Ant May from Planetmosh met up with German power metal legends Kai Hansen (founder of Helloween and Gamma Ray), and Michael Kiske (Helloween, Avantasia) to discuss Unisonic – the new band that has them working together again after 20 years apart.
Planetmosh: OK can you tell us a bit about your new project Unisonic?
Michael: It’s not a project actually, that’s one of the thing that Kai and I, I mean Unisonic existed before he joined. When we got in touch, basically on stage with Avantasia in 2010, we had this kind of chemistry going on between us. We started talking about it and it was one of the things that was very clear to us that when we do something together again it should not be a project. Unisonic was from the start on, trying to be a band, and it was but the songwriting was going a bit slow, and after a while I thought we needed another creative force. I wasn’t thinking about Kai, I had a friend of mine in mind. That didn’t happen….he was too much of an individualist for the others I guess. But when that idea came up with Kai, I knew that was what we were waiting for, everything happened the way I hoped it would. Songs that we had that were good turned out great then because they got that little extra edge, or even on starrider…He made the additions that I was hoping for. It made the band complete, with enough rough edges – I need that – like personality.
Planetmosh: How would you describe Unisonic’s music?
Michael: We wanted it to be a rock band from day one to be not too limited – that was important to me. Not afraid of metal but I just want to be open to other things, its a rock band a bit of metal, even go poppy if we want to.
Kai: Yeah that’s what the range is, pop, rock, hard rock, metal.
Planetmosh: Obviously you’re best known for Power Metal.
Michael: Then again, if you look at the old Helloween stuff we had the same kind of thing, Future World, I want out, rise and fall, these were like pop songs, just played with some edge.
Planetmosh: Your album is due out shortly, can you tell us a bit about it – are there any common themes for instance ?
Michael: It’s out at the end of March.
Kai: No, it’s open, a lot of variety. There’s not one conceptual theme running through all the songs. Basically it ranges from personal points of view on life, some fantasies and some other stuff.
Michael: It’s very colourful. I’m happy that in the end it turned out quite easy. it was work of course, it always is but it was nothing impossible, it came naturally, that’s what I like.
Planetmosh: You mentioned that you got together again after playing together with Avantasia. Did you expect it to go well?
Michael: Yes, after twenty years break. I wasn’t expecting much. I had this question before we went to South America. I didn’t know what to expect because I never was in South America before, but I didn’d expect that!
Kai: I kind of knew it was going to be getting some attention there, but still I was overwhelmed by the reactions in the end.
Michael: Those crowds are like nothing in the world, so passionate.
Planetmosh: Quite a few bands these days are filming their DVD’s on the South American tour dates
Kai: I know why, there’s a reason for that. Even in Europe or any other places we’ve played it was great, but that was the first one – thats the one that sticks.
Planetmosh: You’ve got a few festival dates planned for the summer in Europe.
Michael: Not only that but we’re going on tour – strangely in South America first, and then Europe, festivals, festivals
Kai: Play a load of festivals. We’re already booked on quite a few but expect more to come in when the album comes out, and if we get good responses then I think some promoters might jump on, and then we’re trying to check out the possibilities for our own tour in the Autumn this year, so let’s see where it takes us.
Planetmosh: Hopefully you’ll include some UK dates.
Kai: We’d love to
Michael: We really hope for it. There are some good festivals here so maybe we have a chance to jump on, if not, we definitely have to play the UK.
Planetmosh: I hope you make it to the UK otherwise it’s a trip to Germany for me to see you play live.
Michael: That was interesting with Avantasia, British people coming to see them.
Planetmosh: There are quite a few bands that are big in places like Germany but not in the UK, so if we want to see them then we have to travel abroad to gigs.
Michael: England is it’s own world
Kai: It’s really unpredictable, maybe there’s not enough of a metal scene anymore or its spread out too much
Michael: I don’t know what it is, but sometimes you get surprised by a band suddenly making it big here for no obvious reason. They’re doing nothing different to anybody else but for some reason maybe something is different that makes them go boom here.
Kai: It’s also nice about England – it’s not so easy.
Planetmosh: On the list of festivals you’re playing I was surprised that Wacken wasn’t included – I’d have thought they’d be keen to have you play.
Kai: Let’s see if they will jump on. Gamma Ray is booked for Wacken since quite a while
Michael: Maybe that’s why?
Kai: That might be one of the reasons – maybe Wacken think it is too much having both.
Michael: And we’ve been there with Avantasia
Kai: Yes we were there last year with Avantasia. So I think Wacken will happen next year
Michael: Yeah yeah
Planetmosh: Wacken is a great festival
Michael: Oh yeah. Last year was the first time for me ever to play it. I really liked it. I was a bit scared, what to expect, not scared, I worried what to expect. It’s so friendly and well organised and stuff, very nice.
Planetmosh: Obviously you’ve played Wacken a few times Kai.
Kai: I started playing Wacken when it was a little festival with say, how many people, a thousand maybe scattered around the place, and it was a self made stage more or less and the cows were grazing next door. Now its so big, the whole region is thriving from that, they make their money on Wacken.
Michael: Nobody’s complaining – that’s the great thing.
Kai: No, and it brought metal a lot of respect because suddenly you could find reports in the normal regional television programmes and even in the official news, because it has become so big. It’s nice to have heavy music represented on such a big scale.
Michael: They’ve benefited from it and found out that metal kids are extremely friendly, there’s not much stress going on and stuff.
Kai: The locals enjoy it because they can rent out their front yard for camping and so on.
Planetmosh: Germany still has a big metal scene doesnt it?
Michael: It’s not as big as in the 80’s but it’s bigger than in other countries.
Kai: America doesn’t have a big metal scene any more does it.
Michael: America is kind of…it has got a metal scene, and it is big, I mean if Metallica play (which is metal) then a lot of people show up and all that, but maybe it’s not so concentrated any more. Metal is not hip any more, so you never know what you get there.
Planetmosh: Between you you’ve been in several bands and other projects and have also made lots of guest appearances. If you could pick one album as a favourite, what would it be?
Michael: It’s very difficult, but one that stands out because its very different is the Aina project, I don’t know if you know that, Aina. It was nothing rock or metal, it was almost classical, just orchestration and very beautiful. I don’t know if it’s even available still, but that was very different.
Kai: I’ve done so much. There are two things that kind of stick out because they were something different. I once did some guest vocals for a Portugese band and it was more like a goth doom thing, so I had to sing completely differently. Same thing I had to do for a German band, it wasn’t death metal it was more a modern style metal thing and I did some vocals there and that was kind of cool. I like doing things sometimes that are completely different. It was a challenge. Normally I enjoy everything I’ve done so far.
Planetmosh: How will you being in Unisonic affect Gamma Ray?
Kai: It would be a lie to say it doesn’t affect Gamma Ray. It does affect Gamma Ray but I think it will be in a positive way. I have to split up my time more and we’ve found a solution to make that more clear, so one year’s a Gamma Ray year, one year’s a Unisonic year, which does mean with the respective bands that there’s nothing happening that year. This year is a Unisonic year, still I’m going to enter songwriting and the processing of the new album with Gamma Ray this year, and I hope I can keep it as painless as possible for everybody…
Michael: It might make it easier sometimes. Time is relative you know. ..
Kai: You have the schedules but if you don’t have the ideas ..
Michael: And if you’re motivated it might even speed things up you know..
Kai: That’s what I just said. I did a lot of work on the hard rock side with Unisonic, so it will be easier for me to focus on Gamma Ray in a more metal way I would say. It’s refreshing, like taking a holiday then coming home. You can see the negative side of things – two bands, two lots of work, but it can be a totally positive thing to have something else going on.
Planetmosh: More and more musicians these days are in two bands rather than just one
Kai: yeah and it’s possible to handle it. If you look at Peter Tägtgren, he’s doing Pain and Hypocrisy, Toby does his thing with Edguy and Avantasia which is pretty time consuming and of course it puts one or the other on hold for a while, but anyhow, in the end if the outcome is good and you don’t suffer from personal over-stressing then it’s ok.
Planetmosh: What sort of bands do you listen to in your spare time?
Michael: I have always been extremely open minded when it comes to music. I started with Elvis when I was nine years old, and still love the man to death. I got into metal when I was fourteen, fifteen, but at the same time I was listening to Kate Bush, U2, even Simon and Garfunkel, Pat Benatar. I was always very open, I enjoy anything with passion that gives me something. Nowadays you want to know? I love Oasis now. I love Maria Mena, this Norwegian lady. Again I buy a lot of Elvis CD’s, reissues with bonus tracks, out takes, stuff like that, from that label “Follow that dream”. I just bought “She and him”, I don’t now if you know that actress Zooey Deschanel, she does this comedy series, “new girl” which is pretty big in America, a very cute and funny actress but she also sings very nice, 60’s kind of music.
Kai: I’m kind of, maybe not as open. I’m open to everything but I’m very selective, put it that way. I just recently re-bought a Simon and Garfunkel album, since he just mentioned it and have that in the car because of some cool memories.
Michael: I saw some Elvis in there too
Kai: Yeah I bought an Elvis album too, but maybe that was because you…. I listen to more extreme stuff, Sonic Syndicate, and you know the new band they formed that sounded like the old Sonic Syndicate. I love Tenacious D, I just put on “Balls to Picasso”, Innuendo (Queen), so I’m flexible, I’m open to stuff.
Michael: Beatles! I listen to them a lot again lately.
Kai: Of course my all time stuff is all the New Wave of British Heavy Metal
Michael: Yeah Judas Priest is one of my favourites and Iron Maiden
Planetmosh: I think it’s good to have diverse tastes.
Michael: Yes, you miss out on so much good stuff if you limit yourself.
Planetmosh: Elvis is selling more albums now than when he was alive.
Michael: New generations are discovering him which is interesting.
Planetmosh: Lot’s of these old albums are getting re-released with extra stuff included.
Kai: I just saw on TV, they have these shopping channels where for one hour they bomb you with one product, and it was about an Elvis album thing, a big book with CD’s and all that kind of stuff, personal love letters. Of course everything is copies but very personal stuff and I thought it was kind of going a bit too far.
Michael: That label “Follow that dream” is a sub label of RCA and they release the best Elvis stuff. It’s a great label for that.
Planetmosh: When you buy music, which do you prefer – CD or legal mp3 downloads ?
Michael: CD. I can make mp3’s from it for my ipod if I want to, but I have the phyiscal thing there. I love Super Audio CD (SACD), but you don’t a lot of them. You get it a lot for classical music, Elton John as well does SACD. I think they sound so much better. Instead of 44.1 thousand, you have 2.8 million samples per second
Kai: Do you actually hear that difference?
Michael: Yes you do. It has a huge dynamic in 24 bits, it sounds so much better.
Kai: I go on itunes and download, or buy the CD
Planetmosh: OK thank you both very much for your time, and I hope we’ll see you playing live in the UK before long
Kai: Thank you
Michael: Thank you