INTERVJU: André Olbrich från Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian är aktuella med “The god machine” Gitarristen André berättar om tonåren hemma i Krefeld, mötet med Hansi Kürsch, hur han ändrade sitt gitarrsound på nya albumet och hans stora idol Eddie Van Halen:

I discovered Van Halen and Eddie is for me the best guitar player ever and he will probably always be that. He´s my biggest idol in guitar playing. I still listen to Van Halen a lot. Sound wise on that first album, I even try to go there a little bit again. Especially on the new album, I changed my guitar sound completely and it´s orientated in the 70´s, early 80´s.

Before we get into the album, I want to go back in time and talk a bit about the town where you grew up, Krefeld. Was there any kind of music scene going on?

I would say it´s a very provincial town little town and there was no heavy metal. I think we were one of the first metal bands popping up. We had two clubs where you could play, but it was very difficult to get in there. We were always going to the guys in charge and asking if we maybe could play, but they always refused us. They were laughing at our demo tapes, because they couldn´t get it. They were more like chess guys and they didn´t understand what we were doing and they were not supportive. The city doesn´t even have a cool night life. It´s a really boring place and it even got worse the last three years. The people who live here drive to Düsseldorf or Köln, where there´s more of a night life. It was probably good that it was boring, because the only way to entertain ourselves, was going to the rehearsal room and play music ourselves. We met in the rehearsal room every day and we had parties there, our friends came over and we played some songs. It was just the best way to hang out in our teenage days and that´s probably why we became a band. There was nothing else going on here.

Nowadays kids have a big problem with having nothing to do. Boredom is good because it makes you come up with things and you get creative.

Yeah and especially playing music is good to canalize and let out your emotions. As a teenager you have certain frustrations and problems and you need to clear your mind. Playing music was the best thing for us to cope with all our problems. I could see that there were other people like me connecting over the music and that was a great thing for us.

Before Blind Guardian, had you played in any other bands?

I was in a school band, but I saw that it was not the way. They played songs I didn´t like. My best school mate and I were both guitar players and we tried to find people who wanted to play in a band with us. We found a drummer and we were creating the first songs already in my mom´s cellar. I had already met  (Kürsch) at school and we were drinking on a school trip. He was singing these high notes, like King Diamond, and I thought “Oh my god, what a voice!” I said that he needed to come to my place because we were looking for a vocalist and I said “You´re probably the perfect guy.” He said “No, I´m a guitar player.” and I told him that we already had two guitar players, but he went “No, but I don´t want to do vocals. I need and instrument.” I said “Ok, play the bass, but you need to do the vocals.” He came over and he liked it, We were a bit rockfish and not so cool, but then Hansi and I started working on a new song immediately and it came out like heavy metal. That was the start and then we took over that band and it became Lucifer´s Heritage, which was the start of Blind Guardian.

Who were your earliest guitar heroes and influences?

When I was 11 I became a KISS fan and KISS was everything to me. I was a real KISS nerd and Ace was my hero. I still really love Ace and he was a big inspiration. Almost at the same time, I discovered Van Halen and Eddie is for me the best guitar player ever and he will probably always be that. He´s my biggest idol in guitar playing. I still listen to Van Halen a lot. Sound wise on that first album, I even try to go there a little bit again. Especially on the new album, I changed my guitar sound completely and it´s orientated in the 70´s, early 80´s. It works out so cool. I´m a fan of all those 70´s albums by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Van Halen. What great albums! Things developed and the sound became harder and fuller, but these albums still have it. I asked myself why and the guitar sound was thinner and they didn´t need to be pumped up with distortion. The sound can be thinner and have less distortion and I was thinking about all these guitar philosophies between “Beyond the red mirror” (2015) and “The god machine” and I really changed my guitar sound a lot.

What lead you to change your guitar sound?

I think I figured it out when “Beyond the red mirror” was done. We got a lot of criticism for the sound and I tried to understand that and in a way I see the problem. The sound is so close, so full and rich that things are… overloaded is the wrong word, but you cannot almost hear the vocalist breathe anymore. The impact of the full sound and so many guitars is a little bit too much and I wanted to clean it up and we had many discussions. For him, it is the direction he wants and he could live with one guitar and I said “Ok, I will try to work on this.” Before I worked with a more modern amplifier and then I thought “Maybe it´s time to try out new sounds? What are your favorite guitar sounds? Which are the albums you love?” and it was these 70´s albums and especially Eddie´s sound on the first albums. I talked to Charlie (Bauerfeind, producer) and I said “Let´s see where the dusty old amps are?” and we took them out, put in new tubes and stuff and then we worked with them. I still think there´s even more space for the next album. Now I have some layers and I could go even more extreme in the rockfish sound.

Did you ever have a chance to meet Eddie?

I saw Van Halen, but not with the original lineup and I saw Dave when he toured with his first album and it was amazing. I saw KISS in 1980 with Iron Maiden as support. I never met anyone in Van Halen. One time I was next to Ace in catering and I was almost frozen, “Oh my god, Ace is next to me!” It was here in Germany at an awards show and KISS got a lifetime award.

Do you think Eddie was some kind of genius when it comes to his playing?

Yes, because he invented so many things and he influenced and changed the whole game. He was a game changer and how many guitar players can say that about themselves. It´s Eddie and a few more guitar players who really brought in so many aspects of playing the guitar. I really like that he always played with fire. Every moment was full passion. He was always burning and going for it and that´s the magic. When he found his sound he was already, technical wise, at a playing level so he was able to play his idea, his vision. Compared to other musicians who probably would need years before they can play what they are thinking of. That was his advantage. It´s timeless work.

Going back to you growing up. Do you remember the first time you played in front of an audience?

Yes, that was with the school band. It was about 50 people and I was so scared. I was a shy guy when I was young. I was very shy and introvert and it took me a lot of time to approach someone to talk to and an audience was a nightmare for me. At the same time I´m a person who wants to deliver perfectly. I made so  many mistakes because I was shaking, but that´s how you learn the way to do it. You need to fail to learn and that´s what I did. When we played with my band I felt more comfortable because it was a band. It was a community and I was not alone. We became more confident and every gig we played brought us one step further. We were all shy students and we played the music we loved, which was maybe the key to everything. We wanted it so much.

The new album is called “The god machine” Where did the title come from?

Hansi came up with several ideas and we tried to search for a title that was an overview of the whole album and not just a song title. Some of these songs are dealing with things you can connect to the god machine. We liked the sound of the title and we liked that you cannot really say this is the meaning. There´s a lot of interpretations and we like to make people think. We like to give them something and then they have to figure out the real meaning of it and the connection to the album.

You´ve known Hansi for so long now. How do you look at your relationship today?

We are, in a way, like a married couple. We laugh and we hate each other. We developed in completely different directions, but we figured out a way to respect each other from the very beginning. We can both accept a different opinion and get along. I don´t need him to think the same way as me. He´s a different person, a different individual. Sometimes it´s really good in a creative way, that you have different opinions or views because you start talking about it and you´ll figure out a way where you would never go if there wasn´t a discussion. It´s really helpful and creative and other times it´s a pain in the ass. (laughs) In the end we are very loyal to each other and very good friends. We have such a history together so we´re sticking together. The good thing is that we both can take a step back. You could go for a compromise, which is grey, but we don´t like grey. We like black or we like white, so one has to take a step back and that´s 50/50 with Hansi and me. It´s 100% black or 100% white. This way we don´t lose quality on an album full of compromises.

In two years Blind Guardian will be 40 years old. Have you planned anything?

No, we haven´t talked about it. Time is always chasing us and we haven´t realized how old we are. We go by plan to plan and we already have so many ideas for the next coming years. Things we want to accomplish. I´m not sure there is time for a celebration like this. We´ll look at the albums and if there´s a good opportunity we´ll have an anniversary celebration of an album we did. We have something prepared for “Somewhere far beyond” (1992) that we did last year and it will be released next year I think. It´s all delayed because of the pandemic. It would be a nice idea to have a celebration, but I think 50 years is better now.

Where there times during the pandemic when you thought you might never get to play live again?

Yes. I thought that if we wouldn´t get rid of the restrictions, music would be done. Without live shows you will not get the attention of the younger generation. They need to feel it and they need to be in a venue and feel this amazing feeling when you hear live music. If you go to a venue and watch a full show with a band, you become a fan and that´s what we need to keep this scene alive. I´m happy that it looks better now. A lot of artists and promotors are suffering and I hope that in one or two years there will be a better situation.

How do you look at the German metal scene in 2022? There seem to be a lot of good German bands out there.

Germany always had a good German scene. The rehearsal rooms are packed with rock and metal bands all the time. If you´re a metal band these days, you will barely find a room to rehearse in. We still have some magazines that are supportive, which is really important. We have some clubs, but not enough. I would like to have more live music and in some cities we even have rock and metal bars. I can see that the scene is not dead. It´s still there and it´s still working and some bands you see at all the festivals, like Helloween, Kreator, Blind Guardian… I´m happy and I hope there will be new bands that will blow everybody away.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Promobilder