Although not the band’s original member, guitarist Roland Grapow was a part of Helloween for well over a decade, participating in a series of the German metal band’s successful albums. During a recent interview with Alexey Soloviev Music, Grapow looked back on his time with Helloween and explained how the experience impacted him as a musician.
The musician first touched upon this when he was asked about how Helloween wrote music back in the day, revealing that they were pretty deep into using technology to their advantage. Grapow said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):
“Yeah, I think I was one of the first guys who started with music program — I think it was Commodore 64 at that time. And so in the ’90s, we had all PCs with Cubase. I was a bit endorsed with Cubase in the beginning, but I was never happy, it was always crashing.”
“But basically, in the middle of the nineties, I had already an Apple computer and we had all Logic. You know, we wrote all the songs on Logic, as I remember. All the band members had Logic, and it was easy to share ideas and give the songs to the other guys to work on. And so we always had computers; I never wrote songs just on a cassette player.”
Up next, he was asked about what he learned as a musician while working with Helloween. To clarify, Grapow joined the band back in 1989 when he was called in by original guitar player Michael Weikath. He stayed with the band until 2001. His final album with Helloween was “The Dark Ride,” released in 2000.
Roland explained what the creative process within the band was like and how it changed him as a musician:
“I think I learned a lot from each band member, especially working with the producers. There was the old-school kind of work in the beginning, like everybody was writing for themselves. And we had a little bit of brainstorming about songwriting, about making songs better.”
As Roland then adds, Weikath was the one who helped him get started creatively:
“Some guys helped me, like Weiki [Michael Weikath] — he was very close to me in the beginning, especially helping me with my song ‘The Chance’, or ‘Mankind’, and this kind of songs.”
Of course, his contribution to the band was recognized by other members as well:
“Later, everybody was more separate, fighting for themselves. So when I had ‘The Time of the Oath’, I wrote everything alone. And then Andi Deris [Helloween vocalist] heard it and said, ‘Can I write the lyrics? I love this song! Can I write the lyrics?’ and so it was kind of a teamwork.”
However, as he then points out, the process was mostly about members delivering songs individually:
“But basically, everybody delivered a finished song. And that was kind of interesting, because everybody had different songwriting.”
Going into more detail, Grapow also explained that he learned a lot from producers as well, particularly on his final record with the band:
“But I learned a lot from each guy in the band. And especially the last album I really enjoyed, which was not the best moment for the band or for me — it was ‘The Dark Ride’ album. Because then we worked with Charlie Bauerfeind and my friend Roy Z.”
What was also interesting with Grapow is his choice of instruments and his approach to playing. Before Helloween, he was a member of a band called Rampage which was kind of in a different ballpark stylistically. And it’s this experience with Rampage that came in handy for his final album in Helloween:
“He [Bauerfeind] opened my view about guitar sound, how to play guitar, going back to the old roots. Because in Rampage, I was more like a Les Paul Gibson player. I had a Stratocaster as well [with a humbucker], like Eddie Van Halen. And that was a bit missed by Halloween.”
“So why he told me, ‘Why you’re not playing like your old style, like Rampage-style?’ And Roy also told me this, because they were a bit tired about my Stratocaster, Yngwie-kind of playing.”
Since this was the beginning of a new decade and a new era in metal music, tuning guitars below the usual E standard tuning was becoming the next big thing. As Grapow recalls, this was kind of a new thing for him but it was a very valuable learning experience:
“The downtuning on ‘The Dark Ride’ was something totally new for me, I never had tried it before. The guitar production, how we recorded the rhythm guitars, everything was different there. And that was really impressive for me, and really, an eye opener.”
Around that time, Grapow was also involved with his own side project called Masterplan, along with Helloween drummer Uli Kusch. Eventually, the two were dismissed from the band in 2001.
Nonetheless, Roland seems to be very appreciative of the experience with Helloween and that it came in handy with Masterplan, the band he’s still active with:
“So I still keep it in a way, what I learned from ‘The Dark Ride’, especially from the other guys. Always when I write a song nowadays, I’m thinking, ‘How would Andi Deris write it? Or how Weiki would write it?’ They had all different ideas, and I still keep it somehow in my memory. And especially now production-wise from Roy Z, ‘The Dark Ride’ was the biggest, impressive, part.”
“I worked with [producers] Chris Tsangarides, with Tommy Hansen, and many more…I hope I didn’t forget anyone. [laughs] This was an eye opener after leaving Helloween.”