By Jeb Wright
Around the world, Royal Hunt has garnered a huge fan base that is into the band’s mix of classic rock, progressive rock and classical music. Royal Hunt have released 11 albums and recently celebrated their 20th anniversary.
Founding member, and band leader, André Andersen, oversaw the impressive 20th anniversary release, which was done as much to celebrate the time together, as it was to give the hardcore fans something they would treasure. Royal Hunt understands their fans and they know without them they are nothing.
This band deserves to be known in the USA. Think Yes meets Rush meets Kansas meets Uriah Heep meets Deep Purple meets Bach meets Mozart… you get the picture. This is a very unique and, obviously, talented group of musicians.
In the interview that follows, Andersen opens up about being twenty years in with Royal Hunt, as well as what he hopes the future brings. He also talks about songwriting, creativity and how the band is sometimes mistaken to be serious people, when it fact, they are quite silly.
Jeb: I am impressed with the 20th anniversary release. Describe how it came to be and then how it came to be so much more!
André Andersen: It started with everybody telling me about RH’s 20th Anniversary coming up–I never really thought about it before–but all of the sudden, everybody: the band, record labels, fans and journalists started asking the same question: “The 20th anniversary is coming up, will you do something special?”
I thought a box set of some kind would be a proper way to mark the date, so the first two CDs were relatively easy to complete: 25 of everybody’s favorite songs from each and every album we’ve released, from day, one until today, all of which got slightly re-mastered.
A third CD contains one new song, especially written/recorded for this release last summer, unplugged versions of three other “party favorites” and a bunch of bonus tracks, which were used previously for some special EPs, or as bonus tracks for different territories. And to complete it all, a DVD with all of our promo videos, as well as some live performances and interviews.
Jeb: Royal Hunt has survived for many years; you have such a dedication to your craft. Looking back, what were the struggles you had to overcome to become who you are today?
André: Periodical line-up changes, incompetent business partners, such as record labels and promoters, an occasional musical trend change and lately, the Internet with its global piracy. But life goes on and we’ve managed to adapt somehow. As long as you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll find the way to continue, regardless of any obstacles.
Jeb: Many in America, where I am, are not familiar with Royal Hunt, despite the fact you have 11 albums. What are the top three albums you would say for someone here that has not heard the band?
André: The obvious choice would be the 20th Anniversary – Special Edition package containing all the best tracks, as well as visuals.
As for separate albums, I’d suggest Paradox, our first concept album, considered by many as our best release. X, a wonderful totally analogue album with all the elements of the ‘70s. It is adventurous, in places, and features great songwriting and authentic, yet crisp, production. Show Me How to Live, which was a return to that classic RH sound with great melodies, immense playing and larger-than-life production.
Jeb: Does it bother you that the USA has, so far, not been introduced properly to the band?
André: I won’t say it directly bothers me, but I’m quite a bit surprised by it, after all, one of my all time favorite bands is American: Kansas. I’ve heard some remarks about us being “too European sounding” but I’m not sure if that’s a fact. Who knows, maybe one day it will change, but until then, we’ll keep working on it.
Jeb: You have a very classically influenced take on rock music. This is not totally unique, as other bands have done that. However, you mix the styles in a seamless way. It seems second nature to you.
André: It most definitively is. I grew up listening to and practicing classical music. Later on, I got into these classic rock bands like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin. Finally, I got into the prog stuff like Kansas, Yes and Rush. All three of these types of music have almost the same value to me and, obviously, when I’m working on my own music, I use it all combined as a main inspiration.
Jeb: How much did the success of the 20th anniversary tour mean to you, personally?
André: It meant a lot and it made me very proud of what the band was able to achieve–20 years of hard work, yet 20 years of great fun, and still able to tour the world, see all these people coming to your shows, singing your songs… amazing!
Jeb: When you look back, taking a more conventional path may have reaped more international fame and stardom. You know, dumbing down, being a typical metal band…do you ever regret sticking to your passion, knowing that it might have cost you money?
André: It wasn’t an option back then, and it’s definitely not an option now. Playing music professionally IS a business, but, for me personally, at least, it has to be real. It has to come from your heart…it sounds so banal, yet it is true. You can’t create inspiring music while being pragmatic. In my world, it’s a pure contradiction in terms.
Jeb: What musically motivates you?
André: My past work, mainly. Occasionally, I’d listen to my previous albums and it annoys me to realize that I could have done it better–better songs, better production. I constantly have some new ideas popping up– musically, lyrically– and I just HAVE to put it on tape.
Jeb: What gives with Cooper? He’s in the band, out of the band, back in the band.
André: We managed to put our differences aside…at least for now. This whole “reunion thing” happened in a very prosaic way, without any master plan in mind. DC and I started talking on Skype and such and after a few chats decided to test the waters, so to speak, and do a little tour, just to make sure we could still recreate the vibe we used to have…and it worked out beautifully. So, obviously, the next step was to try and record an album and the whole process went down smooth and easy and, equally important, the fans seems to like it. Now we’ve just finished our second tour, put out a 20th Anniversary package and everybody seems to enjoy the current situation.
Jeb: Speaking of singers, you had Mark Boals in the band and also John West. Man, these are two of the best. Why didn’t things work with them?
André: I was very fortunate to be able to work with such great singers as John West and Mark Boals, who are both very different, yet both remarkably good. Both marked their era in the band’s history in a mostly admirable fashion.
Having John in the band was a pleasure and I’m glad that we could keep going for almost eight years, but somehow, it ended for various reasons. I guess us becoming a little predictable, musically, being one of them. Secondly, John was heading more and more into sort of a stable family life direction, and who could blame him. Constant chaotic traveling didn’t fit in very well in that scenario. He is a great guy and an amazing singer.
Our cooperation with Mark Boals ended in a very un-dramatic, straight up fashion. Mark, after being unable to participate in a couple of our touring activities, had been informed about our plans regarding DC rejoining the ranks and, being a real professional, understood the situation and our decision. He has always been very productive and very much in demand, so we all wished him all the success in the world. He’s a great person, an excellent musician and truly deserves it all.
Jeb: Would you say you’re a person who thinks music, or feels music?
André: I’m more of the “feel music” person, yet a lot of thinking is going on in the process.
Jeb: What will the next album sound like and when will it be released?
André: I’m thinking about expanding our sound a bit, that might even involve the use of an orchestra and a classical choir. I guess we’ll be ready to release a new album in the fall this year.
Jeb: Tell me what kind of people run Frontiers Records and what they give to the genre that you love?
André: They’re very enthusiastic people. We’ve been working with Frontiers for a while and they are doing a good job for us these days, as they’ve gotten bigger and smarter. Half of your success is the people behind it; the label, the management. You can go only so far with a great band and great material. In order to make the project a success, you need a solid team behind it.
Jeb: If you had given up, what might you have done with your life?
André: People who know me well would have a hard time trying to imagine me giving up, but hypothetically, I guess I could have stayed in the music business, working in a studio, producing somebody else’s albums and maybe doing some session work.
Jeb: How do you balance creativity with rigid musical training? How do you keep the two in balance?
André: There is time for everything. There is time for practice and time for creating. I usually leave the creative part for the later hours; I guess I’m a night person. Earlier hours I go with more mechanical stuff.
Jeb: Some mistake that Royal Hunt is a very serious band. Explain the fun side to your personality and your band.
André: People are just confusing our work ethic with our personalities. Humor, and sometimes downright silliness, is a very important part, if not the driving force, of this band. We’re a quite social bunch, staying in touch at all times and seeing each other very frequently. The same goes for almost all of the ex-members. I’m sure that this is one of the main reasons why we could keep doing what we’re doing for over 20 years.
Jeb: Last one: Where do you see Royal Hunt in 2020?
André: Charging at the stages around the world in our customized wheel chairs.