There’s a new Helloween album out in June titled simply ‘Helloween’ and it’s huge! We caught up with Markus Grosskopf to talk all about it and how the plans for something really special just grew and grew. We also talk bassists, beer and how the humble portable trampoline may just see international recording artists return to Australia!
Mark: Hey Markus how are you?
Markus: Very good, very good, it’s going good so far thanks Mark, shall we do a sound check? (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) I can tell immediately that you are missing playing live my friend!
Mark: What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
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Markus: There’s not much to do really, a bit of breathing, a bit of walking a bit of cooking and a bit of drinking beer at home (laughs)
Mark: Strange times for everyone at the moment still!
Markus: It’s crazy times. In some parts of Germany they’ve opened their outside places to sit down and eat and drink beer. I had my first draft beer since the beginning of these crazy times two days ago you know! (laughs) That was nice! (laughs)
Mark: Wow that is a long time without a real beer! A year, it retrospect then that makes me feel rather fortunate, we’ve had draft beer for a long time here in the West of Australia.
Markus: Yeah you guys can go out and act normal but you don’t let anyone in right?
Markus: Maybe that’s the right way, but I have hope for the future, and hope that here it will be controllable in the next few months so that we can go out and do what we do best, you know.
Mark: I hope so, I’m hoping we can reduce it to the level of the flu and we can learn to live with it.
Markus: Yeah hopefully the vaccine will get us back to normal.
Mark: And as soon as possible as far as music is concerned. One of the best things about this year though I must admit is that there’s already been some great music released. The 18th of June is going to be a huge day for all Metal fans throughout the world because you are finally putting out a self-titled album!
Markus: We are.
Mark: Now normally I wouldn’t find releasing a self-titled record after so many years very creative but actually when you read the reasons behind it, then it all makes perfect sense.
Markus: Yeah, it’s like a new, reborn kind of start and has all that behind it, that’s what we felt. We had ideas to call it ‘Skyfall’ or something but that didn’t seem to capture the situation really, although ‘Skyfall’ is actually the title track really I guess. But calling the album ‘Helloween’ was deliberate.
Mark: You’ve been together 35 years now – that’s a huge amount of time for any band. Before we get stuck into the album I have to ask where it all started for you – when did you know that music was going to be such an important part of your life?
Markus: Well when I met Kai and Ingo (Helloween’s first drummer) in the rehearsal room. I was playing in a Punk band before that for a couple of years when I was very, very young before moving over the Heavy Metal and trying to do the best to find a band. And I did you know. That was the time I was thinking “I have to do this, even if we don’t get a record deal or something” It was meeting them that I knew I was going to do this the rest of my life.
Mark: And 35 years is a huge amount of anyone’s life and I’ve almost been there all along. The first time I saw you play was back in 1988 at a rather famous Festival – Donington Monsters of Rock! One of the first things I did after that was go out and buy a Helloween album!
Markus: (laughs) I remember that! That was when we opened right for Guns ‘n’ Roses and Iron Maiden?
Mark: It was – a classic year and a great line-up!
Markus: I remember the Bailey Brothers!
Mark: (laughs) Sadly I remember – I wonder what happened to the Bailey Brothers?
Markus: Probably the Bailey Brothers turned into disco! (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) They could well have done (laughs) I’m just glad you guys didn’t!
Mark: There’s such a lot to talk about though! A seven piece band on the new album and three singers! It’s fantastic! It’s huge!
Markus: Yeah and it makes the whole thing so interesting you know because when I finished my bass guitar playing my part and doing all my stuff, because we were because of the situation working in different studios – we couldn’t hook up with seven people plus two producers and engineers and all. Before that we were rehearsing a lot when this situation came out (Covid) but we did get at least a month to hook up in the studio before it hit, rehearsing those songs and writing and composing. After that it’s been very separated because we all live in different parts of the world so we recorded in different parts of the world. So we’ve been sending files back and forth and having a producer putting it all together. While they were doing the guitars I was laying bass to some finished stuff and drums were worked on whilst guitars were added to another track. It was kinda funny in a way but the interesting thing for me was I didn’t know who was singing what part. So it was very interesting for me to listen to the album for the first time, which was nice.
Mark: It’s a great listen. I got to hear it for the first time yesterday and I was blown away. I know bands always love their most recent work but this really is something special for fans isn’t it? It’s certainly one of my favourite Helloween records after a few initial spins.
Markus: Yeah and it’s good to have all those people back you know, instead of firing two people, getting some new, or some ‘old new’ people in! Rather than just a reunion we thought it would be even better to extend the whole thing to be even bigger and add more people in. Trying two or three singers, it makes the whole thing much more interesting than just a straight reunion, you know. Why get rid of a very good voice and get another very good voice back in? It didn’t make sense.
Mark: I can see that the original thinking seems to have snowballed, do you thing the enormity of what it’s become was aided by Covid, with more time to think about the project?
Markus: ell, we didn’t know how to start you know, everyone was writing songs separately in the very beginning and we didn’t know where it was going to end or what it was going to be like. We had no master plan how to do things but then we had to sit down together choosing the songs and ideas because we had five or six songwriters in the band – and that doesn’t make the collection of songs easier – picking the best out for the album is hard! There was a hell of a lot of stuff we had to listen to and it was all very, very good stuff but then you have to decide what goes in the trash can! And which ideas go to the album. A process like this hurts of course because your own stuff will end up in the garbage can because you cannot expect having seven songs from each songwriter on the album. But somehow we managed to arrange it all. And then Kai came out with the ‘Skyfall’ idea – writing a new very long song! So we said alright we’re not going to plan a next ‘Keeper’ but if the song was good we wouldn’t say no, you know.
Mark: And it’s all come together great. There’s 12 songs on the main album and three bonus tracks if you buy the ‘earbook’ is that how many songs you actually finished and recorded, or are there more from the sessions?
Markus: I think there’s even one more for the Japanese version, they have a bonus track always, exclusively for Japan. And I think after three quarters of a year we can play tat to the rest of the world. But we do have another track that we didn’t use because after the mix we thought that we had even better ideas to make it even better, but maybe we’ll just work on that and it will become part of the next album. We’ll see! (laughs) By the next album I’m sure we’ll have even more material from 6 people writing songs and throwing ideas at each other!
Mark: We’ve already had the wonderful two singles including the 12 minute epic ‘Skyfall’ which closes the album – I always love songs that tell stories!
Markus: That little guy definitely tells a story.
Mark: It certainly does. And ‘Fear of the Fallen’ is the second single – you must have some favourites on there though Markus?
Markus: Yeah, so far I can’t decide though, it’s a different one every day.
Mark: I’m the same, after a half a dozen spins it’s hard but one of the ones that really gabs me is the opener ‘Out For the Glory’ a great way to start things off!
Markus: It’s also the way Michael (Weikath) writes his stuff with one note chasing the other, one note hitting the other you now. You find new bits and pieces every time you are listening to it. It makes it very interesting.
Mark: There’s also a lot of ways to buy the album that I’m sure fans will love – I’ve got my eye on the 3-LP Hologram Vinyl!
Markus: (laughs) It’s cool, the guys from Nuclear Blast had some great ideas, they’re really collectors’ items you know, we’re probably not talking about making a lot of money but it gives people the chance to buy some interesting stuff. It’s great for collectors because the CD market is not as it used to be in the 80’s anymore. But we like to give people what they love, they’re just some nice items.
Mark: Let’s hope the United Forces Tour that is scheduled for 2022 goes ahead, I think things are looking pretty good in Europe, but it’s a big tour!
Markus: It is and it’s already been booked a couple of times and rescheduled when there were problems. When the Management got bored they had to sit down and rebook a whole tour right! (laughs) but so far it looks like we’ll be ready to hit the road in April next year, hoping that everything is going to be controllable and the situations’ cooling down. Hopefully by then we’ll be back to normality. Some places are open here like I said and the numbers are sinking a little hoping that there won’t be a fourth wave. But we’re just looking forward to it.
Mark: It’s horrible having to put everything on hold and continually reshuffle things so let’s hope that’s’ it now.
Markus: It’s a pain in the arse!
Mark: So the big question – what do you miss most about paying live?
Markus: Just playing live! (laughs) I miss the people, playing for the fans is what I miss – we’re out there playing our asses off but ten times more energy is coming back from the audience to the stage! And that just is like a natural drug you get, it always amazes me!
Mark: It’s a bit of a logistical pile up though with so any bands rescheduling.
Markus: Yes and I don’t think it will be easy with so many bands bringing out CD’s and once you’re allowed to tour again there will be thousands of bands coming at your town! And probably at the same time, you know! (laughs)
Mark: It will be like the old days! Given a choice I’d be out 5 nights a week listening to live music. Once something has been gone so long you quickly remember how much you loved it!
Markus: I hope so!
Mark: I think with this album the hardest decision you will have is deciding what to play live. It’s so good.
Markus: I think so, because if you do half of the new record then you miss the spots for the stuff that people also want to hear right? It’s going to be a tough decision and we’re already thinking about it because of the live content we have like the video walls – those are going to be worked out in advance and they need to know the set list so they can arrange their stuff on the screens for the live show. So we’re thinking of that already. It’s not just going out and playing! But we’ve got time to choose.
Mark: It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing show too pulling out all of the stops. Is it still the plan to recreate the songs with all three singers on board, I know that was the original idea for the live show? Everyone still on board?
Markus: Yes it’s the same line-up everyone’s happy to be involved and everyone’s looking forward to it you know.
Mark: Who have been your biggest influences over you career do you think?
Markus: Oh yes, oh definitely. As I said on the Podcast – I love Thin Lizzy and I love Phil Lynott not Justas a bass player but also as a song-writer and a creative person. Just like John Entwistle is my absolutely favourite bass player of all time. Just think of how he kind of revolutionized the role of the ‘Rock Bass’ and rock music for bass guitarists. I really loved the way he would play really aggressive and sounding very distorted sometimes – and that is what I loved and still love.
Mark: I get that absolutely, he made you listen to the bass rather than it just anchoring the song in the background.
Markus: It’s that guy standing there, barely moving, but still playing like the ‘biggest macho’ you can imagine. I just like that style. There are other very good bass players playing loads of really, really interesting stuff but sometimes they’re sounding too clean for me even though I like it a lot. Geezer Butler is a great bass player too playing that hard kind of stuff, you know.
Mark: And a great lyricist as well.
Markus: Oh yes.
Mark: It’s been great to talk with you today. I can’t wait for the album to hit I’m predicting a rather warm reception. I’ll leave you with and easy question that I’m sure you’ve been thinking about a lot during the pandemic – what is the meaning of life?
Mark: What is the meaning of life?
Markus: (laughs) You really did ask that! The meaning of life is playing live! Living and paying live (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) It was great to see you live last time and I do hope that you get the chance at some point to bring this new album Downunder.
Markus: It was a couple of years ago right? (The last time Helloween played Australia)
Markus: It’s about time then. But the situation is a bit weird with you guys not letting anyone in, but we’ll see. When the situation is more controllable I hope to come back.
Mark: There is a way in to Australia you know.
Mark: Yes musicians may find it hard but Sportspeople seems to be able to come and go at will. Do you play any sports Markus?
Markus: Yes I do some stuff for the stomach to prevent the big Corona belly! (laughs) I have a little trampoline, it’s a portable one that I can take on tour as it fits in my bag. So I can do an hour anywhere. I just jog on the trampoline, I can do it at home and watch TV and listen to music I don’t have to go out.
Mark: Now we’re getting there! I have a cunning plan for us. As the only people that appear to be able to get in and out of Australia are sports people and as the trampoline is an Olympic sport if the band can all pack a trampoline and stick them in the luggage I think we can get you in the play a show!
Mark: You could also incorporate that into the stage show – you could get some real high jumps in!
Markus: (laughs) I should! I’ll have one on stage.
Mark: It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today, thank you so much for your time. I hope we can sit down and enjoy a draft beer one day soon! Stay safe!
Markus: Alright Mark, my pleasure. Thank you, bye bye.
HELLOWEEN IS OUT JUNE 16th on NUCLEAR BLAST