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Helloween Interview

A Conversation with Guitarist Michael Weikath




The End Records
Updated January 19, 2013
Talking to Helloween guitarist Michael Weikath is like walking into a minefield of soundbites. You know the affable German is going to provide a bunch, whether it’s waxing on the band’s new Straight Out Of Hell album, technology, or the never-ending three-way drama between he, founding guitarist Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray) and estranged singer Michael Kiske. Such things should come from the man’s mouth…he’s weathered more storms than practically anyone in German metal, and has the perspective to boot.

Upon connecting with Weikath, the guitarist admitted to oversleeping and missing three previously-scheduled interviews. Lucky us, we were able to snag the head ‘Weenie…

David E. Gehlke: When we spoke before 7 Sinners came out, you talked of how happy you were that it was so heavy. The new one, though, leans more on the melodic and positive side. How did that come to be?
Michael Weikath: Charlie Bauerfeind (producer) said from the start that he’d like to have a more positive approach with the new album. Because, the U.S. and Russian governments issued a note saying that the end of the world will not be taking place on December 21 because the Mayan documents have been misinterpreted. And he said at this point in time, he’s a little bit sick of doing dark stuff and whatever.

It gets on your nerves if you deal with those things too much, and he said he’s not much for it anyway and he’s looking for a more positive approach with bright harmonies, productions, sounds, orchestrations. Naturally, we kept all the modern elements Helloween is known for, so you have a big variety on this record. You have all the great melodies of Markus (Groskopf, bass), Sasha (Gerstner, guitars), (Andi) Deris (vocals), Weike…everyone. It’s just another landmark, I feel.

My first impression was that it could be the album that fits between The Time Of The Oath and Better Than Raw.
That’s what a few people said as well!

Something like “Far From the Stars” is a great throwback. It sounds like it could fit on one of the Keeper… albums.
That’s the track I liked most from the demos that came out of Markus. Another thing I noted was “Make Fire Catch the Fly,” “Asshole,” “The Church Breaks Down…” that stuff works too. I set such a clever way with the rhythm guitars that I had no input with how they did it. It was the same with Deris’s demos…that’s great. You get to hear all that new stuff and you don’t have to change stuff big-time. You take it as it comes. That’s great for the basic, main songwriters which are Deris and me. We just appreciate that stuff that’s coming. Then we go “Oh yeah! Nothing to change.” Easy as it comes.

You did another ballad, “Hold Me In Your Arms.” You’ve stayed away from them for the last few albums, but you did it here. Why do one again?
That was one pick for a possible video Sasha wants to do when we’re on tour in Europe or in the States. He wants to do an iPhone or iPad recording…his very own video for this track, which I deem a good number to do a video, especially for the States. We took “Nabeatea” for Europe and the rest, and we took “Burning Sun” for Asia. What’s there missing? A track for the States and I think that would be “Hold Me in Your Arms.” It’s funny because Sasha came up with it on his own to create an iPhone video, self-made, to demonstrate what one can do. He’s very set on it and it’s cool he picked that track. I think that’s good stuff.

It sounds like you have two technologically-savvy guys in the band, so I wonder with you, have you started to dive more into those kind of things?
I saw the Otari that (producer) Tommy Hansen used when we would fire off the choirs and stuff in the Keeper… productions. He was way ahead with the Otari software. Then we were using the Creator, which would end up being LogicPro on the Mac. It was a Hamburg company that did the software. I was so keen on getting my hands on that Otari and getting the software so that I could do something.

Then there was ProTools and I have been fiddling around with that. You eventually grow into that stuff. My ears are so bad, that whatever I do, it’s not reliable [laughs]. The frequencies in my ears are so bad that I could never end up being a producer. The other guys in the band, they have very good ears. For me, it’s always a hobby or something to look into like, “Ah that track there – you can use that and that.”

You’ve had Charlie Bauerfeind in your corner for longer than any producer in your career. Can you speak to the relationship you have with him?
He’s the centurion of the ProTools, you know. In the very beginning, when people were working on 48-track Sony machines, they were laughing at him, going “You and your artists record with ProTools, right?” And he went, “Yeah, yeah, so? This is going to be the future.” He has so many key shortcuts and setups that he’s collected over his career that you see his fingers fly when you record something and you actually don’t know what he’s doing. You can be sure that he’ll set it right to the point where you want it. Then he’ll have pre-mixes and stuff and he’s also…finalizing the whole product. It’s all in his hands.

He’s very on the point with things and schedules. He’s very German because he wants to achieve his goals in the given time at the lowest cost possible. He’s quite strict. That’s why he’s so good at those things and why we want to choose him. He also saves him money and we’ve known each other for so long. He’s the one that proposed Sasha and Dani (Loble, drums) could be good musicians in Helloween, so that was his call.

Back in the Keeper… or Walls of Jericho era, you guys were so young and had so much energy. Was there anything you wished you had done differently when recording those albums?
Actually, no, but we were wasting a lot of time and money. Back then, a studio cost a lot of money, but we didn’t think about that. Having fun and all this is good, but it’s driving you away from the essential thing you want to do. It was a way of working, but it was a waste of time. Then you get used to a way of working, and you get to know how things work. Nowadays we wouldn’t be able to do that.

In those days, you couldn’t just push a button, you had a tape. If the tape wasn’t right, you had to go in there and fix it. It was a different way of working; the analog way of working takes a lot more time if you’re not rehearsed, which we weren’t. We were interested in having a flow of continuous…sucking it out of your fingers sometimes. That takes so much time. By that time, it was a thrill. When you’ve done that a few times, you don’t’ want to do it anymore because you know how much time that consumes. You’d rather be home and talk to the relatives, be with the wives and girlfriends.

Having a career like this already takes so much time of you, then you reach a point “I got to optimize this somehow. We’re not the teens we were.” You get into the digital editing of things where things are a lot easier, but you still have to maintain your heart and the things you want to stress with your instrument. You can fail easy. You can record one bit, and say, “It’s good because now I don’t have to play this any other time because it’s already getting copied.” You lose. Then you have no connection to the material you want to bring across.

It must be different now because there isn’t a label breathing down your neck like there was in those days.
Yeah, but we enjoyed it. We were going, “We’re going to show you!” But then Karl (Walterbach, Noise Records) would be there and we’d be going “We have no money, we need something to drink and eat.” That was crazy, but it didn’t help because he ended up keeping all the money anyway, like 43 million marks. If you cut it in half, that would be the amount in dollars. Funny as it was, he took all the money and we were not having a look on it. That’s the things you do…and the outcome of things. That’s why we do things differently nowadays.

You just announced another tour with Gamma Ray, which would make it the second time through with Kai (Hansen) and company. What do you have in store?
We’re about to pick some main cities that we’re going to play at. It’s gotta be maintained that the people in those cities actually know we’re coming, otherwise you have a bad tour that no one will show up to. Last time, it was done in a professional way and it was good. We had a real successful thing going. We didn’t lose any money, had good people at the shows, and wonderful clubs. We want to concentrate on the 15 cities that you can do being the Helloween of today, then you want to deliver and do your best.

I can’t see you guys doing a two month tour over here.
Right. We’ve been there a few times and we’ve seen the dangers, then you get a feel for things. Also, the contact to the actual fans – if you go out and have a talk and give autographs…that’s a different world. In Russia, it’s different. But fans are fans, and people are people. I personally enjoy being out at a truck stop and getting latte with vanilla flavor or something. See what’s new in the sweets stuff, grab some things, get back on the bus and enjoy the ride, particularly if the weather is good. If it’s not raining or even snow…last time was ideal. We had a few dates to play in the States, and we had a good time.

Has Andi always been receptive to singing the Kiske-era songs? It’s not like you can get away without playing “Eagle Fly Free.”
That’s the way it is, there you go, and you do it. You can’t leave out “Eagle.” I’d like to, and I’ve played it a million times. You don’t necessarily need “Dr. Stein,” but sometimes when you’re making yourself a coffee and you put yourself in the minds who haven’t seen or heard you, then again, it’s not a bad song, “Dr. Stein.” I’d skip it at any moment, then someone will say “But you didn’t play it!”

I have to ask: Did you hear the Unisonic album Michael and Kai did?
I heard two or three tracks. I could take it and listen to everything, but I wasn’t so interested in where it goes as a full-length. Then, sometimes fans send me things and want me to comment. I’ve seen the video and I think it’s decent. There’s good moments. For certain fans, it’s a revelation; Kiske doing something with Hansen. For others, they go, “How could you like that? I’m not so impressed, it’s boring.” Others think it’s sensational.

I stay out of it, but I think it’s great. Our tour manager is the drummer for them (Kosta Zafiriou) and he’s the drummer for Pink Cream 69, and that’s his brainchild. Their pursuing and doing things with it, there’s something going. For Michael, it’s finally a step to be live again. I’m not going to go and slag it. For many people, it’s cool. They have something to dwell on.

I told Kiske I thought the title track sounded like “Kids of the Century.”
I thought it was Grave Digger or “Reptile” or something. It’s a good recollection of any of that ‘80s material that was going on back then. I say Hansen sat down and thought “What was the essence of the ‘80s?” And he put it down.

The story with Kiske is how long he slagged metal and the last two albums he did with you guys, and now he’s coming back to it. Do you find that interesting?
Well, everyone has their own thinking to do about things. I had my share. Hansen has been very interested in collaboration with him and doing something essential, or out of the ordinary or whatever. When you see them do these acoustic numbers…for me that would be hard. I wouldn’t like it. I’m a miserable acoustic guitarist, but what they’re doing there is a different kind of work and you have to be into it. For me, it’s not. I wouldn’t like to do it, but if Hansen can, then good for him.

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