Helloween – Crazy Men Still Doing FineSunday, 14th June 2015
Andi Deris-era Helloween has been so good for so long that they’ve effectively earned the “right” to do as they please. It’s somewhat literal in the title of their new album, My God-Given Right, the band’s 15th overall, and first back on once-former label Nuclear Blast. As evidenced by the ear-catching couplings of “Heroes,” “Battle’s Won,” “Lost in America,” and “Claws,” the ‘Weenies still have a firm grip on something few other bands do: “Fun” melodic power metal. Polarizing, yes. But still as vital as ever? Certainly.
No run-up to a new Helloween album can be considered complete without chatting with founding guitarist Michael Weikath. Weikath, who much like his former bandmate Michael Kiske, is one of the best interviewees in the biz, perpetually armed with a unique perspective on Helloween, and, life in general, something we were happy to dish upon given the new album cover’s proposed setting of New York City, where Weikath lived for a stretch in the 90s. Beyond that, it’s shaping up to be another event-filled album cycle for the band, with another North American tour in the works for early 2016. For now, here’s our man Weikath from his home in Tenerife, Spain, just prior to heading out for some Italian food…
Dead Rhetoric: You lived in New York for a stretch in the early 90s. Did that experience at all influence the cover art?
Michael Weikath: No. It’s been done by [cover artist] Martin Häusler and our manager, and what they thought would be cool and expressive. I’ve already said in a few interviews, it would make little sense to take the Towers of Kuala Lumpur because people would go, “What’s that?” Then you say, “It’s the freakin’ Towers of Kuala Lumpur. You’ve never heard about them?” “No, never heard about them.” So, they wanted to express like, “Okay, it’s a long time in the future on a different planet, maybe some place like New York where they had a Statue of Liberty.” Personally, I thought it was a bit bland and stupid and we already had the Day After Tomorrow and Planet of the Apes [movies]. Anyway, because the execution of the overall cover wasn’t bad at all, I was like, “Yeah, okay, go for it! We’ve done so many stupid things in the past that weren’t logical, but this is the same as the other thing. Why don’t we do it different? Who gives a shit?
Dead Rhetoric: We gives final approval on the cover?
Weikath: That was us, the band. We all said, “Yeah, what the heck? Statue of Liberty, all right.”
Dead Rhetoric: Do you miss living in New York?
Weikath: [pauses] Yeah, nowadays, maybe. Nowadays, it’s a lot more orderly and cleaned up in a way. Less criminal, right? When I was there in 1990, it was a melting pot and it wasn’t as civilized as it is today. With the aftermath of 9/11, it’s been taken good care of. You can walk around as a tourist, and that sure wasn’t the case when I was there. It was before the Zero Tolerance policy. I was a bit struck that I’m a German, I’m a European, I’ve moved there, and people were so superficial in a way. It didn’t really click with me as much as I would have wanted. I knew New York from before, and I even had a tin statue of the Chrysler Building. I had it at home, and my dad, he bought a Statue of Liberty thermometer that we had at home as well. I was always like, “One day you’re going to go there on your own and spend time with [the] cool people there.” None of those cool people were there.
The times had changed. It was the freakin’ 90s, and it was a lot more, well, call it, “cold-hearted.” It was like, “Nah, that’s not my time or my town right now.” I didn’t go around much. I didn’t meet many people. Everyone told me I should have gone to Brooklyn. Actually, I was afraid. Back then, they said people aren’t going to protect you or whatever, and I was like, “Hmmm…” I had no driver’s license. I called a gypsy in Brooklyn to give me a ride and we went to Harlem on New Year’s Eve. We were invited there by one restaurant, and they said, “Come by New Year’s Eve. Try our food and have a great time!” And I did. There was a jazz rock band playing there with Hammond organs. They were jazz! There was that guy who wanted to sell some stuff who got thrown out by another guy and there was this discussion, “Brother, how can you do this to me? I’m just trying to sell some stuff. I’m going to see my buddies and tell them how bad you are.” The security guy was just like, “What the fuck? Just get lost!”
Dead Rhetoric: And what are you thinking?
Weikath: I’ve been a hippie in Hamburg and I survived the bad times. I have long hair. I wasn’t that much to where people would go, “Okay, we’re going to rough him up now.” It’s like, “He’s some kind of wannabe hippie, he’s crazy, leave him alone.”
Dead Rhetoric: Why did you go there in the first place?
Weikath: We did what album? Pink Bubbles Go Ape or Chameleon? I wanted to have a break.
Dead Rhetoric: If it’s 1990, then Pink Bubbles.
Weikath: Times in Helloween were rough. I didn’t really enjoy it much. All the ging-aling that was going on with Ingo [Switchenburg, drums], then Kiske was getting more and more dominant inside the band, and was going “The next single is going to be one of my tracks.” I was like, “Oh my God. Let me get out of here.” [So] I was out of there. There I was. I had a girlfriend who was also born in Hamburg, so she was living there. She worked as a secretary, so I thought, “This a good occasion to get to New York.” That was the point in time for me to do it, but it wasn’t the right time.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve tried before to get away from the cartoon pumpkins, but then as you have noted, people complain. They’re in a different variation now, so have you resigned yourself to always having them in some form with every album?
Weikath: Yeah, even though I don’t get it. When we did the Punk Bubbles album, which was done by [famed cover artist] Storm Thorgerson, everyone was like, “Where are the pumpkins?” We never had any pumpkins on our covers except for the first! There wasn’t a pumpkin on either Keeper album, so what do you want with pumpkins? But here we are today.
Dead Rhetoric: The storm trooper idea with the music video is pretty cool.
Weikath: Yeah, it looks good. The only thing, the city in the background, what is that? What is it used for? Do the robots live there? Are we coming in a space capsule and going to land there? What’s going on there? Is it deserted? Somebody living there? Probably not.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s up to the listener to decide, right?
Weikath: Perhaps that’s for the “Creatures in Heaven” to decide.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve always been a band who has heavily involved its producer. Charlie Bauerfeind has been with you for the last several albums. What makes the relationship work so well?
Weikath: It’s his experience. The knowledge we all have of each other, and insight we gain together. It’s his professionalism, and it’s his dry ways. Well, his humor. The swear words he knows.
Dead Rhetoric: The swear words?
Weikath: It’s fun listening to him. And sometimes he swears really bad, so I’m like, “No, Charlie, that’s exactly what I would say!”
Dead Rhetoric: So he speaks the same language as you guys.
Weikath: Yeah, but he’s from the south of Germany. That’s where he was born. He even lived in Berlin, and Hamburg for some time. He graduated in the United States. I don’t know if he was in Boston or Chicago, or wherever. He went there and studied audio physics. I don’t know if he was at MIT. He told me where he was and I forgot. It was probably Boston.
Dead Rhetoric: I interviewed [former Helloween producer] Tommy Hansen recently. I’m going to read a quote he shared with me: “Weiki and I were very close. We kind of had a mutual understanding. Weiki is quite intelligent, and I guess that appealed to me. I guess we both encouraged each other into silly ideas, such as having Weiki playing a solo in the U-Bahn (the subway) at its most crowded time of day.” Do you remember those type of things with Tommy?
Weikath: Yeah, absolutely. Probably that was very much to the dismay to the rest of the band. He really supported my ways. At the same time, he created a lot of costs and demands. He thought because we were so close he could maybe act it out on something else. This is by no means criticism because it was a different time. He was from the 60s or 70s, he’s slightly ten years older than me. He was the generation earlier. We had a real good understanding. I was wide-awake during the 60s, and I saw Aerosmith in ’76 in Hamburg, and then there was a mutual understanding. Maybe that wasn’t so good for the other band members because they felt left out or something. Then with the Better Than Raw album, I thought Roland [Grapow] was not feeling too well about the 86% guitars I played on the record.
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