AVANTASIA (2016 - English Version) - Tobias Sammet (Vocals & Songwriting)

Our workaholic Tobias Sammet is about to release the new AVANTASIA chapter, ďGhostlightsĒ. Tobias called me to tell me the secrets of that new record. Still very talkative, we tried to do our best, we only had a few time, soÖ Letís go!

SBM: Hello Tobias how are you?

Tobias: Ho very fine thank you!

The release of the latest AVANTASIA chapter is approaching; the album is finally finished, so how long have you been working on this record from the writing to the mastering?

I donít know exactly but I would say, more or less, fifteen months. I started in autumn last year, so yeah it should be something like fifteen months. I know I should not say that because everybody thinks Iím a workaholic, and Iím a very well structured person with a very tight schedule and everything, and right know itís true I have a tight schedule, but I havenít been working fifteen months nonstop.
The creative process of an album usually is pretty much you do what you have to do during the day and then at 7 oíclock after dinner you have a song idea and then you disappear for three or four hours in the basement and the home studio and start composing something. So I havenít been working sixteen hours a day for fifteen months, Iím a very lazy person I have to say. (Laugh)

Letís say youíre a lazy workaholic. And youíre very punctual because in our latest interview you told me that the next AVANTASIA album should be there in three years. And ďGhostlightsĒ is there just in time! (Laugh)

(Laugh) Yeah! But again it was not a plan; of course you have a rough idea of when things could possibly happen. But I donít have a studied plan, I donít plan ahead. I think making plans is very nerdy; life is what happens to you while youíre making plans. I simply let things happen and I didnít expected to be really at that time now, itís a coincidence I would rather say. (Laugh)

But what a nice one! It really seems to be the following of ďThe Mystery of TimeĒ, with this agnostic scientist. Can you tell us a little bit more about this chapter?

Yes itís the continuation of the journey of the scientist who is confronted to a circle of other scientists who wants to manipulate peopleís perception of time. And of course the scientist in the first part of the story ďThe Mystery of TimeĒ, has defined the setting of the story, the environment, the mood, the feeling of the story. And now the scientist has the feeling that something is trying to keep the individual away from taking the time to think about what really matters in life. And this is not like a novel anymore.
This new chapter is consisting in twelve individual pictures, twelve stations, and twelve key moments of the journey of the protagonist. A key moment that opens his eyes and sometimes reflects encounters with certain ideas, certain spiritual ways of thinking, moments that give him ideas of whatís going on, and these twelve songs reflect this kind of moment.
These twelve important stations that make him ask questions about the terrifying event that falls upon society and about our existence and spirituality, and it also deals with skills that we may have forgotten about, call it ďsecond sightĒ or just being sensitive to things beyond materialist.
Itís a beautiful story, a beautiful picture that creates a certain mood and at the same time you can just take each individual song and it makes sense on its own. Itís an interesting conversation between yourself and the protagonist, with his insight, his subconscient. Or maybe is he just phrasing thoughts and encounters with certain ways of thinking, encounters with real characters, encounters with characters he doesnít know if theyíre real or not.
Itís very hard to describe but the story makes a beautiful sense and itís very important to me and I try to create a heaven of silence, thinking and considering beautiful things that donít make sense economically or cannot be put with numbers, itís about things that happen between all those moments in our lives that are happening because itís a result of the past pace of our society. Itís really hard to phrase it but I want to cherish and embrace silence, time for real quality things, and I wanted to write something that reflects the opposite of the sheer cold effectiveness that is forced upon us.
I think I managed to do that, even if you donít want to follow the story you can just take one song and beside having a beautiful lyric, with beautiful pictures being painted, a beautiful environment and an a beautiful enchanting setting youíll have something for each song because each song can stands on his own. And that was important to me; I didnít want to create a story where the protagonist is running through the forest; and in the second song arrives at the castle, and on the third song he leaves the castle, and in the fourth song he goes back to the castle because heís forgotten something (Laugh). I didnít want a story like that I didnít want to write a chronological fairytale about the seven dwarves running through the forest (Laugh).

So as you wanted to paint different pictures, we finally have different songs, some elements have be taken to the ďMetal OperaĒ, weíre also very close to the Scarecrow trilogy, so is it something you also wanted to do, ďpaintingĒ twelve different musical pictures?

It was not on conscious decision I have to say, it was just happening like that. Iíve done seventeen studio albums, not counting the EPs, with Edguy and Avantasia, and if you want to go on and take something from what youíre doing and enjoy what youíre doing, you have to keep it exciting and thatís why I never try to put limits on what I do. Of course there are natural limits because I would never do a jazz record or a punk record because I simply donít like this kind of music personally.
But of course Iíve always allowed different influences into my music because it reflects my personal listening behavior and my personal favorite music: I love world music, I love India, Blackmoreís Night and Era. And I also love Meatloaf, as you can hear when youíre listening the first track on the album. And I also love Iron Maiden, Helloween, Magnum and Bon Jovi and itís all these kinds of music that I embrace and I just never try to be too narrow-minded when it comes to creating music because I want to do it thirty or forty more years hopefully, and you can only be so creative when you donít put limits on what youíre doing.
I never made a conscious decision to make this colored album because it reflects the different moods of the protagonist or something. No, all the songs I wrote, I wrote them because I thought they were great and they fit into the story, a beautiful story and we must not forget that the album is 70 minutes long and this is really long for an album. I hate albums that are that long because to me a perfect album lasts between 40 and 55 minutesÖ 45 to 55 minutes is the perfect length for an album and this one is 70 minutes long.
But for me it was important not to throw one song of the album because I love them all so much, and I thought ďIt would not cost more money to the people so Iím going to release them allĒ. And you can only do that if you have certain diversity on the album and thatís why Iím happy to be not so narrow-minded.

Itís true that the album is very long but when you listen to it you donít think ďGod itís so longĒ. No, music flows naturally.

Oh thank you! But it wouldnít have been that way if I would have done twelve songs like ďThe Metal OperaĒ for example. I really love ďThe Metal OperaĒ very much, itís a great album but all the songs have a lot of similarities and some people say ďOh itís a great flow and itís great!Ē with a good unity and itís true because the songs are so similar. But if you do 70 minutes of it, I think youíll have troubles.
Itís great that the new album is the way it is, and still I think it has a very good flow in it and all the songs belong there and they all sound like they belong there.

As you said you listen to a lot of music, most of the guests are from the rock-metal spheres. But have you ever thought about bringing artists that are not from that universe? I donít know guys like Bono, Matthew Bellamy, Billy Idol?

You know there are no limitations and of course I considered bringing other people, but Iíve never made a distinction between heavy metal singers, rock singers, pop singers. A good singer is a good singer and being it like an actor as Alice Cooper, on the new album someone like Dee Snider, being a blues singer like Robert Mason who can sing like a heavy metal singer, heís very good and he has nothing to do with the metal world. I knew him on the second Lynch Mob album and heís more a blues rock singer.
I asked Meatloaf to be a part of it and Meatloaf is not exactly a heavy metal singer. You know I donít really care about how the style of somebody is called. The only question is does it makes the album better, does it add something.

Youíre talking about Meatloaf, and sure the influence is obvious on ďMystery of the Blood Red RoseĒ and could be heard on ďA Restless Heart and Obsidian SkiesĒ. You asked him to be a part of that chapter but he doesnít appear on the record. What happened?

Well the management didnít want to do it. His management, not mine. I donít have one actually (Laugh). Maybe there was a chance he would do it, the record company contacted his management and it looked good and suddenly they changed their mind. They listen to the track and said ďOh itís a great song but we want to do a whole album instead so we donít have time for thatĒ. Somehow it didnít fit their plans and that was ok, but I have this great song that Iíve written with Meatloaf in the back of my mind and I thought ďWhat am I gonna do?Ē and I said ďWhat the fuck! Iím gonna sing it myself!Ē I released it as if it was a song that was supposed to be sung by me, but itís so close to Meatloaf, it sounds like Avantasia doubtlessly, but itís so close to Meatloaf that I have to explain the story, that this is a rip off of Meatloaf (Laugh).

Yeah but a great one! Very convincing with an Avantasia touch. And you said on your website that 40 hours were needed to record the choirs. Why did it take so long?

Well thereís so much going on that you donít realize that there are a lot layers in the vocals, thereís a lot of things going on in the background that we wanted to make sure that the arrangements in the choirs donít distract from the main theme and the lead voice. So we wanted something to wrap around the lead voice but not distract from it.
And that was really tricky because the song is full of choirs but you donít realize it because they are so well placed. Only if you would mute them, took them away and listen to it again, something would be really missing, a real big piece of the magic would be gone if you would remove the choirs. But when you have them on you donít really realize that thereís so much going on, thereís a ton of choirs, different layers of choirs, and theyíre even placed in different parts in the mix. Some are a little more on the left side, some are a little more on the right side or to the middle.
If youíre sitting in front of two speakers you would realize it and if youíre listening through headphones as well, theyíre coming from different directions.
And itís also funny that we had to put the guitars a little bit to the left side; that was very old school I have to say; and the main part of the choirs a little bit to the right side so they would not interfere with each other. That was more like rocket science to mix that song, and the funny thing is now listening to the final result you say ďYeah itís a cool song, itís a great songÖ Good backing vocalsĒ but you donít realize how much thoughts have been put into placing the choirs so they could generate the maximum effect.

I suppose Iíll have to try with good high speakers to hear it because it seems to be a really meticulous work (Laugh)

Yeah but you should try it with headphones. Not earphones but proper headphones so they donít compress the sound too much. I recommend that to everybodyÖ And I have to say that now: everybodyís using these little in-ear plugs that compress the sound so hardÖ You should spend, letís say, a hundred euro for headphones for whatever kind of music youíre listening to, itís a great mastering, you put it on your ears and it would be like listening to a totally new album, and thatís something I highly recommend to everybody.
Sometimes when I see people in the subway with their little white earphones, those Apple things in their ears I go ďOh Jesus Christ!! Hypocrisy! Sacrilege!Ē (Laugh)

Ok so I promise I will get real headphones and listen to the album again! Thereíre great things in there, I really love Marco Hietala and itís a real pleasure to have him on the record. But the most exciting thing is Jornís return. He does a perfect job on the long masterpiece ďLet the Storm Descend Upon YouĒ, and you seem to be really more comfortable with these long tracks.

You know I have some difficulties to cut myself short, as you can hear when Iím talking (Laugh). Seriously, I just love telling tales and I love journeys, music that brings you into different worlds and a long track is not necessarily better than a short track; because you can listen to a two and half minute track that is amazing and I know a lot of long tracks that are not so amazing. I think itís a very strange belief, especially in heavy metal: the longer the better. Itís not the case; if you have a bad song and make it long it will just be more suffering (Laugh).
But if itís really well structured, you have different possibilities to build tension. Of course you have to have patient listeners, and I think you have that in heavy metal, and the whole album concept is about patience and about slowing down. On long tracks, if the listener has the patience, you can tell the story itself, you donít have to follow those stupid music industry rules, like ďDonít bore us, bring us to the chorusĒ. Yes I know, for some songs itís great, on ďLiviní on a PrayerĒ you can hear the chorus after one minute and thatís ok, no problem, itís a great track. But itís good to break these kinds of rules as well and with long tracks you can do that beautifully, ďLet the Storm Descend Upon YouĒ has this tension in the beginning so exaggerated, so extroverted, so long. It pretty much breaking all the rules of songwriting because there is an intro that starts very slowly, and then you build up the tension and then now you say ďPlease stopĒ but no! We wait a little longer and you have to find the right moment to explode to the next part, thatís so hard. Some bands just do the same part over and over again, that doesnít make things any better. We just try to build it up, build it up and then explode to the next part and thereís another intro coming; Sasha was saying like ďOh do you really want to do that? Maybe we should cut it.Ē No, thatís exactly the way. Because for some reasons you canít explain it, itís a subconscious thing. And when I listen to the song I think that this is the way it has to be.

Well Iím glad you didnít change a thing! This is one of the best songs, with ďMaster of the PendulumĒ which is shorter but with a very entertaining refrain. Marco Hietala is one of the new guests with Dee Snider etcÖ If you have to pick one, which one did you want the most? Tricky question!

Oh I cannot pick one because it would not be fairÖ If I would just ask one person to join Avantasia, it would not be Avantasia anymore. Thatís a very diplomatic answer isnít it? (Laugh)

Yeah really well done! (Laugh)

No seriously it would not be fair, and Iím seriously very happy to everybody on the album. If I would just say now ďOh I just love this singer or this singerĒ that would not be fair. As I said itís the diversity of the album that makes the album what it is.

Yeah I understand that, it makes sense. Among these guest, one is sadly missing, Mister Dickinson. Have you tried again this time? (Laugh)

(Laugh) It wouldnít be an Avantasia album if I wouldnít have tried to have Bruce Dickinson. So yeah I tried again of course but this time I really thought there was a realistic chance because our British department is very close with the Iron Maiden office, so there is a good relationship between our camp and the Maiden camp.
The thing was that this time I asked, it was considered and then Bruce got his diagnosis and then it was out of question, I just wished him the very best, prayed for him and thatís it. You donít ask again after that, and Iím very happy he recovered, really happy that they are around, doing a world tour, I hope itís going to be successful and I wish them all the very best. It was not the question ďDo I want Bruce Dickinson or notĒ, I just wanted him to be happy with what heís doing and focus on whatís important for him and I cannot expect him to do any guest project after something like that.

Yeah that was the one thing to do. But who knows, maybe on the next album?! (Laugh)

Well I donít know what will happen after that record, but if I do another one, of course I will probably ask again! (Laugh)

Talking about Bruce, have you heard the latest Iron Maiden album? Could it give you some inspiration?

Well itís too late to inspire me because the ďGhostlightsĒ album was already doneÖ

Yeah I suppose but maybe for an upcoming album?

To be honest I havenít taken the time to give a proper listen, I only listened to the first disc. I bought it the day it was released, the limited edition, because Iím an Iron Maiden fan and a collector and I have a huge respect for this band for doing things their way.
I listened to the first disc and I donít remember much of it right now, but I thought it was very unique and very brave. They do things the Iron Maiden way and they donít give a shit about even putting 85 minutes of material spread out of two discs, thatís really a brave move but they are fuckiní Iron Maiden, theyíll be platinum whatever they do. And thatís what makes Iron Maiden a huge band: they donít give a shit.
I will listen to the album as soon as my promotional campaign is over and that I have a little more time. I was so busy with the Avantasia album that I didnít listen much music at all, not even in the car.

Yeah youíll have a few months before the upcoming tour. By the way, some shows are already sold out. How do you live this increasing success of Avantasia on the road?

Hum I love it! (Laugh) Iím very thankful and Iím really looking forward to do this tour, the previous one was a success and we just try to push it even further with a lot of people on stage. Now we have the biggest line-up ever with Ronnie Atkins, Jorn Lande, Bob Catley, Michael Kiske, Eric Martin from Mr Big will be around, Amanda, Oli, me etcÖ
It will be a huge line up and we will play other three hours, and we always play our hearts out every night and thatís why I think itís great that people come to see us because I think people sense that Avantasia is very unique, itís not just a project where a lot people come together because they want to make a lot of money. I think people can sense that what we do on stage is magic; we have proven it so many times and everybody on stage, not just in front of it, but on stage: everybody is really appreciating every minute of it because, I have to say it, we all know that most likely the same line up wonít be on one stage together.
Itís not like touring with a proper band where you can say ďOk see you on the next tourĒ. With Avantasia we never know when weíll do it again. Maybe in five years, you never know. Maybe Unisonic will be on tour so Michael cannot come, maybe Magnum will be on tour and Bob wonít join. Thatís why everybody embraces every minute of this.

Iím looking forward to see you on tour. We have to conclude because you have a tight schedule so thank you very much Tobi for the call. Wish you the best!

Thank you very much Nicolas. Take care and have a very nice week.

Take care! Bye!
Critique : SBM
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