The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Russell Allen - December 14, 2017
Interview, photos, and videos by Brad Parmerter
In my previous conversation with Russell Allen, we discussed joining TSO in 2013, and since that time he has held audiences in the palm of his hand, connecting with them, and drawing them in. In this conversation we discussed the songs he performed on the 2017 winter tour, recording with Paul O'Neill, his reflections on Wacken with TSO and Savatage, Jon Oliva, his difficult decision to tour, and what these shows meant to him.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra family was struck with multiple blows in 2017. In April, founder, composer, and producer, Paul O'Neill died of an accidental prescription drug overdose. In July, while on tour with Adrenaline Mob, long-time TSO bassist, David Z, and tour manager Jane Train, were killed when their RV was struck by a tractor trailer while disabled on the side of the road. The annual TSO winter tour was a celebration of their lives and spirits, full of emotional performances and poignant moments mixed in with the typical sensory overload associated with a TSO show.
When Russ and I spoke in mid-December the band had just entered a stretch of playing some of the largest venues of the tour. After briefly catching up, that's where we started our chat.
Bp: So you guys have hit the week of enormous venues, huh?
Russell Allen: Yeah, yeah. Big ones.
Bp: I know you perform differently between a club and a larger venue, but do you have to further enlarge your performance for the really large, 13,000+ seat venues as opposed to the 8,000 seat ones?
Russell Allen: No, it doesn't change too much. You always play to the room. If you're in a small club then the stage is a lot smaller so you don't have a lot of room to work with anyway and you can make eye contact with a lot of people in the place, things like that. In these enormous venues, you move bigger....your hand motions are bigger, expressions are bigger so people in the back can see or at least feel kinda what you're doing because we have so much more of a set with the screens. You know, we are using it to tell the story or we're using it to set a scene like for "Christmas Nights in Blue," it's a bluesy city bar kind of a vibe. We don't project images of the artists up there so you really have to, as a frontman, try to make your moves as big as possible.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Christmas Nights in Blue" live - December 27, 2017 - Albany, NY
Bp: Speaking of "Christmas Nights in Blue" and moves, how did those all come about with the elaborate mic dancing that you're doing now?
Russell Allen: Well when I first got in the band, Paul used to come up on stage and make changes or whatever in rehearsals and he'd always screw around with the mic stand. He'd kick it down like James Brown used to do or something and he'd try and do it. So I got to asking him, "What's up with all that stuff?" He goes, "Oh man, I love this. I've always wanted to see this in the show. Do you know how to do any of this stuff?" I'm like, "Well yeah, I do. I can work on it if you want." And he goes "That'll be awesome, boss." So that's kinda how it started. That was on the year we did "Three Kings..." for The Christmas Attic so we didn't do "Christmas Nights in Blue" that year, but when we came back I started working on the mic stand tricks and he loved it. That's kinda how that whole thing started and then I was developing a couple more things. I added a couple new tricks to it this year. The only thing I had to do, I actually had them alter the base of the mic stand for me so it doesn't teeter. The old stands were just solid brown bases with no feet on them. So the crew guys, the carpenters, were really, really awesome and actually shaved those feet off so I could get really smooth moves with the mic stand base. So that chrome one that I have is specially set up for all those tricks. It's been a lot of fun. I mean everybody really likes it and I'm just really happy that Paul trusted me with that character and that song and is really happy with what I turned it into.
Bp: It brings something different because we don't see anything like that at any other time during the show and it suits the song well.
Russell Allen: Yeah, it's a jazzy kind of bluesy tune. I figured a couple years back I had been working out and really trying to get in better shape, for a lot of reasons, but mostly so I could really work that giant flight deck and be in better shape. It kind of started there because Paul had always said, "Hey, I need you all over this flight deck, boss. I need you running here and running there trying to reach as many people as possible." Like in "This Christmas Day" I work both the wings, I go all the way up on the winged platform. So in "Christmas Nights in Blue" it was sort of the same thing, you know, use as much of the stage, move around and make that song come to life a little bit. Originally it was like an older guy, an old blues guy, and I turned it into this sort of a swaggy, jazz singer guy. [laughs]
Bp: Most of the other vocalists stay rooted. You've put a lot of motion into it.
Russell Allen: It just seems right. With the girls coming out and what they're doing, you know. I feel like what I'm doing fits a little more with what they're doing so it just seems to work. If I was immobile and they're coming out and dancing behind me and all this other stuff, it just seemed to me when I watched some videos it didn't seem to look like it fit. So I figured if I animated it a little more it would sort of match the vibe when they come out and it really seems to work nice and they complement each other. Of course when Dave was with us, I had a little Fred Astaire sort of two step thing that we, me and him did, and Paul loved that, LOVED THAT, and so he encouraged it. He liked the fact that it was bringing something new to the song and I'm really proud that everybody in the organization likes what I'm doing with the songs that I'm given and so it's a real honor for me to be able to bring these characters that Paul created to life.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Good King Joy" live - November 27, 2017 - Uncasville, CT - multiple-camera edit by Frank Anzalone
Bp: The last time we talked you mentioned that seeing Ray Gillen with Badlands at L'amour's was kind of a turning point for you as far as pushing you into wanting to be a rock singer.
Russell Allen: Yeah, yeah.
Bp: Do you know if that was before or after Paul produced their first album?
Russell Allen: Well, it was during...I saw them before the second album came out so they were still on tour for their first record, the one that Paul had produced back when he was working with Ray. Yeah, that was a big turning point for me. It's just so weird, isn't it, like the irony of it all. It's just like here I am influenced by a man who I end up working for and joining the band years and years later. Had I never seen Badlands and never been inspired to want to really want to do this for a living and do this for real, I wouldn't even be here talking to you. So Paul's touched, obviously touched so many lives and I'm no different. He touched mine even before I met him.
Bp: That's what I wanted to check. He met Chris and brought him into Heaven and then Savatage obviously, then the whole story with you kind of coming in to TSO by means of Chris and your mother in law [see previous interview]. It's so crazy all the little interconnections.
Russell Allen: Yeah, yeah, it really is. It's a small world I guess after all. It was a real pleasure to get to actually meet Ray and talk with him. I didn't even know who Paul O'Neill was back then or anything. I just was so enamored with this guy's voice and how great he was, and getting to at least meet him and have dinner with him and stuff before he passed was a big deal for me and it inspired me to want to keep doing it and then here I am years and years later, you know in TSO, created by a man who produced probably one of my favorite records ever. So, you know, it's just come full circle.
Bp: Yeah. I know you had a diverse vocal background, but what were some of your favorite songs to sing when you were younger from the rock world?
Russell Allen: Well, speaking of Badlands, "High Wire" was one of them, probably my favorite song to sing. I used to, back in the 80s, they weren't a huge band, but they were certainly very well known in New York and New Jersey where I was cutting my teeth. So I'd do that in clubs and just blow people's heads off, you know, so that was a lot of fun. Of course, Zeppelin. I used to do Zeppelin that people didn't really do too much like "Nobody's Fault But Mine," with the harmonica in there. I played harmonica and stuff and "Out on the Tiles" and not like "Whole Lotta Love," the typical Zeppelin songs you'd hear guys do. I liked to do something a little different. I loved Van Halen and of course Dio. I'd sing "Stand Up and Shout" or anything from him was a lot of fun to do. We did a Sabbath cover here and there, but most of the time I did original stuff. I was never in a cover band. So we just kinda threw in a couple of covers here and there into the set. And we used to do "Going Up the Country" by Canned Heat, like a rocking version of that. It was pretty cool. And "Bad Motor Scooter" which was pretty fun. But that was the thing, one of the first bands I was in was called Sin River and they're a great bunch of guys from Hawthorne, NJ and they liked to do different stuff and they were really good musicians so we had a lot of fun taking these obscure covers and turning them into heavy metal songs and different versions of the tune and that's kinda how we did it. I never was in, like I said, that quintessential NJ cover band. I don't actually know a lot of cover songs to be honest with you. So it's kind of weird, but lately I've been having fun with it and of course I did a cover record with Portnoy when he was with Adrenaline Mob. We did one of those and I did "Barracuda" from Heart which was a lot of fun to sing. And so things like that. I've been sort of exploring a little later in my career and having some fun messing around with songs like that. We did "Come Undone" from Duran Duran and Lzzy Hale who actually was on Letters From the Labyrinth. Before she did that record with TSO I sang with her on that track and we did like a heavy version of that tune. So yeah, it's been cool. I've had a lot of fun doing the cover thing as of late.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra "Not Dead Yet" - Letters from the Labyrinth
Bp: Let me jump into "Not Dead Yet" from Letters From the Labyrinth. What did Paul explain to you about that song in order for you to get into that character?
Russell Allen: Well, he basically was telling me about the character, about this guy who's always one step ahead of the authorities, you know, kind of a guy and telling me he's a bit of a...he didn't say he was like a criminal or whatever like that, but he was a guy who had, he had one up on them, but he would never give anything away and all this other kind of stuff. Like picture yourself in the interrogation room and they can't trick you so to speak. He's got one on them so there's a bit of swag there. And I was kind of struggling a little bit with it in the beginning and then I kinda did the "Christmas Nights in Blue" guy a little bit and that's when I thought of that swag and he goes, "That's really close!" So when I had a point of reference then I just kind of built off that and then he was excited and we captured that character.
Bp: Did it take a number of takes to get to that place?
Russell Allen: Yeah, yeah. It took me a few times. I mean Paul was infamous for doing it a trillion times even if the first take was the one he used. But you know, he always wanted to make sure that he got everything he could outta you before he let you go, so we would do a lot. And he would comp stuff you know, things like that, but most of the time once I kind of got into the groove then we were rolling and the thing with me is once I kinda get a thing, I don't have too much variety. I can do a lot with a little different inflections here and there, but once the character is there, it's there. So you know, it just makes me a little sad, as we all are, that he's gone and just getting to that point of working on a record with him and starting to get to know him and having that trust, you know, that's a big deal. I hadn't worked with a producer in oh God, I don't know, 18, 20 years. In Symphony X we did everything ourselves, you know, so having that relationship again with somebody on the other side of the glass was really great for me. I'd forgotten what it was like to work in that environment and Paul was really patient with me and got something out of me that I didn't know was there. So that was fun and I miss him. I think of all the things that we could've done moving forward as I'm sure everybody else would say. It was easy. I mean the guy really, really knew what he was looking for and he knew when it was real. That's one of the lessons that I learned from him and I'm so gracious that, so thankful that I had the chance to work with him because it wasn't about how good you sing the song, it's about if people believe what you're saying. And that's what the most important thing was to him is to tell the story and have everybody believe you. He was very complimentary to me and saying that, you know, "You had me hanging on every word Russ. You're just one of those singers that I believe what you say." That was a huge thing and I was very blessed to have had him in my life for as short a time as I did, to teach me those things and to also give me that affirmation that I do that, "You got it, kid. [laughs] You still got it." But it was stuff like that that I remember from those sessions and just getting to that point where okay, I need to trust this man and open up to him and give him a piece of my soul. So it was a great experience working with Paul on that record.
Bp: Was "Not Dead Yet" the only thing you cut with him in the studio or was there other material as well?
Russell Allen: No. I sang a bunch of the songs 'cause he wanted to hear my voice on everything. You know, not everything, but a lot of it. And, you know, I think he settled on me doing that character because he loved it so much and that's where I ended up. I sang a bunch of different tracks and Paul has everybody do that. He wanted to hear all the singers do different things so he could pick the right voice for the songs. 'Cause I tracked songs that ended up being sung by other singers on the album but I didn't do anything outside what we were working on with Letters.
Bp: Jumping to Wacken and that enormous experience, you were no stranger to European festival crowds and those types of shows, but how was that particular show different?
Russell Allen: Oh well, I mean, there's just the scale of it. I had never headlined a festival in Europe before and so being the headliner was amazing. That was a different experience, just that alone, to be able to have the stage at night with a full festival crowd out there was just crazy. And the technical part of it, running on in-ears, on two stages running simultaneously, that was a lot of preparation that we did. It was two weeks almost in Tampa rehearsing for that night in a giant facility. All the floors were taped off to represent the stages and running the show. It was as much prep as we do for the entire TSO tour on a yearly basis, just for that one night. Paul really wanted to make sure that we got it right and I'll never forget him traipsing through the mud from front of house when we were doing our soundcheck [laughs]. Our general out there on the field, 'cause it was all mud, it was raining, and to try to come up to the stage to tell us something, "Hey, stand a little to the left" or whatever he said, I can't remember. There was no one else there. I think Elliot or somebody was like, "Paul, you're gonna fall and bust your ass man, what are you doing? Use the radio!" [laughs]. But Paul was so excited and he knew how big of a deal it was and we all just were so fortunate to be there and have that opportunity to do that show. I mean I think to this day and stuff it's still the largest festival show that anyone's ever attempted. To run two stages at the same time, I don't think anyone, I'd never heard of that before. So, yeah, we had our own screens that we flew over there and I'm sure you've seen the pictures and videos, it's just huge. What a spectacle. But Paul was the master of that. I used to call him the PT Barnum of rock and roll. I mean this guy, you know, he knew that if we were gonna go over there and do something like that, he's got Savatage and TSO package them on stage, on two stages, and make a big to-do of it. He just knew how to entertain people and that was an amazing experience. For me, the highlight, I mean, wasn't me singing. I'd run over to watch the Savatage guys. That's what I was all about. Listening to Oliva singing, man he frickin' killed it that night. You know, he was just awesome. Him and Zak and the Savatage guys, there was a definite energy on that stage with those dudes. There was something going on over there which was really amazing just to witness, you know, let alone be a part of. It was a huge honor for me. I was so proud of Chris, you know, he's my friend and I know how much it meant to him and to those guys to be up there again together and play in a European festival like that on that level. And they killed it! They were just amazing. So it was a pretty, pretty awe-inspiring experience all around. So I was happy to be part of it.
Bp: Because of the enormity of it, was it kind of a high pressure situation or did you feel calm and confident?
Russell Allen: It was a high pressure situation for a lot of the technical aspects of things. In terms of performing, you know, I was fine with it. And I had a good time up there, once we get going, I'm fine. [laughs] It's all the prep. But I had a good time up there and I started doing my thing and it was fun. I had a good time. It was fun to be up there singing and doing all that and I wasn't really nervous or anything at all. The only thing, you know, Paul made me more nervous than anything. He's always the one that makes me nervous which was also fun 'cause then it's like, "Yea, I'm nervous." 'Cause then you kinda feel alive. You start doing this for as long as I have and you're just not nervous anymore. I don't know, there's something cool about that nervous energy before you hit the stage and so we all wanted to make sure we got it right for him. And I think that's where the nervousness came in, but the crew and all the technical aspects of it were very intense. Those guys were, they were the ones that were really making sure nothing went wrong, you know, because it's a one-off thing. It's not like we do at our shows that you see with TSO. We've got all this prep in Omaha, all the rigging comes with us, and we still have problems. The computers, something happens. The SMPTE, something all the pyro's all done to, it's all synchronized and all this other stuff. And that's with a daily rig that you have day after day working with it. This was a one-time shot. Either you got it right or you didn't, you know. And so that to me was the most amazing thing to see those guys under that kind of pressure pull off this gig. And it was awesome. The only thing, the rain coming in sideways made it a little bit of an interesting thing because the stage was getting slick, you know, and you don't want to bust your ass in front of 85,000 people, but that was the only thing.
Bp: There was a lot to lose with that show, but the stars aligned and you guys pulled it off from every aspect.
Russell Allen: Yeah, I think so. I think we definitely did, and you know, it was a great introduction for TSO on that level to the German audience. I mean, obviously Savatage was an established name and they were very well received and I think TSO was too for the most part, so it worked. And I think it was cool to showcase Savatage and also show TSO being birthed from Savatage because, you know, I thought it was a cool idea. I thought it was really cool.
Bp: Speaking of Jon, what does he bring to rehearsals out in Omaha?
Russell Allen: The Mountain King? He is the Mountain King. That's what he brings. You know him and Paul wrote all this stuff and created these characters and did a lot of this together so obviously now with Paul being gone, Jon is, he's the voice that was there creating this thing that we call TSO. And he's obviously, as a singer, a major part of getting us to understand what these characters are, who they are that Paul created. And Jon on a musical level kind of helps us all dial in where we need to be. You know, him and me, we're old school metal guys. He's been around longer than me, of course, he's got 10 years on me in the actual touring and stuff, 'cause I started in '94 and I think he started in '84, he said. And so Jon's like my big brother, he's someone I can talk to. Especially this year for me. He was there for me every step of the way throughout the course of the year after the accident and in Omaha, just helping me, helping me get through everything and to get up on that stage and stuff. And he's a friend and a mentor in a lot of ways and for all of us, he's someone we can look to and he's always there sitting right in front and like looking at the singers and almost singing the songs with them. You can see him giving you encouragement and saying, "Yea, you're doing it, that's great. I love it!" He's like a vocal coach, but more of a performance sort of a coach. That role that he kind of takes on to help everybody get ready, to help all the singers especially get ready for the tour. So Jon, he's a fixture out there. They bring him a big old Lazy Boy, it's not a recliner, it's like a big old couch chair kind of thing and we all know that that's the Mountain King's chair and he comes and sits and, [impersonating Jon] "My leige has arrived." They call me Sir Russell, so he's the king, so he's my king. We have a lot of fun with him, man. He's a great, he's a good soul and he's really, really important to the process of getting everybody ready to head on out to both coasts. Not just east, but both of them.
Bp: The three songs that you're performing this year are stylistically pretty diverse. I know you've been doing them for a number of years, but how do you approach each one and what is your inspiration right before you go on stage for each of them?
Russell Allen: Well, for "Good King Joy," it's almost like a gospel feel a little bit in a way, so I have a cleaner, sort of a deeper baritone sort of approach until I hit the middle and then I start rocking a little bit. That one is the most storytelling to me. 'Cause I'm actually singing, "It was long ago when it all began," and I'm literally just telling the audience a story. So it's more that kind of vibe and I just kinda get into that mode of alright I'm gonna swag out on stage here and tell this story. That's how I approach that one. I come on stage, I snap my fingers, I'm all ready. I'm that guy as soon as I step on stage. That one I don't have to think too much about other than I better hit that high B again [Laughs]. I don't stress too much, but it's always on my mind like I guess I gotta do that. So there's some movement in that song, but it's not too crazy and I just want to make sure that I'm telling the story. I want to connect with the audience on that song. And that's really what my job is here. I've sang different songs. I did "Find My Way Home," I've done "The Snow Came Down," I've done some more emotionally deeper tracks which I just stand there and deliver and those are great, but I find that the role that I sort of found myself in in this band is to be that person that gets out there and starts making people smile. You know, that's kind of my job. That's all Paul used to tell me, last year especially, was, "Russ, I need you to, really this year, to go out there and just put smiles on people's faces." 'Cause last year with the election, and we're still dealing with, the country was so divided and that was something that Paul was in touch with, was the political climate of the day, world events. He cared a lot about people, which is no secret, and so that was the thing that he told us, so I feel even more so that that's my job here.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra "This Christmas Day" live - November 26, 2017 - Uncasville, CT - multiple-camera edit by Frank Anzalone
So, "This Christmas Day" I go out and in the beginning I have the wonderful monologue of Bryan Hicks to set me up for that. So I stand on the side of the stage and I listen to him talk and then I make my entrance and I just connect with what he's saying, brings me right into character of that father figure, having his girl come home for Christmas and everyone can relate to that, man, you know, that is THE song. So once it would get to the point where it starts to get rocking it's just a feel good track so that's kinda where I go with that. It's an emotional turn in the middle. Jon and they love that I went there with it and turned it more into that kind of a thing and everybody's standing on their feet and it's a big roar at the end of that one. The whole place just lights up, you know, and it's the big track in the show for sure.
And then of course, "Christmas Nights in Blue." After I put that hat and glasses on, I just look in the mirror and I'm like, "Alright, I'm this guy now. Let's go do it." I'm the blues guy. And that's the most fun I have in terms of just really having fun. And Paul, you know, Paul trusted me with these things and especially with "Christmas Nights in Blue." I get to talk to the crowd in that song, I make up stuff every night. I don't know what the hell I'm gonna say half the time. I don't think Derek knows either. He just looks at me and laughs, you know. I don't know. The other night I said something like, something like, "It's the 12 days of Christmas, I'm excited. Hey Derek, give me something, a little something to cut a rug to." Who says cut a rug? You know, but it's an actual rug on the stage so it's kinda funny to me. It's actual carpet on the stage and here I am dancing like a fool on carpet for thousands of people. So like that moment in the show is the hardest part of the show for me 'cause it's the most physically demanding to do that song, but I look forward to it and then I know when I'm done with it, I'm kinda done for the night. I've done my last solo song and I always come off that stage sweating, you know. I'm just, my shirt's soaked and I feel good. I'm the type of singer that if I'm not sweating for you, I don't feel like I'm working. So I come off after that tune, I feel like I worked and it makes me proud. I feel like I've, I always give 100% no matter what, and that song really tests my, not limits so much, but just physically it pushes me. I gotta get this one out there and it's a lot of fun so that character's easy to get into because it's just a jovial, swaggy, bluesy kinda guy. Again, I just want to make people smile and enjoy themselves. That's what they're coming to the show to have, a good time, and forget about life for a little while and enjoy the spirit of the holidays. So that's what I do.
Bp: Obviously you've been doing the TSO tours for a number of years now, but was it strange or did you have to kind of adjust a little bit when you're in that groove and you're doing "Christmas Nights in Blue" and you walk off stage...with other bands you've performed in you don't walk offstage and then sit for 20 minutes until you're called back to the stage to do your next song. Was that weird that you're hitting your peak and then you've got to wait for 20 minutes and bring yourself back up and...
Russell Allen: In a way, but it wasn't as strange for me because I was exposed to this type of thing early in my career. Before I was in the bands I was a knight at Medieval Times. And that's where the whole Sir Russell comes from because I used to be a knight there. Not really a knight from England or whatever, it's just kind of a joke in the metal world. Some of these bands are like using swords and dragons and I was actually a guy who actually could joust for real and sword fight and all those other things so they started calling me Sir Russell and so Chris still does it every night. You know, "Sir Russell Allen." But that show kinda prepared me for this in a way because it's the same thing. I'd go out, let's say I was the blue knight. I go out, I have one fight and then I'm done then I gotta go out and do another one. It's not like I'm out there the whole night doing that thing so, so in a way it's similar to that. So I was able to kinda draw on that and go, "Oh, I know what it's like to go out there and raise your heart for 5 minutes and then go to the back and wait another 20 minutes and then go fight again." So it's very similar to that, you know, when you're playing a character in a show and you're going on and off stage, so I had 15 years experience doing that so in a way I just never did that singing before but...so that was mentally something I could turn to, well I know this, I know how this works. So it was a pretty easy transition for me and, yeah, in the other bands, of course, I don't leave the stage. And talk about sweating, I mean oh God, oh geez. My poor band mates some nights, when you're traveling in clubs you don't have the luxury of a road case to put all your stinky clothes in so, of course, bunk alley or a shower, if you're lucky enough to have a bus with a shower on it, or RV, becomes the 'Russell, Sir Russell Allen's battle clothes wardrobe case' and it just stinks to high hell. But that's touring. And so the adjustment wasn't that big of a deal for me to go on and off because I had the experience.
Bp: The second half of "Madness of Men," where it really gets chugging, I can see you coming out with some jousting moves and chasing the band around. That might be fun.
Russell Allen: Oh yeah, it would be great. It's funny you mention that because I've always tried to get, ever since day one, I wanted to try and get Paul to go for a real dragon. "C'mon man, we gotta do something like a mechanical dragon or something." And he goes, "No we can't. Dio tried it and it didn't work." He was talking about the infamous time it failed. "But Paul, it was 30 years ago," I would argue with him, "You gotta see Walking With Dinosaurs, man!" and all this kind of stuff and joking around with him, but I said, "If you ever did do it, I just want to be the knight that has the shield when it shoots fire. I wanna be that guy." And he's like, "Okay, boss." But, yeah, it'd be awesome to come out and do some cool stuff like that 'cause anything like that, to me, just raises the entertainment value of what we already have, which is an amazing show. But you gotta watch, it's still gotta rock man. It's gotta be heavy metal and cool. You can't turn it into like Broadway. You can't be too much, I think. That's just my personal opinion. As long as it's heavy metal and cool, but swords and knights and dragons and fire, that's about as heavy metal as you can get in my opinion.
Bp: Yeah it is. If you could play TSO vocal switcheroo with somebody else's song, whether it be Georgia or Lisa or, you've already done it with Robin when Robin was sick earlier this tour, but what vocal song would you want to sing for a week?
Trans-Siberian Orchestra "For the Sake of Our Brother" live - December 29, 2017 - Columbus, OH
For six performances at the end of the tour, Russ filled in for a sick Lisa Lavie on this emotional song.
They were some of the most riveting performances of the tour as he poured all of his emotions of the past year out on the stage.
In a Facebook post he dedicated the song: "This one’s for Paul, Dave, and Janet and all of my TSO brothers and sisters East and West."
Russell Allen: That's a tough one. It would be a toss-up between "Night Conceives," which is Kayla's song, which is obviously just a kickass rock tune that I could do in the same key actually as she does it in and then, "Music Box [Blues]," Lisa's song. You know, I heard Daryl used to sing that song. Those are the two songs, the rock song and a soulful song. Both of those are definitely in my wheelhouse and songs that I would have a lot of fun singing.
Bp: You seem like you're bringing something extra this year. I think it manifests in "This Christmas Day," especially with the scatting that you're doing at the end. I think I mentioned this to you earlier in the tour, that I saw Joe Cerisano do that song and I saw James Lewis do it for many years, but I think this is my favorite version. What is that extra something that you're bringing up there this year?
Russell Allen: That extra thing, I don't know, man. I mean, you know, obviously you know what happened to me a couple months back with the summer and you know, I'm different and I don't know what to say. People seem to say," I feel so much more soul in your voice and just what you're doing up there." That's definitely the case. I'm not bringing anything...I feel more free, I guess you could say, to express myself. More than I ever have. And I always have a saying I tell the younger singers, "If you think, you stink." You know, so I actually am practicing what I preach even more now. I'm not thinking about anything. I'm just feeling my way through it. The stage has been the safest place on earth for me, man. I feel at home up there, more than I've ever been so that's really where it's at. I step out on stage and whatever things that are coming out of my mouth are right from my heart. There's no filter. I'm not thinking, "Oh, this is gonna be cool?" You know what I'm saying?
So I think that's a big part of it. I'm up there just feeling my way through every night and I came up with these scat lines when we were in Omaha and everyone was like, "That's awesome dude, you gotta do that in the show." I'm like, "Okay, I'll try something like that." I do the same thing 'cause I want to keep it consistent for people, but every night I'll throw in something a little different, 'cause I don't want it to be contrived. So everyone's very happy with what I'm doing and at the same time I'm expressing my feelings. I think that's what you're seeing, a man who has been through hell and back. I'm just up there loving life and showing my love for the crowd through these songs. That's the best way I can explain it.
Bp: Were you looking forward to this tour more than in the past or was there more trepidation for you?
Russell Allen: Way more trepidation. I almost didn't come. I was very apprehensive. It was just a lot, it was very hard for me. Losing Dave was really hard on all of us, especially...I was there, you know. And having to go through all that this summer was really rough. Rough on me and my family and having to come here and see...and go through all that again, you know, but even more so. Seeing people who he was with for 17 years, you know. I had known Dave for a long time 'cause he actually, him and his brother Paulie, opened up for Symphony X years and years and years ago.
Bp: Oh, I didn't know that.
Russell Allen: Mmmhmm. Yup and so I had known David...there's a picture of me and him, my God, he was just a kid, like right when he got into TSO so he had the short hair. I was young too, God, I was so young back then...but anyway, I was really nervous about coming here and you know, I didn't think, I didn't know if I was gonna come back. But my therapist and my doctors were saying, "This is a good thing for you. You need to go and do this and confront this and go out on this tour and stuff." 'Cause you know, just getting on the bus, Brad, was a bit of a deal, an ordeal for me, man. I was just scared man, I was just....the first night, couple of nights on this thing, I just couldn't sleep. And the pyro was a big trigger for me and having to go through a lot of that stuff, you know, it was all baby steps and I got through it. Everybody here is just so awesome and so lovely and nice and I realized that I was surrounded by a lot of love and stuff, but it was hard. I'm so glad that I did it. I'm glad that I'm here. I'm happy that I'm here to, to be here for everyone else too. To carry on Paul's legacy and Dave's as well, so I did the right thing. I'm happy that I came here, but it was tough leaving my kids and my wife and stuff after almost losing everything, you know, just my life, so it's been, it's been a journey the past 6 months to say the least.
Bp: Yeah, I can't imagine. So many people who knew Dave and were concerned after the accident, were so encouraged seeing and hearing you at the Rubix Kube show in tribute to Dave, doing "Don't Stop Believin'." How important was that night for you?
Russell Allen: It was monumental, you know, to be there for Paulie and the family was important and I was so, we were all so heartbroken and I just wanted to be there to show my love and support for Dave and for all the Rubix Kube guys. Getting up there and singing that song, I just poured it all out, you know. And it was the beginning of the healing process for me that night, so that show meant a lot to me to get out there and be a part of that.
Bp: The year's show is obviously a tribute to both Dave and Paul. How does that manifest itself for you? Are there some special moments that are particularly poignant?
Russell Allen: Well, when Kayla sings the tribute to Paul, that's the, THE moment in the show, you know. In "This Christmas Day," Dave's bass, his Spector bass is leaning against the Christmas tree in one of the screens and in Omaha that really got me and stuff. Everybody came out while I was singing and I didn't know it was up there. And I was like, "What are you guys all looking at?" I'm like, "I know you're not all out here to watch me." [laughs] They told me what was going on and that was very emotional. So I have moments, Brad, you know what I mean, they come and go and I just, I realize the gravity of the situation and I'm aware of it, but I don't let it overcome me because I gotta get through the performance so I lean heavily on my entertaining skills to get me through all that stuff and everything. But God, I mean we all miss him so much and it's just a reminder of just how short life is and I just take that energy and instead of being sad about it I just rejoice in the fact that I'm still here, we're still here, and we were given this great gift from Paul and Dave's energy that he put into the show every night. And I just wanna make sure I'm honoring those two as best as I can every night by giving everything I have. And that's what I think about. So if I'm out there scatting a little more or singing a little more, that's just because it's coming from a deep place and I just want to make those guys look down on me and the rest of us and be proud and say, you know what, they wouldn't want us sad, they would want us out there kicking ass and killing it every night so, so that's what, that's what my mission is out here. My mission is to honor those, our fallen brothers, and give as much as I can every single night to you guys, to the fans. And so, that's really what it's all about, you know. Life is too short and it should be celebrated. And I think celebrating their lives on this tour has been a great experience for all of us and a reminder of just how fragile it is. And I'm in a different place, I mean I think we all are. So I don't take anything for granted. I really, I really am grateful for the opportunity to even be here at all so you know, that's how I approach it.
Bp: We thank you so much for taking those monumental steps to being out there on the road and delivering these amazing performances this year. I know it's part of the healing process, but I know it's extremely difficult.
Russell Allen: My pleasure. I'm just happy you're enjoying it and that's what Paul and Dave would want more than anything is for you guys to be enjoying the shows. Yes, we mourn their loss, but you know, it's a celebration of their lives more than anything and that's really what it boils down to and when the last curtain falls and this thing is over, we're all gonna take a deep breath and say our final goodbyes in a way. I sort of dread, look forward and dread that moment all at the same time. [soft laugh] The finality of it all, but in the end, you know, we've all stepped up and I'm really proud of this band and this organization and how they've stepped up under this most difficult of circumstances to bring this show to the masses and I'm really happy that me and my wife decided this was the right thing for me to do. I'm glad that I'm here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now. I think this is the place for all of us to be and this is right where we need to be. This is right where Paul and Dave would have wanted us to be. So that's, to me, the greatest thing I could take away from this whole experience is I'm here doing...the leader of the band is gone, but the band goes, you know, continues to play in his honor and that's what makes me smile. I'm happy to be kind of a leader in that regard, you know. A lot of people were looking to me to see how I would handle everything. And I used to call Paul 'the general' all the time and the admiral or the general. You know, I was the old pirate and here I am sailing in the fleet finally and he always told me, you know, "Russ you're the elder statesman, you know, you've been doing this a long time..." So a lot of things he said to me, they're still in my ears and they're in my head and my heart and I'm just doing what he would have wanted so, so I think we all are and I'm really proud, proud, proud to be here.
Bp: Thank you so much for the time and I appreciate you being so candid and open.
Russell Allen: Thanks. My pleasure, man. It's always a pleasure to talk with you, Brad. I'm glad you're digging the show.
Bp: Absolutely. I can't wait to see it Sunday.
Russell Allen: Alright, cool man. I'll see you Sunday. Thank you.
Interview audio excerpt I - Working in the studio with Paul O'Neill
Interview audio excerpt II - Savatage/TSO at Wacken
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Trans-Siberian Orchestra - official site
More in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here.