Perhaps the highlight of 2005; the new Masterplan CD Aeronautics! Where their debut was already shooting for the top of melodic metal, and gathering a lot of attention and export awards, this follow up brings back the glory days of melodic rock and metal. On the phone, I talk with former Helloween shredder and now producer and guitarist of Masterplan, Mr. Roland Grapow, to give me the ins and outs of this remarkable release and project.
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Roland first off clears that, though Masterplan started out as a project, this now is a real band with a very own heart and soul. To explain how it all started and evolved:
R: Uli and I quit our job with Helloween after the Dark Ride tour in 2001. We weren’t really a band anymore and struggled with tons of issues along the way, it was best for us to leave and aim for new goals. This came as no surprise? Actually I thought it did, but if you say the tension was to be felt in the audience, I believe you right away because the battle to keep it all together was a daily one. But we do cherish the great moments rather than the worse times. Helloween brought us to where we are now.
Pretty soon you found yourself with Masterplan and recorded the acclaimed debut...
R: Oh no…. though it looks as if it went pretty smooth, we encountered a lot of problems. Uli and I started writing the material for the debut after out departure, but it took us ages to finalize all of it and find the right persons to help us with, what still was a project back then. Toughest find was a vocalist! We turned to Russel Allen, who was way to busy with Symphony X, so that didn’t work. Michael Kiske (former Helloween vocalist) also was thrilled to help us out, but we didn’t want to record the next Helloween album. It was also the time that we first crossed paths with Jorn, and knew instantly that this was our man!
Finding Jorn must have opened doors for you. The man’s voice has a tremendous range and his name was established, something you could both benefit from.
R: Indeed, Jorn’s star was rising and the wide variety of acts in which he has been singing surely added to Masterplan’s name. His voice is powerful and wide, and that was just what we needed to bring Masterplan to a higher level. Aside that, Jorn is the most laid back and friendly person I have ever met, maybe a bit lazy… hahahaha!
With the debut at hand, soon you found yourself with a task; needing to record the follow up to a rumoured (award wining) classic. How high was the pressure to come up with a follow up?
R: There certainly was a tremendous pressure, but we had so much fun together that the task was easy. We felt as a real band now, a feeling that evolved with each show we played on our tour. Working on the new material was fun since everyone of us contributed to the material now.
I think that this album is topping the debut and sounds more mature than the first one…
R: Thanks for the compliment! We do also feel that way. You have to know that our first record was written and 60% of it already was finished by the time Jorn joined us. So his input was a lot less than now. The evolution of the new songs was a true band collaboration. We all had our ideas and songs we came up with which we tried out and everyone then added his very own parts. Songs evolved from scratch to what they are now. Our different backgrounds also provided the ingredients to make it sound different from all out past projects and bands. We all share a passion for good old ’70 rock bands like Rainbow and Deep Purple, and that in my opinion the binding factor of our music. Wounds stands out and sounds to much like Helloween, you think? Wow, never actually thought of that. But hey, we learned so much from our time with that band, it easily shines through. A lot of the harmonies and keys are actually written with the Helloween touch in mind. They created a unique sound that was a standard in metal for many years. I am proud to been a part of that. So that must have been why wounds sounds the way it does, our history shining through. It is the blood running through our veins….
Now, all you guys being German, and Jorn is from Norway, how hard is that for the band?
R: Not too hard actually. Jorn lives in Norway, but so does Uli. He lives right around the corner from Jorn, and that made it a lot easier for the band. I went to Norway a couple of weeks to arrange the material with them, and it did bring us as well.
On Aeronautics you worked with Andy Sneap again, how big was his input on this CD?
R: Andy joined me in my studio in Hamburg, when I already laid down most of the guitar tracks. He helped me out with recording drums, some of the vocal tracks and guitars. All of the arrangements where already taken care of by me, as was a lot of the production itself. He added his tremendous expertise.
What about the rumour that Roy Z did some of the arrangements? He is not mentioned for it on the album.
R: Right! Roy and I are good friends ever since The Dark Ride. We always stayed in touch and he did help me arranging my music numerous times. I did fly to meet him in the US last year and we had a great time together. He did give me some tips, but I am fully responsible for this CD!
Aeronautics seems to have a concept to it. Most of the tracks are referring to being airborne and the CD EP as well as the CD itself both have it featured in the artwork….
R: The concept of flying grew stronger with the completion of the album in sight. Some of the songs already where based on the idea and when Jorn handed us Falling Sparrow we first started thinking of building the CD around it as sort of concept. Crimson rider is the story of the Red Baron in the first world war, and was one of the first songs, so we already had a starting point. We simply loved the idea of flying, lifting off and mankind dreaming of flying. Everything being so small when you lift off and head for the skies. Our problems seem to almost disappear! When we found the word Aeronautics on the internet, we knew this was it! It covers everything there is to the art of flying and the technique and engineering involved. We now had all leads to start bringing it to live in our artwork for the discs and do a photo and video shoot with old worn down planes that was a thrill! It also provides us with something we want to bring to live onstage. Out whole setting will be based on it….With our debut, we referred to the four elements. With Aeronautics we cover the skies, and maybe it will take us to the earth or fire on the next CD. It surely opens a wide variety of options.
Speaking of the future; what can we expect of Masterplan?
R: This is our last straw! Yeah man….. hardly anybody knows, but I was pretty close to resign music for once and for all! If Masterplan wasn’t such a thrill, I would have stopped after quitting Heloween. I was to fed up with all of it. Uli and I knew we wanted to do one more thing and aimed for the top. But I did not want to start completely from scratch, considering our past. We had earned our place in music and if nobody would be interested, I would have called it a day. Luckily we soon found ourselves with AFM Records who where willing to support us when they heard out music. They did believe in us and stood behind us when we needed it. This second CD was their biggest investment, but they never asked questions or tried to push us in a certain direction. They believed in us all the way.
10 Days before this interview I heard of Andy Allendörfer dying in a car crash. Allendörfer is the vocalist of German metal band Squealer, but also is one of the founders and owners of AFM Records. I ask Roland how he feels and if this affects the future of AFM, and therefore Materplan.
R: We lost a friend in this tragedy. Andy was one of those people who live for music and he was a big generator of Masterplan. We shared the same passion, all of us. In our hearts and music he will always be there. It didn’t affect our plans yet, because everything was shipped and planned already. It is however pretty tough to keep going without thinking of it. On the other hand, it provides us another drive to continue and make Masterplan BIG!
This brings me back to my previous question Roland; what can we expect in the near future from Masterplan?
R: We drifted off, didn’t we? Anyway, Masterplan is now completely focussed on the upcoming headliner tour. It is all going to be bigger and better this time. We have grown in our performance, especially Jorn. In the beginning he had a tough time to get used being the frontman of the band. He likes to keep a low profile and did that with his previous bands like Millennium and Ark, but with Masterplan he is the frontman. We had to tell him that a couple of times, and since he has started to grow and even looks into the crowd now… hahahaha! But a lot will be different now. First of all, our CD will be released a couple of months prior to the actual gigs. The first album came out when we where already touring, and the fans weren’t familiar with our music. That was certainly an odd situation for us. So that is different. Second; We are headlining the tour! We can bring our concept to live and show our status as a band. We are so eager to show the world how good this band is!
What about solo releases and projects. Jorn has always been extremely busy and you have released a solo CD (Kaleidoscope) a couple of years ago also. Is there room for this in the future of Masterplan?
R: You have Kaleidoscope? I did not know that album ever being sold. (grinning on the other side of the phone). That CD was the first kick off to writing music different from Heloween’s format. Yes, the first real kick off to Masterplan, if you like. It did free me and gave me the chance to show my other musical face. But I don’t know if I ever will release a solo CD. There is not enough time and Masterplan is my main focus now. Jorn also will find it a lot harder, I promise. This band simply is to important and needs the energy. But Jorn will always record his music. He will release solo records, probably the songs he can’t use for Masterplan. Hahaha! But Masterplan is our main concern, for all of us. I can assure you that!
--Edwin van Hoof
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