More than two centuries after Kids of The Century shocked the Heavy Metal world with Helloween‘s new sound, Michael Kiske is back recording with the band. Following on from the vivid success of the Pumpkin United Tour, which saw Helloween headline Wacken Festival and sell-out arenas and large venues in many countries, Michael, along with Kia Hansen, went into the studio and recorded what is proving to be one of their greatest albums to date. “Helloween” was released on June 18, ’21, via Nuclear Blast Records. You can read HEAVY’s review of the album here.
What’s unique about this album is that the existing vocalist, Andy Deris, also remained in the band, making Helloween officially a seven-piece with three guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and three singers.
In an Australian first interview with Helloween’s Michael Kiske, HEAVY interviewer Carl Neumann joined Michael on a Skype video call to discuss “Helloween”. Together they cover how the band went about writing and recording songs, the effects Covid-19 has had on the World and the music industry, the lies and oppression from the mainstream Media, “Chameleon” and “Pink Bubbles Go Ape“, red wine, whether or not Helloween are planning to come to Australia, Neumann microphones, and more.
Listen or watch the video recording of the interview to hear it all or listen to the audio recording on Spreaker. Below is a shortened writern transcript of the full conversation.
Video interview with Michael Kiske:
Audio interview with Michael Kiske:
Written interview with Michael Kiske (short version):
Enthusiastically, Michael Kiske announces, “We’ve had some unofficial information that we are doing really good with over 2 million streams since Friday on Spotify and the chart positions it seems like we’re doing great. With physical charts too.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We try to refuse the pressure that comes from everybody, with expectations. Because it never helps. You can’t fulfil expectations. We just have to work with the ideas we have and make the best out of each song. We had a great spirit all along — like on the touring, we were just enjoying ourselves.
“We are very happy with the reactions [to this album]. Very often, I’ve thought something [I’ve created] was great. But people just didn’t care. You can’t pre-tell how these things are going to go.
What’s an example of something you thought was great but found didn’t work?
“I don’t know what people think is cool. I really don’t. I have my own tastes; when it comes to success, I suck. I’m pretty much all the time wrong. Like, songs I think should be the single… or other people say ‘that’s got to be the single’, and I’ll say, ‘Nah, that’s not a good choice’… I’m usually wrong. I’m in my own world. That’s why I leave these decisions to others.”
Was the Pumpkin United Tour a bigger success than you thought?
“I was off the [Metal] scene for a long time, so I’m wasn’t the one to tell you what to expect or what was possible, in any direction. I was not paying attention for ages.
“We started off very carefully. It took me quite a while to get into the position to say ‘yes’ to something like that.
“In the 90’s it was impossible. I was at war with pretty much the whole music industry. I was disappointed to the core and didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. That slowly started to get better in the early 2000s, and I started doing more Rock kind of music — even before Unisonic, with Kai [Hansen], there was no thought of Pumpkins United stuff.
“I was actually getting a bit angry about some statements Andy Deris did in some interviews around 2014 because he was planning something like that for a long time. Which is funny, because he was the singer after me; he thought it would be a cool idea to get me in. Which is very unusual. A friend of mine was sending me SMS’s quoting what he was saying in the interview, and I was replying, ‘This is just never going to happen’.
“For me, a big game-changer of realising that I wasn’t angry anymore. This was in 2013 when I was on tour with Avantasia in Europe, and I ran into Mikel Weikath backstage, and he stood in front of me and said one very intensive line; he looked into my eyes and said, ‘What have I done that you can’t forgive me?’
“I was holding my breath, and I noticed there was no anger. I was expecting anger to come out. But there was no anger. So I said, ‘You know what? I think I forgave you a long time ago’.
“That was the first time I noticed that something had changed in me. I was lingering on in the old pattern, I had these same thoughts rolling on all these years, but something inside of my soul had changed without me noticing.
“But still, then I didn’t think about a reunion at that time.
“In 2014, we were playing with Unisonic in Spain, great shows, nothing huge, maybe up to 2000 people. After one of those shows, Kia Hansen said to me, ‘You know what? We’ve got to do something with Helloween once more. Before it’s too late’.
“And I said, ‘You know what? I’m open to it now’.
“Two weeks later, Jan Bayati, the manager of Helloween, called and asked me how serious that statement was. Then it was step, by step, by step. There was lot’s of things that needed to happen, but the last piece of the puzzle was for me to fly to Tenerife [Spain] and spend time with Andi Deris because we didn’t know each other. Jan said, ‘If you guys don’t get along, it’s not going to work’.
“And it turned out that we got along scary good. It was a bit weird. It was almost like I knew him from previous lives. Right away, we clicked, we talked for hours, we almost spent every day together, and it was great.
Every time I saw his face in the previous two centuries, it was not a positive thing. He was the one who got my job. And I think it was the other way around as well because he was getting a lot of fire, especially from the beginning, from Kiske fans, because a lot didn’t like him to be there now. Both of us were in a situation that had been created by the circumstances — without even knowing each other. And to get that all out of my system was so healing. In the beginning, that is all I cared about. I did not know if this was going to be a success; I didn’t think about it. I just wanted to make peace and get it out of my system, so I don’t die with unnecessary enemies.
How does the current excitement level coming off the new record compare to the “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” days?
“It’s very different. I was so convinced about [Helloween] that I wasn’t even surprised when ‘Keepers I‘ [Keeper Of The Seven Seas Part I] sold a million records. It’s one of those things that you can only have when you are young. Because you haven’t had that many disappointments, you haven’t been disillusioned so many times. When you are young, you have a very natural and very healthy confidence when you’re excited about something you think it’s the greatest thing in the World, and you think it’s just gonna make it anyway. That’s the way it should be. I always had the feeling that only the bands that have that conviction about what they are doing really do make it. Because that energy is delivering across. It’s all spiritual. All has to do with the energy you put in there.
“The situation that we are in now, it’s a different band. It’s just as intense, but we are a lot wiser now. And everybody in the band has a lot of respect for each other. You don’t have that much respect when you are young. It’s a different band, but the buzz that’s happening at the moment reminds us, especially me and Kai, of the early days.
“I think everything happens for a reason. I don’t think anything is a coincidence. You have choices in your life, and if you go in that direction, your whole life might be change. Choices do matter. Some things are just meant to be. I know both feelings: I know when it’s not meant to be anymore. And, what it feels like when it is, because, at the beginning, everything seemed to fall into place almost on its own — everything worked out.
“When you’re young, you think you’re invincible, then one little thing changes, like Kai Hansen leaving the band. It’s not that Kai was the band; he was one part of it. But the balance was gone; nothing worked anymore. We tried but we were constantly arguing. When we did the “Chameleon” record, it was still an honest record; we did the best we could out of the situation, but we were not a band. We weren’t working together to get the songs; it was three solo artists making an album under the name ‘Helloween’.
“But now it feels like the early years, in a different way, but it feels right. It’s so amazing for us!”
Since there are now three singers in Helloween, how did you go about choosing who sings what for each song? Was there every any arguing, or was it amicable?
“There was never any arguing. With Andy and me, there was no ego going on. Which was amazing. There was a little bit going on with Kai. Kai wrote this great tune, Skyfall, and we had Dennis Ward as a producer. He [Ward] was pre-arranging parts and splitting the parts how he thought it could work. When I did the vocals for Skyfall, I did the parts that Dennis said I should sing, and it sounded great; everybody said it felt like ‘Wow, this sounds like a Keeper vibe’. And then Kai said, ‘Um, I thought I’d sing the song‘.
“That was the only situation we had, but we didn’t fight against him or argue or anything like that. We ended up with a compromise with him singing in the middle — which I think was pretty much planned by Denis anyway. That was the only time we needed to convince him a little bit for the album and for the band.
“But with me and Andy, it was never like that we were like this [Kiske holds up his fingers tightly crossed] when we were recording and I was trying out something in a song that I didn’t feel comfortable with, and I would tell him you should give it a try. Sometimes he was sitting there when I was doing the vocals. Or the other way around. It was all just about the song and trying to figure out where each singer can shine the best because we have different qualities.
“There were spots we wanted him to sing in other songs, and he didn’t. The producer was sending him files, but he wasn’t doing it. But he’s happy now. After Skyfall went number one in England, he sent me an audio file saying, ‘This is great!’.”
Why didn’t you write a song on this album?
“Because I’m not so much a Metal songwriter, in my opinion. I was a bit more when I was young; I was a teenager. When you look at some of the songs I had written, even on “Kids Of The Century”, which was very well received by the fans, I still considered Kai, Weikath and later Andy and Sascha [Gerstner] as key songwriters. We have 6 songwriters in the band, so there was really no need for me to write a song.”
I hear you are a red wine fan. Is this true?
“I was a complete anti-alcohol person until 2010. I hated it. My father killed himself with alcohol, so I hated that stuff. But when I was supposed to do the vocals for the first Unisonic record, I was so stiff. I needed something to relax, so I bought myself some Desperados [tequila flavoured beer]. Then I was doing the vocals, and it was great. It’s a tool to me. I always say, ‘I’m always drinking when I’m working’.”
Can we expect some “Pumpkin” wine in the future?
“Well, the management needs some money to come in during the pandemic. They have lots of ideas in terms of merchandising. I know Waken [Festival] does have wine — I don’t know if it’s any good.
I only drink privately. Usually, I don’t drink any alcohol — only when I’m working [laughs]”.
Helloween is a truly unique band in that it has the traditional conversations of Heavy Metal such as corruption in politics, some fantasy elements, spirituality and comments on religion. Still, there is also it has a very comical side to the band. Has this always been intentional?
“I think that’s what made us different. Especially when you look at the metal scene. We’ve always had this uplifting kind of spirit. We even have it on “Walls Of Jericho“. When you listen to that album, it’s almost comical to a certain extent. There were intentionally twisted American words around, like, Oernst of Life. In German, you say, ‘ernsthaf’ [pronounced: ans-tuft] when something is serious. And he [Hansen] intentionally twisted that around. And, there’s always Reptile, you can’t ever take that serious.
We’ve always had it event right from the start. There’s been a little bit of comedy aspect to us. What I don’t like at all about the metal scene is this negative, sort of satanic, brutality glorifying stuff, which has become so big, especially during the ’90s. It was part of the reason why I kind of moved away from it. I don’t want to live for darkness. I don’t want to live for negativity. What’s the point? And most of the time, the guys who make that type of music don’t want that either. But they put it out there as their art.
And of course, some people hate it. Because you are not allowed to be funny. You’re not allowed to be positive in the eyes of certain people. You’ve got to be deadly serious, macho or evil. But I think that has changed a bit these days.
When I was younger and in the metal scene, it was almost like a religion – they made a church out of it. And the only type of music they like is ‘the only true music, and everything else is crap‘, which is, of course, is bullshit. It doesn’t matter if a person is into Country Music; if he writes it with an honest heart, that’s true music. It doesn’t have anything to do with the style of music. So, I thought that was always very childish, but I think it has gotten better. I don’t think the Metal scene is much like that anymore, is it? It’s much more open these day’s I think.
Down in the Dumps is the craziest one [on “Helloween”]. And I didn’t understand it for a long time, even Out For Glory. I just did not get it because he [Weikath] was doing the vocals on the demos, and he can not sing – he just can’t. It sounds like he’s slaughtering someone to death; he’s just screaming like a witch. And he doesn’t hit the tones right, so I did not know what he wanted to say with the song.
“There was an interesting situation, we were brainstorming the songs, and in 2018 we already had a bunch of songs already worked out. And Weikath is playing his songs, and I’m like, ‘I don’t get it’. All the other guys are saying, ‘Ah don’t worry, we know how his demos sound like – so don’t worry about it’.
“In the ’80s, the demos of Wiki’s were pretty good; he always had a friend of his who sounded like Tom Jones, he always had him sing the demo vocals. So I could easily understand the song – that was the situation back then, but today he’s different. Today he’s too lazy and just puts vocals on there by himself, and it makes it hard to understand.
“When on tour, this has always been my philosophy when it comes to music; if you don’t believe in it, no one will. If you’re not excited, how can the audience be excited?
“So the main purpose of each show is trying to have fun yourself. And a big glass of red wine helps with that [big cheeky smile]”.
Tell me about the albums “Chameleon” and “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” and why they are so different to every other Helloween record.
“I don’t like those records because of the time. The songs were good, but it was not a great face for the band. I love the Keeper records because of the spirit, because of the songs, but especially because of the state the band was in; we were functioning, you know.
“Yes, they sound very different. It’s always when you do something that is a departure from what you got big with other people to have problems with. Which I understand now. Back then, I did not understand it at all. I thought it was entire art. It is [art], to some extent — music has to be free. So, whatever you want to express, you should express artistically; that’s the way to do it. But, commercially, this can easily break your neck; and it often does.
“It’s interesting since we’ve made this record, you wouldn’t believe how many people have said they like ‘Chameleon’ and how much they like “‘Pink Bubbles’ now. Because if you look at it from a distance, you have a different view of it. It’s not full of expectations and prejudice or whatever.
Is there a Kiske solo album coming soon?
“Yes, since the pandemic break, I started to get some song ideas together. I started recording songs that I like, that I love from other artists – there are no metal songs among them yet. Not even an Elvis song which is surprising. There’s got to be at least one. But it’s got songs from various artists from Pop-Rock, and even a song of Billy Joel’s that I love from the ’70s. I’m using the time. Actually, just before this interview, I was doing like two or three recordings of songs.”
Will Helloween come to Australia?
“We actually had it planned for last year. I’ve never been to Australia. We talked about between South America, and Japan was a good spot to jump over to Australia to play there. We had it fixed, we had it in the bag, and then ‘Lady Corona’ came along.
“I just really hope we can play live again like normal. It’s scary for people, especially for musicians. Our generations are not used to things like that [viruses]. There used to be a lot of it, and it would go around much more often, but since medicine has evolved, we almost don’t get any of that crap anymore because they can fight it down. But this time, it’s probably they created it, you know. Because where it was spreading first in China, that’s where they are testing with Coronaviruses. And it made them [viruses] more aggressive for military kind of crap. We owe this to these people who are making nasty weapons and viruses and stuff like that.
“I think we are going to be OK again, but we also have to learn a lot. Because out of this situation, a lot came to the forefront. I mean, this whole crap with ‘social media’ is poisoning peoples minds and creating hysteria and stuff like that. We are not in a very healthy mental state as humanity right now, and this is what the virus has shown. It’s not all negative that’s come out of the virus; there will also be a lot of good things because now we can see very clearly where things have to change and have to be done in a different way.
“The whole world needs to care more. I’m not talking about all this nonsense people [the Media] makeup – people love horror stories. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about trying to find FACTS. We need to know what really went down and try to figure out who’s responsible. But how much influence can you have over China?
“We just hope we can get on tour again. We’re mainly a live band. Albums are great, it’s an art form of its own, and it should be cherished more. People should think more about the culture and the art form that used to be behind it. People take anything for free if they can – but just because you CAN steal something doesn’t mean you should. Just because your neighbour doesn’t lock his car doesn’t give you the right to take it, does it?
“Helloween” was released on June 18, ’21, via Nuclear Blast Records.