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30 June 2014 @ 06:51 pm
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Paul O'Neill - January 2014  


Paul O'Neill Live in Toledo 2014

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Paul O'Neill - January 2014

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



As the Trans-Siberian Orchestra European tour was winding down earlier this year, TSO creator and producer Paul O'Neill was back in Florida working in the studio on one of a number of potential projects. I hadn't caught up with O'Neill since May of 2012 and thought it would be a good time to find out his thoughts on the whirlwind eighteen months he and the band had just experienced and to see what might lay ahead for the near future.

The Lost Christmas Eve, the final installment of TSO's Christmas Trilogy, had recently finished its encore presentation as the featured story on the winter tour and that leaves an opportunity open for what might come in 2014. However, to start off the new year, a massive show in Berlin rang in the 2014 with a bang and led directly into a tour of England and mainland Europe which saw TSO performing, for the first time, a more traditional rock concert, sans a rock opera centerpiece. It was on the final day of that tour that Paul and I started our quick catch-up; three hours later we concluded.

We dove head first into the variations between the first and second tours of The Lost Christmas Eve, upcoming ideas for 2014's winter tour, the New Year's Eve show in front of millions live and on TV, what happened to the missing reels of Savatage's Streets recordings, the importance of a good support team and crew, Daryl Pediford, the long-awaited Romanov project, his proudest moment with TSO, if we could ever see a live video release of Savatage, the five-year plan for TSO, what advice he received from John Lennon, and much more.

Bp: Good afternoon, Paul. How are you?

Paul O'Neill: Good, Brad. Tired, but slowly recuperating. I've got to head to the studio after this. I'm actually great though considering what a wacky year it was.

Bp: It was a busy one for you. That's why I thought it would be a good time to talk with the curtain closing on The Lost Christmas Eve Tour, the New Year's Eve show in Berlin, the European Tour this past month that is wrapping up now and now the year ahead of you with a new show for the winter tour looming. I figured there would be a lot to talk about.

I was fortunate enough to see The Lost Christmas Eve show twenty times over the two years and it was stunning each time. I was wondering about some of the changes between the 2012 and 2013 tours: the shorter, tighter narrative; the change in focus to incorporate the connection between the young girl and the wife the businessman lost; the de-emphasis of the wife's death and the removal of the "Wisdom of Snow" solo piece; and I was wondering if you could go into some of those changes and the thought process behind them.

Paul O'Neill: I love your questions, Brad. They're always so simple. [laughs] Ok, wow. They're all great questions, you're always so well prepared. It's a rarity because journalism as I knew it in the '70s and '80s is dying out and everyone is just sound-bites and real journalism and reporting is a dying art. It's scary. Let me just zip along.

The whole point of Trans-Siberian Orchestra was to be a prog rock band without any limits, to be able to do anything, I know we had discussed this when we were finishing Beethoven, but we never intended to do Christmas Eve & Other Stories for thirteen years in a row. It was a complete accident. I wanted to change it in '08, but with the banking crisis William Morris [TSO's booking agent] got really nervous. They're like, "Paul, now's not the time to experiment. People want to come to the familiar, this has become like A Christmas Carol." So I went along with it just waiting for the economy to get better. Eventually I realized if I wait for the recession, or whatever you want to call it, to end it might not happen in my lifetime. So we decided to switch to The Lost Christmas Eve. It's a learning process. Sometimes we learn as we go along. The Lost Christmas Eve, I love that story, to me that's a great end to the trilogy, but it's also a way more complicated story than Christmas Eve & Other Stories. [This year] we cut it down a little bit. As I always say, one size doesn't fit all and you have to adjust to the audience. You don't make the audience adjust to you. A perfect example is when we did the TV show, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve...I always have three speeds that the band plays songs at: one, I call it radio/television speed, they tend to be the same; then the other one if you're doing a rock opera is theatrical speed, because if you're just doing a regular concert, it's not super important that you're able to catch every nuance of the story, but for The Lost Christmas Eve, it is. If you don't know what the father is singing about on "Back to a Reason" the song loses a massive amount of its impact. Also setting all the songs up, I always thought "Old City Bar" went over so well because you didn't just have the storyteller setting it up, you had the father with "Ornament" setting that song up.

But back to your original question, when we decided to switch to The Lost Christmas Eve we did end up in a trap. I call it the Dickens trap. Dickens had five books about Christmas, he did them all like novellas, he loved them all, but Dickens made a lot of money by reading his stories at theaters and during the Christmas season he always wanted to do The Cricket and the Harp, which he had an affinity for but the promoters would say, "No. The Christmas Carol." And he was never able to break out of that self-imposed cage. So when we switched to The Lost Christmas Eve I thought I cut down the poetry, but, how do I explain this, I apologize, I just literally woke up. Kenny said, "Paul, wake up, you've got to call Brad." To capture all of the essence of it...we tell it in prose form as you know, but we go with the rhyming pentameter, which I blatantly took from Oscar Wilde, because it's not as direct as prose, it doesn't have a melody like lyrics, it's right in between. It's the perfect way to keep the concert flow going, but adds a more dramatic element of dialogue. But here was the million dollar problem. With TSO you want everybody to enjoy it from 7 to 107. I noticed when we did The Lost Christmas Eve the first year [in 2012] that I felt nobody was getting what they wanted. A lot of people's favorite part of the story was when you find out at the end that the little girl he bumps into was his wife, and that I cut out from the 2012 tour in an attempt to tighten it up. I know couples who have kids who said, "That was my favorite part of the story."

Bp: So was that feedback that you'd received back from people that led you to bring that element back in for the 2013 narrative?

Paul O'Neill: Yes. They still liked it, but they missed that little gem. And I especially got that from young couples who had kids. A perfect example is Danielle Landherr [TSO's Band Artist Development], who I trust...Dan's been with me since she was twelve, she said, "I just miss that part so much."

Bp: Were comments about the heavy tone of the hemorrhaging and subsequent wife's death reasons that the narrative was changed as well?

Paul O'Neill: It unquestionably was a heavier story. I really didn't get too much feedback on that. A lot of the classic Christmas stories of all time...It's a Wonderful Life starts with George Bailey jumping off a bridge, committing suicide. It gets pretty dark.

Bp: The redemption is that much more powerful at the end having gone through the darkness.

Paul O'Neill: That's exactly it. The deeper the abyss, the greater the rush when you get out of the abyss. Also A Christmas Carol is another perfect example. Scrooge, one of the defining moments of his life is when his sister dies in childbirth, that's why he never talks to the nephew. Dickens has it in there and it just comes and goes. The honest truth Brad, I knew I had to shorten it...oh here's the other part of it: I love when you look at a TSO audience you see every age group and everybody's having a great time. When I was young, six, seven or eight, when my friends and I would go see John Wayne movies we didn't want to see John Wayne kissing Maureen O'Hara. We wanted to see John Wayne stopping the bad guys from robbing the bank. Being a little kid, it's like, "Mush. Let's get to a shooting scene." I think if you're an adult you're into that story, but if you're young, you want the action.


Narration + "The Wisdom of Snow" - TSO Live in Hartford, CT; December 20, 2012 - courtesy squintyt4e



Bp: Is that where the removal of "The Wisdom of Snow" solo came in?

Paul O'Neill: Basically it was to tighten it up. For an arena so that everybody, I didn't want it to seem like it went on forever. Some of those monologues were just really long. I kept rewriting and rewriting and I just wasn't able to get it down to the length that I wanted. I knew there was an answer, I just couldn't figure it out. Then it literally came to me in the middle of the night when I was asleep, which was don't tell the story through the eyes of the angel on the mission, tell it through the eyes of the mother who is the child back on earth. That basically allowed me to drop a humongous amount of the narration and still keep the essence of the story and it also got back everybody's favorite part, which was that the little girl that he bumps into was his wife as a young child before he met her. Once we did that, everything fell into place. If you could see the pile of rewrites that I had before I hit that, it was just stupid.

Honestly, last year's version of The Lost Christmas Eve is the live version as of now. I always refer to the rock operas that there's multiple versions of them. You can just buy it for the music, just get the straight albums, and then you have the live performance, what I call the arena rock version where you shorten the narration a great deal but you still keep the essence of the story; and then you have the Shakespeare version. We put those out for two reasons. Number one, Bryan Hicks is just such a great narrator. More importantly a lot of college and community theaters put on our rock operas and it drives me crazy, Brad...well, number one you're flattered that someone is doing it, but when they do the poetry and they don't have the correct meter or timing, or they don't put the emphasis on the right word...when we put out the narrative versions I like it for two reasons...two of my favorite letters that we received after we released the Beethoven's Last Night narrated, one was from a guy who said his wife had been bugging him forever to clean the garage and he'd been putting it off forever, but he Beethoven's Last Night narrated in his CD player and blasted it while he cleaned the garage and the time just flew by. I got a letter from somebody else, as you're aware a lot of people have lost their jobs and can't sell their houses, this guy was in Indianapolis and he couldn't sell his house and his new job was two hours away he just said, "I hated getting up in the morning, I hated the traffic driving there and driving back, but I got Beethoven's Last Night and the next thing I know, I'm at work." He listened to it on the way back and it wasn't quite to the end and he found himself driving around the block until it reached the end of the story. You've seen those movies on HBO that you've seen before and you know what's going to happen at the end, but you have to stay and watch anyway. With The Lost Christmas Eve, we put that out with all the narration, and that way if someone wants to do it they know where the meter is, where the emphasis is, and they can add their own nuances to it, but at least there's a map out there for the correct way to do it. So this way, we did it, it's out there the correct way and if anyone wants to do it they can get the correct meter.

We're just getting such a back log of stuff. So we decided The Lost Christmas Eve two years and then switch.

Bp: Do you have any thoughts on what might be brewing for later this year?

Paul O'Neill: Yes, we have five. There is a completely new Christmas rock opera, obviously The Christmas Attic, and there's three other things. Adam is driving me crazy trying to find out what it is. I figure I'll tell him when I figure it out.

Bp: Would that new one be? All new music or would it be a new story with different songs from the trilogy woven in?

Paul O'Neill: I think you must have our studio bugged, Brad. It's one of each. Which there's nothing radical in that. In the old days of the 1930s and '40s with the great songwriters, you would see certain songs reappear. And if you want to easily stay in the Christmas mode, Holiday Inn, with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby was a huge hit, "White Christmas" came out of that. It became such a huge hit they did another movie completely around that song. I don't know if you've ever heard the original version of...Irving Berlin wrote it when he was in LA...it was Christmas Eve and the original opening verse goes, "The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway, there's never been such a day in Beverly Hills, but it's December the twenty-fourth and I'm longing to be up north, [sings] I'm dreaming of a White Christmas" and they only did the shortened version in Holiday Inn and the shortened version became a hit and the rest of the song just disappeared.

Bp: So are you building the tradition of seeing TSO as opposed to just seeing one story? Has the success of the last two years given you support to go out with in support of a TSO tradition as opposed to a single story tradition? Does that make bringing something out that's less well-known, like The Christmas Attic, easier to do?

Paul O'Neill: Honestly Brad, it's always fun to do something new. I don't care how big it is, if you do something over and over again you start to go on auto-pilot, which is something I always wanted to avoid in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It's why we let the band breathe. Like Alex Skolnick is a great guitar player, he's a great rock guitar player in Testament, but Alex's passion is jazz. He was with us for a while, then he wanted to do his jazz band for a while, and he did, then he wanted to come back for a while, which he did, and now he's off doing jazz again. I never want people to be on TSO's flight deck just for the check. The audience can pick that up. I'm sure you've been to concerts where a group's been doing the same song for 40 years and you can tell they're just up there for the paycheck; the audience can pick that up. It's a gift to be able to sing the same song decade after decade after decade and still have the passion as when you first did it. The same is true for acting. Off the top of my head I can only think of three people that had that passion. One is Steven Tyler. When he did "Dream On" with us he was as good as in the '70s. [Roger] Daltrey still has that passion. I don't know if you're familiar with Yule Brynner, he did The King and I, thousands of times on Broadway and I was lucky enough to catch one of his last performances and you would have thought it was one of the first times he ever did it. That is a gift certain people have. The reason I zero in on people like Tyler and Daltrey, you do have other singers who are able to come back after decades and still be great, but they tend to have taken years off with other bands or other projects. The reason I say Steven is he has only ever been in Aerosmith and God knows how many times he has sung "Dream On" and every time is like the first time. It's an Al Pitrelli rule, as you know TSO has a lot of, as you've heard me say a million times, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is an idea and an ideal. One of the little things Al Pitrelli kicked in, which I love, that he always says to the band, "This may be the last show of this tour for us, but it's the first show for everybody in this arena."

Bp: In an effort to keep things fresh and new then, will you start a rotating cycle for the winter tour where every two years it rotates?

Paul O'Neill: That is also something possible that we're looking at. It's funny, he's got us down for an hour, but I'm like, there's no way it's going to be just an hour. I know your questions are...I could just give the direct answer as opposed to what's going on underneath it...number one, the Greeks said it: the only constant in the universe is change. As the world changes so Trans-Siberian Orchestra has to change. We don't operate in a vacuum. One of the other reasons why I like The Lost Christmas Eve, the ending is just so full of hope I think a lot of people need hope these days. Let me put it this way, Brad, I've been touring for well over forty years and the nice thing about touring is you get to see all sorts of people. I feel a despair and a sense of frustration, at the hopelessness in western civilization, your Europe, Japan, and America that I had simply never felt until after the '08 banking crisis. You might feel that sense of frustration in South American countries, in African or Asian third world nations, but it's the first time I'd felt it here. It's scary what's going on. I'm sure you're aware it's the first time a lot of college graduates aren't getting jobs or they're getting jobs outside of their specialty. People need hope and they get it from entertainment so we're just trying to adjust to the times. The other key thing is keeping the kids really on top of it. Just again as we probably touched on last time, the entertainment industry is in a meltdown that is mind blowing. Hollywood is doing less than half the movies it was. I don't think there's even three-thousand real record deals a year and I just worry how the next generation of great musicians and great bands is going to happen without the nurturing of the label system. Again we were lucky enough to have a blank check artist development from Warner Bros. but I think we were the last band to have it. When the kids join TSO, anyone who is under twenty-five is one of the kids, I always hit them with different things, number one I ask them in five years if you could be doing anything, what would it be? That kind of gives me a hint as to what their passions are. Then I can try to build on those. The other thing is, it's very different from when I was a kid, when I was a teenager in high school you joined a cover band and even if you were fifteen or sixteen, the bartenders used to let you play, even though it was eighteen to drink back then. There were a million clubs and you'd basically played covers from the bands that you liked and at the end of the set you put in some of your originals and if they were good the crowd would cheer and if they weren't the crowd would throw beer bottles at you. These days with a twenty-one drinking age and the bar system breaking down, not only is the label system gone, but the recording studio system is gone. There used to be fifty-odd recording studios in New York City that had five-to-twelve recording rooms in them, like the Record Plant where I cut my teeth and just like Dave Wittman it was Electric Ladyland. That was where Bowie and Lennon and Aerosmith and all those other bands recorded. But while they were recording there'd be baby bands like ourselves and the older bands tended to be very kind. Lennon in particular said to me, "Oh this song is really great, but the chorus is not as good and you should probably think about re-writing it." And he was one-hundred percent right.

Bp: Which song was that?

Paul O'Neill: Oh, God, it was an old song with Slow Burn. Actually it was "Sparks."

Bp: What became the TSO version on Night Castle?

Paul O'Neill: Yea, it became the TSO version of "Sparks." First it became the Slow Burn version of "Sparks," and then Jon Oliva had recorded a version and Jon's version was monstrous. Jon's version was scary great. Because originally it was going to be on Gutter Ballet and then it got moved over onto Night Castle and Tim Hockenberry sang it.


"Sparks" - TSO Live in Buffalo, NY; December 30, 2013 - courtesy squintyt4e



Bp: Sticking with "Sparks" for a minute, when I think of Night Castle, that is not a song that jumps off the record as a favorite of mine. When I saw it on the setlist before the show in Toledo on opening day I was a bit surprised, but then it came alive and over the course of the tour it really evolved into an amazing live song.

Paul O'Neill: That song just rocks. Both [Jeff Scott] Soto and Robin [Borneman] do it justice. All songs are just...there are some songs that just get you right away. As artists it's our job to do it so well it gets you right away, but...stop me if I've told this story...you can have a masterpiece and sometimes people just don't get it. I look at myself as an example, when [Meat Loaf's] Bat Out of Hell came out someone called me and said, "Paul, you've got to come up to Columbia Records/Epic, you've got to hear this new album." And they played me the song "Bat Out of Hell" and asked me what I thought. I said, "Honestly, I don't get it. Where's the chorus? It's all over the place. It goes on and on forever. You can't follow it. I just don't get it."

Bp: And that turned into "Epiphany?" [laughs]

Paul O'Neill: [laughs] Oh, touché. Well, then he goes, "Can you listen to it a second time?" I listened to it a second time and I said, "This is the greatest song I have ever fucking heard!" If he hadn't insisted that I listen to it a second time then I would have just said, "Neh." I just wasn't able to hear it at first. [Jim] Steinman was just such a genius. He was ahead of his time. I wasn't able to grasp it at first and I was a musician, a lyricist, a songwriter, and I didn't get it. As I'm sure you're aware, Bat Out of Hell didn't really break until way after it was released, because one DJ on Long Island kept playing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" every night at midnight. Then it exploded on Long Island and then spread across the world.

Bp: You know something about one DJ pushing a song and it exploding as a result, don't you?

Paul O'Neill: Oh, yea. But that's another great example of times changing. When I started in the '70s, every radio station had a program director had complete autonomy as to what he was able to do, but now that radio stations have become corporate, like Clear Channel where you have one guy booking for tons of stations. A perfect example is Simon & Garfunkel. They had recorded their first album, released it, the band broke up and then I think it was a station in Boston where the guy was going through albums that were more than two years old and saw the Simon & Garfunkel album and started to play "The Sound of Silence." It exploded out of Boston, true story by the way, and then it became a humongous hit across America, but nobody could find Simon & Garfunkel. I think Garfunkel was living in Paris and Simon was in London and it was Dick Clark who finally tracked down Paul Simon and he asked him to be on American Bandstand. Simon asked him, "Why?" and he goes, "You have the biggest hit in America." Simon said, "We don't even have an album." Clark responded, "Didn't you write that song, 'The Sound of Silence'?" Simon was in Great Britain, he had no idea what was going on in America. He flew back and the rest is history.

When I was younger things changed so much slower. Ampex was the way to record forever. Now things change so much faster, like when the kids join the band I always try to hit them with multiple angles, a lot of times they didn't go through the ramp up of doing the clubs or doing the theaters. Bam, they're in an arena band. I explain to them in multiple ways, number one, we have to watch the fans money twenty times harder than we watch our own. Not an original concept, Alexander Hamilton said the government needs to watch the taxpayers money way more than they watch their own. We have a very wide audience, for a lot of people the TSO ticket price is nothing, but for a lot of people it might be their only entertainment value for the year. So I explain to them that we don't have the right to take a family's money from a mother, father and two kids without giving them the very best that we can. Especially kids because they're so young. I'm sure you know that great Mark Twain quote, "I don't know why, but my father became so much smarter when I became thirty." To make kids appreciate that just because we're here doesn't mean we're entitled to keep it. I always use round numbers, I say, just pretend that we did one year exactly one million tickets and just say the show is two-and-a-half hours long and everybody lives from their doorstep to the building to their seat, forty-five minutes there and forty-five minutes back, including parking, traffic jams; which adds up to four hours, which isn't possible, but we're doing it very conservatively. So you're averaging four hours per person. We don't have the right to waste four million human hours without giving them something that is really, truly great. When you look in their eyes you can see the sparks going off. When you talk about money you get that blank look, but when you talk about four million human hours, that's a lot and it makes them appreciate...I mean, the band appreciates the audience a great deal anyway, it's also one of the reasons I insist we do the signing line.

Bp: That is amazing that you have continued to do that since the move from the theaters to the arenas. I know it has an impact on people coming back and getting that instant interaction with the band.

Paul O'Neill: I think it's super important. I noticed it when I was managing bands in the '70s and the early '80s, the bigger a band gets the more the wall goes around them and the easier it is to get out of touch. It's not just rock, it's also governments, when Congress has its own retirement plans, its own medical plans, and all this, they get out of touch with the average American. The same can be said of corporations. When you get out of touch with the average person it's not healthy for a band, it's not healthy for you as an individual. I think it's a win-win. When I was a kid you always wanted to meet the band, but it never happened. But the band also gets to meet the audience, the fans, and as I always say, the fans own the band. It's not just a cliché, I really mean it. The minute we forget that is the minute we start to decline. A band member that left five or six years ago said, "Paul, I always understood, but I really got it the other night, it had been a two-show day and he was really tired, he said 'I just wanted to go back to the bus and throw back some Jack Daniels and he said he heard this guy say, [in Southern accent] 'Sir, my family and I would like to thank you, you just gave us the best night we've had in years.' And he said he looked up and this guy with his wife and three kids, you could tell he was working class, this guy's hands were like baseball mitts, they were all cut up from carrying cinder blocks or something, and he said, "I was just so humbled by this guy thanking me. I was making more money in a month than he was making in a year." It made him realize how lucky we all are that we get to do this for a living.

Bp: Switching gears a little bit to New Years Eve...

Paul O'Neill: Do what you need to do, Brad, to keep me on point.


"A Last Illusion/Requiem/The Mountain" - TSO Live at Brandenburg Gate, Berlin; December 31, 2013 - courtesy TSO



Bp: Okay. Brandenburg Gate on New Year's Eve, tell me about the conception and the execution and that amazing experience.

Paul O'Neill: We were in Omaha and we got the call from Berlin, who was unaware that we were touring North America and especially that we were touring on the 30th [of December]. They offered it that it would be between 1.2 and 1.3 [million people], it ended up being way more than that, by the way. The agents were just looking at the logistics and they just said, "Paul, this is physically impossible, you just can't do it." Over the decades I'd had a number of bands who would play Europe and the next day play America, but again the clock's on your side. Every time you cross a time zone you lose an hour and the only way to make it work was to get a plane that could fly faster than commercial, that had an extra big belly tank so we wouldn't have to land, and even with that if we'd hit turbulence...anything that delayed us more than ninety minutes, we wouldn't make the show. It was that tight.

One of my agents said, "Paul, you can always do it another year." I said, "What if they don't ask us next year?" It's now! It was definitely rough on some of the band members, some blatantly went without sleep. But the minute the show started you had this rush of adrenaline. To stand on that stage...Brandenburg Gate is one of the only areas....Times Square is not designed to hold hundreds of thousands, let alone millions of people. None of the squares are, but Brandenburg Gate was designed for military parades left over from the Brandenburg family and it was truly a magical moment to look out and see that many people and to hear that roar. It was definitely, definitely a once in a lifetime occurrence.

Bp: It was nice to see some old, familiar faces up there with the male vocalists.

Paul O'Neill: It was great and having the backup people helped us make it happen. A lot of band members were up there with literally zero sleep after a grueling schedule. Having people up there like Bart [Shatto], Stevie B, Jay Pierce, who all flew over early, they were all well rested, so I had anchors. I hate to talk in military terms, but you're holding the front line and then all of a sudden fresh troops arrive it kind of refreshes everybody. It was also great, I love Bart, I always loved what he did with "Old City Bar" and he's such a versatile guy. Jay Pierce I've always been in awe of and Stevie B, it was great having them back on the flight deck.

Bp: It served as a perfect lead-in for the European tour as well.

Paul O'Neill: It couldn't have been any better. As I'm sure you're aware, today is the last day of the European tour and then everybody is heading back. I'm in the studio right now with Jon [Oliva] and Georgia Napolitano. We're recording away as fast as we can.

Bp: What in particular are you working on, is it all three albums or are you focusing on one in particular?

Paul O'Neill: We're working on four now. Romanov, all the music is down, now it's just getting the right vocals down. But I will also say this, Romanov has by far the hardest vocals Jon and I have ever written. By the way, this year Rob Evan was just great because "Epiphany" is just...the other day he got a standing ovation in Europe for "Epiphany" and that's just Rob pouring his whole soul into it. God bless Rob Evan. He is a monster. Between the range, the capturing of the character, and also a lot of the younger singers he tends to mentor them. Everyone from Dustin Brayley or John Brink, they all look up to Rob. And again, if it wasn't for Rob Evan, I never would have written "Epiphany." I only wrote it because I knew Rob could sing it. And especially "Epiphany" and "There Was a Life" because Tran-Do was running on pure adrenaline...when you're in a war zone your body and mind are racing a million miles an hour and Rob captures that. I also love the one-two punch of "Epiphany," it was intended that "There Was a Life" I intended everybody to think this was how it was going to end, he was going to go back and save Lt. Cozier and that was the money song. Then, bam, Cozier's dead, this is not the money song, it's "Epiphany," when Rob takes it to a whole other level. As you are probably aware, there's an eighteen-minute version of that song that I love.

Bp: I would love to hear that!

Paul O'Neill: Oh, honestly, and one day, God willing, you will. The ending goes into a massive counterpoint that is just huge. The fact that it was already two-CDs was driving everybody crazy and when I floated the idea of possibly three I could just feel the antacids going up right across the board. One day we will get to do it. Trans-Siberian is...


"Epiphany" - TSO Live in Amsterdam, NL; January 18, 2014 - courtesy RamonaNL



Bp: If I could roll back a little bit here, you mentioned that you were working on four albums. I know about Romanov, and I'm assuming Gutter Ballet and Letters from the Labyrinth are two and three, but what's the fourth one?

Paul O'Neill: By the way, your credibility has gone through the roof, Brad, last time that we talked there were a few things that I told you that I asked to not be released and you never did. I greatly appreciate that and it's the sign of a great journalist, one that you can trust. So if I tell you the title can you not print it?

Bp: Absolutely. Anything you want off the record, can be off the record.

Paul O'Neill: Off the record then. It's [xxx]. I love it.

Bp: Is that new? Or something you've had?

Paul O'Neill: It's something I had, but I bumped into a singer that is great and it's one of the things I've learned, I call it the Night Castle lesson. Night Castle would have been out, on time, in '05 if I had Lt. Cozier. And again, having so many great male singers I never worried about it. Mrs. Cozier was written for Jennifer Cella, Erasmus – Jay Pierce, Rob Evan who inspired Tran-Do and every other singer...I have five other versions of people singing Lt. Cozier and Rob just runs them over like a tank. It wasn't until Al recommended Jeff Scott Soto that it was a battle of equals. I learned my lesson, which is if you have the singer, get the vocal down, and then when you have all the singers, release the album.

Bp: Who is this new vocalist that you found the voice for this one?

Paul O'Neill: It's a young kid, I'm developing him gently, it's a kid from Holland.

Bp: Robin [Borneman]?

Paul O'Neill: Robin, yes. He's an interesting character. Dan found him. He comes from Holland, not from Amsterdam, and he doesn't come from the rock world at all. He comes from more the folk-rock world.

Bp: I've listened to some of his solo material, it's haunting and amazing.

Paul O'Neill: Yea. Also "Believe" is going over really well with him in Europe. Normally a song like "Believe" you need to be a little older, because the character is a little older, definitely past fifty, who is looking in the mirror and has all these regrets. My grandmother Moore would have called Robin an 'old soul.' He is able to capture emotions that you shouldn't be able to get out of someone in their twenties. I think of Judy Garland all the time, like The Wizard of Oz was originally supposed to star Shirley Temple who was the biggest child star, but they couldn't get her, so they had to go with their second choice, which was Judy Garland, but that was a happy accident. Most child stars have horrible lives and they usually end up wrecks as adults, Shirley Temple was the exception, she had a great childhood and she became an ambassador for America and led a great life. Judy Garland, as you know, had a hell childhood, a nightmare stage mom, but I don't think if she'd had a perfect childhood that she could have put the angst that cuts your soul on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and to have this teenage girl just tearing your heart out...I don't think if she'd had the perfect childhood she could have been able to do it.

Robin has that, again as my grandmother Moore would say, he's an 'old soul.'

Bp: Do you predict, as well as you can predict, any of those releases coming out in '14?

Paul O'Neill: Again, I'm always scared to predict 'cause I'll just end up eating my words.

Bp: Do you have any that you have all of the vocalists locked in to where it's just getting them in to record and you're done?

Paul O'Neill: There's none that has one-hundred percent of the vocalists yet. And again, I learned a big lesson on Night Castle, I was just missing one vocalist, but one vocalist is enough to take down the ship.

I don't know if you're a fan of the BBC show Sherlock Holmes, if you get a chance to watch it I think there are three seasons that are done, each with three episodes. Benedict Cumberbatch is Sherlock Holmes, the guy who played Bilbo Baggins [Martin Freeman] is Watson, they bring him into the modern age. The writing is genius and the acting is genius. It really works. They completely reinvent Sherlock Holmes. My daughter was the one who turned me onto it. The other day she showed me something else, she showed me the original pilot; same actors, same writing team, and I had to force myself to watch it. It was just not good. They basically canned it and redid it from the ground up and I'm sure that there were a lot of executives that were losing their minds, but in the end it was the right move. They'd learned what all their mistakes were, they corrected them and it basically turned the Watson and Holmes characters into stars. It's hard when you're in this industry, Brad, be it an album, be it a movie, it's so much money that if you make a mistake it's really hard to just say, "Throw it away."

That happened with Savatage. We filmed a show in Cologne, but there was a humongous screw up where the lighting company didn't show up with a lot of the equipment. It was filmed anyway, it was recorded. Warner Bros. was going to give us three-quarters of a million dollars just for Europe to release it, but it wasn't right. So I canned it. The only existing copy is in one of my vaults and at some point it will probably be destroyed.

Bp: Would you ever consider releasing that under the terminology that it was...not a bootleg, but that it wasn't up to snuff or in a way that lets people know that it's not what you originally envisioned, but since the footage is captured...

Paul O'Neill: Can I just say something, it's been...now that you actually have asked the question and you're making me think...

Bp: There would be people who would love anything. Obviously you know how strong the Savatage legion is...

Paul O'Neill: Oh, yea. It's interesting because I never really thought about it until you asked the question, but it must have been there in the back of my mind or else I would have destroyed it. The fact that I didn't...y'know the only way that I would do it is after I get a great film of Savatage done right. Because I don't think they would have ever released the original pilot for Sherlock if they didn't eventually get it right.


"Welcome/Chance" - Savatage Live in Cologne, Germany; 1997



Bp: How could you do a film of Savatage and get it right?

Paul O'Neill: I'd have to get everybody together, go into massive rehearsals, put it together and then go do the comeback tour, comeback show and film it.

Bp: Is that something you would ever do?

Paul O'Neill: As long as Jon Oliva's alive it's always...y'know, Savatage holds a special place in our hearts, but it has to be right and it has to be great. It just can't be for the money or to just do it. I always worship Francis Ford Coppola because when he was doing Apocalypse Now, originally starring Harvey Keitel...

Bp: I remember you mentioning this...

Paul O'Neill: He destroyed it. It was the right move and that's hard to do. The time, the money. How do you tell Harvey Keitel you're replacing him with an unknown. But you've got to do what's right for the audience and what's right for that work in particular.

Bp: Touching on one of the other projects that you're working on, Gutter Ballet, as the legend goes there was enough material for Streets to originally be a double-record, but Atlantic only wanted a single album at the time, and everything that was recorded that didn't make the album was lost. Is that true?

Paul O'Neill: Yes.

Bp: Will those songs that were lost, obviously not the original recordings with the original guys, especially since Criss [Oliva] has now passed, will those songs be included in some form on the TSO Gutter Ballet package?

Paul O'Neill: If we do Gutter Ballet, yes. But, I'll give you the...when Criss heard "Gutter Ballet" he fell in love with it. We were already well into that next record which is why we called it Gutter Ballet, but the dream was we were going to metal up Gutter Ballet and turn it into Sava's next record. And we did, but here's where the problem happened, remember earlier on I said, pretty much my entire life, the recording format was two-inch Ampex. Warner Bros. like every other label, there's a place called Iron Mountain where they would store everything, you can imagine what the vaults for Warner Bros. looks like. I know because I went to try to find Streets. But when we did Streets I was always running out of tracks and we would slave three 24-track machines together and use 72-tracks. Then Sony came out with a 48-track digital and I said, "Ok, I love this!" Then I'm like, "Can you slave them together and have 96-tracks?" The answer was yes. Funny story, we were the first band to ever do it. When we first started recording, when we added the slave, which was the second reel, we hit record, the machine went insane and all the lights started to blink and it tore the tape in half. We called Sony and we said, "Your machine just tore our tape in half." They said, "That's a physical impossibility. There are too many safety devices. It cannot happen." They said we'd have to try to do it again. We tried to make it do it again, but we couldn't make it do it again. Also there was nothing on the tape, we had just put it up. So we couldn't get it to happen again, we tried and tried and tried. So whatever, we'd seen it, but Sony engineers in Japan were so certain we didn't see it or whatever, but even though we'd seen it with our own eyes we started to doubt our senses and we just moved ahead. It was about four months later and we're recording, both 48-track tapes were full and bam, the machine tears one of the tapes in half. So we got Sony back on the phone and said, "Remember that thing you said could never happen, well it just happened again, but now it was just full." The next day Sony had a million engineers crawling over that studio and they said, "If a-b-c-d-e-f-g-h-i–j-k all happen simultaneously, one machine will reverse direction and tear the tape in half." It was just one of those flukes that just happened. Sony was really good, they more than made up for it by paying for Record Plant's time, etc. etc.

But getting back to your earlier question, 48-track reels are way bigger and a totally different size than two-inch Ampex. When we first tried to get the tapes back from Warner Bros. to do the full version of Streets, they couldn't find them. So then we offered a $1,000 reward for every reel that was found, they still didn't. So I went down there and the minute I got there I could see the reason why. The entire place was geared for two-inch Ampex, you just slip them into the little slots, the digital 48-track Sony's didn't fit in those slots so I don't believe the tapes are gone, I just believe in the hundreds of thousands of reels that Warner's has that one day...you said would it be with the Savatage guys, I keep praying for that one day when I get that call, "Paul, we've found the Streets tapes."

The great thing about that would be, they're full. They're recorded top to bottom. The guitar, the drums, the keyboards, the vocals, the backing vocals; everything's done. They'd just have to be mixed. Very much like...we found the gospel version of "Jesus Saves." That was the only reel they were able to find. I try not to think about it too much, Brad. It's either going to be found or it's not going to be found. But I've also learned my lesson and that's why I hold onto all the masters.

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