Drummerszone proudly presents an exclusive interview with well-known German master drummer Ulrich Kusch.
He frankly speaks about his first sources of inspiration, filling in for Dave Weckl, his departure from Helloween and his future plans containing the release of a solo album - amongst many other topics...
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Drummerszone: Did you ever receive drum lessons?
No not really. I remember one session with the former Zeltinger Band Drummer. That was a bit boring and not what I was looking for. But actually I was listening to most of the mid-eighties N.W.O.B.H.M [New Wave of Brittish Heavy Metal] bands. And I found so much to learn and was really inspired by Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Deen Castronovo, Nigel Glockler, Nico McBrain, Neil Peart, and especially by Vinny Appice and Alex Van Halen.
You started out with Violent Kids, Holy Moses and Gamma Ray. What was it to fill in for Dave Weckl in the early nineties after you had played hard rock for quite some years?
Well of course it was quite a change but in fact very helpful to get my nose into other kind of music. I really wondered why they asked me to help out. And I gave my best but finally I have to admit I am a Metal kid and love to play that stuff with full energy. Anyway that project died when I got the offer from Helloween and the other two members went to LA.
Was it difficult to join Helloween since their previous drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg was and still is a drum icon to many fans worldwide?
Indeed it was difficult for all of us after the death of Ingo. I have to say that I’ve been treated good and I felt welcome inside of the band and from the fans. And I must say it is a challenge to replace such an icon. And of course I was not lazy. In the beginning I copied most of Ingo\'s stuff just for him and I found my self getting more into the Helloween music with my own style a bit later. In the beginning we recorded Master of the rings, I had all freedom to play like I wanted and I did so.
What have you learned from playing with Helloween? You were already quite experienced when you joined them.
To better shout my mouth if I feel uncomfortable and just do my job. Cause that was one of the reasons why they fired me. Hehe. Seriously, I also had the chance to develop my songwriting and released around ten songs of mine on five albums. I learned also a lot about where the human limits are concerning touring and playing. We toured in these seven years around half of the time around the world. So I also learned about many different peoples and cultures. I learned how to eat with chopsticks. I also learned how to shit standing, because of the terrible standard of the backstage toilettes.
I learned what I need to feel comfortable on stage, monitor sound, light etc. Also I learned a lot about recording and how to put a microphone into a bassdrum. I learned not to believe all promises of Mr. Superimportant. I learned how difficult it is to keep a band line-up constant and in good shape.
You left Helloween in 2001. Why did you decide to depart?
Well one reason you know now. Because of the fact that Weikath ,the guitarist, was searching for reasons to kick out Roland and me, he founded our project (later Masterplan) as one.
There is a funny story to that: When Roland and I were listening to CDs in the touring coach to find a good singer we put on Symphony X / Five. Weikath joined us and asked: what’s that? We looked at each other and Roland said: “Ahh nothing, just our new demo”. Weikath was shocked, but he believed it and went straight back to the back lounge to report that. I guess he never found that out.
Coming back to the firing process: I got too strong as a songwriter. And that was Weikaths problem. He wanted the attention back on his side and couldn‘t live with me getting stronger. The last two Helloween albums I wrote the opening track and for the last one the single. That does it! Also because I started to open my mouth and tell him my opinions about his guitar playing wich was terrible at that time. I had to switch him of on stage, otherwise I would have been lost in a strange loud wirrwarr [tangle, maze]. He didn’t like much that I was on Rolands side. Also a new manager came into the band and helped Deris and Weikath to realize that they can make much more money for themselves if they get us out.
And I think we spend to much time with each other with not enough space and time to breathe. All was very intensive and on the end no one trusted the other.
Looking back at all the different bands, recordings sessions, tours, etc. during the many years, what has made the most impression on you as a musician?
To play Monsters of Rock in Rio 1996: I shitted in my pants four days before. And I can tell you that this warm welcome of 40,000 crazy along-singing Brazilians made me play like a rocket. That was one of my highlights.
But also I don’t regret one day. If it seems that I’ve reached all what’s possible, I must say it never get boring. Ok, waiting four hours on a airport is boring. And I have high respect for those who survive in that business and don’t give up.
Let’s talk about you current band Masterplan. How do you incorporate all your experience in the things you play with them?
Hmm... Most of the writing process I just follow my instinct and try to find inspiration to make something out of something. Of course I try to avoid disturbing fillins but sometimes I am maybe on the edge. Sometimes I find myself putting old used stuff into a song, but than I make something new out of that. And if I don’t hear that anymore than I’m fine.
Now, I can tell in words what sound I prefer and how the snare has to sound like. Recording drums and mixing drums are two different shoes. With Helloween I never would have accepted sample sounds on my drum kit. But now I think it is just a helpful tool to get through that guitar wall. We\'ll gonna see how I think in five years...
Jorn Lande seems very busy with all his musical projects, and so seem you. Is it hard to schedule appointments for all Masterplan members at the same time?
Yes and no. We have a lot of time besides Masterplan and try to catch up jobs to survive. I think Jorn is bombed with projects and he select very careful what’s possible. I have some offers here and there, but not much. If we not tour I am constantly writing music.
We all compose individually but we don’t send it by e-mail. Instead we meet and select and work out the most important together. Than we split again and go more into details. We come back with some refreshing surprises and sit down again to make the final decisions about the song selection for an album.
Masterplan’s latest album is named “Aeronautics”. Could you explain the title?
Aeronautics means the science, art, theory and practice of designing, building and operating aircraft. The first song we’ve had was Crimson Rider. In the intro you can here a propelnoise wich we just put in front of the song for fun. That inspired us to think about flying, airplains and everything around it. It’s not a real concept album only about that. But at least three lyrics are connected to that.
What’s your perspective on the drumming on this record?
I explained that a bit before. I always try to find something new. It’s getting harder but still drumming open some secrets and questions for me. You know, it’s also sometimes very helpful to keep it very basic and to reduce. The first versions are most of the time full of stuff. I try to select then and take the best.
Is there anything you would like to learn or to develop more as a musician?
Theory! I hardly can read scores. I can play chords but I don’t know their names. And that is sometimes not easy to translate to a guitarist when I develop some riffs. Especially when we all compose in different keys. Or if someone is asking me in what key the song is. I am lost.
You name melodic hard rock a true passion in you biography. What is it that you feel so attracted to in this style?
The energy, the creativity and the crazyness.
Nowadays it seems a music style that’s so not fashionable, it’s almost obsolete. How do you reflect on that?
I guess it’s just a question of time when this type of music has it’s revival. Of course in an updated version.
What were your early influences and musical inspirations?
Kiss, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Rush, Van Halen
What are your sources of inspiration nowadays?
Here and there I find some incredible albums I am listening for a long period. For example: Symphony X\'s album \"Five\", \"Into the Electric Castle by Ayreon and Anathema\'s \"A Natural Disaster\".
What are your plans for the near future?
We gonna tour I guess from Spring this year and play festivals in the Summer. Beside Masterplan I have a new project I am working on. My first solo record so to say. With a female singer and some instrumental music with some crazy drumming. But that is still future music and need some time before anything is going to be released.
Our last question: What do your colleague drummers think of you?
I have no idea! Jörg Michael gave me some compliments last year and some are asking me about my double bass technique. Some are always complaining about my sound and some don’t care I guess.
Thank you very much for your time!
No Problem. I think it’s a good idea to collect stories from known, and also maybe unknown, drummers around the world, and to publish them at internet. What would the world be without drummers?