Michael Kiske gjorde sig ett namn via Helloween och den tyska våg av power metal som sköljde över världen i slutet av 80-talet.
Han hoppade senare av och var sedan under en väldigt lång period inte aktiv eller speciellt intresserad av musik.
Nu är han tillbaka tillsammans med sin gamle vapendragare Kai Hansen i bandet Unisonic och har hittat glädjen med att sjunga igen. Jag fick nyligen tillfället att snacka med herr Kiske och det blev ett samtal om bl a det nya bandet, om att sjunga och hitta glädjen igen samt hur det var med det där Iron Maiden-ryktet.
Michael Kiske: Oh, hallo, do you speak German?
No, that´s pretty much all I know. I took German classes for six years and a big part of my family speaks German and my aunt lives in Oldenburg.
MK: (laughs) I see, I see. You know you don´t need it anywhere. It´s only useful in Germany, so it´s much better to learn English.
Right. First of all, what made you put Unisonic together? What was the idea, the whole plan that started it?
MK: It actually started with Kosta, who is also the manager for Helloween, he´s part of Bottom Row, which is like a managing team. He contacted me and the first thing he said was “Michael, I think that in the last couple of years you have not been properly managed.” And I said “I agree with you.”, because I have not been managed at all. Last management I had was Rod Smallwood, who´s managing Iron Maiden and who was the head of Sanctuary Music. A great guy and I love the man, but he just didn´t know how to handle me musically, because it´s very difficult to put me in a box. In the 90´s we decided to go our separate ways, but in a good way. There was nothing bad going on. Rod Smallwood is great, I love him. But that was the first thing, they approached me for the management side and quickly I had a meeting with him (Kosta) and Dennis, who I knew from the Place Vendome productions, and they said “How about a real band around you?”. The good thing is that they asked me at the right time. I have been going through a lot of phases for a number of years and there was even a time when I didn´t want to hear anything from the hard rock music scene. Too many disappointments, you know. But they asked me in a time when I was ready for it, so I said “Yeah, let´s do that!”. Very quickly we had Mandy in the boat, because Dennis knew Mandy. When we talked about a guitar player, we talked about one first and Dennis immediately said Mandy Meyer. He knew him form the past and it was a great decision because Mandy is the sweetest person you could meet. A beautiful man. Big heart, no destructive ego, great musician, perfect. That´s how we started this band in around 2009. We had the plan to actually release the first Unisonic record in the beginning of 2010, which didn´t happen. We had some great material, but we didn´t have enough to make an album. In 2010 I was already thinking “We need another guitar player who can also write songs.” And I was thinking about a friend of mine, Sandro Giampietro, who helped me out with a lot of my solo records, but Kosta was kinda afraid of him I think. A great person but very different. It seemed like he didn´t like the idea that much, so it didn´t happen. Then I went on tour with Avantasia and Kai was part of that tour too and from the moment Kai and I went on stage together, it was… and I don´t wanna mystify things here, but there was a special chemistry between Kai and me. It was great and just felt really… we fell in love with each other. We never had any bad feelings about each other and we always liked each other, even after Helloween we were always good with each other. We just never made music together. I sang on a Gamma Ray record and he helped me out with my first solo record, but we didn´t think about putting a band together. When we were on stage again on the Avantasia tour, we felt the reactions from the audience and the vibe between us, so we started talking backstage “I think we really have to do something together again.” and Kai is like me. I have a very strong head but I make my decisions with my stomach. Music has nothing to do with the head. You should never make music with your head, you should try to make music out of pure emotions. When we both felt that magic going on and we said we gotta do something together, Kai said “Yeah, but let´s not make a project. Let´s do one final real thing and see where that leads us. I wanna o a band.”. I wasn´t thinking about him joining Unisonic and I don´t know why. Maybe I thought he wouldn´t like it or whatever. It just didn´t come up. Of course he mentioned Gamma Ray, but I said “Well, I don´t wanna join a band with a 20 year history. You always piss somebody off.”. It´s too much metal for me. I like some of the metal stuff they do, but some of it is just too much for me, so that was not really an option for me. Then we were in a taxi somewhere in Germany at the end of the Avantasia tour and he said “Michael, do you still just have one guitar player in Unisonic?” and I said “Wow, yeah that´s true.” and from that moment on I knew that was it. Even as a four piece band it was an interesting band and we had some good stuff and I don´t wanna sound like I think the others aren´t good enough or anything like that, but I don´t know if you´re aware of how bands are functioning? It´s a chemistry thing and you need one extra person. Sometimes you need one less, but with that one extra person, suddenly it works and all of a sudden we had too many songs. There was a great chemistry going on and at the moment it´s perfect. You have a great chemistry going on between me and Kai. We like each other and we enjoy this and we don´t even have to think about it, it just happens and Kai has a great chemistry with Dennis and they just throw around ideas and within seconds they make a great song out of a good song. Kai enjoys it very much, I can tell. For him this is like a holiday and he will even bring some extra fresh energy into Gamma Ray out of this, I´m sure. That´s how it all came together. It just happened.
Could you kinda say that Avantasia played a big part in you two guys ending up in a new band together?
MK: Oh yeah, absolutely! It was just such a great experience. Like I said, Kai is a lot like me when it comes to making decisions. It comes out of the stomach and if you´re excited about something, you want and need it to go on. You feel like “That feels so good, let´s do something together!” and that´s the best way of making a band together. Not so much as “We could make a lot of money together!”, even if you can. You will not make exciting music if that´s the reason why you´re doing it. We could have done it ages ago. I didn´t even think people would still care, but for some reason they still do, which is great. But after 17 years and not even releasing records that suits that particular metal scene, I didn´t expect that response. It´s overwhelming to be honest with you. We just needed to be on stage together and to feel the reality of it and Tobias from Avantasia, he was making it possible.
Cool. The songs for the album, is it all fresh and new ideas or did you all bring old stuff that was lying around?
MK: Not really. Kai brought in some old ideas that he had lying around, but he made new songs out of it. Usually they didn´t have a lot to do with the original song anymore. Three years ago I wrote a song for my solo record but they liked it and they said “Let´s do it here!”, but most of the stuff has been written now.
I was listening to the album and the song “Star rider”…
MK: I love that song!
Yeah, it´s a good song, but the thing is that there was this one song that straight away came to mind while listening to it and that´s John Farnham´s “You´re the voice”.
MK: Yeah, yeah that´s true! The verses have a bit of that, yeah. It isn´t really the same melody but it has this sort of epic feel to it.
Yeah and it´s also the way the song builds up with the vocals and all that. There´s a bit of a resemblance to it.
MK: Kai did the chorus actually. Dennis wrote the rest of it and he had a chorus that was not so strong. It was good but it was not the peak of the song. Kai heard the track and said “I don´t like the chorus. What if we do this?” and within 20 seconds he wrote that chorus. That´s the good thing with being in a band.
You´ve been doing this for such a long time and Kai too, does it ever happen that you come up with ideas or a riff for a song, then just to realize that you did that in like 1998 or whatever?
MK: Probably, but not as much as I remember. I have been doing it as much as Kai of course, but I think Kai is a lot more in danger of that happening. But then again, it´s a question of how you do it. Johann Sebastian Bach for instance, he was fooling around with a lot of the stuff that he did before. It was a way of writing songs sometimes. You take something you liked from before and you just see where it leads you. Pretty often it starts off with something that sounds familiar and then it leads to somewhere else and you get something new out of it. In those days it was a pretty common thing to do that. If you have something, but you make a completely new song out of it, it is pretty ok.
MK: In the end it´s always what you do with it and how you do it. You will not reinvent music anyway. I think the future of rock and roll music and anything you can call original will a lot more depend on individuality rather than finding a never heard sounds or making funny arrangements. If you look at music in a superficial way, you have arrangements and instruments and you can kill all sorts of structures which work in terms of song arrangements and make like symphonies and move part after part, which is actually the easiest thing to do. It´s a lot more difficult to make a song which has a nice balance and sounding fresh, but all this stuff I´m totally convinced about that the more interesting thing is the personality you put into it. A good example is Elvis. He was not a creative person in terms of songwriting, he was a great entertainer and he was a great vocalist and performer, but any song he picked that he wanted to record, he made his own thing out of it. Usually it didn´t sound a lot like the original version anymore. Some of the tracks he recorded, especially in his good years… my favorite years are from ´68 to ´71 when he was in his 30´s and his voice was perfect and he was getting his fire back. He was out of the movie contracts that he hated so much and he was ready for hitting the stage again and he recorded some of the tracks that were already hit singles in the 60´s, but he made it so much better. “You´ve lost that loving feeling”, when you listen to the track from 1970 it just blows you away. So much energy. When you listen to the original track, with a black vocalist, it is also good, but it doesn´t have that energy that Elvis put into it. Or look at John Lennon when he recorded some of his solo stuff! (sings and hums) It´s like a simple rockabilly rock and roll tune, but the way he does it, you get goosebumps because he gives it this sort of magic and I think that´s where the future of music lies. You give it personality that nobody can copy.
Right. Have you heard the new Van Halen album?
MK: Not the album, but I´ve heard “Tattoo” and I like that one. I don´t know what the rest is like.
Well, the thing is that at least half the album is made up of old demos from ´76-´77 which is pretty cool and it´s got that Van Halen vibe to it instead of just writing all new music. Could you see yourself doing stuff like that? Do you have like tons of demos and old ideas lying around?
MK: I hate everything when it gets old. With me, even when I produce the record, it usually doesn´t even take a year and I´m not… there are few songs that stay. Usually you disagree with it after one or two years which is a good thing. It just shows that you´re still growing and that you can find new things and different ways of doing things. When I sing a melody into a tape recorder, usually even within a couple of days later, I don´t like it anymore. If I don´t make a song out of it right at the moment when the idea comes, it probably never becomes a song. Kai is a little different. Kai actually does collect rough ideas and he´s very capable of making a good song out of it. I´m bad with that. It either happens or it doesn´t.
The name Unisonic, where did that come from? Did you have other names floating around?
MK: Yeah, we had some shitty names. I was really frustrated. It was in 2009 and we were fooling around trying to find a good band name and we were coming up with some stuff that I really didn´t like and the others liked it and I was like “No way!”. For a while I thought we would never find a good name and then we had something like blah, blah sonic and unison something. Something where those two parts were in it and Kosta put them both together and I said “That´s cool!”. It´s a new word in a way and it has a good meaning because you can read it as being sonic in unison or you can read it as universal sonic. It has a nice feeling to it and not over blown and it doesn´t sound like you wanna pose around and it could fit to any sort of music and I was really happy with it. I think I was the only one who was totally sure about it and also when the guy who did the logo, I was the only one who said “That´s great!”. The rest needed a little longer to get into it.
After the release, are you gonna do some heavy duty touring?
MK: We won´t over do it. We certainly don´t wanna overkill it. We just play in special places. I´m not 20 anymore. If this record really sells big time and we can do big tours, of course we´re gonna do it, but we won´t overkill it. In about ten weeks or so, we do a little South American tour and then we´ll mainly do festivals here in Europe and at the end of the year we might do a little tour, but that all depends on how the record does.
Just wondering, you started out fairly young… when did you realize that singing was your thing?
MK: Singing really is my thing. I need it. There was a time when I had this long break, which tells you the state that I was in. I was sometimes not even singing for two years. I was totally not interested and I was dealing with other things, science, philosophy and I was totally on a different track. It was good, but it´s not good for a musician to be that little interested. You can tell something was wrong. I was frustrated and disappointed and I had too many negative experiences which turned me in that way. Now it´s totally different and I have sort of regained my passion for singing. I like to sing almost every day and even if I don´t have to sing because we´re not practicing with Unisonic, which we don´t do a lot anyway, I just pick up the microphone and I throw in some karaoke tracks and some Elvis and so some Elvis singing, just for myself. It makes me feel good and when I sing for just half an hour, I feel great. It´s medicine and I recommend it to everyone. Especially when you´re frustrated or depressed, try to sing a song! It really helps. I got into singing by Elvis. When I was nine years old, that was the year Elvis died and that´s when they showed all the stuff on TV and I just thought “What a cool guy!”. Before that I didn´t even care that much about music. That´s when I started getting into music and obviously I bought all these Elvis records or had my parents give them to me at birthdays and Christmases and stuff like that. That got me into it and at the age of 12 I got my first acoustic guitar and I started to sing with an acoustic guitar. I was always able to sing in tune and I always had a musical ear and it didn´t take very long, like three weeks, before I was able to sing my first couple of songs and stuff. I quickly started writing songs and at that time it was in German and when I was like 14, me and a friend of mine, who´s still a friend, we got into The Beatles and we started to play all The Beatles tunes. There are not many Beatles songs that I haven´t been playing on the acoustic guitar. I learned a lot from that phase and when I was 15 I got into metal and Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. The bands that were big during that time. I was into bands with vocalists like Sabbath with Dio and Rainbow with Dio and Priest with Halford and of course Queensryche was also very inspiring with Geoff Tate. My room was covered with Eddie posters and that´s when I discovered that sort of singing. I always had an ear for how to do it right without killing your voice. Obviously vocalists like me or like Halford and Dickinson, who sing in a certain key, we sing in a key that is not actually normal for a male vocalist. It´s more like a female key, a lot higher. You have to find a way of doing that. You shouldn´t just shout. If that´s the way you do it, you´ll just kill your voice. You have to learn how to do it right and I was always able to hear it, to hear how it was done and it didn´t take very long before I was able to sing that stuff.
Did you ever take classes?
MK: NO, I never did that. I just remember that I had… since I never had lessons, I didn´t know much about warming up my voice and I remember when we did the first European tour in ´87 and I got the flu and I had a vocal cord infection, I lost my voice. That was the only time I had with a teacher and she told me how to warm the voice up. What to do, especially when you get sick. But technically she told me that there was nothing she could tell me. She said “You´re doing it right.”, which was great.
Since you´ve done so many things. A lot of guest appearances on albums and you´ve been in a lot of different bands and projects, have you ever thought of putting together some kinda Kiske box set?
MK: Nah, the reason I did this was because I didn´t have a proper band. I was a singer on his own. When you wanna do something you do whatever interesting comes in. There were a lot of offers, but I just picked the ones that I thought… usually I picked the ones where I liked the person. That´s pretty much how I make my decisions. I don´t know. Like I said, I don´t care that much about records when they´re finished. I´m always interested in doing a better one.
Finally, was there a plan for you to join Iron Maiden after Dickinson left?
MK: Nah, not really. Obviously we had the same management and I knew the guys. Bruce was always sitting in the offices. He was not only singing in Iron Maiden, he was also managing bands and when you showed up at the Sanctuary offices, very often he was sitting there doing business stuff. Even after he left Iron Maiden, he was there. I never thought about it but the funny thing is that those were rumors flying around. I never forget, I was watching TV in Germany. It was arock show and there was this female host who actually said that I was the new singer in Iron Maiden, which was interesting because I didn´t know about it. It was really funny. It still comes up. The only explanation I have is that once I had an interview with a French journalist and he told me that he had interviewed Steve Harris before that and Steve Harris had said that I was one of three vocalists that he could imagine. I don´t know if that is true, you´ve got to ask Steve Harris! Maybe that´s where it came from, I don´t know.
It might be. Thank you so much Michael! Any plans for Sweden?
MK: I think so. We have played Sweden Rock before we even had a friggin´record out, so why shouldn´t we do it now? Maybe it is already booked, I don´t know, but I´m pretty sure we´re gonna play in Sweden. Sweden Rock was my first real concert after 17 years and it was really nice with the feedback from the audience. It was a good start.
Well, thank you so much and good luck with everything!
MK: Thank you and I´m sure we´re gonna talk again. Have a nice evening!