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.
This album focus immensely on your vocals, the way I see it. Is this something
conscious or intentional from your side?
Tobbe: Is there a meaning behind the title?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
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
- 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.
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.
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.
of the album Thunder In The Distance