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Interviews   

Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, joined in heavy matrimony


You’d dreamed of it, and so had they. Now they’ve done it. Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske joined forces in a single band, with every intention of making it a solid, long-lasting project. In any case, Kai, Gamma Ray’s frontman, intends to put himself into this new band, Unisonic, as much as into his main project, and to take turns with each band every other year. Given the tastes boasted by Kiske, who has for years tried to distance himself from the metal world, this project is probably the most likely to appeal to his die-hard fans, frustrated by his most recent career choices.

After the appetizer that was the EP Ignition, the album of the same title will be released at the end of the month. A heavy metal album, all at once fresh, inspired and varied, which, without revolutionizing a genre struggling to try new things, offers exciting heavy riffs and melodies. But the band mainly rests with a rather dreamy duo: Kai Hansen on guitar and Michael Kiske behind the mike. A prestigious combination for any heavy enthusiast, which Kai talks about with wonder in his voice; for him, this collaboration was painfully obvious, Michael being, in his own words, his musical soul mate.


Interview.

« [Building up] a new project was a no: there are too many projects around, the world doesn’t need another one. Michael joining Gamma Ray would not have made sense, because it’s a band that has been existing for twenty years now. It’s pretty much related to my voice and it’s too metal for Michael. So the third option, me joining Unisonic, was the most promising. »

Radio Metal : People would be tempted to say that Unisonic is some sort of all-star band. But that’s not the case at all, is it, considering how evident and spontaneous this collaboration between you and Michael looks?

Kai Hansen (guitars) : No, it was not planned to be, but whatever people want to call it is fine with me. For us, it doesn’t really matter.

What gave you the idea of playing guitar on this album? Was it the tour with Avantasia and being on stage with Michael?

Yeah, it was exactly that. We came to the conclusion that we should do something together during the tour with Avantasia. That’s when we started talking about doing something together. We didn’t know what, but then we listed the possibilities. There were three: a new project, or Michael could come to Gamma Ray, or I could go to Unisonic. The project possibility was a no: there are too many projects around, the world doesn’t need another one. Michael joining Gamma Ray would not have made sense, because it’s a band that has been existing for twenty years now. It’s pretty much related to my voice and it’s too metal for Michael. So the third option, me joining Unisonic, was the most promising. After checking it if it was OK with the other guys and getting to know them, jamming together and seeing how it felt, we said: “Fine, that’s it, that’s what we’re gonna do!”

« Something makes us feel like we belong together musically. »

Was it the first time you thought of working with him, after all those years?

No, it was not the first time I had thought of it. The theme was always sort of floating around. I always thought it was a shame he was hiding in his cellar and doing all these little projects in there. But then, I understood it was what he wanted and he was not interested in going the real way. So I didn’t see any chance for a collaboration, and I didn’t really consider it.

On that tour with Avantasia, you were playing with a lot of different musicians. What was so special about the chemistry between you and Michael?

I don’t know what it actually is. When we went on stage, it was… It was not only nostalgia. A little part of it was, but it’s also like we’re connected somehow. Something makes us feel like we belong together musically. It makes sense that I play the guitar and he sings. There’s something in this combination that is really cool. I cannot really explain it, it’s just the way it is.

« We are not reliving old times with this band. We’re doing something new and it feels very good. It’s bound to last. »

Do you think it’s only nostalgia, or could this last for years?

It’s not only nostalgia, it’s much more than that. At the moment, we are not reliving old times with this band. We’re doing something new and it feels very good. It’s bound to last, yeah.

Weren’t you tempted to sing on the record?

I sang on a lot of the demos, to make the vocal lines and all that. I’m fine with that. And I do a lot of background singing: choirs and second harmonies and so on. But I tend to stay back. There were parts where Michael said: “You should sing there, it suits your voice better”, but I always told him: “No, I’m fine, you do that, I sing enough in Gamma Ray!” I really enjoy to just shut up and play my guitar.

About this first album, you’ve declared: “I’d define our style as a tougher variety of hard rock, sounding very flexible and diverse yet all of a piece”. Do you think that nowadays, rock and metal albums are lacking diversity?

Yeah, a lot, I think. It can be good and it can be bad, you know? It’s very tricky. Some of my favorite albums are albums that had no diversity, in the sense that they have one straight red line running through. Some others are albums that have a lot of diversity, like all the Queen albums, for example. I think we see ourselves more in that direction. We try to go for that diversity and not sound stupid with it. I think we kind of manage to play different styles in our music and still be credible with it.

Was the writing of this album very spontaneous, or did you say before the writing process: “We need to write a very diverse album, with lots of different feelings and styles”?

Absolutely not. We just took what came. If it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea. It didn’t really matter. That was all, we didn’t have any restrictions. Well, maybe we tried to avoid techno-jazz! But in terms of rock stuff, everything was allowed. There were no restrictions, and there was no plan to follow.

« It’s never too late to start something. You can even start to learn how to play the piano when you’re 60 »

When we look at the titles of the songs, it looks like this album tells the story of you guys. There’s even a song called “Never Too Late”. Does it mean it wasn’t too late to create a project like that and work together?

(laughs) I’ve heard that before, people ask that. When I wrote it, I didn’t think of that myself. It was more about the general feeling of sitting around and kind of feeling useless, because you don’t know what the fuck to do. You think what you could do is useless, or maybe you are useless yourself, ‘cause you just wait for something to come up. It’s just about this little voice saying: “Hey, man, come on, get your ass up! Do something! You’ll get nothing done if you just sit around!” It’s never too late to start something. You can even start to learn how to play the piano when you’re 60, or something like that.

What is the song “I’ve Tried” about?

Actually, no. The lyrics were written by Dennis [Ward, bass]. I think it’s more about being in a situation where you say: “I’ve tried to make everything right”, in terms of whatever relationship you have or the things you do in your life. You don’t always get the credit for trying. Sometimes you try hard, and still you fail, still it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to. But at least you have tried.

So this is about trying to make something work and then failing. When that happens, how do you think one can rise above it?

(laughs) You just think about it and write it down! It’s kind of like most stuff that is on your mind, and that you can express through lyrics. There are many ways to get stuff out.

The first EP is called Ignition. Is it a way for you, and especially for Michael Kiske, to say that this band is a fresh start?

Yeah. The ignition thing is like a spark that gets things started somehow. It does really make sense in that way, I think.

Do you intend to tour with the band?

through some festivals in the summer, and there’s more to come. For instance, we’ve been booked for the Hellfest lately. After the summer, we’re going to Japan. We also have a tour planned that will go through Europe. So we’ll be busy!

How will you manage to make the Unisonic schedule fit in your Gamma Ray schedule?

So far, it’s been going well. There are no problems, because Gamma Ray was put aside for a while. We’ll try to make it so I can say one year the priority is on Gamma Ray, and the next year it’s on Unisonic. I think we can handle it that way.

You’ve declared that the next Gamma Ray album will be released in January 2013. Do you already have some songs ready?

I have ideas. Nothing finished yet, but I have a lot of ideas already. I think it’s gonna be OK!

Anything special about those ideas?

Everything I do is special! (laughs)

Any comments on today’s big news, which is that Justin Bieber has just turned 18?

I don’t care! At all! (laughs)

Interview conducted on March, the 1st, 2012, by phone
Transcription : Saff’

Unisonic‘s Website : www.unisonic.de
Gamma Ray‘s Website : www.gammaray.org

Album  : Unisonic, out on march, 30th, 2012

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