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Blind Guardian

Line up:

Hansi Kürsch – Lead vocals
André Olbrich – Lead guitar
Marcus Siepen – Rhythm guitar
Frederik Ehmke – Drums, Percussion, Flute and Bagpipes

The bards of Krefeld are always up to something, being a new record, a dvd, or the project of a lifetime. Here at Tuska we could get to discuss about many interesting things with a very talkative Hansi Kursch, who also gave some good insight on the sources of inspiration for Blind Guardian’s work, suggests a good bunch of readings for the fans, and with whom we could talk also about Demons & Wizard and Thomen Stauch, among other things:

Marco: I heard you are going on with these big plans for the orchestral album, so what can you tell us about it, and about the theme of this project?

Hansi: Well for the theme I can’t tell you too much. What I can tell you is that we will work story-wise with Markus Heitz, a German author who writes in the tradition of Tolkien, it’s slightly different. His most famous work is called "The Dwarves", and I have been greatly inspired by some of his work, especially the one about an evil race called "the Albae"... And we’ll see. We just started discussing the whole issue, I have some ideas about the plot, and the storyboard, but we agreed about not telling people too much at that early stage. Because I mean we have worked for more than 10 years on the music! And it will most probably go on for the next two years, until we are finished. So it would be a little too early to tell you too much, but Markus is a very nice guy, and since he is German it will be really easy for me to connect and to get in touch with him, and become active, becoming part of the story, you know what I mean. Having a sort of interaction between the music, the way the vocals get to life, or come along, and his story. So there is a very close relationship, needed at that point. And therefore is most logical to have someone who, maybe doesn’t live in the neighbourhood, but it would be easy anyway to get in touch with.

M: Of course. And I think this might turn out to be not only ambitious but from what you said, also a really interesting and challenging project.

H: Yes it is. I mean, composing orchestras is definitely different than just composing for a band. That’s the first thing. Then to have a diversity in the songs, it’s very difficult. That’s why it took us more than 10 years. Although we didn’t constantly work on this stuff, and whenever we worked on it, it’s been a "constant flow", but you felt like all the energy was out and we couldn’t get any further, so we had to take a break and get back to the regular stuff we were working on. It is Blind Guardian played by an orchestra, sang by me.

M: I see. And did you expect instead to have more or less the success you received with the latest "At The Edge Of Time"?

H: Well yes. We spend a lot of time and effort into all the music we are doing, and so it was obvious for us when we finished the songwriting that the songs had a certain magic, that normally should attract people. So as far as for the metal scene, we have not been surprised. Of course things can go worse, or better, always. But all in all we cannot complain and we are grateful for that, but of course we always aim for more. It would be stupid to say that we are satisfied, that we are saturated, that is not the case.

M: Otherwise it wouldn’t even be worth continuing to play.

H: Yeah. The sky is the limit! [laughs]

M: And before releasing the album you also made that soundtrack for that videogame, Sacred II, which then became the song "Sacred Worlds". I actually tried out that game because I was curious about this thing. How would you describe that experience, and would you do that again?

H: Yeah. I would most definitely do that again. It was difficult to get all the elements together, but since the company, Ascaron, was so interested in Blind Guardian, they provided us with lots of insight and information prior to the release of the game. So we had a very strong inspiration to come up with the song.

M: Did you have to play with the game beforehand?

H: Oh, yeah, I did! Actually I never play, I’m not a gamer at all. But to get in the mood for my vocals and for the lyrics I started to play both of this videogames, and I played like four hours or so just to get into the idea. It’s really not my cup of tea. But I found it interesting. André and Marcus absolutely loved it, the first part and the second part. I was more interested in the story behind. I was provided with many many information so it was easy to do the lyrics even though the game wasn’t finished and it wasn’t yet certain what it would have been about. But you know, all the energy that this story delivered me prior to the game’s release would be lost if there wasn’t this gigantic story for it as well. A suitable one.

M: Talking about computers, when you released the video for "A Voice In The Dark", did you chose to use computer graphics for a matter of budget, or was it just a matter of personal taste?

H: That’s a very difficult question to answer. I would say... Let me put it this way, there is a small budget, always, When you make videos. If you do a video for a song, for a metal song, then the exposure opportunities are limited. So record companies do not give a lot of money for it. But we have had this team in Serbia, who worked with us in "Another Stranger Me", which was a splendid video, from my perspective. And we have put our trust in them. They came up with a slightly different storyboard than what was the original intention of the story, but I felt that since this was still with this team, I was great to see how and where inspiration can lead us to other art forms.
They came up with the idea for the computer animation we agreed on, and we didn’t have any idea of how it finally would have looked like. There are pieces in there which I dislike, and there is stuff in there which I highly admire. It was not like "Another Stranger Me" where I was completely satisfied with the final result. It’s still OK, and it does the trick, but it would not be the success video I and the team had done.

M: I agree, it wasn’t really one of your best...

H: It wasn’t. The worst. You know usually the band’s performance is more important than everything. This time we were more like "Ok, you stay in the...", how is that called? "...the blue box", but there was actually nothing! Everything was blue, apart from us. And then it was like "Ok, you have to move your head in that direction, don’t move too much, just sing", and so was also for the other guys. Then everything was build around it. But I think the design, the room, looks strange, but you can feel that the band’s performance is limited. Especially in the beginning when I look into the opposite direction! There was a plot behind it, but it does not come across! The reason for this was stupid, if I was turn to look straight into the camera, the people would have gotten it, and no one would have complained about it, but since I look into that direction and the camera was there, you’re like "What is he doing?". The idea was, you know, to... ah, it doesn’t matter!

M: Anyway, you must be reading continuously a huge amount of fantasy books from where you take the inspiration for your music and your lyrics. You mentioned also that German author, so my question is, what are you reading at the moment? And what would you suggest to your fans?

H: At the moment I’m reading a lot, a book of a former German politician, who then became a federal banker, and then he’s been suspended because he was supposed to have too, "extreme", views on things, on the social system in general. On immigration and stuff like this [Thilo Sarrazin]. I’m reading that, I’m also reading one of the books of Markus Heitz, to get deeper into the subject, and I read a book of another German author, the name is Cornelia Brink, I think. It’s a German misery story. So it’s these books I’m reading at the moment. I’m just switching between them. And a recommandation is "The Creature From Jackyll Island", I don’t remember the name of the guy who wrote it, but it’s an interesting perspective on how american people think about conspiracy and society. It’s interesting to read.

M: Alright, thanks for the suggestions. I also wanted to ask you this, since you have a wide fan-base especially in southern Europe, like in Italy, while if you think for example about Norway, you don’t have maybe that many fans there. I remember when I was talking with a norwegian singer, who said pretty much that if you guys were to play there, there would be really few people watching.

H: Well we don’t play there often but when we played in Oslo there were a thousand people. And that’s ok. For Scandinavia is not that bad.

M: But what I would like to know is when you make your music if you focus on doing something that YOU guys are satisfied with in the first place, or if you have ever thought about it in terms of "expanding your market" or to appeal the fans.

H: If you do that you fail.

M: That’s the answer I wanted to hear!

H: Ok! [laughs] There are people who tried that for a certain amount of time and then they might be successful for some moment, but not very long because sincerely I believe that people can differ easily between honesty, and true music, and the fakes. So, for us it’s never been a question to please people. Of course we want to gain success, and we want to draw the attention of as many people as possible, but it’s the spirit in the music, which makes us going on and please ourselves, you know, driving us into a certain direction, it’s not like we want to do something that people probably dislike. It’s impossible to do that!
But you want to shock sometimes. Like Marilyn Manson in a more "designed" way, but if we do something like, let’s say "The Edge Of A Twisted Myth" it is obvious that we scratch at the frontiers of what is possible for the "old school" Blind Guardian fan. But if we didn’t do so, you know, that would be a waste, because there is that potential in us, creating music into that direction. Some people don’t even see the difference! [laughs]
But the main thing is to please ourselves. We are very critical, if all of us is satisfied with the songs, there is a good chance that a good amount of people connected to Blind Guardian will like it as well. And no one has the perfect view on the regular mainstream, like "Ok I do that and then..."

M: Maybe you look back at something and you think "I could have done it better", or something like this?

H: No, not even that. We never do it. The opposite is the case. If we try to come up with an old song, and try to improve it, to make it anew, it doesn’t make a big difference. You would think that you’ve heard already this song, the song remains the same, and there is a difference that it’s fun, for example we’ve done a newer version of "Valhalla", which we are going to release on a project later on, and this one came out really good! But it’s not better than the version we did in ’89. We’ve done it a little more... it’s a little different. We did the same with "The Hobbit", and "And Then There Was Silence", and if you listen back to it, you say "Well, it’s great, but it was great in 2002, 1992, 1990-whatever/’89" [laughs]

M: Yeah, I see what you mean. Let’s talk instead about "Travellers At The Edge Of Time", this documentary which aired in the Heavy Metal Film Festival in L.A., what do the viewers have to expect from that?

H: Well it’s just the beginning, it’s not even completely done. We "stumbled" into the whole thing by a request from our record company, which has been in contact with the promoter of this festival. We met that guy on the Metal Cruise in January, when we were touring with many other bands [at 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise] and we were interested in it because we knew we had a lot of stuff done for the documentary from the "At The Edge Of Time" recordings, and then we did a lot of amateur stuff during the tour of "At The Edge Of Time". We just said "Well, we can do a sort of documentary, and we can leave the best for the festival if you’re interested in it" and he said "Yeah, that would be highly interesting!". So we just started, and the guy, Andreas, who is in charge of our lights, is very talented in such things... came up with some 45 mins documentary. About Blind Guardian, and about this particular period, starting with the music we did with the production of "At The Edge Of Time" and then going on until the Metal cruise. But we feel it’s still something that can be exposed and extended. It’s still in the making, so I don’t know how the final result will look like. What I saw for the festival was very nice and interesting, it was different.

M: And then there were also all those black metal documentaries for example.

H: There was good stuff, I mean, I haven’t been there, but I believe that the people who attended, they saw some splendid stuff, because the guy who was in charge of selecting all the documentaries is very talented, and he has a very good taste, so I believe it was interesting and it would have been worth to see it too, definitely. But from what I heard not a lot of people attended, he was not quite pleased.

M: Ok, that’s a bit of a shame. But changing subject, a lot of people says that in power metal is very difficult nowadays to find a good inspiration for a new band, rather than to produce something fresh, original... Do you have any suggestion for someone who wants to approach for the first time this kind of genre?

H: Be yourself. You can be inspired by the past, but whatever you do, it has to catch up the spirit of today. If you do that, that’s the first step into something new. Whatever people say, even if some of the stuff might sound old-fashion at the beginning. But that’s the point to start with. Apart from that, and especially it goes all onto the lead guitarist and the vocalist, again be yourself, don’t copy any of the established vocalists. There is no need for another Bruce Dickinson, there is no need for another Rob Halford, there is no need for another Michael Kiske, and you know, so on and so on and so on.

M: Quickly if you can tell me something about the project Demons & Wizards. I haven’t heard anything about that in a fwe years now.

H: Well, Jon and I are in constant contact, but he is very busy with Iced Earth, so am I with Blind Guardian... And even if we tried over the last 12 months, we did not find one moment where we able to at least spend two days together and doing some thought on the songs, coming up with the first ideas. But nonetheless we agreed to do stuff within the next 12 months, at least songwriting-wise.

M: Maybe you can meet again when they are touring this winter in Europe.

H: They have been in Europe for the summer, and he visited me, we had some time together, but then we went out for dinner, and had a few beers together, you know, enjoyed a few glasses of red wine... There was just not enough time but we have the ultimate word to do that. To do a third one. But we also agreed that, in case it’ll be released we have to set up a certain time-period for touring. Because otherwise it would be a waste. We have at least to book 20 shows in Europe, 20 shows in the US...

M: What about festivals?

H: Yeah, but at festivals if you don’t have really established bands, which you are used to play together, it’s better to do club shows first. So touring it’s strictly necessary, at the very end then we can do festivals. We did one tour with Demons & Wizards in 2000 I think, and we did the mistake that we booked the festivals. We did one club show, and then we did 4-5 festivals, and that was a nightmare! It was a total nightmare because we hadn’t been there yet at that point. At the end of the festivals we were in a good shape, but you don’t want to do this, once you are at the festivals you want to be in perfect shape!

M: We have time just for one last brief question, if you know about what Thomen has been up to lately, because after the thing with Savage Circus I haven’t heard any news of him.

H: Well to make it very short, he’s living in Krefeld nowadays, again. He still is a good relationship. The problem is that he doesn’t find a band suitable for him. And apart from that he visits us from time to time, I saw him last when we played in Düsseldorf, that’s few years ago. But nonetheless we’ve been on the road for quite a long time. And once we are finished with touring I’m sure we’ll meet in the studio again.

M: Ok, thank you so much for this really nice interview, it was a pleasure talking with you, it’s just a shame that we don’t have more time!

H: No problem, thanks to you!

Intervista di  Marco Manzi

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