Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Hi Roland thanks for taking the time to chat to Myglobalmind this evening.
Roland”Hi Mark, how are you?”
I’m keeping well. Just want to start by taking you back to the formation of Masterplan. What was the musical ideology behind the band, after your departure with Uli from Helloween?
Roland”Uli and I were thrown out a long time ago around 10-11 years We just thought of starting something that was a bit different and stronger for our taste at that time. We already had a lot of songs written which was something that helped a lot. The last album I had done with Helloween,was challenging from a production side(The Dark Ride 2000). I had worked for the first time with Roy Z and he totally changed my view of recording,and getting a good guitar sound with everything.When we started Masterplan we wanted to have a bigger sound.With Helloween I was mostly playing Statocaster guitars, with Marshall Amps. Then I changed to Gibson guitars, that was one of the reasons that the sound changed .We also took more care with the song arrangements to make them more special. It wasn’t the typical a b c arrangement of songs, which was the normal and we also wanted to give a little surprise to people.”
Do you think that Masterplan has exceeded the personal expectations that you had when you first started?.
Roland”Especially with the first two albums I think that we achieved a lot of respect and a lot of surprise from people. Nobody really expected anything so strong from us. I guess even the Helloween guys didn’t even know when they fired us that maybe we would be just go out of the business. After the first album I was very happy that we came back with such a powerful return. It was such a big success for that time. Nowadays sales are on the way down every year and there are other problems. We have just released our fifth album and I think that over the years, there has been a stable degree of good quality within the band. There have been some big lineup changes,singer problems…It still sounds like Masterplan for my taste.”
You referred there briefly to the lineup changes that Masterplan have undergone . Do you find that rotation of the band personalities is necessary for its evolution and development?
Roland”I think that its basically hard to explain why we always had singer changes.W hen we started Masterplan with Jorn a lot of people had warned me to be careful saying that he was very difficult . That he was never happy or satisfied with things. I think that the only thing that he really was concentrated on was trading on a solo career called Jorn. Everything else for him was just a side project he never saw Masterplan as his main band. It was especially bad for me as I had put so much love, work and so much feeling for this band. I had given everything to make the band big. Jorn never did anything for us for this band. He never even said anything great about Masterplan. That is not nice, you need a really good team behind you which loves this work. Its the same as a company , if someone is not dedicated totally 100% it doesn’t matter what a great voice he has. You stay on the same level, but now with a totally different line up we have a really big chance of getting further now. We can play live again, and have already played a couple of shows. There are a lot of shows booked, including some festivals, and we are planning a tour in October. That just wasn’t happening for about six years, which was quite terrible to be honest. It is definitely very important to play live, it doesn’t make sense to make great music with people saying”you are a great band”if you don’t show yourself nobody can fully get that feeling. Personally I need it as well if there is a band that I really like but I don’t get to see their live performance it doesn’t give me that last 30%. I think that is really important to get more closer to the band. Especially sometimes when you think that a song is ok but if you see that band performance of the song live then you will always remember it. Its like an imprint on your brain or something. There is also some elements of difference, with the solo parts and some improvising..Sometimes we shorten some things which are too long for the live situation. Or we make parts for the audience to sing along. The next plan in the near future is to make a live album or DVD. Masterplan now have five albums out after 10-12 years so we want to release a DVD or something definitely.”
Taking the title literally,(Novum Initium) do you feel that this album marks a new chapter or beginning for the band?
Roland”Yes we have to see it like this, you cant hide, you have to stand up and this is a new line up. We have a new chance and we didn’t want to use the name MK3.We wanted to make it even more obvious that this is a new fresh start. The title actually came from the new guys from Rick, Martin,and Jari. I was amazed at the guys in the studio. Regarding the album title they chose around ten ideas and we reduced it . After having the album title in November I then wrote the lyrics for the title track so it was pretty cool and we had more of a related story around it.”
Just going through the album tracks are there any particular stories behind the songs. Anything in particular that stands out, recording process , how they came to be written? Any particular themes running through the album?
Roland”Definitely, when Rick wrote the lyrics for the album-ten songs, and I did “Novum Initium” and “Back From Avalon”. We spoke about what sort of lyrics that we wanted to write for this album, and I said 80% kind of positive. Of course sometimes we like to show problems eg like previously on “Crystal Night” showing the neo-nazi scene in Germany. I wanted to point at it but not blame and tell them you are fucking idiots you know. That’s not my kind of thing I want to wake up people but still with a bit of hope and belief. I think that is basically the main idea behind our lyrics.”Black earth is going down”is more critical, deals with pollution and nasty stuff. Basically we have a lot of positive stories, some are about love, hope.”Keep your dream alive”is a kind of hope song. Everybody needs some kind of positive view and struggles in relationships.”
Is it true that your first music teacher said to your father that you didn’t have enough talent to become a guitarist? How then do you generally cope with criticism?
Roland(laughing)”I think that I am pretty open for criticism, to be honest. If somebody is telling me that Roland Grapow sucks or is very impolite then I can get really aggressive. Especially now after just working so hard on this new album for 6-8 months. Some fans writing some bullshit especially now that the Internet is so open just telling me what they think Its unfair for someone to write just after only listening to one song, because of the video or something .They say things like Roland Grapow is responsible because Jorn Lande left. He cant keep him, Roland is running out of ideas..I reply to these people asking them what is the problem with you, you are talking badly about me and you don’t even know me? One or two people wrote that my ego was in the way for Jorn Lande, I mean what the fuck???They don’t know the full story, why do people always think its always one guys fault. I am not Ritchie Blackmore, or Yngwie Malmsteen. People think that they know you better than yourself. That’s the only criticism that I hate. When people say “I don’t like the new album”that’s fine. Its music, some people like it, some people don’t you know”
In recent years there a have been a lot of eighties band reunions some with only a single original member. What is the chance of that happening with Rampage?
Roland”That’s not possible anymore as two members have died. The bass player died in the eighties, and the other guitar player also. That was a very sad story, as both died I guess in the same year. They were just 25-26 years old at the time. One guy from suicide, and the other died of alcohol problems. There is one story though that I have to tell you. Due to Facebook I just read in my message folder, there is something extra there?+99. I wasn’t sure what it was, like a spam folder or something. I found a message there from the sister of the Rampage guitar player. It was already two years old, I hadn’t seen it before. I read it and contacted her,she asked if I had any material still from him ,music ,pictures of him..from Rampage. I said that yes that I still had a lot,which I sent to her. It was pretty cool to see that you just had asked about Rampage, and this has happened recently. Like the Helloween guys they have suggested getting Michael Kiske back and Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray and tour together. This kind of thing I see could happen a lot for sure.”
Do you then prefer to focus creatively on looking forward to the future, rather than back to the past?
Roland”Sometimes I like to look back, but am more thinking of the future. I am not one of these guys sitting at home thinking back that was such a good time. Of course we had a great time in Helloween, but also some terrible times, the same is true of Masterplan. However Masterplan is the kind of band that makes me prouder than Helloween, even though we did great work in Helloween. Everything that I am doing now is the result of being a long time member of this really professional band.We work with Sanctuary English management .We have toured many times with Maiden, so we have had good experiences. That really helps you a lot for the future. Definitely that arrangement and also working with great producers, who have really lifted the Masterplan sound.”
I’m aware that you have your own studios, and that you do a lot of production work and mixing for other bands. Does that give you the same creative buzz of excitement that playing live does in front of an audience?
Roland”Officially I have just been working for other bands for six years, and I hadn’t yet tried to mix for Masterplan. Jorn had returned and I didn’t want to fuck it up you know. In that six years I did work with a lot of bands from amateur bands from Slovakia where I live and the Czech Republic. To get to a higher level now I have bands actively coming to book some actual mixing time. Last year I mixed for I am I with ZP Theart ex Dragonforce . It is getting better and better helped by Andy Sneap who is a good friend he has taught me a lot. I stayed in England on New Years Eve at his studio and he gave me a lot of instructions and advice. It has helped to finally be more self secure about mixing my own band. He was always an influence and I was a fan of the sound that he produced eg on releases like Testament. Its hard to say what each gives me personally in comparative terms. Producing a band outside of Masterplan is easier for me as I am not so deeply involved. When I started to produce Masterplan I sent one or two songs to Andy to check out as I was a little insecure about my work with them. He told me that they were fine and not to worry. Of course the pressure of the new line up and making the new album for me was a new start for me.Its definitely much more complicated when you work on producing your own stuff musically.”
Regarding your own personal musical heroes does Michael Schenker still rate as number one for you, or is there a new guitar player that has impressed you?
Roland”He is definitely one of my real idols, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth. Also from the guitar side and the sound I like John Sykes a lot. The stuff that he did in Whitesnake, and Blue Murder, I always thought that it was very close to the Masterplan sound. I still also love Eddie Van Halen, especially the old stuff. I also like a lot of blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix of course. Blackmore also I forgot him,and Brian May. There are more melodic kind of players, I’m not into shredding guys like Steve Vai or all that overdoing many tricks on guitar. I don’t care so much for that. There are a lot of really thrash metal players that I really like , Jeff Loomis of Nevermore . Of course the guy from Pantera Dimebag Darrell was amazing.I generally prefer a melodic kind of player. Going back to my older idols, to be honest I have a good relationship with Uli Roth. I just met him three weeks ago on the Metal Cruise and have been to his home.”
Looking back over your musical career what would you see as the personal high and low points?
Roland” High points? Definitely when I joined Helloween, it was a dream come true. Quitting my job as a car mechanic after 12 years joined Helloween at twenty nine and saw the world. We went in 3-4 weeks and played all over America touring with Anthrax and Exodus. I couldn’t even speak English for many years, then we went to Japan , songwriting in a studio . Everything was so exciting for me for a few years. Slowly I was settling down, my English was allowing me to finally talk to people. Then I did my first solo album and started giving my first interviews in English. I remember sitting in a meeting in England with Helloween and management and I just didn’t understand anything, it was terrible(laughs). Professionally I have been a musician now for twenty five years, and I don’t have to work anymore but I choose to.”
What would be the low points then?
Roland”Maybe when I was thrown out of Helloween because it wasn’t a fair situation. We were surprised because they had already discussed it for months before, and we didn’t know about it. I really wanted to push Helloween in a certain way, and talked to the guys to say”lets go,man”, and we need to be better musicians.”Take a fucking instrument and rehearse” A lot of fans were coming and saying to me “One of the guys is not that good”, and plays like shit on stage. I just told them, and then I fell out with him for 12 years . I guess he said that he just didn’t want to work with this stupid Roland Grapow any more. That was really bad because I thought that it was really helping to push your own band in a good way. Then it became a mistake because I had opened my mouth. Then on the other side we have Masterplan and I am much more proud about that.”
Music takes up a large portion of your life both playing and producing. Do you have any outside interests and hobbies?
Roland”Basically I love nature, I love to go outside, and I have my dog and my girlfriend. We go on a lot of trips either by car or walking. I also have a big motorbike so sometimes go out on it. Not much into sports,perhaps I should”
Looking back are there any regrets or things that you would have done differently?
Roland”Not really, sometimes I dream and think that with all the knowledge that you have now, if you had it younger like twenty five. Or the guitar playing knowledge that I have now,and I was born maybe ten years earlier.I would play like that in the seventies,and I would be a big hero.Just like Hendrix did in the sixties. That’s a stupid dream just that I sometimes think.”Keep your dream alive”like the track on our latest album, make the best of the moment and just enjoy it. That’s the only thing that you can do.”
I see that Masterplan have some festivals lined up? Are there any touring plans finalized to include UK dates?
Roland”I don’t have any gigs now, concrete but we are planning a European tour in October. I’m not sure if the UK is on the list we are doing 12-18 shows. Then we have a plan for March of next year touring with Gamma Ray and I’m sure that we will be coming to the UK hopefully also for some festivals. Not this year I guess , but next year. We want to continue making some of those as we have a lot of offers for then. We last toured there with Saxon ,and people loved the band even if they had never heard of us. We have a good fan base there that’s for sure.”
Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to chat to myglobalmind this evening
Roland” Thank you, and have a nice evening”
Webzine Review for Masterplan – Novum Initum