Log in

No account? Create an account
02 November 2015 @ 09:03 pm
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Russell Allen - Winter Tour 2014  

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?

Russell Allen: Well, it started for me as a child. I was born with a gift and I grew up in a musical family which helped nurture it. My Mom and Dad were both musicians, my grandfather and grandmother were country musicians. I started at a young age singing country songs with my folks. I gravitated toward the outlaw country stuff myself, like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and all those guys. It was in my blood literally. I think my first gig was stealing the intercom at the shopping center. I jumped out of the shopping cart when my Dad wasn't looking and started singing into it. He loves that story. I was three and I sang the theme song to their competitor.

Bp: [laughing] Nice! That's brilliant.

Russell Allen: Yea, my Dad turned around and I just jumped out. You know the old intercom with the button, "Price check on...whatever." I just started wailing away on it and I sang the song so well, the checkout lady didn't stop me or yell at me. When I was done everyone in the store applauded. That was my first gig.

So I've always been pretty fearless on stage. My grandfather, when I was a little older, about five years old, I can remember him bringing me up on stage with him. He used to do shows at these moose lodges, elks clubs, and other venues like that. He was actually on The Gong Show back in the ‘70s which was pretty cool. That was his claim to fame.

I was interested from a young age and in school I was in jazz ensemble and choir. That sort of helped me develop my music theory and stuff like that. As time went on I got into rock and roll and heavy metal. I started emulating my heroes: Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Led Zeppelin and all the rock bands. It kind of went from there and as a teenager I started getting into some bands. Then I landed a gig with Symphony X and the rest is history.

Russell delivers a passionate performance in Hartford, Jan. 4, 2015

Bp: Was there a defining moment, when you were young, where the spark of inspiration hit?

Russell Allen: Well, I always knew I wanted to sing, but I guess when I went to see a band called Badlands.

Bp: Jake E. Lee's band?

Russell Allen: Yes, with Jake E. Lee. I was eighteen and it was at L'Amour in Brooklyn. That really solidified my desire to be in a rock band. I loved Van Halen when I was a kid and I was trying to be him and stuff, but it wasn't until I saw those guys in the club that night that I really thought, "I want to do this." Then I started auditioning for bands in the area and landed in a band called Streetwise. That kind of started my journey. That was the turning point for me to really take it seriously. [Coincidentally, TSO producer Paul O'Neill also produced the first Badlands record]

Bp: You landed the Symphony X position in 1995, about a decade later released a solo record and in the early 2000s you started branching out into a few other projects. Tell me about that shift and what those projects meant to your development.

Russell Allen: Symphony X was always working in the early days I just did that, but as time went on the breaks between records became bigger and bigger so I just wanted to keep my voice going. I found that when I was on tour I'd be in great shape and then when we'd stop for a year I'd get out of shape so I wanted to keep going and started working with other people. It's always a good experience, in my opinion, when you can work with other artists, because you learn so much from them and you learn about yourself too, what you can do and such. The Allen/Lande stuff helped me craft a little bit more of a classic rock feel. I was doing such heavy music and the progressive thing. For instance, I just did a record with Mat Sinner. It had a really cool vibe. One of the songs had almost similar to a Foreigner vibe. All of that stuff has a European flavor to it. So it's a different vibe than what an American band would do. So all that stuff is a challenge and I like the challenge of doing different types of music, at least getting out of my genre a little bit. I think the biggest genre step I've taken is with Adrenaline Mob, which is completely not prog and not metal. That's more a straight-forward modern thing. All that stuff is to improve myself and be a better singer and better songwriter. Everything I do helps me be a better singer.

Bp: Did you grow up with any formal training?

Russell Allen: I was in choir and had some formal training in junior high and high school, but I never had a vocal coach per se. I had a really great music teacher, his name was Wes Reed. He was a big influence on me in terms of learning. He actually taught The Carpenters. He sang on some of their records and he was really into the California folk scene. He introduced me to that and the Hilltops, an ensemble group at the high school that I became a part of. It was like a jazz ensemble in a way. We'd do Manhattan Transfer a cappella and all sorts of stuff. That really broadened my understanding and I got into all sorts of different styles. He was the guy who introduced me to barbershop music and me and a few of my buddies formed a barbershop quartet back in high school. The Music Man was a big introduction to harmonies for me and using a cappella to really understand how harmonies work. It's kind of a lost art form, barbershop. It's not like there is anyone out there on the VMAs doing barbershop. We were almost like a boy band in that respect, a bunch of friends singing off the wall versions of songs in barbershop. We did the National Anthem in this stadium as a barbershop rendition. That was the first time I was in front of a really large audience.

Bp: You really have done a fair bit of variety.

Russell Allen: [laughs] Yeah, it was interesting. It was a fun time in my life. When you're young you're like a sponge soaking it all in and observing everything. So it was cool. I was into Queen too and on those records they were doing a lot of those types of harmonies. So it was cool to have that barbershop background and it found its way in to the band.

Bp: What steered you in the direction of hard rock and metal?

Russell Allen: My first Van Halen record that I bought was 1984. I was twelve or thirteen and this was when videos were happening and so I saw "Hot for Teacher" and Eddie's walking down the table doing the guitar solo – the famous "Hot for Teacher" video – that was it. I said, "This is killer and they're having so much fun." The whole band looked like they were having a blast. So that started it. After I bought that I had to go back and start from the beginning and it went from there as I caught up to where they were. I've been a fan ever since. That was really my first introduction to rock, Van Halen. All my buddies were into Maiden and I got into that after the fact.

Bp: Skipping way ahead to your involvement with TSO, you'd been with Symphony X for almost two decades, done your solo record, worked on some other projects, and knew some of the existing members of TSO at the time, but what led to the audition?

Russell Allen: This is a funny story. Chris Caffery and I have been friends for a long time. I met him in Germany for the first time when Symphony X was opening for Savatage at a festival. I remember meeting Chris that day. They'd just done Wacken the day before and so they were all a little tired – I remember it very vividly – Chris is typically bubbly and full of energy as he always is. He was a really nice guy. I kind of kept in touch with him over the years and I'd see him at shows around the area when he wasn't doing TSO and we'd talked about me meeting Paul, but I was usually in the middle of a record or touring in the fall, so I never really thought I could do something at that time of year. A couple years ago he texts me out of the blue and says, "You'll never guess who I'm with." So I text him back, "Ok, who are you with?" He texts me a picture and he's standing with my mother-in-law!

He tells me he's at a doo-wop show of The Duprees. So he's at The Duprees gig and my mother-in-law is a huge fan of all that stuff – the Jersey Boys, all that stuff – I'm like, "Holy crap!" So my mother-in-law got to talking with him about different things and such. So I texted him back and mentioned that I wasn't doing anything that fall and I didn't know if they were looking for anybody – this was in the summer – but I'd be interested in trying out. A few weeks later I had a plane ticket to Florida to audition. And then I got it. So that's how that happened. If my mother-in-law didn't see him at that show I wouldn't be in TSO. [laughs]

Bp: [laughing] It's not that often I've heard of mother-in-law's helping to get gigs.

Russell Allen: I know, right? It's weird.

"Christmas Dreams" - December 5, 2013 - Albany, NY evening

Bp: What did you sing for the audition?

Russell Allen: It's funny because I got there and Paul was really cool and talked to me for a really long time. He wants to get to know you and we talked about stuff and I wasn't sure if I was even going to have to sing. It was about two hours and I asked him if he wanted me to sing for him and he said, "Yeah, yeah, sure." It was almost as if it was a formality. He'd already heard me. They already knew what I could do. It was a really laid back feel and so I sang, I think "Christmas Dreams," which I did my first year. He said it was great and I got in.

Bp: You were slated to just do "Christmas Dreams" on that tour, but you ended up with a couple more songs due to long-time singer James Lewis' back injury. You had to climb into those songs just a few days before the tour started, right?

Russell Allen: Yeah, I think it was about three or five days before we left. It wasn't a lot of time. I was going to be doing one song and then they are throwing a lot of stuff at me with This Christmas Day and Christmas Nights in Blue to learn. I'm used to singing twenty-six minute songs with Symphony X so it wasn't anything I couldn't handle, it was just I had the luxury of writing or co-writing those songs with [bandmate Michael] Romeo so I knew them so well. These obviously weren't mine, so I had to really knuckle down and learn them. It was tough in the beginning, but I got it. Luckily I was able to pull it off and make it my own and do my thing. It was a nervous time because I wasn't prepared for that.

I was also disappointed. Everyone was telling me how great James was and what a great guy he was to be on the road with, so I was disappointed. I like the camaraderie out here. I'm like the heavy metal pirate. I like a good, "Arrrrrgh." I like good camaraderie on my bus and I think of it as a pirate ship. We're all like pirates together. When I heard he wasn't going to come out I was really bummed. I really wanted to meet him and travel together with him and then I've got this pressure to fill his shoes. But I got the songs down and I sang my butt off on them. Everyone seemed to like them. It was a challenge to do these bluesy things with TSO which is a lot different than anything else I've ever done.

Bp: Paul really likes his singers to become the character as they sing. Was it an adjustment taking on these character roles since your other work hasn't been as character driven?

Russell Allen: In a way, yes, it was an adjustment for me to go back to before my career in heavy metal. Even though the songs for Symphony X are song stories and there are sometimes characters within those stories that I'm talking about, I'm never really becoming that person in the way I do with TSO. Paul really got me into the characters and I've had to revisit my rather limited theatrical background I had in high school, doing musicals and stuff, to try to pull on that and bring that vibe into it and that seemed to work. It was a bit of an adjustment in the beginning.

Russell and Derek Wieland share a smile in Boston, Dec. 20, 2014

Bp: I saw the first show in Toledo and then a dozen or so times throughout the tour and it was interesting to see how you evolved and grew into the characters and brought your own style to songs over the tour from that first show to the end of the tour in Buffalo. You added a lot to the roles by way of vocal and acting nuances and looked much more comfortable as the tour went on.

Russell Allen: I always want to make it the best that it can be so I'm constantly looking to improve upon things. As I get more comfortable with the song, take "Three Kings" this year for example, with the Zeppelin part, that's me, but I want to sing the song with the jazz kind of vibe. I started throwing the hat, took the coat off, let the hair down and then that's where I'm myself again. So that's the whole idea of stripping away the blues character in order to rock the Zeppelin at the end. That was a metamorphosis that took place over the course of the tour. It's not always conscious; sometimes it's a subconscious thing, something that sort of happens. I find these things that I do in the moment and people say, "That was great what you did there." So I'll do it again and then I'll bring them back. That's how it goes for me and I'm always looking to do my best no matter what. I'm pretty fearless up there. When I know my songs and what I'm doing, I'll go over to Derek and sit on his stool. It's little things like that I do randomly on certain nights over the course of the shows. Derek will say, "Hey, when you came by me tonight and did that, it was great. You should do that again." So I'm not afraid to go out and try things out there that my gut instincts are telling me to do. They don't all work, but for the most part I'm pretty conservative ‘cause I want to respect the song and respect the show, but I'll try a few little things here and there to see if they're going to work. It gives me an opportunity to work the stage. It's a huge stage so if I can get to stage left and work it with Derek and go to stage right and work the stage with Chris or something and have the ability to touch as many people out there as I can. That's a big thing for me. I like to make eye contact with the audience. I like to bring them into what we're doing and get them involved. Even that breakdown where I'm getting them to sing, that all happened when we were out on the road too.

"The Snow Came Down" - December 20, 2014 - Boston, MA evening

Bp: You have some pretty weighty songs on this tour with "The Snow Came Down" and "Find Our Way Home." What are you drawing on for inspiration for those to help get into the character?

Russell Allen: "Find Our Way Home" - I think about my life before I moved to New Jersey. I think about what I mentioned before, my musical family growing up. My mom and dad still play, but my grandparents have passed away. My grandfather was sort of the pinnacle of our family. He'd bring us all together and play music all through the holidays. So at Christmas time we'd all go to my grandparent's house, my uncles, my father and my mom and everybody, and we'd bring instruments and they'd sit up and play all night. Not just Christmas songs, but mostly Christmas songs. As I got older I would sing and they'd back me up and my cousins would sing and my sister would sing. So when I left I was just a kid and I never went back. As the years went on the family grew apart and all that stopped. So for me, "Find Our Way Home" is about that. It's kind of sad because I can never really go back there, but I go back every time I go on stage and sing that song.

I've strived so hard to be something in this business and to have a career in music. I've left a lot behind and in ways I can relate to this character who has made all this wealth and had all these things, but never took the time to do a kind deed or whatever. Obviously our stories aren't the same, but I find that connection of wanting to go back home and constantly pushing myself and here I am standing on this big stage and it's staring me right in the face; my career pushing me further and further away from that childhood home. So that's kind of how I get in the mood for that.

Bp: How about "The Snow Came Down" – what do you draw on for that?

Russell Allen: It's a second chance kind of a thing. For an old pirate like me, y'know [laughs], I like the idea of having a second chance. I think about those footsteps in the snow. I don't really think about an old high school sweetheart or anything like that, but it gets me emotionally when I think about this person who may have missed out on this chance at true love and this child bridges this gap and makes it happen. I think of that movie Forrest Gump. His whole life he's in love with Jenny and she just shits on him the whole time, [laughs] but he loves her. Sometimes I'll go there and I'll think about that. They finally end up together and she dies, but he finally gets to be with her and they have a child. It's that redemption, that second chance at life and love. It just gets me. I listen to Bryan, and Hicks puts me in the mood every night without fail. He brings me right in. Just like he's doing for the rest of the audience, it works for me too. I'm always standing on the side of the stage listening to him talk and listening to the lines, visualizing those footsteps in the snow and these two people finding each other again. It doesn't matter if you find it early in life or late in life, but if you're lucky enough to find it, that's what it's all about. That's what I'm drawing on and what I'm thinking about.

"Find Our Way Home" - January 4, 2015 - Hartford, CT evening

Bp: You were mentioning developing your character and trying things here and there. How free have you been as far as being able to try new things to develop the character within the context of the show?

Russell Allen: This tour I've been really free, I must say. I'm flattered that everyone has had a lot of faith and trust in me this year to do my thing. Last year was last year, completely different. This year I came into this, and I really love these songs too – not that I didn't last year – but I really had more of a connection with these songs as we just discussed. "Three Kings..." to me is similar to "Christmas Nights in Blue" in a way, a jazzy character, that I could draw on again.

When I showed up in Omaha and sang them on day one, it was weird because initially neither Paul, nor no one else said anything to me. I kind of know this structure and how this operation works and back when my trainers wouldn't say anything to me – it was the same in football – when the coach and trainers aren't saying anything to you, you did a great job. So here I am in Omaha and no one said anything, so I'm thinking, "Okay." Kenny [Kaplan, Night Castle Management] or someone in management or Jon Oliva would then tell me, "Russ, you're killing it, man" and the tour hadn't even started yet and I was really feeling the songs. I was getting a little teary eyed in the beginning when I'd start to sing these songs, so they were hitting me. I was there.
I was very comfortable this year, much more relaxed. I knew the drill and was comfortable on the big stage. I've had a lot of freedom to do my own thing. They trust me not to take things too far or take things too far out of frame. It's been a lot of fun.

Bp: Speaking of Jon Oliva. Even though he's not seen by TSO audiences, he still plays a large role behind the scenes, obviously with the writing and recording, but he also plays an important role with the singers out in Omaha in preparation for the tour as far as developing characters and such. Can you describe his pre-tour role with the singers?

Russell Allen: He's instrumental in making that character development happen. That's his thing. Obviously he's an incredible writer, incredible singer and performer. He's the guy who is helping each singer be at their best and bring out each character and performance. He gives the singers that emotional connection that they need by giving them the guidance they need to help make the show what you see. Jon's really important to the singers and bringing out that magic.

Bp: What is your typical show day schedule and what do you do to warm up vocally?

Russell Allen: Well, a typical show day for me is, I wake up, go to the gym, actually, I go to Starbucks and then I go to the gym.

Bp: That's a TSO pre-requisite, isn't it?

Russell Allen: Yes. I'm not promoting, you asked and I'm telling you. I do the gym thing and that gets the blood flowing. I get on the bus, we go to the venue and I have lunch. Exciting stuff, right? I put my outfit on, I put my microphone on and then I sing in the show. I don't warm up, I don't do any of that stuff. [laughs] It pisses off so many singers, but yeah, that's not me, man.

Ronnie Dio gave me some great advice – I was fortunate enough to know him on a first name basis and he told me, "Russ, God only gave me so many notes and I use them all on stage." Now that he's gone it rings so true and I used to overdo it in warm-ups and by the end of the performance I would have nothing, so I've learned over the years to save it for the stage. The only time I will do that to try to open up my voice to perform is if I'm not feeling well. That's about it though. I just get up there and let ‘er rip, as they say.

Bp: Moving from the stage to the studio, have you logged any studio time with Paul and Dave [Wittman, engineer] in Florida as of yet?

Russell Allen: They've had me down to try me out on a couple of things so I'm looking forward to doing that again soon. There's obviously talk of a new record and they do want me to be a part of it, in what capacity I don't know. Paul always likes to listen to all the different colors that he has in his palette vocally, if you know what I mean, to see which one fits a particular song the best. As a producer myself I totally understand that. I can offer a lot of different colors because I have a lot of versatility, but it boils down to tone and character and whatever he might be thinking or feeling that he wants to hear. He'll listen to everybody and he's very smart. He knows he has my talent at his disposal and he's really good at listening to what he has available. I sang a lot of stuff. As to what will wind up on the records, I have no idea.

Bp: Switching gears back to your roots, can you tell me a seminal album that changed your life early on?

Russell Allen: When I was getting into metal I was really into Maiden and I got Dio's Holy Diver. I just wore the tape out.

Bp: I think a lot of us did that right along with you.

Russell Allen: His voice and that band. The way that record sounded, there was a rawness to it and a bite, if you will. That album had some bite to it that nothing else at the time had. It was right in the middle, that album, of a rock album and a metal album. It had the balls of a rock record, but it had the bite of a metal record. I just loved that sound that he had on that record. Vivian Campbell's guitar work is just great on it. Vinnie Appice's drumming and [Jim] Bain [on bass], the whole record is just a masterpiece. I was just so blown away by it that I played it until you could hear the other side of the tape coming through. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Bp: I totally do.

Russell Allen: So that was a huge, huge one for me. I'll never forget that. It was a big deal for me, Holy Diver.

Bp: That must have been extra special for you when you and Ronnie developed a relationship.

Russell Allen: Oh yeah. I had only gotten to hang out with him a handful of times, five or six times, but he knew me. The first time I hung out with him it was his birthday, I think it was in Cleveland, and we were passing through on tour. They were on tour with King's X, a club tour, and that was when Doug Aldrich was playing guitar for him. I'll never forget this, we had a roadie working for us who was an older guy and he'd worked for Dio. He said, "I've got a treat for you. We'll all pile into a cab, I don't know what's going on, but let's go." So we pull up to the venue, ‘cause we happened to be passing through, and there he was. There was Dio. It was so cool. We walked into the club and he took us to the back, in the dressing room. Then it was just his band and Symphony X having birthday cake. I was having birthday cake with Ronnie James Dio! I was such a fanboy. I held it together pretty good. The funny thing was, he was just hanging out smoking a spliff and drinking his wine, like he liked to do, and I'm thinking, "How does this guy do it?" I gave up smoking cigarettes ten plus years ago ‘cause that's the one thing I can't do and sing. And here he is.

One thing I remember, I think it was from that night, or another, but Jimmy Bain was trying to get into the bathroom and they'd just done new construction. They'd hung the door but it wasn't finished, there was no trim. So it wasn't clear if you had to push or pull it to open it so he's kicking this door trying to get in and it comes off the top hinge and he falls right into the bathroom with the door and everything. Everybody in the room turned and looked at Bain and then Ronnie just turned back to me and said, like nothing had happened, "So, anyway the U87 is a microphone I like to use in the studio…" as if nothing had happened. [laughs] I looked over at my drummer, Jason Rullo, and we caught eyes and we were looking at each other thinking, "Did you just see that?" We're trying not to laugh, but it was hilarious.

Yeah, it was cool to get to meet one of my heroes and have him be so genuine. That was a big deal for me. I'm not this rockstar guy, with a ‘don't talk to me' attitude. I'm not that guy. I really love having a relationship with everybody in the crew and just everybody. All the years I've been in this business the crew has been really important to me. As a pirate captain on the high seas of heavy metal I would cook for them on the road and whatever. I'd bring my barbecue and cook for them. There are people in the business, I'm not going to name names, but some people in this business aren't like that. I've met them too, man, and I'd be thinking, "I don't know if I can do this. If this is how you are, is this how I have to be?" You never know if people are going to be how you want them to be when you meet them, but Ronnie was so gracious. He was the same to me as he would have been to a fan. I could be myself and it showed to me that you can be a person with grace and kindness in heavy metal. The imagery is the horns and fire and evil and all this shit, but underneath it all metal heads are some of the nicest and kindest people you can meet. It's like a brotherhood.

"The Three Kings & I / Kashmir" - December 20, 2014 - Boston, MA evening

Bp: It's awesome when you meet people that you've been inspired by and they don't shatter the illusion.

Russell Allen: Yes. And as much as I learned from listening to him sing, I also learned so much from him as a person, as an ambassador of his band and seeing him how he was and understanding, "Ok, I get this." I already had the training in Medieval Times [Dinner Theater] of going out and signing autographs every night, kind of similar to the signing line that we do with TSO, and understanding that no matter what, those people are there to see you and even if you're not up to it you have to put on a smile because it means the world to them. Come rain or shine, Ronnie was always like that and he was always gracious and accommodating. I saw from my hero that's the way to be and so that's how I am.

Bp: Tell me a little about working with Arjen [Lucassen] on the Ayreon and Star One project.

Russell Allen: I think that was the first record I had done outside of Symphony X. He was this super talented, tall, that guy is so tall, guitar player and he called me up and told me he'd love for me to work on his record. Some of the other guys told me he was amazing and some of the guys at his label at the time, InsideOut, said he was amazing, so I said, "I'll give it a listen." I got a hold of his record, Into the Electric Castle, and I was blown away. To this day it's one of my favorite albums. He really could write some cool stuff. So I got back to him and told him I'd love to do it and he sent me the tracks and I sang them at Romeo's [Symphony X's guitarist] and sent them back. He phoned me up in tears telling me, "This is amazing." I said, "Really?" [laughs] That's kind of how the relationship started. I did the one track on Universal Migrator [he sings part of the melody] and then as time went by he asked me to do the Star One project, which included a tour, which was about eight shows, and the first tour outside of Symphony X I'd done until Adrenaline Mob and now TSO. He was so cool and a blast to hang out with. We developed a relationship there and over the years we've hooked up for a couple of things. We did the Star One part Two – that was fun. Again, doing that ‘70s rock thing was a lot of fun on that record. Arjen is amazing and super talented.

Bp: It sounds like we'll be hearing your voice a little in 2015, you've done some work with Joel [Hoekstra, TSO guitarist] on a project, the Level 10, and some Adrenaline Mob material as well.

Russell Allen: The Level 10 thing I did with [Mat] Sinner about three years ago now. It just got put into the release schedule for Frontiers. I didn't know they were going to do that to be honest with you. It's a really great record. Adrenaline Mob is putting out a record in February which is basically four new covers and some unreleased material, bonus stuff, and radio edits for other songs we did. Later in the year at some point, hopefully we'll have the Symphony X record out. I'm also really looking forward to TSO. Hopefully my number will be called and I'll be part of the Wacken show. I want to be there for TSO and I'm basing my summer around that. After that, I don't know, right now I have nothing solid booked for shows, I'm kind of an open page. After this tour I just want to lay low for a little while and spend some time with the kids and wife. I'm sure something will pop up and I'll be out there doing something.

"It's that redemption, that second chance at life and love. It just gets me." Russell in Hartford, Jan. 4, 2015

Bp: Swinging back to the current, it's always a treat to hear songs out of their typical element. You're part of the TSO radio team that drops into radio stations for a couple of acoustic numbers here and there. How are you enjoying them on this already busy schedule? Have you done many acoustic radio things in the past?

Russell Allen: Actually, I did a bunch of them with Mike Orlando for Adrenaline Mob. It was the first time I'd been in a radio band, that was the first time I'd done that. On the Omerta tour we did about eight or nine of those on that tour where we'd go in and sing some songs. With TSO obviously you have Derek playing piano and Joel on guitar and a bunch of singers. It's like a little group. There's variety in it and it makes it a little more of a show. The hours are very early and knock on wood, this freak of nature that I am, I'm able to get up and sing at pretty much any hour of the day. Luckily they've got me doing the bluesy stuff, so the earlier it is, the raspier my voice is and it just sounds better.

The radio things are a lot of fun. People really love having us out at those things and they treat us so good at the stations. I like it and I like entertaining people in that environment. I like the energy that a radio station has and a radio show will sometimes bring people in so there's a mini-audience there and they're really excited to be there. It's an intimate vibe there, but it's shooting out over the airwaves and reaching all these other people so you have a virtual audience of thousands out there.

Bp: You were talking about taking something from all of your diverse set of experiences with other artists and situations, what have you learned from the experience with TSO?

Russell Allen: Well, I've definitely learned, especially from Paul, to sing more from an emotional point of view, more from the character's point of view. The perfect notes aren't as important. As a singer it's drilled into your brain to hit all these notes perfectly and you're always trying to stay on pitch and make the notes ring. One of the biggest things I've learned is the importance of lyrics and the story and translating that to the audience. Often times it's not how good you sing it from a technical aspect, but how much you mean it. That's been a big thing. I always knew that, but here it's more, more, more. There's no phoning it in here. You've got to mean every word or Paul's going to know it. You've got to mean it. It's really liberating being in front of so many people and stripping away all that stigma of the perfect notes and the pitch training and just go out and really talk to everybody. Speak to them with the songs. Speak to them with the words. That's been a big thing for me. That's a lesson I've taken away from the TSO experience, to open up even more and bare your soul out there and speak from the heart. And that's what I do every show. That was super encouraged by Paul and demanded in a way. So that was cool. It was a big eye-opener.

Bp: Have you ever been uncomfortable being too open or raw on stage?

Russell Allen: No. Not at all. The fact that it was encouraged and sought after and in every singer to give that kind of performance regardless of whatever you were singing. To be open and out there, I embraced fully because it's totally who I am, but I did get caught up in the whole...over the years you get used to what you do. It was a really cool thing to be able to get into a show like this and sing these songs that are stylistically different than anything else I do. But to have to be so real and the emotional connection I feel with the songs is there for me. I'm thinking of, "He believed in the things that he always thought he knew." Well, that's me. I've always believed that if I just kept striving and pushing forward and singing in show business that I'll get there. I'm going to keep trying and fighting to get there. That's what it is. It's constantly fighting for it and the weight of that journey for me is kind of what gives me the emotional connection to that track and looking back at that home that I left behind so long ago. Being able to do that and find that thing and put it into my singing is great. I do that on "The Odyssey" [Symphony X] sometimes, that same kind of a vibe. I'll feel that home connection because "The Odyssey" song is the story of Odysseus trying to get back to Ithaca. So I have it in Symphony X in flavors, but nothing like this. Not like in Trans-Siberian Orchestra where it's all driven by that in these stories. It's really cool. It's good for me as an artist, even at this point in my career, to know you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.

Bp: Or an old pirate.

Russell Allen: Or an old pirate, yeah. [laughs] How to swing the sword left-handed.

"This Christmas Day" - December 21, 2014 - Newark, NJ evening

Bp: I know from the fan perspective what the signing line means as a way to get a little personal interaction with the people who have inspired from the stage, but what does the signing line mean to you as a performer?

Russell Allen: It's a chance to shake hands and meet the people you're performing for and get to know them a bit. That to me is the most important thing. Like I said, I look for people in the audience to make eye contact with. I look for people to have a connection with out there. And the magic of that one person who you might have that connection with it just radiates out to everywhere else. People can feel that. So when I'm in the signing line, it's right there. The connection is right there with that person and giving them attention and getting their response and their feedback, seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing how much fun they had; that's what it's all about. At the end of the day it's the fans that make it happen. It's you guys.

Without you, we're playing in Omaha to an empty room [laughs]. Every band has a love affair with its audience and we're no different. To me, it's the opportunity to go out and sit there with my colleagues and share some time, as brief as it is, to share time and say thank you for the dedication and for coming to see us.

Bp: To wrap up, what was the first song and then the most recent song that has made you cry and why?

Russell Allen: [heavy sigh and pause] The first song I remember...let me think about this. I think it was "If" by Bread. Do you know that one?

Bp: I'm not familiar with it, no.

Russell Allen: [Singing] "If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you, the words will never show the you..."

Bp: Ok, yes. I know that.

Russell Allen: My girlfriend dumped me back in 8th grade and I was so pissed. Actually I was brokenhearted to be honest with you. I remember playing that song and bawling like a child over it. It was so silly because she thought I was moving away so she wanted to break up with me before I had to leave. When you're young like that it just hits you hard.

And recently, man, [long pause] most recently I would say it's the show. "The Snow Came Down," is the most recent. I get a little misty-eyed every night I sing that song before I go on. I kind of go through the emotional thing before I go on so it doesn't happen in the song, but it gets me because of the whole second chance thing. I feel that. That whole second chance of finding love. That's what life's all about. That gets me. That's what's happening now.

Bp: Speaking of now, I'll let you go and enjoy the New Year's Eve with your wife. You must be looking forward to spending a belated holiday with your family after the tour.

Russell Allen: Well, this is the second year I've done this so I'm still adjusting to the idea of not being home for Christmas. I have two little kids, Ava and Jack, they're four and six, so they don't know yet that Santa only comes on that night so he's going to come when I get home. We're going to have our little mini-Christmas after the tour so that's what we're going to do.

Bp: It sounds perfect. Thanks for your time. Have a great New Year celebration and I'll see you for the final two shows of the tour.

Russell Allen: Excellent. Thanks a lot, Brad, I appreciate it. See you in Hartford.

Additional Links:
Check out "Without You" from the 2015 Symphony X record, Underworld
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - official site
Adrenaline Mob - official site

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

"She's coming home..." Hartford, Jan. 4, 2015