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HELLOWEEN's Michael Weikath talks 'Pumpkins United,' Influence of SCORPIONS and Sticking to 'Classic Helloween' on 16th Album

Franz Schepers Photo
Franz Schepers Photo

The Pumpkins are back friends! Helloween, the German kings of power metal are ready to uncork their first album of new material in six years (June 18th via Nuclear Blast), with the self-titled lucky number 16 truly embodying the Pumpkins United ideology.

The seven piece lineup boasts all three vocalists from Helloween's history, Andi Deris, Michael Kiske and vocalist/guitarist Kai Hansen, teaming with longtime shredders Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf, and drummer Dani Löble. 

The end result is as big, bombastic and epic as fans come to expect for the long-time proprietors of far out lyrics and huge, soaring vocals.

From spacecrafts and wizardy and time-splitting guitar solos and harmonies, Helloween is a record for the fans in every sense of the word, book-ending the story of a band that has seen its share of rise and fall, and even providing a new wrinkle or two in an already established game.

Weikath caught up with Metal Injection for a deep dive into the new record, the complexities and chemistry of the seven-member ensemble, his personal influences of fellow German greats Scorpions and Uli Jon Roth and much more!

On Reuniting with Kai Hansen & Michael Kiske

It's pretty crazy because like a seven piece band, I wouldn't have considered a doable or comfortable thing. But the stuff is going to take its own dynamics, as I say always. And then you don't sense it's seven people or whatever. What I said in other interviews was when I saw the first Foreigner record, that was kind of strange. They had six members. I've always wondered when I saw these outfits, how can they deal with each other with all the hardships they have with their careers and stuff? And how is it with seven guys?! I would have been like, oh please, no.

But it's like this, it works and it's working quite cool. It's fun. You know, we enjoy stuff. We are not aware we are seven guys. It's strange the way it works. And then you go out and the magic happens and then you've been captured and you have three rows of wailing, crying people. That's taken off and it's like what's happening here? You're part of a bigger thing. That's the way I feel.

On The Recording Process for 'Helloween'

None of that romanticism that you would expect took place (in recording Helloween). Everyone did one's own recordings. When it came to the final recordings, Kai Hansen was working with the guy who had been responsible for his XXX album. They were basically sitting there in the studio recording all the stuff. I've been recording all of the stuff with Charlie Bauerfeind, after he finished with Sascha. And eventually it was all recorded at different places.

For me it's still enough romanticism when I get to hear the stuff that Kai Hansen played. "Out For the Glory" for instance. Why did he put so many Queen guitars in there? He would send the files on to Charlie and he'd put it into the session, and would say "look what Hansen sent, do you like this?" I was like, "hey cool! Keep it!" That was still thrilling.

That wasn't the typical studio process you would have expected in the early 80s, because that was all new to us and when we entered the studio for the first time, it was so exciting. Everything was new. Everybody was like in one drove of people sitting, enjoying what was going on because it was all new to everyone. Smoking and drinking was involved and little exchanges of funny things to be said.

And none of that in this session, except for the guy who records the artist. But that doesn't mean anything. We've been doing the recent albums beforehand in that fashion as well. So basically everything was done separately. But the thing is, we have enough to do with each other on tour and other occasions or when you're doing rehearsals.

On Preparations for Performing with Multiple Vocalists

Well, before the (Pumpkins United) tour took place we had, I think, four straight months of rehearsals. Like two band rehearsal segments and then later on there were two more segments with the actual singers. There was these things we would say, let's sing "Why" together. Like, obviously Kiske never had anything to do with the track "Why".

Sascha relegates himself to playing like a mean strict rhythm guitar, that he can do a lot better than we could possibly because he's a better technician on the rhythm guitar, obviously. He says, "you two heroes, you go out and play your twin vocal stuff and I do some mean rhythm guitar, alright?" And then we go, "yeah, OK!"

HELLOWEEN's Michael Weikath talks 'Pumpkins United,' Influence of SCORPIONS and Sticking to 'Classic Helloween' on 16th Album

On Band Chemistry and Dealing with Egos

We've never been a construct. You've seen bands, I don't know to what degree, but let's say Whitesnake in 1987. That was like a constructed band or I would presume that Rainbow 1979, Down to Earth would have been like an entirely constructed scheme by management or somebody who said, "look, I'm a famous guitarist, give me a cool band" and some talent scout would go like, "OK, you're the drummer, we pay you like eight thousand a month", which is not a reliable figure. "And we need a proper bass player. That guy's so cool, you know, can we recruit him? And he's like three thousand a month." We never work that way. It's like we're guys who accumulated knowing each other, and it's a pretty strange thing. You got to like each other and somehow make it work.

There were guitarists when Kai Hansen left the band who called me at home and they said, "you know, I'm this guy and I'm pretty confident I can do the role and play guitar in Halloween". And I said, "yeah, and that makes you think, why?" "Yeah, because I'm so great". And then I said, "you know, I don't really like you much so far". The guy said "you'll see, I got the contacts in management. You're gonna hear from me". I'd say "yeah yeah, pretty eager to see that." That's stuff that goes down, you know?

On the Pressures of New Helloween Record

It's an accumulation and a combination of things, but it comes naturally. There's guys sitting down trying to do demos for the next album and they're all aware we're at a crucial point and there's high expectations and stuff. And that's given you an incentive to challenge things. And then you go, okay, I'm trying to do even better than I did last time. I'm trying to outdo myself even more.

The thing is, that doesn't really happen if you have no freakin ideas or you're like a bad boring person who just lost the sense of coming up with anything because you're just burnt out and you're a wreck and there's not going to be any great track you're coming up with. If not something of some higher order is helping you eventually, right?

HELLOWEEN's Michael Weikath talks 'Pumpkins United,' Influence of SCORPIONS and Sticking to 'Classic Helloween' on 16th Album

Fabio Augusto Art

You can sit here all day trying to do something. If the demons or the creatures in another dimension are not willing to help you, you're not going to come up with anything. That's just what everyone did. You sure have the knowledge of the abilities of the other guys and what they may come up with, and then you go, yeah, I'm going to do something!

On Finding Peace with Reunited Lineup

That's another strange thing. You know, we had so much trouble in the past. Nowadays, we can't even imagine how we got into that situation. We're all enjoying the fact that we're not doing harm to each other. And it's like you could have said, oh, OK, now you've got the seven guys in one pot. What could possibly happen? This could have pretty dire consequences. None of that ever happened. It's like the guys, they have a different interests in the whole thing to run and somehow work.

On Sticking to 'Classic' Helloween Material

We had a running gag when the Firepower from Judas Priest came out. Our manager was raving about it and stuff, and then it was, "if anyone ever tells us to do an album, we're just going to do another Judas Priest record." And that was like an inside joke. But I tried to keep that mentality a little bit for it, meaning that I'm not going to try something like the "Best Time".

I'm not trying to write a single hit or something. I'm going to stick to doing some classic Helloween material or something that's there on its own. I didn't look at having something like "Do You Feel Good" or whatever, because that's like a lot of work. And if you want to conceptualize that stuff, it's like you can easily run against the wall if you're not lucky.

Everyone went on like, what can I possibly do for this whole thing? And you would assume there's someone else doing like a speed killer track, and then you got the "Out For the Glory", "Fear of the Fallen", whatever goes in that direction. Then you think, OK, we've got to do this anthemic, melodies on the fast track or maybe I try more of a rocker or maybe I try to do something more progressive? But at least you go "I hope no one else had the same idea."

On The Influences of Artists like Scorpions, UFO

These guys you just mentioned were of the utmost importance. And it's funny you ask that. We never go about mentioning these guys much. Same as Queen, same as Thin Lizzy. Wishbone Ash we didn't even know. I mean, it took me a long time to get to know more Wishbone Ash in 88-89. It was like the first time I really got to know these guys.

Scorpions and In Trance and stuff, that was extremely important. I used to listen to that stuff when I was, I don't know, fifteen. UFO Lights Out and Obsession was made known to me right then when it came out and I thought, this ain't possible. It can't be possible that anyone plays stuff … Uli Jon Roth and all this.

HELLOWEEN's Michael Weikath talks 'Pumpkins United,' Influence of SCORPIONS and Sticking to 'Classic Helloween' on 16th Album

Martin Häusler Photo

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