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19 September 2013 @ 11:54 pm
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Rob Evan - May 4, 2012 part II  

<-- continued from part I

Bp: I’m going to throw some song titles out from your career, tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. “This is Who You Are.”

Rob Evan: To me that tune is the keystone of the Beethoven part to me. It was always kind of the big…it was a hard thing early on. It’s a bit of a vocal workout, cause you build, build, build, and if you build the way Paul wants you to, I remember running out of steam sometimes, early in the years trying to get through that song [He performed it on the 2001 Winter Tour]. But now I feel like I’ve really got a good grasp on it and it’s just sort of Beethoven/rock star quintessential moment for me in the show. I used to approach it differently too and then I listened to what Hicks says. I used to approach it with anger and then I realized it’s not, it’s joy. ‘Cause he’s figured it out, that he’s the sum of all of that stuff and it can never really be taken away from him, and the decision is made. “No, you can’t have everything I’ve done, because that is who I am.” Y’know what I’m saying, you can’t erase it all. It’s not going to happen. That to me is the keystone of what this whole journey is for me, I can really relate to that song in a way too, because I think about all the different kinds of genres that I like to be in and whether it’s the opera thing, the Broadway, or the rock, or whatever and that’s who I am. It’s all of that. I couldn’t separate just one of them and say, “That’s who I am.” It’s the sum of all of that and I feel like I get TSO on a deeper level because it is that. It’s a giant melting pot of so many things together that makes this one thing that really works.

"This is the Moment" live in Asia

Bp: “This is the Moment” [from Jekyll & Hyde].

Rob Evan: That’s another kind of thing that’s…that’s my coming of…that was my invitation into the club. That song, and having the guys who wrote it, say that “that’s really your signature song,” even though I’m one of many who have recorded it, definitely not the first, I’m thankful. I’ve sung it in so many situations. I also call it “This is My Mortgage” because it paid my mortgage for years and years. So that’s something that I’m very thankful for. I’ll always remind Frank about how thankful I am for that because I’ve sung it for Presidents, on network TV, and numerous symphony gigs. Somehow I get equated with that song and that’s a big honor because it’s such a giant song. It has been a real blessing for my family.

Bp: That was your “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” almost.

Rob Evan: Yeah, in a way at first. Yeah, absolutely.

Bp: “Bring Him Home” [from Les Mis].

Rob Evan: That’s a real journey too for me in that, that was the show that I saw that really made me want to do this for a living and then that song, I was so affected by it. I kept working on it really hard and then as an amateur I sent it in and got noticed by the Georgia Music Hall of Fame as a new talent find. Then to audition in an American Idol type situation for Les Mis to get Les Mis and then end up playing that role on Broadway, and then having a kid…that song is, I can’t say that it’s my signature song by any means, but it was definitely kind of this full circle thing for me. Doing it again recently a couple of years ago when they re-envisioned it…it’s a song that I always feel honored and special to sing. It’s so pure and simple and beautiful. It was also another struggle like “This is Who You Are.” It took years to master it, years. And I think it’s something too that’s not written for a man in his 20’s, it’s written for a guy whose voice has peaked. And for guys, their voices really don’t peak until their 40’s, if you take care of it. Now I feel like I’m singing better than I ever have because I feel like I have full control over my voice and I have a wider range than I ever have. So I can sing the low notes and the high notes…I can sing higher and lower than I ever have before. Just because it’s a muscle, it matures and I’ve got a different color timbre to my voice now. I listen to my voice from 10 or 15 years ago and it sounded completely different.

Bp: With all those hours you gain experience and know how to work the muscle in different ways.

Rob Evan: Yeah, you don’t get as nervous, you know how to control it.

"Confrontation" live from Jekyll & Hyde

Bp: “Confrontation” [from Jekyll & Hyde].

Rob Evan: I call that the ‘whiplash song.’ I really, literally had whiplash. No, honestly Brad, that tore me up. That song, if you do it right, and what I feel is right, you’re gonna hurt yourself if you do it over and over again. It got to the point near the end of the run of those first three years, I had to be in massage therapy and the chiropractor every week just to get through because I was in so much pain.

Bp: From the hair-throwing [he would change from Jekyll to Hyde by throwing his hair and head back to change between the two battling characters]

Rob Evan: The whiplash, yeah, the hair. It’s not good for you. [laughs]

Bp: Don’t tell the girls.

Rob Evan: Oh yeah, exactly. They know. But again, one of those Herculean things where it you do it right it’s a rush and the physical response from the audience when they explode after that is awesome. But I don’t miss that song. It hurt. It hurt a lot. [laughs]

Bp: Can you do small, simple songs?

Rob Evan: Yes! [laughs]

Bp: I know, but it seems…

Rob Evan: Y’know what it is, you get known for one thing and it makes you money and you have a family and you keep doing that one thing…and I always laugh when I try to make songs like that, someone’ll say, “Rob, that’s in another key, that’s gonna make it hard for anyone else to do that.” Exactly. That’s how I’m going to keep myself employed. I want a three octave range in a song because not everyone can sing a three octave range song and I want to continue to work. [laughs]

Bp: “Back to a Reason II.”

Rob Evan: I’d like to do that live. I really would. I thought of the three songs that was the easiest on that album, Paul said for me to record, because that just fell into place. Granted we did that last and I had never recorded with him before so early on I was confused as to what he wanted…at one point during “What Child is This?” I was like, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy.” I was having a hard time hitting those low notes. He wanted it to be lower because I was younger and he wanted to portray me as an older man. Now I have more of that weight in my voice, maybe because of hanging out with these guys and grinding a little bit. I can add edge where I had a hard time doing it back then and I felt like I had to push really hard. So if I get an opportunity to do that live I think that would be great because I think I’d own it more now. But of those ones, he thought that was the most organic for me and when we started recording that one the process went really fast.

Bp: “There Was a Life.”

Rob Evan: Y’know it’s funny, I’ve removed myself from that song so much…I don’t know. I’d have to go back and listen to it again.

Bp: How come you’ve removed yourself from it?

Rob Evan: It’s just off my radar. Learning new material all the time, it’s just off the radar. I remember it being a good experience. I thought “Epiphany” was something that I related to more from the two tracks from that recording process. I felt like it was more of a giant thing, whereas “There Was a Life” led up to that. It’s funny, the way that Paul described it, you think after “There Was a Life” that’s it, but no, it’s not. That should be the big epiphany, but then we’re gonna do “Epiphany.” The real big one. I’m like, “There Was A Life” wasn’t the big one?” “No, that’s not the big one, Rob.” And he was still constructing “Epiphany” in his head. We recorded “There Was a Life” first. He was solid on what that was going to be. “Epiphany” he was still trying to figure it out, like on that [sings] “Don’t go,” that wasn’t supposed to be me either, that was me just putting a rough track up. That was originally going to be a child. So it’s funny, some of this stuff, when you leave you think that you were just putting that up for a scratch vocal or just to keep the continuity. Then he decides, “No, that’s what it’s going to be.”

"Draumatized" from Menrva Realm

Bp: “Draumatized” [from Menrva Realm’s Angels]

Rob Evan: “Draumatized.” That project is one of the ones that I’m most proud of. ‘Cause it’s me, it’s my voice, I’m not pretending to be anybody, it’s really me being the most honest singing wise.

Bp: It’s your vocal arrangements, right?

Rob Evan: Yeah, definitely my vocal arrangements, some of my lyrics. The project existed before me and it was called Soldiers. I met Ianu, Laurian [Mohai], when I was down in Florida because he was good friends with Tom Morris at Morrisound [Recording Studios] and I met him through TSO ‘cause that’s where we recorded Night Castle. He was having some issues with his lead singer and they had a falling out. He spent a good amount on the record, using real strings and you can tell in the quality, that it’s old school, it’s the real deal. Tom Morris produced it and he took a real artistic approach to it and really cared about it. So here they are with this record and they play it for me thinking that I might want to do a track to help them kind of propel it forward and they’d have a bunch of vocalists do it. So I listened to it and then I really listened to it and it started growing on me as I listened to it over and over. And I said, “I want to do them all. I think it’s perfect for me vocally.” So I said, “I’ll do it.” And so he was beside himself and we started bonding. One of the songs was called something like “Preacher Man,” and I said, “That has to go away ‘cause it doesn’t work.” A lot of the lyrics didn’t work because you could tell the guy was going through some problems and he’s still credited, but I came in and I readjusted a lot of stuff. We put a complete new lyric on “Bricks of Clay” and changed that entire song, which was the “Preacher Man” song. We tweaked and did some re-writes on stuff. Then I changed the vocals to what I thought would be right and what would fit my voice. That was just a pleasure recording that record. We had a great process and it was really collaborative. We tried to figure out a name, Menrva was the street he lived on, but is also the goddess of music and art, and Realm is Rob Evan And Laurian Mohai.

Bp: I always wondered where that came from.

Rob Evan: We formed that band, which in essence was a beautiful recording project, but didn’t have a live band. With me being in New York and him in Florida…he’s also a cardiologist who escaped from communist Romania with his wife. They got their daughter out first, were separated from her for three years, and then they got out. This was all as the communist block was falling. He’s a trained violinist who taught himself guitar so he plays his guitar more like a violin. If you listen to it, it’s not like an old school rock guitar player would play it.

Bp: It’s extremely fluid and smooth.

Rob Evan: Like a violin. He and his wife are the nicest human beings, beautiful people. But what we couldn’t figure out and what we still can’t figure out is a business model to make it work. We have this record that is just such a beautiful record and not knowing how to make it work. Because of our careers, neither of us have any ability to get in a van and go old school clubbing. I went to several promoters and they were like, “You’ve got to get out there and do it. You’ve got to make a name for yourselves and start playing clubs.” I’m like, “I’m a grown man with a family. We both have families, we both have viable careers.” So I’m still trying to find a way to make that work and we started just trying to build a live band, so we’re going to have a live band in Tampa and a live band in New York. But again in this economy how do you get guys that are in their early 40’s to break a band that way? So my idea would be to treat it like an experience with major video and orchestral…so that’s the way I’m headed with Rocktopia, which was The Rock Tenor. Now it’s going symphonic and with a full blown video show and that’s going to be in Youngstown September 15th. So if you’re anywhere near or available, you should come and see it. We’re doing a big version of this for the symphony and what I’d like to start doing if this gets some traction is to start dialing in Menrva Realm songs into that. I mean, “Angels” with the full symphony, that’s what it’s meant for. And with some sort of well-constructed video that tells some sort of story, so it’s like a mini-opera in a way. So it’s visually stunning for the ears and it could be an art piece. We just couldn’t figure out a way and couldn’t get enough traction, I’m so busy and he’s so busy, to figure out how to go do Menrva Realm dates. But it’s one of those things where I’ll go back and listen to the record and go, “Ok, it hasn’t lost its relevance. It still works.” We’re lucky that it wasn’t done where it’d be the sound of 2005 or 2009 or when Nickelback was doing their thing or whatever. It’s just its own thing. It can work, if we put it on 10 years from now I think it would still have its relevance. So at some point, even if it’s something that’s self-funded, I’d love to do it live, it just doesn’t make financial sense and that’s just sad, y’know.

Bp: I was listening to it on the way here today and I agree, it still sounds fantastic and current.

Rob Evan: Even Barry Gabel of Live Nation, he’s one of TSO’s lead promoters with a lot of markets around Cleveland and has worked with TSO for many years, he’s said, “If there’s a way we could ever make that work, that’s one of my favorite albums.” And I’m like, “I don’t know what to say.” [laughs] I’d love it too, but I just don’t know how to make it work. And to do it right…Paul was so smart, he spent so much money on his show, and especially the Winter Tour, but that’s what this kind of grand vision has to have in order to make it work.

Bp: It’s tough to be stuck with something that you just want people to hear, but that’s the trouble that there’s so much out there…

Rob Evan: And if I was in my 20’s maybe it’d be a different ball game, and if I didn’t have a family. I’d probably be out there playing it every possible moment I could, but we both came on this project at really different times in our lives. It’s kind of interesting because it’s kind of funny how something like that won’t work because you’re not prepared to go out and you just can’t do that. You’re not at that stage. But a lot of guys in bands have their side projects that are these passion projects and if I ever got to that point where I was that successful and I had that money I would love to back that project. That’d be one of the first things I’d do. But I think this Rocktopia might be a way to get there so that’s kind of the method behind my madness.

Bp: In a similar way that’s kind of what Paul is doing with some of the old Savatage material, blending it into TSO.

Rob Evan: Right. Branding, it’s so important, and it’s so hard. There are so many great bands out there and so many wonderful and talented people that just haven’t had the break. I have so many wonderfully talented friends that would love to be in the position that I’m in right now with TSO. I mean really talented people that have done major work on Broadway and recording and stuff like that, but these jobs are hard to come by. I feel very lucky to be in this position. It’s a blessing [knocks wood].

"Runaway Train" from Menrva Realm

Bp: Are there any plans to record more Menrva Realm?

Rob Evan: I don’t know why we would right now. I think he’s got ideas of what follow-ups would be and if we did live concerts what material and new material we’d do. We were talking about that, but again it’s just so cost prohibitive to do something like that on that level because the bar was set so high with this one project. We’d have to continue that quality and for Angels, that’s the Florida Orchestra, so that’s expensive.

Bp: Do you have any other recording plans?

Rob Evan: I know that we’re supposed to…Wildhorn wants to do demos on this Excalibur thing. I don’t know where he’s at with that. Originally he was supposed to write it with Jim Steinman, Excalibur more rock inspired. Remember that dark Excalibur movie, I don’t remember who directed it, I just remember it was a dark one and real gritty and everything. I’m not sure where he’s at with that project.

Other recording would be TSO recording obviously and as far as anything personal, I would like to have the right Rob Evan project out there. Not necessarily to break like I’d like Menrva Realm to break, but I would just like to have the right product out for when I’m doing my live symphony shows that I feel will give that audience what they want, but will also make me happy. That’s why I always put it off or bury it, because I don’t feel good about it. What I think maybe over the last 2 or 3 years I’ve finally found that niche of being the Broadway Rock guy, and I’ve now legitimately operated in both of those genres with success. Being on two platinum records with TSO and having starred in six Broadway shows is not just the guy who does Jesus Christ Superstar, it’s the guy who does both. I think I have enough material already in the can from Steinman and from Menrva maybe, Wildhorn or maybe an O’Neill tune that I could put that one record together that I’ll feel good about, but the problem is just finding time.

I’m also producing now too with the Nederlander Worldwide Events organization in New York. I’m creating and pumping out product, concert ideas, like Broadway Rocks or Gothic Broadway, that I’m not even in. But I have to create and try to produce and then with Rocktopia, which I am in, that’s a big undertaking too. So every day I’m at the computer doing creative things, trying to figure out what will work and a product that we can put out in this economy that makes sense. But I enjoy all those elements of the business, I really do. I studied business in college, so I enjoy that almost as much as I enjoy performing.

Bp: That education has come in handy

Rob Evan: Yeah, it has. Especially when you’re a dad, you find ways of getting creative because you have to. It’s because I like it, but it’s also by necessity.

Bp: What are some of your musical favorites and inspirational pieces that led you on the path to this career? I know seeing Les Mis in college gave you the spark, but you knew you had a voice before that.

Rob Evan: It was funny, the bands that I grew up with…I was in high school in the late ‘80s so it’s still Journey and Foreigner and Styx. Those were my bands. I never was really into the real heavy stuff like Priest or Sabbath, I was aware of it, but I wasn’t really a metal head. I was a classic rock guy, Zeppelin and things like that. I had older brothers and sisters. They introduced me to the brown album, the Jesus Christ Superstar album, but that was in the mid-70s. I have a sister that’s 10 years older than me, a brother that’s 8 years older and a sister that’s 6 years older than me. Journey, Foreigner and Styx were favorites. But I couldn’t sing as high as those guys, even though I tried, I can now, but I couldn’t then, which is weird. I’m like that determined tenor who was probably more of a real baritone, but I was just so damn determined to be a tenor because I just loved the rush of high, long notes.

During High School I had a band. My first band was in 6th grade, called On the Run, and of course we did “Band on the Run,” and we did some Eagles. We did ELO’s “It’s a Living Thing,” that was my favorite song, and “Telephone Line” [sings] “Hello, how are you?” Then I got into a real Beach Boys phase ‘cause of the harmonies. Not because it was my era, but it’s whatever comes into your house. I think my sister’s boyfriend was listening to Endless Summer or something like that, and he gave it to me and I started to fall in love with all those harmonies. That’s how I learned to harmonize. I’d play around. I always had a good ear.

I don’t think I got into the musicals until later. I think my Dad thought I had a big voice so he was trying to shove [Robert] Goulet and that stuff down my throat because that was his era. My Mom loved Tony Bennett and my Dad loved Sinatra and Goulet so just for shits and giggles I would pretend to be them, to imitate that. But that’s not what I really wanted to do. I would jump around genres a lot. I went through a Sinatra phase. I went through a British Rock phase with Duran Duran and some of that stuff, probably because I was dating a girl who liked it more than anything. But still really to this day I geek out with Journey and Foreigner. Stuff like “Juke Box Hero” and just trying to sing that.

But then on the other hand, so after I started playing these roles and I got stuff like Les Mis I was throwing my voice out there and hitting the notes, but not real consistently. One of the guys was a Pavarotti fanatic and I was just trying to find that elusive B Natural. It’s in a weird place in a voice. I was able to false sing higher than that and belt right below it, but I couldn’t get all the way through it. And by listening to Pavarotti sing “Nessun Dorma,” that’s how I unlocked those notes, by mocking Pavarotti. I didn’t take a lot of vocal lessons because every time I did I thought they were affecting my style, they were trying to put me in a box and I didn’t want that. As long as I was singing healthy and not hurting myself, I was okay. Listening to Pavarotti over and over again and then applying that to Perry or Lou Gramm I was able to find my way of doing that. That way I can be honest with doing something like Rocktopia or anything like that or singing “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Come Sail Away” and it’s mixed with all this other stuff. Then I do the “Nessun Dorma”/”Kashmir” thing and it’s still got to be me. So I’m trying not to pretend to be those guys, but I have my spin on it. It still works. I’m not going to be a Perry clone or Lou Gramm, they’re much more tenor-y than I am anyway. But I don’t want to be that, ‘cause I think that’s going to be a tribute band or a cover band and I never want to be that. I want to be something that’s unique and has my own stamp on it. I think it’s more honest and more interesting. I’d rather see someone sing the dog-shit out of “We Are the Champions” and do it their own way, than to try to sound like Freddie. There was only one Freddie Mercury, I don’t want to see anyone pretending to be him. It’s cool if you can, but I just want to see them knock the crap out of it and that’s when I get excited; to hear somebody completely make it their own.

Broadway was just because I kind of fell into it. It’s what I was interested in at that moment and all of a sudden I’m in a show. That was a way of making money even though I would have loved to have been a rock star, it just made sense. I remember this to the day, when I was playing Valjean, I was driving out on tour in 1997. Our first son was born in ’96, so it was 1997, right before Jekyll had opened, and I was way too young to be playing the part. I was in my 20’s and was getting nervous about singing that stuff every night ‘cause it’s some big Bs and B flats. “Bring Him Home” was hard because of the navigation and I was listening to Pavarotti, but I wanted to find something else. That’s when I got hooked on Bat Out of Hell. It was not until then, it wasn’t early. And then I started listening to Bat Out of Hell and “For Crying Out Loud,” that’s what I would sing in the rental car to the next city or back and forth from the theater, “For Crying Out Loud.” And any time I could get through it, I knew…that’s when I really started finding muscle memory up there in those higher notes. So later to meet Jim Steinman and to work with him was kind of funny. But it did make sense; I am that over the top singer. I can’t tell you how many people come through the line and say, “You remind me so much of Meat Loaf.” I guess that’s good. I’m not a giant fan of him now, but Bat Out of Hell I and II man, wow.

And I know too much probably on the other side of the coin than most people would, y’know what I’m saying, about Jim and Meat’s relationship and stuff. I don’t know Meat, I’ve never met him. I’ve heard wonderful things from people who’ve worked with him. But wow, lightning struck when Jim wrote that album and Meat sang it. It was amazing.

"Rock and Roll Fantasy" medley from Rocktopia

Bp: You’ve had the chance to work with some brilliant producers, Frank, Paul, and Jim.

Rob Evan: It’s funny ‘cause I always consider myself a late bloomer. It’s like those early Broadway years, that first 10 years from 20-30.Those years I was going from show to show, was working my way up from ensemble to lead, then played Valjean and got to play Jekyll, then take over Jekyll and be above the title, all before 30. I still didn’t think I was nearly as capable as a singer as I am now. When I thought I really started becoming a good singer was when I really started recording in the studio. And it was first with Frank, then with Jim, and then with Paul. And that’s when it becomes an art form ‘cause everything is so magnified and you’re under the microscope. So that’s when I really learned how to really sing, I think. And all three of them have very different styles. And all very good. I think, like “This is Who You Are,” I’m a culmination of all of that, the sum of all of that. I can listen to what I’m doing now and not cringe. [laughs]

Bp: One final question. We know what happens with Beethoven and his big choice in Paul’s Beethoven story, what do you want your legacy to be?

Rob Evan: Well, my legacy is my boys, my sons. That’s the reality and the grounding thing of everything, for me. And I’m very thankful that I have that, a family. I think this business is so difficult and it can be a roller coaster, up and down and up and down. What made me feel like I could survive it is that I have a great family. And I’m so lucky to have these boys who are well adjusted and listen, I’m one of them too. When we’re together we’re all teenage boys running around, telling fart jokes, and it’s so great. They really love what I do and I’m so proud of them. They’re really proud of me and so that to me is my legacy.

As far as music is concerned I’d like to…take somebody like Chris Pinnella or John Brink before, who will look at me and say, “You know what? I saw you when you were on Broadway and it was amazing. And I feel so lucky to work with you now.” And now John is out on tour in Les Mis and Chris and I, we’re talking about stuff and I’m giving him advice if I can to not make the same mistakes I did or, “Here’s a bit of information that might help you.” I love that. And I wasn’t too sure, but I enjoy being on the other side and watching it take birth. To see something that you thought up in your head and you saw it, you could hear it, and then for it to come to fruition is a rush. So I will want to continue to create in that way.

I think I would like to continue to sing, but I don’t want to be up there and feel like I have to sing if I don’t feel proud about what I’m going to put out vocally. So the next 10 years for me, in my head, this is the time to try to get on the creative side of it, the business side of it, because this is what I know. It’s not like if my voice gives out I’m gonna go do something completely different. The last 20 years in I’ve spent in New York, I’ve learned a lot of stuff and I feel like it’s valuable stuff. I think that hopefully my legacy will be continuing to create new product and exciting new things that will continue to have a life even when I’m not on stage doing it. And then I have a feeling too at some point I’m gonna want to reinvent myself, while I still feel like I can. It won’t be something as crazy as going and trying to be a country star or anything like that, but some sort of move into another genre or something that’s maybe more suitable for somebody my age. If I hit 50 and I still have a decent voice, whether it’s going back on Broadway to do another role, I’ve never said I’m not going back to Broadway again. I just right now have turned the focus away from that ‘cause I’m not as interested in that right now. I’m more interested in creating and doing this type of rock/theatrical stuff because I’ve got a real passion for it. And I understand what it is. Hopefully that’s what my legacy is going to be, I don’t know Brad, I think my ingenuity is going to keep me going and then we’ll see.

More TSO interviews

Additional Links:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Rob Evan Official Site
Menrva Realm