Winter Carols

Winter Carols : The Album Promotion Interview

1. It has now been almost ten years since Blackmore’s Night was founded. Did you ever think the band would be so successful and so long-lasting?

Ritchie: When we put this project together we didn’t do it for success reasons. Or for commercial reasons. We just put it together because we wanted to play the type of music that we are playing now. And in fact we had people like agents and managers from the old days saying “why are you playing this type of music?
You’ll never make any money out of this music. You’ll never be successful.”

Candice: And they were right…

Ritchie: Yeah… So… It was… We never did it for commercial reasons. So I never thought about it as “being successful”. I just thought of it as about playing what I want to play. And we’re keeping doing it and we’re trying to reach more people. But in fact we don’t like to play to too many people. We rather play to a concentrated audience of a smaller amount of people. So… Being successful is unlike probably most bands… I’m personally not interested to be so-called successful. It’s nice to be successful, of course. But that was not the main reason why we have put it together for me. I don’t know how Candice thinks about it… 

Candice: I think that when we first started this band – as Ritchie said – we kinda did it for us. Because at that point Ritchie had been playing rock music for almost forty years. So for him this was a sort of departure and escape just from that box of rock music that he had been “kept in” for such a long time. And he really just followed his heart and we started to write these songs together just out of love for the music and for the songs. More as a hobby than a profession or real shift or career move into this direction. Really only when our friends started asking us about playing these songs more often and then they would ask us to play standards, then we said “maybe we should it put out for other people to hear us also”. And that’s when record companies started to pick it up and distribute it worldwide. And then many kinds of people all over the world started enjoying this different type of music.

The sort of music that we are creating. I think one of the great things about the band is that… We never thought we would be so long together as a musical act because we never  thought we would be a musical act at all at the beginning. So ten years on… It has always been more about the journey than the destination of the music. So we never really had a set direction or a set lap of time. Everything has been done very spontaneously. With a lot of spontaneity. We kinda just follow our hearts and kinda braving our path through the woods and are enjoying the musical moments of each day. So in ten years time I hope we will still be doing this. But… You never know. Ten years ago we never thought we will be on this path where we are now”.

2. Do you think the listeners like the fact that you undertake a kind of time travel with them through your music? You are bringing them to the Renaissance times. Into a very special era.
Ritchie: I think so. I think that we like to take the listeners with us through a time travel. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be our listeners I suppose. And… Some people say it’s a form a fantasy. Everything’s a form of fantasy. Everything’s a form of escape. Like escapism. People drink sometimes to access. Just to get away from life in general. So for me it’s a form of fantasy but at the same time it’s my favourite fantasies. Of course I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it. I love the lifestyle and of course I love the music from the Renaissance times which is a theme that goes through all of our music. Doesn’t mean that we are playing all the correct instruments and the correct music from the 1500s. Not that anybody would know what is the correct music from the 1500s… Although some musical snobs think they know. What we do is that we just interpret some tunes from those times. And to me… I love the 1500s. How do you feel about it?

Candice: I’m always happy by the people that are drawn by this kind of music. Because we look out and see in the audience that there are five-year-old children and their parents and they all come dressed-up. That’s great because little kids have the innocence and they want to pretend. The little boys want to be “Robin Hood” and run through the woods. And the little girls want to be princesses so they come dressed-up. And their parents… The men have usually been fans of Ritchie for many, many years so they followed his career for twenty, thirty and sometimes even forty years at this point. But now they are older so their musical taste has matured a little bit. They still like to rock but they like other things also. And now the men are married to women and their wives really like the lyrical content. The romance and the fantasy. The love aspect of it. And the softer female vocal and the legends and fairytales that we try to integrate in some of the lyrics so we still have the parallels to basically hit your heart emotionally and still carry that on through today.
So that’s that family. And then their parents come because they are just looking for melodic music. Good old-fashioned melodic music that not a lot of people write or create. Or at least you don’t hear it in mainstream today. I think a lot of times you turn on the radio and there is a lot of repetition going on. There is a lot of songs you hear that are played repeatedly. You hear the same song for a hundred times at each individual radio station because a major record label or some corporation is pushing it. You can hear it very, very often and then it becomes sort of brainwashing after the people hear it so often that they remember it. Not because they like the song but because they have no other choice than to remember it. Anything that you repeat often you’re going to remember. So… There is a lot of psychology going that goes on behind some of the marketing for a lot of bands that are out there. We find that most of the bands that are getting played on MTV or on the radio are either very aggressive or it goes into a different genre… The dance music. Beyoncé, Christina… The low-cut shirts, the high-cut skirts and the dance-moves. So… Our music kinda defies either of these categories. It’s really much more about mystery and innocence and magic and nature and I find that many people in our audience are independent thinkers. They won’t be told what fashions to follow, what to listen to, what to think. They’re going to find their own way and find their own path. I think they are so happy right now that there is something different out there. Something that won’t fit in a box or in a package. So our fans actually must be the most loyal fans. Because when you’re not a part of a fashion or part of a trend then you cannot be out of fashion. So the people who end up listening to our music… I think they fall in love with our music for what it is. Not because it has been repeated at the radio stations over and over again. And really word of mouth is our main way of telling people about our music.
Friends tell friends and they tell more friends. And if they fall in love with what we are doing they become very loyal and stay with you for many, many years. Instead of following whatever fashion and chasing your tail. I think we are really lucky as far as our fans are concerned. And it’s just growing and multiplying so much over the past then years that it’s amazing to look out and see that what used to be a couple of hundreds people are now thousands of people on this journey.

3. Could you explain the title of your Christmas album “Winter Carols”?
Ritchie: The word “Carol” comes from the 1500’s. It really means “dance”. To dance in a circle. And then all the pagans and heathens – the folk people – would dance in a circle and sing these tunes. And now they’re known as Christmas songs to come out in December. But… Actually most of them are Spring Carols. They are songs that were danced to in April or May. Because people were so happy it’s sunny again – good weather – back in those days. They really didn’t have good accommodation. So basically the word “Carol” is a dance. We know it as a kind of a song. It’s a repeat of a chorus and things. In those days it was actually a dance. What I like about it are the melodies of course. These are incredible melodies. Some of the words were a little bit strange so we changed them sometimes. I’m not sure if you know about what happened in  the 15th and 16th century. It was not allowed to sing these tunes because most of them were about dancing and drinking. Now the church didn’t like that so they try to stamp it out. And of course they couldn’t. They tried and Christmas was banned for twenty years. And all of these tunes… They tried to get away all these horrible drinking songs. The church was very crafty. They changed the lyrics to more religious themes. And that’s what we know them as today.

It’s the religious side of things. And people go: “they are just December tunes”. But they are not… Again like I said: they are all through the year. They are not religious songs at all. Half of them maybe. The very late-ones maybe. The ones by Mendelssohn maybe.  

4. What do you connect with the word “Christmas”?
Ritchie: Money… Lots of money… As a kid I think of all these presents obviously. And the trees and the decorations and everybody bein’ happy. My mother and father would give me and my brother lots of presents. That stays with you I suppose. Now I basically have everything I want. So it’s no longer about presents. To me Christmas now is playing and singing these tunes. I love to do it with my friends. Whether it’s outside or around the fire or around a tree. Wherever in the snow. So it’s… They’re very meaningful tunes that take me back into my childhood. We went around and were singing these tunes with my friends and making pocket money. We used to make quite a bit of money. So I hope now we will make even more money. That’s of course meant as a little bit of fun…

5. Could we talk about the songs on “Winter Carols” in depth:

a) Hark The Herald Angels Sing/Come All Ye Faithful
Ritchie: Hark The Herald Angels Sing has been written by Felix Mendelssohn I think. It’s one my favourite out of these tunes. Again: it’s all about the tunes. I don’t listen to the words. And the other one, Come All Ye Faithful is another one of my all-time favourite melodies. They are just my favourite songs. 

Candice: I think they are just the most bombastic songs on the album. Almost party-ish type of feelgood songs. That’s why we began the album and its track listing with these songs. We really wanted to start with a “bang” and have a heraldic type of introduction.

b) Ding Dong Merrily On High
Ritchie: That was the very first carol that we did as a band. Funny enough… 

Candice: On Ding Dong Merrily On High we actually are able to feature our two fabulous harmony vocalists. The twins. The Sisters of the Moon. That’s where you start hearing these big voices come in over the top. They have operetta-type trained voices so my voice hits the ceiling what it can do they take it over and bring it to a higher level. It’s an interesting combination between my voice which is much lower and the harmonies. I think in the song we start slow and then in the end it’s a wall of sound where their voices were able to help us out.

Ritchie: It’s kind of a more operatic carol really.

c) Good King Wenceslas
Ritchie: There is a long story about this one in fact. It has nothing to do with King Wenceslas. Those words were added much later to that melody. I forgot who wrote it. Most of them are anonymous anyway. That was again one of my favourite tunes. I always liked that one. And then I did find out it wasn’t about Kind Wenceslas at all. It’s a rather ambiguous lyric. Whoever wrote it.

Candice: We love story-songs. Songs that have these characters involved. Songs that have a start and an ending and a plot. So when we are writing them ourselves we are drawn to songs that incorporate these ideas and character references. It’s almost like mini-theatre within songs. I think that’s the only song where we added a melody of our own. That’s probably my favourite on the album. 

Ritchie: We went into some adlibbing in that one. We didn’t stick to the melody. At first we did but then we put a different arrangement in the middle-part. And then we invented a kind of a different melody to that.

d) Emmanuel
Ritchie: Emmanuel was a very strange tune. It’s almost like a Gregorian chant. Like a monk’s chant. I took that one because I couldn’t absorb the melody when I first heard it. I couldn’t get the melody into my head. There is a line in it that keeps on going. Like a chant. I had to hear it for quite a couple of times before it went into my head. I liked the melody but I couldn’t remember it properly. And that’s one of the reasons I got involved with the tune. Because it is so unusual.

Candice: I think it resonates really deep. It has a very melancholic type of haunting melody.

Ritchie: It reminds me of World Of Stone. That’s an old kind of monk Gregorian chant. Pretty haunting!

e) Christmas Eve
Candice: Christmas Eve!

Ritchie: Christmas Eve we wrote that about an innocent Christmas Eve. Going back to the childhood. And we even have some of the neighbours singing on it. And again: I liked the melody. I kinda wrote the melody as an instrumental on the guitar in the beginning. And it was quite tricky to play it in the beginning.

Candice: And very hard to sing.

Ritchie: But we concentrated to integrate a big trumpet part and we made that fancy complicated riff very simple.

Candice: Lyrically we tried to incorporate all the questions you’ve asked me before. All the visuals like the pine trees, the snow falling and all these things. We live next to a forest so looking at the moon over the pine trees with all the crystals is one of our favourite visuals. The shining of the moon over the branches… We tried to incorporate words that would warm each other’s hearts and not to offend anyone. We went around house to house and “gathered” the little children from the neighbourhood and got them to sing on it. Their parents were very pleased: “Yes! Take my child. Please! If you need them for a couple of hours just go ahead. We need some peace in our house…” I took them with me and they followed me like I was the pied piper. I brought them all to our house and they were very excited. They are all on the record and you can really hear them when the song starts to fade out. You then can hear the voices of the little children retaining the innocence. It was their very first to sing on a record and it was so honest. It was just a beautiful moment!

6. Do you now also think about special Christmas concerts with Blackmore’s Night?
Candice: What we really want to do also is hopefully come back here and maybe go to some of the Christkindl markets. We just came from Rothenburg o.d.T. and we always wanted to go there for Christmas. And maybe do some of the television shows. We would love to come back to Germany for holiday time. 

7. Ritchie: it has been told you never really smile…
Ritchie: There was a time apparently someone caught me smirking. It was ’79. I did smirk once. That was enough!

Candice: He tried it out. Wasn’t crazy about it. Moved on! But I think what I remarked about him at first was this abounding mystery that surrounds him. But when we sat down at a table we ended up talking for hours and hours and hours. We had so much in common. Ritchie and I on paper: nothing should work out at all. But it’s the kind of thing that in real life it works out really well. Because a lot of his strengths are his weaknesses and vice versa. So when we ended up talking we found out that we have so many things in common. One of our favourites were supernatural and paranormal things. Ghosts, other dimensions and other worlds. On that alone you can spend lifetimes talking about it. So we tended to really click as friends and kept in contact for a couple of years. We would always see each other when he would come to the island where I live. And things really progressed very, very naturally. First we were friends, then I went on the road with him and we started writing together. Everything has been a very natural evolution. I think that’s probably the healthiest way that relationships go.

8. Candice: It has been told that you were already singing when you were 6 months old…
Candice: My parents are very musical. They’ve always been musical. They both play the piano and they both sing. So that was the famous story when I grew up. Ever since I was very, very young – a few months old – I was always singing around something. Apparently I knew all the words to American Pie by Don McLean when I was a year and half old. That was driving everyone crazy because I just kept on singing and singing and singing. I think a lot of that came from the fact that I was the first born. When you are the first born your parents aren’t really quite sure what to do with you. So my parents actually enrolled me in singing and acting lessons. Because they were listening to my singing or making my own songs all the time. When I was four they put me into singing lessons. And I stayed there until the age of twelve. And then I went to a choir. Music has always been somewhere in me. Even going through high school when people are starting to experiment – to smoke and to drink beer, to do these kinds of escapes and rebellious things teenagers do – my biggest escape was to put on a headset and to write down lyrics that other people were singing. All my school books were covered with lyrics of other singers that really hit me in my heart.
And then I started to become a poet. 

I would write by myself in the dark and get out all of these feelings into poems for many years. The first time I met Ritchie, I was talking to him about it. But I would never show my work to anyone. It was too personal. Your deepest, darkest fears and your hopes, ideas and dreams were included. The whole scan of all of my emotions. That was actually what inspired him to ask me to write some of the lyrics on the 1995 Rainbow album. At one point he called me up and asked me to come up on a ferry. That took about an hour and fifteen minutes.

There he played me a backing track of one of their songs because their singer had a difficult time to come up with lyrics. And of course on a boat you don’t have much more left to do so I wrote down about fourteen verses and by the time the ferry arrived at the other side I showed him what I came up with. I fully expected him to take the paper and throw it into the garbage. But he just looked at it and said: “we take this, this and this, circle that one, half of it is a chorus and there you go! Here is the song!” I guess once I proved myself in that round it went on and on. They called me up every time they had some problems with coming up with lyrics. They just played me the backing tracks and I ended up co-writing four of the songs on that Rainbow album. There was the creative flow and we could write together. Once he knew that, he also knew that he can rely on me in that way as well. 

9. Candice: In Blackmore’s Night you started to play Renaissance instruments. How many of them can you play now?
Candice: At this point… How many can I play well, you mean? I used to play the piano but I lost favour with that. But now with the Renaissance instruments, I can play probably six or seven of them…. So I’ve ended up playing two different types of shawms, pennywhistles and the recorders… It’s great because it is incorporating a whole new sound to the band. Actually I played hurdy gurdy too but now Ritchie has taken over my part as the hurdy gurdy player. I’m very happy with that. Because otherwise I would have even more things to do on stage besides singing which is difficult. It’s great because around the house he is often playing the hurdy gurdy and I am playing the shawm. At two o’clock in the morning he plugs the amplifier in and just starts to play the hurdy gurdy over the water where we live. But we still have neighbours close to our home. But nobody can find out what the heck this sound is all about… We love to scare our neighbours. They think we’re the Addams Family at the end of the road anyway.

10.Candice: Tell us about your progress as a songwriter.
Candice: For the past almost ten years we’re doing Blackmore’s Night, I started out with the thinking that my main contribution will be as a poet, lyricist or philosopher or something in that kind… To me the singing thing was a little bit frightening at first. It was the first time I was singing on the centre of a stage in front of many people. I didn’t grow up thinking about being the lead singer. So I never formed or joined a band and did the bar-circuit or the clubs. The very first time I really sang on stage was in front of five thousand people in Tokyo. And I was kinda pushed on stage holding the microphone and shaking all over my body. I was very nervous and more or less in denial until someone pushed me out there. I thought this must a dream. This cannot really be happening to me. So my first real idea of contribution for this project was lyrical. I felt that was really coming from me. And I still try to work on my voice and learn my levels and try to push these boundaries back… Whenever I feel that I’ve hit the ceiling I try to push it a little bit further. It’s actually teaching me more about myself. That actually gets very introspective when you try to learn about your instrument. But then as the years went on and we started writing different songs we realized that as a Renaissance band we should really start involving more Renaissance instruments. And I think that’s what really sets us apart from a “normal” five-piece band. From a drums-bass-keyboards-guitars-vocals-band. Because instead of a guitar solo there might be a bagpipe chanter that I’m playing or it could be any instrument that we have in our house. So it is giving us a whole new dimension to the sound. And in that we are really able to have a great creative freedom in the songs. We keep it organic as well as integrating modern day instruments. It opens your mind to what you could possibly do… 

11. On the “Castles And Dreams” DVD you are jamming in a pub and talking to the people there without any boundaries. What is so special about Blackmore’s Night fans?
Ritchie: It’s about playing to people. Music is just about playing to people. Not about the money or the show. In fact I know very many people – I’ve played with them – that if you are not playing for money they have absolutely no interest in playing music. What I love to do is sitting in the corner of a restaurant – wherever we are – and to play and see how many people really like what you are playing. Most of the times they really like it and they’re surprised that anybody would be playing. I think that once we had a table where the people got up and left. Because they thought there is too much noise going on. You always remember the one… But I do like playing on the edge. Not making it easy for us. We’re playing new stuff. We’re playing off the wall. We don’t know who we are playing to… I like to be dangerous. It’s easy to play to a pure fan and have the whole PA set up. It’s nicer to play incognito as we do when we go around all these fairs. We visit the fairs in America a lot and we just walk around and play. Now the people are recognizing us more and more which can be a problem because we cannot be ourselves anymore.

But it’s nice to sit on an oak tree and to play to passers-by. Sometimes they throw in some coins into the hat .And we are saying that we are not playing for the money. And they say: “just take it.” And we say that we don’t play for the money. And then they get offended. I find it very stimulating to go to a fair and be like a wandering minstrel. And not having all the trimmings and the PA’s worked out. And you can relax and play some tunes and then stop when you like to. One of the problems with playing on stage is that you always have to be in the mood to play. But sometimes the both of us say that we really don’t want to play tonight. And we have a packed house of people… But luckily the energy makes you play in the end. But before you go on stage you think that you really don’t feel like playing that night. Whereas if you are playing a fair where you can play incognito you play when you feel like playing. And I think you play better, because it’s fresh.

12. Do you in some ways “separate” between Blackmore’s Night and rock-fans?
Ritchie: When we do a concert we don’t really have the Purple fans around anymore that much. In the beginning they were curious but now they know that we are not playing the older songs. It’s more a different kind of fans turning up. But sometimes we do play some Deep Purple music depending on how we feel. It’s nice not to have to play it. And the audience is very happy with what we are playing. Sometimes we throw it in as a kind of a bonus.

26th December 2006