Kai Hansen is an iconic figure of the heavy metal scene and the releases with Helloween and Gamma Ray has been a solid proof for such a claim. Gamma Ray had formed 25 years ago and it seems that this is the right time for a huge celebration with a special anniversary tour and the re-release of their entire back catalogue. So, it felt like a great opportunity to call him and talk about the history of his brain-child, but also discuss for the current heavy metal scene, and of course to ask him if there is any chance for the remaining of the "Keepers..." line-up to reunite. Read below all the interesting things he told as.
It's really been 25 years with Gamma Ray and eleven studio albums. Well...how do you feel apart from old I mean? Could you imagine when you started the band that in 2015 you would still be active, touring and releasing new music?
[laughs] I feel pretty fine, and everything is cool for me. Actually no, I don't think that we're going to be here for so long, but on the other hand I didn't think about this. It was a rare thought 'were I would be in ten years from now?'. So the truth is that I didn't think heavily about it. It was more like 'ok let's take the next step and see what will happen'.
You recently releasead your debut album "Heading For Tomorrow" as a special anniversary edition and I read that your full back catalogue is going to follow. Give us some details about that...why did you make such a move? Does it have something to do with your new label?
You know, the old albums were not available anymore and perhaps this has to do with the rights of the albums moving from Noise to Sanctuary to BMG, to... I don't know... Universal? What the fuck? [laughs] In the end, after all these years, it was time to think and check if I could take those rights back. Actually, it was a little hustle, but finally I got them all back for the old albums and of course then the idea was easy to say let's make them available again in a good way, re-release them remastered with a nice new cover and all that. Kinda finalize this full circle.
Is this fair you think? I mean re-releasing an album re-mastered? What about all of the fans that want the original sound of your albums?
Well...what can I say...We could have done something like two versions, both the original and the re-mastered version, but I think these days there are so many releases and I think that in the end it's just one more product and the new versions are really good. Sometimes, there have to be cool rare things that people can't get so easily [laughs]. So, we just concentrate on the new stuff, making the albums new because we don't have 1999 anymore...we're far beyond that. I never thought this being unfair in any way, because I believe that the people that are interested in a Gamma Ray album from 1990 maybe have it already. So, to me it was fair enough to say that if we were going to make them new there were going to be actually new.
What is going to happen in 'best of the best 25th anniversary party tour'? What is the plan?
The plan is to go on tour and make a really nice set with many old songs. Of course, we take the time to ask our fans on the internet what they want to hear from every album and of course we're going to light it up with a little optical party atmosphere and make it special.
Do you consider having some special guests, perhaps past members joining you on stage in some shows, maybe in Germany?
It would be very nice, but it's always problematic concerning the timing. Everybody has his own bands, like Ralph has Primal Fear and if they've got a new album they're gonna tour, so it's not so easy.
Alright...let's take now a trip back and talk about those 25 years. When Ralf quits it was only because he wanted to try auditioned for getting the singer position in Judas Priest or was there more in his departure? I'm asking because when he failed, someone would expect to return in the band...
Yeah...we really got stack at that point, because Ralph was forced to sing whatever I came up with, on the songs and stuff, because he was living in Stuttgart and he rarely was here in Hamburg. So, when we were making the songs he wasn't there. We wanted from him to think kind of moving in Hamburg and be more close to the band so we could constantly work together and he could develop his own things on the music, but that didn't happen. Plus he applied for Judas Priest and we definitely had to consider the fact him taking the job and at that point we knew that I was going to sing. To get him back would be like a relationship that ended. It's very rare to get back together and be like the first time. It would be kind of weird.
I believe that "Land Of The Free" is a masterpiece, a solid 10 out of 10, an album that can be listed as one of the 100 best heavy metal album of all times. Were you aware of the history that you were going to write with this album when you were making it?
Thank you! No, not really. Honestly, we just had the feeling that we were doing something good and that we were going to do an album that would be really reflecting this kind of music very-very well. That we were making a big step for the band in the acceptance of Gamma Ray not as Kai Hansen's band who was a part of Helloween and all that. It was sounding good because the first three albums were kind of experimental, like we were searching for the music direction, so with "Land Of The Free" we started to think that it was an album that sounded good for the band. But we never expected to have such an impact or that it was going to do so well commercially because at that time classic metal was not that popular. People were more interested in alternative music, grunge and all that stuff. So, it felt really well when we saw that it was doing so good and now looking back it feels even better, knowing that we've done that kind of a milestone record for us and maybe a little for the metal scene as well, something that had an impact...
Well, you don't have to be so modest. We are talking about a masterpiece and a brilliant album...
Thank you, thank you very much.
As I said "Land Of The Free" is a masterpiece, but at the same time it was somehow your doom. Every album after that was compared to it...and you know EVERY ALBUM no matter how good it is, would look uglier compared with this one. Do you agree? How you get into the studio to compose after that?
[laughs] You know... we never thought about that. I never wanted to live up to do anything like "Land Of The Free" in some way. We just did what we felt that was right at that time. For sure "Land Of The Free" is an outstanding album, but I don't think that made our albums look like shit... I don't believe that many people would agree with something like that [laughs]. But it's ok. Opinions differ, so if somebody thinks that everything we've done after that album was shit, I'm ok with that.
Don't be so dramatic. Nobody said that, you still have great records after 1995... [laughs]
[laughs] We just live on, we did our thing and if that wasn't accepted by the fans I don't really think that we wouldn't be here at all...
It's funny but I'm thinking that you left the lead vocals in Helloween so Michael could come in...but then you make a band with another singer and take over the lead vocals when he quit the band...what this tells us about Kai Hansen you think?
I was mature enough to take the risk and take the duty of the singer. At the time I walked away from Helloween I was used to work with a singer and I saw myself more as a guitar player. But then, when... after Ralph was gone we were thinking what we were going to do because we had no plan for that scenario before. I was just singing on the rehearsals and somehow I got used to that and the other guys asked me if I was feeling that I could sing. It was like 'well, we don't have a plan, but don't you think that it could be cool you sing? It sounds right, pure and authentic because you are writing all the vocal melodies and all the lyrics, so why don't you sing it yourself?' And I thought that it was cool after all. But, it's a curse and a blessing at the same time, because I enjoyed the freedom on stage not to sing and just playing guitar, I didn't have to worry about my voice and all that. On the other hand, I enjoy singing and transforming something from my side to the people and that's it. I have to live with my decisions. [laughs]
You also played a major role with Helloween in the formation of the genre that we call power metal. You were like the pioneers. What can you recall of that era...starting young and unknown and becoming one of the best heavy metal bands of all time creating three fantastic albums?
[mumbling] ...I don't know, maybe it was the mix of talent, luck and being at the right place at the right place. As I said, I don't really think about the past, but I consider myself as an extremely lucky person. I just saw a chance and took it.
I think that power metal was very popular in the late '90s and early '00s. Why you think the popularity has decreased now days? Do you think that it could recover at some point?
Everything has its time I think and there's always a need for transformation otherwise it would just be this same kind of music...there was always transformation in music, from blues to rock 'n' roll, to hard rock, to heavy metal and there was always a progression within the hard music. And you see that it's getting more and more extreme, when some years ago nobody would ever had think to sing like 'bubububububu' [editor: he mimics brutal vocals in a very funny way], you know growling and stuff like that. Nobody would really have done that, but these days it's kind of accepted and it is another step in the evolution. There's also the retro thing and the renewal thing, something that is old and people get back to what has been before. So it's just a natural progress I would say. Remember what happened with grunge. It was like 'wow' and so massive until a certain time and then it went out in some way. The true metal is still strong though...
In your career you have covered many great metal songs. Which one is more fun to do, a classic rock/metal song or something different that you drag it into to your band's character like "It's A Sin" from Pet Shop Boys?
Of course it's more interesting to do a cover to something that is beyond metal and comes from somewhere else and you transform it to a metal song. But it's also fun to take something you already like from metal and do it in your way. I like it both, but the more interesting thing is the transformation of a pop song into a metal song.
You are being involved to many projects. Is it perhaps a way to express your creativity and do things that you can't with Gamma Ray?
For sure that is one of the reasons. I think that the Unisonic thing is about Michael and me, having the chance to get together and do something again. It just felt right to do something like that.
The one million dollars question now...is a reunion of the classic line up of Helloween will ever going to happen? You have played on stage with them, Kiske and you are in very good terms... are Weikath and Kiske ever going to reach to a point in their troubled relationship that they can leave behind the past and go for it?
I think they've come really close recently and they look good. They've talked and they are cool again. And I think that all this is over already...
So the answer is?
No comment... [laughs slightly]
How do you see the current metal scene?
I think that the metal scene is vital. There are new bands that pops up almost beyond everything, but there are always new bands that rise and find the way of continuing the tradition or bands that are doing something new and very special. I'm talking about bands like Powerwolf for instance. They haven't re-invented the wheel, but they're doing their thing and they're doing it in their own way and it's very nice. And, of course, we've got all this kind of transformations of classic metal into something mixed with something. It's all these thing come and go like this kind of monster with that many heads. Sometimes a head is chopped off but a new one will grow...
And what do you think will happened when all these great bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica will retire? Who is going to fill the stadium arenas and headline the big festivals?
You have a point there. There's something that people say that the headliners are dying hard in some way. What can I say? There's much truth in that because the big bands of our time had the time to grow into the big band they are. But the bands of our days don't have that luxury. The market is so full and there are many good bands. There are much more bands at this moment that are accepted and have reached certain statuses than it was back in the '80s, when this whole thing started to grow. It's like the big cake is split up to many pieces, so therefore there are not so many outstanding ones.
25 years being in a band is a lot of time. I want you to tell me one of the funniest and craziest thing that happened to you?
That's always a thing that I never come up with when I'm asked. There always come and go when I don't think about it. I don't know, I have seen many funny and crazy things but don't ask me for a special event at the moment...
Have you ever reach to a certain point that you were considering to quit?
I never was close to quit actually, but there was a time of lows. I think the period between '92 to '95 it was a tough time to get through. There was the grunge thing and the alternative and all that and it was a very difficult time for classic heavy metal.
I remember a live you did in Rodon club in Athens -with Gamma Ray in 97- I think when you climbed on the balcony and jumped into the audience from a height of at least 2,5 or 3 meters. Was ouzo talking its toll on you back then?
[laughs] You now this fact have the tendency to become legendary so I don't regret it [laughs]. The fans from Greece are always reminding me this so I never going to forget it. But yes, it was kind of crazy...
Last one...Greece is awaiting for you...will you return with best of the best anniversary tour to celebrate with us?
I wish we would, but at the moment it doesn't look too good. Because of the crisis in Greece, it's very hard to come over and tour there. Greece is not around the corner for us, so it costs us to get there. We don't want to make any money but we also don't want to lose any, so as soon things with your country improve we will be there immediately.
Ok thank you very much for your time...
Thank you! I wish you so much good luck and I hope you find the strength to get back on track again very soon.