This interview was taken at the last day of April right before the concert of Blind Guardian in Sofia (a gallery and a report, only in Bulgarian though). It is published in the webzine Rawk'n'Roll and I place here the English version, so it could be useful both for Blind Guardian and their fans abroad.
Blind Guardian is a very special band for its fans. The fairytale and the real aspect in their art is always in great dialogue while the music - sincere speed metal at the very early days before taking and attracting a bit from the epic of the power metal and the amplitude of the classic rock bands, is specific, always inspiring and bearing its unique style and spirit - such things you cannot forget if they have ever been a part of your microcosmos. And when almost 20 years after I first loved their music and I met the singer Hansi Kürsch, it showed that I am one of the pretty few lucky people who are not disappointed when they meet their long-time hero and he appears to be really down to earth and amazingly nice company and person.
RR: It is the beginning of this part of the tour but how have been the shows so far?
HK: Spectacular! Great shows! Serbia has been bombastic. Slovakia was really good too. We’ve played a couple of songs and people seemed to enjoy them so much. It’s been good entrance into this very small two-week tour. I’m anxious to see how it’s gonna be tonight.
RR: I am sure that it’s going to be great. I have seen the setlists from your previous shows and I noticed that for the first time in more than ten years you are starting your concerts with different song from “War of Wrath/Into the Storm”.
HK: Yes, it’s true.
RR: How did you decide to change the opening song?
HK: We have been waiting for an “opener” to appear but the problem is that “Precious Jerusalem” and “This Will Never End” from our latest two releases were too difficult to start a show with. “Sacred Worlds” is a great opener but the problem is that it’s still a difficult song. But since we have that great orchestral introduction it was no other option than using that as an intro for the show. It would have been a waste. I don’t think we can’t get off stage too often and have an orchestra playing. At the beginning of the show it creates atmosphere as it was with the intro of “Into the Storm”. This made the decision far easier though it still is a difficult song to start a show with.
RR: How did the fans accept the song?
HK: Very good. It was this festival touring in 2009 we played in Kavarna as well. And most of these festivals we played “Sacred” in a shorter version and it was received very well there already.
RR: And you are playing now the full version, right?
HK: More or less the full version because we skip the outro because there is no point. You know, after the 6-minutes people would like to go crazy and we wanna go crazy, so we cut it there and going to the next song. A song that people easily can relate to. Like “Wheel of Time” features the best of the new Blind Guardian album, so people don’t have any problems no matter if they are oldschool Blind Guardian fans or more of the “modern” type of Blind Guardian fans.
RR: In the setlists from the previous three shows I saw that you have included the second part of “The Bard’s Song”. How did you decide to put that? I haven’t seen it in the setlist in the last maybe more than 3-4 years.
HK: Oh, longer. I think we haven’t played it in ten years. Maybe we played it once in Coburg during the Blind Guardian festival but I cannot recall playing “The Hobbit” in… maybe we played it during the “Nightfall…” tour but I am not sure even of that. It is a nice song. We didn’t have it in mind anymore but sometimes we check our page and people were suggesting songs to be played. “The Hobbit” has been one of them and so we decided it might be a good idea to involve it again. It is easier to maintain that thing with many other songs. Yesterday there was a request to play “Thorn”. If we don’t rehearse “Thorn”, we cannot play it. It would take a week or so before we can play “Thorn” but “The Hobbit for example took us about 6-8 hours and then we could play it. It belongs to “The Bard’s Song” and “The Bard’s Song” definitely is one of the most successful songs we have ever done. Also it is great to have that opportunity to feature this second part of the song as well.
RR: This is your third show in Bulgaria. Do you remember the previous ones?
RR: Can you share something more remarkable that you have memorized from these concerts?
HK: Especially when we played in Sofia, we didn’t have any idea what will it be, it’s always impressive the first show somewhere and do not exactly know the mentality. We have been told that we have big fanship but I didn’t know how big that was until we played that venue and it was fairly good visited. I was impressed for the first time and I was also impressed by the skillful singing and the cheerful appearance of the people. It was a really good-mood concert, there was no violation, there was no that feeling sometimes when people feel so passionate that… I mean the people have the same love and passion for Blind Guardian but in between themselves they can sometimes hurt each other. And that not was the case here in Sofia. So we enjoyed the show a lot and I consider it to be one of the best five shows at least of this touring route.
RR: Your last album “At the Edge of Time” it still sounds very diverse, very bombastic like the previous ones but it also bears the spirit of the earlier albums like “Somewhere Far Beyond” and “Imaginations from the Other Side”. Did this appear naturally?
HK: For most of things it did. The only thing we justified in the beginning was the involvement of acoustic guitars instead of chorus guitars because that is more of the 90’s sound of Blind Guardian. It delivers more of the Celtic and mystic feeling than the chorus guitars we used in “A Night at the Opera” or “Twist in the Myth” but other than that it was pure expression; it was not done by purpose. Of course when things turn into a different direction and you start the production – we have very strong producer in the face of Charlie Bauerfeind – and if he recognizes something, then he tries to drive it in the adequate direction. There was the song “Tanelorn” with this late 80’s, early 90’s sound and he was the one who forced us to go this way. He suggested taking things out or involve other things. For most of its part, the album was a pure spontaneous decision.
RR: All you in the band, except Frederik are in your late 40’s. But you still remain very passionate and good fairytale tellers. How do you manage to keep the child in a grown up man?
HK: I don’t see it really much as a child in a grown up man. It is more or less the normal life, it’s entertainment in general, no matter if you do political songs or if you do fairytale songs, or fantasy songs. I have my personal ideology and personal philosophy in terms of having a story and within my point of view as with the old fairytales, there is an additional message in between the lines. And I never consider it done by child.
RR: But you still keep this passion for reading such books.
HK: Yes, but they are not childish. Not at all. It’s the pure sensation in these stories and it is a great pool of inspiration. It gives courage and strength for people in normal life. You know that some people watch television, other people like computer games, others go out and drink alcohol and some people love to read and discover their way of coping with real life and get their time off without trying to escape from reality but just to have good time.
RR: Since you are a fan of George Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” saga, did you manage to see the HBO series?
HK: No, it is in my post box at the moment. And did you?
RR: Only the first episode but I find it great, yes.
HK: I expected it to be great only by seeing the trailer.
Here, while the conversation takes a different direction, Hansi misses another interview by phone and shrugs and shares: "I should have picked up earlier, it was for an interview from another country" and we continue with the questions.
RR: Another thing that is interesting for the fans of Blind Guardian is your project with Jon Schaffer Demons & Wizards. And I have read somewhere that you have met during this 70 000 tons of metal cruise and you have talked about maybe third album. Are there any ideas already or it is just something you want to do somewhere in the future?
HK: We’ve discussed that matter and it is on the agenda but due to the activities we both have to work on for Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, it would be difficult to come up with the lot of stuff during this year. We may have some days in the summer to spend together and we will immediately start working on new Demons & Wizards album or the music at least but since Jon is very, very busy in completing the next Iced Earth album, I don’t see a chance to really finalize the Demons & Wizards album within next 18 months, that seems to be impossible. If we’d be able to do so, I would be very happy but there’s so much to do and we have so many ideas how to improve the style and get this project to the next level, it would be a waste just to spend two weeks together and to somehow manage to come up with some album. When we do it, it has to be done properly, we’ll take the time.
RR: And about the orchestral album, it has taken already most than ten years of work. At what stages have you reached with it? And how do you see it, what is your personal view on all the things around it?
HK: It is still some of the best things we’ve ever done. It was good and we did not use the songs on the albums that we have done in between because otherwise the concept would have been spoiled a little bit. “Sacred Worlds” and “Wheel of Time” give a short idea of what these songs are about and how they could sound yet they still are different. We are on a good way; we have found the right orchestra in 2009 in Prague. They delivered a spectacular job, they have done six songs of the album so far but there are four more to be completed. But in addition to that, I have to do all the vocals and we have to do a proper production and there are different side issues we have to cover. Coming up with storyboard is one thing and delivering this storyboard to an audio book is something else, so we have to find new partners in which we trust and which could help us to create an even more sensational project. Musicwise it is something you have not heard so far. It might give us the chance to appear to wider audience or it might not attract people at all because it is very special music and done for Blind Guardian fans, especially for those who are into that Tolkienish and “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” period.
RR: Is this going to be the next Blind Guardian record?
HK: I don’t know yet. We intend to do so but we have a request for a “Best of” CD that might be released prior to the orchestral album, it has not been decided yet completely. And if we feel it takes too long to release that new orchestral record, then we might create another Blind Guardian album in between and release that first. It is still not clear if that orchestral project will be released under the name Blind Guardian because it contains different music and it is a little questionable if we should make it under the name Blind Guardian or it should be released as something done by the Blind Guardian guys.
RR: I would like to ask you, besides the heavy metal music we are all into, what other bands and musicians are you inspired of and enjoy listening to?
HK: Metal is one big part and then there’s the regular classic rock stuff I’m into. It’s not a secret that Freddie Mercury and Ian Gillan are my idols as vocalists. I love Genesis and Peter Gabriel, I love all kinds of good music. For instance, I am a big fan of Dixie Chicks, I think they do spectacular music and Tori Amos is great too. It is all different kinds of music. I even like to listen to Jets’ music from time to time, it is still not my most favorite music but there are good elements in there and if don’t take it too far it is very enjoyable for me.
RR: Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Blind Guardian was still not a very big name as it is now, there were a lot of German heavy metal bands and German heavy metal was one of the biggest scene in the genre with bands like Helloween, Running Wild and Gamma Ray. And now, when it is 2011 it appears that Blind Guardian remains the biggest and the strongest name of all of them. Maybe Helloween still keep good audience but it is far from what it was. How would you explain this?
HK: That might sound arrogant but we have been the most successful band in all over Europe and most parts of the world from these German bands since the early 90’s. It was just the 80’s that have been dictated by Helloween when they did their, in my personal view, their best albums. Gamma Ray had a strong impact in the late 80’s and the early 90’s but ever since “Somewhere Far Beyond”, we are the biggest band of that scene. It was a certain development and nowadays it is more obvious that we are a little bigger than these bands. It’s not a competition, it’s just the simple fact. You can see that in terms of attendance during a concert, in how many people show up. Helloween, I have to say that, always have been the bigger band than we are in Asia and in Japan which has been one of our strongest markets. I think that it is because we have never denied to ourselves. We do have the strongest and most stable discography, there is not a single album that can be considered a complete disappointment because some people disagree on the direction we took with “A Night at the Opera” and “A Twist in the Myth”. We had the opportunity to attract new fans with these records and most people understood that it was our way to explore new directions and the band has to reinvent itself. So, even people who partly disagreed with them, they stick loyal to the band. Helloween for instance have lost many people with “Chameleon” for example or “The Dark Ride” and “Rabbit don’t Come Easy”, these are albums that people cannot relate to. They are not bad albums but if you do a drastic change in style, it has to be something spectacular and most bands are not able to do so. While we were more loyal to our core music in general and still are able to add new ingredients to the music without disappointing people and that’s the difference. And I would also guess our stable line up. It has its impact on the people. People try to relate to the same people. I love Deep Purple most when Gillan and Glover have been there. I like Mark I and Mark III but this was when Deep Purple was MY Deep Purple. And kids and fans are the same all days.
RR: So, do you see it going for the next ten years the way it is now for Blind Guardian?
HK: It depends on every individual. We never had an intention to fire Thomen, it was free will and there were several reasons for it. It is sad that it went that way but… Yes, if the other guys including me do not change mentally, I doubt there will be a line up change. Of course, that really is limited on all four core members of the band while Oliver or Michael who are more or less stable and constant members of the band, they do not belong to Blind Guardian. They are very close and they are close friends but I cannot say how long they will be with us. It is their decision and our decision as well. And if anyone of them wants to leave, okay, we’ll separate in good terms.
RR: Okay, let me leave you for your dinner. Thanks a lot and have a great show tonight.
HK: Not a problem. And we will.