Written by Simon Lukic
Transcribed by Mike ‘fucking hostile’ Holmes
Tobias Sammet is currently one of Metal’s most engaging personalities. His work with Edguy has taken him to all corners of the world and has proven to be highly successful. However in 2001 Tobias surprised the Metal community with a project called Avantasia and the release of THE METAL OPERA PART 1 was a massive gift to fans. The album bought together a host of Power Metal’s greatest stars, the highlight being that Tobias was able to entice vocalist Michael Kiske back from a self imposed Metal exile. THE METAL OPERA PART 2 followed in 2002 and now we have the latest installment, THE SCARECROW. A different album in many ways THE SCARECROW shows another side of Tobias with many tracks leaning towards a Rock format, more so than ever before. It’s a great album nevertheless made even better with guest appearances from Eric Singer on drums and Alice Cooper on vocals. Michael makes a return as do a number of artist from the first two albums, so do check it out if you haven’t already. I had the opportunity to chat to Tobias and as always he was amicable and ready to talk.
THE SCARECROW is a different album. It seems to have avoided the obvious power/speed metal characteristics of the first two albums. Was that a deliberate approach?
I don’t think I avoided anything. At least certainly I didn’t avoid anything on purpose. I just tried to record an album that would reflect me at this stage of my life. I didn’t want to get rid of the old trademarks and I think I haven’t. It’s just that a thirty year old fart will do things quite differently to a twenty-three year old guy. That’s probably one of the reasons. I mean, there are songs like “Shelter from the Rain”, “Devil in the Belfry” and even “The Scarecrow” that I haven’t done before. They contain material and elements that I haven’t included in my music before, but I still think they have the essence that makes Avantasia, Avantasia. I think the material is just more diverse.
In regards to the diversity, what did you want to specifically bring into the Avantasia sound this time?
I don’t know. I didn’t make up my mind about what I wanted to bring into the sound. I just thought, “ok, it’s a new game”. A different ballgame and I just started doing it again, whatever ‘it’ means. I just started working with the idea that I wanted an album without any boundaries. So, I just started working on the songs without thinking about it too much. The rule was if it sounds good, then it is good. There’s a little more of a devil-may-care attitude on THE SCARECROW. During the first album I had to make sure I manifested my position in the heavy metal scene and made clear what I stood for. So I had to give in to a certain amount of clichés on a subconscious level although I never tried to be clichéd on purpose. Now I think it’s a little different because I got the self-confidence to do whatever I want to do because I can say that “I am a metal fan, I am a metal musician and I define what metal has to sound like in my book these days”. So I have the self-confidence to even include elements, like for example “Lost in Space” which is definitely a different track. It’s not representative of the whole album, but I don’t think there are that many songs that are representative of a whole album. They’re all different.
Which is a good thing?
Well, with “Lost in Space” people have said, ‘oh he’s selling out, he sounds like Bon Jovi.’ I said ‘no, I don’t sound like fucking Bon Jovi, I sound like how I wanted to sound on this track.’ I think it’s way more metal to take a chance and take the flack with a song like that. It’s easy to just give in to what people demand of you and just kiss ass and release a poor, luke warm copy of the opening track of the first song from the first album.
- A frame from the "Lost in Space" video -
That’s a great attitude to have. Has the success of the first two albums given you the confidence to explore new territory?
I don’t know. I don’t think so much about exploring new territory in terms of sales because you can never predict that. You can never tailor a hit. That comes from of some narrow minded people in the heavy metal scene that whenever I do something they don’t understand, they come up with the ‘oh he’s exploring new territory in terms of sales and he’s selling out. He wants to reach the Bon Jovi fans.’ No, the Bon Jovi fans won’t give a shit because they won’t know my name. Why should they check out the album? I explore new territory all the time and it was not only because of the first two Avantasia albums and their success. I think in general we have become more self-confident as Edguy and as Avantasia to just do things within the realm of heavy guitar music. I think I’ve always, as long as I can remember, been a fan of all those kind of bands. I’ve never distinguished between what is true and what is not true, what is real metal and what is false metal, what is shit metal and pop metal. To me no matter if it was Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Helloween, Kiss or AC/DC it was all great music and it was one family. And that’s what we always did with Edguy and Avantasia as well. Probably the older you get the less you care about those who give you flack. That’s probably why you dare to do things that might give you flack or might bring you flack from other people.
Is there a distinct difference when you’re writing for either Avantasia or Edguy? What’s the process like for you?
It’s hard to say because whenever it is time to write for Edguy, everything I write is for Edguy and when it comes time to write for Avantasia, every thing I write at the time is for Avantasia. It’s not like I’m sitting there in a factory and saying, ‘ok from eight to nine I’m writing for Edguy and from nine to eleven I’m writing for Avantasia. I just sit there and I give everything to what I’m doing at the moment. The only difference is that with Avantasia, I know that I might find someone who is able to give the song the right mood. Theoretically if I wanted to, I could write a black metal song for Avantasia. I don’t want to do that because I don’t like black metal personally but I could eventually do it. I couldn’t do that for Edguy because I can’t sing like a black metal singer, so that’s the main difference. I can’t sing like Jorn Lande and I think that Jorn Lande can’t sing like me but it’s good to have these people supporting me on the album.
So is Avantasia a collaborative effort in any way? Do you want other people to bring in the things in that you can’t do?
I wrote the songs but Sascha (Paeth – producer/guitarist/ex Heavens Gate), helped me arrange them. He brought in ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, but of course when I compose and know that Michael Kiske will be singing the song I do not link him to a song that I would think is cliché. It’s a funny thing because there have been about 2856 traditional power metal releases from
Does THE SCARECROW have a connection to its predecessors?
No, not at all. It’s a completely new story and it’s got nothing to do with the first album.
Why this story in particular?
It’s a very personal story and it was something that I had on my mind. The story’s about a young man with a distorted sensory perception who grows up emotionally isolated from his environment. He has been living and feeling somewhat lonesome, like a scarecrow and due to his different sense of perception he discovers his passion for sounds and the very special influence they have on his mood. He soon develops skills at creating sounds and music as a substitute for affection so that he can become connected to his environment. He’s so passionate about what he’s doing that he develops a certain magic to impress other people and all of a sudden he experiences approval and acclaim, something that he has never experienced before. This is again a substitute for love and affection. The higher he climbs up the social ladder, the further he gets away from his original personality. He gets driven to face temptation, exploring the inner depths of the human soul and slowly goes insane. It’s hard to describe and I don’t want to say it’s autobiographical.
I was just about to ask that.
Not really but there’s a lot of… I’m not high on the social ladder as of yet and that’s a difference.
And not insane yet…
Oh yeah. I’m closer to becoming insane, than climbing up the social ladder. Well it’s a very tragic story and I’ve included some personal experiences in there as well, but it’s got also some elements that are a little like Edward Scissorhands Although it’s a beautiful concept, it’s abstract as well and it’s not a rock opera kind of thing as it was on the first one where I was telling a tale. I don’t want to bad mouth any other bands, but you know, a lot of other bands, including Avantasia in the past, tell these Cinderella type of stories where they go into the forest, meet the king and the king has a beautiful daughter who is trapped in the cave of dragon and all those things. And then there’s the witch… On the new album, each song makes sense on it’s own as well as part of a whole. It’s not your typical fantasy story, but I think it’s great. It’s mystical, tragic and dark.
The guest musicians you assemble for Avantasia is always a big part of each release. You got Eric Singer behind the kit this time and a fantastic guest vocal from Alice Cooper as well.
Of course, we are men and men are usually very playful. They are not as half as mature as women. So this album is like my little toy train. It’s something that I want to fulfill for myself. So I fulfilled my dream this time and had Alice Cooper and Rudolf Schenker on my album. The rest of the musicians are friends that I have known for quite a while and some people I just asked if they wanted to participate in my project, like Jorn who is also a friend. Roy Khan for example from Kamelot he was recording in the same studio and we were sitting at the one table every day and it was just a question away. I just wanted to have singers and musicians with character and with unique voices. I just wanted to have friends and people that I appreciate around me.
Do you have a shortlist of people at hand as a back up or is it just too impersonal to think of it in that way?
I didn’t have any backup musicians. I was not expecting Alice Cooper to say yes. So I of course was thinking of who could do the part but I believed that nobody else could do it. I told Eric that he had to ask
Now that would’ve been awesome.
That was sad. His schedule seemed to be too busy so he couldn’t do it.
So he was interested?
It was funny. We were in touch because of Eric as he also plays in Brian May’s band as well. We just didn’t want to send him a lousy demo so we completed and mixed the whole song that he was supposed to play on. When the track was ready, we sent it to him and he said that it was “a beautiful song but the vocals are so good that I don’t think I can do them any better and I don’t have the time.” I said, “Well it was not vocals we wanted, it was actually all about the guitar”. He couldn’t do it and it was just two weeks before our deadline, so it just didn’t happen.
That would’ve been fantastic had it of happened?
Yeah definitely. The man with the curly hair and the curly guitar chord. (Laughs)
Avantasia seems to have taken a life of its own. Are you surprised at all?
If I understand you correctly, it was successful, yes and afterwards it’s always easy to say “I expected it to be successful or I didn’t expect it.” But honestly I’ve always been old fashioned in that I thought whatever you do if you do it with your heart it will have success. It’s not as easy as that and I know that there’s thousands of musicians who are trying to do things with all of their heart and give everything they have and for some reason it doesn’t work out too well for them. For me that rule has had validity throughout the years. Of course I did not know how big it would be and how long the reputation of Avantasia would last. That of course makes it easier for me to come back Avantasia.
The next step I would imagine is to take is to take Avantasia on road?
We will do Avantasia live. We will do it big but there won’t be too many shows. Edguy’s going to be in the studio before and after the summer, so I have a little time frame where I’m available during the European summer. So, I’ve had some great offers, one of them being to headline Wacken.
You must be really pleased?
Yeah, it was really a blast to get the call. I didn’t think about it but then I got a phone call from my agency and they said “do you want to do it?” and I said “no, I’m not going to do it live” and then they said “do you want to do it?” and they asked again every two weeks. I said again, “no, no, no.” All of a sudden they came calling and told me “now it’s too late they took Iron Maiden” and I said “you want to tell me that I had been in the position of Iron Maiden? It was a question of Avantasia or Iron Maiden?” They said “yeah, was it.” I said, “well it’s a three day festival so if Iron Maiden’s there, there are still there’s two days where they need a headliner.” (Laughs) It was a gut decision and it was not really made with any thought. I talked to Sascha and said “do you think it’s a good idea to bring it on the road?” and he said “Yes! Of course, let’s do it really big.” Sascha’s been in a band called Heaven’s Gate…
…who has not been touring for a while. I don’t know how long it’s been since he has been on stage with a real band. It might’ve been like 10 years ago or something and he said “Yeah, let’s do it!” I talked to Eric and Eric said it was a great idea. We will only do a few festivals because it’s very expensive to bring a big stage production and everybody out on the road…not everybody, but as many people as we can. So we said, “Ok”.
Why did you say no for so long?
Because I’m lazy and I knew that I would get myself into situation that would involve too much work. (Laughs)
I’ve always said “no” because I think I was afraid to think about it and like the idea.
Are you considering bringing in a number of the vocalists like Michael onstage with you?
Well some of the vocalists that were on the album will be there. I don’t know if the one you mentioned will be there. I don’t know. I don’t think he would feel too comfortable in a heavy metal festival but of course we’re going to bring along some of the people. We’re just trying to arrange four or five of the singers because I don’t want to come in with ten vocalists – that would be like the waiting hall of an airport. That would be a bit Spinal Tap to have people show up onstage singing two lines and then fucking off again. We will share the whole thing and split the stuff amongst four or five singers. To me it makes more sense and it leaves the show some space to calm down a little bit. We’re not going to have any dwarves, elves or dragons with us.
Aw, that’s a little disappointing. You will have a scarecrow on stage with you at least?
Oh we might have a scarecrow. We’re not going to have dragons. I hate dragons. I think dragons are pretty gay.
For someone who considers himself lazy you certainly have a lot of work ahead of yourself?
I can be very, very productive if it’s something I really love. If I do something that I’m really into, I can work for twenty hours a day, but when I get the impression that something is work, I get sick of it after ten minutes. There are no problems at the moment and if there’s a problem, it’s just there to be worked over and eliminated. I’m in a great situation and other people would be very thankful to be in the situation I’m in. I’m involved in two bands that are relatively successful for a German rock or metal band, or whatever you call it. I think I should be thankful for it and as long as it’s fun, things like songwriting, creating new material, going onstage with some of my friends and traveling around the world cannot really be perceive as work.
Official Site: www.tobiassammet.com