Intervista Blind Guardian (Hansi Kürsch)
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Interview by Davide Sciaky
Hi Hansi, how are you doing?
I’m doing very fine, thank you, how are you?
I’m good, it’s nice to be talking with you.
So, “Legacy of the Dark Lands” is finally out after 23 years, how does it feel to finally having released it?
It is a relief, for sure, because at the very end I was doubting that it was going to be accomplished myself, at a point, because it was so demanding during the recording, during everything, finding the right people, getting things fixed with the orchestra, getting the vocals done.
Basically everything with this project was a long term thing and this can be very tiring at points, so at the end I was really, really relieved, but also very proud because the album turned out exactly as we intended it to be released in regard to everything.
Of course, the album took time because of your other commitments with Blind Guardian, but other than that what were the biggest challenges of making this album? I imagine you didn’t really know how to work with an orchestra when you started in the ’90s and, if I remember correctly, you also can’t read music, right?
You are correct here, yeah, neither I nor André are capable in score righting, but we never considered that a problem, especially not in the beginning, otherwise I don’t know if we would have dared to do something like this.
The biggest problem was finding the right orchestra, have the right people to work with, because working with a sound library and working with a keyboard gives you all the options and the opportunities you need to create music like this, if you have a mind capable of doing so, and if it’s your intentions.
So, once we started that adventure that was very natural to us, all the songwriting went smooth, not that at every point we knew exactly what we were doing, but it sounded right.
Even in the late ‘90s this sounded like the real thing to do, and we never felt that the music was lacking anything, it was the opposite, we felt that it was so rich due to the opportunities we have had with providing the music with the sounding of a whole orchestra.
Technology developed over the years, so the sound libraries we worked with got closer and closer to real orchestra sounding, and that made us very confident with regards to the sound, and also confident that, when working with a real orchestra, it should sound exactly like what we have designed on the keyboard.
This is where the trouble started: first, finding an orchestra, we tried three orchestras in total, obviously the first two they did not really impress us that much, so we had to search further.
But that was also connected to the simple fact that we needed a score writer capable in transforming 100% what we had composed at first hand, so whoever worked with us was forced to get as close as possible to our original composition, and that obviously created some further people we tended to work with.
At the very end we found the perfect person in Matthias Ulmer, but that was eleven years after we started the songwriting for this one, so you can imagine how many people we spoke with in between, and how many attempts there were with regards to score writing and with the resulting sounding.
Having that sorted out, we of course had to polish our original intention because neither André nor I do know exactly in which register each instrument is playing, so we sometimes composed something, let’s say, for flute which was not in the region of a flute, or we composed something for trumpet which was playable by a trumpet, but might have been so high that if we wanted to have it sound quiet it was impossible to keep the trumpet in there, because if the trumpet plays in high regions no performer can play that in a soft mood, they need to put all the pression and all the power so it turns out loud.
These were things we had to clarify and obviously that took a lot of time.
For the production you chose once again Charlie Bauerfeind: you worked together for almost 20 years now, you obviously get together well, but he’s mainly a Metal producer, so I was wondering if ever you consider working with a different producer, someone maybe more used to orchestral and classical productions?
Charlie is known as a Heavy Metal and Hard Rock producer, and engineer, for sure, this is what he likes to do, and this is what he’s really good at, but he is capable in score writing and score reading, he is a studied engineer, he used to be a student at the Berkley University in the USA and he graduated there, so he is highly skilled when it comes to classical orchestrations as well.
But for him recording an orchestra and bringing it up to such level was of course a challenge for him as well, but we felt very secure that he would be able to master that because of his background, I mean, he’s a studied piano player, he’s a studied drummer, so he has a lot of knowledge even though he did write the scores, that was Matthias Ulmer.
Talking about the story, first of all can you give us a very brief summary of it?
It is based on a story by Markus Heitz, the German author, he provided us with a prequel, which is called “The Dark Lands”.
The prequel tells an adventurous story in the environment of the 30 Years’ War, which was a very devastating war involving almost every European superpower, mainly fought in Germany, and it lasted for 30 years so, people were suffering a lot.
We felt that this the right historical background to come up with a mystical story: on “The Dark Lands” Markus Heitz introduces one character, his name is Nicolas, Nicolas is a mercenary in the 30 Years’ War and he’s surrounded by a dark secret which will not be revealed in “The Dark Lands” because that’s what we are going to do in “Legacy of the Dark Lands” and it turns out that Nicolas is the first rider of the Apocalypse, one of the Four Horsemen, he is the first, and he is trying to avoid the Apocalypse which is literally going to happen during the 30 Years’ War, and by that he gets in conflict with his brother, so we are going to follow Nicolas on his quest to solve the problem.
In the past you talked about making the album about The Lord of the Rings, why did you change your mind?
We changed our mind a long, long time ago.
Of course we were not exactly sure on which direction to go, but basically when we started with “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” it was quite obvious for us to make that a Tolkien album as well, and the first three songs have been composed under that impression, that changed later on, but the movies have been released, and the soundtrack, so there was no more need for us to go in that direction anymore.
Around that time, it was 2004-5, I already decided not to go in a Tolkien direction: I didn’t know back then in which direction I wanted to go, I was quite convinced that I would not write that story myself and when was the time for this I contacted one of the authors I admired most, and this is Markus Heitz.
I asked him if he was into a cooperation with us, and as we see he was into it since he is a big Blind Guardian fan, so that was a great coincidence.
I went back a bit on the Blind Guardian’s website and found that already in 2013 you wrote that you had some material for a second orchestral album. Tell me more about the future of the Twilight Orchestra, is there a concrete plan for a “part 2”, or are they just some spare ideas at the moment?
We have composed… I mean, you have to understand that when we do compose at the same time we record the stuff, so when we do arrangements that’s always the first pre-production we are doing, and that is the case for these orchestral elements which we have come up with over the last 5 years, 6 years as well.
They are just kept for the next album, obviously, and so far I believe we have been working on three or four new songs, that’s not enough for a next album but we continue working on this.
The songwriting nowadays goes quicker since we have gained a lot of experience with regards to orchestrations and stuff like this.
I would think that it is very realistic that there will be a second orchestral album, but I’m defensive now, in the next ten years.
What about bringing the album to the stage? I guess it would have to be something special like a Blind Guardian Open Air 2, have you had any serious talk about that with Nuclear Blast or with some promoter?
With our promoters we have had a discussion and we ourselves think that a Blind Guardian Festival for sure would be a good option for this particular occasion.
The only concern we are having is that an open air is not exactly what classical instruments require to sound nicely because, I mean, obviously the weather conditions and the humidity have an effect on the instruments so, it is a risk to do the first performance for the orchestral album in such an occasion.
What we are planning right now is maybe a Blind Guardian Festival in a venue, in a bigger venue, an arena, gather the Blind Guardian fans there and play there for the very first time.
That is very likely, but we also spoke to several classical score writers and conductors and there’s still a small chance that we are doing that in a touring situation, and instead of having bigger venues we just go to classical orchestra hall and, let’s say, perform “Legacy of the Dark Lands” in every European country just in one occasion always, in one place.
So, if that was the case, I imagine you would play only that, it wouldn’t be like an open air festival where you’d play also other Blind Guardian music?
Well, we can do the Blind Guardian Open Air whenever there is time to prepare something like this and, yes, if we did the Blind Guardian Open Air, there’s always the option to involve the orchestral project into it.
But, if I were about to do that in the first step, in the first presentation, I doubt that this is the perfect solution so, when there is a Blind Guardian Festival we have to consider, whenever that is going to happen, whether we involve the orchestral project or not, but I said that in the first case I believe we have to be indoor, be it the arena or be it a concert hall, that’s questionable, but I doubt that we go out and do it in a sort of open air situation first.
Talking about Blind Guardian, when can we expect the next regular album? Have you already written any new music?
Oh yeah, we’re almost done.
I mean, [chuckles] you have to consider that I was the only one working these past months.
They provided me with so many songs; I cannot really tell you when I’m finished completely, but I’m on a good way with my vocals and the idea is to start pre-production, the real pre-production, in February 2020.
That would be followed by the real production starting in very late March, and I consider very realistic that this album is going to be released in March ’21, followed by a regular Blind Guardian tour over the summer and, as said, in the end of 2021 that’s when we start considering “Legacy of the Dark Lands” performance as a real option.
Is there any book you are excited about and that you think might end up as the theme of some lyrics?
Yeah, I’m still thrilled by Patrick Rothfuss, by the “Kingslayer” trilogy, by the two parts that are out there, “The Name of the Wise”, no wait, “The Fear of the Wise” and “The Name of the Wind”, and I’m totally blown away by Brandon Sanderson’s “The Stormlight Archive”.
I love all Margaret Atwood stuff, also “The Handmaid’s Tale”, so that is very likely something I will dig into when it comes to lyrical topics for Blind Guardian.
I loved the Kingkiller books, I’m looking forward to that.
That is a great story, and that would be also great for a concept album, you know, it’s so diverse in every matter, it’s a great way of storytelling.
And, if I may give you a suggestion, I really loved Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside, it has a different approach to magic which I found really interesting and I think it would make a great topic for a Blind Guardian’ song.
Can you send me over the title?
I’m really chasing for stuff that really appeals to me and drives me nuts.
I’m really anxious to read that.
You were saying that the next tour by Blind Guardian will follow the new album, so it will happen in 2021. Do you think that you won’t play any show before then?
I’m quite confident that there won’t be any, apart from maybe some what I call “promotional showcases”: for instance, we have an acoustic showcase on the 4th of January here in Krefeld in the castle where I grew up, but this is not a real concert, we do like four showcase acoustic songs and that might happen in the year, again, but not even that is scheduled, I just had a request and I need to clarify with the rest of the band if they’re into it and if there’s any chance, because once we are in the production usually we don’t like to make a break there just for a short appearance.
We could possibly play festivals, but I do not really see that… we usually turn down everything that comes in.
In the videos you made for the remasters last year you had Thomen appear to talk about some albums, so I guess you have a good relationship with him. Is there any chance he might play as guest on some songs at a Blind Guardian concert in the future?
I doubt that.
Yes, we have a very good relationship, but we have a straight and strict setup and people underestimate the effort that it takes to do something like this, because he cannot come on stage and play a song with us, that needs to be rehearsed and for that there hardly will be any time and I do not see that.
This year Demons & Wizards made a live comeback: you only played a handful of shows in 2000, so this was your bigger tour so far.
Do you think you’ll play live again sometimes soon, or it might take many years before the next time?
Never say never, I cannot define the timespan that it’s going to take.
What I see right now is that it’s very unlikely that there will be any show next year, that’s for sure.
Saying that, Blind Guardian is going to take over in 2021 and starts touring again, which means 2021 does not look like the Demons & Wizards year as well, so that is the only thing that I can say, everything else is open.
During these shows we managed to finish the third Demons & Wizards album, we are working on the mastering, at the moment, the album is going to be released somewhere in Spring 2020, that much I can say, and this is what I’m looking forward and of course we’ll do some stuff to promote the album, but there won’t be any shows, that’s almost 100% sure.
We got to my final question: now that you released the orchestral album, and the big work on the next Blind Guardian album is starting in February, how are you spending your days, beside doing interviews? Are you gonna take some well-deserved rest, work on Blind Guardian music…?
Yes, I’m working massively on Blind Guardian music, as said Demons & Wizards is not completely accomplished, we are still working with some mastering issues, and in the beginning of the next year we have that acoustic show, so that needs to be prepared as well.
Basically, I’m really aiming for Christmas because I take at least a week or two off there, and up to that point I’m working on promotion, and on accomplishing the songs that the other guys have provided me with, then preparing the pre-production, actually, because we either start in late January or in early February with the first attempts there.
So, yeah, this is how my next six months look like, and the rest of 2020 looks quite occupied as well.
And sometimes other musicians come up with a song they want me to sing on, and I usually try to whiff that in whenever it’s possible; it will be very difficult during the next 12 months, so I won’t take too much, but this is also something I have on the agenda.
Basically I believe the first spot I’m really considering to be, like, real off time, two weeks or so, might be in summer next year, but even that it is something questionable.
Well, I mean, it’s music, it’s passion.
It’s not like I’m working and I feel like a completely exhausted man at the end of the evening, sometimes I do, of course [chuckles], but in a lot of cases it’s still fun.
Right now I’m in the Blind Guardian studio, doing the Blind Guardian songwriting, but at the same time we have Axel Rudi Pell recording an album here, I have great company, talking to the people is great and being around is simply fun.
Sounds about right. You mentioned that the others provided you with a lot of music, does it mean we’ll hear more music by Frederik and Marcus in the next album?
They came up with stuff, and we always have to decide at the end which are the strongest songs.
This determination has not been done so far.
It is very likely that in at least 90-95% of all cases it’s going to be André and me doing the songwriting, that’s the nature of things, but Marcus and Frederik can provide stuff and they do.
That was the final question, thank you for your time.
Thank you, I appreciate doing the interview.