Interview with bassist Markus Grosskopf | Words by Charlie Steffens
Over 30 years into their calling, German power metallers Helloween aren’t about to pack it in. My God-Given Right—the follow up to 2013’s highly praised Straight Out of Hell—their 15th release, was released May 29 via Nuclear Blast. The new material embodies the essence of Helloween classics, such as 1987’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I and 1988’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II. The band aren’t too concerned about what critics might say with regard to going back to their roots, using the characteristic hooks and choruses fans enjoy singing along to. To make music without the weight of trying to live up to certain expectations seems to be what the album title implies.
“You’ve got the fuckin’ God-given damn right to do what you like to do,” bassist Markus Grosskopf affirms humorously. He and guitarist Michael “Weik” Weikath—who have been in the band since its inception—adhere to a method of making music that has stood the test of time. “If you do something for many years, you’ve got the right to do any kind of stuff you like,” Grosskopf continues. “You have the right to do and say anything, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. When you make the choice to do whatever you’d like to do, you’ve got to do it with all of your heart. You’ve got to do it, but you’ve got to deal with the problems that come with it.”
“Today, we fool around more with arrangements,” he explains. “It’s a little more arranged, like what we did in the ‘80s or something. But the basic track is a basic Helloween track. If somebody writes a song and the other player plays his instrument to it, he knows exactly what he needs to do, almost without asking, to make it sound like Helloween sounds like. That’s the experience you get when you do something for so many years.”
After the previous tour supporting Straight Out of Hell, the band found themselves scattered all across Germany. “Everybody started writing individually and we had all the songs after a couple of months. We had all these songs. What can we do?” Grosskopf recalls. “We had the luxury problem again of having too many songs to choose from. Everybody wrote a lot of songs. We didn’t have a master plan to write, like, a concept or something. We just wrote what popped up in our minds—what’s coming right from the heart. It’s always like what’s coming out. If we like it, we work on it a little more, rehearse it a little more. Then, we chose what went on the record. It’s just as natural as it gets.”
“Almost everybody in the band is writing and that keeps it fresh as well,” he continues. “If I don’t have that idea, somebody else has got an idea. It’s not on the back of one or two songwriters. You can always count on everybody and that makes it pretty easy for Helloween to work. A higher force, in a way. I don’t see an old man with a beard, but there must be something where you get your energy from. I would call it, like, a higher force, higher energy or something. You kind of believe, when there’s nothing going on and when you feel down, there will be the time when you feel better and somehow you get some strength to do some things you want to do. That’s my belief. This kind of force also rules different things, I believe. This kind of power. To me, it’s just a big energy. Be free to believe in whatever way you believe. Just don’t hurt anybody and find your way of floating through this world having fun, having a good feeling. ‘Even in Heaven, you need a bass guitar’ is a line from the song ‘If God Loves Rock and Roll.’ One day, we’re all going to be there. And I’m going to be there to entertain you,” Grosskopf laughs.
“We’re kind of honest when it comes to what we like to have on the record,” Grosskopf elaborates. “The songs are there, and then, we work on it in the studio. If you put keyboards on it, if the piece has keyboards, what kind of keyboards, how the guitars are going to be set, and how it’s going to be mixed. It’s a very interesting process for us. It’s kind of fun to see all that growing—the way we want it.”
No strangers to remote locations not trodden by heavy metal bands, Helloween was picked as a headline act to perform in the rainforest of Borneo, an island divided among the countries of Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. “The Sultan came to say hello and invited us for a meal,” Grosskopf reveals, laughing.
“There’s a lot of stuff to do that makes it very interesting. After a tour is finished, you go home, have a little break. Then you start thinking, writing songs, and getting some ideas together.” Grosskopf likens the experience of being off the road to homework. There’s not a lot of down time before it’s time to start the write-record-tour cycle all over again. Historically, the band has made a studio album every two years, followed by extensive touring. “When you sit at home, you’re thinking, ‘How can I get some more material together for a new album?’ You do different things like writing lyrics, writing music. Then you go into the studio, which is another part of it: recording, all that. Rehearse a little. And then, you’re doing the promotion.” The band just filmed a video for the album’s title track in an undisclosed factory that used to employ 8000 people. “It’s closed now,” Grosskopf reveals. “It has a very nice rotten look, like something very old.”
As far as doing dates in the U.S., Grosskopf seems doubtful, though not disenchanted. In Poland in 2011, they played in front of 500,000 people. European festival season kicks off in June and will extend to September. Over the summer, Helloween will share stages with some of metal’s biggest bands. Then, in October, the “Weenies” will play the Loudpark Festival in Japan with Slayer, Anthrax, Carcass, and Arch Enemy, to name a few.
Despite having a career that includes eight million records sold and countless shows played all around the world, Grosskopf is just as proud to be part of a band whose members really get along. “It’s nice. It gives you a kind of strength. Knowing you can solve a big problem [by] sitting together, talking about it,” he says. “You can be sure you can do it again. That keeps you kind of cool about what’s coming at you.
Whatever may come. You sit together, you talk about it, and you can solve any problem that’s coming at you for the future. It keeps you kind of easy. I like that.”