Oliver Hartmann is the driving force behind Hartmann, but that won't surprise anybody. But if you only know him for his work with At Vance and Avantasia, then you might be surprised by Balance... To learn more about the singer and his band I shoot him some questions.
Most will know you as the former singer of At Vance or due to your involvement with Avantasia, Aina and probably Genius... Now you have another solo album out, it's called Balance. Why Balance?
Our guitar player Mario came up with the idea to call the album Balance while searching for a fitting title. Somehow this album has the right balance of everything that is important for us as band regarding the music. On the other hand the inner balance in general is important for everything you do in your life. There's no black without white, no good without bad, no ying without yang. The goal is maybe to find the right mixture of both sides to lead your life into the right direction – and sometimes it's really like dancing on a wire, haha. ;-)
When did you start writing songs for Balance? And how long did the recordings take?
We've been working on this album a bit longer than we used to in the past – close to two and a half years now. The main reason is that I was touring a lot with other projects like Avantasia in 2010 and Rock Meets Classic last winter so I didn't have the time to really concentrate just on Hartmann. That's why the songwriting for the new album somehow happened in steps. Although we already had enough new material in mid of last year I wasn't really satisfied with a few songs so I decided to write more tracks and to work over the arrangements here and there. In the end it was the right decision because we didn't have any time pressure to release a new album so we had the chance and time to sort out just the best tracks for the new album. Our bass player Armin also wrote a few songs this time and we decided to take Like A River and From A Star which are great and perfectly fitting songs.
Sascha Paeth mixed the album, you worked together before, is he the perfect counterpart for you?
Yes, he definitely is. We get to know each other on the production of the At Vance album Only Human in 2001. Since then we worked together on many projects as Avantasia and of course Hartmann and we have a great friendship since many years now. It's always good to have him at our side as engineer and producer, 'cause he knows exactly what kind of sound I'm looking for but he can look at the whole picture much more objective than me. Being involved in the songwriting for many months with Hartmann it's always an advantage for us to have his opinion on the songs and the arrangements.
The cover isn't an eye catcher, at least not for me, what's the idea of this artwork?
The artwork was done by Silvio Mancini who is the singer of the Italian prog metal band Empyrios, but besides that he's a very talented and highly requested graphic designer. For Balance I wanted to have a very simple cover that combines symmetry with a certain calmness and flow. He came up with the idea to use these kind of so called Lissajous curves which have a bit of a metaphysical touch and we really liked it.
With Shout you have a cover version on Balance, why this tune?
We had already prepared a version for our second album Home, so the idea of recording a cover version of Shout is already in the pipeline for longer time. Unfortunately it didn't make it upon the record due to many reasons. One reason was that we weren't really satisfied with the version we had so I was working over the arrangement again for our new album Balance since it has always been one of my favorite 80's tracks. And I'm really happy with it now!
Musically Balance shows a different facet, compared to At Vance, Avantasia, etc. Please tell us about your musical influences! What band / artist made you start playing music? Which bands / artists do you listen to these days?
I grew up with the British and American rock and hard rock of the 70's and 80's, from Free, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Rainbow and Dio up to Journey, Survivor, Van Halen, AC/DC and all the other great bands of that time. So that's where I have my so called 'roots'. I started to play at the age of ten on my uncle's guitar and had my first bands with 14 years. After several different bands and projects I joined a professional cover band at the age of 20 where I also started to sing for the first time and it helped me a lot to improve my skills as a musician and for my later bands. Of course I was also listening a lot to classical music and funk rock, soul and blues and I think you can hear a lot of all that here and there in our songs on Balance, too. Nowadays I'm listening to many different musical styles and artists - too many to count or mention, but in the end it just matters to me that it's good music. That's maybe the only thing that counts.
Which song(s) represent Balance best in your opinion? Which ones would you like to do a video clip for?
Since I'm the main composer it's really hard for me to give an objective answer to this question. But I think All My Life is a really great opener for this album, After The Love Has Gone is a typical Hartmann track and The Best Is Yet To Come, too. But I also like From A Star, written by our bass player Armin, who has been involved in the writing process for this album much more than before. I think there are many cool tracks on this new album, but of course it's hard for me to decide which ones are the best ones - I will leave that up to the listeners. We are still planning to do a video clip of one track. There are a few tracks on the new album that could fit for a video, but we are also thinking about the idea to take Shout.
Video clips get more important again, also to promote a band via social media... What do you think about the fact that e.g. in Germany many videos can't be watched due to issues with GEMA?
Oh, that's really a big problem. I think Germany is the only country left that didn't get it done to sign a contract with YouTube and other providers. The result is that you just can't find 90% of the original tracks and videos anymore. But hopefully the GEMA will see that it's necessary to find a solution soon, because nowadays the internet is part of everyone's life and also part of the music business. It's 2012 and not 1980, but they sometimes really act and react like dinosaurs! ;-)
On the other hand the Piraten party will weaken the copyright law, especially when it comes to MP3s. As a musician you can't be happy about that... Does surviving gets more difficult for musicians?
Our government was on the way to sign new contracts for European and world wide laws regarding the whole internet problem and the owners rights, but our beloved Piratenpartei helped a lot to cancel the whole thing. And that's stupid. It's easy to see that there's a whole new generation that grew up with the idea that everything in the internet is for free and they don't understand that you have to buy certain things. And the least I understand that there's a political party with grown up people who support that cause they should see that it in the future will be impossible for professional musicians to make their living, if they don't get paid. But still hope that we will find a solution for the whole problem soon.
You did Rock-Meets-Classic... How was it to share the stage with some living legends? What impressed you most?
Touring with this project and with this amazing line up was really a great thing. I was already visiting the last tours as a guest, so I was really happy to get a call for joining this project. The whole mood during this tour was relaxed and of course it was a big honor for me to play and sing with greats as Ian Gillan and Steve Lukather. Steve was planned to be guest musician on Dance On The Wire for the new album. but unfortunately he didn't have time when we had to finish the production in April. But we're still in touch and he really likes the band so I guess we will hopefully arrange something for the next record. Being part of Rock Meets Classic is a great experience for me and I'm already looking forward to the next tour!
You also do tour with Echoes, a Pink Floyd tribute band, doing this just for fun? Or is it also a way to make money?
I think, it's both. I joined this band in 2002 and since then we are touring all over Germany and some other European countries. I have always been a big fan of Pink Floyd so it's always fun to play with the band. And of course I'm really happy that Echoes is pretty successful for years now.
Back to your solo stuff... What about touring? Any news?
Right now we are looking forward to some touring in summer and we are still working on doing the support for a well known band we already accompanied in the past. Besides that we hope to also tour outside Germany this time, hopefully also outside Europe in autumn, but let's see how things will develop.
Anything I should have asked? Something you want to add?
Yes, of course I'd like to say hi to all readers and to all fans of Hartmann and I hope they will enjoy listening to the new record and reading this interview.
Let's hope that Hartmann can go on tour and not just hit German roads... Anyway, we will hear more from Oliver Hartmann and his mates!