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SPEED METAL TAKES A KISKE IN THE ASS


Lazy, Michael Kiske? Maybe a little: “Sometimes I need to be pushed a little”, he confessed himself several times during the interview, implying that he might have been much less productive if he hadn’t been prodded. He notably mentioned the dynamism of Frontier Records, an “old school” label which, according to Helloween’s former vocalist, works on a passion basis.

Michael Kiske’s apparent composure doesn’t keep him from being adamant. The man never loses patience when journalists or fans ask him whether he’ll go back to speed metal: the question is only natural, even if, at first, he went through a real repulsion phase, because of “too many bad experiences”. But his answer is definitive: it won’t happen, and he no longer likes it. His appearances as a guest start, most notably during Avantasia’s upcoming tour, are the only things speed fans can hope for.

« I don’t think that I would have released records during the last couple of years if Serafino wouldn’t have asked me.[…] I didn’t have anyone taking care of my stuff. If these record companies wouldn’t have contacted me, I doubt I would have had any release. […] Sometimes I need to be pushed a little bit, to have an offer or an opportunity. « 

Radio Metal: First of all, let’s talk about the record with Amanda Somerville. When we listen to it, we’ve got the feeling that the instrumental parts were built around the vocal lines. Is that really how Matt and Magnus composed the songs?

Michael Kiske : Yes, that’s what I’ve heard: they were trying to write songs especially for Amanda and me. It was the case too for the lyrics. They did it so that it made more sense than picking some songs that were lying around or something like that. When you have a male and a female vocalist doing the songs together, it makes a lot more sense to have a relationship stuff to deal with in the lyrics and stuff.

On the record, the instrumental parts are simple and discreet, and the focus is on the voices. In the video, the camera focuses mainly on Amanda and yourself – same thing for the artwork. This promotion of a vocal duet is rather unusual in rock and metal, but much more common in pop and mainstream. Was the purpose of this album to build a bridge between these two universes?

I don’t know what Serafino’s objective was (Note : president of Frontiers Records). I did a little duet for a band called Indigo Dying, a song called Breathe in Water, and it turned out to be nice. So maybe this is why he tried and why he thought it would be a cool idea. He is putting a lot of money into that, so he obviously believes in it to a certain extent. I don’t really know what he specifically had in mind, but he does a lot of the things that he thinks are cool. Serafino’s label is really different from most labels. He signs bands sometimes just because he likes them while most labels only care about their percentage and things like that. Serafino doesn’t really care about that. Most of the time, he produces the music that he likes to do. Also, he was always into my singing stuff: he gave me a record deal for my solo records and he puts me things to do. I guess that was just another good idea that he had and that he thought would sound nice. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. It’s a very nice thing.

In any case, Amanda has been having the wind in her sails for some time now, and she makes a lot of collaborations. You worked with her, so how would you say she lives this situation?

She is really happy to be busy. We just did an interview down there with a guy and she said that she was really grateful. She has the opportunity to do so many things.

Her participation to this record was suggested by the president of the Frontiers Records company. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this kind of anecdote, of a label director falling in love with an artist, so to speak…

(Laughs). Yeah, that is really unusual.  Amanda was kind of pointing that out yesterday. That is rare where a label boss is into something like that. Obviously, that’s a great opportunity because I’m not the kind of person who’s walking around in the world trying to get a record deal. I don’t think that I would have released records during the last couple of years if Serafino wouldn’t have asked me. It was the same thing with SupaRed, the last album I did on Noise, a record company which doesn’t exist anymore I think. The female chief of that company contacted me to see if I would be interested to release something on the label. And that was very lucky because it was just about that time that I was going separate way with Rob Smallwood (NDLR: founder of Sanctuary Records) who is still managing Iron Maiden and who was managing me after I was no longer with Helloween. He is a really good guy but he didn’t know how to handle me as a person nor the type of music that I was doing. I don’t fit into any specific musical direction when it comes to the solo you see. So we both decided to go separate ways. So I didn’t have anyone taking care of my stuff. If these record companies wouldn’t have contacted me, I doubt I would have had any release. So that came pretty handy.

But on the other hand, about this anecdote of the label director falling in love with this singer, isn’t is a little easy to “launch” an artist who already convinced a substantial audience when she replaced Simone of Epica?

You mean Amanda? Probably, yeah. I’m very happy that it turned out to be Amanda because I think that she has a great voice and she is also a very, very nice person. We get along very well on the personal level. What record companies have in mind in the end is record sales. That’s usually why they do things. So I’m pretty sure that Serafino had also this kind of calculations in his head.

The video for Silence shows the band playing in an empty concert venue. What’s the message behind this video? Is it something you still fear despite your long career?

It wasn’t my idea but the one of the video people and I think that they did a very good job. In fact, the place is more like an old theatre and they just thought that this sort of surroundings would perfectly fit the drama of the song, you know. It was very nice. But I found it a bit weird to be in a video again after such a long time.

« …from journalists I expect a little more understanding and music culture.« 

A few years ago, you told the webzine Heavy Metal Revenge that you were never fully satisfied with your records. Once the euphoria of having a new album out is over, you distance yourself slightly and start to see all the faults. Do you think it will be the same thing with this new album in a few of months?

Maybe not in few months, but it’s always like that after a while, most of the time after a couple of years. Things look completely different then you know. But I think that’s a good thing. Because it only shows that you move on toward something else. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes different for some records: I still like most of the stuff of my 2006 record. And this new one is also very classical, a sort of rock album. But this is also a different situation because I didn’t write material for it. The songs were written by Matt Sinner and by Amanda so I have a different kind of look at it. I’m not responsible for anything but my vocal parts you know.

Aren’t you tired of being asked if you’re ever going to go back to melodic speed?

Well… It’s quite understandable that some people ask it because of course I’ve been successful with Helloween for several years. I’m not tired of it. But it is just something that I don’t think is going to happen. I still like the Keeper albums that we did but I’m quite a different person these days than I was back then. I still enjoy rock music and I can even still enjoy some of the classic metal records that I grew up with like some Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and stuff like that. But I don’t necessarily feel like doing that type of music anymore. In fact, I always had my own song-writing style even when I was in Helloween and I never really wrote any kind of speed metal song or anything like that. That was more Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath who were writing them. Me, I have a tendency to write slow or mid-tempo songs.

When you tried to go far from metal for a type of music that you love, it didn’t work at all commercially. So, how did you cope with this disappointment?

I must say that it didn’t really surprise me. It’s always a situation that you’re facing when you have had success with a certain type of music. If you don’t have a label, if you don’t have some serious money to promote you for another audience, you don’t sell many records. Also, the records were very different and that’s a difficulty in itself. They don’t have one specific style you know. And it’s difficult anyway in our times to sell on any market. I wasn’t really thinking that much about it to be honest with you. I was just doing it and enjoying it. But I must say I wasn’t expecting to sell a huge amount. It’s just that these two music worlds are too different. It’s not really easy to sell something like this.

But do you hold a grudge against your fans for liking your past too much and not the actual stuff?

No, not at all. This is understandable in fact. It was a bit difficult for me at the beginning because I was out of a band and also quite frustrating of course. But over the years, I kind of understand why people are like that. It’s just that they need to understand that you can’t do something that you’re not. When I was in Helloween, I was part of a band that had its specific sound and it was nice. When I’m on my own or with other musicians, it sounds different and I think that the majority of the fans understand that now. But I don’t blame anyone to like the records of the past. We did some good records and I love them very much. Now, it’s a different situation when it comes to journalists. I think that people who write about music need to be some kind of connection between the audience and the musicians. So they should actually help fans to understand what the musician is doing now rather than raising prejudices. So from journalists I expect a little more understanding and music culture. It’s not the musician job to satisfy markets. It’s the musician’s job to express himself, to be real. It’s difficult enough when you come from a certain music scene but from fans, I can understand it to a certain extent. You know, I’m a fan of a couple of bands too: I like certain things that they did while I don’t like some of their other stuff. I think that’s just normal. We have our musical tastes, we have things that we like and usually we like bands that have a specific sound. But we shouldn’t overdo it. We should always allow bands just to grow.

« Rock music has always been a part of me. It was just a phase at the beginning that I had enough of metal. It was only in the first couple of years that I didn’t want to hear anything about it. I was very frustrated about it. Too many negative experiences you know.« 

But let’s imagine that the pop music album and the acoustic album that you’ve released had worked commercially, do you think that you would have stopped playing metal at all?

I don’t think so. I would still keep on making metal albums. I still have my contract solo and I’m sure that in a couple of years I’ll be doing another one. As I said, when you’re on your own as a solo artist, you are free to do many things. There’s no band around you that gets pissed because you play in another project. It’s a different situation now that I’m with Unisonic. When I was solo, I was able to do a lot of different things. Now, let’s say that the 2006 album would have sold a lot then of course this would have become the main priority then because you have to play live and stuff like that. There is a whole machinery starting to get working in such a case. That’s always the situation. I’m pretty sure that that attention would then have been a lot more on my solo record as we speak. It’s just naturally how it goes. When they are more records requested, then you play live. But I still like rock music. I don’t think that this would make me stop completely doing rock music. It has always been a part of me. It was just a phase at the beginning that I had enough of metal. It was only in the first couple of years that I didn’t want to hear anything about it. I was very frustrated about it. Too many negative experiences you know.

Maybe your regular participation in projects like Aina or Avantasia is what keeps people hoping that you’ll go back to melodic speed one day…

Yes it did. It all kind of took place because these people asked me if I would want to do something like that. If they wouldn’t have asked me, I wouldn’t have done anything like that. It’s always what comes up. It’s the same thing for some of the records that I’ve done for Frontiers. If Serafino wouldn’t have had the idea of this duet, I don’t think I would have had it myself. Similarly, I don’t think I would have had the idea of doing an acoustic version of my older songs and stuff like that. So I was kind of thankful that he had this idea. Sometimes I need to be pushed a little bit, to have an offer or an opportunity. Many musicians have that. It helps when you have a label that has suggestions.

Do you do these guest appearances to please fans of the genre without exerting yourself too much, without having to bother with releasing your own melodic speed metal album?

It could be, it could be. But then again, people are different. Some are like that while others like the Avantasia stuff and yet they won’t necessarily hate what I do in solo. Most of the time, it’s a different kind of audience that gets into this or into that. It doesn’t necessarily interfere.

It seems that speed metal is a style that musicians tend to get tired of. Sonata Arctica, Nightwish, Edguy, Helloween, even Stratovarius evolved towards something else. How do you explain that? Is it an ephemeral style, or is it just that there’s not much to it?

I think there is not much you can do with it. When you have done a couple of records of this kind of music, you start to repeat yourself. So it’s very natural for musicians who want to be creative, who want to be productive and who wants to be excited by what they’re doing. It’s very normal that they move on and try something else. You don’t want to do this thing all the time. So, I kind of understand why bands do that after they’ve done a couple of records in that direction.

In a few months, you will be touring with Avantasia, with Tobias Sammet and all the guests. Apparently, it will be a big show. Do you have some information about this tour?

I don’t think that I have any more details than you have. I have the dates and where we play but I think this is available somewhere on the internet. I don’t even know which songs we are going to play. That’s something they are still thinking about and it hasn’t been decided yet. I’m really looking forward to that tour because I haven’t been playing on stage since UniSonic and I feel I need this again. They asked me to do Avantasia on the previous tour as well but I didn’t want to do it. But now I feel like it. Kai Hansen will be there too, at least for a couple of shows. That will be an interesting thing too and hopefully we will be on stage at the same time. I’m pretty sure they will arrange something like that. That should be fun. To me, it’s another good chance. Before next year when UniSonic really starts, it’s a big chance for me to be on stage again a little more.

Because there will not be a tour with Amanda?

We’ll see. It depends on how good the record does. It’s always like that. In these days, it is very difficult to get companies who are organizing tours to make you tour if you cannot show a certain level of record sales. The business has become very hard.

Thank you very much. Just one last question, it is the stupid question of the interview: do you have a good joke to share?

A joke? Let me think… Nothing at the moment come to me (laughs). I tend to forget these things.

Note: A few minutes later, as is customary in Radio Metal, I offered Michael to let him know when this interview would be published. To which he replied in a very surprising way: “No need to do that. I never read any of my interviews. I’ve done thousands of them. I don’t even look at magazines I appear in. I never even watched the DVD the guys from Rock Hard Magazine did last January. I don’t really care about all that, actually.”

Interview conducted in October, 2010 by phone
Transcription : Thomas & Saff
Myspace KISKE : www.myspace.com/mkiske
Myspace UNISONIC : www.myspace.com/unisonic



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