As an unabashed fan of German Power Metal pioneers Helloween, I was understandably disappointed when vocalist Michael Kiske was unceremoniously ousted from the group in 1993. Although the performance--or notorious lack thereof--of Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991) and Chameleon (1993) may have ultimately forced the group's hand, the resulting changes in their overall tonality (most notably the addition of ex-Pink Cream 69 frontman Andi Deris, the departure of future Gamma Ray main man Kai Hansen and the untimely passing of mercurial drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg) left me far from satisfied. Needless to say, you can only imagine my excitement when Kiske, always a man of many interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, his involvement with Place Vendôme as well as his reunion with Hansen in Unisonic.
Todd: How did you become involved with Place Vendôme? I initially hadn't imagined you singing 'Metal' again.
Michael: “It was easy, really. It was Serafino (Perugino), the owner of Frontiers Records. He sent me an E-Mail in 2003 asking me if I would be generally interested in singing AOR. He wanted to do an AOR record and was mentioning band names like Foreigner and Journey. ...That was the musical direction he was describing. He wanted to know if I would be generally interested in doing something like that. I didn't have a band and I thought it was a cool idea, so I said 'Sure, but I've got to hear the music first'. He sent me the songs and then, later on, he told me that (D.C. Cooper, Pink Cream 69, Sunstorm bassist) Dennis (Ward) was going to Produce it. That's how I got to know him. ...He's a cool guy and he's always funny. He's a different guy, but (Gamma Ray vocalist/guitarist and Unisonic and ex-Helloween guitarist) Kai Hansen is also the type of person who likes to goof around a lot. He finds the funny elements in everything everywhere. Kai is a person, and it doesn't matter where you are or what the situation is, he will always see the joke in everything, if it's possible, you know? That is just great. I love that. ...Dennis is different, but he is still the type of person who would rather laugh than cry.”
Todd: How does your involvement with Place Vendôme differ from being a full-fledged member of Unisonic? From an outside perspective, it would seem as if Place Vendôme is much more of a project than an actual group.
Michael: “It's a different thing. Place Vendôme was never a band. Place Vendôme was something where Dennis is producing it and he handles it to a certain extent like a band. On the first two records, he was even recording with Kosta (Zafiriou) on the drums. They both have a history anyway because they know each other. Maybe that's why it always sounds so organic because Dennis is the one who arranges and organizes everything. The only real difference is that we're not really getting together in a rehearsal room to play the songs and figure it out as a band. Dennis is basically doing all of that. He sends me rough versions and of course I have my input in everything. I do my vocals on my own here. I'm in charge of that. I do it the way I think is cool. When I think the song sounds right, I send them the tracks and he Mixes it. It's just a different way of making a record. It's not very difficult these days anymore. It's music that I wouldn't normally sing if Place Vendôme wasn't there, really. I wouldn't write songs like that. I have a different type of songwriting style. Some of the stuff I would write about, but these typical heartbreak love kind of lyrics are not the lyrics that I write. But it's nice to sing them, you know? When you have to make this type of music on your own and, it's a nice challenge. I enjoyed Place Vendôme a lot more than I thought I would in the beginning. In the beginning, I was curious and it was interesting. It's always a real challenge. Plus, it's always interesting to see how all the songs turn out in the end.”
Todd: At this point, do you foresee yourself ever touring as a member of Place Vendôme? While there would certainly be an audience, I can imagine it creating some serious conflict with the touring schedules for Unisonic.
Michael: “I don't see that happening, especially now that Unisonic is here. Why should we? When we tour with Unisonic, it's Dennis, Kai, (guitarist) Mandy (Meyer) and me. There's really no need for that. The thing is, when we started with the idea of doing Unisonic together, I had already been talking about it with Dennis years before. We thought that we would work nicely together. He was even writing songs for the first two records. I thought it sounded nice when I sang his tunes. I have the same kind of feeling with the stuff that Kai Hansen is writing. It just sounds kind of cool and it fits, it works. I thought it was cool. But we wanted to make a record first, of course, and then we had a time schedule. We thought we would be finished with the first record within a certain time, but we didn't. We said 'Yes' to festivals like Sweden Rock; they were big festivals, actually. It was the first time for me back on stage after almost seventeen years and it was in front of thirty thousand people. But we didn't finish the record, so we didn't know what to play. On those two shows, we played pretty much just Place Vendôme material because we were too slow with the album. ...I don't think that's going to happen again.”
Todd: In hindsight, how do you feel regarding your departure from Helloween? How difficult was it all for you?
Michael: “I was just disappointed. Deeply disappointed on so many levels. I had just turned eighteen when we worked on the first couple of songs in the rehearsal room and I just loved it. ...There was a lot of excitement there and I really loved it. When it ended so wrong, I was really disappointed. Not only that, but there was a lot of disappointment on the human level with how things went down. When Kai left the band, the chemistry was destroyed, in my opinion. It just wasn't working anymore. It just wasn't being done in the same spirit anymore. I don't want to bitch about the nowadays with Helloween. It was a different band. Now, they have different people, they have their own kind of sound and probably even have their own kind of fans these days. Because it's hard for me to imagine that those are the same plans because it's a totally different band now in my opinion.”
Todd: Once everyone had officially gone their separate ways, you opted to take a lengthy sabbatical from the music industry as a whole. What were your motivating factors behind this? Had you finally grown tired of it all?
Michael: “I was very young when it all started. I loved it and it all ended in such a sad way. In the end, it was good because I learned so much out of it. It was all good, but there was a lot of disappointment involved. And then, later on, when I did my own stuff, the music scene was very uncreative. If you don't sound the way certain people think you should sound, they bitch about it. They don't even listen to what you're doing. You're not even trying to sound like what they want, but they still bitch about you because you don't sound like it. I was not trying to fake Helloween records. It made no sense to me to try anything like that, so I was just writing naturally. I'm not saying that all those records were great records. It was just the best I could do, so some of the arguments that were coming in my direction just pissed me off even more. They'd just complain that I'm not doing what they think I should do. I used a lot of the time to study. I studied philosophy. Not at a university, but on a personal level. I also dealt with a lot of spiritual things and different religions. I had a lot of hunger and there were a lot of things that I wanted to deal with. It was always an important part of me, but I used those years a lot and it made me very sensitive to the moral side of our existence as human beings. I was always a friendly person and Helloween was never a Satanic band, even though we had that stupid name. We were never Satanic. We always had very idealistic lyrics and many in the band considered calling themselves Christians. I don't really like the church and I'm not a member of a church, but I do truly believe in Christ. I've gotten my information elsewhere. There's a lot more information than the church will tell you. I am very spiritual and I do believe in Christ, but it got a lot more intense in those years so I got very sensitive to the Satanic side of the Metal scene. It was something that I never cared about. I never liked it and I never thought it was cool. I started to realize that it's bad. It's something that I just totally disagree with, so all these things added together and made me sick of it all. I had some very bad experiences on a personal level with my so-called friends in those years. Bad experiences with the business side and then a bad experience with the wrong ideals and messages coming from the Metal scene. It took a number of years to be able to look at it again. Now that I have been touring the world and met all of these fans from all over the world, I have to say that the reality looks very different. Most of the fans are beautiful. Most of the fans are very goodhearted, innocent and passionate people. They're not Satanic and they're not evil. Most of that stuff is just on the surface and it's just a big circus, really. I take these things serious morally, but you have to be able to see the differences. It's very important. It was really good for me to get in touch with my audiences again and see that things aren't necessarily as bad as they can seem to be.”
Todd: How did Kai leaving Helloween affect your personal and professional relationships with him? Do you feel Helloween would have achieved much more commercially if he'd chosen to remain a member of the group?
Michael: “We've never had any problems. Kai had his reasons when he left. He was managing other bands in those days and he thought there would be too much touring. He didn't want to get into that machine. We had just gotten signed to Sanctuary Music, the management of Iron Maiden and we all know that Iron Maiden is a major touring band. In the '80s and '90s, they were on tour for months. I remember the tour of Powerslave (1984). I think they were on the rad for thirteen months. It's definitely overkill. It's unbelievable that (vocalist Bruce) Dickinson still even has a voice, you know? Kai was probably scared that something like that would happen to us. It's funny. Looking back, he actually toured a lot more with Gamma Ray now than we ever did with Helloween, so his life got a lot heavier with Gamma Ray than it would have had if he'd stayed with Helloween. I still it was one of his biggest mistakes ever to leave the band, but believe it or not, we were young and of course, we would not always agree with each other. Of course we always had arguments, but Kai and I never hated each other. We never had any major problems. Kai was just unhappy with the overall situation. I personally think that he was projecting. He was projecting something that was not right in his personal life. He was projecting it into the band and blaming the band for problems that were not really band problems. I don't think he has the balls to admit that, but I'm pretty sure he knows. He would never admit it because I think it was his biggest mistake to leave Helloween because it was a big portion of his own work. How can you just give that away to other people? It was very stupid. We never had the chance to become the band that we could have.”
Todd: It's great to hear that you were able to maintain healthy relationships with each other. That seem very rare.
Michael: “Bands can be a very fragile thing, you know? Any band that actually works should try to keep it together because changing just one person can make the whole thing go down because of the chemistry. It's just not the same, you know? The thing is, even after I got out of Helloween, whenever I would meet Kai, we always hugged, talked and had a good vibe going on. We were always friendly and we always had a cool relationship. I can remember singing on the first Gamma Ray record (Heading For Tomorrow, 2010) and he also helped me out on my first solo record (Instant Clarity, 1996) together with (guitarist) Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden. He helped me out there, so you can clearly see that we have always had a good relationship. I was pissed and bitter that he left the band for a while, but of course once I was out of the band myself, that really wasn't an issue anymore. ...We had just never thought of doing something together in a band or anything like it.”
Todd: How does the songwriting processes for Unisonic differ from what you and Kai used when in Helloween?
Michael: “I don't think it's much different. Kai has his way of writing songs and I have mine. Usually, he'll have an idea or he'll think he does exactly the same way as he always did. He'll have an idea and usually, at the last minute, he'll change everything. Or he'll come up with a completely different song and I'll have to do the recording right away without any rehearsing, which I hate because I like to spend some time with the songs. Usually, they get better if you can really let it sink in. ...You really have to give the songs time. That's the thing. It happens less these days. Everything has to be fast, fast, fast. It has a lot to do with record sales going down so much. There's always a tight time schedule that you have to do things for bands, you know? Which is not good. It's much better if you spend the time like you did in the old days. You spend a few months working with these songs and even maybe play them live before you actually record them. The records would definitely benefit from that. To come back to your original question, I think we're doing everything pretty much in the same way.”
Todd: Is there any truth to the rumors that you were considered as replacement for Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden? From a strictly musical standpoint, I've always felt your voice was rather well-suited for their material.
Michael: “I'm an Iron Maiden fan. I love them. I grew up with them. Together with Judas Priest, they were the major bands for me when I was a teenager. They meant everything to me, but I would never join them because I would never want to get the bullshit from the fans. You just can't do it. There's certain things you just don't do. It's just painful. And it's just for the sake of the money. It's much better to do something new and fresh than to join a band that has a history. I wouldn't be able to do that. ...I had an interview in the early '90's with a French journalist and the subject came up. He said that he had done an interview with (Iron Maiden bassist) Steve Harris and Steve had said that I was one of the three singers he could imagine working with after the departure of Bruce Dickinson. Maybe that's where it all came from? I don't know. You know what the funniest part of this story is? The first time I heard about it was on TV. It was like 'I'm the new singer of Iron Maiden'. It was a German Metal Hard And Heavy. It was hosted by a beautiful girl and she said 'The birds are singing from the houses and the trees and it's a fact. Michael Kiske is the new singer of Iron Maiden'. I was like 'Well, that's really cool' because I didn't know anything about it'. That's how much you can believe in the media, you know?”
Todd: They didn't express a real interest in you joining the group before they began working with Blaze Bayley?
Michael: “I don't think so. We have the same management and I know the guys, but I haven't seen them for ages. But back in those days, especially in the '90's, I met them a couple of times. I had a few chats with Bruce ...I honestly doubt that they would ever take a German singer. It's a very British band. I love them and they're all beautiful people, but they have a nationalistic kind of attitude when it comes to the band. It had to be a British guy. He just had to be British. I just don't think that that would ever happen. I always say that when people bring that up. It's funny, even up to this date, that people bring it all up. I would never join Iron Maiden.”
Todd: How would you describe your relationship with (guitarist) Michael Weikath? I know there was a meeting.
Michael: “He was extremely friendly and nice and it was almost too much, but that's okay. I didn't have any anger. A couple of years ago, I probably would have smashed his face in, honestly. There was a lot of anger in me because of all of the bullshit that he was talking about me. Things that he knows are not true. But that's all gone, so I was very relaxed. We're not friends and we're never going to be friends, but I think the wars are over.”
Todd: If the conditions were ever all ideal, would you ever consider reuniting with Helloween? There is a large contingency of fans that would absolutely love to see both you and Kai rejoin the group for an album and a tour.
Michael: “I know that a lot of people would like to see that, to be honest, but I don't think it would be for the right reasons, you know? It would not have anything to do with the spirit of the early Helloween records. I don't think it was do us any good. ...It's not for the right reasons. There's so many things that happened. If people choose to treat each other in a certain way and disrespect each other in a certain way, you can forgive them, but you should not forget. You just reveal yourself by your behavior. You just reveal who you are. I can't wipe that out, you know? It wouldn't feel right. I probably wouldn't be able to sing. I'm very sensitive. When people are in stress or shock or very depressed, their back hurts or their shoulders hurt. They need a massage because the muscles are cramping, you know? It happens to everyone. Our muscles react to the state of our soul very strongly. The same happens with the muscles in your vocal chord area. I have a perfect example for you. Three weeks ago, I was doing some singing. I was singing some Elvis (Presley) tunes. Because I love singing, I sometimes just sing for fun, you know? My voice was great and everything was perfect. I felt great. The next day, I had a fight with my brother. A big argument and it really pissed me off. My voice was gone, but not because of the shouting or anything. It was just something that was very sensitive. It's all good now, but it was something that really got to me. My voice was gone. I couldn't even sing an Elvis tune. My voice was that broken. That's a clear sign of how much the state of my soul reflects on my voice. I don't even think I could be on a stage with people that I don't feel very comfortable with. Everybody has that, it's not just me. It's just that not everybody sings, so they don't notice their voice is different. Some people can lose their voice out of shock.”
Todd: In retrospect, how do you feel about Chameleon (1993) and Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)? While it's obvious they're not necessarily 'fan favorites', I still feel they both posses a great deal of oft-underrated material.
Michael: “Honestly, we did the best we could. We kept on doing what we were doing. It was actually wasn't very different from the main processes of the past. It just wasn't the same band anymore. That was the problem. When Kai wasn't there anymore, there were two elements that made a huge difference. ...Everybody was important. I'm not saying that Kai was more important than Weikath or anyone else in the band. It's not true. Everyone was important for this band, but if you take one key member away who has a distinct guitar and songwriting style and who has a certain personality that is adding to the fun... I've always loved Kai because he has a spirit that is just fun. He's always fun to be with. He always sees what's funny in a situation and I love that he always finds it. You take that away from the band and there's going to be a huge change. And then you also have another person coming in, you know? They bring in their own persona, their own thoughts and their own playing, so everything is different. That's the way it was. Everything changed. And then we made another big mistake when we took Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Ozzy Osbourne, UFO) as a Producer instead of Tommy Hansen. Tommy Hansen (Dragonforce, Jorn, Pretty Maids) would have been perfect. This was actually a management mistake. Ron Smallwood talked us into it because he was a big fan of Chris Tsangarides. He was not aware how important Tommy Hansen was. I don't know how he is these days. I haven't seen him for ages, but in those days, what I really loved about Tommy Hansen is that he was never afraid. He was never scared of trying things out. He was always a Beatles fan and what people always loved about Helloween is that there was kind of Beatles vibe going on. We sounded completely different than the Beatles, but creatively by fooling around and trying out different things. ...And somebody like Chris Tsangarides would have destroyed it right away. Most of the stuff would not have existed if we would have had Chris Tsangarides as a Producer there. But with Tommy Hansen, anything was possible as long as it was interesting, you know? As long as it was exciting. That was exactly the type of Producer we needed. We were just young, naive and full of ideas. We weren't scared at all and we just had fun with it. He was just the perfect person to bring it in the right direction and to organize it. And he brought in great ideas, too, so that was another thing. We had good material, but it wasn't really Produced and it just was not the same band anymore, so I hate this period. I really hate this period even though some of the songs were good. I still think “Kids Of The Century” (from Pink Bubbles Go Ape) is a great song that I had written and I still think like “I Believe” and “Longing” from Chameleon. They're great songs. I love “Longing” for instance because it's a very personal track. But it also has nothing to do with Helloween. It has nothing to do with what we used to be. It was more about individuals making their own thing there than an actual band. It was because it was over. ...It wasn't working anymore, but it took me two records to realize that.”
Light Of Dawn (2014)
For The Kingdom (EP) (2014)
Ignition (EP) (2012)
Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)
Live In The UK (EP) (1989)
Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II (1988)
Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I (1987)
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