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In Words: Blind Guardian

- Hansi Kürsch - May 1995 - Claudia Ehrhardt -
- Hansi Kürsch - March 2002 - Olya Shimerova -
- Frederik Ehmke - July 2006 - Claudia Ehrhardt -

Frederik Ehmke - July 10th 2006 (phone interview)

A few minutes before 2 PM my phone rang and new Blind Guardian drummer Frederik Ehmke called to talk about the new album A Twist In The Myth. After we exchanged a few sentences we started right away. I first told Frederik that my first impression of the album is that it's heavier... And he agrees. "Well, I didn't had much influence this time, coz the guitars were already recorded - demoed - and the drums came later. But it's right that Blind Guardian sound heavier. I play a different style then Thomen and it might sound heavier also coz I play Tama..." Even if they recorded together, the songs were finished and so it was only arrangements Frederik could take influence on. But how does Frederik became a Blind Guardian? "A friend told me that Thomen left the band and I thought it was a joke. I'm a fan of Blind Guardian since I'm 12 years old and so I know all their songs. I studied drums and last year I was at a point where I had to make a decision about my future. Well, I thought about applying for the job, first it was more for fun, so I tried to find out how. On Blind Guardian's website it was posted not to send in demos, but somehow I got hold of Andrè phone number and I called him. First he wasn't very interested, but after I told him about myself and that I studied drums he got interested. I recorded 3 songs of them on a DVD and sent it over. They liked it and invited me. We played together and I became the new drummer." Frederik told me. This time he wasn't involved in the song writing and even parts of the album were already recorded, but on the next album I'll be more involved. This time it was too late to take influence, but that's okay. I'm pretty happy with the album. Playing with my faves is like a dream come true! A Twist In The Myth is different and less bombastic compared to the successor A Night At The Opera. "The guys wanted a change. Their idea was to go a bit back to the roots, to take off the bombastic sound." In a way the single Fly already announced that change and even if this song isn't as catchy as former singles, it was the right one to give an idea about what to come. On Fly they experiement with some sounds which most won't expect from Blind Guardian. And that was the reason to chose this one, coz it showed that there is a new era of Blind Guardian which just started. But there are still some tracks which are typical for the Germans. "The title A Twist In The Myth sums up the surprising changes - musically and lyrically. But I can't tell you much about the lyrics, sorry." Frederik gave a brief explanation about the album title. It's no big surprise, coz usually only the singers really know what the songs are about. This time the band didn't stick to Tolkin, but still deal with mystic themes.
Blind Guardian already played a few shows - a kind of live test - where they already presented Fly live. "The reactions at these shows been pretty good, even if during Fly the fans were a little shy. But the fans didn't know the song, so it was okay." Anyway, Frederik was impressed by the audience reaction and by the warm welcome he got.
The album got first reactions at a pre-listening session... "Nuclear Blast had arranged a pre-listening session and it was interesting to see people's reaction to A Twist In The Myth. As the album is different and presents a new chapter in Blind Guardian's career, it was no big surprise that the first reaction was mixed. Most say that it's good, but so different and that they liked the old stuff more. But we expected this." And in my opinion the album needs a few more spins.. "I'm not worried, coz I know that a change like this needs time and that the fans have to listen a few more times, but then they will discover it's beauty. The journalists who been at the pre-listening session had just one run through it, I think after listening a few more times, they will change their mind." In September they will hit the road again. "We will present a completely new stage show!" Fredrik announced. "We will work with projections to support the songs and the light show will be different. With the projections the songs become more alive. I saw Dream Theater at their Metropolis tour and it was a blast. During parts of their show they showed some kind of movies to support the songs and due to this films I understood the lyrics better! Or discovered a totally new meaning." In case of Dream Theater this is definitely not to take attention from the playing... "Never thought about it that way, but you are right it pulls the attention from the players to the screen." But Blind Guardian know how to catch their fans attention and they don't need this to cover some inabilities. "After Europe we'll tour in North America til the end of the year. Next year we'll go to Asia and South America. But I don't know details yet." Looks like Frederik's live changed completely since he joined Blind Guardian and that hell be busy for the next months... But "it was like a dream and now it's too good to be true." Seems Frederik still can't believe how fortunate he is playing now in own of his all-time favorites. And I think the band can be happy to find such a talented drummer. Only the future will show, if the fans accept the musical turn they did, but I'm pretty confident, they will. What's next? Too early to say what the future holds for the German quartet, but it will have a few more twists.

Claudia Ehrhardt

Hansi Kürsch - March, 17th 2002 (by phone)

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?


That's great.

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?

That's true.

...And your previous album Nightfall In Middle-Earth was fully dedicated to him...

Yeah! (laughs)

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...

Oh, really?

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.

Be prepared...

...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!

Thanks, Olga!

So long!


Special thanks goes to Nikolay "Dr. Venom" Simkin for organizing the interview.

Olya Shimerova

Hansi Kürsch live 1995
© Claudia Ehrhardt

Hansi Kürsch - Cologne, May 20th 1995

The German band is not trendy, but they have a faithful fan community. Their new opus Imaginations From The Other Side is different. I got a few answers from Hansi Kürsch in Cologne. The past everyone knows, just a few questions been left.

But first I want to know why they chose Bright Eyes as the first single.

Our title track is much too lang. We had to shorten it and then the feeling would get lost. Bright Eyes is a good choice. In the video clip you can see a child which vegetate in a room just with computer games and other things in total social isolation. The child don't know where to turn, to the good or the bad. Originally we want to make a bombastic video, but had to cut out a guitar solo and a vocal part. Now we have a video which is played on the music channels, PearlL Jam got gold for such a simple video clip. But it's all right.

You like to play live, what's about tours? Where you will play?

First we went to Japan and than we prepared the European shows. We will return for some more shows until the end of the year. We love to play live and the break this the last tour was much too long. By the way we won't have a keyboarder as a member of the band. We'll use a guest musician on the tour, a member would change the chemistry inside the band. Live we have to work without this choirs as samples. Either we and the fans sing the choirs together or it ain't work. We were very afraid that André will never play again. He was a important part of the band even in the songwriting. For us it would be as hard as for André if he would had to quit. He has his very own style. It would be as hard to replace him as it would be to replace a singer.

The recordings been delayed through André's injury. This time you recorded your album with another producer, Flemming Rasmussen (known by his work with Metallica), and in another studio?

We recorded in Copenhagen in the Sweet Silence Studio. After our last studio album Somewhere Far Beyond we had to go new ways. Flemming Rasmussen was our first choice. We are very glad that we got the chance to work with Flemming. We are very satisfied with the co-operation, we also were very happy with Kalle Trapp. But after we recorded the last album with Kalle we feel that we couldn't make a step forward if we continue our work with Kalle. Kalle was the right man for the first albums and we are very grateful for what he has done for us. He is a rocker and that's his music. We want to go on, want to try new things which wasn't possible with Kalle. But we want to say thank you to Kalle, without him we won't be where we are no. With Flemming it's totally different. We want to try something, he said, okay, let's do. With Kalle we had long discussions, now we play instead of argue. Flemming is very exact about the rhythm section, he gives as more space for the harmonies. First Flemming couldn't believe what he was seeing. When we record the drum tracks everyone expect Thomen just fooling around. I don't sing the whole song only the important words that Thomen know when to change. Flemming thought that we are all stupid beginners and couldn't believe our success. Later he realize our abilities, we all know that we are just upper mid-class expect Thomen. He is the best musician in the band.
We needed more time to record, 'cause André had problems with his hand. He was in hospital that takes time. Normally we work in to shifts of 8 hours. Now we couldn't use the studio the way we always did. All parts André had to record later.

In the past Kai Hansen was as a guest musician on your albums. This time Kai couldn't appear, but you were guest on the new Gamma Ray album. Did you know Kai before he played on the first album?

No, we all liked the music of Helloween very much. When we start recording our debut, we ask Kai if he would like to joined us for one or two songs. In that days Kai left the band and before he started Gamma Ray he had time and he joined us. It was great, he is a very nice guy. When we recorded the current album he was busy, but he asked me to sing on their album backing vocals.

Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids sang backing vocals on your album.

That's right. We needed someone for the backing vocals. Flemming called Ronnie and he joined us. Ronnie never did backing vocals before, but it was easy. He wanted to help and don't try to step into the spotlight.

Was it very different to record in Denmark?

Yes and no. Sure it was different, we were far away from home and our family could just visit us. So we had more freedom. Copenhagen is beautiful, but expensive.

So you don't know the right places. Will you record again in Copenhagen?

At the moment we hadn't decide. Now we reached a level on which we couldn't imaging in which way we turn. Techni­cally we can't develop. We have to wait and see what happen.

The former albums are lyrically about Tolkiens Master Of Rings. This time you wrote about King Arthur's myth. Why?

Lord Of Rings is still my favorite book. I think it was time to change, I wrote enough about. Perhaps I will return to this theme later. The myth of King Arthur is more than just the movies from the 50's which almost care about the knights. I read lots about it, books from: Gillian Bradshaw, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, T.H. White, Mallory and a grandson of the famous novelist Tolstoi. While I read all that stuff a question came up. Why was Arthur a hero? He won two battles, but couldn't control his wife and his knights.
Beside that I like to read Stephen King. He knows how to fascinate the people with small pieces of his novels.

What do you expect from the next album? Wouldn't it be hard to write song and record an album which is on the same level as Imaginations...?

I hope we can keep this level. I'm not keen on doing more extreme stuff. It's okay when it is a natural progression. I could imagine to record Jesus Christ Superstar as a metal version if we have a longer break. Jon from Iced Earth dream about this project, but I'm not sure that be would get a permission from Andrew Lloyd Weber.

That sound very interesting. Perhaps it will happen one day. Hansi can be sure that all to fans of the band will take a look. The Blind Guardian fans are very loyal, when you see them at a concert they will wear a T-shirt of the band. On concerts of these band merchandise sells are very high, other bands dream of this turn over. They are no superstar and they won't be. But they have found their way and they will continue it. Good luck for the future and hopefully no more health problems which keep them out of the spotlight for months.

Claudia Ehrhardt


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