Demons & Wizards Interview

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Demons & Wizards released their third studio album Demons & Wizards III in fifteen years. We had a great talk with the vocalist Hansi Kürsch the day before the album release. We talked about the album, vinyl records, books, TV-shows and many more… Enjoy!

Hello Hansi!

Three months…

Yes, you remember.

Yeah. Long time no talking. (laughs)

It’s been a long time, yeah. It’s a pleasure to talk to you again in such a short time.

Likewise.

How are you?

I’m fine. I just came home and I’m in my basement office. Fine to be relaxed. I’m going to London with my family on Saturday. So, I’m in a good mood.

Great! You must be very excited because the album is about to be released in a few hours.

That is very true. I’m excited, actually. It’s always something special when an album is out for the first day. You see the reaction of the people. It’s something else talking to critics but, you know, the true challenge is to convince the fans. That is going to happen tomorrow. But I’m quite confident about the album. So, nothing wrong with that.

We have six hours because in Turkey we’re two hours ahead of you.

Oh, right?

It’s 6 pm right now in Turkey.

Here it would be in eight hours. I saw some comments on the internet; some people received it from either Amazon or whatever delivered vinyl at least today already. So, some people have the privilege already.

I preordered my copies, but I have to wait at least two more weeks because they will arrive from Germany.

Ah!

Yes, it’s so sad.

What did you order?

I ordered the red vinyl – the boxset. Also a regular black vinyl. Also the green CD artbook. I’m such a nerd.

There is a wide choice of different things and I touched them all some days ago. I mean, it’s quite impressive how they came out. So, I’m really pleased with that.

I saw your video yesterday – the unboxing video. You look very happy there.

Yeah, I was really happy. I got the stuff on last Friday or Monday, I can’t recall exactly. I listened to the vinyl version and that sounded quite good. I also listened to the CD version. It’s all quite in shape I have to say.

Great news! So, do you want to talk about the writing process of the album?

(Laughs) It’s up to you, totally.

I wonder, how is it different for you to work on a Demons & Wizards album rather than a Blind Guardian album?

It’s not that different. In Blind Guardian’s case it’s mostly André (Olbrich) providing me with basic music arrangements and in Demons & Wizards’ case it’s Jon (Schaffer). But I have all the freedom to do with the stuff whatever I want to do. In most of the cases, it’s plain melody writing. I do whatever I can with regard to vocal arrangements. Then we get together at a certain point and decide what is good and what is not good and if there are some adjustments to be done with regard to the arrangement itself and what I did the vocals; you can determine what is going to be chorus and pre-chorus etc. But in general, both Jon and André, they have good feelings and ideas what would be – considered to be – a chorus or a verse whenever they do the basic arrangements. So even they are very close to what you, at the very end, will listen to on the album. So my main job at the beginning would be this in both cases. Different difficulties of course, you know, and how to approach the stuff… And Jon’s songwriting differs from André’s massively at points. That has pros and cons always. I’m trying to do my best to please both versions of musical arrangements. The result is different though, I have to say, of course. I mean the chemistry between me and André music-wise will always have a different turnout than the collaboration in between Jon and me and that is based on basically what they supply me with. Because that differs so drastically already that whatever I’m doing of course is affected by that and will sound different. Luckily for me, there’s still enough of my character in both bands so people will recognize who has done the vocal arrangements and who’s singing.

To me, Demons & Wizards is always darker than Blind Guardian.

I would agree on that. I heard people saying that the third album is the darkest with regard to lyrics. I would agree. Musically, I think, the first one is as dark at the very least. And you’re right, if I had to compare two bands, I would say so too. Demons & Wizards is a little harsher and a little darker than Blind Guardian, for sure.

III isn’t a concept album, right?

No, it’s not a concept album. The title was determined long time ago. We discussed that. We both are fans of classic rock music and when we released Demons & Wizards I, we said that every Demons & Wizards album to be just numbered but we forgot about that or we ignored it when we did Touched by the Crimson King. And so, we’re back in business now with Demons & Wizards III (laughs).But it’s not a concept album.

What are the themes of the songs? Do you want to talk about it?

Yeah. It’s obvious when we talk about “Diabolic” because there is the video and we mentioned that it’s a sequel to “Heaven Denies”. It’s basically another round of Lucifer gossip when he’s joining forces with two other evil – so called evil – archangels which would be Beelzebub and Satan and they are about to start a war against heaven. What they have is a justified war because in the story we’re telling heaven is a place of tyranny where things are turned upside down a little bit, you know, everything is controlled and basically there is no space for free will and that is what Lucifer, Beelzebub and Satan are claiming. No matter that they have bad spots as well, for the major topic they might be on the right side. Then there are like three songs combined and dedicated to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials which is basically a children’s story and I believe BBC just recently published the first season for it. It’s three books and basically tell a great fantasy-children inspired story about a girl called Lyra. And these three songs are connected to it somehow and always reflect one of the characters I somehow felt attracted enough to dedicate a song to them. Of course, there are some individual aspects as I always do when I be inspired by literature like that. There is a song like “Timeless Spirit” which the lyrics have been composed by Jon and that’s about a spiritual journey where you’re going to meet your different incarnations and the spirits of your different incarnations of the past and the future. And you need to become one with them. There is another song like “Midas Disease” which tells us the story of a TV preacher who is manipulating people and always accomplishes his goal; no matter how ridiculous they are, people would buy whatever this guy is talking, they just go for it. And, so on and so on. “Split” is a song about multiple personalities and this deals with the question what if one of these personalities wants to take total control and tries to internalize the other characters so they become afraid and they don’t have any choice but using an exit by not being dominant in this creation of characters anymore. We have another song called “Children of Cain” and that’s a fictional story – a sort of dystopian sci-fi story about a society called Children of Cain and they live according to the laws of Cain which means the killing of your brother is an established tool to become a grown up. In the story, obviously, something goes wrong and the protagonist just goes completely nuts.

What is your favorite song?

It’s “Children of Cain,” for sure – without any discussion or question. It’s a musical journey.  It’s what I call a roller-coaster ride. It’s very compact and the way it’s designed that it reveals so many different facets that I’m always amazed when I’m listening to it. When we were working on it, I had millions – maybe an exaggeration – but I had a lot of ideas what to do with it musically.

Recently I watched a very short video of yours in which you said that journalists keep asking the same questions over and over and you are a little tired of that. So, I’ll try to ask a little different questions. You have a very close relationship between you and Jon and also Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. I think it is not easy to find such a relationship in music world. How did you keep this relationship over the years?

It was coincidence that it happened when we played together for the first time in 1991. I didn’t expect anything. I liked the music of Iced Earth who recently had released their first album at that point and I had met Jon briefly in a rock club. We had a discussion and we knew we would get along with each other. But nothing else was popping up. But then, when we had that experience of that first tour, it was obvious from almost the very first moment on that there is a very close chemistry between all the people. We have the same humor, we have the same ambitions; we played somehow the same style of music. Of course, there are still universes in between Iced Earth and Blind Guardian but you know it’s same spirit. It’s very ambitious, it’s creative and I think from the creative standpoint we have been amazed by each other but also by the simple fact that everyone was somehow normal, very ordinary, very normal. And yeah, as said, we shared the same sort of humor and so the whole thing got established. And over the years this hasn’t changed; it was the opposite; even if Jon was more or less the clear leader in Iced Earth and he changed members, whoever he got in was pretty much on the same ballpark. So, we always had a close relationship and we toured here and there and of course we enjoyed what the others were doing; but other than that all we had was that experience being on the road together. And then some distance here and there. They always turned out to be great fun. And with all of this, what Jon would call the “brotherhood,” was created. 

It’s nice. Demons & Wizards is an international band: You are from Germany, Jon is from the United States. Even though you speak English very well, it’s not your native language. Do you have any miscommunication? 

No. I would not say that we have miscommunication because of lack of understanding. That is quite seldom or never the case. But, of course, if it gets into arguments, it is sometimes more difficult for me to define myself quick enough because when things are in a progress you need to proceed quickly and sometimes, I have to think about how to structure this phrase or if I want to say something particular how to define it in English. That sometimes takes a while and of course this slows down an argument (laughs). But on the other hand, this might help in not getting out of control completely. So, we basically speak about everything. It is quite a challenge for me to do business talks in English but it’s not only with Jon; but in general. You know, I have to make up my mind then, and I have to prepare myself sometimes. But basically, whenever we speak about music that is something else; that is all about spiritual thing. That is so individual, and we are so much on the same line there. It’s never a problem then.

So, the cultural differences are not a problem for you?

No, they are not a problem. Not at all. 

I see… I want to ask questions about your vocal style in Demons & Wizards. Because to me you sound a little different in Demons & Wizards albums compared to Blind Guardian. Am I right?

I would say so, too. Some people say that it feels the same character; I would not disagree that either. But of course, my approach in doing my arrangements, as well as with regard to the performance itself, is different. It is a necessity in Blind Guardian to be very precise; and it has become more and more Important over the years. Jon defines one universe in a song, to say so, which I can easily relate to, while André defines universes in one song. There’s so much information within a single part that it sometimes demands a lot of concentration basically to overcome this part. And therefore, the whole approach would be always a little different. I believe it is based on the music. There is space in Demons & Wizards which I try to cover with the vocals while I have to arrange myself into a strict arrangement in Blind Guardian; and this ends up in a different result.

Also, it seems to me that your vocals are more artistic recently; I mean you use your voice more artistically recently compared to the past. Is it so? 

Yeah, it might be. But that is especially, if we speak about the last two ones (Demons & Wizards III and Beyond the Red Mirror), of course a result of the orchestral recordings. I learned a lot there. And I learned how to maintain to organic music instruments. And I had to relate differently to dynamics and this of course helps. Now going back to my regular work to work with a metal band has made things a little easier for me. I can adjust to that more quickly than it was in the past. I also think that, for example, Demons & Wizards III is less busy album than Beyond the Red Mirror. So the opportunities I’ve had are different and I have to link in myself quite different. If you went back and would listen to the lead vocals of Beyond the Red Mirror, for example, the difference in comparison to the third Demons & Wizards album would not be that drastic, because I did this sort of theatrical approach there as well. But since there is so much orchestration and so much dramatic stuff going on everywhere, it does not come through so clearly than it does with regard to Demons & Wizards and the orchestral album. But basically, this is something I was working on ever since Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Yeah, it became more operatic and more designed when we did A Night at the Opera and also A Twist in the Myth and ever since that point, I liberated myself. And with regard to At the Edge of Time I would say that was the perfect balance. And then with Beyond the Red Mirror I was already aiming to the orchestral album direction and now I’m just profiting what I’ve learned there. 

In both bands you deal with concepts of “good” and “evil”. For instance, on “Fiddler on the Green” or “Heaven Denies” and “Diabolic” or “Mordred’s Song”. And you make the listeners question about what is good and what is evil; because your evil characters are not that evil or they’re not evil in their nature. What do you think about that? 

This is how I look on universal things and on nowadays issues, as well. Because, we are educated to have a certain understanding about, you know, characters and societies. The easiest explanation I could come up with to explain that is “What is a terrorist and what is a rebel or someone who is a freedom fighter?”. It just depends on the point of view in most of the cases. And of course, this is somehow linked in into all these stories where it is easier to make that understandable to people, you know… While it always is a risk – and misleads even the creator – if I would use nowadays topics and do it with whatever subject. But if you’re talking about religion or something mythological then it is far easier, because then, it becomes obvious to everyone. Mordred is a perfect example: He cannot be seen as the main villain. He’s just a figure in destiny to say so. He’s just a part of the game; nothing more. And same can be said about Lucifer with regard to “Diabolic”. While as an angel as high as he has been in the ranking how can you fall so deep for almost nothing? Of course, that is really something which I observe everywhere, and which is confusing me, as well. So, I’m just putting the straight question back to the listener to think about it without making a clear judgement who is good or who is bad because I’m not able to judge . And that is also (he laughs) the case in nowadays life. It is really difficult to have something to rely on.

I agree with you. The name of the band has a very interesting story. But I always wonder if it has anything to do with Uriah Heep’s album Demons and Wizards.

No. We have been aware of that, but… You’re talking about the name, right?

Yes, the name.

Finding of the name… That was really Jon and his wife… You know, back in the days discussing what would be a good name for Demons & Wizards… And they were dealing with the characters of the two bands. Blind Guardian was always more in the fantasy direction while Iced Earth was more into horror direction. So, Jon’s wife came up with “Demons and Angels”. Jon said: “Well, I can relate to the demon in this band being the guy from evil Iced Earth but Hansi for sure is no angel.” And then “Wizard” popped up and they both liked it. He called me, and I said “Yeah, I like it, but you know there is that Demons and Wizards, the Uriah Heep album called Demons and Wizards.” But we both thought it would not matter. So even though we were aware of the album, and I like the album, it had nothing to do with the name finding.

I heard that you have a jukebox at home.

(laughs) Yeah!

And you collect single vinyls. Also, you said that you collect Soundgarden vinyls. 

I collect every vinyl I could get but especially 7 inches from the 90s are difficult to find. Yeah, I have “Black Hole Sun” and I don’t know what else. Blind Melon and all that stuff… It is quite expensive. This is what I said. But I’m collecting everything I can get which is still somehow in the tasteful ballpark of music which I’m listening to. it can be everything from rockabilly to punk to heavy metal to hard rock, good pop music, doesn’t matter, jazz… Whatever fits in. 

I wonder if you like other Seattle bands too, for instance Pearl Jam maybe?

I’ve never been a big Pearl Jam fan. I think they are good. But I mean, if I speak about Seattle bands that is Metal Church and Queensrÿche of course, and Sanctuary. 

You love books a lot. What do you read nowadays?

Don’t know if we spoke about that last time. Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive which also has been an inspiration for the Demons & Wizards album. There’s “Final Warning” which is inspired by that one. Actually, this is what I am still reading. I like Ayn Rand, I like Margaret Atwood a lot. I checked out her stuff. As mentioned, Philip Pullman. And let’s see what comes next. Maybe Joe Abercrombie because that was a recommendation by a lot of people. I still want to read some of his stuff. But I haven’t read too much or nothing. I can’t even recall at the moment. Basically, that’s it. 

There will be a TV series for The Lord of the Rings. What do you think about it? Will you watch it? 

(Laughs) I will give it a try, I think. I have not the highest expectations. Especially, I mean, I’m sure they have spent a hell lot of money for it, but sometimes these companies just finish the best TV series so quickly that I’m always annoyed and afraid of starting some. I always wait until they at least come up with a second one. Mostly I do. Sometimes I’m too curious that I just watch TV series which have just one season. Netflix is the worst in that, for sure. I don’t know what they are doing but it’s like, Penny Dreadful which they ended up after the third season. And I really loved the first and the second season. I mean, at least they came out with a sort of a conclusion, but the third season lacked so much and that is always the case. Or there is Kimmy Schmidt for example. I don’t know exactly the name of the series, but I think it’s something like “Kimmy Schmidt” (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). And they brought that to an end, too. But I mean, that was so hilarious that I… I don’t know how they rate what they continue to produce and what they just finish. My concern would be that they finish – I think it’s an Amazon series – but still The Lord of the Rings might be history after the first or the second season. 

I think you will not tour with Demons & Wizards anytime soon.

Yeah, that is correct. We don’t have any chance to do so. We did what we could in 2019. And now it’s time to go back to our main bands. Blind Guardian already started pre-production and I will soon enter the studio for the album production. It’s pretty much the same for Jon. Therefore, there will be no shows in 2020, for sure.  There’s still a small chance that we may play some festivals in 2021. But even that I doubt. 

I see. Before we finish, I would like to point out something. Last time, I forgot to say that. According to Spotify, Istanbul is the number three among all the cities in the world in which Demons & Wizards is listened to the most.  And for Blind Guardian it is the second. I mean, we are the second and third biggest city actually, for both bands.

(Laughs) I’m not surprised about that, I have to say. I believe that we have a very strong following in Turkey. So, that is not so surprising to me. 

So maybe next time you will come to Istanbul, as well, with Demons & Wizards. 

We will do our best. I mean, it was nothing we did on intention. We just took whatever was offered to us and what made sense in course of doing all these shows. But, yeah, any show in Turkey is always a great pleasure. 

Nice to hear that. I don’t want to keep you longer. Maybe you will have other interviews.

I have some obligations, I can tell. 

Have a nice journey with your family.

Thank you very much! And you enjoy a nice weekend and hopefully you get some Demon & Wizards stuff really quickly. 

I’m just counting the hours for tonight and, later, the weeks.

(Laughs) Smart move. It’s five and a half hours now. 

Yes, it is getting less and less. Thank you for taking your time again.

I appreciate you doing the interview. And you know, we’ll speak soon. 

Hopefully.

Take care.