Heart of Steel: Interviews


Chris Caffery
Solo Artist and
Guitarist for SAVATAGE

Interview by:
Marko Syrjälä and
Jarno Huovila

Pictures by Marko Syrjälä
and Savatage.com

Thanks to Nick for the transcription.

In the metal world, Chris Caffery is best known for his guitar playing in Savatage. After being a member of that band for more than fifteen years he now releases his first solo album called FACES. We were able to meet Chris in Helsinki during his promotional tour of Europe and here are the results…enjoy!

 

I was just listening to the solo album and it has pretty much of an 80´s feeling to it, much more 80´s than your stuff in Savatage?

In feel I think it comes from the guitar side of things. I mean, that´s when I was being groomed as a guitar player and a lot of my playing came through there. But if you listen to the “War” CD I think you hear another side of the heavy metal too, which is a real big part of my playing that´s not so much 80´s though. I think there´s a really wide variety of things when you get a chance to listen to everything together. That´s why I call the album “Faces”, there´s so many different sides of me musically. That´s why there are two CD´s, cause I wrote 65 songs and in the end I couldn´t narrow it down to one. But there´s a huge face of me that´s heavy metal, and that´s on that CD.

 

The first time I listened through the CD I noticed that the lyrics are much more aggressive, with “I´m pissed off” and stuff. Why is that? Are you concerned about all the politics stuff and things that are going on?

"...I was pissed off about Savatage having ONE record out in six years..."

Yeah, I think the last few years I was pissed off about a lot of things. I was pissed off about the war, I was pissed off about Savatage having ONE record out in six years, I was pissed off that Savatage have never been to Finland and I know there are people here who want to see us play and we never come. Things like that were frustrating me. But also Savatage enabled me to be who I am today and made a lot of my dreams come true musically so I didn´t want to have negative energy towards that. And Trans-Siberian Orchestra is selling millions of records and selling hundreds of thousands of concert tickets and I´m very fortunate for that too. So I think I was battling myself a lot in those lyrics. The aggression is coming with me kinda fighting myself and basically telling me to get off my ass before I watch a lot of my years go by waiting. I can´t force Savatage to tour, but I can make something happen for me. I watched the years of my life from age 30 to 36 go my like THAT. *snaps fingers* And it was one record, one tour. I was kinda looking in the mirror and looking at time, going “God, what´s gonna happen next?” I needed to take control over SOME of what´s gonna happen next and that´s what came out in this music. I found that I could sing and the singing got a lot better as the record went on and I still think it can get a lot better. I think if I was to sing this record again today I would blow away what´s there, but that´s just because I´m learning how to sing as time goes on too.

 

 

Three years ago in some interviews, you were asked if you were planning to do a solo record and if so, if you were going to sing on it. You said “maybe one song or so” and you said that you were getting better at singing. Obviously you have gotten a lot better since you sing the whole thing now.

It just got better as I did it more. I guess I have one of those voices that need to be trained. I mean, I´m not a natural singer. I had some natural talents and I had a lot of ideas and I had a lot of attitude and I had a lot of abilities, but I needed to develop it. In the past, if you walk up to a microphone and you sing in front of a room full of people, what comes out of your mouth first is what they hear and what they react to. When I was recording at home with my Pro Tools studio I was able to screw up and I was able to go back and record over it and try it again. As I did it every day, the singing got a little better and eventually I was able to sing songs that sounded different, songs that went higher and sing songs that went lower and sing songs that were raspy. So I just kept working on it. When I signed my deal I said: Alright, now I need to take vocal lessons, cause it´s serious and people are gonna hear it. I´m gonna be in a situation when not only the press but the fans are gonna be reviewing amongst themselves and on message boards what they think of the singing. And I don´t want somebody to go “Oh yeah, you should´ve gotten someone to sing, you should´ve gotten that to sing”. I like singing, I enjoy it, I wanted people to hear how much I liked it. That was another reason why I released so many songs and I wrote so many. They were all written at the same time and I wanted them all to come out. I´m not charging any more for the second cd, I paid for it all myself. I figured at a time when people are downloading and stealing music I´d do something really crazy, which is not only to pay for additional music myself, but to give it away, so people would look at me like I´m really crazy.

 

 

I heard that you have already booked some shows in Europe for next summer. Are you going to start a full tour of your own next year?

Yeah. I´m starting to get it together now. I have to see when Trans-Siberian Orchestra´s non-holiday touring will be next year and then I´m gonna fill in all the rest. I wanna get on as many festivals as possible and I do need to get a jump start on that now, cause I know that there is another Circle II Circle record and Jon [Oliva] is releasing a solo record and these festival protomors, they´re gonna for the most part want only one of us and I wanna get some shows and play this, that's why I did it. I wanted to get out of the house, I wanted to make music and see the fans.

So a tour might start like late this year?

I wanna try to do some shows this year, but it may just be like a week in Greece and a couple spot shows, cause Trans-Siberian Orchestra rehearsals start October 15th and I have to do that tour in the States. The new record comes out in the end of October and we´re touring in November and December in America, headlining arenas with that. So in January I´m gonna coma back over and tour for an extensive period of time.

 

 

For the forthcoming tour, would you like to do a club tour as a headliner or would you like to be the second act on the bill?

I´d rather start out being the second act on the bill. I think there´s gonna be an enormous amount of pressure that I´m gonna be encountering from all fronts on this tour. One of the main ones is playing and singing at the same time. So I think instead of adding the extra time into my set, I´d like to take it out. In the beginning we´ll be doing a 45 minutes or an hour set instead of doing an hour and a half. With all the other pressures going on, I´d rather have a middle slot on a three band bills, something like that, where I can just go and play and do what I have to do and focus on building it, getting it to where I think it needs to be. I´ve got so many things that people are looking at me for now. But if you´ve got to microscope the singing every night and then microscope the ticket sales, I´m gonna go nuts if I have that much pressure on the first tour. I just want to relax and try to make it through the tour and sing it and worry about the music, so I´m gonna look for the situation that makes me and my band the most comfortable.

 

 

Do you have any bands that you really would like to tour with on your first tour?

I really would like to tour with Jon´s, I think that would be fun. That´s the one tour that I know that I´d really want to do. As far as other people to open for, I don´t necessarily have a preference. There´s a lot of great bands out there right now. And I think with this record there´s also a wide enough variety of music that I can somewhere find a set to open for just about anybody. I think that if I needed to I could play with Slayer or I could play with Nightwish. I think I could find in these records a set where I could play a gig with anybody.

 

 

In September you are doing Prog Power V with the Weapons of Mass Destruction…

Yeah… Savatage or Weapons of Mass Savatage or whatever it is called there.

I understood that you are playing some rare stuff there?

Yeah. I haven´t seen the set. It was funny cause Jon was like “Ah, we´ll just go on and play the set” so I said “Jon, everybody´s expecting something different with this show”. I´m gonna put a setlist together, basically make it happen. Jon will kick and scream like a little kid going “We can´t learn this! We can´t!” “Sing it!” He´s always like that, Jon. [whispers:] The Mountain King is lazy sometimes! [laughs]

 

 

As for that show, I heard that once again you have kind of a funny situation with singers with Savatage. From Blabbermouth I heard that the guy who used to sing for you on the last tour [Damond Jiniva], he´s not in the band anymore?

He´s still in the band! But he´s not doing this show. See, this show is not really a Savatage show. It´s really me, Jon, Zak and Wacholz getting together and playing.

Who´s on bass?

Jon´s bass player. Kevin… I think that's his name. The "Circle II Tage Mahal" bass player. [laughs] And the Circle II Tage Mahal keyboard player´s playing too, John Zahner is playing keyboards. It´s gonna be fun! I mean, you should be able to play and have fun. In Savatage, that´s the thing that´s pissing me off more than anything else, Savatage can play whenever it wants to. But it doesn´t want to. I get a call from a promotor saying “Savatage should come to Australia! You can play for 15000 people in Sydney.” “You guys can play for 30000 people in Indonesia, come here!” And I talk to the band and the management and it´s “We´re not touring right now.” We don´t have to tour, we can go play in Australia, let´s go! Let´s go eat kangaroo or whatever it is and let´s go have some fun!

 

 

I met Al [Pitrelli] some three or four years ago, he was here with Dave Mustaine and he said exactly the same things. He was so pissed off waiting. Wait, wait, wait. Nothing happened in months maybe…  
 

"If I was to sit around for another year and then Jon was touring and I was sitting home, then it´d be really hard for me to even rationalize it for myself..."

Yeah! But Al was only waiting months at that point. I´m waiting YEARS. I mean, it´s different. We played Wacken 2002, we had two shows after that, the Pepsi festival and Hungary and one show in Yugoslavia, then Savatage has done nothing for two years. THAT´s waiting. Eventually you feel like the guy sitting at home waiting for the package to show up in the mail. After two years, the fricking package isn´t showing up. So you might as well either go look for the package or accept the fact that it´s not coming. Savatage WILL tour and play again some day, but I don´t know when and I can´t let any more time fly by waiting for it. I can´t do it, I have a lot of music in me and there´s a lot of Savatage fans. And I think there´s also with this music a lot of other fans that I can reach too, cause I think that a lot of people are pissed off and a song like that may cross to them. And there´s other more rock and roll songs, so I don´t necessarily hear ALL 80´s, but the influences are there and there are people that at going towards that feel of melodic mellow again, I was just playing me. I wanna record a couple of old Savatage songs to put as bonus tracks, sing some of them live and just make it something fun for me to do. I think Jon was in some way motivated by seeing Zachary do his solo thing, but I think in some ways that… a lot of the fans I talk to, they want to see a Savatage record right now. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit around. If I was to sit for another year and then Jon was touring and I was sitting home, then it´d be really hard for me to even rationalize it for myself why I´m sitting home. It´s like ok, now the main member of Savatage is touring under half of the name, playing Savatage music and I´m not touring. I love Jon, Jon´s one of my best friends. He´s closer to me than my own brother is, so I´m not gonna get mad at him. I wanna go play. You´re gonna play, I´m gonna play, ok. Brothers have their… People ask if, you know, we´re competing and I think brothers are always competing. Jon´s gonna put out his record and he´s gonna want it to do well and I´m gonna put out my record and I´m gonna want it to go well. But in the end, we´re both gonna tour and we´re gonna be happy and if he´s happy doing that then I´m hoping we could tour together. I think that would be fun. Tage Mahal and Chris Caffery together would be a funny tour cause me and Jon are both really kinda personable. I think at the end of the night we can get up there and play some Savatage songs and make noise and I think that when Savatage DOES come to do its next record, this is only gonna help it. It´s at a really pivotal point in the band´s career and the band´s next record needs to be very special. When everybody comes back to it, I think it really will be. I´m actually pretty confident of that. Our minds will be clearer, things will be a lot better for that you can write for Savatage and play for Savatage and not for yourself. I won´t really care if Paul [O´Neill] wants a guitar solo different this time. I won´t care if I write a song that doesn´t get used. I´ll just want to do a Savatage record.

 

 

Do you know if Al Pitrelli still is a member of Savatage?

Yeah, at the moment. I think there´s gonna be two different things happening. I think there´s gonna be a lineup of the band that plays on the next Savatage record and there´s gonna be a lineup on the band that tours for the next Savatage record. Paul O´Neill loves Al, I love Al, so Al´s gonna play in the studio with me on the guitar with this. And whether Al´s life is heading towards where he´s gonna tour we will have to see from there. When the next Savatage record comes out, me and Jon are gonna go on the road. Who´s gonna be with us we´re gonna find out when we get on the road. [laughs]

 

 

For your own touring band, do you know who will be there with you?

Jeff Plate, definitely. Jeff and I have the same schedule, the same off-time so whenever I´m not playing with Savatage or TSO, usually Jeff isn´t either. Dave Z, I want him to play and I believe he will, but he has a band with his brother called ZO2 and they´re opening for Kiss right now in America. Coming from a situation where I´m used to work with brothers and I had a brother I was working with, I don´t want Dave to stop any momentum with that. So if he needs to tour with that, I want him to. I´m gonna take Paul Morris out cause I´ve kinda adopted him. Our newly adopted keyboard… I don´t even know what we call him… Liquerace! Instead of Liberace, we call him Liquerace.

 

 

There are rumours floating that you were also asked to join some big bands in the 80´s like Dio for example... Is there any truth behind those stories?

That was a time when a lot of exciting things were coming together quickly for bands. Bands would get a deal and they would have large tours. They were looking for people with a certain look and I had a lot of friends and I entertained a lot of those offers but I didn´t necessarily take any. I still was “a metalhead” and I really enjoyed playing with Savatage but I made the mistake of leaving at the one point because I had a brother and I had a band and I wanted to see how that band was gonna work. My brother needed closure with it too, we needed closure with that as brothers and as musicians who grew up together. My knowledge of the business wasn´t really that great then. I should have just stayed with Savatage and did that band on the side and saw that it didn´t work, instead of quitting, seeing that it didn´t work and going “Oh shit! Now the band I wanted to put together is already in, but I´m not in”. Luckily for me, within the next year Jon Oliva was out of Savatage and we got together and started working on some material. I eventually found my way home with Savatage but it was a strange few years. You thought you knew everything and you found out that you didn´t and luckily I was young enough to make mistakes and be able to correct them.

 

 

In 2001, I think, you said that one guy you´d like to do something with in the future is Ronnie James Dio. And you also said that you´re pretty sure that in the future you might do that... Do you still believe that it will happen someday?

"There´s been several occasions where I almost got to be playing guitar in Dio."

Yeah, I always speak to Ronnie about that. There´s been several occasions where I almost got to be playing guitar in Dio. It just gets to a point where everyone wants it. It may not necessarily be a Dio record but there will be something one day that we do together. I love his singing, he´s been the singer in THREE of my favourite bands. Rainbow, Sabbath and Dio were three of my all time favourite bands period. A lot of, if not top ten, then out of my top 20 favourite records are records that he sang on. I would love to work with Ronnie. I think I could write Ronnie a really honest record. I could really write something for him that comes through.

 

 

Did you actually ever make any auditions for those other bands that were asking you to play?

Yeah, I went into a lot of different audition situations. Some of them were getting close to negotiations and things like that, but there was either choices by them or choices by me that in the end it wasn´t the right thing. Sometimes I was auditioning for a band that was from LA and I live in New York and they wanted an LA guitar player. Sometimes I just wasn´t in a position where I wanted to take that job at that time, cause I had something else going on that I believed in and I wasn´t ready to take it. I mean, it was fun to get to know all those people and to play but I didn´t feel it was the time or they didn´t feel it was the time to use someone like me.

 

 

How did you end up now playing a couple of shows with Doro Pesch?

Her manager was doing some tour managing for us on a Savatage tour once. He just said, “We have a day off tomorrow, I was thinking of flying home to do some business and to see Doro. Do you wanna fly with me? She would like you to play some guitar solos on her record.” So I said “Sure” and that´s how that came about. I actually saw the DVD the other day in Holland and I didn´t even know I was on it. There´s me in the studio playing, it was actually cool, I thought it was neat. I like Doro a lot. She´s a very honest musician and person and her fans really love her. I did an autograph signing with her in Holland and I was really happy to see how much fans like her. She´s a really believable person and I admire her for that.

 

 

Udo Dirkscheider is also doing some songs with you and Doro there?

Udo is a great guy I have to say. Accept was one of my favourites and what a guitarist Wolf Hoffman is…

I just saw U.D.O in Swedenrock Festival a couple of weeks ago. There were strong rumours flying that there was Accept re-union coming this year because of the anniversary but it never happened because Udo refused to do that. Still he was playing mostly Accept stuff in Sweden…

"...I think it´s kinda like Tage Mahal is competing with Savatage..."

Really? Do you know what. That´s what I fear happening with Tage Mahal. I think Jon Oliva is looking towards that. It´s weird. If Savatage´s playing or not playing is up to him. When he got a chance to do this record he went and did it, but I think it´s kinda like Tage Mahal is competing with Savatage. It´s a little strange for me. I´m not really competing with anybody but myself, you know. I´m just going out to play, but I think Tage Mahal getting the Circle II Circle band… I don´t know how fans are gonna look at this.

 

It is a bit confusing from a fan´s point of view…

It´s confusing from a guitar player´s and the band´s point of view! Somebody told me yesterday that they went to the studio in Florida and talked to Jon and he told them that tage Mahal´s doing a tour with playing the “Streets” record in its entirety. Which is something we were supposed to be doing. Confusion pisses me off!
 

 

 

Ok we understand that very well. On the “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Gutter ballet” tours in the 80´s you had some interesting bands that you were playing with: Dio, Megadeth, Maiden, Testament and King Diamond. Do you have any stories or memories from those?

I have a ton of stories and memories. I experienced so many things for the first time on those tours, whether it was festivals or different experiences with girls or seeing Jon Oliva totally wasted out of his mind for the first time, it´s a lot of little things you see and remember. I remember mainly just how fanatical… Savatage never had the largest number of fans, but the ones that liked it were always really, really, really into the band. I mean, Savatage was a lot of people´s favourite band. And that is something that held throughout the years and I think that´s one of the most important things I´ve learned being with that band, just how important the music is. Sometimes people have to put aside their egos and what they wanna do and just remember that that´s what´s bringing the fans together. Especially after 25 years, there´s nothing BUT the music that´s bringing the fans together after that much time. Especially since Savatage has existed in so many different ways. At one time Jon was not in it, his brother´s not in it and it still lives. There´s a reason for that and it´s not the logo. [laughs] It goes beyond the logo!

 

 

As for the new album, your record is released by a company from Greece. Do you have any idea who is going to release that album in the US and everywhere else?

I haven´t determined that yet. I´m actually waiting till I get home from this trip to finalize that. I have a bunch of people I´m talking to and with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra doing what it does there, I wanted to make sure that I took my time and ensure that the right label´s working with it in America. There´s a lot of places I think I can go with it there and I do have some very interesting bonus tracks that are gonna be available. One of them is an instrumental Christmas song. I have some other normal rock songs that I want to release on an EP and really try to get to the TSO audience. I´m the front man of that band a lot, so I want the label to be willing to try and maximize that commercial potential. In the end, this IS a business and I don´t wanna get with a label that will put five records in a store in a city where I could sell a thousand. I want to make sure that comes together the right way, so I´m gonna determine it all in the next five or six weeks.

 

 

Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find a big audience from the US at the moment..

Yeah…

But the Europeans are more like in the old days at the moment. Many older bands who are doing quite well there are not even able to tour in the US anymore…

Yeah. We´ll see. I think like I said before, I think people are pissed off everywhere so there may be something about that song that just grabs America, right at the right time and the right place too.

If you put it on the radio it will be “BEEP BEEP BEEP” all the time.

I´ve recorded another version of it.

How is that different? Is it completely clean version with nice lyrics on it?

It´s not clean, it´s funny! I just so obviously overdub. I say “fricking” instead of “fucking” and it´s so obvious it´s BAD. But I did it that way on purpose so you know exactly what´s there originally. I think people are pissed off everywhere. We can sit down here for five minutes and rewrite that song lyrically. What pissed you off yesterday? What pissed me off today? You could just rewrite that song every day if you want to. This pisses me off Monday, pisses me off Tuesday… It just happens.

 

 

Have you planned which is going to be the first single from the album?

Yeah, the first single I´ve thought a lot about and decided I was just gonna do something that was really straightforward with it. So I´m releasing the song “The Mold” as the first single. It´s the name of the single and the track fades into the next song on the single. The song is not necessarily Savatage-like, but I think Savatage fans will really like that song. And I put “God damn war” on it, because I wanted to introduce “War” on that cd too and I put two bonus tracks on it too. One is a song called “Fright nights” that is part of the “War” cd and there´s another ballad. I think it´s a pretty good mixture. “The Mold” is cool for me because it´s kinda the message I´m putting through everything in my music that I´m not trying to sound like anybody or do anything I´m supposed to do. And “The Mold” is a song about breaking corporate rock. It´s got a really good attitude about it, I think the song is strong musically and I wanted to come out with something that was a little bit ballsy. I didn´t necessarily want to open with the single, when the record comes out of the box, it´s gonna have its attention from my fans and who I am right then. So to sit there and say “Ok, I´m gonna release the strongest SINGLE single” when it comes out and first and there´s no tour just yet. I didn´t think it was smart, I wanted to wait cause I think there´s a coupla songs that are singles. A: “Pisses me off”, but I also think a song like “So far today” could be a single, but I didn´t necessarily want to come out with that. I didn´t wanna come out with something too funny, because the main message on the record isn´t funny. I didn´t wanna come out with something that was aballad, because most of the stuff on the record aren´t ballads. So I kinda just picked and said “Alright, this is just the lead-off single” and I thought it was cool.

 

 

Have you plans to make any promotional videos from the album?

Yeah. I am thinking about it now. I pieced together a kind of photo video for “Faces” that I´m gonna use for promotion stuff. I´m actually thinking that “Pisses me off” may be the video. I wanna go around New York City with a video camera and make everybody just mouth the words “Pisses me off”, black people, white people, Chinese people, Indian people, wherever you go, then morph it into some weird way to just make it look really cool.

 

 

With that way, you don´t have to have one million dollars for it to be produced.

Exactly!

Well, even if your album would sell quite well, no one will show your videos anyway, except on the Internet.

Yeah, well, there´s a few here and there. There´s a couple of channels in the United States that´s come out. “Headbanger´s Ball” is back in America and there´s another show called “Uranium” that shows a lot of metal videos.

 

 

It must be said that when I listen to your voice from CD, there are some parts that sound like mix of Jon and Zachary Stevens. But there are some parts where one strange name that came into my mind: Paul Di´Anno…?

I haven´t heard that one yet. Which songs do you mean?

The more aggressive songs you´re singing. If you´ve heard his “Killers” band, their first two albums, somehow the more aggressive stuff of yours sounds like that.

It´s alright to sound like Paul Di´Anno, I think he´s cool. [laughs] That´s funny.

He´s a cool guy, but he talks a lot of bullshit. He doesn´t mean anything with it.  He is a true storyteller…

Yeah… It´s got to be difficult to be Paul Di´Anno. It´s difficult for Dave Mustaine sometimes to deal with that [Metallica]. I imagine that Dave was multi-platium and in some places got as big as Metallica, but imagine being Paul Di´Anno…

I ‘ll try to do that (laughs)… Unfortunately our time is now running out. Any last comments you want to say for Metal-Rules.com readers?

Buy my cd… I just want to get back out on the road. I wanna play here, I´ve never played here. That´s the main thing, meeting people. That´s what you really wanna do. I wanna get back on the road and when Savatage is ready to play, I´ll be there, but in the meantime I wanna get out and play new places and feel a little challenged by it. I think that´s a good thing right now. I need that, to get up on a festival bill and be there in the middle of the day when people have really never seen me before and go up there and HAVE to kick ass again, not just go up there and feel like you´re sometimes just going through the motions with the rest of the band. Sometimes people just lose the feeling and the interest they had in touring and that may transcend to you when you´re on stage sometimes. I´ve had point in time when I was not necessarily questioning playing guitar, but just looking at a situation and feel like I wanna do this and be happier at what I´m doing right now. So that´s what I wanna do, I wanna go out there and be happy again, to play and to work towards something that is my future.

Ok, Thanks for your time now Chris!

No problem!