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HELLOWEEN's Markus Grosskopf: “It gives you a real, strong feeling, that all about it, that makes the feeling “Indestructible”. Right after I finished that lyric, that fucking virus came along. But, even the pandemic couldn't kill Helloween..."

Interview with Markus Grosskopf from Helloween
by Kevin Lewis at 17 June 2021, 3:20 AM

HELLOWEEN is one of the originators of German Power Metal. 35 years later, they are not only still making great music; they are making it bigger and better. Now using three vocalists and three guitarists, the sound is broader and deeper, the lyrics tells a more in-depth story and the album foretells of the next chapter of this storied band. Metal Temple writer Kevin Lewis spoke with Markus Grosskopf, one of the greatest bass players in the business, about everything from the start to now to what comes next. 

I have been a fan of HELLOWEEN since probably the mid-1980s. I first heard y’all when I lived in Dallas, TX as a teenager and I saw you a couple of times back in that era.

Markus Grosskopf – That must have been on the “Hell On Wheels” Tour or something.

It may have been, I think it was 1987.

MG – Yeah, could well be, the one tour was called the “Hell On Wheels” Tour.

That sounds really familiar.

MG – Was that with ARMORED SAINT or GRIM REAPER?

You know, it was with GRIM REAPER. Wow, now that makes it click, it was at the Arcadia Theater in Dallas, TX.

MG – I can’t remember the name (of the venues), but I remember the tour. (Laughs)

And then recently, I saw you on the “Pumpkins United” Tour in Worcester, MA.

MG – Alright! That was a couple of years ago, about two and a half years ago.

That was such an epic tour.

MG – Yes, that was nice. That’s where we decided it was working very well. Understanding is great, we could back into the studio and work on some cool stuff.

So, from a touring perspective, what’s it like having seven people on stage. I mean, did you run into each other more often.

MG – It’s like you need traffic lights on stage sometimes (laughs). You got to get used to it because there are two more people running around, and then you got to be a little bit more careful, but then we had bigger stages, so it kind of evened out.

That show, nothing but three hours of epic HELLOWEEN, I was in Heaven, it was a great show.

MG – (Laughs) Yes, I liked it and it came across very, very good. There was so much energy from the people, you know? It was amazing.

Again, as a long-time fan and having listened to all of your albums over the course of time, knowing all three of your vocalists well, it was just impressive to hear all three of their voices. And when you bring that forward to the new album, the way those three can harmonize is absolutely amazing.

MG – It has been a very, very big surprise to me as well because we started jamming in the studio for a month, getting the songs together, getting the arrangements together and trying to put it all down, but then this horrible virus came and kind of split it all up. You know, we weren’t allowed to go into the studio with like 10 people anymore and stuff like this. But then we separated it to each other and some people were working over there and I was working in Hamburg (Germany). Some people were working in Berlin, so we were kind of sending files back and forth, working in different studios, which we have done before. It was working so it’s nothing new for us., but this way, I was not involved in the decision which singer is going to sing what part and all that, you know? Listening to the record for the very, very first time to me, was like “Wow”, a very big surprise. Like you just heard it for the first time, Because I wasn’t there when they made the decisions who is going to sing what part and all that stuff. To me it was like, “Great”

Excellent, so during the Kai Hansen era, the first two albums, everything was really heavy and he spent a lot of time in his higher register singing, which was fantastic. Then you bring in Michael Kiske, and everything kind of turns fantasy, and takes a more humorous direction. Then Andi Deris comes in, and it goes into more of just a hard rock with a little bit of humor, the absolute Power Metal, and then takes a more political turn. Now all three singers are here, and this album has almost a sci-fi feel. Was that just a natural extension of the new era, going into a different direction lyrically.

MG – I mean, just like musically, I have to admit I’m not through with all of the lyrics at the moment. I’m still finding something here or there, and with the music, it was just like we’re having a lot of song writers in the band, and also a lot of song writers from the time we started doing music, you know. Like Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, and you know, it’s just kind of like going back to where we once came from, stuff like that. Also, stuff from the present time. Right now, because the sound is a bit more modern, the sound is really solid. There is Sascha (Gerstner) doing his thing, writing progressive kind of stuff in between, which is very good with many, many song writers, and so I see the album as like, it has something at least from the beginning, from the start, from the past, through the past and into the future. That’s the way I see it, because there’s a lot more ideas to come, because there are so many song writers. We couldn’t really record all the ideas we had, because it was just simply too many. So, I see it as a bridge from the past to the present and the present to the future.

I would definitely agree with that. Now there also seems to be a couple of songs that are almost an attitude of being “Indestructible”, HELLOWEEN is definitely indestructible. You have weathered all kinds of stuff. Line-up changes, the los of Ingo (Schwichtenberg), all of this has happened, yet you’ve come through it unscathed and stronger than ever before. And then “Best Time” seems to be looking forward like we’ve been in the past, but there’s so much more to come and it’s going to be better than ever.

MG – Yeah, we kind of really, really strong, you know. When the idea first came up about a reunion without letting the other two guys (Sascha and Andi) that were in the band go, that was the most fantastic idea ever, because why change a very good guitar player and singer for another very good guitar player and singer? It would have been very stupid, but that gave us all strength. It made us even stronger just to keep the two guys and extend the whole thing with two old, new members, or new, old members, whatever you like to say. It gives you a big strength live, you can share the vocals live, and even having Kai Hansen being there and still singing and playing guitar, it you really, really strong. It gives you a real, real strong feeling, that all about it, and that makes the feeling “Indestructible”. And right after I finished that lyric, that fucking virus came along, you know (laughs).

That virus threw a kink into everything.

MG – But, even the pandemic couldn’t kill HELLOWEEN. We’re back (laughs)!

Again, congratulations on a phenomenal new record. I’ve listened to that thing over and over for almost two weeks now, and it is just excellent. Metal Temple, who set up this interview, was kind enough to let me do the review on it, and it’s one of my favorite albums of the year, by the way.

MG – Alright! Thank you! It’s been so much fun in the studio, writing it and composing it and arranging the whole thing. It was actually a very intense process, because in the studio, you have that more creative part of the arranging and composing, you have two more people coming in and it’s a total process than you had before, because there’s two more guys coming out with loads of ideas that you have to check out, so your head is exploding from the beginning (laughs), but after all of it, listening to the album, each and every second was worth it, you know.

HELLOWEEN is credited as being one of the innovators of Power Metal, more specifically German Power Metal. You are some of the biggest innovators in that genre for over 35 years now. How does it feel being one of the best?

MG – (laughs) Thank you! I mean, it makes you proud, of course, and it gives you the strength if you get that feedback, you definitely know you are on the right track, and that gives you the power to carry on like this, the power to go in this direction even more. And now we’ve created something more. There’s a couple of anthems on this record, you know, just extended with different voices. Those voices combined, it’s even stronger than doing it with only one singer. It’s very, very nice, it feels very fine… it just feels right.

It was interesting that you said you feel Sascha brought a more progressive feel to it, because there’s definitely a lot of progressive vibes on this. There’s also, at times, almost a symphonic feel to it. Has symphonic metal, bands like NIGHTWISH and AMARANTHE, who also, by the way, uses three vocalists to get different feels and textures, has any of that filtered back towards HELLOWEEN? It seems like HELLOWEEN and Power Metal had a large influence on symphonic metal, and it feels like there is some symphonic metal on this album, has there been like a circular influence? And then throwing progressive metal in with that make this album just absolutely immense in its’ sound.

MG – It’s funny, because we didn’t really plan to do something like this direction, we didn’t have a direction in our head. We thought, let’s start with getting some cool tracks together, see how that sounds if we’re going to play it together, and then Kai came up with that epic song, you know. We didn’t really plan on doing something like this, but he had all these cool ideas, and we thought “all right”, this is cool enough to be on a HELLOWEEN album. Why not give it another shot? And then Michi (Michael Kiske) comes up with all that anthem stuff, and it fits. You have loads of songwriters, and you have a big variety of song material on one record, glued together by the sound, glued together by those voices. It wasn’t planned to sound like this, but it came out like this, and it has its’ own life in a way.

It definitely does. The music definitely flows from one song to the next, there’s a common theme and the whole thing is tied together. Whether it was intended to be a concept album or not, it does all tie together, and y’all are the kings of concept albums, with Keeper parts one and two and Keeper Legacy. Then there’s all the epic songs you’ve done over the course of the years. Y’all are known for 10–13-minute songs, and “Skyfall” falls right into that wheelhouse. Driving home from work last night, I was listening to “King For 1000 Years”.

MG – Yeah, and we have so many songs like this, I tell you what, it’s not going to be easy to choose which songs go into a live set. There’s going to be some discussions we’ll have in the future. Of course, we’re going to try some of it, but you cannot make one hour of the show only four songs or something like that. It’s not easy to choose from, but in the end, that’s a luxury problem we have. Having all this stuff makes us sitting down together a tough discussion about what we are going to play and what is best for the show. But on the other hand, if you’re talking about the future, hopefully, there’s more shows and more tours to come, where we can change the setlist all the time.

That would definitely be something the fans would love. Variable setlists, multiple tours, we would definitely eat that up. With 16 albums and so many songs to choose from, because you have so many absolutely fantastic songs, and they translate so well live, are you going to continue on with the three-hour sets, or are you going to bring in opening acts again?

MG – Next time, I don’t think we are going to try to do the three hours or something. It’s cool and we’ve done it for the first time being back, but we also had those little movies in between, and we had that very, very emotional Ingo/Dani drum battle in there, you know. That also ate up time, but then, this time, we’re thinking about a package with another cool band called HAMMERFALL, because they were out there and we decided to do this tour together, and they are not just a support act. We give them one hour and fifteen minutes stage time, and that makes them a very special guest. And then you have a HELLOWEEN show for like two hours and fifteen minutes or something, but you don’t have all that movie stuff. We just thought it was a cool package, we wanted to give the people a real cool package this time. A real cool Heavy Metal/Power Metal package, and therefore I think this HELLOWEEN/HAMMERFALL package is very nice.

That would definitely be a great show. I’ve caught HAMMERFALL live as well, and they are phenomenal live. Almost got to see them with FLOTSAM AND JETSAM, but I didn’t make it.

MG – All of this because of that cruel pandemic.

That was so brutal.

MG – Yeah, well, we got over it. You can’t get rid of HELLOWEEN. Even that pandemic can’t kill heavy metal or rock n roll.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of new albums that have come out during the pandemic.

MG – It’s not going to be easy. We re-booked the whole tour three times. When management gets bored, they take the whole tour and re-book it (laughs), but I think it’s not going to be easy going out there. There’s going to be many, many shows starting at the same time. We will see who’s going to survive it, but we are trying to give our best and we thought the package with HAMMERFALL is a very, very cool package for the kids (fans) to come and visit the show, because I think everyone just goes out at the same time.

As a fan of live music, since I’ve moved to the Massachusetts area, I’ve been trying to average 10-15 concerts per year, which has made it incredibly difficult for the past year and a half. The last show I saw was February 29, 2020, so this is the longest stretch I’ve gone without a live show in quite a while. I’ve just noticed I’m starting to get tons of concert announcements. I’ve got tickets to LACUNA COIL and APOCALYPTICA, and that’s rescheduled for the fourth time. EVANESCENCE and HALESTORM is going out, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, ATREYU is going out.

MG – They’re all coming at you (laughs).

Of course, I’ve been saving money for this, because I know, as a live music addict, I’m going to go into full junkie mode. HELLOWEEN and HAMMERFALL is going to be an absolutely epic show and I will do everything I can to be there on that night. As soon as I hear that’s coming to the United States, I’m going to be looking into tickets.

MG – I hope we’re going to do that tour in North America, too. We just can’t wait to go out there. It’s just been a very, very long time not touring. Actually, I would be on tour now somewhere in the world touring and doing what we do best, but we have to wait a little longer. Maybe the people are getting hotter since they didn’t see a show for like almost two years. Maybe you will explode.

I am so ready for a live show. My first one is scheduled for October and I just cannot wait! And as much as I love the livestreams, it’s just not the same to me.

MG – Yeah, I know what you mean, it’s always like we were hooking up when there was a live show coming to town. Hooking up with friends, drinking a couple of beers, listening to the albums from the band we were going to, you know, and warming up and going to that very show. I miss that of course.

There’s just something about the crowd.

MG – (laughs) I was talking about me (going to a concert).

I see. But then, hanging out with friends is fantastic, but when you get to the venue, there’s anticipation in the crowd. And when the lights go down, it’s almost a spiritual experience.

MG – Yeah, and that never really changes. The whole business changes and the media changes a lot, the technique changes a lot, but that very moment on stage, that is never changing, and that’s very, very good. It’s kind of the same, you know, although there’s a lot of new technology involved like in-ear systems, but still, there’s the audience reacting at that very second, It’s as emotional as 40 years ago, and that’s good. I like that a lot.

Okay, so we’ve talked about the band and the new record, now let’s talk about this rhythm section.

MG – (laughs) There you go.

You are the king of bass fills.

MG – Thank you! I mean if Michi writes some of his material, he also wants it to be very interesting, as interesting as it can be. That’s also because we wanted to stick out a bit from the masses, doing straight-forward music that has been there forever, for all time. Which is cool. I really do love music from JUDAS PRIEST and AC/DC and stuff like this, it’s there and it’s standing and it’s really cool, but we wanted to make it very different, so we started fooling around with all that, you know, trying to make a heavy metal circus, trying to get new ideas into our music. Also, we love it and just want to stick out a little more from the masses. That’s what we were trying to do to make it as interesting as can be. We needed our arrangements to be different and that is what we were trying, and it’s working! The whole concept is kind of working. I like it a lot. I can remember listening to the very first IRON MAIDEN album, and I was falling off my chair listening to it for the very first time.

IRON MAIDEN is one of the greats, and for bass parts, Steve Harris is just incredible.

MG – Yeah, he’s great. It’s not trying to copy; it’s trying to make things interesting.

That’s the thing, you don’t copy Steve Harris. You are almost like a fourth guitar on this album.

MG – And I like it, it’s very different from what you can hear. It’s just the way we do it. And if you have ideas, or melodies or riffs being played by HELLOWEEN, at the end of the day it, it probably sounds like a HELLOWEEN track because we’re so into that looking for a little extra bit, you know.

Yeah, I’ve gone back and been listening to some of the back catalog, and the other day, “Eagle Fly Free” popped up.

MG – (laughs) That was like Michi’s first song where he told me, “Come on, let’s create something really cool on the bass lines”, and stuff like this. And I kind of like it, you know.

There were two guitar solos, then you had your bass solo, and then Ingo had his drums kick in, so everybody shines in HELLOWEEN. There’s not any one person that just sits back and does their part, everybody takes their turn in the limelight. That’s one of the more unique things about HELLOWEEN and makes you all so attractive.

MG – It makes a big variety of very different feelings and different emotions on the record, because there are a lot of different song writers on the album and they are all coming from a different background. And all of that combined together is kind of interesting. I actually started off doing punk music and then going into heavy metal, and now still celebrating the rock n roll. And if Michi writes a song, it’s most of the time more of an anthem and stuff like this. You have the progressive side and straight-ahead stuff from Andi and it still all fits together, being played by HELLOWEEN.
I know we’re coming to the end of our time, and I definitely appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, Sir. Again, congratulation on an absolutely fantastic album. The whole sound is just epic, it’s big. It’s the most progressive and interesting thing that I HELLOWEEN has done ever, simply because of the interplay with the rhythm section now having to hold down three guitars, but also, with three vocalists, it created some of the most incredible harmonies I’ve heard in the past ten years.

MG – (laughs) Thank you. I was amazed when I heard it for the very first time, and there’s still so much you didn’t hear. Every time you listen to it, you hear something different still.

Yeah, this is like HELLOWEEN version 3.0.

MG – Yeah, nice. I like it a lot.

Well, I believe your fans are going to as well. I thank you for taking this time to speak with me, Sir.

MG – My pleasure.

I can’t wait to see you on tour.

MG – All right, see you there, hopefully. North America is on the list now, we’re going to be there, definitely.

Excellent, thank you so much for this interview.

MG – All right, my pleasure. Cheers!



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Edited 28 July 2021
 

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