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Interviews   

BLIND GUARDIAN: CONVERSATION ON A TIME TO COME


The release of a best of is a trick as old as the music industry. But despite a certain traditional aspect, it always implies several questions. Starting with: is it the right time? For Blind Guardian, after a career of twenty-five years, the question barely needed to be asked, especially since the band, as vocalist Hansi Kürsch will tell us, had already been planning it for several years, after a suggestion from their record company. The second question would be: what songs to choose? And that’s precisely where problems arise for a band that long-lived: the choice is far wider, and therefore more difficult.

These questions are at the core of this interview. How did Blind Guardian go about devising Memories Of A Time To Come, this compilation covering twenty-five years worth of music, which will be released on January 20^th ? How does the band consider this record? Is it an assessment? The end of an era? Is Blind Guardian opening a new door with this best of? This interview with Hansi Kürsch also revolves a lot around the band’s future, this “time to come”. And according to him, this time has already come, since the band is working on an upcoming orchestral album (whose “Blind Guardian-ish” nature is still under question, as you will see) and on a new traditional album.



« It was more like a rollercoaster through our career, with some stops and some frustrating decisions to make. […] We were looking for the perfect mix, to present what Blind Guardian has been about over the past 25 years. »

Radio Metal: Why did you choose to release a best of compilation at this point of your career?

Hansi Kürsch (vocals): 25 years is a very good reason, I think! When we were first asked to do that by our old record company, EMI, three years ago, I thought it was about time we did it. We had a good discography, with a lot of good songs, but we’d never done it so far. But on the other hand, I felt that if we were to do it, we would need some additional time to do a proper mixing, proper technical preparations, and even rework on some of the stuff. We were looking for the right moment, and that happened in 2011, when we played a lot of shows and went on a lot of tours, but still had some time in between to work on the tracks. In the end, it took us over four months to get everything done. But the result is a best of that feels like an organic, regular studio album.

Since there’s a link between the songs on each album and every album has its own story, wasn’t it frustrating to pick out singles and mix them up on a compilation?

No, it was not frustrating. It was more like a rollercoaster through our career, with some stops and some frustrating decisions to make. I would have loved to add some more songs to the best of, or see other songs on it instead, but we were looking for the perfect mix, to present what Blind Guardian has been about over the past 25 years. I found it very interesting to see how a song like “Majesty”, for example, interacts with newer songs like “Ride Into Obsession”. It was more a challenge to us to give justice to the songs that we finally decided to put on the album, and treat them in the most accurate way, so they could shine in their full glory.

What’s interesting about this compilation is that you didn’t just pick the best singles or the best commercial successes of Blind Guardian; you picked ballads, speed metal songs, very epic and progressive songs… It’s like you didn’t want to do a best of out of the singles, but rather to sum up your career, the story of Blind Guardian.

Yes, that was the intention. I would say a song like “Fly” is still missing, because that would feature the more modern direction of the band. But we felt that “This Will Never End” would do more justice to the album A Twist In The Myth, which is why we decided to go for this song. In general, it was the idea to show how diverse we can be. Of course, it also makes it obvious why sometimes people are disappointed when we come up with a new album, because you don’t know what to expect. This makes the band interesting for young people as well as old people, and for us as well.

« All the songs have a different handwriting, and you never know exactly how a song is built up and what will follow next if you haven’t heard it. This is something we tried to represent with this album. « 

Do you think all the bands that release best of albums are doing it the wrong way, by selecting commercial successes instead of the songs that represent the band and its evolution best?

I wouldn’t say that. It’s a question of how you choose to do it and how you relate to a best of album. If you do a best of single album in a proper way, if you remix it or if you have a concept to present it, then it’s fine. But if it’s just a compilation, then it doesn’t make sense. It’s really a question of how much a band gets involved and is dedicated to the output. Of course it’s a in-between solution to propose old material, but if you do it the proper way, it doesn’t matter. If it’s the single versions or what we consider to be more diverse stuff, it’s not important.

Since you’re a band that loves to tell stories in their albums, can you say that the story you wanted to tell with this best of album was your own?

Yeah, you can see it this way. I also think it explains a lot about our characters and our music through the music itself. There was a very clear vision among the band members from the very beginning, and even though the song differ a lot from each other, the core elements can be seen in the early achievements of the band; in this case, “Valhalla”, “Majesty” or “Follow the Blind”. There were obvious differences when it came to songwriting. You can see there’s no pattern. All the songs have a different handwriting, and you never know exactly how a song is built up and what will follow next if you haven’t heard it. This is something we tried to represent with this album.

Are you as passionate about releasing this compilation as with every studio album?

If it comes to the re-recordings, definitely. There’s the same passion. If it comes to the remixes, it’s the same dedication, but of course, it’s a little more difficult to feel passion for a twenty-year-old song you revisit but have no chance to rework on, to fix things which you think could be improved.

This must have been a very nostalgic experience, listening to the songs from the early days?

It was a very nostalgic feeling. But on the other hand, it showed us that the songs remain the same. If you listen to a song like “Valhalla”, for example, which we have re-recorded, you will feel the same energy, even if we’re over twenty years older compared to the first recording. But the song revealed the same beauty and the same strength. Music is timeless, and that’s a great thing. That’s something I can say about Blind Guardian’s 25 years: at no point does it feel like 25 years. If you asked me about the first time we went in the studio, I couldn’t count the years. I would say it was not too long ago, maybe ten or fifteen years. Even that would appear as a long period to me, but the fact that it’s that much longer proves that we really enjoyed what we did. It was never what we had to do, it was what we wanted to do.

« I think we’re in the middle of the second period of the band. I believe a new era started with Night At The Opera, and this era is not over so far. […] I don’t think we will change drastically. »

How do you feel when you listen to your older songs? Aren’t you kind of bored by these songs you made when you were teenagers?

I consider them to be things from the youth. There are many elements in there which we wouldn’t treat that way nowadays. But it’s still a legacy of our very first steps. Musically, even if you can observe that we’re not on the same path nowadays, I believe there’s a certain strength and energy in these first attempts to become a professional musician which still makes it interesting for me to listen to it. Even though there were some elements that were related to great bands that were our idols back then, there was that individual approach from the very beginning. That makes me really proud. It had a personal touch, and luckily we kept that.

Do you see Blind Guardian at a turning point right now, so you had to release this to close a chapter?

Interesting point of view… But no, I don’t think so. I think we’re in the middle of the second period of the band. I believe a new era started with Night At The Opera, and this era is not over so far. I would say it’s more to look back because of nostalgic feelings. It was the right time to do it. But I don’t think we will change drastically, even though one of the next albums – maybe even the next one – will be the orchestral album. This will be a definite change. But since it has been designed and scheduled over the last years, it’s not connected to the best of album.

The title of this compilation is interesting. What do you mean with this title, Memories From A Time To Come?

Again, we’re dealing with time. The impression we had when we revisited these 25 years was that of a timeless flow. I believe that, even though these are documents of the past, they give a preview of Blind Guardian’s future as well.

Could we have an update on your work on this orchestral album which is expected to be released in 2012?

(huge sigh) I would say 2012 is history already! (laughs) That’s how far I can go. We worked on the orchestral stuff as well as on stuff for a regular Blind Guardian album between our tours and the finalizing of Memories From A Time To Come. My goal would be to release either the regular Blind Guardian album or the orchestral album in 2013. It is doable, but it’s tough work for us. There are so many elements involved in the orchestral album, as well as in the regular album, all the way from songwriting to production… I’m really cautions when it comes to guessing release dates. But as I said, I assume it will be late 2013, possibly in the Fall, before another Blind Guardian album.

« What I think would be possible would be a small festival tour with an orchestra, or a very limited number of Blind Guardian concerts […] That’s something we could consider, especially in connection with a regular Blind Guardian show. »

It sounds like you’re kind of exhausted by this orchestral project!

I’m not exhausted, but it’s so much work. It’s fun doing it. We did like six songs in a concert hall already, and we recorded them, but I still have to do the vocals. I did a pre-production for these songs already. But we also have to complete the other songs we have done, and it takes a lot of time, in terms of finalizing the scores and all that. If we don’t feel the time is right to work on this, we prefer to work on the regular Blind Guardian stuff. That’s on the same priority level. Both are too important to rush. We never did that in our whole career, and we certainly won’t start after 25 years, even if we would like to release something next year. It’s not important to be as quick as possible, it’s more important to keep the quality.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but at the beginning, this was meant to be a side project, and then you decided to release it as a Blind Guardian album, right?

Yeah, you’re absolutely right about that. But I have to say that even now, we’re not sure how we are going to present it! (laughs) We have so many options with this album, we’re jumping backward and forward. The music is so good and diverse. It is a Blind Guardian baby, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Blind Guardian album. We’re not sure. It depends how much the rest of the band will be involved. At that point, they’re not involved so much apart from songwriting. It will be my singing and the orchestra. We’re not sure if that’s enough to call it a Blind Guardian album. If we involve the rest of the band, it will become a Blind Guardian album. This is something we’ve been considering for the last twelve months and the discussion is still open.

I guess it must have been very difficult to change your way of writing songs, since it’s a completely different exercise compared to writing songs for a band?

No, we haven’t changed here, not at all. It’s a different approach in using different instruments and using slightly different structures. But it’s not as difficult as many people probably think. We have to have Charlie Bauerfeind involved in case we’re faced with a dead end; he can get us out of there and give us instructions to make another attempt in another direction. But so far, it’s been going smoothly. The most difficult thing was to find someone who was able to transpose the arrangements we’ve composed on a computer into a score that remains as close to our original intention as possible. It’s been a lot of trouble and took a lot of time, but since we’ve had these people, it’s been more a question of doing the right songs at the right time.

Do you think you’ll promote this orchestral album live, and most importantly, is it possible for you, financially speaking?

Financially speaking, I would say it could be beneficial! But the problem is to find the right occasion, the right venue and the right orchestra to do it. You cannot do something like this in a regular concert hall. Depending on the country, the audience at our shows is between 500 and 7,000 or 8,000 people. Finding venues that can accommodate these different audiences would be very, very difficult. What I think would be possible would be a small festival tour with an orchestra, or a very limited number of Blind Guardian concerts, like four in Europe or so. That’s something we could consider, especially in connection with a regular Blind Guardian show. This might be an option. But we’ll deal with it when we’re there. Right now it’s more getting all the composition out of the way, then finalizing the various elements. Once this is done, we’ll be a big step further, and then we’ll need to consider how to promote this album and how live situations could be organized.

Your albums are based on Tolkien’s books, as well as other writers. Don’t you want to write your own epic story, maybe for an upcoming album?

Not for the orchestral album. We have already agreed that the concept for that would be Markus Heitz. His sort of writing perfectly fits the music we’ve come up with so far. But for one of the next regular Blind Guardian albums, that could be done. We could have a conceptual album, going in the direction of Imaginations From The Other Side and songs like “Bright Eyes”, “Imaginations” or “And The Story Ends”. Something like that would be possible, yes.

« What we tried to do, and what we still look for, is a closer connection to the World Of Warcraft game. That’s more on André’s mind, I would say, doing a cooperation there. »

You were writing songs about Middle Earth and Tolkien’s books way before the Peter Jackson movies were made. When the movie came out, weren’t you bored to see those bands suddenly claiming Tolkien was their favorite writer?

I didn’t even realize, in the beginning. Most of the bands are more connected to the pagan or death metal scene. It didn’t really bother me, and it still doesn’t today. Some of them tackle different aspects, and if it’s a good aspect, I appreciate it. I never felt these bands were jumping on a trend train. It was like they’d been woken up or attracted by the movie, then started reading the books and figured this was something they could connect to their music. I don’t really much care about that. There were bands dealing with Tolkien before Blind Guardian. It’s up to everyone. You just need to have a concept and the right tools to come up with something personal. The good thing about Blind Guardian is that, whenever we deal with Tolkien, we give it a personal touch. I believe this is what people appreciate.

We talked with André Olbrich last year and he told us that you weren’t in contact with Peter Jackson. Has this changed, did you try again recently?

No, I definitely have not tried anything like this. I’m sure André has not either. What we tried to do, and what we still look for, is a closer connection to the World Of Warcraft game. That’s more on André’s mind, I would say, doing a cooperation there. Being involved in “The Hobbit” is something we do not consider to be interesting for us.

Jusqu’en 1998, tu jouais de la basse. En joues-tu toujours ? Si non, est-ce que cela ne te manque pas ?

I don’t miss it. I don’t play too much. I play acoustic guitar from time to time, to improve the composing or to come up with ideas. Just for inspiration, I also play a little piano. But the bass guitar is not my favorite instrument. It might change, I’m not saying I’ll never, ever play bass at home again. But I don’t feel the need to use the bass for composing.

Interview conducted by phone on december, 19th, 2011 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Saff’ & Isa
Introduction : Animal

Blind Guardian’s Website : www.blind-guardian.com



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