Interviewed by Thomas Schwarzkopf (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
When you ask people about the most iconic and most popular singers in Rock & Metal, you’ll definitely get to hear his name very often: Michael Kiske! Back in the 80’s he coined the genre of Power Metal with his band Helloween. The two Keeper-Records are still classics to many Heavy Metal fans out there and the teenager at the microphone has become a serious singer and songwriter in many ways these days. In promotion of the new Place Vendome album I had the opportunity to talk with Michael about his current activities with this AOR project, his new band Unisonic, the forthcoming Kiske/Somerville album, Avantasia and of course about his very exciting past. Michael Kiske tells his story. Check out what he had to say!
Hello Michael, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. How are you?
M: I’m good, very good. How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. Let’s get right into the questions: The new Place Vendome album is coming soon and you know there are tons of AOR releases this year, so what makes Place Vendome so special to you? What makes it different?
M: I’m not aware what gets released, to be honest. I don’t have a clue what the AOR market looks like today. Is there even an AOR market? Sounds like it. Maybe the difference is that I don’t sound like an average AOR singer. That makes the sound a little different, I would say. I don’t have the typical AOR voice.
Lots of new songwriters were involved on „Thunder In The Distance“. Who selects the songs, which end up on the final release? Is it your choice which tracks you’d like to sing?
M: Of course. I mean I would never let anyone else decide. Usually it’s me and Dennis (Ward). I mean, the tracks Serafino (CEO Frontiers Records) is suggesting are basically always good. He knows that we wouldn’t do a certain type of whatever stuff. I mean it’s always AOR. It can only be a matter of is the song interesting enough or not. So sometimes we like some songs more or less. Usually I would say like 98% of the songs are fine. It goes actually quiet quick when he starts suggesting songs for an album.
What about this eagle-theme on each cover artwork? What does he stand for?
M: For an eagle trademark (laughs). I don’t do these covers, that’s Frontiers again. It’s actually quiet clever when he comes up with the eagle. I like the eagle. It’s a very nice symbol, but I noticed myself it’s the eagle again, which keeps it up as a trademark.
Are there any plans to bring Place Vendome on the road? Some people asked me about touring plans in the US. So what about that?
M: We don’t really have these plans. The thing is I have Unisonic now and that’s a real band where we tour with and everything. Place Vendome was always a project. It started with Serafino asking me if I’d like to do a record where I’m singing AOR music. That was way before I even thought about joining a real band again. So that’s how it all started and it was always something that Serafino was controlling and it’s really his baby. It was never a real band. Those musicians on the album never played together in one room. Only Costa, Dennis and me of course. If I wouldn’t have Unisonic, I’m sure something like that would have happened, but since I’m busy with Unisonic and even several other things in terms of live playing I don’t see that happening.
Ok, so Unisonic is some kind of main band to you now? I think, it’s the only band with you on vocals which has a real band feel to me, in recent years.
M: Yeah, that’s what it is. I mean it’s a huge difference between those two things. With Unisonic we write the songs and then we all get together in the rehearsal room, like a real band does. We play the songs and change things and try things out and in the end once when everyone is happy we record it and that gives it a band feel. That doesn’t happen with Place Vendome at all. Dennis does all the main production. For sure he is working in the studio with the musicians, but more directing how he thinks everything should sound and I do my vocals here in my own place. It’s more patch-work, but it sounds organic because of the musicians Dennis is choosing, but it’s not like Unisonic. Unisonic is a real band.
Yes, and it’s quiet fun to see you live. I saw you with Gotthard two times last year and it was pretty cool.
M: It really depends on which countries you play, the way you saw us. Everywhere outside of Germany, Unisonic is pretty successful. Germany is still, you know – it’s OK, but it’s not as successful as other countries among we’ve played like Spain for instance, where we had an amazing response … almost scary. So I don’t know where you’ve seen us, was it in Germany?
Yes, it was in Bamberg and Berlin.
M: Alright, alright … can’t remember. In Germany it’s always … even with Avantasia, it’s always great playing with Avantasia and even in Germany it’s great, but the German audience is not like the South American or Japanease audience or even the South Europeans, you know? If you would have seen us in another country it would have been a little better experience.
Yeah I know, the German audience can be a bit difficult. By the way: what is the current status on the new Unisonic album?
M: Songwriting. Basically, we’re all writing songs and we also have to wait for Kai (Hansen) till he gets done with his Gamma Ray production, which I think will be finished somewhere around November. I just wrote three songs together with my best friend, actually for Unisonic. I can write songs together with him very well. We can’t exactly say when everything is done but the goal is to have a new record released in early summer, you know. So, we are already booking festivals for next year. It would be great to have a new record out then.
OK, I’m looking very forward to it. Mat Sinner told me there will be another Kiske/Somerville album next year. So what can you tell me already about the second record?
M: I love Amanda. She is just a great person, we are friends and that’s the main reason why I keep on with it. At first when I started with Unisonic, I haven’t planned to continue with Place Vendome or Kiske/Somerville, but Place Vendome was so easy to do for me. All I had to do was to sing the vocals for it. It takes time but I enjoy doing this and I have a lot of time this year. I know there has always been the request. I’ve done two world tours now in the last two years. Last year with Unisonic and another one with Avantasia this year and when I did interviews, there was always this question coming up about another Kiske/Somerville, so you can tell that there is a demand for it. People like it and there’s an audience for it. So it’s good to keep on and I like to do this next Kiske/Somerville, especially because I really like Amanda. She is a very nice person, very, very honest and straight forward and big hearted.
Of course you were part of many other projects. What makes the work on different projects so interesting to you? Why not focused on only one band at a time?
M: I had more time. You know, some of those things like I said, I started all of them before Unisonic and the question is if I keep on with them or not. I don’t wanna let them die. Chances are you are not gonna have another Place Vendome album every second year. Maybe three or four years if we keep on with it, but I think the main player will be Unisonic, definitely. It’s just I started them before that and I just don’t wanna stop them now.
Ok, you also did three solo records, do you see yourself doing some solo stuff again?
M: Not the way I used to. I’m very tired of producing records on my own. It’s a lot of work and you’re just in your own world. I just got tired, it took so much energy doing everything on your own. I learned a lot by it, but I’m actually working on another record with my best friend Sandro Giampietro I told you about – he plays guitar with Helge Schneider (German Comedian). He is actually my best friend for a number of years now, we’re just on the same level emotionally but also musically, which is the same thing in the end. We just understand each other when we sit together in a room and I have an idea for a song or whatever and most of the time he just agrees and maybe has a better idea and then I have a good idea, you know. We just have this all playing back end force and it just works and it’s quiet rare. I mean I tried to do this with Dennis, but Dennis’ musical taste is very different from mine. Dennis is a classical American Rock musician. He likes the classic American Rock music. There is nothing wrong with it, but I’m slightly different. I like British music, I even like German music. I have different kind of tastes when it comes to melodies and things like that. It makes it kind of difficult when you share one room together and don’t have the same musical taste. It’s just not working as good as it does with me and Sandro. When I write something with Dennis it works best when he has an unfinished idea and he sends that to me and then I try if I have an idea – that works, but I’ve never had the songwriting experience like I have with Sandro and that’s why I decided that I write all songs together with him and he produces it. He has a nice house and in his house is a beautiful studio and he is better in producing and mixing than me anyway. That’s why I leave all that stuff to him, so it will have lots of his fingerprints on it and we will write all the stuff together and he will produce and play all guitars. He is an Rock and Metal guitar player, so it will be a lot more guitar oriented, it will be very different again, but that will kind of replace my solo works I would say.
Ok, it’s nice to have such a great person as a friend. Michael, let’s get back to the past: I think there is no Kiske interview without speaking about Helloween – so, sorry for that, but people expect this from me. When you started your career with this band, what did you expect from being in a band or in music business in general? What were your intentions?
M: I was never a type of person who had planned a career. Even these days I don’t plan my life, I just take it as it comes. The reason why I make music was basically I just loved music. I was just excited about certain bands and in those days I was like 15/16 years old and bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest were those type of bands I liked a lot. I was always very open-minded, you know at the same time I was listening to Metallica, The Beatles, U2, Eurythmics, I don’t care, I don’t make a religion out of my musical taste like some people do. But the reason why I started my own school band, which was Metal music, was just of being excited about it and I just wanted to do it. In the rehearsal room I was happy with it. I mean, I was serious about it and I wanted to bring it out on stage and I always had this kind of security in my gods it’s gonna happen, but I never planned it like many others do. Then the rumors came around and one day Markus was in our rehearsal room, which was actually the school I was in, and he said he was looking for a new singer, because Kai used to sing for two shows and then the voice was gone, so he would like to keep just playing guitars and give up singing but I didn’t like the „Walls Of Jericho“ record very much. That was not my type of music, just punky in a way. Every song sounded the same to me, somehow. So, I never called him back. A couple of weeks later they called me up and said „yeah, we want a singer like you and we can extend and experiment and do some other things“ and when we got together in the rehearsal room it was just magic. It was one of those karma-things, you know? Everything forced together and it felt so right and I might tell you, when we were working on the first songs like „Future World“ as far as I remember they were there quiet right away in the rehearsal room and they wrote them for my voice. When the recording of the first record was over I was total convinced about it. Looking back at it now I find it very unfinished, I don’t like my singing, cause I’m older now. But that’s normal it’s just the way it is. But in these years I really thought that is the best music on earth, I wasn’t surprised when it just right away sold a million of records, because I thought it was just really good.
Yes, with the two Keeper-records you were on the top of your game.
M: Absolutely, I even like the second one better, it sold even more. A few million we sold with this record and it’s still selling these days. It’s funny enough that the younger generation, teenagers still discover those records and love them. It’s just pretty amazing. It was one of the things I was really astonished about and I was really surprised about it after this long break for almost 17 years going on tour again and meeting fans all over the world. I thought I would be long forgotten, but I wasn’t at all. It’s just such a beautiful response. I mean, just imagine you go on a stage together after 17 years and you play like in South America and the whole venue sings your name – it’s unbelievable and it’s only possible in Hard Rock and Metal music.
After you left Helloween, you know many Metalheads were offended about your statements about Heavy Metal in general.
M: It was not about Metal, it was just about the satanic crap that goes on there. The thing is there was a lot of anger in me, because of bad experiences. I was very disappointed about how things went down with Helloween and then I was doing my records and certain critics were just bitching about it because I was not trying to sound like Helloween or whatever. There were so many things that came together and maybe this disappointed how I felt about the scene and everything. I was always a very spiritual person and when I took my years off I was diving into books and I was reading and reading and I got even more spiritual, I got very serious about certain issues in terms of humanity and thinks like that and that made it even more hard for me to not be against certain satanic and inhumanity glorifying crap that goes on in that scene, BUT it’s not the whole scene. The main Heavy Metal fan is quiet sweet. I need to go on tour again, I need to meet audiences – see them, hear them and talk to them. In the magazines it also looks like the majority of the Hard Rock and Metal scene is satanic, but it’s not. Most people don’t give a shit about that stuff. It’s just nice and sweet, it’s just guitar-music and they even agree with how I’m seeing things. I had that experience. My anger is gone. I’m still against these bands and these kind of things, because I think it’s wrong. Even those people who put themselves on a stage and sing about hate and spit out this negative vibe, even they want love! When they have a girlfriend they wanna be loved, they wanted to be loved by their mother when they were babies, you know it’s just the same. They portray this cold image when they play like they don’t have a heart but in the end every human being wants to be loved.
Of course, we are all humans. So now you are totally back on track, when it comes to Metal and Hard Rock and all that stuff. My question is: which role did Avantasia played in this context?
M: A very big role. When you look at the first Avantasia record, we recorded in 1998 – that was in a phase where I was still pretty angry and I did not want to have much to do with the Metal scene anymore. It was just the time where I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t want to do it at first. But I liked Tobi (Sammet), I just liked his attitude, I just liked the way he just called me up and he was just straight forward and I liked his sense of humor and I just liked his personality. So I said: „OK, I’ll do it, but I’ll do it just for you and you call me Earny on the record.“ I know, it’s quite funny, but in those days it was something I wanted to have there. When you look at it, how successful Avantasia got over all the years. We can headline festivals all over the world and play venues with 4.000 people, which not many bands can do. It’s beautiful and the thing is: 2010 I said finally „yes“ to play live with them. Tobi asked me before the first tour , because I was part of the first record already, but I wasn’t ready. He offered me a lot of money, but I turned it down, because I just wasn’t ready, I didn’t want to go on tour. But in 2010 I said „yes, OK“. That was like medicine to me, it just felt right and then there was Kai on stage and we started to talk to do something again and that’s how Unisonic got Kai into the band. So I’m now very happy to be part of Avantasia. It is just too much fun to tour the world with them. It was the first time I got on stage again.
So, over the last ten years you served nearly every sub-genre in Rock and Metal, whether if it comes to AOR, Hard Rock, Melodic Metal and Power Metal. So, which sub-genre you feel most comfortable with?
M: I did a lot of different stuff. I like bands like Kings Of Leon, Queens Of The Stone Age, you know just interesting stuff that has a bit of attitude. I love Foo Fighters – all this energy and I love the guys. It just need to have balls and that’s something that is very rare these days. There is a lot of posing, a lot of fake attitude and showmanship. I also love certain melodic kind of melodies, like „Eagle Fly Free“ – this singing type. I just like energetic music and I like it when it has an uplifting spirit. Tobi has this a lot! I think he is an amazing songwriter.
Yeah, in my opinion Tobias Sammet is the best songwriter we have in Metal right now.
M: Absolutely! He writes such great stuff and in so many different styles, too. He can write an almost Bon Jovi – kind of song and he can write a Power Metal song and I think that’s part of the success. The material is just so good, the melodies are so great. I like that kind of stuff. AOR is also fun to sing. It’s very melodic and you sing that love-lyrics I would probably never write by myself. It’s always interesting. It’s the same when you eat. You don’t eat the same meal every day. You like to have something different every day. If you would eat the same meal every day you would probably even get sick. I think music is pretty much the same. You gotta keep the spirit up, you gotta keep the fire burning and keep it exciting for yourself. That’s why you have to grow and you have to be brave enough to try new things, whether if it’s accepted by the market or not. Because if you don’t, you might loose the fire and then you get boring.
Speaking about trying new things: Beside Udo Dirkschneider and Floor Jansen you’ll be also part of the Christmas Metal Symphony this year. What can you tell about that?
M: That was interesting, because I never played live with an orchestra. That’s what I liked about it. I only sing a few songs, but to me personally special on that tour is for the first time ever I’m gonna play „Longing“, which is one of my personal favorite songs. It has a lot to do with me and it has been recorded on a Helloween record with parts of the MDR Symphony Orchestra in those days. I suggested it and they thought it is a good idea. It would have been stupid not to do it, because that was the only song that I ever did with an orchestra. So that was exciting to me.
Yes and it’s also refreshing. Let’s talk about some general things: What are you doing when you take a break from the job as a singer/songwriter?
M: I still sometimes do some singing, because I need to keep my voice in shape, but also I enjoy it. Sometimes when I’m in a bad mood or whatever and I sing a couple of Elvis tunes, it just makes me get in a way better mood. Usually I do a lot of reading, I like to watch American Sitcoms, I like Comedy, I like Science Fiction movies. When it comes to books I’m reading a lot of serious stuff. Maybe this helps me balance things. When you read serious stuff, you also need to have fun that brings you back down.
You talked about some other bands and you know there are many newcomers in the Hard Rock scene right now, so when you look at all those new talented bands, which advice would you give them to start a good career in music business?
M: I think the thing that totally matters – more than anything – is identity. You should never have a record label, telling you what you have to do. That’s how it was in my days. Pop music was already in those days pretty much designed for markets. I always thought that Rock music was always about attitude and doing what you think is right. Having your own personality and I think young bands, they need this identity. It’s so important, because there are so many bands out there and if you just do what pleases the market and you don’t have that identity it’s hard to get through. You might be successful very shortly, because maybe you have a good sound or a good singer or a good song, but it’s not gonna last if you don’t have identity, if you don’t have anything to say. So more important than any stupid image or any kind of image you create to make this all interesting is try to be true. Try to be true to yourself and try to be true to the music. It matters a lot, because there is a lot of fakes out there. Lots of people talk about these things, but they don’t really mean it. It has become a cliche to musicians to talk about being true, everyone talks about it, but it’s not real with everyone.
When you start a band, do what you really believe in and do it the way you think it’s right and try to enjoy it as much as you can. That’s the only way to have fun with it and to have joy with it and when you put that joy into the music it might carry over and carry on and it might also deliver that joy through the music to the audience. This is the only way I think it works.
Yes and I also think it has to be something unique within a band.
M: Yeah, but not so much certain abstract ideas. I don’t like bands who sit down like on a table and want to design a weird sound, so that they sound original. You should try to look inside yourself. Everybody is original. Everybody has something very unique to say. Some people just haven’t found it yet. If they listen to their hearts a little bit more and find out what it is that I’m trying to say, what is it that I have to say, then this is much more to be original and not trying to sound original, by finding funny instruments or whatever. The spirit matters.
One last question – finally I want to know, are you satisfied how everything turned out in your career or are there some things you are still bitter regret?
M: I must say that even the negative things have turned out good in the end. I learned a lot by it and I’ve grown as a person. There is just one thing I find very sad and that is I think that the Helloween of the Keeper-years with Kai Hansen, Ingo … you know, the Helloween of the Keeper-time was very short lived. I think we just started and then it was over. I think we should have done at least two more records. That’s the thing I find really sad. Bands like Iron Maiden they’ve gone full circle, you know. The have had their peak and they made their best records, they have told the story. They have said everything that they can say musically in my opinion. Helloween … I mean Helloween of the Keeper-time, because today’s Helloween is a different band … I think the Helloween of that era we never really said everything we had to say, artistically and that’s very sad.
That’s right. Ok Michael, thank you for taking the time! The final words are yours.
M: Sure, I hope to see everyone on tour! Bye!