"The orchestral album is the masterpiece of our career"
Blind Guardian are about to release a live album as a compilation of recordings from various cities they played during their last tour and we had the chance to talk with the band’s guitarist and main songwriter, Andre Olbrich, about it. Apart from the new live album we found the chance to get some new information about the long awaited orchestral album and chat about some interesting stuff regarding his guitar playing and more.
So Andre, how are things going right now?
Everything’s good. We just finished the live album and we’re already working on the orchestral album, we preparing for the shows in the summer, so... everything works fine.
"Tokyo Tales" was released in 1993, "Live" in 2003 and now we have the "Live Beyond The Spheres". So, the question is "why now"?
We were thinking about it for several years already to do a live album, because we’ve got now three studio albums in between and we never released an album like this, with Frederik [editor: Ehmke] on the drums and we have now Barend [editor: Courbois]on the bass. So, our whole rhythm section is new and since we performed with this band the songs changed a little bit.
We have improved as a band since 2003, which is 14 years? Of course we have improved from all the touring we did and the songs with the new rhythm section are more powerful, more precise I think. So, it was just about time to release something and we feel very good right now as a band. The atmosphere during the tour was really good and I think it was the best tour we did so far, because we didn’t face any problems, there was no fighting, no nothing. We had a really good time.
We played all that shows and you can see by the quality of those recordings that the band is really well. Wherever we played we got awesome reactions and you could see that every night in the facebook that they were all very positive about the shows. So, I think that this was the perfect time, we had a very nice concept in mind that we wanted to try to do in the best possible way.
"We changed at least two songs on the setlist every night, so with this rotation the show is always interesting for us to play and that’s always a challenge"
I attended both your shows in Athens and I think that your performance was amazing. The different setlist was a very good addition, so I have two questions. The first one is how difficult was it to learn and perform all those songs? And the second one is if that had to do with the fact that you already knew that you were going to release a live album, so you wanted as many songs as possible to captive your whole career?
We rehearsed 45 songs for the tour, because we think that it’s a nice thing to change songs every night and we did this during the whole tour. We changed at least two songs on the setlist every night, so with this rotation the show is always interesting for us to play and that’s always a challenge. In that way you never get a routine, because routine is a deadly thing [laughs]. We wanted to keep it alive, really alive. And by this we can really provide many different songs, so if you probably see us twice during a tour you would maybe see half a different set.
Yeah, in Athens you played if I’m not mistaken seven or eight different songs the second day.
That’s right! And I think that it’s kind of fair for the people. There were probably people watching both shows. So, for them it would have been boring to watch the same show. We only tried to make it interesting for them and interesting for us as well.
"Tokyo Tales" was a two days recording, "Live" was a collection of the "Night At the Opera" world tour recordings. The new one has also songs that were recorded in different cities. I guess it’s easier if you have to choose the best version between so many recordings, but at what cost? Do you think that perhaps the feeling of an entire show is missing from a selection of best performances instead of a single show recording?
We decided to do this concept because there are enough bootlegs out there that you can find a single show on youtube or wherever. In the recordings we found many of them that was good enough, like in Dusseldorf or in Paris, but that’s something that people can get anyway. Why would they pay money for something that they already have?
So, we wanted to do something special, that the fans don’t have and that was to give them the magical moments of the tour. We, as a band, couldn’t know when that magical moments will happen, they can happen anytime and anywhere. So, we thought that we should record as many shows as possible. Then, later on, listen to them carefully and find these really magical moments and put a show together only with the best moments of the tour. That is something that people can not find in the internet. This is something special, that only we can provide to our fans. And this is the reason I think this is a special live album not in the traditional way of live albums from the ‘70s or the ‘80s where the bands recorded only one show and released it. Nowadays, I don’t think that there’s a need for that. It’s useless.
You kind of answered my next question. For me it was a big deal growing up and listen to KISS’s "Alive" albums, or "Priest... Live!" or Iron Maiden’s "Live After Death", because that was the only way of getting an idea of how that bands sounded live. But now the shows that are coming to town are so many, we have the internet and the whole youtube thing, so... What do you feel about live albums in general? What they add to the bands catalogue? What the fans getting from them?
As I told you before, I don’t see a reason for releasing a traditional live album, because it’s not necessary for the fan to have. That’s why we thought of that special concept to really give the fans outstanding recordings that they can’t find in the internet, without that sound quality. We were thinking a lot time ahead and we took a really big system with us to record in the same quality every evening, because you can easily fail in that. The songs sound different in different venues and it would not sound like one show anymore, but like a pot puri of songs so you won’t get the feeling of one show. And we wanted to provide the feeling of a whole Blind Guardian show that you feel like actually standing inside the venue. So, we had microphones everywhere in different positions in the venues, because for us the audience is really important. I think you can hear the slightly differences from bigger venues to the smaller ones, but in the end there’s the same sound feeling throughout the whole album. You get the same dynamic listening to the whole album.
I think that you have channeled the guitars into different lines. It’s you on the left speaker and Marcus on the write speaker. Am I right?
[Laughs] I don’t know, maybe it is that way. If it’s happening I should definitely be on the left speaker, that’s right [laughs]
"Some people still believe in the fake live albums that were done in the earlier days"
So, keeping in mind what you said earlier about the quality, when it comes to live albums there could be a specific vision behind them. Some of them are about sound perfection and some are about being "capturing the moment" as possible. What was your vision?
Both! I mean, why do not have the perfect sound and the live feeling at the same time? Why you can only have one? [laughs]. Of course, you can have both. If you record it in a good way and if you really spend some money on good recording system and if you’re willing to do all the work and spend time on good planning, then you can have both.
The problem is that some people still believe in the fake albums that were done in the earlier days. The bands didn’t have money or they were too lazy and they only recorded one show. And if the show was shit, they went in the studio and record everything from the start. And then they released it as a live album and everybody liked it, but it was not a live album. In my opinion that is old fashioned, you know. I wanted to create something that really had the live vibe in an awesome sound quality, because –let’s say for example- everybody has the youtube sound from hand cameras and phones, why should I release something like that? It would be stupid. So, if I release something like that as a band I will provide the best sound, and I can provide it.
So, we did this and you also have the other things around, I don’t take them away from you [laughs]. If you prefer a bootleg sound quality or you want to sound like radio you still have that. Now you have both and people can decide, because a lot of fans have a good quality sound system and they want awesome sound or they want to listen it in the car on full power and they want a kick ass bass drum and not the tic-tic-tic, you know [laughs]. So we provide a really good sound for the fan that likes it that way.
I was wondering about the crowd’s response and how this might affect your performances. I mean, what happens if the crowd seems bored or lazy, is this coming back to you somehow? I was recently watching some live footage of you playing songs like "The Lord Of The Rings" and "The Bard's Song (In The Forest)" with all these people clapping their hands in a wrong timing and I was like "come on people, it’s not that hard to clap your hands in the right way, you’re confusing the band" [laughs]...
Well, I really never experienced our crowd being bored [laughs]. Whenever we play and wherever we play the people really sing along and they are really enthusiastic. You said that you’ve been in our last shows in Athens, so you probably saw the atmosphere the people acting crazy. We never really dealt with a bored crowd. But, the clap thing in wrong timing... yes! [laughs] That happens sometimes, especially when we’re playing the acoustic guitars and people are louder than us -which is a good thing because that means that the atmosphere is really good- but from that point I don’t care, because it’s a live performance and it’s about the moment and as long people are into it and have fan they can clap however they want, you know? Most of the time is about getting together, so I really can live with this because I know that the people really enjoyed it.
"I really don't like the first album version of the "Bard's Song" in "Somewhere Far Beyond""
Now that we mentioned all those amazing acoustic moments, I’m wondering... When was the first time that you picked up an acoustic guitar and thought that writing that kind of song was a good idea?
Actually, it was Hansi who picked up the acoustic guitar and I think it was the only guitar that he had access in the rehearsal room [laughs] So, he took this acoustic guitar and found some riffs and he found his vocal melodies and then the next day he came to me and he said "You know, I was trying to play this and that and maybe you can find some better guitar picking, but I have that vocal melody for an acoustic song" and because I liked the vocal melody I said "Wow! That’s nice. Let’s try and do something out of it". And that was the start with Hansi having that idea for an acoustic song and we tried and it came out good.
Unfortunately, our producer had a different vision for an acoustic song, so I really don’t like the first album version of the "Bard's Song" in "Somewhere Far Beyond". Beside this, it was a good idea bringing this element to Blind Guardian’s music and we never stopped writing acoustic songs since. It’s really fun and it’s fun to play this instrument. In this tour we had that special gimmick that we play three or four acoustic song in a row at some shows, which was really cool. And maybe one day in the future we might want to do another album like forgotten tales where there would be only acoustic sons on it.
How was the last tour? Was it successful? How did the fans react to the "Beyond The Red Mirror" album?
The tour was very successful. Actually, it was such a success that we had to extend it and we played much more shows than planed in the first place. The new songs where appreciated much better that we could imagine. I think that whenever we presented new songs in a tour we never had such a good reaction like this time. We opened with “The Ninth Wave” and people went crazy with that song wherever we played in the world, that song was the perfect opener. And also we played “Twilight Of The Gods” in the encore and it was also very appreciated. So. we can say that the new material is working really well.
I think that "Prophecies" was a fine addition in the setlist...
Yes, yes! “Prophecies” is so much fun to play...
It really fits you know, like it’s a song written a long time ago...
Yes, it has a really nice vibe, it’s true. It’s one my favorite songs. It’s really good.
So, we talked about how people react to the new album. After two and a half years since the release of "Beyond The Red Mirror", how do you feel about it now? Is there anything that you regret about that album?
Well, to tell you the truth I never listened to it again [laughs]. Because, whenever an album is done and after the final mix, I’m listening sometimes to celebrate and then I stop listening to what we did. I want to have distance from the songwriting period, so when we start writing again after the tour I want to present new ideas. As more distance I can create the better it is for the new songs. Otherwise, I could probably be too close and do the same things again and repeat myself. That’s something I don’t want. What I really want is to create something new and for that I need some distance.
I only worked with the songs that we did for the live shows. Of course, I play these four songs very often, but then again it’s different. The live versions are different from the studio versions. Taking that in mind I can really say exactly if I would do things different, but I think not. I believe that we produced it in a perfect way. I think the album has a really nice balance of old and new stuff and sound-wise as well. I don’t think that it would be necessary to change anything.
"The orchestral album is the masterpiece of our career"
I’m going to be a little harsh with you right now [laughs]. It feels like you are always working on something new like you don’t want to complete the orchestral album. Five years ago was the "Traveler's Guide To Space And Time" collection, then you had to work on the new studio album and now we have the live album. I want you to tell me the exact day. Not the exact year or month but the exact day that it’s going to be released. Enough is enough Andre! [laughs]
[Laughs] Ok, ok... I understand the request and I appreciate that request. Right now Hansi is in the studio and he is singing vocals for the orchestral album. In the beginning of the year we wrote the final chapter of the album. At this moment we are doing the score because in July we’re gonna do the last recordings in Prague with the orchestra and then the recordings will be finished. The only thing left will be to record more vocals.
There’s one little problem though and that’s Hansi’s voice. You can only sing when the voice is really relaxed and fresh, but the whole summer we’re playing shows and you can imagine after being on tour that his voice sounds kind of different [laughs]. So, he would probably need a little break after the tour, before we would continue recording him in the studio. Everything looks very good right now. We will finish the album for sure in 2018 and I hope we can release it at the end of 2018, and if not, the latest would be early 2019. And I can promise you that it would be our next release. There will be no metal album in between. The orchestra album would definitely be our next album.
Ok, let’s cross our fingers that this would be the case here... [laughs]
[Laughs] And... I’m sure that once you listen to the album, you will understand why it took us so much time to complete it, because it’s a very lovely album. It’s a very detailed work and I think that it’s the masterpiece of our career. So, expectations can be high, there’s no problem with that [laughs], because I really think that we did something very special there and our fans will understand why it took us so long.
"We are thinking of a Blind Guardian festival, where in one evening we will present the orchestra album in one piece and the other night we could perform our songs with orchestra."
It’s something that has been on my mind for many years know, I guess it was right after the “A Night At the Orchestra” or “The Forgotten Tales” I can not remember clearly... but since then I couldn’t help but to try and imagine how a Blind Guardian live show with a full orchestra would be. I guess that you also have thoughts of something like that when the orchestral album will be out, but have you ever thought doing that with a regular setlist?
Well, there are many problems. Of course, we’ve been thinking about this. We love the orchestra and it would be nice, because we had so many songs that feature orchestra and putting all these songs in one show and play together with a real orchestra is a dream.
Unfortunately there are some problems regarding the orchestra itself. Most of the venues are not built in an acoustic way so that the orchestra would sound good. You really need an opera house. That is where the orchestras play anyway, due to the proper acoustic architecture. You don’t want any fake shit. It needs to feel real, it needs to blow you away when you sit in the venue. So, from the technical point it’s not easy. But then again the orchestra album opens some doors.
We are thinking that the only way to make real this idea is to plan another one Blind Guardian festival maybe, where in one evening we will present the orchestra album in one piece –which would be of course without the metal band- only orchestra, Hansi on vocals and choirs. And the other night we could use the same orchestra since the guys are there already and we could perform all our orchestra songs with Blind Guardian and the orchestra. That is the idea, but it would happen probably in 2019, if it happens. It’s not a plan, only an idea at this point that we play around, because many people asks us what will happen when the album will be released and if they’ll get the chance to watch it performed live [laughs].
Of course, we’d like to provide that, but we definitely can’t go on a tour with this, because everybody can imagine how such a thing is going to cost us, to have 80 musicians with you. Imagine how many hotel rooms we’re gonna need, how much food and all that... [laughs]... we can’t afford to pay all that stuff. It’s too expensive, it’s impossible. We can only bring them on stage one time or maybe a few times. So let’s say that with the festival idea it might work and that’s the only solution we’ve found so far.
"We are still metal fans and we still love what we do"
It’s kind of early, but you’re fifty years old, so are there in the back of your minds any retirement plans? Or you can imagine yourself taking the stage in ten or more years?
Well, I’m a big Rolling Stones fan and I hope you know what that means [laughs]... Rolling Stones are still great and they don’t care about the age they are. They’re still playing because that’s their passion and I think that the same goes with Blind Guardian. I would feel it immediately if one of the musicians in the band would do it only for the money and not have the passion anymore. I would feel that and I know it’s anything like that.
Everybody in the band has still the same ideology about music and for metal music. We are still metal fans and we still love what we do. So there’s no reason to quit because I enjoy this kind of life, we are getting along really good as I said before, we had this really great last tour, especially now with Frederik and Barend we have so much fun together. So there’s no reason to retire unless the fans stop like what we do.
I want your opinion as a guitarist. I know that in the early days you liked Metallica a lot so do you had the chance to listen to their new album?
No, I didn’t have the chance sorry...
That’s ok. Because of a conversation I had with some friends, and the common ground was that Κirk Hammett is a guitar player that likes to shake things up a little bit and alternate his solo versions. So, what I wanted to ask you is how you feel about that perspective?
Well, I understand that there’re guitarists like Richie Blackmore, who always do improvisations and I think it’s great if this is your style. And if you’re really a guy like Ritchie it’s awesome. I enjoyed every different version he played on some songs.
But, I can’t really say that about Kirk Hammet, because when I saw Metallica –and it was only a few years ago- he played the same things that I knew. For me Kirk Hammett is an awesome guitar player. He is an awesome lead guitar player, because in the early days he was one of the main forces who created the speed metal solo style. I mean, there were not so many guitar players at that time, 1983-1984, who were so fast and playing so cool melodies. He was really outstanding. When I saw him last time he was playing the same shit. So, for me, he never got any worse. I can not say about his creativity if he still writes the same good quality solos like in the early days, I really don’t know because I didn’t listen to the last album, but playing-wise I would say that he’s still as good as he was back in the day.
So... my last question. Which German band is the reason that you and I are having this very conversation at this moment?
I think that the first one and the earliest is Accept and the second one is Helloween. Very early and very important as well was Kreator and I would say a little bit later we came so... yeah, we always had some good bands with worldwide success and I hope that in the future we will have some big bands from Germany again [laughs], because we had so many really cool bands that started in the '80s and I miss a little bit of that with the newer generation.
Ok, Andre, that was all from me. Thank you very much for your time it was a pleasure talking to you again. I hope that you will keep your promise and the latest in early 2019 we would have the chance to listen finally the orchestral album, alright?
[laughs] For sure, for sure, for sure... we’re really almost finished! Thank you for your time and support. I really appreciate it.