PART 2 OF INTERVIEW WITH MASTERPLAN (AND EX-HELLOWEEN) GUITARIST ROLAND GRAPOW
Date: February 1, 2016
PART 1 OF SLEAZE ROXX’S INTERVIEW WITH ROLAND GRAPOW SAW THE TALENTED GUITARIST, SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER PROVIDE A CANDID VIEW ON HIS TIME IN HELLOWEEN. PART 2 OF THE INTERVIEW HAS GRAPOW DISCUSSING THE LAST ALBUM THAT HE DID WITH HELLOWEEN AS WELL AS TALK FRANKLY ABOUT HIS ‘BABY’ — MASTERPLAN — INCLUDING THE GROUP’S ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN RELATIONSHIP WITH SINGER JORN LANDE OVER THE YEARS.
Sleaze Roxx: Next up is ‘The Dark Ride’ and that seemed more of a like team effort for Helloween because everyone seemed to have contributed a few songs here and there except for maybe Markus [Grosskopf]. You had mentioned in the past that ‘The Dark Ride’ had totally changed your life. What was the impact of ‘The Dark Ride’ on you?
Roland Grapow: I think the main reason was my well-being at that time because we were having a lot of fights in the band for the reasons I told you already. Jealousy — I was jealous about not presenting my songs to the press and to the fans. And then you know, the problem with the lack of songwriting for these two albums ‘Time Of The Oath’ and ‘Better Than Raw.’ And then maybe they talked behind my back because they always had like a lot of private meetings — Andi Deris and Weike [Michael Weikath] — because when they were in Hamburg [Germany], they were always in the pubs talking and I was getting home! I had a wife and family. After rehearsing or something, I went home.
And then everybody was talking and after some years of always talking behind someone, then there’s big trouble coming and it came! And then I said, “OK. Sorry. [I’m] really sorry to the band.” Because I was following too much my solo career. I was following too much the path of Yngwie Malmsteen — I was a big fan of his. I said, “OK. I will change. I will go back to my old style when I was 20.” because that’s why Weike loved me so much. So I went back to those Gibson guitars — the Flying Vs. I played a lot of melodic [stuff] on ‘The Dark Ride’ and the inspiration for the good guitar sound and this down tuning and this songwriting — the way to write lyrics, everything was inspired by Roy V, which I loved so much that I was feeling so comfortable after that. So relieved that I was thinking “That’s the future I want to follow.” And then, all these fights with Weike! The whole band loved this album. Only Weike hated it [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] OK.
Roland Grapow: That’s why I think I was fired.
Sleaze Roxx: Have you sorted out the issues with the Helloween guys after all those years?
Roland Grapow: Yeah, yeah. We’re friends again.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh good.
Roland Grapow: Last year, we had some time and I talked to Andi [Deris] after 12 years! First time I talked to him and Weike was fine. Now, I have met them already three times. I will meet them in two weeks again as they are coming to Slovakia for a concert to play. If I have time, I go there again and go backstage because my friend is a promoter here lining up all these metal gigs. It’s always nice to see them now. I think that they are happy as well. I see that Andi Deris is very nice, friendly to me, and relaxed now because he was really disappointed about me [laughs]. I was disappointed but it was just misunderstandings.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. So you and Uli [Kusch] went on to form Masterplan and really, you came up with a brilliant debut album. I noticed that all of the songwriting was credited to the band rather than individuals. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Roland Grapow: Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t want this jealousy anymore. Even a couple of songs were written by Uli Kusch or co-written by me. I had a couple of songs which I wrote but this was internal only. I wanted outside people just to see Masterplan because you know, we’re always fighting. “I want my song on the album.” “No, it’s just a bonus track.” “No. It’s too good.” These kind of discussions, you can totally ignore when you just write the band name, you know? That’s why I did it and I did it from the first album until now. So I don’t want that, you know? People know that I wrote “Heroes” and “Crystal Night.” And Uli’s main idea was “Soulburn” which was a fantastic song but the chorus I wrote and the solo part. It was a lot of teamwork you know? When you say “I wrote it. I wrote it.” It’s half true…
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Roland Grapow: Because it’s inspired by the guy who is sitting next to you at the arrangement [of] parts we did. We did a great work, Uli Kusch and me.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you think of the debut Masterplan album? Would you say that it is the best album that you have done in your career?
Roland Grapow: I would say yes, yes, yes. I would say for me, ‘The Dark Ride’ was the best in Helloween. We even had fans that hated it but I am really proud that is the last album that I did with them because it had a big impact again. I was playing 90% of all those guitars. I am happy with about the solo parts a lot. The guitar sound is incredible. I think Deris was singing amazing there. The whole sound of the album is good. It was a special thing, you know? Like ‘Chameleon’ was the white one, this was the dark one. They are very extreme so the real Helloween albums are ‘Pink Bubbles [Go Ape]’ more or less. But I think the biggest Helloween albums are ‘Better Than Raw’ and ‘Time Of the Oath’ to be honest — and ‘Master Of The Rings.’
Sleaze Roxx: The next Masterplan album is ‘Aeronautics.’ What do you think of that album?
Roland Grapow: We were working as a team at that time. Everyone was involved in the songwriting process, which was really cool and I think that you can hear the difference between the first and second. Most people say that the first is better and some other people say that the second is better but for me, both albums are just incredible and great songwriting and good production, you know for that time. And I am really proud of those two milestones, you could say. I love it so we play a lot of songs from both of these albums.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes. They are both fantastic albums. Now, the next album saw the departure of both Uli [Kusch] and Jorn [Lande]. Why did Masterplan part ways with both of them?
Roland Grapow: [Sigh] Yeah. The problem with Jorn is that he was never happy with the style we did. We had success but he expected after the second album, huge [emphasis added] success. And it didn’t come. That’s how Jorn is. If it’s not really starting like a rocket you know to the next level, then he’s not really interested anymore. I think it’s basically about success and because Jorn — he’s not really a heavy metal guy. He doesn’t like fast drumming and double bass. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like the Stratocaster guitars I did. He likes a really rough sound — just one guitar left, one guitar right and singing — that’s it you know. Like an old school ’60s, ’70s rock band. That’s what he loves and that’s what he is doing on his solo work. There are never really many overdrafts of guitars or something. It should always also be possible for him to play it live. And some of the stuff we wrote was too high for him. I mean, in the studio, he was singing fantastic but he had to change after ‘Aeronautics’ — some health problems. He stopped totally smoking at that time and he also did some other stuff. He stopped you know, which was smoking as well.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] OK.
Roland Grapow: But he’s still a fantastic singer and his voice changed a little bit over the years but he’s still getting on. He never wanted to sing that technique anymore — that high technique. He wants to sing the heavy metal power mid-range — it’s still high singing, don’t get me wrong — but very inspired by Dio. That’s the stuff he loves now. That’s what he is doing totally since ten years.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. For sure. What about Uli [Kusch]?
Roland Grapow: So we had a lot of discussions… that’s why he left. Uli was totally unhappy about talking and talking, and that’s why Uli said, “Aaaah. We need a new singer.” Then Jorn left and six months later, he left because he was getting frustrated about finding the right singer. He had fears about the future. He was thinking about the money situation, which wasn’t so easy anymore. So he just went to his family and search for another job. Since then, he did not do anything besides some little projects you know. That’s why. I think that he had this real fear of the metal business, which was getting worse and worse, and is still getting worse! It’s really bad now.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes. Now, the fans didn’t respond… I guess that there were some mixed factions for the new singer Mike Demeo. What are your thoughts in that regard and what do you think of the album ‘MK II?’
Roland Grapow: I think it’s still a Masterplan album. There was still even a song written by Uli — the song called “Masterplan” which is a fantastic song. We have some really heavy metal songs there. The first one is really fast and some really groovy stuff. I think it’s a good album but his voice changed totally the sound of the band. He’s a really fantastic singer but when we were touring together, we felt something was wrong because live, he was very weak in presenting the band or himself. He was just very shy onstage singing and I think that he did not feel comfortable onstage with us. Something was happening and then, when we finished the tour, I was totally depressed because the reaction was totally mixed. 50% loved it. 50 did not like it so much and that’s not what I want you know? If people are not happy, I don’t want to play. If it’s not the right feeling onstage, then I’d rather be home because I have a studio which is quite successful now and at that time, I felt that I could stay at home and work here and make some money and survive. I never wanted to be this old rock star playing in front of people in a bar in my old age you know? This is not what I want. You know, than I say, “Fuck it. I go home, put my jogging trousers on and nobody sees me but my family [laughs].”
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Fair enough! Now ‘Time To Be King’ saw the return of Jorn [Lande] as the lead singer. Why did you bring him back and why did he leave again?
Roland Grapow: I tried to make him really happy in a way. I just contacted him and it took nearly one year to get him back to the band because he loves Masterplan, he loves me as a person — I mean we’re really good friends. We just played together in Israel four or five weeks ago, and I played three songs with him and it was a lot of fun! And we were hanging out the day before and talking a lot about the past. There’s nothing. There is no problem between us. But I think it’s like I said, I can’t even ask him to sing on the album one or two songs because I don’t have the budget. Why should he make it for free? It’s always about money. It’s about success you know? So when I tried to get him back for ‘Time To Be King’ for the album — like I told you before, he does not like the fast songs. If you analyze this album, it’s not so much sounding like the first two albums you know? It’s more in his direction.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah.
Roland Grapow: It’s still Masterplan because of my guitar playing, my arrangements of the song and the keyboards of Axel [MacKenrott]. And Axel wrote a couple of songs and me. I think two songs are even from Jorn but we also had some songwriting help from friends of ours — like two songs. It’s a mixed album, which I really love. I think there’s some really cool stuff on it you know? But it’s different… It’s again like in Helloween. You change because some guy is not happy. That was [Michael] Kiske in the past and we changed to getting this ‘Chameleon’ album. ‘Time To Be King’ is the album because Jorn was never happy. I welcomed him back to the band. I know his voice is fucking cool and strong you know? That’s why I made the compromise and than I realized that doesn’t work because after that album, he was totally not reacting anymore. He never answered my mails. We had already a tour booked and than he got asked onto the Avantasia tour because they paid enough [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] So the next step, you finally found Rick Altzi to be your lead singer. It is a bit of a risk for the band because you are introducing a third lead singer in three albums but it seems to have worked out very well. How did you find Rick to join the band?
Roland Grapow: Rick has always been a big Masterplan fan and of course, of Jorn as well. I met him already in 2007 when we did Masterplan supporting Saxon in Europe and we talked since then. He told me he was a bass player in the past and now he is a singer since 2007 or something and he was getting better and better. And then, when I was searching for a singer, I just looked at him again through the latest At Vance video and I really liked his voice. I thought he was really good and I would say very close sounding to Jorn and even looking like Jorn [laughs]. His attitude is totally different. He loves to make happier stuff or faster stuff from the first two albums. He loves that and he wants to continue that in the future. The problem is that the last a bum that we did — ‘Novum Initium’ — was for Jorn you know? So the problem is that he came really late into this line-up so two weeks before we did the drum recording. We couldn’t change anything anymore and everything was not 100% written for Rick. So everything was still in line to have Jorn as a singer but he never answered to me. That’s why on the last chance, I just searched for a new singer.
Sleaze Roxx: So what are your thoughts going forward for Masterplan? Is the line-up stable and everything’s good?
Roland Grapow: Hmmm. Singer wise, bass player — yes. Drummer — you never know because I lost Martin [Skaroupka]. I just talked to him but he is very very busy with Cradle Of Filth, which I would say is five times bigger band than us you know? They are selling much more and they have a lot of touring. And the last tour, we played with Kevin Kott on drums. He’s yet another drummer and a friend of Rick’s. He just introduced his friend and we checked him out. And always when Martin didn’t have time, he was playing drums. Now we realized that he is much better fitting to us because he is a Masterplan fan as well and he is a good showman which is fantastic when you play live. He’s a big [Mike] Portnoy fan and plays really great like him and great drummer. I mean, Martin as well! The problem is always the timing you know. I think that Cradle [Of Filth] is too big that we can’t keep both bands you know. Touring wise, it’s not possible.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you and I appreciate all the time that you have given me, what are your three favorite records from your career?
Roland Grapow: My favorite is really like ‘The Dark Ride’ and Masterplan I [‘Masterplan’] and II [‘Aeronautics’]. I think that’s the highlights so far. I hope that I can still beat it somehow because I really want to make this next studio album and this Helloween re-recording stuff. I really want to make it really cool sounding and powerful. But you never know, there’s always a peak in every career as a musician. Every guitar player, every songwriter, has its peak you know? Avantasia — people are complaining again you know? The first Avantasia was the best. Same with Masterplan [laughs]. Same with Helloween. Everybody likes ‘Walls Of Jericho’ which I never liked.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Roland Grapow: They always like the beginning. The old stuff is always better than the new stuff. Sometimes, it is maybe better to start a new band to get the attention of the people you know? Last year, I started this project. I call it a project because I left it. It’s called Serious Black. And people love it! Some people said, “OK.” They expected something more of us. It’s always like, “Roland — I hear what you are playing now with your guitar but blah, blah, blah.” It’s always better to start something new but Masterplan is my baby so I want to continue. ‘The Dark Ride’ — I am really proud of and the first two Masterplan albums are also my favorites, not only for the fans.