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Interviews   

Tobias Sammet explains the Avantasia mystery


We already knew he was a joker, but Tobias Sammet is also a little rascal! He’s just like Carambar, really. A few weeks ago, the famous brand of candy announced they would stop printing their infamous jokes in the wrappers – but that in itself was… a joke. Well, Avantasia did the same thing: in a way, saying that the band was going to stop was a joke. But hey, we never said Avantasia itself was a joke…

Joking aside, while Carambar’s stunt was a nice marketing plan intended to put its products in the spotlight, Tobias Sammet’s own creativity simply caught up with him. He’s lucidly realized that he couldn’t predict anything about what his future will be made of and where his inspiration will take him. But after all, isn’t that the best sort of surprise for the fans – to receive something they didn’t expect? At any rate, Sammet takes all this with philosophy and sincerity. In the following interview, he talks about The Mystery Of Time, the new Avantasia album, which should get a little brother in the years to come in the shape of a Part II. But should we believe anything this man says?

We hand over to Tobias Sammet.

(Note: we begin by exchanging a few words in French)

Tobias Sammet (vocals): I don’t speak French that fast!

Radio Metal: We can do the interview in French, and I can speak very slowly if you want!

To be honest with you, I learned French at school, but my French is really, really bad. I can say « Mince alors! », and “Je me suis levé trop tard” (note : which means « I got up too late »), and stuff like that. But my French is not that good.

At least you can say the most important thing: you got up too late! Do you sleep a lot?

No, I don’t. I remember that sentence so well because, in our French lessons at school, we had to speak French. When we were late to the lesson, and it was the first lesson in the morning, we had to apologize and tell the teacher why we were late. That’s why I remember that sentence in particular!

Was it at least true?

No! When you were late for some reason, you just said it. What else could you say? “I hate French lessons, that’s why I didn’t get up! I don’t fucking care if I’m late!” (laughs) You can’t say something like that to your teacher! So you came up with a stupid apology: “Je me suis levé trop tard”!

Were you good at French at school?

No… I was at school with Jens and Dirk from Edguy, we were in the same class. I think Jens is the best of us. I think he can speak pretty fluent French. Dirk’s French is also quite OK. They can read French magazines, and if you talk to them in French, they will understand it and reply to you in French. I don’t understand anything. Of course, when I read something, I understand a few words, but… Yesterday, when I was in France, I was actually tempted to learn it again. It would be cool to suddenly start speaking French to somebody who wouldn’t expect it! But it would be a lot of work and effort for me to learn it, so it will probably remain a dream!

So it’s no problem if we write a very bad review of the album, because you won’t understand it!

Exactly!

« By the time I quit, I didn’t have a clue how essential Avantasia had been or would be for my personal happiness and satisfaction. »

This interview was supposed to take place yesterday but apparently you were sick or something. What happened?

I wasn’t sick, I just hurt my foot in a very clumsy way. I was already in Paris, I did two radio interviews, then I went to the hotel and had this little accident. I took a taxi to the emergency at the hospital. I had my foot X-rayed. Luckily, it was not broken but I had a contusion. I was in so much pain that I didn’t sleep that night. I hoped on the plane the next day, yesterday, and flew back home. It’s very stupid but it happened! I hope I can walk properly again next week. What can you do? Today I was supposed to be in Milan, so that’s been changed, too.

OK, let’s start the interview for real. The previous Avantasia double album that was released in 2010 was supposed to be the last one. You really changed your mind quickly about that. When we heard you were preparing a new Avantasia album, we were like: “Come on, he didn’t even wait five years before coming back!” What made you change your mind?

I’ve learned from the Scorpions! We were on tour with the Scorpions, and I’ve learned from them! (laughs) No, seriously: the truth is, when I quit Avantasia, I meant it. It was true, I really thought: “This is it, the last album”. But it’s totally stupid, as a musician who’s just over 30 years old, to say: “This is going to be it for the rest of my life”. It doesn’t make sense. I cannot take responsibility for what is going to happen for the rest of my life. Now, the fact that I did it again so fast, so soon, was just… It happened naturally. Whenever I was having a heavy day, or something like that, I disappeared in my basement when I came home, and I kept working on music. It was just for myself. I was creating a parallel universe, a parallel world. It was just me and myself, in my own little creative world. That felt so great to me. I didn’t call it Avantasia at that moment, I didn’t name it anything. It was just me being creative and doing what I think I’m best at: create music, let the creativity flow. For me, the quest was the purpose, the journey was its own reward. I just wanted to be creative, and that’s what I did. After a while, I realized it was the quintessence of what made Avantasia: honest creativity. By the time I made the decision Avantasia was not over, that I would start a new rendition of Avantasia, I felt better. I knew there were no limits and boundaries anymore. Avantasia has become a parallel universe of mine, which is very, very good to cope with daily stress and daily life. It’s a hobby – a big, giant, strange hobby.

Edguy is something I love to do, but of course there’s also routine in what I do with Edguy. Edguy is something I do for a job. Everybody knows we do albums from time to time, and every one a half year, we do a world tour. Our future is pretty much scripted – not by ourselves, but by the nature of being in a band. You know, you do an album, and you tour. I love it, I love to do those albums, but I don’t want this to become a routine. It’s almost like that, though. I still like the creative process, but there’s some routine in there. And Avantasia is the key to break out of this routine and make the work on Edguy more exciting. It’s a new band situation again: four other assholes you have to cope with, in a good sense! (laughs) It’s really great to be in that band situation again after doing Avantasia. Avantasia gives me the chance to break out of this routine, escape into my own little world and be creative. By the time I quit, I didn’t have a clue how essential Avantasia had been or would be for my personal happiness and satisfaction.

« That’s what The Mystery Of Time is all about: time for idleness is the key to spirituality. »

And yet, you released an album with Avantasia in 2008 and went on tour; then you did another album in 2010 and went on tour. Now you’re releasing a new album and going on tour. Don’t you feel Avantasia is becoming just as routine as Edguy?

No, I don’t think it’s a routine. I don’t think Avantasia will ever become a routine. Whenever I work on Avantasia, it is something that’s not predictable, even for myself. I didn’t know it would happen again. I just did it. I had no clue it would come again! Every time I do it, it’s something different. The good thing about Avantasia is that I don’t have to think about what is coming next, because I don’t necessarily have to do something next. I just have to work on a piece of music. I do it out of free will, and I don’t know if there will be anything like it again in the future. With Avantasia, the journey, as I said, is the reward. That’s the huge difference. And also, I never know if there will be another tour. It’s been three lucky, happy incidents. The first tour we did, I didn’t believe it would ever happen! It happened, and it was great. The second tour was just three weeks; we did ten or eleven shows, I think, and that was it. So it cannot be a routine. One year earlier, I didn’t know the third tour would happen. And I didn’t know there would be another tour this year, in 2013. I’m really happy it’s happening, but maybe this will be our last tour. I have no clue.

It really looks like you’re completely free with Avantasia, and that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to release an album every two years, as opposed to Edguy. Do you regret this situation with Edguy?

No, I don’t regret it. I think we’re fortunate to be in a situation where we can do that. It’s a very fortunate situation, and we’re really happy to be allowed to release albums on a regular basis. Many bands would be happy to have such a luxury. But of course, it helps me to break out of the routine when I do Avantasia, in order to reboot my system and recharge the batteries. I need to focus on something entirely different. That definitely helps, I have to say. But I don’t think Edguy is something I shouldn’t be doing every two years.

Do you think it was a mistake to announce three years ago that this Avantasia album was the last one?

Retrospectively, it was wrong to say it, because it was not the last album. But it was not a mistake. I felt it, therefore I can’t call it a mistake. I felt it was important for me to say it was the last album, because it left my head free to work on a new Edguy record. In the past, a lot of people have said: “Oh, he’s doing Avantasia, he’s not putting his energy or focusing that much on Edguy anymore”. I thought that was not fair. It wasn’t doing justice to what I do with Edguy. I’ve always given 120% for Edguy and I always will. I think it was really important for me to focus on Edguy again and say: “Avantasia is over now. Get it? Done, over, out! My head is back to Edguy!” And then I kept working on a new Edguy album. That was really important for me and I think it was also important for the quality of the Age Of The Joker record.

You know, no one will ever believe you now if you say this or that record will be the last!

Of course, no one will believe me! But whatever you say, there’s always people who will believe you and people who won’t believe you. I will always tell the truth as far as I know it. I will always say what I know and what I believe. I won’t say there will not be another Avantasia album, because I’ve learned that I can’t speak and make valid comments for the rest of my life. I know that now. But I will always say the truth and I believe I said the truth back then.

As far as you can see, what’s the future of Avantasia, then?

I will definitely do The Mystery Of Time Part II at one point, maybe in three or four years. Apart from that, I don’t have a clue! I don’t know.

« Avantasia is something that benefits from the ultimate creative freedom and that’s something I want to maintain. »

The main theme of the album is time. Can you tell us more about it?

It’s pretty much in the story, it describes it pretty well. It’s not so much about time itself, it’s about the individual perception of time. What is really scary is that this individual perception of time is being accelerated, I think. The pace that is forced upon us gets faster and faster. I think everybody has less and less time and everybody’s trying to squeeze as many unimportant things as possible into the given time, which makes them perceive time as going by faster and faster. The story itself is called “The Mystery Of Time” because it’s about a young scientist who explores what’s going on around him. People are lacking time and focusing more and more on what is completely unimportant. It feels like something is pushing people to run faster and faster, so they’re distracted and they get their heads off what is really important. They forget their sense of what’s important and of their spirituality. That’s what The Mystery Of Time is all about: time for idleness is the key to spirituality. People don’t have the time to hark at the quiet and listen to themselves. They don’t have the time to make up their minds about why they’re rushing and living up to the pace that our modern day and age is forcing upon us. I tried to write a fantastic tale about a young scientist in a small 19th-century English town, who explores the coherencies of natural science, spirituality and the influence of time.

Since the guest list changes on every Avantasia album, can we say that every new album is a new beginning for the band and that you have to create a new chemistry?

At least I create a new story for every album. Every second or third album, it’s a new chapter and the line-up changes a little. But it’s very important to keep yourself excited about what you do. Avantasia is something that benefits from the ultimate creative freedom and that’s something I want to maintain.

Last time we spoke, you told us Jorn Lande was unpredictable and was changing his vocal lines at the last minute. Did you experience the same thing on this album with your guests?

Not really. Ronnie Atkins received his song and sent me an e-mail that said: “I really wanna change certain things on this song. Not too much but I will change the melody a little and make it mine. Is it OK?”. And I said: “Yeah, cool, go ahead!” I didn’t ask him to do this because I wanted him to deliver a rendition of my own ideas only. I wanted Ronnie and everybody else on the album because I wanted to have their voices and their ideas, their character and charisma. But he asked before! (laughs) So that was really funny.

Did you try to contact your long-time idol Bruce Dickinson again?

Not this time.

There are fewer guests on this album than on the previous one. Why is that?

I don’t know, I didn’t count! I just try to give everybody in the story the right part.

Arjen Lucassen told us last year that, since the music industry has declined, he won’t be able to invite as many guests as he wants on his next albums. Do you think this could also happen to you?

I don’t really know… Of course, at some point, it could happen, but I have no clue if it will anytime soon. Of course the music industry declines, you can’t deny that. It’s very natural. But I don’t think this is something that can affect the line-up at this point in time. You never know what will happen; maybe it’ll have an effect one day. But for now, I don’t think it will affect our line-up situation. I understand what Arjen means, though. The music industry is getting worse and worse and it’s really difficult.

« And Avantasia is the key to break out of this routine and make the work on Edguy more exciting. »

How do you feel about having Arjen Lucassen on an Avantasia album?

It’s great, it’s really fun! He’s already had me on a single. It’s really funny, because when I announced I was going to do a new Avantasia album, he sent me an e-mail, saying: “I still owe you a favor! Now I’m gonna play on your album!” And I said: “Great! You’re welcome, do it!” That’s what happened. He was just playing the guitar. I sent him a track that I think fit very, very well. It was really an amazingly fitting song, it suited him so well. He played the stuff in his own studio and sent the solo over, but he also said: “It was really inspiring, it was like my own song!” That’s the great thing, because before he played guitar on that song, I didn’t know he would end up doing it!

Do you see a rivalry between Avantasia and Ayreon?

No, not so much. It was really funny around the time when The Scarecrow came out, because he released his album and I released mine around the same date. But apart from that, I don’t see a rivalry between us. The world is big enough for both of us. He’s a great guy and I wish him all the very best with his own effort.

There are two bonus tracks on the limited edition of the album. There’s “Death Is Just A Feeling”, a song that was on the previous album and another song. Can you tell us more about these songs?

“Death Is Just A Feeling” is a version with my vocals as I had sent them to Jon Oliva back then, when we did the song for the Angel Of Babylon record. The other song, “The Cross And You”, was especially written as a bonus track. It’s sung by me, it’s a mid-tempo track. I like it, it reminds me a bit of Queensrÿche. It’s a great song, I think.

Can you give us some news about Edguy?

There’s no news at the moment. We don’t do anything this year, except in Autumn, when we’ll start working for the new album. That’s all.

Interview conducted by phone on February 25th 2013.
Intro : Spaceman
Transcription : Saff

Official Avantasia’s website : www.avantasia.net

Album The Mystery Of Time, out since March the 30th 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records.



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