Yeah, That's Savatage  

RockHard Germany, February 2001
by Matthias Breusch
pictures by Marc Villalonga
translated by Yvonne Kluitman
Edited by : Emily "Etrag" Trager




The SAVATAGE album "Poets And Madmen" will definitely be released on March 5. When you hold this issue in your hands, it might even be decided who the new bandmembers on the guitar and behind the mic, are going to be. The lastest news on this matter can be read on our website. In an exlusive interview, Mountain King Jon Oliva told us how it was in the Sava- Camp just prior to the closing date for this issue.

One has to tip his hat for the man. Just a few hours prior to this interview, SAVATAGE mastermind Jon Oliva brought his wife to the hospital were she had to be treated in Intensive Care. Nevertheless, he was home at the agreed time to be at Rock Hard's disposal. Many thanks, but this much devotion to your job wouldn't really have been necessary....

>>Oh no, that's okay, she's asleep now and I am glad to have something to divert my attention<<

Okay, let's start right away with the banal question. Although you're still in the middle of the selection process, can you give us just a little clue about who is going to be a part of the cast in the future....

>>As far as new musicians are concerned, I can't really tell you anything at the moment because the auditions for potential candidates haven't taken place yet. Of course we do have a big list of guys that could deserve consideration. <<

On the guitarlist, next to other high qualified axemen, is ex-Testament stringmagician Alex Skolnick, who played some soloparts on 1994's "Handful Of Rain" and toured the far East with you. It isn't a secret, though, that with the assuming airs of a big rock star and his exaggerated wage demands, he didn't exactly make friends within the band....

>>That's right, but I had a good conversation with him about six weeks ago, and got the impression that he really changed for the better. It's been a long time, and I once had a rough time with Johnny Lee also which ended with flinging him to the wall, hahahaha! You shouldn't forget that Alex hasn't done much since SAVATAGE. His career has literally came to a hold. That made him a lot more unobstrusive. With his rock star attitude, he was at the wrong place with us anyway, because we are who we are and we want to have some fun in life. We haven't got time for nonsense like that. I have to say, though, that fundamentally our manager back then spoiled him a lot. He promised Alex too much, had to break his promises and, at the same time deceived us. Ultimately, it will be Chris Caffery's decision whether or not a door will be open for him in SAVATAGE. In any case the both of them have been touring for several weeks with TSO.<<

You have already postponed the album so many times that this question is allowed: Are you really done with the mix?

>>Yes, absolutely. That's done. Only the mastering of the songs had to be postponed once more because Paul O'Neill and his engineer Dave Whittman were on tour as soundmen with TSO. But that will be taken care of at full speed in the coming days<<

Have you payed attention to the drum sound this time, so it's not to be mixed underneath the table and ends up sounding very flat compared to the rest?

>>Yes, definitely. We used a complete different, lively sounding kit, and to me, this drum sound is sounding as heavy and strong as it sounded the last time on "Hand Full Of Rain". But because the new album as a whole dissociates from the Pink Floyd-touch of the last two albums, the drum sound also has turned around very naturally on the SAVATAGE-vibe again. It would have sounded silly if it didn't have.<<

Why did you need this much time to complete the album anyway? You couldn't even make the release month February.

>>Of course, like with any album, we had to fix a few trifles at the end. The delay because of Zak's leaving made us, at the end, slide into the preperation for the TSO tour (which was a huge success and took place in 40 US cities in sold out venues / editor). Zak's departure knocked us out of all our plans and cost us at least 3 months. First we waited for his decision for months, and then he decided to leave at the very last second. Therefore, we couldn't quite simply make our deadlines. When you still absolutely need a scapegoat, okay, it's Paul of course, hahahaha! He didn't want the finishing touches to be rushed through in two days, but wanted to do it intelligently. But you have to believe me, it effects me the most. I only get payed when the thing is in the stores, and until then it'll probably look quite dark on my account...<<

Since "Hall Of The Mountain King", you are famous for exeeding far more than one recording budget since SAVATAGE produces with solid luxury, months on Broadway in Manhattan, while other acts rent a studio for a short period on the Pampa. Who's paying for all of this? Paul from his private fortune, which he earned in the 80's as a successful manager and promoter?

>>Paul and I share costs. We have put the complete publishing fee that TSO got us (after all that album got rewarded in the USA with precious metal / editor) into SAVATAGE again. This is the only way the train keeps going. Smart people would have kept the money themselves! hahahaha! But that's why we're still around, because we were never afraid to risk our own money.<<

In the spring of 2000, it was told that you and Chris Caffery would be the main ones responsible for the production of Poets and Madmen. Didn't you get in time problems because Paul O'Neill, besides his main project TSO on which he wanted to concentrate, stepped aboard on the SAVATAGE production again and put his foot on the break?

>>No, absolutely not. He really left us in peace and let us, besides a few minor additions, do the complete songwriting, band rehearsals and the arrangements by ourselves. Only when it came to the point of writing the lyrics and the concept story, he joined. It wouldn't have worked otherwise. Between TSO, the songwriting for the Grinch moviesoundtrack and Savatage, only teamwork could prevail, in which tasks were divided. But nevertheless we weren't spared to get in time problems anyhow.... Quite frustrating.<< Rumbles the Mountain King through the receiver with a despairing laughter. >> But at least we finally have this whole fuck in the bag, and it turned out beautiful. All who heard it so far really like it, instead of a mediocre fast product on which nobody is waiting for. We are very confident at the moment. Our former drummer, Steve Wacholz, proved we aren't completely off track because of inflated egos. A few days ago, I let him hear the album. He just said: "Yeah, that's SAVATAGE! Allright!".<<

Didn't you get tempted every now and then to make the album just a little bit into what should have been the second Doctor Butcher album?

>>There is definitely some material that Chris and I wrote in our spare time for Doctor Butcher on the album. We even "slaughtered" completed songs and brought the best out of it into the new SAVATAGE songwriting.<<

Unfortunately we weren't able to persuade Zak Stevens into doing an interview and say some farewell words to his fans. Could it be that he is reconsidering the issue and may be be on stage with you in April after all?

>>I don't know. We haven't talked in a while, although I tried to phone him. If it should be the case that he's pulling back at the moment in order to be able to revoke the whole thing, it would not be a question for me. He could come back immidiately. Besides the fact, that we can choose out of at least 3 vocalists singing on Zak's level. One of them is a total nobody, who people have never heard. Paul got a staggering demo from him and we were very impressed. But the question remains how the guy sounds live. Of course I'm sceptical for the time being....<<

It is being said that your number one choice on the list of vocalists hasn't got a real chance to get aboard because John West probably can't get out of his Royal Hunt contract...

>>John West would be a perfect choice and he isn't out of the race yet. It may be a bit complicated but I think his contract issue could be solved.<<

How does the split between TSO and SAVATAGE look in the long run? How can you cope in the future working as a main songwriter for both departements? Are we going to relive the whole time chaos with the next SAVATAGE album again?

>>I'm glad this question is being asked in the end. Two of these kind of projects with the same people can't function in the long run. TSO is a giant in the states. But in Germany or Europe, nobody cares whether this thing is alive of dead, which is okay. Therefore, we just have to break apart our activities. TSO is not a band, it is just about the music. And we will free SAVATAGE from this burden. It took us a few years to realize it, but now we do, hahaha! Personally, I adjust myself also. I already wrote the future material for TSO and will be working with Paul just a week or 2/3 to finish it off, instead of several months, like we used to do. That's it as far as I'm concerned.<<

On February 5, as a first course, a single whose title isn't known at this moment will be released. Neither Jon nor we have it yet.

>>We have to agree on this also. You are probably wondering how things are going to come together quickly in the coming weeks. The album can't be stopped anymore, our cast problems will be solved, and then we are gonna tour immidiately from April on, and this time as extensively as possible!<<

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