There's no need for any introduction about Blind Guardian or their singer, Hansi Kursch. When we got the chance to talk with him, as the band is releasing an anniversary box set containing almost the whole back catalogue, we didn’t think twice. The legacy of their music, the evolution of the band, the purpose of this box set, the 'infamous' orchestral album, the future plans of the band and the love for Tolkien are among the topics that were discussed with one of the nicest guys in metal music. Follow the bard...
Tell me the story behind your new box set “A Traveler’s Guide To Space And Time”. It has something to do with your new or your last label?
With our last label actually. It’s going to be released under the banner of EMI records. They are holding the rights for all the staff up to “Imaginations Through The Looking Glass”. They were chasing for a product like this for years and years and when they finally caught us doing the “best of” album, they also asked us for a compilation box. We agreed on this because we thought it would be a good idea to have that joining the 25th anniversary and because it explains many things. In the past era, the band has been supported by EMI and we have an anniversary, so it makes sense to come up with such a product. Plus, we had the idea of accomplishing some remixes for albums like “Nightfall…” for example to give the whole thing a more accurate new approach.
When it comes to remixes, do you think it’s “fair” for your music to digitally reform it and don’t you think that this may have a negative impact to the feel of albums like “Nightfall…”, to use your example?
I think, if we speak about the first four albums, it is fully justified, because everything had been produced for analog outfit, which means for vinyl. So whatever you have been listening to on CD was a minor quality [editor: obviously he refers to the modern recordings on CD], because there is a big difference between the digital and the analog system, so it makes completely sense to do something like this. For the albums from “Imaginations…” and on, it is something to discuss about. We felt that some of the stuff could probably be presented in a more modern way and this does not necessary mean that it sounds better, but it may give them a slightly different perspective and we liked doing that. There is a saying among musicians and producers that “you never finish a product, you just hand it in” and we have proven that it’s correct. You never really finish anything until … you probably die, because we still deal with the music, we still have visions about it. The music definitely remains the same and there will be people probably that appreciate the old stuff more, while other people will be attracted by the more modern approach. I mean it’s really questionable… I like it but this does not necessary mean that I like it more than the old stuff.
The box set it looks very nice and obviously it is a “must have” item for every Blind Guardian fan. But don’t you think it’s kind of expensive, because I check it on Amazon and it’s billed for 120€.
If you considered that there 15 CDs in there, probably it’s not that expensive and you can rather think of it as a low budget purchase. For a die hard fan, it probably would be a tough decision whether to buy it or not because if you have more or less all of our stuff it is questionable, it is really something to discuss about … again (laughs). I think we put a lot of effort in there and when you get the box you would see that there is a lot of dedication and passion in there. We didn’t make our lives easy when we did that whole think. It took us about 8 months to finalize everything and therefore I think the price is understandable, but it’s always the same with these boxes. As for the fans that have everything, there will be some who will appreciate it and be happy to spent money for it and of course some that will not.
So, you're saying that it was not only EMI’s decision this box set release?
Yes, we were absolutely fine with that, but the sure thing is that EMI couldn’t have done it without us…they didn’t even have the privilege of doing it (laughs) without our agreement. S, it was something that they were really chasing for, they were asking for it and we really were thinking about that for many for many, many years. It makes sense and there’s a need for it and we felt that with the 25th anniversary there’s a reason for such a release. I must say that I’m very satisfied with it and I have to say on the other hand, strange as it sounds, that it would be a minor thing anyway, because it’s limited and considering the expenses it created for us and the record company, if they are all sold there would be profit, but it’s not going to make EMI a rich company, which will be independent from Universal … again (laughs) and it will not make us rich people and I’m not buying another Hansi’s mansion.
It’s been 2 years since “At The Edge Of Time”. Are there any plans for a new album?
It’s going to take us another 2 years before the new release. I would guess somewhere between August and December 2014 we will be able to release our next regular studio album and sort after - let’s say 6 to 8 months later - we are going to release the orchestral album. We are working at both albums at the moment and we’ve done some recordings for the orchestral already and we’ve done some demo recordings for the regular one, but we do the song writing at the same time. I think, in order to accomplish both albums we may need another 18 months.
That was my next question. I remember you to speak about the orchestral album for many, many years and now you saying that is going to be release in 2015…finally?
(laughs) We are very happy about that one, I mean it took us more than 16 probably 17 years since the very first ideas we had, but I always repeat to myself that it was worth the waiting. It will be very impressive. It will be something which - so far - no other band has come up with. It will be Blind Guardian in a completely new frame.
So, from what you saying I understand that it would not be another heavy metal album with an orchestra, but an album with songs that written to played from or with an orchestra.
Yes. You get a very small idea when you listen to “Wheel Of Time” but you have to use your imagination and just skip the band and then you have the first glimpse of how the music will sound like. It followed us and accompanied us for the last 17 years and it went through all the ups and downs we have experienced all these years, so every single experience would definitely be ‘available’ on this album and had an impact on the music. Therefore, it is the core element of what it sounds like and of what we are doing with it. I can’t describe it, it’s impossible to describe music, but it really is at points more … “Nightfall In Middle Earth” and goes into more Tolkienish directions. That’s probably the only explanation that I can come up with (laughs). It’s something that I’m really excited about, we always have been and there were many discussions in the band if it was about the right time to at least give people a view of how it is going to sound. “And Then There Was Silence” and “Wheel Of Time” was something which was related to the orchestral album but they had a slightly different approach, so we decided not to use them not for that album. I’m convinced that people would be blown away.
It is quite obvious that for many years now there is a certain music ‘path’ that you follow. Was or are there any thoughts of exploring new styles and writing approach?
No, there’s only one goal we had and it might explain and this is “not to repeat ourselves” and since “Nightfall…” we felt like to explore more regions which was something we did in a sense and we haven’t reached the end of that road so far. There will be new aspects on the next album as well and of course we never try to deny our past. So, there will be elements connected with the early career of Blind Guardian, but you will listen to new songs. I think that is what we always try to accomplish. It would be a shame for us if someone said that we did exactly what we did on the album before or that we tried to copy “Somewhere Far Beyond” or something like this. It is the only logical way for us to keep on coming up with new ideas and obviously if you play new music and if you are open minded and listen to modern music this might have an impact on your music as well and this can change your music.
Now that you mentioned your past albums, this is a question I always wanted to ask you and has to do with which one you can say that you like the most and which one you think that was the most important for the band?
The one I like most Is “Nightfall…” and the most important is always the album afterwards… “The Night At the Opera” is the most important album with “Tales From The Twilight World”, that’s the two albums that in my opinion play major role in our career.
When you are writing lyrics, where do you get your inspiration from? Is it always fiction?
Well, it is connected to fiction and to personal aspects. You know, there’s not only fiction, but there is also real life. Many people don’t recognize it. It is the same phenomenon we experience with music…it comes from the inside. It has to be connected to the music, so when we work with the music, at the very beginning I think of themes that might be proper. Then, when I write melodies and vocal lines, I start to use whatever words come into my mind and sometimes those words are the ones that give me the hint of the direction I will follow. Sometimes, the words are complete nonsense and they don’t make any sense at all and then I go back to the essential core of the music and try to find a connection to the thoughts I have in mind and then I built it up from there. In many cases, the music speaks certain dramatic fantastical language and that’s the reason why there’s such a strong and closely link between the music and the lyrics.
Is there any chance to see another concept album from you in the future?
I would guess that the chance is very high with the orchestral album. We have already started working with Markus Heitz, a German author who wrote a story called “The Dwarf” and he will create a new story for the orchestral project and out of this this story I’m going to create a concept album. This is something which is very closely connected and related and everything is going to have an effect on the development of the other, but of course the music is the first core and this is 90% accomplished already. So, this will have an effect on Markus’ writing and once this comes back to me, it certainly will change my perspective on the music and the lyrical issues I’m trying to deliver at the moment.
I saw you first time live back in the late 90s when you were still also playing bass. Can you say that you missing that, because when I see you now on stage, somehow you give the impression that you are in need of doing something when you are not singing?
I’m getting more confident in that moment (laughs). Yes, in the beginning it was a problem. I underestimated the fact that I gave up playing the bass and that I thought that I was going to focus more on the singing, but when we did the first concert in 1998 it was very tough lesson. It changed in 2002, already, but whenever I felt bad, especially when I was sick it had been a great problem for me, for my performing quality. But, since 2006 and until now I do not feel that insecurity anymore and I feel confident with what I have to do on stage even when this affection is showing out. I’m feeling fine now and to come back to your question, it took me more time to adapt to that than I expected.
Is “The Bard's Song (In The Forest)” the more magical and intense moment of your live shows with the sing along and all that?
Yes, it is a magical moment, but I have no idea if it is the more intense, because I like the intensity when we are playing “Mirror Mirror” for example or “Valhalla” and even when we play “Imaginations From The Other Side” or “Lord Of The Rings” it feels like the intensity in the audience is as strong as the one in “The Bard's Song”. I would not say that it’s the highlight of our show, but obviously it is one of the highlights. I understand why it’s yours and others’ favorite, because of the singing and all that and how it makes it so magical for the fans, but for us as performers I have to say that there are other points during our show that is the pick.
What are you thinking when -only after the second song- there are people that are starting to ask for "Majesty"?
(laughs) That is part of the magic. You get used to it and sometimes we play it early, but sometimes we keep the audience screaming for that song for minutes or hours or whatever, until we play it and sometimes we don’t play it at all. It gives us a certain power and we appreciate it.
Are you listening to any new music?
Yeah, I’m listening to new music. I still like metal music and generally I listen to all kind of music. For example I like a band called Alpha Tiger and they are really good. Powerwolf is another band that I appreciate a lot.
When did the symphonic music come to your life and started to influence you?
I think the change came with the “Tales From The Twilight World” album, when we started listening to Queen for example, where you can find orchestral moments in their music and which became a very important influence for us. Before that, in the 80s there was only metal and nothing else (laughs). I mean I sold all my rock collection, which later I bought again of course (laughs). There was no need for something else since Iron Maiden and Judas Priest came up. No Deep Purplre or Queen or the Electric Light Orchestra. I didn’t listen to it and I didn’t listen to any kind of music in the 80s apart from heavy metal. There were only two kind of music. Heavy and metal. Therefore, the 2 first albums are complete metal albums, but in the tour for “Follow The Blind” we discover edour passion for Queen and that was when the orchestral element became essential for us, as well. Shortly later, we figured that Jethro Tull was the band we hadn’t appreciated in the 80s and that’s when the folk element came in.
Is there any possibility to see ‘Thomen’ back in the band someday?
No, definitely not. Thomas is doing his thing and he feels very comfortable about it. We have a good relation, but we don’t speak too often. It was his decision to leave and we all agreed to that. Fredrik (σ.σ. Ehmke) is doing a great job and frankly there is no need to think about that. (laughs) After all, I don’t even know if Thomas would be interested to come back.
Are you anxious about the new ‘Hobbit’ movie and what is your opinion about Peter Jackson’s work in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy?
I did have my concerns before “The Fellowship Of The Ring” came out in the cinemas, but I have been completely blown away with it, so I hope it’s going to be the same with the ‘Hobbit’ movie. But doing a trilogy it’s probably a “money making” issue. I heard that the plot has been stretched a little bit…
Yes, a little bit too much for three movies... 9 hours...
(laughs) I haven’t seen the movie yet, [editor: the interview took place before December 14], I’m going to next week. The trailer has not been as promising as the one of “Lord Of The Rings”, but that doesn’t mean something at this point.
Do you really think that? Because when I saw it, it took me back in 2001 and all this full of anxiety and expectations era...
Really? I was in the cinema and I saw the 2 minutes trailer and it was like…you know… the Dwarfs doing the singing and I was like “ok…is this what you have to show us from the movie?...No”. And another thing is that here in Germany they dub the movies. Do you in Greece also dub them?
No, it’s only the spoken English version...
Ok, in Germany it is a common thing to dub them and especially when it comes to something essential as the singing…it is a pain. So, perhaps, this is one reason that I wasn’t very impressed. We all know of course that New Zealand looks like Middle Earth and there’s no doubt about that (laughs), so what you can do? You can shoot in different places, so it might not be as essential as ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, because you have seen that thing before, but again…who knows?
What in your opinion is the element in your music that makes you sound so unique? Because, for me, you are one of the kind band...
I believe it is passion. It’s honesty. The urge and will to progress
And what about the musical approach?
There are many elements in the music which the fan -especially the Blind Guardian fan- cheers, but it seems to be very difficult to identify them. There are musicians who want to come up with bands and sound like us, but it’s very difficult to copy the feeling.
Ok, that was all from me. The last words are yours...
Keep up the support. it’s always a pleasure to come in Greece and enjoy the new year 2013.
Hansi, thank you very much for your time. It was a really great thing talking to you.
Kostas, it’s been a great privilege to talk to you, thank you.