Savatage too hot for this Planet?
an interview with Chris Caffery
from RockHard, October 1997 (Germany)
Two realy well visited European tours, a succeeded rock-opera (Dead Winter Dead) and a gigantic live record (Ghost In The Ruins) were the reasons for a great, unexpected but earned, comeback for the unique power-metal orchestra from the States. With the "Wake of Magellan" the guys around geniuses Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva have made an all-out effort timeless masterpiece. Michael Rensen met with guitarist and "mouthpiece" Chris Caffery in the middle of the Pop-Komm chaos in Cologne (Köln-Germany).
Cologne 'round lunchtime.
Desperately the streetcleaners are trying to clean the mess of yesterdays Ringfeast and make the city look tidy for "normal" tourists again.
Three floors above the street in an empty interviewroom the lively SAVATAGE-guitarist Chris Caffery is sitting opposite of me and recapulating the "wet" chearfull last evening/night.
Chris: Yesterday Cologne reminded me of Los Angeles in the eighties. Everyone was hanging on the streets, drinking, talking and watching a great many live bands. This was how it looked outside the LA "Rainbow" once. This city is full of live! When I drove through this chaos yesterday I had a great desire to gather the other Savatage-guys, organize a gig and try to convince this city of our music.
Until the heavy guys from the US visit us live in Europe we'll have to do with the 10th sava-studio-cd "The Wake of Magellan". This album connects smoothly to the succesalbums "Streets" and "Dead Winter Dead" and make Savatage the ultimate kings of the rock-opera. A strong pronounced heavy-riff-madman like Chris Caffery probably finds this opus too epic and soft.
Chris: Absolutly not !! Sitting cross-legged in a chair the blond guitarist denies. On Magellan the guitars are more on the foreground again. The "Dead winter dead" tour, after years of set backs and internal problems, was like a rebirth for us. Afterwards we tried to bring this power in the studio on the CD. Often I felt like a little child under the christmas tree, when we were putting the pieces of the songs together. On many days I was just as excited as on the days when we recorded our first demo's. Savatage was like a brand new band for us wanting to prove something to the whole world. Hey, and now I'm sitting here, 6.000 miles away from home talking to people who think it's a great CD. To be quite honest I'm completely satisfied with "Magellan". Indeed Jon did the songwriting but most of them, for example "Paragons Of Innocence", were written on piano so there was enough space left for me to put in my own guitar chords. In former days that was Criss' job and nobody could do it better. Alex Skolnick tried to represent Criss on "Handful Of Rain" but somehow the very special vibes of Criss weren't there. Jon noticed that very explicit and asked me if I would like to join the band again. Maybe I'm the only one who can understand and feel Criss' guitarmagic through and through to bring it alive on stage. This guy was and stays my biggest example, after all I've played his songs for a decade.
.......and live you absolutely played them brilliant on last years tour.
Chris: The reactions of the audience were simply unbelievable. After "Chance"" for example we stood on stage looking at each other and wondering to whom the hell this roaring applause was meant for. At that time we realised we were doing the right thing and the fans absolutely excepted us, even without Criss. In the beginning it was strange indeed playing his songs in cities like Athens where he had never been, but the old Savatage-feeling is back again and I think that Criss is somewhere out there looking down being satisfied.
The climax of the European tour for sure was the cheered Dynamo Open Air gig.
Chris: Man, we were on stage and even which way we looked there was no end to the huge crowd. At those moments you get a bit of a feeling you're popular. With Savatage it always went the slow way but continuous way up, I believe it has been better for us than being famous all at once. Should we have been a great band during the high-days of the heavy metal we probably never would've had the power to make an orchestral album like "Streets". They would have forced us to go metal straight forward and we would have gone down under with the rest of the scene because of this one-sideness.
Aren't you jealous of bands that became millionairs within weeks at that time?
Chris: No, absolutely not !! (Chris explains, who worked for 5 dollars an hour for a New York company making golden LP's for all different US-chartstormers, to pay his rent and fill his fridge). Many of those people can't value their succes because they haven't run their legs off for their music, because they haven't traveled for months on highways in shaky vans, because they have never lived from hand to mouth. If such a person tells me he gets sick and tired doing 14-days US tours then I can only laugh. Hey, take a look at the Savatage-history with all the catastrophies and problems, then you can really value the fact you're now travelling 'round the world and you may do concerts! Construction workers dragging around bricks all day do have heavy jobs, musicians do not. What other occupation gives you the opportunity of being creative and getting payed for at the same time? When I see the people at MacDonalds rapping up burgers all day, I realize how lucky I have been in my life. Even death seems better than a full-time job at MacDonalds.
To prevent Savatage wasting away too much time on things other than music, they will do a mammoth European tour the coming months.
Chris: In Europe alone we'll be doing over a hundred shows, we will use at least ten different setlists, for sure we will play the complete "Wake of Magellan" a copple of times. I also would like doing a "Streets" or "Dead Winter Dead" medley very much, and of course our classics may not be missing. If we don't play "Hall Of the Mountain King" , "Gutter Ballet" or "Chance" they wouldn't let us leave the stage alive.
Jon Oliva was treated with so much dignity and respect on the previous tour as never happend to any other Heavy-Metal legend before, except maybe to Ozzy Osbourne. Dozens of fans climbed up the stage, bowed, shook hands with him and dived back in the front row. It could be this worship will even be worse this time because the mad-joker-vocalist Jon Oliva shall again, besides playing the keyboards, take over the vocals on some pieces.
Chris: When everything goes well, Jon will take over more vocals of Zak this tour and do the songs he also did on the recordings. "Hall of the moutain king" and "Gutter ballet" have become hymns on account of his voice so he should be doing them on stage as long as his voice allows him to.
The fans will be happy about it.
Less pleased was the ponderous Moutain King as Paul O'Neill convicted his creative side-kick to lift "heavy-metal", "weights of Magellan" in a New York fitness club in the weeks before the tour in order to surprise the European fans with a brand new figure.
Chris: And I was the chosen to accompany him as a caretaker and trainer every day, grins the "whipkeeper"Chris with a groan.
Back to reality. Can we expect a second Dr. Butcher CD with Jon on mike? You guys must at least have material for two CD's by now.
Chris: Let's see. So far we just didn't have the time for it. There'll always be projects besides Savatage that's for sure. At the moment the second Trans Siberan Orchestra album arises under the wings of Paul O'Neill (producer and mentor of Savatage). After my interview trip I'll play some guitar parts. I'm not allowed to talk about it, Paul has given me a complete prohibition to speak about it. This project is sheer luck for us, because of the overwelming demand for the first CD, the recordcompany decided to re-release it at christmas. I'm also thinking about a solo album but I'm not sure about the sound yet. Maybe I'm going to make a pop-record in the Elton John-way, or it will be the next Dr. Butcher after all, maybe it will even be the loudest album that has ever come out of a stereo.
And what's on stock for Savatage the coming years?
Chris: Still our biggest pursuit is trying to touch the impressive stories and musical efficiency of acts like Queen, Pink Floyd, The Who or the "old" Genesis. I admire those bands for their great total concepts and by doing so were able to fill the biggest stadiums, all of a sudden.
That is: you nowadays prefer concentrating on a more or less composed audience?
Chris: Certainly not !! the blondhead, who likes to give bussiness cards to strangers posing himself as either a brain-surgeon, a professor in gynacology or a candidate for the presidency, denies, pacing up and down the room like a hypernerveous teenager. On the other hand I'm turning 30 this year and with this age I'm even the youngest of the band. How can we put ourselves in the place of 16 year olds and pass on messages appealing to them? We're not Marilyn Manson. We live quite calm lives nowadays and took the responsibility for wifes, houses and kids. Of course when I was a kid I could make music for kids but with advancing years it happens to be main points get shifted. Anyhow, there are still lots of kids coming to our concerts. I even met 13 and 14 year olds wearing Savatage shirts. I believe with our sound we should be able to appeal to people between 6 and 60 years of age. There are hardly bands who can say this for their music. Pretentious music will find it's way anyhow.
That's for sure.
With such a plain talented band as Savatage of all bands one get's the feeling over the last 15 years, they are either too hot for this planet or mankind degenarated so much that such exellent musicians proverbial fall back into the "Gutter Ballet".
The journalists take care of the rest, displaying Savatage as the everlasting secret tip of the underground.
Chris: On the "Gutter" tour we got hold of a concert review of one of our New York shows. The autor wrote we were incredible good, we almost sounded "too" good. He in particular waffled about Jon's vocals, drawing the conclusion in the end: "supershow, but the guys must leave their samplers and sequenzers at home". Yet the only thing Jon had sampled was a bottle of wodka!