Blind Guardian will come to Moscow during their world tour and there a chance for an interview with Hansi Kürsch before they kick off the tour. And if you have such a chance, you use it, right? So, here we go!
Hi, Hansi, glad to hear you!
Hi! (laughs) I appreciate talking to you!
Congratulations! A Night At The Opera sounds great, it is clearly the best Blind Guardian album of the past seven years!
Thanks! So you have it already?
Well, my first question, of course, concerns your ultimate LP. When did you start working on the material that finally became A Night At The Opera, and why such a name for an album was chosen?
We started songwriting somewhere in 1999. We had a break, because I had some problems, I also had Demons & Wizards going on for a while, so in the end of 1999 we concentrated only on songwriting for A Night At The Opera. The songwriting just took so long, because it was kind of complicated to get rid of the Nightfall In Middle-Earth attitude and create something as special as Nightfall, just to get on the road and to the right direction. Took a while. After 16 months we started the production, and due to the fact that there were so many instruments in our songs, the production took more that 14 months. So that's where the time has gone. When we were about to finish the album, during the mixing we decided to change the album' cover concept and we went for the cover concept connected to opera and orchestra; on the cover you see a bunch of people in an orchestra playing music. Plus the fact that we are Queen fans and plus the fact that the music is somewhat orchestral too, we decided that a title connected to opera would be good too, so finally the first thing coming to my mind was A Night at The Opera. I suggested that to the other guys in the band and they all loved the idea. We have known from the beginning that it's kind of offensive, because some people really take it serious with titles like this, you know, all these Queen supporters and so on.
There's a lot of hits on the album, so I'm pretty interested in the fact that And Then There Was Silence, a song that lasts for about 14 minutes, became the first single...
The reason for that is rather easy, because we announced the album' release for June 2001 first, then we started the production and understood that we could never achieve that date, so we risked and said the album would be released in August. Then it was September and finally it turned out that it wouldn't be even in 2001. So we decided that we needed to have an output out in 2001 to make clear to people why the whole thing had taken so long. And Then There Was Silence was the perfect number, because it's probably the most intense and most complicated and most skilful song of the album. Just to give a sign of life to people, that was just good enough, I thought, to pick up the best song (laughs). From the beginning it was clear there wouldn't be any kind of commercial value for a heavy metal single and that it got in to Spanish charts on #1 was kind of surprising for everyone. The single was just kind of 'thank you' to the fans who waited so long and to make clear why this took so long.
Oh, I see... As far as I know you guys are great Tolkien fans, right?
...And your previous album Nightfall In Middle-Earth was fully dedicated to him...
Well... The question is: what inspired the lyrical themes of your last record?
Due to the fact that the movie was announced, I mean The Lord Of The Rings' movie, we decided not to go for conceptual Tolkien album this time and I also decided not to take any lyrical topic from Tolkien for the album. So, the topics differ this time, there's kind of religious and historical stuff, also mythological things, I call it more free-style lyrics as well... And Then There Was Silence deals with the Trojan War, then we have the song called The Soulforged, which is...
...which is my favorite track!
Oh, that's good to you! (laughs) Lyrically, the decision, which direction it would go, was made by the users of our homepage that had the chance to take part in a voting where they could vote for their most favorite topic and finally I've chosen the figure of a Wizard, a very evil Wizard, which I like a lot. Precious Jerusalem tells us a little bit about finding yourself, I've taken Jesus Christ as an example, I tried to point out the situation when he realizes who he is supposed to be. The song Battlefield deals with the very old German poem, which is one of the oldest still available German poems, so I'm into such stuff also.
Ok, since we began to speak about Tolkien, how did you like the screen version of the famous Lord Of The Rings?
I've been deeply impressed by the movie. I just had the chance watching it twice in cinema, but I was blown away... (laughs) Of course the director has changed the story a little bit, but just for the sake of having very interesting and very entertaining visual transforming of the whole thing. So, I was deeply impressed.
What do you think 'bout the soundtrack for it?
The soundtrack is good, almost spectacular, there were so many things... Kind of... Not stolen, but... You've heard them before, like some Star Wars influences, but part from that it's great music, I mean even the Enya song I liked a lot, but I wish we could have done that.
As for me, at the end of the film I'd like to hear YOUR song of the same name!
(laughs) That would be nice! I mean, I would be fine with that, but I'm sure you've heard about it - we worked on some orchestral stuff, which was supposed to be included in the movie as well. For a long time we, you know, were supposed to do the soundtrack, because so many people on several homepages voted for us, the Tolkien-related homepage made a voting for that movie, for the soundtrack, it had us in first or second position. People considered us to be, you know, a part of the movie, but finally that did not happen, because of the company that made a different decision, because we never had the chance to supply them with material. But, nevertheless, it is a very entertaining great movie.
I was always delighted with your cover artwork. Hansi, I know that there were three versions of the cover for your last album. Why do you think the one we can see is the most suitable?
You mean the latest one?
Well, there were not that much of the choice. I think it's a great cover, but we have been in a kind of disappointing situation, because the first painter somehow refused to complete the cover and disappeared for a while, so, the guy Anry who did the single never came up with a cover for the album. The second cover provided to us did not achieve the level we wished it would, so we made a change to the 3rd painter, that was Paul Raymond Gregory and in a very short amount of time he came up with the painting we can see on the album, which I like a lot, but I wouldn't consider it to be as good as Imaginations...
Perhaps... Well, let's digress from a theme and speak 'bout the Demons & Wizards project. It was a great success, that mixture of Iced Earth-like music and your superb vocals. How did you manage to get into that project and will there be a continuation of it, the second Demons & Wizards album?
I appreciate that you called it a 'big success'! (laughs) So do I! Jon and I are friends for a very long time, we toured in the beginning of the 90's, since then we have a really strong and close relationship. Since 1995-1996 we were talking about doing something together, but we never had the time. All of a sudden, when Jon was doing the promotion for Iced Earth and I had a touring break, we hooked on together here, in my own town and did a jam session. In a very short amount of time we accomplished the song which can be heard on the album called My Last Sunrise. So we said, well, let's see how we can, you know, come up with more songs, how quick, and let's join together in 1999. And we just, you know, needed three months to accomplish the whole songwriting and then went to the studio for another four weeks. It's a big story. I think it's a very impressive album, especially considering the circumstances and the time limitations we had. Next time, and there will be a next time, we will dedicate a little more time to Demons & Wizards, of course, with regarding to songwriting and probably even with regarding to production to make it the proper album. I hope that this is going to happen in 2003, as it is difficult due to time schedules we're both on. It was even more fun for us, you know, we didn't do that for the sake of success or making money, we did that because we enjoy making music together. It would be really a waste of talent not to do it.
Now you are planning to tour. And then, I guess, we'll see the 2nd live record from you, am I right?
You see, things usually do never go to, you know, to where they are supposed to go, but everything is set up properly right now and seems that we are going to record about each show we'll play on that tour.
Well, I hope it will happen. You have a couple of videos, so what do you think 'bout recording a full show and releasing it on VHS or, maybe, DVD?
I hope we are able to accomplish that as well on that tour. Plan is to film a bunch of shows, let's say like between three and five, and do a very decent DVD with the release of the live album as well.
Okay... How would you compare your ultimate LP with your first three?
Errrrrrrr.... With the first three? You talk about Battalions..., Follow... and Tales...?
(laughs) Oh, that's a long way! I mean, it's difficult to figure up the rules, because it's still metal music and it's awfully still intense as in the beginning, but it truly is not that spontaneous like these three albums have been, but somewhat skilful and hopefully with regard to the songwriting more professional as well.
I see. Hansi, how do you keep your voice in shape when you're touring?
Well, I did not find the right solution so far, to be honest, because getting into the high-pitched parts like I did in... A Night At The Opera, for example, always makes trouble. (laughs) That is, unfortunately, a natural progress and I haven't found the miracle cure, which, you know, keeps your voice healthy for such a long time period. But I do not smoke, I don't do it in general, I do not drink, especially on tour, especially on show days, and try to sleep as much as possible, but even that does not help. Usually after four-five shows everything is gone! (laughs) That's, unfortunately, the truth. I mean, if you listen to the Guardian albums and compare them with other albums, the quantity of vocal lines was diminished, because I need time to rest during the song, that's why there are so many solo guitar parts. I don't know how I will get through it, but I usually manage it somehow.
There's a lot of people who think that bands that had success in the 80's should just give it up already, their time has passed. What's your response to that?
We fortunately have not been successful in the 80's! (laughs)
I don't mean you, I mean on the whole!
(laughs) Well, still [Judas] Priest, [Iron] Maiden do good albums and as long as they do good albums they deserve the credibility they get. But, of course, if they do a bad album, they have to pay the price and they had that experience several times, I'm sure. I mean, that bands that are still at the top do have very high quality, and so, they deserve to be there. It's only a question of, you know, doing one good album to be up there. bands who started in the 80's and still are there did please the fans for so many years, so they deserve it. I don't have any bad feelings, and as long as there's still an interest in other music, everything's fine, I think.
As far as I know, about a week ago you received an album from the Russian heavy-power band The Arrow, do you remember it?
Yes, of course.
How did you like the record?
It is great music, I try to help them to get a deal here in Germany. I've sent their stuff to the company called SPV, waiting for their response. We'll see, they might have a chance here. I think it is very interesting music, the mixture they play is really great, it reminds me of US power metal bands of the 80's, but also bands like Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica. Everyone who is into good traditional power metal, skillfully arranged and technically well played, should check out The Arrow's album Children Of Gods. Songs like Metal's In The Air or Lady Nite prove how good Russian metal nowadays is: excellent.
So you think The Arrow play power metal? As for me, their style is closer to traditional Hard'n'Heavy...
Well, the question is - how do you describe power metal. That's a big question, because if I see how people describe bands like Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius, I would say it's definitely power metal.
And I see The Arrow in the same direction.
Okay, perhaps. My next question will be kind of provocative. The personnel of your band remains the same for about 16 years. Tell me, if in Blind Guardian' story were situations when any of your band mates wanted to leave?
So far we did not have that problem, because we prove very healthy as a band and all these years have had a very good chemistry. The reason why that never happened in terms of Blind Guardian is, because we take our time for songwriting and that means you can build up your private life, you can go different directions without, you know, getting on someone else's nerves. In our case, we take our time for songwriting, like 14 months, and during that period, you know, we always do have the time to solve our problems, not only between the band members, but also in your private life. That's why everyone's staying in the band.
Hansi, you're a talented singer. What musicians influenced you as a vicalist?
As a vocalist?
Freddie Mercury, Ian Gillan...
What about Ronnie James Dio?
He has been very important for me as a fan. I really admire his style and singing, but he has never been such a big influence like Gillan or Freddie Mercury, because the way they sing has always had a deeper impact on me and on the way I compose my lyrics. I admire vocal lines as well. Dio is one of the greatest, but I've said not so important for me as a musician. Important has been bands like Metallica or all those mid-80's power metal bands, because I love their rough energy and vocals, and I tried to follow it from the beginning.
For example, such band as Helloween...
(laughs) Yes, but I'm sorry to say Kai Hansen more than Michael Kiske. Michael Kiske again is a great vocalist, but his style never really attracted me, simply I like to listen to it, but it's not the way I would like to express myself. From the part of the fan, I would say Michael Kiske belongs to the top 20 of metal vocalists of all time, but in terms of Blind Guardian and my style-shaping, it has been more Kai Hansen, because his energy and his unique voice, though it's not that good, was far more like, you know, interesting for me.
So you are the fan of so-called 'early' Helloween...
Yeah, I'm a fan of the earlier period, but including, you know, the Michael Kiske period. And I think they still write good music, but it's not exactly my type of shoes. I mean, the albums like the Keepers..., they were good, but I enjoed Walls Of Jericho most.
I see. Okay, let's go back to your last album. In my review of A Night At The Opera I wrote that it sounds a somewhat more cheerful than Nightfall.... How it happened that your previous record turned to be so sad? Was it just the matter of your mood or you wanted the record to sound like that?
(laughs) I don't have a real explanation that we figured out during songwriting already. Your impression has been right from our point of view. Nightfall... has been sad because of the story, I think, and at least since we have accomplished the first four-five songs, everyone has been aware of what the story would be about and so, probably, turned songwriting into that direction. During A Night At The Opera we all knew from the beginning there would not be a conceptual album. That was clear, and I did not even mention what songs would be about, it has been natural progress to have a kind of... Opposite feeling to Nightfall..., because as I said in the beginning, the difficulty in the songwriting period of A Night At The Opera was to get away from the Nightfall... attitude and the Nightfall... manners. So, probably, just to have a significant change from the beginning, we made it somehow more cheerful. I had a problem to figure that out at the beginning when I did the lyrics, the first lyrics are even more sad than on Nightfall...
Yeah, like And Then There Was Silence and Under The Ice... they are deeply depressive. I didn't figure it out at that point and the mood of lyrics changed somewhere in the middle. So, then they became more positive, it's also probably because then with regard to the lyrics, it is also connected to September the 11th, which, you know, was a depressive moment. I just felt that there's no need for more negative senses in that world.
Completely agree with you. Hansi, name me three bands that you like most.
Queen... Queensrÿche... and... Deep Purple.
Aha! You like Deep Purple!
(laughs) Yeah! I'm a Deep Purple fan, if you would, you know, ask me of which band I've heard the most records, it's Deep Purple. I like at least 15 or 16.
Well... And did you like their last record?
(pauses) It's okay... (laughs) I mean, I like The Battle Rages On! ... But their old stuff is more appreciated!
I see... It is known that you guys will play in Russia. Not long ago Edguy / Freedom Call visited our country and both bands were extremely pleased with the reception and the audience. Hansi, what do YOU expect from the forthcoming shows in Russia?
Well, first of all, I'm in contact with both mentioned bands, I've heard about that already (laughs), so that's really cool! We expect ourselves to be in a very good shape to please people, I mean, it is one of the most important experience we will do on that particular tour, because it's always the best thing to come to a country you have not been before, play for the people, because the reactions are, you know, usually are really warm, but they differ! They differ everywhere, it's the biggest impact on US musician to have that feeling for the first time.
You see, there's a lot of Blind Guardian fans here, almost everywhere you can meet a fan wearing the T-shirt with your logo. That's why I hope everything will be fine here for you.
I hope so! I'm sure, I mean, it's not only hope.
Well... Hope is a great thing! Okay, Hansi, it's time to finish. And in the end, some words for the Russian fans.
...For the metal attack!
(laughs) Is it metal? For sometimes people do not consider our music to be metal! (laughs) Be prepared for talented musicians and a lot of fun!
Thank you! I wish you luck guys, we'll be happy to see you here! And as for me, see you at the press-conference!
(laughs) That's great! I'm looking forward to see you there!
Thank you so much for the interview, Hansi!
Special thanks goes to Nikolay "Dr. Venom" Simkin for organizing the interview.