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Interviews   

Songs and legends from Trans-Siberian Orchestra by Paul O’Neill


Paul O’Neill is one talkative man – it took him no less than twenty minutes to answer the first question in the following interview! And every one of his answers is literally sprinkled with cultural references and an obvious, overflowing passion for art. These kinds of excesses are exactly those you can find in his work with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band with “musicians from all over the world”, “24 lead singers” and “no less than 328 people in the crew only”, with whom he creates rich rock operas – including a trilogy about Christmas – and addresses a very large audience. His references go from Tchaikovsky to Dickens and Hugo. And that, along with the larger-than-life shows the band offers, is precisely what makes them one of the biggest ticket sellers in the US.

But they’ve not quite met with the same tremendous success on the old continent yet. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose career started in 1993, landed on our shores for the first time three years ago and is only coming back this year, with a first show in Paris on January 14th. But let’s Paul O’Neill tell us all about that himself, in length and in detail, in the course of many digressions. It was also the opportunity to talk about the fate of Savatage, a highly talented band for which he’s always worked from the shadows, and whose activities have been at a stop since 2002.

« Between the stories and different types of music, on paper, TSO is a little crazy. It shouldn’t work, but it does! »

Radio Metal: Trans-Siberian Orchestra has an amazing success in the United States – it has even been ranked as one of the top ten ticket-selling bands. How do you explain such a success in America specifically?

Paul O’Neill (producer, composer, lyricist): Wow, it’s a complicated question! Easy answer: all those hail marys my mother said when I told her I wasn’t going to college… No I’m only kidding. I think a lot of it was luck. On paper, Trans-Siberian Orchestra doesn’t make any sense. It was ’93 when one of the guys at Atlantic Records called and said: “Paul, since you’re already producing for other bands, why don’t you start your own?” And I said: “OK, but I think I’m gonna do something completely different”. And he’s like: “What does that mean?” And I said: “I want to build on all the bands I worship; I want to be a progressive rock band. I’m gonna need all the top players, two drummers like The Doobie Brothers or The Greatful Dead, four keyboard players, a full symphony in the studio like Emerson, Lake And Palmer, but not the whole symphony on the road, Pink Floyd-like production, over 24 lead singers”. And he was like: “Why?!” And I said: “Because we’re gonna do mostly regular rock operas: six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas, and maybe one or two regular albums”. And he was like: “Why rock operas?” And I said: “Because as a writer, you always try to write a song where the lyrics are so good that they will stand up as poetry, and the music is so infectious it doesn’t need lyrics, it could be just in a music box. When you put the two of them together, they create an alloy – like when you put iron and carbon together, you get steel – where 1 + 1 = 10”. As you grow up, you always try to make the songs have more emotional impact. The first band to me that cracked that code was The Who. They did the first rock opera, Tommy. When I was a kid in New York and I first heard “Pinball Wizard”, it blew my mind. When you pick up the album and you find out the pinball champion is deaf dumb blind, it makes the song even cooler. Then I heard a song called “Heaven On Their Minds” (note: from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar), great guitar riffs. When I picked up the album and read the lyrics, I found out it was Judas Iscariot – a whole other meaning. So we decided we’d do mainly that. I’ve always loved progressive rock. In the music world, we know rock is on top of the food chain, you know, heavy metal, hard rock… And prog rock was always at the very top, because progressive rock bands always had the best toys, like Pink Floyd, or Emerson, Lake And Palmer in the 70s.

At Atlantic Records, they kind of rolled their eyes but they wrote a blank check. The first album was supposed to come out in ’94, it was called Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper – at the time The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union had just collapsed. But then William Morris (note: an entertainment talent agency) said it was too good to be a rock album, and it should be on Broadway. They sold the Broadway rights to someone who agreed to put up 30 million, but they also got me artistic control. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Broadway, Philippe. Broadway doesn’t have the infrastructure to do rock’n’roll special effects. They just have the electrical power, etc. So the first album came out in ’96, and honestly, Philippe, it didn’t sell. But Atlantic was like: “Paul, you’re on to something, keep going”. So we finished Beethoven’s Last Night in ’99, then we started to tour, and then the band exploded. In the last decade alone, we sold over 10 million tickets.

But I think TSO’s first lucky break was… We were the last band to have something called artist development. When I started in the mid-70s, I used to work with Aerosmith, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Ted Nugent – it goes on and on and on. It was like the college of rock’n’roll, you learned how the music industry worked, how you broke bands in America, in Europe, in Asia. I wanted to have this band that could really push the envelope of what a band could do, both on albums and live in concert. So we came out of the box, exploded the wildest expectations, and we also drew on members from all over the world. We have members from Europe, we have members from Asia, members from North and South America, members from the classical world, the rock world, the Gospel world, the RNB world, theatrical world… Teenagers, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s… I’m in my late 50s. It just had to be great, because we intended to break all the rules. We were lucky to be signed by Jason Flom and Ahmet Ertegun. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ahmet Ertegun, he started Atlantic Records, he’s the guy who signed Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Crosby, Still and Nash, Kid Rock, Matchbox 20… And when he signed all these bands, they were unknown, and he nurtured them. A lot of your listeners may think that bands like Pink Floyd, or Queen, or Aerosmith, just jumped out of the box. They didn’t; some of them didn’t break until their fifth or sixth album. They were nurtured by the labels. In the 70s, in the 80s, up to the mid-90s, there were over 45 major labels in America alone, each worth tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. The industry was worth over a trillion. And then the Internet came along – and wow! By 2009, there were only four labels left. Half of Virgin EMI went bankrupt, now there are only three. They used to sign 30,000 deals a year, and now I don’t think there are 3,000. Which means that, every year, 27,000 bands in America that would have had a record deal in the early 90s don’t have it anymore. But we were lucky enough to break and have a humongous fanbase before the industry collapsed.

« I was always fascinated by this day [Christmas Eve], not only about the way human beings treat each other in the most intimate way – friends, neighbors, family –, but also about the way nations and states treat each other. « 

And then the second lucky break for us, I think, was that, by 2004, Philippe, we were in the top ten touring bands in the world. I got a phone call early one morning from a promoter in the Midwest, and he was a demographics snob. These people love to know exactly who’s buying, their age, their economical background, etc. So he calls in the middle of the night, and he goes: “Paul, I just got your demographics back, I’ll give you ten guesses, and you’ll never get them”. I’m just like: “It’s really late, can you just tell me?” And he says: “51% female, 49% male, which is the exact breakdown in North America. You have every economic class, from the super poor to the super rich. And here’s the weird part: your average age is 21”. And I’m like: “That’s impossible!” And he’s like: “Nope, you’re like a Lord Of The Rings movie.” That bothered me for a long time, because it just didn’t make sense. This is my own pet theory: it was Trans-Siberian’s second lucky break. The first one was having millions of dollars spent developing us before we broke, and the second one was being in the right place at the right time. When Les Paul and Leo Fender invented the electric guitar in 1949, there was a great schism in music. You either grew up on the big bands, Frank Sinatra, pre-electric guitar, or Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, after the electric guitar. By the time TSO started to tour, it had been half a century. So unless you were in your late 80’s or 90’s, every generation had rock in common – like in the sixties they had Woodstock, etc. So I think it made it easier for us to jump the generational gap. And when you jump any silly walls people put between themselves, be it nationality, economic class, or whatever, it feels great. When you jump the generational divide, that feels the best.

And the other thing I think we’ve been lucky with, especially in the last couple of years of touring, when we were touring with Beethoven’s Last Night, you’d have young couples, early 30’s, late 20’s, come up with their kids and say things like: “We first saw you as teenagers in high school”. And here they are back, 15 years later, with their kids. And I’ll tell you something else, Philippe, my manager told me we’d been touring non-stop for 15 years – when we hit Europe it’ll be 16. But honestly, it doesn’t feel like 15 years! To me it feels like yesterday! But the evidence is here, because the teenagers in the band in ’99 are now in their 30’s, and the teenagers in the band now weren’t born in ’93 when we started the band. The band was designed to be musically-driven, more like Pink Floyd, as opposed to celebrity-driven. We spare no amount of time or money to make the best albums, the best concerts. We charge the lowest possible ticket price. We’ve never done VIP seating. It’s always been between 20 and 60, now it’s become between 25 and 70. Because what’s the point of having a great concert if most people can’t afford to go?

And the other thing I did was… Growing up in New York City, obviously, you’re very influenced by rock, and everything going on around you. But I was also very influenced by classical music. To me, Mozart was a rock star; he lived like a rock star, died early and penniless like a rock star. Beethoven was heavy metal. So one of the things we like to do is mix classical music in, and you can hear the influences. When we did Night Castle, I was able to insert a little poke in there. Forgive me if I’m ruining his name, ‘cause he’s French: Delibes did a piece in Lakmé, it’s called the “Flower Duet”. [he hums the tune] I always loved that classical song, it’s from a French composer in the 1800’s. I love that opera, but it’s very sad, everybody dies! So I just rewrote the lyrics and used the melody. But kids who have never listened to Delibes, or Beethoven, or Mozart, if they listen to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, maybe they’ll go by Lakmé, or pick up Beethoven or Mozart. For people who’ve never heard the classics, we get to show them these great melodies that have passed the ultimate critic, the only critic you can’t fool, which is time. And for people that are into the classics, they get to hear it with fresh arrangements and new music. Most orchestras play the classics like they’re museum pieces, but I believe all these composers, like Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, if they were alive today, they’d be using electric guitars and keyboards. It keeps it modern, it keeps it fresh.

Between the stories and different types of music, on paper, TSO is a little crazy. It shouldn’t work, but it does! So far, so good. If TSO has any regrets, it’s just that we didn’t start touring Europe until 2011. We should have started in ’99, especially since the band is so European-influenced. You can hear many influences: Pink Floyd, The Who, Bach, Beethoven… And also, since every album is a story, my three favorite authors are Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. I love Victor Hugo, and one of my biggest regrets is that I’m not good with languages. Your English is unbelievably great, better than my French would be in a hundred years, even if I lived in France. When I was younger, I read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and I didn’t like it that much. But a friend of mine said: “Paul, you’re reading the wrong translation”, and he gave me another one. It, like, blew my mind. I was like: “Oh my God, it’s the best thing I’ve ever read”. I’ve learned early on that translation is key. I’ve always been in awe of people like Dickens and Victor Hugo because their art is very powerful, but they could use it for good or for bad. Before Charles Dickens, every country in the world had child labor. Politicians spoke against it, church people spoke against it, but the people who could change it, their kids didn’t have to work, and the people whose kids had to work they couldn’t change it. Then Dickens writes David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. And all of a sudden, that little kid in the textile factory isn’t a stranger, he’s Oliver. Before Victor Hugo, 1700’s and back, rules or laws didn’t really exist. If you were rich, you could get away with anything, and if you were poor, you could get killed for anything. But then, he writes “Les Misérables”, which on the surface is about the police chasing a robber, but for girls, it’s the love story of Causette, for boys it’s police… But the underlying theme is injustice. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, as it’s known in America, for a young man it’s like a horror story with Quasimodo throwing timbers out to the crowd, for girls it’s a love story with Esmeralda. And the underlying theme is also injustice. And within fifteen years of Hugo writing those books, you saw the justice system change throughout the entire Western civilization. But it can also be used for bag things. Leni Riefenstahl, I’m not sure if you know her – in the 1930’s, she was the best director alive, 50 years ahead of her time. George Lucas admitted that he borrowed many stuff from her in Star Wars. But she only did two movies: one about 1936’s Olympiads, which made Nazism seem acceptable to the world, and “Triumph Of The Will”, which made Nazis seem acceptable to Germany. She used the art to help cover up an evil and make it seem acceptable. So the art has an unbelievably great power. Its first goal is to entertain, but you can also slip some ideas about humanity, and we try to do that. Again, my three favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, all did that, and they’re all Europeans.

And the fact that we’d never been to Paris, which is one of the artistic capitals of the world, and it’s been so forever, it was ridiculous. The band is really excited to be playing Paris. The only problem is, I hope they get some sleep! Because when we get there, I know they’re gonna stay up all night! (laughs) Please show up for the show awake! You really haven’t played Europe until you’ve played Paris. It’s an indispensable city. So the band is super-psyched, especially since a lot of French writers have influenced both our writing of the stories and our writing of the music. I think Western civilization started with Athens. Then the Roman Empire, who took everything from the Greeks. But after the Roman Empire fell, Western civilization’s rebirth started with Charlemagne. That could happen because Charles Martel stopped Europe from getting invaded. Everyone forgets that Islam didn’t allow painting or music except for war. You wouldn’t have Mozart, or Beethoven, or Michelangelo. Without Charles Martel and Charlemagne, I don’t know if we’d be having this conversation right now! Victor Hugo influenced our stories, but the super bottom line is that it was Charlemagne that tried to put everything back together after the fall of the Roman Empire. And when it was in danger, it was Charles Martel – Charles The Hammer in English – who stopped Europe getting invaded. The influence of French musicians and writers is very obvious in TSO, which, again, makes us a little bit guilty to have taken so long to get to France.

« And the fact that we’d never been to Paris, which is one of the artistic capitals of the world, and it’s been so forever, it was ridiculous.[…] You really haven’t played Europe until you’ve played Paris. »

Well, that was one very long answer! But it’s always interesting. On another topic, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is known for its Christmas trilogy. It’s uncommon for a rock band to be associated with such a theme. How did you come up with this story? Do you have a special relationship with Christmas? Do you think that the Christmas theme was what helped the project find success, with families going to your shows?

I wish I could say it was an incredibly smart plan, but it wasn’t! (laughs) It was a total accident. The first album was supposed to be Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper, but then William Morris said: “No, you gotta sideline this and get it to Broadway or make a movie instead”. The plan was to do six rock operas and a trilogy about Christmas. When Atlantic said: “Why three stories about Christmas?” I said: “I love Dickens”. Dickens wrote on subjects that were larger than life – the industrial revolution in “Oliver Twist”, the French Revolution in “A Tale Of Two Cities”… But he wrote five books about Christmas, and when journalists like yourself asked: “Why five books about Christmas?”, Dickens said: “Christmas is too large a subject to take on in one book”. So I said: “If it’s too big for Dickens to do it in one book, then it’s too big for me to do it in one album, so we’ll do it in three”. Basically, in the music industry, you never take on Christmas until you have a line of other big albums, because it’s the hardest area of the entertainment industry to crack. If you’re doing a book, a painting, a movie, an album about any other subject, you’re dealing with the best of your generation, or two generations. Anything to do with Christmas, you’re dealing with the best of the last 2,000 years! And again, music has to get past the ultimate critic, the only critic you can’t fool, which is time. Because every century will only hand to the next century what came out as the very best. So if you’re doing a painting, you’re not competing against Andy Warhol, you’re competing against Michelangelo, Botticelli, Norman Rockwell. If you’re doing a book, you’re not competing against Tom Clancy, you’re competing against Dickens, or if it’s a movie, Frank Capra. In music you’re against Tchaikovsky, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn. So it was all a little intimidating.

But I was always fascinated by Christmas, for a couple of reasons. I grew up in New York City, Philippe, and one of my earliest childhood memories was when I was six years old. I was coming home, it was Christmas Eve, and my friends and I heard a screeching of brakes. It was snowing, and we turned around just in time to see a yellow cab slide into the back of another, giving it a good wallop in the back bumper. And being a little kid, I was scared that there’s gonna be a fight. These two drivers get out, one looks like he just got off a boat from some foreign country, and instead, the first driver goes: “This is my fault, I have the money on me, I’m just finishing my shift, you’re gonna have to call the insurance company”. And the other driver looks at his bumper, and he goes: “I could have got this in any parking lot, keep your money”. And the first one goes: “No, I’ve gotta pay for it!” And the other one says: “I’m not taking your money!” Next thing you know, they’re talking, laughing, showing pictures of each other’s kids… Trust me, Philippe: any other day in New York, there would have been blood on the streets. Then you get a little older, you go to school, you find out everyone stopped fighting on Christmas Eve during World War One and World War Two. WW1, as I’m sure you’re aware, was a particularly brutal war, with no man’s land. Not only did they stop fighting, but the German and Austrian troops, and the English and French troops crossed the no man’s land, met in the middle, exchanged gifts, and played soccer. And the generals said: “You guys do that next year, you’ll get shot”. And the next year, they did it again. So I was always fascinated by this day, not only about the way human beings treat each other in the most intimate way – friends, neighbors, family –, but also about the way nations and states treat each other.

So I decided to do a trilogy: the first one about how people treat each other [on Christmas eve] all around the world, the second one on how it’s been doing it for centuries, and the third one on how it allows you to undo mistakes. ‘Cause there’s something about Christmas Eve. Everybody has a friend who hasn’t talked to or seen another friend in decades, and there’s something about Christmas Eve that will make them pick up the phone and call them. Honestly, Philippe, it was just going to be a side thing for TSO. We never dreamt it would take off like it did. My agent William Morris said: “Paul, you walked into Tchaikovsky or Dickens”. And I knew what they meant. Tchaikovsky always thought of The Nutcracker as another ballet, like Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. He never dreamt it would be interwoven into the holidays. And it’s the same thing about Dickens. He wrote so many books, but the one he’s most remembered for is A Christmas Carol. We hoped they would do well, we just never dreamed it would take off like it did. It was just very, very lucky, I guess. The big thing now is not to mess it up. And obviously, when we arrive in Europe on New Year’s Eve, it’s also gonna be the first time TSO – and this is also an accident… To date, every TSO concert had the new rock opera as the first half and songs from the other albums as the second half. It’s not original, since that’s what The Who and Pink Floyd did. But TSO has never done a straight rock concert. We decided: “OK, in 2014 we’re going to do our first straight rock concert”. The band’s excited to be going back to Europe, but they’re also excited about the fact that it’s going to be the first time we’re not doing a rock opera. We’ll just see how it comes over. Next time we have an interview after this tour, I’ll let you know how it goes! (laughs)

« I find myself leaving the stage more and more to go back behind the soundboard […] There’s new members always joining, […] I’ve had my moment on the stage, let the kids have theirs. » (photo : Bob Carey)

You’ve been one of the main lyricists and composers in Savatage for many years, but the band has been on hiatus for a long time. Do you think there’s a chance to see Savatage revived in the future?

Honestly, both Jon Oliva and myself would love that. Trans-Siberian Orchestra was started in ’93, which is right after Oliva left Savatage. For a while, we aimed to keep both bands going – especially when Criss Oliva was alive, so he took care of Savatage. But after Criss died, there was no original member left in Savatage, so Jon and I concentrated back on that. We had Handful Of Rain for Savatage, then Dead Winter Dead, then a TSO album, then a Savatage album, then a TSO album… Savatage albums are very complicated and expensive to make, and it’s the same thing for TSO albums. Both bands spend millions of dollars for one record, because it’s not two guitars, bass and drums. So the problem became time. We loved both bands, but, you know… The European promoters were like: “How come TSO’s not touring Europe?” the Asian promoters were like: “Why are you not touring in Asia?”, the record labels are like: “Where’s the Savatage album? Where’s the TSO album?” Jon and I were going 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The single biggest problem, Philippe, was simply time. We love Savatage, we wanted it to be the first progressive metal band, which I think they accomplished. Eddie Trunk, who’s very famous in America – he’s an expert on rock –, traced down Black Sabbath as the first heavy metal band, Ronnie James Dio as the one who came up with the metal signs, and Savatage as the first prog metal band. But we reached a limit with what you can do within one band. With TSO, because you have 24 lead singers, you can really push and try different things. You know, I’m nearly 60, and Jon’s not far behind me – and we have so much to do!

So we’d love to do another Savatage album and a farewell tour, or something. But again, we don’t want to do it for the money, we don’t want to do it cheaply. We want to do it right. The band has to rehearse for two months, put together a really great production. But our single biggest problem is that, honestly, every album we’re turning in is late. Night Castle was supposed to come out in 2005, and it came out in 2009. The last TSO album was supposed to come out in 2012, and we still haven’t turned it in yet. We’re just horrible at meeting deadlines. It’s funny you should mention that, by the way, because when we’re touring Europe this year, Philippe, we’re calling it the “Past, Present and Future Tour”. Most of the songs will be from TSO’s present albums; a couple of songs will be unreleased TSO songs – they haven’t been in the studio, but they’re done; and we’re going to do about four or five songs from Savatage, because a lot of Savatage members are in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. You can still get these songs on CD, but songs want to be performed live. What’s the point of a great book if it just sits on a library shelf? There’s a magic to live that you can’t capture on a record. So since we have so many of the Savatage guys in TSO, when we were doing rehearsals, somebody said: “Why don’t we do Savatage songs, since we’re gonna be over there?” I was like: “I think it’s a great idea”. And the members of TSO who were never in Savatage, they love Savatage, so they’re excited about it, too. So until we get around to putting Savatage back up for a regular tour, this is kind of like halfway in-between! Does that make any sense?!

« I discovered a long time ago […] that writing a great song is only half the battle. Then you need the right vocalist to bring it to life. »

Yes, it does! You’re a producer, a composer, and a lyricist, but when Trans-Siberian Orchestra is on tour, playing shows, what is your role?

That’s a good question. They keep sending me checks so I just keep my mouth shut… No, I’m kidding! My favorite place, honestly, Philippe, is on the stage. It’s a great place to be. But TSO has evolved and gotten bigger, and the shows as well, especially when we get the full arena production out. The show we’re taking out right now has 328 people on the crew alone. We stopped counting the trucks and trailers after 40! The problem is, when I’m on the stage – it started happening early on –, you can’t tell that the band’s playing too fast, that the lights are wacked up to the music. One time, I was on stage, and this humongous pyro effect only went off on half the stage. And after the show, a radio guy said: “Paul, what did you only have flames on one half of the stage?” I didn’t even know the other half didn’t go off. When you’re on the stage, you simply can’t judge tempo, you can’t judge if everything’s in synch. And when I’m up on the stage, I always wonder: “Is the mix filling the house? Are the guitars loud enough? Can you hear the vocals?” I find myself leaving the stage more and more to go back behind the soundboard with Dave Whitman, to make sure everything’s right. And the other thing is, I’ve had my fun on the stage. There’s new members always joining, the kids, and I’m a firm believer in… I’ve had my moment on the stage, let the kids have theirs. Jon and I get to stay in the studio, trying to catch-up with some of these albums.

Have you thought about releasing a live album?

Oh, wow… Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage have recorded so many of their live concerts, and we have two live Savatage albums out – one with Criss Oliva, and one without him. Honestly, Philippe, live albums are very tempting: they’re very inexpensive to do, they’re very quick. But we have so many songs we have written that have never even been released… We kind of want to catch up, and get Romanov or Letters From The Labyrinth finished and out, before we dive back into a live album. We had this list of things to do in the office, and it just got so long! Hopefully, our kids will be finishing them! It’s interesting, ‘cause over the last fifteen years, you’ve seen some of the older members move on, some of the younger members join. It’s interesting to watch the torch being passed to the next generation. But on Dreams Of Fireflies, the five-song EP we did last year, just to put out some new music for the fans, the bass player on two or three of those songs is Al Pitrelli’s son, Jimmy Pitrelli. Jimmy is not on that album because he’s Al’s son. He’s like in his mid-twenties now, but I still think of Jimmy as a three-year-old! He’s on that album because he’s that damn good. Al has three sons, but Jimmy is the one that picked up Al’s musical talent. He doesn’t just play like Al, he actually moves like Al on the stage. The kid’s great. It’s cool when you see one generation pass on to the next, but it’s even cooler when you see it pass on from father to son.

What are your projects now with Trans-Siberian Orchestra? A new album, maybe?

Yes. We’re in the studio, recording three albums simultaneously. I learned my lesson the hard way with Night Castle. It was supposed to come out in 2005. The story was about a seven years old girl who meets a stranger on the beach, who tells her a story that takes her all around the world, where she meets Erasmus, etc. The main adversaries are Tran-Do, a real general from South-East Asia, and Lieutenant Cozier. I wrote the role of Tran-Do around Rob Evan, Erasmus was Jay Pierce, Jennifer Cella was Mrs. Cozier… And since I had eleven other male singers, I wasn’t worried about who would sing Lieutenant Cozier. One of them had to be able to do it – wrong! We tried five other singers, and Rob Evan just kept running them over like a tank. Like in Beethoven’s Last Night, the main adversaries are Beethoven and Mephistopheles. Beethoven is played by Jody Ashworth, who’s a great singer, four-octave range. The Devil was played by Jon Oliva. Jon was great, because most singers would have approached Satan as: “Aaaargh!”, you know? Jon is charming and seductive, and you don’t see evil until the end, when he sings “Misery”. It was brilliant when he did it. But Rob Evan was just running every other singers over like a tank, and we didn’t turn it in ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08. The label’s starting to get nervous, and it was Al Pitrelli that saved the day, when he said: “Paul, why don’t you try Jeff Scott Soto, who used to be in Yngwie Malmsteem and took Steve Perry’s place in Journey?” Journey is a high-tenor band, and Lieutenant Cozier is a baritone! Al was like: “Paul, Jeff’s a baritone”. I was like: “Really?!” Jeff was kind enough to come into the studio, and when I heard his voice I asked if he wanted to be in the band. Jeff said OK, and he was phenomenal. When his songs were done, we turned in the album, and instead of being run over by a tank, it’s like two battleships in the middle of the Atlantic, hitting each other with shell after shell. But you’re not sure who’s gonna win until the last second. Until we found Jeff Scott Soto, it was like Mike Tyson against his grandmother! It wasn’t a fight! Jeff saved the day. I discovered a long time ago, Philippe, that writing a great song is only half the battle. Then you need the right vocalist to bring it to life. Take the Scorpions – I love the Scorpions. Klaus Meine is a great singer, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” is a great song; put them together, you have a masterpiece. Same thing with “Still Loving You”. “Dream On” is a great song, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith is a great singer; put them together, you have a masterpiece. But if you switch those two singers, it might not work. That’s one of the reasons why we have so many singers, so we can do the big chorals, and if I need a great husky voice like Joe Cocker, I have it. If I need a high soprano, I have it. The only other singer I ever met that had a four-octave range was Jon Oliva. Jon Oliva’s a very rare go-between.

Interview conducted by phone on October, 20th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Introduction & questions: Spaceman.
Transcription: Saff’.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra official website: www.trans-siberian.com



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  • Dr Glenn D. Ritchie dit :

    To Paul O’Neill: I have been to every TSO winter concert since inception. The last two years have been a bit disappointing compared to previously – too repetitive, too short, and not imaginative. The crowd was dead and the act was a little stale. I am 100% sure that either or both of these remedies would make the 2015 show among the best rock concerts ever: (1) Hire Tarja Turunen as the main or sole female vocalist. She is clearly the greatest vocalist in the history of rock and is pretty much doing nothing since leaving Nightwish. Take a shot at Phantom of the Opera, TSO-style with Tarja and one of the great male TSO male vocalists; and/or (2) Hire Lindsey Stirling, the greatest and hardest working female rock violinist ever. to work with Rowdy – wow.

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