HELLOWEEN is a well-known name in the world of heavy metal, often linked to the inception of the power metal genre. Even after 30 years, the band has kept their positive attitude and sense of humor, which they blended perfectly while making their latest album “My God-Given Right.” We’ve had the honor to chat with the band’s bassist, Markus Grosskopf, right before their Belgrade show where they played with the legendary Judas Priest.
You are back in Serbia after 8 years and the last time you played was during the Hellish Rock tour. Do you have any memories of that show?
Markus Grosskopf: The show with the Gamma Ray was nice, the audience is great over here. It’s always warm and emotional.
How does it feel playing these shows with Judas Priest?
Markus: It’s nice. We’ve all grown up with their music and listening to their records, albums like “Screaming for Vengeance.” Those were great times, and playing with them now means a lot. Keeping up the traditional heavy metal with the inventors of it. It’s great and I love it.
Does seeing them rock hard after 45 years inspire you to keep going for the big 50?
Markus: It’s very great that we are still around and that they are still around and that we’re playing together. I never imagined something like this would happen when we started out.
Your latest album “My God-Given Right” has reached some impressive chart positions and got mostly positive reviews. How do you feel about this record now that a month has passed? Would you have done anything differently?
Markus: No, it’s the record we wanted to do. You never know what is going to come out once you start writing because we write individually and then we put all of our songs into one basket and decide which ones make it to the record. You never know what you’re going to end up with. There’s no way to do anything different, it’s just how it goes.
The album feels as if it could have been published right after “Time of the Oath” or “Better than Raw.” Was this the feel you were aiming for, or was it a spontaneous result?
Markus: Well, we had the idea to sound a bit like we did in the 80’s. It’s hard for me to say whether it sounds like it or not, because we have been writing, recording and producing for more than a year, and it’s very hard to be objective. It’s more interesting to hear what other people have to say about it when they listen to it with fresh ears.
On the past two albums, you explored your “happy, happy Helloween” side while on the previous two, “Gambling with the Devil” and “7 Sinners,” you were experimenting with a darker sound. What made you come back to the dark side again after “The Dark Ride?”
Markus: It’s just that everybody writes songs on their own and it happens that they come across darker than the last time. We don’t sit down and say that we have to write this or that, it just happens. It comes out of your soul, your heart or stomach. Helloween isn’t fixed on a concept right now like we were on the Keepers. We are just very good at writing killer tracks and putting them together on an album without a concept in mind. So far, it seems to be working.
I found something on your web-page and there’s a reference in the new booklet as well: you are apparently working on your first biography, to be titled “Hellbook.” Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Markus: It’s not really a biography. There’s a bit of biography in there, a lot of pictures and a lot of rare stuff. It’s a big collector’s item. So for that reason, it’s a great piece for people who love collecting items from their favorite bands. It will be a limited thing, but I really don’t know the number at the moment.
It has become a trend in recent years for metal bands to publish branded products: Iron Maiden have their beer while Blind Guardian and HammerFall have their wine. Have you ever considered such a venture?
Markus: We actually had our pumpkin ale around ten years ago, but it tasted really lousy. We might try to get something else out there and find something liquid. Pumpkin schnapps would be awesome and would probably taste better (laughs).
Given that the music industry seems to be less welcome to new bands than 20 or 30 years ago, would you still encourage young musicians to follow their dreams and their God-given right?
Markus: Of course. If you have the dreams of doing music you just have to deal with it. We had to deal with similar circumstances in the middle of the 80’s when we started out, so it isn’t very different. You didn’t have internet media going on which became a huge part of the industry, and we kind of grew into that. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but at the end of the day if you don’t play the game you are not going to win. You have to go with it or you’re not going to make it in the music business because it’s such a huge part of it. The bands who start now know more about it, unlike us who had to learn how to play along as it was becoming huge. But if you have dreams you should follow them, that’s what it’s all about. You don’t want to get old mourning the chances you missed. You do what you like and try.
How do you personally feel about the digital era of music, where streaming and downloading replaced CDs? It’s clear that this has its ups and downs, but do you feel it’s more of a good thing or a bad one?
Markus: I don’t really know. Some record companies made big mistakes in the past 20 years as they didn’t take advantage of what was going on around them because they were arrogant. And suddenly there was this big new business in play and they were taken aback. Some of them survived and some did not. But we all have to deal with it and I’m not going to be the one to judge. Of course, you should pay for what you get, as it is a piece of art as well, but I’m not going to judge if somebody doesn’t buy albums. Who am I to do so? It’s going to happen anyway, and you just have to learn how to deal with it. We make our way touring and still being on the streets, making money playing live. We were used to doing a lot of shows from the very beginning. And the others caught up with that too: when you put out new albums you have to go out there and play them. Because the record or CD markets are not what they used to be you just have to play, play, play.
Speaking of touring, you have a busy schedule in front of you, after this tour with Judas Priest you are heading for the east to Russia and Japan, then Australia and finally the US (the masters of rock cruise). When are you going to be touring Europe again?
Markus: We will tour Europe in February or March 2016.
You usually have strong bands as your support acts ever since the Rabbit tour. Anybody in mind for this one?
Markus: No, we have no idea at the moment. We have yet to think who we’ll take on this tour in order to make it more interesting for visitors. That’s why we did the tours with Gamma Ray or Rage – to give people something really worth seeing. We just need more time to figure out who to take this time.
I assume you probably hate the reunion questions, but I have to ask: is there any chance you could tour with Unisonic?
Markus: I don’t hate the question. I just don’t know at the time. I wouldn’t say no. You never know what might come next.
Given that you still have a European leg of the tour next year, and possibly the festival, can you make any predictions when you are going to be working on new material again and when it could be published?
Markus: No, there’s still no talk about this now. We are concentrated on touring, figuring out who we will take on the next tour and all that. That’s what we’re doing now. We are not talking about the new record yet, it’s still too early. The last one has been out for around three weeks, so (laughs)…
You had a little side project going on, Bassinvaders. Any plans on resurrecting that project?
Markus: Well, that is very time-intense, and we have a lot of touring to do with Helloween, which takes up all of my time. Doing this in between the Helloween tours is not really possible. I guess I have to wait and see, but I don’t know if I am going to do another one. It was a really fun thing to do, it was very experimental. I liked it, as did some other people. It wasn’t very big because it was basically an experiment.
Given the chance, would you take Bassinvaders on tour one day?
Markus: I don’t know. It’s very hard to arrange. You have to take a lot of people and have them all out on stage just to do a solo or two. It’s very complicated.
How come this time you have only one of your songs featured on the album?
Markus: Well, most of my songs ended up as bonus tracks. We just gave the material to the record company and they decided what made the cut. When we have a limited edition that is more expensive we have to add some killer tracks to make it worth the money. At the end of the day, they are all Helloween songs.
Speaking of which, are you satisfied with your dealings with Nuclear Blast?
Markus: Yeah, they do a lot of promotion. We have a nice understanding. They are metal kids so they know what they are doing. In a way, it’s nice that we kind of came back home.
Do you have any final messages for our readers and your fans in Serbia?
Markus: We are glad to be here again, and it’s going to be a killer show. We hope you come and have a blast for an hour, enjoying Helloween and Priest play together. We will be back to say thank you for keeping the faith for more than 30 years. Without you, I wouldn’t be here!