September 10, 2015 Interview – Markus Grosskopf of Helloween
In modern times, Heavy Metal has become the music which has harnessed the free thoughts and feelings of people of all ages. Pioneering the Power Metal scene in the mid 1980s, out of Germany, was the band calling themselves Helloween. Making an impact with 1985 debut record Walls of Jericho, the band followed up with to exceptional concept records in 1987 and 1988 with Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I and Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, solidifying themselves as a top Heavy Metal band. Now three decades into their story filled with ups and downs, Helloween still stand strong, carrying the torch for speedy, melodic, and anthemic Heavy Metal following the release of their fifteenth overall studio album, My God-given Right. Recently we sat down co-founding bassist Markus Grosskopf for a look into the years gone by with Helloween, their process behind crafting songs, touring around the world, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Helloween has been around now for over three decades. In that time, the band has really established themselves as one of the premier Heavy Metal bands in the world. Tell us what the journey has been like?
Markus Grosskopf – It has been quite an adventure so far. When you start off doing music, you probably do not think that you are going to make it for three decades, or even more; there is another decade lying ahead of us (laughs). It has been a long, long adventure, in good timesand in bad times. If you do something like this, it is not only a job, it is a big part of your life. Everything was up and down, it is not like doing a job and going home. It affects you all the time. This has been the biggest journey in my lifetime.
CrypticRock.com – Of course. Yourself and Michael Weikath have really been with the band during the entire duration. You are the only two members of the band which have been with the band since the beginning. What do you think has worked so well with the chemistry between you and Michael?
Markus Grosskopf – It gets easier the longer we work together, because everybody knows what to expect from the other guys. Even in the lineup now, it has been stable for ten years. It is easy to work with because everybody knows what to expect from each other and it is just nice working together. It is a great relationship we have, we have traveled the world, and I still love it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, absolutely, and as you said, you have had the same line up now for over a decade with Sascha Gerstner and Daniel Löble being part of the band that long. Obviously Andi Deris has been part of the band for a long time as well. When the band did in fact bring Andi in on vocals, what was that experience like at the time? Was it kind of an unknown of where you would be going forward from that point?
Markus Grosskopf – It was something we had to do because we needed a singer and we have never been scared to make changes. Since we have found out that it is not all Rock-n-Roll, partying, and everything is nice and well and smooth, but also problems coming. In strange and strong situations, you have to make strange and strong decisions. We have never been scared about making strong decisions because it had to be done to save Helloween’s life. That was something we had to do because we liked him a lot, and he was our first choice. We actually knew that we were not going to be confused about that move. If you think it is going to be right, you just have to do it, and not worry about asking if other people like it or not. You deal with things and you also have to make some decisions, even though other people think it is not right. It was the right thing to do.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly did work out well because it almost breathed new life into Helloween, and Helloween has had a whole new career after Andi joined in the past two decades.
Markus Grosskopf – Before he came in, Helloween had a weird time kind of not knowing what was happening next. Then Andi came in and said, “I wanted to have Helloween where we once came from.” He wanted to go back to where we once came from, as seeing it from the distance, he decided if he was going to do Helloween, then it would have to be Helloween and nothing else. That was a cool move.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it certainly was, and it has worked quite well. The band actually released their fifteenth overall studio record, My God-Given Right, in May of this year. What was the writing and recording process like for this new album?
Markus Grosskopf – When we finished the last tour, we went home and had a couple of weeks off. Actually, we are always writing. Not sitting together and writing songs, but having ideas and melodies connecting them and going home using them for songs. When I am sitting at the airport and get an idea that is inspired by something – I don’t know what it is, I put it on my mobile phone and when I get home I try to get songs out of it, that is what we always do. Everybody starts writing at home in their chambers individually, and if we feel like we have enough stuff, we send them back and forth via the internet. That is the way we work and it seems to be a very good way to work for us. Then we get together and start recording those tracks and decide what songs we want to take. It is a way Helloween works very well with.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the record is very well written and recorded. This record probably marries a very heavy style with the older classic style that the band had in the beginning. It seems like it marries those two together with a little bit of a modern sound as well. Was that your objective when you were writing this record?
Markus Grosskopf – Well, we did not really plan it in the beginning. We had all those songs and we were talking about what we could do. Of course there was a lot of material, which is always a luxury problem for Helloween because we have like four songwriters writing a lot of stuff, and then we have the problem of choosing between all that, what we are going take for the album. Then we have bonus tracks for some Japanese releases and all that kind of stuff. Therefore we take a lot of extra material.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, also with this record, you have stayed consistent with the music, but also with the same producer. You have been working with Charlie Bauerfeind for quite a while now. Do you have this comfort level working with him?
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, we are very comfortable. We like it when we can do stuff, he is like family. He knows what Helloween should sound like and what we want. He is a great guy to have a great overlook. I just want to play, I do not just want to think about production, how to EQ, and stuff like that. We want somebody that will keep an eye on that and he is just the right guy. We can work with him easily. He is in the family, like Dr. Stein and the pumpkin… then there is Charlie (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It has worked well over the course of all the albums he has worked on with you. It seems in Heavy Metal these days, there are so many different genres of Heavy Metal, and it gets confusing sometimes. It seems like a lot of bands over think things a little too much, but what is really great about Helloween, and what makes them so endearing to Heavy Metal fans, is you stick to the very catchy melodic Heavy Metal which the band is great at. Is that something that you pride yourself on?
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, it is a natural process. We had all this concept stuff from the past, which was very interesting coming up with stuff and doing guess work. That is a very different way of working. With the last couple of albums, it seems like the way for Helloween is just composing and writing. The concept was to have no actual concept, just write cool Rock tracks and get the best out of those tracks to put it on an album. The no conceptual concept, seems to be working very well for Helloween for the last couple of records. You may have anthem songs that are a bit more complicated here or there, and then we have very straight-ahead Metal and heavy Rock tracks. That is what we kind of like. It is the way we work best probably.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it works very well. As we had spoken about earlier, the band has sustained the same line up now for over a decade. Sasha joined up with the band right before Rabbit Don’t Come Easy in 2003, and he has been a very intricate part of the band. He is also the youngest member of Helloween. What was it like bringing in a young guy like that into the band at the time?
Markus Grosskopf – Well, we are all getting older now too (laughs). It did not matter that it was a guy of a certain age. We felt very good with him. He is a hell of a songwriter and a guitar player, and age does not really matter. What is important is the chemistry is right with the guy. He is very creative on the technical and the songwriting side, and he is giving a lot of input into Helloween, and we like that.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, as stated, it is a very important part of the band moving forward. The band did tour through Europe most of the Summer and are touring through Japan, Australia and Europe this Fall . Then in early 2016 you will return to North America.
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, we book some shows right after we finish the Monsters of Rock Cruise 2016 from the 22nd to the 26th, February 2016. After that, once in America, we will be playing North American dates.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that will be something to look forward to, because North American fans always love to see the band come around. What are some of your musical influences?
Markus Grosskopf – I started listening to Punk music. I started my career in a Punk band, and there was some Ramones, some Sex Pistols, stuff like that I really loved, and still love it. Then after a while of playing with no gigs, I decided to do more heavy kind of music like AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard. I went a little bit more in that direction, and these are all my influences. I also love Thin Lizzy and The Who. There are so many great bands out there that I loved and still love. Like Michael Schenker, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. All those are really great and we started off listening to their music.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there are some great bands right there that you mentioned. Michael Schenker is a phenomenal guitar player.
Markus Grosskopf – Absolutely, and he is still around. Most of the ones I mentioned are still around. It is just great.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is phenomenal that these bands are still performing, and at a high level.
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, it is really great. We played a festival a couple of months ago with Def Leppard and Y & T are playing. It is great, I like it, and go and watch them.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you still enjoy that and watch the other bands.
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, we also played some shows with Accept in Europe. Great guys, great band, and I love it. It is great especially if you do festival tours where it is a hot Summer night listening to Def Leppard or Whitesnake and David Coverdale, you have a couple of cold beers, and enjoy the night. I like it a lot.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. Speaking of touring and playing festivals, one can imagine that you could also get very physically tired from all the touring. How do you keep yourself healthy on the road after all these years?
Markus Grosskopf – Using a rubber, that keeps me healthy (laughs). Seriously though, we tour a lot, but this year we decided not to do any single shows for Helloween itself around the festivals. That means we go out for the weekend, set some fire to the curtains on one or two festivals on the weekend, then we go home for a couple of days, and then we go weekend to weekend. That is what we do until September, and in October and November, there are some festivals in Europe that we are going to do. This keeps us kind of cool because there is no other shows in between and we can fully focus on the festivals rather than doing the actual Helloween tour, which is next year. There are always some breaks.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. You make sure to space things out, which is very smart to do
Markus Grosskopf – Yes, life’s work hurts more as you get older, and you have to break in between (laughs). When you are twenty-five, it does not really bother you so much.
CrypticRock.com – Understood, completely. My last question for you is regarding films. CrypticRock.com covers all areas of music and Horror movies we well. If you a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Markus Grosskopf – I am not a fan of Horror movies. I started watching them when I was seventeen or eighteen years old, I had some favorites. I like movies like The Big Lebowski (1998) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Horror films are cool, I just do not watch them much anymore. Sci-Fi films are cool though. They are good when you are travelling on the bus, after a show with a cold beer, or a nice whisky. It is just relaxing.