Heart of Steel: Interviews

At The Opera With Hansi Kürsch

Interview by EvilG


Lets talk a little bit about the new album A Night At The Opera. First of all, why did you pick that title and obviously you are aware that it is the title of something another band has done - namely Queen!?

There is a movie called "A Night At The Opera" as well. We are aware of that too. We're big supporters of Queen. The reason for the title is pretty much connected to the album cover itself. We first considered to have the album cover artwork connected to the circus in general. But the two painters we were instructing for the picture both failed, so we were in need of another cover concept. We finally came up with the orchestra pit with a bunch of fairy tale creatures playing in there as the orchestra. So at that point we said it makes sense to have an album title dealing with orchestral or opera things. And the first thing that came to my mind was the title "A Night At The Opera" because I'm a big Queen fan and that's one of my favorites. So I suggested that to the other guys and they said it was kinda ironic and they liked it. As well, we found that the music more or less has given justice to the title as well. It seemed to be the perfect title. Some people were complaining about it, but we expected that.


So you actually designed the concept as a band rather than give it to an artist to interpret?

For the cirrus motif we used two Russian painters who unfortunately couldn't come up with something decent. Since we were running out of time we instructed an English painter by the name of Paul Raymond Gregory to do it. He's an absolute professional, a brilliant painter. He was the only one who was able to do it in such a short amount of time.


Onto some of the songs on here; perhaps you can pick out a couple of them and tell people a little bit about what you had in mind with the lyrics and the meaning behind the song.

OK...let's start off with "Under the Ice" and "And Then There Was Silence", because they are somehow connected. They both deal with the Trojan war and they are mainly presenting the scenario of the war and of the consequences from the point of view of Cassandra the female Trojan Seer, who could foresee the whole catastrophe but had not been able to change it. And "And Then There Was Silence" is a kind of empire war song, but pretty much from the mythological and historical point of view. Then we have a song called "Punishment Divine", and that's about the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who has been a famous atheist in the late 19th century who had an extremely brilliant mind. He was somehow offending religion, especially God. By the end of his days he finally went insane. I took the opportunity to write my own fictional storyboard about the moment he went insane and had his own dialogue with God; although he denied his existence. He also hears angels sing and he starts figuring out that there might be something more beyond space then the void. At the point of recognizing that there might be something else, he gets punished by God. This is a harsh God, the punishment is madness. Another song is "The Soulforged", which we had a vote on our homepage on the forum board. They could vote for their favorite topic and the fantasy series, The Dragonlance won for the most popular by our fans. So we made one song, lyric wise, about that. I've chosen the protagonist of the story, the most interesting person in the story, who is a very difficult to describe. He is called Raistlin Majere who was a very very weak and ill person.


Do you yourself read the Dragonlance novels?

Oh I've read some. I recognized that when I saw the voting and I read some even before they decided that that would be the topic. So after that made the "race", I read several stories and I enjoyed it. It's pretty entertaining, I think. That guy, Raistlin, he is the great character.


Do you think you'll write a future story containing him?

I don't know yet. There is so much stuff to write about, so it's always difficult to get back to interesting topics for a second time. I sometimes do that with regard to religious themes, especially Jesus Christ, and I have often done that for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings because that's my absolute favorite story. Dragonlance is just one entertaining story for me and the peak of fantasy. It's a great story.


On the new album you didn't use Flemming Rasmussen this time. I was wondering why you chose to use someone else for the new album?

One reason surely is that on NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH, we worked during the recording period, with Charlie Bauerfeind and we figured out that the chemistry between him and us had been superb. So we decided that he could be a good opportunity for the particular album A Night At The Opera. We also had in mind doing the whole production in our own studio which is here in Germany in a town called Krefeld. We depended on the freelance producer, and Flemming pretty much stuck to his own studio; and he stuck to Denmark. So it was very difficult to get him out there unless you pay a certain price and we weren't able and weren't willing to do that. Flemming is an opportunity for the future. It's not that we didn't like IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE or NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH, it's more just to try out something else.


Can you tell me a bit about the song "And Then There Was Silence", which all the press, when it first came out, was boasting that it "used over 128 tracks". I was wondering what possessed you take on something so monstrous?

Ahhh..don't ask me...It was just growing, and later in the production. It's not that we wanted to achieve a new record, because we have already had kind of an overkill on some of the NIGHTFALL songs already. They went up to 120, 130 tracks. This time is has gone to 180, but that sounds like so much more, but in the end it is not because usually what bands do during the production is put stuff together to tracks. They don't have the luxury of having 180 tracks at the same time. We didn't have that privilege, so we kept things separately up to the very end of the mixing sessions. The orchestration has been so huge, and André's guitars turned out to be a little differently orchestrated than in the past so he required a lot of tracks. Once the music was solved, it was obvious that we needed the biggest choirs that Blind Guardian has ever done, that swallowed another 80 or 90 tracks (laughs). From the beginning, the music was constructed in a big way. Almost in a classical Wagner way; who has been famous for creating something big. It seems to be the German madness or something....


So how many tracks are used for a typical song?

That's difficult to say. I would say between 90 and 120 maybe. But as I said, everything is kept separately. It's like we have three or four different signals for the bass guitar itself. Though it's just played one time, we kept several signals to have each option in the mixing and finally we decided to go for a mixture of the signals and the direct signals, and we had some tricky things going on with some effects boards and blah blah blah. We kept that all separately and the same can be said about the rhythm guitars and theoretically about everything. For example we build up all choirs in sections. Like one voice will be sung lets say, eight times by three people, so you have eight tracks just for that. Then we drive that onto two tracks, and in the end you end up with at least 60 or 70 tracks just for the choirs alone


And what about for your own lead vocals?

Oh, there was a big difference this time because all the choir stuff has been done by me as well. So I had to do my, if there is any kind of lead vocals, and then I had to do my choir stuff and we kept that separately, and then did the whole choir stuff again with the real choir...and finally mingled everything together. So I used between 60 and 70 tracks because there is a lot of overlapping things going on. If you don't want to bounce it, you need at the same time for two voices, two tracks.


So I guess this bring us to the next question. How does your music translate to the live setting where you don't have as many voices or tracks type of thing to bombard the listener with?

We've dealt with that in the past. There was kind of a problem ever since you could say, but, definitely since NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH. You would be surprised how basic all those songs still work and be recognizable as a great song. We even considered playing "And Then There Was Silence" and we might not even use any kind of backing vocals for that one. Usually what happens during a Blind Guardian concert is that the audience takes a big part of the choir. But it is very complicated at some points on the album A Night At The Opera, I appreciate their support but in case they cannot follow each line, it's not a big accident. It has a different kind of attraction; it gets a little rougher, it gets a little clearer I think, but still will please people. We might play 4 or 5 songs from the new album, and whenever we accomplish a new album, the previous stuff is almost easy to play.


I'm sure you've been asked this before but why did you decid to stop playing bass and do you still play bass live at all or in the studio?

I don't play right at the moment. I'm really considering this for the next tour. But as the music becomes so complicated, even if you take the vocals away....just the music is pretty progressive and pretty demanding; it would be over my level. So there is no chance to do that. That basically has been the reason for me to stop playing the bass. When we did NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH, before we started production, I was still not pleased with my bass result on Imaginations, so we went to the studio and it was my decision to tell the other guys if we want to do a better album than Imaginations, then we need a proper bassist. So I finally decided to have a bassist with us and fortunately Charlie Bauerfeind, who later became the producer of A Night At The Opera, introduced Oliver Holdzwarth to us. He will be with us on tour so that's perfect.


Back to something we mentioned a little bit earlier; and that's related to your lyrics. Obviously as we said, Tolkien has been a great inspiration to you. I was wondering as a fan of the movies...what did you think of the first movie in the series?

It's killer. I was blown away. I can't even describe it. I mean, I don't care if they change the storyboard or if they left things out or if the characters are not presented 100% correct. The way did it was absolutely cinema compatible and I tremendously enjoyed it.


I've read in the past when the word was coming out that this movie was finally being made, a lot of fans were saying that Blind Guardian should be on the soundtrack. Well you weren't on the soundtrack for part one, but is there a possibility of you appearing on the soundtrack for parts two or three?

We still hope that their might be a chance...but they have filmed the whole trilogy already and I'm sure they will use the same kind of score music they had for the first one. I doubt there will be Blind Guardian on there, but I would not say it's impossible. We have been close to at least the producer of the company to Peter Jackson himself but, we weren't able to come up with a proper version of what we had in mind. So we decided it would be better not to send out a demo version.


So regarding reading, do you still find time to read now? And if so then what kind of books have you been reading lately?

If I find the time, and I usually try to read as much as possible, I am only able to that in my spare time. It is part of my job because that's where I draw at least 60 to 70% of my inspiration for the lyrics, and for my vocal melody lines as well. The book I'm reading right now is Ted William's the Outerlands. Then there is some historical stuff I'm reading at the moment and I'm into Friedrich Nietzsche and I read his stuff as well; just do deal with different topics. At the same time, I'm a lunatic when it comes to Lord of the Rings because I just read "The Two Towers."

Have you lost count on how many times you've read it? haha

I usually don't read them in a row. I just say, it's about time to read "The Fellowship Of The Ring" again (laughs). So I just grab that one and read it, and seeing as how I know the rest of the story, I don't usually read the rest afterwards. So this time I did not even consider reading "The Fellowship Of The Ring" (before reading "The Two Towers") and that was before the movie started. So I just said, lets take "The Two Towers" and read that.


Do you have plans maybe for the future for letting your fans pick the subject matter for you to write about like you did with the Dragonlance thing?

Yeah, but it is a risk as we found out because people usually tend to complain about whatever you do. It is impossible to please everyone. [There will always be someone to complain] Yeah, I mean there was another topic in there which they somehow managed to manipulate the voting, and was number one for a while. All those kids freaked because they hate the story, and I just thought "wow, what an amazing story, that would be killer", so I might just take it and write a song about it.


Since the band sound has evolved so much since your beginning, have your listening habits also changed from what were your earlier influences to what makes an impact on you today?

That's a very good question. I think the way I look at music has changed. In the earlier days it was simply the energy and the music itself without checking the technical aspects and without checking the abilities of the musicians. Nowadays I have a critical ear on almost everything, so it has changed yeah. But I still enjoy listening to music and it can be anything from 60's pop/rock up to more modern stuff, but still mostly to heavy metal. I think most of the recent releases haven't been very exciting, apart from the Dream Theatre release, and maybe the last Iced Earth release.


I've read reviews for the new album and a lot of people are saying that this is the most musically significant release regarding the new Blind Guardian from a quote unquote "power metal" band, if you want to call it that. It's kind of gone beyond power metal, but a lot of people are praising it up as being quite a landmark release for you guys. Do you feel that this is the album that's going to break the band, say even here more, in North America more than you've been before?

Yes I believe it is, but, that does not necessarily mean that this will be the most evolved Blind Guardian album from the artistical standpoint. It is a great album and overall it's a very skilful album. I wouldn't be surprised to figure out that the next album will be far more entertaining, intense, and far more everything apart from probably being not that successful. I think this will be a kind of landmark and it will be a breakthrough in a lot of countries and it might lead us to the next level of commercial success because of the fans for Blind Guardian and for that type of music we are playing has being higher than in the last 12 years.


A recent press release said you are going to play your first ever US show at the ProgPower festival. And also you're going to be making your first ever UK appearance at the BloodStock festival. There's a lot of firsts coming up considering you've been....well...Blind Guardian are NOT a new band, but obviously are still growing.

That says something, and it's usually all these effects you see now they are more or less a result from the success of NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH. We could have at least ten first time appearances this time because we have requests from all over the world. I mean from Indonesia, Canada, US, Africa, etc... Great Britain, that's a very strange thing because Virgin Europe changed their attitude toward Blind Guardian completely, and as we have been a national priority for Virgin Germany for over that past ten years, we have never been an international priority. Some have been Virgin partners in their own territory who have been really great and brought us to commercial success already but, it was never the whole company who was putting the campaign behind us and this time it seems that they really stuck to their guns and will present the band as their major artist for the first half of 2002. And that's helpful in Great Britain. Of course in the states there is a lot of metalheads there and if you are signed to a major label, it's impossible to get a release in Great Britain which is not on that major label. So we have been lucky with Century Media for the US because that's a far distant territory, so they can give that away, but they couldn't do that in Europe.


So with regards to playing your show in Atlanta (ProgPower), I know everybody here in Canada and in the States are all wondering if you will be playing more than just the one show? Is there any plans in motion now to do somewhat of a tour?

I of course hope so. We haven't planned anything right now but there is a request for a festival in Montreal at the same time. We either stay in the states directly or we go back to Germany for a while and come back later on in the year, and play our first club shows all over the country...but it won't be a huge tour that's for sure already. I am convinced that we at least play, let's say, 10 shows in the states this time.


Regarding the recording of older material...Have you ever considered re-recording the Lucifer's Heritage demo's or even some of your early Blind Guardian material to bring it up to date with the newer style that the band has become involved in.

Yeah we have considered it for some songs. We have not considered it for the BATTALIONS OF FEAR or the FOLLOW THE BLIND stuff so far, but we definitely work on something like the FORGOTTEN TALES 2 album which will be released in the future. It will have a completely different shape like you know there will be, let's say, re-recordings of old stuff and then we do 5 or 6 songs that have never been released before, and then we do a good amount of decent cover tunes, whatever that means. I have some strange ones in mind and I'm sure the other guys do too.


Regarding strange cover songs; whatever possessed you to cover songs like "Mr Sandman" and "Surfing USA"?

Haha Ummmm....Mr. Sandman was one of the favorite songs for a Blind Guardian cover version by the band itself. So every band member had a kind of idea how it was supposed to sound. Then when we did that, that was our first experience with Flemming Rasmussen, and he hated the song completely. He refused to work on it. So whenever we worked on "Mr. Sandman", he sent in his assistant engineer who did the recording for that one. We tremendously enjoyed it and when we finished the song we said that is going to be a B side of a single or something like that and that's it. So we sent it to the record company, and as it is with major record companies, they fell in love with it. For the first time, they were willing to spend a huge amount of money on a video because they believed in that song. So we said ok we'll do that and if we do that it might make sense to have that on an album but that can't be Imaginations because that ruined the attitude of the album. So we said lets go for another album and do something extraordinary, which has been The forgotten Tales. Therefore we said it might make sense to have another song like "Mr. Sandman" and since we all like the Beach Boys, we decided to go for "Surfin USA".


So I guess you're not letting "the cat out of the bag" regarding what you have up your sleeve for a future cover songs are you?

I tend to jump back and forwards on deciding whether or not have 70's or 80's stuff, and even some classical metal songs like I would love to do "Future World" by Pretty Maids and "Gutter Ballet" by Savatage, but I couldn't find supporters for those two songs in the band so far. They like it, but they just think that it's too good and too close to what we do, to cover them. So I need to convince them :-) And I would love to some old hippy stuff, so whatever like America or maybe some mainstream rock like Meatloaf...that would be cool.


One question about Demons And Wizards...Is there going to be another Demons And Wizards album and if so, do you have any idea on when you might be working on that?

Jon is working on it already. I just toured Europe for the last 8 weeks and they finished the tour some days ago, and he visited me yesterday, so we had a long night and had some discussion about Demons And Wizards also. He has sent some stuff which I will work on next week, and we might be able to come up with the completion of songs at the end of the year. Then the album will be released sometime in 2003.


Ok, cool...Well that's just about everything I had picked out to talk to you about. So are there any other things you'd like people to know about the new album or anything in general about the band?

Check it out and don't believe anyone who is telling you anything about it. It's a very personal album and it really depends on your personal kind of taste whether you like it or not.


Yeah, it's the type of album I found where you put it one once and it's like "oh yeah", and then after probably 8 listens you really start to grasp what you are hearing because it's quite a busy album.

It is a busy album and I mean I can honestly say this about myself; when we have accomplished everything and listened to it, I just thought every single song is killer! All the songs in a row, that is a pretty demanding task I felt (laughs). So the first thing I did was just concentrating on one song and then leaving it for a while for the second song. But I am convinced that it will grow on everyone a lot!!

- Transcription by Ronnie -

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