Michael Weikath - "I'm not the Keeper"
By ALIVE magazine & www.helloween.ru (Russia)
This is the full and original version of the interview [published in Alive #3(17)] without Alive's editorial corrections and abridgements.
The famous hand was flying… no, not over strings of a Les Paul, but over a sheet of paper. Kind, a bit tired fathomless azure eyes gazed at me from the unshaven face through the puffs of “Prince”-smoke. It was a few hours before the beginning of the gig, and it seemed everyone was in want of the guitarist of Helloween. And Michael almost forgot about his lunch and his colleagues and was signing a lot of stuff for some metalhead. The autographs and funny pumpkins were appearing one by one from a black felt-tip pen. I couldn’t wait the end of this process to ask questions that had already been born in my sleepy mind. Finally, I asked them all and Michael answered to me with a great patience despite of my drowsiness (the after-effects of the long trip and the rainy weather).
ALIVE: I guess, as a public person you always should be an example for the other people, do you care about it? Do you try to be a good example for your fans in your private life?
WEIKATH: I try to live my private life as good as I can. Now, for instance I could have gone to the bar and I might have said "Oh! I'm here, and please can I order something to eat?". And I couldn't do that so far because we are sitting here and he wants to have his autographs, and so I have no way of making those people [waiters - Alive] aware that I'm here... that's private life… and I'd probably be gonna miss my food or I have to have my food in a rush because we need to finish it at 5, you know, and so that's always the way of this, you don't even have the possibility of being a good example for people because you're always in a rush. Normally people can go somewhere and do what they want because no questions are being asked, and as a public figure you more or less get misunderstood all the time. By the way, I'm not so public because they don't fucking react! Uuuuhhh! [to a waiter - Alive].
ALIVE: Yeah, you have a really crazy life, how do you stand it? What about Tenerife, do you have such a crazy life there or this is only on tours?
WEIKATH: No, that's more or less on tour. It's very rare that people recognize you in Tenerife. There’re few heavy metal fans in Tenerife as well but maybe they don't like Helloween, probably they like other bands. In Tenerife it's a different thing because you're clearly not a Canarian so that they look upon you as an outsider anyways, but many people know that we live there and they've accepted it, and they are happy with it. So, it's an extraordinary situation anyway. Well, basically it's very nice because you can actually be at home at every place and sometimes you even can have some good friends somewhere you can't know where, so that's quite practical on the other hand because you are never alone anywhere.
ALIVE: May I ask you my questions while eating? Or should I stop now?
WEIKATH: Why? Sure, you can ask, if you still understand my answers! 'Cos I thought that we could do the interview during the meal. Because I can keep talking during the meal anyway.
ALIVE: That's not good for the health maybe.
WEIKATH: Nothing is good for the health!
ALIVE: As far as I know you’re recording your albums on the island now… So where is the main place for the band to gather?
WEIKATH: We’ve just rehearsed for this tour in Tenerife. We borrowed a rehearsal room from a local band. So now when we stop rehearsing, they can do it or they do the rehearsing, then we get in. And that's very nice because the climate, the weather are a bit better there and also you don't have to pay so much for a rehearsal room in Tenerife as in Hamburg, in Hamburg everything is very very expensive meanwhile. Right now we have a rise of prices of 150 percent, no, actually 200 percent in comparison with the last year. And it's actually easier to fly to Tenerife and to rehearse there.
ALIVE: But some band-members still live in Germany and it seems you are not so close, only during the tours, the rehearsals and the studio work. Is it good for the band?
WEIKATH: Yes, but you said 'only', and this is a long time actually! So only for the recording we will be together for two or three months, and for the making, the arranging and everything before the album we'll also be together for 3 months or something, in one place.
ALIVE: Victor Smolski has said once that it's better for the relations in a band not to be very close to each other every day…
WEIKATH: That's not bad what he said. For some people it's not so good though... But it's really good because that way everybody can do what he wants. We are never so close, Andi and me, on the island. He does what he wants to do and we occasionally meet once a week or two. And on tour and during the band business you can more or less never do what you want. There are discussions about things that need to be thought about, and we always have to have an open mind for everything that happens during the little time we have. And that's absolutely okay because we have the abilities and we know each other quite well. Victor has a very good point. He's a very busy guy, he's a very creative guy and he's doing a lot of things in his hometown. Peavy lives somewhere in South Germany, and Mike Terrana is from Hamburg... It’s all possible because they're professionals. It's not so special to live in one town and rehearse every day and to know each other by 150%, that's not so extraordinary, but actually it is a different quality. And if you don’t live together in one town then you all get different ideas, different approach, and the whole thing tends to be a lot more important than if you see each other all the time. This story is not so bad.
ALIVE: What's the best definition of Helloween? Is it a good business company or is it a creative musical project?
WEIKATH: Both... but in order to succeed in the business process you have to have somebody who manages the band. That person or those persons are to take care of the business side and not to inflict it onto the creative way of the band, because that's very annoying. If you always have to deal with business shit, you don't have a free mind for good music, you come up with something stressful and not so good.
ALIVE: Are you still excited about music as maybe you were in the past?
WEIKATH: I'm still excited about something that's good. And the things I am excited about don't usually come in from the radio anymore. And so I have to find what could be exciting because on the radio it's very rare. It depends on the country you are in. But there’s more or less always modern stuff and all that I don't know, or nu-metal stuff, or simply techno and this music is not very good. Everything is very very common and that doesn't fit me. At the time we started out and before there was always some good stuff in hit-parades, you could simply turn on the radio. It was a really good music all the time, not computer music, and I miss that time! Maybe it's not so important for people now, but it is for me. And so I turned cynical because people, younger people cannot understand it because they didn’t live at that time and so they don't know how good it was. They have to cope with what's going on right now. And maybe they even can’t imagine, what it was like… Maybe this is why I complain so much, because it's not as good as it could be. And when I tend to complain, which is just natural, people say 'ah, he's always complaining!' - yeah, because I know a different time when there was much more better music.
ALIVE: It seems you’ve made the most important decisions in the band, in order to keep it alive. How do you feel with this responsibility, and how do you feel taking a role of the Keeper of Helloween?
WEIKATH: That shouldn't be the role because everybody is concerned about what's going on. And I don't want to be pointed as the Keeper because Andi is doing the great part of organizing things and deciding, and Markus as well. And it’s always wrong, it's like if you said 'that guy is the main man in the band'. You know it's not true. It’s possible only if everyone’s acting. Otherwise, it doesn't work. It works with school bands maybe, but not in a professional band. Everybody has to be aware of what he wants to do. And the “leader thing” works only for school bands. The process of being commanded by one person is too frustrating way for creative musicians in the long term.
ALIVE: What about the question concerning your former members? The band of Kai Hansen are quite successful, and it seems Masterplan will be successful too. But what do you think, why every project of Michael Kiske flops every time? You know him. Probably, it depends on his character, or a lack of composing talents, or a state of his mind… And is it possible for you to say something like this 'all the people around me are stupid because they don't understand my great music'?
WEIKATH: Ah, that's what I said too, you know.
ALIVE: I don't know it...
WEIKATH: Hehe, no, but I said it in private... I don’t know, I think he seems to be bitter about certain things, and well, maybe he uses the internet medium a little bit too quickly. Maybe sometimes he should simply refrain from using it for the things like that. On the other hand his fans or other fans ask him so he has to answer, and maybe they also want to annoy him… There are a lot of people who just want other people to damage themselves... I don't know, I'm not responsible for what Michael says, I have no idea of what his situation might be or what he is really thinking because I haven’t seen him for ages and I haven't talked to him for ages. It’s clear that he has no interest in anything that goes with Helloween and he wants to do something different, and one can only hope that he succeeds in doing so. And I'm always wishing him all the best in that. That's his fate, you know.
ALIVE: I know you are an advanced user of the Internet from the middle of 80s…
WEIKATH: From the beginning of 90s.
ALIVE: Ooops! Sorry, of course, 90s. What do you think now, aren't you disappointed concerning the Internet? And don't you think that the Internet communication is not so deep maybe and there are a lot of people who don't use their own names and speak whatever they want, including offensive stuff…
WEIKATH: There's no real difference with real life actually, but it's bad, just because it has a bit more official character. But in fact when somebody posts something maybe a few people get to read it. When people do post something shitty, they usually think they are being read by millions, but this is not the case. They only are being read by few people, 10-20 people or only 3 people, and only for about a week or a month. And after five years one's comment doesn't really count. So I mean everybody is taking himself pretty important. Maybe in a few years they will think different about it or they’ll keep doing that. They have to go out there and to do some damage somewhere, and maybe make friends with other people or make alliances in order to damage someone else even more. And I think that's a very primitive act. It should be for communication, friendship, for the good things. I’ve always kept telling people, that I have my e-mail for having fun and a good time and not for fights, but people like to misunderstand it.
ALIVE: There’s a poll on the official message board about the most erotic band member, have you seen it?
WEIKATH: Yeah, sure, it’s fun to see, but actually it doesn’t really matter. Because there’re really a few people who do clicks too often and there’re people who click less, so it’s not a dependable thing. So, really, it’s just a fan thing.
ALIVE: Who’s the most erotic Helloween band member in your opinion? Andi Deris is a leader now…
WEIKATH: I don’t know. It’s always in the eye of the beholder. I can understand people if they say Andi is the most erotic one. People have different opinions. This is why we have cute and interesting band members for everyone. It's a bit like a teen poll.
ALIVE: Some bands produce, mix and engineer their albums themselves but usually Helloween work with professionals like Mr. Bauerfeind. It seems that Andi Deris has producer skills, is it possible that in the future he will produce Helloween albums?
WEIKATH: That wouldn't be good because Andi is too concerned about everything. And I don't think it's the desirable step because he could not do the things he should usually do if he was a producer. It's not a wizard’s quick job. If you just come up with an album production it's a lot of fucking stress. Andi has to sing and to do his songs and to be in a good mood for promo tours and interviews and then we have to be on concert tours… and he has a family, you know, he has a wife and a kid. Why should he do a production for us as well? And I wouldn't recommend doing it to him, that's just extra work and extra stress. I mean, a share of his work would go up to potentially dangerous amount, then it could be said 'no I can't do anything anymore because I've done too much'. Other people can produce themselves, but I think it's rare. The people who do that should survive and they stick to a way or they just cannot have real good results. I see it from the different point of view, I can see the result and sometimes I think something like 'aha, maybe someone else should have produced that!' And I think there're only a few people who have proved that they can produce themselves in a successful and good way.
ALIVE: What about the next album, do you want another traditional Helloween sound?
WEIKATH: Yeah, and also, there’s an idea to try Keeper of the 7 keys part 3. I think it's not the thing we expect it to be, but that's what we have a mind, because we have a real good band chemistry and a lot of talents collected in this line-up now, so it would be fit for trying something like that.
ALIVE: Does it mean, that you will find the last two keys?
WEIKATH: No, the last two keys were already in the Keeper Of The Seven Keys, just not in the lyrics. It IS in the lyrics, so if you read it and listen to it closely, all the keys are there. I wouldn't write the song about the seven keys with two keys missing.
ALIVE: Alright, some people think that lyrics are not so important for rock music, for heavy metal music. Do you agree?
WEIKATH: What is not so important?
ALIVE: Lyrics are not so important.
WEIKATH: Very important.
ALIVE: As important as music or less?
WEIKATH: Well, when I hear something like that, I don't know what to say. Whoever says something like that, I don't know. There're poets in every country and so they write important things and this is why they become poets, or why they become famous. In a good rock band, you know, there are also poets. If they're bad poets, or if they have shit boring lyrics then the lyrics are not so important. But there're actually people who put a lot of meaning in their lyrics and spend a lot of time doing it and so then there are some people who say 'ah, lyrics are not so important!'... It’s like poets are not so important and nothing is to be important! My hair cut is not really important. How can one say something like that? It's really shocking me when people say that.
ALIVE: But what do you think about people trying to interpret your lyrics in their own way?
WEIKATH: That's crazy because there's a very logical approach. And there're also rules for interpretations. And you have to have a certain ground for what you want to interpret and some experience. Not just to go somewhere and to say 'ah, he probably means it's about someone doing this and that and lalalala'. I still remember one interviewer in '88 who said, 'actually the lyrics of Keeper of the 7 Keys have no meaning, why haven’t you come up with lyrics with more meaning?' and so then I started telling what it was all about, actually how much meaning was in there. The TV screen has no meaning, it depends on what's on the screen. You can have the TV running with a movie on it, or news, or anything, but if you don't look at it, then you don't know what's going on. You can be in your kitchen and say 'I got my TV running over there but it shows no meaning!'
ALIVE: Uh, I have to ask some professional questions about guitars but it's really difficult for me... It seems that you prefer Gibson guitars. Are they rare vintage models or recent ones?
WEIKATH: No, they’re recent models from year 1999 or something.
ALIVE: Why have you chosen them?
WEIKATH: Good playability, good sound… They sound smooth and warm and mellow. And they also sound like what you can hear on the records of your idols. If John Sykes comes up with a cool guitar riff, he plays it on the Les Paul usually. And if for instance Zakk Wylde comes up with a cool guitar riff, that's his Les Paul and Les Pauls - they sound like this. If you want it to sound like this, you have to find a different instrument that's close to Les Pauls. I'm more affiliated to classical guitars also, like Stratocasters and Telecasters, the typical ones, because they have the particular sound, they also have the particular pickups by the respected companies. I'm usually not very lucky with replacement of the pickups so I’d rather keep the original things. You can buy another modern guitar somewhere, and it doesn't feel nice and has no character whatsoever.
ALIVE: Do you still have your first Strat?
WEIKATH: Ja, ja.
ALIVE: Do you use the same guitars in the studio and on the stage or are they different?
WEIKATH: Different. I tried to use the same once but then I ended up having too many guitars on tour, it doesn't work. You can take similar guitars or you can think about what to take for what track. And some tracks are being recorded with a different guitar but they also sound good with a Les Paul live, or a Flying V or something. They have slight differences in appearance and handling, and it's more a matter of what you have to play or what it has to sound like, what you want it to be. You can basically play everything on any guitar but it always has a different meaning. It depends on the mood, on the speed, or the intended sound of that particular track.
ALIVE: Why do you ignore modern guitar technologies like Floyd Rose?
WEIKATH: No, I don't ignore it but I really have difficulties with them, because they have a different set-up for the hands, the side of your hand. If you want to mute tones, it's completely different than if you do it on the Gibson, on the Stratocaster because there're screws almost on all guitars, but modern guitars don't have that, only the strings going over a block. I have no way of orientation there because I use the old guitars. Floyd Rose, I think, is a good one. Just recently I’ve had many rehearsals with Jackson Randy Rhoads guitar which has a Floyd Rose thing on there. But at the beginning of Helloween I spoiled a lot of my playings with a Floyd Rose because I could not do what I wanted to do and I was forced to use those instruments and that was very very frustrating. And so I was very happy when I finally had my Gibson guitars because before I couldn't afford them. So I got myself a few, and I was so happy to return to what I knew. The other classic type instruments I had played before, I played them for practicing and those guitars were not good enough for recordings or for live.
Floyd Rose is a different world and it needs a different approach. You have to have your own way of holding your hand to feel comfortable with it. I just can say that this Randy Rhoads guitar was very very very comfortable to play. But that doesn't necessarily mean that any other guitar with Floyd Rose is playable as much as Randy Rhoads guitar. So you can't take anything for granted, it's always the matter of feeling. And I usually had a lot of trouble in the past with Floyd Rose guitars but I had to learn a lot in the beginning about handling and everything. So if you're not 100%-comfortable with the instrument you have, then you're in trouble. And I was in trouble, I was not really confident and happy with the tremolo systems I had. Then sometimes there were Floyd Rose copies and well, they're not the same. Floyd Rose for itself is quite a good one, but the copies are not always as good. And we tended to be out of copies.
And, again, sometimes when I want to mute strings, the right tone doesn’t come out of it because you have to move your hands slightly forward, and then the tone gets higher and then the tone gets wrong. And if you want to mute it in the right way, what you can do on a Les Paul on its left, then you mute it right when the string comes out, and you have a bit more of precision then. People would disagree. Young players who always play with Floyd Rose would say 'what Weiki is telling there, it's a lot of shit'. So that's just like a matter of feeling. It's not to be taken for granted. Guitarists who always play with Floyd Rose would probably come around and say something like 'ah I hate that fucking Les Paul – I’ve almost broken my hand on that'.
ALIVE: Do you help your young colleague Sascha as a guitarist with advice?
WEIKATH: No. He asks me for something but he doesn't have to ask because technically he's a better guitar player than I am. I don't need to tell him much because he basically knows everything. And sometimes he even knows a lot more things than I know because he's a guitar teacher, I'm not a guitar teacher, you know, I'm just a guitarist in the band. It doesn't mean that I need to teach him anything just because he's young. I may have a different kind of experience than he has, but that doesn't mean that he has less.
ALIVE: It seems that with the new line-up the band is more confident, especially live, do you agree?
WEIKATH: Yeah, that's the use of changing bandmembers.
ALIVE: How long do you expect this line-up to remain?
WEIKATH: I have no expectations at all. But I have hopes and I don't want to change any band member. I would have been happy if the original Helloween line-up had persisted, the one with Michael Kiske would have been a very good line-up to continue, but it didn't for the various reasons… I have never been interested in changing band members. I think the band should always keep the line-up it has. If the people inside the band, the members know how to deal with all this, they have a good time. Like The Beatles for instance, you know, they didn't have many line-up changes and they could have gone on because they were friends. They had to stand a lot and they could only survive that because they took it from a humorous angle. If none of the aforementioned things is applied, then you cannot keep a band going on, it's impossible. If a band gets famous, many things can happen that you could never imagine before, but they do happen. What you can not usually foresee, it's the change of behavior of the people. If you have the people who can rely on each other, then it's a lot better. And there're actually many bands that started doing it for fun and these bands break up quickly.
ALIVE: I can't disturb you anymore, could you say a few words to Russian fans?
WEIKATH: First of all, we had that night concert in Moscow last fall. And so I want to thank everybody for coming there. And I just hope that in the future we’re gonna have a lot of fun together. And well, record piracy is killing every band and every artist. Just because it doesn't seem a wrong thing, you know, just to go and get some pirate CDs, but that's basically killing your artists. And people also complain about the lack of good music, like I do. It's because the real good artists have hardly a chance to establish themselves because they really cannot take revenge if the piracy is high.
Authors: Rat Destroyer, Alex Froloff, Pied Piper