» Michael Kiske - Place Vendome
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Interview conducted October 10 2013
Interview published November 23 2013

Metal Covenant hooked up for a 45 minute chat with Place Vendome singer, Michael Kiske, to talk about the new album Thunder In The Distance, his new band Unisonic, his history and other interesting stuff.

Tobbe: This is obviously the third release from Place Vendome. In your opinion, what differences or distances this album from the two previous releases?

  • Michael: I think that this one here is the most AOR. The first one had some kind of side trips to other areas, even some metal areas here and there. The second one too, but this one is really AOR to a hundred percent.

Tobbe: This album focus immensely on your vocals, the way I see it. Is this something conscious or intentional from your side?

  • Michael: I guess this type of music is basically vocal oriented AOR. It's based like typical rock songs and they are always vocal oriented.

Tobbe: Is there a meaning behind the title?

  • Michael: I guess there is. It didn't write the lyrics and I also didn't come up with that title. I have the impression that some of the songwriters knows that I would sing and they write for me. I guess they also try to put the lyrics in a certain direction. They know a couple of things that I express in interviews and they know how I feel. Some of the lyrics suits me in a certain way. So maybe that's where it comes from.

Tobbe: Tell us a little bit about the recordings. How did you guys progress through the recordings?

  • Michael: Place Vendome is different than something like Unisonic. Unisonic is a band and everything we do there comes to life in the usual way. You have song ideas, you send them around, someone has an other idea. When you have the songs, ready to work on, you meet up in the rehearsal room and then you go through all the songs. You play around with it as a band.

    This is not happening with Place Vendome. It's more individual. Usually Serafino [Perugino, Frontier's president] has some ideas, some song suggestions and he sends them as Mp3:s, as demo versions to me and to Dennis [Ward, producer, guitarist, bassist] and we give our opinion, you know. It usually goes very quick. In two weeks or whatever and then we have the material.

    Then usually Dennis does rough versions of them. Most of the time with a drum computer, some rough keyboards and some rough guitars. Then I start doing some vocals for it and while I'm doing that, he usually work through the recordings, you know with guitars and all. And when I'm done, I send him my tracks and whenever he is done he starts mixing. It's more like everyone does his thing pretty much under his own command.

Tobbe: The first two albums had two different songwriting staffs and I presume that's the case for the new album as well, perhaps not for Dennis though?

  • Michael: That's true, but I don't think that Dennis wrote anything on this one. I think he had the most share of songwriting on the first one. I don't even know, did he write for the second one? It was probably not too much if he did. Now that we're in Unisonic, we're gonna save our material for that though. He's just basically producing it and which he has done very well on this one.

    I wasn't so sure in the beginning for some of the songs, but I'm not prejudging cause I have realized a couple of times now that you have to do a song until you know. Sometimes the mixing shows what it really is. Usually when I get demo versions, other people do the vocals, like the songwriter or a friend of the songwriter or whatever, so it usually sounds different.

    I just have to imagine how it might sound like, but I really only know when I've done it. So usually I have to work with the song for a while and do some recordings and then I get the impression if it works. Still, even after that, sometimes Dennis does so much great work in terms of producing it. This time he had a great keyboard player there, who's really doing a lot of interesting stuff. And the songs turned out way better than I had expected and that's brilliant. When that happens, it's always a sign that the producer had a good go, you know.

Tobbe: You mentioned Unisonic briefly. What's the status of that band now?

  • Michael: That's the next big thing. We're writing material for it and we would like to release a record next year, early summer latest. We are already booking festivals that we're gonna play. I just wrote three songs together with a friend of mine, which I did lyrics for and I sent rough versions to Dennis, so we're on it.

Tobbe: So Unisonic is number one for you nowadays and Place Vendome is something you record albums with?

  • Michael: Yes. With Place Vendome, I actually had a plan to stop doing it. A soon as I got into Unisonic, I thought that that's it with these kind of projects. But I must admit, I've did two world tours since and I toured last year with Unisonic all over the world, and we did the same this year with Avantasia and every time I was talking to people, whether it was fans or people that I did interviews with, there's was always this question about Place Vendome.

    So there is an audience out there that really likes these records. And they're easy for me, since I don't write songs and don't produce it. I just sing and that's just fun to do. It's easy done, so I just decided to go on with it. It's not gonna be a record like every second year or that. Maybe every three or four years, something like that.

Tobbe: Do you think people in general see Place Vendome as a Michael Kiske solo project.

  • Michael: It's not a solo project.

Tobbe: Yes, but do you think people look at it that way?

  • Michael: I don't think so. At least when I'm doing interviews, I always make it very clear that the basic idea of it came from Serafino. He contacted me in 2003, I think. He sent an e-mail, but at that time I didn't even know his label. I didn't know him. They were just telling me what he does, that he has his label and that he had all these artists on a contract, he likes my voice and whatever, blah, blah, blah.

    "We'd love to do an AOR record. I can imagine your voice", he said. I mean, he loves that type of music. And I thought it was a good idea. I wasn't in a band or anything at that time. That's how it all started. It was just an idea of his. It just got quite successful. People likes it, and I like it because it covers up a different area.

    It's good for me as a singer to have that as well. With Place Vendome we approach a different type of audience than you would do with something like Avantasia or Unisonic. The AOR kind of audience is usually a little more my generation. They're usually a little older. While at the first row at Avantasia and Unisonic concerts there are usually teenagers.

Tobbe: How you talked anything about playing in support of this release? I saw you at Sweden Rock Festival a few years ago. You toured as Unisonic, but you played Place Vendome songs.

  • Michael: It was a commotion. We didn't have a record out then. It was Unisonic and that was just because we were too slow with the record. We had planned to have that record release far earlier. We were absolutely sure that we would be able to finish the album by then, so we booked the gigs. But we were not ready, so we had to do something and since it was me, Dennis and Kosta [Zafiriou, ex-drummer] of Place Vendome, we just said "Okay, let's just play a couple of those songs.".

Tobbe: So would you play a couple of gigs with Place Vendome if you get good offers?

  • Michael: No no. The thing is that we have Unisonic going and Unisonic is a real band, so there's no need for that. We don't wanna overdo it, you know. There's a lot of things that I'm doing besides Unisonic, like Avantasia and stuff like that. Who knows, maybe one day I'm gonna do a long tour with Amanda Somerville. We're doing another record as well with Kiske/Somerville, because that was also quite successful. I don't see a need for that, with Place Vendome.

Tobbe: You've been in and out of many projects through your career. Are you a restless soul or do you like things to be run your way?

  • Michael: I think I have done everything my way for a long time. In the phase where I was not doing much, I was not doing a lot, I mean I was releasing a record like every fourth year maybe. I had my guest appearances here and there, but I wasn't doing much. In the old days, bands usually released a record every year or at least every second year. The was a normal rhythm for a band like Iron Maiden for instance. They always released a record every year. At least at the time when I really was a big Iron Maiden fan. The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind, Powerslave, those records. Every year they had a record out. So compared to that, I didn't do that much.

    Actually I like to do things. You never know how long you can do that. How long you care. How long you'll be interested in doing that, or even how long you can do it in terms of your condition or whatever, you never know. It's just like, if something comes up that I think is cool, I just do it. And especially when all those things vary so much, different kinds of music.

Tobbe: In your career you have recorded many different types of music, so what's most fun to record?

  • Michael: I really like different things, honestly. It has always been like that with me, even in my hardest metal days. I think I got into metal when I was fifteen. I was listening to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Those and a couple of others were the main bands I cared for in those days. But at the same time I was still listening to The Beatles, Elvis, and even Pat Benatar and Kate Bush. I even listened to Eurythmics and Simon & Garfunkel and some classical music. I never made a religion out of one type of music.

    I think there's a lot of interesting music going on. When I have done like a singer/songwriter record, it's interesting to do something that rocks a little more. Also these days when I'm listening to music, it varies. I can enjoy a Kings Of Leon record or a Queens Of The Stone Age record, but at the same time I listen to Karol Dylan, who's like an Irish folk singer. Very, very silent music, very feminine, very beautiful. I think it's the same with food. You don't eat the same stuff every day either. You like to vary there. It's just a lot more interesting.

Tobbe: You listen to a lot of different music and you must have been influenced quite a lot when you were younger and perhaps still is?

  • Michael: I don't listen that much to music these days, as I did when I was younger. Usually these days it's very few things that I really care for. I sometimes just buy the video on iTunes or something. When I see a song, even if it is a song of Rihanna or whatever and I think it's cool, I just buy the video and I put the shit on my iPad or whatever.

    Like two days ago, I just wanted to hear that old Suzi Quatro song If You Can't Give Me Love. I just wanted to hear that, so I bought that over iTunes. It's more like that. The only stuff that I really listen to a lot is Karol Dylan. She did four records and there was a phase where I was listening to all four records every day. That's how much I loved it, you know.

Tobbe: Really? I can't even imagine doing that myself. Let's go back the album for a while. What are your favorite songs or strongest moments on it?

  • Michael: My favorite is Maybe Tomorrow. I really like that one. It has a great chorus. (Michael sings a part of the chorus.) It's a great melody and it's good for my voice. I also enjoyed singing it a lot. I mean, there are lots of good songs on that one, but this one certainly sticks out.

Tobbe: About your voice. How do you preserve your voice nowadays? I mean, it's a singer's sole weapon, so to speak.

  • Michael: I don't know. I guess I just do things technically right. If you're a singer you just have to avoid violation of the voice, that's the thing. So it's important that you work with it, that you keep it flexible, that you do exercises, that you warm up before longer singing sessions and also you got to adjust to the changes of the voice.

    I'm not 19 anymore, like when I did Keeper [Of The Seven Keys, Part] 2. I'm 45 now. This is like 25 years later and obviously when you grow older the voice is changing, the whole body is changing in fact. When I was 19 I was rather skinny and now I'm actually quite big. You know, I kinda grew and I tend to get fat and stuff like that. All these things have an effect on your voice, but that's not a problem as long as you work with it. There's so many singers at 19 or 20 that were able to songs like that (he snaps his fingers) and when they get older the voice is changing and they don't adjust to that. So they get problems with it and they stop pushing it and get frustrated and then they enter the Devil's cycle. They don't believe that they can do it anymore and if you don't believe that you can do it anymore, you can't.

    The thing is that it has a lot to do with your head. The voice changes over the years, but usually to the better. You get more resonance and you get more volume. I mean, my voice sounds way better than it ever did. When it comes to the technical side, you just have to figure out what your voice wants and what it needs. In my case, I do something like 30 to 45 minutes of Elvis before every show, before every recording, before every rehearsal and that does the trick. It's good for warming up. On the slow songs especially, he had a technique that was like massage for the voice. Not so much with Jailhouse Rock or Hound Dog though.

Tobbe: So you are never worried that your voice will eventually lose its power as you grow older? Let's say towards 60 or 65.

  • Michael: When you get over 60, it will certainly be on the downside. That's just the way it is. It doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be able to sing anymore. Because if you treat your voice right, you might be able to still sound really good. But it's just a natural thing, the voice will get softer, the voice will have less edge, the voice will sound older, you know.

    It doesn't have to be a bad thing. If you look at Tom Jones. I mean, he still has a very big voice and he can still do the shit. If you see him live, he's still earthshaking and he's almost 70 now. But of course it has to do with the individual also. Obviously when you reach a certain age, you will have to compromise here and there a little bit, it's just the way it is. But that's not a bad thing, it's just life and just the way it is. As long as you adjust to what happens and do the things the way you can do it then and if it still sounds good, you can keep on doing it. If you think you suck and if you think you can't do it anymore, well then just stop.

Tobbe: How do you see your future in the next ten years to come? Do you have any plans?

  • Michael: I have no idea. I take life as it comes. I have never been the person that plans careers or anything. Also, believe it or not, I don't even like to be in the spotlight. I'm not the kind of person who wanted to be famous. I don't care about these things now and also as a person I do not need to be on a stage.

    The reason why I started doing this was just pleasure for music. I just got excited about certain bands and I wanted to do this and that's what I did. I was in a rehearsal room, I had my own band, I was doing this type of music and I was happy about it. I don't know exactly, but I probably also would have been happy if it had stayed there in the rehearsal room or whatever.

    But for some reason, the rumor got around, then Weiki [Michael Weikath, Helloween guitarist] called me, we met up and the rest is history. I got successful with Helloween and it became my profession. I think subconsciously I had a plan to have a career like that, but it was never about fame or those kind of things. It was just about the music. I just love music and I love singing, that's the same thing.

    And now, I can't tell you what will be in three years. Maybe I'll be doing the same thing or maybe I'm already fed up with it again and will do something completely different. I don't know. At the moment, I would guess I'll still be doing music. If there's still a band there, if there's opportunities, offers, whatever, and it's still exciting. But ten years is a long time. Especially in my age, I will be 55 and I don't know what I will do then.

Tobbe: You reached world wide fame in our metal community when you were less than 20 years old. How did that affect you?

  • Michael: It affected me in many good ways. I mean, I was able to travel the world when I turned 18. When you travel the world you meet people in a lot of different countries. It's healthy, it's a good thing. When you're just in your own country your whole life your world is quite small, but when you're able to travel all over the world, you just get a good impression of that we're basically all the same.

    There are differences naturally, in mentalities, the cultures, the histories and whatever. Of course there are differences, but the core, you know the essence of humanity is all the same. We have the same hopes, we have the same fears and it just varies on the surface, but deep down inside we are all the same. When you experience that in a very young age I think it's a good thing. I mean, I had to grow up quickly. I also had some bad experiences and disappointments at a young age, but I learned a lot from it. It might sound stupid, but I was never stupid enough to believe in the circus, I was never stupid enough to think that I was better than someone else because I had my funny face in a magazine or something like that. You need to be a bit naive to believe that.

    It's a great job. Working with music is awesome and to be able to excite people with what you're doing is beautiful. It's a great thing to do and it's great what comes across with 20000 or whatever people in front, giving you this energy. It's amazing, absolutely. But you should always be clever enough to know that you're not better than anyone of them just because you're on a stage. That's the danger of any type of success, of any type of fame, whether that's an acting career or whatever it is that puts your face out in public. You become a book to read for other people. If you don't know how to deal with that and if you believe that you're larger than life or even a god, it's dangerous. You have to have a spiritual background.

Tobbe: Yes, but still you were so young back then and you say that you could take fame in a good way, although I assume that some people told you that you were God on earth.

  • Michael: Yes, but the higher you go, the harder you fall. It's a certain karma correction going on. If you really take off and believe that you are like a god, you can be sure that something's gonna happen. That's what we do now on earth again. It always happens, because we're not meant to be gods. We're not stars, they are just up there in the sky. I mean, humans are beautiful, don't get me wrong. I don't think that we should all be the same, you know. Let's be individuals, let's be beautiful, but don't become arrogant. Don't think that you're better than the guy that sells the rolls for breakfast or the guy in the bank or the guy that fixes your car or whatever. It doesn't give us anything. The money you have and the fame you have doesn't make you better. It's the person you are that gives you the value. How big your heart is, how much you care about others and how much you give. It's not what you have, it's what you are.

Tobbe: Did you ever feel that you were filling people's voids or fulfilling their lives when you were on stage?

  • Michael: Oh yeah. That is quite often the case when we feel empty. We idealize. We all do this a little bit. We also do this with the opposite sex. A lot of men idealize certain women. Women do that even more actually. They really idealize men and very often they don't really love the man, they just love the image they have of that man. It's a good thought. To a certain extent, you are some kind of a platform for their projections. They see something that they'd like to love.

    It's a little dangerous. I mean, look at Elvis Presley and look how he ended up. He ended up like really sad, because he couldn't deal with it. He had everything, you know. He looked amazing, he had a great voice, he was dynamite on stage and everything that most people love came together in this man. It was just too much. All these expectations from people, all these hopes and all this love and everything that they projected into him to make him this American idol, you know this sort of God person. He completely paid for it, he just lost it completely because he couldn't deal with it and that's the danger of it.

    But the thing that always protects you with anything in life is that you are aware of things. If you are aware of what's happening, you're pretty much safe. Because you don't fall into that trap to see things in a different way than they really are. When I'm on a stage I am myself. I'm not trying to be what I'm not, but I also know that this is entertainment. I know that this is a show and people paid money to have some fun and I won't take it too serious. I enjoy it and I like to sing as good as I can, but I know what it is, it's a concert and it's entertainment. People go there and they just wanna have fun and it's part of the free time that they have, but it's not more than that, you know.

Tobbe: About your long career. What are your career's best moments?

  • Michael: I think there were certain phases that I thought were great. The first three years with Helloween for instance, with Keeper 1 and Keeper 2 when Kai [Hansen] was still in the band. I think that was the best phase of that time because everything was working, we liked each other, we had great fun. We also were successful, we sold millions of records in those days, and when you're successful, it makes life easy. Everything's fun you know, everything's been taken care of. It was basically one big party that went down there. We were all young, we were all still very blue eyed. I certainly was. That was a great time.

    But I must tell you. After the split with Helloween when I kind of locked myself up and was basically just living in books for a number of years. That was also great. It was amazing. I had some amazing years just being like spiritual. Just being, thinking, learning and trying to understand life. The musician's life is very often very superficial. Everything happens as a big party, so the years after Helloween was the total opposite of that. I didn't have much happening on the outside, everything happened on the inside. But it's totally different as you can see, but that was also great. And now it kind of turns around again. Now I'm more open to the world again, to go on tour, to have a band, meet new people and that's also great.

Tobbe: Deep inside your heart, was it good to finally get out of Helloween, the way you see it now? Was this better for the rest of your life, to not play with Helloween anymore?

  • Michael: Well, they kicked my out. It was not me quitting.

Tobbe: Yes I know, but…

  • Michael: Honestly, when it happened it was painful. When it happened I was very frustrated and I felt totally betrayed. It wasn't easy, especially in the first number of years. I'm very sensitive and I take betrayal very, very heavy. I don't wanna sound stupid, but I think I'm a good friend. If I call someone a friend, he's my friend, and it stays that way, and I don't betray. I have never betrayed my wife or my girl. She betrayed me later on.

    I never in Helloween treated anyone bad or anything, I just don't do that. I'm not perfect. I was young, sometimes a little wild or whatever, but I was not intentionally trying to hurt anyone. I would never do that. It felt bad in the beginning, but honestly I learned so much from it. I learned so much after a while, having to be completely on my own, learning to make records, learning to deal with not being successful, with being criticized for not delivering what certain markets wanted you to do.

    All these kind of things made me learn so much about musical culture, about what I want, what I don't want and who I was. You are forced to make decisions in phases like that. You have to make a decision on how you wanna live your life. Do you give in for the pressure or do you keep on doing what you think is right? It was hard, but it was great.

    Actually I met Weikath a couple of weeks ago and he was extremely friendly. He was extremely keen on making peace and it was nice. The interesting thing for me was that there was no anger in me, no anger. I was totally relaxed and that shows me that I'm through with it. I'm done with it and that's good.

Tobbe: You still get a lot of attention from your years with Helloween although it was two decades since your split. I reckon you wish that you got more attention for what you're doing now, even if you'll always be the old Helloween singer.

  • Michael: Sure, but that's just the way it is. I mean, I can't complain. To be honest, it's astonishing to see that those records linger on for such a long time and even after twenty years there's still teenagers getting excited about them. If I listen to the records now, as a musician, I hate all the production and it's not at all the way you would do it nowadays. There's so many things that I think are wrong. I think that my voice is too thin and I have a lot of things that I can criticize now, but I get the spirit.

    The spirit was beautiful, the spirit was very authentic. I can tell you that in those days we thought we was the best band in the world. We just thought that this music was perfect. When we did the first record [Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1], I still remember that I played the record for a friend of mine and I was so sure that this was gonna sell millions, because I thought it was so great. The guy couldn't believe it and I told him "Can't you hear it, listen!". I was so convinced and I think that's the beauty of it. It's like young people totally in love with what they are doing there, being totally convinced about it and creates a certain energy that you cannot fake. It's something you just can't build, it's just there and I think that that's the secret why they are so successful. It's funny that they are so successful, but it's great.

Tobbe: A few of those albums were great, yes. But they were also pretty groundbreaking too and that's probably why they managed to stay valid until this days.

  • Michael: Even nowadays there's a lot of fans, even in the hotels when we show up with Avantasia there's at least 50 people there, that wants autographs and it's always the Keeper records. Pretty much everything I did shows up there, of course Unisonic, it's all there, but it's always also the Keeper records. It's funny to see that it's also always teenagers and that makes you feel really old.

Tobbe: Well, it's good to have a second generation, or even a third generation of fans.

  • Michael: When we toured with Unisonic last year, it was so funny to see. It almost felt like being in a time machine traveling to the eighties, because they look just exactly the same. Same age, same kind of faces. It seems to be music for younger people somehow.

Tobbe: What ever happened to that idea of having you and Andi Deris both fronting Helloween together for a tour?

  • Michael: I think the band that I'm in now, Unisonic, is much more interesting to me than to do these kind of things. For fans it might be fun, at least for some fans.

(Michael's other phone rings and he tells me that it's his friend's children that's calling him.)

  • Michael continues: That was actually Sandro [Giampietro]. I'm writing songs with him and he produces it. I'm gonna do some stuff with him instead of doing a solo album. What was the question again? Where were we?

Tobbe: The question was about that rumor about you and Andi Deris fronting the band.

  • Michael: I don't see that. The thing is that I have been a part of earlier Helloween for about 7 years and now there's been like a 20 year period where they have had a different singer. I don't see the point. I think they have a whole audience that sees Andi Deris as their singer. So they should just go on with that, you know what's the point? They should have thought about that maybe in the first three years.

Tobbe: If I was in Andi's shoes, I wouldn't feel comfortable with you coming back, because that would put him in your shadow.

  • Michael: I find it a little weird. If I would be the singer of a band, why would I want the old singer to show up there? I don't understand this at all.

Tobbe: But that's how the fans see it still, because you were the singer during Helloween's heydays and you were there during the classic years.

  • Michael: Without any doubt, the Keeper records were the best selling ones. But I don't know. I really don't see that. I have a great band now and Kai is part of it. I don't see the point, you know.

Tobbe: I remember when I listened to the Unisonic mini album [Ignition] for the first time and I was a bit surprised that the first song was so much more power metal than I had expected.

  • Michael: That's Kai. You can't have Kai in a band without having power metal songs.

Tobbe: Are there any songs that you never would play live?

  • Michael: No. At the moment I usually only play the old Helloween songs that Kai and I wrote. It's just an ego thing, you know. I just say "Okay, you guys didn't want me in the band, so I don't sing your songs anymore". You know, that kind of thing. But there's no song that I really hate or anything like that.

See also: review of the album Thunder In The Distance

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