Helloween – Humor Has No PriceSaturday, 30th March 2013
(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com in April of 2010)
By definition, Helloween’s career has been that of a roller-coaster. From the soaring highs of the twin Keeper albums, to the devastating lows of their Pink Bubbles Go Ape/Chameleon era, then back to the top of power metal mountain with Andi Deris, Helloween have more wear-and-tear than they’d like to admit. Compound that with a perpetually divided fanbase (Hansen vs. Kiske; Kiske vs. Deris; Weikath vs. Grapow/Kusch, etc.) and it’s no wonder mainman/guitarist Michael Weikath has been able to retain his trademark sense of humor.
The trick behind Helloween is taking risks and the band has stuck their necks out once again, this time by re-arranging several of their classic songs for Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary. The core of classic songs like “Dr. Stein,” “Where the Rain Grows,” and “Eagle Fly Free” are infiltrated with orchestral arrangements, rag-time tempos, and brass instrumentation. And in true ‘Weenie fashion, the band pulls another rabbit out of the hat.
We caught up with the verbose, rambling, incredibly funny Weikath for an hour-plus chat, one that left Blistering at a rare loss for words. Simple questions were turned into elaborate stories, in-direct queries resulted in Weike adding his own dose of humor to items this scribe has longed to ask. Best of all, there was no pretense, no salesmenship, just an honest conversation with one of German metal’s most enduring figures…
Blistering.com: With a catalog as deep as yours, how did you go about picking the songs for Unarmed?
Michael Weikath: It was more of a matter of coincidence, really. We had a list of ideas like “Hmmm…we could do this one. Perhaps that one will work.” We brought the ideas to the table then we had to leave some songs out. Like “Ride the Sky” for instance…the proposed version of it just did not work. Then there was “How Many Tears.” By the end of it, we had collected more than enough and when you throw in the “Keeper Trilogy,” that was plenty of work to be done.
Blistering.com: So this comes in place of a new studio album, right?
Weikath: When we got off tour, we didn’t have a big plan. We knew we had the 25-year thing coming up, but we needed a break. No break. Marcus [Grosskopf, bass], Deris…they all wanted to work, so this seemed feasible. A few arrangements came about and it felt like a typical album. I mean Dani [Loble, drums] likes to work…he’s always doing some type of clinic or something.
Blistering.com: You mentioned “Ride the Sky” and “How Many Tears” not making the cut. Anything else that didn’t?
Weikath: It was a matter of interest, really. I wanted to do “Giants” [from Chameleon] with this big Barbra Streisand-type singer and it didn’t come. The whole concept I had for it was misunderstood. It would have been a cool thing for the real Barbra Streisand to sing on it. I mean, [former singer Michael] Kiske sounds like her anyway.
Blistering.com: Perhaps the most poignant moment is “Eagle Fly Free,” which is no surprise. What makes this song endure?
Weikath: Now it’s pretty simple sounding. It’s eerie when I hear it [now] – it has this Swedish hippie “dit-dit” feeling to it. Reminds me of psychedelic recordings. It’s like, what is this? What the heck? The impact for me is each time I try to write a new piece at that speed now. Try to surpass and think about what approach I should take. New riffs? It’s strange because I was playing a verse for one of our new songs and it’s the same vein and I found myself repeating that chord pattern. That just took me back to the old recording.
I remember taking a train back to Cologne during the recording of Keeper One because I didn’t want to see our label boss at the time [Noise Records honcho Karl Walterbach]. The guy just can’t be funny. I had all of these songs forKeeper Part One and they chose “How Many Tears,” so I was pissed off. I remember being on the train to Cologne and the sounds the rails made. That’s how I came up with the [riffs].
Blistering.com: The lyrics are still quite relevant given today’s state of affairs.
Weikath: My lyrics can be cheesy, but I thought about what approach to take. Blood, gore…different sorrows. How can this stand apart? It was okay if we did “Eagle” in the “winky/Russian protest” fashion, but I didn’t want to be wimpy and over-do it.
Blistering.com: And like most of your lyrics, they’re optimistic.
Weikath: I’m hard-headed. I’m kind of an outcast in that regard – who cares, do you want. There are millions of people who have listened to this stuff and I’m just a part of the framework.
Blistering.com: I spoke with Andi back in 2003 and now he’s by far and away the longest-tenured Helloween singer. What do you remember from getting him into the band in 1994?
Weikath: Well, I didn’t even know if we could get him. Richie Blackmore came calling for Rainbow and he didn’t turn them down. He would have gotten something like $2 million of songwriting shares or some ridiculous number. I thought to myself, “Ok, we’ve done some Rainbow-type stuff, how will Deris react to it?” I remember going to Hamburg when he was in Pink Cream 69 and heard some demos. I heard some melodies and wondered who was the composer. And there’s only two people that had the guts to do it like that, and that’s what was so special about Pink Cream 69. So I met this sandy blonde guy coming off a train with 80’s hair. He proved to be nice and the connection was made. He didn’t join Gamma Ray, not Rainbow, but Helloween.
Blistering.com: That also went a long way toward re-solidifying the band after Chameleon, didn’t it?
Weikath: You have to remember that back then, Castle Records (Helloween’s then-label) were a big distro machine. We felt proud because before, they were just reissuing Black Sabbath stuff on vinyl; we were one of the first “live” bands. Us and [long-defunct UK metallers] Thunder. So we had a new singer, new career and they had Japanese ownership who ended up coming to rehearsal. For Chameleon, no one ever came to see us [laughs].
We had this storage room with no sound protection right next to their offices and asked “You don’t mind?” So for three days we rehearsed while they worked. We tried to do it after business hours and they just came in, planted down, with prying eyes. “Can he sing?” “Can they do it again?” Well, they signed us and that’s when I knew people were behind that version of the band.
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