Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian
Interviewed by EvilG
Transcription by Christy and EvilG
Here’s an interview with Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kursch that was conducted in late April. We spoke about the band’s latest single FLY and the forthcoming album for which the band feels they’ve reached a point where they may just take things to the next level. Also discussed is the band’s new drummer and Hansi’s comments on Savage Circus (which features BG’s former drummer), and the band’s orchestration project. Enjoy!
I want to start out talking about the new single FLY, I just received my promo copy to listen to this just week actually. I was wondering what reactions have you been hearing so far, or have you been not paying attention to what people are saying?
Well, I check forums from time to time, and I’ve read a few reviews. 80-85% really like the single, and 15% really do not get along with it. There are some people just liking it and others saying it’s spectacular. I myself consider it, especially "Fly", to be a spectacular song.
In a few words can you tell me what the song ‘Fly’ is about?
Well its about inspiration, and what inspiration can do with you. It’s inspired by the movie Finding Neverland and by the story Peter Pan written by James Barrie. I try to do a kind of mixture of the original stories and movies and my feelings about inspiration that can be transposed into music.
The song ‘Fly’ still maintains a Blind Guardian feel but offers some slightly different takes on the Blind Guardian Sound. Would you say ‘Fly’ is a typical song from the new album, or is it something a little more adventuresome?
It is definitely exactly how you explained it. That’s how we look on the song. But would I say is it typical from the new album? No, there is no typical song. It is typical for Blind Guardian somewhat I would say, the album isn’t completely one thing, it is completely different. There’s a more traditional Blind Guardian section, there is a very modern Blind Guardian section, there is a kind of Celtic atmospheric like section. You have a little bit of everything but all the songs deliver a kind of progression and they all sound very fresh and new, and that’s the special thing about ‘Fly’ I think. However people react on it, there’s hardly been anyone saying that he or she has heard anything like it. It’s on a very high level, and can be said about the whole album.
Obviously your sound evolves on the new album. Do you have any fears that the older fans will distance themselves from the new take on the Blind Guardian sound, do you think?
I mean we’re coping with the problems with each album. There is a kind of progression ever since BATTALIONS OF FEAR and of course it’s more significant and drastic and sometimes less. But ever since A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, I would say things are cleared up. Because now the core Blind Guardian fans understood, and hopefully support our willingness to progress and come up with something new. So, I would guess (laughing) we have probably lost all these people, already– which is a shame and I feel really sorry for them. But on the other hand I have to say we have to develop and do what we’re most comfortable with. I think we always play the riskier card because we could play the whole protective thing and do another NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH but that would get boring after a while. The first people probably would appreciate it, at least those people that are more traditional orientated. My view on music and musical success is to – you can only gain a bigger fanset if you are able to keep yours but develop at the same time. That means change at some point.
I guess there a fine line between attracting more listeners while still maintaining…
You’re absolutely right, it is a very fine line. If there is a line at all is probably the question. You lose new fans because you do old stuff or lose new fans because you do old stuff. You have to feel comfortable, that’s the thing. You have to enjoy the music yourself and that’s the only judgment which counts. If we go to the studio with 2 or 3 bad songs and we feel they are bad and then people react badly, well then that’s something I have to take responsibility for. But if I go into the studio like for instance with a new album, with say 11 good songs and people don’t like it then that’s bad luck. Thatï¿½s the spirit of the thing, if we’re not able to catch it. and thatï¿½s another goal for Blind Guardian – we live in the year 2006 and this has an influence on the song-writing, therefore the songs cannot possibly sounds like they did on IMAGINATIONS.
On the ‘Fly’ single you covered ‘ In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, I was wondering if there were other songs up for potential use or did you really want to do that one? Also, I was wondering, if youï¿½ve heard Slayerï¿½s cover of ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida ‘?
Yes we heard it and we liked it, but itï¿½s maybe 15 years old. So we thought it would be time for another cover version. We did not know about the Jag Panzer cover version, there was one, I don’t know whether they released itï¿½not too long ago I guess? We knew the Slayer one, we had other cover versions in mind. We were talking about ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden and even about ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana. We really could not decide which one to use, and at some point we had ideas for ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ and did a kind of demo version recording. I liked it and I had some good ideas in mind about how to transpose that song into a kind of cycle vocal arrangement. Therefore we decided to go for that song. I like the song the original one, but I’m not a die hard fan. But I think the song has potential, and we did very well in tweaking it a little bit.
So has a North American release date been decided for the new album, and has a title been chosen?
No, I would go for the title A TWIST IN THE MYTH, but that’s something we have to decide in the next two weeks. We’re still waiting for the album cover, which could you know, give you an idea for another title or maybe one of the guys comes up with a better title. Then we go from there. I would be very comfortable with A TWIST IN THE MYTH, because it captures the music the lyrics inside. The album is scheduled for September 2006, but I’m not exactly sure if the North American release date will be the same as we have in Europe. Europe will release the album September 5th.
How do you think your new album will compare to previous efforts?
Music wise it should be easier to be understand than for example A NIGHT AT THE OPERA because it is far more melody orientated music this time again. Itï¿½s not as orchestrated as NIGHT AT THE OPERA. But itï¿½s still very modern and follows through of NIGHT AT THE OPERA. I think it will be at least a decent success, if not a major success. In comparison to the last three albums, they more or less sold the same. I donï¿½t dare to say it, but I think we’ll at least get close to A night at the opera or IMAGINATIONS.
You are well known for doing many layers on your vocal tracks. In fact, when I’ve interviewed Jon Schaffer before, he referred to your vocals as "an army of Hansi’s". I was wondering what is the most simultaneous amount of vocal layers you ever had in one song?
I think it was "And Then There Was Silence" which would be 32 at some point and then on top we have all the backing vocals. I did all the backing vocals, and all the harmony lines, and there were like 16 tracks and then there was a crossing of vocal chorus at the same time. So we had another 16 Hansiï¿½s and then we had, I would guess, 40 backing tracks or so. Surprisingly, ‘Seize The Day’ on the TOUCHED BY THE CRIMSON KING ALBUM gets very close with the chorus and was again a very demanding vocal exploration. I would guess something like 20-24. The regular case on A NIGHT AT THE OPERA had like 16 and the new album I guess they put it out with just one Hansi, but thereï¿½s still a good amount of vocal layers, but the biggest is like 16 again. But it’s far less than we did on a A NIGHT AT THE OPERA .
Do you pre-determine where you’re going to use the "army" effect or do you decide [Yeah]– so you don’t like just give it a try and then when you go to a mix say "yeah I like it" or do already know ahead of time where you want this?
Once we hit the studio, everything is kind of determined already. It’s more like trying to go into the studio and trying to perform in the best possible way and probably add a few things and usually correct a few things as well. Usually everything is exactly how we arranged it prior to the recording sessions. It would take too much time away from, you know, in the production to do stuff like that. Sometimes you can do that in the Demons & Wizards production; there is more space for experiments like that because there’s not that much quantity like this is on a Blind Guardian album.
You mentioned the next album won’t have quite as much in the way of orchestration. Was this a personal choice, or the songs lent themselves to less orchestration?
Thatï¿½s a good question, usually we just go where the song leads us. Thatï¿½s the same with this album but we had a discussion before we started the songwriting and from the beginning said, "A Night at the Opera has been a peak point for layering and all that stuff, letï¿½s go back and try to do some more lead vocal orientated things." From that point on everything turned out natural, but there were discussions at the beginning of it.
For the new album, do you continue to draw any inspiration from the world of The Lord of the Rings or Stephen King?
Well there is one Stephen King issue on the new album. I went back to The Dark Tower and did one more song about Roland the Gunslinger. Itï¿½s called "Carry the Blessed Home". There is no Tolkien related topic on the album because some of the songs are simply too modern and I was not in the mood for the Tolkien stuff during the last few months due to the movies and all that stuff. We are working on an orchestral project and that will be dedicated to Tolkien again I think. So I just said letï¿½s leave the Tolkien out. But I read this Tad Williams and his cyberspace fantasy called Otherland. The song about it is called "Otherland" as well. There is some mythological stuff again. There is some more philosophical stuff, so a little bit of everything. Itï¿½s very much what Iï¿½ve done on A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and TOUCHED BY THE CRIMSON KING.
Outside of books and movies, what other main things inspire you to write lyrics?
Life. Life, ya know, like simple thoughts. Really one thing that still attracts me is time in general. Once you deal with it, ya know, it’s back to books again basically (laughs) and try to find some literature about it and do a song about some interesting topic. So itï¿½s nature, itï¿½s time, itï¿½s stuff like that. The way things go naturally or forced by whatever, you knowï¿½stuff like that.
In a typical month or a year, do you have a rough idea how many books you read? Do you consider yourself an avid reader?
Well itï¿½s definitely a habit. But the amount is relatively small. It depends on the size of the book, I like to read big books, it’s probably 8-14 reallyï¿½I donï¿½t know. If I read a lot of paperbacks, then in a year it’s maybe 25 but certainly not more.
Are the majority of them fantasy books? They probably areï¿½.
Well yeah. If I looked for myself right nowï¿½my first idea was to say no. But yeah, if I check my books right now, yeah it’s mostly fantasy and mythology stuff. I like to read some history, and some literature classics. Thatï¿½s basically what Iï¿½m reading.
Back to songwriting now, I was wondering, you have a new member in the band– Frederik, your new drummer. Did he have any influence on the way the songs progressed on the new album?
No, he got in too late. We had accomplished almost 85% of the songs already when we finally decided Frederik would be the new drummer. For the rest of the songs, he was in the band, but he did not have a great share in terms of chords or melodies or orchestration. This was more Andre and mine but he had a good share in percussion arrangement. He did some classical instruments like bagpipes and flute and of course, he did the drumming itself. His biggest share in terms of arrangement certainly is the percussion thing. He had been in the recording sessions with Andrï¿½ and Charlie, and these three guys together came up with the setup for the drumming but there was no big influence on the songs.
From a fans point of view, Frederik is now seen as a full member of the band, heï¿½s in your promo shots, he’s listed as a member. However, you do not list a bass player, just guest player Oliver Holzwarth. Is there a reason you don’t list a full bass player, or is it because you were the original bass player?
Itï¿½s a little bit of everything. There is still the option of me going back to playing bass but I’m not in a condition to go back to playing bass at the moment. I’m not up to the level of playing bass at the moment. I would have to do a lot of rehearsals and exercises before that could happen. But still I try to keep the option. Then another reason is we believe in the four-member spirit of Blind Guardian and we don’t want a fifth member that would in certain ways make things more complicated when is comes to decisions and stuff. Then there is the very easy reason – we don’t need a bassist becauseï¿½a drummer is very important in songwriting. At certain stages, you need to do a kind of communication with a drummer and fix things. But in terms of bass, that is more of a studio session thing. You can arrange things in a very short amount of time and you can determine [which things are played] very close to the final recording. So all these things makes it not necessary for us to have a bass player in the band. Oliver is fine with this. It was also not planned to have him for 3 albums and three touring seasons. That happened due to coincidence because we get along very well and he has had time to do this stuff.
With the new drummer, Frederik, what were the main factors that got him into the band? Was it his style, technique, or was a lot of it his personality and how he gelled with the rest of the band?
His personality was one thing because he is very calm and laid back, and we needed someone who is that type of person. The main goal was certainly the drum playing. We were looking for someone who was able to bring in as much quality as we coupld find in Thomenï¿½s drum playing, which is not easy to find nowadays. Frederik was the one who could do that the best, but on the other side he also introduced himself as a very progressive and skillful technician in terms of drumming. He has the best of both worlds, energy, and progression. It was a natural decision to take the best we could get.
So was it a shock when Thomen announced he was leaving Blind Guardian?
No, it was a development. We knew something was wrong for the last three years, for at least for the last three years before he left. We spoke about it several times and we were looking for solutions we couldnï¿½t find any solutions because there was too much in between us. There was a personal disagreement in a lot of cases. There was a musical disagreement and there was a business disagreement as well so it was a natural process and we all agreed it was the best thing to do. But it was hard to have the first split in the bandï¿½s career…and Thomen is a good guy.
Do you, or anyone in the band, still maintain any kind of contact with him, as friends even?
Umm….no. Iï¿½ve spoken to him a few months ago and we still have a good respect for each other but itï¿½s not a very close relationship.
What was your reaction when you first heard the Savage Circus album?
To be honest, I havenï¿½t heard the album. Iï¿½ve heard two songs when they did pre-production., That was shortly after Thomen left the band. We had been informed about the project and that was not the reason why Thomen left the band. He could of done that in between, it was no problem for us, not at all…not even the same kind of style. I think it is…well, if they want to do it, then they can do it. It is a decent job that they did. It is not very innovative.
So you obviously realized that is was a re-hashing of and older Blind Guardian style of music. Do you think it was pretty well done for what it was?
That really depends on the point of view. Skill-wise, itï¿½s definitely not bad. As I said, Iï¿½ve heard two songs and song writing-wise I would say that…ok…I would say mediocre, but itï¿½s better than mediocre, but itï¿½s not good. Um…I think if Thomas were not in the band, there would be a big discussion about that, or even no discussion at all. Thatï¿½s the point. Weï¿½ll see in the future. I mean, it is a good start off for the band I think, but they need to come up with something on the next album. It is very difficult to say anything about their personality because itï¿½s obviously not there.
Where they released an album which was very much a Blind Guardian….tribute, if you want to call it that…did the fact that they did this, and I assume made a number of Blind Guardian fans happy but some were obviously upset by it…I guess there is a bit of a split. But did the fact that they did this compel you in any way for the new album to say ï¿½this is how old Blind Guardian soundsï¿½ and have a song or two that has more of a classic sound or was this not a factor at all?
No. No. That would be a very bad move if that would have any influence or any effect on the Blind Guardian song-writing. Even if we speak about traditional new Blind Guardian material, we try to come up with some elements that can be considered to be old-school, but the song structure, and the way we feature the songs should be completely new. Probably with the exception of "Skalds and Shadows" which certainly is a very traditional Blind Guardian song and can be seen as a folkloreistic song like "Bards Song" or "Past and Future Secret". It can be compared with these two songs. Usually, even with more traditional Blind Guardian songs on the new album you will consider them to be very fresh and new. So there was no consideration saying well if the people want to hear IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE or if they admire SOMEWHERE FAR BEYOND…doing something like that, no, there were no discussion and there is no element of any of the songs going in that direction.
Your live DVD from the Blind Guardian Open Air was done very, very, well. I think it is one of the better metal releases on DVD that there has been. I was wondering, will you be holding any more Blind Guardian Open Air festivals or is this more of a once in a decade kind of thing that you might do?
You get close with the once in a decade idea (laughs) but it was planned differently. I would guess that we would do one within the next two or three years. We can just do them very loosely due to song-writing and other touring activities. Itï¿½s difficult to find the time to spend so much attention on just one event. But it was successful and a blast doing it. We certainly would do it again, hopefully within the next three years.
And I assume, hopefully, another DVD from that maybe?
Well, ah…yeah (laughs) why not! We would be open…weï¿½d probably need another album to do that, a studio album but that would be something very, very interesting. We need to get [permission] from our older record company because most of the rights are still with Virgin and they have to give us [permission] to do something like that.
With regards to playing live, do you have any plans yet for touring over here in North America?
We do. It pretty much looks like weï¿½ll tour in the US and Canada from mid-November into mid-December, let me check and I can tell you how it looks at the moment… It looks like we start on November 8th in Arizona and go on until December 11th and either end in Austin or San Antonio.
I donï¿½t suppose you know yet who youï¿½ll be touring with do you?
No. I have a request from Leaves’ Eyes, thatï¿½s a German band with a Norwegian vocalist. We would be open to take them with us if there is an interest by the promoter. But certainly we could take some of the Swedish bands like Dark Tranquillity would be a good option, or Evergrey would be a nice band to play with. There is a bunch of good bands but I think weï¿½ll take a European band this time.
Where do you see Blind Guardian going in the next few years, 5 or even 10 years?
It pretty much depends on this album and on the orchestral project which will be the album afterwards. Hopefully it will be released in late 2007 or early 2008. I think weï¿½re at a point where we either stagnate, and keep the same success for the next whatever four or five years, or make a breakthrough and take the next step. I have a very good feeling because Nuclear Blast is a stronger record company than EMI has been. We suffered due to that, especially in Europe over the last five years. Nuclear Blast can do a lot for us and Iï¿½m very positive. I know they do a good job in the US as Century Media has done for us. Here in Europe I see a lot of potential for taking the band into a new dimension. I would guess that within the next five years, we will become more successful, and whether we become more successful or not (laughs), we will be there in 10 years and still do that type of music.
Is there any other news or happenings to let people know about?
Well basically weï¿½ll do a video for the song called "Another Stranger" but I mean thatï¿½s just regular stuff so Iï¿½m fine.
So youï¿½re looking forward to getting on the road now in the next few months?
Yeah we start some warm-ups in May, then have a little break in the summer, then do Europe from September on. Then shortly before we come to the States and Canada we have a little break during which we may do Japan in between. Then the year is finished and the rest of the world needs to be done. I know we do South America in March and South East Asia in January, February and hopefully weï¿½re done then. Weï¿½ll do a few festivals next summer.
Next year youï¿½ll also be doing, as you mentioned, the orchestration project. Will that be a concept album?
I hope so. Music-wise we have accomplished 11 songs. We may do one or two more. At the moment we are discussing whether we will involve some Blind Guardian type of instruments like guitars and drums or just go for the orchestral version. That is something we have to decide. I would like to do something about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings but I need permission for that and that will be the issue once we have accomplished this next album. We need to do the mixing for three or four more songs before we are completely done.
OK, thanks for your time and for the music over the years, we all look forward to a lot more!
I can guarantee there will be some. Thanks for listening!