About Me

Interview with Helloween

Helloween is yet another legendary band we had the pleasure to talk to. We took the opportunity to talk Sascha (guitar player) in a very friendly tone. The German band, reunited with Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen seem to be stronger than ever, even in such harsh times like these. Here’s what Sascha had to say:

M.I. – Hi Sascha, thank you so much for granting us this interview, it’s an honor for us. How are you doing, considering our current circumstances with the COVID-19 situation? I take it that things are starting to ease up a little bit in Germany?

Hello to Portugal! Yeah, it’s getting better because it’s summer and the numbers are falling so people are in a good mood now. You can see there’s a little bit hope and a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. It feels good and I’m very excited about our new album release, so yeah, considering the times, it’s a pretty good time now.

M.I. – How has this affected the production of the self-titled album “Helloween” if it has been affected it at all?

No, actually the only thing that was affected was the mixing session because we wanted to fly to New York but that wasn’t possible at that time. Fortunately, we had finished the recording already, we’ve been kind of lucky on that. It didn’t affect that, but it gave us a little more time to work on the mixings because we wanted to release the album earlier and it wasn’t possible, so we spent more time on finishing the product, deciding about the art work, and working on the Skyfall video.

M.I. ­– So, this album, is a 12-track record, and so far Skyfall has been the only clip released. Are there any plans to release any more videos for this album in a near future? How have the fans reacted to Skyfall so far?

Yeah, Fear of the Fallen has been released with the lyric video and there will be another single coming up. I’ve got to say we’ve been getting really good reactions from the press, which is really astonishing because when you’re in the process of finishing an album, you can’t tell if it’s good or bad; you’re just too deep into the creation and you can‘t decide if it’s a good or bad album, so when we got a reaction from the press it was very promising. Then we released Skyfall and the fans went nuts, so, yeah, I have to say it’s really exciting and I can’t wait to see what’s happening next.

M.I. – What about you? Are you happy with the result, is there anything that, now that album is ready, you would like to change?

I’m always about change (laughs). I barely listen to our records when they’re done, because I’m never satisfied. I’m a perfectionist and with Kai being in the band, we’re kind of in the same page. That’s our nature, you know? It’s never going to be perfect, but history has shown that it mustn’t be perfect for yourself, it must be perfect for the fans and the band, and in the end, when bands thought some albums were not that good, the fans ended up loving them very much and so I can change my opinion. But as I said, as a creator, being so deep into the creation, it’s really hard to be satisfied.

M.I. – So you’re not satisfied with some things. What would you specifically change in the album?

I don’t know, if I listen to it right now, after we have recorded everything we’ve done, I couldn’t listen to it anymore because we had so many revision of mixes… Then we had a 2-month break, after that we had a session with the journalists and that was the first time in which we had a chance to listen to the full album and it was the first time I though “Oh, actually it is really good”. Before I wasn’t sure and then I was really surprised. 
There’s always bits of pieces, and you listen to songs and you think “something could be louder here” or “where’s the guitar solo?” and then you see other people listening to that, and they don’t notice stuff like that. I know every node on this song, I worked on every song on this album, so I get that the outside people would listen to the album in a little different way.

M.I. – The last time Helloween has released an album, it was back in 2015 with “My God Given Right”. Back then, you weren’t still reunited with Michael Kiske and Kai (we’ll get there in a second). Aside from that, what other differences can be found between this album and “My God Given Right”?

First of all, I’ve got to say that we spent more time in the production, which made a huge difference. Also, Charlie was essential for doing this record. He knows us so well, since he also worked with Michael and Kai in their solo albums, so he knows all of us and knows how to get the best out of each member; that was a big help. Not only that, he also came up with a big plan we all liked. He said that in the beginning, when we started the production, he told me he actually likes to recreate what he has seen live at the Wacken show (2018), which was a remarkable show for us. He said “I was blown away by your energy and the magic that happened on stage, so I want to recreate that on the album; I want all of the guitar players playing every song and you’ll just act like you’re the only solo guitar player. We’ll record every idea you have”.  That’s what we did first, and when we finished the first 5 tracks, we would send all of the stuff to the other studio where Kay was, he would take over these tracks, while we would work on the next 5 tracks, and when all the tracks were finished, we would fly to Tenerife, record Mike, and then we would decide which parts and which tracks of each member in combination would recreate the spirit of the live show. I found that really interesting! 
We also used a lot of recording techniques, which we hadn’t the chance to in 2015, since we didn’t have the time, because normally we record in 3 months and then we go back touring, you know? This time we were able to spend a lot of stuff on the production. And then during that process we did a lot of nice stuff. Dani contacted an old friend of Ingo and got Ingo’s old drum kit and they started recording with that, which I found a really brilliant idea, and also they recorded to tape which is very unusual today, and very time consuming. So, we did a lot of stuff like that, with guitar stuff, vocals stuff and I think you can really hear that in the album.

M.I. – So there were a lot of pieces in the puzzle combining together?

Absolutely, that’s where a good producer comes in. As a band member you may have an idea but it’s really good to have someone combining together. Also, I would say that Helloween is a very chaotic band. We’re kind of one of the last rock n’ roll bands in that sense. Modern bands are very disciplined and strict and they’re all about perfection, while the magic of Helloween comes from the imperfection. We aim not to make stuff too perfect but on the other hand very perfect because we spend a lot of time on details.

M.I. – Is there a song in this new album you would consider to be your favorite and why?

That’s always a very hard question because that changes with time. It’s always hard to pick a favorite, but now that I have had the time to think about it, I would say it is very strong throughout. The beginning and the end are very strong and then we have other highlights, so it’s a very strong piece throughout.

M.I – Now, the band has been reunited with Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen three years ago and, with these many members in the band, how hard was it to produce this record? How does the creative process flow within the band?

For us it’s pretty easy, because we have a lot of songwriters in the band, which is a big plus. In other bands you have like one or two members giving the direction of the band and in Helloween have a lot of leaders in one band, and it works. Normally, these many strong personalities in a band would kill each other, but that’s not what it happens, it works. There’s enough ego left so that we can fight about things that matter, in a good sense, but it’s very respectful and that’s the most important thing here and that’s why it works. People always concentrate on the band but we have a manager with us since 2004 that goes on tour with us and takes care of us, we have our crew, we have Charlie, we have so many people that have known us for so long that we’re a family, and that makes it all easier. 

M.I. – From what we can tell, Michael did not contribute as a songwriter in the album. Being such a prominent figure, why did this happen?

He came up from the very beginning that he was kind of struggling with that, because he was recording a lot of acoustic songs and he wasn’t sure if he should contribute as a songwriter. He and I we have a very good relationship and we tried stuff with his acoustic stuff, but due to the timing we weren’t able to finish that, but we figured that it could work in the future. He just didn’t have the time to develop his ideas, but I’m sure it will happen in the future.

M.I. – What did they bring to the band as a whole? In your opinion, what sort of impact did they have on the band’s chemistry, since now we have 2 more singers, one of them also being a guitar player (Kai Hansen), how is that working out?

Michael and I, as I said, we have a very good bond. He’s a very nice sensitive person, which I like, and what he really brought to the band is his magic voice. I remember the first time we were rehearsing Eagle Fly Free and he would just sit on the floor with his microphone and it sounded like 1987. I had goosebumps, I even thought “what the hell is going on?”. And then Andi going along so well, it’s like they’re good friends, you know? It was so great seeing them harmonizing with each other. Even their vocals blend very well: Andi being more aggressive and Michael being very clean and technical… it works, so seeing them both having a good time on stage, both of them hanging out together, it’s incredible.
For Kai, I have to say that we work really good as well, because what I really liked about him is that he still has a lot of energy. I would even say that he has more energy that many young guitar players out there. That’s what he brought in. He was like “I just don’t want be there to play a couple of songs, a couple of classics, on stage, I want to play them all” and I really liked that idea because then it wouldn’t be this reunited band on stage. So, it ended up being the 7 of us as Helloween. At some point during the tour we even said to our manager “can we in the future cut out this ‘Pumpkins United’ thing and call it only Helloween?” because everybody knows by now that we’re reunited and we feel like a band.

M.I. – Since Michael and Kai joined, you have toured with them on the Pumpkins United tour. Tell us all about it, how did this idea come up and what was greatest highlight of that tour in particular?

The idea came up naturally. It was building up for years. A member of our management was in production with Dennis Ward together, who is another producer on our latest album, and they would create Unisonic with Michael Kiske and I would later join them. At the same time, Kai was with Gamma Ray on our Helloween tours, so of course there were talks happening about a reunion and Kai was all about it. So, we just wondered that maybe, if Michael could be back at the Metal world – which happened later with Unisonic – who knows, maybe we could stick our heads together and try it out. We had this one meeting where we met and it just felt great so we decided to start and see what would happen.

M.I. – With the new album, I’m assuming you’re eager to get back on the stages to promote it. Are there any plans for live performances anytime soon? Any plans for Portugal? 

If everything goes well, we plan on touring in Europe starting in April next year. I really hope that’s happening, but I don’t want to be too excited because you never know these days. We already postponed a tour twice, and other than just promoting the album I’m really missing going out on tour, I just want go on stage and have fun, you know?

M.I. – How did it feel to be here in Portugal the last time? I wasn’t in the Pumpkins United show, but I was in the one in Vagos Metal Fest (first edition).

It’s always great to be there! In Europe, the Latin speaking countries are the craziest and we love that! We love to play in these countries.

M.I. – So, about you in particular, Sascha, you have been with the band for almost 20 years now. How would you describe your journey with Helloween so far and what changed in your life since you joined in?

The change happened in the beginning. Everything changed from there. I was 25 years old when I joined the band, I was still pretty young. I didn’t even have time to adapt and it was kind of weird too. Back then, when I joined in the band, I wasn’t even in the Metal scene anymore, you know? I was taking part in studio projects, and I never knew Helloween were searching for a guitar player. Then in one moment, Charlie called me and said “I don’t know if you’re interested in going back to the Metal scene, but Helloween is searching for a guitar player and I think you would get along very well with Michael Weikath; he might actually call you up in the next couple of days”. Then 30 minutes later I got that call, and in that day I was actually eager to meet a girl I was dating and I was kind of late so I told him on the phone “Hey, I’m in a hurry, just tell me what you want, because I have to go” (laughs). This might sound weird for Helloween fans now, but what happened is that he told me that he was really impressed by that, because he was getting this huge amount of demo tapes and applications of great guitar players who wanted the job, and then there’s this one guy he calls and says “Hey, call me later”. So, later on, we would get back on the phone and talk to each other for hours and we had a great connection. From that moment on, my life would change! Crazy stories happened from there and I didn’t really have time to adapt. I just figured I was in the band when we did a photoshoot and a video shoot. That’s when I realized “Oh, damn, I’m in the band, something’s happening now”. At that time I basically felt like a studio guitar player, and then everything happened really fast. We were about to do a show in Brazil, and I was never in Brazil before, so my life changed totally and I only realized that years later. It’s a lot to process, especially for a young person. Since then, I ended up discovering myself and recreating myself a couple of times and now this is my family.

M.I. – After so many years, how can you still keep the creativity going for the usually melodic and strong riffs we’re all used to in Helloween? What influences, if any, do you resort to in order to find inspiration?

For me personally, there’s so many things that can influence me. It could revisiting Helloween material, it could be touring, I have so many activities that influence me a lot… For instance, over 12 years ago I started working as a fashion photographer and nobody in this area would know that I’m a Helloween guitar player. That’s really inspiring when you go back to music, because you meet all these crazy people in the fashion scene with a different vibe and a different sense of art, and that would inspire me for my art and for other music projects. I just don’t stick to one scene, I always need to go out and try different things, and that’s really inspiring for me.

M.I. – You, as a Helloween guitar player, can be easily considered a role model for many young guitar players out there. What would you like to share with them in order to achieve the same success you did?

Passion, I would say passion is the most important thing and never stop dreaming. I know a lot of people have a problem with me saying this, because other people would go like “No, it’s hard work” and I would reply “Well, yeah; hard work is the base of everything”. Of course, you need hard work to get somewhere, but more importantly I think that, as a musician, you need to live your dream and never stop dreaming. What really happens along the way is that a lot of people envy you, they don’t want you to be successful and they can destroy your dreams. Don’t let that happen. I have been there, people tried that with me and I’m just saying: keep your passion, keep being passionate about what you doing and never stop dreaming. It’s your dream, your life and nobody else gets to decide your life.

M.I. – You said you experienced that before. How was it and in what context did that happen?

It always happens, it never stops. The higher your rise, the more people will try to pull you down. I come from a small region, where everybody would know you and then when I was starting out, I was this so-called young talent, sitting in studios in my region as a guitar player, with 16 years old, recording albums with old people. I was one of the youngest musicians in my town working professionally. So, when I reached a certain level, a lot of people get envy and try to talk you down, and I was always against that. I was always believing in myself and that happened a lot. There’s always struggles, some days you have insecurities, and you always think “What if they’re right?”. It just never stops. The higher you rise, the more people will come and want you to fail. I’ve seen a lot of young musicians giving up. There were very talented friends of mine in my youth, they were even more talented than me, but they gave up because they couldn’t handle the pressure. It’s really sad, so when you ask me for advice for young musicians I would say: never give up, never ever. And never believe what people tell you. It’s your life, you never know when it’s going to end. Just keep working on your dream. It’s not even about your skillset. That’s what I really found boring in music, especially in the Metal scene nowadays. It just became the Olympics! It’s all about how fast and how perfect you can play. And we just proved with this album that imperfection is perfection. We love imperfections because we’re human. So, with this trend of being so perfect, it’s all becoming so boring. Despite all that, I don’t blame anyone for trying that, and it’s really impressive sometimes, but that’s not what rock n’ roll is all about. 

M.I. – With such a long career with Helloween, do you still have any goals left to achieve?

Right now with this pandemic, I’m just thankful for everything that’s happened until now. Of course, there are some goals I have, but with Helloween I’m just curious to see where it is going. I’m living the moment and I’m happy we have finished this album and it’s going to be pretty well received as far as I can tell, and I’m looking forward to tour. If there’s anything we can learn from this pandemic is that we shouldn’t make plans (laughs). Just stick to what you’re doing and be happy as much as you can. I just want to stay in the moment, you know?

M.I. – And, looking back, is there anything you regret on your career?

If there’s one thing, I wish that when I was younger, I could have processed earlier what was happening so I could have enjoyed it earlier. I mean, the first couple of Helloween albums and tours were extremely hard to process because that became a big cut of my life. There was a lot of pressure and when I joined the band I didn’t know anything about that pressure. I didn’t know there I would have shoes to fill or old fans nagging me. So it was pretty new to me to have all this pressure and at the same time delivering high-quality songs. I mean, I met a really talented group of people, especially Michael and Andi. Andi is a songwriting machine, when I heard his first demos, I was so impressed that I ended up wanting to be as good as this guy, this was another level and a kick in my ass. It was so much stuff to process and to go through… At the same time, I saw people comparing me and telling me who I should be or should not be. That takes time to process, but fortunately I got there and now with Kai and Michael back, it has just gotten better. The last few tours, for example were a blast, with Scorpions and Whitesnake… it’s crazy, man! Sometimes I remember the 14-year old Sascha and I tell myself “Who would’ve thought!” (laughs).

M.I. – Being from Germany, you seem like you are the perfect person to answer this, but we see a great amount of German bands in Heavy Metal. From Kreator and Rammstein to Destruction, and Helloween, of course, and many many more. What does Germany have in particular that contributes to so many successful bands out there?

I would say it’s more or less discipline maybe. Or maybe the dream. I mean, basically the whole rock n’roll history is based on what happened in the States or in the UK back in the 60s or 70s. Somehow, German bands were inspired by that and somehow they tried to add something to that. In some bands, that becomes very clear, especially with Rammstein! It’s more German than Germany (laughs). It’s really interesting that it worked out! I remember that one of the first mixed tapes my uncle gave me had Scorpions on it. It’s still a small country, but it’s certainly interesting that it worked out, because Germany isn’t a very rock n rollish country, you know? (laughs).

M.I. – Sascha, we certainly would love to see you all in our Portuguese stages sometime soon again. Is there anything you would like to address to our fans?

I just hope that we all come out of this pandemic and go back to live shows. I’m so proud of all these people working on really hard jobs. Last year, I had to stay at the hospital and I figured that people working there are the true heroes, so I would not complain much about the situation of not playing live, but I really hope that’s going to happen, I hope that everybody is staying healthy. In the end it’s going to be a better world.

M.I. – All right Sascha, thank you so much for your time, it has truly been an honor for all of us.

Thank you!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by João Guevara