Andi Deris (Helloween), a realistic optimist

Nothing seem to bother Helloween, who keeps on releasing records every two or three years since the beginning of its career. Just routine? Not necessarily. First because the line-up changes in the past – even if the current one (since 2005) is their steadiest, just as told us guitar player Sascha Gerstner – never let it happen. In this respect, it’s surprising to notice how Helloween, despite this, never lost any coherency nor its immediately recognizable sound, even in its deviations. But also because we can see that the band has kept some kind of enthusiasm that encourages them to look for new kinds of sounds to spice things up. Thus their new album, Straight Out Of Hell, is slightly different from its predecessor; going back to a more positive, more “Happy happy Halloween”, as we can say, kind of sound.

We had the opportunity to dissect every part of this new album and to talk about it with Andi Deris, who’s been the band’s vocalist for almost twenty years. He also shared with us his optimism, condemned nowadays money cult, and even evoked his relation to God. The singer also turned out to have seer talents, maintaining to us – with strong arguments – that the world wouldn’t end on the 21 of December 2012. A prediction that, as we can now notice, turned out to be absolutely right!

Radio Metal: How are you doing?

Andi Deris (vocals): Not too bad. I’m sitting in a hotel bar, making a phone interview! (laughs)

The band stated that Straight Out Of Hell would feature 13 mostly fast-paced songs, impressively multi-layered due to their different songwriters. Do you think the open-mindedness and diversity of the current members is the band’s strength?

Yes and no. When you look back to the Keeper era, the band always tried to be versatile and have more than one direction, to be more than speed or thrash metal. It was a great mixture of ballads, pop metal and speed metal. I think it’s something the band always had. Now, fortunately, we have four songwriters, so we don’t have to fight to get this diversity. Automatically, with four songwriters, you have that mixture of different styles. The only thing is that you have to find the bridges to connect the songs. But on this album, diversity was automatic.

« Because we’ll release the album after 2012, it would be a good thing to go out with a positive album, because we survived 2012! »

Straight Out Of Hell sounds happier, more positive and less dark than the previous album, 7 Sinners. Did the band feel the need to bring back some of the happy metal it’s known for?

It was a good time to do it. It was mainly an idea from Charlie [Bauerfeind], the producer. When he listened to the demos, he said: “Look, we have 26 or 27 ideas here, and some songs are not so positive. Because we’ll release the album after 2012, it would be a good thing to go out with a positive album, because we survived 2012!” (laughs) That’s one of the little stories behind the decision to make a more positive album.

When 7 Sinners came out, we talked to Sascha [Gerstner, guitars] about the album being a kind of reaction to Unarmed, because the band was finally armed again, as the artwork suggested. Could the positivity of Straight Out Of Hell be a reaction to the darker side of 7 Sinners, even unconsciously?

Unconsciously, maybe. It was not on purpose. Maybe the songwriting was a bit more in a positive mood. When we know success, like with the 7 Sinners album, there’s nothing to be sad about! Everybody was probably happy and thought: “Let’s make lighter music again”. Maybe that’s why it’s a bit more positive. Although I have to say the lyrics aren’t positive at all, they actually reflect bad times. But because we’re positive-thinking people, we think even the biggest problems will have some light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why the album is a bit more positive. Honestly, I didn’t look at it that way. When people told me they found it positive, I actually had to listen to the album again to find out why they all think that. Being a singer, I’m always listening to the lyrics, and they aren’t positive at all. They’re very realistic and reflect current problems. But yeah, when it comes down to the music, maybe it’s more positive. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask that! (laughs)

“Nabatea”, the first single for the album, talks about the secret, hidden city of Petra, which was only discovered at the beginning of the 20th century and is the origin of many legends and myths. Apparently, this song was inspired during a holiday. Can you give us more details?

Actually, I was just Googling. We were on our favorite island in the Seychelles, which is probably not a place where you would write metal songs! I was sitting on the terrace and Googling, and I stumbled across the ancient city of Petra and the kingdom of Nabatea. I thought it was a great story, because over thousands of years, mankind had treated Nabatea like it treated Atlantis – a myth, not a true story. And then, in the beginning of the 20th century, we discovered the metropolis of Petra. Suddenly it appeared it was not a myth, and it had really existed. I was fascinated by that story and by the fact that a democracy already existed 2 or 3,000 years ago. It was a nation without soldiers or slaves, but nevertheless, it was prosperous and healthy. It sounded like paradise! So I just thought: “That’s a great story, I have to write a song about it”. What I did on that terrace in the Seychelles was not writing the music, but writing the lyrics. Then I went back to my home island of Tenerife, which has much harder and heavier surroundings. We have volcanic rock there; it was the perfect island to write metal music around the lyrics! (laughs)

You’ve declared that the theory that says the world will come to an end on December 21st, 2012, is complete bullshit. Where does that confidence come from?

Every calendar has to stop somewhere. When you have a 500-page book and you need to write a calendar into that book, you have to finish at page 500. That’s pretty much what the Mayans did. They had this stone to carve the calendar in, and they could only go that far.

You also said: “We will all survive 2012 and face an even more positive and energetic future”. It sounds like you believe something will change drastically after this year, even if you don’t believe in the end of the world.

Some people talk about constellations and that kind of thing. Something will maybe happen, but I don’t think the world will cease to exist. Definitely not.

« If you only listen to the news, then you can probably say that life is shit. But then again, life is not happening in the news. It’s happening with you and me, sitting together and having a beer. »

You guys are very optimistic and the album tries to picture a positive future for mankind. This is interesting, because nowadays, people are very pessimistic due to the financial crisis. How do you manage to stay positive?

Well, it’s hard to stay positive! (laughs) And honestly, I don’t know if the times will turn out to be positive. But nevertheless, you shouldn’t stop living and enjoying the present, simply because you’re faced with problems – bankers, managers, crisis, whatever is going on at the moment. We realized that, even though we have all these problems, we’re still having a good time, getting together with friends, laughing and enjoying life somehow. This is something we should actually be aware of. That’s life. If you only listen to the news, then you can probably say that life is shit. But then again, life is not happening in the news. It’s happening with you and me, sitting together and having a beer. I think that’s the major thing: to realize what is your life.

The band’s lyrics often refer to religion – heaven, hell, God, etc. This album actually ends with “Church Breaks Down”, with a church organ and a choir. What drives you to write so much about religion, and more specifically about Christianity?

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what the lyrics of the album are about. “Church Breaks Down” means the Catholic church breaks down, because we realized that there’s a new global religion called money. The old church breaks down and the new one appears. We can’t deny it: the new god is much more important than Jesus. The new god nowadays is money. It sounds sad, but it’s a reality.

What’s interesting is that metal is probably the one genre that is the most attached to writing about religion or using religious vocabulary. How can this be explained, considering the fact that most metalheads say they don’t believe in God or in religions?

That’s strange, because I believe in God. I have friends who play in big bands, even bigger than Helloween, who believe in God too. So I think that’s not true. The problem is that we have to tell ourselves that in the 21st century, there are new gods around. And suddenly you’re captured in that stupid game as well. Sometimes I see myself running behind the money. You’re part of the game. And suddenly, when you’re happy and lucky, you realize that you’re running with the sheep behind the money. Then you just tell yourself to stop that. Money is the religion they want you to believe in, but money doesn’t make you happy. It’s definitely the wrong religion. When it comes to God, I don’t believe in the Christian god, not 100%, but something like that. I have a God and I always try to live, morally and ethically, the way that would make God say: “I’m alright with you, Andi”. You know what I’m talking about? It’s not very easy.

There’s a song called “Wanna Be God” on this album. It’s quite a surprising song in the middle of the album. Musically, it sounds like a Helloween version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Is that the way it was meant?

Well, it’s a dedication to Freddie Mercury. Accidentally, when I muted everything in the studio but the drums and the vocals, I realized that this song probably didn’t need guitars. Like you just said, the arrangement reminded me a bit of “We Will Rock You”. I only needed to have a guitar finish, and then I would have a song with the arrangement of “We Will Rock You”, that I could dedicate to Freddie Mercury.

There’s also a song called “Asshole”. Who is that dedicated to?!

That’s exactly the guy who wants to be god! That’s the asshole. Lyrically, the album goes around. It’s about a handful of people out there who make our life a little bit more complicated. We talked about the crisis, for example. We have a global crisis, but why? Again, because of the same bunch of idiots out there who want to squeeze out the last drop of the orange and drink it themselves. We saw what happened in France at the end of the 18th century. This could happen again globally if they don’t stop that. Sooner or later, the people will have to stand up. As I said, the banks are the new religion on the planet, but I think they will fall.

« Sometimes I see myself running behind the money. You’re part of the game. And suddenly, when you’re happy and lucky, you realize that you’re running with the sheep behind the money. »

Even if you talk about serious subjects in your music, the album title, the titles of the songs and the artwork are a little cliché. Do you think humor is a better way to talk about important and dark subjects?

Absolutely. I think that’s the only way. If you pack it into something humorous, if you have fun around it, you realize you can discuss serious problems and still enjoy the moment you’re living, which is probably a good moment. If you like wine, you pour yourself a glass of wine, and when you drink it, the world is perfect. You’re enjoying the moment. And at that very moment, it doesn’t matter if there’s a crisis or so many assholes out there. You still enjoy your life, and that’s the most important thing.

On the other hand, don’t you think some people won’t look for a second level of interpretation and will only see the kitsch side of the band?

Yeah, it’s possible, like with the title, as you said. Straight Out Of Hell is typical Helloween. It’s humorous, and when you see the pumpkins, you know it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s got several meanings. Nobody in the band believes that 2012 will be the end of the world. But the point was to say: “Only a small part of humanity will survive the cataclysms and the catastrophes. Then we’ll come straight out of hell”. That’s the main thing behind it. But nobody should take it seriously.

You really enjoy playing with the traditional heavy metal clichés, don’t you?

I was always a fan of that, that’s what I grew up with. It’s cliché for us, and for people between 30 and 50. But we have so many new fans of the band, and they don’t know the clichés. For them, it’s not cliché at all. But that’s how it is: what comes around goes around. We do heavy metal in the 21st century, and we’re trying to put in influences from the 80s stuff, combined with nowadays’ riffing. We’re trying to combine clichés with modern stuff, in order to satisfy the new fans and not put off the old ones. It’s funny! What we see as clichés today is completely new for the new generation. It’s something I had to learn. My son is 20, and for him, an album like Straight Out Of Hell is super cool. He loved it, and he didn’t know there are other albums with the word “hell” in it. We call it cliché, but for him, it’s new.

On the limited edition of the album, there’s a Hammond organ version of “Burning Sun”, dedicated to Jon Lord. How did the band come up with this idea, and why dedicate it to Jon Lord? I don’t remember Helloween paying homage to other deceased musicians before. What’s your relationship to Jon Lord’s music?

Not Jon Lord’s music, but Michael Weikath (guitars) is a great fan of Deep Purple. It was a great influence to his guitar-playing. When we learned Jon Lord passed away, he was kind of struck. They had a cool connection, he liked that guy. He was very sad when he died. Fortunately, we were only on the second day of mixing, so there still was the possibility to make a version of “Burning Sun” on Hammond organ. Everybody liked this version. Jon Lord would probably not have liked it, because speed metal wasn’t his favorite music. But I think it sounds great.

« I’m a metal and rock fan, and honestly, I’m a very conservative guy! »

On a completely different subject, did you tune the instruments to 432 Hertz instead of the usual 440, like you did on the previous album?

No, this time it’s the typical tuning. No experiment this time. Last time, we did that just to have it done once. Honestly, it’s so hard to try a different tuning with nowadays’ technology. It’s so fixed on 440 that you run into many problems when you record in a different tune. You could do that in an analog studio, it was much easier. But nowadays, with digital technology, it was hard work to stay at 432 Hertz, like the 7 Sinners album, so we decided not to do it again.

You will be touring with Gamma Ray in the next few months. You guys are very close, you already did some special shows together. Considering that history, have you ever thought about writing an album together?

That would be taking it a bit too far, I think. It’s great for people out there to see both bands on tour together for the second time. Everybody knows the two bands like each other. Everybody knows the history. Everybody knows that, no, there was never a war between the two bands. We always said that, but the press, especially in Germany, would sometimes bring it up, saying we hated each other and that there was a war between us when Kai left the band. It’s not true; it’s never been true. The truth is, the two bands always had rehearsal rooms 40 meters from each other in Hamburg. During each break, we would meet up at the café or the Italian restaurant and had a good time together.

Last time we talked with Sascha, he was pretty harsh towards heavy metal fans, saying they weren’t very open-minded. What do you think? Do you agree with him?

Well, I’m a metal and rock fan, and honestly, I’m a very conservative guy! I want to listen to rock, and I want to listen to metal. If I heard my favorite metal bands suddenly playing hip-hop or something like that, I wouldn’t like it. I think the vast majority of rock and metal fans are more or less the way I am, more or less conservative. I want to listen to rock and metal, so please don’t go too far when you mix it with other kinds of music. I think everybody in that genre is the way I am. That’s probably what Sascha meant. We’re all a bit conservative when it comes to our metal music! (laughs)

Interview conducted by phone on December, 10th, 2012
Transcription: Saff’

Helloween’s official website: http://www.helloween.org/

Album Straight Out Of Hellout since January, 18th, 2012 via Sony Music

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