Kamelot: mastering the change

If there’s one thing in particular that comes out of this interview with Thomas Youngblood, Kamelot’s guitar player and mastermind, it’s their complete control of the boat despite the chaos. In 2010, the band has indeed lost its emblematic singer, composer, and other half of the duet of composers, Roy Khan, just before starting touring in the U.S. But still, what Youngblood is telling us is that he managed to keep in mind a clear view of the direction in which the band was meant to go and the choices he had to do. One of these choice is a singer, Tommy Karevik, whose style undeniably works well together with Kamelot’s aesthetic, even if Youngblood doesn’t say that his voice’s similarity with Kahn’s – whether it be in terms of tone or in terms of melodic approach – has been a key element in the decision. Another one is the growing importance of keyboarder Oliver Palotai who’s now taking Kahn’s place in the composer duet, a relevant choice hearing a result that’s extremely coherent with the rest of the band’s discography. It’s also the choice to refocus its music on melody that payed.

So there: even if the guitar player admits the difficulties they had to face – whether it be Roy Khan’s departure that left them in a very difficult situation or before, the morose recording of the record Poetry For The Poisoned – the band admirably bounced back. We can hear that in the album Silverthorn, a record that reached a consensus in both the band’s die-hard and casual fans.

At the end of the interview, Youngblood also evokes his ambitious solo project that, if he manages to take it to an end the way he wants to, may be able to compete with metal operas like Avantasia and Ayreon.

Radio Metal: When Roy Khan left the band, Fabio Leone from Rhapsody Of Fire replaced him temporarily. Did you actually offer to Leone to join the band? Do you think he would have been the right choice for Kamelot?

Thomas Youngblood (guitars) : Well, we discussed it a little bit, but he was so busy with Rhapsody, with a lot of different other projects and his voice is so connected to Rhapsody that it would have been difficult, you know. We both kind of agreed that it was important to get somebody relatively unknown in the scene for this transition. That’s why we decided to go for a guy like Tommy [note: Tommy Karevik, Kamelot’s new singer], who’s the perfect choice, to me, for Kamelot.

Do you have some live material with Fabio that might be released one day?

We have a lot of material with everybody, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us to do that, because we want to be able to move forward. We don’t want to release things that would be like a sort of collection of auditions, so the next step of what we want to release in terms of live material will be a DVD that we’re going to release next year.

« To bring the typical power metal singer would have been to me a complete mistake, and also it’s not the type of singer that I like. »

When Roy announced that his departure from the band, it was two weeks before Kamelot was supposed to go on an US Tour. Were you mad at him about the fact that he took some ways the band by surprise?

Of course, the band and the fans were upset about this, because we wanted to fulfil our commitments not only to the fans, but to all the bands that were going to tour with us: for instance, they had to cancel their flights. When you’re doing a tour, there are a lot of ramifications, so of course we were upset about what happened.

Are you still in contact with Roy ? Has he heard the new album?

Yes. He actually sent an email saying that he loved the record and that the new singer was great.

Apparently Roy chose to quit the music business. What’s your opinion about his decision?

Well, I don’t know if he actually decided to quit the music business, but I think he doesn’t want to deal with the typical things going on in it. Anyway, that’s something you’ll have to ask him, because I can’t speak for him.

In an interview published in June, you said about Tommy “that in the end, we chose the guy that fits Kamelot in terms of sound, writing and image”. As a matter of fact, what is striking when we listen to the album is that Tommy does sound in a lot of ways like Roy: it’s sometimes even confusing. He even looks a little bit like his predecessor! Were these natural similarities decisive when Tommy was chosen?

For me, the most important was the voice, first and foremost, and then if the guy was a good writer, obviously that would be a great help. These were the first two factors. In terms of look, Roy has short hair, Tommy has short hair, so there aren’t really any similarities for me other than both are short hair guys. If Tommy had long hair, people wouldn’t compare them.

Was changing the band’s lead singer something risky enough not to take another risk by choosing a successor that would be too different from the trademark Roy Khan had settled in Kamelot? Just like what Iron Maiden did, with not much success actually, with Blaze Bayley, for example?

We didn’t really look at other bands for examples, because there are a lot of examples of bands changing completely and being complete flops. It wasn’t something that we really thought about: we wanted the best for Kamelot’s sound, and Tommy is. There were guys who actually sounded like Roy, but for different reasons, we decided not to go with them. For us you know, continuing the sound of Kamelot isn’t only about the vocals, but also about the song writing, the atmosphere. To bring the typical power metal singer would have been to me a complete mistake, and also it’s not the type of singer that I like.

You shared the song writing duties mostly with Roy Khan. Has his departure led you and the band to question the composition process for the new album?

First of all, we never questioned anything as we knew how the Kamelot sound would be like. In the past, the song writing was done by Roy but this time, Oliver, the keyboard player, did it with me. If you talked to the fans, I think they’ll agree that the new album is 100 % Kamelot. We never felt any insecurity: we were completely confident, and with the fans’ support, we were able to make one of the best Kamelot albums so far. That’s how we approached the whole thing and we’re very happy with the result.

Did Tommy immediately fit in with Kamelot’s sound or did you sometimes have to help him with his vocal lines?

You’ll have to ask Sascha (note: Sascha Paeth, producer of Silverthorn) this question, because I didn’t work with Tommy on the vocals. Him and Sascha mostly worked on the vocals in the studio. I really think that Tommy assimilated into Kamelot: he knew what he wanted to do, and the songs sort of gave him the map of where he had to go vocally. Tommy was the one who came out with the vocal melodies and the lyrics, along with Sascha in the studio. When I first heard, for example, “Sacrimony”, I was just blown away by how it was just what we needed.

« When you see bands repeating the same formula, that’s something we’ll never do. The next record we’ll be different from Silverthorn, I’m sure. »

Tommy is actually credited on every song on Silverthorn. But what was his implication in the composition process? Did the composition process start after or prior to his arrival in the band?

We started writing the songs before Tommy officially came in. You know, we never write the songs with a particular singer, we write them based on what we want the music to sound like. It’s important for the singer to fit into the songs. Once Tommy got into all the songs, he took over and wrote some vocal melodies and lyrics: he jumped in with full force, and like I’ve said before, we’re very happy with the results.

Silverthorn is widely regarded as a return to the style of The Black Halo or even Epica. Is this because you consider this the true Kamelot style ?

Well, all what I really wanted to do was to bring back some melody into the songs. I didn’t specifically say: “I want to write like The Black Halo”. This record is not like The Black Halo: it has its own spirit, its own identity. There are some melodic parts that I think we’ve missed on the Poetry For The Poisoned album: I wanted to bring them back in this album.

The more modern or darker elements on Poetry For The Poisoned, and even Ghost Opera, were received with lukewarm opinions. Even Oliver Palotai [note: Kamelot’s keyboard player] said recently that he wasn’t a big fan of Poetry For The Poisoned. Do you feel the band got lost in trying give another approach to its music?

If you repeat yourself, fans complain that you do this, and when you do something different, people complain too. Honestly, I stopped caring about that. We tried to do something different on Poetry For The Poisoned, and I’m totally happy with it: I wouldn’t change a thing on it. You’ve said “lukewarm”, but Poetry For The Poisoned sold more than any of the other records, so when you hear someone complaining about it, it’s probably a fan of the earlier Kamelot. I think it’s important for any band to do things differently or you’ll get stuck. When you see bands repeating the same formula, that’s something we’ll never do. The next record we’ll be different from Silverthorn, I’m sure. It’s important to keep the sound grow and evolve.

In an interview one year ago you confessed that you wanted to bring back the fun in the creation and recording process, and that it was something you lost on the past two albums. How can you explain that?

Well, I wouldn’t say that we lost that in the past two records, but more on Poetry For The Poisoned. There were some issues with people in the band that needed to be sorted out and we didn’t have fun in this record: it was a little bit hard to get it finished. I don’t want to be specific about what I’m talking about, but I know from myself and some people in the studio that the process of Poetry For The Poisoned was not that enjoyable. So I wanted to go back to this fun aspect of making albums and not being fixed on what people will like or not: that was my main thought when recording this album.

The orchestral elements and arrangements in general found in Silverthorn are richer and more impressive than ever. Is this a result of a greater implication from Oliver Palotai or even Sascah Paeth and Miro (note: Michael Rodenberg, session keyboard player) this time ? ?

Sometimes, the stars are aligned just right, you know: you just feel, when making an album, that the songs are quite special and that everything fits in perfectly. These things were happening as we were starting to make the album, and also when I heard what was coming from Tommy and Sascha. Oliver is now obviously one of the writers, and he’s a great asset, because he’s a great musician, which is important when we begin to create a composition. In the end, the hard work and the long hours working behind the scenes have paid off.

The concept of the album is of the kind we could find in a King Diamond album. This ghost story can actually recall to some extent the Abigail concept. Is King Diamond an inspiration to you when it comes to writing concept albums?

No, not really. I like him and his music but I don’t even think about the stories he writes. The story of Silverthorn is actually collaboration between four or five people within the band, so I don’t know if they thought of King Diamond.

About his solo album: « I have a list of about twenty different friends, who are amazing singers that most people know and whom I’d like to approach for the songs. »

Why did the band choose to return to SPV to release Silverthorn?

We had different labels that wanted to sign Kamelot, which is great, but at the end of the day, we found that SPV really believed in the band. This was a really important factor to sign with SPV, because when you’re working with anybody, you want to be convinced that they’re with you a 100 %.

We heard some talking about a solo album from you ? What can you tell us about this project?

I just have to find time. I’ve got some songs and a lot of different singers whom I want to work with, like Fabio, Jeff Scott Soto (note: Yngwie Malmsteen’s former singer), and other ones that everyone knows: I think it’ll make a very cool solo album. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it, because it seems that every time I turn around, it’s like “OK, I’ve got to focus on this for Kamelot, and on that too etc.”. If I ever find the time to take a break from Kamelot, I’ll definitively go for it. I might start to do something in late 2013, but now, everything is pretty focused on Silverthorn.

We heard that some great singers and artists will appear on your solo album. Who will they be ?

Well, until I’ve actually done the record, I can’t really talk about it. I have a list of about twenty different friends, who are amazing singers that most people know and whom I’d like to approach for the songs, but until it’s official, it doesn’t make sense to me to discuss that.

What kind of musical style can we expect from this solo album ?

I’d say it’ll be a mixture of different things, but for the most part, it’s going to be symphonic, maybe modern rock stuff. It’s hard to say but right now, most of the basic ideas are symphonic, or Kamelot style. I’ll make sure it’ll be diverse and interesting, maybe some classical pieces will be on it, maybe some things more new-age: we’ll see.

Is this solo album going to be gigantic like the Avantasia or Ayreon concept-albums, for example ?

Yes, exactly. Like I’ve said, everything is kind of being in the early planning stage right now, so my focus is on the new Kamelot album. Hopefully, sometime in 2014, I’ll have time to finish the idea.

Can we also expect to see Fabio on future projects of yours?

Yes, that’ll be great and it’s something that we discussed, whether it’d be the solo project or something else. Fabio’s a good friend, and he’s an amazing singer: right now, he’s focused on the new Rhapsody album, so let’s see what happens.

Interview conducted by phone on December 2012
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Kamelot’s official website: www.kamelot.com

Album Silverthorn out since October, 29th, 2012 via Steamhammer/SPV

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