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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.

Obviously 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 or something?

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.

Tobbe: So why was is it the right time to release another Blind Guardian live album?

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 so extensive?

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 something.

(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.

(Frederik:) 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 pretty well.

(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.

(Marcus:) 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.".

(Frederik:) 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.

So 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 [2002] 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 [2006] 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 [2010] and Beyond The Red Mirror [2015]] and now also the next one will be something different.

See also: review of the album Live Beyond The Spheres

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