Interview: Blind Guardian

Interview: Blind Guardian

- in Written interviews

In July, 28 Blind Guardian  performed for the first time in Israel. Fans were waiting for it for many years, and that moment has come: sold out, two hours show and hundreds overjoyed people that sang their favorites songs with Hansi.

Before the show we took the opportunity to talk to Marcus Siepen about new live album, instruments and books. And also about “rockstar” thing.

Today is your second show in 2017. Is it because of you worked on your new album ‘Live Beyond The Spheres’, or was it something else?

We’ve been on the road with the last studio album for the last two years. The tour started in April 2015, and we’ve been on the road until 2016, so we didn’t planned to tour a lot this year. We’ll finish the live album, which will be released in two weeks, or something like that and we’re just going on for some festivals now, obviously using an opportunity coming to Israel. Beside from that we will be focused on writing a new material. Normally we separate this: when we are on the road, when we are touring, we don’t write new songs. And in some point, when tour is done, we try to not play live too much anymore because we want to focus on songwriting and composing.

‘Live Beyond The Spheres’ will be released in a couple of days. Do you yourselves satisfied with it as an end-product?

Yes, absolutely. We tried to capture the typical kind of show that we played. We were lucky to get a triple CD package, it’s a lot of material, 22 songs, and we could put on that album pretty much everything that we wanted there. The sound is also perfect for a live album, in my humble opinion. We did very well on that tour.

It was recorded during your tour in 2015-2016?

Yes, we recorded everything during the whole tour, and in the end of the album we focused at European block that we did – we’re still talking about 35-40 shows, something like that. We had to list all those recordings and make notes about which song was performed best in whatever CD, then we compare our notes at some point. The good thing is that for most of the songs we’re still had several options, that everybody agreed on, and we could really draw the best performances for all the songs and put them together as this live album.

“Children Of The Smith”, from “The Dwarves” game soundtrack. Can you tell a little more about it?

We were contacted by the company that did the game, because obviously we’re known as kind of computer games fans, and they asked us is we would be interested in writing something for them just as we did for “Sacred 2” game. We were very interested in this cooperation, but we didn’t had time to write anything, because we’ve been on the road and there was no time for us to sit down and compose anything.  So we told them that Hansi and me would be very interested to perform something for them, recording, but they would have to come up with the songwriting because we were busy with touring. And that what they did: at some point they send us demos and we re-arranged the couple of things. So once the final thing was done, I recorded all the guitars. And that was a lot of fun, it’s interesting to take part into something like this, when other people are involved, that you normally don’t work with them. Obviously, they have different way of composing and writing stuff than we would normally do. It’s very interesting to hear the result. I really like the song, I have to say.

Is this your first experience where you just perform and don’t write the music and lyrics?

Yeah, because for Blind Guardian we do everything ourselves, and when we did that song for the “Sacred 2” game, it was our composition as well, so that was the first time that we performed something for a different writer.

I need to say that it’s definitely your song, despite you didn’t write the music and the lyrics.

Yes, it works very well. 

Will you put it in your next album?

That song was just recorded for that game, so it won’t appear in any Blind Guardian album.

I think that you heard this question a million times, but I need to ask it: your orchestral album. Is there any approximate release date? Or release year?

What orchestral album? (laughs)

Hansi still has to record a lots of vocals. The original idea was for him to go to the studio in breaks that we had in the tour and record stuff there, but that didn’t worked because touring is a way to demanding to his voice and he needs those breaks to rest his voice and get ready for the next tour blocks. So he will finish all his recordings this year. That’s also a reason why we won’t play that much live. Recordings will be finished much this year, than it still needs to be mixed.

So we, as fans, can expect it next year or in 2019?

I guess. We have to see how fast we can get through everything, but that’s the next thing that will happen with us. So  we’re finally about to finish it.

You said that usually you choose something like 40 songs for a tour and then you changing them in set-list. Are there any songs that you are tired from playing them, because you played them a lot?

I don’t mind to play any of them, but obviously you have favorites, that you have preferred over others for various reasons. It’s like news songs always lot of fun to play because it’s new, it’s challenging, you still have to focus more on it. And it’s curious about the reaction by the audience because when you start playing them for the first couple of times, you don’t know how people will react for those songs. We’re always pitching around when people start to scream for “Majesty”. I don’t mind, but all the fans love them and it’s still fun to play them, but obviously, for example, “Majesty” – we’re playing this song from 1986, so it’s also fun to give them a rest at some point. If you playing a song for many years, it’s a good thing to give it a rest for tour or two and bring it back in a couple of years again and restart it fresh. So that’s fine. But basically I like playing all the songs, that’s no problem.

David Draiman from Disturbed told, that once Avenged Sevenfold supported them on tour, but few years later, contrariwise, Disturbed supported Avenged Sevenfold. How do you choose bands that supporting you on tour? The situation when you supporting someone on tour is possible?  

About choosing our supporting it’s what bands we like, because it’s not a nice thing to be on a road with a band for month and month when you don’t like their music – we’ll listen to it every day. It’s a nice thing to pick a band that you like, and on top of that it’s a great thing if you get alone with a people as well, because after all you’re hanging out every single day on the road, spending a lot of time together, so that’s something that plays role as well. For the previous tour I’ve been that one suggested Orphaned Land because I knew these guys since years already. We were talking about the bands we could possibly take with us, and I was like: Orphaned Land!”. And everybody were like: “Yeah, that’s a good idea. How do we contact them?”, and I said: “I’ll do it”.

It’s not so your style of music. They are epic, but in another way.

First of all I don’t see any reason to take a band with us on the road that tries to sound exactly like we do. I think contrariwise, it’s much more interesting for the fans, so they’ll get something different. Especially with Orphaned Land music: it fits perfectly because they are heavy, they are very melodic, they have all these orchestra influences as well that are obviously present in our music, and that works very well. You can also see it from the reaction of Blind Guardian crowd, that maybe didn’t know them before, and they liked them. They always got very good reactions from our people, and I think they were pretty happy as well. As I said, the form factor they are such nice people and we’ve been good friends since years already, so that was a perfect match. And when it comes to opening up, that was exactly one time when we opened up for another band, we never ever did that. At some point we were asked to open up for Judas Priest. We played five shows with them in Spanish tour.

When was it?

It was in 2012-13. That was the only time ever in Blind Guardian‘s career that we did gigs, opening up for somebody else. So we normally don’t do that, normally we prefer to headline. I’m not saying it’s bad – when we got the offer from Judas Priest, we’ve all been ‘Priest  fans, you know. They are legends in metal, so – yeah, we did it. But in general we do our own thing, and it’s fine.

In your last album (‘Beyond The Red Mirror’) you used seven-string guitars. Was it something definitely new for you, or it was “just a guitar with one more string”?

Yes. It fits perfectly normal to play songs on seven strings guitar, it feels absolutely natural. I’m not struggling anymore, but I still really have to focus when I want to play one of our old songs that was written for six strings, on these guitars. I think it’s a matter of mental focus point: my base is a low E-string normally, and now there is a low B-string that disturbs your focus.

You use the classic tone with a low open E-string?

Yes. And that’s why I still have to focus, when I use seven string guitar and play six string guitar song on it. But it’s fun, it opens up a lot of options with different tunings and if you shift the guitars down in the frequency range, it opens up for orchestra stuff and it opens up a room in the song. It’s a nice thing, and it’s a lot of fun.

What was the most original instrument that you recorded ever? Except dancers in ‘At the Edge of Time’.

We had two big orchestras on the last album, so there’s a lots of instruments going there. I think the most original one to me it still the bagpipes that we used the couple of times that we used back there on ‘Somewhere Far Beyond’ album when we did the song “Somewhere Far Beyond” or “The Piper’s Calling”. And sometimes Frederik is doing his flute things. It’s fun to mess around with such things. I still want to get some more strings instruments, different once much as guitar.

Like violins and cellos, or something more?

It can be anything, you know. For me it’s like when I pick it up, it has to feel right. Whatever that instrument might be, that’s fine. But I like going to music stores, see what they have and just try out things. It can be very inspiring and sometimes you find something that you want, so your collection grows. It’s fine (smiling).

There are two magic words for everyone in music industry: SOLD OUT. Do you have any feelings about that? How often does it happen?

It depends on where we’re playing. I mean in big territory it happens a lot, in other territories, where we still building up it doesn’t happen too often, or that often, but it’s always a great thing. It’s the first time we’re coming to Israel and the show is sold out, so that’s a great thing, you know. It’s not a territory that we’re playing since years, and we’ve build up a fanbase, but we just coming here and we did sell out this place, so that’s fine. It’s a good feeling.

You have a huge fanbase worldwide. In your own opinion: what is Blind Guardian‘s phenomenon?

It’s difficult to answer that for me. You should ask the fans, what they see in us. But I guess an important factor is that we always did exactly what we felt like to. We never tried to follow any trends or anything, we never tried to copy anybody else. We always played exactly the music that we wanted to play, and we always tried to progress in this. We always tried to change it a little bit without losing the roots, but always tried to put something fresh and new in new album. I think that’s something that the fans respect, and it’s the same for everything, not only songwriting. It’s about the production – we always tried to do best thing that we can possibly do at that moment. It’s about playing live: we try to do the best performance that we can do at that moment. So the fans can rely on that fact that it always be certain quality to whatever we doing. And I think especially this honesty that coming from us, because you will never see us playing anything that we don’t want to play. Whatever we are playing, live or an album, it’s exactly what we want to do at that moment.

Let’s talk about the books a little: A lot of Blind Guardian‘s songs are based on books. How do these songs born? Is it the music first or idea from the book that cause you to write music?

For us it’s always the music first. Always. During the songwriting Hansi sings just anything, it doesn’t even have to make sense. The only thing that matters is the melody line and the rhythm of the words, but not the words themselves. And only when the music or the song is done completely, then he starts writing actually the lyrics. It might be based on the book he’s reading  – we’re recommending books to each other, that can be inspiration. It’s always the music first, and then it whatever book is inspiring him, because Hansi is a guy to write all the lyrics.

What do you prefer: paper books or digital format?

I like both, and the thing is I tend to buy double. When I’m on tour, I’m reading from a “Cobourg” because carrying paper books with you on the road it’s just a lot of weight, and that’s something you try to avoid. So it’s digital, and I think it’s really comfortable to read on “Kindle”, “Cobourg” or whatever reader. It’s very comfortable to read on them: you don’t need lights and everything. But, you know, putting one “Kindle” or “Cobourg” in a book shelf looks stupid, so I want real books in my shelf as well because I like collecting such things and that’s why I buy double. But normally I read digital now.

What was the last book that you’ve finished?

In the moment I re-reading something that I read lot of years ago already. I started reading “The Wheel Of Time” books again. I read them in German 20 years ago. I didn’t read them all back when I’m read the first five books, and I started reading them again in English now, which is a lot of fun.

You also said that you don’t like Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” and “Game of Thrones” series, because they went far from the books. What based on book movie can you call “a good one”?

Let me think. I like… I have to say I read the book ages ago, I don’t really remember how close the movie was. At least it’s a movie based on the book that I really liked, it was “The Name Of The Rose” by Umberto Eco. And there are some movies for example: I always been the huge fan of “Star Wars”, but I never read the books because I love the movie so much, and I don’t want the book to be different, so that’s vice versa there. But the thing is, in general, I always prefer the book. Because you can use your own imagination. You read about the characters and they start existing in your brain, the way they look, it’s your imagination. And obviously when somebody else makes the movie on that same book, he use his imagination, and the creatures and characters will look like this person imagines them. So I prefer my own imagination.

Do you remember that moment, when you said to yourself: “Ok, I’m a rockstar now”?

I never said that (laughs). That was a point in our career that whole “rockstar” thing happened around us. That was when we did the first tour in Japan, back in 1992. We came to Japan, and we were booked into most expensive hotels, Hilton in Osaka and Tokyo, and whatever. I don’t know how many bodyguards around us. In some point I wanted to go to my room in the hotel, and the bodyguard ran to the elevator and kicked out everybody else out of it, because I wanted to go up. And I was like: “What the fuck is wrong with you, guy? Let those people in there!”.

“Rockstar” to me has a negative connotation, because rockstar to me is bullshit. You know, we are musicians, we’re in lucky position, to be able to say we’re successful musicians, and that’s what made to me “rockstar” that I have never interested. I want to be good at my job, which means I want to be good as guitar player; I want to be good as a songwriter, performer, whatever and everything else – I’m just a normal person. I live a normal life, I have a wife, I have a son, I do the dishes at home, I take out the trash or shopping – I leaving perfectly normal life. And my job is to go on stage and play in front of couple of thousands people. That’s fine, that’s fun. That’s how I see it. I’m not interested in being famous or anything, you know

You are.

I know I am. That was an interesting moment, when my son was going from the first school to the second one, and there were many Blind Guardian fans in his school. For my son, obviously – he grew up with me – being a musician it was a normal thing. In that school there were tons of kids running around with Blind Guardian shirts, and they were coming to him, asking “is it true, are you the son of that guy, bla-bla-bla?”. He came home and he was like: “Are you famous?”. And that question took me completely by surprise, I was like: “Ok, how do I answer that?”

I explained to him that yes, depending on who he’s talking to, I’m famous. If you talk to metal fans, I’m famous, I guess. And if he talks to somebody that doesn’t give a fuck about metal, then most likely that person will have no fucking clue who I might be, or who my band might be, or whatever. So I tried to explain this to him: “Yeah, for some people I’m famous, for others I’m not”. Explained to him that I’m not doing this to be famous, because that’s something that I don’t care about it at all. I want to be successful, obviously, but famous – you know, I don’t want to go through town and everybody like “o-o-ooh, it’s him”.

So it wasn’t a goal for you – as a band, I mean, to be famous?

We wanted to be successful, obviously. We want people to like our albums, we want people to buy our albums, because that’s our job. But everybody wants to live his normal life. We can go through our hometown, and nobody bothers us. I don’t want to be Michael Jackson, that can’t leave his home without like thousands of people following him. That’s not something I like.

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