HELLOWEEN – Waiting For The Thunder
Members of German power metal outfit Helloween are scattered across Europe, vocalist Andi Deris and guitarist Michael Weikath taking refuge in Tenerife. Rhythm guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Daniel Löble live in Berlin, Germany, meanwhile, bassist Markus Grosskopf having always resided in Hamburg. Composing material for potential use isn’t an issue however, digital advances such as virtual servers, emails, Skype and the like removing the barriers that distance once caused. January 2013 studio full-length Straight Out Of Hell – their 14th overall – includes songwriting contributions from four of Helloween’s members.
“I actually wrote five tracks, co-writing one of those five with Sascha our guitarist,” informs Andi Deris. “I think Sascha has four songs, Markus has four songs, and Michael has three songs, so it’s more or less a collaboration. Everybody brought in as much as possible. At the end of the day, it’s a mere coincidence when you end up with four to five song credits on an album. The songs have to fit the conceptual theme you have in your mind, the type of album you would like to do. This time we actually tried to do a more positive but even more aggressive album, because we thought that after surviving 2012 we should go into the whole thing with a bit more of a positive point of view (laughs).”
October 2010’s 7 Sinners was a less positive album, perhaps. “You could say so, yeah,” the frontman agrees. “It sounds rude when you say less positive. I think it’s a more doomy record. It goes into more of a… I wouldn’t say negative, but more of a doomy direction. It sounds more gothic and darker. It’s not a Dark Ride (October 2000) album, but it definitely wasn’t as positive from a melodic point of view. It had less catchy melodies, but there are probably much more catchy melodies on the new album.”
Concerning an ancient civilisation, ‘Nabatea’ inaugurates Straight Out Of Hell. “I actually knew as little as you do, because I just accidentally learnt about Nabatea because of the Indiana Jones movie,” Andi confesses. “In Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989), you see this big cathedral carved into a red mountain. I saw this, and the picture looked so real that I thought ‘This can’t be Hollywood. This can’t have been artificially done for the movie only – it looks so real.’ When I looked on the internet and realised these scenes were shot in front of the real Nabatea, then I learnt about Nabatea, that this was possibly the first democracy 3,000 years ago and these people managed to live without slaves.
“I learnt that they managed to live without soldiers, and still they lived wealthy and prosperous. They never brought a war to another land, and they seemed to be the first democracy that we know of. I thought ‘Wow, what a great story.’ For thousands of years Nabatea was viewed more or less as a legend, like a dream. Like Atlantis, for example. Then the beginning of the 19th century, an area called Petra was accidentally discovered. When Petra was discovered, they knew that Nabatea wasn’t a legend but definitely reality. I thought that this was a great story, because they already had what even us in the 21st century struggle hard to get, like no wars, democracy, wealth. That sounded too good to be true.”
‘Nabatea’’s lyrical content was authored initially, its musical passages penned afterwards. “There was only the refrain going on,” the singer recalls. “Suddenly I had this Nabatea story behind it, so then I actually tried to write all of the verses, middle parts, bridges in favour of the lyrics of ‘Nabatea’. So yeah, it was a lot of fun, but most of the time I write the other way around. Most of the time I have a complete idea for a song, and then I try to find the best words for it. This time it was vice versa though; this time I had the majority of the lyrics, or at least the content of the lyrics I wanted to write. It was fun writing music for lyrics.”
Devising lyrics beforehand caused Andi to feel more insecure. “When you do something that you don’t do very often, it’s always an experiment so to speak,” he reckons. “With each and every part that I added though, I thought ‘Okay, the story is told in the nicest way I can manage.’ I was more or less satisfied, and then the boys came into the studio and put their gold and glimmer onto my ideas with their playing, with that style of playing, and with their arrangements. They rearrange a little bit to their flavour, because Sascha should definitely play his guitar in his style and Michael should definitely play his guitar in his style. On the demo it’s only my guitar though, so certainly the guitars on the production are much better than my demo. At the end of the day when I listened to the final production, I was really proud.”
The guitar is the vocalist’s favourite instrument. “I started out as a guitarist,” he remembers. “Because I was the only guy who was able to sing my own song ideas though, my friends in my first band told me that I should put the guitar away and concentrate on singing because there are lots of guitarists out there, but only a few singers. That was the misery I went through. I actually wanted to be a guitarist but I ended up as a singer, but it’s okay (laughs). That started with my first school band, and I went through my first three to four bands like that. There was always a singer when I joined the band, but all of them weren’t good enough to sing the song ideas that I brought in. I was probably the bad guy, because I would consciously or purposely ask or demand it. I would join the band as a guitarist, and then sooner or later the singer would be kicked out and I would have to sing (laughs).”
At the time, Andi was a fan of hard rock outfit Kiss. “I definitely looked up to Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley, which was probably a very good thing to do,” he observes. “Their guitar playing is so easy rock ’n’ roll, and not difficult at all to learn and copy. I very quickly had some good results with my guitar playing, because the stuff that they played was so easy. I had a good time actually learning guitar with Kiss, because it was easy. Then there were certainly much more complicated things that I actually tried to play along with, like Deep Purple, Judas Priest. Then came Van Halen, and then it became a bit more difficult for me to actually play all that great stuff from Eddie Van Halen. I have to admit that I was never able to play them as good as Eddie Van Halen, and I probably never will (laughs).
“On the other hand though, at a very early stage I had to quit hours of playing guitar because I had to write more and more songs. As you may imagine, when you have to write songs you have no time to rehearse. All my capabilities were more or less stuck, so I couldn’t evolve any more, because songwriting means you don’t have time to rehearse. The guitarists out there rehearse every day, rehearsing their playing style and playing technique. I had to come up with new songs, which means I got stuck with my guitar playing more or less.”
Albeit a guitarist originally, the lyricist wasn’t initially hesitant to step behind the microphone. “It’s a very strange story,” he comments. “I like singing. I love singing, but I don’t like singing more than playing guitar. Sometimes I’m really asking for my guitar because that’s the main thing I want to do, but yeah, it’s cool the way it is because I would rather see myself as a musician than a singer or guitarist or something. I like to play piano a little bit. I love my guitar, I love to sing. At the end of the day though, I would rather see myself as an okay musician who’s happy and very fortunate to do what he wants. I dreamt of playing guitar or at least standing on stage with a great band travelling the world, so I achieved that. I should be very happy with what I’m doing.”
A vocalist first and foremost, an opportunity to play the guitar further has nonetheless arisen. “For years I’ve had little bands where I play a little bit in the rehearsal room, or a small club,” Andi shares. “This time I’m just about to record something like a solo album, where I hopefully will be able to play little clubs somewhere, where I will definitely want to play the guitar and sing obviously (laughs). I can’t avoid that. I think if I go out with a solo album, they’ll want to hear me singing. That’s something I have to do, but I try to play the guitar as much as possible.”
A music video for ‘Nabatea’ was filmed in Heidelberg, Germany. “Nobody actually gets permission to do music videos inside Nabatea,” the composer notes. “They’ve only done some filming outside of the cathedrals and stone-cast buildings, so we decided to find a solution. We decided to film in Heidelberg, in a Roman building that is 2,500 years old. They built it and it looks ancient, so we put in some figures that appear a little bit Mayan or Inca style. That isn’t really Nabatea, but it was stuff we could get hold of that was closest to the story. Unfortunately we didn’t go to Jordan directly because as I told you, we wouldn’t have been able to get permission to film inside Nabatea. That’s possibly good, otherwise the whole shit would be destroyed in no time.”
‘Live Now!’’s message lies in the number’s title. “The title says it all, actually,” Andi emphasizes. “We felt that we desperately needed a title that makes a statement, so there are lots of bitchy lyrics on it which actually damn a lot of stupid people out there in the world. Nevertheless though, even though there’s a lot of shit going on in the world we should not forget our own lives. Even if you change systems and politics and whatever completely, it probably wouldn’t affect your daily life. That’s what we actually meant with ‘Live Now!’ Whatever happens around you, the message is you shouldn’t forget to enjoy every second of every moment. If you’re sitting down and having a beer, enjoy your beer. If you’re lighting your cigarette, enjoy that moment, enjoy your cigarette. Just live now. It doesn’t matter what happens out there in the world. The only important thing is that you like this very moment, and enjoy this very moment.”
‘Live Now!’ was originally written as a solo cut. “‘Live Now!’ was a hard rock / pop metal song, and Sascha liked it very much,” the frontman explains. “The way I presented it, it wouldn’t have been a Helloween compatible song. Sascha said that he had some ideas concerning the arrangements though, ideas which would make the song more metal than hard rock. I told him to try it, to put down his ideas. At the end of the day, we all liked the song so we put it onto the album, mainly because of the positive message. It was a very important message we felt.”
‘Wanna Be God’ is dedicated to late Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury. “That song came along accidentally,” Andi imparts. “I wanted to listen to the drums solo in the studio, because I thought there was a mistake. I muted everything, and I thought I had muted the vocals, guitars, keyboards, and everything. I just wanted to listen to the drums, but accidentally the vocals were on solo-in-place. That means whatever you mute or whatever you want to hear solo, the vocals are always solo too as well. I listened to the drums and vocals, and I thought ‘Hmm… That doesn’t sound bad at all. This song doesn’t need guitars at all.’ It suddenly appeared to be a Helloween version of ‘We Will Rock You’ (from October 1977’s News Of The World) or something, because of the drums and vocals and the arrangement, verse, refrain, verse, refrain. I loved it. I thought ‘Okay, this is finally a chance to do a dedication to Freddie Mercury.’ For years, I wanted to do that. On the last album I dedicated a song to Ronnie James Dio, which was easy because Ronnie James Dio’s singing style is more compatible for Helloween than Queen and Freddie Mercury. With ‘Wanna Be God’ though, I thought that people would probably realise why the song is dedicated to Freddie Mercury, because the arrangement is reminiscent of ‘We Will Rock You’. The boys loved it, and we just made it.”
‘Waiting For The Thunder’ “was another poppy song that the boys loved very much, and thought we should metal-ize completely. They felt it would be something like a 2013 version of ‘If I Could Fly’, the song from The Dark Ride. The boys loved it. They all said ‘Let’s make a new version of ‘If I Could Fly’ from that,’ and this was ‘Waiting For The Thunder’. It’s got that piano going on, more or less a very similar vibe.”
Its demo version reminded the singer of old Pink Cream 69 tunes. “It was very Pink Cream, the demo,” he reiterates. “The boys liked it very much though, so they said ‘Okay, if we completely metal-ize it then it’s compatible for Helloween because it would more or less sound like ‘If I Could Fly’.’ They recorded it, and it was certainly metal. It was definitely a follow-up to ‘If I Could Fly’. We put it on the album because it bridges a lot of the songs, which is cool.”
‘Waiting For The Thunder’ concerns the mistakes one makes in life. “You know that you did something bad or something wrong, but it’s your own personality and you had to follow your personality,” Andi reasons. “You know you did wrong, but you tell everybody ‘That’s me. Take me the way I am, or leave me. You have to accept it because that’s me, that’s my personality.’ You know that the thunder will come, but you don’t give a shit. You live with it, and take responsibility for it.”
Music for the composition ‘Make Fire Catch The Fly’ was written during touring commitments for 7 Sinners. “The main riff and everything I recorded on the tour bus during the tour,” the vocalist divulges. “The funny thing was that everybody said ‘Hey, that sounds like a metal version of ‘Livin’ My Life For You’ (from February 1991’s One Size Fits All) by Pink Cream 69,’ and I said ‘Eh? Really?’ I then listened to ‘Livin’ My Life For You’, and I said ‘Yeah… Looks like I’m copying myself here but in a metal way.’ We just arranged it, and yeah, here we are. Most men and boys know what I’m talking about. Even though you fall in love and burn your wings, you’ll always probably fly into the next light or the next girl or woman. Again you’ll burn your wings, and you’ll probably never learn to stay away from it. Men and boys are like flies; we like the fire, so it’s very dangerous.”
Andi tried hard to make his voice fit the theme of Straight Out Of Hell. “Sometimes you have little bits and pieces where you may actually sing a little bit different,” he recognises. “When possible I try to do that, but most of the time I try to sing it as good as possible.”
As has been the case since The Dark Ride, Charlie Bauerfeind participated in production duties. “You should look at him more or less as a sixth member,” the wordsmith believes. “He is definitely part of the team. I wouldn’t like to lose him at all, because I don’t need to explain anything anymore. Everything has been settled and clear for years, so you don’t need to explain yourself. He knows the boys and he knows me, so that makes all of the things absolutely easy. You don’t need to actually spend that much time having discussions as we did in the very first years of working with him, when it was so important that he got to know the people in the band. From that point of view, it’s easier to actually talk to a friend – which he definitely is now – rather than work with a producer who actually doesn’t know anything about you. That definitely makes a difference.
“I would be a bit afraid and scared to have a new producer, simply because of the things I just mentioned. You have to get along with a completely new person who may understand or may not understand the band, who may understand the vision of the band when it comes to the next album or may not understand. We’ve all had that experience in the past; there were certain producers the band worked with in the past who didn’t get the band, who didn’t get the music, and who didn’t get the vibe and the vision of the band.
“We had several producers when it came to B-sides and bonus tracks because we wanted to check out different producers. There were several producers we wanted to give a chance to to actually prove themselves to be the right people for the band, but for me it was sometimes a disaster and didn’t work out at all because they had a certain picture of the band. It’s very difficult to actually make them know and realise that the band now has a new focus, a new record to make. They all look back to the history of Helloween; they listen to maybe seven or eight albums from the band, and think they understand the band. That’s the problem. Production becomes hard work then and you really struggle hard in the studio, because you actually don’t feel good when you come into the recording room.
“We’re always trying to change a little bit in the favour of time, so I personally and I think everybody in the band loves it very much, and likes to actually write music now, today, and with today’s problems. You don’t want to get stuck in your early days, which was a completely different time. During the 80s we still had the Iron Curtain and the big enemy was still Russia, and all that shit. From that point of view, bands wrote about completely different themes and completely different subjects than they do nowadays, and this is also reflected in the music. A producer would always only listen to the music though, and wouldn’t understand when the band would suddenly implement or add new spices. You’d always have to explain. Yeah, this was painful.”
New lyrical spices are present on Straight Out Of Hell, Andi maintains. “It’s very important that we reflect the music in the lyrics,” he stresses. “The whole album actually bitches and yells, and even uses swear words against all these stupid managers, bankers, and stock holdings, blah blah blah. In our eyes, that actually completely destroys the whole planet. When it comes to democracy and capitalism, it all seems to be a good idea but only as long as people who are members of that system are more or less acting legally with ethics and morals. This is something that definitely isn’t taking place at the moment, otherwise we would not all be in this deep crisis.”
And the songwriter feels that the same can be said of Straight Out Of Hell’s musical content. “The music itself definitely always tries to combine little new spices which appear from new bands,” he submits. “There are always new, great bands out there bringing fresh wind into the whole rock and metal scene, and I’m glad to have a son of 21 who’s always listening to the new shit. I’m happy to learn what’s great from the new bands, what’s coming up next, and so on. I listen and try to learn what it is that makes a band so outstanding, and why a new band is having success. Most of the time I understand, and most of the time I like what they stand for. I then have new little spices that I may add to the classic, typical Helloween picture, which is hopefully the little secret which attracts new generations. Maybe even three generations in a few years will be in the audience, so that makes us proud. We aren’t standing still; we’re not stuck in the past, and this is something that is very important to us.”
Andi’s son has introduced him to a wide variety of artists. “The most popular would probably be Korn, Deftones, or The White Stripes, stuff like that,” he cites. “For example, The White Stripes is a great example of a band showing everybody out there that you don’t actually need to be super-complicated all the time. For a band like Helloween which normally plays complex twin solos and stuff like that, it’s good to see there is a way to calm down the song and maybe even put in some dynamics. Maybe we can just play with one guitar for a few minutes, and then you have all of the brutality of two guitars back for the next part which probably demands it. You just open your ears. It’s stuff that you know, but seem to have forgotten sometimes. Bands like The White Stripes for example show you that you’re definitely able to make great music with only two or three instruments – guitar, vocals, and drums. You don’t necessarily need five or six instruments, so this is something you learn again so to speak.”
Moments exist in the back catalogues of certain groups where tracks have become overcomplicated by using a superfluous amount of instruments. “When we produce, the way we do things seems to be right at the time,” the frontman reflects. “When you listen to an album a year later or years later, you’ll probably always find things which you wouldn’t have changed at the time. I have to protect ourselves then though, and say ‘Well, at the time we did it it seemed right.’ I think you have to live with it and not actually bitch about it, like ‘Why did we do this?’ or ‘Why did we do that?’ You did it because during that time you felt like doing so, so it’s alright. You shouldn’t actually yell and cry, and regret it later on. That’s what you have to learn. This is Helloween’s 14th studio album, so this is something you have to live with. You just try your best, and try to have as much fun as possible. You do everything which seems to be right at the time. It may be wrong in a year or two, but that’s something that you shouldn’t actually try to predict. You shouldn’t plan an album because this style or that style could be more successful or less successful. This is something we don’t want to do.”
Bassist Markus Grosskopf contends that Straight Out Of Hell contains some of Helloween’s quickest tracks. “I really don’t know, because I would have to measure the tempos of the songs,” Andi ponders. “I know the tempos of the songs, so I should look at them and compare them to the rest of the albums. I’m not sure if it’s the fastest, but it’s definitely one of the fastest because of the sound, which appears to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more rough. It probably appears more aggressive to the listener, so automatically you would consider the album to be faster or whatever. I honestly cannot answer that question though, because I would have to compare the song tempos.”
Cover artwork duties fell to Martin Häusler. “The Mayan calendar told us that only a few would survive,” the singer tells. “Markus our bass player said ‘Well, if we all survive 2012 then we’ve all come straight out of Hell.’ That was the idea for the album title, but we didn’t actually want to connect it completely with the Mayan calendar. We said ‘Okay, let’s build a scenario straight out of Hell that’s really metal, and shows some stupid shit which is still going on in the world. What could that be?’
“Obviously it’s always war, senseless war. At the end of the day, as we’ve seen in the history books and even nowadays… The French have gone into Africa now, but probably it won’t help at all. When a country is at war or suffering from civil war even, then they have to solve the problems inside the country and I don’t think you can solve problems with soldiers. Nevertheless, we always do it again and again. Let’s wait and see.”
November 2012 full-length The Sniper by Brazilian assortment Scelerata includes the number ‘Must Be Dreaming’, penned by Andi. “They worked with Charlie, so they asked me to write a song for them,” he discloses. “I said ‘Okay, I’m going to write a song for you, but this song might be recorded later on for my solo album.’ They were fine with that though, and they did a good job. I hope to do a better job on my solo album (laughs). There are some back-up guest vocals on it by me, but it isn’t a lead vocal.”
The vocalist’s third solo outing is gradually taking shape. “I hope to be ready somewhere in May or June, and take it from there,” he reveals. “I will probably release it through JVC in Asia, and probably through Edel Music in the rest of the world. We just finished the drums. They sound great, but drums don’t make a record. I know that the ideas are very good. It’s much harder than you would expect from an Andi Deris solo album, but it’s not Slipknot or something like that. It’s somewhere in between (laughs). I would describe it as hard rock meets metal or metal meets hard rock, any way you can turn and twist it (laughs). The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s modern hard rock with metal influences.”
Other musical influences might be on the cards, perhaps. “This is something you have to ask me when it’s finished,” Andi cautions. “We’re still in the recording process, and there are probably lots of spices we will add or maybe some things that we’ll take away again. I would rather describe it as modern sounding but evergreen hard rock / metal though, so there are lots of catchy refrains and stuff like that, and lots of things to sing along to definitely. There’s no speed metal stuff on it, but it’s rather heavy.”
The resultant lyrics will be of a more personal nature. “Very personal,” the wordsmith underlines. “There’s a lot of bitching and a lot of aggression that I’ve built up during the last few years concerning politics and systems, but it’s all in great stories I think, and I think everybody will nod. There’s a lot of filthy mouth stuff on it which makes it fun to sing along to, but it’s very aggressive lyrically.”
The solo endeavour’s working title is Million-Dollar Haircuts On Ten-Cent Heads. “As the name suggests, it’s all about those idiots who actually just work without moral ethics and are just corrupt,” Andi complains. “They just work for their own pockets, and don’t ask about people down there who are actually suffering, and take away money which is obviously lacking down there. That’s probably the reason why we have more poorer people, and more richer people.”
The rich residing in their ivory towers. “That’s the world we’re living in at the moment,” the composer responds. “I just hope it will sooner or later change for the better. Maybe we’ll have to blow up some banks… or I don’t know.”
Yours truly – the interviewer – wouldn’t share that notion, fearful of arrest, something which causes the frontman to chuckle. “I think sooner or later people will have no choice anymore,” he muses. “I think when you’re down to the ground, and don’t even know how to actually feed your family. Then new times will come.”
Straight Out Of Hell was released in Japan on January 16th, 2013 via Victor Entertainment, on the 21st in Europe through Spinefarm Records, and subsequently on the 22nd in North America via The End Records.
Interview published in January 2013. All promotional photographs by Martin Häusler.