Mel got to pop backstage before the band’s recent Glasgow show and have an enjoyable chat with the Blind Guardian’s guitarist, Marcus Siepen.
Tonight is the first night of this Blind Guardian UK tour, how are you feeling about it?
We started three days ago, we played in Saarbrücken, Germany, and then we played another show in Switzerland and two days ago we had the Rock Hard festival in Germany. Yesterday we came over, and today the UK part starts. We’re excited because actually it’s the first time that we’re properly touring the UK, so far we’ve only played London a couple of times and Bloodstock, so finally we got the chance to explore more of the UK, and we’re excited! It was great to come to cities where you haven’t played before because you never know what to expect. You don’t know how the crowd will react, so it’s always good.
What can we expect from the setlist tonight?
To be honest, I did not see the setlist yet, I have no idea. Normally what me and my guitar tech do is go through the setlist and I tell him for what songs I want what guitar and stuff. We did sound check earlier, about half an hour ago, and normally we do that after sound check. I was talking to my tech and I said “did you get the setlist already?” and he said “nope”, he said “for the first song I want that one, that song I want that one, and everything in between you choose you just give me something” so I will be as surprised as you guys when I go on stage to see the setlist.
Did you have a say in the choosing of Gloryhammer as a support?
They were suggested to us and, I have to admit I don’t even know their music. I heard the singer warming up earlier, that’s my experience with them so far so I’ll check them when they play later, and I’m curious. Whenever we play with bands that I don’t know yet I’ll obviously check them out because I’m a metal fan myself so I’d like to see and discover new bands. Then obviously it’s also great when we play with bands that I know and love and I keep watching them in the shows a hundred times. It’s the nice thing about being on the road with bands that you like, you can get to see all their shows.
Your newest album does not include any songs from specific known films or books. Why is that?
It’s one conceptual story in total. When we start writing songs or material for a new album, it’s always music first, so we just focus on the music and Hansi just sings whatever comes to his mind. It doesn’t even have to make sense. The important thing at that point is melody lines and rhythm make up his words. At some point he came up with the idea to finish telling a story that he actually started twenty years ago on the Imaginations From the Other Side album and back then on that album there were three songs that are linked directly. They tell the story of a young kid living in a world kind of similar to ours but that kid has the opportunity to step through a portal to get into a different world and be the chosen one. He is to bring balanc in that different world and that story back then ended in the song “And the Story Ends”, but we never got to know if the kid took that step or not. That’s when Hansi suggested finishing that story using the whole album doing a concept thing. We liked the idea and that’s what he did in the end.
When the story picks up twenty years later, the kid is not a kid anymore. He’s a grown up person and we get to know that being a kid he was too afraid to take that step which had catastrophic effects on both of those worlds and finally those twenty years later he accepts his role and he’s going on a journey to find that last open portal to finally fulfil his destiny and that’s basically the story. So that’s the whole thing happening on the album, and that’s why there are no other songs based on one king or whatever.
How did the production of the album go?
We have our own studio in which we recorded everything since Nightfall I think. The only thing that we don’t record in our studio is the orchestral stuff, because our studio is not meant to record a ninety people orchestra. Same with the choirs, so we had to go to different studios to record those things. Whenever we start working on new albums and we start recording everything we always want to add new things to the Blind Guardian sound because we just hate to repeat ourselves. We always feel like there’s no need to do the same thing twice, if we already did it then we like to move on, so that’s why we brought in the big choirs. We work with a lot of soundtrack-like effects. We worked with down-tuned stringed guitars for the first time in our career to change the sound a little and open frequency ranges for the orchestral stuff, and that’s how we take our steps through the production.
Nightfall on Middle-Earth is an album mostly based on Silmarillion. Why choose this Tolkien story rather than Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit?
Good question. I’m not in charge of writing the lyrics. We had several songs before we did Nightfall dealing with part of the Lord of the Rings. Obviously we have the song “The Lord of the Rings”, “Majesty” is about it and there are some other songs that are all based on Lord of the Rings stuff and back then he had to do it with Silmarillion. I have to admit back then I hadn’t even read the Silmarillion yet, I only read it after Nightfall came out and it was just a different approach. We cover the same kind of basic story but different parts of it.
Did the album influence you to read Silmarillion?
I did afterwards yeah, because I wanted to know what he was singing about and what’s the topic on our album. I should say it kind of felt like reading the full book of Middle-Earth because you are bored with names. They call him like that until he finds a sword and then they call him like that, if it’s raining they change his name again and like, who the hell are they talking about? But it has some good stories in it. I have to say I prefer the Lord of the Rings though, especially The Hobbit.
Do you think you will make another concept album based on Tolkien’s novels?
I don’t know. I mean we just did this concept now and I don’t think there will be another concept album anytime soon. It’s a different way of working because in a way it limits you. For example if the story that you want to tell in a certain song is a very dark story, the music should go along, so you can’t do happy stuff. It has to fit also and in a way the story limits you in your freedom of songwriting so we have to approach it differently. I can perfectly imagine that we will do another conceptual album whenever but I doubt it will be the next one or it will be anytime soon.
In your previous album I have noticed a couple of songs relating to Game of Thrones. Is this something you will do more of?
Might be. I mean we love the books, some of the band loves the TV show, I hate it. It’s a love/hate thing. If I didn’t know the book I would love the show but they moved away from the books so much and that’s what I don’t like and if you want to turn a book or several books into a TV show then stick to the bloody books – and if you want to do something different don’t call it Game of Thrones or whatever, that’s my attitude. The cast is brilliant, the show looks great but I just don’t like it if it differs too much.
What sort of gear do you use in studio and during live shows?
Guitar-wise it’s all Gibson. I’m a Gibson guy since twenty years now I guess. It’s mostly Les Pauls, 95% of my guitars are Les Pauls, and also have an Explorer, flying V and a seven string SG, also 7 string Les Paul. So that’s my guitar arsenal, lots of Gibson stuff. Amp-wise on tour I’m using two Freckle audio SFX-2 XL units, so it’s completely digital which makes life on the road much easier because basically all my songs are programmed. There’s no queuing of any kind on the desk, I go straight to the desk, put the ER on the PA and what I hear on the monitors is exactly what I’m sending to the desks so I don’t need a soundcheck or anything. I plug in 2 cables and I’m good to go and the sound does not change whatever I plug in, and I’m good to go.
While we’re doing it old school so I’m using a triple rectifier with recto caps, and all the effects that I’m using. I’m not much of an effects guy – a bit of cores, delay, reverb that’s basically it, maybe a wah every once in a while. That all comes from the freckle units, and the old days when I was just using the Mesa heads it came from an intel effects unit, and using D’Addario strings, no logo picks and Richter straps, a German company that made my signature strap. That’s basically it I guess.
Do you prefer Blind Guardian while it was a speed metal band now it is more power oriented?
I don’t think we lost the speed metal at all because we still have extremely fast songs. What I like was that back then when we started we were more strictly speed maybe because that was the stuff that we listened to and that was the stuff that we were able to play and compose. Back then we would not have been able to compose a song like “The Ninth Wave” or “And Then There Was Silence” or anything like that but obviously we tried to get better with whatever we’re doing, so we became better musicians. I think we became better songwriters and we just liked to explore things and also the influences got broader.
We were starting to listen to different kinds of bands and music and we thought “there’s cool stuff everywhere”. It’s not just metal, metal, metal , there’s good stuff outside metal too that influences us, and we don’t want to be limited. So if we feel like writing a speed metal song then we’ll do it, and if we feel like writing so mid-tempo epic whatever stuff we’ll do it, if we want to write a ballad we’ll do it… whatever comes to our mind. The only thing that matters is that we have to feel good with it and it has to fit to the Blind Guardian sound in our opinion. Everybody is free to disagree but we don’t limit ourselves.
I once followed a discussion online in some fan forum and people were talking about what kind of band we are and some were like “Oh that’s a speed metal band”. Then another came along and said “No, no that’s a power metal band”, “No they’re progressive”, “No they’re epic”… they’re whatever and all those people were right because we have all those elements in our music. We have fast, stuff, progressive stuff, we have epic stuff. To me we just play metal whether it’s fast, slow metal we don’t mind, as long as it sounds good and sounds like us we’re happy.