MICHAEL KISKE: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT PLACE VENDOME AND MUCH MORE
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
The German vocalist is still very enthusiastic and excited about music despite being in the business for around 26 years. He came to most people's attention back in 1987 when the first 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' album was released by a promising band called Helloween.
Since leaving the German Metal heroes after the recording of the 1993 studio album 'Chameleon', Kiske has found himself participating in many ventures from Avantasia; a solo career; SupaRed and even collaborating with the marvellous American singer/songwriter Amanda Somerville in 2010.
The reason why this well respected and hard working individual is taking a moment out of a busy schedule to talk to me is all down to a project called Place Vendome. This project began back in 2005 with a self-titled debut album which pitched two talents together to create something melodic and refreshing. The mastermind behind such a concept was the president of an Italian record label known as Serafino Perugino, who saw potential in combining the voice of Kiske with the overall abilities of Dennis Ward.
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Ward was recognised for his many roles within Pink Cream 69 who have amassed an impressive canon of work since 1989 to the present day.
Since Place Vendome is proving to be more than a one album project, with a self-titled debut album in 2005, followed by 'Streets Of Fire' in 2009 and now 'Thunder In The Distance', I wondered how Kiske saw the three albums.
"I think they're quite different. I think the first one is sometimes even meeting Metal here and there; there's some songs on there that you could easily sell as Metal songs and of course some AOR tracks. The second one is pretty much more AOR but the last one in my opinion is completely AOR, I mean it's like a total AOR record to me, which was actually in the beginning something I didn't like that much."
Kiske continues his recollections regarding the new album 'Thunder In The Distance': "When I heard the songs I thought it was too general, but in the end when it was done, when Dennis produced it and it had all those nice keyboard sounds there, and the vocals were done, and everything was finished I was quite surprised how good it turned out. It's like, I'm not always right when it comes to songs, you know, I really have to admit that."
Place Vendome is seen as a project as opposed to a band, with Ward and Kiske working together to create the finished music, and with external songwriters being selected to provide the material. "I'm comfortable with it, I like to sing it but it's not my way of writing.
"When I write a song it just sounds different, it doesn't mean that it couldn't be produced in a way that it fits. That's not the reason why I don't write, I mean Dennis didn't write anything for it either. That's because we want to save the songs for Unisonic you know, that's the main reason why we don't do this."
Kiske clarifies why 'Thunder In The Distance' was completely composed of songs by outside songwriters.
Kiske's reference to Unisonic is interesting as that band features his old Helloween band mate, guitarist Kai Hansen and his partner in crime for Place Vendome, Ward on bass.
"Unisonic is a band, it's the first band that I actually have for a number of years now. Actually after Helloween I never had a band like after that. I did a lot of things, a lot of projects but that's not really a band."
Kiske sounds keen to share the differences between Unisonic and Place Vendome. "We do everything in the old fashioned way with Unisonic, we write songs and then we team up in the rehearsal room and we go through all the songs we play, we change things until we're happy, we tour you know. Unisonic is a band, Place Vendome is really just a project."
The vocalist elaborates further about the process within Place Vendome. "We don't even play the material as a band. The recording process is always going like that, we get, Serafino suggests songs; we say yeah that's cool or we don't like that one that much you know. Dennis and I we just decide which songs we think are nice to do, and then he does a bit of a, he changes a little bit of the arrangement sometimes. Usually he makes the songs shorter because most of the time they're just a bit too long in certain parts and whatever."
When asked about how they select the songs that are shared with them, Kiske responds with: "I don't like negative music; I don't like music that idealises inhumanity or things like that. I don't like the evil crap, I never did."
Searching for the appropriate words, he extends his reply. "Serafino wouldn't suggest anything like that. I mean all the songs he's suggesting they are rock songs. So it's really just a question if we think it's interesting or not. But as I said, I might have been wrong a few times."
When Kiske is pushed to name a song that really surprised him once the album was finished, he reveals the song 'Maybe Tomorrow' stuck out for him due to the chorus that fitted his voice so well.
To reiterate his point about being pleasantly surprised by the results not just on 'Thunder In The Distance' but by this project as a whole, the relaxed Germanic tone of Kiske expresses "I'm always learning something of course when I'm making a new record, but Place Vendome is always surprising me somehow because it is such a different area you know."
So why does Kiske insist on revisiting this project when he has only released a single album in other projects? "It's not a pain in the arse like it is to make a record on your own completely. I just got tired of doing everything on my own. Like the solo records I was from setting up the microphones and of course writing the stuff up to mastering it in the end, I did everything on my own. I learned a lot by doing it."
He then points out how Ward seems totally at home with the technical, behind the scenes role of setting up the studio and getting the right sound, while he sits back and waits for the prompt to perform his vocal moments.
Sounding relaxed and content with his current situation, Kiske explained how he wasn't familiar with Frontiers Records before the beginning of the Place Vendome project: "At first when I saw his email, I thought it was one of those many offers of unknown musicians that want you to do something for them you know, these offers come in quite often. And then he said he has this label and he has bands like, he has some big names on his label, mentioning those and he said he likes my voice.
"If I could imagine to do an AOR record because that's his type of music and that's what his label basically stands for, and I never did anything like that, so I just liked the idea, I just liked the idea right away."
Kiske informs me of two forthcoming activities during the time of our conversation, one of which is the second Unisonic album which he expects to be out next year. The second relates to a collaborative project with his friend, an Italian/American guitarist and songwriter who lives in Germany called Sandro Giampietro.
With genuine enthusiasm and pride he explains how the two of them have a strong creative chemistry and how they have already worked together on his solo outings.
"Since I found out that I can write songs with him together so well, actually even better with anyone that I've tested it, tested to write songs with, I can just have a basic idea on my iPhone; just a melody; I go to his house and then we sit down and within minutes there's a nice song there, part of it."
He adds, "Like two weeks ago I wrote three songs for Unisonic with him because I said to Kosta whose managing us, I'm just so creative with him so let's use it."
So is Kiske a chameleon, constantly evolving and changing with his surroundings? "I started to make music because I was excited about music as a teenager" he says, before adding "I wasn't planning a big career, I mean, It just happened really. Things just came together. You always just do what you think is right at the time when you make a record. You always try to make it as good as possible.
"Looking back at it, a lot of the things that I've done I find quite funny now you know. But its okay, that's just life you know you just do, you change; you learn and you do things different now than you would've done ten years ago."
The march of time was so prominent that we ran out of it as we delved deeply into the realms of philosophy. One thing we do know is that Kiske has a diverse and interesting back catalogue thanks to those many different musicians he's been privileged to work alongside. With plenty of new music on the horizon, this music lover hasn't finished with us yet.