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Jon Oliva, Singer, Composer, Keyboard/Piano player for Savatage/ Trans Siberian Orchestra/ Dr. Butcher/ Oliva’s Pain

Date: 01/2005
Interviewer: Rich Catino


1. What topics did you write about for Tage Mahal?

JON: It was fun writing for this record, it was like a hang out session with not much pressure. My guitarist Mat helped out a little bit. I wrote all the songs and lyrics myself, it’s been a while since I wrote lyrics. I think the last time was for “Streets” (Savatage) and a little on “Edge of Thorns” (Savatage). But after my brother Chris died I left up all the lyrics to Paul ONeil since I had to now write all the music. All the lyrics on my solo record are like a weird trip through my brain. Even for something like “Poets and Madmen” (Savatage) which I sang on I did not write the lyrics. Paul does the lyrics and poetry that is tied into the Savatage records. I will sing a melody and he follows where my breaks are and key changes and he puts it all in words, he’s good at it. I did not want to get involved with all that for my record. As far as writing the music I wrote a lot of the music on guitar for my solo record than I did on piano. I started played guitar a lot now, after “Handful of Rain” (Savatage) I stopped playing it for like 4 or 5 years and now that I picked it up again I got pretty good at it, HaHa!

2. Any songs leftovers from a previous Savatage album?

JON: One which was a bonus track on the Silver Anniversary release of “Sirens” called “Target”. The verses from it are on the song from Tage Mahal called “Nowhere to Run”. It was a song Chris and I wrote, I wrote the verse and he wrote this part that was on the Savatage tune but he never liked it, so we never used the song. We always liked the verses but never could settle on what to do after that. I was listening to stuff and heard that song and wanted to finish it, I worked on it for a while and wanted it to have the Sabbathy/Deep Purple feel. That’s why we brought in the Hammond organ and it has those doomy chords in it. The intro for “The Dark” was gonna be something for Poets but we never used it so I tied it into the intro for that song, and the ride out on that was supposed to be something for “The Wake of Magellan” so I tagged it onto the end. The rest of the stuff is all pretty new.

3. Do you find your solo work very different from what you write for Savatage?

JON: Yeah I think it’s a little more angry because with Savatage you have other people putting their ideas into the songs. Even though Paul and I may write the song everyone has a say as what goes on.

4. Who came up with the concept to the CD cover?

JON: Chris Kinder and a couple friends of ours were messing around with some ideas, I wanted to do something with the Taj Mahal but that whole thing got screwed up. Using the real Taj Mahal for the cover was creepy so instead we shot some pics of these towers in Tampa Florida, added the flames and superimposed my face in the sky. It was something I really thought looked cool.

5. How much material do you write for the Trans Siberian Orchestra?

JON: I’d say about 40% of the music, my stuff really dominated the first two records. The latest one “The Lost Christmas” I did not write as much for because I busy doing other things. Basically myself, Paul ONeil, Bob Kinkel and Al Pitrelli do the writing, I’m not sure if Chris has contributed anything yet they we have used. If we all think the idea is great we go with it, with stuff like TSO you need other people to contribute to the writing to make it interesting.

6. Was “Christmas Eve Sarejevo conceived with TSO in mind when “Dead Winter Dead” was written?

JON: No idea, TSO came after that because no one would play that song so we put it out under a different name and it became a huge hit. TSO was a way to get Savatage music played on U.S. radio. The people that come out to the TSO shows are aware that there was a beginning to the band and that was Savatage, but I don’t think too many are aware of the music. They are starting to find out about it now, hopefully. If they listen to albums like “Dead Winter Dead” and the “Wake of Magellan” they will hear where TSO got some of their sound from.

7. Tell us about the shows you did recently in Greece.

JON: I had a great time. We did an acoustic show, I did some Savatage songs we don’t do that often, things like “Hounds”, “Ghost in the Ruins”, and “Thorazine Shuffle”. Hey man you only go around once so you gotta have as much fun as you can. I like to keep things interesting and that’s what keeps the fans coming back so we change things up in the setlist.

8. What do you have a more personal connection to; Savatage, TSO, Doctor Butcher, or Oliva’s Pain?

JON: Savatage because its been part of my life the longest, but I’ve also come to the realization that we are not going to work as much as we used to. Tage Mahal is a result of that because I don’t want to sit around waiting for Savatage to do something. Savatage will happen when everyone can do it and Tage Mahal helps me to keep my chops up and continue to play Savatage tunes, also Oliva’s Pain allows me to play more obscure Savatage songs like “Holocaust”. v

9. Anything happening with the Dr. Butcher side project you do with Chris Caffery?

JON: We will finish up a song called “Iraq Attack” that will be included in the rerelease of the record for the U.S. plus a few other tracks. We are also going to do another record in a year or two. Its just tough trying to get around everyone’s schedules, sometimes it’s hard to find time to take a shit.

10. What are the tentative touring plans?

JON: Maybe something in the late spring before I do these festivals in Europe. I’ll be in the Jersey area where you are at some point hopefully before the summer.

11. How did the Progpower show turn out?

JON: That was great, we had Dr. Killdrums back with us (Savatage’s original drummer from the “Sirens” record through “Handful of Rain”), and I had great time working with him in the studio again for my solo record. I think I’m gonna keep him busy and have him play a few more tunes on my next solo record. We are also going to have him play on a few tracks on the Savatage 25th Anniversary album. We even did a song from “Fight for the Rock”, “Hyde”, and that went over good, I think people were really surprised we did something from that record.

12. Is there a Savatage song that you would not perform live?

JON: I think we have pretty much played all of our songs at least once or twice live, just some don’t quite translate as well Live. “Fountain of Youth” just never really worked and was better on record. I already have written some stuff for the next Savatage record and it’s got elements from all periods of the band from “Sirens” to “The Wake of Magellan”.

Official website: www.jonoliva.net

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