Jon Oliva - Jon Oliva's Pain
I have always been a strong supporter of Savatage, and the incredible work of the Oliva brothers; especially, under the tutelage and guidance of Paul O' Neil.
Recently I was blessed with the chance to speak to the mettle maestro: Master Jon Oliva. He just released his new album - 'Festival' - which truly pays savage homage to the classic 'Tage malhavoc and madness. There is no doubt that the Doctor Butcher of sabotage has dealt with a handful of pain; evidenced by his maniacal renderings.
He was inundated with a plethora of interviews to promote his latest accomplishments worldwide, but our conversation really sparked his interest, as we spoke of the past, present, and future of all things in transit; bearing orchestrated beauty, attitude and global mourning.
MettleAngel: Hello there Jon, I am so grateful that you agreed to do this interview.
MettleAngel: I know you were also doing press days on Tuesday, but I could not commit, as I had the Overkill - "Killfest Tour" with a number of bands to promote.
MettleAngel: Well, given the fact that you have probably been asked the same questions 100 times over, ad nauseam, I will do my best to liven things up, and not bore you with the same old nonsense.
MettleAngel: Man, there is just so much, so let me begin by telling you my history with Savatage. I was still in High School when I first heard "By The Grace Of The Witch" on Metal Shop. Honestly, I was more concerned with figuring out those lyrics, more so, than doing my Math homework.
MettleAngel: Definitely! Then, when I moved to Cincinnati, I met a dude with a Record Store who introduced me to the band Seduce from Detroit. He hooked me up with a bootleg tape of a show where they opened for you at Harpos. I think the show was a Radio broadcast. 'Power Of The Night' was not released yet, and I had 'Sirens' on vinyl. The live set consisted of quite a few new songs from 'Power' though. It also included some Savatage demos like "No More Saturday Nights". I still have this tape to this day.
MettleAngel: I have always loved that song. I was surprised when it was not put on the 'Power' album.
MettleAngel: It seems a bit unusual. I would much rather that be on there, than say, the cliche' "Hard For Love', or bizarre "Necrophilia". I mean, that song is goofy, and Slayer had their "Necrophiliac" at the time which was far superior. I was miffed when it was not even included on the Savatage 2002 remasters.
MettleAngel: I assumed so, but I was so pleased when you re-recorded it with the 'Global Warning' sessions. Sadly, even though the song fit the concept, it was only included as a bonus track via the digipak. I still have not heard this version, and would really like to. Perhaps you could send me a digital song file.
MettleAngel: You have got to be kidding!
MettleAngel: I guess! You did however include a new updated version of "Before I Hang" on 'Global'. Now, on your new album, I see you have redone - "Living On The Edge Of Time", another classic 'Tage demo.
MettleAngel: I have the original demo, and I do notice the nuances and changes in the new version. Overall, I really do like 'Festival'. I must admit that it did not hit me right away. It took about four solid revolutions, but now I am really getting into it.
MettleAngel: I noticed the songs have a very eerie feel to them. I hear a little bit of the 'Maniacal Renderings', but no so much of 'Global Warning'. I also hear some of the late '80s Savatage riffs.
MettleAngel: No doubt! You are a regular King Diamond in the studio. Honestly, I never even knew you could play guitar. I must admit that 'Festival' is like the Beatles 'White' album, meets Jefferson Starship - 'Surrealistic Pillow', with just a touch of early Pink Floyd.
MettleAngel: There are some real slow songs on there. I also like the jazz fluidity on "Afterglow". You have written some incredible ballads. I see you recently redid "Out On The Streets" (again) for the release of the 'Still The Orchestra Plays: Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2' Box Set.
MettleAngel: Songs like "The Evil Within" or "Now" really sums up the essence of 'Festival'. Although, with every repeated listen, I do find that the instrumental intro for the song "Lies" does remind me of Ozzy's "Mr. Crowley".
MettleAngel: Yes, then again I have been absorbed by the ozzmosis of Ozzy as of late. While I was playing 'Festival' which I burned onto a CD-R once I got the music digitally from my AFM Podcast, I was voraciously reading the new Ozzy biography. Have you read I Am Ozzy!?
MettleAngel: I was very surprised, and I do recommend it; especially, for the early Black Sababth stories. I was a bit disappointed when he skipped the majority of the '80s work from 'Bark At The Moon' up to 'No Rest For The Wicked'. He omitts some key points, but this is probably because he does not really remember. I was also surprised to discover that he has only been clean for four years, ever since his near fatal motorcycle accident.
MettleAngel: Oh really, please do tell....
MettleAngel: I read about that tour in the Bio. Man, that sure sounds like it was pure mayhem. I imagine seeing Ozzy back then was quite a spectacle. My first time seeing him was on 'The Ultimate Sin' Tour with Metallica.
MettleAngel: So, this was even before the days of Avatar?
MettleAngel: I read all about Ronnie the midget and the guillotine. Perhaps this is why you used a midget in the "Hall Of The Mountain King" vide a few years later?
MettleAngel: You mean he forgot? He was probably so hammered that he neglected to attend.
MettleAngel: Man I imagine the fans were pissed?
MettleAngel: As if! He was probably blasted out of his mind on booze and coke. Not to change the subject, or dismiss such a earth shattering image, but last year while I was listening to 'Hall Of The Mountain King', I carefully listened to the lyrics for "White Witch", and realized that this song was also about cocaine. Then, on the 'Maniacal Renderings' album you had the song "Push It To The Limit" dealing with the nose candy. I assume you also had you private dance with the "white lady'"?
MettleAngel: In Ozzy's book, he talks about the prevalence of coke being easy to obtain. He says that they all wanted to call the album 'Snowblind' based on their personal experiences, but the Record Co. forced them to use a less referential notion; hence they dubbed it 'Volume 4'.
MettleAngel: Another question I have for you is about the Savatage album 'Fight For The Rock'. I really like that album, but when it first came out, after the amazing 'Power Of The Night', back then we were like, "Whiskey, tengo, foxtrot! (WTF!).
MettleAngel: Really, I thought by then, that 'Tage had hit its stride, by signing with Atlantic Records. I assumed you were gaining some success.
MettleAngel: This explains why you re-recorded "Out On The Streets", and did the Free cover of "Wishing Well", and the Badfinger cover of "Day After Day". I guess they did not want Savatage to become the metal warriors you were imagining?
MettleAngel: That song also contains some old Savatage demo material, correct?
MettleAngel: You mean when he agreed to work with you and Morrisound in the recording of 'Hall'?
MettleAngel: I have to admit, that after 'Hall', I became frustrated with the band, back then. I hated 'Streets' when it first came out, and the video was so lame.
MettleAngel: I imagine that it is still difficult dealing with his loss?
MettleAngel: I too am grateful for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. After becoming a fan, I was able to really get into those Savatage albums, recorded after the death of Criss.
MettleAngel: No doubt! I have not seen TSO live yet, but I have heard what the audience is like. The most recent TSO album 'Night Castle' was quite good, even if not appreciated by critics.
MettleAngel: I saw that in 'Rolling Stone". I was so grateful! I imagine with as busy as you are, you seldom have time to tour with both versions of TSO, East and West?
MettleAngel: I can understand that!
MettleAngel: I guess the main criticism was that TSO was recycling older Savatage songs, and running out of original ideas. Also, it was not a Christmas album, which so many have come to expect.
MettleAngel: I guess they forgot about 'Beethoven's Last Night'! I really dug the story on 'Night Castle', as it was not what I had imagined from the artwork or booklet. My only complaint was the choice of Tom Hockenberry as vocalsit for the new version of "Believe".
MettleAngel: Yes, indeed! Now, I do not want to drill you all day on 'Tage, or TSO, but there is one question which I have always been curious about. Whose idea was it to combine "Savage" and "Sabotage" to create Savatage, when you were forced to change the name from Avatar?
MettleAngel: That sure was a big deal back then, now there are over seven acts who call themselves Overkill, and five Slayers! Anyway, you changed Avatar to Savatage, but how did you come up with the name? I always assumed the name was a combination of 'Sabotage' - named after the awesome Sabbath album, and the word "Savage".
MettleAngel: You have got to be kidding me! This is what I have assumed for over 25 years!
MettleAngel: WOW! Now this is beginning to make sense!
MettleAngel: Which is why it was released under the name Savatage?
MettleAngel: Wait a minute, is this why you wanted to call Jon Oliva's Pain 'Tage Mahal?
MettleAngel: I always loved that name, and it sucked that the dude from Taj Mahal would not let you use it. After all, his band is named after a famous location!
MettleAngel: I can tell that you are a fan of ELP, and I clearly hear that style on 'Festival'. So after you and Criss messed around with the AVATAR letters, you kept the word "Savage", and created the word Savatage?
MettleAngel: In discussing the new album, which is ultimately why we are here, you mentioned that the title track dealt with dreams and nightmares, but what inspired the eerie and creepy musical vibe?
MettleAngel: Yeah, for some reason when I play the album, that is the song that always sticks in my head.
MettleAngel: I really like the song "Winter Haven". I noticed that you also just recorded with Tobias Sammett on the new Avantasia album 'Angel Of Babylon'. The song you did on there "Death Is Just A Feeling" is awesome. It is as if he wrote that song with you in mind.
MettleAngel: I am actually playing this CD while we speak. How did you hook up with Tobias for the Avantasia project?
MettleAngel: Tobias is known for working well with his talented ensemble. The song "Toy Master", off of the 'Scarecrow' album, which he wrote, and then subsequently asked Alice Cooper to sing on, was brilliant.
MettleAngel: I assume he knew what to expect when he composed the song, and knew the flavour which you would contribute to it. For his latest achievement, he could not be content with just one new album, so he has released two separate titles. With 'The Wicked Symphony', he works well with Klaus Meine on the "Dying For An Angel" track, and with Tim "Ripper" Owens on "Scales Of Justice".
MettleAngel: The new Scorpions album is killer, and I am sad to see them retire. I understand you will also be working on the new Soulspell project, which will also feature "Ripper", and Blaze Bayley, who also released an amazing new album.
MettleAngel: I can only imagine. As a way of honoring your loyal fans you now have JOP. I have always wondered what inspired you to write the song "People Say - Gimme Some Hell". Was that your way of honoring the past, or did you feel the need to one-up Dave Mustaine?
MettleAngel: Oh no, nothing like that! On the 'Youthanasia' album Dave had a song called "Victory" which mentioned previous Megadeth songs. This is what you do on "People Say - Gimme Some Hell", right?
MettleAngel: I like how you mix the older and later 'Tage songs together in the chorus, and bridge. It almost seems as if you are going in chronological order, until you reach the chorus.
MettleAngel: I would assume this was a fan favourite, which you always played live.
MettleAngel: Wow, again I am surprised. I know you like to always play a few 'Tage tracks in your live set.
MettleAngel: I know you have come to the US with JOP, a few times. I saw you in Cleveland a few years ago, when you opened for Therion. That was a great show, as "Ripper" was there promoting his new band Beyond Fear, and Chris Caffery was celebrating his birthday and new solo album.
MettleAngel: I missed you last time you were in Cleveland, with Manticora, about two years ago. My friends in Eternal Legacy opened that show. You were playing some off shows while preparing for Prog Power.
MettleAngel: Yeah. So will you becoming back to tour the states soon?
MettleAngel: That would be killer!
MettleAngel: I will never forgot the first time I saw Savatage in Cincy at Bogarts. There were less that 50 people there, while you toured for 'Hall Of The Mountain King'. I do not think the conservative audience knew what to think of you. I was loving every minute of it. Unfortunately, there was some chick who kept hitting on me, and threw my ass into the pit, which back then was like 15 people. She held on to my wrist, and spun me 'round real fast, until I was so dizzy, that I let go and went flying into the banister.
MettleAngel: Once I picked myself up, I began raging as you ripped into "Devastation", then "Sirens', and "Power Of The Night"! It was such an honur to watch Criss play.
MettleAngel: I will leave you with this in closing. My wife and I have been married for almost a decade...
MettleAngel: Thanks, but the point I want to make, is how after two years together, we finally were able to take our honeymoon to Florida. While we were in Orlando, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. Apparently, since we were both wearing Helloween T-shirts, the busboy, who we later discovered was Kelly Conlon the dude who played bass for Death on 'Symbolic', gave us a private tour...
MettleAngel: Yeah, he found out we were Americans, assuming we were from Germany, as why else would we be wearing Helloween shirts, right? Anyway, he led us to this room reserved for weddings and banquets, which was all closed off, to the public. We were the only ones in there and he showed me the Criss Oliva shrine. He let us take pictures with Criss's guitar, and pose under all the Savatage memorabilia. This was quite an honour, and I even began to weep. I still have those photos on my wall in my Mettle Room, even unto to this day. Is was the high point of our honeymoon.
MettleAngel: I know, I hear this all the time from bands. Back then I am sure the only thing on James mind was "The Terminator". Jon thanks for a very funa and engaging conversation. I am recommending the new album to my friends, and I am amazed how much it did grow on me.
MettleAngel: I have my burn of it in the stereo right along with 'Power Of The Night'. After revisiting that album after all these years, I have different feelings about it. Some of the songs are a bit strange, and too sexual. I just wish you had put "No More Saturday Nights" on there. I guess someday, I will hear the JOP version. Anyway, thank you for this wonderful conversation.