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Interview with Royal Hunt
11 April 2017
ROYAL HUNT: An interview with André Andersen
Interview by Kieran Dargan
Twenty one years ago I took a chance on a very excellent looking double live Japanese only CD, 'Royal Hunt Live 1996'. It started a 21 year love affair with a band that are undoubtedly one of the finest in the neoclassical/technical/progressive (insert your own genre here) genre, but in fact straddle all three and many more with consummate ease. Led by multi instrumentalist and composer Andre Andersen, Royal Hunt have recorded thirteen studio albums and despite only two of the original five members who recorded '...Live 1996' remaining in the band today, the dynamic of Royal Hunt has changed very little indeed.
Wow, 20 years since 'Live 1996', where does the time go?
Yeah, tell me about it. Scary, really. Yet at the same time it feels like, I don´t know, last year or something. I remember 1996, we just released 'Moving Target', went on a very successful European tour with Gotthard, stayed home for a couple of weeks and went out again – this time on our own – the longest tour for us at the time.
We played so many shows in so many countries in a row that by the time we hit Shibuya – Kokaido Hall in Tokyo (we played another Tokyo show the very next day in a different venue, before moving on to Osaka, Nagoya and Sindai) we were like a machine that could play the set in our sleep.
Actually, we were informed about the filming/recording that day with very short notice and the only "preparation" we did was my lengthy fight with the local mobile recording crew about where to place the audience microphones. We didn't even check where the cameras were, we just wanted to get the soundcheck over with and get a couple of hours sleep before the show, which we didn't get anyway, of course!
Who knew at the time that this particular show would become a Royal Hunt "DVD tradition", as we call it now... 1996, 2006 and now, 2016?
Would you have thought now, twenty one years later, that Royal Hunt would still be a going concern, still breaking new ground and attracting new fans with each release?
I guess that deep, deep, deep inside of me there was this tiny little hope, or wish to become one of those bands I grew up with, Purple, Heep, Kansas, Saga, having a long, or at least longer, lasting career, but not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the band would still be recording and touring 25 years later... no way! Hard to believe but I´m still getting up in the morning with the biggest grin on my face, thinking just how bloody lucky I am to have the greatest job in the world.
In recent years Royal Hunt have become increasingly popular in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries such as Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Is it a case of relentless touring in a market that is largely new territory for rock bands that has seen your popularity soar, or perhaps simply the fans in these countries being more open to listening to quality hard rock music?
I´m sure it´s both. You have to tour extensively and with the touring fields getting more and more competitive in recent years, you have to take chances and enter more and more uncharted territories. Yes, I noticed that Eastern European fans remind me quite a bit of Japanese fans in some respect. They do care a lot about the quality, among other things, and they seem to be very loyal to "their brand"... So we were fortunate enough to build a strong following in these parts of the world.
The decision to record in Moscow is perhaps a little strange when you consider it's not exactly at the centre of the hard rock universe by comparison to say Japan, UK, Germany or the USA. Was there a specific reason as to why you decided to record there?
We had a bunch of criteria while deciding on the location. The show must be on the second half of the tour so the band and the crew will already be in that "machine-like-state". The hall should be nice with great acoustics, the quality of recording/filming gear and the crew with a certain level of experience, a large "backdrop screen" for our visual projections and, last but not least, a big, enthusiastic crowd! We've got it all in Moscow, so – Moscow it is!
And of course you'll still face some technical challenges here and there, it´s absolutely normal, but I must say that the whole process was 99% trouble free, smooth and easy, so we´re all very pleased with the result. It turned out the way I personally like it. No fancy effects all over the place, just a great stage and the band playing their butts off in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The sound is great, the visuals are clear, and that´s the definition of a good DVD for me.
Picking a set list must be difficult considering the amount of material at your disposal. With only two tracks, 'Lies' and 'Army Of Slaves' from outside the DC Cooper years. Was this a conscious decision to keep the current set list more reflective of what DC has contributed to the band during his tenures?
Picking a set list is a long, long process in this camp, full of fights and compromises. Ok, little fights, but still, everybody has their "favorites" and there's no way to fit them all in. Otherwise we'd be playing for three hours and I have to smoke sometime!
There's a certain danger in being a twenty-five year-old band, as your fans already picked their favourite songs. You know their wishes, you start following them and, all of the sudden, your set list becomes stale. I see lots of bands, my personal all-time favourites, playing, basically, the same set year after year and that scares me with regards to our own set list.
So we have a basic principle. At least three new songs, five or six fan's favourites, changed around every tour. A few of our personal favourites, changed naturally as it's all a compromise each time, and a couple of "deep cuts".
A funny little fact. While in the studio, mixing this album, I could hear on the audience track fans, towards the end of the show, begun yelling their requests out loud... and it ends almost exactly 50/50, just like half of the requests were fulfilled. Great, want to hear that particular song? Come again next year and it's a sure thing it will be played.
I guess comparisons may be made to the length of this album, by comparison to 'Live 1996'... '2016' being considerably shorter. '1996' containing twenty-four tracks, '2016' containing fourteen by comparison Was this again a decision to make the new album more attractive to fans by not re-covering older ground or simply repeating yourselves?
Hmm, never thought about it. I remember '1996' being around two hours fifteen minutes long and '2016' around one hour fifty. It's not like it's been done on purpose or something. A set list, just like an album, has a life of its own. You can always sense when it's done, or over and done. You had your highs and lows, you had your 'sing alongs', your epics and your closing track. If you're trying to force more songs into it, it just starts to feel contrived. At least I feel that way. My motto is, say what you wanted to say and wave goodbye, don't drag it into eternity. People have other stuff to do.
Looking back to 1996 for a moment, it's just Andre and DC remaining from that line up, yet musically the band still manages to sound immense. Surely it's a tribute to the calibre of musicians currently in Royal Hunt? A special mention for Jonas Larsen who is a decidedly tasty player, particularly as this writer is a huge fan of Jacob's playing on earlier albums.
I hate line-up changes with a passion but the world changes around us. People change too, so you have to roll with the punches. On the other side I'm so eternally grateful for being granted a chance to work with all these mega-talented guys in my carrier. They all left a substantial heritage, they all contributed to the long-lasting brand which Royal Hunt is today and I'm extremely proud to still be able to call all these guys my friends, still be able to hang out with them regularly and, most importantly, they're still involved in what's happening in our camp.
It's interesting that you're comparing JK and Jonas. These two are just as similar as they are different. JK´s always been very much "together"... sound, notes, articulation, everything´s been worked out in advance. Although I've been on his case a few times for him not being 'flashy enough' and he'd always answer in that Stoic-Nordic manner, "I don't think it's suitable for this particular song, but have another listen and tell me if you´d change your mind".
Jonas is much more of a "rebel", always open to experimentations, be it a sound, expression or the general approach to the given part. Yet he always comes out as pretty much structured and controlled... I have no idea how it works.
It's beyond cool to work with musicians of that calibre. There´s literally no limit to what you can do. Andreas Habo (drums) can seamlessly go from the lightest groove to a thrash-blast-beat frenzy in a heartbeat and Andreas Passmark (bass)... well, he knows these songs better than I do and can probably play them better as well, but please don't tell anybody... I still need this job!
So, a twenty year history crammed into a new three disc set, or four if you order direct from RoyalHunt.com. Do you feel that this is representative of what Royal Hunt is now, or is it simply a snapshot in time where perhaps in ten years time there may be an opportunity to reflect in a bigger way on perhaps a longer history, or perhaps in 2019 when it will be the 30th anniversary of the founding of the band?
'2016' is every bit representative for what Royal Hunt is today, so absolutely. I can´t be more proud of what we've achieved with this release. Yet... talking about the future and all that, yes, I really hope that we'll be looking back at this release in five years' time, celebrating our 30th birthday, partying and all that jazz. Saying stuff like, "Yeah, sounds pretty decent, but check out the new one"! We're already plotting a new studio album, we´re booking some dates for the fall this year, we have plans on some special releases and projects. God knows when we'll have enough of all of it but there's one thing I really hope we could avoid in the far, far distant future... writing "five wheel chairs please" on our tour rider!
To order the Deluxe Edition '2016', please visit: www.royalhunt.com