As a band leader you found yourself in hard circumstances. Two musicians left the band, the second album wasn't received as well as the first one, so you had to release something really strong now. You've succeeded, because the reviews have been very positive, but it must have been really hard to work under such pressure?
Yeah, definitely it was hard, I guess I gave everything, like 100%, people always say 110, it's impossible, 100 is the most we can do. But on the second album I felt it was just 89% or 93, something like that. It wasn't really round, it was too complicated, too progressive, everything in the band was a little bit tricky, the relationships and everything. Now I did my best, but I guess the next album will be even stronger. It's very important to develop always, to make something that people accept from the beginning. That the sound is tight, and the songs are understandable, not so complicated. Nobody needs that anymore.
Your previous producer was busy with Megadeth, and you had to take over his duties. Isn't it hard to produce your own album, when your point of view is totally different than that of a person who doesn't know the stuff so well?
Yeah, that's right, it's more complicated, because I'm always thinking, how would it be judged from the outside of the band, about the material, which is even more not possible, honestly. But I try to think like that. But what should I do when he said he didn't have time, and I'm not trusting anyone else anymore? For me, Andy Sneap is the best engineer for this kind of music, not for the melodic music, I mean for the guitars sound, the sound at all. So, it pushed me into that direction then and I'm also thankful a little bit, because he pushed me into that direction to produce first time the Masterplan album alone, and it worked fine. I'm looking forward to future co-operation with Roy Z again. Roy is my best friend and inspiration, you know? I will see. Definitely I don't have so much fear anymore, with producing, I can trust myself more and more. That's very important.
Most of the stuff was ready when the new musicians joined, but Mike DiMeo wrote the lyrics and vocal lines. I heard that the first attempts were unsuccessful, and you had to work on the songs heavily, to make them fit the Masterplan style, because they sounded too similar to Riot?
Yeah, it's true. He delivered like all the lyrics except "Lost and Gone", and I can say three songs were perfect, melody-wise as well, but the other stuff we worked quite hard upon. Because it wasn't really fitting the style. So it was like a team working together, it's really true.
Uli wrote a couple of songs before he left, but you kept only one, "Masterplan". Why?
Because the other stuff, I didn't like. He was leaving the band anyway, and I didn't want to have so many songs from someone who left the band just one week before. I paid him so much money already for the whole time he was involved on the 3rd album, like 10 months, and he said, OK, if you want to keep something, let me know, and I said, yeah, just "Masterplan", I like this song. It's a really good song. I like that.
"Lost and Gone", which was your single and video clip is quite commercial. Why, in your opinion, does a metal band need such songs? I mean pop or mainstream rock fans won't listen to it anyway, and your real fans will complain about your choices for the singles.
Oh, I have a totally different opinion, because I'm not a metal guy so much, and "Lost and Gone" is one of my favourite songs definitely, it worked live unbelievably good, because we play it a little harder. I don't know, it's always stupid to release a metal song, because then you're always on the level of just metal people, and I want to reach also people which like rock and metal. And if you see "I'm Gonna Win", also a ballad, it totally fits with this kind of style. When you see Scorpions were one of the greatest metal bands, and they always had great singles, which attracted not only rock or metal fans. That's how I see it, and that's an only chance to get a radio song, and to reach a different level. With metal, you're not getting into a different level, you have just the same fanbase all the time, we always need a chance. Maybe it works out in five years, or maybe never, but if you never try... You know I like this song, it's not a compromise or something.
And who is Erik Lidblom, who wrote "Lost and Gone"?
I didn't know him before, but he contacted me in the middle of last year, or beginning of last year. He just wrote me very nicely and said if I'm interested in one song he wrote for Masterplan, because he's a Masterplan fan not so long, but he was a fan of mine. When he was young he heard first time "The Chance" from Helloween and he loved the song and then a friend of him said, "Hey this guy is now in Masterplan, it's a fucking great band". And he's a professional songwriter, and he just wrote it and said if you like it - keep it. And I said, "Man, I love it", but Uli hated it. So finally, that's the story of it. When Uli left I played it to the other members and everybody loved it immediately. That's how it landed on the album.
Both previous albums had traditional painted covers. I like the second one especially, that burning cockpit. Why is the new artwork so simple?
Because I think the first album was quite cool, the second was too complicated for me, honestly. When you put it on a T-shirt, it doesn't look good. You need an easy message for people, a symbol, everybody has symbols. And Masterplan had on the first album a little symbol, but not really strong. And we wanted to have a symbol, which is much easier to follow for the fans for the future on every album. The cockpit looks cool on the artwork, but not on the T-shirt, that's why we wanted to change something.
After "Aeronautics" was out I read an interview with a guy who said that Masterplan albums have cold, digital production...
Everything we do is digital anyway, but I know what it means. But I can't say why. It's probably about the drums, that sound digital.
Do you know who said that?
Your ex-bandmate, Michael Weikath.
Oh, he said that on the first album already. Yeah, he said that about the first album. But this guy is an idiot, anyway. He doesn't know anything about sounds.
And now, that you've produced the album on your own, are you fully satisfied with your work?
Yeah, for that short time we had, and for the problems we had, it's the best album I could deliver. If I had time and a stable line-up I would've made it even better. But for the problems we had, it's an incredibly good album. Because we had just two and a half months' time, for recording something so powerful, and 'till the mix was done, the end of mastering, I couldn't even judge if it's good or not. Because I didn't have an overview. I was so involved in the work, that it was really hard to judge before. But like I said, I was working like a dying horse, you could say, and I just said to myself, "Work as hard as possible, or the band is over." And that's what I did. I think the next album is much easier, or maybe better, or maybe not, we never know - but that's my wish, to have more time to work on it. Like on the first album, I had all the time of my life I had. We took one year to work on it.
The main reason for Jorn's departure was, officially, the musical differences. But I heard that the vocal lines were too high, and he's afraid he won't be able to sing them when he gets older. Is that true?
Yeah, it's true, it's like the main thinking he had, the main idea. It's like a thinking about the future, about performances and so forth. There wasn't any other reasons, just the musical differences, we're still friends, and maybe we'll still work in the future, we will see. We had kind of little problems some months ago, one year ago. Anyway, that's the only thing, no problems with him, we're still friends.
When you were looking for a new singer, Mike DiMeo got in touch with you. I heard you didn't know him before. How is that possible? Didn't you hear any Riot albums?
He didn't contact me personally, it was on Myspace, his webmaster or whoever. When I heard him on Myspace I just realised he's a good singer, and he's got a similar style. But he didn't contact me. So, that's it. But yeah, I didn't know Riot at all, that's true.
Have you auditioned any other singers, or was Mike the only one?
Oh, just three singers before.
When you were starting Masterplan, there were some rumours that Michael Kiske might be becoming your vocalist. Did you take him into consideration this time?
Not really. I asked him, but he said no from the beginning. He's not really interested.
When Uli Kusch commented on his departure, he said that you stopped inspiring each other. You said that he started some fights about the business side, not music. I suppose the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but you haven't spoken since then. What really happened?
The truth is about business fight. We're not talking anymore. We've never had problems with the music. It's just about business and his strange kind of thinking. I don't know, maybe we'll talk in one year again, but in the moment I'm not really interested, because he's very strange and how he left the band was not fair, honestly.
The thing with the new drummer was very easy. When Mike Terrana heard that Uli walked away, he said he was your new drummer, and that was it! You must be really good friends?
Yeah, it was very easy for me, because he's a very good friend since 10-12 years and he's my favourite drummer, next to Uli honestly, and there was nobody else I asked, because I just asked him to help me and he offered his membership immediately, so it was very easy.
You didn't ask either of the two Mikes to leave their other bands, Rage and Riot, but they did. I don't think that lack of time was the reason, because Mike Terrana still plays with Axel Rudi Pell. Do you know the real reasons for their decisions?
Mike had big problems with Rage already a long time, so it wasn't about Masterplan at all. And Mike DiMeo was, I guess more or less, they wanted a new singer. Because when he's involved in another band, and a bigger band than Riot is, I guess the guy, I don't even know the guitar player's name, but I think he wanted to have his own singer. But I didn't tell anyone to make like a leaving of the band or something. With Axel Rudi Pell and Mike Terrana I don't see any problem, you know? When this tour is finished in a couple of days, he's going immediately with Axel Rudi Pell, and do some shows, and then I see him in Japan again, two weeks, you know? I don't see a problem with Axel Rudi Pell at all, because he's not making so many shows anyway, and the rest of this year he's not busy at all.
You've released two solo albums; the second one was out eight years ago. Why haven't you continued your solo activities? Were the albums unsuccessful, or you just don't have the time, focusing on Masterplan?
No, I guess with Masterplan, I have found my perfect kind of desire of making music. I guess the style is much more satisfying me instead of my solo albums that I did before. I mean I like it, that was very important for my career, to make these kind of steps. But it was more of neoclassical kind of guitar playing, like Yngwie, you know? And I'm not like this anymore. If I make a solo album again, it will be totally different. I'm planning something again. Many, many plans.
On the first solo album you sang yourself, for the second you hired Mike Vescera. He's one of the best rock singers for sure, but I really liked what you did on "The Four Seasons of Life". So, why didn't you sing on the second album as well?
Because people made me insecure. 50% had very good compliments, but the other 50% people made me very bad feeling, like, "Oh, that's not good". And honestly I was too scared. I guess I can sing better now, maybe I'll prove it again later, you know? Maybe next year I'm doing another kind of solo work, and then I'm showing people. I will sing more relaxed, more with feelings, more mid-range, not so high. Definitely I want to sing, but not alone, couple of other great singers on one album, that's my idea I have. Like, let's say my favourite singers are really Michael Kiske, Jorn Lande, DiMeo, with me together on one album, or maybe another couple of singers. That's the idea I have.
You've been playing the guitar for over 30 years now. Having such a huge experience, do you still learn some new licks, scales, techniques?
Not so much about scales, but definitely about feeling, about sound, I'm really always looking into guitar sounds. In this situation, at the moment, I want to learn more again. For two, three years I haven't had that feeling, but now I feel I want to go on a different level. And definitely I'm hungry for that. I keep it very natural. It's not that I want to force myself or something. My studio is done, I live in Slovakia, I have a new studio, the band is great, we had a couple of good albums, now I want to reach the next level, next step as a guitar player. Maybe also as a songwriter. For me, the combination of playing guitar and song writing is very important. We'll see, you never should stop learning definitely, never.
You've probably got a nice collection of axes. Do you own any guitars you would never sell, no matter how much money you were offered?
Yeah, some of them. Like my black Les Paul, which has great sound for Masterplan, or my old Strat from 1962, one acoustic guitar. Many, many great guitars I have, but maybe just five or six I'll keep forever. The rest is not so worth. But I like all of them, you know?
Most bands write a song, and when they like it, it goes on the album. I heard that when you start writing stuff, you divide it into a few categories, and you try to fit at least one song into each of them, like one fast song, one slow, one heavy, one ballad, etc. Is that your own idea?
I guess yes, since the first Masterplan album. Yeah, since the first album, I'm doing this. Because I think the colourful aspect of Masterplan is, that I'm not copying everything. I like to shuffle, like 3/8 bit, like "Crystal Night", we have a lot on the new album, I forgot already. But this is a kind of example, of a heavy one - "Bleeding Eyes". But what I say, these kind of sounds, style, that's totally me. I started it in Helloween already, with "Time of The Oath", "Escalation 666" and so forth, and the melodic faster stuff I always liked, like "Kind Hearted Light" or "Heroes" or the old days with Helloween like "The Chance" and all these kinds of songs, that I always liked to repeat a little bit, but not copying exactly, because that's boring, you know? It always works nice, I know it works.
Being on tour with Saxon, you've got an opportunity to play for larger crowds. But wouldn't you like to do a headlining tour, to have more time on stage?
No, this time is perfect, we've got a new line-up and it was very important to grow together, to develop. In the beginning we did a couple of good shows, and then after five shows we had a couple of very terrible shows, because we were not really fitting together at the beginning. And everything we learned for the old line-up took also 10-15 shows. Now I can say we are really good, you didn't see us today, but finally, this line-up is really tight now. Terrana is absolutely fantastic fitting, and everybody says they're not really missing Uli at all, because this guy is incredibly powerful, good looking and he makes a little drum solo, always. He's like a little star in the band already. And Mike DiMeo as well, he's much more active than Jorn on stage, and OK, Jorn is maybe the best singer on the fucking planet, but we didn't have a choice, we needed to replace them in the moment, and it all took too long time for Mike DiMeo. You know, he's not from the metal singing, it took him longer than for Jorn long time ago. But finally, we're really strong.
Why, having a new album out, you don't play any summer festivals?
Honestly, we don't have any offers. All the festivals were a little bit worried about the new line-up, and now we have offers for the next year. So next year, we play Wacken definitely, and hopefully I'm working now already on the new album, that we're releasing in the next year, in the Summer festivals it's single, and the album shortly after, so we want to make like a festival tour next year.
OK, let's wrap this chat up. What could I wish you, as a band, apart from no more line-up changes?
More success. Especially for headlining, because it's always good to have a stable kind of people coming to the show, like 500-800 or more, because then you make profit, and you sell merchandise, and then everybody can live from it. It's not easy at the moment, you know? Everybody's downloading, and the funny thing is, we're one of the most successful new bands on the market. We're really in the shops everywhere, and in Sweden and Norway we're selling even more CDs than before, but finally it's still not possible to live from it, it's unbelievably hard, and that's what I think should be changed. Because when we get on the next one or two levels, then all the band members can survive. That's very important for me. That's not about being rich anymore, that's over anyway. But we're making this because we like this you know, we love music, I like to play live in front of people, it's my passion. I live in Slovakia mainly because of my girlfriend, but also one reason is because in Hamburg, everything was so fuckin' expensive. I can't live there anymore. So I moved to Slovakia, it's much cheaper. And I love that country, it's very beautiful.
My homeland's neighbour...
Yeah, Poland is also great. We just played, I think two and a half weeks ago, two shows. It was great. And also in Czech Republic, where 1200 people came, it was fantastic. And the most beautiful girls come from the East, ha-ha!