We are very honored to present you the interview that Thomas Jensen, the owner of Wacken Open Air Festival gave to Rock Overdose and Zisis Petkanas.
Rock Overdose: Hello Thomas, welcome to Rock Overdose.
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, hi!
Rock Overdose: Would you like to tell us a few things about the history of Wacken Open Air, if it’s easy to make things work?
Thomas Jensen:[Laughs] Not easy, my friend, but I can try… We started in 1990 because we needed a festival in that area. We were rock fans and, basically, it was hard to get to concerts and you always had to go to the big cities. You had Monsters of Rock, and it was really difficult to go to something like a metal festival. So we knew a few festivals like Dynamo Open Air and we started one ourselves. It was hard in the beginning, to learn everything, and we lost a lot of money, and it was difficult to get a lot of fans. But over the years, we improved… [laughs] And, finally, we found a lot of fans who liked what we were doing and, now, it’s ok
Rock Overdose: Now, you’re one of the biggest festivals worldwide. When was the first festival of the Wacken and what was the line-up?
Thomas Jensen: It was 1990. Eh, and on Friday I played with my own band, which was a cover band; we played metal cover songs. And on Saturday, there were only playing… local Hamburg bands. One band was called ‘5th Avenue’ and the other one was called – you probably don’t know one of them – ‘Sacred Season‘, from a small town close to Wacken. Small bands on Saturday, and only one band on Friday.
Rock Overdose:There weren’t any famous bands, it was only…
Thomas Jensen: No, no, not one. All local bands, all small bands. We had, like, 800 people coming on Friday, and 600 on Saturday. We started out really small. Not one international band, really small. And then it grew. And in 1992, we had Saxon and Blind Guardian playing, so that was a lot, a trigger. And every year, we try to make it better and…
Rock Overdose: Bigger.
Thomas Jensen: Bigger. Yeah, but ‘bigger’ was not the important issue, ‘better’ was. We wanted to just make it better, have a great party.
Rock Overdose: Who were the founders of this festival? Was it only you?
Thomas Jensen: No, it was me, my partner, Holder Huffner [?], who’s still in the team. And then it was my brother, and the drummer of my band, Andrea Sculver [?]. So, we were four friends, really… rock fans.
Rock Overdose: And step by step, you became bigger and bigger every year. I think it’s the most right way, to go on step by step. Not go right to the biggest bands.
Thomas Jensen: No, no, no… We had to learn everything, what you need. We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, and this was our defense to its own character. ‘We made some mistakes’. ‘Let’s see how can we make it better the next time?’ You have to face local demand, things you like. It’s more about coming closer, instead of a master plan. Or somebody’s coming with a reputation, and this is how to make a festival, and then: point 1, point 2, point 3…
Rock Overdose: Of course… You had to gain the experience. Thomas, how do you feel about managing this festival, and what are your responsibilities in this fest?
Thomas Jensen: My responsibilities… We’re still owners, so we still do everything there. We have no big corporations. Nobody can tell us what we’re doing and what we’re not doing, so we’re free in all our businesses. We have a great team now. I don’t have to do that much… supervision. I just have to put everything together. We’re a good team, I think that’s the most important thing. And, in the beginning, we did everything on our own and, now… [laughs]
Rock Overdose: Not so difficult nowadays, to have a great team. Everyone wants to work for Wacken.
Thomas Jensen: Well, now it’s easier, but also, in the team, we have a lot of people who have been [working] for us for a long, long time. Some people are ten, fifteen years. They may work the whole year somewhere else, and then once a year we meet to talk about the festival. So that’s really great.
Rock Overdose: So, would you like to tell us what are the plans for the next Wacken Open Air?
Thomas Jensen: We’re still in the process, listening to what the people liked at this year’s festival. We have already some bands confirmed like Amon Amarth or Powerwolf; they’re all on the website – at wacken.com .
Rock Overdose: What about the headliners? Have you decided about the headliners?
Thomas Jensen: No, we’re still negotiating. We meet a lot of people. But I think the headliners is not really that important thing, I think it’s the mixture; to find interesting bands. We are always looking for some surprises, like, hunting where people would like.
Rock Overdose: Any reunion, any anniversary album?
Thomas Jensen: Yeah… [laughs] Now, we’re already thinking of a few things, but sometimes things can go fast, sometimes they can go slow. I can’t really tell you anything before we know, too.
Rock Overdose: How is it, to approach the big bands and to book them?
Thomas Jensen: Oh, I’ll call somebody’s agent. All big bands have an agent. It’s not really that I can’t call to tell, ‘Next year, you wanna come?’. So, you sometimes call their agent or sometimes talk with the management, but most of the times, you go to the agent to make the booking. But, with some bands, several times really where we had a lot of contact, in the past, with the musician and with the manager. With Savatage, there was no agent involved. so it’s different.
Rock Overdose: Did it happen any time, to get disappointed about any refusal of a band you wanted to play at Wacken?
Thomas Jensen: Now, we are still trying to get bands like Metallica. Manowar is always something. They would be good. You just have to be patient. Every year, we ask them again, and, they don’t… One day, they will come. I am confident.
Rock Overdose: Ok, so I wish they will be in the next year’s line-up, or the year after that.
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, next year, it could be Metallica, or someone with a new album. And Manowar, on a farewell tour. I met DeMaio and could be good as well.
Rock Overdose: Manowar say that they will do their last tour. Do you believe it?
Thomas Jensen:[laughs] It depends on how long the tour is. I don’t know. They have a few concerts in Germany in the end of 2017. So, I think this Manowar tour… Maybe they’ll do their last show forever at Wacken. Why not, 2018? I don’t think next year, because they’re in a lot of touring till the end of the year, so probably they’ll want to share their tickets for their tour fair. So there’s a lot of thinking. We would like them to come next year.
Rock Overdose: So we’ll wait and see…
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, it’s always more exciting. You don’t know everything too early. It’s like Christmas.
Rock Overdose: What do you believe is the reason why Wacken became the biggest and most famous metal festival in the world?
Thomas Jensen: I don’t know… I think the mixture is the secret. We have a lot much variety in the program. And it’s also the whole party on the camp ground, the gathering… It’s not so controlled, like in other big festivals. We think a lot of freedom is important, and our crew is really working on… I think, for them, it’s important to look at all the metal fans that come to Wacken as our personal guests. Difficult to explain, but everybody’s trying to create a really good atmosphere for the audience and we’re always trying to come up with surprises. And I think the fans are honoring us. They feel that they are welcome, and they feel that we are listening to them, to all their wishes and that’s really a strong confidence of fans in us. A lot of people say that for them it’s like coming home once a year, and they have a lot of friends there, because they go every year. And that’s really great, and it means a lot to us; that the fans are so loyal.
Rock Overdose: Another great fact is that the festival is sold out every year in the first days.
Thomas Jensen: No, it’s not sold out yet… It was sold out really fast in the last two years. But when we had Rammstein, it was not sold out before October. So, you can still buy tickets now. So, it’s not sold out yet; we’ll be sold out soon, I think. But, it’s not the most important thing. I think the atmosphere is important. We’re actually a little happy that the tickets were not sold so fast, because people come from abroad, like Mexico and from Greece, or Spain. For them, it’s good that we’re not sold out so fast. I think in November, maybe, we’ll be sold out. And the moment you see it, buy tickets.
Rock Overdose: What about Greek bands? Do you know any Greek band?
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, I have to tell you! We had a fantastic punk band from Greece, punk rock… Let me remember their name…
Rock Overdose: Barb Wire Dolls?
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, Barb Wire Dolls. They’re from Crete and, I really liked them.
Rock Overdose: Sorry for interrupting you. You know, this band made a performance on a Greek talent show, and they said they were not good.
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, that’s true. That may be a compliment, yeah?
Rock Overdose: Of course!
Thomas Jensen: I think Greeks should be really proud. When I saw them, the singer was – unbelievable, that girl… Such a strong performance. I would call it old-school ‘77 punk. I always loved that music. And, in fact, I came from punk, you know, in the old days, in the ‘80s. We really liked it. And, really, a little bit, you can capture. Someone even said she reminded him of the very early Debbie Harry. Like, Blondie, when she started. I think it’s a good girl. We are trying to do a lot for the newcomers. I think that a TV casting show, sometimes, is not so much about the music; it’s more about the drama, and it’s all about the talking, and not a lot about the music. And I know Barb Wire Dolls. They’ve been touring a lot in the last three, four years.
Rock Overdose: The thing is this band is not so famous here in Greece.
Thomas Jensen: It’s not so famous?
Rock Overdose: Here in Greece, famous are bands like Rotting Christ.
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, yeah, I know. Years ago, I had them. We were running a small club in Germany. Yeah, we know Rotting Christ.
Rock Overdose: But, you see, Barb Wire Dolls are known worldwide, but here in Greece, they’re not so much…
Thomas Jensen: I know. Maybe it’s because they went to America. They live a lot in L.A. now. But, I was really surprised. And, next year, it’s the anniversary, 40 years of punk rock, so that would be good.
Rock Overdose: What is the process of booking a band for the festival?
Thomas Jensen: It’s always different. We think in the team, there’s a discussion, ‘This or that band?’, ‘What do you think? Should we approach them?’, This is how we do it in the team, as well. ‘Ah, Metallica? Yeah, they’ve never played’. So we ask them, and we write an e-mail to their agent, saying ‘Is the band available?’. The tricky thing is we know most of the worldwide metal agents, big agents, small agents. They can send an e-mail, saying ‘Hello! We have this band on tour. They have a new album out’, or ‘They want to play Wacken’, or ‘We want them to play Wacken’, [laughs] for whatever reason. ‘We have already a little tour lined up, and we need more dates’. The other way is that we have a lot of the fans on the Facebook or on our forum on the internet. They say, ‘Can you book Rotting Christ?’. Every Rotting Christ fan is writing to us on Facebook, and our social media team, in our next meeting, will say, ‘Oh, all the fans want to see Rotting Christ. Shall we try to get them?’ So, then we see how it works. And, then, we have a worldwide festival called Wacken Metal Battle and it takes place in over 40 countries. There, we promote a lot of people , who are really working in the underground…
Rock Overdose: Like here in Greece, or Wacken metal…
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, exactly! So, this is really, I think it’s a good way to become a little more known, for unknown bands. And, for us, it’s a good way to support the underground in all the countries. So, we’ve had last year, for the first time, we’ve had Suriname, the Caribbean. I didn’t know any of the bands, unbelievable.
Rock Overdose: Which was the saddest moment, for you, in all those years of festivals, and which was the happiest moment, for you?
Thomas Sensen: Oh, this year was [a year of] mixed emotions, because Lemmy had a great influence on us. So, when he died last year, around Christmas, we all knew that Wacken is gonna be different, because he’s not there anymore. Even when they were not on the bill, Motorhead was… [they] always had a presence. People were playing a lot of Motorhead stuff on the camp ground. Everybody in the crew always liked them. Sometimes, he… He often came to the festival as a camper then, and he was camping next to my camp, and... So, yeah, we knew it was going to be mixed emotions, but, on the other hand, we had a lot of rain again… For me, I don’t know about happy moments. I, I went with the camera team over the festival and I met a young boy, a little kid. I said, ‘Is this your first year?’, and he said, ‘No, no, no! I’ve been here seven times’, and I said, ‘How old are you?’, and he said, ‘Six!’
Rock Overdose: Six?
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, he was there, at the festival, when his mother was pregnant for the first time. So, I thought that is, really, a touching story. All his life, he’s been a fan. I thought it was really cool. And he was in a medieval village, watching us. Really good-looking, blond kid. Six years old, long blond hair, and I thought, ‘Oh! Our scene, the metal scene is really alive, so we don’t have to be scared’ [laughs] I thought that we’re not going to die out soon. There’s a lot of kids coming, and listening to that calmed my feelings. And that’s good for everybody.
Rock Overdose: So, would you like to tell something to the people that would like to attend the festival, or send a message to the Greek fans?
Thomas Jensen: I’ve been a lot to Greece, Thessaloniki and Athens. I would want to come sometime, maybe to see BarbWire Dolls. I know Greeks are suffering, going through difficult times at the moment, but I want to say to all the Greeks: Don’t give up. Listen to music, there must be hope. We’ve had hard times... Aggressive rock music always got me through disappointment, and anger, and grief. I always found something in music. I hope the Greeks can tell the same. If you want to attend the festival, anytime you may come. We look forward to seeing you. Come to Wacken! And I hope next year will be the time you’re waiting for.
Rock Overdose: So, thank you very much.
Thomas Jensen: Yeah, I thank you.
Interview: Zisis Petkanas
Questions: Konstantinos Sotirelis
Transcription: Stergios Goutsithis