Roy Khan of Kamelot
Interviewed by Chaosankh
Thanks to Nina Chiminec at SPV
When you were writing GHOST OPERA, was there a sense of greater pressure leading up to it due to the great acclaim that THE BLACK HALO had?
No. I mean not really. Of course, we knew that we’d set a high standard with THE BLACK HALO. You can only do the best you can with the available resources every time. So we try to look ahead and not back when we start working on new stuff. So I can’t say that we felt that as a burden. It’s always been like that. Every record that we’ve done has been perceived or looked upon as better or a progression from the last one. Of course, THE BLACK HALO was special. That record definitely broke us into some new territory. It also started the new era as far as budgets and promo and support goes since we left Sanctuary and went over to SPV who had a totally different belief in the band. They gave us a budget for videos and the DVD came out a year and a half later and it’s been really, really good since we joined SPV.
What is the writing process like in Kamelot and was it any different on GHOST OPERA than on previous records?
Most of the stuff that we write is Tom on guitar and me on keyboards. That’s how we normally write our stuff. It can also be vocals and acoustic in Tom’s garden or on the road or in a hotel room, an idea that we later develop that pops out of nowhere during a rehearsal. But most of it is written by me and Tom sitting down with keyboards and guitars.
How do you feel that GHOST OPERA extends the sound of Kamelot or pushes it forward?
Just one thing that hits on another thing you asked. The difference between THE BLACK HALO and GHOST OPERA is actually quite essential. Not that it matters really, but THE BLACK HALO was a concept record, and so was EPICA. But this time around that was the only thing that we knew, that this was not going to be a concept record. Although I’m sure a lot of people perceive it as a concept because there are the atmospheres and my style of lyrics and the overall melancholy on the album make it feel like a concept record but it’s not. But anyway, the songwriting process was totally different this time because we just sat down and were free to put down any ideas that we had in our heads at the time without having to worry about lyrics or a lyrical idea, which always was the case when we wrote stuff for THE BLACK HALO.
There are so many different styles on the new album and there are not as many fast paced songs as usual. Was there any fear at any point that some of the fans might be disappointed with that fact?
No. I mean is that the way it is? Maybe there’s one less fast song. I don’t know. We didn’t really feel it that way, but you’re probably right, though. In the past…I don’t know on THE BLACK HALO there’s “Nothing Ever Dies” and “When the Lights are Down.”
Yeah. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe when listening to it myself, I’m actually comparing it to something like KARMA that was a lot faster, and I guess there probably is sort of a progression in that way. To diversify a little bit more on each album I think.
The thing is a lot of people think we are way more analytical and that we follow some sort of formula when we sit down and write, but we don’t. We just do it. And actually we never even thought about that, but when you say that…I mean the biggest difference in that regard is maybe that this album is shorter. But I don’t really feel…I mean “Rule the World” is uptempo, midtempo- uptempo. Maybe there’s more mid, or uptempo-midtempo tracks on this record, but it’s also shorter than THE BLACK HALO. It’s like fifteen minutes shorter, so maybe that’s the reason.
What are some of your favorite new songs, and why? Why do particular ones stand out if any do?
Well you’ve got to remember that I’ve been listening to this album now for like three or four months. So, it’s constantly changing. Right now it’s probably “Love You to Death,” but “Rule the World,” “Blucher,” “Ghost Opera,” “The Human Stain,” “Love You to the Death,” “Up Through the Ashes,” “Anthem.” I mean hey I’m going to list up every song. But it really goes through phases. For two weeks I might like one song and then it’s another one that is my favorite.
It looks like you guys have quite a bit of tour plans set up already. What can fans expect on this tour that will be different than other tours?
It’s gonna be more of everything. More lights. Pyros where we have the possibility to do that. That is actually a problem in the U.S. because everything has become so restrictive on pyros after that Great White gig. But I mean for sure more lights and little theatrical things that we add to the show. There’s always gonna be…I mean we always try to bring in some new old songs in addition to the new stuff. Sometimes we do stuff slightly different from how we did it. But it’s basically gonna be more of everything.
It’s got to be getting harder to pick songs to play on every tour as you get more and more material. How do you decide what you want to cut and what you want to add?
Well, as long as we produce albums that are as good as the ones we have done so far, you always have to present a good portion of the newest album. That’s just the way it is because you want to promote your newest thing. And we’re extremely proud of GHOST OPERA. So we’re gonna probably play five, six tracks off of that album. The tour we just did we played three of them: “Mourning Star,” “Ghost Opera,” and “The Human Stain,” and there’s gonna be two, three more. It’s impossible to satisfy everybody. There’s always somebody walking up to me after the gig and telling me hey why didn’t you play this track. If we wanted to play all of the songs that we’ve played live, it would take three and half hours. And we could probably add more songs that we’ve never played live that we would like to play live, but it’s just a matter of time really. Of course, we could extend the set and play a little bit longer. But then again if you have one or two opening bands…our experience…we did that a couple of times, but people get tired and some people leave and that’s not necessarily the best way to do it. Unless we cut the openers and just do a long Kamelot kind of night.
I’m sure there isn’t, but is there any chance that any songs from the first two albums will ever see a live show again?
I don’t know. It’s not gonna happen on this tour or in connection with this record, and there’s several reasons. First of all, we all feel that the new songs are better. The two first records didn’t sell anything compared to any of the other albums. Let’s say we wanted to play “We’re Not Separate.” We could of course, but then we would have to take out a song that ten times more people would like to hear. So it kind of has to be like that. But maybe.
I guess on this tour you have a newer female vocalist, and I will probably mispronounce her name, Anne Katrin Maerske. Will she be making it to all of the dates and coming to the U.S. with you guys as well?
I think so. I’m not sure, but I think so. There’s a problem that she doesn’t have a visa. Because me and Olly are still on the visas that we had from the tour last fall. But maybe, yeah.
It looks like you have scheduled quite a few U.S. tour dates which is really refreshing as an American metal fan because so many bands choose not to tour this continent. And I wonder if there is anything besides just the amount of people who show up at an American metal show that is different about an American audience than an audience somewhere else in the world?
No. The American audience is awesome. It totally surprised me actually. The first little tour that we did two years ago was great, but that was only like five dates or something. Than we did the full tour last year with EPICA and that was great. It was a little bit like starting over again or almost like five years back in time as far as the amount of people goes. But the people themselves: fantastic. I guess it has to do with the fact that the country is extremely big and the visa cost is quite a bit. I don’t know. It’s for sure not the audience.
As far as preparing to sing for a record or tour, what kind of techniques or rituals do you have that prepare you to do something like that?
Nothing totally out of the ordinary, I’m afraid. I try to be warm in the whole body. Like do a short jog or pushups and sit ups and I like to be totally warm and sweat. That’s when I sing the best. But of course I do the regular, standard exercises. I drink a lot of water during the day and a lot of tea, preferably with honey right before the gig. I like to brush my teeth before the gig. That’s a bit awkward.
What, if you had to pick a few, would you say are your best highlights since you’ve been with Kamelot?
The video. The first video that we did, “March of Mephisto,” with Shagrath. That was the first video we did and that was great. Same thing with the DVD. That was also a highlight. But also this last tour that we did just now was also…I mean we had like sixty, seventy percent more people than we ever had before and it was just fantastic and it was even a month before the record came out, in some places two months before the record was out. But of course a lot people looked upon it as a nice opportunity to hear some of the new stuff. That was actually quite a bit beyond our expectations.
On the complete opposite end, have there been any low points since you were with the band where you thought maybe the band would not continue or you wouldn’t stay with them?
No. I mean the band has been progressing since SIEGE PERILOUS. I mean even SIEGE PERILOUS sold considerably more than DOMINION for example. And from THE FOURTH LEGACY, it really took off. I don’t think there’s ever been a point where any of us…of course we have our arguments, especially me and Tom. Over the years we’ve learned to manage each other. No real low point where everything looked black and hopeless.
Has the recent concert DVD, ONE COLD WINTER’S NIGHT, been a successful release for the band, and do you see yourselves doing another one in the future at some point?
I think it has…it’s really hard to tell because THE BLACK HALO also did a lot for us, and THE BLACK HALO kept selling. You know in the U.S., for example, it’s selling as much today per week as it did two years ago. The bulk of it you sell right when it’s released. That’s quite normal in this genre. But then it kept on selling and up until today it’s still selling really good in America. The same goes for Holland, Belgium, France, UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland especially. Canada is great. I think the DVD just added to the whole thing because that was a nice opportunity for people to experience the band in a live setting without actually having been able to attend a Kamelot gig. Of course, the DVD we spent a lot of heart and energy, and not the least money, into that production. So I would like to think that it helped.
The new video for “Ghost Opera” is another very elaborate production. It looks great, like the DVD, like “The March of Mephisto” video. It seems that Kamelot is actually able to do videos that are quite a bit more in production than a lot of your contemporaries. And I’m kind of wondering how you guys are able to do that. Is it because of the label or are you guys spending a lot more money out of your pockets to make these things so good?
We’re probably spending more money, but you have to have original ideas for anything to work. So I mean all of the ideas of how everything should look…actually everything down to the least little itsy-bitsy details, whether it’s a photo or anything, me and Tom control. Not because we want to control it but because we passionately…we really like what we’re doing and we really like to see this thing happening. I guess it’s mixture of artistic freedom and a talent for what we’re doing, and, of course, a record label that backs us up with promotion and money.
Are there plans to do videos for any of the other songs on GHOST OPERA?
We’re just about to…I think “The Human Stain” is going to be finished tomorrow. So that one’s going to come out in a week or so, but we’re also talking about other songs. But let’s see what’s gonna happen. We’re not totally sure what we’re gonna do yet.
Are you inspired by any other types of media to write, like movies or literature?
Oh yeah. The movies, books.
What are some recent favorites?
The last book that I read…I don’t know what the title is in English, but it’s a Spanish author and the book is called THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but his name is Zafon. A great book about literature and miserable love. Movies? Well, I can’t really think of any movie that has inspired me directly, and it’s really hard to…a lot of people ask me when you guys wrote that song, that song what was inspiring you, but it’s not like one specific thing is inspiring one specific song. It’s more like you get all these impulses. I mean we watch movies, read books, talk to people, grow older, and all of these things together make us think different and write different.
Who are some bands in metal or other types of music that you are really enjoying right now?
I don’t really listen that much to music, but I’m gonna get my hands on…I’m gonna go to the distributor here in Norway tomorrow and pick up a sample of the new Dimmu Borgir. I kind of like what they’re doing. I definitely liked the last album DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON. Within metal it spans from pop stuff from the eighties all the way to Dimmu Borgir, and Gorgoroth, or Rammstein, or Manson for that matter, or Tool. I have to say that there a lot of new bands coming up that are interesting. Scar Symmetry I kind of like. As I said, though, I don’t really listen to music, so I guess I’m not a very representative music listener, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on and there’s been a lot of new bands, good bands popping up over the last few years as this genre has been having a nice lift. I probably listen more to non-metal music than metal actually. Classical, jazz. Amy Winehouse was actually the last record I bought, which is sixties kind of pop. As far as inspirations go, it’s everything from what my parents listened to when I was a kid, like Simon and Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, to the stuff I listened to when I was a little bit older. Elvis Presley was a big inspiration I think. My Dad was a huge Elvis fan, and so was my Mom, but that was when I was a kid. I kind of discovered him when he died. There was a lot of fuss on the TV and it was Elvis all over the place. And A-Ha, Norwegian pop trio. Queensryche, of course, is probably…I mean A-Ha and Queensryche are probably the two only bands, and maybe Elvis, are the only ones that I ever idolized. I mean there’s so many bands, so much good music out there.
I read that the Conception reunion show at ProgPower 2005 was recorded. Are there any plans for that to see the light of day in any capacity? Or any plans to do anything else with Conception in the future?
Yeah. We’re talking about doing some more live gigs. I don’t Conception is ever gonna like release anything like a studio album, but we’ve been talking about this…we actually recorded three shows. The filming from the ProgPower gig wasn’t good enough, but the audio we might do something about and release it on our own label or whatever. I don’t know, but that’s not really…I’m so busy with Kamelot right now that it doesn’t make any sense to even think about it right now.
The next question I was going to ask, but you probably just answered it. Do you ever want to do anything solo on your own that might not be as metal or do some other different kind of style of music?
Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that I want to do. I wouldn’t mind doing a jazz record for example. I wouldn’t mind doing… I really could do a lot of stuff, pop, jazz, stoner metal, whatever…there’s a lot of stuff that I could do and would like to do, but as I said I’m so busy and I’m not the least artistically dissatisfied with Kamelot so it’s not like that big urge in me. But there will be a solo album eventually. I just need to go ahead and do it. The songs are there.
What are some of your goals or hopes for Kamelot in the years to come?
That we keep on releasing albums and whatever it is that we want to release that we can feel we did our absolute best about. As long as we do our best with the money and resources that we have available, we can’t really do any better. Whether that means losing fans or getting more fans like it has been, doesn’t really matter because we need to…this is an art. You do actually express some sort of inner feelings somehow, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, and you have to, at least we do, we have to be proud of what we do and at least feel when we release it that this is something that we could be proud of twenty years from now. And as long as we mange to do that and stretch into new territory, musically speaking, and it’s fun, than I’m happy. But, of course, any band would like to play arenas. It’s not that I don’t want to do that, but that’s not really a goal.
Well is there anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to say about the new album or anything else?
I think that pretty much covered it. Really looking forward to coming back to the U.S. to play there in August/September. That’s gonna be great.