From Helloween to Masterplan, guitarist Roland Grapow and druumer Uli Kusch have created a power metal machine destined for greatness. With their debut album being produced by Andy Sneap (Mahine Head, Testament) and eleven blazing tracks, their self-titled debut album should garner Masterplan a lot of attention.
Tell us how you became involved with Masterplan.
Uli Kusch: Actually I was with Roland in that band called Helloween and we played together for seven years. I helped Roland on his first solo album called The Four Seasons Of Life. After The Dark Ride tour with Helloween, we had been fired actually. Before just half a year, we started to put our ideas together to make a kind of side project. It was meant to be a side project, but after we had been fired, we thought letís make it a band because we had to make something concrete now. We had so many songs left which we couldnít use for Helloween Ė we had like 17 songs Ė basic tracks that had not been worked out 100 percent. Then in August 2001, we started with the band Masterplan.
Why did you suddenly get fired from Helloween?
Somehow, there must be a reason, but we still donít know what the reason is. This was like one and a half years ago. We did one show in Spain at a big festival over three days and we were headlining that concert. It was like 25,000 people all hands in the air Ė everybody was singing along. It was a good party and the last show of the tour. After I came back home, I thought we had some stressful situations in the band, but if we have free time now for a couple of months, everybody can be separate to relax and we can go back together and make the new album. But it didnít happen. I got the email saying I was fired because there were bad vibrations in the band and they think itís not coming from their side. And that was the explaining to us. But the reason actually, I donít know. And I think I did too much. I started writing songs for Helloween when we did The Time Of The Oath album. I think I was involved too much. The reactions of the people for The Dark Ride Ė I did two songs Ė one of them called The Departed Sun Is Going Down Ė and the reactions were very positive. There was one guy in the band who couldnít stand it that I get good reactions for my songs that I wrote for Helloween actually and also for him. This could be one reason maybe Ė to be jealous Ė itís very easy and very simple but he never would say that. And there were many other things that went wrong. Iím a type of guy who likes to work. If I have a meeting Ė letís say to rehearse at 5:00, then I am there at 5:00 and Iím there to rehearse. And some people have a different mentality and come there at 7 and then they tell you they have to leave and 7:30 and they are not prepared. And thatís bullshit and thatís not focused for the project Ė and that happens in Helloween and I saw things going down. We always had a kind of crappy live show because the band was not tight. We had two guitar players who had never played together, not really 100 percent. We did 300 shows or more in those seven years Ė there were some very great shows we did but there were also some very bad shows. We could have not done this by just being prepared. The situation collapsed when we did The Dark Ride tour because Michael Weikath didnít like that album at all. And if you are on the road for 170 days and thereís somebody next to you always complaining about one thing, you say, ďHey man, stop it now! Stop it right now or go home!Ē Thatís such bullshit and destructive and I couldnít stand it. I was about to leave and Roland was about to leave. But that was not the intention to make that project Masterplan when we would have been still in Helloween. Maybe we would have worked with the guys on a new album and it could have been different again. But I donít think the quality we have now with Masterplan wouldnít have been like this if we were still in Helloween.
Do you feel that Masterplan is almost like starting over again?
Yes, but from a certain stage. Itís not like starting from zero because weíve been on the road for seven years. Many people know us and Jorn Lande is known in the scene as a brilliant singer. Masterplan is a new name but people know us. They donít know the songs of us and the combination of the sounds and the new style of Roland because heís back more into riffing instead of playing arpeggios and stuff which he did years ago. He was more influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen but this is over and now he went back to his Les Paul and is more into making metal riffs. And Jorn Lande is kind of AOR style and very Whitesnake influenced. And Iím a metal freak! And that combination makes it. And we have a great bass player from a band called Iron Savior and a keyboardist that I worked with on a project called Catch The Rainbow. We did one album where we covered Rainbow tracks. Last week weíve been in the rehearsal room and prepared for the tour and I think thatís great.
Will this tour with Hammerfall be the first time you guys have played live?
What made you decide to go on the tour with Hammerfall?
They decided to take us with them. The album is going to be released on the 20th of January. And around that time we have to do something for promotion, and I think a tour is a good way. Actually the tour promoters/agency is the management of Hammerfall and we are in contact with them because Iíve known them since the time I was in Gamma Ray. They asked us if we were interested in going on tour with Hammerfall and we said, ďYeah, that could fit.Ē So they brought our tape to Hammerfall and they decided ďOkay, good band, take them!Ē
Hammerfall recently opened a bunch of shows out here in the States for Dio. Is there ever a chance of you guys getting out here to play?
I hope so. The only show I ever did in the US was in New York, Christmas of 98. And I was in the States in 89; we were at the place of Alex Perialas who is the former producer of Anthrax and Exodus. And I was there to mix one album for my former, former band Holy Moses, so that was the only dates I had in the States actually. But I think there is only two real metal festivals in the States. There is one offer from New Jersey in March and we have to decide if itís worth it money wise and everything. But we are very interested.
Since a lot of people have not heard the Masterplan album yet, could you describe what the music is like?
Itís a mixture of traditional hard rock and heavy metal. But itís got a new color because of the sound Ė it sounds very modern and the arrangements are a bit more modern. Iím influenced by all of the great mid-80ís metal bands, so this is my influence into that album. And Jorn is influenced by AOR and people know what he is doing with Ark and Millennium and all these bands his did. And Roland is a bit older than I am, so heís more influenced by the 70ís, but heís also very open minded. And this combination makes the album very interesting. Most of the songs have strong melodies and strong choruses made to sing along, but there are also progressive elements. There are two songs that are more Helloween type of writing, especially Heroes where Michael Kiske sings Ė the former singer of Helloween. This song was made to sound like Helloween Ė to just say goodbye. (Much laughter)
What was it like working with Michael Kiske again?
I canít really answer, because I wasnít in the studio when he was there. Actually Roland got in contact with him again because that was the time before we knew about Jorn Lande singing. We thought about maybe involving Michael Kiske. So we asked him and he told us no, he was not really into the metal scene and he does his solo projects and heís fine with it. He doesnít want to go on the tour for an album, but he needed to get the tapes and he wanted to work alone on the songs. That was very strange and we decided forget it. We then got in contact with Russell Allen of Symphony X. This guy made some sessions on some tapes we had to hear how it could sound. But when he knew it was going to be a serious band, and not just a project, he told us he couldnít do it because of Symphony X, so we had to change again. And then we found Jorn. But coming back to your question, Michael just helped out for the song and it sounds like a Helloween song.
What qualities did you like about Jorn that you decided to use him as the vocalist?
The intensity and the sound of his voice and AOR influences. Now heís left Ark and he will concentrate on Masterplan.
Who writes all the lyrics for the songs?
The lyrics were written by Roland and Jorn. And Crawling From Hell, Jorn and me together we did this Ė by sitting together drinking three bottles of red wine Ė and then we got that chorus ďMonsters and DemonsÖĒ (laughter)
What do you think of the new Iron Savior album?
I know that pretty well, because I just replaced the drummer for one gig this year. I played in Wacken with Iron Savior. I like it Ė itís powerful and I like the voice of Piet and itís very easy going.
What to you is the best and worst part about touring?
The best part is to play live everyday. There are some days you are not getting into the concert because of some stupid stress during the day. But the best thing is to go onstage and see people enjoy the music. The worst thing to me is not being home, not to have my own pillow and not to have my shower and my own food and my family.
Do you have any messages for fans of previous bands youíve been in and/or people who might be interested in checking out Masterplan?
Probably there are some people who have heard me playing on some albums, and I always try to give the best quality I can give, so go ahead and buy the record. (Laughs) Thatís all I can say.
MASTERPLAN: Their Official Home Page!
THE END RECORDS: The American Record Label for Masterplan!
AFM RECORDS: The Official Record Label for Masterplan!
ULI KUSCH: The master drummer's website!
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