On the 8th-9th-10th of May, the Greek audience had the pleasure of welcoming again the legendary “Blind Guardian”, for an evening in Thessaloniki and two in Athens respectively. The band is a big favorite in Greece, especially among those who love the work of Professor Tolkien and fantasy literature in general. The shows were already sold-out and people waited eagerly for a unique trip to Middle-earth and other magical places.
With this opportunity, the Greek Tolkien Society managed to arrange an exclusive interview for our online-fanzine, thanks to our member Katja Alexiadou. So, Katja and Nikos Themelis had the pleasure of talking to Marcus Siepen, the group’s lead guitarist.
They met with Marcus just before the sound-check of the show and experienced his politeness, his friendliness, his special relationship with the Greek audience and his knowledge of Tolkien’s work. This was interrupted rather quickly, due to the imminent start of the show, but it was continued the next day, at the group’s hotel. After having enjoyed the impressive concert the evening before and having plenty of time, they had a nice long discussion about Tolkien, music and much more.
Katja: You have performed in Greece a lot of times and the response of the Greek audience has always been more than passionate. How would you describe the chemistry between you and the Greek fans? Especially in the last few years that Greece is undergoing a challenging period.
Marcus: I think that the relations between us and the Greek fans haven’t changed at all. I mean I obviously know that the German government is not very popular in Greece and I fully understand that, because it’s not very popular in Germany either. Actually, in my opinion, it is the worst government we ever had since the war. When we play shows here (in Greece) people show up and they go completely nuts, they are very- very passionate and very loud.
K: They like to sing.
K: That is really good to hear, because I believe that through music, art, literature, you can create really strong bonds that politics cannot break.
M: I absolutely agree! And as I said, we are not really happy with the German government as well, but the good thing is that our relation with the Greek audience has not changed at all. Actually, it would be a shame (if it did) because we are not politicians, we are just musicians. We write our music and we hope you like it.
K: Of all the races in Middle Earth, which do you think is more similar to Greeks?
M: To Greeks?!? Well dwarves are singing… Maybe dwarves, not about the size, but you know, strong guys singing while working.
K: And Germans, what would you say?
M: Uuhh, they would be humans I guess (laughs).
K: Amongst your fans you are known as “The Bards”. Is that how you see yourselves? What does it mean to you?
M: I guess we are kind of bards. We have our music, we travel around the world, we play for people and that’s what bards do. As I said, we have a very strong relationship with our fans and, yes, we are traveling bards I guess.
K: I think it is obvious when you are on stage. It is like you are telling a story instead of just singing or playing music.
M: Exactly! It is all storytelling and now with the new album being another full concept album it is like telling a big story.
K: Tolkien fans worldwide are well known to also be Blind Guardian fans. Have you met or have you been in contact with any other Tolkien Societies?
K: Not even the German Tolkien Society?
M: We are obviously aware of all the Tolkien friends out there among our fans, but you are the first ones that come to us as a Society.
K: That’s an honour for us! It’s really good to hear.
Which is your favourite book and when was your first contact with Tolkien’s work?
M: First Contact!? Hmm, that must have been around, like, when I was 12 years old. I read the Hobbit actually and I’m a bit undecided about which one is my favourite. I think at the moment, I would actually go for the Hobbit, because it’s a fantastic book! I mean, there is nothing bad to say about the Lord of the Rings, but I think I prefer the Hobbit. Both are brilliant books and Silmarillion as well, but I had a harder time getting into it, because in the beginning it felt like reading Middle Earth’s phone book (laughs). When the names constantly keep changing, you know, like “on Wednesday they call him like this, but when it rains they call him like that…”, but still the stories are great! But as I said, my favourite one would be the Hobbit… and my first one!
K: In the work of J.R.R.Tolkien who would you say is your favourite character? Do you identify with any particular character or with a story?
M: I always loved Gollum, I have to say! But I love these dark characters… Also, if we talked about Star Wars, Darth Vader, the evil one, would be my favourite. And Gollum is a very interesting creature, living in that cave all alone and looking for his treasure. I like the freaks! (laughs).
K: I hope you don’t identify with him!
M: No, no no! (laughs)
K: This is a very interesting answer, I think, because he is not a very popular character, but he is actually one of the most important ones in Lord of the Rings.
M: I think so too. You know, for me it’s not really the question, if he plays a huge role or not. I just like the character, how he started and how he ended up like this. And he has to have his ring! I think he is a fascinating creature! Vey unique! And he happens to be very important for the story, but you know, this is not what is important for me. I can also love a side character. If a character is fascinating in whatever way, he doesn’t have to be one of the main characters. To draw a comparison in a different universe, in Star Wars I always loved Boba Fett.
K: Do you think you could be writers at some point?
M: Aaahhh, I can imagine that Hansi could. I doubt that I could be. I never wrote any lyrics and back in school, when we had to write some stuff, I hated it (laughs). So I prefer to be the musical bard and the storytelling part. I think I’ll leave that to Hansi.
K: In the Metal scene, as well as in the circles of people who love Tolkien’s work, you are considered to be the “ultimate” Tolkien related band! When creating new work, do you feel that you have to be aligned with this reputation? Does it feel a bit restrictive?
M: We don’t feel like this, because we don’t want to be restricted in any way. I mean, obviously we know people consider us to be the “Tolkien Band” and we have a lot of stuff about Tolkien. And I’m pretty sure there will be more stuff about Tolkien’s world in the future, but we don’t want to be limited to that. We always want to be able to do whatever we feel like doing at that moment.
K: Apart from Tolkien, are there other writers or poets that inspired your lyrics and music?
M: Yes definitely! Obviously, one of our bigger known influences has been Stephen King, over all the years. We did some stuff about “It”, “Tommyknockers”. And the “Dark Tower Saga” is amazing. Actually, all kinds of books that we really love can be an influence. We love the “Time Saga”, which was obviously the influence for the song “Wheel of Time”. At the moment Hansi and I, we both read books by a guy called Patrick Rothfuss, an American guy, who wrote the books “The Name of the Wind” and “Wise Man’s Fear”. It is supposed to be a trilogy, but we are still waiting for part three. It is brilliant fantasy stuff!
K: Some people would say that Fantasy is for kids. While (us) the more romantic suggest that fantasy is just a different interpretation of reality. How do you feel about that?
M: Fantasy is important to the world. Without fantasy the world would be boring. When kids are into fantasy, then it seems to be ok. But why do we have to lose something like this when we grow up? Actually, I think that you are failing in life, if you lose all that stuff that you loved as a kid. I consider myself still to be a kid inside. My body aged a bit, I’m not 12 years old anymore (laughs), but I still love the same things. I still love the same books, the same stories and I don’t see anything bad about it. After all, using fantasy or using our imagination…we do it all the time when we are writing songs.
K: Did you like the Lord of the Rings movies?
M: I liked the movies. Obviously, there were things missing, but you know, Lord of the Rings is a very-ery big and complex book and even though Jackson did those three very long movies, I understood why he had to do those things. I have to say, I ignore the Hobbit movies just for exactly that reason. He made three huge movies out of a 280 pages book. I can read the book faster than I can watch the movies. And when he announced it, I was very curious and then I read an interview with him before he shot the first movie (or while he was shooting it) and he was talking about all the ideas he wanted to put in the Hobbit movies and I was like… “ Eeerr that’s not the Hobbit. It’s Peter Jackson’s idea of something that might have happened but never did.” I didn’t like that. Call me strict, but when someone makes a movie about a book, he has to stick to the book or call it something else. Not the “Hobbit” or “Game of Thrones” or whatever. That is why I didn’t watch the Hobbit movies and so far, I don’t have any intensions to.
K: If Tolkien were alive, would you be curious to find out, what he thought about your work?
M: It would be interesting to know, obviously, since we have many songs about his works and “Nightfall in Middle Earth” is completely based on his works. It would be very interesting to hear a review, yes.
Marcus & Nikos
Katja: Now, if you don’t mind, Nikos would like to ask you a few questions about your new album.
Marcus: Of course!
Nikos: “Beyond the red mirror”. In this album you collaborated with 3 different classical choirs and 2 symphonic orchestras. Would you talk to us about this experience?
M: It’s an awesome experience. In the previous album, “At the Edge of Time”, we had the chance to work with a real orchestra for the first time in our career and that is something that we liked a lot, because we’ve worked with orchestrations coming from keyboards in the past, but it’s no match to the sound of a real orchestra. And that is something we wanted to explore some more and we did in the new album. We brought in the choirs as well. Originally, we were not aiming at using 3 different choirs and 2 orchestras, but it was due to timing problems. With the orchestras and with the choirs we just wanted to have a certain size, to sound bigger. The more people you have singing, the better. It’s not the same as doubling the same voices.
N: And how did this affect writing and producing the album?
M: In terms of writing, it makes it more difficult actually, because if we’re working on a song that we know we’ll have an orchestra, we have to keep both in mind at the same time. It would not work for us to just write a metal song and when the song is done completely, then see if we can put an orchestra on top of it. Because then, there would never be a union. They would always be struggling. In some parts, when the orchestra is leading, the metal band has to stand back and vice versa, because you can’t put both at the peak at the same time. They would be struggling. You always have to keep this in mind, otherwise you get lost and things will be a mess. So writing-wise, it’s definitely more complicated, but I think the result speaks for its self. We did not want people to feel like: “we’re listening to a metal song and somebody put an orchestra on top”. We wanted them to see it as a whole, that’s how we see it.
N: What do you believe is more striking in your new album?
M: For me, it’s a mix of a couple of things. The orchestration is bigger than it ever has been before, on the other hand the music is also harder than it ever has been before and this mix is really important. No matter what we experiment with, whether it’s choirs or orchestras, we are still a metal band and that’s always the core of the band. A certain heaviness and aggression should always stay there and this mix is the most striking thing in my opinion. I know of another couple of bands that also experiment a lot, but then many things get blurred and (are) just overshadowed by the orchestra or whatever. And we don’t want this to happen. We always want to show people it is still Blind Guardian.
N: When writing a song, do you have a concept in mind beforehand or do you let inspiration guide you?
M: We always start with the music first, so there is no concept in our mind. As I said, when we started working on the new album, it was not planned to make it a concept album or to even work on that story again. We just started writing songs, which means, we collect ideas musically and see where they lead us. The idea for that concept only came later, when Hansi actually started writing the lyrics and it came about while working on that “best of” box set, that we put out in 2013. We were going through the old songs and Hansi realized, that there was this story we started telling back on “Imaginations of the Other Side”, but we never finished it. And that’s how the idea of finishing it now came about. But that’s something that always comes later. In the beginning it’s just music, music and a little bit of music (laughs)
N: What is the concept of the new album? Do you believe you are creating something like your own mythology?
M: In a certain way, we might be doing it, because this album is a full concept album, plus there are three songs on “Imaginations” starting the whole story. I guess, Hansi created kind of his own universe and I like it when you really tell a story. But if you try to tell the story in one song, you are limited you have 6-7 minutes depending on how long it is. You have to start, build it up and finish it, in this amount of time. But with a full concept album, plus the previous stories, you can do something a lot bigger and you can elaborate everything much further. That’s our kind of universe and, who knows, we might return to it someday in 20 years. 20 years seems to be a good time to spend on such things. (laughs)
N: Writing and producing the songs, did you follow a different approach than in the previous albums?
M: Writing-wise, it is pretty much the same. You start from scratch, there were no left over parts that we used from previous sessions, so we start completely on a blank paper and see what happens. What we change with the last album is the way we are working. Normally what we did in all the previous albums ,is that we wrote 10-12 songs and, once we did, we went to the studios and recorded it. We changed this way of working with the previous album already, as well as with this one. We wrote 3 songs and then went to the studio, recorded these three songs. We took a break from writing and focused on performing in the studio. When those three songs were done, then we went back to writing again. That is a nice way of giving you a rest from composing. You can just focus on performing and then, when you’re done with the songs, you can go back to being creative (creative in the form of composing). It’s switching back and forth.
N: Hansi described it as “A Story between Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Whatdoesthisreallymean?
M: You would have to ask Hansi! (laughs). Sci-fi and fantasy, there can be a close line between both, depending on what kind of story you are telling. If you’re talking about Star Wars, is that sci-fi, or is that fantasy? To me, it is a mix of both and maybe Hansi is thinking about it in the same way, because it has aspects of both, in my opinion.
N: For years, you’ve been writing an orchestral album. Your fans are waiting eagerly. Could you tell us anything about it?
M: First of all, yes, we are still working on the orchestral album. We started this idea about 15 years ago, but now we’re almost done, I have to say. Hansi still has to sing a couple of things and we still have to record a couple of orchestrations, but composing-wise we’re done. The original plan was to finish it in our touring break later this summer, but since we are also working on a new live album, I’m not sure if we’ll do the live album first. That will mean that we’ll finish the orchestral album early next year. Or the other way round. But we’re close to completing it and I think people will love it, because it sounds like Blind Guardian. It’s just that the metal band is missing. It is classical music playing Blind Guardian and Hansi is singing.
N: Do you have any plans of playing it live with an orchestra? The fans would love it!
M: Would they?!? (laughs). It would be great obviously, but we can’t do something like that in a tour, because we have a 90 people orchestra. We’d need a couple of extra busses and bigger stages and everything. But we’d love to do this for a special event, a festival or whatever.
N: Could you talk to us about your personal influences as a musician and a guitarist?
M: I started playing guitar when I was something like 11 years old, so obviously my influences have been the stuff that I’ve been listening to back then. I think that one of my biggest influences ever has been Tony Iommi. You know when he plays a riff, that’s the way it’s supposed to be played. That doesn’t change; the guy is amazing still today. We’ve played with them a couple of times and I have met him. He’s a really nice person, that’s awesome. Other influences (are) early Michael Schenker stuff, what he did with UFO, the Scorpions in the 70’s and also MSG in the early 80’s, amazing. I have to say some of my big influences today came only later, when I opened up to other kinds of music apart from metal. Two of my main influences today would be people like David Gilmour or Mark Knopfler. They are not really metal, but those two guys are incredible players. They play something and you know that’s them. Or Brian May from Queen, he is a guy like that too. He plays one lead and you know that’s Brian May. That’s something that I really- really appreciate about any musician, if he has his signature tone.
N: How about your taste in music?
M: For me there are just two kinds of music. The one that I like, and the one that I dislike. As soon as a song attracts me, in whatever way, I don’t care at all about what genre it is. It can be metal, rock, pop, punk or classical, I don’t care. If it attracts me, it’s a good song for me and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. So I’m listening to all kinds of things. The stuff, I grew with are Pink Floyd, Dire Straights, Bad Religion, Jethro Tull.
N: Could you talk to us a little bit about your participation in “Sacred 2”, the videogame. Would you call yourselves gamers?
M: Yes!!!(laughs) Andre and I are the hardcore gamers in the band. We’ve always been into videogames and that never stopped. The people who produced the game, they knew about this. They were Blind Guardian fans and they approached us and asked us if we’d be interested in doing something for the game. And yeah we were! (laughs). It was a pretty unique experience, because it was something that we never did before. They gave us information about the game, we got screenshots, we got inside the process and that was very interesting. The highlight for us was that we entered the game as characters, we did motion capturing and everything. Hansi is a character and you can get a quest from him. And if you fulfill that quest, then there is a scene in a tavern where a virtual band, us, performs in front of a fantasy kind of audience. Being a computer gamer myself that was awesome! Seeing yourself in the game!
N: A message to The Greek Tolkien Society?
M: Hi guys! If you see this interview you obviously know about Blind Guardian. And if you know about Blind Guardian you better be here tonight! Well, if you see this, most likely tonight is passed, so I hope you have been there (laughs). Thanks for all your support and in case you didn’t make it this time, see you next time. And never lose your fantasy! Keep believing in that stuff, it’s good! Stay kids inside!
Thus ended the interview. Katja and Nickos thanked Marcus and the rest of “Blind Guardian” members, by giving them the latest Society t-shirts and cups. Most importantly they gave them certificates, proclaiming them honorary members of the Prancing Pony, for their unique contribution to the musical interpretation of Tolkien’s work.