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04 January 2017 @ 08:52 pm
Welcome to my little musical home on the web, created for me to share some of my favorite songs and artists with you!

To search through the Song of the Week archive either go page by page or click here to see all artists listed.

For my Musical Picks of the Year posts click the year below for a detailed look at my favorite musical moments of that year:
2012    2011    2010    2009    2008    2007    2006    2005    2004    2003    2002    2001    2000

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview Series:
Jon Oliva - Dec. 2015
Al Pitrelli - Dec. 2015
Angus Clark - Dec. 2015
Chloe Lowery - Dec. 2015
Zak Stevens - Dec. 2015
Paul O'Neill - Letters from the Labyrinth in-depth - Nov. 2015
Russell Allen - Dec. 2014
Natalya Rose - Dec. 2014
Mee Eun Kim - Dec. 2014
Kayla Reeves - Dec. 2014
Paul O'Neill - Aug/Nov. 2014
Paul O'Neill - Jan. 2014
Joel Hoekstra - Dec. 2013
Jeff Plate - Dec. 2013
Georgia Napolitano - Dec. 2013
Rob Evan - Dec. 2012
Chris Caffery - Dec. 2012
Roddy Chong - Dec. 2012
Rob Evan - May 2012
Al Pitrelli - May 2012
Paul O'Neill - May 2012

More Interviews:
Rush's Geddy Lee
Rush Lighting Designer Howard Ungerleider
Singer/Songwriter Anna Nalick
To be posted at some time in the future: Tragically Hip's Paul Langois, Kansas' Billy Greer, Marillion's Steve Hogarth & Steve Rothery, Metallica Lighting Tech Ben Richards, John Wesley, and more.

Happy reading and listening!


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Al Pitrelli - Winter Tour 2015 - Dec 18, 2015

Interview by Brad Parmerter

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's long-time west coast tour Music Director and guitarist, Al Pitrelli, is no stranger to making magic happen both in the studio and on stage. In the summer of 2015 he was presented with the challenge of a lifetime: two bands headlining two stages simultaneously in Wacken, Germany for 80,000 concertgoers. As he spoke about preparing for that show I remembered a quote from our last conversation, "If you're prepared and an opportunity arises, you have a better chance of making something out of that opportunity than if you're unprepared."

In addition to that monumental show, the band was also working on Letters from the Labyrinth which was released in November of 2015. Meticulously crafted with TSO creator and producer Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva, Pitrelli conjured some of his finest guitar work to date on the album.

A brand-new winter tour production capped off a very busy year as their multi-platinum selling film, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, was performed for the first time across North America.

During the tour I caught up with Pitrelli to discuss both his emotions and technical details about Wacken, how the magic was created in the studio on Labyrinth, his go-to studio guitars, the current tour, in-ear monitors, reacting to issues that arise during a performance, his gear rundown, musical goals and why you shouldn't tell him he looks tired.

Bp: How is Little Rock treating you today?

Al Pitrelli: Well, I got up early and did a little bit of radio this morning. Then I went down to the TV station and now I'm looking forward to speaking with you for a bit. How's everything? How's the family?

Bp: Awesome. Congratulations on the nuptials earlier this year.

Al Pitrelli: [laughs] Ah, thanks so much. Everything's great in my world. It's been a great year to say the least.

Bp: It's been a busy year too.

Al Pitrelli: It's been a busy year! Between, good lord, finishing last year's winter tour, working on the new record all year, getting married, what came next – Wacken.

Bp: Oh, that little thing.

Al Pitrelli: Yea, that little bar-band concert we put together in Germany. It's been absolutely terrific, dude. This year's tour's going amazing. I've got nothing to complain about, brother.

Bp: Awesome. I want to dive in-depth into a few topics today including Wacken, Labyrinth, MD'ing, and also this year's tour. When did the prep start on Wacken for you?

Al Pitrelli: I would have to say probably late February/ early March. That's when Paul first told me we were going to do it and headline and then both bands were going to headline. At that point I thought, "That sounds like fun. Awesome." He kind of left out of the initial conversation that both bands were going to headline and play simultaneously. That's when I had an anxiety attack.

Bp: A minor detail to leave out.

Al Pitrelli: Yea. It's the little things in life. What're you going to do? 'Cause, I mean, in all actuality it was a logistical impossibility. How do two bands play at the same time with about one-hundred yards in between the two stages and no sight lines. It was time for me to scratch my head and think, "There's got to be a way to do this." Myself and BJ [Ramone], one of our engineers, it took us the better part of four months to design a whole program that was going to work out. We kind of tested it in rehearsals and it worked there. But when we got to Germany and our soundcheck got rained out, the crew was setting up stereo imagery of pyro and lasers and the trusses and the video screens, that's when I got scared for the first time in a long time, because we hadn't tried this and it's raining, it's windy, it's cold. Well, we're here, we might as well do it.

It went off without a hitch, thank God, but I really don't want to do anything like that again very soon at all.

Bp: You've said that choosing the setlist for Wacken was extremely difficult. Can you explain the process you guys went through?
Read more...Collapse )


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Angus Clark - Winter Tour 2015 - Dec 18, 2015

Interview by Brad Parmerter

Since 2001, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra west touring group's twin guitar attack has been deftly handled by Musical Director Al Pitrelli and Angus Clark. A seasoned world-wide touring musician, Clark brought an energy and ease of playing to the stage that counter-balanced the more reserved and focused Pitrelli. The combination of their talents raised the bar and have thrilled millions of concert-goers through their playing.

For the other nine months of the year, Angus is focused on his work as General Manager of Song Division, a company that incorporates songwriting with team building; video guitar lessons through TrueFire.com; and his own band, Daredevil Squadron, with fellow TSO member Andrew Ross.

I caught up with Angus during the 2015 winter tour to discuss in-depth his musical roots, early guitar inspirations, first bands and tours, which member of Megadeth helped him land the gig with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the early days of TSO, his guitar and gear rundown, TSO at Wacken, Song Division, the status of the new Daredevil Squadron album, and much more!

Bp: Where did the spark of musical inspiration come from for you when you were young?

Angus Clark: Well, the first pop music that attracted me were the rock albums my folks had. They had three because the rest were all classical albums. They had The Beatles' Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Rolling Stones' Beggar's Banquet. I favored The Beatles albums over the Stones, although Beggar's Banquet has "Sympathy for the Devil" on it, which is still one of my favorite songs.

Bp: For only having three, that's a pretty good set.

Angus Clark: Yeah. It was a nice arrangement. My Mom is a singer, she's a soprano with a background in opera. Her forte was German song-form stuff, more chamber music because she had a light voice. Not suited so much for the big opera stuff. My Dad played the cello – he's a lawyer, but he played the cello. They had met through participating in musical chorale singing, so there was always a lot of music in the house, mostly classical. So I had to find my way into the rock and roll stuff. I had a couple of tries at piano lessons and violin lessons, and cello lessons and none of it really took. I asked them for a guitar and they got me a classical guitar and I took a few lessons, so I'm technically classically trained at that point. But that guitar wound up back in the closet and it didn't come back out of the closet until [Pink Floyd's] The Wall came out and that album pretty much made me want to participate in being a musician and making people feel awesome about listening to music. So that was pretty much it when The Wall hit.

At that point I was listening to Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence on me and Black Sabbath. Those were my early inspirations.

Orlando, FL - December 14, 2014 (Photo by Stacey Porter)

Bp: Hendrix, Gilmour and Iommi are some stellar guitar players to be inspired by at a young age.

Angus Clark: In retrospect, if you listen to The Wall, not only is it an amazing album compositionally and lyrically and musically, but it's also an album of great guitar solos. Every single one of them is an amazing feat in and of itself. For me, very often it all comes back to The Wall in some way shape or form.

Bp: Were you able to see Roger Waters' presentation a few years ago?

Angus Clark: Yes, I saw it twice at Yankee Stadium. It was totally amazing.

Bp: So The Wall inspired you to bring the guitar back out of the closet, how did that evolve into wanting to pursue music as a career?

Angus Clark: When I bought The Wall I was an eighth grader at the Cathedral School in New York and I was in the choir at the Cathedral at St. John's the Divine, one of the biggest cathedrals in the world, so there's this grandiose stuff involved in my exposure to classical music and church music and stuff like that. I was taking lessons and my teacher took me all the way through the Mel Bay grades from one through seven. I think Brian Setzer learned the same way, so I feel great kinship with Brian Setzer in that way. In New York I went to a high school called Bronx High School of Science and from there I went to the University of Southern California. They have a great studio guitar program and I studied with guys who did session work for TV soundtracks and stuff like that. We'd play charts from Hill Street Blues and all these kinds of shows and things. So reading and classical instruction was all part of it, but at that point I was in LA in '85 so all I was listening to was Yngwie Malmsteen and Racer X and I was getting my chops together. When I got done with college I went back to New York because I wasn't really feeling it in LA. I don't enjoy driving that much. So I went back to New York and enrolled in a master's program at NYU where I studied with some guys who were out of the Charlie Banacos school from the Berklee College of Music – that's the school how Mike Stern plays guitar with the study of approach notes and stuff. So I'm gathering all these different styles of instruction and formal training, but at the same time all I want to do is put on Mob Rules and listen to Ronnie James Dio sing.

In about '92 I finally met some guys who were doing a prog rock band called Naked Sun and that was like Van der Graaf Generator meets Black Sabbath kind of a thing – that might be an obscure reference for your readers, but [laughs]

Bp: Nothing like a little German prog.

Angus Clark: Van der Graaf were British actually. That's Peter Hammill - have you ever listened to Marillion?

Bp: They're one of my favorite bands with Rush and TSO.

Angus Clark: Ahh, well Fish's lyrical approach is very Peter Hammill. If you listen to early Van der Graaf you'll hear where – everyone likes to liken the Marillion thing to Genesis which I think sonically it is, but the lyrics are deeper like a dark Pink Floyd type of thing. But if you were to listen to some Van der Graaf you'd hear where Fish is coming from on that Marillion stuff. It's really interesting, I encourage you to check out anything by Van der Graff Generator or Peter Hammill. It's really like artsy prog, not technical prog.

Bp: I've heard people make that connection before, but for some reason I thought they were German. Back to Naked Sun.

Angus Clark: So there we are in '92 and we're wearing bell bottoms and Van Dyke beards with long hair and we're totally out of step with everything as Nirvana are about to crush the hair bands into oblivion. I spent two years in that band and we made a record and we were playing some showcases in LA. That's where I met a woman who worked with Kitaro's management. Kitaro is a new age artist very influenced by Tangerine Dream – and those guys are German.

Bp: That's right. Edgar Froese was German.

Angus Clark: It was going to get in there somewhere. So Kitaro was more of an electronic musician using vintage synthesizers surrounding himself with a rock combo. But at this point he wanted specifically to be making music in the style of Pink Floyd with no singer. He was embracing a slightly jammy-ier live show than he had been doing previously. He had just done a tour with Jon Anderson of Yes and it was very classically structured – it was like soundtrack music with no movie. And he wanted to do something a bit more free form. So he told his manager he wanted someone who played like David Gilmour.

Naked Sun had played at The Whisky and there were about ten people there and she was one of them. Either that day or the next day Kitaro's manager had said he wanted someone who played like David Gilmour so at this point I was playing a Strat and had long straight brown hair and completely doing my David Gilmour thing. And two days later and I go out to see a friend's band play at Rogie's, which no longer exists because this was 1994 and the big earthquake had just happened so all these buildings were red flagged and everything, so I go to Rogie's to see this band play and this woman, Penny, walks in and she starts a conversation with me. I don't know where it's going, but then I said something and she said, "Oh, you must not be from here." And I said, "No, I'm from New York, we just got done playing." She said, "Did you play The Whisky two nights ago?" I said, "Yea." She said, "I saw you guys. You guys were great. I work for Kitaro and he's looking for someone to play like David Gilmour. Do you know Kitaro?" I had no idea who he was, I think I had him confused with somebody in my head at that point and I said, "Yes! Totally!" After that conversation I researched it and had a listen and I thought it was just like Pink Floyd without singing, very Meddle-era Pink Floyd. So I sent them a tape and I got the gig from that.

Naked Sun was completely out of step with what was going on at the time so it was appropriate that the band would break up, personalities and everything. It had to happen. I think I was the catalyst that broke it up because I said I was going to do the Kitaro tour. That's the first thing I did that shifted me from being a band guy to being a professional touring musician, I morphed my skillset to what the artist was looking for.

Long answer, sorry.

Kitaro: "Kokoro" (live 1995) - Chant From The Heart from An Enchanted Evening DVD

Bp: And that gave you experience playing all over the world.

Angus Clark: Yea, that was my first international traveling experience in my life. The first leg was six weeks in Japan and it was amazing. Complete culture shock. We did these cool outdoor shows with pyramid shaped lighting structures and mirror balls and fireworks. It was an intense and big production. It was really cool. We then did six weeks in the States including Radio City Music Hall and then we did similar trips the second year in '95. Then there was more international stuff in Europe and South America, Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, we actually went to Guangdong, China, and Hong Kong. Then it actually started to taper off around '97-'98. I got called by a baby band on an A&M imprint called Drill. They were a female fronted metal band and I did about six or eight months of touring with them which was interesting because it was a whole other world from the Kitaro scene. The bass player in that band was JD from Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, so JD and I did six months together. Apparently John O'Reilly [TSO west drummer] played on all the demos for Drills' first record, so it was like a six-degrees of separation thing.

Then I went back and did the last junket for Kitaro and we did a holiday thing. He'd made a Christmas album so we toured over the holidays and we were playing an instrumental version of "O Holy Night" and other stuff. Then the Kitaro thing ended for me and I was thinking about an original band for a couple of years and then in 2001 I started with TSO.

At that time TSO was playing some of the same theaters that I had done with Kitaro. We were doing one-to-two thousand seats so we'd be heading to Madison, Wisconsin to do the same place I'd played three years before with Kitaro.

Bp: How did the introduction to TSO come about?

Angus Clark: That's a good one. In addition to my performing career I'd done a certain amount of teaching like most professional musicians so I'd done a couple of stints at a now defunct guitar camp in Connecticut called the National Guitar Workshop. A lot of people have been through the doors of that joint. You'll continue to meet guitar players that have either taught or gone there. I was teaching up there and they were trying to bolster enrollment by having people who had magazine covers show up and do clinics and they had Zakk Wydle come – which is a pretty funny story, but inappropriate [laughs] – they also had Marty Friedman come and I was a big fan of Marty's. I had the Dragon's Kiss album and the Cacophony album and I had been to see them when I was in college. I saw Cacophony at the NAMM show at the Hurricane Guitars booth and I was a big fan of Marty's.

The faculty would jam with the guest artists and he and I played [Jimi Hendrix's] "Little Wing" there. People think of Marty as a shredder, Marty sort of defers himself from that, he might have come from a technical school and have some of that facility, but he thinks of himself as – and rightly so, he's a very melodic player and thinks of himself as doing what's right for the melody and what's best for the songs emotional impact. So it was neat that we played "Little Wing" because that's in my wheelhouse in terms of my approach to guitar playing, instead of trying to shred-off with him.

There were other guys on that day who had went for it, who were playing crazy scales with him and stuff like that, but he was really complimentary to me. He was like, "That was great!" I was flattered and thought that was neat. So the next time I saw Marty – the other side to this is that Marty, when he got the Megadeth gig, he still owed one album to Shrapnel or whatever, he still had a solo album to deliver as an obligation and he went for it. Essentially he wanted Kitaro to produce his album because he was a huge Kitaro fan. So the album, Scenes, was produced by Kitaro. They worked together on the whole record.

So the next time I see Marty is backstage at the Universal Amphitheater in LA and I said, "Hey, you might not remember, we met at this guitar camp a couple years ago." He said, "Yea, man, we played 'Little Wing,' I remember." I was like, "Wow." [laughing] So then we kept in touch and if Megadeth was in New York I'd go see him and we'd hang out and I'd get to see him. He was living in Phoenix, all the Megadeth guys were living in Phoenix at the time, so I went and saw him in the studio when I was touring through there and it was a nice friendship built on mutual respect and I just saw him at NAMM last year – anyway, to finish the story, fast forward to the 1999 tour, the first TSO tour it was Pitrelli and Caffery when it was one band, then on the 2000 tour it broke into two bands and the east band was Skolnick and Caffery and the west coast was Damon LaScott and George Cintron. Pitrelli wasn't there because he was in Megadeth. So coming into 2001 the lineup that went west in 2000, most of the band members did not come back in '01. Middleton didn't come back in '01 just for his own reasons, right?

Bp: Correct.

Angus Clark: So coming into '01 they were looking at pretty much a whole new band for the west coast and they lost Al to Megadeth at that point so they called Marty 'cause they wanted to know what he was doing. They probably had a similar skill set, "He can handle the gig, he's a full blown rock star, so let's get him." When Marty left Megadeth he moved to Japan, so he's living in Japan becoming a TV star. I don't know if you've seen the footage, but he's a full blown TV talk show host in Japan as well as a very successful musician. So they called Marty and asked him if he'd be interested and he said, "I can't, but I know a guy in New York."

He gave them my number and TSO management called me up and I went down. It was funny because I think it was the year before I was walking by the Beacon [Theater in NYC] and I'd seen the TV show and I thought, "This is probably the kind of gig that I'm going to probably wind up doing." I just had this notion that I was going to wind up there.

So I went down and had a first audition and felt pretty good about it. Then the second audition I pretty much just had to sit there with Paul and play "Old City Bar" for him. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it went well. So there you go.

Bp: Do you remember what you played for the first audition?

Angus Clark: "A Last Illusion," "O Come/O Holy Night," and "12/24." I was playing it on a Strat and I had no idea that Paul hates Strats at that point. He said, "Will you play a Jackson?" I said, "Which answer will get me the gig?"

Bp: [laughing] What can you tell me about that first tour with TSO?

Angus Clark: Well, we rehearsed at SIR in New York and then we got out on the road – I don't know what there is to say, we were all brand new with each other. We weren't green at all, everybody had toured on a professional level at some point. It was fun. It was the original show, all the shows have been great, but the original show, obviously we toured it for ten plus years – it's a great show. It's always been a really well run organization. Paul always puts together a good team. We had Valerie Vigoda playing the violin. We were just building a relationship on that tour. From that tour, Me, Al and Jane are the only ones still left from that tour on the current west coast band.

Bp: Johnny came back for the 2002 tour.

Angus Clark: Yea, and that's when O'Reilly joined. Except for a couple years when Johnny went to the east coast band, it's been pretty stable. It's a band. There's no other way to describe it. As I said, Paul puts together an amazing group both onstage and in the crew. It's only gotten better over the years.

Bp: Do you have a preference between the more intimate theater shows vs. the full-blown arena shows?

Angus Clark: You've got to count your lucky stars when you're walking onto an arena stage these days. It's amazing. That opportunity is so rare and to be able to do it – if you can't have a good time doing this then there's definitely something, you've got some issues you need to sort through. It's amazing. How many people get to do this at this level, not only this level, but to the degree of this level that Paul has dictated – this many lifts and pyro cues and lasers. Then there's certain elements when I get to run around the crowd and I'm joining selfies with people and high-fiving kids and there's so much of it that you get your personal jollies out of it, if you will, in the midst of this huge endeavor. Just to build that stage every day there are 75-80 guys and girls that show up at that building at 8 o'clock in the morning and put that stage together so I can run around on it and act like a kid, c'mon, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I think everybody that's in this at this point knows what they enjoy about a more intimate setting, but they also know that the choice of the music you play in a more intimate setting is going to be different. TSO music deserves this level of production. I don't know from a business perspective how it all works, but I know that we pushed into arenas in order to have the fireworks and the lasers and the smoke the way Paul wanted it before we were selling all those seats in those arenas. Because he had to get the look and feel of what this thing was supposed to look like out there. So we would play some relatively scaled down houses, but we'd have the full stage and the moving elements and the smoke and the pyro and everything and then the pictures started to come out and YouTube started to take off and people said, "This is an amazing thing to go see."

Then we started filling up the arenas. I think one of the first arenas the west coast band scaled full was the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. I remember that day, me and Pitrelli were looking at the seating filling up and we said, "Man, look at that. That's amazing."

Bp: Can you give me a rundown of your arsenal of guitars you've got out with you on this tour?

Angus Clark: I've got two Gibson Flying-V's and they both have the stock pickup in the neck and a Duncan distortion in the bridge. They're both strung with D'Addario strings, 11 to 49. One is white and one is red. The white one is a 2013 and the red is a 2005. I've got a white Gibson custom shop Les Paul SG, y'know the '61 Les Paul which is when they made the Les Paul with the SG body. I have my red SG with me but that's not in the show right now. I have a Jackson Adrian Smith model which I replaced the pickups and pickguard. I put a regular Strat pickguard on it so I could do my regular Strat stuff on it. That's a great guitar. I have a custom shop ESP that we're using on a couple of things, it's got an M2 body shape and then that's it, that's what's in the show. There's also a Tele Deluxe that I used the last few years, but we just couldn't find a spot for it in the show this year.

Bp: What's in your rig as far as effects and what amps are you using?

Angus Clark: I had been using EVH 5150 Mark III, but three or four years ago we switched over to Axe FX, so it's an Axe FX based rig. I would be using the Dunlop rack mounted Cry Baby, except that I think the only thing I was using that on was "Toccata-Carpimus Noctem" so since that's not in the set it's all just the Axe FX at this point.

Bp: The last time I talked to Al he was still using monitors. Is that still the case or is everyone using in-ears now?

Angus Clark: Well, we have some wedges on the stage, but we're all using in-ears. There are just enough wedges out there so you can get some resonant feedback when you need it. My wedge has just my guitar and some kick-snare-hat in it. Every now and then you pull an in-ear out so you can hear the crowd or every now and then there's a problem and your in-ears aren't working quite right and it's just good to know that there's something available on the stage. I don't know what all is in Al's wedge. I know his wedge is not as loud as it used to be other years because he's using the in-ears.

Bp: What's a favorite solo in this year's show and then from all the TSO tours that you've done?

Angus Clark: I liked it when I had "Siberian Sleigh Ride." That was fun because I had to do it when I was running around the room. I think part of my ethic in terms of performance is to make most things, where possible, look easy. I know some guitar players approach it differently where they want you to see how hard they're working on what is prepared for you, but I think it's more fun for the audience to see you having fun doing it. If they want to be technically impressed, that's okay too, but it's more fun to see the performer having a good time doing their thing rather than working hard at doing their thing. So I liked doing "Siberian Sleigh Ride" while running around because I thought it was cool to try to play in tune and in time while you're running.

"The Mountain" Tampa, FL - December 13, 2014 - multi-cam mix edited by Frank Anzalone

Right now, I love doing "The Mountain." I did it on the record so I like doing it live and it's such a big set piece. I think I'd been doing it live based more on the Criss Oliva version of it from "Prelude to Madness" and that's what clinched me getting to do it in the studio, but when I went into the studio they were very – they wanted me to use this Les Paul for it, which I did, and I own one now, but I didn't own a Les Paul then, so it was kind of a foreign animal for me. A lot of what I was doing live was whammy bar based, Hendrix inspired and things like that, so what's on the album version is very different to how it's being presented live now because I'm back to using a Floyd Rose equipped Strat-style guitar. I like doing that live because it's a lot of fun.

I like the ones Pitrelli and I get to do in harmony, those bits are always good fun. Anytime we get to do that. There ain't a bad bit of the show as far as I'm concerned.

Bp: Are there any particular parts of the show that you enjoy seeing an audience reaction to whether it's something that you've played or something else?

Angus Clark: I don't know how much of a reaction we're getting for it, but some of us more than others, I probably watch videos more than any of the other guys in the west coast band – there's a metal legacy to what this thing is. So for lack of anything better to do you can do a synchronized guitar neck move or synchronized head bang or something like that. But you worry about those things because you worry that – it's one thing to be evoking vintage Judas Priest or Scorpions, but it's another thing to evoking Rough Cutt or Trixter, no offense to those guys.

Bp: I know what you're saying.

Angus Clark: So you don't know how it's going to be taken in the context of what we do. We used to completely eschew all those synchronized motions and head banging moments except right at the end this year, in the 5th Symphony when we get to the last time [sings the part] I go over to Johnny and we do it four times, completely locked. 'Cause if you don't do it completely locked then you shouldn't do it at all. So we just give it to them, the last tune, synchronized headbang and we're out. To me, that's a personal triumph. I don't know if the audience is picking up on it, but we have fun with it.

Bp: I believe the east coast band partakes in that a bit more than you guys on the west do. And I get that there's a difference between the Priest and Maiden line-ups compared to the '80s style.

Angus Clark: 'Cause I love Priest and Maiden, c'mon. But there's so much of it out there now…I was subbing for Joel [Hoekstra] on Rock of Ages and the Broadway gang would be like, "Rock fingers everybody." And I'm thinking, "What are they talking about?" They're talking about Dio throwing the horns and they're calling them rock fingers. I'm like, "Oh, no! The Broadway world has a word for throwing the horns and it's called rock fingers?" I was mortified.

Bp: Poor Ronnie.

Angus Clark: I know. Ronnie was such an influence on me, everything that guy brought to the table. So that thing is a little more sacred to me than to other people who came later to the game, shall we say.

"Night Conceives" - July 30, 2015 Wacken, Germany - courtesy Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Bp: Can you walk me through the preparation for Wacken?

Angus Clark: That was awesome. It was awesome because I love working with Jeff Plate and Dave Z and all those guys and I finally got to play in a band with them so that was a real treat. It was different in that way. The amount of pre-production work that went into that was intense. You've got to give it up to Pitrelli and Paul and Bryan Hartley and Jon Oliva, all those guys. What they did in terms of orchestrating how we could get the two stages to play completely in sync was just amazing. It involved sending a click signal to both sides, but it had to be cued precisely so that things would always happen without being able to see each other, without being able to visually cue each other or sometimes hear what was going on. Everybody had to start and stop on a dime. They created all this programming just to get us locked up with each other and it's very new for us because we don't run any tracks. We're different from others who tour at the arena level because we don't have any tracks what-so-ever, so why would we need to run a click off a computer. So this was our first time getting into that. It's part of the big production touring game, but we've just never had a call for it. So it was new for a lot of people.

Bp: You've used time code for the instrumentals before to stay in time with the lighting effects.

Angus Clark: We don't get the time code in our ears 'cause that'd be like listening to [makes high pitched sound] – that'd be awful. You're right though, there are things when there's a synthy-click, but they didn't do it to a level that this was done. There's some subtleties to doing it well so everybody can play to it without, how shall we say – I can only really hear the click when we get off it. If we didn't have it programmed right so everyone was comfortable with it, you'd have to have it way loud and it'd be awful. I'd be standing there smiling acting like I'm having a great time and feeling like there was an ice pick in my ear going 'ping ping ping.' They really did the work to make sure it was something everyone could get comfortable with. That was the important thing about it so that we're still having fun doing the show. And we're still playing like a band.

The other thing that was interesting about playing at Wacken was we went to the fairgrounds in Tampa and they just taped the stages out onto the floor, 'don't go here' and 'don't go there,' 'this is how much room you'll have.' And we had to pretend we were standing in front of 80,000 people. And then we get there and it's basically what you prepared to do, it's just for real, so that's just weird. And then it's raining – but everything really worked. I don't know from a technical perspective of anything that didn't go off as planned, we all felt really comfortable that we were nailing it as a band and it was fun playing with Dave and Jeff. There were some funny moments where – it was "Toccata" and I'm playing this one thing and Jeff is playing something and I said, "Can we make this triplets, 'cause I'm playing triplets. " He just looks at me says, "You are?" I said, "I think I'm playing the album version." And he said, "I think I'm playing the album version." So we had to go back to the videotape to figure out who was right. You find out where the little things – and I think these are things that your average audience member would not even notice anything different about the show. The two shows for each show, the east coast and the west coast, both are amazing and excellent and for the most part we are playing the same show. But these little things that maybe I or someone else in the band or someone who has been listening to it for twenty years would know or pick up on. It was nice to come together and get as a team, the largest team effort that TSO and Paul has ever put out there. It's important that we accomplished it all together as a team, that's really cool.

Bp: Were you guys actually getting hit by the rain while onstage?

Angus Clark: Yea. It was blowing in because the canopy only goes out so far so it was blowing in and dousing some pyro cues and stuff like that. Not many.

Bp: That's got to add an element of excitement to the already high energy situation.

Angus Clark: Yea, for sure. It was crazy and awesome.

Bp: Were you any more nervous before heading out onstage because it was a giant undertaking with so many new songs or because you'd rehearsed so much were you comfortable?

Angus Clark: If you didn't get a little nervous every time you went on stage you should probably stop playing live. There's a certain amount of nervousness, but the weirdest thing was that the crowd was thirty yards away from you. There's a huge pit between you and the first row of the crowd. And it was dark out so you could only see the first fifty yards of people.

It was awesome though. There were moments, especially when we were playing Savatage material where they started doing all those great things that European festival crowds do, that was just priceless. That was a golden memory.

Bp: Speaking of the inter-mingling of the bands, when you're in Omaha do you watch the east coast's full dress rehearsal before they head out for their first show?

Angus Clark: Yeah, it's awesome. 'Cause you get to see different ways of using the stage and there's a lot of opportunity to hear what the subtle differences are as I was talking about before and also when things are the same you get a notion of what we can accomplish when we're on the stage, "Oh, this is lit like that so maybe if we do this or that it might be effective." It's great, a nice learning experience.

I actually went and played "Christmas Canon" with the east coast band during rehearsal. Again there are some subtle differences between the east coast band and the west coast band when we play that tune.

Bp: What was the reason for playing it with them?

Angus Clark: I don't remember, 'cause Bill Hudson was just nailing it over there. He wasn't available or wasn't there at that point in time, and they needed to run "Christmas Canon" so they asked me to come play Bill's part. But I had to have a two-minute conversation and I said, "Is it the same number of bars?" They said, "Yeah, it's all the same number of bars." So I said, "What's different?" "Well, that stop that you guys do, that doesn't happen. Then out of this part you do the tapping part and then go back into the melody." Then they harmonize the main theme slightly differently, but I know both parts so I was like, "Ok, got it." Then it was "1, 2, 3, 4, go." And we nailed it. I was like, "Wow, that's awesome!" [laughs] It was like subbing for Bill. It was fun.

"Good King Joy" Chicago, IL - December 28, 2015 - video captured by The 2 Z Girlz

Bp: Let me run through a couple quick ones here. What do you do to keep healthy and stay in shape?

Angus Clark: Well, during rehearsal I signed on to the Dave Z school of fitness, which is mostly based on the Insanity videotapes so I have those with me. I have a routine that involves some of that and some weightlifting. After Johnny Lee showed up to rehearsal one day and took his jacket off and Paul said, "I want the look without the jacket and the cut-off sleeves, that's great!" And I was like, "Oh man." So I spent a whole year in the gym so I could pull it off next time he showed up.

We have a really good team of caterer's that we have with us. They have all the healthy choices. They also have the more caloric choices, but you just try to make some good choices at meal times and you try to monitor – the meal times are also an issue. You have to figure out when to eat around the show and avoid eating late. Same thing anybody does to try to stay healthy.

Bp: What do you do to warm up before showtime?

Angus Clark: Am I supposed to be doing that?

Bp: [laughs] I don't know, do you have a routine to loosen up the fingers?

Angus Clark: Well, we get dressed and then we make fun of each other for twenty minutes and then I stand at side stage and talk to my tech and I think I probably play some scales while I'm talking to my tech, so probably – just to make sure that – 'cause I wear the guitar at performance height, "If you can see your belt buckle it better be because your guitar is below it." So you just have to get used to it and the angle you hold the pick to pick stuff clean. I have a guitar on the bus that's really for days off if I'm working on something for January or stuff like that. But I don't have a guitar in the dressing room. We get to side stage right about showtime and then it holds for about ten minutes before the curtain goes up to make sure people are in their seats, so I have about ten minutes there at side stage where I'll do some scales and stuff like that.

Bp: Speaking of January and the off-season from TSO, tell me about Song Division and your involvement in that program.

Angus Clark: About seven or eight years ago I got a call from Jonathan Mover about doing a corporate team-building session at Skyline Studios which he owned and operated at the time. Mover's an old friend, like Jane and Al, and he was actually in Marillion at one point. So it was an old New Year's Day call from Jonathan Mover and so I went down where we did this thing where we helped some nice folks from, I think, Lehman Brothers and someplace else, kind of write songs and then we tracked it. So they wrote a song and we tracked it. And it functioned as a team building activity for the participants on the corporate side. I had a lot of fun doing it as I was really into a lot of songwriting at the time, I was taking songwriting classes, and so I liked being able to exercise that muscle. It was like an episode of The Office, you have the nerdy one and the control freak one and this and that. I liked seeing all the personalities at play with each other and we had a good time doing it.

I didn't hear much about it after that so I ended up calling Andy Sharpe, the guy who founded the company, he's from Australia, or I emailed him and then we got on the phone together and decided to start working together in terms of launching Song Division in the States. He had already been running it in Australia. We started getting the word out there about what the offering is, it's where non-musicians are incorporated in the activity of writing a completely original song with the help of a band comprised of very high-level session players. It can be done in as little as twenty minutes, it can be done in an hour, it can be done very in-depth over the course of three hours, or it can be done at a corporate meeting held in a ballroom, it can be held at your boardroom at your office space, it can be done at a venue or a club. We'll do it on the beach, we've done it everywhere. We market it to corporate meetings and events marketplace and we're doing really well and it's really great to see how people respond to it. Team building as a product has maybe a checkered past in the States. People might think of falling backward into each other's arms or building a bike together or something like that. All of these activities seem either a little irrelevant to your workplace, to getting things done in the workplace or too touchy feely and abstract.

What we do in Song Division is, the working together is very language based, nine-times-out-of-ten whenever anyone is discussing in their planning meetings or stuff like that it's, "How do we express this? How do we outline our plan for people so that they understand what we're talking about and sign on with us to do this or that." In a Song Division session you have that exact same process. People are working together to come up with lyrics that express something about their company, what they do, what they mean to each other, to the client, what the messaging of the song is. So it's very relevant to the workplace, and how people work together in order to build consensus to decide on a course of action and get things done. And then they put all the lyrics together into a song and we perform the song and everyone has a great time and plays cowbell or tambourine, so you have the goofy fun element of it as well. And it's music based which everyone has music in their lives so it's universal. It doesn't rely on anybody having any musical talent so it's very egalitarian in that regard. It's not meant to be only for people who already love music or think that they're musically talented. It's meant to be for anybody regardless of your background or level in music. We're doing really well and I've got a bunch of January and February stuff planned. We've also got a one man band version of it, like a keynote speech version of it, which I'll be delivering in Boston in January. We're still having fun doing it and I think the clients are getting a lot out of it, so it's a great thing to be a part of. Go to songdivision.com for more info.

Bp: What are the 2016 plans for your band Daredevil Squadron?

Angus Clark: We are one bass track away from delivering this record to mix. If we can just get this bass track we can deliver it to the mix engineer and he's pretty quick so I expect to have it back by February and then I was just talking to Aurelien [Budynek] about lining up some shows. I need to get it out there 'cause it's been sitting around too long. You can't take five years to make a record 'cause then your record sounds five years old.

Bp: Awesome. Let me wrap up with a final TSO question, I know from the fan perspective how important the signing line is to get a chance to say hello and express our thanks to the musicians in TSO who have inspired us, but how important is it to you from the musician side?

Angus Clark: It's part of what makes TSO what it is. I can't separate it from what TSO is. It's part of the whole thing. You can't take it away without changing the entire feeling of TSO. It's more important to some of us maybe than we realize because we're so used to doing it. I don't do other arena gigs during the year, so you tend to forget that on a large sized production gig you get done and then you either go home or you go the bus and it's like that Savatage song, "When the Crowds Are Gone," 'cause the rush you get from the adulation of the crowd – it's really easy to sever yourself from what that is from reassuring your own ego, we're all performers so we're all doing this for the same reason, that little voice inside yourself that goes, "Me, me, me, me" so while you're up there and the show is going, it's easy to go, "These people are cheering, but it's the lights or it's the lasers or because of the whole thing. It's not me."

So when you just leave and you don't have any personal interaction with the people that have experienced the actual show, there's a certain emptiness to that experience that participating in the signing line actually alleviates. So these reasons may sound completely self-centered, and I apologize for that – I appreciate what it is for the fans. I think that's the most important thing. But from a performer's perspective to just get done in front of an arena crowd, which there are personal moments to it, but like you were saying before with a theatrical or a club experience, it's more impersonal to play an arena show. So to have the opportunity for the personal interaction subsequent to the stage presentation I think is really important, not only for the fans, but for us too. It puts that personal touch on the impact that we've created for people. It does that for us as much as it does it for the fans.

Bp: I've asked almost everyone I've interviewed in TSO about that and this is a different perspective on it, hearing it from you that way. There have been a few shows when I haven't been able to go through the line and there's a bit of a letdown, "Oh, I don't get to say, 'Hey' to Caffery, etc." It's interesting to hear that you described it from that perspective as well.

Angus Clark: Ok, cool. I hope it was different in a good way. [laughs]

Bp: Thank you for chatting this afternoon.

Angus Clark: No problem. Thanks, Brad.

Additional Links:
Angus Clark - official site
Song Division - official site
Daredevil Squadron - official site
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - official site

More in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here.

Des Moines, IA - November 19, 2015 (Photo by The 2 Z Girlz)


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Zak Stevens - Winter Tour 2015 - Dec 17, 2015

Interview, photos, and video captures by Brad Parmerter (unless noted).

Zak Stevens may have been a fresh, new face to some seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra's east touring group in 2015 as he joined the annual winter tour for the first time, however Zak's association with the band members leads back to its inception.

In 1995, Zak was lead vocalist for the band Savatage. It was Savatage's song, "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (12/24)" that launched the Paul O'Neill side-project prog-rock group with no limits, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He sang a bit on TSO's 2000 release, Beethoven's Last Night, but had not performed onstage with them until the summer of 2015 when Savatage and TSO joined forces for the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany.

While in the midst of his first TSO winter tour I caught up with Zak to discuss in-depth his start in music, introduction to Savatage, Jon Oliva's departure, memories of Criss Oliva, decision to step aside during the peak of their European success, the Wacken reunion, becoming involved with the TSO tour, what he's learned on the road with TSO, the importance of staying in touch with fans, and more.

Bp: Let's start at the beginning when you became interested enough in music to start playing and then when you realized you had something special in regards to your voice.

Zak Stevens: Well, I don't know. I started playing drums at about nine. And then I was in a band and we had these three dudes; me and my brother and a good friend of mine on guitar, David. He was my age and David's big brother said, "Well I want you guys to start playing some music 'cause I want to put you together in a band," because he had a band. David's big brother was in the high school I went to in Columbia, South Carolina, and said, "You guys oughta get together and jam." He kinda pointed at everyone and said, "Okay, Nick," my little brother, "You look like a bass player, get on the bass. David already plays guitar, that leaves drums and we gotta find a singer." So I was taking guitar lessons at the time and really hating it. I don't know why, I just really hated guitar. I could play but it really wasn't my thing. My fingers were hurting and it just seemed like something wasn't jiving so he goes, "What about drums?" And I said, "Well, alright." He assigned me to a teacher, my first teacher named James. He was also in high school at the time that I was ten and he goes, "Play the drums a little bit" and just started beating it and boom, right away I could do that. So he goes, "Alright, now we gotta find a singer." I said, "Don't worry about it. I think I can sing from back there."

So that's how it started with vocals along with the drums. We went and did the talent show in 5th grade and we won and I got the bug. Later on, two months later, I went to see my first concert which was Kiss' Destroyer tour 1976 at ten-years old. From then it was like, "Oh gosh, what do you do now?" So I mean, I had the bug big time but I started singing right away and was able to sing from behind the kit and I did that all through high school and college and everybody knew me as a drummer. It wasn't until after college that I went and said, "You know what, I gotta come out from behind the kit. I gotta do the vocal thing, be a frontman, because all my favorite vocalists like Bruce Dickinson and Dio and all these other singers were frontmen. So that gig looked pretty awesome. That's really how I got into it. Now, it wasn't like it was sounding amazing and everything in the beginning because you have to learn, but you know, by the time I got done with all my teachers and some other vocal schools I went to after college even, after getting my degree in psychology, I went, "Hmm, alright I still want to sing." So I still went and studied some out there, but I was in bands in Boston and got the Savatage opportunity. I still was studying because Paul O'Neill was sending us to various Broadway teachers that taught the Broadway stars on Broadway even when we were singing on the records and stuff like that. We would go and have our various lessons and he would say, "Here, take this cash and go down to 54th Street, and that's where Liz Kaplan's at and you're gonna study with her this week." And I'm like, "Wow," you know. So I get on the N train from Queens and take it over there to Manhattan and hit her lesson before going to the studio. There were a lot of great opportunities out there and I think all that, trying to learn the technical side as well as having just some talent that you can develop that was, that you were born with, you know that's the key to doing it. You gotta take advantage of all of it.

Erie, PA - November 18, 2015

Bp: How did the first introduction to Savatage come about?

Zak Stevens: Well, I met this guy who I worked with for a little while in the music business, Dan Campbell. He had actually been guitar tech a little bit for Criss Oliva and he happened to be living out in Los Angeles in the same building that I was living in when I went to MIT, at the vocal school out there, VIT. I went to the first year the school had a vocal program. I was in the first class of VIT. It lasted 6 months. Now I think it's something like a year and a half, but back then it was six months 'cause they weren't even accredited, but I knew the teachers were amazing so I said, "Alright, let's do this." So Dan said, "Hey, I know all the guys in Savatage and you can meet them some time." So Savatage played The Palace on the Gutter Ballet tour in Los Angeles and he said, "Let's go to the show." He got passes and everything and they said they wanted to meet me so we wound up meeting them at the show and also going back to the hotel which happened to be right around the corner from where I worked at the time. I worked at the Holiday Inn, Hollywood as my job trying to get through school and everything like that, just trying to land a gig or something. You go out to Hollywood, you don't know what's gonna happen. Anything can happen, you just put yourself in positions.

So we hung out and even Ray Gillen stopped by, the late Ray Gillen, on the first night that I met Savatage. Of course he had sung "Strange Wings" on the Gutter Ballet album, and Paul O'Neill was producing Badlands at the same time as Savatage. I think even Greg Chaisson even came by and we had a few guys from Badlands and Savatage and me and everybody just kinda hanging out meeting everybody. So that was pretty cool, but that was just the first time meeting them. Now the way that it came about was I went to Boston after a little while in Los Angeles and played in a band with Jeff Plate as you probably know, Wicked Witch and we played all around this area. Providence was big, Boston, New Hampshire, Connecticut, quite a few places in New England but we did demos and basically those demos, through all of our channels of friends, they got in the hands of Criss Oliva and we were able to get that done just by meeting them in the past and it was weird cause the first night that I came to Boston for the second time to give the band Wicked Witch another round a try because it had a little different membership in the beginning and the second membership with Jeff Plate on drums. That's when things got a little bit more serious. You know, 'cause we wanted to have a really solid lineup. So we came and picked – Jeff and Matt [Leff], our guitarist in Wicked Witch, came and picked me up at the airport and then it just so happened that Savatage was playing The Channel which was a club right on the channel there through in downtown in Boston. So we said, "Let's go by The Channel and see Savatage."

So we went by there and talked to everybody. That was the Streets tour and that was like the last show of the Streets tour and Jon mentioned something to me at the bar. He said, "How you doing?" "I'm alright," I said, "What's up?" He goes, "I'm about done with this." He did! And that was the last show of the tour and he looked at me and was like, "You know what, I'm done with this. I'm so glad it's the last show. I'm going home. I wanna forget about it." You know he was just tired of touring. And that was a hint and I didn't realize what that really meant. You know, you don't know at the time. I said, "Everything's fine man, you'll love this stuff in another couple of months. You'll be doing another album." And he goes, "I don't know, whatever."

So shortly after that they got the demo and liked what they heard. I mean I was probably the only demo that wasn't the one that sound like Jon, that wasn't somebody trying to sound like Jon. That's what they told me. They got 100 demos that everybody was trying to sound like Jon except not mine and they went, "Huh, that's different." That's pretty lucky. Heck, and in '93 in August, no, in August of '92, I found myself in Tampa, put up in a hotel, starting rehearsals for Edge of Thorns. And still really at that point you don't know that you got it. You know there's nobody, there's nothing for sure. When you get out there you're still auditioning. I had a few auditions with Paul O'Neill where I drove down from Boston to his apartment in Queens and sat there on his couch, and looked at about seventeen or eighteen gold and platinum albums that he already had at the time and getting really intimidated. I'm like, "Oh god." He goes, "Sing some–what do you like." So he would just play some Aerosmith and some Beatles and whatever. He goes, "Alright, that's pretty good. That's pretty good." So you still, you never really know where the solid ground is and everything, but it was crazy. That's pretty much what the process was. I mean, then I got down there and everything started going good in rehearsal and I had to change my vocal style because what I came in with is not what you hear. I had to have a pretty drastic twist on my style which is much smoother, you know, '90s melodic metal kind of thing to try to get it – so, but I was able to make the transitions and stuff like that. So that was kind of the beginning of making a lot of different transitions in my vocal style to fit Savatage and now TSO. It's been quite a journey but you have to be able to make adjustments and to be able to alter your style here or there just a little bit and that's something you can learn to do to adjust but yeah, that's pretty much it in a very short - I might have to write a book one day, but I think that was a very short synopsis of that one question.

Savatage: "Edge of Thorns" official video - courtesy EARmusic

Bp: What were those early days like making the Edge of Thorns record and that first, and final, tour with Criss?Read more...Collapse )


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Chloe Lowery - Winter Tour 2015 - Dec 18, 2015

Interview by Brad Parmerter. Photos by The 2 Z Girlz.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans were first introduced to the powerful voice of Chloe Lowery in the spring of 2010 when she slid into the role of Theresa on the first Beethoven's Last Night tour as if she was born for the part. Stunning audiences with her siren-like voice she would reprise that role on the 2011 and 2012 Beethoven tours. She joined the TSO winter tour in 2011 as part of the west group where she has been a highlight for many audience members to this day.

Chloe has formed Chameleon with her musical partner and fellow TSO west vocalist, Andrew Ross, an intense and dynamic group with two EPs under their belt and a full-length album due in 2016. She has also begun work on her first solo album and will be featured on Yanni's 2016 release as well.

During a TSO stop in Little Rock in December, we discussed her musical roots, working with Yanni, her TSO audition, impressions of her first TSO tour, how she prepares to sing TSO's emotionally charged material, Daryl Pediford songs, dancing, how she takes care of her voice, connecting with the audience, and more.

Bp: Let's start back at the very beginning, who planted the musical seed for you when you were young?

Chloe Lowery: It was my Mom. My Mom does everything. She's very musical, she danced, and she literally does everything. So from a young age she put my sister and I in piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons and it kind of stuck from there.

Bp: When did you figure out you had a unique voice, one that was a bit more special than everyone else's?Read more...Collapse )


An in-depth Interview with Jon Oliva about the Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra Wacken performance,
TSO's New Album Letters From the Labyrinth, and the TSO 2015 winter tour.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Jon Oliva - December 22, 2015

Interview & videos captured by Brad Parmerter, unless noted. Photos by Thorsten Seiffert: www.rocknroll-reporter.de

Born in 1960, Jon Oliva and his younger brother, Criss, started playing in bands together in the late '70s. After releasing some material independently, their band Savatage delivered their first major label record to Atlantic in 1985. Shortly thereafter, Atlantic brought in Paul O'Neill to produce their 1987 album, Hall of the Mountain King, and a songwriting partnership was born. Gutter Ballet in 1989 saw the band continue to stretch into new areas, incorporating piano and classical themes into their work. The acclaimed 1991 Streets album was the band's first experiment with an album length conceptual piece. Sales and airplay increased with 1993's Edge of Thorns, a guitar-driven dynamo, but tragedy struck when Criss was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in October 1993. Jon was devastated and the future of the band seemed uncertain.

In an effort to continue his brother's legacy and show their respect, Jon and Paul soldiered on with 1994's Handful of Rain. The following year a second concept album, Dead Winter Dead, was released, including "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (12/24)" which gained a little bit of airplay on a few radio stations in the winter of '95.

By fulfilling a long-time dream of Paul O'Neill's to have a progressive rock band with no limits, they re-released "12/24" under the new band name Trans-Siberian Orchestra on a concept album, Christmas Eve & Other Stories in 1996. Radio picked-up the song and quickly it became one of the most played and recognized holiday songs.

Two more conceptual albums under the Savatage name followed, The Wake of Magellan in 1997 and Poets and Madmen in 2001. At the same time, Paul and Jon released TSO's second installment of the Christmas trilogy, 1998's The Christmas Attic and the non-holiday Beethoven's Last Night in 2000. TSO performed seven live shows in 1999 and demand was so high for the following year, they split into east and west groups to cover more territory during the holiday season.

A couple more concept albums, The Lost Christmas Eve in 2004 and 2009's Night Castle, plus an EP, 2012's The Dreams of Fireflies, three spring tours supporting Beethoven's Last Night in 2010-12, and European tours in 2011 and 2014 kept building Trans-Siberian Orchestra's momentum.

Savatage had not played together for well over a decade when it was announced that both Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra would play at the annual heavy metal festival Wacken Open Air 2015 in Germany. They were in the midst of finishing up the TSO non-holiday studio release, Letters From the Labyrinth, when rehearsals for Wacken began. In a monumental performance in front of over 80,000 metal fans, Savatage played a 40-minute set on one stage followed by a 40-minute TSO set and then both bands combined to play together on two separate stages a combined set including many Savatage classics done with the force of almost forty performers.

A deep-dive into this special performance is where we started our discussion.

Bp: You've gone on record saying that coming up with the setlist for Wacken was one of the longest and hardest decisions of your career.

Jon Oliva: Definitely. It was a pain in the ass actually. We must have wrote up thirty, forty different setlists over the months of May and June before we started getting all the rehearsals going. It's really hard when you've got that much material to narrow it down to 40-minutes, you know. It was a nightmare.

Bp: Do you feel like you achieved the perfect set?

Jon Oliva: I think so. For the circumstances I thought so. Because we wanted to utilize songs like "Morphine Child" and stuff like that's never really been performed live as they were recorded. With Savatage we never drug around backup singers and 4 keyboard players, and so it was interesting. It was very cool to do that. When we had both stages going on at the same time, those songs that we selected to do, the Savatage songs like "Morphine Child," etc., those were the really exciting ones for me because it was like, "Wow, this is cool. It sounds like..." Actually I preferred it to the record. I thought it was better than the record.

The actual first set, the actual opening of the show, I think it was like 8 or 9 Sava songs when it was just us, me an Zak and the rest of the guys, that was really exciting but it was very, very nerve-wracking and the weather definitely was not on our side. I mean I know I froze to death on stage. I was freezing and rain was blowing into the stage at certain times and my keyboards kept getting wet, so I was trying to play and my fingers kept sticking 'cause the keys on the piano were wet so if you watch the footage really closely you can see me in between things, I had this little cloth that I'm trying to wipe the keys down real quick before my next part came up. That was a little bit nightmarish.
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Bp: Now Paul had mentioned, when I talked to him in depth about the album, he had mentioned he had asked you to go away and come up with a kind of a dirty riff for "Not Dead Yet" and then you brought back that and "Night Conceives." Where did those two riffs come from?

Jon Oliva: Right. Basically I went to the jungle basically, in Florida. It's a river that's this place they call it the Jungle because you feel like you're in a tropical rain forest and they have these little efficiencies that you can rent for the weekend for a couple hundred bucks right on the Homosassa River. And I went there for I don't know, four or five days, and I brought my collection of classics with me. And the first day I sat down and I just sat alongside the river and I had a bunch of CDs and I was just listening to stuff. The next day I go out there with my little portable amp, and sitting along the river watching manatee go by and alligators and it just came out. I think it was more influenced by Zeppelin and Aerosmith, both of those riffs, because I was listening to Physical Graffiti. I listened to Toys in the Attic. I was also listening to Black Sabbath "Paranoid" and, you know, I was just going through my classics collection that I call my essential albums. And that's where those riffs were born out of.
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In-depth Interview about Trans-Siberian Orchestra's New Album, Letters From the Labyrinth

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Paul O'Neill - November 6, 2015

Interview, photos & videos captured by Brad Parmerter.

November is typically a busy time for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but this year it's even more so. Not only is a new show centered around the made-for-TV-movie, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, being premiered on their annual November-December winter tour, but they are releasing their first new album in six years, Letters From the Labyrinth.

Rather than being a rock opera as previous TSO releases have been, Letters From the Labyrinth is a collection of songs written around a series of letters sent between characters in their 2009 release Night Castle covering such topics as bullying, the banking crisis, the struggle in Ukraine, and the fall of the Berlin wall among others.

As the band convened on their rehearsal space near Omaha, Nebraska to prepare for their upcoming winter tour I spoke with creator, composer, producer and would be history professor, Paul O'Neill. I very briefly checked in for his reaction to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra/Savatage joint venture performance at Wacken Open Air this past summer, but primarily stayed focused on the new album for an in-depth discussion on its themes and dove head-first into the inspiration and details of the new songs.

Paul O'Neill: Hi Brad.

Bp: Hi Paul, it's an exciting time right now in the land of TSO so I wanted to chat in-depth about the new album, a little about Wacken, and the upcoming tour as well. So let's dive deep into the Labyrinth.

Paul O'Neill: [laughs] I love it when you get poetic.

Bp: Where did you find the Johnny Green song, "Forget About the Blame," which appears twice with both a Sun and Moon version.

Paul O'Neill: I've had it for about twenty years, I think. Somebody handed me his tape when we were doing either The Lost Christmas Eve or Beethoven. It might have been Beethoven. I thought the guy was unbelievably talented, he had a great voice, and I thought he was a great songwriter. He was a really nice guy and I told him, "One day I'm going to find a place on an album for this."

"Forget About the Blame" (Sun Version - Robin Borneman)

Bp: Why did the song appeal to you in a way that you thought it would be right for TSO?
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The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Russell Allen - Winter Tour 2014 - Dec 31, 2014

Interview, photos & videos captured by Brad Parmerter unless noted otherwise.

The New Jersey based progressive metal group Symphony X released their debut record in 1994. Less than a year later, former jouster Russell Allen was recruited as vocalist for their second album. Russell's rich tone and soaring range have been a hallmark of the Symphony X sound for two decades. He released a solo album in 2005, appeared on a handful of other side projects and formed Adrenaline Mob, a modern hard-hitting hard rock group, in 2011.

A fortuitous text in the summer of 2013 led to Russell joining Trans-Siberian Orchestra for their annual winter tour that year. Originally slated for one song on his first tour, just days before the start of the tour he suddenly found himself with two additional songs to learn. Fans were immediately drawn to his charismatic style and impressive vocals.

As we chatted at the end of the 2014 winter tour, we touched on his roots, his rather unusual first public singing experience, musical inspirations, and his warm-up routine. We dove deep on the TSO experience including his unique introduction to the band, how the songs touch him personally, Jon Oliva's role in helping the vocalists, and more. Finally, we discussed songs that have made him cry, and the words and actions from Ronnie James Dio that continue to inspire him.

Bp: What inspired you to pursue singing as more than a hobby?
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Natalya Rose Interview

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Natalya Rose - Winter Tour 2014 - Dec 19, 2014

Interview, photos & videos captured by Brad Parmerter unless noted otherwise.

The winter of 2010 saw the addition of a number of performers to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's east touring group. Along with four other fresh, new female voices was dance captain and vocalist, Natalya Rose. With a grueling tour schedule of over 75 shows in just eight short weeks, her first national tour was a whirlwind of excitement and hard work. The following spring found the Virginia native inspiring the best from her fellow dancers in Europe and over the course of the next five years she hit the stage for over 400 shows.

At the end of June 2014, Natalya revealed on Facebook that she was going to be facing the fight of her young life: "I don't know how to say this without it sounding a little dramatic...on Tuesday I had a suspicious lymph node removed that was found as a result of my recent shoulder injury. I didn't want to tell everyone because I wasn't sure I needed to cause any kind of worry. Unfortunately, my fears have been confirmed. I have been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's a rare, but curable cancer. I only found out a couple hours ago so I don't really have many details but I promise to keep everyone informed going forward. Again, it's curable and I'm gonna beat it, but I still can't help crying about it. I'm just in shock. Please send thoughts of love to my family who are all planning to be by my side through this process. I know they're worried sick and trying to be strong for me."

As prayers and support from Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans poured in, Natalya faced this new challenge with poise and determination. Surprising many, she battled her way back to the stage in November and joined her fellow band members for not only opening day in Toledo, Ohio, but every show on the tour.

Purple bracelets could be seen on fans' arms in a show of support of Team Natalya. Many hugs and tears of joy were shared during the band's after-evening-show signing lines as fans expressed how inspired they were by her hard fought battle.

Near the end of the tour I discussed with her dancing and singing as a child, her introduction to TSO, the diagnosis and her fight to make the tour, how she beat cancer and how much fan's support meant to her. Natalya's strength and determination was apparent as she described her battle and her poise inspiring.

Bp: Hi, Nat, how's it going?

Natalya Rose: It's going good. The girls and I just got back from shopping and picking up some last minute Christmas gifts for family who are coming to see us, Secret Santas, and such. It's a good day today!

Bp: Excellent. We'll circle back to more current events as we go, but I wanted to start with where the spark for singing and dancing came from as a child?
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