Interview with Sascha Gerstner (Helloween)

For the second interview of Beniy Talks Metal, we aimed very high. I had the honor to chat with Helloween’s guitarist, Sascha Gerstner, who has shared his personal experience with us.


Interview

Hello Sascha, how are you and the other members of Helloween doing?
Oh, well, actually, we’re doing pretty well regarding the release that happened last Friday, so we’re pretty stoked about that.
Yeah, “Helloween” the album is finally released! I have to admit, after six years, hearing a full-length by you feels really nice. Are you satisfied with the final result?
Absolutely. As an artist, when you’re in the making of an album, in the process, you can’t tell if you’re happy about it or not because you’re just too much into the music. 
But now that it’s out because it’s been such a long time until we could release the album, I see the reactions from the fans and the press… it’s a very exciting time for us, especially in these times. 
I’m enjoying it a lot, too. Can you share with us your creative process?
Normally what we do is we write songs at home. Everybody has a studio at home; as you probably know, we have many songwriters in the band. We would meet and play the demos to each other at one point, which is always very nice because you don’t know what the other guys came up with. So that’s what we did in 2019; we met together in Hamburg, we’ve been playing the song ideas to each other, and then we kind of knew that we would have great material. We went on tour again, and we’ve been collecting ideas and stuff, then we started to make pre-production; in October 2019, we would jam… Markus came up with this idea to do it like in the old days. He said, “Hey, let’s not prepare anything, don’t practice the songs.” Very old school, rock’n’roll-ish! We go into the rehearsal room and see if something magical is happening. Also, we had help from Charlie Bauerfeind and Dennis Ward to get great arrangements and great moments to capture them. After that (when we finished songwriting), we started to record a lot of nice things. Dani came up with this idea to include Ingo on the album; he said he wants to have a piece of Ingo, at least, a bit of his soul, using his old drum kit, and that’s what he did. He recorded all the drums on his drum kit, and then also Charlie said: “If you want to go this way, then do it like really old school: we record on tape.” We used old retro gear from the 80s because we wanted to create this vibe; personally I think that like production-wise, some songs and some of the best stuff happened in the 80s. It was the peak of the music industry. We could record for a long time, which most bands nowadays aren’t able to anymore, so we could just try out stuff. Charlie also came up with this nice idea to create a live vibe because he saw the band a couple of times, and he had these magic moments. He liked how naturally we would combine the vocals and the guitars and everything. He wanted to recreate this for the album, which is the road we went on. We’re combining the old-school vibe with modern technology so that it can translate better nowadays.
This is very interesting. What kind of advice would you give to someone who dreams of being on stage?
Well, that’s really hard, because people live off of dreams and whatever advice you can give, there will be people not being pleased about it. If you say, “It’s not hard work, just believe in your dreams” people would 
say, “But it’s all the hard work!”. And if you say, “It’s all about hard work” then someone would complain as well. For me, personally, my advice is really never to stop dreaming. It’s really not easy to be successful with something you love because you’re emotionally connected with everything you do. It’s not always easy to get there, and then at the same time, mankind is not always nice, especially when you’re starting out as a musician; you will have to deal with jealousy and a lot of people who want to keep you in their corner. Everything you have to do to succeed with anything is to go out of your comfort zone and leave old habits and people behind you. That’s the hard thing, and at the same time, you have to put in all your dedication and love into what you do. At the same time, it’s very rewarding when you’re getting success, and I’m not talking about gold records and driving Ferraris… I’m talking about playing live shows, for instance. If you start as a musician and have a band together, and you can play in front of 50 people, it’s very rewarding, seeing that what you do is appreciated and that people are on the same track as you. When I started playing music, I did it just for the music only because a lot of my love for music started very early on. When you’re in your youth, starting to put more energy into it, there will be other things coming up and drive you away from the love. Maybe because that’s also a problem of the male energy, so full of testosterone. They want to go out and slay dragons and show the world that you’re the best in the block; it’s becoming very Olympic at one moment, and then you probably might forget about the love for your music. That’s a bad thing to do, that would be my advice: never lose the love for the music, never start to compete with each other: that’s the wrong path. Just put your energy into the music. Nobody has his own style; in my opinion, we’re all influenced by each other. If it’s not music, it could be some other art form, or it could be a movie… I would watch a David Lynch movie and would start to compose afterward. Some people create some unique combination of styles and then it’s being said “I call this guy or this girl their own styles,” but basically, they’re all influenced. That’s what music is about, to connect and bring people together.
I couldn’t agree more. Have you ever taught anyone how to play an instrument?
I used to when we just started out, and I dedicated myself to the music area, of course, to pay my bills. I would be a guitar teacher; I started to work for music school when I was 17 years old, so very early on. I think a lot of people went that way! I never liked teaching because I would rather get paid for advice than for the actual guitar playing back then. If you have ears and hands, you can go and train. Especially knowledge, when I was starting, we didn’t have YouTube or anything; we were all on our own. I would like to listen to songs, and I was thinking “How did they play that?” but nowadays I don’t even think that guitar teachers are necessary to teach you the guitar, but more or less when to give you advice. The advice of someone successful with music it’s more work than the actual guitar teaching… The own style of someone is only the combination of all the influences; starting from very early on, your first influences are your parents. You would listen to them, or you would like to look up to them, and either in a good or bad way, you know that they will teach you something for your life. Then you will have schoolmates, there are so many people coming, connecting with you along the road, and everything is influencing you somehow. I think it’s a very arrogant way to say, “All right, I’ve got my own style.” I don’t think that’s the right way to be a musician. 
Given the choice of any band in the world (past or present, living or dead, dissolved or still together), which one would you choose to play as an opening act?
I would find the question even more interesting if you’d ask me, “What kind of band you want to play a show with or want to record with, or want to be in a rehearsal room?” because I would instantly come up with an answer. There’s just one band I would go on tour with or rehearse: that’s Toto, for instance. Toto is one of my favorite bands, and I’m still happy that Steve Lukather is alive! It would be great actually to do something with them; my guitar playing is very much influenced by Michael Schenker, too, so it would be pretty cool to jam and play a little bit together. There are just so many artists I really love, my own music taste is so broad, so I wouldn’t mind playing a show with Gary Newman or Duran Duran. There are so many influences I was soaking up as a kid; the metal road came way later. A lot of pop music, new wave because I grew up in the eighties, and I would start to listen to music consciously when I was sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car when she was driving me to kindergarten. And I remember when Phil Collins would come out with “In the air tonight,” that blew me away. That was one of the magic moments where I had a strong feeling for music. I would also go to do something with Peter Gabriel. 
I would totally pay for that show! I often like the songs that bands rarely perform or are barely considered by fans. In your case, it’s “The Smile of the Sun”. Will you ever play that again?
That’s the thing with a metal band that has such a long history and has recorded so many albums. It’s nearly impossible to make the perfect setlist for everyone: you have to play all the classics, and when you’re a band around almost 40 years, you have so many. Then there’s very little space for experiments… Most of the time, we use that little space that is given for emotional reactions; someone throws in one song idea, and the others will go, “Oh, that’s actually nice I would like to play that song too” and we trust him and include it into the setlist. 
Do you think that women in metal are being treated differently than men? If so, what do you think the main issue is?
I think women in general, in male-dominated areas, are treated differently, or they have to prove more. I’m having connections with women in the metal scene as well, and I know their struggle; on the other hand, I have to say, if all are giving equal abilities and having equal talent, there should be no difference. At the same time, what many women don’t know is that they have a lot of power; that’s the thing with feminism. From my point of view, I think almost everything in the world happens because of women. I know certain areas where women could dominate easily. For instance, 12 years ago, I started to work as a photographer, and I went into the fashion industry using a different name so people wouldn’t know that I’m in Helloween. I would shoot catalogs and campaigns with models and stuff: what I realized is that it’s way easier to connect for the women that are starting out such a career. If you are a male photographer, you’re instantly suspected to be horny on the models, and it’s very hard to connect with model agencies and fashion designers. I’m thinking it’s the same way in the music industry: if you are talented and a woman, there will be a lot of focus on what you’re doing, you need this to be successful. You need people to realize, “There’s this person and she’s telling them that” and from my point of view that’s actually easier for women than for men. I wished that some women would have more self-esteem about themselves about what they can achieve. The male-dominated areas are so simple and dumb because males are basically very basic-thinking people; males will behave in a weird way because of women. Nobody acts weird because of me, because I’m male but if I were a woman playing the guitar the way I do or write songs the way I do, I surely would have even more success, I think. Males would rip themselves apart just to work with me; that’s what many women don’t see. They always think that they are treated differently, which is true, but they don’t see the power most of the time.
Let’s play a little game. How would you sell hot chocolate in Florida in the summer?
That’s the thing with me: I’m a sucker for chocolate: I couldn’t sell that, I would drink it all myself. Especially, in my case, if it’s a vegan chocolate drink!
Then the business will not go well! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! Would you like to add anything to FemMetal readers?
I’m just happy that we were able to release the album now and I’m really looking forward to going to tour, I just hope that everybody is staying healthy and living the moment. See you in the future at some shows!

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