Metal Meltdown - A METAL FORCES interview with Kai Hansen and Ralph Scheepers, back in the March 1990 issue. Kai speaks of his new album Heading For Tomorow, with Ralph adding spice to the interview. Re-typed By Adzam Samat. Read on....
Somethings never change! Just as you could wager an entire future on AC/DC never putting out anything but a heads down, straight forward rock album, FISH ever performing "Grendel" live or even a British Record company doing something right as far as rock goes, you can also bet your bottom dollar that the majority of rock fans are gonna moan their arses off should any of their favourite bands decides a shit in musical direction is in order to future their career, or even if it's simply what they want to do.
Take RUSH, for example. When they shanged from the power rock trio that dished pout such gems as "Xanadu", "The Trees" and "2112" to the technological keyboard based experimental rockers that offered the likes of "Signals", "power Windows" and "Grace Under Pressure", the flow of letters that poured into rock magazines proclaming that the Canadians had sold out, whimped out or whatever seemed un-ending. But look at RUSH now. One of the biggest Hard Rock bands in the world, almost every new album hailed as yet further progession in the Heavy Rock world.
More recently, there's been HELLOWEEN. Originally a Sped Metal band that, bordered on Thrash, as on the bands early output, (the "Judas"12", "Helloween" and "Walls Of Jericho"LP's), the band never really felt comfortable with the "Speed" tagthey'd picked up in the press, clearly feeling that they had more to offer the Metal world than the people immediately thought. The release of their meisterwork, "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part One" saw the band drafting in ex-Prophency vocalist Michael Kiske, and adopting a sound that showed the band stepping otu of the severely limited confines they'd found themselves with the "Speed" tag.
For many people, that shift from "Speed" to more straightforward melodic Metal was a little too much to handle. Thrash fans, like many rockers are noted for their bigotry and reluctance to accept change or any other form of melody for fear of dreaded commercialism. Even Benard Doe, in his review of 'Keepers Part 1', way back in issue 22, whilst acknowledging that HELLOWEEN had to progress, could'nt quite accept their new sound because it would appeal to the mainstream a lot more. He spoke of the possibility of HELLOWEEN selling out, of cringing at STYX-like harmonies, of how the band would loose a lot of fans and of becoming more pedestrian.
Now whilst one cannot criticise anyone for their own opinion, time has shown that HELLOWEEN have sinced progressed to being one of the most successfull new Heavy Metal bands around today, and both 'Keeper' albums stand out as being true classics works. Their progression was both required, and seamingly natural for the Gremanic five - piece, and whilst people have now come to accept them for what they are today, they still had to endure the 'sell-out' criticism that was thrown at them.
But HELLOWEEN understood what they had to do, and that is why they remain successfull the world over. You don't seriously expect the likes of the CRUMBSUCKERS, DEATH, RE-ANIMATOR or DEFIANCEW to make any serious headway in the rock world do you?? Only METALLICA, SLAYER and ANTHRAX have had what you would call real success in the whole Speed/Thrash movement, and even METALLICA and MEGADETH have become increasingly mainstream Metal over the years,and they are probably the only ones that are likely to meke it on a really BIG scale. That's why the majority of the bands of that ilk haven't been picked up by major lables, and probably never will. The whole thing is on its way out , a movement that has become as stagnented as some see the mainstream Metal world.
KAI HANSEN is someone who understands that to be successfull, you appreciate that which is also successful, and set your artisticgoals accordingly. It's one reason he felt he had to leave HELLOWEEN. One listen to his latest project GAMMA RAY,who are set to release their debute LP out on Noise International, and you'll hear a wide range of influences, from PINK FLOYD and QUEEN to VAN HALEN and IRON MAIDEN. ALready some of you may have started bemoaning the fact that such bands don't purvey the kind of aural assault you'd get from the likes of KREATOR or DEATHWISH, and that indeed, young Kai has whimped out. "Fraid not. The music on "Heading For Tomorrow" is powerful, driving metal, retaining certain HELLOWEEN trademarks such as pilediving drums and choral harmonies, yet builds its own identity. If not, come with me as we venture into the new world of KAI HANSEN and GAMMA RAY.
KAI HANSEN and his new vocalist, RALPH SCHEEPERS, the ex-TYRAN PACE man that KAI had worked with prior to leaving HELLOWEEN are seated opposite me as we reside in the Hannover flat below which is situated the studio in which their new work, the awesome "Heading For Tomorrow" was mainlyput down on tape, and where VICTORY man Tommy Newton is putting the finishing touches to the final mix of the title track from the new opus. The pair, both quiet and unassuring, appear unruffled, which come as a surprise considering MF pix boy Nick "Wicksy" Matthews has just the duo through their paces somewhat during one of his at times excruciating photo shoots.
Before we get stuck into the nitty gritty of Gamma Ray, the first thing to get out of the way is just why KAI quit HELLOWEEN after their triamphant appearence at Donnington? Documented in the press elsewhere, this is in fact , the first time Metal Forces has caught up with KAI since his departure. "Basically, it was the whole touring business," replies the little guitarist. "It was getting too much. Being on tour all the time, and I'm not the kind that can wrie in a hotel room. I can't get any inspriation from getting drunk every night in the hotel bar and driving around in buses. It was getting too much."
"And then there was this having less and less control over what was happening in the band. We had so many people involved in the management side. People went making decisions that even the band didn't even know of. All in all, it became too much, so I thought about it when we came back from the States and I told the band that I would be leaving, and I had about half a year to make the final decision."
The split would appear to be perfevtly ammicable, with KAI at pains to point but that despite people wanting there to be a lot of misunderstanding, this time around it was all perfectly natural, with no-one's nose being left out to point.
Moving swiftly on to the current GAMMA RAY project (and if any of you out there are confused as to the actual name of the band, it is GAMMA RAY, but the Record Company want the first album to go out under the title KAI HANSEN's GAMMA RAY, for sales reasons, naturally!), when KAI last spoke to Metal Forces, back in 1988, he spoke of then of working with Ralph,and of having eight songs already written for a solo project. Was this what had eventually evolved into GAMMA RAY? "That's what I first intended, and of course when I spoke to Metal Forces, I'd thought of leaving HELLOWEEN, and what to do afterwards, and I was also thinking about a project that used different singers that used differentsongs, although I didn't actually have any material written," admits KAI. "I'd have the ideas though, but that is what has developed into GAMMA RAY. But it isn't a solo project. It's based on me leaving HELLOWEEN, and doing something new, but it's turned out into a new band, which is basically Ralph and me, and we've got a bass player (Uwe Wessel), but the drummer won't be in the band because he's worse than me for disliking touring and stuff, so we'll have to find a new drummer."
"Ralph was one of the original choices with HELLOWEEN, when we did "walls Of Jericho", and went on tour cause singing and playing guitar was getting too much . But Ralph was involves with TYRAN PACE, and didn't want to leave. I can sing, and I might have and interesting voice, but I'm not a good singer, so I didn't want to sing on this project."
Part of the GAMMARAY material includes a spirited cove of URIAH HEEP's classic 'Look at Yourself" that will only be available to those who purchase the CD version of 'Heading For Tomorrow". To some that may appear a strange choice, yet it would appear that it almost came to fruition with HELLOWEEN," says KAI, "but no-one got up and actually did something about it.
"When I was in TYRAN PACE we toured with URIAH HEEP and I always liked that song," continues Ralph.
That cover version aside, the rest of the material on "Heading For Tomorrow" has all come from the pens of Messieurs, Hansen and Scheepers, mostly the former, and there's no denying much of it hankers after that well known HELLOWEEN sound, some think KAI readily admits. "Oh, for sure. I was a part of HELLOWEEN, and some of this is naturally going to sound like HELLOWEEN."
Having copped an earful of the whole album in the studio downstairs with two colleagues, we all struck with the diversity of much of the material. Names like PINK FLOYD, DEEP PURPLE, ENO, STYX, QUEEN , VAN HALEN and BLACK SABBATH were being tossed around as influences seemingly crept out of the speakers. Don't get me wrong though, it doesn't sound plagiarstic as such, but rather these would seem to be such an interesting choice of influences from someone who frequently been labeled a Speed Metal artist. "I had to do an album that was spread very wide, to include all the things I wanted. You can get the impression that it's too diverse, but I like it a lot." Offers KAI. "It's up to the people to accept it. I can't imagine anyone only liking a couple of the tracks, and not the others cos it's so different. In the end what holds the songs together is both the construction and energy.
"The power, not necessarily heavy, but power is what I like to hear in music. Even if it's a ballad there has to be power. I think that people will be open to different styles. I know a lot of people like bands to stick one style, so they have a readily definable sound, and maybe we don't have that but maybe our identity is our diversity. The performance of this band is what will impress the people."
KAI is well aware of the fact that rock fans are reluctant to accept change, preferring the sound they're originally got into and is well aware that many people still want him to be playing the hard and fast Speed Metal that was featured on "Judas".
"There's a danger people won't accept what I'm doing because of those reasons but I don't care about people who think like that. For me it is most important that I like what I do, and not that people like it. Of course I'm glad if people like it, and I want people to like it but I don't write songs just for people to like them."
A very brave step to take with your first solo album. "Well either I do it or I destroy my creativity you know. I'm not in this to make other people happy before myself." "If the songs are good then the people will accept us, and our songs are good," points out Ralph.
"I can understand people wanting me to still be a Speed Metal musician, but I'm not. I know people can have very limited musical taste, and that I can accept. What I did with HELLOWEEN before "Keeper " was different, and if you prefer that then fine, but don't expect me to go back to doing that. I do today what I want, it's something else, and nowadays I like it better."
"Look at QUEEN. You can listen to their albums and find so many different things in there and yet it's only one band. I still like Heavy Metal, there are so many other things too. I look for power in music, as I've said, and you don't only find that in Heavy Metal, there are so many other things. PRINCE does different stuff, but you can still find power in his music, and I like that. That's the basis of music I like and music I like to make."
Power in music is perhaps typified in opera, and HELLOWEEN as well as KAI's latest project have utilized that kind of operatic backing vocals and effects in their music. It's also very Germanic thing to do. "Oh it is, for sure'" agrees KAI. "All these classical musicians like Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart, they were German, o it must be related to us. Something in our blood. Perhaps, or even the weather, I dunno. Germany has no real rock heritage to speak of. We are still trying to find our own way of making rock music, we just copied things like the NWOBHM."
"But I think we're slowly beginning to get our own sound," opines Ralph.
And perhaps KAI HANSEN and GAMMA RAY are part of that sound. Despite the wide range of influences to be heard on "Heading For Tomorrow", the whole thing retains a sense of identity that is most appealing. As an album it stands up well against "Keeper 1", and is one of the best releases to have come from the Noise label. It's still powerful, from the hard and fast "Lust For Life" and "Spaceater" to more commercial outings like "Heaven Can Wait" (possibly the first single) and the QUEEN inspired "Money". Elsewhere there's the ballad "The Silence", a VAN HALEN-ish work entitled "Freetime" and all fourteen minutes and thirty seconds of the epic title track that moves from melodic Heavy Metal to a brilliant PINK FLOYD inspired mid-section and back again with elegant grace.
KAI's guitar playing is as inspired as ever, accommodating speed and more mellow passages with style, whilst Scheepers vocals, at times reminiscent of Michael Kiske, compliments the music well. Due to head out on the road soon after the release in support of the album, it's interesting times ahead for KAI HANSEN, with HELLOWEEN keeping a rather low profile of late (and we've still to find out just how much they'll miss the creative influence of HANSEN), it would seem like perfect timing for the world and GAMMA RAY to be aquatinted. An with GAMMA RAY heading for tomorrow firing on all four cylinders, the future look very bright indeed.
ONE MOMENT, taken from News of The Rays no 1, the official fan mag of the Gamma Ray Schizoid Clan.This interview was in 1994.
|One Moment||Ralph Scheepers (voc)||Kai Hansen (g, voc)||Dirk Schlachter
(g, voc, k)
|Facts &Figures:||Born in Feb 5th 1965 in Esslingen. At 16 as singer and guiratist for Voltage, Beast of Pray and Heavy Magnum. Then Tyran Pace. First contacted Kai in '88. 1989 started with Gamma Ray||Born in Jan 17th , 1963 in Hamburg. At 12 started to play guitar. Bands: Kathreen Wheel, Gentry, Second Hell, Iron Fist. Then in '86 Helloween and in '89 together with Ralph the founding of Gamma Ray||Born on Feb 15th 1965 in Bad Nauheim. At 8 went to the children's music school. First band Blue Life, then Sold Out (Soul Rock), then Louis Glover Houseband. In '89 got to know Kai and joined Gamma Ray||Born on July 18th, 1968 in Lubeck.At 12
started to play guitar. At 15 started the first band, Scratch. Then
Fright Night. In '89 Anesthesia and first meeting with Thomas. On August
'92 joined Gamma Ray
|Born June 6th, 1969 in Hamburg. Started playing drums at 11. First band Regardless, then Necromancy and Anesthesia. After Uli Kusch left the band, he joind Gamma Ray in August '92 thgether with Jan|
|How would you describe your momentary mood?||(Before the gig in Lubeck on
Just like the weather today: a bit cloudy, a bit rainy and in between a little sunshine
|(Before the gig in Lubeck on
Ouch, quite good, a little boared and a little headache. As we say in northern Germany: I'm droge!!
|(2.30 in the morning)
I'm waiting for the sound of a diselmotor (taxi), but it doesn't appear.
|Very strange, after all this travelling, I have to get used to hamburg again.||Just great. I finally found an apartment directly in Hamburg. Rehearsal room and friends are just around the corner.|
|What is your favourite song on Insanity and Genius?||TRIBUTE TO THE PAST. This is excatly the music I like. Very fast and melodic.||HEAL ME, because this song is almost a little rockopera (and I'm allowed to sing on it!)||HEAL ME.
|HEAL ME, because it has lots of variety. It's full of power as well as groovy with bombastic refrain. It's a "geil!"||HEAL ME. This song has a fantastic atmosphere.|
|What kind of equiptment would you like to have?||Nothing special. I've got the SM-58 Sure micraphone and an Eventide appliance. What else do I need?||I would like to have a few of these very old Marshalls. They would make great sound.||Something to do with compositions; a complete Hard-Disk- Recording machine with all extras (prohibitively expensive).||A guitar! Better said a Jackson-King V, model Dave Mustaine. Too bad, you only get it in America.||A few more precussion extras; a cowbell, a cresent and one of those metal plates (Krrruchch).|
|With whom would you like to do a session with?||Well, guess who? I think Judas Priest would be great. I would'nt mind Rob Halford joining us.||George Michael. He is the only one, who's able to sing just like Freddy Mercury. for guitar playing, Brian May.||If the good man wouldn't be dead, I'd love to jam with Frank Zappa.||Hmm, with these crazy guys from Megadeth, it would probably turn out funny.||With the band Queensryche. Or with the Ex-Zappa drummer, Vinni Colaiuta.|
|What Kind of music do you like besides Heavy Metal?||Pop has always something good to offer. I like f.e. many songs by Phill Collins. Soul is also great.||Well, I like both styles, Heavy as well as Metal!. And operettas||Jazz, Salsa, Pop, Classic...
Every style has intrepeters, who are just genius.
|Everything! If it moves your blood and you think "Well, thats something!).||Right now, I'm really into Bjork and Tori Amos. Styles? Soul, funk and Mojo-dancestuff.|
|What is really annoying to you?||Self satisfied journalists, who write bad critics over good concerts. This is something I really hate.||Come to think of it, it must be Operettas.||All this talking about Europe. This really gets on my nerves!!||The intolerence in the Metal scene. There used to be only Heavy Metal, now everything has split into several divisions.||To be on time and being
(Ralph in the background "It was only a quarter of an hour!!")
|Imagine a perfect day. What does it look like?||Long sleeping hours, having time for breakfast, sex, walking over the Hamburger Harbour B-Day, going out for dinner, sex, singing.||A day, when I drop everything. Starting with the filter of my coffee, then f.e. a bandmachine and other things. A day, when I can produce a total mess.||To wake up in the morning, with good ideas on my mind, to realize them during the day, to be satisfied in the evening.||Get up early to enjoy the day. Go outside, make music and meet nice people in the evening. Have a good sleep.||If I'm in a good mood, the day will be perfect. It doesn't matter what excatly I do, in the evening I'll be satisfied.|
|The band meets at 3p.m. Who is still missing?||I'd say, Dirk and Kai
(Jan in the background: "That's not true, I'm always late too").
|(Kai: "Do I have to say
my own name?")
Of course Dirk and Jan!!
|Until 4p.m, I'm there for sure! If its an important date, Jan and Kai will be late too.||To make it easy, Thomas is always on time.||At half past 3? For sure Dirk and Jan.|
|What is the biggest mistake a Heavy Metal band can make?||To write popsongs.||Trying to sound American, when the band is not American||To play false Metal, and to philosophiize about Heavy Metal. That sucks.||To take an image, that just doesn't fit to the music or the people in the band.||If the band gets too established and looses its power.|
Interview of Kai Hansen (guitars, vocals) and Dirk Schlachter (guitar) by Henry Dumatary from July 1995 issue of "Rock Force Magazine", translated by Pierre-Emmanuel Pelisson, with grammar cleaned up by Insanity & Genius. My thanks to Mohamed Hamzah for forwarding this interview to me.
Meeting Kai Hansen and the other members of Gamma Ray in thier city of Hamburg is never a sad thing. You just need to be patient and hold on when the Jagermeister(?) comes. The interview which follows was made outside a bar in a street of a hot neibourhood, around 3am. An ideal place to talk about "Land Of The Free", the new album on which Kai returns to singing, and also talks about more personal things.
What can be found on "Land Of The Free", that was not found on the previous ones?
Kai Hansen: A lot of beatuiful melodies for all the songs and a band who have been playing together under the same line-up for more than 2 years now, which ends in better unity. The only big change is the replacement of Ralph Scheepers our former singer, by a certain Kai Hansen!
How did the seperation occur?
Kai Hansen: ralph lived 700 kilometers away from Hamburg, the city all the other members of he band lived. We wanted for the new album to be a big step forward for Gamma Ray, so we asked Ralph to move tk Hamburg to strengthen the band and facilitate the process of composition. He didn't bother to make the effort. I didn't want to compose the vocal parts alone any longer, and see Ralph come in the last moment to record them. Because of his reluctance towards being more involved, we decided to go on without him.
Does his possible involvement as singer of Judas Priest have to do with this decision?
Kai Hansen: It's a problem that came after the others. He had written to the band over a year requesting to become their new singer. I don't think it will happen, but we never know. He's too close to the style of Rob Halford to be really interesting to take the opening. However, we asked him that if we recorded the album and then Judas called him up, what would be his decision, leave or stay with us. He hesitated in answering, but he did let us understand that he would leave us. So it was out of question for us to take this chance.
"Land Of The Free", It's obvious when we look at the cover, takes some elements of your past carrier, especially when you were with Helloween.
Kai Hansen: Yes, and I don't hide it. The character that was on "Walls Of Jericho" is back, beacuse I came to singing, as during that time. And There is this ferocious energy that comes out when we play as well. The only difference is that now I am a better musician!
Is that the reason for the sort of sophistication that clearly appears in your songs?
Kai Hansen: Certainly. These songs are not only wild, but elobrate as well. I still like long compositions, and there are several of them on "Land Of The Free". We have so many ideas to express, that we are forced to include the best of them in every song. Their development forces us to compose some pretty long tracks. But this time, it must be noted that it's closer to 9 minutes to a quarter of an hour!
Can you talk to us about the general concept of "Land Of The Free"?
Kai Hansen: The theme evokes the freedom that doesn't exist in reality, because of social circumstances, psylogical and physical.
Dirk Schlachter: Everybody can only dream about it. Each one creates his own land of freedom in his head, but after a while, imagination is not enough and we want to realise this promised land. Its here that the rebellion begins (the reason for the title song Rebellion In Dreamland). The story of this album is the rebellion for the conquest of this part of freedom.
But for a band like Gamma Ray, isn't the promise land the stage, or when you go to the rehersal studio?
Dirk Schlachter: That's right, but only that. It's great to give life to our ideas, to transcribe them into music and them share them with the listerners. In fact, we can spend our time to create ourself an idea, but it's better to make our goal possible to reach.
We noticed that Michael Kiske, antoher ex- Helloween, came to do some backing vocals and sing lead on one song "time To Break Free". A surprising reconciliation, isn't it?
Kai Hansen: Michael and I had resumed talking before he was fired from Helloween. He called me and he wanted to stop being on bad terms, because he realized that I was not necessarily wrong in the past. He was about to leave the band for the same reasons that I did, but he didn't have the time and was fired. We understand each other a lot better now and we agreed that we should do some music together again. So he did some backing vocals and sang lead on "Time To Break Free". I can also announce that I will compose some songs for his solo album!!
You seem to be always smiling, positive and without worries, but if we know you a little, we can think that maybe it hides a Kai Hansen that sometimes has doubts or is sad....
Kai Hansen: Yes, you're right. Mereover, at the time of "Sigh No More". that was felt in my music. I've been through phases during which I was about to stop. I had become cynical and I didn't really love life anymore. I realised that this would lead me nowhere, I think a lot, and I am not always happy.
When you left Helloween, you seemed to be disgusted by the business and the people around you. You managed to change this envorinment by staying natural and without cheating those that you meet. Journalists are more like friends than like journalists, you don't have a manager...
Kai Hansen: That was a difficult battle, but finally, it worked! This is one of the things that makes me happy. Of course, I am careful about business., but I don't want the absolute goal to be successful. I prefer that everything be ready for a happy life in the music business, that I can stay honest with myself and not be overflown by events.
If you could make a wish, what would it be?
Kai Hansen: I would wish a world wher everybody would do something to make things better. I hope that if everybody makes this possible, things will go in a good way. I believe that, in general, change is beter than immobilism.
Gamma Ray live, May 29th, 1995 - Hamburg (Buddy Holly Hall-Germany)
To introduce to the European press and their friends of Hamburg the new and excellent album "Land Of The Free", Gamma Ray did a very impressive and unsual live performance. Unsual, first because of the place, the Buddy Holly Hall is dedicated to the cult of the rocker, and it was in the enterence of it that the stage was improvised. Then by the track list of the concert itself, fillde with almost all the songs off the new album. So we could discover again that Kai Hansen is back to singing in an amazing "Rebellion In Dreamland", a "Man on a Mission", full of clever breaks and lead in a very fast pace, "Gods of Deliverence"very powerful and heavy, and "Land Of The Free" in the greatest melodic speed metal tradition that only the genius of Kai can transforminto a great song. Two remarks: the arrival of a keyboard, which from the edge of the stagesupport the greatest parts, and the increased responsabilities of DIrk Schlachter, initially rhythm guitar, now sharing the solos with Kai and frequently helping out with the vocals. Finally, the the band gives us a rememberence of a past not so far, "Heading for Tomorrow", become an anthem that the French audience ateadily wish to rediscover in the next vist of Gamma Ray in France. May this wish be realised and that the journalist that were at the concert not been the only French to be able to savour such a concert.