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The Pumpkin Manifesto


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Our personal dream of seeing Michael Kiske back on the metal stage performing classic Helloween songs came true yet seven years ago, when he played in Moscow for the first time with Unisonic, the band that featured another Helloween outcast, Kai Hansen, on the guitar. But it seems that for many of the people it was “not quite it”. The real bomb exploded when both Michael and Kai joined the current Helloween line-up on the mammoth “Pumpkins United” world tour, and anybody who happened to be in the sold-out hall of Moscow’s Adrenaline Stadium (7,500 people, by the way) on that memorable night in spring 2018, would agree that it was a furor unrivaled and a spectacle to behold. Close to three hours of classic and modern hits, all the three singers singing in turns and together, a huge production and an overwhelming reception – it was only logical for all the parties involved to continue with that. But while the fans wait for the next studio album from the seven-piece, expected some time in 2020, they have a chance to relive the “Pumpkings United” experience once again with the help of the equally mammoth live package, “United Alive”. We reached out to singer Andi Deris to provide us with more details about the upcoming product, the tour, and the reunion as a whole…

Your live package is coming out on October 4. Why not wait a couple of weeks and release it on Halloween?

Ah, the cliché? (laughs) Actually we have released quite a few things on Halloween, and it would be the cliché thing to do so. Why should we wait when it’s ready? The record company was prepared to announce it for this day, and probably it’s also very important for the record company to get it out as soon as possible. And now we’re doing the tour – it’s a coincidence, but it’s perfect because the package will be out when we’re already on tour in Brazil. We didn’t know it, so actually it’s quite a coincidence. Cool on the one hand, but not cool on the other hand, because the reason why we’re on this tour is that Dave Mustaine is ill.

The audio album, “United Alive In Madrid”, was mostly recorded at one show in Madrid, while the video, “United Alive”, is a compilation of three shows in different places. Why did you use such different approaches to the audio and video releases?

It’s actually quite more interesting than following visually just one concert. Visually it’s a completely different thing. If you listen to the live album, that’s one thing – you close your eyes and you concentrate on music, that’s it. But when it comes to the video – for me, and I think that’s why the decision was made, everybody felt the same – it’s cool when you see not only one stage for nearly three hours, but when you have contrast between the San Paulo show and the Madrid show and the open air show. I think it’s quite a different feeling, and I think that’s much more interesting for the people to watch something like this than to watch the same stage for 2 hours and 40 or 50 minutes. We’re talking about a long time, it’s not a 1.5 hours concert, and it just could get boring visually.

Speaking about different shows, we saw you twice on the “Pumpkins United” tour, in Moscow and at Sweden Rock Festival, and the two gigs were quite different. In Moscow it was a huge production somewhat similar to a big budget musical, and at Sweden Rock the set was much shorter, the sun was shining, and it felt more like old friends jamming. From the side of the band, do you feel the way that we feel, or is it like for you it does not make a big difference when you are performing?

I don’t know, I don’t really remember what went on in Moscow or what went on on that very day at Sweden Rock. Sometimes it’s probably more relaxed, sometimes it’s more tense. It also depends on how many hours of sleep you had. (laughs) But the approach is certainly always the same – when you go on the stage, you try to do your best, and I think every band is trying to do its best, but due to certain circumstances it might be that the band is more relaxed. Sweden Rock is always very relaxed, I think we played at Sweden Rock five or six times, and it’s always great to be there. For me an open air is always more relaxed than a full production with all the crew concentrating on that very concert. Moscow is a very big city, so it’s not an unimportant, but a very important concert, so there’s a lot of pressure. At festivals, strangely, you have more people in front of you, but festivals always seem much more relaxed. Maybe that’s the answer to the question. I don’t know, I’m just guessing.

Speaking about the production of the show, who came up with the Seth and Doc characters? And who actually animated them?

Actually it’s the idea of two great friends, and they are probably the biggest Helloween fans ever. They are two guys from Madrid, and fortunately they work in animation and video companies. What a coincidence that we actually have two die-hard fans who were completely thrilled and freaking out when we asked them to do the video content for the upcoming “Pumpkins United”. They came up with Seth and Doc, because we thought it’s quite a good idea to have something like Beavis and Butthead leading through the show, so to say. You run into more than 2.5 hours, sometimes 3 hours show, and it seemed quite a good idea to give people something completely different – not only music, not only metal-metal-metal, but give their ears a break, so that they would rather look, watch and hopefully smile before we start with music again. I really love the two, Seth and Doc, they are beautifully stupid. (everybody laughs)

Throughout the tour, some songs were coming in and out of the set, like “A Tale That Wasn’t Right”, and some songs got dropped completely, like “I Can” or “Why?”. What is the reason? Did they not work out the way you wanted to work, or did the crowd react not that enthusiastically?

For example, the decision not to do “Why?” was made because Michael Kiske did not feel so good, and it’s a very demanding song for him, so sooner or later you realize you don’t feel comfortable with singing the song more often, and the decision was made to rather skip the song than see him in a bad mood. That is why we decided to only do the things that are fun for us – no stress, please. Everything that gives you stress you just skip. In the beginning we played 3 hours something – 3 hours 5 or 3 hours 6 minutes, so it seemed not too bad an idea to just skip songs that are a bit stressful. At the end of the day you still end up with 2 hours 50 or even more, so why not skip songs that are stressing somebody? Then again, we had like three songs, “Where The Sinners Go”, “Forever And One”, and “I Can” – they sometimes were played, sometimes we didn’t play them, sometimes we changed them with other songs. There were also 4 or 5 songs that were sometimes played to make the show a bit more interesting, mainly they were there for the shows which were doubled – like there were two or even three shows in the same concert hall day by day by day, for example, in San Paulo or Mexico City or Tokyo, and you have to keep it interesting even for the people who are watching the same concert for the second or third time in the same concert hall. It’s always good to have 4 or 5 songs to change.

As you mentioned, you will be playing more shows in September and until the rest of the year. Will you have the same setlist, or will you change it once again?

It’s definitely not going to be the same because most of the time it’s festivals, and it’s a package of three bands – Scorpions, Whitesnake and Helloween. We will definitely not play three hours, this is impossible, because it’s a package, and at festivals, as you know, you don’t play a full 3-hour show. Probably we will have it strip it down to 75 minutes or something like that, which means that Seth and Doc are not there, because they are eating a lot of time, and on a 75-minute show you don’t necessarily need to loosen up the show, it’s only 75 minutes, so you don’t need Seth and Doc there. Unfortunately, because I love them, but that would take it too far, we would have too much comedy tricks. So yeah, definitely it would not be the same show, it will definitely be a stripped down show.

In a recent interview you said that Helloween has “two and a half singers”, however, Kai Hansen was the lead singer in his own band for many years, and there are some fans who feel that his era of Helloween is a bit underrepresented in the setlist. Why is his singing role that limited?

Actually it’s his own decision. In Gamma Ray, his own band, he even had to hire a singer, because he simply cannot sing more than two or three shows, he’s completely fucked up with the voice. It’s very demanding, the way he’s singing, and if we speak of a world tour, he limits himself to a maximum of 15 minutes. This is what he can do each and every day on a satisfactory level and with having fun; if he is demanded more than 15 minutes, it will become hard work for him again. I totally understand that he limits himself to 15 minutes, that’s why Michael and I always make jokes about it and say we have two and a half singers – two singers who have to sing 70-80 minutes each and a half singer who is singing like 15 minutes. (laughs)

We were kind of guessing it, because we saw Gamma Ray at one of their last tours with Kai alone singing, and it was not an easy show for him to get through…

You have to see the way he sings, this is very brutal. Sometimes it sounds fantastic, but he is really having that fuck-my-own-voice-up technique. There’s no technique, he’s just singing without control, and it sounds great, but destroys the vocals, after 20 minutes you’re done. To be fair, I think it’s even great that he does 15 minutes, because he has to play guitars AND sing. To concentrate on your vocals only is damaging the guitar, and to concentrate too much on the guitar will damage your vocals. At the end of the day, I think it’s the best compromise we could find.

In general, what was the process of dividing vocal parts and guitar solo parts after Kai and Michael Kiske rejoined the band? Does everyone have to agree on the way it’s done, or is there a kind of musical director in the band who has the final say on arrangements?

There should always be someone trusted by the band who has the final word when it comes to troubles and problems, when you sit down and discuss and at the end of the day don’t find any solution. This would definitely be the part of the management and Charlie (Bauerfeind), the producer. They definitely try to find the best solution in favor of the band. And honestly that’s the best solution you can have because there’s no ego shit, it’s not decided by a member of the band where you can have ego problems or something like that. I think it’s really cool when a band gives the real problems which cannot be solved by the band away to the management and the producer, because at the end of the day they didn’t write a song, it’s not their baby, if you know what I mean, so they don’t love this song to death, for them it’s a very subjective decision, and they just decide out of their heart or stomach and without being involved in the production. If you ask me why would I love to have my songs on the album, it’s probably the same answer than every songwriter gives – because I love the song. Sure it’s your baby and you probably would not have started to record your baby if you had not loved it. There you go – you always have problems with selecting the right songs for an album, because every songwriter loves his songs to death, so everybody fights for his ideas. And because we all know about it, it seems a decent nice solution to, if in doubt, leave the decision to some subjective outstanding people. And this works. Since Charlie is in the production for us since the year 2000, this works fantastically. Sure I am a bit sad if my song is not on the record, but I have to eat it because I like Charlie, I like my management, and I know they will not make a decision against my song because they hate me. It seems like a decent way to do it.

But aren’t you concerned that the situation may get too far away from the band’s control? If we remember it correctly, that was the case with “The Dark Ride” (2000), when it went out of the band’s hands into the management’s hands, and as a result, nobody in the band liked the album.

That’s exactly what I said – only the songs that we really quarrel about. Only the two or three songs on which we don’t have the same opinion inside the band. After “The Dark Ride”, it’s never been a big problem actually. On an album of 12 tracks, for example, we talk about two, maybe three tracks where we cannot find a solution, and for these two or three tracks, I think, it’s cool to give it away and let somebody else make the decision. Because of two or three tracks, you should not risk the good chemistry of your band, I think.

The huge success of the reunion tour has generated enormous expectations for your next studio album…

Yeah, isn’t it awful? (everybody laughs)

Isn’t it a stressful situation for the band? How do you manage to bear such stress?

Honestly yes, it’s just another new stress, and I’m thankful for the stress, because, you know, it comes from the success we have! That’s the good part of it. The bad part of it is that it’s a stress, and there are lots of people who wait for the right album. I think we’re gonna do the right album, definitely a good mixture of even “Walls Of Jericho” through the “Keepers” and to the new kind of things. I think we have the capacity to really serve 30 years of metal – if not us, who else? With two great singers, or, as we mentioned, two and a half great singers (everybody laughs), we have such a variety of possibilities, and I think this is exactly what will take place on the album. Me being a big Kiss fan, for example, I love the idea. Like in my favorite band, you have Gene Simmons singing, you have Paul Stanley singing, you have them singing together, and suddenly we have a chance to write in this direction. I’m a “Keeper” fan, I’ve always told people I love “Keeper Of The Seven Keys”, I just hate singing them, because they are so hard to sing. It was a lot of stress, and now with Michael in the band I don’t need to sing them anymore, I’m the luckiest person! (everybody laughs) I may stay backstage and I may listen to all these great songs with the original singer without stressing myself – isn’t it perfect? Now, being one of the main songwriters for the band, I may even write songs for Michael – this is for me a dream come true! I can compose songs for his voice and even involve myself, like I am singing the verse and he is singing all these great flying melodic refrains in the classical voice, which gives me goosebumps, because I know what it sounds like when he is singing. I personally think it’s a super great achievement, and I’m super happy and looking forward to finally record this album, which we now have to postpone for two months because of the Brazilian tour! (laughs)

You said in a recent interview that writing songs is what you never stop doing – you just sit and watch television at home and play guitar. We wonder what do you prefer to watch on television to get the songwriting going? What puts you best in the songwriting mood?

(laughs) Honestly something boring and embarrassing which I may mute! Nothing too interesting, nothing too thrilling, because then honestly I’m watching the movie, and there’s no guitar. For me it’s just a feeling that there is something happening around me or in front of me which I don’t pay actually attention to. It’s there, and I don’t have the feeling that I work. When it’s me just playing the guitar it seems work meaning concentrating on the guitar, but when there is television, even without sound, it makes everything much easier. I’m not too much concentrated on the guitar, I don’t need to take it too serious, “no, I’m not really into songwriting now, it’s a hobby” – and suddenly there are ideas. When you tell me to sit down and completely concentrate on songwriting, I swear to god I don’t have ideas. It’s strange, I’m a very strange boy, I think. (laughs)

You refer to God in quite a few of your songs, and you often do it in an unconventional way, as in “Mrs. God” or “If God Loves Rock’n’Roll”. On the other hand, you have written very serious and touching songs like “Why” or “Hey Lord”. That is why people get a bit confused about what you actually think about faith and religion – could you clear it up a little bit?

Honestly I don’t believe in the church, church is for me enemy number one on the planet. Churches cause wars, churches try to control people and try to tell people what they have to believe. I think that’s why we have these problems – Christianity against the Moslems, against blah blah blah. These are churches. At the end of the day, people believe in a higher being, and what pisses me off is that the churches themselves forbid that people believe in a higher being without believing in the church. This is not the right way, I think. What I try actually to express in my songs is that we may believe in Mrs. God, it is as good a theory as “Hey Lord” or “Why” where you actually complain about God. But at the end of the day, when I talk about God, I think it should be clear to everybody that I’m asking the spiritual world, I’m asking the supreme being, I never ask a church, I never ask a religion. If you directly have a conversation with a supreme being, you have completely different answers and questions than if you would go to church and ask somebody from the church, do you know what I mean? At the end of the day you are free to express yourself because it’s only between you and the creator, and there you are completely free to think about anything and everything, because everything is possible, everything unthinkable, and if you are pissed off, you may say so, because I don’t think that God is ever pissed off with you because you’re pissed off with him. That’s why we are here with a kind of free will, and that’s to me the most important thing – to have a free will, and church for me is exactly the one that suppresses our free will, because they try to tell us what to do. Nevertheless, that’s only a part-wise answer to the question. (laughs)

More about songwriting: everybody knows what Russian roulette means, but what is “Russian Roulé”?

Roulé is a mixture between roulette and rock’n’roll. (everybody laughs) Roulé c'est français. As you said, everybody knows what Russian roulette is, and roulé would be rock’n’roll. It’s actually the description of our life, because for us being rock musicians if you go out there and you want to make a living off music, in the beginning it seems like Russian roulette. It works but probably not. (everybody laughs) It’s rock’n’roll, but in a twisted play of words we call it Russian roulette.

Do you have any plans to do more records with The Bad Bankers?

No, The Bad Bankers were just a part of my life when I was really pissed off with the whole capitalist bullshit that all goes straight down to hell. You see the people who are having a lot in life like three houses and a yacht, and they seem to get even more unhappy, because they want more and more and more. People are a very strange breed: the more you have, the more you want, and this is a very strange behavior. I think people were much happier back in the day when they had to fight for their living, when they really had to fight for the food of the next day. If they achieved enough food for tomorrow and maybe even the day after tomorrow, those people were super-happy, because they knew they would survive for the next few days. Nowadays nobody is happy even though he has a big villa and a car and a fridge that is packed with food for one year. I have a feeling everybody is getting more unhappy the better life he has. It’s perverted, and it’s typical mankind, I think.

Does it mean that your solo career is for now on hold?

The solo career is always something that I actually decide on when I listen to my ideas which are not on the record and I realize, “Oh, there are eight, nine or even ten dongs that I really love, but they are not compatible with Helloween”. Sure I can understand that it’s not a Helloween album, but still I really love the songs – then maybe it’s time to step out again and say, “Oh, I’d like to make a new record please”. (laughs)

But not at the moment, right?

No, at the moment I’m completely packed with Helloween. Maybe if from the 12 or 13 songs I’ve written only three or four end up on the album, and I have lots of leftovers, then next year or maybe in two years I will try to put them out and make people listen to them. But honestly it’s never been something that I’m committed to do, I’m just happy to have the freedom to do it, so that nobody in the band would give me shit for doing it. But as we all know, it’s a lot of stress, and I’m not sure that… I’m very lazy at the moment (laughs), I think after the whole songwriting process for Helloween I definitely will not see myself getting back to the studio again for the next three to five years, let’s put it that way.

The Helloween back catalogue has been re-released quite a few times. A couple of years ago Noise Records once again put out all of your albums from the 80s. However what remains out of all of these reissue campaigns is the album “Live In The UK” (1989). Obviously you were not in the band back then, but probably you happen to know why this recording is disliked by the band and labels so much?

Honestly I don’t know. I love the record a lot. The only answer I can give you is my own opinion: I think live albums overall do not do very good. Maybe it’s just that the record company decides live albums are not sold well enough anyway. It’s different with the live albums that are brand new, like from the last “Pumpkins United” tour, for example, because there are many people who remember the concerts from last year and probably would buy a product like that, but I think nobody is interested in a live album that is already 25 or 30 years old. Maybe that’s the answer, but that’s more like my guess.

Some more questions about the past days. Michael Kiske has said that you and him never met each other before the “Pumpkins United” tour. But as far as we know, one of the reasons why you were offered the lead singer position in Helloween in 1994 is because you were a friend of the band and they knew you very well. How did it happen that you never met Michael back in those days?

I actually only met Markus and Weiki. The story is that from the Pink Cream 69 demo days through the first album, the second album and the third album, we always recorded in Hamburg, and I got to know Weiki when we recorded our first demo in Hamburg. He is a long-long-long-year friend, wow, this has been like 32 years. I always hung out with Weiki, who is a Leo, as I am, so we are both assholes. (everybody laughs) It was always Weiki and me against the rest of the world. We were always bitching, like Statler and Waldorf from the “Muppet Show” – that’s Weiki and me. He became one of my best friends, and through him I got to know Markus after a while. Sometimes I hung out with Ingo back in the days, we would go to the Big Apple in Hamburg and actually have a great time, because back in the day we didn’t realize he had mental problems or something like that. Sure he drank a lot, but the whole cocaine and drug shit was not taking place in the beginning. It was only after a while that he got probably into too much cocaine and all the shit which gave him the problems we all know. Unfortunately I never got to know Michael or Kai Hansen or Roland Grapow back in the day. It seems very strange, but now that I know Michael very good, I know that Michael was never into hanging out in Backstage Club in Hamburg, he was never in the rock café on Reeperbahn, he’d rather spend time with his lady. I don’t remember her name, but he was very happy with his lady back home, and I can’t blame him, why not? He never visited the clubs where Weiki, Ingo and I hang out. I remember once I saw him when they had a band meeting in a restaurant, and I was in the same restaurant, so I said hello to him – that’s the only conversation I had with Michael. (laughs)

In 1999 you did a very interesting cover album, ”Metal Jukebox”. But as far as we know, you have never played any of those songs live. What is the reason?

Well, actually it was never meant as a Helloween album, it was just an in-between joke album everybody was happy to do. These are Markus’ favorite songs, Weiki’s favorite songs that we metalized, one or two songs that I love, and everybody had fun recording it, that was the main thing. I remember the record company asked us if we would like to do something like that because they would love us to make some cover album between studio albums. Back in the day everybody seemed to do it, so we thought why not.

We have talked about the past and the present, now it’s time to ask you about the future. On the “Pumpkins United” tour the band has been playing to huge audiences and headlining the biggest metal festivals all over the globe. Do you, we mean yourself, the band or the management, have a vision of how you can grow even bigger than now?

I don’t know. That would be something like blasphemy. (laughs) We have got into a position where we never dreamed of being. We hoped that we would have more audience, but we never dared to hope that there would be such a big success. For us it’s still a dream come true, and we are sitting here with four times more audience than Helloween ever had, even back in the day with the original setup. This is “wow!”, and we’re just enjoying it. If there is an even higher stand for us, I don’t know. Again, you may hope for it, but you should also be very careful with what you hope for. We’re still living a very normal decent life, we can walk down the street without being stressed too much, nobody is there who’s giving you shit. If you ask if I would hope for a popularity like Metallica or something like that, I would definitely say rather not. At the moment it seems like a dream come true, we life our life and everything is great, the concerts were packed, and people were happy to earn money. If it stays like that… I would say it is perfect the way it is now. We still are safe to walk the street, if you know what I mean. (laughs)

Helloween on the Internet: http://www.helloween.org

Special thanks to Maxim Bylkin (Soyuz Music) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov, Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
Photos by Natalia "Snakeheart" Patrashova
September 12, 2019
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