BW&BK Interview: GAMMA RAY – Have You Heard This One..?

By Carl Begai

“From a fan’s point of view, I’d be happy to see one of my favourite bands doing a completely different setlist because I know all their songs. If I go to a Judas Priest show, rather than hearing ‘Living After Midnight’ I’d rather hear stuff like ‘Dreamer Deceiver’. That’s much more interesting even for a diehard fan that knows all the songs in a band’s catalogue.”

And there you have the motivation behind Gamma Ray’s new outing Skeletons & Majesties Live courtesy of frontman/founder Kai Hansen. Call it a case of the band challenging themselves and the fans by daring to be different, building a tour setlist in 2011 that reached all the way back to their 1990 debut Heading For Tomorrow and dusted off some of their more obscure tracks for the stage.

“It was really cool. And the great part of it was seeing that it actually works, that those songs aren’t weaker than the ones we play all the time. They just don’t get the attention they deserve. There are always the album favourites and the ‘real’ great songs, but that doesn’t mean the other songs are shit. When you do festivals and tours, sure, you include your ‘Best Of’ songs to make most of the people happy, but it was a lot of fun for us to do things this way.”

“That was especially at the rehearsals, when we were saying ‘Do we really have to practice ‘Send Me A Sign’ again?’ We’ve been playing that song for a long time and it’s quite simple, so there was no real need to go over it again. The songs that we hadn’t played in such a long time – or never – there was a totally different motivation to rehearsing them and improving ourselves.”

It was no secret the band was heading out to flog their so-called “rare” material when the tour was announced, and according to Hansen the number of people in the door on any given night was more or less the same as when Gamma Ray does an expectation-loaded show. Definitely a good thing considering the band committed themselves to a DVD shoot as preparations were being made.

“The tour was planned first, and then the suggestion came up to do a DVD since it’s been quite a while since the last one (Hell Yeah! The Awesome Foursome from 2008) and we were doing completely different songs. It was a perfect opportunity. We thought about doing a whole acoustic set but we decided it would be too much, especially for this band considering the music we play. It was better than we just changed things up for a song or two in the middle of the set.”

Back in September word came down that Gamma Ray had signed on for the Hellish Rock Tour II with his old band, Helloween. It’s an experience that bears repeating, says Hansen, because the first run in 2007/2008 was a huge hit amongst the fans.

“We only thought twice about it because financially I think we’d do better with our own tour,” he admits. “Maybe it’s not the best choice economically, but on the other hand going out with Helloween gives us a bigger buzz. It offers the chance to play different venues and I think that’s good for us.”

There are veteran fans that will argue Gamma Ray should be headlining in stead of Helloween this time out, that Hansen and Co. shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to the band he co-founded almost 30 years ago.

“The Helloween name is just bigger and it’s got a longer history, so fair enough. Sure, there are people coming up to us saying that Gamma Ray should headline, and who can argue with that? (Laughs) Seriously though, I’m fine with it, and it takes away the burden of being a headliner. We can go and play our 75 minutes and have a ball, then go off stage and get wasted while the other guys have to fight for every inch because the fans get tired eventually.”

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Live photo of Kai Hansen by Carl Begai. All rights reserved.

Check out a clip from the Skeletons & Majesties Live DVD here.