With your new project Place Vendome you return to melodic hardrock slash AOR. How did this come about?
"The whole band was an idea of Serafino Perugino from Frontiers record, who wanted to have a Journey/Foreigner type of release on his label. He first got into contact with Dennis Ward of Pink Cream 69 and hired him to oversee the project. Dennis Ward would only produce the album in the first instance, but ended up playing on the album and partially writing it too. I was asked by Serafino when most of the music was already written. He proposed the idea to me, and after hearing the songs, I agreed to do the record. I was impressed by the strength of the material - you must know that I always choose projects based on the strength of the actual material. I am reluctant to call Place Vendome a real band. It is all more or less the idea of Serafino. He works like this quite often, creating new projects based around a certain idea and certain people."
What was your part in the recordings?
"The funny thing is that I never actually met any of the other members. Once I agreed to do the vocals, I received demo's on mp3 from Dennis with his own vocals on it. I recorded and produced my own singing in my studio and sent them back to Dennis who was recording the music. I like this way of working when it concerns projects, especially because it is something that couldn't be done twenty years ago. Back then you had to get in a studio with a full band and waste many hours waiting. I can now go into my studio and determine my own pace. When something just isn't good enough, I just leave and re-record the parts the next day. I never recorded a full album like this before, but it works."
The outcome is great. Place Vendome is easily your best record in fifteen years.
"I think it is good that people get to see that I am still not averse to doing melodic hardrock. Some of the songs are still a little bit too heavy for my taste, though. Bill added extra guitar-overdubs to certain songs, making them heavier than the original demo. It is made even worse by the fact that Frontiers tries to sell the album as melodic hardrock. That was never the case! It was always intended as melodic AOR, not hardrock."
Why does that bother you?
"Because I have made clear that I never want to do melodic hardrock again in my life. My basic idea of music is to create your own art, not to do what people expect of you. I am open to projects, because it is difficult to do your own art without pleasing a certain audience. But to me music is about expressing yourself through your art, which is something you simply cannot do in metal. If someone like me chooses do be a free musician and creates his own thing, he is instantly looked upon by the metal community as someone who betrayed metal. And therein lies the irony of the situation: I rely on the rock-scene because it is what I grew up with and what people expect of mei. But I cannot fake creativity and cannot make an album simply to please the peers of the scene. Which immediatly excludes recording another album with overloaded guitars. I cannot veign another Keeper. I have been growing in music as well as growing as a person. Don't forget that I took my steps into metal when I was a teenager. When we recorded the 'Keepers' I was barely eighteen years old, I am 37 now. It would have felt very strange if I did not mature in the years between."
Why are you so reluctant to use heavy guitars?
"Because it detracts from the art. It is just like the choice to talk to someone, or to shout. Both ways of communicating get the message across, but talking is so much more dignifying than shouting. Nowadays I am less impressed by most artist in metal. I don't care if someone can play faster than Malmsteen or sing higher than Rob Halford. What I do care about is if a band can tell a story and bring a feeling across. Take Johnny Cash for example: he never needed huge productions to create his art. But his last album still gives me shivers: it is as if he could've seen his death coming. Same thing with Elvis. Even if he recorded a crap song - which he did a lot, this we know - then still he would do it in such a manner that you are touched by the deepness of his voice. When you are young you are impressed by every metal band that is loud, but there's just so little to it."
Is your departure away from metal a sign of you coming of age?
"It's rather a case of opening your eyes. Metal in general is filled with a lot of negativity that I feel are destructive for the listener as well as the artist. A lot of people in the metal scene cultivate antisocial behaviour and act as if a lack of decency towards other people is a virtue. Being heartless seems to be a strength. It is just so inhumane, so crude. I am a positive person who tries to treat people with respect. This decency does not mix with the attitude of a lot of people in the scene. In the recent years we have seen an uprise of black metal, a scene which holds a lot of people who are truly sick in the head. Some of those Satanist musicians are just plain idiots who have a complete lack of a human soul which is sickening. This the metal scene is very naïve, even after twenty years."
Now you are generalising. Edguy and Aina weren't what you described.
"Particularly Edguy does not fit in my life. It is true those guys are not evil, but they are naïve, making the same mistakes Helloween did at the time. The reason why I recorded a recent song for their last cd is because I liked the lyrics, in which Toby attacks certain journalists who always pigeonhole artists, which is a theme I can relate to. But to be totally honest I did not even like the beginning of the song, not the end. It was the Queenish part that attracted my attention. Aina is a completely different story, though. It is a fairytale put on music. It has nothing to do with metal, except that it is made by people who are part of the metal scene. But I understand that this can be confusing to some."
Why do you keep on participating on rock and metal projects, then, if you know that it confuses your audience?
"First of all I know that it is confusing, even to me. I am a complex person that is not easy to understand. But I realise that I need to take a step back. Now that I have done the Edguy-song, I will never do metal again."
You told me the exact same thing three years ago in an interview. Yet you still did Edguy and Tribuzy.
"I did? Ehr... Perhaps I did. Any musician who searches for his truth will always find twists and turns on his path. I guess this current feeling is not the last time I will journey away from metal only to come back. I mean, when I do something it will always have the tag 'metal' attached to it, simply because I am still tied to that audience. Being an artist is to me about moving forward and backward between feelings and ideas in an attempt to find yourself in your art. It is not easy to find out where you are as an artist, and sometimes you just do something and see how it turns out in six months time. Of course I am not blind for the past, I just do not want to do anything to violent or brutal."
How do these projects relate to your own solo-albums?
"As you know my solo-albums are very different from my projects. That is also why I have to do these projects. My own solo-albums simply do not generate enough income to support myself. They used to, but with the current state of the music industry it is hardly even possible to get a good record deal from any record company. These projects allow me to carry on my own art and still make a living at the same time. The alternative would be to get a full-time job. But when you do that you become a weekend-warrior, too tired to work out anything decent during the weekends."
Do you think that we will ever get to see you perform live again, for example with Place Vendome?
"It is a possibility, but it ultimately depends on the recordsales. To be honest I feel very insecure about my role as frontman in any given project. I haven't played live in 13 years so I am not confident that I can still be the frontman that people expect me to be. I am simply not the long-haired entertainer anymore who rocks huge crowds. There's a tremendous conflict in me, because I simply do not think I will find my artistic truths on a muddy festival where hundreds of people shout out for 'Future World'. I am thinking about bringing my music to a different stage, like for example in a singer/songwriter context. I love what Richie Blackmore is doing at the moment with Blackmore's Night. I was introduced to that band by my friend Bruce Dickinson and was truly impressed by it. It is so graceful and so dignifying that it created its own audience. That is what I would like to do too: creating my own audience outside of the regular scene with my own music."
Two years ago Kai Hansen made a cameo at Wacken as a special guest of Helloween. Could you ever imagine yourself doing such a thing too?
"If I was asked to join Helloween at Wacken I would do it. I would never consider rejoining the band on a permanent basis. But if the band would ask me to sing one or two songs live I would like the idea - from a nostalgic point of view. A lot of people would certainly like that and as a one-off thing it could be interesting. A lot needs to be done in the meantime, though. The big thing that stands in the way of such a performance is my relationship with Weiki (Michael Weikath, Helloween's bandleader - Ferdi). I have no problems with any of the band members, but Weiki and I simply aren't the best of friends anymore. Still, if he would ask me to sing with Helloween I would certainly consider it, should the past get out of our way."
Helloween have a new 'Keeper'-cd coming out. I guess you must have been asked a lot about it by journalists.
"I know, but what is to say? It is not my place to comment on other people's works. Of course I find it curious that they would release such a thing. The original 'Keepers' were made not by a bandname but by five individuals. Out of those only two are left, which raises the question if the album could ever live up to the originals. But its their choice."
Were you ever approached to participate?
"No, I wasn't. Weiki probably knows that if I would participate, I would change the sound into something that is to distant from what they want to do. He simply didn't bother, and he was right to do so."
If you would rerecord the classic Helloween-albums, what would you change about them?
"Probably everything! I feel like I have grown so much in the last years that the material on those records aren't representative anymore. I still think the Keepers are the best things Helloween ever recorded, but my vocals are so... childish. I cannot bare to listen to them anymore. It is not like I hate the 'Keepers' - I still love them - but it is something from my youth that I would do completely different as an adult."
Michael Kiske us currently working on an acoustic solo-album which is expected early 2006. A second Place Vendome is amongst the possibilities, with a possible Summer 2006 release.