BLIND GUARDIAN – Hansi Kursch
Interviewed by Erich
Hansi, Blind Guardian spends a lot of time and effort making their albums and it has been four years since A Twist In The Myth. What were the most difficult aspects of composing the new album?
Bringing all the components together. This time it was very smooth and fluid songwriting but we have had so many ideas which we really were desperately trying out and having an orchestra involved and so many single musicians was probably the biggest challenge during the production even more than during songwriting. Because during songwriting you know we have a natural output and we try to capture as many things as possible to you know being involved in a song. This I would consider to be the biggest issues,. Everything else was very smooth it was just you know making decisions whether this is better or this is better.
You have fans all over the world, and the last two albums received a wide range of reactions from fans. At The Edge of Time has reached #2 in Germany, which must be a great feeling. How has the reaction to At The Edge of Time be so far outside of Germany?
I would really say overwhelming. Of course we did have great reaction from when we released Imaginations, Nightfall In Middle Earth and A Night At The Opera. From the first point I would say this has probably the strongest reactions we have ever gotten so far looking from a worldwide perspective. It seems to be very well received all over the planet. The chart we got all over Europe so far do speak the same language so Germany just won great entrance but we also have had the highest entrance in Austria, Finland, and Switzerland and I don’t know where else, Italy. So all over Europe at the very least from what I can see. It has been very successful so far so we feel very proud about and very confidant about the album.
The new album incorporates many diverse elements that Blind Guardian is well known for such as the orchestral and speedy. To my ears though, it sounds like there are more elements of the early albums than in the last few albums. Would you say this is accurate?
Well I think we have some …. in the element of A Night At The Opera and A Twist in the Myth very smart and a better way than we probably did on both of the albums. So even to people who are more focused on the old school stuff they will appear more attractive I would say. In general it really connects all the albums and does contain elements of all the albums. But, yes there is a stronger old school and writing in songs like “Tanelorn” or for example “A Voice In The Dark”. Then this has, at least production-wise, been done on purpose because Charly Bauerfeind was the one who pointed out that there are these elements featured in the songs. We recognized the strong fresh attitude on the songs but we during the songwriting but we really did not think that in a certain time era sort of mode. So it was Charlie who came up with the red line idea to have that in an even more defined way once it appeared in the songwriting already.
One of the things I find impressive is that it sounds like every song was given equal attention. There are no weak tracks on this album from start to finish. Is that why it takes so long to write a Blind Guardian album?
First of all thank you. It’s always good to hear that because that is our goal with each and every album. Sometimes you fail and sometimes you are successful. It seems that on this album it turned out to be more obvious. Yes, it definitely is one of the reasons why songwriting and production period take so long. Also it’s based on the simple fact that they are treated separately. So a song like “Curse My Name” of course needs different attention than in comparison to “Tanelorn” but still you have to feature “Tanelorn” in the more accurate way if you want to do a song like that. Therefore it takes the time it needs. That’s part of our attitude, I think that part of the Blind Guardian ideology in making music in general. I would hate to have a uniform album containing sound wise same songs with the same elements in there. We really keep our heads together and have a lot of discussions how to pick out which songs are best and we certainly do not finish until we do have the impression that every song has gotten justice. It’s fairly easy, you know, just to keep your focus on four songs and say well the other six, they are good enough to stay on the album to but do not get the same attention but that’s not our pair of shoes.
Hansi Discusses The Books That Inspired The Lyrics for This Album
Lyrically, you have always drawn much of your inspiration from books and Blind Guardian fans have come to appreciate your passion and thoughts on the books you read. What books influenced your lyrics and songs on this album?
There are many writers this time which have had an influence on the band or on my way of writing songs in terms of lyrics. George R. R. Martin who writes The Songs of Fire and Ice saga has had a strong influence on “A Voice In The Dark” for example. Michael Moorcock with his creation of Elric of Melniboné who had a strong impact on “Tanelorn. Then of course Robert Jordan wrote the Wheel of Time series had a strong impact and so did Peter S. Beagle who wrote a story called “The Inkeeper’s Song” which I was inspired by when I wrote the “Road of No Release”.
Speaking of the Wheel of Time, what do you think of the job Brandon Sanderson has done continuing the series with The Gathering Storm?
I think it’s a very great idea and gives justice to the story in general. I think it needs the finalization and when Robert Jordan had left so many notes it’s an actual decision and a very courageous step from the author to finalize the story. I do not have any problems with it but I have to admit that I’m not that far in the story so I haven’t read the story so far.
“War Of The Thrones” is a great tune with beautiful music about maybe my favorite current series, A Song of Fire And Ice. When you write songs like this do you have lyrical ideas in mind first, or is their a melody in place that inspires the lyrics?
No. In general it’s…Not in general but in 99% of all cases it’s the other way around. The music comes first and it speaks a certain language. I follow up with my melody line then whenever I get closer to the finalization of the regular songwriting I make up my mind which direction the lyrics could go then I decide whether this could be something related to George R. R. Martin or go a completely free style topic that really depends on the music itself. Then the decision can be made. In particular on “War of the Thrones” it’s a slightly different story because it has been influenced by Songs of Fire and Ice but it also has been inspired by many, many other stories I read. I couldn’t make up my mind. I was catching for the overall feeling I have had when I read Songs of Ice and Fire more than really relating to a particular part in the story.
“Voice In The Dark” is the albums first single which has an aggressive old school Blind Guardian vibe. Did you choose this song for that reason?
It certainly can be seen as a statement and we have been aware of the old school element the songs has. But we try to make clear from the beginning that we are still able to deliver such aggressive notes no matter if you consider it be old school or a more modern tune chorus does have some modern elements as well. But yes, we it was thought the best solution for our first single because it in many ways it defines our philosophy about music and since we have had delivered each other sort of Blind Guardian songwriting in terms of a single already, this was a logic choice for us.
“Wheel of Time” is probably one of Blind Guardian’s best epic tracks ever, aggressive but with more orchestral elements than the other tracks on the album and what sounds like a Middle Eastern style in the middle. What inspired the use of so many different musical styles in this track?
It was not so obvious for us in the beginning. It was a very difficult process in writing the song because it was firstly considered to be a song for the orchestral project but I mentioned that the song lacked something and was not perfectly suitable for the orchestral project. So we considered this one for a second round and started weaving in the band and considered it to be one of At The Edge of Time. But even then we were not really satisfied and kept on working. So we’d just have like, you know, several different arrangements for the song and several parts which we could not really get together the way we wanted them to sound like. We were almost clueless when we started the production because we had that great song with two great choruses but not the right arrangement. It was Charlie who pointed out that there was such a strong clash of Oriental and occidental parts already in there. He instructed us to go back and define that even more properly in the songwriting. That’s the point when we came up with the mid eastern section which you refer to. I was talking about Loreena McKennitt stuff and then we were trying to weave in something more into that direction and that was our natural output. So it saved the song and I agree with you. Maybe to me it’s maybe the best song we’ve ever written. It does have the size and grandeur of “And Then There Was Silence” but the narrating quality of “Time Stands Still” which are my two most favorite Blind Guardian songs. So this certainly is amongst the three best songs we’ve ever written, I feel.
“Valkyries” is another one of my personal favorites and has a real progressive metal vibe in the middle section along with the track “Road of No Release”. Does the entire band enjoy the progressive elements, or is it more certain band members?
The whole band appreciates progressive music. I think it’s Frederik who is most involved in that type of music and also Marcus is like that particular style more than André and I probably do. But again it’s a natural output. We especially consider “Road of No Release” to be a perfect bridge between old and new because it contains both elements. It’s classic, it’s sort of very metal-orientated at the same time. So these two songs are very important to the album. I also think if they weren’t on there it probably would be a little too much drifted, back to the nineties and they keep it accurate and actual so I’m really happy about these two. But to be honest “Valkyries” has been my strongest concern on the album because it was very difficult to find the perfect blend for this album because I think the elements they differ so much especially if you see how epic the chorus is and how progressive the rest of the song is. I was really wondering how we would manage that during the production to make that sound accurate. But it ended up very well and I’m really happy about it. But I was considering that to be a B track and it was Andre who was …. fighting heavily for his little baby!
Are there any songs on the album that were not inspired by books?
Yes, “Sacred Words” had not been inspired by books. I mean, in general, the lyrics have been inspired by books. The music, I said, is a sort of free style thing and that seems to be…we have a sort of fantasy songwriting approach in general. But other than “Sacred Words”, I think all or more have been captured by an inspiration, by a book inspiration. Right, they all are.
Blind Guardian will no doubt be touring this album all over the world. Are there any plans to tour North American or play some festivals with say Iced Earth for instance?
Oh, festivals with Iced Earth would always be great but right now we do have confirmed the U.S. tour for the end of the year. And so we will be around from mid-November on but the shows have not been announced so far this is going to happen the next day out, the next days I would guess.
As a songwriter I know that every song is important to you. On this album, is there a specific track that you feel especially proud of?
I would say “Control The Divine” in terms of lyrics because it has such a modern approach of a so old topic. I’m really tempted to do stuff like this and I’m really happy about that. I’m also happy about all the other stuff or course but this lyrically would be the one that I have to point out.
Many of your younger fans might not be familiar with Michael Moorcock, the inspiration behind “Tanelorn”. What is it about Michalel Moorcock’s style that inspired you to include a song based on his books?
Well in general, while reading Moorcock’s stuff, I think it’s the way he deals with time and how he deals with that eternal champion character. He reflects the sort of same story from different perspectives and comes up with new elements and I’m really tempted by that. It’s also a very rapid style of writing, I think. There’s a lot of stuff happening so it should be very attractive to nowadays people because, you know, they don’t want to waste their time with too much explanations in between. Michael Moorcock brings it pretty close, pretty quickly to the point.
Hansi the next question is two parts and moving away from Blind Guardian for just a minute. What do you think of your friend John Scaheffer’ new project Sons of Liberty, and can fans expect a third Demons & Wizards album in the future?
I think “Sons of Liberty” is a very courageous album done by John. There’s no doubt that he is a very gifted musician and songwriter. I think it stands musically definitely in the tradition of Iced Earth music so it’s a very enjoyable one. I personally think that he starts reflecting many things. I mean he deals a lot with political issues and the history of America and I think he’s reflecting things the right way so I’m really proud and happy about him.
They will be able to expect it! (laughs). And they should expect it but not before the end of 2012, or the beginning of 2013. We both will be heavily occupied with work for next time and I want to put my whole focus on Demons and Wizards when we get around for our third album. It has to be very special and it has to bring the band to the next very important level. So I’d rather keep my stuff together then and be very focused on it. I also want to do some live appearances and I’m sure than John is treating Demons and Wizards the same way, so we have to find the right time.
Hansi, it is hard to believe but Blind Guardian has been together over 20 years and each album has been individual and not really repeated the same formula. With a new album it is hard to think of the future, but are there any other styles of music you have not already performed that you would like to pursue before you call it quits?
That’s really difficult because right at the moment I’m really happy about style we already have woven in and established … and there’s a lot we can, you know, choose from already. But I would not be surprised if we mingled in other stuff but I have no idea what that could be. So right at the moment I would say “no,” there is nothing we haven’t tried out but we can really do some additional good songs with all the elements which we have already introduced. But yah, but maybe one fine day there will be some elements in Blind Guardian music which I do not even expect right at the moment.
Hansi, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, and we really look forward to the release of the new album here in North America.
Erich it was great talking to you and thanks for the interview. We are looking forward to the release of the new album in the U.S. We will play Florida, by the way, we’ll do one show in Florida. We might be able to catch up there and have a beer!