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Jon Oliva – Vocals, Keys, & Composer for Jon Oliva’s Pain, Savatage, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Dr. Butcher

Date: 06/09/08
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


 1. The new album “Global Warning” is a bit different from the first two Jon Oliva’s Pain albums “Maniacal Renderings” and “Tage Mahal”. Can you tell us what makes it different?

JON: Well what I did was, what I try and do with lets say the thirteen songs I have, is I do a certain amount of those songs in the style for what I am known for doing which is Savatage type stuff, and five or so songs I will do differently where I will experiment a bit. Like on “Global Warning” you have “The Ride” and “Master”. You know you have to try and do different things because that keeps the other stuff fresh. If you keep locking yourself into the same mode your gonna write the same record over and over again. So it was time to try something different this time. And its cool because there was some music I found that my brother Criss had wrote and that’s on the album. “Look at the World” was a song he wrote in the late 70’s after a Queen concert and it was the first time we tried writing a Queen style song. I had totally forgot about it and it was on those tapes I had found of music I had written years ago with my brother.

“Firefly” is another one he has a little piece in that we wrote together. “Before I Hang” is another one and that is like half of his music.

2. Not to interrupt you but speaking of “Before I Hang” I wanted to ask you about that song because a version of it appeared on the Silver Anniversary Edition of the Savatage “The Dungeons Are Calling” reissue.

JON: Yeah man that’s the original version. See that was a song we were working on that we were never really happy with and that’s why we never released it. Our drummer Wachaloz stuck the demo Criss and I did on that reissue. But I never really approved of that because it was a song Criss and I never finished.

3. I actually thought the original arrangement was pretty cool, its heavy and has a dark tone. It definitely could have been on “Dungeons”.

JON: Yeah it was alright but it was never the way we wanted it. I had this piece of music left over from Savatage’s “Streets: A Rock Opera” called “Larry Elbows” (yeah it was a weird song), and that’s in a verse from a song on “Streets” and I took the two and joined them together. And then there was another piece, the ride out section on “Before I Hang”, that was on another tape that Criss had written, so I took all three ideas and put them together for the new “Before I Hang”. And I did the same thing for another song on “Global Warning” called “Stories” which is two different songs. One called “Stories” and one called “When the Hammer Comes Down”. The main riff was from “Hammer”, and I kinda took those and changed the key and joined them together to the new “Stories”. You know with my brother’s stuff whatever I have available I try and use it. On the last record “Maniacal Renderings” a lot of his stuff I used was just riffs and things. On this record it was more half songs, a verse pattern, a riff. So his contributions are a little more substantial this time. I think he is on six songs actually where he has writing credit. “You Never Know”, “Stories”, “Look at the World”, its cool because he is still a part of what I am doing.

4. It sounds like you are using different tones with your piano outside of your trademark sound also on “Global Warning”?

JON: Well I used a real piano on this one, a Yamaha grand piano and then on some of the harder stuff I used my regular piano sound that I have. But some of the other songs, like “Firefly” where I had real brass and string players come in, I wanted to have a real piano. So when I cut the piano track I cut it with the string players at the same time so it was a really cool vibe. I was going for this Pink Floyd/Beatles sound and to get that you have to go for the real thing, ya know.

5. I am also hearing some melodies outside of those recognizable Savatage/”Streets” ones?

JON: You know like I said before I like to try and change things up. I have different styles of singing that I do aside from the screaming hard rock stuff which I like to do. But I am a firm believer in variety and versatility to keep people’s attention and doing the same tones all the time will make them bored. I guess that comes from the different things I listen to and most of my favorite bands are versatile, Queen, Beatles, even Black Sabbath and like the song “Changes” off “Vol. 4”, you know. So that was something I always tried to keep as part of what I do. And that keeps all those heavy metal songs fresher. You know on an album I can do the heavy metal, then a couple power rock songs, a couple that are more progressive, and even a couple acoustic like the song “O to G” is just me and an orchestra and Kevin with the fretless bass and the six piece string section, you know. We almost cut the song live it was very cool. That’s how bands from my day use to do it like Queen. It gives the music a different kind of vibe instead of trying to nit pick everything, cutting and pasting all the instruments together. We used real drums, real piano, real strings. I use the keyboard stuff and shit but when I am doing stuff that’s orchestrated I like to have people come in and play the instruments.

6. The production on “Global Warning” is also different from “Maniacal Renderings”. Maybe not as edgy?

JON: Well this album is a bit more polished I think because some of the songs just called for that sound. “Maniacal” was recorded in an old studio that a friend of ours worked out of and it really wasn’t up to date. The equipment was sub par really even though I like the way “Maniacal Renderings” came out. But this one has a more expensive sound to it because with this one we used real horns, piano, a real orchestra. With ‘Maniacal” it was all keyboards plus we spent half the time that we did on the new one “Global Warning”. This one is more polished and more expensive sounding because we spent more time, and money on it. Plus we used Morris Sound Studios which I worked with on Savatage records.

7. The title is “Global Warning”. What is that warning?

JON: Well I wanted to title it something that was easily identifiable and I was watching the History Channel and they had this thing on global warming, and the polar ice caps are melting, and we are all gonna be under water in ten years.

And I was like here is a title that everyone has heard but I can’t say “global warming” because then I have to write all the songs about the weather. So I said if I change it to “Warning” then I could change the theme to all things happening globally. You got war, terrorism, computers taking over the world, you know, and then I can say “ok here are the things that are going on in the world to be aware of”. I didn’t want it to be a concept but definitely to have a theme. So its like having a newspaper on a CD.

8. Looking back now on “Maniacal Renderings” and the first one “Tage Mahal” how does “Global Warning” fit in with those?

JON: I think this is more versatile showing different sides of what we are going to do as a band. What I really like about this band is the guys I am playing come from backgrounds of playing in clubs for many years playing all kinds of music like jazz, to dance, to pop, to rock n roll to the blues. So for me its great as a writer I can bring anything to rehearsal and maybe say ‘Here is a bluesy number” like the last song “Someone/Souls”. I was working on that for a long time with that kind of Led Zepplin feel and these guys I just give em a tape and they come back to me and got it down pat, its great. And then they can turn around and play a song like “Stories” which is pure Savatage. I try to give the Savatage fans enough of the Criss Oliva stuff and Savatage type stuff because that’s what I am known for and really my sound anyway but I also want to expand. Like you have songs like ‘Firefly”, “The Master”, “The Ride” where I can off and do some different thing. Like for “The Ride” we did it in this weird tuning and had a guy come in and play a Hammer Dolsamer which was an instrument I never really used. It was like an experimental track and that’s what I like about what I am doing I’m not boxed into a corner, you know. I’ve done enough of that whole “Mountain King” stuff and don’t get me wrong I love it but at this stage in my career its important for me to do other things with the music. If you want to keep growing you have to branch out.

9. You have some U.S. dates coming up for the fall this year. Now is this the first real tour for Jon Oliva’s Pain?

JON: Yeah it is, we have done some selective dates in the past but this year after we do the ProgPower Festival in Atlanta we do some dates in the northeast and the mid west, then heading out to Europe and then back to the States after the holidays. So the U.S. tour is in two parts first in the fall of 08 and then January of 09. I am really looking forward to it Zak Stevens and his band Circle II Circle will be coming out with us, and we are gonna do something special every night at the end of our show. Zak will come out and we will do a nice Savatage tribute and play “Edge of Thorns”, “Chance” and maybe one or two more. I love doing “Chance” we always do it in our show.

10. Dusting off any classic or obscure Savatage songs?

JON: Yeah I plan on doing that, and I usually do. I always do “Mountain King”, “Gutter Ballet”, “Believe”, and “Sirens” because if I don’t the people will yell at me Hahaha. Then I will do some stuff off “Power of the Night”, you know its cool by this point I have pretty much got the guys to learn almost all the Savatage songs, Haha. Even one night we played just about all of the “Streets” album. One night we will do “Hounds” or “Mentally Yours”, “Warriors”.

11. You ever take out “Dungeons”?

JON: O yeah we have, “City Beneath the Surface”. We have done just about every Savatage song that I have done performing with Savatage.

12. Plans for a live DVD?

JON: Yes there is. We are taping it in Tilburg Holland in November. I wanna do some special stuff for it and have a couple friends come up and jam with us. I may do an acoustic set. I just got the confirmation to do this a couple days ago so I just started working on the plans.

13. Were any of these songs for “Global Warning” supposed to be used for the Trans Siberian Orchestra?

JON: Well anything I write I write for Oliva’s Pain so I give Paul O Neil (main songwriter/composer for TSO) the option to use what he likes and what may fit into TSO, then after that its forever hold your peace Hahaha. Everything I write I play for O Neil. But I kind of know what he is looking for at this point. When its time to write for TSO I go to his house and write with him.

14. How close is the new album “Night Castle” to being finished?

JON: Were actually working on it tonight, I took the day off to do interviews. I think we will be finished in September.

15. Did you play all or most of the piano on the album?

JON: I played most of it but not all of it. I played some bass, drums, and keyboard o it as well. So I did a lot on this one.

16. Is there a future for Savatage?

JON: Well actually if you look at Trans Siberian Orchestra, that is Savatage. All the members from the “Dead Winter Dead” “Wake of Magellan” era are in TSO. So its basically Savatage under a different name and if you listen to “Dead Winter” and “Magellan” and the music of TSO, those Savatage records are very close to what TSO does. I mean look, we released the first Christmas single “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24” when it first came out on Savatage’s “Dead Winter Dead”, no one would play it. Then when it was released under the Trans Siberian Orchestra it went to fucking number one in the country. So we had to look at it as we took Savatage as far as we could take it. The name was dated and God bless those fans but that’s as far as it went. To the Heavy Metal faithful. The fans are great and loyal, we did Savatage for twenty something years but we are not twenty one years old anymore. We got this TSO thing that’s just great and very successful. And that’s hard for me to say because I started Savatage with my brother Criss and it’s the ultimate kick in the ass. But now I don’t have to worry about taking care of my family because of TSO’s success, ya know. People really get hooked on the name thing but at this point you get the best of both worlds.

You have the members of Savatage going out doing the Christmas holiday thing with TSO, you have me doing Oliva’s Pain where we play all that old Savatage stuff like “Sirens”, Power of the Night”, “Mountain King”, “Streets”, “Gutter Ballet”, and Zak (Stevens) with his band Circle II Circle plays songs from when he was in Savatage like “Edge of Thorns” and “Handful of Rain”. I mean my live set is fifty percent Savatage fifty percent Oliva’s Pain.

And I mean look at the success of TSO. We have people like Roger Daltry from The Who, Paul Rogers, possibly Robert Plant (Led Zepplin) may play with us this year, I mean Geoff Tate from Queensryche, Tommy Shaw from Styx, Ian Hunter, John Anderson from Yes I mean these people are legends and they want to play with us. To me that’s the ultimate compliment, it blows my mind.

17. So in the future, you don’t see the members of Savatage going out and playing shows under that name?

JON: This is the thing…I could easily go out and do Jon Oliva’s Savatage with the guys from Jon Oliva’s Pain. But out of respect for not only the name, and the guys I played with in Savatage for twenty years and the guys I am playing with now in Oliva’s Pain, I don’t. It isn’t the same, its different with these guys in Oliva’s Pain. I am trying to do something different with them while keeping true to my roots in Savatage, plus I don’t want them to work in the shadow of the Savatage name. Because really this has nothing to do with money playing with JOP. I am having a ball doing this and its all about the music. That’s another reason why I didn’t want to use the Savatage name, I didn’t want people to think I was sucking the name dry, you know? I don’t have to work another day in my life if I don’t want to just off of what I have done with Trans Siberian Orchestra. I could just sit around on my fat ass and watch football for the next ten years (laughs) but I don’t want to. I love playing music and that’s what I’m gonna do. Plus, there is so much of my brother’s music that people haven’t heard that I’m gonna make music until I put out every piece of music I have done with my brother. Then I will stop and do Horror movie soundtracks or something on a mountain until I grow old and grey Haha.

18. Then you will officially become the Mountain King?

JON: Yes that’s right Hahaha.

19. Plans to release a comprehensive Savatage DVD with live footage and all the promo videos?

JON: Yes there is. We have this idea to do a triple cd set with a DVD called “The Road to Siberia”. It will include some alternate versions of songs, alternate solos Criss has done, plus the DVD will have a couple full shows with my brother and all the videos. It should be done within the next couple years. First, we have the next TSO album “Night Castle” and the 08 Christmas tour to take care of and then Romanov which is the next project. So it will happen after all that.

20. Was the Savatage “Japan Live 94” concert video ever released on DVD in the States?

JON: I’m pretty sure it was released.

Official websites : www.jonoliva.net & www.trans-siberian.com
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