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.
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
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
But when we released Imaginations, and especially
when we released Nightfall [In Middle-Earth ] we got lots of bad
reviews. Many people were complaining because we changed the simple
metal style from Somewhere Far Beyond  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.
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
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
Tobbe: But is it tough to leave out a couple
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.
For me it's always been 2 different things. Studio is studio and 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
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
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.
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
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
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.