Oliva's legacy is being the frontman of Savatage. He is also one of the
masterminds behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra. His latest band, Jon
Oliva's Pain, has just released their fourth album, "Festival," an
intricate display of progressive sounds with a dark tone.
Jon's nightmares became reality with the concept and recording of
"Festival," which features a song created from old recordings by his
brother, Criss, before his death.
Speaking from his home in Florida, Jon talked about the differences
between "Festival" and previous JOP releases, his brother and, of
PoM.dk: "Festival" is a great, melodic, creative album full of memorable
choruses and guitar lines. Explain how you came up with the material and
the direction you were heading in while writing it.
Jon Oliva: I wrote a lot of it on the road, so I wrote most of it on the
guitar, which was different than the last album I did, which was written
a lot in the studio ... my home studio. I was under a little bit of a
time situation, so I had to do a lot of writing on tour last summer in
Europe. I think that just gave it more of a heavier edge because I was
restricted to using guitar most of the time to write stuff. But it was
good because stuff was coming out heavier, and I wanted this album to be
a bit darker and have a little more edge than the last one I did, which
was more progressive and melodic. This one, I wanted to get back to our
good old-fashioned slamming.
Understandably, anything you do will ultimately be compared with
Savatage. But "Festival" is heavier and darker, yet more progressive.
It's probably the furthest and most creative step away from Savatage. Do
a way, yeah. Like you said, everything I do is going to have that
comparison to Savatage. But that's OK because that's my legacy, Savatage.
It doesn't bother me, and I'm not going try to change anything I do at
this stage in my career. I just do what I do and try to have fun with
it. But this one reminds me more of an older Savatage type of album,
meaning the "... Mountain King" or "Gutter Ballet" period, just because
of the darkness of it ... it's a bit darker. That's what I think.
What are you trying to say lyrically with this album?
JO: A lot of the songs are based on dreams. The whole "Festival" idea
came in a nightmare, so it's a festival of nightmares or dreams. Stuff
that's not really real ... but a bit of a darker side. That's basically
the theme. I think every song on there lyrically is about a dream or a
nightmare, except maybe one or two. They're not all scary nightmares,
it's just not reality-based, they're all fiction. That was different
because the last couple of albums were pretty factual lyrically, about
stuff that's going on in the world. This one I wanted to get away from
that and go into a fantasy world. Of course, my fantasy world has to be
full of weirdness. Hence, the darker approach.
POM.DK: You've always had great artwork on Savatage album covers and now
on "Festival." What’s the concept behind the name and art?
That was part of the dream, the actual picture on the cover. I actually
sketched it out in pencil. I'm a very bad artist, but I drew a big
circle where the Ferris wheel went and this gate opening with this
sick-looking dude with a hat on, welcoming all these people in. So the
guy (artist Thomas Ewerhard) captured it really great. There's a lot
more detail in the actual dream. There were booths that are usual at
fairs, where they sell food or shirts or jewellery. This place had heads
in jars and torture devices. It was a really twisted dream. I sent the
guy the sketch and talked to him and when he sent the picture in, I
almost fell out of my chair. And that's how the whole thing started. I
dream a lot and write them down and probably have three or four
notebooks that I've had probably since my 20s. I dream a lot when I'm on
the road because that stupid bus bouncing around, rocking you around,
you get weird sleep on a tour bus. It's hard to explain. I dream a lot
while on a tour bus, sleeping. I just kind of put it together and one
thing led to another. Thomas has done the past three album covers for
us. He's a good guy, good artist.
The song "Lies" originally was created by your brother. Did you discover
it on a computer file or a tape? Was it a finished song that you tweaked
a little, or was it just a riff that formed the basis of the song? How
did you find it and then decide to use it?
JO: It was on a cassette tape of a song that we were working on for
Savatage a long time ago. It wasn't a complete song, it's just a couple
of pieces. It's the actual pieces where I'm singing the verse, the first
part at the beginning of the song, that whole section there is his. Then
I had to finish it from there because that's all we had on tape, with
the very first singing verse and then the part that comes right after
it, and then it stopped. There was nothing else there. Then I wrote the
chorus part where it goes "Lies, lies, all I ever hear from you," that
was all new music. I took his riffs and wrote to them and made a song
out of it. It was hard, but it's one of my favorite tracks on the
POM.DK: Not to bring any sadness into this conversation, but are there
moments when you think about your brother and look up and say, "This
one's for you, bro”?
JO: All the time. That's why it's very important to us that he's been a
part of every record we've ever done. He's had songwriting contributions
on all four of the albums. And that's great. In a way, he's kind of like
a secret-weapon member of the band. Even though he's not here, his music
is. We're happy about that, and we're always excited when we have a
Criss riff to work on.
I interviewed Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick at a TSO show in December.
And one of my questions to them is what I'm about to ask you: Will
Savatage ever get back together with you at the helm?
JO: Savatage, as people know it, will never get back together. It's just
an impossibility. I know certain people are upset about that, but
there's really nothing you can do about it. In my opinion, Savatage was
over when Criss passed away. And that's not taking anything away from
guys like Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffery or Jeff Plate.
after Criss passed away, the band was no longer the band that it was.
And we started looking to forge new territories. Savatage from "Handful
of Rain" till the end was basically the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in
training. We were progressing to become what we are today, which is the
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is one of the biggest bands in America.
sure you're aware of the history of Trans-Siberian Orchestra ... to do
anything to mess that situation up to reunite a band that has never even
broken up. All we really did was change the name and broaden the
versatility of the music to appeal to a bigger crowd than just the
heavy-metal crowd. And it worked. Because when we go on tour, we sell
out sports arenas, two shows a day in most places. So how can you
possibly think of shutting that down to do a Savatage reunion tour? To
me it would be professional suicide. So as far as I'm concerned, it's
never going to happen. It's just not enough time. And it would be
sacrificing something that's provided a living for everybody. All those
guys from Savatage included, because they're all in (Trans-Siberian
Savatage sold millions and millions of records in their career, then it
would be justifiable, but Savatage was more of an underground band. It
was a great band, it went through many phases, but it's time to move on.
I also have four or five years with the JOP band, and I'm not willing to
throw that out the window to reunite a band that's really basically
still together. That's the way I see the whole thing. People may think
differently, but I'm on the inside, and if I would have never seen these
guys for 10 years, if we would have split up in 2001 and all went our
separate ways, I would probably feel different about it. But I've never
stopped working with them. We've never stopped being a working band, we
just basically morphed into this band that has achieved 10 to 20 times
what the band achieved under the name of Savatage.
kick in the ass, but at least we can pay our bills now. If I were 25
years old still, it would be a different story. But it just doesn't make
any sense to take the goose that lays the golden egg and slit its
throat. I know Chris Caffery is very passionate about the Savatage
reunion thing but, in all honesty, I just think it's his emotions
getting the best of him. It's just not possible to happen.
POM.DK: Is "Festival" going to be the closest thing to Savatage that
fans are going to get?
I were a Savatage fan, I would be very happy. Because you've got the
Savatage band that was together for "Dead Winter Dead" and "Wake of
Magellan" making this great music under the name Trans-Siberian
Orchestra. And then you got me doing the JOP stuff, which has me singing
and has music of Criss Oliva involved as well as mine. The JOP thing
reminds me of Savatage when Criss was alive. And the Trans-Siberian
Orchestra is basically Savatage from what we were doing on "Wake of
Magellan" and those records, it's just a step further on down the road.
like Savatage all grown up, but with a different name, so we can
incorporate more people into the music. And we don't want to write
inside of a box or have a label on us where I can't do certain types of
songs because the name of the band was Savatage where people wouldn't
accept it. That was something that was starting to frustrate me and
Trans-Siberian Orchestra opens the doors for us as writers to do
whatever we want. We're not a heavy-metal band, we're not a pop band,
we're just a band, we're an orchestra. We got 30 to 40 people involved
between the singers, keyboard players and guitar players. So we write
whatever we want to write and use the people in the organization who
suit that type of song, and those are the people who end up recording
them. Having that name, "Orchestra," opens up a lot of doors if you're a
songwriter, because it takes away any limitations as to what you can do.
POM.DK: Your involvement with TSO seems to have waned a bit since its
inception. Are you a behind-the-scenes kind of guy or are you just
focusing on JOP?
role with TSO is as a writer, performer in the studio, arranger and an
orchestrator. And that's by my choice because I want to be able to do
JOP. If I were also performing live with them, then I wouldn't be able
to that. So I had to make that decision.
want to go out there and be a full-time member of TSO the band we put
out on the road and play keyboards, or do I want to do my own thing and
travel to Europe every year and play festivals, which I love to do. So I
talked to Paul about it and said I would play live in certain instances
if he needed me to and have that be my involvement.
involved in the management of the whole thing, because it was Paul, Bob
and I who started TSO. They ask my opinion on decisions, but my main
role is as a writer with Paul and working in the studio on the album
POM.DK: The production on "Festival" is great. The tone and
clarity shine through brilliantly. Producer Tom Morris always
gets it right, but what type of sound were you looking for?
JO: We did a couple of things differently on this album than on
the last few, as far as in-the-studio goes. I did a lot more
guitar tracks than I have on previous albums, and I think that
fattened the sound up quite a bit. I also went to the storage
closet and dug out a lot of old synthesizers and old guitars and
weird instruments and amplifiers.
I used Mellotrons and mini-Moogs that a lot of people don't use
anymore. I put them through some weird effects and came up with
some stuff that's really interesting. I think that helped also.
It's a type of record you have to listen to two or three times
because there's a lot of hidden melody lines going on that on
only one or two listens, you might miss them. Once you listen a
third or fourth time, you start to hear all the things you might
have missed on the other playbacks, and it just grows on you. I
think Tom knew that I wanted that type of sound, and I wanted a
bit more spread and clarity on the mix and to sparkle a bit more
... and it worked.
POM.DK: JOP’s lineup is pretty much all Circle II Circle
members. Was there any animosity toward you from Zak when all
his band members joined your band?
JO: No, not at all because his band had actually just left him.
I found them for Zak's band in the first place.
Before they were in Circle II Circle, I was already thinking of
using them in a band. Then something came up where I had to
delay that decision for a while, something to do with TSO. And
Zak needed a band to go on the road with, because he was doing
his first thing (after Savatage). So I said, “I have these guys
lined up, why don't you just use them?" And he did. After that,
it wasn't what they wanted to do and it didn't work out. After
they did the tour for him, they all went their separate ways,
and then the time opened up for me because I was ready to do
what I wanted to do. I'm still very close with Zak, and there's
no animosity. It was a very smooth transition. They were my band
before they were his band, basically, but no one knew about it.
POM.DK: AFM Records is a great label for power metal and have a
lot of great bands on their roster. How have they been treating
JO: Very well. Good guys. They're very eager and very hungry to
be successful, and they have a very go-getter attitude, and I
like that very much. I think they're going to do well as long as
they can keep their heads above water, because the industry is a
very difficult industry right now.
POM.DK: What are your touring plans for "Festival"?
JO: We're doing festival shows this summer, I think we start at the end
of May. We play into June and come back to America, then we may go to
South America in late August for a week. Then we go back to Europe in
the middle of September for a six-week tour of our own. Then it
basically ends with the week of our DVD shoot, which is the week of the
end of October, and then it's back into the studio.
POM.DK: Any last words or comments for your fans?
Just thank you for everything. Get over the Savatage thing, it's all OK,
it's all good, everybody's happy and we're all still friends.
the new JOP album and I'll see you out on the road.