KAMELOT – Guitarist Thomas Youngblood discusses new album “Haven”

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INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA

Kamelot is a progressive power metal band from Tampa, Florida. The band was formed by Thomas Youngblood and drummer Richard Warner in 1991. Norwegian vocalist Roy Khan joined on the third album, SIEGE PELIROUS, and remained in the band until 2011. SILVERTHORNE (2012)  presented the new vocalist, Swede Tommy Karevik. Kamelot has released ten studio albums, and their eleventh album, HAVEN, is coming out in early May.  Youngblood visited Finland this April to promote the upcoming album, and here’s what he had to talk about it. It’s the time of Haven!

INTO THE HAVEN

HAVEN is the title of the upcoming Kamelot album. What kind of album can fan except the band this time?

We have a new album coming out in May; you are correct. It’s called HAVEN. It is the follow-up to the SILVERTHORNE, which featured our newest vocalist Tommy Karevik from Stockholm. On HAVEN, we wanted to do things a little; differently we wanted to keep the Kamelot sound, but we wanted to add some new elements. So we’ve been able to do that by adding some more modern metal elements, also industrial, some folk. It’s been produced by Sascha Paeth in Germany; also, it’s mastered by Jacob Hansen, who has done a fantastic job on mastering. It features guests; Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy, Troy Donockley from Nightwish, and Charlotte Wessels from Delain. If you buy the record, you will love it. There you go. “Laughs.”

What does HAVEN mean? I mean, that word has many different meanings, but what does HAVEN mean in this context?

For me, it was a place to go to escape, to escape maybe everyday kind of stress that we all experience one or another. No matter if you are super rich or poor, or if you are a student or an executive. There are always reasons to have some sort of escape from your daily life. When I was a kid, I had some rough periods, and I had a couple of albums that I kind of got lost in, and even if a few of our fans can do that with Haven. I think it’s a cool thing. We wanted that to be the title, to kind of give people an escape.

HAVEN’s press sheet says that this album has the undertone of a world going insane. So what were the main factors behind the songs and theme of the album? Do you think that the world has gone mad?

Unless you don’t have a television, then you know the world is going mad. We saw this undertone of this rebellion on the record, this revolution. We see it every day with all the governments or corporations, technology kind of taking control, where everybody’s brains and from the iPads and the iPhones. So we wanted to kind of make a record that showed some of those or talked about some of those kinds of things. But also showed a contrast of what we can do to get away from that, to have hope, and to escape some of those kinds of things hopefully. I was getting caught up in a lot of political television in the US, and I realized after like a couple of weeks like; this is bringing me down like I’m always angry about something. Eventually, I just stopped watching it, and it doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring the reality of life. But so much of the media will basically steer you in a certain way, and it’s not always the real story. So those are also some things that we kind of loosely touch on within the album.

You are from the United States, and you are looking at the world from a different perspective than us Europeans. As Tommy Karevik is from Sweden, I think you had some interesting conversations when you wrote this album together?

Yeah. Also, Oliver, he’s from Germany. There is a whole lot of things going on in Germany right now that we discuss. They have an immigration issue that they need to deal with right there. Sweden as well, there are a lot of things happening. Immigration, there is like people…they are dealing with all that. Political, geopolitical issues coming up. It’s not like we want to be. We didn’t want this record to be like some sort of statement either on government and corporations. We are not that kind of band, and we don’t want to do that kind of band. We want to be topical on this record, but we also wanted to make it relevant to what Kamelot is about. The human condition always tries and conveys all of the little things that it is about being a person, whether it’s love and hate, pain, and hope. At the end of the record, we want the fans to feel good, not feel worse when listening to it. Since this is not a concept, we can stray away from being in a storyline, and that kind of gives us a little bit more leeway to be a little bit more personal.

HAVEN’s song selection contains a wide range and variety of musical styles from traditional heavy metal to progressive metal, power ballads, etc. What type of material do you most comfortably write and/or prefer writing?

Yeah. I would say, for example, a song like “Insomnia” was really fun to write. I kind of like that the ballads, or the keyboards, the piano guy in the band, work on ballads more. I think it’s their strength, and heavy songs like, for example, in the past like “March of Mephisto,” those kinds of songs. Those are riff/guitar riff-based – those are always the stuff that I like to write and kick in on.

Which songs are your personal favorites on the disc? My favorite is the “Liar, Liar.”

That’s good because that’s mine right now too. I think that that’s a song that makes us in a way old school Kamelot, but also much more modern techniques and the verses. It’s definitely more of a modern kind, almost metal-core verse style. Then we have this mega-heavy middle part, and solo trade-offs and things like that that are something that we haven’t done before. We have Alissa also singing clean on that song, which is something that I think is really cool and unique and that fans will really find interesting.

“Revolution” is another great track. It’s a really heavy Kamelot song.

Yeah, that’s probably our heaviest song ever. It doesn’t start mega heavy, but by the end of it, you almost feel like you have been running for five kilometers and get your heart beating for sure.

kamelot-silverthorn-3528Kamelot 2015: Oliver Palotai, Thomas, Tommy Karevik, Casey Grillo, Sean Tibbets

WORKING WITH TOMMY KAREVIK

HAVEN is the second Kamelot album with Tommy Karevik. Was working with him now different compared to the first one?

I think you can feel that he’s a bit more confident and [has] freedom to express himself with this album. We haven’t really talked about it because everything just happened so fast. But I think you’ll hear that and extra nuances to his voice that he didn’t have on SILVERTHORNE. Maybe the music didn’t lend itself to that, or at the time, he didn’t feel the freedom maybe to do that. But there were some songs in him, and the vocals just completely blow you away. I can say that because it wasn’t me singing, so I can brag a little bit.

Do you think that even the most stubborn fans will now accept Tommy as the lead singer for Kamelot?

I’m sure, but to be honest with you. We try not to think too much about that, and it’s been such a positive experience already with the fans and everything. There are going to be some fans that it doesn’t matter what you do, that they are never going to be happy, and that’s fine. But we all have to move on with our lives, and it’s been like five years almost. It’s really cool because the band is now in some respects bigger than it was before. So we definitely don’t need to worry about what we did in the past anymore.

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PRODUCER TALK

Sascha Paeth once again produces the album. Sometimes bands say that when they are using the same producers for years, the producer becomes almost like a band member. Do you have exactly that kind of situation?

I think so; I think so in a way. Not that we feel we’re obligated or have to use him, and we always have the option and who knows what will do in the future. We might produce it ourselves or bring someone else in. It’s just been more of a cool thing for us to work with him, he’s really good at collaborating, and he also is dedicated to the Kamelot sound. Making sure that we keep that, but always including new ideas and stuff. He’s good to use in a way because he also is a bit of a Kamelot fan in a funny way. So like we might have a weird idea, and he says, “No, the fans are going to like this. Trust me.” That kind of thing. [He’s an] amazing guitar player too, and songwriter, so he’s just a great resource and a person to work with.

The album sound world is wide, and it is huge. “Haven” is your most epic album so far.

Cool, thank you.

There are tons of different elements and sounds used in the album, but are there still some specific elements you want to add to the band’s sound in the future?

Yeah, I’m sure that that would come up. I haven’t thought about that, and it wasn’t something on this record, for example, that didn’t get on there for whatever reason. Usually, we don’t try to analyze it too much, we start writing and making up stuff, and the mid part has like weird beat-less kind of thing. We really try to go with it if it has full control. Then that’s what we want to go for. So we don’t really think too much about that stuff when we first get started; we try not to put too many limitations on what we can do. Because I think the fans also expect something new and fresh with each record.

Although HAVEN sounds fantastic, have you completely ruled out the idea that one day Kamelot might release an album with “stripped down” sound. That could be a great idea if you ask me?

Definitely, actually, the bonus CD on this record; if you get limited, there is an acoustic version of “Veil of Elysium.” If you get limited, it has an acoustic version of “Veil of Elysium,” and it has a piano version of “End of Innocence.” You can still hear that song. It is a song; you could add all kinds of crap you want to it. But if you don’t have proper chords and melodies and lyrics, you can’t fix it with a bunch of fiddles and horns and stuff.

A good song is a good song, regardless of how it is presented.

A good song is a good song. But then it would be cool actually to do a full album, maybe go back and remake, for example, songs from BLACK HALO to GHOST OPERA, and do a complete strip-down version of those songs.

 

SPECIAL GUESTS

You once again have some special guests on the album. How did you end selecting Troy Donockley? He’s an interesting choice indeed.

Yeah, definitely. We were touring with Nightwish three years ago in North America, and I met Troy. If you’ve met Troy, you know he’s a really cool dude and really fun to hang out with. So when the idea came up, we had spoken on tour about him doing something on Kamelot record, on my solo record. So when this song came up, “Under Grey Skies,” to me, it totally made sense to give him a call and see if he had the time to it, and luckily he did. So it came out great.

And then we have Alissa, who has worked with you for a long time. Certainly, it must have been interesting for you to follow her career development, as her name was originally known to the public through Kamelot.

Definitely, yeah. Her former band was the first band on one of our tours, it was her band and a couple of other bands, and then we played and would see her every night and think, “This girl is a star; she shouldn’t be doing this at this level.” Then we had her join us on SILVERTHORNE and do tours and stuff, and she just was so awesome on stage. She got Arch Enemy’s call to join their band, and I thought it is the perfect fit for everybody. I knew, of course, that it would probably limit her to agree to be able to tour with us anymore. But that’s fine because she deserves this opportunity.

I saw her first show with Arch Enemy in Sweden Rock last year.

Yeah, yeah. We played there too. I think she played the day after we played because she actually performed with us there.

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THE STATE OF SUCCESS

Overall, how do you see the current state of progressive metal? There are bands like Nightwish and Dream Theater who do well, but overall, how do you see the current state of the genre in general?

Honestly, I don’t think about it too much. I don’t try to analyze it or anything. I don’t really even think about where Kamelot is and that whole picture. We don’t really… Obviously, we are in there somewhere, but it’s like anything. If you’re making good music, you’re going to stick around. If you don’t, you are going to end up fading away. I think a lot of those bands you are talking about continue to make good records and put on killer shows, and that’s important to be able to do those for more than five, 10, 15 years.

How are things different for Kamelot in the United States compared to Europe? Are there huge differences market-wise?

The States are growing like really, really big. The United States is probably our biggest market; it’s bigger than Europe, and then comes Asia. For us, U.S. has been really good, and it’s been a growth every year with the fan base there. I think Facebook has helped a lot for us in the U.S. Maybe before, it wasn’t easy because it’s such a big country. You don’t have the media coverage that you need unless you have like a supermassive promotional campaign with a major label or something. We have a big headline tour coming up there in April/May. We have, I don’t know how many dates,  25 dates, something like that with Dragonforce, as a special guest. There should be a lot of beer drinking every night after the shows. Yeah, those guys are really fun guys. We hang out a couple of times in California at the Anime Convention, and we always have a blast. So it should be a fun tour.

 KAMELOT2010PROMOKamelot during 2010. Former vocalist Roy Khan in the middle.

SOME FORMER MEMBER TALK

If I have understood right, you are still in contact with former Kamelot vocalist Roy Khan. Have you received any feedback from him on the two most recent Kamelot albums?

We are not really in contact, and I do hear through his friends or family because, with the last show in Oslo, his cousin came to the show. He was telling me that, he showed me his phone. So Roy says hi, that kind of thing. So I don’t really know too much more than that. I know he’s working for a Church there and he seems to be very happy. So I’m just glad everything has worked out for everybody.

He has found peace in his heart?

Yeah, I guess so. I really can’t speak for that, but all indications are that he seems to be very happy.

When it comes to former members of Kamelot, one related thing happened recently, and that is the death of former keyboardist Mats Olausson. Would you like to comment on this unfortunate case in any way?

He was a really nice guy, sweet dude. I remember he flew over to Florida for rehearsals, and we went to Japan. He made probably one of the best Thai chicken dinners in my kitchen. It’s sad. Even at that time, you could see that there was some demons and things going on. But we had to hear about that kind of thing, but I don’t know what else to say. He was a really nice guy.

I saw him with Kamelot in Sweden Rock back in 2003.

Yeah, he was an amazing player.

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TOUR TALK

As you said earlier, Kamelot starts its massive world tour in April. What can fans expect from this tour? I mean, do you have any special tricks in your pocket this time?

Special tricks? Probably we’re going to revamp everything from the set-list to the stage set up. Obviously, we are not going to change to a drastic degree, but I think it’s time to change things up a little bit when it comes to the set-list, and obviously, everything will be themed for the new album. This is like saying because we’ve been touring with the SILVERTHORNE backdrop now for a while. I don’t know what to do with it; maybe I’ll auction it or something. But yeah, it’s going to be exciting. New songs from the record, new little tricks here and there, special guests, and different cities. Like Alissa is probably going to join us in Mexico City, we have Linnea Vikstrom doing a lot of touring with us. She’s also the singer in Therion, and she’s really cool. She’s only like 22 years old, and she’s already really special. Yeah, we’ll see what’s happening, but we’re excited. I’m also still really close with Elize Ryd. So if her schedule opens up here and there, maybe she’ll do some more shows with us. We have some other people that many of the fans have heard about and want to sing with us, so we will see how well that works out. It’s a nice luxury to have so many cool, talented people that want to do it.

A European tour is coming in the fall, and then you also have four gigs in Finland.

Yes.

In the United States, your tour together with Dragonforce but how about Europe?

We are working on that now, trying to figure out if we are going to have one band that does all the shows, or maybe we have only one band only for Finland, one band for Oslo, one band for Sweden. Like-kind of regionalizing the shows. Yeah, local and regional bands. We are talking to all the agents and figuring out what will make the most sense, and thinking about the fans’ coolest thing. What kind of package is going to make them…? You can always get the hardcore Kamelot fan, but to get those ones that are kind of on edge. So you got to think about how the show’s dynamics and whether they want to sit through a certain opening band or not. That kind of thing sometimes is a factor.

How much of a young audience do you have at your gigs?

When we play in Oslo, we have two sections, and that’s about 30% that’s under 18. Which is pretty high?

Yeah, it is. And it’s great because they are the future.

Yeah, it’s awesome. We have a big demographic of fans, which I think is a cool testament to the fact that the albums are diverse. That we can actually appeal to all different kinds of people and things like that, that’s fun—a lot of fun.

kamelot-silverthorn-3527Another Kamelot promo shot from the year 2012

THE LAST WORDS

Is there anything more that you want to say?

Thanks to all the fans for support out there. Also, thanks for this interview. Looking forward to the release of the new album HAVEN and everybody going out and buying the new record and supporting metal. Also, we are looking forward to coming to a town near you, so check out the dates at ww.kamelot.com. You’ll see all the tour dates coming up, and yeah, we’re looking forward to it. Thank you.

Thank you.


 

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