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Interview: Helloween

mit Markus Grosskopf vom 13. November 2012 Hard Rock Café, in Hamburg
Straight Out Of Hell, das soll der malerische Titel der neusten Scheibe der Hamburger Kürbisjungs - auch bekannt als Helloween - werden. Nachdem vor etwas mehr als zwei Jahren das Album 7 Sinners erschien, wurde die Band vor allem für die Härte der Platte gelobt. Es war eine schmutzige, direkte und donnernde Scheibe, die es schaffte, die besten Elemente aus den unterschiedlichen Phasen der Bandgeschichte zu vereinigen. Und nun liest man in den ersten Pressetexten zu Straight Out Of Hell, dass mit dem neusten Silberling wohl abermals ein Blick über den Tellerrand der üblichen Metal-Klischeés hinweg zu erwarten sei. Im Klartext: Die Ankündigung des bei Fans so bitterlich gefürchteten Weichspül-Gedudels?
Bei Helloween wird der seit Jahren aktive Fan wohl wirklich schnell ein leichtes Schaudern bekommen, wenn er solche Ankündigungen liest. Denn Alben wie Pink Bubbles Go Ape vergisst man als eingefleischter Hörer einfach nicht so schnell. In diesem Fall ist die Furcht dann aber wohl hoffentlich doch nur eine ungefährliche Form von Paranoia.
Denn die Jungs haben, wie Bassist Markus Grosskopf uns im Interview im Hard Rock Cafe Hamburg erzählte, über viele Jahre dafür gekämpft, ihre Songs nicht nach irgendwelchen Richtlinien oder Wünschen der Masse schreiben zu müssen. Stattdessen hauen sie raus, was sie für gut befinden. Dabei kann sich das Spektrum dann von poppigen und als kommerziell verurteilten Klängen bis hin zu Metal-Klassikern, wie sie zu Hauf auf den Keepers-Scheiben zu finden sind, erstrecken. Und so ist es wohl auch bei der aktuellen Veröffentlichung, die von der PR-Maschinerie bereits als konsequente Fortführung von Gambling with the Devil und 7 Sinners gehandelt wird. Stellt sich bloß die Frage, warum gerade dort die Zäsur angesetzt wird?
Wie kann man eigentlich Anno 2012 noch eine virtuose und nicht schon zehnfach in ähnlicher Form gehörte Scheibe herausbringen? Im Grunde wurde doch jedes gute Riff schon an der einen oder anderen Stelle gespielt; oder ist auch das wieder nur eines dieser bereits erwähnten Metal-Klischées? Das sprichwörtliche Rad wird man wohl weder mit Helloween noch mit anderen artverwandten Metal-Bands neu erfinden können. Das hatten wir so gerade erst mit den Jungs von Gamma Ray ausführlich durchgesprochen. Doch sicherlich hat auch eine genrebegründende Band ihre Spielräume, um die Musik in einem gewissen Rahmen weiter voran zu treiben oder doch zumindest nicht verkalkt auf der Stelle stehen zu bleiben?
Seht und hört einfach selbst, was uns Markus zu dieser spannenden Thematik erzählt hat!
Viel Spaß beim Gucken!
Moderation: Alexander Kipke; Kamera: Arne Luaith, Christian Mahncke

The Interview:

Alex: Hi folks! We are Metal Trails and today we are sitting in the Hard Rock Cafe Hamburg. And this fellow here is Markus Grosskopf from Helloween. How are you?
Markus: Morning! Great, great. It’s still early, right? So it’s still okay.
Alex: You don’t have a clock!
Markus: Oh! Well … I’m sorry then. Guess I’ll have to go back home then.
Alex: Nope! You’re staying with us! And we are going to talk about your new album: Straight Out Of Hell! What can you tell us about it? How’s been the production?
Markus: Yeah, well. We took a little bit more time before the release. Usually we would already be about being on tour at this time of the year. But, well. We took the time to do it carefully. Charly’s been doing the mixing. We’ve played everything. The mastering is finished. Now we’ll listen it over for the last time and maybe do some adjustments here and there. I can say: “Hey, turn up the bass a little bit! … or something like that.” My compulsory comment at each album. No, it’s great! We recorded it in Teneriffa at Andi’s studio. At least most of it. Drums, guitars, vocals. The bass also, this time. In the past I’ve often recorded the bass at home and we then sent files back and forth. But, well. We went to Teneriffa and communicated it a little bit more this time. Worked a little bit closer together on the stuff. Of course we are all righting our songs mostly on our own back at home that are then already nearly finished when entering the studio. But this time we went there and worked a little bit more on the solo parts, or changed a little bit here and there. So much for the “band work”. Well, yeah. That’s been the process. When did we start? February this year. Wrote stuff, met. Or sent songs and files to and fro. Well, overall the new album didn’t come out as “dark” as the last one. I don’t now. It just happened to come out a little bit happier. And we just said: Well … let’s keep it this way. Why not? Take it as it comes. We always let the things run their due course. If the songs have a certain attitude to them, why should we force them into another, artificial direction? By saying “Uh, this has to be done different” or “Nah, this should be more like that …”. Well, you know us. Even if it sounds a little bit more positive, it’s still a good song! And then we just leave it be. This time it’s – for example with “Are You Metal” – a bit … well, not darker. A bit happier.
Alex: I’ve heard the critics quite liked that. That the album is a little bit darker.
Markus: Well, yeah! But we don’t say … well, we’ve already done it this way. So we don’t say: Let’s do exactly the same thing again! And then try to force things into a specific direction just for the sake of being more “natural” or “sinister”. We just let it flow as it comes. So for us, whatever comes out, we’ll just take it and use it! And make the best out of it. Well, and that’s definitely been the case with Straight Out Of Hell. So we thought: Jepp, that’s good! And there the album goes …
Alex: How much freedom does a band like Helloween – who kind of “founded” this style of music – have in the development of the sound?
Markus: Well, with the sound and the songwriting and how the do the tracks and how they are eventually pressed into the CD, we’ve got quite a lot of leeway for creativity. We’ve got “Dr. Stein”, “Future World” or dunno what for songs. But also, on the other hand, songs like “Kill it” or … well, I don’t know. Basically, we can do … and this was quite hard work! To gain this “right” to do whatever we feel is right. You know, until this had been accepted by the fans. Well, of course at first they all said we’d have become “commercial”. But hey! If you like what you do and you’re full-force with it? And if you do it right, built the right package out of it. You can still sell it as a Helloween song then. So we kind of “fought” for the right to be allowed to do this experimental stuff. Because think it’s quite clever to do other things from time to time, but still be Helloween. And I’m quite grateful for that. There are a lot of bands with just one sound and if they steer a little bit rom it, people say: “That’s not the band anymore!” just because they do the things a whole different way and the people expect the music to always stay the same. And, well. If the people want that … but with us, that’s different! They are used to “different” things. Stuff that is a little bit more melodic or a little bit more commercial or maybe even “stranger” in a whole different way than just the usual “metal-ish” stuff. Although it’s still … well, that’s Helloween then, I guess. That’s the way we have somehow defined ourselves. And that brings with it a really relaxed feeling during the songwriting. You don’t always have to think: “Uh, I need to to this and that here.” The corset’s not that tight.
Alex: When we talked with Kai about the latest Gamma Ray album, he said – I don’t know, maybe in a more ironic way – that the band would be more of a copy of themselves, that they are always playing the same stuff.
Markus: Well, he did his very own part in the Helloween sound and diversity back then. You know, with stuff like Future World. But still there was “I'm Alive” and stuff like that already. In the end, he was a very great part of our history. Back in the old day’s, when he was still a part of Helloween. Well, how he now defines himself with Gamma Ray, or defined, or which way he wants to take … if he wants to bring in a little bit more variety or not. I don’t know.
Alex: The thing is, he basically says that today you cannot really invent new stuff. Each and every good riff has already been played somewhere.
Markus: I wouldn’t say that anybody reinvents the wheel. But we got the freedom to make quite different songs and not only do the same over and over again that always sounds the same.
Alex: The press text for Straight Out Of Hell said that this album would be a “consequent follow-up” to albums like “Seven Sinners” and “Gambling With The Devil”. Why is the line being cut right there, with this 2007 album?
Markus: Pfff. No idea! Maybe they thought … well. I guess everybody feels different about an album. When I listen to it, I’m far from being objective. I made it. I’m always very deep into this stuff when working on an album and deeply involved in the creation process. When I then listen to it after it’s finished, I can barely categorize it myself anymore. Of course I think it’s cool and great and all that, it’s done well and it sounds nice. Surely I can say that for me. But how anybody else feels about it or perceives it when listening to it, where to put it on the genre line … I can’t tell! That’s up to others to decide. Of course it’s way different than Sinners and the like. And, well. Yeah. I can’t really tell you why right now. I guess people said that who are a little bit more objective or who buy it and are not involved in this deep creation process as much as I am.
Alex: Well, I didn’t really understand why the line has been drawn right there. Dark Ride for example from 2000 sounds pretty much alike.
Markus: Yeah. Maybe they worked out a 2-year-plan they’re always working themselves through? That’s how economy works, right? Or … I don’t know! But personally, I really cannot define it accurately. May that will come sometime in the future. Later, when you put it aside for half a year or listen to it again after a year. Of course that’s a whole new listening then. But right now, you see it way to much in the details. Hear all the little things that are not that much accessible for the usual listener. At least for me, I hear them. I guess when the album has been there for some time … and the album is growing in time! After some listening you “hear” it with different eyes. Er.. ears!
Alex: When you look all the way back to for example “Pink Bubble” and such pop rock stuff. What do you think about that today?
Markus: Pink Bubbles. Yeah, well. Pink Bubbles was somehow a whole different story. But I’ve always said: Having an album like Pink Bubbles in your catalogue as a band like Helloween, that’s far from being uninteresting. Of course it’s not the best or most successful and innovative album, but well. We did it. We had tons of trouble with record labels back then and had some band exercises and was always told: “No, wait a little more, practice a little more.” And we practiced and practice and practiced. I’ve said a lot of times that we practically practiced that thing to death. Played all the life out of it. The spontaneity was completely gone. Although I still think that there are some great songs on it! And well. We once did it, so it become what is became. And we went on in the end and thought about other things to do. So when looking at all the different Helloween albums that are not that much alike, all its predecessors and ancestors, I think it fits quite well. It’s not my favorite one. But in the end, music is always some kind of memory. And these times were there and they where hard. But we lived through them. And the circumstances under which we worked it out, practiced it, recorded it, these record label problems, staff stress. Well, you heard it. There were albums where I had good times. “Vacation” by Aerosmith I heard when we were in America for the first time! It still symbolizes my first America tournée for me. “Pink Bubbles” was a little bit stress burdened. As some kind of a memory.
Well, yeah. Doing an album is of course always an emotional process. And emotions come as they come. How you write it and how you perform it.
Alex: A band like Helloween who lives from their album sells, isn’t there some kind of “forcing” things into a certain direction necessary? Isn’t there some pressure on you? In the end, you need the money.
Markus: Well, “forcing” … not really. We do the things as we want them to do and what we think is right. I wouldn’t say it is “forced” in some way. Well, of course we sometimes have songs were we say: Okay, there’s a middle part missing. And then we say: Okay, when we do the middle part now it might as well be a one typical for Helloween. But I still wouldn’t say that’s forced in some way. It’s more like: Hey, we’re Helloween and we want to sound that way! We want to add a typical Helloween part to that song. But it’s not forced, not really. I mean, in the end we sound that way and we want to sound that way.
Alex: Well, maybe not if it comes to the single tracks. But that you can’t say: “Well, we take 10 or 15 years for the next album so that everything is pain perfect!”
Markus: No, of course we can’t afford that! You mean if one is more the lazy type of man? Well, if I am working for 10 years on an album and then need to go back on stage and do a show … then I can’t move anymore!
Alex: You shouldn’t have said that! Now there will be rumors that Halloween is about to break up!
Markus: Well, who knows what will be in 15 years, right? I don’t know. I always stand on the stage. Have always been, since I was 20. Why shouldn’t I still do it with 60
Alex: Cause the body goes down?
Markus: Well, not yet. A little bit more is still okay. After breakfast, at least! And before dinner time.
Alex: There we go! Okay, a few final words for the end? Thanks for taking the time for this interview!
Markus: Yeah! Yeah! We’ll be back on tour soon! I hope you are all going to come! You won’t regret it!
Alex: You heard it! See you next time.
Markus: Jup!

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