Michael Kiske, the man really doesn't need any introduction. While his fame undoubtedly came from being the vocalist of Helloween, he was by far no slouch ever since he left the band in 1993 (!) and contributed to many projects over the years. Now, some twenty years, he once again fronts a band (Unisonic) and since his side project Place Vendome just released their third album, we were able to catch up with him and talk about all things Michael Kiske.
Birgit: Place Vendome was founded in 2004 by Serafino Perugino (Frontier Records) and there are so many cooks in the kitchen as far as song writing goes. Do you believe this is positive or negative as far as the sound of the project?
Michael Kiske: No I don't think it's a negative. It's just a project and yes there are a lot of songwriters who suggest songs. So this is definitely a positive thing when it comes to that. Dennis (ed. Ward) produces it and he gets to choose from many different songwriters.
B: Since you don't write the lyrics, did you ever change a lyrical passage from a song you were given? And what kind, if any, feedback did you get from the original composers after they hear their song when it's finished?
MK: Oh yes, they usually send some feedback and are very excited when they hear what we did with it. There is a lot happening during the production process, and of course with me singing, it sounds different from the original version they send over. Dennis is working on the arrangement as well and he tends to make songs a bit shorter and down to the point. Sometimes he changes the lyrics since he has a good feel when they just don't sound or feel right. I only tend to change some words here and there and also throw some words out; sometimes they just have too many words there and it's not good to sing.
B: How does Place Vendome approach studio time? Is the whole thing Serafino's or Dennis's baby and they do it on their own time?
MK: Serafino is really just the guy who gives the starting shot … the songs get provided and then Dennis and I say yes or no to the tracks. I actually don't go to the studio at all; I do the lyrics right here at home. I am totally in control here and Dennis will never release something and put his name on something unless he is happy with it. So yes, it is really 100% his baby.
B: There has been always four years in between each album release. Would it be safe to assume that in another four years there will be another one; or is this thinking too far ahead?
MK: That's thinking too far ahead. I didn't even think I would do another one once I started with Unisonic. I just happen to have time and honestly, a lot of fans like to hear another Place Vendome album. There was a lot of feedback coming when I was on tour with Unisonic as well as Avantasia. Traveling all over the world and doing a lot of interviews and the question was always coming up about another Place Vendome record. If there is another one coming then it will probably be another three or four years.
B: Do you have a personal favorite of the three albums?
MK: I like them all; I have songs that I especially like on every record though. "I Will Be Waiting" off the first album, I like "My Guardian Angel", "Streets Of Fire" is nice and from the new one, "Maybe Tomorrow". I mean there really isn't a bad tune on any of them but of course you have your personal favorites.
(ed. My personal favorite off Thunder In The Distance is "Lost In Paradise" - give it a listen below)
B: Since you already brought up Unisonic, let's talk about your newest band. In hindsight, are you glad Dennis Ward and Kosta Zafiriou approached you with the concept of Unisonic and thus your glorious return to the somewhat metal scene?
MK: I think it was a good move by them and the right time at that. If they had asked two or three years earlier, I would have said no. I just needed my time to get certain things out of my system. We knew each other a little bit because of the Place Vendome productions and we found out that it sounds good when I sing stuff he (Dennis) writes. And Kosta was approaching me mainly as a manager; he wanted to manage me, which is what he does now by the way.
B: Kai Hansen came into the picture a couple years later. Were you guys even looking for a missing link, a second guitarist, and was Kai your first choice?
source: Unicsonic's official website
MK: Not really, since we thought it was OK with just one guitar player. I played guitar on the first couple of shows; Sweden Rock and I believe the other one was Masters Of Rock if I remember right. But it's actually nice if you don't have to do that since you are forced to be at the microphone stand all the time and can't move around that much. We thought we were going with just a four-piece band and … it was luck that, when Kai and I were going to do something together again and there was only one guitar player in Unisonic there was a place for him.
B: You and Kai really seem to click on all levels. Is working with him better or different now since both of you are older and wiser? (ed. Kai is a character for sure. I was watching THIS and had to pause a couple times because I was laughing so hard.)
MK: Yes we are older now and to an extent it works better now since you are not that heated as we were … I was a teenager in the main Helloween years and I think I was already 21 when he (Kai) left the band. I think it's easier when you get older, you just grow up and have a natural way of respecting each other - hopefully. It's easier to deal with grown up people and accept each other's opinion. There is the same type of goofing around but we are also more mature now; this definitely helps.
MK: It's not easy; it's possible, but the time schedule will definitely suffer. You know how it is with musicians; things take way longer than originally planned. And if you have three or four different bands that need to get done before everyone has time for Unisonic - yes, time scheduling will always be a bit more difficult for us. This is something that will probably cost us some hairs or getting greyer even faster.
B: So are there any plans for a new Unisonic album?
MK: Actually, that's what we are working on right now. I just sent three songs to Dennis, which I had written with a friend of mine. I haven't heard back from him yet, so he either thinks its shit or I don't know. We are just collecting ideas right now and as soon as we have enough songs, we will be meeting up … well, as soon as Kai has some time.
B:Unisonic is hitting the festival circuit in Europe next year; can you tell us which ones are already confirmed?
MK: I don't have them in my head but you can go to my app. There is a Kiske app for the iPhone and iPad (Check here) and Sebastian (ed. app developer) will always update it with dates and such. Honestly, I would have to look at the app myself to tell you what is already confirmed and what is not.
B: We are all becoming slaves to technology, aren't we? Now let's briefly talk about some of your other projects. Kiske/Somerville - is that on hold since Mat is right now busy with Sinner as well as with Primal Fear?
MK: Actually, he already did send me four songs he wants to do for this; they are working on another record right now. I am especially keen on this project since I really like Amanda (Somerville). She is a beautiful person, not just her face but also her soul, she is a sweetheart and I just like her a lot. We just get along very well and I would love doing another record with her.
courtesy Michael Kiske Facebook page
B: You also have been on all the Avantasia albums; can we assume you will keep on contributing to Tobi's project?
MK: If he wants me to. I really like Avantasia. When it started, I did it (ed. guest vocals) because I really like Tobi as a person. He asked me to do this when I was still in that phase where there was a lot of anger … disappointment was still very alive in me during those years; I just didn't want to have anything to do with that scene anymore. But I liked him, I liked his attitude, his personality - and looking back, I am quite happy that I did say yes since it turned out to be a very nice thing. Avantasia is a very beautiful thing, it is a great experience, it gets great (fan) responses, great music - it's just all good. I am very happy and if he wants me to do another one - sure, I will definitely be there.
MK: I didn't even know it was supposed to be something like that in terms of Timo Tolkki. When he asked me if I would sing him a song, a year before the real recording happened, I thought it would be just a solo record of his; where he has his own singer and I would just do one song for him to help him out. Tobi and I didn't know that he would go a little bit the Avantasia route with this project and we were kind of surprised when it came out and it was going in this direction. I didn't even know it would; all I noticed when I sang the song was that it had a bit of keyboards, it had keys in it.
MK: I can't remember his name, but Kosta (Bottom Row Management) knows him; he used to work with Bottom Row. I forgot his name; I am really bad with names. I think it will be cool though. I am doing the song "Longing" which I recorded on the last Helloween record (ed. 1993-Chameleon) with a real orchestra, and this will be the first time that we will be doing something like this live. It's pretty exciting actually. And this might be the first and last time I will be doing this song live. It's a very personal track and one of my all-time favorites.
B: Speaking of live with an orchestra. I saw Rage with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra and it was really good. What are your thoughts on going on tour or recording with a full orchestra?
MK: It's amazing, that's the only reason why I am doing it because I never did anything like that live before; and apparently they are a very good orchestra.
B:: Of course no interview would be complete without a question or two about Helloween; do you mind?
MK: No, not at all.
B: You left the band in 1993 but still, to this day, the question is tossed around by fans: Kiske or Deris. Do you believe the Keeper albums were the defining moments of a) Helloween and b) the pioneering of power metal and that's why the fans are still bringing this up?
MK: Some say so. It is a fact that the Keeper albums had the most success; they sold millions and are still selling. But you can't compare nowadays Helloween with the Keeper era Helloween, it's a totally different band, different people. Yes, Markus and Weikarth are there, but the rest are all new people, so it's not the same band even if they are called the same.
When we did this type of music we did it out of pure passion and excitement about what we were doing; we did not plan to start a genre, but it's great to see that something like that happened. Actually a couple of weeks ago my brother showed me a documentary on TV; it was about the 80's and the music scene and people were talking about how much Helloween meant to them. And I was surprised that a lot of musicians said that they were inspirited by the Keeper records and that they do what they are doing now because of us. (ed. he was probably talking about - Metal: A Headbanger's Journey)
I am not one who follows the media a lot; I don't read reviews and I don't listen or read my own interviews for that matter, so I am not thinking about those things really, you just hear about it when you do interviews. When you talk with people or with fans it seems like we kind of started something and were influential to a point.
B:: Speaking of interviews; due to one of your recent ones, old school fans suggested that you might see Helloween as an unfinished business and they wonder if a collaboration between the semi-original line-up (sans Ingo) could happen these days?
MK: That really … it's an unfinished business for sure. I don't think we ever got to the point where we told the whole story. I think the Keeper albums were promising records but I also think there would have been a lot more possible, with this line-up. But we just couldn't keep the band together; it just fell apart. And I don't think you can just turn back time … so many thing went wrong and we are not the same people anymore. To me it makes a lot more sense to try to do something together with Kai (Hansen) and the other guys in Unisonic; it's a lot more interesting than to live in the past all the time.
I think we, Helloween, should have done at least two more records … but with Kai … with the original line-up, but we didn't even get to do that. It started well, but then it was over again. It's quite sad, but this doesn't mean I would want to reunite with the band and try to do that now because I don't think you can … the moment has passed … different times. There are certain wounds that will heal but there will always be scars, you know.
B: Both Unisonic und Helloween have the same management company. A one-time reunion with the band, say at Wacken, is that something the management might push or does Kosta know better and doesn't even ask?
MK: That's that thing on the ship, right? Nah, I don't want to do that. I just don't want to be locked on this boat for a couple of days. They (ed. the management company) suggested it though; they wanted us to do it, but I just didn't want to do it.
(after the interview we were talking a bit about this and he said that Kai told him how it was when Gamma Ray played on the cruise a couple years back. But despite all the positive things Kai said about it, Kiske felt it still wouldn't be his cup of tea)
B: That's too bad. To end this interview I just have some odds and ends. Since you already mentioned your iPhone app; in your opinion, how important is social media and the internet as a whole these days?
MK: It really boomed; I am addicted to it. I use my iPad way too much. I have to really do something about it since I really don't want to check my e-mails every ten minutes; but I pretty much do. It's just too much. This shitty little piece, this iPad is so cool, you just always grab it … it's an addiction, you got to watch what you are doing.
I love the internet and I don't know how I existed in the Eighties; I don't have a clue. Now when I want to find out something, like an actor I liked in the Eighties, or about a band from the Eighties or Nineties, on how are they doing, I google it and get the information right away. You can talk to people all over the world through Skype and stuff like that. It's great. It's a bit too much at times, since there is too much information and not every crap needs to be written about, it's over the top sometimes. But I think the positive sides of the internet outweigh the negative ones.
B: So do you believe it's a godsend or a curse in regards of privacy of a performer since you are able to access real time information with a click of a button?
MK: It's too much. I think it's probably going to cure itself in a while. People are going to get sick with the instant information and maybe it's going to balance itself out a little bit. So I guess it's both; it's a blessing and a curse for sure, but it is also on us how we deal with it. We are not animals and we are not children; we are supposed to be adults and can control how we deal with those kinds of things. You don't have to read every tweet, you know.
B: Very true. Now, to wrap things up, what advice would you give a band that just starts out nowadays in regards of label, management, studio vs pro-tool release and things like that?
MK: Looking the way the market is nowadays, the things that I would suggest is try to set yourself apart if you can. It's possible these days, if you know people and you have someone who can produce … it's a good idea to produce stuff yourself if you have people who are capable of doing it. Also, try to be independent from Record Companies. Well, they have made themselves pretty useless over the years, wouldn't you say? They don't necessarily help young bands a lot anymore, nobody invests any money and you might as well try it without them first.
And the most important thing is, don't let anyone tell you what kind of music you are supposed to do. Don't let any music label try to make you a market pleaser or try to design you a certain way so you will be successful in this or that market. Try to be yourself and try to have your own identity.
B: Very true, and now the famous last words to your fans.
MK: Since you are right now in America, here is the thing; I would love to go to America again. When I had my big years with Helloween it was always like two month touring in Europe, then two or three month in America and a couple weeks in other countries; I always loved that. But unfortunately, since a number of years that type of music is not so very popular anymore in America. I would love to do some live playing over there again and it would be sad if that would never happen again.