20 years ago, something that today we would without hesitation call an all-star band came onto the scene with their debut album. With their self-titled debut, Masterplan presented energetic power metal, which won the award for the most successful debut in Europe and also entered the book of the 500 Best Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. On the occasion of the anniversary of the release, the band released Anniversary edition of the album at the end of the year, and we, with the brain of the band - Roland Grapow – were talking about the events surrounding creation of this album.
You are currently re-releasing your debut album called „Masterplan“ as a part of celebration of it´s 20th anniversary. What are the add-ons or bonuses people can get by buying the album?
Basically it´s just reminder of the great album that we released 20 years ago, well, it´s almost 21 years ago – it was released in January. The idea was that I had this video material from the first tour we did supporting Hammerfall. It was just lying in my studio and last year in August I spoke to AFM that we have an anniversary and I have it, so we could probably make a video out of it as a special thing. In the end, that´s exactly how things started back then. When it comes to audio material, we have those three bonus tracks which were on single, Zeppelin cover was bonus on Spanish cover and Black Dog was regular track on the album in Japan. I think it´s worth to get something like this with three bonuses and the video material which is the main thing – to see the band how it started. To see great performance of the band that nobody really saw except people who were there back then. I remixed it last year and edited the video here in my studio. That was first time for me when I edited live video, so that was fun. And except of that, we have a lot of bonus material – some behind the stage which is also about an hour-long material. It was quite interesting to watch – how we made “interview” with each other, you know, Jorn, Uli and me and you can see how people build up the stage. We also introduced all the roadies working for us, bus driver as well. I think it´s quite interesting, you know.
How does it even feel to realize that it´s 20 year ago when you started something that´s still going and now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release?
For me, it´s something I am really proud about. I also spoke with Uli Kusch for the last 7-8 months about the video, I showed him how I edited it and I can say he liked it very much. And thanks to that, you get those memories, how it started, how it kind of succeeded, you remember all the progress you did as a band and it´s really nice. Also, when you see the material – we are now 20 years older – and I realised that I was already something over 40 but now it´s … 20 years went quite quick. I was surprised that it´s already 20 years. Now we have a different line-up but the chemistry is the same. The songwriting is also the same, it was always Macke, the keyboard player and me. It´s nice to see the beginnings, the crazy good line-up that we started in.
How does the music industry changed in those 20 years and how does it affect the celebrations of the anniversary?
When we released the album, that was already the big change. It started in 1999 and I felt at that time, when I was in Helloween, that market in Japan was going down really bad. From platinum sales in Japan, that´s 25 000) only to 50 000 worldwide. People just didn´t buy the CDs any more. Then it slowly came to Europe and I feel – what we have nowadays is, for me, in a really terrible situation compared to what it was back then. I think that the best era, at least for me, was 25 or even more years ago. In the 90s, everything was perfect. In the 80s it was just brilliant. Now, you have to make different strategy for survival. Sales of CDs are not the main thing any more, they are more like advertisement that you are still alive. People are just checking it out or want just song on YouTube. Then you play live and that´s the key. People are still coming to the shows, more or less. On the other hand, people want big package, that is why they all go to Wacken instead of going to solo shows. You can see more bands, you have a long weekend of partying once a year instead of coming to smaller shows regularly. So that´s also a big difference – it´s sad but we have to deal with it, you know.
Lately we have this renaissance of vinyl records and I would love to hear your opinion on this as from what I heard, it differs from person to person.
I mean, it´s funny. I grew up with these – vinyl was something normal for me when I was young until CDs came out. I don´t know when that was – beginning of 80s I think. I felt in love with CDs – everything was smaller, compact and you could take it to the car or wherever but for me, it was beautiful to have that vinyl stuff in my hands, thanks to big size of cover, you could see far more details and now this renaissance of vinyls – I still have turntable from my father but now it´s not even connected. I am not listening to these. I work in studio for many bands and for me it´s just really nice to have them. To put it on the wall and to see the big size of our covers. I love to keep those, hang them on the wall and it´s like a trophy for me. Not like gold record, but something you have and that´s how I see it. It´s have more of a sentimental value. I am glad when people still listen to vinyl. For me as a musician and producer, I don´t really see the benefit of it. Sound is the same on CD as it is in my computer. Some people say it´s “warmer” but I think it´s just some kind of vintage feeling. They just might feel it´s different.
Speaking about the changes in music industry and stuff – you changed almost whole band during the years. Were there discussions to re-record the album with current line-up or release it in some different shape?
Not really, no. I would not like to re-record the first album. For me it was one of my best works I did and for me, it sounds perfect like this. If we would re-record it, we would have different drum sound, different this and different that and people are used to it. Me as a fan, I am not big fan of even remastering stuff. When I grew up, I used to have vinyls of many of my favourite bands, like Scorpions and then they started to remaster the albums and I didn´t like it. It sounded modern and different and I am used to this old school 70s sound. Same goes to when you hear the old Beatles and you have the drums on one side and other side is the bass or something. When I was younger, I thought “Why are they doing it like that, it´s strange” but I was getting used to it. And you don´t want to change it. It´s part of your memories and that´s how you love it. I had the question from AFM Records if we want to remaster it or something. But the answer was no. I don´t feel ashamed of something, I am proud about it.
What memories of either writing and recording the album or recording live show came back to you when you were thinking of this release?
When we started to record the album, it was very rough time because we just left Helloween – Uli and me – and we have some good songs already written at that time, also some parts and we started to work really hard for three months and writing another 3-4 songs and then we started recording the material in October already – in studio in Hamburg, where we recorded drums and finished everything till Christmas except of the singing as we didn´t have the singer. Then we started to get in contact with Jorn and he came in December to my studio in Hamburg and listened to the songs. That was when we realised that it´s getting really special. With this guy in the band. We knew that the music was perfect, we were so proud because half of the material, we had vocal melodies but when he came in, the whole thing was just real. But then we needed to wait another year until the album was actually released. In the meantime, the album was done but we didn´t have a record label so I was producing everything – money-wise and paid the producer Andy Sneap and I covered also all the expenses we had. Then I took the risk and spent about 50,000 De Marks and the album was done and some label that it´s too complicated and too progressive and it could not be successful. I was so proud with Uli and this was just saddening that we get this response from the people you worked with. Then AFM Records went behind it, the owner really liked the line up and music and believed in us. It was really great times. We did photo shooting then and finished finding new members, bass player and keyboard player came later – after the recordings. Then we went to tour as we wanted to show our music to the people somehow. Hammerfall was recording video in Gothenburg and the recording crew came to us if we also want to be recorded and we asked them about the price. AFM Records didn´t wanted to pay it at that time. It was too early and they didn´t wanted any video at the time. But we decided to do it and we paid it with what we get from merchandise. We went home and the material was lying in my studio for one, then two years and then the line-up changed and I couldn´t use it any more. It doesn´t make any sense to release video with line-up you don´t have any more. But in the time of anniversary, it somehow did make a sense. Because we are promoting old album with the DVD so everything came together after 20 years. I am pretty sure that a lot of people would love to see this with the original line-up and it´s a good to make a statement – I am not thinking about making reunion or something. Not at all. It´s just to show how proud I am of this album and the DVD is just a bonus.
I remember when the album first came out and I remember the hype and the success it got. How do you think the early success influenced Masterplan as a band?
We were newcomer releasing an album on the label that was not big at the time. They got Edguy and Avantasia at the time I think. It was good for us as well and then we get that “European Border Breaking Award” for best debut album. It was amazing and we didn´t even knew what it was – it was not only for metal, it was bestselling newcomer in general. I think it was a big pressure for us. Then we were making Aeronautics and it was different teamwork as we had five guys now working on the album and Jorn was much more involved from the beginning. I think we even kept it somehow with that album as well at the same level. But then, of course – everybody keeps telling me that first two albums were the best but then …
So as you said – there are no thinkings on doing some guest show with Jorn, reunion or something like that?
Not really, no. Jorn and me, we are really good friends, but not much in contact. I wrote him few months back with something completely different and we always greet, we are hugging each other when we meet, we are drinking beer together and we talk, there is no problem at all, but I am not asking him to do so. I mean, if we would play in Sweden, I would love to have him on stage for couple of songs. We always talk about it with Rick Altzi, also when we played on Wacken, we we were thinking about getting some people on stage but it´s always about the budget, you know. We are not in position that we can pay the flights and everything extra just to keep someone happy. But if he would want to come on stage, we are definitely opened for that.
Having in mind that you have your own studio, you are 20 years older and have 20 years more of experience. Would you make anything differently with the debut album?
No. We started doing the album with Andy Sneap in England and then somehow, it didn´t make click. He is definitely my favourite producer – everything he produced in past 20 years is just perfect, you know. I am big fan of his productions but it doesn´t work for the Masterplan in the beginning because most of his bands have two guitars and minimum of keyboards. We had keyboards, a lot of choirs and he mixed it very far in the background and then Uli didn´t like it. I was in contact with him just thru e-mail so he was staying home and I was in England with Andy. After that we realised it just doesn´t work. If he was unhappy, we could just go to Finnvox in Finland, because I was a big fan of this sound also from Stratovarius and Children of Bodom and we tried just this kind of way. And it worked for me perfectly. We had this modern sound and it´s always like that. There is always one band member that is not happy with the sound. There was this position in the beginning that I took care of everything – I told you I paid for everything and I thought – Let´s do it and trust people who work for us. You can´t tell them that you don´t like this and that and just make them nervous. When I came home and Uli came to my house and he was like “Can I listen? Can I listen?” So I put it on and I remember that we were sitting in the kitchen and there were my little speakers and he told me “Yeah, it is pretty good, but I don´t like the drum sound.” (Laugh) And as far as I remember, Jorn didn´t like it either. But people love the production, they listen different than band members and the members only listen to their instrument. You need to listen to whole package. For me, that package was great and I loved it.
Looking forward – what can we expect from Masterplan in the near future?
We have a long period when we didn´t do much because I had kind of new job in my studio that I started 15 years ago here in Slovakia and I was working for many bands here. I was learning the skills of recording, mixing and mastering – also Andy Sneap showed me a lot of stuff when I was back in England. So basically, 10 years ago was the last tour we did and also the last “real” album except live albums and Pumpkins – re-release of Helloween songs. Now I want to take care of Masterplan again and at the moment, I am mixing the first single off the new album. All the songs are written, just some lyrics are missing. Rick already recorded two or three songs. We are going on tour with Firewind at the end of the February and we want to release at minimum two songs before the tour. The first single should come out in January 2024. That is the plan. Oh and we are releasing the album after the tour, we still don´t have the exact date, but that is the plan.
So there is much to look for, right?
Yeah, there are 19 shows with Firewind and then we have already some festival shows booked and we are planning to make second tour in November, hopefully with South America as well. We might have around 50 shows next year.
As you mentioned, you have a studio, you are producing some new bands – what are the most interesting ones or some you are really proud of and you want to share those with the people?
It´s hard to tell. I have many bands I like but maybe the best is when you work with the band for a longer time and one of my friends, Tony Hernando from the band Lords of Black, I worked with them for 10 years already. I don´t remember how many albums that was, maybe 4 or 5, but the new album I mixed in July and it´s still not out so it should come out any time now. I am proud of that, I am there when they are growing and the singer Ronnie Romero, everybody knows him nowadays. But 10 years ago, he wasn´t that famous – now he is in MSG, Rainbow and I am very happy that I was the part of it. You also can see the work in progress – album to album it went better and better. It´s job for a long run, but for me, it´s not only about money – I do it for the passion. I like to be in studio – working and mixing stuff. I came very late to this passion – just 15 years ago.