Ahead of their latest release the self titled Helloween on Friday, I sat down via the magic of technology with founding member and bass basher Markus Grosskopf to talk about beer, how the pumpkins united, touring, and of course the next chapter in the Helloween legacy. After a bit of small talk over the joys of finally being able to go to a bar and buy draught beer again, we got down to nuts, bolts and power metal.
I got a sneak peek of the new album and I just want to say congratulations. You must be happy with the way it’s turned out.
It’s nice, it’s really, really great. You know it’s like a reborn kind of thing. Listening to all those parts because it’s been a real big surprise for me.
Listening to this album for the very first time, I was not really involved in the decision to which singer is singing what part in all that stuff because during the recordings, we weren’t actually allowed to go into the studio with seven members and two or three engineers and producers. We kind of split up and everybody was doing stuff at home and we were just sending files back and forth which we did before, so we were used to this way of working from a distance because I just don’t need to hang around when they do solo parts for a week or something. I don’t need to be there, I’d rather listen to it when it’s done, let it be a surprise. It’s also been very surprising the way they sent the vocals with the three singers for me. That was really, really interesting and I still hear things that I didn’t hear before every time I listen to it.
When you announced the Pumpkins United tour, fans went crazy with Kai (Hansen) and (Michael) Kiske back in the band. The tour was huge and you headlined Wacken, what was that like?
That was always a dream. You know, headlining festivals. We finally got there and it showed that we did the right thing, you know? We had the idea not just to make a reunion like a lot of bands doing a reunion firing a guitar player and the singer and getting the new old members back in, which would have been a pain in your ass firing a very very good singer and a very very good guitar player.
Changing them with another very very good singer in there and a very very good guitar player and songwriter and so on. So we decided, you know, just to extend the whole thing.
At what point did you guys sort of go hey maybe we can write some new music?
We started writing music already before the tour, like the ‘Pumpkins United’ song, just to see how that worked out and it worked out pretty well.
The song came together really well and everybody was singing on that one. We’d been throwing ideas at each other and it was working fine, so we decided if it works out very well we were gonna talk about an album later. It’s running smooth and all that you know after a couple of shows where you realised how much energy from the audience you get back, and that is kind of pushing you. That’s the essence of rock and roll, doing live shows and having all those very emotional reactions from the audience coming back, giving you so much energy that’s almost overwhelming. It gives goosebumps and after a couple of shows we thought, well this is kind of working. We got together even more because of that feeling. After a while, we were already talking about how if it goes well like this we could go back into the studio and work on some more tracks.
I was going to talk about the tracks because I know on My God Given Right you wrote probably twice as many songs as appeared on the album. This one there are twelve tracks. How many were written and given there’s seven of you now, what’s the democratic process for someone’s song missing out?
It’s hell … (laughs) it can be very, very exhausting, because there’s two more people coming up throwing ideas at you when we are in the studio, coming up with even more ideas while you’re doing your take or while you’re doing your part, or even while arranging everything together and you play all those parts and your head is exploding. You need someone to sort out what’s best. We had I think 30 songs and ideas, not only finished written songs but also like big ideas and riffs and parts and melodies and all that. But it needed to be sorted out, you know. And that was a hell of a process I tell you, but in the end of the day we had producer and co producer Dennis Ward and Charlie Bauerfeind there having a word on it, listening to all this stuff with fresh ears coming from the outside.
You cannot be objective about your own stuff, so you need somebody from the outside coming in having the musical knowledge to tell you this is what this song really needs, and this is what this song doesn’t need. Sounds good for a part, but it doesn’t for that part.
It is a cool way of working with seven people where everybody has a different opinion. It’s kind of exhausting, but also very, very interesting. After listening to the album, that will tell you it was all worth it, you know, every minute of it.
One of my favourite songs that sort of popped up in the last few days was ‘Indestructible’. Listening to the lyrics if you take them literally, it sounds like us together we are one, you’re unbeatable, Is it that literal or is it the song about something else?
That is exactly the feeling I had… It’s we are one. It’s also like, when you do the show and you get that energy that I was telling you about the essence of rock and roll.
It makes you a union and it unites us in a way and feeling that strong gave me that feeling that we could do anything, that kind of impression. I wanted to have the lyrics so that was actually coming from the tour and from the audience and making us feel like all of them are one big unit. Unity, you know, it’s also dream and it’s sometimes for those two hours on stage it’s a dream come true in a way so those two hours were kind of 1 big union. Celebrating the same thing, I kinda like that idea and it’s great.
The song ‘Skyfall’ does have that kind of ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys’ vibe about it, but I guess that was kind of the point of getting everyone back together it.
Yeah, this song is a killer track that’s also uniting all what Helloween was, what Helloween is and what Helloween will ever be. The way being together with the two new old guys you know and still having the old guys in.
Love how you call them the new old guys.
Yeah, the new old. You guys are still in the band. It’s like, I see it the way it is. It stands for the past, it stands for the present and it stands for the future.
This is what it sounds to me. This is what it did. The feeling I got hearing ‘Skyfall’ because we have so many ideas I don’t think it’s the end of the line. There is still much more to come. We still feel like this because when you just need to sit down, listen to when we talk about what song can we play for the next or you know there’s still a lot of songs unplayed now and we still have some things we didn’t play so far and there’s other material we cannot play for the next time where people probably gonna say oh they should have done that song. They should’ve done ‘Victim Of Fate’ – we know it now already. There’s more tours to come to satisfy all those needs.
‘Skyfall’ is a killer song and a hell of a way to finish the album, was that deliberate?
We had very big discussions about how maybe starting with the song or putting it somewhere in the middle. Actually, the idea was just like calling the CD something Skyfall the blah blah blah whatever. But then we thought, well, this is a kind of a rebirth for what Helloween once was going back to where we started kind of thing with a lot of new elements and so just calling it Helloween as a reborn feeling was for us the most logical way to present the album and therefore it stands and we located it at the very best place I guess.
I’m going to ask a tricky one, do you have a favourite song on the album?
It’s different from time to time. It’s like ‘Skyfall’ is a killer track and ‘Angels’ is a really good track, it’s very different you know from what the rest of the album. That’s why it’s kind of sticking out in a way, but it will change. It’ll probably be a different song next week.
Have you had a chance to play any of these songs live, like try a couple out on the last tour?
No, no, we didn’t really rehearse yet. I mean, we don’t have the chance to fly over and start rehearsing. You need to fly from Spain, from Berlin from all over. It’s just like a big thing where you don’t call each other up. Should we do a jam tonight? It’s not gonna work.
You will be playing live in 2022 with Hammerfall in Europe.
Hopefully in the next year in April we start the tour, taking us out for the rest of the year, you know? The music from Hammerfall and the stuff from Helloween. I think it fits well together and people are gonna go crazy for it. You know they’re not just a support act they’re like a very, very special guests. They are playing 1 hour 15 minutes, which is cool.
Thank you so much for your time Markus. Good luck with the album and stay safe.
Helloween’s self-titled album is out Friday.
Helloween – Helloween tracklisting:
1. Out For The Glory
2. Fear Of The Fallen
3. Best Time
4. Mass Pollution
6. Rise Without Chains
8. Robot King
10. Down In The Dumps