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poets and madman - jon oliva


Large / Netherlands, Spring 2001
by Frank van der Meijden
translated by Yvonne Kluitman
Edited by Bob "Lek" Lekich

POETS AND MADMAN JON OLIVA

The melodic metal band Savatage never belonged in the mainstream, yet had a faithful multitude of fans following in their wake. The band is presenting their 17th album "Poets and Madmen", sounding a bit different from its predecessors. The fans who value Savatage for its melodic sound will have to get used to it, because melody been partially replaced by heavy rhythmical guitar riffs. Another change is that the vocal parts this time were completely done by keyboard player/vocalist Jon Oliva. When Zak Stevens announced his departure, Jon was the logical replacement for he did the job in the past.

Jonathan Nicholas Oliva, born in New York in 1960, thinks the preparation of the new album took much time yet doesn't have problems with that. So with that, Jon Oliva, joker and mouthpiece, talks about the new album and his band.

JON: "We changed labels and the production took longer because our style changed. But I have to say that we like to take things easy as well. We don't rush through things. We wrote a lot of songs, 35. We selected 11 for Poets And Madmen. I hear you say a what a pity. Well, we’ll save the rest for next albums and other projects. I have also been working on a solo project for about three years now. I don't know yet when it will be released. My main occupation stays Savatage."

REAL LIFE

Savatage often makes a story around the album. Jon explains how the approach changed.

JON: "On the old albums we always made the story first and put the music on it. On the new album we already had the music and lyrics finished and welded sort of a story around it. The lyrics are real life events as well. We made the songs being inspired by articles we read in Time Magazine for example. Paul (producer) writes most of the lyrics, he took, for example, a news fact about a Jeep being shot to pieces and he made lyrics about that. The album is kinda like, what the heck is happening in this world?"

Like mentioned above, some fans may have to get used to the new album. The new album is less melodic and more rhythmic than the previous one.

JON: "Yes, you're absolutely right about that! The music style is, how can I say it...., more evil. There's some sort of anger in the music, with heavy riffs and such."

Besides the style, the vocals changed as well. Lead vocalist Zak is not participating on the new album any more.

Why and When?

JON: "We killed him! No, just kidding. Zak just said, "I can't give of myself, 110% to Savatage anymore." He wanted to spend more time with his family. Maybe we are gonna work together in future. So now, I took over his job and sang all 11 songs on the album. We were going to do it fifty/fifty at first because I needed three months to get my voice on the right level again. But Zak thought he wasn't giving enough anymore, so I took over. Live, it's gonna be hard though, you know I have to play keyboards and sing at the same time. Sometimes I think, if only I had a third arm."

PAUL GOT BALLS!

Don't you need a new lead singer anyway? With that Jon jokes that maybe I should take over, to which I respond "You ring and I'm in".

JON (laughing): "You're weird. No seriously, we have 4 candidates to take over the lead vocals. We are gonna take a look at them between 4 walls."

The song "Rumors" contains a call for Jesus. Is there a Christian background with Savatage?

JON: "Not Savatage as a whole. Paul, our lyric writer, is Catholic. But his call for Jesus is not meant entirely good-hearted. (Jon sings the chorus to Jesus.) It's more like; it's a mess, so Jesus why don't you do anything about it? In my opinion it's one of the first songs in metal that is so straightforward. I think Paul dares a lot with it. Paul’s got Balls!"

In May and June the gentlemen of Savatage want to play a Dutch festival again (Dynamo, May 26/YK). In September or October they will be back with their own show to the Netherlands. The audience is the most important, thinks Oliva.

JON: "That's why we call upon the fans through the internet to form the Savatage Street Team. Just to promote the band. We use the internet, so we can reach everybody. If we're not gonna be legends in five years, I am gonna kill myself!" (with that Jon crack a huge smile)

Big plans for the future?

JON: "We’ll stay a normal band. Look, we are just a bunch of normal guys, like you and me. We love what we're doing, making music. We are very accessible. We like to talk to the fans at concerts because they are the ones buying our CD’s! You have to be grateful for that and show it. Look, if they wouldn't buy our CD’s, I would have probably been a plumber, and you could not do that to me! The fans give us the fuel to go on."