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Interview conducted June 08 2016
Interview published June 25 2016

"People had a big problem with the Imaginations album…"

Metal Covenant met up with guitarists André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen of long running German metallers Blind Guardian a couple of hours prior to the band's show on the warm-up day of this year's Sweden Rock Festival. While the band started out in the 80's with kind of low budget straight heavy metal records, they have elaborated their sound immensely over 3 decades and the most recent albums definitely come out as grandiose and bombastic productions, stuffed with different layers on top of one another.

"Our songs can be played on an acoustic guitar and they will still be great, because a good song always remains a good song."

Tobbe: First of all, I wanna ask you, Marcus, why did you quit Sinbreed last year?

Marcus: Because their time schedule was completely clashing with our time schedule. We had a meeting by the end of 2014, I think, and Flo [Laurin] and the other guys in the band started discussing about that we should start to work on the new Sinbreed album in 2015 and everything. And I told them "That's not gonna happen, because in 4 weeks there will be a new Blind Guardian album out and I'll be on the road until the end of 2016.". So, since they wanted to keep that schedule, I quit. Very simple. Blind Guardian is always my main priority and that's never gonna change.

Tobbe: But Hansi [Kürsch, vocals] and André are doing the most work with the records, with the songwriting and stuff. So what are you and your drummer [Frederik Ehmke] doing in the meantime when they are writing the songs?

Marcus: I mean, we are also working on ideas and stuff. They don't always end up on albums or get finished, but everybody has his influence and, you know, we try to get things ahead.

Tobbe: About your most recent stuff. You guys put a lot of layers of music on your albums and are you never a little concerned about your long-time fans finding it a little bit too complex?

André: I think the philosophy behind the band is that we want progress and the way we progress has not a scheme where we want to layer things or make it more epic or more complex. It's for us a natural way and what the song demands from the songwriting. If you have an epic song and add an orchestra, then you have 90 more instruments. Just a natural fact. I think that most of our fans like that we progress; that we're not standing still in the 80's.

Like some other bands that always try the retro thing, and they are stuck there, and all the albums sound the same and you get bored after you bought the 5th album with still the same songs on there. And we don't want to be like that. We want to progress and we want to bring in new elements on our albums and in our songs and we are not afraid of that maybe some experiments will not liked.

And another natural thing about all good artists, whether it's painters or whatever, you know, if someone tries out new things maybe people will not like it in the beginning. But that's okay for me, because we don't try to please our fans in that way. We're not a band like that. We try to improve our music. We try to create good music and I think we always put out albums that were state of the art for that time when they came out. At that moment it caught that time spirit. We did albums like Imaginations [From The Other Side] in '95 and it was a little bit ahead of time. People had a big problem with the Imaginations album, but now everybody says "Wow! What a great album!".

But when we released Imaginations, and especially when we released Nightfall [In Middle-Earth [1998]] we got lots of bad reviews. Many people were complaining because we changed the simple metal style from Somewhere Far Beyond [1992] to this more storytelling thing. When Imaginations came out people were complaining about all the mid-tempo stuff. That was the first time we did lots of mid-tempo breaks and people weren't used to it. Now, we did experiments with orchestras and stuff like that and people probably just need to get used to it. And songs like And Then There Was Silence.

In the reviews for A Night At The Opera people were complaining about the complexity, but now it's one of the all-time favorites. (Marcus:) And that, you know, the moment when you start to worry about what fans might think about something that's when you lose anyway, because, you know, there are old school fans that prefer the early stuff and there are fans that prefer stuff like A Night At The Opera or newer songs, so who do we listen to and who do we please? We can only please ourselves and if we are happy…Fine! (André:) And I think for us it's the recipe to continue and to see a meaning in this. You know, that we try to improve and that we try to do different things. That keeps it interesting to us.

Tobbe: Once you have started these massive and epic productions there's no turning back, so do you feel that you always have to go bigger and more elaborated all the time?

André: No, and we don't do that. We have no concept. We always leave everything open to the songs and I think if you listen to the last album [Beyond The Red Mirror, 2015] there's a wide spectrum. Not every song is epic. There's slow songs, there's really fast songs, there's the epic songs, and there's everything in there. I think what makes it interesting is that you're not stuck to one style. When we play live there's always enough change in the setlist. We can choose from whatever album and whatever songs and there's always a good mix, you know, because the songs are so different.

Tobbe: So when you're playing live, if you choose to play the songs in their originality you have to use recorded stuff, or do you choose to play the songs in a more pure way?

Marcus: It's always a different way, because on the albums, for example, there are always more than just 2 guitars playing at the same time and on stage there's exactly 2 guitars playing. So it's always a kind of live adaptation of our studio songs and we just have to rearrange them and see what are the 2 main voices, concerning the guitars, that have to be there. It could be me playing rhythm and André playing a lead, or sometimes we play double lead stuff, but that's how we do the live arrangements of those songs and it always works.

Tobbe: But is it tough to leave out a couple of things?

André: No, I don't think so. I think that many people give too much weight to the orchestral stuff in the end. Our songs can be played on an acoustic guitar and they will still be great, because a good song always remains a good song. If we play Mordred's Song or Nightfall, for example, as acoustic guitar versions or if we play them with a huge orchestra both work because the songs are good.

Tobbe: For me it's always been 2 different things. Studio is studio and live is live.

André: Yes, exactly. In the studio you use all possible technical ways available at that time, and other bands did this too. I mean, The Beatles tried all tricks in the studio, and Queen, they did everything with the 8-tape machines they had. They did all tricks possible and why wouldn't we do that in our time? I mean, we have now even more options. You need to be careful so you don't get lost, but I think, on especially the last album, we've found a very harmonic way to put in lots of details. The songs still sound harmonic and have a natural spirit and I don't have the feeling that anything is overloaded.

Tobbe: It was almost 5 years between At The Edge Of Time and Beyond The Red Mirror and for how long will Blind Guardian fans have to wait for the next record?

André: We already have plans for the next 5 years. The thing is that last year we toured completely the whole year and now we are touring again, but we have also worked on a live album which will be released, I think, in the beginning of next year. It will be a really nice one because we recorded it all over the world and we chose only the best takes. We listened to more than 50 shows to choose the songs. So we have worked on this and the fans will get this really nice live album.

And Hansi and I are working on the orchestra project, which still has lots of work left to do, but we have a chance to finish it within the next 2 years. It depends on touring activities, because when we are on tour and shortly after a tour Hansi's voice is not just good enough to perform in a studio. So we always have delays, because we need to find good moments for him to perform and now we are mainly missing vocals, so this album is scheduled for 2018 and it is an album with completely new songs. So it's a full album, but with orchestral music.

And then we will try, as soon as possible, to get the metal songs written and done. Everything is open, but we think we can keep the 4-year schedule. (Marcus:) We need the time because we don't write stuff while we're touring and, you know, the average time that we spend on the road is 1,5 or maybe 2 years. So after a release those 2 years are gone before we even start working on the next stuff and then it takes a year to 1,5 years to compose a new album and it takes another half year to record it and "Boom!" there are your 4 years.

Tobbe: In the beginning of your career you released like 5 albums maybe in 7 years and now you have released like 5 albums in 20 years. Just to get some perspective, you know.

André: Yeah, the music was different and the times were different. With the first album it's easy. I mean, you have like all the demo tapes you did before and you have the songs ready to go. You only need to enter the studio and have someone who pays. So the first one [Battalions Of Fear] was like a present. And the 2nd [Follow The Blind] was kind of an experience that really was important to us. Our record label put lots of pressure on us to release the next album within one year. It was not our choice. So we were writing the songs under pressure. We already had our style to communicate and to work with each other and we were not that fast; we were slower.

So some things came out that we, or I, still regret that we did. I think there are some weak songs on it. I mean, Valhalla was a lucky shot. We missed one song and we wrote it within the last 2 days and we didn't want to put it on the album because for us it was crap. So, okay, that was the lucky shot, but some things came out, in my opinion, not that well, and after that I said "I will never do it again. I will never do songwriting under pressure. I will never let a record label tell me about time schedules or whatever. We'll take the time we need and then we can make a better album.". From that moment the songwriting took longer and longer. Every time like 6 months longer, but I see a progress. I see that Tales [From The Twilight World] was better than Follow Than Blind, because we spent 6 months more on the songwriting.

Tobbe: But can you believe it's been almost 30 years since you released your first record?

André: We were kids. Time is running too fast. It's unfair, yeah.

Tobbe: Was it a strange feeling that you suddenly were a bigger band than some of the bands you grew up listening to?

Marcus: It was the plan. I mean, we were supposed to be a big band. We were focused and, you know, we had the goals that we wanted to achieve and we worked for that, so I guess… we deserve it. [Laughs] I mean, our attitude is we always try to do the best that we can do in that moment. Whether it's like recording, writing, touring, whatever, we try to come up with the best possible product that we can do at that point in time and I think it just pays off. (André:) When you're so much into it and working, you don't realize so much about your status. I think I found out for the first time when we really got the breakthrough with Imaginations and all of a sudden we played the big venues and I thought "Oh, my God! What's going on here?".

Tobbe: As you're getting older, with families and stuff, does it get harder or is it still as easy to go out on the road and being away for longer periods?

Marcus: It is difficult obviously, because, you know, we all are married and we all have kids and of course it's not the easiest thing to say goodbye to your kids and say "Daddy will be back…whenever.". But it's part of the job and on the other hand, when we're not touring we're at home more than people that have a 9-5 job. So it's skipping between the extremes. (André:) In the end it's like this: The families get older and we're still kids.

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