This week Friday is the day. The long-awaited new Helloween album will hit the stores. To get some more information and details about the album and the making of it, MHMB had the chance to talk to a clearly happy Markus Großkopf about ‘Helloween’ and what Markus has to share is you can read here.
Markus’ Heavy Music Blog: Moin Markus, great that you found some time to talk about the new Helloween album with me. Before we do that, let’s just go back a bit further in time, to the Pumpkins United tour. That was a huge success. Did you expect such a response back then?
Markus Großkopf: We knew that many people wanted such a tour and we said to ourselves that we would be stupid if we wouldn’t give it try, all together. If it goes south, then we can at least say “Okay. At least we tried it. But it worked out great and we never thought that the fans would go crazy like that. There was an energy coming from the audience every night which was unbelievable. You almost got goose bumps. It was almost scary, ghostly.
MHMB: I have seen you in Tilburg and yes, that was really pure enthusiasm I would say.
Markus G.: Yes, that was super fun. It’s a pity that we were interrupted right after we finished work on the new record, because we would have liked to do such a tour with a few new songs and with the record. But well, postponed is not canceled and it will go on soon.
MHMB: When did the idea for one for a new record arise? I mean, a tour is one thing, but actually working on an album is another. Had the idea emerged during the tour?
Markus G.: The idea was solidified during the tour. That’s why we actually did the tour first. If something goes wrong, people go crazy, we don’t get along with each other or whatever could have happened, then theoretically you have the possibility to do a show while being on tour, to somehow pull it off and then go back to the hotel room to do your own thing. When you do a tour, you can’t say in the middle of it “I’m not in the mood anymore. I’m out of here.” You have to go all the way, of course, because there are so many business contracts involved. You can’t just say ‘I’m getting the hell out of here. I don’t want to do this anymore.” Whereas when you realize in the studio that it’s not working, in a mega-creative process, then it becomes really hard to still work together. That’s why we actually did the tour first and realized on that tour, that it works quite well and that if it continues like this we can also create a good album in the studio. The sequence was somehow quite good.
MHMB: I had the feeling that Pumpkins United gave the band an extra push.
Markus G.: Yes, of course it gave me a mega-boost and I was really looking forward to it, even when the idea came up. When you do something like that for the first time and there’s a fresh breeze coming in, that was a really cool thing that made me very happy. Also if you ask Michael (Kiske), or if you know him, then you know that he never does anything just to earn a few Euros. If he’s not into something with his heart and soul, then he doesn’t do it. Then he does something that is more suitable for him. That’s why I’m very happy that he now sees himself as part of the family again.
MHMB: I think you can hear that the album is a matter of the heart and not, like some other projects of this kind, that there is a financial interest in the foreground.
Markus G.: Yes. In the studio we threw ideas at each other until our heads ‘bursted’. That’s also a mega-creative input, because somehow we are almost all songwriters in Helloween. When you play your parts, you get seven ideas at the same time, which you have to try out all day long. Sometimes your head is really throbbing. It hasn’t gotten less and it hasn’t gotten easier, but when you listen to the album, it was worth every second of it.
MHMB: Let’s talk a little bit more about the songwriting. With all the creativity you mention, how did you guys handle it. Did someone always come up with an idea and then you would work together or how did the songs develop?
Markus G.: After the tour we sat down and took a deep breath. Everybody recorded at home and collected songs and ideas. After nine months we met, listened to the first pieces, which was already a lot. We were all day somewhere in a conference room and we extensively shared all the stuff with each other. It was a lot, but we ended up with the songs. Then we went home again for a month, listened to the songs in a relaxed way and met again to check which songs emerged and where we could already say “Okay, we can take that one”. Some of the songs just naturally evolved. These are simply the ‘must have’ titles while you record other songs and they really only develop their life and soul in the studio. We had to find it out, which was not so easy. That’s how ‘Angels’ came about, for example. The song gained a lot in the studio and it’s one of my favorite tracks because it’s so different. We are always looking for that little extra touch.
MHMB: To what extent did the pandemic affect you in the recording process ? I think you guys started already in 2019.
Markus G.: Yeah exactly, we went into the studio sometime January/February and we still had a solid five weeks period in the studio, seven of us and two producers. We were still allowed to do that which was good because we made the arrangements there and we could work together back then. When it came to recording, at some point I think we recorded the basics for 2 songs together and then we were no longer allowed to work in the studio with nine or ten people. We then worked individually, which we had actually already done in the past. We did it all separately, but at that point it was all about the recordings. We sent those to the server and while I was getting guitars and drums, I was already sending back my finished bass parts. There was actually a race of instrument recordings and since we had done that before it was nothing new for us at this point. The main thing was that we managed to do the arrangements together.
MHMB: Let’s talk a little bit about the songs. ‘Skyfall’ was the first single you released and is reminding of the old good ‘Keeper…’ times. It is the longest song on the whole album clocking in at 12 minutes. Why did you decide for such an opus as the first single?
Markus G.: The song actually represents quite well who we are today, what we are doing at the moment and in which direction things might go. It represents the band quite well. We didn’t have the idea to make such an epic. At least we didn’t start with the idea to do something like that. Kai (Hansen) came up with all this cool shit and we thought “Okay, we would be stupid if we don’t try this now and if it sounds like shit later we can leave it out”. But it really clicked. The energy that he put into it, into this arrangement, is great and I thought “Okay, why not”. The story is quite cool and it is also open at the end. Let’s see what will happen. His planet is now gone and where should he go? Let’s see. But as I said, we didn’t really plan for that to happen. It just happened that way or somehow, so to speak, “Schwups there it was, this song”.
Photo: Franz Schepers
MHMB: When I read that the new album will be called ‘Helloween’, my first thought was that it is a good title, which stands for the beginning of something new and on the other hand stands for a summary of everything that has happened so far more or less.
Markus G.: There are a lot of things we had earlier, e.g. a lot of hymns from Weiki (Michael Weikath). When Weiki writes a song, it’s always a hymn. That also reminds of the things we had in the past. Then you have Andi, who actually writes a lot of straight rockers while Sascha’s stuff is more progressive. You have a wide range of stuff that we had in the past, that reminds you a little bit of the old days and there is also something of the current present in it. I think that can also lead quite well into the future.
MHMB: As you just mentioned Andi and Rock’n’Roll Feeling, ‘Mass Pollution’ has pure Rock’n’Roll feeling. There you really let the Rock’n’Roll beast off the leash.
Markus G.: That’s always fun and we don’t want to let that be taken away from us. Metal is also there to feel good and to put people in a good mood. There is Rock’n’Roll and Heavy Metal and the mixture I think is actually quite cool.
MHMB: Let’s also talk about ‘Indestructible’, a song you wrote, if I remember it right.
Markus G.: Yeah sure. The idea came to me after the tour, because we just felt so great and since there was so much energy coming from the people, I thought, that’s some cool shit. This feeling of ‘United’ was so present at the concerts which made me write ‘Indestructible’. Then you write something like that, you’re ready with it, you think it’s really cool and then some fucking virus comes into the picture and completely screw things up. But even that can’t destroy us, because we are hanging in there. Soon things will start again and then there will be a big Helloween party.
MHMB: Talking about the virus, how was it for you as an original Hamburg guy to walk over the Kiez without meeting people, the clubs closed etc.?
Markus G.: That was intense. Unfortunately, I have to say, you got used to the whole story a bit later on, with the masks and the distance. You’ve already gotten used to it in such a way that it will probably be very difficult to hug someone again, to smooch them and to shake their hand. The reversal of that, when we get back to the normal, it’s probably going to be hard to get used to it again. It was really spooky too. Ghost towns. In the evening after 9, you were not allowed to go out. The city was completely empty of people and the stores were closed. Sometimes you got a slight Armageddon feeling.
MHMB: It was really like in a bad movie.
Markus G.: Now, thank God, the numbers are better and I hope that the summer vacation, with all the people traveling, will not cause the numbers to go up again quickly. But many are already vaccinated and many already had it (Covid). So I hope that it won’t become dramatic again when people start traveling a lot.
MHMB: You had to postpone the tour and now it is scheduled for 2022. What can the fans expect? The compilation of the setlist is probably hard with so many super songs?
Markus G.: Yeah, it’s always hard for us with all the songs we have and then we have all the really long ones. You can’t play those, because then you have an hour with only 4 songs and you also have to play other stuff that the fans want to hear. Let’s see. We will sit down and then we will talk again. In any case, we also want to play ‘Skyfall’ as a new masterpiece, which is again such a long song. We’ll have to see how we do it all. That will be exciting. This time we also will have Hammerfall with us and they don’t just play for 45 minutes either. As a very special guest they will also play for an hour, an hour and 15 minutes. That’s also a solid portion in the beginning and I think it goes together quite well. It’s a really nice package.
MHMB: Indeed. I think so too. The bands fit together perfectly, but why such a package instead of a Helloween-only tour?
Markus G.: We already did that last time. That was also cool and this time we thought to do a cool package. That’s great for the people and before everyone starts off on their individual tours again, you can join forces and somehow go through such a situation together. You really have to stand together these days because next year you’re going to get so many concerts blown up in your face that you don’t know if you would like to go there or there first. So why not put together a cool package to take a little bit of the decision off people’s shoulders? Plus, we get along really well and the music matches really nicely.
MHMB: During the whole Pandemic time, did you ever talk internally about live streaming shows as a possibility for the band?
Markus G.: We have seen a few. Of course you have to be super well prepared and you weren’t allowed to have 30 technicians bustling around during the pandemic. If you do that with seven people in the band, a crew of two people and three technicians, then you don’t really get anything done. Well, we delivered some awesome live stuff, and we didn’t want to ruin the whole status we just built up with a lame online gig, you know.
MHMB: Better then to watch the Blu-ray.
Markus G.: Yes exactly.
MHMB: Markus we are through everything I had on my list. Is there anything else from your side that you want to mention?
Markus G.: Yes, hang in there. Then we will see each other again and it will be even more awesome when we meet again somewhere in April (2022) to celebrate a nice Helloween party. I’m already looking forward to it.