Doctor Metal Interviews [ ]
Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian
Download Interview in Real Audio Format (24 minutes) [1.1 Mb]

Doctor Metal: You're on break right now after touring Europe. What was the tour like?
Hansi: The tour was great. We played mainly parts of middle Europe which means Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Italy so far, and Netherlands and Belgium. I had almost forgotten about that. And most parts of the tour, mainly Germany, was sold out almost everywhere, and then we went to weaker places in the end, which is Belgium and Netherlands. These two countries, they are not typical Blind Guardian countries, so we had a good response there but not a lot of people comparing it with Germany and other countries. We played some great festivals like the Gods of Metal in Italy, and we played in front of 25,000 people. We did a great show and I guess we got one of the highest responses of the day, so that was very successful. Then we played another very important festival which is called the Dynamo which is in the Netherlands close to the German border, and we had like 60 or 70,000 people there and it was also very successful, so what can I say? Everything went pretty well for us.

Doctor Metal: Was this your best tour thus far?
Hansi: It was the best tour so far. Comparing it to the numbers we had in 1995 with Imaginations, we could draw like 400 or 500 more people in Germany, which means we raised our average of sales from 1100 up to 1500, which is really good for Germany. And outside of Germany, it was almost the same, but the album just came out short before we started to tour these territories.

Doctor Metal: So how did you come to pick Vicious Rumors as your opening band?
Hansi: They are a favorite band since lots of years. I mean, when we started in '87, they had done their first or the second album, and we were big supporters of Vicious Rumors already. So it was obvious when we got the request from the band that they were one of the bands we were pretty much considering to play with them. There were some other bands like Riot which we would have liked with us on tour, but we decided just to take one. And because of the last album- we got an advance tape of the last album which we liked a lot, and that was the main reason then finally.

Doctor Metal: So do you have some future plans for touring this summer?
Hansi: Yeah of course, we do South America for the first time, then we got in an offer for Japan for the beginning of October, and after doing Japan we are doing a second tour across Europe which is mainly focused on southern Europe and Scandanavia, which are the second most important markets for us in Europe. And Japan, as you probably know, is as important as Germany for us.

Doctor Metal: I've heard rumors of you signing a deal with Century Media for releasing your albums here in the States. Can you tell me anything about that?
Hansi: Well I hope this comes true because there's still a kind of feeling between our regular record company, Virgin Records, and Century Media. It looks pretty good. Century Media does have a very high interest to release the album but they have to get rid of all these business problems. I can't tell you exactly how far they are, but I guess they still have some problems doing some terms but I'm very optimistic they can sort them out and, well, then we should be released in the States, and it looks pretty good that they will also release our back program. So, finally we can make a first entrance to the States.

Doctor Metal: Hopefully you can make it over here to tour sometime.
Hansi: Well, that would be great. As you know, we're in close friendship with a band called Iced Earth, and they would love to invite us to play some shows at least in the Midwest with them.

Doctor Metal: That'd be great if you could make it over here.
Hansi: Well I hope so. I mean, it would be the most important step we can do from this point of view at the moment because we did it in Southeast Asia, we did it in South America, we did it in Europe. (laughing) So it's almost just the States left and as you know, it's always the most important and the biggest market. Once you do it there, it becomes much easier for you to get a good response and a higher credibility outside of the States everywhere.

Doctor Metal: This album has been very successful so far. You've reached #7 over in Germany, #3 in Greece, and then #12 in the Japanese charts. Were you surprised by this success and overwhelmed by it?
Hansi: Uhhh...surprised and overwhelmed, yeah, we were. But of course, when we did the work, it was pretty tough work and we invested so much time and love in it that we at least thought that we could reach the top 10 in Germany. But, as you know, it's always difficult for a metal band to get into any Billboard charts, so-called Billboard charts. So, the results themselves, they were surprising. I mean, Japan was the typical thing. We had done the same with Somewhere Far Beyond and Imaginations. But in Germany the highest chart position we had before that was 21 and that's already 3 years ago, so that was a big boom for us. And we did not expect the high entrance in Greece where we're still in I guess. And there were some others. I mean, all over Europe there was also very surprising even if we did not get this high a chart position there, we have been in the top 50 almost all over Europe and that was really overwhelming.

Doctor Metal: The album itself is a concept album based on The Silmarillion by Tolkien. What inspired you to write a whole album based on this?
Hansi: Well, the biggest inspiration came out of the music, which is always based in mystical themes already, in kind of fairytale world. Once I listen to the music itself, it seems to me that it's its own world which does not deal with reality, so it's obvious for us to have some lyrics similar to that. And the easiest way is to focus on some good stories and Tolkien so far is our favorite storyteller, and when I came up with three different concepts for the album, the band finally had chosen The SIlmarillion concept out of it, and I guess it was a good choice because the story itself, even though it's probably not as impressive as The Lord of the Rings by the emotions in the story but the capacity it at least is as big as the story. And so the size of The Silmarillion fitted to the music we did for the new album and that was the reason.

Doctor Metal: Can you take us through the writing process of an album like this? For instance, do you write the music first and then you figure out the lyrics?
Hansi: Exactly. We start with the music, and that works like Andre's doing the basic arrangements and he is offering some parts to me, and I put on all the vocal lines and all the melody aspects I can imagine fitting to that part, and then I pass that back to Andre and Andre tries to continue with the new element or with the new part on top, and afterwards gets back to me, and at a certain point we reach the momentum of the choir, and then we start working on these huge refrains which we almost everytime have in the songs. And after we have finished a third of the song, then we pass it to our drummer, Tom, and he's doing all the rhythm matters for this certain piece of music, and afterwards we get back and fill in all the classical effects and all the acoustical stuff. And then we continue and at a certain point we feel that we are ready or we feel that we are wrong at any part in the song itself and then we get back and try to bring in something newwhich is probably more interesting and to make it more logic and after 6 to 8 weeks we have completed songwriting-wise one song. And then after we have done like 5 or 6 songs I'm considering which lyrics will fit to which song best and in this certain situation of the last album, it was like we had finished 7 songs and then I started to participate the sequences of the story to certain songs, and then I build up a kind of setlist, the running order.

Doctor Metal: So do you guys try to convey a message with your music, or are you basically out to just tell stories about certain things?
Hansi: It's a mixture. It always depends. I mean, in this particular part, the story itself was more important than any message even though there are some messages with the signal songs. In the past it's always changing like in Born in a Mourning Hall, or Ashes to Ashes of course or Theatre of Pain, there are also messages in the song, but they do have a second priority. The first priority is the song, and the entertaining aspect.

Doctor Metal: In the past you've done a lot of work with Kai Hansen from Gamma Ray and formerly of Helloween. What was it like to work with and how did that come about?
Hansi: Well, it happened some years ago. It was in '89, when he left Helloween after the second Keeper of the Seven Keys album, and he did not really know how to continue and we were still supporters of Helloween, and of course especially of Kai, and there was a relationship between our old producer Kalle Trapp and Kai, and so when we did Follow the Blind he came up with the idea to invite Kai and let him play some solos and probably do some vocal lines on the album. And so we came up with Valhalla and Hall of the King where we had a kind of cooperation and at that point, a very close relationship started because from both sides there is a deep respect for each other. This still is going on. It still lives. And so from time to time, we always have the idea to invite him to do some parts on the album, and later on he invited me to join them on the Land of the Free album, but on the last two studio albums we did not have the time to invite him and he did not have the time to join us, but the friendship is still existing, and I'm sure somewhere in the future we will do something again together.

Doctor Metal: What do you think of the direction Helloween have taken over the years and their new music these days?
Hansi: Well, it's confusing. It's rather confusing because when they started in the mid-80's, they had that certain style of melody speed metal, and they established and they got a high credibility in the European fan ship- in the underground, you could say. But once they started changing their style, it got confusing music-wise for me even though I appreciated that they tried something new even though I didn't like the style, but once they found out that they are not successful with these experiments, they got back to their old style, and this does not look very serious, but what can I say? The albums themselves, the last 3, they are not spectacular even though they are not bad.

Doctor Metal: What do you think of Max Cavalera's comment, saying that bands like Helloween and Angra have ruined heavy metal these days?
Hansi: It's nonsense. It's completely nonsense. I mean, especially Helloween still influences a lot of young kids who try to copy the style of Helloween. And there are some good bands around which try to do the same style, a lot of bands like Labyrinth. And they do good music, so I must say Angra and Helloween, they both established metal even though they probably didn't invent a new style of metal.

Doctor Metal: So do you like that kind of style that Max incorporates into his music, or do you go for the more melodic speed metal kind of stuff?
Hansi: Well, I prefer the more melodic and I was never a fan of Sepultura, and I was never a fan of Max. So, it does not bother me too much what these kind of people tell about other metal bands. As I said, I'm not the biggest supporter of Helloween, but I think success and the way they influence the scene and certain band give them permission definitely to continue. And I guess Angra is a very talented band anyway, and they will make their way if Max Cavalera likes them or not. I mean, this is more something in between the Brazilians I guess.

Doctor Metal: So what's the metal scene like over in Germany and in Europe in general?
Hansi: It's a little too traditional. I mean, on that point I would agree with Max. Sometimes you have the feeling that too many bands try to exactly play it like the successful bands in the end of the 80's, and it seems that in Europe lots of people are supporting that, but there's no progression, and this is always dangerous, also for the scene. But so far I still would say the scene in Europe is very healthy. Metal has never become a mainstream thing, but it never went down like it did in the States. So it's a very good ground for all metal bands to survive just by the European market, because there are people who are really supporting that kind of music.

Doctor Metal: Have you seen any younger bands in Germany that have impressed you as being good metal bands?
Hansi: Yeah, there's one which is called Edguy. But on the other hand, the same is happening with them which I mentioned before. They're a little too traditional. That's the bad thing about the band. But they are very talented, very young. They are like 19 years old. They also prefer the Helloweenish style but they do it in a very professional way already. I joined them on their last album, which is called Vain Glory Opera. They were pretty surprising. Then there is an Italian band I would like to mention even though I know you know them, which is Rhapsody, which I think is a very strong band.

Doctor Metal: I would agree with you on both of those points. I love both of those bands. As far as Edguy goes, on that album you helped them with two of the songs, Out of Control and the title track. Do you plan on working with them more in the future?
Hansi: Well, that depends. That's a question of time, definitely. I guess Kai probably works with them on the next album. He told me something that he also thinks the band is very interesting, so I could imagine that he probably finds the time to help them. In my case, I must say that I'm pretty much packed with all the management work for BG, and besides that, I would like to concentrate on a side project, me and Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth are planning. And this is supposed to happen in the end of which year do we have? 98, so I don't think that there will be time for Edguy, but it really depends on the period they are doing something.

Doctor Metal: What bands or composers over the years have influenced your work with Blind Guardian?
Hansi: Queen- Brain May and Freddie Mercury mainly. Then it's Geoff Tate and Chris DeGarmo, even though this does not get deep into the music. The way they compose was very impressive for both Andre and me. Then it's Jon Oliva of Savatage. It's Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth, and it's a German band called Subway to Sally, and their songwriter is called Bodenski, and in Andre's case, it's also Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Well, and many more, but probably I catch the most important.

Doctor Metal: Do you listen to a lot of music these days when you're not busy with working with Blind Guardian, if that ever happens?
Hansi: I at least try, but to have really the time to enjoy lots of albums, that rather seldom happens. You need to still have a view over the scene, and also regarding other music, because if you don't listen to other music, it's probably happening that you will not progress and this might make it more difficult to do a better album than the last one.

Doctor Metal: So do you get along with all the other German bands out there like Running Wild and Helloween?
Hansi: We don't have any contact with Helloween or Running Wild, but I would say it's getting ok. I mean, there is, as I said, almost no relation but as far as I know, they don't tell too much bullshit about us, so we try to avoid to tell bullshit about them. We have very good relationships with Gamma Ray, Rage, Grave Digger, Edguy of course. We have an ok relation with Kreator, Sodom. Which bands are existing besides them I don't know.

Doctor Metal: In your opinion, how has your music changed or matured over the years of your career?
Hansi: It's grown up, like we did. Once I listen to Battalions of Fear, it sounds to me like a young, fresh band, unexperienced. And like I said, the newer stuff, it sounds more established and experienced I would say.

Doctor Metal: The one thing that is unique about the band is the lineup has stayed solid over the years that you have been around.
Hansi: I think it's a very important point. Don't ask exactly why this happened in our case, but one point is definitely that we are still a democratic band, and that the band's policy is like, what you cannot sort out with these four people you cannot sort out if you fire someone and get someone different in. Because that will create at least another problem at a certain point. And another point of course is that so far everyone in the band did make the same degrees of progression all the time. So it was never that someone was rather much much slower than the other guys, except maybe me at the bass, but that's another point. (laughing)

Doctor Metal: Speaking of bass players, do you have any plans to ever include a bass player as a permanent member of the band, like Oliver Holdsworth or anybody else?
Hansi: No, definitely not. Blind Guardian is a lineup with 4 people, and these 4 people, at least for the next 3 or 4 years, are the guys who are right now in the band. It's more possible that someone of the band, probably me again, will do the bass on the next album. But I could imagine to have a steady bass player on stage, because that's much more easy for me and much more comfortable for me on stage now.

Doctor Metal: So did you play bass on this past tour over in Europe?
Hansi: No I did not. We invited Oliver Holdsworth again, who's a constant member of Sieges Even as you might know. He's a hired bassist, you could say, even though he's a friend. But it makes life much easier not only for me. Also, music-wise, it sounds much more interesting to listen to BG live because everything sounds a little more professional because we don't have to hide the bass sound like we've done it on Imaginations. But as I said, for the studio I'm not sure, I guess we are going to do it by ourselves again.

Doctor Metal: And a lot of people over here in the States don't know a lot about the band itself. Can you tell me a little bit about the early history of the band, how these four people came together to form a great band?
Hansi: Ok, I'll try to make it really short, ok? (laughing) The band me and Andre played in before was called Lucifer's Heritage and we started in '85 when we both met at school, and we afterwards found out that we were both very interested in metal. I mean, he knew that I was in the metal scene, but it wasn't so obvious that he was a metal fan. But once we found out we joined together, and we did that band Lucifer's Heritage, and from the beginning, we had the ambition to become professional musicians, and we had certain different musicians who came and go. So it was not always like Marcus, Andre, Thom, and me. But after a while, rather soon in '86, we joined together in that lineup. Before we joined together, we did two demos. One was called Battalions of Fear, and the other one was called Symphonies of Doom. And, of course on Battalions of Fear you mainly could listen to songs which have been on the Battalions album in different versions. Well, that was in '86. And in '87, we got the first record deal with a company called No Remorse Records, a young, independent label in those days which later on became bankrupt, which saved our asses. (laughing) Yeah, with the first album, Battalions of Fear, we already had a certain success in the German underground, but nowhere else. From that point on, it continued. We played the first concerts all over Germany, and we drew a lot of attention by this small amount of fan ship we had, so we could raise that up until the point of today.

Doctor Metal: And you've been on Virgin Records for awhile now. Are they continuing to support you well and do you plan on staying on the label in the future?
Hansi: I mean, I can't say anything bad about them. They are doing a really good job here in Europe. Not in each country, but in most. And in Japan we have another record label, and they are willing to give the rights away for the States. So basically they're a really good record company, and they still have two options for the next album and the other next, and if they're considering to take it, well I'd be happy and I guess they will be happy, because so far our sales have been really great. Also for a major record company they. As I said, not in each country they are good, but in the countries where they are doing something, we have a recognizable success. I can't imagine someone better right now in Europe. Definitely not.

Doctor Metal: Can you tell me how Marcus's role in the band has changed since the first few albums? He used to write a lot of the songs or help on a lot of the songs, and on the past couple albums he hasn't been so noticeable as far as writing songs.
Hansi: Yeah, but he's still writing songs. He became a little lazy between 1990 and 1995, which unfortunately created- I wouldn't say a problem for us, but- it put more pressure on Andre and me because we had to concentrate on all the songs because there was nothing specific coming from Marcus in these days but this has changed in the last two years. Even though there's not a lot of work on Nightfall in Middle Earth, he did some songs which we later on will release as an EP, because these songs we started with NIME production-wise but in the end we headed for the better tunes which we felt a little better for the concept itself. So we have these songs Marcus has written and, well, what can I say? He's a constant member and he's very important, but songwriting-wise he lost a little credibility and it's more on Andre and me. But we also progressed much more, so it's much more difficult to bring in someone new. So we are much more critical than we had been in the beginning.

Doctor Metal: So can you tell me about this new EP that you have plans for releasing?
Hansi: I don't have the titles for the songs because music-wise we have almost finished the production and I'm going to start to sing next Monday. These songs contain the typical Blind Guardian elements, which means there is one very folkloristic song on there which reminds me a little of a Simon Garfunkle cover meets Blind Guardian and the other two songs are typical power metal/speed metal numbers, probably not as progressive as the stuff on Nightfall, but still very interesting. And I hope that we can finish the mixing before August. If not, we have to do the mixing in September which means this EP will come out between the middle of September and the end of this year. It depends a little how we get along with the production.

Doctor Metal: WIll the songs be part of this concept that you had on Nightfall, or are they going to be something different?
Hansi: Yeah, I continue the story because as you know, the Nightfall concept ends up in the middle of the story- it starts in the middle and it ends in the middle. And I have chosen a certain story out of The Silmarillion just for that EP, and this is a story of a guy called Turin Turumbum, which is a human warrior you can say and comparable, if you are familar with fantasy literature, to Elric of Melnibon, the figure of Michael Moorcock.

Doctor Metal: Do you plan on continuing this concept in future albums, or is that not certain right now?
Hansi: I doubt it, I would say. Not 100% sure if we never come up with the continuation of the album, but at least for the next album, I don't think that I will again work with The Silmarillion, and there's still the considering in using the Lord of the Rings for an album, but I'm not exactly sure if this will be the next album or the other next one.