The German metallers, Edguy, have developed their sound from traditional German power metal more into the melodic hard rock approach. The band’s latest effort AGE OF THE JOKER is an excellent output and a testimony of the band’s skills and talents to create catchy metal with a hard rock approach. Edguy have always had the good following in Finland, but the five piece haven’t visited that often. Therefore visiting the Finnish Metal Expo was definitely godspeed for both band and above all fans. Before Edguy took to the stage, Metal-Rules.com had an excellent opportunity of talking to the guitarist of the band Jens Ludwig. So here we go.
Interview and pics by Marko Syrjala and Arto Lehtinen
THE AGE OF THE JOKER
With the latest Edguy album AGE OF THE JOKER, tell us, what’s the basic meaning behind the name of the album? AGE OF THE JOKER, is it just about the sense of humor, or is there anything about it?
Well, before we had the title, of course we started writing songs and making music. The joker has been a kind of mascot of the band for many years. We had it on the MANDRAKE album cover. We did ROCKET RIDE on several merchandise stuff but we didn’t have any joker on the TINNITYS SANCTUS album. But during the songwriting process we were in the rehearsing room and playing the song, before we had the album title we had the feeling like “Okay, the joker has to return in some way on the cover artwork or the title or anything” because it just felt like going a bit back, musically, and we then easily came up the name AGE OF THE JOKER because we really produced this album with, just, all the Edguy trademarks with some new influences. It was really just a statement for us: “Here we are. This is Edguy. This is our new album, AGE OF THE JOKER”
Yeah, but do you think that since humor has become more and more important for Edguy nowadays? You add more humor to your lyrics and images like on the “Robin Hood” video whereas in the past you were more serious about playing “Metal.”
Well, humor was always a very big theme within the band, and we started making music because we loved it and were always around having fun, we were good friends and probably since we were always labeled as a power metal band we always had a weird ideas and strange ideas even back then but maybe we didn’t dare to, just, do it because we thought “Maybe that’s not suitable for power metal bands? What will the fans think about that?” And that was a natural development that at certain points we said, “Okay there will always be people who don’t like what you’re doing, so why the fuck care, and just do whatever we think is right, and if we’re having a good time then the people will realize it” and finally when they see an Edguy show, for example, there is no acting on stage, there is no acting in our songs. We don’t come out with stupid themes. It’s just being ourselves and not wearing any mask or anything like that.
AGE OF THE JOKER commercially did pretty well and in Germany it received the highest chart position you’ve ever had so you’ve done something right here.
Yeah, especially Germany of course, there might be other things as well since we did that Scorpions farewell tour last year that also helps, but yeah, it always pushes each other.
I guess you have sold something like 2 million albums worldwide?
Overall, but with ten records or something like that?
Which actually is your best-selling album to date?
I guess it could be HELLFIRE CLUB. But you can’t… It’s hard to say what is a good-selling album nowadays because nowadays if you can’t have… If you have the same sales with an album nowadays that you had with an album five or six years ago, then it’s a huge success; it means the band has become much bigger, even if the record sales are the same, because all the downloading and everything, you know, of the music over the internet and all that stuff. So I would say, even if maybe HELLFIRE CLUB is the best-selling, the band became bigger.
With your influences, when you started Edguy about 20 years ago and you got out the first few albums like KINGDOM OF MADNESS and VAIN GLORY OPERA you did sound more like power metal stuff but when I’ve listened to the latest albums, HELLFIRE CLUB, TINNITUS SANCTUS and AGE OF THE JOKER… those are more like traditional hard rock. Is that some kind of conscious evolution you have decided to do here?
Definitely it is. When we started the band, our influences were typical. We really loved things like Helloween and Stratovarius. Those bands were big influences for us and during the years we opened our horizon musically. Steered, for example is really a lot into 70’s rock music and AOR music, so there’s a lot of different musical taste in the band. First it was kind of a natural development. When we started the band we weren’t that good at our instruments. The good thing about power metal and playing fast stuff is that it’s like a workout, you know? We don’t have to add a lot of feeling for drama, for example, playing fast bass is just a workout. It doesn’t have to do with feeling and getting a groove, it’s just getting faster and faster. When we started the band we already had ideas to do different elements but it just didn’t sound well when we played it because we were just not able to play a proper groove or to play the slow solo with a lot of feeling. That came over the years, and it was quite evolutionary, as I said, but it all came naturally as step-by-step we were able to try out different things by including different elements in our songs which we just weren’t able to do the earlier years because we just couldn’t do it. We just didn’t sound right. Or didn’t sound good, and therefore it didn’t sound right. But through the years we developed a little bit and pretty much…
I think changes started already with MANDRAKE album. That was the kind of album that turned a stone in a kind of way, you know?
Yeah, it kind of did. It’s interesting if people say that because, as for me, I don’t have the feeling that there was a certain album where we could say, “Now there’s new influence coming.” For me, it was a constant process throughout the years. So it’s very interesting if people say that, for example, MANDRAKE is the album where you try to include new elements” because for me it’s a process. I couldn’t match out a certain point where we were now able to do other things.
How much you still put time and effort on rehearsing together prior the tour or studio sessions?
Well of course we always try to make a good performance and I think it comes along with a lot of experience. We’re still rehearsing as a band. That may be one point. We talk before we go to the studio; we meet in the rehearsing room. Basically all the songs are done in the rehearsing room so with just the basic lineup like two guitarists, bass guitar, drums, and vocals, maybe some little keyboards, but the basic thing is that the songs are done in the rehearsing room, and you see that, okay, it’s going to work in a live situation as well, and even only if we have the feeling that the songs are sounding good in the rehearsing room then we bring it to the studio and you can add something extra, some little arrangement here, but the basic song is done in the rehearsing room. Maybe that’s the thing why all that stuff is pretty good live. We have a very constant lineup as well so that also helps if you play together with the same people over so many years, you hopefully keep getting better.
AVANTASIA AND THE PROCESS OF WRITING
You know in a way it’s a blessing or a curse to have the same guys in the band all the time but most of you guys have been playing together since you were, like, 14 or something? At one point Tobias decided that he wanted to do something on his own, and he started this Avantasia project and actually, in the early days, you were also part of the Avantasia as well, right?
Right, but I was just doing some little guitar solos on the first albums.
Still, I mean at which point did he say he wanted to do something different and weren’t you other guys worried when there’s somebody of the band doing other things instead concentrating only on Edguy?
Well it was okay for us since the very beginning, since before he started all this. We talked about this a lot because he was into historical stuff, into writing a concept album with guests and all that stuff. He wanted to do that, but we came to the conclusion that it would be bad to do some concept album like this as Edguy because if he wanted to do this, like inviting an orchestra, then what would come next? So we decided that he would do all the guest musicians and stuff with Avantasia and do the rock and roll stuff with Edguy. And it was always good because Edguy and Avantasia always pushed one another. If you say its two different bands, of course they have the same main songwriter, but the concepts are totally different and through inviting so many guests on Avantasia, we also could get more attention for Edgy. So it was both bands pushed each other with every album.
When Tobias is doing Avantasia, and Edguy is on hold, it can take some long time before you’re working together again. How you guys get along with that?
Well, we do know that Tobias coming back so it’s not how you think? Of course he spends a lot of time doing Avantasia but it doesn’t interfere with what we’re doing with Edguy. When Tobias is doing Avantasia, he is doing some writing at home anyway, be it for Edguy or Avantasia albums so that doesn’t interfere with our activities but then since, nowadays, Sasha takes over all the production and everything it’s just for Toby to go in the studio twice a week for a couple of hours and sing something. Of course he does the rest of the stuff at home, all the lyrics and all that, but that’s what he’s doing anyway. The only thing of Avantasia’s that interfered with Edguy was when he was doing the World Tour and that was four weeks, so we can easily rest four weeks without getting bored “laughs”
Tobias is the main writer of the band, of course, but when he’s doing his writing how he does decide which song is going to Edguy and which one goes to Avantasia?
Well if Toby writes songs he writes it for the next coming thing. So, if he decides “Okay, I’m going to do Avantasia now” and he has all the ideas collected and he puts into that project, and after this is done everything else comes to the new Edguy. He keeps the timeline for things concerning the basic musical ideas, yes. But of course there’s a lot of difference in the arrangements, because working with different singers is different than just working with one singer. And it’s also how all the songs are arranged. For Avantasia Sasha, the producer is doing most of the arrangements. With Edguy we meet in the rehearsing room and the songs grow and that’s the difference.
You also are doing some writing for Edguy?
Trying to, yes “laughs”
Actually I was thinking: how many Edguy songs have you been involved with?
Been involved? Well, on the AGE OF THE JOKER album it was definitely one song where I was in the credits, but…… but “being involved” it’s…When Toby’s doing song writing, he doesn’t do the whole arrangement; sometimes it starts with a vocal line. You know, it starts with a chorus and with some harmonies and then we add some guitar riffs and arrangements in the rehearsing room. So influence is on a lot of songs. But it’s the basic idea, you know, the cue comes from Toby and that’s why the credit thing is like that.
So basically the band is doing the songs together.
Yeah…Toby and the band are doing the songs together. Let’s put it this way.
How much you other guys are playing in different bands and project when you have some time off?
Well Felix, for example — our drummer — is playing in Avantasia as well and Tobias Exxel also had Taraxacum and he also played in different bands as well, but I don’t know any particular names. He’s always involved in something. He was doing, for example, some guest appearance at Krypteria and things like that. And, um…that’s it concerning projects.
How about you? Have you ever been thinking about playing with another band or doing projects besides Edguy?
No but there will be, something, anything someday. That’s for sure, because I have a lot of ideas, a lot of songs that I want to use somehow but cannot use for Edguy because it doesn’t really fit. Right now we’re pretty busy with Edguy but whenever I may find the time I may start something, but I don’t force myself to do something.
THE GERMAN METAL SCENE
How do you overall see the state of German metal?
I think it’s pretty much alive, I would call it that. I mean, it was never really gone. It’s just that, you know, it’s just trends that say “power metal is dead” or trends and media that say “power metal is back” because they want to promote a new power metal band or something. For me it was never really gone. There was a period when there were less bands, like the beginning of the 90’s, for example, there were less bands generally, so we just had bands like Running Wild, Rage, Grave Digger, Gamma Ray and Helloween and that was it. Nowadays we have, like, 50 different, other bands. But that’s a development you can see in every style of music and every country in the world, that more and more bands are appearing and more and more bands releasing albums.
But you mentioned the old bands like Grave Digger, Running Wild, the older generation of German heavy metal but I guess Edguy’s more like modern-day band of the German metal. But what do you see…do you think that German metal bands are a little bit stuck in Germany because most metal bands which are breaking nowadays are coming from Sweden or even Finland?
Well, you’re right but are there so many really big new heavy metal bands coming from Scandinavia?
If we can say that Nightwish…
But they have been around for 15 years already, haven’t they? And they started off supporting Rage in Germany. So it’s not what I’d call a new band. All those bands you’re talking about like Nightwish or like [us], we started when there was…at least the music industry wasn’t totally destroyed. You know what I mean? And there were much less bands back then, and it was just easier…not easier…yeah it was easier to get attention. Nowadays it’s really difficult to get attention of fans, of media, of everything, because there are just so many things going on.
Crematory tried to make some kind of breakthrough but they split up then they came back.
Yeah, they did a reunion I think but it didn’t work.
How do you like — I have to ask you because I’m a huge fan of Michael Kiske, how do you his new band Unisonic?
I have just heard one song and I liked it. I thought it sounded cool.
His voice is still unbelievable.
Yeah, he’s still a great singer. No doubt about it.
THE SCORPIONS AND SOME OLD STUFF
Yeah, so you mentioned the Scorpions and the farewell tour which you did with them…
We did the first part of it, right.
But I guess Tobias, and maybe you, are big fans of Scorpions, I guess, and Scorpions guys have worked with Avantasia. Is that the connection of how you got the opening slot with the Scorpions?
I’m sure that there is some kind connection since they already knew us before they did the tour. But the cool thing is that they invited us for the tour and that was the biggest honor you can get. I’m a huge Scorpions fan. I grew up with the band. My first hard rock tape was the WORLD WIDE LIVE so there was definitely…a dream come true for us to do the opening slot. And we felt very welcome on this whole tour, so it was…from the band, the Scorpions crew, everybody was pretty nice. We really felt like we were welcome to be there. It was a very great experience.
When did you actually see the Scorpions live for the first time?
I saw the Scorpions live in 2007, I think? I just didn’t have the chance to… It just didn’t match earlier. I don’t know why? I mean, they had a period when they were not big even in Germany, not playing the biggest arenas there. They did not really disappear but went a little bit underground. And so the first time I saw them was in a festival in Slovakia where we played together with the Scorpions.
Well, what was the very first metal concert where you went to?
It was a German band called Axxis and that was in …89 or 90? Or was it 91? They played in our hometown and I was 13 years old. So it was in ’90. My parents did not want me to go there alone, so I had to convince my older sister to join me for this concert. It was a great experience. I was scared by all the long-haired leather-wearing guys there, but everything went fine “laughs”
Did you ever get into the German thrash metal bands?
Yes. Kreator, they’re good friends of ours.
Did they ever inspire you to play faster stuff like you say, in the beginning of your band?
No, I don’t think that we have ever been influenced by thrash metal bands because that was always…nowadays I like some stuff from Kreator, for example, but besides that it was never that I was a huge fan of any thrash metal band. It was always too hard for me.
You were more like a hard rocker?
I was back then. Nowadays I’m more open minded. “laughs”
Like you mentioned before Stratovarius was one of your biggest influences in the beginning of Edguy’s career. Tell us about how you managed to get Timo Tolkki to play as a guest on VAIN GLORY OPERA album?
Well it was the time when several bands, especially Stratovarius, which started to record their albums in the Finnvox Studios, and we really loved the sound of the VISIONS album and we wanted to have this sound. The story’s actually pretty funny because our record label back then, AFM Records, they also had a fan zine, a little fan zine, and they knew that Timo Tolkki was coming to Germany for a promo for the VISIONS album. So Toby and me, we sneaked in his promo trip in order to make an interview for the fan zine of the record label, and so we had an interview date with him. And we weren’t prepared at all; we met him and asked the typical questions…”are you influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen?” You know, all that stuff that a million other people have asked him. And when he was doing the interview and it was done we said “Okay interview’s done, but we’re here for a different reason. We want to show you something,” and we showed him our record and asked him if he would like to mix or produce the album. And he listed to it, and said “I can listen and see that you are quite talented.” And he agreed. And that was how it came together. Yeah, sometimes you just have to risk something. It was the same with Hansi Kusch, who was on the same album. We just contacted him in very weird ways like looking him up in the phonebook and trying to call family Kusch in the region he lived in. It’s his mother or something who did answer and…Yeah. It worked somehow.
You were really lucky then “laughs”. Speaking of record labels, at first, like you said, you were signed to AFM Records, but then you were turned over to Nuclear Blast. So, what was the main reason for that change?
AFM wanted to keep on working with us, definitely, but after the MANDRAKE record, we were in the situation that our record deal with AFM was finished, so we had no deal, and then everybody saw that we were a coming band uprising; we already had a lot of fans with the MANDRAKE album, and then we just thought that Nuclear Blast was the best opportunity for us because they were back then and they still are the biggest independent label for heavy metal. They just had opportunities that AFM didn’t have. For us to make the next step, it was the decision to go to Nuclear Blast Records. Since now, they have treated us pretty well.
Well, it’s time of the very last question. I read some old interview that you did choose the band name Edguy because of your old teacher, was it like that?
Yes. It’s true, sad story. Well, not a sad story. We were 14 years old when we formed the band and we came up with this mix of letters mixed with our teachers name and we thought it was quite funny back then, and at a certain point it was too late to change the name.
Do you have any idea if he has taken a compliment by it?
I think he knows, yeah. I mean we haven’t had any contact with him since then but… but thinking about how he experienced us being pupils, I’m not sure how he actually likes it?
Ok Jens. It seems that our time is up now. Thanks a lot for doing this interview with us.
No problem guys.