Interview With Savatage
Interview and Photos By Imaginessa
First off, here are a couple of pictures of the guys from before the gig. This was taken immediately following the interview. The only person who was absent was the new guitarist for Savatage, Jack Frost.
L-R: Damond Jiniya, Chris Caffery, Jeff Plate, Johnny Lee Middleton
L-R: Jon Oliva, Damond, Chris, Jeff
Interview With Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery and Damond Jiniya
Ed. note: Some of the pics below (the ones I thought scanned the best) can be clicked on to see them full screen!!
This is my very first interview. So I hope you guys will be easy on me.
Jon: We will be delicate (smart ass)
I went ahead and e-mailed a bunch of friends who are huge Savatage fans and they all came together with a list of questions for me.
So first – POETS AND MADMEN is again a concept CD. Originally POETS was not supposed to be. So how did it become one?
Jon: Chris will answer that for you. Chris: Basically what I noticed when we were in the studio, is that umm, when we started doing this record we decided we weren’t going to have a concept CD. I noticed as Paul O’Neil was putting the lyrics together for it and having Jon and…Zak was supposed to be singing half of the record too…so as Jon was laying down whatever vocals were being done, I was listening to them change as time went on. So I’m sitting there and I’m listening to it and all of a sudden things would begin to tie together. One song would kinda have a line that made sense with a different song and this was probably I’d say around July when I started to notice it tying together. I said to Paul, “you’re making this into a story aren’t you?” He said, “Oh, just peaking” (laughs) Jon: I hate when he peaks. Chris: I thought peaking was a city in China myself. (laughter)
Anyone else want to add anything to that?
Alright Jon. (Jon keeps bustin chops)
So what was the influence for the storyline?
Jon: Actually he came up with the storyline from a news photo. It was taken in Sudan. It was a picture of this little girl. She was all curled up, starving to death on the side of this road and there was a vulture just and this guy who took this picture was an unknown photographer from America. He was just a young guy. He took this picture and came back to America and it ended up becoming a huge picture – all the news wires took it and it made him wealthy. He won a Pulitzer prize, his name was Kevin Carter and he is a real person that really lived. So that was the story and he committed suicide over this vision. It was a vision. Once you see this picture, it’s included in the album, it will never leave your mind…it’s the heaviest picture I have ever seen in my life. It was so heavy to this guy that the vision of it, he could never lose it and it ended up driving him mad. That was the whole original idea for the story. What we did in our version of the story was, in order to come across this person, who is now dead.. in the story we made him…like he was committed to an institution…while instead of committing suicide.. in our version of the story he just kind of like hid out. And this place ended up getting condemned. These three kids are out joy riding one night and they discover this place and thats how the story kind of ties together. Did I do that good?
Sounded pretty good.
Chris: Sure Jon, sounds great.
Even though it is a concept album, the songs seem to stand more on their own then on previous CD’s.
Chris: Yeah, that because of the fact that is wasn’t written (as a concept album) so they stand on their own.
So was it deliberate then?
Chris: No, I think we just wrote a record this time. We weren’t thinking of “I want a story”… Jon: Yea, the last time he (Paul) gave us a story and said here’s the “Wake of Magellan” story. Chris: And would say, “At this point of time in the story we need a ballad and at this time of the story there are battles going on we need just an instrumental with guitars, fighting keyboards. It’s like this time he just.. Jon: Yea, basically this time he just let me and Chris alone.
Every fan I talk to is so excited about this album. It’s their second favourite.
Jon: We’ll never chip away that number one spot. Wait till the next one. (Laughter)
L-R: Jon, Damond, Chris
L-R: Jon, Damond
The next question is about the CD – how come there are so many different versions of it out there?
Chris: That always happens because we have different record deals around the world. So every record company decides that they want something…special, different from everybody else.
Jon: They want their own. We have companies in Europe, companies in Asia, companies in South America. Chris: It actually goes into your contract, where certain companies need to get this “bonus track” thing, that to me is.. we get a bad rap for it sometimes because people will go “oh you put these bonus tracks on here because you want us to buy three different versions of the records.” Well look, nobody told you you have to buy the other records just because it has one other song.
Well, fans want to hear it all.
Chris: We are not forcing you to spend your money. It’s there, it’s a part of our contract…I don’t know what to tell them.
Jon: Sorry! (laughs)
I read that the reason you did the vocals on POETS AND MADMEN was to avoid delays and to cover your ass in the event that a new singer would bail after a tour.
Jon: That’s a lot of ass to cover! (laughs)
HAHA…ok…did you have any doubts before recording that your voice might not be up to scratch or that people would complain because of the departure of Zak?
Jon: (in a helium voice) No! (laughs)
Chris: Actually, he didn’t even know that there was a departure of Zak until the CD was almost done because we had songs recorded and we were waiting for Zak….and he told us the day before he was supposed to fly up to sing it that he wasn’t going to do it. And then he (Jon) was singing for three months so his voice was in great form. Jon: And I’m grateful Chris: So when he sang the rest of the record he just killed on it. Jon: And I had a wonderful time too. It was a lot of fun, I had a lot of fun doing the record. (During the last few minutes, someone new came and sat down)
Can I ask who you are?
Damond: I’m Damond. (we introduce ourselves)
Great! Perfect timing because now we are going to get to some questions about Damond..
Jon: He likes fire (laughs) **Note: I found out more about this later, but I refuse to divulge!!**
So is this basically (on this tour) – are you now, the new singer for Savatage or is this kind of test time?
Jon: Yes of course!! He is in!! Damond: I’m here until they kick me out or until you know…
So you’re the man on the next CD then?
Jon: Yeah, well I’ll still be singing lead songs too, but it’s more…
Chris: Actually what is going to happen on the next CD is what was supposed to happen on this CD. What was going to happen on POETS AND MADMEN was Jon was going to sing half of it and Zak was going to sing half of it. That was going to happen the whole entire time. Jon: We are going to try to get more of the Queen / Beatles type of vibe with it. I think one voice all the time gets a little bit monotonous. Damond’s got a great range and he has a lot of different styles of singing Chris: Personalities (laughs) Jon: …many many different personalities, some of which are better left in the darkness (laughs). It’s going to be cool because we can work off of each other very well. I can see it already that it’s going to be very cool. So I just can’t wait to get to the next record. What we are going to do with Damond is we’re going to do some live recordings on this tour in Europe. We’re going to have his first introduction to the fans to be seeing him live and hearing him on…because we are doing a DVD, a live DVD. And you’ll get to see him and then he will be like.. when we sit down and do the new album and stuff it will already be like he’s.. we want him to be already accepted in by everybody and have everyone get a chance to see him and know him and stuff. It will be easier to make that transition now, with doing it the way we are doing it now. Bringing him out on tour and getting him into the whole routine.
So (to Damond) how was it for you last night. Last night was your first night out with Savatage, right?
Damond: It was incredible. Yes! It was the first night out. I was the happiest person there. Savatage haven’t played for a while so people had been waiting to see Savatage. But I was actually able to play with Savatage! I was like…I was definitely the happiest person there!! Well Jack (Jack Frost – new Savatage lead guitarist who replaced Al Pitrelli) was actually pretty happy too! Jon: Jack was really happy! Well, except when we would give him a hard time (laughs)
Chris: We are all really happy. Jon: Jack was right there with you for happiness.
L-R: Jon, Damond
L-R: Chris, Johnny
And the audience? They were really receptive?
(Rounds of oh yeah from all) Chris: Response has been great. I don’t know yes or no whether or not what they are saying is exactly true but some of the things I’ve heard people say is that it’s their favourite show they have seen since the GUTTER BALLET tour…their favourite Savatage concert since 1993. These are people who come to see us 20-30 times a tour and analyze everything you do.
Jon: Yeah! They tell us, “Jon you fuck, you messed up this word in “Believe”. You said “it” instead of “the.” I’m like, Ah…ok, I’ll try to make a mental note of that. (laughs) “IT” NOT “THE”!! Write that down! (alot more laughs)
So will Al Pitrelli or Zak Stevens have any future involvement with Trans Siberian Orchestra?
What about you Damond?
Jon: We’re all involved in it. I don’t know how much Al would be, but Zak – they would probably do something with Zak down the road. We’ve many projects lined up for Trans Siberian. There’s like three or four records pretty much lined up over the next three to four years for that. That’s a thing that is constantly (going on) and there are certain things that are going to productions and that is going to be keeping everybody plenty busy.
How do you guys feel about TSO getting so much national airplay when you got Savatage still struggling for it?
Chris: Yeah but what song was getting all the national airplay? (editor’s note: It was a A Savatage song from Dead Winter Dead!)
A Savatage song!
Chris: Savatage is not struggling.
Jon: We are a victim of our name and a victim of our era. But the funny thing is, the point of the matter is we have the last laugh because Savatage is getting huge in Europe and South America. We’re like growing to the point of being at arena level and stadiums.
Chris: We are like an uncontrollable fungus!! (laughs) Jon: Here in America we have Trans Siberian as a platinum (selling) band. I think that’s only going to help Savatage. I think with a lot of people we’ve been out of touch with here in America because things were doing so well for us everywhere else. So where are you going to focus your attentions? Are you going to play in front of 30,000 people or 300? You’re going to go play in front of 30,000 in wherever it is you know like Bombay or wherever. That’s really what we’ve been doing. We’ve been going to the places where our sales have been strong and trying to get the band to the next level there and it’s been working. The momentum now is picking up and it’s starting to filter back over here. Now with the response on the Internet today alone after last night’s show is like just stupid (meaning amazing)! That’s going to hopefully keep rolling. We’re doing a lot of festivals over in Europe this summer and hopefully this will all jump start America and get us back to where we were here like in ’93. Because you know we had a top 40 single in ’93 with “Edge of Thorns.” and I think we can get back up to that. Or higher.
So what would be different about Savatage if Paul O’Neil was not involved, and was he ever asked to be a member?
Jon: Was Paul asked to me a member? Well no. Paul’s main thing with Savatage is that he is the storyteller. He comes up with a lot of the storylines that we work off of. Paul is kind of like the kind of guy that comes in and decorates the house. It’s like we build the house and we put the furniture in and he’s like they guy that comes in and goes “move that picture this way, we’ll have the phone over here, TV over there…” and that’s basically what he does with us. Chris: As soon as he leaves the room we put the picture back again… (laughter).
Jon: Paul is very involved with us in the writing. We do the lyrics. He does allot of the lyrics and stuff like that. He’s like our George Martin. Like George Martin was to the Beatles, Paul O’Neil is the George Martin of the Savatage world.
Dr. Butcher….anything going on?
Chris & Jon: We would like to hope so! Jon: Find us a couple of extra months and we would love to do something. We just don’t have much time. Chris: We have a ton of music written and by the time we get to go record it we will probably write all new stuff. But we want to do it and the deal is there but we are trying to fight and find time to get it done. I’m sure we will, I know we will as a matter of fact.
Jon: Oh we will. Ok Cory Apple (????)
How do you guys feel about Nuclear Blast and being with a smaller label?
Jon: Well we get more attention that way then we did with Atlantic on the basis that they have such a big roster of artists. Our other project which is with Atlantic is the Trans Siberian thing is Platinum, so they kind of like were losing interest in Savatage to be honest with you. It was like, this is our band man! We are not going to break up our band just because our other band is platinum. We don’t care. It’s like, we love our band so we were like, why don’t you give us Savatage back, to do whatever we want with and we’ll keep doing Trans Siberian with you guys. They were very nice to us they said “do whatever you guys want, here’s all your rights back, here’s all your records back, we love you guys just keep giving us those platinum Trans Siberian records.” I promise you I will. (laughter). And now we are with a company where we have young people who are out there trying to prove themselves or out there trying to make a name in the business. I like our chance, I feel more comfortable with that. Knowing that I have people that are like that who are out there who are go-getters trying to make it. They are going to get shit done rather then the guy sitting in the office with a thousand dollar a week expense account smoking a Havana going like “yeah, Savatage…let me tell ya there were big.” (laughter) “Yeah, make sure there is posters out too” (more laughter) Like…fuck you.
Alright, now that you’ve been at this for like 20 years…
(lots of laughs)
Jon: you had to remind us!
C’mon now, we’re all getting older! (laughs) Is Savatage where you want it to be?
Chris: Well we’re playing an we’re still making music.
I mean artistically….
Jon: Artistically, sure I think now we’ve got a good – with this record I think it’s opened up some other doors for us with directions that we can go in and with the addition of Damond now…he opens up A LOT of other doors that we could go through! Some of them are pretty scary too. (laughter) We’re gonna have a alooooota fun, I can tell you that.
How many songs from POETS AND MADMEN are you going to play tonight?
(Jon and Chris think hard and mumble to one another)
About today’s music…the changes in the metal scene and the current bands. What do you guys consider to be good out there now?
Jon: The metal stuff..
Well in what they call metal.
Jon: I like a lot of stuff. Chris: The stuff I like, I mean alot of the stuff I wouldn’t even be able to tell you the name of tho, cause I really don’t spend that much time…
Damond: Mr Bungle. I like Mr. Bungle. Jon: I like some of Limp Bizkit’s stuff. Some of that’s good.
Jon: Some of it.
Chris: I was really really really fond of Bruce Dickinson’s last two solo albums. CHEMICAL WEDDING is one of my favourite albums ever.
Jon: Who’s that?
Chris: Bruce Dickinson
Jon: I like Lawrence Welk
Damond: I like Brittany Spears.
Jon: I like Brittany Spears but not for her music.
Not for her music…not many boys do. So ok…you have the upcoming Priest tour.
How exciting is that!?
Jon: It’s Chris Caffery in heaven!
Chris: K.K. downing especially is one of those people that I’ve molded alot of my image and stuff around him. The first concert I ever saw in my life when I was 11 years old was Kiss and Judas Priest. I won a contest for backstage passes to go backstage and meet Priest when I was 12. And I have photos from when I was 13 with them and it’s just so….and one of them wound up in a magazine in Europe when they did a history of Savatage. To be going and playing in England and opening up for them in the place they are from it’s kind of neat. It’s like one of those things you put on your list of things you wanted to do when you are playing and you are a little kid. One of those things you never thought you would do but you got to do – like going to Japan or going and playing in South America. Well this is just another one of those things.
How did it come about?
Chris: They are big fans apparently, believe it or not!
Jon: Ripper is a friend of ours.
Chris: And, we are on the same label in Europe so it was just a natural marriage. And we are hoping to maybe do some stuff with them in the fall maybe in Scandinavia and maybe even some stuff over here but we don’t know right now.
So is there any chance of you coming to the States this time?
Jon: There is a possibility. There’s talk of it Chris: Hopefully, we don’t know. There are always possibilities.
Alright, last question. Is there any fan favourites that you guys are going to have to play tonight that you’d rather not have on the setlist?
Chris: I like all the songs, Jon hates the hell out of playing Sirens…
Jon: (singing in a monotone bored voice) “Sirens…ja ja na…Sirens….ja ja na…if I have to play it again” (laughter) You guys don’t understand! (Major whine) I’ve been playing Sirens since 1979.
There is that 20 year thing again…
Chris: If he wasn’t so lazy and learn something else and we could take it out of the set! (laughs) no…
Jon: Gotta play Sirens… 🙁
Is there any chance I can get a copy of the setlist for tonight?
L-R: Damond, Jack
Jon Oliva – Vocals / keys
Chris Caffery – Guitar
Johnny Lee Middleton – Bass
Damond Jiniya – Vocals
Jack Frost – Guitar