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Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery On The Record
A Savatage.com exclusive on the making of 'Poets & Madmen'
By Clay Marshall

Lineup changes can tear a normal band apart, but for Savatage, they just mark the beginning of another chapter in the play. Sure, much has transpired in the three-plus years since 'The Wake of Magellan' was released, but the story of 'Poets & Madmen' goes beyond that timeframe: It's the heaviest Savatage album since 'Gutter Ballet,' the most guitar-driven since 'Edge of Thorns' and - of course - the first since 'Streets' featuring Jon Oliva on lead vocals. Below, Oliva and Chris Caffery discuss the group's 12th studio album and also share their thoughts on TSO, Paul O'Neill, the departures of Zak Stevens and Al Pitrelli and the subsequent hiring of new blood.

You recorded 'Poets & Madmen' as a quartet. Do you think having a tighter ship in the studio made for a stronger final product?

Jon Oliva: The way we work in the studio, it's really hard to tell how many guys are in the band because we're never really there all at the same time. (The defections) really didn't affect us. Al was never really let in deep enough to be a major songwriter or anything, so him leaving I don't think really affected the ship at all. I think Zak leaving did, because it held us up a little bit and it made us have to make some alterations. I don't know if I could say it made it stronger. What it did is make certain guys in the band - mainly myself and Chris - step up. If Al and Zak would have still been around, we wouldn't have worked so much on it.

Chris Caffery: It's the first Savatage record that I really got the chance to sit with Jon from the beginning of the music (writing), where it was really just me and him. We didn't approach it like it was a Butcher record, but we approached it together the way we write a Butcher record, which was to have fun. Either he had a riff and I added some stuff to finish the song, or I had a riff and he added some stuff to finish the song. We basically just had a lot of fun making the music, and I think that's what everybody's hearing.

JO: We used to have a lot of fun doing records in the past, and after Criss died, things were aren't as fun anymore. Definitely we worked more on this record like we used to work on records when Criss was alive.

CC: Something very similar to 'Magellan' happened in the writing of this record, but a huge difference happened after it. Me and Jon had material and we went to Florida, and we worked with Jeff and Johnny before we were writing for 'Magellan.' But what happened with 'Magellan' was there was a story that was being written, and not all the material we had was right for that story. There was a lot of stuff that we really enjoyed making that didn't make it to 'Magellan.' This time, me and Jon put together a lot of music in the off-time, and we rehearsed a lot of it with Jeff and Johnny, and a lot of that live feeling that we got from those rehearsals wound up being the songs on the album. Plus, me, Jon and Jeff cut everything live in a room together so we got more of a band feel. It wasn't like there was this huge void that was being missed - it was just that this time, we were able to write this record as a band, and what we wrote wound up being what was recorded.

So was there anything used that was left over from the 'Magellan' sessions, or was all the material for 'Poets & Madmen' fresh?

CC: There were a couple little things left over - different kind of things. Most of the material, though, was completely fresh. Songs like "Power," "Cantations," "Surrender," "Stay," "Silence," "The Rumor" - those were all brand new songs. I think there's a couple riffs on "Man In The Mirror" that I had floating around, and I think the main riff in "Drive" is something that I found on an old tape somewhere, but other than that, most of the material was pretty fresh.

When we were writing 'Magellan' and 'Dead Winter Dead,' Jon was sitting there for the most part with a piano, so that's why you got songs that started a lot with piano. On this one, a lot of the songs, the slower introductions, even if they were ones that Jon wrote, they started on a guitar. Jon wrote the beginning of "Man In The Mirror" with a guitar cause there wasn't a keyboard around. He wrote the beginning of The Rumor" with a guitar cause there wasn't a keyboard around. The same goes for "Power." The record just became more of a guitar-rock record because it was written, for the most part, without keyboards even in the room. Once it came time to record the 4-tracks and the 8-tracks, that's when Jon had to bring out the keyboards for the drum tracks and pianos, but for the most part this record was written on guitar.

JO: I'd say 90% of this record was written on guitar. Even the songs I primarily wrote, I wrote on guitar.

CC: Even those slow intros were, for the most part, on guitars. Jon was sitting around with an acoustic. The beginning of "Power," the beginning of "The Rumor," the beginning of "Man In The Mirror" was all stuff Jon wrote on an acoustic instead of a piano this time, because the acoustic was the only thing around to write on. If all we had was a kazoo, there'd be a whole bunch of kazoo-based music.

JO: (Laughs) I don't know if I'd go that far.

If, as you said, the 'Magellan' story drove that album's music, this time there's a looser, less explicit concept.

JO: I think it helps a great deal. I don't know about the other guys, but for me, between TSO and Savatage, I was starting to feel I was doing the same record five times in a row. You've got the first two Christmas ones, 'Beethoven,' 'Dead Winter Dead' and 'Wake of Magellan.' If you really think about it, the entire process of each one of those records was exactly the same: Paul's story, Jon goes to Paul's house, sits at a piano, writes songs with Paul to fit the story, brings it to the band and the band works on it. Some of the other guys contributed songs here and there, but the majority of the stuff was written on piano at Paul's house to Paul's story. If we came up with a great song that we might have liked that was too heavy, we would ixnay it out - "Well, it doesn't fit with the story - it's history." For a couple of records, that's cool, but for a while there, I was starting to (go), "I feel like I'm treading water now." So for this record, it was very important for me to break those chains and do it differently.

In that sense, is the line being drawn more clearly between Savatage and TSO?

JO: I think so - I think you have to draw that line. In this aspect, I think it helps Savatage, because it frees up Savatage a little more.

Still, the TSO influence on 'Poets & Madmen' is clear. Do you think it helped this album?

JO: It helps make Savatage fresh again. To be honest with you, I love the TSO stuff, but it's no fun doing those records. They take forever, and you constantly have different musicians coming in every day that you don't know, so you can't really be yourself. It's like going to school when you do a TSO record, and a Savatage record is like playing hooky. That's the best analogy I can give you. I used to get excited when I used to be able to play hooky from high school and go to a concert. That's how it is with us and TSO. Yeah, TSO is something that's been successful for us, but it's still more work than it is fun. We do Savatage because we love the band, and it's fun for us to do.

CC: I think certain things that we were expected to do on the last couple of records, there wasn't the necessity to do this time. The last few times, it was like, "We gotta have an instrumental," and "You gotta have this song." This time, we had to finish a record. What happened was that the best 11 songs made the album, and that's how we dealt with it.

JO: And there's no instrumentals, thank god!

When did you two actually start writing for 'Poets & Madmen'?

JO: The actual writing started when we were in the studio doing 'Beethoven,' because we had all these musicians coming in, and Chris and I found ourselves sitting on the couch in the lobby, sitting around for 5-6 hours a night. So would just pick up guitars and fuck around. If we came up with something we liked, we'd throw it on a little cassette thing and bring it home and demo it up at Camp Savatage, where we had a digital 8-track. The intro, acoustic thing, Chris had, then I came up with the punchy (sings part), and Chris had the main riff of the song, and then I came up with the verse pattern. We kept building it from that.

CC: The solo section music was something I stole from a strip bar. (laughs)

JO: A lot of the songs went that way. Then we would bring it to Paul, and on a couple songs Paul added a little bit of musical ideas. But he had enough confidence in us that he just kinda let us run with the ball down the field. I don't think he regrets it.

"Morphine Child" seems like the shortest 10-minute song ever.

JO: That's what everyone keeps telling me - "Man, it doesn't feel like 10 minutes." "Morphine Child," to me, is definitely "Chance" taken two or three steps further.

Where did the song's Iron Maiden influence come from?

JO: I thought it was more Judas Priest-ish.

CC: I thought it was more Scorpions-like.

(both laugh)

CC: That song was actually the most difficult song I'd ever done rhythm-wise in the studio in my life. Not only is the song 10 minutes long…Usually, when you're doubling guitars, you lay down one track, then you rewind the tape and you lay down another track. You might forget one or two things here and there cause the song's like four minutes long. By the time I got into, like, the eighth minute of the song, I had no idea what it was I did at minute number one, and vice versa when I went back to try to double it. The riff itself is so freeform that there's lots of slides and movement and open things and mutes and clicks inside of it, it was so difficult to double. Never mind that I had to do four of 'em exactly the same, and the fact that we changed the tempo on the song twice, and I had to do all the guitars three different times. So it took two days per take - I spent six days doing the rhythm guitars on that song alone.

There was a very tedious process of doing rhythm guitars on this album, mainly because we couldn't make a decision on which was gonna be the lead amp we were gonna use. So instead of making things easy and coming up with a blend while we were recording it using different cabinets, I had to do the normal stereo guitar tracks twice. With guitars, I make things sound a lot easier than they really are to play. The guitars on this record are not that easy to play, but we tend to make everything sound so tight that in some sense, it sounds a lot easier than it really is.

JO: I don't even wanna tell you how long I spent on the vocals.

Was it worth it?

JO: Yes. But vocally, that was the hardest song I've had to put together and have it come across, and then with all the backup stuff…

CC: I remember saying to everybody during the mix of that song, everybody was like, "I don't know - we're hating…" Everybody was working so much on the song that they were getting sick of it and freaking out, and I just turned around and brought a version of it home one night and listened to it separate from the studio - I put it on a different stereo -and I was like, "Man, this song is cool." The next day, I came into the studio, and I said, "One thing you guys gotta understand - we've been hearing the same song now since February. Nobody else has. I guarantee you when people hear it for the first time, they're not going to be nearly as sick of it as we are right now." It's really gotten that kind of response, because I listened to it, and I was like, "Wow, I think this song is a lot better than we think because we've just been so tired of hearing it." It took us like three or four days to mix it, and we had to do all the counterpoint vocals, the background vocals - it was like five days of background vocals, three days of rhythm guitars, Jon had to…

JO: I must have sung that song a hundred fuckin' times, dude. (Paul) just had me keep going back, going (sings) "There's a thief on a…" I was like, "How many more times do I gotta do this?"

Can you pull it off onstage?

JO: We'll be able to do it live. It'll be great...it's gonna be a fun song to do live.

CC: We're guaranteed to sound absolutely nothing like the record this time (laughs).

That song, along with "Commissar," feature a return to the "Unholy Monks"-style of backing vocals.

JO: I wanted the backup vocals on this record to have more balls. I liked the ones on 'Wake of Magellan' a lot, but I thought they were still a little bit too nice for me. This music called for more aggressive backups. I tracked over a bunch of stuff myself - I did like four low parts, four medium parts, and four upper parts myself - and then I had the guys come in: Chris, Bob, me, (John) West was there for a couple days, Al was there for a couple days, just a bunch of us. We came in and we started doing the lead tracks - the lead backup vocal tracks. I sang my ones with the heavier voice that I use, to give 'em that edge. Rather than them being very smooth and melodic, I wanted them a little more (grunts).

CC: I did mine with a helium balloon. That's the really annoying thing you hear in the background.

In America, you're now on Nuclear Blast. Does it feel like you're going back to your roots by being on an independent again?

JO: Atlantic did do a lot of good things for us, and they did a lot of bad things for us too. There were records I thought they totally dropped the ball on that could have been huge records, but they decided to put money into other things instead. You get a little bitter about that, but I think they did a remarkable job with TSO, and the funny thing is, I have the last laugh, because the song that made TSO huge is a Savatage song. Everyone knows it - everyone in the industry, everyone from Atlantic knows it was a Savatage song, so they have to feel a little bit weird about that. Being with a label like Nuclear Blast for Savatage is kinda like a rebirth, because we're no longer the little fish swimming around in the big fishbowl. We're now the big fish in the little fishbowl. We have more of a say, and we didn't have to worry, "Oh, Atlantic's not gonna like this," or "Oh, god, there's nothing they can play on the radio" and this and that. When you're on a major label like that, those things are always stuck in your face - "What are we gonna push as a single?" We didn't wanna think about that. I don't care if there's no single on the record.

But you've got two…

JO: I do? (laughs)

Sure: "Drive" and "Awaken."

JO: That's what I think. For America, I would have to say one of those two songs. I thought "Man In The Mirror" might have a chance too.

CC: The good thing about "Morphine Child" is, that song is so spread out and there's so many different parts in it that they can't edit it, and I'm happy about that. If it winds up getting played one day, it's gonna wind up being played as a cool, very long song. We didn't write anything to be singles, and it was very surprising even when were finished, the amount of people who did turn around and say, "Yeah, you should use 'Drive.'" We don't really look at it that way, because everybody has different favorite songs on the record, but it's kind of weird for me with this album because I really don't have any one particular song - I just like the whole record.

JO: I don't think I could pick out a favorite song on the record either.

CC: The funny thing with me, I think my favorite song was the one that didn't make the record, and that was the title track. I think that was my favorite while we were recording the whole time. My favorite song was the one that didn't make it.

Any chance you'll use it somewhere down the line?

JO: Oh, we'll be using it, alright.

CC: We got to a point when there was no more Zak that we had to pick which songs we were going to finish at the time, and which ones were going to round out the record best with Jon singing it. Unfortunately, the title track was very involved, and we started to get to a point where we needed to finish the album, and that was one of the ones left off. We do have really good basics recorded of it, so hopefully maybe one day we can run in and finish that one up, cause that one definitely was a song I was very fond of.

For a while, it looked as if "Stay With Me Awhile" wasn't going to make the album's final cut. Did you fight for it?

JO: It was too good of a song to leave off. I told Paul when he mentioned to me that it was going to be a bonus track, I said, "That's a shame."

CC: It actually worked out for the best, because when Paul was finalizing the story, he wanted to open up the record with "Stay" at first, but he only wanted to use a little bit of it. He had an edited version of "Stay" and an edited version of "Silence" that were gonna go into "Commissar," and it just didn't work that way. Then he was gonna go with a full version of "Silence" into "Commissar," and we were gonna use a full version of "Stay" as a bonus track, but then as everybody started listening to the full version of "Stay," they're like, "You guys are nuts - this song should be on the record." The only spot that fit was the first song, cause that's what it was written as, lyrically - it was written to be the opening song, so that's why it wound up where it did. I'm really happy about it, because I don't like edited versions of songs very much. I'm not a fan of cutting anything out that you worked on in the studio. A lot of times, it's like an artist that loses his favorite couple inches of a painting he drew behind a picture frame. It's not necessarily something that you wanted to have cut off the record, and I'm glad it wound up being the way it did.

Jon, what made you use the unique keyboard sound at the beginning of "There In The Silence"?

JO: Jack Daniels (laughs). Actually, the sound I had originally was ten times more bizarre than that, but Paul and Dave (Wittman) told me that it wasn't staying in tune with the rest of the band. I tried for months to alter the sound, and anything you did to change it made it sound weirder. I came up with the other sound, which is a mixture of piano and synth. It's cool - it's gonna be fun to do live.

CC: I think live, we're just gonna use the out-of-tune sound, cause that will fit with us anyway.

Jon, especially after "Paragons of Innocence," are you going to be able to remember all the lyrics on songs like "Commissar"?

JO: Oh god, no. Man, you better be right up front with that cue card. What is it, "The pawn is now the queen, he moves across the board unseen, the move is down"? Very nice.

On a similar note, Chris, many of the guitar leads on this record are quite intense.

CC: On the record, the fastest thing I ever recorded by far is the solo in "Surrender." It sounds really smooth and you can't tell, but that thing at the end of "Surrender" I guarantee you is one of the fastest guitar licks ever recorded. There's one in "Silence" that's really quick too, and it's almost impossible to play because the tuning of the guitar is completely not right. The guitar is tuned to a weird chord, so I'm gonna have to either get a double-neck guitar live or definitely only use one guitar for "Silence," because the solo in that is only able to be played at the speed it is because the guitar is tuned completely abnormal.

Speaking of performing live, how important do you feel the upcoming American tour is?

JO: Extremely important. It's huge.

CC: Not only just to get us in touch with the fans, but a lot of times when you go to do things business-wise when you haven't been out there since '94, a lot of your clubs are closed down, a lot of your local agencies are different - people just aren't familiar with what Savatage is or what we can do. Now we're gonna reacquaint ourselves with our fans and with the whole entire music scene in general west of Chicago, through Texas and up into the northwest. Seven years is a long time.

JO: We are very excited about that. We're ready to go.

So is this a new beginning for Savatage?

JO: Every album is a new beginning for you. The lineup thing's a pain in the ass to go through, but it's something that you can't help, and the whole fact of the matter is that though we've had guys come and go, the nucleus of the band has always been the same. I've been there, Chris has been there, Johnny's been there, Paul's been there and Jeff's been there. Zak really was the only nucleus member that we lost who was there for a long time, but even Zak never wrote anything. In a way, the nucleus and the writing has always remained the same. But you're gonna have that, as you get older, and things change, and people get divorces and have babies and stuff like that - their lives change. The strength of the band determines whether you're gonna make it or not. We've been the type of band that when we get our asses kicked and get knocked down into the dirt, we somehow pick each other up, dust the dirt off each other, grab our shit and keep going.

CC: It's probably the first record we've done in a long time that the band is this excited as a band to go out and tour. 'Handful of Rain,' nobody knew what was going on as far as the band went. When 'Dead Winter Dead' was done, we'd just started working with Al, and he had never even heard of Savatage till he started playing in the studio. With 'Wake of Magellan,' it was a great record, but it wasn't a record that we really felt was going to be this incredible live album. This album, we know and we felt it when we were playing it in the studio - we were like, "God, I can't wait to play this stuff onstage." We can't wait to get out there and to get onstage with this music and go, play and have fun with it again. That's a big difference. (Damond and Jack) are very hungry as well. They're not only going to be joining us as members, but they're fans, and they're really anxious to get out there and show everybody what they can do as members or Savatage. These are people who know they have big shoes to fill, and wanna go out and show that they have something to prove.

Are Damond and Jack going to be treated as full members?

CC: We've got a list of like a scavenger thing they've gotta do. It's gonna be like getting into a college fraternity. With this tour, it's sort of like if you were renting out a room in your house to somebody - they get in, they got keys, but they're not necessarily able to go into your bedroom, they're not able to use your kitchen. With Savatage, we've been around for so long, it's like we're adding somebody into the band, and of course they're gonna be members of the band, but they really have to earn their place, and earn their keep and basically get their keys to every room in the house. This tour's gonna be a good test, and we're looking forward to it, because the people we are looking at are definitely ones that are willing to go out there and fight with us on this tour, and make sure we are not going to disappoint anybody live.

With the addition of Damond, is 'Poets & Madmen' your last full vocal performance, Jon?

JO: As far as Savatage goes, I don't know. The reason I did the vocals on this was because we really didn't wanna hold the record up anymore, and I didn't wanna get a guy into sing that once I got him out on the road two months later, we would learn that he was an asshole and then have to change people again. I'm wise enough to realize my limitations and what I can do and what I can't do. I'd be a fool to think I could sing two hours at a Savatage show at 100% every night. I know I can't do it - I'm big enough to accept that. It's a two-man job. I wanna do a Butcher record in the future; I wanna do a solo record in the future; so in that aspect, I'd have to say no, it's not the last record that I'll sing a full record. As far as Savatage goes, the whole idea behind Savatage was to have two singers in it in the first place anyway, but in the early days no one else could sing but me, so I was stuck with it. Then when I lost my voice and stepped back and we got Zak involved, the original plan was Chris and I were gonna come back into the band after the 'Edge of Thorns' period, and we were gonna have the two singers that we wanted. Then unfortunately, Criss passed away, and that changed everything. I've just now started to become comfortable with my voice again. It was probably really good for me. The response has been really, really uplifting. I was expecting a lot more "We miss Zak" stuff. A lot of people miss Zak, but I thought I was gonna catch some slack, but everyone seems to like it.

As great as he was, when you hear the album, you don't miss him.

JO: People who heard the new shit reaffirmed the fact that I wasn't losing my fucking mind. (At first), I was like, "I don't know, man," and everyone was like, "No, no - it's good. You haven't done it in a long time, and it's gonna bridge the gap to the new band, to the new singer." (With Damond), it's gonna be a 50/50 thing. It's gonna be like a new discovery for the band - there's a new road that we're about to travel down when we get these other guys in there, which is even more exciting. We already know where we're gonna go with my voice after this record - we're gonna go forward from where we are on this, but with the new guy, that opens up another door. Guaranteed, the next record is gonna be cool.

Chris, you were the band's internet liaison during the making of 'Poets & Madmen.'

CC: I think it was really important for us because of the fact that we had been so gone for the last few years. The bulk of the touring we did for 'Magellan' was done in late '98, so there was two years where we were pretty much invisible for Savatage fans worldwide, other than the TSO stuff and a few little blurbs here and there. I think it was an extremely important thing, because it let the fans all around the world know what was going on, and that they had something to look forward to, especially because we were going through things like Al joining Megadeth and Zak leaving. If that kind of thing happened without somebody in the band taking the personal attention to go and say, "Look, everything is all right - this is what's going on," and showing fans that we gave a shit what was happening at that point in time, I really think it might have been a bad thing if there wasn't somebody there paying that attention to 'em. Not for damage control, but there was a lot of times when people were losing their minds because they'd seen so little from us for so long that they thought it might have been the end. I was able to sit there and go, "Look, no, this is what's going on." Of course, not everything you say winds up holding truth because music is just like any other business - nothing's guaranteed - but at least I was there to let them know that, "Hey, we're here, we give a shit and we're gonna make sure we make Savatage as good as we possibly can no matter what, so calm down and have faith in the people that are still around." I really think like 99.9% of the people appreciate what it was that I did, and the other .1%, I really don't care, because it's not gonna change my life. I just know that I feel good about the fact that I kept in touch with them.

Jon, how would you describe your producing relationship with Paul?

JO: It's a joint production, but Paul has the final say. I have a lot to say in what goes on, so the co-producing credit I get on it I'm definitely deserving of. I'm there from the day the record begins until the record's over. I do sometimes do things behind his back that he doesn't know, but we won't go there (laughs). I have a close relationship with the engineer, Dave Wittman, and we're kind of on the same page, so it's kinda like a team. Paul is the idea guy, and Bob (Kinkel) and Dave are the engineers that get our ideas and our music down. Whether we load stuff into the computer first and then transfer it to tape later to record guitars and stuff to…Bob is very instrumental in that effect, because he does all the computer work. I'd have shot myself three years ago if I had to do what that guy has to do on every record. Bob is so instrumental to both projects because he's the one who gets everything lined up and transferred down on to tape for us to put our final tracks to, and if he makes a mistake, then you're talking about nightmares from hell. Dave is also very instrumental, cause he makes sure that the sounds that are going onto tape are perfect, and they're flat and straight so that when we do get down into the mix-down mode, everything is straight up at 12:00 and you can work from there. A lot of guys let shit like that slip by and you get into the mix room and the next thing you know, you can't roll any more high-end off your guitars and your guitars sound like shit because they weren't put to tape the right way. Bob and Dave are the engineers behind putting it all together, and us and Paul come up with the ideas. But without Dave and Bob, we'd still be doing 'Handful of Rain' - we'd still be three, four records behind, cause we could never do what they do.

CC: I'm very instrumental in deciding what food we're gonna order. I'm real good at take-out menus.

JO: Dave probably has more to do with the actual producing of the records than either one of us do. The guy puts the song up from scratch, gets all the sounds, then I come in next and I tweak my sounds, what I want - keyboards, orchestration, shit like that - and then after me and Dave get it to where we're happy with it, then Paul comes in and he makes some adjustments. He always wants the songs guitar-driven, cause that's his type of thing. I agree - I think the way we do guitars is very unique, because we use a lot of guitar tracks, but we also use a lot of different guitars. When got a guy like Chris, his sound comes a lot from the way he plays, not necessarily the guitar. But you have Les Pauls, Stratocasters, Ibanezes and it's cool to find the perfect mixture of which level this one should be versus this one.

CC: This (record) was done a real lot with a particular guitar Jackson had made for me. I discovered through a long time of experimenting a particular blend of wood and pickups that I really liked, and we had a couple guitars in general that I had made that matched along with the ones we've always been using in the studio. It made for a really cool blend.

Does the Gargoyle appear on any track?

CC: The gargoyle's pretty much on every song in some way or another. We have little bits and pieces from it. A lot of times it does a main rhythm that might be stuck up the middle.

Over the years, everything from "symphonic rock" to "Broadway metal" to "rock with an edge" have been used to categorize Savatage. Do you have any favorite descriptions of the band's sound?

CC: Actually, when you have a name of a band like Savatage, if anybody really needs to ask what kind of music it is from that point on, then you've really got some problems (laughs).

JO: I would call it rock. I don't know what else to call it. A song like "Commissar" is a heavy metal song, where obviously a song like "Back To A Reason" isn't. I don't think "Drive" is a heavy metal song - I think it's a rock song, a hard rock song.

CC: Then again, when you think about in the beginning of time, Black Sabbath was a metal band, Led Zeppelin was a metal band, Van Halen was a metal band, Foreigner was a metal band. So if somebody wants to call us heavy metal, I don't have a problem with that, because in my opinion, Chuck Berry was rock 'n' roll, and so were the Rolling Stones. If you take it a step further, I think anything heavier than the Beatles or Rolling Stones was heavy metal. We fall into that. We're not death metal; we're not black metal; we're just a regular heavy metal rock 'n' roll band.

JO: If anything, I would say Savatage is more like power rock, because the music is very powerful, but it's rock based. But you gotta have those other influences come in. It keeps things from getting stagnated and stale. That's the end of a band. I was starting to feel a little bit like that over the last few Savatage records, like we were making the same record and just changing the name. When you get that way and you start to fall into doing things over and over again, you get bored, and with boredom comes frustration, and with frustration comes bickering, and with bickering comes fights, and next thing you know, you don't have a band anymore. The fact that we do add all these little things and different vibes and different attitudes keeps everything fresh.

Any final thoughts?

JO: The people who see the band live on this tour are going to see the hungriest motherfuckers they've ever seen onstage in their lives, cause we're jonesing to play. You know how much we hate rehearsals? We're actually excited that rehearsals are starting. That, for us, is really bizarre.

CC: Rehearsal is (usually) like going to the dentist.

JO: And now it's like going to a whorehouse (laughs). We can't wait