||ANDRE ANDERSEN: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT ROYAL HUNT
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
Born in Russia, this talented multi-instrumentalist is known for being the beating heart of the mighty melodic progressive and symphonic Danish rockers Royal Hunt.
They excel in their own arrangements and self-penned compositions which have played a part in forming the overall quality on albums like 'Show Me How To Live' and 'Paradox,' amongst a back catalogue that boasts twelve studio albums including the brand new release known as 'A Life To Die For'.
Since the age of five, the founding member and keyboardist of Royal Hunt, Andrè Andersen began studying the classical piano and never really looked back since then. It's a testimony to his craft and contentment that he continues to enjoy composing and writing new material all the time, plus playing the music live around the globe.
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Thanks to the release of 'A Life To Die For', I was given the opportunity to talk to this unsung musical force about his band and their music. Being the busy individual that he is, he had not realised that we'd communicated on a previous occasion thanks to one of my other online publications, so this was a second bite of the cherry so to speak as I tackled him about a great many things.
"I grew up in Russia, back in the day it was the Soviet Union and so it was pretty hard to get hold of any rock CDs, rock albums or tapes or anything; but anyway I was never exposed to rock music back in the day. So I heard classical music and the, you know, the regular pop thing on the radio, whatever. I wasn't that particularly interested in that. Then all of a sudden a friend of mine gave me a tape, and it was Deep Purple 'In Rock' and the first Rock song ever I heard, it was 'Speed King'. It just changed my life!"
From a pivotal moment that resonated deeply within him, Andre then set about a journey which eventually guided him to form Royal Hunt. Anyone curious about how they chose the band name will now find out, as Andre told me a couple of years ago: "Our former bass player and I were in this famous Danish castle and accidentally stumbled over a huge painting hanging on one of the countless walls in there – it's been called something like 'King This and Queen That at the royal hunt in 1678'. I was looking for some kind of a colourful name indicating something elevated, majestic or so and Royal Hunt seemed to fit."
In 1992, the Danish progressive beast released their debut album 'Land Of Broken Hearts' and haven't looked back since. As our conversation runs its course, the new album is high on the agenda.
"When I kind of started thinking about a new album, I don't have a set of rules or anything. I don't have a specific way of how I start doing an album. That's why a few of Royal Hunt's albums are quite different from each other."
Andre chuckles a little when he jokes that some might think that their albums sound very similar and there is little difference between them. "For me at least, they're all a little bit different, and this one I was thinking about this mix, this combination of Rock band and classical instrument, not an orchestra."
With a pause as he thought about the wording of the next set of thoughts, he continued. "I've heard a few albums in the last few years where, because ideas not new obviously, a lot of people did that; most of this album for some reason didn't click with me. So I always had a feeling where you had already recorded arranged song for a Rock band and then you put an orchestra on top of that, almost like an effect.
"They're playing more or less the same thing as what the rock band is playing. My idea was a little bit different; I wanted this group of classical musicians to begin like a, how should I put it? Like another guy in the band. So they have their own arrangements; they're not copying guitar or bass or keyboard or whatever, they're playing their own thing. I think it makes for a more organic sounding album."
At this junction, Andre explains how they rehearsed a few times with these classical musicians to tighten their united talents, and how in some ways 'A Life To Die For' took a little longer to make than previous albums.
Thinking about a topic we touched on earlier in our exchange, American-based singer D.C. Cooper had rejoined the ranks of Royal Hunt on lead vocals, for their 'Show Me How To Live' album. He'd parted ways with the band some time after their 1997 'Paradox' album to be replaced by John West. With Cooper back in fine form and adding to the excellent performances on their 2011 album, his contributions are evident again with 'A Life To Die For'.
"It wasn't about the music or professional misunderstandings or lack of chemistry, we're just different persons. We're very different people you see, it's hard to explain, but we are. That was the main reason why we parted company back then. We have different goals and, you know, a lot of stuff. When we reconnected a couple of years ago we're still different, but we're older. We've kind of settled, we've kind of figured out how to deal with our different personalities and how not to step on each other's toes, and respect the boundaries of each other a little bit better, and that's why it works."
Understanding the importance and prominence of the symphonic and orchestral elements to their sound and recognising their back catalogue of music, I pondered over whether the band had considered doing some special one-off performance with a really impressive orchestra. We've had a few offers to do that, one in Copenhagen in Denmark of course, and another one was actually in Japan. We talked to another promoter who's arranging this kind of bigger event in Russia as well, so it might happen but I don't have a plan to do that. I don't have a date but I'm pretty sure at some point we'll do something like that."
"From the first album we ever released, we always have only one album in a contract. We never did a second album on a contract, always only one album at a time. That's just my policy 'cos you never know, I don't want to be married to a record company just because they appear to be your fans right now and promise you to do great work." That was his response when I enquired about contracts and how many albums they were tied to recording for their label.
Whilst digging around as I do in a band's back catalogue, and that isn't a euphemism before you say anything; I noticed that they had a sequel to their 'Paradox' album which was released in 2008 called 'Collision Course... Paradox 2.' I let my curiosity lead the way and this is what I found out from Andre: "The basic idea of 'Paradox' was, we all know the story from the bible; we know the story of Jesus and stuff. I kind of claimed in the 'Paradox 1' that Jesus died for nothing, because he died for our sins, but look at us today. There's more to the story, but that's basically the concept of it."
With a deep breath between his evidently Russian accent, sounding like the impersonations you witness on the TV when a character resembles a Russian individual, Andre then proceeds on to the sequel: "On 'Paradox 2' because already in 98, 99, everybody wanted me to do a sequel; I didn't feel like doing it. Then all of a sudden like ten years after I said why not? You watch the news, you know what's going on; so I already had a few interesting titles there, so it was a little bit different outlook at religion in general. So it's not religion itself, it's the whole thing."
As Andre briefly summarises the concept for 'Paradox 2' he then explains the results of such a humble pursuit: "It was quite interesting. Some people they were taking it a little bit too serious, I was getting death threats on the internet and stuff like that. It was ridiculous but that's the world today. People don't get it; nobody is ready to discuss things."
We laugh nervously together with the thought that people were looking at the cover artwork and jumping to conclusions due to the title. Quite plausibly these individuals were not listening to the concept unfolding throughout the entire album, and therefore gaining an informed insight into the direction of the story and listening to a point of view. Where such a defensive attitude or offensive behaviour stems from is a debate for another article, but from Andre's perspective, this alarming reaction to his 2008 album was quite a revelation.
Watch out for a possible collaboration in the future with an orchestra, and thereafter a one-off dvd or live album capturing the special occasion if and when it feels right and is coordinated. In the meantime, celebrate another progressive symphonic album called 'A Life To Die For' by the laid-back and philosophical main man who guides the intriguing band Royal Hunt in to more unchartered waters.