Masterplan – Fully Enlightened

Sunday, 17th November 2013

Maybe this whole getting Jorn Lande back in the band thing didn’t plan out for Masterplan, but guitarist/founding member Roland Grapow remains resolute in the band’s mission. Once considered nothing more than a Helloween revenge band after Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch were given the boot after 2000’s divided The Dark Ride, Masterplan have outlived expectations and along the way, carved out their own song-oriented niche in the European power metal scene.

Their 2003 debut is near-flawless, while 2005’s Aeronautics and 2007’s MKII had all sorts of hummable, panoramic tunes to match chorus sing-a-alongs and German grit. Of course, they’ve had to shuffle the singer deck a few times in between (Lande was replaced by Mike Dimeo in 2007, then Lande replaced Dimeo in 2009, then Lande left for good in 2011 after 2010’s Time to Be King), but the fact remains: Masterplan are one of the first bands one should reach for when clawing for those thoughtful, festival-slappy bands that are so cool across the pond. (Their new Novum Inintium is the first to feature At Vance vocalist Rick Altzi.)

Perhaps no discussion with Grapow is complete without waxing on this time with Helloween, so naturally, DR took the bait, yet you gotta hand it to the guitarist: He’s not willing to go down without a fight when Helloween’s career is taken into context – he might have been the lone logical voice during the band’s rough early 90’s period, as well as the only person (for better or worse) daring enough to push the band’s sound in new directions. For now, though, discussion focused on the revamped Masterplan, and ‘Weenie times of yore. Read on…

Dead Rhetoric: You must be relieved to put an album in Novum Initium that doesn’t have for lack of a better term, the “drama” of Jorn hanging around. Was that the case?

Roland Grapow: Yeah, and he was always complaining about styles and not appreciating what the German musicians can do because we have a history with Helloween and Gamma Ray and all this power metal which was really famous in Europe and Japan, plus I toured in America. Jorn was never interested in anything. He always had his little world which was David Coverdale and Dio, and that’s it. Just 80’s stuff, but I mean, we have a lot similarities in taste, even AOR and 80’s stuff.

But, at least when I worked with [producer] Roy Z on The Dark Ride Helloween album, my mind changed – I was more open-minded for more modern metal stuff and brutal stuff, which is really cool to have as an influence on your own style. I said to myself, “When you get older, you should make music for old people. You need to keep it fresh somehow.” And that’s my vision for writing and creating songs.

Dead Rhetoric: So he was never fully onboard with what you were doing?

Grapow: I guess the first album, of course he came very late and everything was recorded. When Jorn came, everything was recorded except the vocals and some solo parts. He liked the stuff; he was very inspired. But, he was really focused on the songs that were bonus tracks, so obviously, not the strongest material. [laughs] He picked it out and said “This would be the single.” And I said, “No, this is just the bonus track for Japan, c’mon.” I was more into “Heroes” and “Kind Hearted Light,” all of these kind of songs, but he was more into the bonus tracks and I don’t even remember the names. [laughs] You see the different kind of taste he had, but when we delivered him the master and he was listening to it at home, his wife told me he was dancing around the house he was so happy. He liked it, I guess, but when we started touring, he was already starting…I guess it was his attitude. He’s maybe the same with his own band.

Dead Rhetoric: You now have Rick from At Vance, who seems to fit pretty well.

Grapow: It’s a totally different world now. It’s a great feeling to know Rick is a big Masterplan fan and he likes Jorn’s style of singing. He doesn’t want to change the band in a way in being such an egoist, going, “Nah, that’s not my style.” Like Mike Dimeo did – he didn’t care about Jorn’s style. He’s a fantastic singer as well, but Rick is really down to earth; he knows what to do. He has his own life – he’s not a typical artist who has to make his own thing, which is music. He has a stable life. He has a job next to the music and has a family and grown kids…he seems to be really settled.

Dead Rhetoric: Maybe third time’s a charm then with Rick, eh?

Grapow: Yeah, I wished Rick would have joined a couple of months earlier because when we were finishing songwriting, I thought Jorn would be the singer. Now, I have a totally different view of when we make the next songwriting, which maybe will start in January. We don’t want to keep such a long period between albums. We want to work very early and work as a team. We want to rent a cottage or house in Sweden or Slovakia to make the sessions for the songwriting. Then of course, the songs will be written for more of his style of singing. Rick is more brilliant in the mid-range, higher stuff, and Jorn is better at the lower stuff. Jorn can sing everything – I don’t want to say he can’t, but the strongest part of Rick is the higher stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: For the Time to Be King album cycle, did it leave a bad taste in your mouth? There was some excitement in terms of Jorn coming back into the fold, but it seems like not much happened after that.

Grapow: There was a big hope, definitely. It took a long time to make Jorn interested again in Masterplan. I visited him when he played Monsters of Rock here in Czech Republic when he was playing with Avantasia. I told him I would love to meet him again and talk about some stuff, and after two days, he finally said, “Yeah, maybe.” Then it was weeks of calling and calling him, with him saying “I don’t like this double-bass or German style of metal.” Everything from the beginning was a compromise. I said to myself, “Whatever, let’s see how far we can get it.” I love his voice, so maybe we change our style. We sound a little more grown-up on Time to Be King. It’s a good album, but it’s a less metal kind of thing. Again, in the studio we had a little fight about one song, which I thought was one of the best songs. I don’t even know the name.

I think it was a song that I wrote…It’s the kind of song that he said was not so strong and he’s not inspired, and he had to go the next morning to the airport. And I said, “Come on please, let’s try it!” He came up with a melody that I didn’t really like; an American hook like, say like Kiss. Like, “Detroit Rock City!” So I said, “C’mon, this is not Masterplan.” He started fighting and screaming about me that he’s not inspired about this song, then we went to bed. The next morning we tried it again and that’s when he came with a totally different melody which was amazing. Then later, he said “Now it’s my favorite song.” Interesting. It was always like that. [laughs]

Dead Rhetoric: I think the story is pretty well known in terms of your debut, that you and Roland had just left Helloween, you had Janne [Warmen] from Children of Bodom doing keyboards, and Russell Allen [Symphony X] was supposed to be the singer. What are your recollections of that time?

Grapow: [pauses] It was the excitement, even without 100% knowing who would be the singer because Russell, he wanted to sing on the album. But we wanted someone to be 100% a member because I thought it was very important we present to the fans something new as a lineup, not as a project. But I know from the material Uli and I had written was so strong at the time, I knew it would be good – it doesn’t matter who was singing.

When the album came out, it was something like a revenge because we were thrown out of Helloween. It was a big surprise; no warning from anyone, which just finished the tour and the next day, we were out. But I felt that now, we were coming back with a strong album. I felt very happy that after the release…it took a couple of months. In the beginning, people were like, “Hmmm…” It’s always the same – people when they hear a new album, they start complaining. Then after 10 years, everybody says it’s a jewel. The same with Novum Initium. In the beginning, people were skeptical, but now, no one is complaining.

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