It has now been almost 10 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".
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 favorite 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.
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.
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…
Why is Christmas so special?
Candice: I think I get more involved with it at holiday time. It's the visual part. Of course the fairy lights on the trees. It just seems at that time - maybe it's an illusion - all seems to be right in this world of turmoil that we seem to be dealing with every day. All the stress and pressure are gone. Holiday time for me it's almost made aware that you don't take the things that you have for granted. You try to spread some peace, joy and healing and you hear the children's innocent laughter. You are thinking of Santa Claus and the fantasy of that. And it's of course also the incredible warmth and security and just the spreading of love that you have in your family around you and all the people that love you and people that you hold very near and dear in your heart. It's also remembrance times for those who aren't with us anymore. So it's all of these wonderful feelings put in one. I don't think there is anything as magical as looking out and see the first snow fall. Just those crystals coming from the sky. And everybody remembers being a child when you see it. You then pretty much go out and makes snowmen and dance in the crystals. It's just really such a beautiful time of year. I think it's just the innocence and the remembrance. The memories that you have. Not only these that you want to continue to have in the future. The joy, the peace and the healing that goes on at the moment. When you can hold on to these moments throughout a year, that's an incredible gift!
How does a perfect Christmas look like for you?
Candice: Usually what we do in our house… We have "three main steps to Christmas". The first that we do is that we make a little concert in a local restaurant that friends of ours own. We invite people from our fan-clubs, our street-teams, our friends, our family. Everyone dresses up in Renaissance clothes. It's completely for free. We just want to play this music. These holiday songs. And at the end of the night we have a box that we leave by the door and we ask the people to make a donation if they can. If not, that's fine. We collect funds and give them to local pet shelters. Try to get them through the holidays. Just to help animals. That's the first stage. The second stage is the crazy party. That usually lasts from 9 pm to 9 am. And everybody leaves very drunk. But their hearts are full as well as their stomachs. That's the second stage. But the third stage is really my favorite stage. And that ends up being usually on Christmas day. After all the madness and chaos are over we just bring the inner circle of the people that we love and are very close to and we sit around the fire and roast chestnuts and tell stories and we just enjoy the pleasure of each other's company. And we take out the acoustic instruments and just play. To me the third stage is always the perfect Christmas. The perfect holiday time.
Where do you usually spend Christmas?
Candice: We usually do at home, don't we?
Ritchie: Our home is in Long Island, New York. And we always stay there during most of the Christmas days. Cause we have the animals there. We have all the badgers and cats there.
Candice: Ritchie usually takes three weeks to decorate the house. We have all these Christmas trees around the house. It's basically decorated like a Renaissance kind of castle. Even though it's a contemporary house we've converted the inside to look like a Renaissance castle. It takes a long time setting that up. It's really the perfect place to have the holidays in. It's our sanctuary and it's a wonderful warm embrace from a home.
Candice: What we usually also do… Around the corner there's a seaside village. And in December they have a Charles Dickens festival that goes on every year. And people dress up like in the Victorian times. And sometimes we are bringing the twins who are our harmony singers and maybe one more acoustic guitarist and we go on playing on street-corners dressed so that we can fit in there. Possibly so that most of the people don't know at all who we really are. Just that they enjoy our music without really recognizing who we are.
Ritchie: The last time we did it by the seaside where we live. We thought we will just go out and play. We chose a spot near the road and we started playing. My fingers were so cold I could hardly play the guitar. And the traffic passing was making so much noise that nobody could hear us anyway. And on top of that a choir that was paid by the local town came and started to sing their songs just a couple of yards away. So we were competing against a thirty-pieces-choir. They drowned us out. That was the end of that.
Candice: That was a happy ending to your story.
Ritchie: It was quite funny. Because we decided to go home because it was quite cold. On our way there we passed a hot chestnut stand. And the two girls they didn't know what chestnuts were. They never had them before in their lives.
Can you remember the most beautiful Christmas during your childhood?
Ritchie: Most of my Christmas days… I was very lucky to have parents that would make it a big event. So it was always very exciting. We didn't always have snow but it was nice to wake up to all these presents and lots of food and cakes and ice-creams. It was all about eating and presents in a way when you are younger.
Candice: Eating and presents… We didn't have a Christmas tree in our house. So we would go to our neighbor's house and decorate their Christmas tree. My Christmas days were very different. Back there we celebrated everything in one. It was just a big holiday for us at the time. But I don't think one of them stands out specifically. The growing up with my brother, my sister, my parents and my grandparents had a lot of security before going out to the real world and to deal with all the problems you have today. It's great and special to have memories of the innocence that each and every holiday had back there.
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.
Do you remember the first time you two met?
Ritchie: We met the first time when I was playing soccer. It was a charity game. It was Deep Purple versus a radio station. And Candice was working for the radio station. And I met her later. She came for an autograph. And then we were talking. And then we went back to some sort of a private party from the radio station. And that's how we met.
Candice: Sixteen years ago…
What was the first impression about each other?
Ritchie: She was very angelic. Obviously very pretty. And seemed very innocent. Very sincere. Qualities that not many people have today.
Candice: Ritchie was the complete opposite!
There is this funny story about Candice's first car drive with Ritchie...
Candice: Actually a funny story… When I first met him… You know most people when they first meet and first talk, they are very nervous and they really don't know how to break the ice. He actually asked me to meet him at a pub afterwards on the soccer field. I said I would come and then I was driving with a friend of mine in his car. I was sitting in the back and Ritchie was sitting in the front. He just came from the soccer field and took off his soccer boots and socks while we were talking. And at one point as we were talking he just took off the dirty sweaty socks, turned around and just hit me with them right in my face. And after that… There's no better way to break the silence!!! So ever since then it's just been history. Once you realize that someone has such a sense of humor you can relax and know that nothing is taboo. The way that we are even sixteen years later is a kind of ying-yang-equality and balance that goes on. Whether it's physically - me being the light-one and he being the dark-one. And I'm always smiling and he never smiles. There's lots of things that go on there.
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 favorites 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.
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.
You worked as a model years ago. How are your memories on that?
Candice: I'm glad that I did the modeling for as long as I did. Because I think it taught me a lot in what I am doing now. I always think that when your life makes a left turn properly or a right turn properly there is a reason for that. I don't really believe in co-incidence. A lot of the skills that I have learned in modeling - whether it is being in front of a camera, doing trade shows or interacting with people in certain ways - I've found that it's really helping and reflecting on my stage performance now. So it's not as scary or paralyzing to go out on stage and dealing with a crowd of four thousand people. Because I was dealing with things like that in modeling for such a long time. But there were definitely downsides about the modeling thing as well. The good thing is that I don't need a hair or make-up person because I can do it myself. But one of the bad things about modeling I think is that I always have to portrait a character that someone else wants me to portrait. The guy behind the camera or the head of the modeling agency. They always wanted you to get across and to fit in with the products they want you to sell. Whatever product it was. Clothes, make-up, jewelry or whatever it might have been. And now it's incredibly freeing what I am doing. Just because I can be me. And - love it or hate it - I can give it my all and be very honest. I simply don't feel so comfortable in being someone else and doing that salesman pitch. Ritchie would call it the sandwich-board. I just don't see it's very natural to fit in at all if it's not honest. When I sing, play and write these words it all comes from within. In modeling I kinda had to wear a mask that someone else expected me to wear. Now I just can be honest and be myself.
Could you imagine playing in a movie or in a TV-play or maybe in a theatre?
Candice: Yeah! I would actually love to do something like that! The closest I got recently to that is that I have been pulled on stage at Broadway. I was there with my friends, one of them being my background singer Nancy from the Sisters of the Moon. We went to see The Boy From Oz. Just after the actor in that won the Tony award. For some reasons - because we enjoyed the music so much - we were dancing in our seats and he stopped the whole show and got a big spotlight on us. He asked us what I do for living and all of my friends said that I am a singer. So he got us two microphones and we were able to get on a Broadway stage and sing Ghost Of A Rose and Past Times with good company and he - the actor Hugh Jackman - he was dancing.
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 favor 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 chawms, 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 neighbors close to our home. But nobody can find out what the heck this sound is all about… We love to scare our neighbors. They think we're the Addams Family at the end of the road anyway.
Tell us about your progress as a songwriter.
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 center 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…
Please tell us about your charity activities.
Ritchie: It's always a great feeling to do charity work. We tend to gravitate towards animal charities. We do quite a few things there. We sponsor a few animals at home as well. And it's always nice to be able to help animals. We're very animal orientated. That's why we hate hunters!
What other charity activities have you been undertaking recently?
Candice: Some of the other charities that we were involved in over the past ten years with this band… We donated some of the proceeds of our shows to the UNICEF. We've also donated to the Red Cross during these terrible floods in the Czech Republic as well as in Germany. We've also donated portions of the sales of our single Home Again to the Red Cross. So it's not only about the animals. We help humans, too! But what we also like to do every Christmas holiday we gather a group of people and kinda pass the hat around. And last time we raised a thousand dollars for a local charity. It was great and it was called "Save a pet". I like to donate at the place where we live because you can watch the thing you are helping and it's not just to send a check somewhere through a big corporation. Then you cannot be even sure where your money is going… Some of the other things… Just this past summer we were teaming up with the WWF.
Ritchie: The World Wrestling Federation…
Candice: Not the World Wrestling Federation… It was great… I told them that we are coming to Germany and want to help someone special. They asked us to go to their website and look out for an animal we really would like to help… I said that helping an animal is saying no to the other ones. So it ended up being the orang-utans in Borneo…They are becoming an endangered species at this point. So 1 Euro for every ticket for everyone of our shows during this summer went to the WWF. And recently we heard that they were able to actually plant over 6.000 fruit trees in order to save the orang-utans, which also of course helps to save the environment. Of course it gives us all fresher air to breathe when you have more trees…It all works the other way around. I think it's the best thing to give back some to these species and beings who need it. Sometimes when we're talking about these things it's depressing. Mankind is an oxymoron. Humans should know it all better than to just go around and destroying things with no reason and no purpose. They are hurting things and killing things and it breaks our hearts to talk about this subject. But we try to help in every little way we can.
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.
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.
Thanx and greetz to:
Doro, Ina, Sebastian (Absolute Promotion)