Interview conducted August 05 2017
Interview published August 13 2017
"There were concerts where you go on stage and
on the first row everybody is holding his fucking phone and filming a
2-hour show and not moving to make sure the video is not shaky."
The German metallers Blind Guardian put out their third live album, Live
Beyond The Spheres, on July 7th and as they visited Sweden's Skogsröjet
festival a couple of weeks later, Metal Covenant took the opportunity
to have a few words about it with guitar player Marcus Siepen
and drummer Frederik Ehmke.
Tobbe: For the new live album you have chosen
to pick the best version of each song, from out of 30 concerts, so why
did you choose that method for the album?
Marcus: It makes more sense than choosing the
worst songs. [Unison laughter] I mean, we had the opportunity to record
pretty much every single show on that whole tour and obviously it has
some benefits, because if we would have only recorded one show, then
that would have meant 18 songs for the album because that was the average
amount of songs that we played per night. And by recording more than
one show we could change the setlist every day and record more songs
and in the end there are 22 on the album.
we're just human beings so we have nights where we are better than other
nights and if something goes wrong in that one show that you're recording,
then you're fucked, but if you record everything, then you can choose
from the best performances. So, we just like that method.
Tobbe: In a fan's perspective, could it
be, like, cheating?
Frederik: Because we chose different concerts
for it, you mean? Well, I don't think it's cheating. I would say it's
representing more than one show of the tour and I think we had a very
good average in our live performances, which also was mirrored in the
live recordings. Actually our impression was proven right and I think
the fans know that the overall quality of the shows was good enough.
We just decided to go for the most impacting versions and it's still
outstandingly good from the normal standard.
(Marcus:) And, you know, all the fans that have
been to a concert that has been recorded want to end up on the album
and be choosing more concerts, you know, more fans are part of the album.
Tobbe: You haven't really enhanced the sound
in the studio and it sounds very much like a live album and not a live
in the studio album, so is it important to you guys to have that live
feeling on the album and not make a Judas Priest - Unleashed In The East
Marcus: Obviously. I mean, a live album is supposed
to be a live album and it should sound like a live album. Before that
tour, and already on the previous tour, we switched to digital amplifiers,
so we don't have cabinets on stage. The typical problem when you record
something live and there are loud amplifiers on stage is that the guitars
blow into every single mike on stage and, you know, that makes mixing
more difficult and since there are, for example, no guitar cabs on stage,
you know, the mixing is way more easy because the guitars are not bleeding
in every mic and like this you get a good sound.
So why was is it the right time to release another Blind Guardian live
Frederik: I think it was 14 years since the last
live album, and a DVD, that are together kind of, so they count as one,
I guess. But it was 14 years and a lot happened within those 14 years.
(Marcus:) You happened. (Frederik:)
I happened, for instance. [Alex Holzwarth played the drums on the previous
live album "Live".] The bass player is different. [Barend
Courbois has replaced Oliver Holzwarth.] There's different songs and
a different approach from the live shows as well, like, we have this
orchestra stuff in some songs, that definitely didn't happen before
my time at least. So, we thought it was worth to be reflected on a live
album again. And we don't do that many live albums, like every record
gets a live album or anything like that.
(Marcus:) There's some bands that do that. They
go on tour and they release a live album, and, you know, that's fine.
If any band wants to do it that way it's perfectly fine, but it's not
just our way. We prefer to have a couple of new studio albums in between
so we can put new songs on that one. And, yeah, the time just felt right.
Tobbe: It's 3 CDs, 2,5 hours of music, and
when you were starting this project, were you talking about making it
Frederik: We were just listening to the songs
and seeing what potentially could be on the live album. Actually I'm
sad for all the songs that did not make it there, 'cause we had a lot
of songs from each night, like a song pool to choose from, and there
were so many more songs that we were practicing and playing that in
the end did not find their way to the live album. But at a certain point
you have to make a cut and you can not come out with, like, 5 CDs or
(Marcus:) Would be nice. [Laughs] I mean, we
play rather long shows, so the average show that we played on that tour
was 2 hours 10 minutes, or 2.20, something like that, and of course
we try to reflect the typical kind of show as it happened on the tour.
But, I mean, before we started recording there was not really a plan,
like "Let's make it a triple CD set or anything." and obviously
record companies play a role in that as well and we were lucky to get
away with the 3 CDs, so we could put even more songs to it than were
actually played in one night. But, you know, it's great that we could
do it, because 2 CDs would have meant sacrificing some of the stuff
and we don't like sacrifices.
Actually we were recording, like, the rest of the tour as well, like
North America territory and other South America territories, but they
sounded too different to give the one whole concert feeling. (Marcus:)
In the first European block we had the same PA, same production, same
everything and that's why the sound sounds similar from concert to concert.
Tobbe: I think you have really been able
to bring the energy into the album, but in comparison to when you're on
stage and playing your own songs and feel the energy and if you listen
to the live album and feel the energy from it, has the live album been
able to capture that energy that you feel on stage?
Marcus: I think the recordings capture the energy
pretty well. For us it still feels different, because if you're on stage
you're so rushed with adrenaline, which obviously does not happen in
the same way when you listen to a live recording, because, you know,
that whole playing live thing for an audience that goes nuts is missing.
But if you just listen to it, I think it captures a Blind Guardian show
(Frederik:) I think for me this adrenaline feeling
is even worse, or amplified, and I'm totally exhausting myself during
a show. So when I sit there in a calm environment and listen to a live
CD, then I don't have the feeling of playing on stage of course. Actually,
I think when we are playing live, you always have, like, this feeling
like "Oh! Tonight it was a magic show!", or something, and
everyone was playing together, and then you listen to the tapes and
"OK, there was a little flaw." and there was this and that
happening.". So your stage feeling is definitely different than
the clear, neutral feeling when you listen to the recording in the end.
Tobbe: A long time ago a live album could
be the introduction to listening to a band, but nowadays it seems like
a live album is something more for the people who are already fans.
Marcus: I think it can still be an introduction.
I mean, obviously it's something that, you know, the die-hard fans are
looking for too, but for me, for example, if I want to check out a band
that I don't know yet and I see they have a live album, that, most likely,
would be the first thing that I would listen to, because then you know
you get a kind of best of setlist. So, at least in my opinion, it can
still be a nice introduction.
(Frederik:) Yes, it could be a nice introduction.
Nowadays I think it happens more if you leave one word out; the word
'album'. The live situation is definitely something that can trigger
new people to a band. Let's say you send YouTube links of live shows
and like "Look! Check out this cool band!" and I think nowadays
this is how the word spreads and not, like, buying that live album.
That was something that happened in the past, I think, and got replaced
by the modern social media, which is of course very much quicker in
capturing the show as it happens. In the second as it happens and we
are delayed with having to produce our album.
And I'm officially old school, because I hate YouTube links and shaky
phone videos. [Laughs] (Frederik:) I'm
not saying I like it; I'm just saying this is the way it works nowadays;
that you send the link, and I think it's attracting more people who
don't know the bands yet. That's what, in my opinion, happens.
Tobbe: And people are constantly recording
with their cell phone and you see it when you're on stage of course, but
has that thing increased during the last couple of years or has it come
to a top now?
Marcus: Well, it started even longer ago. I
remember that I was pretty annoyed by it on the At The Edge Of Time
tour. [This tour cycle started in 2010.] There were concerts where you
go on stage and on the first row everybody is holding his fucking phone
and filming a 2-hour show and not moving to make sure the video is not
shaky. And it's like "Why do you go to a concert?". You know,
if I go to a concert I want to see the band and I don't want to stare
at my phone. You know, it's looks better, bigger and brighter in 3D.
HD, you know. We're playing in HD, so it's so much better without a
fucking phone, so, kids
The whole attitude for kids has changed today,
because everybody is focused on social media and, you know, if you can't
post a picture on facebook, then you have not been to the gig or whatever.
In my opinion it's a stupid attitude, sorry for using that word, but
that's how I think about it. You know, enjoy the gig and don't worry
about social media or taking pictures that you can show somebody. Obviously
it's fine if you wanna take a picture and even a video of a song, but
not just standing there for 2 hours and not moving because you want
that video. The sound quality will still suck, because phones were not
made to record those volumes and, you know, most likely it will still
be shaky because the people behind go nuts and bump into you. And, you
know, I've seen people holding iPads and stuff like that, and people
standing behind them will be very happy about that, I guess. I mean,
it's just wrong.
(Frederik:) But I think the trend is going back
by the way. I try to look at it in a positive way. I think, as Marcus
said, At The Edge Of Time, like 4 or 5 years ago, was, like, the prime
time for that and I think maybe the fans also noticed that it's not
As Marcus said, like, take some pictures and then enjoy the rest
of the concert. And of course no one you know will blame you for not
capturing all of the show, but you can prove that you were there and
you can share it with friends, and we're happy about that of course,
but then take your time to enjoy. (Marcus:)
But, you know, how many times do you watch such a video, or pictures,
you know? Most of the time they're blurry and the sound is crap, you
know, and you look at them, watching them, and most likely you delete
them, like "Fuck! Didn't work.".
It's like you have to be ready if something fun happens. If something
out of the ordinary happens, then you wanna be the one having that on
your phone, and spreading that on the internet and get the likes. (Marcus:)
Then you'll be so disappointed if it's just an average show without
anything "creepy" happening. Well, whatever. But whatever
you prefer. I mean, if you buy a ticket and go to a show, it's your
decision how you wanna watch that show, but I just don't get it.
Tobbe: So, a little about your future. Beyond
The Red Mirror was out over 2 years ago and you have quite some time between
each studio album nowadays. So when can we expect another Blind Guardian
album? Will we have to wait until 2020 or something?
Frederik: I think it's too early to talk about
the next studio album. Well, we can talk about it, but we can not tell
an expected release date. I can tell that I personally am the one to
start and I started recording 2 songs already. So we are slowly preparing
and writing, but as we are now, obviously, on tour meanwhile, it also
slows down the process. And we're "parallely" working on the
classical project. But whenever an idea for a new song is there we're
working on it, but there's no rush. So, let's see. It's so many things
at the same time that we're working on. (Marcus:)
You know, the main focus now is on finishing the orchestra album, since
we're working on that since 20 years. So, it's time to get it done.
Tobbe: So it will eventually get finished?
Marcus: It will get finished, yes. And in parallel
to that we already started working on new songs for the next regular
album. But, obviously, since we're just working on those 2 songs, that
are kind of done, it's too early to say anything about the musical direction.
So we will have to dive deeper into songwriting for that. But we're
working on it. It's work in progress and it's not that we are sitting
at home and being lazy.
Tobbe: Pretty much through your whole discography
you have become more grandiose and more bombastic for each record, but
is there a limit on how grandiose a Blind Guardian record can be?
Marcus: There's always a limit. You know, I
agree. Obviously it's happened. I mean, when we started with Battalions
[Of Fear, 1988] it's quite different compared to what we do nowadays.
But it's not adding stuff for the sake of adding things, you know. It's
just we do what we feel like doing in that moment and for whatever reason
that has become more orchestral, more complex, more progressive, but
it does not necessarily mean that on the next album we will try to top
that, in a way of being more progressive or more epic or more whatever.
It might be something completely different.
it's not that we're trying to always top, quantity-wise, or whatever
you wanna call it, what we did on the previous albums. We just try to
take the next step and the last couple of steps have been in a pretty
progressive, orchestral direction. But obviously there's a limit for
everything. And, you know, at some point I'm pretty sure it would also
be boring for us to just stay focused on that direction, so we will
go somewhere else, whatever that might be.
(Frederik:) My personal feeling is that the peak
of, let's say production overkill, was reached with A Night At The Opera
 and it has very musically complicated stuff that we have still,
I think, the most problems with, playing those songs live. Some are
really tricky and almost impossible to play. So there is a development.
Maybe I feel it, because after that record I came in and had of course
a different view of finding the way of the album as well. I feel like
there's more, like, this red line now in the songs. It went back more
to a musical approach than, like, a technical approach. I think that
was something that we all together learned from the Opera album.
(Marcus:) You know, that's all a learning process
for us. I think that's a very nice comparison, because, you know, obviously
Opera, I agree, has been a peak when it comes to all, you know, track
overkill and whatever you wanna call it. But that's exactly what we
wanted to do back then and we're still very happy with the album, but,
you know, A Twist In The Myth  was completely different. Obviously
Frederik changed things, because, you know, a new member in the band
obviously changes your approach. Yeah, it's taking it from there, you
know. Step by step and the other 2 albums after that [At The Edge Of
Time  and Beyond The Red Mirror ] and now also the next
one will be something different.
of the album Live Beyond The Spheres