, there was people that cared more about themselves. I am always interested in healthy group situations. You can never be perfect, and behave perfect towards each other 100%. That’s not possible! But, what’s possible is to deal with each other, and respect each other. It needs just one person who doesn’t care about respecting people and you already got a problem.
Rockpages.gr: You have celebrated 25 years in music with a “different” kind of an album, I mean “Unarmed”, whose idea was that?
Michael Weikath: The manager’s. We finished a long world tour that we’ve done, and the manager wanted to do something about our 25th anniversary, and he asked us what did we think. Basically, Deris, Grosskopf, and me had no break for 15 years! We were constantly at work, or doing promo, or travelling, and then there were a few months in between that you could call “free time”, but there was too much work constantly for 15 years, and we wanted to take a break by that time. The thinking was that you do a 25th anniversary compilation, but we didn’t want to do that. So, we recorded, but by usual means that would have been a total production that would have asked for a lot of time, and input. Everybody had to record a little bit, but we were not as involved in that thing that took about a year. The manager did the artwork, and we had several people stepping in for the arrangements. So, we did the “Unarmed” album in a relaxed way and It took about a year from the beginning of the conception of the first ideas to the final result, and we as a band were not so much involved.
Rockpages.gr: I really like the “Unarmed” album a lot and I think that it’s a lot in the vein of a Helloween album, with a lot of humour, a lot of different ideas, and generally being totally different. But, I imagine that you must have had very controversial feedback for that album. Some people would go “Oh, yeah that’s a great idea”, or some people would go “I don’t like it because Helloween songs are supposed to be heavy”…
Michale Weikath: Yeah, it’s particularly strange that it made the charts in Greece! Because, in Greece we had so much trouble with the “Chameleon” album. I had to do the promo back then with Roland, and it was terrible! They almost hanged us, or at least they made sure that we really knew how much they hated the “Chameleon”. It really wasn’t easy; I thought we wouldn’t get out of there alive, because there was so much hatred from a few people. And then, something like the “Unarmed” record enters the charts n Greece, it’s crazy!
I was born in 1962… I am not 21 years old right now! And I have a different point of view towards music. Sometimes as a musician, if you were born so early, you have a different approach to music in general, and you are more open. I just hope that the people who really hated it they would regret that later on and say “OK I gave it a listen again, and maybe I was mistaken”. I am a guy who used to put the crystal of the tone arm of the record player on Beatles ballads on the vinyl record so later on it would scratch right there. So, when Paul McCartney was really singing like “Aaaaeeeoooooo” I would scratch the crystal on the record so later on it would do “Ffffffffffssssssss” ‘cause I hated it so much! And then I couldn’t listen to those soapy ballads that I didn’t want to listen to, because of the scratches, and I would enjoy that! I was like “Yeah! I’ve done that to that song!”. I used to be that stupid as well, so I can understand when people hate it.
Rockpages.gr: In the beginning of the interview you said that Hellowen is a band that doesn’t want to stick to one music style, and play the same stuff all the time, and want to be different exploring new ideas, and music. Since Helloween are considered to be the beginning of power metal, and since there are many bands in this kind of music that sound the same, do you think that there is a kind of responsibility for Helloween to be a bit different and show the way of power metal to new bands, or even the older ones as well?
Michael Weikath: Well, what they copy is what they understand, and what they like best. That is what they only want. If you look at Amazon for instance and take a glance at “Buyers of that also bought” you will see that they bought all that similar stuff that is more or less the same all the time. So there is a big group of people that they want only that. They like this generic power metal, and they want to hear only that. But, the thing is that they don’t have to play it, they are consumers. They just want to put something on the stereo that sounds good and that they consider it theirs. It’s like people that like to eat noodles with tomato sauce all the time… Being a musician you have a different approach, you are not consuming things. You are exposed on what’s on the radio, whether you like it, or hate it, and then you are addicted. You have a different understanding of music and you don’t want to deliver the same kind of “food”, usually. But, there are bands that want to do just that. Also, you have bands like AC/DC, and ZZ Top who seem to do the same all the time, but that is not the case. That is a different thing because they have very strong hit songs, and they work very hard for every hit song that they do, and although it sounds the same, it’s not the same. For power metal bands… with us… we are used to it.
In the ‘70s you had all those “One Hit Wonder Bands” who would have a single hit, and then they would try to the same thing again and it would flop, and they would vanish. What I like bands, for instance the Beatles, or other artists, is variety, I am willing to accept that, it comes with age, and imagination, and the opinion someone has. Now, there are people who are very well opinionated and they say that an artist has to be the same all the time. So, you have to deal with that. On the other hand, likely there are a lot of people who likes variety. We just give that to the people, whether this is our responsibility or not.
Rockpages.gr: What were the best, and the worse moments for Helloween so far?
Michael Weikath: Well, the best moments naturally are to see how our lineup is working for so many years now, and certainly our “Monsters Of Rock” appearances in Donnington, or in Germany, and Nuremberg, or playing in Japan for the first time, and having that crowd of crazy people welcoming us in the airport, and on the train station. That was really crazy! Or, when we had forty three thousand people in Indonesia in a stadium, because we played there for the first time during our “Rabbits Don’t Come Easy” tour. It was so many people that got in the stadium and they didn’t have a ticket. It was the police that let them pass, ‘cause otherwise we would have a riot. It was something not so pleasurable. Plus, there were some other moments, like when we went to the United States for the first time, with an American opening band, which wasn’t usual by that time.  It was very unusual to have an American, or English band opening for you if you were German. And the most bad point must have been the “Chameleon” tour, that were very annoying moments, and very sad moments, and very frustrating moments, and the death of Ingo, we don’t have to talk about that. Also, every time we had to fire somebody from the band, or when somebody went. That’s always sad, or not good for a lineup.
Rockpages.gr: The new tour is going to bring you back to Greece in early 2011. Is there any feelings that evoke when you are about to play here?
Michale Weikath: No wonder it used to be so difficult when we had to come over the first couple of times. Last time we came we played for all those people and it was incredible. I just want to say a big thanks to all of our fans there that made it possible that we could make that big concert in Athens last time. It was great, and it’s building up, and it has to do with the music, and the way we present things. Anyways, the last concert was a lot larger, maybe it’s going on that way. Even if not I just want to thank everybody for what happened on our  last tour, ‘cause that was extraordinary, it was really really cool!
Plus, this time we have an interesting band as a special guest, Stratovarius, that’s probably a magnet for people to see those two bands. Naturally, I hope that it’s just for us!
Courtesy of Rockpages.gr

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