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persistance and patience

from Aardschok, Holland, Oct. 1997
by Gert-Jan Vleugels
translated by Patrick "boudie" van der Horst

The tragic death of string-prodigy Criss Oliva puts a black stamp upon the carrier of the Florida-based group.The future-perspective seemed misty but Savatage survived the disaster. Two records, including the two years back released concept-album 'Dead Winter Dead', are released with singer/keyboardist and main songwriter Jon Oliva. In the mean time they've released the new concept-album 'The Wake of Magellan' on which we finally can speak of a real band since Criss' death.

Again 'Big' Jon Oliva wrote together with producer Paul O'Neill most of the material, but bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and guitarist Chris Caffery are the people who travelled to Holland for promotional-work. Jon is busy recording, again with Paul O'Neill, a new Trans-Siberian Orchestra-record; the successor of the unexpected succesfull album full of Christmas song, which was released last year and made it to up to 500.00 sales.

Johnny: The new TSO is still top-secret. It won't be a Christmas-record, that's for sure. When we complete the European-tour in November, we go rightaway to the studio and prepair a Christmas-show. Four shows in New York and four in Philadelphia. There will be a special-stage, we play the show in costume in the falling snow, with a choir and a orchestra. We have to act like we're normal! Hahaha! Contractual Jon and Zak can't sing on the record. Ghostsinger and ghostwriter. A juridical thing. It's mostly Paul's project with guest-keyboardists Bob Kinkel and Jon. The new record is planned for January.

Chris: They will also re-release the Christmas-record, because they believe it's going to be gold! The successor will be right after that. Last year we almost sold 500.000. Within a few weeks the counter was on 200.000. They didn't expect it and made too little CD's.

In America they still have a contract with Atlantic. Although the band got away with a clean-up at the end of the 80's by the record-company. Wihch has a gold-record on the wall of a side-project!!! So that's going to be alright the coming years! Savatage got the European deal loose and so they signed at Roadrunner. And in Japan they have a deal with JVC. That's why they get three budgets for recording, and that's why the investments of Atlantic stay low. Normally the bands get a advance of 500.000$ and they have to pay it back with the record-sales! Atlantic is very quickly getting the relative small investment! Although they would only have the backcatalogue: the old Savatage-albums are still being sold!

Johnny: Europe is our main-priority, after that Japan! We live in the States and can always play there! There's still a market for us, but we're having problems with the alternative scene. The radio-stations are very important over here. I look it at this way: 10 million people bought the Metallica-album and 10 million the Guns'n'Roses-record! There are enough people who like heavy-music. We must have a good marketing-plan for America, so that we can reach the heavy-music fans!

Chris: But it's not that we focus on the radio station's with Savatage, but the Christmas song was played by more than 500 station's!! They're open for stuff when it comes to Savatage. We won't be releasing a single of the album, but will be sending the whole album. It would be difficult to do so, because it's a concept-album with long songs. That's what happened to the christmas-record. We kinda hope so with the new record. We also can't focus too much on US, becuase we already have a market in Europe and Japan. We want to expand our reach instead of taking a risk for the US.

There have been complaints by purists that the real Sava-sound has disappeared. The heavy as lead sound became melodical through the years, more open and theatrical.

Johnny: Records like "Sirens" and " Hall.." were recorded fifteen years ago! I'm 34 now, when I joined the band I was 21. We grew up, are no longer teenagers and became more mature as musicians. The musicstyle has grow with that. We still play songs like "Sirens". Zak's voice is more open compared to Jon's!

Chris: When Zak would've done "Hall...", the record would've sounded different. The melodies and sphere: it would've sounded more like Rainbow!

Is Savatage still Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill, because they are the ones who do most of the writing?

Chris: We were all there! A part of the music was born in Florida by Jon, Johnny, Jeff and me! A song like "Morning Sun" was put together in a real band-situation. On the record are songs, where the riffs were written by Al, and songs where I had some ideas for. The feeling I keep of recording this album is, that there has been a band at work. I have known Al for fifteen years now, but that's because we know each other from the New York-scene. Savatage wasn't a band during the "DWD"-recordings, but now it is! Not that "DWD" is a bad album, but there was a lack of band-feeling. Everybody was very close to "The Wake.." and that gave us all some satisfaction.

Johnny: This record is a new beginning. Since Criss' death the band is a band again. Well since "Gutter" actually. Criss' death has disoriented us mentally, but also musically. It took us five years to get the feeling back again. But you have to go on. When you quit in the middle you'll lose everything. It feels like a family now. The wounds aren't open anymore, though the scars are present. I think you hear that on the record. A fresh start.

Chris: Al the ups and downs have been conquered. Perseverance and the fact we didn't decide to split up has brought us together. The fans have helped us through. The have supported us enormously When Jon had left the band the record-label asked where the new record was! After Criss' death they did the same. Savatage still grew in Europe and Japan. Jon has had it very difficult after Criss' death. By making "Handful of Rain" he could escape reality instead of commiting suicide. It gives a good feeling being where we are right now.

Johnny: We have gone through hell. A lot of bands would have quit. The key to succes is to never quit, keep on going and be patient.

Wasn't it confusing having Jon behind the curtains directing Savatage? You guys were puppets and at the same time the new face of Savatage.

Johnny: It was confusing for a number of reasons. First of all bad management and contracts wich wouldn't allow Jon in the band. Though he componed and played his face couldn't be on the CD-cover. Juridical shit. In this business you swim in a sea and you're surrounded by sharks. A simple court-room can last five years. Jon's role hasn't changed. He just didn't want to sing anymore. Singing "Hall.." and "Gutter.." does something to your voice. I don't have a voice anymore after doing interviews for four days! He still loves singing, but he can't handle the old level. He sings two songs on this record, lots of backgrounds and writes a lot of melodies and music. Besides that he's a great musician.

Chris: When the "Handful.."-tour started we have been searching for somebody who could play keys and guitars. At the final moment Jon finally said that he would do it. During that tour he realized that Savatage without an Oliva on stage is nothing. When the tour ended in Japan we knew he was part of it again. He's the only person of the original line-up.

Johnny: I told him in his face: you're coming brother! When he quit he and Paul went working on their Broadway-musical. It was Criss and me against the whole world. Steve was in love, had just put up a business and wanted to quit. Nobody cared anymore for Savatage, except for Criss and me. The song "Edge.." did well in the US, the record sales went great and the tour was succesful. When we had a break of two weeks, Criss died, but we had to go on. Now business is ok, the teaching has stopped!

The concept-record "The Wake.." has become a theatrical and bombastic record. A lot of Queen and classical influences, but thanks to two guitars a lot more guitar-oriented.

Johnny: The theme of the record asked for that. Jon has written a lot of riffs in the past, but he is and will always be a pianist. We have two guitarist who write riffs like it was meant to be. The 70's are still our main inspiration-source. If you follow trends you're always late. When we record an alternative record nobody takes us seriously anymore.

The band is only modern when it comes to studio, production and mix. Do you still look at the music-scene today?

Chris: I loved the Alice In Chains-debut, but I miss bands that are consistent. You have to relate to a band, not to just one album. I listen to the new Bruce Dickinson-record a lot nowadays, a very sincere metal-album with excellent songs and a lot of energy.

Are you a band that got stuck in time?

Johnny: We rather stubborne. We don't shave our heads bald because everybody does so! When you take heroin and pierce your nose, because everybody does that, you have to know that for yourself. I have had long hair for my whole life and I ain't going to cut it becuase everybody does so. I don't quit listening to Queen or Led Zeppelin, because there is a little band called Silverchair and plays songs of three chords!!!!

Chris: We did a record about a war, which was headline-news back then. This record we did because of the news of that moment. A lot of bands buy clothes that were in thirthy years ago. They try to get the sound and looks of the hippie-movement back then. If anyone is outdated, it's those so called modern-bands. Savatage uses the most modern recording-techniques. We have influences from rock'n'roll, blues, metal, but also from the classical music. Music becomes timeless because of the quality, not because it's modern. I guarantee you that most of the bands are forgotten in about thirthy years. A lot of bands want to sound like The Beatles right now. Do you think the The Beatles worked like that? They did what they believe was right. Just like Beethoven, he only could've survived, because he made quality!

The concept-album is an exponent of the 70's: Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, The Who...

Chris: The original idea comes from Mozart. The first theater-productions were made in those days in France and Germany, for the kings and their royalties. That was quality-music for that time. There must have been a streets-violist, which could be the precursor of the grunge! Mozart played his music in castles. That's were the idea of the concept-records was made. The story of "The Wake.." has a lot in common with those old opera's. Paul was very seroius about his Broadway-carrier. That kind of music always will exist. Not that we make music for fifty years in the future, but we try to make some quality.

Johnny: You can listen to the record without knowing that it is a concept-album. It isn't clear unless you read the text-book. The songs can be listened to separately. Only "Welcome..." gives a little tip. The concept is a bonus. We're going to play the whole album for a live radio-show!! During the normal shows we always do old material. We're negotiating with an orchestra! I wanted to do that with "DWD". But it will be very expensive.

Chris: More than an extra key-player and some more vocals will be the limit for now! The first part of the tour will therefore be sober. Maybe we can do something february next year. Jon as a pirate with one eye and a parrot on his shoulder, hahaha!

Johnny: Yeah, and we throw Chris overboard, off the stage. And give the fans shark-heads! Hahaha.