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| 14 October 2015 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Helloween Markus Grosskopf 01

German metal titans and early forefathers of the speed and thrash metal genres, HELLOWEEN return to Australia this month for a lap around the country in support of their hugely popular album My God-Given Right, released earlier this year.

Wednesday 14th October – Melbourne, 170 Russell
Friday 16th October – Sydney, Metro Theatre
Saturday 1 7th October – Brisbane, Max Watt’s
Monday 19th October – Adelaide, The Gov
Tuesday 20th October – Perth, Capitol

We caught up with Markus Grosskopf – bassist and one of the only two founding members of the band which formed in Hamburg in 1984 – to find out more about the making of the album, and how the band enjoy themselves on tour.

Helloween 01
Shane: Thanks for your time today, Markus. It’s much appreciated – I’m really enjoying the new album. It’s cool, man.

Markus: I’m pretty good. Thank you. I like it.

Shane: I read that you guys wanted to return a bit to your ‘80s metal roots, but at the same time, hold onto the modern Helloween sound – I think you’ve achieved that.

Markus: It’s just like, it’s not easy to say something about it… we want to have it sound like the ‘80s, but then still with a touch of a modern approach. You can try, but if it’s going to be happen, I think all the listeners have to decide. Still, what was coming out of it, I kind of love it, whatever you call it.

Shane: It’s been very successful, as well. You’ve gone Top 10 in Germany and Finland, Top 10 in the U.S. hard rock charts and Top 20 or 30 right through Europe. That must be a pretty good result for you guys.

Markus: I like it a lot. It feels good to be a Top 10-er!

Shane: You’re a pop star – that’s it!! With four of the five band members writing songs individually, how do you peacefully agree on which ones are going to be used?

Markus: There’s no peace in that ‘picking a song’ thing. We are very close to those songs. We cannot really, objectively [say], ‘that song is going to be on the record because [it is] good. We can make recommendation, but being so close to it, working [with our] babies for more than a year, it’s very hard to decide, so we make a decision and then we give it to the management. We give it to the producer. We give it to the record company, but then they hear it for the very first time and we let them have the last word.

If they’re going to think this song is cool for the record, this song is cool for a bonus track or something that you need for a digital release, for example, then we just record 16, 17 tracks, give it to the record company with our recommendations and actually, they decide with the management and they give us ideas how to put the record together, how to create the whole big thing. It’s actually, we do it all together, but sometimes if they want to go crazy about one song, why not let the record company go for it, to promote it. If they feel like they can promote the record with that song better than with the other song, then why not give them the freedom to do so? At the end of the day, it’s all Helloween tracks.

Helloween 02

Shane: I read that you demoed something like 33, 34 songs between you all. What happens to the other 16 or 17 songs?

Markus: [laughs] They like to go into the bin!

Shane: Oh, no!?!

Markus: I don’t know. We have a lot of tracks. We have like, four songwriters. Everybody writes a lot of material and we had something like 24 tracks, 23. I can’t remember, really. You cannot just record all of them because also, studio time is limited and you’ve got to give back the finished product at a certain date and then you cannot hang around in the studio for more than half a year. Those days are over. You have your deadline and then the best way you have to give it up to the record company at that date, you simply don’t have more time than recording 16 songs, which is [still] quite a lot. Remember those good old days when they was like in vinyl? You recorded 8 tracks and then the vinyl was kind of packed.

Helloween Markus Grosskopf 02

Shane: That’s exactly right, but then, everything about the music industry has changed in the 30 years that you’ve been a band. It must have been interesting for you to see all the different things that have happened.

Markus: Even interviews, you know? Most of the time, we do email things [Q+A’s] and interviews via Skype and the connection around the whole world is very quick. All that changed a lot. There’s so many online magazines. That’s all very different, but there’s one thing [about a live show] that cannot be digitalised: it’s just in that second, in that moment, hoping something comes across between the audience and the band. That is still the same, actually, and I kind of love that. There has to be something being the same, always.

Shane: The last few Helloween albums have been amongst the best of your whole career, I think. Where do you think My God-Given Right stands up amongst the 15 albums? Do you think it’s in the top few?

Markus: I think so. It’s been a bit with that kind of thing, some people [have said]. We are very close to that, as I told you. Writing this, recording this, arranging this… we’ll hang out with those babies for more than a year, but some people say they hear a couple of tracks sounding like just coming from the Rabbit Don’t Come Easy album, some say there’s a track could be on the Masters Of The Rings, or there’s a track you could have taken from the time of the old [albums] and it’s very interesting how people react on that. I kind of like it.

Shane: Helloween are finally returning to Australia this year and at long last, you’re coming to Perth for the first time ever. Will it be all business when you’re in the country or do you get a chance to take some time and see a little bit of Australia?

Markus: I go around having a beer, having a meal, having a view through the city and having a walk. That’s what I do between sound checks and shows and talking to people, sometimes. I just go out and find my way through the city, do some pictures, do some stuff and maybe at night, we hang out somewhere at a club or a bar or the whole town, promoters sending us out to see something, to get some cool drinks. I like that, you know – we’re definitely gonna do that.

Markus Grosskopf & Michael Weikath

Markus Grosskopf & Michael Weikath

Shane: You’ve got to take a little bit of culture. It’d be sad if all you saw was a hotel room and a taxi and then the gig.

Markus: Yeah, it’s boring. Also, I saw a lot of the world already. A shopping mall is more or less a shopping mall. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Australia. It doesn’t matter if it’s in America or somewhere in Europe. You, of course, try to see some things, some sights, besides that, but it’s hard because you always play in the centre of the city and there’s all the shopping malls and all that. At the end of the day, I try to find a river where I can nicely sit down and talk and having a beer and just hang out and try to move a little instead of just hanging around at the hotel room.

Shane: After fifteen studio albums, is it difficult to come up with something that sounds completely original?

Markus: It’s very, very difficult. You don’t want to repeat yourself, too often, which is not easy to do on the 15th album… working on the very first track when we start writing, thinking about it in your head, when people expect a killer album from you, in a couple of months. That’s the very start. It’s tough starting with, but once it’s rolling, you don’t think about it anymore. You just let the ideas [come, but] it’s kind of hard, because some of the stuff you have in mind, suddenly you think, ‘no, I can’t do this. I did it the last time,’ and you try to change the idea, push it into another direction. It’s a little more work than doing the first album.

Shane: Is it the same sort of thing when it comes to writing a set list for playing live?

Markus: Yeah, it’s like having all those tracks and then you, of course, to promote the new album, you have like 4 or 5 tracks. With us, we can squeeze in whatever we like to, but on festival season, we prefer to do like 2 new tracks and then doing a lot of old stuff and a lot of stuff from this record or that record. It’s not easy to get a set together, because people want to hear this track. Other people want to hear that track and [during] festival season, sometimes that’s only one hour to play, but somehow, we try to change it here and there. It’s working, somehow.

Helloween 03

Shane: It’s great to see that you’re still here after thirty years. Most bands from the ‘80s, they broke up for five or ten years in the ‘90s, but you guys have soldiered on. It’s great.

Markus: Some of them even having their 30th celebration day, but they had like twelve years break in-between! [laughs]

Shane: That’s right. There’s been a dozen band members over those thirty years, but only yourself and Michael [Weikath] remain constant throughout all of that. Does that mean you two have the superiority in the decision making, or is it completely democratic?

Markus: When it comes to musical decisions, we do it all together. Then, there’s some business kind of stuff. We do it with Andy [Deris], Weikey and me.

Shane: We’ve talked about bands that have broken up in that time, but they’re still celebrating their anniversaries and things… did you ever consider ending the band when certain members left or when heavy metal’s popularity wasn’t as strong?

Markus: No, we always thought, ‘all right, it’s a different time. It’s different circumstances. It’s very different problems coming at you.’ Why you giving up? You have the guts to make some strong or sometimes, even cruel decisions, to keep the band rolling, just the way you want it to roll. We always tell, ‘all right, if things are going to be different, we’ve got to make different decisions,’ but we never thought of giving up. It’s just like once you once start it, you keep up until the end of the days.

Shane: Of course, the current line-up, you’ve made five studio albums together now. That’s a lot of albums. Having listened to them all, I think that this might be the most definitive and strongest Helloween line-up ever.

Markus: I think it’s cool to have people working with us for many years, then it makes it really easy to do an album or to work with each other – you know what you expect from each other. It’s cool. It’s just like the Helloween family, like the members we have now, [and] The Pumpkin, The Keeper and Dr Stein and Charlie Bowenfry – those are all like Halloween family members [as well]. [laughs]

Helloween Markus Grosskopf 03

Shane: It was very interesting, because I was writing these questions yesterday and I was thinking about the 30th anniversary and then I realized in the late 1970s, punk rebelled against what they called rock dinosaurs, the Led Zeppelins and the Pink Floyd’s and everything, but those bands had only been together for fifteen years at that stage, so technically speaking, that makes Helloween a metal dinosaur in those sort of descriptions.

Markus: Although I started off with doing punk music from the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and all that stuff, but of which I came to metal and I did punk. The idea was there to do something very different and it was kind of working and they had to destroy themselves to … Sex Pistols are a punk dinosaur, in a way.

Helloween 2015

Shane: They’re still sometimes around doing stuff.

Markus: That’s actually what they wanted, but they became what they were fighting against! It’s strange… I still like their music.

Shane: Yeah, me too. I always thought there was a lot more in common with punk and metal, especially early metal, than a lot of people thought. Look at Motorhead: Lemmy was one of the biggest fans of The Damned.

Markus: That’s some punk attitudes in there that was punk music, but it always had this fuck off attitude and all that, just like listening to the very first Iron Maiden album. That’s some punk attitude as well with Paul DiAnno [lead singer on the first two Iron Maiden albums], and their sound and all that, all that kind of cheap production that sounded very… It wasn’t really sounding like punk, but it had a little punk attitude, this, ‘here I am, fuck off,’ attitude, some would say. I like that a lot.

Shane: You’re talking about different musical influences. Give us one record in your music collection which would probably surprise Helloween fans.

Markus: What would that be? One of my favourite records is still the Soilwork album called Figure Number Five because I guess on this album, they really had it down to combine this very hard rough stuff or even with clothes and all that and still using vintage keyboards and twin, very melodical guitars, but then they have trash parts and death metal parts, combined on one record in a very good way, so it’s not really disrupting. I really felt a touch by that album.


Category: Interviews

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