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from the Italian metal specialized magazine METAL SHOCK (issue number 207) transcribed by Alex "Sarti"
METAL SHOCK's writers have appreciated Savatage's "Dead Winter Dead" so much that it has been elected "TOP METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR". And Jon Oliva's words - a very sincere and honest artist - are here to explain that we didn't get wrong in our choice!
MS: I have to confess that Alex Skolnick's departure has made me a little bitter; Alex seemed really suitable for Savatage.
JO: Each of us has really different and personal musical points of view and they very often don't agree with others'. Alex is a really good boy, a great guitarist, but unfortunately his musical ideas didn't match Savatage's. During the last times, he was getting really bored, he was anxious of experiencing new things, of putting up a band on his own; so, very unwillingly, our paths parted. We really hope he can obtain all he feels free to do, we wish it to him because he deserves it very much. However, every musician who played with Savatage remains in our heart and in fans'hearts The problem was Alex left us in a very crucial moment: DWD was almost ready and the label was pressing to realese it. We recruited Al Pitrelli and his name just came up from us who knew him well and appreciate him both as a musician and as a friend. Of course, nothing is sure about his staying in Savatage, it's not right to hide this, though I won't be unconditionally sure he won't stay with Savatage in the future. However Al confirmed his willingness for all the tour, then if he'll want to stay, he'll be the welcome, otherwise... we'll see.
MS: What happened to Steve Wacholz?
JO: He decided to rest for some time, but I don't want absolutely to exclude he is going to work together with us again in the future. He however played some studio drums tracks on "Dead Winter Dead"; he was just like a session man, as I did sometimes in the past. As I told you before, Savatage are like a great family and our old members very often return to stay with us. Musicians rotation in Savatage is especially due to extra-work; it is difficult to be member of a band whose goal is to always be at the top. Our sounds, our compositions, always request a great spending of energies; in my opinion, people who listen to us has to be able to "dress" with our music and to say "wooww, how can they play this way?" Criss and me claimed this since the first time we listened to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", a song which opened us incredible horizons. We have fought a lot to obtain this; you must think that we are one of the few bands which have no budget problems with our label. Of course we struggled, but if one day we need an orchestra, the day after we have an orchestra in our studio; if we need a new mixer, either they give it to us, or we go to another studio!! We are exigent because we want to do always the best.
MS: You're lucky you can count on a so well disposed major...
JO: Absoultely! But it's not only luck. I'd like to tell you another thing as you are Italian: don't you know "Castles Burning" (from "Handful of Rain") is dedicated to Italian national hero, Giovanni Falcone? Here in America he is regarded as a very brave man and as a model for everyone. His tragic end has shaken us very much and touched deeply our souls. All we could do was to dedicate him a song, as a witnessing of our gratefullness and admiration for his work. This was unfortunately left out (for some oversight), printing the cover and not openly mentioned. I believe a lot of people don't know we dedicated this song to Falcone. Now I catch the opportunity to make everyone in Italy aware about that, so you'll se the track in a quite different way.
MS: I always thought of Americans as people with a strongly nationalist nature; this is often reflected in bands attitude; when a group is concerned in social questions, they are rarely inerested in what is happening outside the U.S.
JO: This is true, it's a part of our culture which, since we are kids, teach us to look at the country as at the centre of everything. For example, American TV-news are mostly about inner events and talk about foreign events only when America is somehow involved. Of course Savatage is an American band, but we like to consider ourselves as an international band. We always are on tour, we pass a lot of time in Europe, Asia and North America. We have taken over - in a totally unconscious way, I beleive - some pieces of culture from every side of the world. "Streets" was set up in New York, "Stare into the sun" was inspired by the famous L.A. facts; but we also dedicated a song, "Chance" to a famous Japanese Second World War hero and, as I was telling you before about Falcone, we are struck by modern heroes, it doesn't matter what their nationality is. "Dead Winter Dead" is our first album totally centred in an European story, it'a about Bosniac tragedy and Sarajevo's people. The reason is we don't consider the ex-Jugoslavia tagedy as an European only fact, but a defeat for all humanity; just for this we tried to give a little contribution in order that our fans can - for a little time, at least - open their eyes, trying to make them understand what and how many tragedies hide behind the war.
MS: As for the intensity you express in your album, it almost seems that a particular feeeling exists between you and Sarajevo people.
JO: While we were writing "Handful of rain" we took the strange habit to work overnight. So we get accustomed to sleep during the day and play at night. But we very often watched at the TV for long hours and (through the satellite TVs ) we were witness of cruel and terrible scenes. Once we saw an awful sequence: a blond, three or four years old child was dead and blood-stained in the middle of the road. It was a terrible vision, but the most haunting thing was the people going on walking with indefference, just as the war was over. I was struck by a Coke bottle near the corpses; a simple object we every day handle, a so familiar thing in an absolutely alien context to us, who consider the war so far... well, I felt a very strange sensation and I said to myself that war can also happen here, it could involve us all at any time; maybe a boy who is now fighting in Bosnia, has some records of ours, maybe he knows our songs... Some months later we decided to put on record those tremendous feelings, but we realized it was a really difficult purpose; we didn't want to take one part or another; our aim was to convict war in its principle, so we wrote a plot set in Sarajevo, the symbol of this war.
MS: You chose to talk about a particular story and not about the whole war... why?
JO: This is a good question. You see, we wanted something giving strong feelings and we think that a personal story strikes more than a great tragedy. So we quoted a Stalin's sentence: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic . That's why we decided to give our narration a more limited ranging but a strong impact. Besides we got in true elements in the plot. We were in Sarajevo a long time ago and we remember the described sceneries: an old church an ancient square, beautiful buildings which now are likely destroyed or irretrivably compromised.
MS: Let's talk about the band's unobtainable live albums...
JO: Are you referring to the Japanese live album?
MS: Yes, why didn't you made an Eurpoean version of it?
JO: Actually an U.S. and European version should be around. In the U.S. it is not so difficult to find the cheap version, that is the american version; in Europe it should be easy to find the record published by Intercord...
MS: I know you have some other live albums ready to come out...
JO: Yes. A new live record is about to come out in spring; it will contain material recorded when Criss was still alive. It will be our personal tribute to Criss and will be entitled "Final Bell". Anyway not only that live album will be printed but a little bit later another live is coming out, entitled Gutter Ballet Tour Live".
MS: Are you coming in Italy this year?
JO: It can be, why not? and after being voted as the best band in 1995 by Metal Shock's team we have to come to thank you, haven't we? To be honest I don't know what to tell you at the moment; we are leaving for our tour in January and this time it's very extensive: America, Asia, Autralia, Europe... I know we are taking part in a lot of happenings during the next summer and maybe one of this will take place in Italy; I'd like to play in Rome. We played in Milan, never in Rome; I was there only as a tourist.
MS: Why did Dr.Butcher diserted Dynamo festival?
JO: We were busy in recording the new album. We always give precedence to albums rather that to concerts. The record can be really reached by everybody, but concerts are a more complex thing.
MS: Do Dr.Butcher still exist or was it only a temporary project?
JO: No, we are still working; it's a project helping me to take my mind off Savatage's routine and helps me facing my work with a more relaxed attitude.
MS: So are you preparing some new thing?
JO: Of course! In a short time our new album will be out and it is tentatively named The Good, The Bad & the Butchered". I think it should be avaiable during the early 1996. In conclusion, I believe you should expect a lot of news from the Savatage/Dr.Butcher front...
And we are waiting for them with great eagerness...