Sascha Gerstner - Helloween - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Ian Bell   
Saturday, 08 January 2011 05:00

I know it's hard to believe but 2010 was actually the 25th anniversary of the release of German Power metallers Helloween's self titled debut EP. During the latter years of the following quarter of a century I personally have kind of lost track of the band I once saw proudly conquer the opening slot at Monsters of Rock back in 1988.  I had watched from afar as band line ups had changed and albums were released, but with two new albums out in quick succession in the past twelve months, it was the band's scheduled set at the annual UK Hard Rock Hell festival that got my pink bubbles going ape again, and I was keen to catch up with the band to find out exactly what I had been missing out on. A couple of phone calls to the band's record label later and I was soon ready for a quick lesson in all things heavy metal....albeit in a converted snooker hall at a Pontins Holiday Camp in an arctic North Wales.  

 

Helloween_2007

 

Guitarist Sasha Gerstner has been a member Helloween since 2001, he is also the proud owner of a recording and mixing studio and a former band member of Lanzer and Freedom Call, but perhaps little know to most, he is also a lover of all things 80's hair metal and AOR!!

 

Sascha started this interview at the UK's annual Hard Rock Hell Festival by sidestepping what had probably been the most commonly asked question of the weekend when he informed me ''there is no point in asking him about the holiday camp or the venue as I have only just got here and it was dark when I arrived'', thus the more obvious question number 1 for many an interviewer is quickly shelved, but he obviously doesn't know this is Uber Rock and we don't ask questions like that do we??? (Johnny H take note)  I should also add that this wasn't Sascha acting all rock star or sounding short, as neither could be further from the truth, as I quickly found out on finally meeting the gentle giant of Helloween. It's not long before I'm  aware what a laid back and decent person he is, whilst also being someone who is very serious when it comes to their 'Art' .

 

 

 

UnarmedHi Sascha, thanks for taking the time to talk with us at Uber Rock. 2010 saw the releases of the 'Unarmed' best off where Helloween have re recorded some of their own classics in different musical styles ranging from acoustic to full orchestra to celebrate the bands 25th anniversary, as well the recently released '7 Sinners', that was an interesting and brave way to celebrate 25 years followed by a real return to form with one of the best Helloween releases for some time..... what are your thoughts on that Sascha?

 

In respect of marking the bands 25th anniversary there were so many ideas on the table but we knew we wanted to do something different, although it took longer than we originally planned as all the different musical styles take time to learn and then to structure the songs in the new style which we didn't really think about when we had the idea, it was fun to do though as a musician to try something different. The fun element I think also comes though on '7 Sinners'.

 

The current lineup has been together with the exception of the drum stool position since 2001, although particularly in the UK Helloween are remembered mainly for the 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' releases in the late 80's so was so was 'Keeper of the Seven Keys - The Legacy', a way of some drawing a line and allowing the band to move forward without the burden of previous glories?

 

When I joined the band it wasn't a real band anymore, just imagine you were a band and you sack two guys, you don't know what's going to happen next with a new record to make and you have a new guitarist who looks like he is coming out of Backstreet Boys with his short hair and everything and you don't have a drummer, that must have been a real hard time for Andi (Deris - vocals), Michael (Weikath - guitar) and Marcus (Grosskopf - Bass). You could feel it was not a band, when we recorded 'Rabbit Don't Come Easy' it was like we have a new guitarist and drummer so let's see what happens, it didn't work out with Mark Cross on drums back then so we had Mickey Dee of Motorhead fly in, the whole situation was fucked up, we were never on stage together and never hung out together. If you listen to the album now after the period of time that has passed you think wow it's a good album there are some great songs on there, it's not a balanced album as it just that it wasn't a real band at the time and there was a lot of insecurity.

 

Now with Daniel (Loble - drums) and me, I mean I have been in the band nearly eight years which is amazing and Daniel nearly six years, Michael told me that this is the longest Helloween line up that they have had, which is amazing that it's the 25th anniversary of the band and this is the longest period with the same line up. It's working really well now, we did a couple of tours together and a recorded a couple of albums and now there is a great mood in the band and everybody knows what it is all about and what each other is about, even the older guys are growing older and more relaxed to there aren't any of the personality clashes that may have been seen in previous line ups so right now it's great.

 

Since leaving Michael Kiske hasn't been overly positive about Helloween shall we say, does it bother the band?

 

I have never met him or know him, I just wonder why people don't leave their past behind, I don't know what happened exactly, I think the guys were all a lot younger and if people have big ego's there is always something going on.

 

Sascha_Profile_shot_2Do you remember the first wave of success for Helloween, the classic Monsters of Rock Festival appearance here in the UK for example?

 

No, I was too young really, although I wish I was born in the 60's or 70's, the grunge of the 90's killed the music scene I liked as being the guitarist in Dokken was always a dream for me, to be the guitarist in a band like Dokken would have been amazing for me at the time and then I turned 15 and everything changed, it was a strange time. My first girlfriend was into Pearl Jam and all I was told was that the music I liked was gay; bands like White Lion were just gay (said jokingly and laughing)

 

So were you a fan of the band before you joined?

 

Actually I wasn't a big heavy metal fan, back then starting to learn guitar I liked Toto, Bad English, more mainstream rock, the hardest album I had was 'Future World' by Pretty Maids, which was the hardest stuff I could listen too. As I said I liked Dokken and all the hair metal bands, Helloween I always thought may be some thrash metal band because of their image, back then you could guess usually the type of music the band was by the cover art work so with Helloween it seemed to be something dark, later on in the magazines with stuff like 'Dr Stein' I became aware that there was a fun element with the band. Later on when I was contacted about the position in the band I got more into the music and realised I knew the songs but never knew it was Helloween. A friend of mine at school leant me a compilation and 'March of Time' was on it although I didn't realise it was Helloween so when I looked into them it was a nice surprise that that track was theirs.

 

Nowadays it is hard to earn money from 'Art', especially for musicians as people download off the internet and nobody sells CD's anymore or has that feeling about music anymore in as much as the desire to have the complete package of owning an album. I remember being 12 years old and buying my first LP I was proud to own it, nowadays it's a case of "have you listened to these?, I've got it on my computer".....blah blah. 

 

Walls_of_JerichoWhen I was a kid and I first saw Helloween, (which is before before your time I know), Overkill supported them. Since you have been in the band who are the best headliners you have supported or the best support band you have had?

 

Oh....Gamma Ray without hesitation, the last tour was amazing and we had so much fun, I mean now we have Stratovarius which is a great package but of course right now there is not the deep friendship or connection that we have with Gamma Ray.  Who knows that may develop as the tour continues, right now we don't really know each other that well. With Gamma Ray we knew each other, and with Kai (Hansen - original member of Helloween), even I knew about him a long time before I joined Helloween and I also knew Dirk (Schlachter) so it was fun. There was no separation of main band and special guests on that tour it was just a load of friends hanging out; it was that sort of atmosphere.

 

Was it fun for you having Kai on stage with you for the encores during that tour?

 

For me there were no problems, it is a question I get asked a lot about being the guitarist after Kai and Roland (Grapow), it's never been a problem for me or changes anything, and I am here now and have been for some time. It's like with Andi he has been in the band for 15 years or more and written way more songs than Kiske ever did, but he is still seen as the new singer.

 

Talking of singers, Biff Byford of Saxon does the spoken word into on the track 'Who Is Mr Madman?' on the new album, how did that come about?

 

We needed somebody to do some speaking as an intro and I remembered that Biff did something similar for my previous band Freedom Call and I knew he would do it so I asked Charlie our producer who is also connected to Saxon to ask him. We needed an English speaker because if we Germans start speaking in English then English people will laugh, you guys always want to make fun of Germans so we don't want to feed that flame, so we needed someone who speaks properly so I thought let's ask Biff, it's turned out great that he does our intro's for us.

 

Seven_SinnersSo what are the future plans for Helloween once this tour is complete?

 

This tour will probably run until the end of 2011, Europe to end of February, then Asia and South America, some summer festivals and then Russia and USA, so a long tour.

 

You mentioned summer festivals so any plans for any of the festivals in the UK?

 

We hope so, we haven't really played much around here, I'm glad to be here today and London tomorrow because when I was young there was so much music coming out of this country and it was always a pressure as a German band to break here, so it's great to have fans here which seem to be growing in number or rediscovering the band or finding the band for the first time. That's what I mean about the term heavy metal, so many people were listening to it in the 90's we are told, but at the time nobody would admit to that, people were embarrassed to call it heavy metal. In Germany now for example if you will only have success if you are classed as a rock band. If you use the term heavy metal you have no chance. We have the Echo awards in Germany and even there for example Metallica wouldn't be in the award for best heavy metal band 2010, they would call it the best alternative act, and that's what we are known as and other bands like Rammstein. We are not heavy metal we are alternative. You can use the term heavy metal in UK but in Germany you can't, its alternative.

 

Finally Sascha, what bands or artists do you listen to yourself currently and occupy your Ipod?

 

I am very open minded when it comes to 'Art', I call it Art for a reason, because I don't believe in this movement where people start out to play guitar because they want to be cool, that's not the reason why I began playing guitar, I wanted to do Art since I was very young and music is part of Art. I like emo type bands, heavy metal, rock music, pop music; there are so many types of music that I listen to. I have just bought the last Alanis Morissette album which is amazing in my opinion, if a real heavy metal fan would see my iTunes playlists they would freak out. If you are an Artist you need to get inspiration from somewhere and for me that's not just in heavy metal.

 

Heavy metal for me is not standing on stage at Wacken festival seeing all people looking the same  in the same clothes, that's not metal, for me heavy metal is t do something unique and to rebel, to do something special. I remember being a kid in school and Helloween stuck out from the crowd as they weren't dark and evil, they had a fun element that remains to this day.

 

Helloween_2007_pic_2

 

And with that Sascha was whisked away from me and back onto the Hard Rock Hell interview conveyor belt.  My time spent in his company had certainly reignited my enthusiasm for a band I had for too long overlooked as one possibly trading on past glories alone, yet how wrong could I have been?  Well, why not start by asking any one of the packed out hall who later that night witnessed a career defining live set from the five guys known as Helloween.  It was sixty minutes of live music that set the heavy metal bar about as high as it would go at Hard Rock Hell and that in itself is a feat for any band to be proud of.  It certainly blew any cobwebs of doubt right out of my mind I can tell you, with the show making my Gigs Of The Year listing on Uber Rock.

 

I'd just like to finish off by thanking both Sascha Gerstner and Dante Bonutto at Universal for being such great blokes, and helping make this interview such a positive experience.

 

All that is left for me to do is ask you all this simple question.... "Are You Metal?"