Unisonic - Dennis Ward

Every metalhead received a loud wake up call when the news that Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen would be at the same lineup after all these years since the HELLOWEEN days. But UNISONIC are not trying to copy the same old recipe but to produce something different. So, let's see what Dennis Ward had to say about the formation of the band and clear once and for all the musical direction they have chosen for UNISONIC.

Hi Dennis, how are you?
I am fine, Dimitris; what about yourself?

I am good; so let’s get started since I know you are on a tight schedule. So, you have been rehearsing for the upcoming live dates, right?
Yep, we have been doing that and I am really happy with the results. It will be a great experience.

How many songs have you been working with for this tour?
We are going to do about 17 songs.

Are you going to play the entire UNISONIC album?
Yes, we are going to do the entire album.

Obviously some HELLOWEEN songs will be included in the setlist; can you reveal any song titles?
Hmm, what I can say is that we have rehearsed five HELLOWEEN songs and we’ll try to make a surprise out of it. We chose five but we are going to play live three of them, so we will be changing our choices every night.

Is any of them a really long one? (laughs)
Hmm, very long one? No, there are no long ones.

You have also announced a set of live dates with GOTTHARD, right? How did you team up with them?
First of all, both bands have Bottom Row as management and in fact they have been managing GOTTHARD for many years. The idea came up because the album release dates are very close.

That sounds pretty fair. Let me ask the obvious question now; how did you come up with the idea to form UNISONIC?
Well, I have done in the past a couple of albums with Michael Kiske with the PLACE VENDOME project for Frontier Records; Kostas Zafiriou (who played drums) had the idea for quite a few years actually. And one day, we decided to confront Michael with the idea of doing something as UNISONIC; to make something more melodic, not too Metal-ish, and have also Mandy Meyer on the guitar with whom I had worked in the past and really like his style. So, we met with Michael who surprisingly said yes after a really short meeting. One day we drove to Hamburg, met him and presented our ideas and told him that we wanted to do this as a full-time band and not like a one-time project and try to take it as far as possible. Something very serious, in other words. And that was it!

Can we consider UNISONIC as a full time band? After all, everyone is involved in other projects or bands.
First of all, the only two active members are Kai Hansen and myself. In fact, GAMMA RAY are more active than PINK CREAM 69. Mandy has not been really active and Kiske is involved in solo projects. So, for them this was not a question. Kostas no longer plays with PINK CREAM 69 and therefore this would be his main band. I know that Kai wanted to do something like this but why should he give up GAMMA RAY for anything else? We all knew that we were not going to give up our day jobs, but at the same time we will take UNISONIC very seriously and not as a project. For example, if a concert opportunity comes up for PINK CREAM 69 and UNISONIC, then UNISONIC will be my first priority. We all agreed on this and on the fact that we will respect any obligations with PINK CREAM 69 and GAMMA RAY. So, we set time frames for UNISONIC and we know that Kai wants to start writing music for GAMMA RAY at the end of this year, so we won’t be scheduling stuff for the next one. Speaking for myself, I want to clarify that UNISONIC is a full time band and we all have agreed on that.

It will be very interesting to see PINK CREAM 69 or GAMMA RAY with UNISONIC on the same tour…
Well, I have seen enough things happen in the world, so I won’t say that it is impossible. The only thing is that, for one, or maybe two of us, will have to do two shows in one night. I have done this in the past and that’s a lot of work, Dimitris (laughs) and I don’t know if I want to do this...

Was it difficult to convince Michael to take part in UNISONIC?
You know, there is a lot of stuff going on in the Press all these years about Michael saying that he is disinterested for Metal. Of course, me and Kostas have heard this stuff as well, but we did not know all the details. I just knew that something happened to his life and started disliking the distorted guitars and he made look like that, you know. But after talking to him, we learned that he got sick about how Metal had become. So, after hearing this story, everything made sense; when HELLOWEEN came out, it was a bunch of young guys with a positive attitude, having fun and playing fast music. It was fun from beginning to end and nothing was taken too seriously. This was good time music and it was not meant to be “we’re gonna kick your ass with evil-Doom-Metal” stuff. So during the 90s, Metal started becoming like that with the Thrash and Death Metal scenes and a lot of bands were becoming darker and darker and Michael wanted to have nothing to do with all this. Even JUDAS PRIEST with “Painkiller” were moving towards the same direction and he had no interested in doing the same. And I think he did not really explain it like that; for him, Metal had become a negative thing that he did not want to be a part of it.

So, when we talked to him about UNISONIC, he explained all this; in fact, he is also a guitar player and has his own Gibson Les Paul and Marshal amps. He plays distorted guitars, likes the old good HELLOWEEN riffs and still enjoys singing those songs. So, when we talked about the music and especially when Kai came in, we said that we are a guitar-based band and we are not going to be something like a new independent sounding band. We couldn’t do this, even if we wanted to. We are not a Speed Metal band, but this has nothing to do with Michael, but with me, Mandy and Kosta as well, because we do not play like that and we are not going to start now. If Michael and Kai wanted to do a Speed Metal band, then they should have picked three other guys who would do far better job than us. So, we placed this borders saying that we want this to be heavy but also positive. And then we realized that this would be very easy for us, because this is what we do really well. AOR/melodic Hard Rock Metal and that’s perfect; all the elements are there.

You talked about setting borders before start writing music; does this mean that you had in mind how you wanted the songs to sound like, before even started writing them?
How they should we didn’t know, but how they shouldn’t we did know and there were our borders. I know that saying ‘borders’ might sound negative, but those just define what we want to do. In other words, we are not going to make Techno music because we have no interest on this, but we are not going to make Speed Metal because we cannot do it that well and we have no interest on it. These are the borders I was talking about. We will not write lyrics about doomy, gloomy depressing shit or about the Apocalypse (laughs). So leaving all this stuff out, the music came naturally to us.

How did you work together in the song writing process?
Usually there was one person doing the main theme and then we worked on several ideas together and in some cases we shared different parts of songs. Mainly we were writing individually, however Kai helped with the chorus lines in songs like “Star Rider” and in some solo parts. Mandy for example wrote the music completely for “Souls Alive” and I came up with the lyrics. It was an open thing; whoever, wherever. I don’t care if someone writes the whole or part of a song... whatever it takes.

Did you write all the lyrics?
Yeah, I wrote most of the lyrics.

Did the lyrics come after the music or what is the other way around?
I’d say it was both ways. It’s almost impossible to write the perfect lyrics and the perfect riff; it’s really difficult.  What we tried to do, something that has become my way of writing music, is try to come up with the key line for every song. Most of the song titles, apart from one exception, in the album are the titles we came up when we were writing the songs. In the past, I was trying to do things afterwards and then I realized if you don’t have that key line that hook your song is going to suck. So, I came up with this process looking for that key line first and then work on the rest of the song. It makes it easier that way.

How is the feedback so far? Were the old-school fans expecting something like a new “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” from UNISONIC? Are they fair with the band? After all, this is a young band…
Yeah, a young band but not young people (laughs)... we took a lot of time announcing well beforehand that we are not a HELLOWEEN clone and that we are not going to go that way. But still we have a lot of fans sending requests for specific HELLOWEEN songs and also there were some writing stuff in the internet (after all, everyone can write something there and that’s a good thing) that UNISONIC don’t sound like HELLOWEEN. So, those people got disappointed with UNISONIC but in reality we don’t care because we did not want to sound like HELLOWEEN. After all the most successful way to do this would be to do a HELLOWEEN reunion, right? So, if some fans were expecting that, then I am really sorry. This was not our intentions, so I have no bad feelings or regrets about that. I know what I want and I did not lie to anybody or make any false hopes. The same happened when we did PLACE VENDOME; we made it clear from the very beginning that we would make an AOR/Hard Rock album. And AOR is not HELLOWEEN and it will never be.

I wouldn’t like to see a HELLOWEEN clone from you guys. So, you have a booked schedule until the end of November and you are going to go all over the world except from the US; so, is there any chance to see UNISONIC live in the US?
I never say “no” or “never”, but you know, the States is a difficult place for Metal. There are the places to play but it’s really difficult to organize it. The album was released in the States one month later than in Europe, so we are waiting to see the reactions. There are some ideas and concepts about doing it but are not to be announced that. We knew that UNISONIC was meant to be for Europe mainly and for Japan of course. But the States is a total different ball game. If the response is not what we want, then it will be a big burden to tour there. It requires a lot of work and plus it’s very expensive. We just have to wait and see.

I have one more question for you, Dennis; what about PINK CREAM 69; you have a new drummer, so what can Chris bring in the band?
I know Chris for a long time and in fact he had been Kostas' roadie for many years, so he is the perfect replacement. He has a lot of drum ideas and has been a friend with the band. He is all we hoped for.

Great! You are working on a new album, right?
We have actually started recording the album.

Do you have in mind an album title or a release date?
Album title? No, not yet... what I know is that we want to have the mastering ready in the beginning of September and the release date looks like sometime in the beginning of 2013.

That was all, Dennis; thank you for your time and hope to see you onstage here.
Thank you, Dimitris and I hope that we will make it to play in the US.