Interview: Edguy Talk 'Age of the Joker'
There's a part of me as a journalist that covers heavy metal that wishes the genre didn't always take itself so seriously. This is also the part of me that loves Edguy. While there's no denying the craftsmanship that goes into their albums, just try watching the music video for "Superheroes" or their latest single, "Robin Hood," without cracking a smile.
I recently caught up with Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet and lead guitarist Jens Ludwig to talk about their latest album, Age of the Joker, along with guitars, songwriting and the upsides to being stuck in a forest all day in green tights....
GUITAR WORLD: So just how much fun was it making the music video for "Robin Hood"?
TOBIAS: It was actually a lot of fun.[laughs] Usually I hate shooting videos -- and everyone in the band does, as far as I know...
TOBIAS: Uh, well that's a different story now! [laughs]
But in general, what ends up being a three and a half minute "movie" -- the whole process consists of waiting and having to get the makeup on and just sitting around waiting for the next sequence and doing the same stuff over and over again. It's really boring.
For this video, I think the circumstances when shooting the video were even worse than ever before! We were standing in the forest, it was raining and there were horses that were pretty impatient. And it took quite long.
Apart from that it was perfect. You don't get the chance that often to watch your bandmates in really silly green leggings. The whole thing was great fun and when we saw the first pictures on the set, we thought, "Wow, it looks much bigger than it actually looks in real life." It was really just a couple of silly Germans standing in the forest being soaking wet from the rain.
JENS: It was a little bit exhausting, but the good thing was at each other and as soon as you realize your friends are sitting around you in green tights, it's fun.
Why did Robin Hood seem like the best track to lead off with as your first single?
JENS: Well, because it's a good song. [laughs]
I think when the song was finished, we came up with the idea to do the video for the song, and then we thought it was also a good opening track. It has that kind of intro character at the beginning and I think it reflects the entire album quite well.
There are some longer songs on the album -- some six or even nine minutes long -- so we thought it would be no problem to use a long song as the opening track as well.
I think one of the things that draws people to the band is that -- unlike a lot of metal bands -- you don't take yourselves too seriously. There's always sort of a tongue-in-cheek element to your music.
TOBIAS: I don't think it works to be a serious metal band. I really love that kind of music, and it's much more to me than just music, but I have to say that this kind of music was never designed to be taken completely seriously. I mean, it's a serious matter for me to be able to make this kind of music and to go out and be able to play it for people and make them happy. It's a very serious thing and a very honorable thing, but there are so many inherent tongue-in-cheek aspects in heavy metal, whether bands admit it or not.
Just look at Twisted Sister. They've never taken themselves too seriously... and if they did so, I think they were the only ones! [laughs] Van Halen, too. I think they managed to balance out great musicianship with a tongue-in-cheek attitude very, very well. I think they're a blueprint for the attitude I think is appropriate for heavy metal and rock and roll.
You come across a lot of bands in metal that just look miserable on stage. It's like, "If you're not having a good time, how do you expect me to have a good time?"
TOBIAS: Exactly! You know, everybody is entitled to play the music they like but a lot of those bands that paint their faces black and white -- and I'm not talking about Kiss -- who are up there grunting and pretending they just came out from the gates of hell, or whatever they pretend to be, they just look miserable all the time! But what are they really complaining about? I'm sure these bands make great money from going on stage and playing their music, so what are they complaining about? [laughs]
I don't get the point, but of course it's art and they're entitled to do it, it's just not my type of thing. I want to go on stage and make people happy, and at the same time give my very best. The quality of the music itself is a serious subject for me. I want to make good albums, write great songs, go on stage and be the best band in the world. But apart from that, it's not to be taken too serious.
You're definitely not one of those bands who falls into the category of looking miserable on stage...
JENS: Yeah, we're actually looking good on stage, right? [laughs]
Of course we take the music quite seriously, but the most import thing is that we want to have a good time when we're writing music and on stage. Whatever we do we want to have a good time and enjoy ourselves.
So Tobias, you came right out of working with Avantasia to begin work on the new Edguy album. Where you at all burned out after that?
TOBIAS: Burned out... yeah, that's probably the right term. When you do something as big as Avantasia, you put a lot of emotional energy in it because you're so closely attached to it. When we were finished and had the master in hand, all the stress went away, but then you're kind of sad that it's over.
I think the biggest fun is when you create something. It's a great moment when you listen to the final results, but the quest is the purpose. The way is the purpose.
When I came out of the studio, I could relax and let loose, and I was so proud of what we had done that I was thinking, "Okay, there's no way I can do this any better." And you just get sucked into a black hole.
But after a while there is this instinctive urge to create new music, and it's just because I don't know what else to do. It's something I need do, because it's my hobby, my life and I'm a creative person. At home when I don't know what else to do, I just go down to my basement and start to create music and go chasing great melodies.
Jens, what was your guitar setup like for the album?
JENS: Most of the rhythm guitar stuff I played a Gibson Firebird Studio, and I played with two amplifiers -- one is a Vintage Modern from Marshall, and then to add a little more depth to the sound we used a Rectifier.
Did you use much in the way of effects pedals?
JENS: Not really. Just a wah-wah for lead stuff, and for some parts an Ibanez 808 Tube Screamer. Besides those, there might be a delay here and there, and some multi-effects stuff that Sascha [Paeth, producer] had in the studio, but we tried to record as much as possible live.
And when it came to working out your leads, do you tend to improvise in the studio and pick the best takes, or do you work out your solos in advance?
JENS: Usually I like to be prepared; I'm pretty German when it comes to this! So on previous albums I always liked to know exactly what I was going to be playing in the studio.
This time, the whole concept of the album is that we wanted to have a really natural sound, like a band that's playing live. We recorded the rhythm guitars simultaneously for example. So there is a lot of spontaneity on the album, and I wanted to keep that spirit on the lead guitar parts as well. To be honest, I didn't prepare a single note this time! [laughs]
Was that way of working a challenge to you at all?
JENS: I've never been a guitar player who would play stuff on the record that I wasn't able to do live, so I know what I'm capable of. But it had challenges. I like to be prepared, and going in with nothing written made me a little uncomfortable in the beginning. But once you hear that the first parts are good and it sounds how you want, I was absolutely happy with that way of working.
As always, this album has a really broad range of styles on it. One of the cooler tracks is "Pandora's Box," which has a great American blues sound to it. Almost like Aerosmith...
TOBIAS: I agree, it has an Aerosmith vibe. It's one of my favorites on the new album.
I think when I started writing it, I didn't think of Aerosmith or anything. There was this guitar riff that was meant to be an acoustic guitar in the beginning, and to me it sounded like classic Badlands. It's got a certain Southern rock touch, but it was never designed to sound like it does now when it was written.
JENS: When the song was written we had a certain sound in mind, but we didn't know exactly which instrument it was. We were thinking it might be a lap-steel or something. Finally when we told Sascha about our vision for this song, he told us that a dobro makes the sound that we were looking for.
After that, I looked on the Internet for a nice-looking dobro because I had no experience with the instrument, and I bought one especially for this song. When it finally came I had like four days to rehearse!
It was quite a big challenge for me. There are a lot of differences between dobro and a regular guitar, so for me it was a bit like learning a new instrument in four days.
When I first started learning the song, for the first two days I couldn't get anything good sounding out of the instrument. On the third day things became a bit better and as soon as some good sounding stuff came out of the instrument it was a lot more fun to keep working on it.
And there are as always a lot of different sounds on this album. Who are some of your influences that give Edguy such a varied sound?
JENS: Well anything you listen to influences you. The thing is, I don't usually listen to country music for example -- that's absolutely not my cup of tea -- but when you just include some small elements in an Edguy song then it doesn't make the song a complete country song, it just gives a different vibe, which is what we want to create. We want to keep it interesting for ourselves. We don't want to make the same songs over and over again.
I think you should keep on trying new things, because if you're just doing the same thing over and over again then it becomes like a job, and when making a record feels like a routine then that's a pretty bad sign in my opinion.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from "Pandora's Box," the song "Nobody's Hero" has a very traditional metal vibe to it, and I know a lot of people are saying this album is a return to your more metallica roots. Would you agree?
TOBIAS: No. [laughs] I know a lot of the fans would probably want me to say that, but I feel there's no need to go back to anywhere because I think we've always embraced out roots. Maybe it was more obvious on some albums than others, but I think we've always maintained our trademarks.
"Nobody's Hero" was so innocently written. I think it was the second song that we had done for the album, and it does remind me of my roots, but of course our music will always be a reflection of our own favorite bands. "Nobody's Here" is a Dio song -- or it certainly bears the trademarks of his early records. I've always been a big fan of Dio and I was fortunate enough to meet him and talk to him. I think it would be wrong to outright deny your influences.
JENS: For me it's a little hard to tell, but of course I can tell why people say it's "back to the roots." Especially after Tinnitus Sanctus, which was a kind of dark record, there's a lot more funs stuff and positive energy going on on this album. That's maybe why people refer to the old albums.
There's certainly not as much double bass as on the old albums, and there's all the new elements that, for me, make it an Edguy record.
Why do you think fans tend to have an obession with the past when a band just wants to move forward?
TOBIAS: Whenever people say, "Oh, the early albums are better," what you have to take into consideration is that the early albums were a soundtrack to bigger parts of their lives than the newer albums. When you've listened to an album for 10 years, of course you've got a different emotional attachment to that album than for an album you've just recently bought. And that's a normal thing, but people mistake that for quality.
The new album from Edguy, Age of the Joker, is out September 13 on Nuclear Blast Records.