|On The Edge||
from Metal Edge Magazine
Flordian metal mainstays Savatage have just released their seventh LP, EDGE OF THORNS, their first without vocalist Jon Oliva. His successor is Zachary Stevens, formerly of Boston's Wicked Witch, who auditioned for the spot through his friend Dan Campbell, guitarist Criss Oliva's axe tech. Zach actually first met the band years ago when he was living in L.A. and Savatage were playing in town. "I've always been a huge fan of Savatage," he recalls, "And I met Criss and Jon in their hotel room after the show. It was just, 'Hey, can little Zach come in and say hi?'"
Although Jon will no longer front the band (he's doing that with new outfit Dr. Butcher), he remains very much involved with Savatage's music. He not only co-wrote and played keyboards on the new album, but co-produced it with brother Criss and Paul O'Neill. According to Zach, Jon is "basically looking f or other things... He writes for and produces other bands now."
Replacing an integral part of a band is never easy, but the transition went smoothly for everyone involved. Though most of the new LP's material was already written when Zach got to the studio, the band was flexable about Zach's input. "Jon basically said, 'It's your voice, we'll work the songs around it.' I had to change for Savatage too, so everything came together... We had a happy medium." He elaborates on his role in the decade-old outfit (which includes bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve Wacholz), "Joining this band is not like joining any other band; it's like coming into the family... I like being the new little injun guy, the Indian that runs around on stage. It's fun, we've all gotten along great." He believes this particularly due to similiar roots. "I'm from the deep south, I'm used to Florida. Johnny's parents are from Tennessee, my dad's from Tennessee; I know how to relate."
Zach was delighted when the guys and longtime collaborator Paul O'Neill were open to his ideas. He came up with both the vocal melodies and the general idea for "Skraggy's Tomb": "Sometimes you wake up and feel like 'Skraggy," like you're bordering on total extinction, losing everything. Skraggy's tomb is the alcohol bottle; you're trapped in it if you're getting into alcohol too much." The intro to the song features the sound of someone popping a cork and taking a gulp. "That's Jon!" laughs Zach, "that's actually 100 proof Wild Turkey he's drinking, it's got the cork... Paul's like that: We want that sound so we have to get that bottle. Jon loved that part, by the way."
The album is a definite musical departure from it's predecessor, STREETS- A ROCK OPERA. "It's a more guitar-oriented record because Criss wanted to go into a more rocking straightforward sound." On the other hand, it's still very much Savatage. "You don't want to come in and totally blow out everything that the band's based on, integrity and identity," says Zach. "You change singers, but you have to stick with what it is and make it comfortable."
Savatage are going with the new LP's title track for it's first single/video, shot "in the swamps of Tampa." Im mid-May, they embarked on a month-long European tour with Overkill, after which they'll return to the States. At press time, Zach was looking forward to playing live: "We've been practicing so much I've already seen for myself what's going to happen, so I'm relaxed about that. Things definetely have changed but hey, we're just trying to do something new and above whatever we accomplished before."