After 4 and a half year it is time for a new opus from Blind Guardian named Beyond the Red Mirror. We talked with Marcus Siepen (guitar) about new elements, money and the best Blind Guardian songs ever. And there is also something important to know about whisky …
Marcus, if I got it right, “Beyond The Red Mirror“ is a sequel to “Imaginations From The Other Side“. Please introduce us into the story of the album!
You are almost right: It is not a sequel of the whole “Imaginations…“ album, it is a sequel to 2 songs from it, `Bright Eyes` and `And The Story Ends`. It is the story of a small child that lives isolated in its world, in which it is a nobody. But it has the possibility to step through a mystic gate and to reach another world where it can be a hero. The new album picks up this story .
When we began the songwriting process, we had not decided to write a concept album. The idea came up when we worked on our best of album two years ago. When we worked with the old stuff, Hansi became aware that there is still an untold story. So “Beyond The Red Mirror“ became a typical concept album.
What are the biggest differences and commonalities between your new album and “At the Edge of Time“?
“At The Edge Of Time“ was recorded with a real orchestra, something that was really great and what we wanted to do again. We knew that it was possible to do more in this direction and we wanted to bring it to the maximum. Another commonality is the frame, consisting of the two longest, most epic tracks at the beginning and the end of the album. We liked it on our previous album, because it introduces and finishes it nicely.
But there is also a lot of new stuff. The atmosphere is very dark, but this atmosphere is lightened by more positive choruses. We also worked with low tuned guitars for the first time. It can be very inspiring when you play a guitar which is tuned to dropped Bb, because it feels totally different than a normally tuned guitar. It changes the whole sound and you play the guitar in a different way. Moreover, we used futuristic sound effects and reduced in return the folklore elements. It gives the album some sort of soundtrack atmosphere.
I think that the lead guitars are less dominant and that the rhythm guitars became more dominant in return.
It is right that the leads are bit reduced, but I would not say that the rhythm guitars are more dominant. In the past, the leads were sometimes very dominant, that`s right. Now we tried to balance it a bit more. And the more you put into the music – I am talking about the orchestra – the more must be taken out, because there is only limited space in the arrangement. So we had to reduce some elements. But this development began already on our last album. We will definitely always have lead guitars in our songs, but they do not need to be in focus all the time.
Would you agree that your new album is more complex and less catchy than “At The Edge Of Time“?
More complex: Yes! Less catchy: I cannot say yes, I cannot say no. I don`t think that it is less catchy, but I can understand, if somebody needs more time get through with it. It is the most complex album we did so far, but I find it also catchy. It is definitely no easy listening music which can be consumed in the background. But if you listen to it with attention, you will get an access soon.
I think that many choruses are not so obvious. The song `At The Edge Of Time` is a good example.
The song is actually an untypical example, because it takes a constant development in its 7 minutes. It becomes bigger and bigger and has no typical song structure. `Twilight Of The Gods`, our first single, has a more classic approach. That is a typical Blind Guardian Speed Metal song.
Now that you mention the single, let us talk a bit about it: I think that it is definitely not the best song of the album. Why did you choose it?
Why should a single always be the best song of an album?
Well, a single should be an appetizer and therefore I would choose the best song.
Yes, it is an appetizer. And I also agree that `Twilight Of The Gods` is not the best song of the album. Currently my favorite song is `Sacred Mind` for example, but that changes almost every day. But let me compare the single to a movie trailer: Most trailers simply consist of the best scenes of a movie and when you watch the movie, you become disappointed, because the rest of the movie cannot hold the level of the trailer. I had this experience very often in recent time.
I think that `Twilight Of The Gods` is a good and also typical and catchy Blind Guardian song. But it has also some new elements, just like the retuned guitars and the dark vibe lightened by the chorus. We did not do something like that in the past. So the song shows what will happen on the album. We usually do not have a typical song that represents an album. So we decided to take this song.
In my opinion, the single has one of the most boring B sides ever. In the past, you often used cover versions. Now you used 2 live versions from songs which are already released as live versions. Why not something new, maybe from “At The Edge Of Time“?
The single was not planned from the very beginning. One day our label asked us for a single and we thought about it. It was a long discussion, because we are not a typical single band, as we never get airplay – I don`t say anything new in this point. So the purpose is promotion and for collectors only. The request from our label came quite late, so we had no specific material for a B-side. So we took the recordings from Wacken Open Air 2011 and searched for songs that were played perfectly so that no corrections were needed.
Will there also be a video?
We talked about it, but in my opinion a music video makes no sense today, because there are no more music channels. At least I don`t receive one. We decided to make a lyrics video, what is new to me. I have to say that the result looks quite nice. It seems to be the new format bands use to make videos. Maybe we record a live video on the next tour, just like we did with `Born In A Mourning Hall`. Real live videos are always the best option, because I don`t like posing to a playback for hours.
How does a complex album like “Beyond The Red Mirror“ work with modern ways of consuming music, like iTunes or Spotify?
Actually in no way, but we don`t care. We just follow our own way and our vision. And we don`t care if it fits to Spotify or iTunes. When you customize your music to modern trends, it becomes fastfood.
Some time ago I read a discussion in the internet about Spotify. Some critics complained that Spotify does not pay enough to the artists. Another one said that the artist gets money for every time the song is played, so it should make money for years. But one of the critics said that this is bullshit, because he never listened to a song for more than 10 times in his life. That is not my way of consuming music, because I listened a billion times to my favorite albums. The typical consumer of Spotify or iTunes cannot be our aim.
I have absolutely no problem with the iTunes Store or Streaming Services. I also have accounts there. I think that the concept works, but I don`t like the fastfood way. And that is also the approach for our music. We have a vision and we don`t care if it fits to modern trends.
The songs are basically written by André and Hansi. What is the input of you and Frederik?
Everybody can work on them. I wrote a song with Hansi, but we did not finish it. Maybe we do it for the next album. We also wrote another song, but it did not turn out as we would like to have it. We have no egos in such cases and put the songs aside.
But everybody has influence. Although Hansi and André are the main songwriters, everybody makes proposals and says his opinion. Some parts are also being changed when the song is recorded. So everybody has influence.
On “At The Edge Of Time“ you worked with an orchestra for the first time. Now you worked also with 3 different choirs. Why wasting so much money when even many movie scores are produced with sample libraries?
We are working with orchestrale elements since “Nightfall in Middle-Earth“. `Dark Passage` was one of the first songs in which we worked with orchestral sounds, but those were taken from a keyboard. You can do that, especially because the sounds become better and better and the stuff can be programmed very well. But they sound different than a real orchestra. If you compare `And Then There Was Silence` and `Wheel Of Time`, you will actually agree that the real orchestra sounds much better. It is of course more expensive and also much more work to do, but it is the result that counts for us. It sounds better, therefore we want to have it.
Now we used 2 orchestras and 3 different choirs, what was actually not planned in this scale. It happened due to different schedules, because we needed the orchestral recordings at certain points of the production and our favorite orchestra was not available at that time. It is the same issue with the choirs. In addition we wanted to have massive choirs which give a feeling of `Camina Burana` in the opener `The 9th Wave`. You get this feeling only with a massive choir. You could also take a smaller one and record it multiple times, but at you will get problems with frequencies doubling themselves. We could have used samples also, but we like it more this way.
André said that in his opinion `Grand Parade` is one of the best songs you ever did. Do you agree?
I don`t like to say something like that in general, because my favorite songs change from time to time. I think that `Grand Parade` is a very good song, actually one of the best we ever did. But my current favorite is `Sacred Mind`, yet, as I told you before, it could be another one tomorrow.
People often ask me which is my favorite Blind Guardian song. But it always depends on my mood. When I am full of energy it will probably a fast one, when I am relaxing it might be `The Bard`s Song`-
What can we expect on the next tour. Which new songs will you play?
I cannot say much about the new songs, because our rehearsals did not start yet. We already have a list of 40 songs – old songs – which we would like to play. There are of course evergreens, but also some rare and older songs on it. Right now we are talking about the new songs which we would like to play. We will start the rehearsals with 4 or 5 new songs and see how they work. We always have to re-arrange the songs, because we have only 2 guitars on stage, but most songs are recorded with more than 2 guitar tracks. The same with the vocal arrangements, because there is a maximum of 6 voices available on stage. We cannot play 40 songs every evening of course, so we will change some every show as we did in the past. So the set should be between 100 and 120 minutes.
Can you tell me your current candidates from the new album?
No, not yet because it is too early for that. But I expect `Twilight Of The Gods` in the set because it is our first single and it should be easy to play it live. Everything else will be a surprise.
You usually need 4 years to release a new album. In between you do worldwide tours, but you are actually not the most touring band. How is it possible for you to live from the music with such a open timetable?
It seems we are successful enough. I don`t know how to explain it better. We still sell enough CDs, although we also suffer from illegal downloads. Every band does, those who deny it actually lie. But our fans are really loyal, they buy our albums, come to our shows and sometimes also buy a shirt. That`s enough or us, so we can still live from making music.
You played a lot of festivals after the last tour cycle, what you actually didn`t do in the past. Untypically, you will play the 70.000 Tons of Metal cruise next week. Is it a development due to the financial situation nowadays in the music business?
Definitely no! It is not so much money that we earn on the cruise so that we could rest for 2 years. We always had the rhythm of playing a full headliner tour first and then some festivals. Nothing changed in this point. We will start this year with a European tour in April and afterwards there will be Japan, Australia, North and South America. After that there will be festivals in the next year. This is how we always did.
But there is a difference between us and some other bands, because we do not play a second tour after an album release. In the last year we played 4 shows, not to refill our budget, it was more to get again into the live mode for our 2015 tour.
I think that many bands have illusions. Some people say that you do not earn money from releasing albums, only from touring. But that is not true. Of course you get money on a tour, otherwise nobody would do one. But you cannot expand a tour up to the maximum, what actually many bands do. If you play 3 tours for one release in Germany, you should not be astonished if the audience becomes smaller and smaller. A lot of bands do it that way, which results in a total tour overkill right now. In my opinion many bands exaggerate it in this point and we want to avoid that. I love to play live – it is still my favorite part of being a musician – but we all know that we cannot stretch it to the extreme.
Let me ask you another question about money: In the last years several bands offered so called VIP tickets for their shows. This means that you pay money for meeting the band and getting some stuff signed. What is your opinion about this?
We haven`t talked about it yet, but I don`t think it is a topic for us. In the past we often raffled such things. For me those VIP tickets are a bit ambivalent. I don`t want to attack any band in particular, but sometimes it looks as the only purpose is to make money, especially if there is not enough value for the money. Sometimes the fans even have to buy the normal ticket for the show on top. I think that is brazen and stupid.
I guess the reason why people buy those tickets is because they mystify the backstage as a place you have to see. But, to be quite honest, there is no place more boring in a venue than the backstage area. Actually, there are only 100s of cases and tired roadies and a band waiting for its show. That is all of the mystery.
You didn`t mention the groupies…
I didn`t find out about that mystery in my 30 year career either, haha. Maybe I am playing in the wrong band…
Okay, let us finish this topic and talk about music again. In the last years you often said that there were some tracks left from the “Nightfall“ session. Those should be released soon. Shortly I heard that they were turned into other tracks. Can you tell us their names?
That is partially right. One track, which was already released, is `Harvest of Sorrow (B-Side of `And Then There Was Silence`). I wrote it for Nightfall, but I didn`t finished it back then. There are two more songs I wrote. One of them, called `Doom`, will be released as a bonus track. The other one is finished now, but we don`t release it yet. We did not use these sonsg as part of other songs, that is not correct.
Let us talk once again about André`s quote. It brings me to the question which is your favorite song from each album.
From “Battalions of Fear“ I would choose `Majesty`, although it is not our favorite song. But I still think that it is the best song of the album. Our fans often want to hear it and we still play it live sometimes. I think that it has its moments, but the song should be shortened. But it reflects what we were that days and therefore we do not change it.
From “Follow the Blind“ I prefer the title track. I think it is one of our underestimated songs, what I became aware of when we worked on our best of. We played this song live only once, 1989 on a festival in Lubeck (Germany).
From “Tales From a Twilight World“ I choose `Traveller in Time`. It was one of our first songs that showed our own style.
From “Somewhere Far Beyond“ I would also take the title track, which is actually one of our best songs ever. It is really fun to play live and also the composition is quite versatile. The key changes every 30 seconds, dozens of different parts and 2 different choruses, but nevertheless everything is one unit. An absolute highlight in our history!
From “Imaginations From the Other Side“ I prefer `I`m Alive`. It is one of my secret favorites. We often play it live, although it is never in our regular set. It is fun to play it live and the song has a nice dynamic due to the acoustic breaks, but it is also hard and fast. Another candidate is `The Script for my Requiem`. But I prefer `I`m Alive`.
From “Nightfall in Middle-Earth“ I take `Noldor`. We played it a few times on the “Nightfall“ Tour, but actually not very often. I think it is one of our best songs. I like the mood and there are a lot of nice changes. Great one!
From `A Night at the Opera` I select `Battlefield`. It also belongs to the best songs we´ve ever wrote. Unfortunately it is really difficult to perform live. We had it in our rehearsals for different tours, but we always had to give up. This time we have it again on our list and we will see if it works better now.
From “Twist in the Myth“ I choose `This Will Never End`. It is hard, but sounds different than everything else we did so far. And it is really difficult to play for André and me, because there are many difficult parts in it. It is still a challenge to play, especially because it is quite fast.
From “At the Edge of Time“ I prefer `Wheel of Time`. I like the orchestra and the oriental parts and I think it also belongs to our best songs ever.
“Imaginations from the Other Side“, the album containing the beginning of the story of you new album, is already 20 years old. Many of you younger fans were not even bornback then. Can you compare the Metal scene from the 90s and today for them?
I think that the scene is bigger today and also healthier. People said that Metal was dead in the 90s, what is actually bullshit. Metal was never dead and is not dead, but Grunge was the big thing those days. Grunge was some sort of wave and other waves followed: There was Nu Metal, the revival of Death Metal and True Metal. The best bands of every wave survived until today and bad bands have gone. So the scene is big and more versatile today, due to the different waves.
In 2012 you joined Sinbreed, the band in which also Frederik (drums) plays. What is the difference for you between Blind Guardian and Sinbreed?
I have the same approach for both bands, but the music is different. I always give my best, in terms of songwriting, recording and also live shows. Sinbreed are also melodic Speed Metal, but they are much more straight-forward than Blind Guardian. There is now orchestration and the songs are not so progressive. It is different than Blind Guardian, but I love it.
It was difficult for me to play again with a new guitar player. With André I have played together for 30 years now, so everyone of us knows how the other one reacts on stage. Flo (Laurin, guitar player and founder of Sinbreed) plays guitar in a totally different style. I think that his style is really unique, because his rhythms and accents are different from any other guitar player I know. It really improved my guitar playing, not in terms of technique, but in terms of experience. I really like to play with the guys, they are all really nice!
And you played your first show with them without any rehearsal …
That is right. We had planned a rehearsal , but I had to cancel due to illness. Frederik asked then if I would join them for some shows and I agreed. But we did not talk of joining the band. They had only one guitar player, limiting their possibilities on stage. I liked their first album, so I agreed. I learned their songs during 2 days off on the South Amercia trip in my hotel room. When I had to cancel the rehearsal, I told them that they should not worry. I know how to play the stuff and we did the show. It worked fine.
You list your favorite books and DVDs on your private website www.marcussiepen.com. When I take a closer look to this list, I have to ask myself if you have too much time…
Haha! Why? Do I watch and read too much, or what?
Let me say it like this: I don`t have so much time to read.
When you are on tour, you actually have enough time to read. The day consists of 22 hours of waiting and 2 hours of show and you can use those 22 hours perfectly for reading, watching and gaming, sometimes also a professional tourist, what we like to do. I do not watch a whole season at once, but my wife and me, we like to watch one episode every evening. So we get through the stuff. And I also read every day. Since the invention of eBooks it became even more comfortable on tour. I used to carry 5-6 heavy books with me, which all looked like rubbish after the tour. Now I always have an eBook reader with 500 books with me. Great!
My final question, also inspired by your homepage: Scotch or Bourbon?
Scotch! Definitely! My favorite Scotch is the 15 year old Glenlivet, a nice Single Malt. It is affordable and unbelievably tasty. The perfect Scotch for me: I also like some Bourbons, but I always prefer Scotch.
Is there anything left you would like to say?
Yes! No ice and no coke into the Scotch, haha! A very important rule, which is broken by many. Therefore this important advice to your readers: Don`t put it into your drink!
There is nothing more to say but for a thank you for the chat!