Heart of Steel: Interviews

And Then There Was…

An Interview with Marcus Siepen of Blind Guardian
By Chris Hawkins

2002's A Night at the Opera is perhaps Blind Guardian's strongest release to date. Taking their previous albums to the next level, and adding a bit more aggression, it is certain to be somewhere on everyone's list for favorite album of the year! Although Blind Guardian have been mainstays on the Metal scene since the mid 80's, it is now finally time for their first North American tour. It is truly an exciting event for both the band and the fans. Here is the chat I had recently with Blind Guardian guitarist, Marcus Siepen.



So are you geared up for your first North American tour?

It's great. Everybody in the band is really excited. We've been waiting for that to happen for a long time. Finally we get the chance to play over there so it's going to be very exciting. I hope so! (laughs)



How long do you plan on making the set list?

I don't know exactly because basically we change the set list everyday. It's not that we change all the songs, but a couple of songs are changed everyday. Sometimes more…depends on our mood. It would be pretty boring for us to play the same stuff every night. We've been on tour since April now, and the tour will end next year in the summer. So we need these changes. So far we've always played between 110 and 120 minutes so I guess it's going to be the same in the States.



Are there any specific cities you're looking forward to playing?

We tried to get a gig in Twin Peaks because we've been fans of the TV series, but someone told us that Twin Peaks isn't named Twin Peaks anymore so we said, ok then forget it. (laughs) I'm not looking forward to a special city. It's the whole thing that really excites me. We've been waiting to tour the States for so many years, and now we get a chance to do it. We also get to go to Canada for a few shows so it's going to be great.

I must admit that since A Night at the Opera was released it's been one of my most-listened-to discs.

Cool…thanks a lot!

From my perspective, one of the keys to the success of your sound is your ability to take the listener to an entirely different place.

That's what we try to do. Thank you. That's perfect!



What do you think brought about the shift from pure Speed Metal to the more orchestrated sound that you have now?

We just developed. I mean back in the late 80's when we started, this was all we could do as musicians and songwriters. This was the music we were listening to all day. Over the years we just became better songwriters, I hope. (laughs) We became better musicians, and we started experimenting with different things. The main goal was that we not repeat ourselves because this would be boring for us. There's no use to do something like that. We were always looking for new influences and new ideas to get into the music and it just developed. Besides that, also we started listening to more different stuff. Basically, everybody in the band still is the same Metal fan like back in the 80's, but we also listen to other stuff today. This brings new influences into the music, and obviously changes the sound a little. The roots will always be the same. Basically, we're still a Metal band. I've read a lot of discussions on the internet about what kind of music we're playing. Some guy says we're a Speed Metal band. The next guy says we're a Power Metal, and the next guy says that's Progressive Metal. Just call it Metal.



Isn't that the ultimate goal, though, to defy classification?

Yes. We just play whatever comes to our mind. There's no master plan when it comes to songwriting where we say we need two fast songs, a ballad, and a progressive song. We just write the songs that come to our mind. If we like them, cool. If we don't, we throw them away and start all over again. When we start writing an album, nobody knows how it's going to sound like in the end.



There's no set plan…

No. Definitely not. It changes constantly. We write a song, and it's happened in the past where we had a song with about 4 minutes done. We listened to these four minutes and said, "Well the first minute is great, but the last three minutes are not exactly like we want them to happen." We threw them away. We kept the first minute and started from that point all over again. It can change everyday. For example, on this production some of the songs changed quite a lot during the recording because Thomas and Charlie, our producer worked a lot on drum arrangements during the production. On a couple songs, they drastically changed the drum arrangements which made the songs much heavier than they were planned to be. So we had to change the guitars along with the drums to make it still fit. Even if we're actually done with writing the songs, it can still change.



I did notice the album is more aggressive.

Definitely. It's much heavier than "Nightfall in Middle Earth". It's not really back to the roots, but the feeling is more like the older stuff.



What were some of the influences that you alluded to earlier that brought about a creative spark in the songwriting?

There's all kinds of stuff. I mean, obviously one of our major influences today is Queen with all of their choir stuff and the guitar harmony stuff. Also completely different bands like Jethro Tull, for example with all the folky elements and stuff like that. I listen to a lot of soundtrack scores from Classical stuff like the John Williams stuff or people like that. So it's all kinds of stuff.



What can you accredit your longevity to? You've had the same lineup since the start.

Why should we change the lineup? A lot of people ask why we keep the same lineup. It seems to be very unusual today to keep a stable lineup for such a long time, but of course we have the same fights and arguments like all the other bands have. We don't fire someone just because we have an argument with them. We try to find the best solution for this problem whatever it is. Until now, we've always managed to find the solution. We've been working with each other so long. We know how to work best with each other. We still have the same goal. We still have the same vision. So why should we change anything? We have success with what we're doing so everything's fine. (laughs)



It's very rare…

It is, I know. It's a dream come true. When we started playing in bands when we were 15 or 16 years old, everybody was dreaming about how it would be so greatl to get a record deal and tour and release albums. All this came true. We've been on tour for over a year, seeing all these great places, and meeting great people. You even get paid for it! (laughs) It's great!



So what do you do in your down-time, such as when Hansi is off doing Demons and Wizards?

I guess after this tour, Hansi definitely wanted to do another Demons and Wizards album so I guess we'll start writing stuff for the new album. I mean, we'll be extremely busy the whole next year because we recorded up to 30-40 shows 'til now and there will be a new double live CD out next year. From January on, we'll be sitting in the studio listening to a lot of live tracks! (laughs) We have to find out what tracks are good and what not. We're playing a lot more festivals next year. We also filmed a couple of shows this year and we're going to film a couple of these festivals next year. There will also be a new DVD out next year. So I guess all of this will keep us busy until September or October of next year. Then we take a small break, a couple of weeks, and start writing the new album.



Do you ever get bogged down when you realize you're booked until this time next year?

I mean, it's like this. When you're sitting at home or in the studio doing songwriting, you're looking forward to playing live again. Now I've been on the road since April and I'm looking forward to a break definitely (laughs) because I can't stand hotel rooms anymore. I want my own bed. I want my own living room, and I want my family around me. It's always like this. Playing live is the ultimate thing for me. It's great to write songs. It's great to see how they grow in the studio, and it's great to hear the final result. The ultimate thing for me is to go up on the stage, play the stuff, see the reactions from the fans, and get this direct feedback. To me that's the ultimate thing.



Have there been any highlights so far in the tour?

Tons of highlights! It's full of highlights. We played in a couple of countries where we'd never played before. We played a show in Moscow, and another in Russia. Both were extremely great. We played in Turkey which was great. We headlined Wacken in front of 50-60,000 people which was awesome, and now we're leaving for the States and Canada which is a dream come true.



It sounds like that DVD will be awesome!

Yeah! We filmed the whole Wacken fest. We filmed one or two shows here in Germany on the German part of the tour, and we're going to do our own festival.

I saw that on your web-site…the Blind Guardian festival

Yeah, exactly. We're going to headline both days, and both days will be filmed for the DVD. Especially on this festival, we can do whatever we like to, whatever lights and stage setup. We have a couple of shows to choose from for the DVD, plus we had a friend of ours following us with a small digital camera for about 4 or 5 weeks. We have tons of backstage shots and signing sessions, whatever we did all day. Plus we have material from the last ten years which Andre and I shot with our own camera. It's going to be a huge package with lots of bonus stuff.



What kind of setup are you using to get your guitar tone?

Nothing special, actually. I'm using a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier. I'm using Gibson Les Pauls and Esp Eclipses with EMG pickups so nothing special. On the clean sounds, I use an Intellifex for chorus and reverb. On the heavy songs, it's just the amp and the guitar.

Is the amp modified at all?

No, it's a very good model. It's an awesome amp.

What does a Triple Rectifier go for in Germany?

I paid about 3000 DM which is about $1500. It's more expensive now, almost 3500 DM.

It definitely comes across clear on the albums. I like the fact that every instrument can be heard as well.

That's good because that is the most difficult part of the mix. We recorded so many tracks. For example, on "And Then There Was Silence" we recorded up to 200 tracks on one song. It took Charlie about 4 weeks to mix this one song. If you say you can hear everything, he did a perfect job because that's what we wanted to have obviously. That's good to hear.



In most of the songs the guitar is frequently doubling the vocal line. Does the guitar or the vocal melody actually come first?

It depends on the song. It can be both. A lot of times we have the music first which means we have the rhythm guitar riffs, we have a couple of lead lines, and Hansi tries to sing to that. If he finds a good melody line, we keep it. If he doesn't, we might change a couple of parts or we throw it away completely. It just grows. It changes from part to part. Sometimes Hansi's first. Sometimes the guitars are first. There's no fixed way of writing.



That's about all I've got. I'll be looking forward to seeing you at the show at Jaxx in Virginia.

Definitely say hello. It was good talking with you! See you soon!

Official Site: www.blind-guardian.com

2002 Interview With Hansi Kürsch

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