Interview by David Araneda
Nine months after the end of the successful “Pumpkins United World Tour” and a month prior to the release of their newest live album “United Alive”, we had the chance to talk extensively with Andy Deris about the current chapter in the history of the legendary German pumpkins HELLOWEEN. The always-friendly frontman told us in detail his impressions from the tour, which took them all around the world, including three concerts in Finland and which proved to be an unforgettable experience for heavy metal fans.
From his residence in the Canary Islands, the lead vocalist discussed openly about the chemistry between the members of the current line-up and the reasons why Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch were not part of this historic reunion. In addition, he gave us some details about the progress of the studio album they are preparing, the tour that will accompany that release and some possible surprises on the setlist. Of course, we asked him about the future of the band once the next touring cycle ends.
We leave you the full transcript (slightly modified to improve readability) of the interview below as well as the original audio version on YouTube:
David: The new Helloween live album is coming out soon and I assume you have seen and listened to the final product. How would you describe the visual and sonic experience of “United Alive” in a nutshell?
Andi: Honestly, I haven’t seen the finished product yet, I’ve seen bits and pieces to say yes or no, if it’s good or bad, if we do have to overdo anything here and there. But what I’ve seen was great, at least it looked great on my television, sound was good, so I’m definitely satisfied. The finished product, I have to say, I haven’t seen, because I’m on a remote island here on the Atlantic Ocean, so everything takes definitely a week or two longer until it finally arrives here.
David: Okay, I see. The tour was very long, 14 months and 70 shows. How did the chemistry within the band and the “new members” evolved during the different legs of the tour?
Andi: Fortunately, it stayed cool (laughs). Even after the first three or four months there was no tour stress or something going on, and the chemistry just kept up. Maybe we partied a little bit too long here and there, the singers should actually say goodbye after a few hours and not stay until five or six o’clock in the morning. Sometimes we did that, yeah (laughs). So, it’s great, maybe too good sometimes. But I’m definitely looking forward to the next tour. We always told the people that if the tour went well, and at the end of the day the chemistry was great, then we’re going to do an album in that constellation, which we will do now. So, it’ll be a lot of stress, I think, because we have two and a half singers now, which means each and every one has to sing probably the whole album, and then we switch and swap and change things. We will hopefully have a final solution on who sings what song and what things together. And yeah, it’s challenge but I’m looking forward to that, even though I know it’ll be a lot of stress.
David: You had toured previously with Gamma Ray and shared the stage with Kai Hansen, but I wanted to ask you about the experience of sharing lead vocals with Michael Kiske. Specially, how did it feel to hear him singing parts of your songs, the songs that you have written and performed originally?
Andi: Well, it was quite challenging as well, because suddenly it’s Michael singing my own songs and vice-versa. So, I learned to love certain things when he sang my songs. I thought “Oh, that’s great”, because when it comes to songwriting I now can write for Michael, not only for myself. So, suddenly you’re thinking in different dimensions which open up for the new upcoming album. We suddenly have the chance to bring on all that Keeper stuff, which Michael sang so greatly, and mix it with the stuff we have nowadays. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to that. I already have written two songs especially for Michael and yesterday the first vocals from Michael on the songs I’ve written for him arrived, and it sounds fantastic.
David: I’m really glad to heat that! What about the highlights of the tour, of course you did a lot of shows in big places like Wacken. But on a personal level, what was the most special part of the tour for you?
Andi: For me, honestly, it was I think mainly the shows in Europe, which suddenly were so big. Normally we played in front of two or three thousand people and suddenly you had like, fifteen to eighteen thousand people in the concert hall, which was fantastic. So, playing on the biggest scale in Europe was a dream come true. Nevertheless, the whole world was actually freaking out. Even the US shows were great. I mean, this was a dream come true for everybody. We always hoped for something like that, but honestly, you should not expect it to be the way it was. So, it was much bigger than we anticipated. You mentioned Wacken, which is always a highlight. Another dream come true, headlining Wacken for the first time in our lives was definitely “Wow!” But overall, it was fourteen months of “Wow!”, you could say so. We started out in South America and it was crazy, and it just went on being crazy.
David: What about any critical points? I remember Michael Kiske got sick in the beginning of the tour. Did you feel that this thing would turn into a chaos or something like that, or where there any other problems you had to face during the tour?
Andi: Yeah, well, it was not an easy start for Michael. And there were even people who thought he was singing completely playback, which wasn’t the case because I was singing lots of his stuff. Vice versa, when I got sick in Japan, for example, he was overtaking lots of lines of my singing and helped me out. So yeah, you realize it’s actually great being two singers on tour, because when one is not feeling as good, then the other could jump in and help him as much as possible, which is great. I would say that for the singers it became much easier, even though there’s like two hours forty five minutes or even three hours in our set. But because we share vocals, Michael and I don’t have to sing longer than an hour twenty or something. It’s not a walk in the park, but at the end of the day one hour twenty is doable. It’s not such a challenge as being on stage and singing a two-hour show without interruptions, without breaks. So here, you have always a chance after one or two songs to go off stage and then the other singer is singing, when he goes off stage then the other singer is singing again but, you know, at the end of the day it’s much easier.
David: I’m originally from Chile. You mentioned that in Europe you got to play in bigger venues, but you also played in Chile in two parts of the tour. First, two sold-out shows in a smaller venue like Teatro Caupolicán but then you did the big Halloween night with Arch Enemy and Kreator in Movistar Arena, which is a lot bigger venue that it’s usually reserved for massive, international acts. It was a big achievement for a power metal band to play there. What do you think about that?
Andi: Well, that’s something like being knighted, you know (laughs). You always dream, when you start to make music, you dream about having success and stuff like that. There are always certain places, and festivals, or concert halls you want to play. And you think, when I’m playing there, that would be like the prime of your life. That would be the occasion you are being knighted and you’re being there, where you ever dreamt of being. So, this is actually happened a lot of times. The whole world tour was picked with concert halls that you only might have dreamed of playing once in your life. And we did them all now. Just for example now, for the next tour we’ve even planned to play in Tokyo the Budokan, which is for me the biggest challenge you can have as a band nowadays, playing Budokan in Tokyo. It’s like how far can you climb, because there’s nothing over that, I mean that’s top-notch. So, this is definitely a dream come true. And everybody in the band, I’m speaking for everybody, I’m quite sure, it’s so grateful that we may have that. After thirty years of career, which were always great, I mean you had always packed clubs or midsize concert halls and great tours. But now, playing the top concert halls and the top festivals. This is a dream come true, well and what can I say, we all very thankful.
David: Yeah, I’m very happy for you guys. And what about Finland. I attended your headlining show Helsinki, then you played a summer festival in Kuopio, where there were also Finnish hip hop and pop artists. How do you think the Helloween live show works for an audience where we’re not everyone is a metalhead?
Andi: Well, a lot of people who later came backstage said: “We’ve never had a chance to watch a heavy metal show” and they’ve been completely knocked out. I mean they were suddenly metal fans, so to say. Because, then again, there are a lot of hip-hop fans who tell me nowadays hip-hop has so much influence from the metal scene. When you look at the rhythms, well you don’t have electric guitars but then there are like synthesizers that are really hard and distorted. And sometimes I see a parallel world there growing up. But even though, I have to admit I don’t like hip-hop (laughs).
David: Yeah me neither, but it’s an interesting mix. Spain seems to be a very special country for Helloween. You recorded most of High Live there in the 90s. What made you choose now the Madrid show for the audio version of “United Alive”?
Andi: Well, the first thing that came up in mind it’s that we would record six or seven shows, what we wanted to avoid is to record one or two particular shows completely and then go into the studio and turn a live album into a studio album. This is something we tried to avoid. So, what we tried to do is to pick out the best pieces of the recorded shows, and these pieces should be as good as that you don’t have to do much in the studio. So far, I know the biggest challenge was the Sao Paulo show, as far as I remember there was one kick drum not recorded, so you only listened to that kick drum from the room microphones, but the microphone directly at the kick had not been working. That was the biggest challenge actually, to replace that, and this you can only do in the studio. But the rest of the guitars, vocals and shit, we did not have to do that much actually. But this is because we only took out the best songs of certain concerts, and then you have a real live thing going on. I hate to go into the studio and rerecord a live album in the studio. That’s not a live album anymore …
David: I had understood that the audio version is mostly from Spain, and then the DVD/Blu-Ray is taken from different cities. But what you mentioned about taking pieces of the shows from different countries, was it hard to come to an agreement on which bits to use, or was there someone in charge of choosing them?
Andi: Yeah, at the end of the day this is management and business. They give us the suggestions and then we listen to it, or watch it, and then the band is like pitching “this not in here, this is bullshit, I don’t want this, I don’t want that”. I mean, the typical stereotype behavior of a band (laughs). You just try to satisfy everybody and yeah, there you go again. You can imagine this takes at least a month or two, just to find all the bits and pieces that you would like to have on the video, but everybody is more or less satisfied. Honestly, I don’t want to see myself on stage when I just pull out something of my nose (laughs). You know, if there’s footage of Andi with a finger in his nose, I would rather not have it in the video. So, there you go, “I don’t like my face here, I don’t like my expression there” and the same goes for all the boys, so it already sounds like a lot of work, to find footage that everybody is happy with.
David: Yeah, exactly. So, it was mostly like you just accept or decline the bits and parts that were suggested …
Andi: Yeah, I mean you always have to do compromises. Everybody knows what is being filmed, or when you see a photograph of yourself sometimes you just don’t like it. I mean, even if your friend says it’s cool, it’s great, but you don’t like it. I mean, why would you have to live with it if you don’t like it? So, that’s the challenge mainly, and when you finally have the footage where everybody goes like “Okay, thumbs up, let’s go with it, it’s compromise, I can live with”, then it comes to the audio side. It’s the audio good enough or do you have do like bullshit in the studio to replace certain guitars, or did you fuck up your vocals here and you have to do it in the studio again. So, at the end of the day if it’s too much work, you just look for another scene and another shot where you’re still happy with, and where the audio is good. I mean, it’s like a big puzzle and believe me, it’s definitely two months of hard work to find the puzzle pieces that make up a good product.
David: Yeah, it’s such a long show also. You announced that the recording of the studio album would be postponed due to these Brazilian dates where you will replace Megadeth in a couple of months. Does this affect the schedule of the release date of the studio album?
Andi: Well, the release date itself probably will not be affected, because we have a lot of headroom and gave ourselves the freedom to even write more songs if necessary. Because, as you know, you may have thirty songs on the table to choose from, and you find out it’s maybe too trashy or it’s too speedy or too poppy or whatever. So, at the end of the day you have maybe thirty great songs on the table, but the mixture would not be right for an album. Maybe you have to go back into your own studio and try to bring up some good new songs in a certain style that you are missing. This probably will not happen because we already have tons of ideas and it looks like a great mixture, what we already have. Personally, I don’t see the necessity to rewrite or go back into the studio and write. On the other hand, I do that like a hobby, I’m sitting up in the living room in front of the television and always fiddling with a guitar, so I don’t see myself stopping writing songs because it’s an automatic thing I always do. Probably in the next two or three months I’ll bring another two, three, four or five songs, I don’t know. That would be typical Andi, and speaking for the rest of the boys probably as well. There’s always the chance that you’re in the middle of the night and have “the” idea, and you stand up at three o’clock in the morning, stumble down into the studio and try to record your idea, or you may not sleep then. Because, if you don’t, you can’t sleep anyway, because the melody won’t let you sleep. That’s the fate of a musician, when you have song ideas in your mind you’re not gonna sleep, it doesn’t let you sleep. So, you’d rather go down in the studio, record it, and then you might sleep.
David: But do you have an estimation, is it coming in the big first or second half of next year …
Andi: Well, it is scheduled and as I said, there’s nothing rescheduled. I mean, it’s still the same setup, same schedule which says late summer next year …
David: How do you see the future of the band beyond that album and tour cycle, or is it something that you’ll just going to reassess after that?
Andi: Step by step. As we mentioned to the people when we did the Pumpkins United, we thought it’s a great idea, let’s see how it works out. That’s what we said in the beginning, and it turned out great. We told everybody we are doing a tour, and when the tour is great, and the chemistry, that’s the most important thing, I think. We’re really too old for that shit, that you go on stage with people you don’t like. Well, why would you do that, I mean. We had a lot of success with the five-piece Helloween, without the old members. So now the old members are back, the success is there, but the main thing is the chemistry. Honestly, I definitely know that for example Michael Kiske would never be with us on tour if he would not enjoy it. So, this is for me the proof that the chemistry is really working greatly. And we are definitely very thankful for that we enjoyed a lot of common adventures here and everybody is happy with each other. So, that’s the main point. The chemistry is there, we like each other, maybe sometimes even a bit too much as I said, because when you’re partying up to five or six o’clock in the morning, it really damages the upcoming shows (laughs). But what can you do, if it’s a great night, everybody knows it and you just keep sitting and drinking. You should not do that too much, but that shows that the chemistry is just right. And we take it from there, and now the album is coming because the tour was great, and if this album, the studio work is in the same vibe, that you like each other, that you’re having a good time, that you’re having a laugh, that’s rock and roll and then you keep going. If that would not be the case, I would say we do that album, we would do another world tour and call it a day with the Pumpkins United. But if everything is going the way I expect, that the chemistry is still up and running, why shouldn’t we do that for another few years or until the end of our days, you know. I mean, if the setup is working, why not?
David: Yeah, exactly. And with such a vast catalog, there’s plenty of room for changes in the setlist, specially from the era with you as the lead singer. Are there any particular songs that you would like to include in the setlist in the future?
Andi: Well, from my time I definitely would love to sing for the first time songs like “Kill it” or a song that I always love to sing and we haven’t played for at least twelve years is “Push” from “Better than Raw”. There are so many songs to choose from, “Hey Lord” it’s always a great sing-along for the people. So, from my era there’s definitely another six, seven songs I really love to death that I would definitely like to sing on stage. But, will it fit with the mixture of everything, I don’t know. So, I would reckon fifty-sixty percent of the next upcoming tour will completely be a change of setup, new songs plus the “must-play” songs. As you know, there’s always the demand that we will play like “Future World”, “I Want Out” or “Power”. These songs have to be played, otherwise they probably will kick you off stage (laughs). So, there are certain songs you have to play, and we want to play them, we will play them. But I would reckon sixty percent of everything you heard is definitely going to change, and different songs. There’s a lot to choose from anyway, so we shouldn’t have a problem.
David: Yeah, and I’m glad that you mentioned songs from “Better Than Raw”, one of my favorite Helloween albums, because that was something I missed in the last tour …
Andi: We definitely have to pick the raisins of the others, I mean the last tour was a great mixture, but you can only play three hours. I mean, more would be super tiring for the people, not talking of the band. I mean, you have to see our drummer Danny, he has to play three hours, there’s no second drummer. Or Markus on the bass guitar, he is definitely three hours constantly playing bass guitar. For the guitarists, they could easily say, you know what, I’m feeling tired, I’m off. It’s still enough to play a song with two guitars, as it used to be. But for the bass and for the drums they don’t have any other chance than to fiddle three hours. So, that’s heavy, I mean the drummer Danny, sometimes he really worried me, because backstage he was completely breaking down, and needed ice to get his muscles working again. Then you know you have another show tomorrow, then you’re definitely feeling very sorry for that guy. Well, he did the job, I mean however he does it, I don’t know. He’s a miracle, he always plays great, even if the last show was very demanding and you really thought the next concert he can’t play, and he played greatly. But as I say, I mean this is something you always have to keep in the back of your mind. It’s not as easy for the rest of the boys as it is for Michael and myself, you know.
David: Yeah, and maybe a little bit linked to that, and without wanting to be controversial, but since the reunion was announced some people pointed out the fact that Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch were not part of it. Did you discuss this thing at some point or what are the reasons for that, what’s the state of your relationship with them?
Andi: Honestly, we never made a big secret out of it. They had to leave the band because they betrayed the band. This is sad, but that’s the truth. And I would not like to stand on stage with some foul pumpkins, if you know what I mean. So, these boys have proved me to be not cool, and they really were starting intrigues and betrayed the band back in the day. They had to leave, because the trust was gone. And why would I invite foul vegetable on stage, so I’m very sorry. It hurt a lot, because Roland was a supposed friend of mine, and I really thought he was. For me, it was like the world breaking apart, when I realized that he betrayed the band, and he betrayed myself. So, why would I invite people that had to leave the band because they were no good pumpkins.
David: Yeah, it’s really sad to hear that. But I’m really glad that the guys who are touring now and recording this album are getting along very well and enjoying what you’re doing. And I want to thank you, because this was a real gift for all the Helloween fans. I’ve been a Helloween fan since high school and I never thought I will see you guys together, although I loved seeing the shows from your era, but this was a dream come true for many fans. So, I wanted to thank you on behalf of all the Helloween fans around the world.
Andi: Very much appreciated, thank you very much, and the whole thing back to you people, because you made the dream come true for us as well. Because, we only hoped that we may join generations, but you never know if it works out or not. But it did, so suddenly you had my generation in the concert hall, you have my son’s generation in the concert hall, and this is like a dream come true for everybody. So, it looks like we all did the right thing (laughs).
David: Definitely. So, I think I have all my questions covered. I don’t know if you want to add any message or just say hi to your fans …
Andi: Yeah, just say hello to all the big Pumpkin-fans out there. I’m definitely very much looking forward, I can’t wait for the next tour because touring is always great. Now comes the boring studio time (laughs), it’s always the same thing. You start out writing songs, which is your hobby, and you’re really like into it, and when you have a great idea, it’s really fun. But then, you have to take that very song that you just love and rerecord it in the studio. Every bit and piece and every atom is being double-checked, and then it becomes work. That’s the sad thing about it. I would love to be back in the 60s where you just walk in the studio and recorded live and that’s it, you know.
David: Yeah, I see. Well thank you very much for this opportunity, take care and good luck with the future projects of Helloween …
Andi: Thank you very much! I hope to see you somewhere there in Finland or wherever. Cheers, bye!