Austin: When did you first decide to become a singer?
Michael: Subconsciously when I saw Elvis Presley on TV 1977 (the news of his death). It was rather quiet about him in Europe the years before his death and I was too young to notice him earlier.
Austin: You are one of the most influential vocalists to come out of the Power Metal scene. However, its widely known amongst your fan base that you nowadays much prefer other types of music. Can you list some influences for me that helped to shape who you are today as a vocalist, and explain a little bit about what they have in their voice that you maybe tried to emulate? What types of music have you grown to listen to as you've matured?
Michael: One major influence was Elvis Presley, much more than people might guess. And also the Beatles and John Lennon. As a Teenager I was singing mainly Elvis, Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel Songs. But when it comes to the techniques of singing higher keys, it certainly was the metal and rock vocalists of the late 1970s and the 80s like Halford, Dio, Dickinson, Tate, but also John Farnham or Bono from U2 impressed and impresses me still a lot! Not to forget classical tenors like Rene Collo and such.
Austin: Have you ever had any formal training, or have you worked with any books/CDs/DVDs?
Michael: No, never. I always had a good ear to hear the techniques and make my own out of it. I do absolutely nothing to keep my voice in shape, that's why it often simply isn't, and I have to prepare myself before I can do higher singing. That would then be just easy singing scales up and down, sometimes a tune or even just yeah-yeahs. But it's not good to do it like me! It's very good to train your voice at least 3 times a week (without overdoing it) I would say today.
Austin: At what volume do you sing? Do you try to keep it around the same level that you speak, or do you sing with a lot of volume? Do you change the volume of your voice depending on the situation you're in, such as being in the studio vs singing on stage?
Michael: Interesting question. I guess I am trying to be in level with the speaking voice, but it's louder than that. I always try to sing not too loud, but my voice is carrying and getting louder by itself the longer I sing (and the older I get). Of course this always also depends on the song. Singing harder makes it louder. On stage it tends be louder too, but it's better to be more controlled there. This also sounds better.
Austin: Do you have any idea what your current range is?
Michael: Not really. But the older I get, I find it more and more difficult and also slightly stupid to sing those typical metal-over-heights. As we all know; part of the metal truth is: faster, louder, higher = better. I disagree with that fully. Vocals are not "better" just because you sing higher or louder. It's the performance, the soul, how you tell the story, which makes the quality. I find high singing rather childish today. But it always gets requested again from me, because many get easily impressed by those superficial elements in music like sound, volume, extremes or heights. The more nonsense and noise you create, the more people you seem to impress; but this doesn't impress me much anymore. This is also a matter of age usually.
Austin: Where do you place your tone? Are you actively placing it into the mask of your face? Can you feel it on your soft palate, or do you just sing and let the sound go wherever it ends up?
Michael: I sort of press from the stomach area and control it like a trumpet. That would describe it best in my eyes. The tone feels like being placed a little above and 30 cm before my larynx in front of me. Like if I sing to another person's face. But I am an emotional sucker! If something lies on my soul, I can't sing! Then I do it all wrong. That makes it impossible for me to work with people I don't like or sing music I hate or be in an environment which sets me under negative pressure. My voice is the boss and it closes if something's not right. The voice is generally a very spiritual organ; we are talking air and soul here.
Austin: When singing, what kind of support do you use? Is it a downwards pressure?
Michael: Yes I guess so but I never think about it too much I must admit. All I can say is that my stomach becomes pretty big when I'm singing and I can't sing well when I have eaten too much. I put the pressure into the stomach and press down and away from me maybe.
Austin: Have you ever caused any major damage to your voice? What was the damage and what did you do to recover?
Michael: Not to the voice directly, but to my stomach by bad emotions. And my stomach problems do have a big effect on my voice. I rest my voice then and don't sing. Or when I have to do a recording, I only sing songs I really enjoy with my acoustic guitar (mostly Elvis again) to feel better. Singing makes me free, you know. But freedom means no pressure and loving what you're doing.
Austin: When you're on the road and having vocal issues, how do you get your voice back in shape by showtime? Any tips for MVTS readers?
Michael: Loooong warming ups, lots of water and milk and honey teas. Stay away from dry air and people who smoke. Drink water, drink tea with honey and milk … and don't forget to drink (but I don't mean alcohol!).
Austin: Obviously as singers, we carry our instrument around all day. Because of this, many singers have issues keeping their voice in top form because they aren't always conscious of the fact that anything they do can and will affect their voice. What do you personally do to ensure you don't cause damage to your voice, and that you keep in the best vocal shape possible? Do you have a workout routine you can share?
Michael: I don't drink any alcohol and don't smoke (never did). I find parties usually extremely boring so I'd rather read a good book or go to see the city. Trying to be morally in tune somehow (not always easy!), that is the best for me, and if I fail here, I suck in singing.
Austin: When you have to sing early in the morning, what are the steps you personally take to get your voice ready to sing? I'm sure back in the Helloween days you had many early morning radio performances to do, and not much time to prepare. Are there certain drinks you drink or vocal exercises you perform to wake the voice quickly?
Michael: I don't sing early. And when I had to do it in the past, I was so young that it didn't matter. Other than that, drink warm water with honey. Also "Odermenning tea" is a secret here.
Austin: The most important thing singers need to do is a proper warm up before singing. Some people are lucky and can get away with not performing a warm up. Are you one of the lucky ones, or do you have a warm up routine?
Michael: The older I get the more I have to do that a bit when singing tenor heights. When the voice is good, I only need two minutes. If it is bad, 30 Minutes. But in my case usually less is more.
Austin: Do you take a break after your warm up or are they done right before you have to sing?
Michael: A little break in between is good but just a bit too long and it's not good anymore.
Austin: In your opinion, how important is breath support? Are you always checking to see if you're breathing correctly, or do you just let it happen naturally?
Michael: Breath-support is at least 70%! The older I get, the more I must do something. This is actually the main thing nowadays for me. But breath and the inner state of yourself is connected. If you feel free, you sing free. If you are depressed, you'll be closing up. Doing sports does help!
Austin: I want to talk a little bit about your studio approach. Is most of your recording done in a home studio? What kind of equipment do you use?
Michael: It's my own little studio. I can't stand any kind of "musts" in music. I am recording through Neve-Rack and Focusrite input Channels into a MacPro. I don't like the sound of ProTools (TDM or Native makes no difference here) that's why I use Logic Pro 8. Sounds really warm to me. And yes! Digital software DOES sound very different no matter what some people always say. I use an old fashion Neumann Mic for vocals. The one that you find in every studio and I have now forgotten the name of right now.
Austin: Give me a summary of a normal studio day for you. How do you approach the recording? Do you record a scratch vocal and then just fix the mistakes, do a line at a time and comp it all together in the end, or something else?
Michael: I always start my days with reading good literature for a few hours. This is my main breakfast. In the studio I like to do something like 20 takes and then take the best verse, best bridge etc. and cut it together. I prefer to keep original parts together as long as possible; this feels best. But when I suck I have to drop of course.
Austin: How do you feel about using recording technology? Do you think that harmonizers and pitch correctors are a useful tool for a vocalist, or do you believe they just take away from the emotional quality of a performance? Do you personally use any voice enhancing processors in your recordings?
Michael: I can understand if someone made a perfect performance take he somehow can't repeat, and there are one or two spots a bit sharp or flat, that he fixes this; it saves time. But if tools like this make someone sing, he's got to rehearse! These tools let many vocalist today seem to be much better than they really are. You can find LOTS of records in the shops today which are only possible because of technology. That makes music more and more of a lie. Many people don't even try to learn how to sing or play right anymore because the producer can fix it. That's
the bad side about it. You don't need to be perfect to convince. There is a charm in not being perfect. If you listen carefully to my records, you will always hear me being a bit sharp or flat here and there within a normal frame. Those elements are totally gone if you use those tool. And it does take away performance and life, because slides in and out of tune are often wanted in a performance. So whenever producers use those tools, they should be careful not to make it sound totally clinical.
Austin: Tracking vocals is obviously a very taxing process. How do you keep your voice fresh when spending long hours in a studio?
Michael: On a good day it only gets better the longer I sing; and then after a few hours it totally loses its tone. That's when I have to call it a day.
Austin: You have an incredible vibrato. Did you have to work to develop it or is it just a natural byproduct of your voice?
Michael: It was too strong when I was 20 and it naturally changed over the years to be more balanced now. I tend to like less vibrato these days. But some tunes simply need it. It always depends on the song.
Austin: How do you make the transition from chest voice to head voice?
Michael: When it comes to these (where are my balls?) much too high tones for men, it automatically goes over to the head voice. But, again, I never thought about it much. It happens naturally. I really don't like head voice that much anymore. So certain keys which I used to sing much closer to the head voice when I was 20, I ry to push with chest voice now.
Austin: You're usually a clean singer, but sometimes you add some rasp. When adding that rasp, what changes do you feel in your throat to produce that sound?
Michael: When the voice (me) is in good condition, it feels good and motivating. When it is not, it hurts.
Austin: How are you able to sustain notes for so long? On songs like Eagle Fly Free from your Helloween days, you're able to grab a note and hold onto it forever.
Michael: Air, and not trying to do it too loud. It's an illusion when people think loudness sounds fuller. It's the other way around. If you sing more controlled, more frequencies are coming through. And if you scream, just a few are left and it sounds thinner.
Austin: Tell me a little about your work post-Helloween. You've obviously released several great solo albums, as well as appearances on many other records. What are some of your favorite songs that you've released, and what are you currently working on?
Michael: Aina was very nice. Also the track 'Breathe In Water' for another band I did last year.(I have forgotten the name right now). I also like most of the new songs Tobi did for Avantasia. It's a lot more opera and Queen-like than Metal. And right now I am finishing the re-recording of my own Helloween-Tunes in new manners. It was necessary to make those songs mine again. Just because I disagree with the main dark and negative metal-spirit and the art-enemy-dogmatic-attitude of the metal-scene, it doesn't mean that have to reject my own music of the past. That's why I said yes to this idea when my label (Serafino) brought it up. But I can't wait to write my next NEW record again and than finally start going on a little tour.
Austin: What inspires your songwriting? Do you have a set routine you follow each time you need to write? What are some basic things you do to get inspiration? Where do you go to write?
Michael: I always sort of have to learn it new again. I usually don't even try to write anything for one or two years, loading up the batteries maybe, then I grab the guitar and see what comes. My main inspirations are: fighting my own inner demons as a "wanna-be" Christian. If you don't just practice pseudo-religious-soul-masturbation with your religiousness, like too many today do, than it means a deadly fight with YOURSELF, trying to develop some moral-substance and spiritual lucidity in your life. All this is inspiration enough for me. I personally don't need the sex, drugs and rock n' roll nonsense for having something to say.
Austin: One final question; what's the most important advice you can give to a singer?
Michael: As unfashionable as this may sound to the ears of many, and as little as I have to do with certain
pseudo-Christian-groups of religious fundamentalists today: try as much as you can to develop a free and morally strong individuality in love for God, that will make you always sing best and it's much more important than technique, range, hair, clothes, make up or loudness to impress teenagers.
Austin: Thanks Michael!
Michael: Thanks man! And all the best to you!