An Era of a New Beginning - Roland Grapow speaks out.
German Power Metal act 'Masterplan' have come along way since the early days with their debut album which was released in 2003, featuring former members of Helloween Roland Grapow (guitars) and drummer Uli Kusch when the band formed back in the early 2000's when both members quit Helloween after the 'Dark Ride' tour in 2001. Roland and Uli met Norwegian master vocalist Jorn Lande with the help of bassist Jan S Eckert and bassist Alex Mackenrott when the band signed to AFM Records. It was on that same year the band would play the indoor version of Bloodstock festival. With the success of the debut album released the band would soon record their 2nd album 'Aeronautics' in 2005, a great follow up which was sadly to be the last album with Jorn on vocals, his replacement would be Mike DiMeo (ex Riot), also leaving the band was drummer Uli to be replaced by ex Yngwie drummer Mike Terrana. With the new album in 2007 called 'MK II', this album ssaw the band supporting Saxon around Europe. Sadly Mike left the band and Jorn came back for the next album 'Time to be King' back in 2010. yet again Jorn quit and it wasn't until recently the band would have a pretty much new line up consisting of ex Cradle of Filth drummer Martin Skaroupka, vocalist Rick Altzi (At Vance), and ex Stratovarius bassist Jan Kainulainen. With the new album 'Novum Initium' released in 2013 I managed to speak with Roland about the new album and why it took the band so long to release this new album. Here is what Roland had to say. In the meantime check out the new stunning album.
Ok Roland 1st of all could you tell me out of the previous albums you did with Helloween, which was you’re favourite and why?
“Well I would have to say I like nearly all the albums I did with the band, and I think for ending my career with the band it would have to be ‘The Dark Ride’. It was a very important album for me because it changed my world as a Musician as well and I am proud of that album as it sounded great. After that album everything sounded totally different again.
Did you do a lot of writing for that album? It was a heavy album and it did sound different to the previous albums.
”Well it was not that I wrote too many songs, I wrote 85% of the rhythm guitar riffs and I switched from my normal Fender guitar & Marshall sound to a down tuned guitar sound with Mesa Boogie which was a big difference. (Ed: Do you think you would have got the same sound if you had used a Marshall amp?) No using a Fender and Marshall gives you a completely different sound, more of a 80’s sound .”
I noticed that Helloween and Gamma ray recently toured together a few months back, didn’t you ever get asked to play on that bill? It would have been a great package if you were.
“That is a good question, well the management of Helloween asked me to join on the tour with Masterplan and I agreed to do it but I guessed the 2 main guys of Helloween didn’t want me on that tour and their management never told them about me been part of the tour. I waited for 4 months for either a yes or no answer and in the end they said it was too expensive. I don’t think they liked the idea of me been on the same tour as them for some reason. I am really still good friends with Markus and the new guys even though I never saw them and Sascha knew I was looking for a new singer, he told me about Rick. We played with Gamma Ray a few months ago and Kai wanted us to go on tour together next year so it looks like we will both be on tour together in 2014.
Looking back at the old Masterplan album do you have any favourites?
“Well that is hard to say really, and I have to agree with the fans, the 1st album is definitely the best one and I don’t think it is possible to re create again as it had magic moments and we were pissed as we were fired from Helloween so we wanted to get our rage out of our system and I think this was the perfect album for it. I would have to say now that there is no hatred from my side anymore and we now concentrate on the music. I do not have a least favourite album I am proud of all the albums I have done with the band. I think MK11 is a good album and Mike is a great singer, but I don’t think all the songs suited his voice and the songs are great but there are some little details that don’t quite match up. The album ‘Time to be King’ wasn’t that good, a lot of fans were disappointed as they thought Jorn would be doing some great stuff but the fans were sadly let down so the tell me, it’s a great album and we make compromises and Jorn hates that German metal sounding stuff and I think the 1st 2 albums had a great mixture of German meet Scandinavian metal with a great singer. I think he didn’t see the strength of this band really and we came from Helloween and I think with this album he had big ideas we would become a big band. But nothing happened with the reunion. After the video shooting I never heard from him since that.”
I know I saw you playing the indoor Bloodstock some years ago, I think this was the last time we met actually, and didn’t you do the outdoor one too? Would you ever go back if asked?
“Yeah you are probably right, I think it was the last time we met. Yes we have done the outdoor one too. I remember the indoor one been great but the outdoor one not so great back then but I know it has grown since then. We would love to go back if you could for sure, and right now we are very hungry to play any festival, as it’s been a while since the last album was recorded. I want to show the fans how hungry we are and how much we want to play live and it is really cool to get the feelings back once again.
Did you ever tour for the ‘Time to be King’ tour?
“No we did not, we had planned to but we had a tour agency working on that for a month but I saw that Jorn went on tour with Avantasia & I was surprised really has he agreed to tour with Masterplan before going with the other band maybe because of the money.”
Do you actually see any of the old band members? What’s Uli doing now since he did the ‘Beautiful Sin’ project
”Well Uli is trying to comeback with some projects and when Beautiful Sin announced tour dates he decided to leave the band. I think he is more into his family now and he has 4 kids and he lives in Norway with his girlfriend, which is a very expensive country and he sees you can’t live for music anymore. With Mike, he is still my friend, he is busy with Alex Rudi Pell still and I asked Mike about a replacement for him and he suggested Martin. As for Jan he is also a very good friend still and it’s about money and people coming to the age were they need money to survive. He has a job a light technician and is doing really well and now he does LED at a stadium so he is very happy. He drives the big trucks around Europe so he doesn’t have time to tour any more and he makes so much money so he is happy and we even told him that if we ever play a festival and Jari cannot play bass would he help us out, to which he agreed.”
So how did you hook up with Jari formerly with Stratovarius?
“This is a typical facebook story you know, he actually wrote to me 2 yrs ago asking if I knew of any bands looking for a bass player or if I needed a studio bass player he would help me out. When we were looking for a bass player I just called him up and asked if he wanted to join Masterplan, he said ‘Yes’ right away. He loved our music so that was a big help.”
Talking of Martin been the new drummer, he was once with Cradle of Fifth, how did you hook up with him and wasn’t you surprised that he was interested in joining your band with him coming from a Black Metal band. Didn’t you think your fans would accept him?
“Well when I found out he was a fan of the band I was rather surprised to be honest with us been melodic metal and I was worried that he might not fit in with our music, but he loves it and it is working out really well now. He has his own band called ‘Inner Fear’ and he writes all the songs and he is responsible for all of the work within the band. They are a little bit of an international band with a female side singer. Martin original comes from the Czech Republic. I have musicians from the Czech Republic telling me he is a great drummer and I was like ‘yeah right!!’ until I saw him on ‘You Tube’ and realised how good of a drummer he is. I was totally blown away by his performance I knew he was the guy for the job within Masterplan. I think he is the best drummer I have ever worked with. I had no reason to search for other drummers I knew I had the right person from the start.
Moving on how did you hook up with Rick Altzi who’s known for his work with At Vance.
Well Rick is also a big Masterplan fan & he is a Jorn fan too and we were friends on Myspace for some time now. He would send me stuff he had recorded with At Vance and Thunderstone and to be honest I was not 100% happy with his performance and when I saw the video for At Vance last year I was blown away by his vocal ability and he was very close to the performance to what I was looking for. (Ed: He sounds close to Mike DeMeo meets Jorn, don’t you agree?) Yeah I do actually. We didn’t want a 100% replacement but when you find a nice guy who has a great voice you have to give him a try. We needed somebody who is a nice guy without a ego problem and I don’t want this type of person in the band anymore and I want a nice team who works well together and share the same kind of goal and future of the band. In the past it was all about money but no we don’t care we just want to play live.
If Rick hadn’t of joined the band who else would you of considered to replace Jorn?
To be honest there weren’t many singers left I had in mind. I had another singer in mind who sang with Yngwie who’s name is called ‘Mats Leven’, he is a great singer too but he wasn’t a big Masterplan fan so it didn’t work out.
As a lot of people would be asking you why has it taken so long for the band to release this new album?
Well after the ‘MK11’ I made a long period of a break and I was busy producing albums here in my studio where I live and I think I did something like 30 demo tapes. (Ed: Do you think it is a good idea that it took so long to record the new album?) I think if we had of done a new album earlier I think people would of complained even more and I am pretty sure people are happy now and I noticed that people were facebook in me saying the new album is amazing. It is nice to see the fans appreciate the new album and new line-up, and you can’t compare the new line with the old one.
So why the title for the new album ‘Novum Initium’? Did you have any other names in mind?
Well it was an idea from the new guys and we were finishing the album off and I told them we needed a new title for the album, and after 2 hrs we had 10 ideas for the album title and that name seemed the best idea so I sent it to AFM Records and they loved the title right away.
So what does the title mean?
It means ‘A New Start’ or ‘A new Beginning’ which is Latin. It just means we have a new line up and some people were writing to me saying this is not Masterplan anymore so why don’t you change the name. I feel the music is still the same so why change the name? We are still 2 original members within the band with a new team on board.
What about the songs, are they wrote as a team effort now?
Well Rick wrote 80% of the lyrics and the lyrics are mainly about positive messages and I told Rick we need positive messages within our music now. The song ‘Keep you’re dream Alive’ is defiantly a positive song. I wrote, songs on the album, which are ‘Back from Avalon’ and the title track of the album.”
Roland, you have recorded 2 solo albums so far the debut you sang on tell me about them would you ever go another solo album?
Well I never sang with Masterplan only some songs live but the solo albums were good for what they were and at that time. We placed Wacken in 99 which were great and yes I did the vocals on the debut solo album. Rick and myself had chats about the vocals on the new album and it seemed to work out really well. I think if I did another solo album it would be in a more classic rock style with more open drum sounds, like the new band Mike Portnoy is doing .
The band did a video for the song ‘Keep you’re dream Alive’, tell me about it please.
Yes we did a video for that song which has been out for a couple of weeks now. I think there has been like 40.000 hits so far on You Tube & it is a god video and we made it an American world war 2 bunker which was really interesting.
How long did it take to record the new album? Was it a lengthy period?
Well it was quite long as I had other projects happening around it. We actually started the album in August of 2012 with the drums and finished the album with the vocals in January 2013, after that I started to mix the album for 2 months. It was the 1st time I had done this on my own and I was taught by my best friend Andy Sneap (Hell) I love him he showed me so many tricks and he allowed me to come to the UK on New Years Eve for 6 days to stay at his studio and showed me his new stuff he had done like Saxon. I tried to learn from hi that is why it took so long to get the album finished.
What do you think of Andy’s band Hell?
I really love the music, it is very special and I had never heard about the band before until the last few years. When he told me he was a big fan of the band when he was growing up and I love the album and the sound of the album. When I saw them live I asked Andy if I could be he roadie and so I did it for him. They’re a great band.
Do you think it is about time with the new line up and album that you should record a live DVD?
Well we need to get use to touring together 1st, getting a tight rehearsals and we are touring in October and we have 20 shows already booked but no shows in the UK sadly. We hope to record a live DVD sometime in the very near future.
Well Roland, it was a pleasure speaking to you again, it’s been some time since we last met or spoke. Do you have anything to say to you’re fans reading this? Best of luck with the tour.
Yes I do, thank you to our fans for been loyal and supporting us and for also been patient. We hope you like the new album and also get a chance to see you live in October in Europe. Nice speaking to you again Jason, take care.