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We Want To Be Different


Архив интервью | Русская версия

After three years of silence Masterplan are back with a new singer, a new rhythm section, and a new album. As the name suggests, "Novum Initium" scheduled for release in Europe on June 14 marks the beginning of a new era in the band’s history. Rick Altzi took over the singer’s job after Jorn Lande had quit (yes, once again!), and Roland Grapow is looking forward to proving that this new start will be successful. Since he parted ways with Helloween in 2001, life has never been too easy for the guitarist, but he is still around and ready to rock! As the new album was still upcoming he called us to speak about what prevented him from writing lyrics for the past several years, which language Swedish, Finnish and German guys talk to each other and why he doesn’t listen to any power metal bands. Enjoy!

Roland, it’s pretty obvious that my first question will be about the line-up changes.

Yeah, we had this big drastic change. We’ve had a new drummer from Czech Republic (Martin Skaroupka, - ed.)  for quite a long time already, he’s been with us since last February. I found him almost by coincidence; some Czech musicians told me how great he was, and then I heard him also on Youtube. I checked him out, and he visited me, like, one week later. That’s the story with the drummer, it was very easy to find him. I’ve just spoken with Mike Terrana (ex-drummer, -ed.) who is a very good friend of mine. And he is fine with it because he’s always busy with Tarja (Turunen, ex-Nightwish, - ed) and other bands. That’s why I thought it’s better to have one drummer who is more or less just related to two bands. Martin is still a member of Cradle of Filth, as you know.  

Second, we have a new bass player here. When Jan (Eckert) was leaving the band last August, I just remembered that Jari (Kainulainen, ex-Stratovarius - ed.) had sent me a message saying that if we ever needed a new bass-player he was really into it. He is a big fan of Masterplan. I just gave him a call and he was really happy to join the band.

And of course, our biggest change is the singer. Now we have Rick Altzi instead of Jorn. I realized that Jorn was not really showing interest, and we needed to continue, so that’s why we chose Rick. Rick is very close to Jorn’s range of singing, and he is a good friend of mine, been for 6 or 7 years already. It was very easy to find a new singer as well.

Now we have this new line-up and I’m very happy about it ‘cause everything seems to be very smooth in the band, and there is a lot of great friendship between us. Tomorrow we have the third show to play live already, which is pretty cool.

Do you think the main reason for the former bandmembers to leave is the lack of interest?

Well, Mike Terrana was just busy, he plays in three or four bands so that’s not about interest… He is not available for us. For Jan, the bass player, the reason was his having a really good job in Hamburg now. He is travelling worldwide for this video company he is working for. He told me it’s better to find a new bass player for Masterplan because he was not available for touring anymore. He makes really good money so he’s really happy about it. We are still very good friends. So if we ever have a problem with Jari, I mean some schedule things, then Jan would still play with us just for fun, you know. So… The lack of interest definitely came from Jorn.

When Jorn rejoined Masterplan both you and him said that everything was settled, there were no problems anymore. What happened since then?

I think Jorn was just seeing a little chance that Masterplan could get more successful and after “Time To Be King” (2010) people were not as excited as he'd hoped. We had a plan to go on tour, and he agreed to do it, but when we started arranging tour dates he went on tour with Avantasia… He didn’t tell other people that he’d changed his mind or something, and he was not even answering phone calls, he was not answering mails, that’s the kind of lack of interest I’m talking about. I didn’t hear from Jorn for three years. So I just wrote him, “Sorry for that, but I have to continue with a new singer, I wish you all the best and everything”. He never even answered this mail, you know.

Nevertheless, you confirmed several times that Jorn was very important for the band. Is it still so?

Yeah, of course he was important, especially in the beginning, because he created the certain style of Masterplan with Uli (Kusch, ex-drummer of Helloween and Masterplan, -ed.) and me. We are still doing the same kind of music. It’s coming from all the experience I've had in the past, mixed with my idols, which I really adore. We are working with Rick on the new material and I don’t think we go too much left and right from the style which we created with Jorn. Of course, Jorn was very important for us in the beginning, but if he doesn’t like this kind of music he is not helping us and our career at all. I realized we were getting further without him than with him.

Aren’t you afraid that you can lose a big share of audience because of Jorn’s personal fans quitting?

No, I don’t think so because Jorn is not so famous with his own band. Of course we will lose a couple of people, who are only adoring Jorn as a singer. I think we have different music with him anyway, so it’s not important for me. People shouldn’t see Masterplan as Jorn, they should see it as Roland Grapow and a kind of ex-member of Helloween, he-he. It doesn’t matter who sings in Gamma Ray, it’s still Kai Hansen, you know. And Masterplan is Roland Grapow, it doesn’t matter who’s singing in the band.

Will it be difficult for Rick to fill Jorn’s shoes?

No, I don’t think so. We have played live already and the new album seems great, we have some very good reviews. People are really happy to see that we continue, so…

Now you have a kind of international band with the singer coming from Sweden, the drummer, from the Czech Republic and the bass player, from Finland… Which language do you speak to each other?

English, of course. The Swedish and Finnish guys understand German a little, but we have to speak English for Martin. It’s no problem for me because I like speaking English with foreign musicians anyway. I live in Slovakia so I love to speak English with the Slovakians, even when the Slovakian people can speak German I prefer to speak English to them. It’s funny, you know. So that’s normal for me. I had this situation for many years: with Jorn, or even when I had an American singer (Mike Vescera – ed.) for my solo work. So it’s not an unusual situation to me.

You know, everywhere on the internet Masterplan is called a German band. Do you think it is correct?

No, not anymore. That’s a statement from like 10 years ago when we were just German guys with one Norwegian singer.

With the new line-up from all over Europe, how do you get together to record songs or do some rehearsals and everything?

Well, we have a plan for the next album to rent a cottage or some house in Sweden or in Slovakia or maybe in Hamburg and get there to write songs together. There is also a good chance to work very close on the material in my studio in Slovakia. But basically we don’t work together, everybody works separately, that’s the key, that’s normal. We’re not hanging out and going for football or anything. We never did it anyway, even in the past.

Don’t you miss this hanging out together?

No, why? Why do you have to do it? Everybody has his family, his friends… I don’t have to hang out with the bass player every time and drink beer. I mean we are alcoholics anyway. (laughs) We don’t have to be together all the time, we don’t need it.

So you are not friends, just colleagues?

Yeah. Name me one professional band which has real friendship. There’s none, there’s no band at all, believe me. Of course we like each other, but to be honest I don’t know their private life and I never was at Rick’s place or at Jari’s place. I will find out in one year or maybe this year, but friends… That’s a big word, you know. I mean, basically I have my girlfriend… but I don’t have many friends anyway.

Was it different in the eighties?

No, as soon as a band gets famous, out of the rehearsing room… When they’re 18-20 years old, they are friends. But if you are 20-25 and you get famous, it’s like a company. You work together. You work at concerts and that’s it. Iron Maiden, Metallica, all these people, they are not friends, they’re colleagues. They do not hang out drinking beer. They’re rich, they go separate after the gig. It’s normal, there are many bands like that.

Your line-up has changed several times since the beginning of Masterplan. What are the reasons for that?

It’s all about money. When joining Masterplan people think they will get rich, but we’re not getting rich, so they start searching for different kinds of ideas. And we are not the only band with this problem. Helloween had five drummers before they found the right one, so… It’s always about interest and friendship and money… It’s definitely not me, I’m easy to work with and I’d really like to have a stable band, but somebody always thinks that we’ll get famous, play stadiums, but we don’t.

Isn’t it important for you to get big and such? Why?

Because I did it already. You know, I was really famous in Helloween and we did 12 years of touring. Of course, it’s nice when you play big shows, it’s better than to play in front of 50 people, but basically it’s not that important. I’m happy that we have a good audience and that we can still have good festival slots. Tomorrow we play in Switzerland headlining a festival and then we are co-headlining in Belgium after Symphony X which is really incredible. Аlso we are headlining in Portugal in August.  We’ll play after Yngwie Malmsteen at “Masters of Rock”, that’s really nice. I’m happy with that. Also we’ll go on our own tour in October.  First Europe, then we’ll try South America and Asia as well.

Any plans for Russia?

Yeah, of course. Russia is always a nice place to play. Not the whole country because it’s so big. Normally we always do St. Petersburg or Moscow. Hopefully, both this time.

So, we’ll see you in autumn, won’t we?

Autumn or the beginning of the next year.

Great! So can you tell me a bit about your new album?

Sure. We have 10 or 11 songs (depending on whether you count the Intro – ed.) and two bonus tracks, so the new album is very colorful in terms of songwriting and it’s not that far away from the other albums’ style. Basically Axel (Mackenrott, keyboardist,- ed.) and I wrote the songs about one or two years ago, before we had these line-up changes. We didn’t even think about a new singer at that time. And when we started recording in September we worked very close on the vocals and the melodies with the new singer. Rick wrote lyrics for 11 of 13 songs and I wrote two lyrics this time. Also we have one song - “No Escape” - written by the new drummer, Martin. I think the album is very nice ‘cause it is a return to the freshness of the first two albums. We have more of double bass, more of crazy drumming on it again, and some more metal elements, some more orchestration, especially for the Intro and some parts of other songs.

So you are returning to power metal, aren’t you?

Yeah, a little bit. With “Time To Be King” we went more for rock instead of metal so now we are moving back to power metal.

You started to write lyrics again…

Actually, I wrote four songs for the first album but then our ex-singer didn’t like it because he wanted to write the words he’d like to sing, you know. But now I have the freedom again, I’m able to write lyrics again. I’m even singing some parts with Rick together on the new album, so I’m quite happy.

“Novum Initium” was originally supposed to come out in May but the release date postponed for June. What is the reason?

There are two reasons. One was me, I was a bit late with mixing and the guy who is cutting the video didn’t finish it as well. That was just one of the reasons. The main reason is we have a new record deal in Japan and we brought our album to Japan too late which means they couldn’t release it. They needed two or three months for releasing it and they had to postpone the album release for another month. Now we have, I guess, 14th of June, and for Japan--even one month later, which is totally not normal because normally in Japan an album comes two weeks earlier. But they agreed this time and we have a new deal. They really liked the album, they said it’s a really good kind of music for Japan because the market is very special there. I’m really happy that everything is covered worldwide – a good release and good marketing, advertising and everything.

Did you do the producing for the album yourself?

Yes, this time I did everything. I recorded and mixed it, I didn’t want to do the mastering but then I found out that my mastering was better sounding and I did everything alone this time.

Is it difficult to produce your own songs? You have to be really critical of yourself…

Yeah, it is. That’s why it took me so long. I was mixing the album from the end of January to… I don’t even remember. I think, it took me two months, maybe. There was much to learn and I was totally burned out to be honest, but then in the end I didn’t have a choice. I finished it and now I’m happy that everything worked out fine. Basically it’s much more difficult to mix your own album, it’s very, very different.

If so, why don’t ask somebody for help?

Because I didn’t like it. We always went for mixing to Finland, but I wasn’t happy with the sound of Masterplan anymore. I didn’t like the drums, they sounded too old, like this kind of drum sound from the eighties. So I said it’s time to change it because I wanted to have a more, let’s say, direct sounding, something harder and fresher… I’m a big fan of Andy Sneap production, I always like his productions, such as Accept, Testament and Nevermore albums, they all sound great. He is really one of my idols for mixing kind, and he is a good friend of mine. I’m always able to go to England to meet him in his studio and Andy always shows me the latest tricks.

I’m not very good at Latin… Doesn't “Novum Initium” mean a new start or something?

Yeah, exactly. It’s like a fresh new start.

It’s pretty obvious why you’ve chosen this title…

Yeah, basically it’s because of the new line-up. I was asking the band to choose the name because I was very busy with editing the album and I needed a title already. So I asked Jari, Rick and Martin if they had any ideas and after two hours we had a lot of ideas. I liked “Novum Initium” the best. When we had the album title I wrote the lyrics, and then Rick and I recorded vocals for it. I thought it'd add some depth to the album if we had a song to go with the title.

There are two songs with Latin names on the album… Are they really in Latin?

Ah. The first song is just an intro, there is no singing. And the second one, “Novum Initium”, is in English. I’m singing “Novum Initium” there, but the rest is in English of course.

There were so many new starts in your life, in your career… Aren’t you tired of starting everything over and over again?

No, not really. That's no problem for me. (laughs) I’m really positive thinking and I’m always looking for the good kind of solution and as long as the fans like the music and a record label is behind you and the bandmembers are supporting you… Basically, I mean, Axel is a big friend of mine, which is also very important for the songwriting, for the direction of the band.  No, I love music and there’s no problem for me.

What does this symbol on the album cover mean?

That’s kinda hard to explain because it has something to do with “Novum Initium”. Something like a new start. Or maybe that a triangle in the Universe has this kind of three messages, which is very close to the first album, kind of, you know… Four elements. But this is a triangle, it means something very positive. I can’t explain it because I forgot what it means. (laughs) But the idea came from the artwork guy and I really liked it. It must have the same meaning with the “Novum Initium”, it’s like a fresh start, like positive thinking. We are not a dark or a black metal band, we always want to give people some hope in the lyrics, and this kind of message is what this artwork, this symbol is carrying.

As far as I know, you’ve just came back from Full Metal Cruise. How was it?

It was quite exciting because I hadn’t played on stage for 6 years. We had a couple of days rehearsing in Hamburg before we went to the boat, and so we did our first show. It was not all that perfect but people really loved it, and I really loved it as well. I was really happy to be back on stage with Masterplan finally. And tomorrow is the next show. Today we hang out already in Switzerland, tonight we are having dinner and drinking together and rehearsing a little bit. And tomorrow we’re rocking! It’s really cool, that’s a kind of friendship I’d say, it's like halfway between friends and colleagues, sort of 50/50 kind of thing.

Why didn’t Martin join you for this show?

He was still on a big tour with Cradle of Filth. They came back last week, so today he is here. Tomorrow we’ll play with Martin for the first time, and he’ll do the rest of the shows as well. Cradle of Filth is making a break, they’ve just had a tour and three festivals, so he’s available for the next one or two years. No problem.

Did you miss the stage, the fans, everything?

Yeah, of course. I didn’t even expect that it’s such a drastic missing situation. I work a lot in the studio with very young musicians from every country coming to me. They always ask me, “Do you miss the stage?” And I would say, “No, not really.” And when I went on stage for first time two weeks ago I was like, “Oh my god, I really missed it!” It was nice on the boat, everybody could talk to me and drink with me, and I really enjoyed it. It was really nice to talk to the fans and to hear how much they love Masterplan, even the new line-up and the new album. It was really nice and I really appreciated that.

What is the most common question the fans ask you?

Basically, not so much about Jorn, to be honest. Most of the people have already got used to the situation. They know it’s not changeable, you can’t go back. They really appreciate that we are back and they ask when we are going on a tour. That is the most frequent question.

Talking about your studio, you are working with many young bands. Can you name a few that we should not miss?

There are many, many bands, like, 30 or 40 already. Most of them are very young and famous but I’ll mention only two good bands from the Czech Republic. One of them is Eagle Heart. Even the name tells they are really big fans of Stratovarius. And the other one I’m working on at the moment is called Sebastien and they are doing their second album in my studio. I do believe they’re gonna get really successful because they have also a very famous singer now who sang a couple of songs with them, and some other guests musicians. They had many, many famous people like Fabio Lione or Apollo Papathanasio helping them. Also I've already mixed two albums for Saratoga from Spain and now I’m working on the third album of Black Majesty. These all are quite famous--or slowly getting famous--bands. I have also many offers from Russian bands. Don’t ask me the names now because I don’t know. (laughs) But there’s one Russian guy, I guess, he’s from Moscow. He wants to come with his album and I have to mix it in September. So it’ really an international kind of work…

Do you think it’s easier for the young bands to get famous now? I mean, with the Internet, Youtube, and all this?

Oh, no. It’s much more difficult. Because all the record labels are not signing any young bands anymore. And even when you have a chance to get a label interested, you don’t get paid for it. Musicians have to pay for all the production now. When they come to me, they don’t get any advance from the record label. They can get their money back when selling the album, if they sell a certain amount. It’s a really bad situation to be honest, so I think it’s not that easy anymore. In the eighties everybody got a record deal, it was so easy. Just play a little heavy metal and you’ll get a deal, you know. (laughs) But now it’s really difficult. It’s really hard to make any money with the music now because everybody is stealing it, to be honest. Downloading is nice but it’s stealing.

Is it true that when you just started to learn to play guitar the teacher said you had no gift at all?

Yeah, that’s true. He said I didn’t have talent and that my father should take me away from the class. I was totally pissed because I just didn’t want to learn these stupid folk songs. And I continued to listen to vinyl records and to play along with all my idols from the seventies. My biggest idols at that time were Michael Schenker and Uli Roth. That's how I was learning from 13 to 16; I was so fast that at 16 I was a really good guitar player. Then I found a band with another good guitar player in Hamburg and I learned stuff from them as well. This guy is still a friend of mine, he is now working for German Deutsche Bank at a very high position, and he still has a guitar but he doesn’t play it anymore. At that time I was learning so fast… I mean, I was not that great like Michael Schenker or Uli Roth but I was kind of a guitar hero in Hamburg already. That’s why when I was 19 or 20 Michael Weikath saw me on stage, and when Helloween needed a guitar player he remembered me and called me.

With all these reunions and everything, can you imagine going on a tour with Helloween someday?

To be honest, there was already a question from the management, hehe. And I said, “Yes, why not? No problem.” Then I guess there were different reasons, I don’t know what it was exactly, but they didn’t ask us anymore. Yeah, we’d do it, no problem.

Do you keep in touch with Uli?

Yeah, I have a little contact with him. Not right at the moment, last time I spoke to him was in August when we found Rick as the new singer and I asked Uli how he liked him. He liked Rick, actually… Yeah, we exchange e-mails every couple of months.

He had some problem with his hand…

Yeah, he has a problem with his left arm, I guess, from drumming and from working, because he was working many years as a carpenter in Norway. Now he has a different job. I don’t know what the name of his job is but he’s taking care of some big house or institute where young people can go and play games, all this kind of things. I think he is the guy who is building stuff for these people. He is very happy to be honest. He is not in the music business anymore. It’s a shame ‘cause he’s a really talented drummer and songwriter. But he wanted this. He left Masterplan because he wanted to have a stable income and a stable job and he wanted to be close to his family because he had a girlfriend and a lot of kids.

One more question about the past. I was always wondering if your song “Step Out Of Hell” had something to do with Ingo (Schwichtenberg, the first drummer of Helloween, - ed.), but never found an answer…

Yes, I wrote the lyrics of this song for him. I even said to him, “This I’m writing for you because I really see you have big troubles”. “Step Out Of Hell” was basically about his drinking and drugs and all this. And later of course his kind of schizophrenic situation went really bad, but this was just to help him, or help other people when they come to similar kind of situation.

Thanks. Back to the present, Masterplan has been around for more than 10 years now. Are you satisfied with the results you got, or were you hoping for something bigger?

I think I’m still looking forward. I’m not the guy who is looking back thinking, “Oh, I’m so proud!” or “I’m not happy about this or that”. To be honest, I’m happy about every album I made, even with Helloween. Of course, “Time Of The Oath” (1996) was very good. Also there is our last released album with Helloween, “The Dark Ride” (2000), it changed my life completely. And then the first release of Masterplan was really great, “Aeronautics” (2005) is great. But I like “MK II” (2007) and “Time To Be King” as well. And now I love the new one. I think the music is always reflecting the time I’m living in or we are living in, as songwriters, as musicians. You are not always writing number one hits like some other musicians in the pop business. There is a certain point when you’re just getting a right kind of inspiration or whatever, and if you make constant and great work, then you’re happy. I’m really happy already with my career, no problem.

You know, all your most famous songs were kinda dark. I mean “Time Of The Oath”, “The Dark Ride”… Why are you so great in writing dark things?

That’s because I don’t like happy songs. I mean, I can write them, I wrote the lyrics for “Heroes” which is a very happy song, and I wrote “The Chance” for Helloween. But after a while I found out I like dark music… Heavy metal is dark, you know. If you like happy metal, you should buy normal Helloween stuff, which is written by Weiki most of the times. Why should I write the same songs as the other guys do? I wanted to add some variety to our songwriting. Then we had four or five songwriters in the band, and I wrote things that were missing which was basically the heaviest, the hardest, and the most aggressive or darkest stuff. It’s like one of the bands that I do like, which I was really late to find out and to become their fan. It was, like, 15 years ago when I fell in love with Black Sabbath. When I was young I thought their music was boring, but now I love it, because of all this heaviness, this kind of space for the music. There’s double bass and diminished chords, and really kind of darker singing… Like "Bleeding Eyes", which is a cool song from Masterplan's first album. With all this down tune, this kind of heaviness, you’re feeling like you’re going through a movie or something, you feel it, like a story, kind of. And I like it, yeah, why not? But I have all the different songs, I like happy songs as well…. I don’t know. I like everything. (laughs) But for me, an album should be colorful, you should have everything in it.

What music are you listening to now?

Definitely not power metal. (laughs) I don’t like to listen to it, I never listened to the kind of music which I’m basically famous for. I’m never inspired by these bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius… I love something like Testament or Nevermore, this is a pretty cool stuff. I’m a big Rammstein fan, to be honest. It’s so far away from the style we have, but I like this band. It’s the most professional band in my opinion, in terms of the music, the arrangements, the show… Every time I have a chance, I go to their concerts.

Why do you like to play power metal if you don’t like to listen to it?

Because it’s in my blood. I mean, why do we have to listen to it? We are not fans, we are musicians, that’s a difference. If you ask Michael Schenker, he’s not listening to any rock music. If I get inspired by a Helloween song or Gamma Ray song, then I’m kind of stealing, you know. Of course I was playing for 12 years in Helloween, I know how to do it and I’m still inspired by these years but I’m not picking a song from other people and analyzing it and trying to imitate it. I write my own music. That’s why our songs are different from other bands, we want to be different. And Axel is the same, Axel writes great metal songs but he doesn’t listen to the metal at all at home. Rick likes rock music more.

Do you have any other passion in your life except music?

Yeah, it’s nature. I like to go outside and join the nature ‘cause I’m sitting a lot in studio. I’m driving my motorbike sometimes and I walk with my dog a lot.

Thank you for your time. Roland. Do you have anything to add?

Yeah, I’d like to come back to Russia, it was always a really nice experience. I came there with Helloween twice, then with Masterplan once or twice, I’m not sure, and it was always beautiful (in fact, it was once with Helloween and once with Masterplan – ed.). I mean it’s nice to see the crazy fans who are really appreciating great music. Hopefully, we’ll come back soon.

Masterplan on the Internet: http://www.masterplan-theband.com/

Special thanks to Konstantin Byleyev (FONO) for arranging this interview

Ekaterina Akopova
May 24, 2013
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