BLIND GUARDIAN (Frederik Ehmke) INTERVIEW
There was a time when, to find a Blind Guardian CD on the shelves of even the most central record stores in London was “mission impossible”, but now things have certainly changed. Following a string of successful appearances on British soil, the German Power Metal legends Blind Guardian have once again graced us with their presence, this time in support of their latest opus “At The Edge Of Time”. Only a couple of hours before hitting the stage of what ended up being another sold-out show, I got hold of the band’s friendly drummer Frederik Ehmke. During our short encounter we discussed the process of making the band’s latest album, an orchestral project that’s still in the pipeline and the band’s long touring plans.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Hi Fredrik, nice to meet you in person mate. I am glad that we managed to arrange this interview together, even though I am sure that you have preferred to get some rest prior to the show. Welcome to the UK once again, a place that has become quite familiar to Blind Guardian these last few years now. It’s good to see the band becoming quite popular here as traditionally German bands have never had many fans in the UK in past times.
Frederik: As you know, I haven’t been a member of Blind Guardian for many years, but I know that the band’s former label did not distribute past albums in the UK. The change with Nuclear Blast is massive. When I first joined in we visited the UK on my first tour and that turned up to be a big success, so why not come here more often (laughs)?
• Especially when you promote an album as good as “At The Edge Of time” which, from what I read both in magazines and on the Internet, it has been accepted with open arms by the majority of your fans. I believe that was either the German Metal Hammer or the Rock Hard magazine that voted it as album of the month, right?
Frederik: It was the Rock Hard magazine.
• Every time a new album comes out by any band, there is a natural tendency amongst fans to compare it with the previous effort. In your case, though there are many things that “At The Edge Of Time” has in common with its predecessor “A Twist In the Myth” (2006), the new material comes across as slightly more layered. Was that intentional?
Frederik: This was really a natural result of our song writing process. On each album we try to start from point zero and let things grow naturally and not having earlier albums in mind and trying to enhance them in any way. It’s more about what’s in our hearts and minds at the time and that has always been the way that we work.
• Even though the album consists of ten compositions, it took you guys something like two years to prepare the material. That is quite a long time for an album to come to life.
Frederik: It’s always a long time when it comes to Blind Guardian but in this specific case, it was the first time in the band’s history that we interrupted the song writing and pre-production process in order to do some festival shows. We had the splendid opportunity to do a festival together with KISS and Judas Priest and that was a once in a life opportunity, so we had to take it. I believe that the break helped the song writing process because the energy we got while playing life accompanied us in the studio. I believe that as a result our songs have a natural flow and a more physical energy.
• How did being on stage with these legendary people influence you as a musician? I mean, for many people, Judas Priest are the personification of Heavy Metal and KISS are entertainers par excellence!
Frederik: It was a great honour to share the same stage with these bands, something that every musician dreams of doing. They all are very influential to us, especially our early material, but at the time that you are there and facing the task at hand, you need to remain focused on your performance which is what I did.
• Andre (Olbrich: guitars) and Hansi (Kursch: vocals) are the main composers in the band. Did they allow you as an artist enough space to put your own contribution, your own ‘signature’ onto these compositions?
Frederik: Definitely. I have even tried to come up with my own ideas, but when I tried this it was like it didn’t sound like Blind Guardian. The Bland Guardian sound is achieved through a process that has always been the same. Andre has an idea to which Hansi adds lyrics and melodies on top of it. I was not involved in the early stage of the song writing and some things had to be changed, like a chorus was performed in a way faster than originally expected, so there were some changes there. I can indeed focus on my drum arrangements, which is something that the other two are not involved in because they are not drummers after all!
• The style of Blind Guardian is such that involves various dynamics, something that must be quite challenging for any drummer. Do you feel that there is a vast range of styles of drumming that can be incorporated in the music of Blind Guardian?
Frederik: That’s definitely the case, but again this is not a problem as far as I am concerned because I am well trained and I have studied drums in also Jazz and popular music, so it’s not only Metal that I am doing and I know very well what it is that I have to do, so it is not a problem to manage many different styles (laughs).
• I believe that for the recordings of “At The Edge Of Time” I believe that you have employed the services of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, right?
Frederik: Yes. It was not the complete orchestra but members from it placed in a different combination of arrangements.
• What was the experience in the studio working on these ten songs? Did you have to work with the orchestra on the same environment or were their parts recorded in a different location and then mixed all together?
Frederik: I believe that we did the drums and the bass and perhaps even the guitars in one studio which is privately owned and then we moved to Prague and recorded at the Rudolfinum which is a big concert hall with a built in studio and there it was where the recordings of the orchestra were added on top of the existing music.
• Did you find it at all challenging having to work on so many different layers of music rather than in the conventional way?
Frederik: I think that things were more challenging for Charlie Bauerfeind, our producer, because he had so many different things to consider. In our case there were some developments from the previous album as there was the addition of extra layers of keyboards and also tone of melodic and rhythm guitar parts. Still, there were not too many things that changed in comparison with the past (laughs).
• There are many beautiful compositions on “At The Edge Of Time” as far as I am personally concerned. Is there any specific one that stands out for you? Any one that was trickier in terms of performing?
Frederik: Each Blind Guardian composition has its tricky parts. For me, sometimes it’s the tempo and the pure speed that is difficult to handle in the studio because there, even one hundred per cent isn’t good enough (laughs). Now, the half time parts of “Wheel Of Time” are difficult as there are many strange grooves to perform. For me “Curse My Name” stands out as I always Blind Guardian’s medieval touch on things. “Sacred Worlds” has a special significance because of its use in the computer game “Sacred 2: Fallen Angel”.
• I wanted to talk to you about that as I was watching the video at home prior to coming here and it looks really cool indeed.
Frederik: This is a really special thing for us, but even on its own merits the song is pretty special.
• I have to be honest; when I heard that an orchestra was employed on this album, I expected a more complete participation; however, it’s only really in “Sacred Worlds” and “Wheel Of Time” that the orchestra really works its magic.
Frederik: For “Sacred Worlds” we first used a ‘synthetic’ orchestra, which you can also hear in the game version and later on when we worked with the real orchestra in Prague, we had the idea of re-recording the parts there because we felt that they would sound so much better, which they did. It would have been a big mistake not to have done that. “Wheel Of Time” was already considered to be a hybrid composition. It was in the middle of the song writing, I think, that it was written so we already knew that a real orchestra would have been involved there. We were serachi8ng for the right orchestra for quite a long time because we have an orchestral project in mind which is still at the early stages of conception. So, we were looking for a good orchestra to work with and we found it with these guys, to the point that we have done some recordings already for that project.
• There are quite a few live dates coming up; if I remember correctly, you are pretty much booked till the end of the year and here is also an American tour that’s scheduled. Are you excited over the prospect of touring around the world once again?
Frederik: Of course! Everything that you said is totally true! We don’t have much free time before the end of the year. That is bad for our families, of course, because we only really have small breaks in between shows, but for any musician it’s always the best time to be on tour and see how the fans react on the music he is creating. We really can’t complain about that!
• Are there any specific places like in Wacken Open Air, which I know you have been confirmed for next year, where you would consider using the whole orchestra on stage?
Frederik: There are no concrete plans in that respect and with regards Wacken. We are thinking about introducing a special day as a Blind Guardian festival; that would be a great opportunity to use the orchestra then because, as you mentioned, going on tour with an orchestra is not an easy thing to do. This need to happen in a special location and a second Blind Guardian festival would be the ideal place to do that.
• I was made to believe that a Blind Guardian festival would be a more permanent feature than it currently is, especially following the success of the first one! The DVD recorded on that occasion was fantastic; so many people would expect that kind of show to take place on an annual basis!
Frederik: The first Blind Guardian festival was indeed a big success, but there was also a lot of work and organisation involved and that is not something that you can afford to do every year. You need to remember that we organise this thing completely by ourselves and it tends to take too much time.
• Maybe it’s too early to ask such a question but what are the band’s plans for the immediate future? What happens after the end of the touring schedule? Have you thought about it yet?
Frederik: We have some idea of what we want to do but it’s nothing formulated yet. As I already mentioned, our orchestral project will be one thing to look out for and when out tour is finished we will have a little break and then begin the song writing process again.
• That sounds very promising indeed, especially as we are used to having a new Blind Guardian album every five years now.
Frederik: I have to admit that the tour will last until the fall next year and after the Wacken show we will do a South American tour, so when we begin our song writing process it will be one and a half years after the release of this album (laughs). With one and a half year gone already, we will then have a few months of a needed break in order to clean our heads and then begin to work on a new material which will last at least another year or so…it will last till we know that what we prepared is good enough to become a Blind Guardian song.
• Ok, that’s as far as Blind Guardian are concerned. For you personally, are there any other projects that you might get involved in?
Frederik: I have a project called Sinbreed where I perform with a friend of mine, as he asked me to record some stuff. It’s simply a side project but it was fun to do as it is classic Power Metal. We are thinking of recording a second album, but nothing yet has been decided. This is something we will consider after the end of the Blind Guardian tour, but during the tour it makes no sense to even try doing something.
• Listen Frederik; thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I hope you enjoy tonight’s show and wish you all success for the upcoming tours.
Frederik: Thank you.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year Pete Feenstra presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Tuesdays at 19:00 BST (GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon. This show was first broadcast on 14 July.
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