Kamelot was interviewed for RockUnited last time three years ago, when they toured Europe with Kotipelto and Epica. The band's maiden visit to Finland took place in 2007 in support for their "Ghost Opera" album and their first DVD "One Cold Winter's Night", and the trip was worth it. Anyone who went to their shows spread only good words about the band. Kamelot also did something special on their last tour, which was handing out their singles for the concert goers. Since their record wasn't out at the time they found it as a good idea, and fans did appreciate the treat. Kamelot wanted to remember those, who came to see the band on their two first legs of the tour. Now they're doing a comeback in April, so those who missed their last shows can make up the mistake.
Last year Kamelot travelled around in a tourbus like most bands do. It's something the band doesn't feel too comfy in, and prefers to fly when possible. Tourbusses also spread flu around, and the band was suffering from that at the time. It wasn't visible at the shows though, Kamelot pulled their tour through with success. The second leg of the tour will probably toss them around in a bus again. I discussed about Kamelot's DVD, "Ghost Opera", touring and bit about environmental issues like flying and so forth with Khan when I met him.
In between releasing "The Black Halo", "Ghost Opera" and your first DVD, what else kept you busy?
Khan - The main thing was the DVD, which we recorded in Oslo in winter (2006). We took a lot of time preparing it. The editing, artwork and all the graphics took a lot of time, and the bonus material took forever. We had hours and hours of tapes, which were made into couple of small pieces that Casey (Grillo, drums) did, but it took a long time to just find these ten minutes, 'cos we had to go through so many tapes from like eight years back. It took a lot of hard work. Apart from that we toured, and were making the new record.
No breaks there?
Khan - Not really. Since "The Black Halo" came out there hasn't been too many breaks. Of course we have like a week here and a week there, that we can spend with the family, but we've been really busy. Of course we go home when we're not touring, but that doesn't mean we're not working. We still have to make new material, deal with setting up tours, planning new stuff, writing new songs, the day to day business and managing the band, something which we do ourselves.
So you still manage your own band?
Khan - Well, we have people who help us, but we still control every aspect, which we think is important, and we like doing that. It's not like we wanna do it just because of doing it, and it's not like we don't trust people, but we want to see that every detail is the way we want it. I think that's an important factor, when it comes to having success. When you deal with every little detail of your business, not that this is something we first and foremost concider as a business, but with the level we're at now it's also a business, I think that is really important to having success.
Now that Kamelot finally played in Finland after so many years wait, I wonder did you lose hope at any time for conquering new countries?
Khan - No. It's not about conquering really, we just wanna go out there and play in front of people that like our music. There's been like several offers from Finland, and sometimes the offer simply hasn't been good enough. I mean if we lose money we can't do that, this is our living now. And couple of other times the offers have been really good, but they didn't fit with our touring schedule and whatever.
The band was really happy to finally visit Finland, and thought Finns were well customed to metal. Kamelot thought they should've visited Finland long time ago, and I agreed. I'd been waiting to see them live as long as they've been around, their first release "Eternity" seing the light of day in 1995 with a different singer. Unlike most Finns I was lucky enough to first catch them in Sweden Rock 2003 though, among other trips abroad, before they managed their route over to Finland. Like mentioned before, the band still travels in a tourbus, so how's the sleeping?
Khan - There's always a hotel room, but the busses are always right there by the venue, and leave right after the concert. Any time we can have a hotel room we do that, but you can't sleep there anyway, since the busses leave right after the gig.
Kamelot played many new countries on their last tour, like Serbia and Hungary, and found them all great. Needless to say the shows were mostly packed like in Finland. But how many metal bands go to Serbia for instance?
Khan - I don't know. That was a great gig, almost a full venue and people were singing along to the songs. Serbia is a connection for us now, since we shot our videos there. We also stayed there till the day after, that's why we ended the tour there, so that we could shoot another video.
How did you get connected there?
Khan - Our producers actually did a couple of videos with them. They would look them up and saw a couple of videos they had done, like Deathstars. Their special effects are really cool. And we like the idea of our imagination being the limit to what we can do. These guys can definately do anything, and of course the prices are reasonable compared to Norway or Finland.
Your DVD is one of the most brilliant band DVD's out there with a lot to offer. Are you pleased with the outcome yourselves?
Khan - Yes, very. We tried to put our everything into our...I don't like to use the word product as it sounds so businessy, but whenever we do something we try to do it as best as we can with the resources we have at the time, be it money, energy. I think everyone managed to focus 110 percent on this DVD, and that's one of the reasons why it came out so good. Patric (Ullaeus) did a fantastic job directing.
How did you come up with all the things you put on it?
Khan - The band is behind everything. The show is the bands idea. Casey did a good job doing the interviews and the making of "The Haunting" and one clip from the "Serenade" with all the footage from the previous years. I'm very happy about it.
Kamelot played Sweden Rock in 2003 and 2006, first show there on the main stage and the second one on the Rock Stage, with schedule differences too. What does Kamelot think of the festival?
Khan - It's an awesome festival. They treat all the bands really great and there's always warm there, at least when we've been there. And the audience has been fantastic.
Have you noticed any routine changes during the years, before taking the stage?
Khan - I probably warm up more than I did earlier, 'cos that's really important. I always did that in the past, now I just do more of it.
Do you still get excited from going on stage?
Khan - I'm always excited, but I'm not nervous. Twenty or thirty butterflies in your stomach is always good.
While the band was busy between their last two albums and the DVD, the summer of 2007 was spent in more relaxed way. They took most of the summer off, playing only few shows in June and July. Later in 2007 they toured around "Ghost Opera" in Japan, the rest of Europe and North America. Kamelot being mostly an American band they're still very popular in Europe. Has the band noticed any fanbase changes in different countries during these past years?
Khan - Everything is the same. Everything is just more and bigger, there's more people and more fans, more money and hotels. There was never a country that we sold extremely well, we just always sold decently good all over the place, Japan, USA, Canada. But now all these places are going up and I hope that is because we keep on delivering good products. We have really good contracts with the record companies, but our philosophy is to put most of the money into the record again. Or the DVD, which cost a fortune. I think we busted the budget with 15 percent or something, but this is something that pays off in the long run, because for people it's so easy to get lost in the ocean of bands, musicians and artists these days. There's a lot of people that are good too, so you gotta make sure you're absolutely top class and you're never better than your last product. So it's always important for us to invest as much as possible to our products, be it audio or visual.
INSPIRATION FROM LANDSCAPES
You've spent a lot of time in Norway. Does that start to feel like another home for the other guys?
Khan - Not really. Thomas (Youngblood, guitar) maybe, but they don't spend that much time in Norway. Thomas is there for songwriting. We only did like the DVD gig and one gig in the Western Norway, so I don't think they feel that as home. Of course there's a certain feeling, when you recognize the buildings and the area. If anything I would say that Wolfsburg (Germany) is like a second home, since we've spent so much time there working on our records.
What have you done in Norway on your spare time?
Khan - Travelling and being in the bus. We did spend some time in my place and in a cabin up in the mountains. It's just good to be away from home with different scenery to get different inspiration.
What kind of altitudes were you in?
Khan - Not that high up. Our cabin is at about 900 hundred meters maybe.
You find great influences in the Norwegian landscapes?
Khan - Yeah, that's partially the reason why we mostly go to Norway. Florida is also very nice, but extremely hot. Personally I don't like hot weather like that. It's nice being on the beach, but for working it doesn't really work for me.
The bands latest, "Ghost Opera", and their shows have kicked off with the violin intro, but the violin player you see on stage with the band and on the DVD is just visual plus. Kamelot is a very visual band, who released their metal opera one month after their show in Finland, June 2007. For them it was a first time doing the tour first. Do you like touring before the album comes out or afterwards?
Khan - It's not like we like it or dislike it. The record was originally planned to come out in April, but then we had to move it, because we saw that it was gonna take more time than we had. Then the tour was already set, so we had to choose between cancelling or doing the tour as planned. There's pros and cons, and the downfall was people didn't know the songs and the advantage was getting to hear the new stuff first. We figured people would rather see us before the record is out than not see us at all, 'cos then we would've had to re-schedule everything till next Autumn and the record would've been out four months already.
Kamelot chose to play three new songs live in Finland, those were "Mourning Star", "Ghost Opera" and "The Human Stain". The crowd responded mostly by listening, although the choruses did sink in at least in Helsinki. "Ghost Opera" doesn't continue Kamelot's course on concept albums, and as I recall Thomas earlier mentioned they're the hardest to write. So the writing process on the new album should've been a bit easier for the band?
Khan - Not easier, but different, 'cos now as opposite to "The Black Halo" and the "Epica" we did the music first. For the earlier two albums the lyrical plot was there before the music. This time we just did the music and let the music inspire the lyrics, like we've done in the past with "Karma". But it wasn't any easier or harder, just slightly different approach. But it was nice to not have all that concept thing hanging over us. We just wanted to do ten straight songs. We found our sound on the "Fourth Legacy" album, and that's the sound we've kept all the way up till now, and just by the fact that we are now five people is gonna make the record sound a certain way. We always try to bring in new people, some different influences and try out new things to develop ourselves as songwriters, as musicians and performers.
You again worked with Sascha Paeth. How has your partnership developed through the years?
Khan - The good thing is this is a team that works really well together, we all know each other and we all push each other to do our best, always. If Sascha doesn't like something, he feels free and is free to say whatever he feels like saying about a certain part or a song, or the way I'm singing, whatever, and we listen to him. That's one of the most important reasons why we need a producer, we need a third ear and a different opinion. And of course both Sascha and Miro are really good musicians, so they know what they're doing. It's not only people with ideas in their heads, they actually know what they're talking about. And Miro is important, since he's doing the orchestral arrangements. But they also always try to do things different. These guys are wonderful to work with and I don't see any reason why we should change that, unless we want to change our sound, which we might want to do someday. But as long as the band is going up and we're happy and we feel there's a development musically and productionwise, then why should we change it.
"Ghost Opera" is like any other Kamelot record, considering the development has always been there, and again the band tells a different story with a soundworld, that apart from the familiar Kamelot sound manages to raise their storytelling into new heights. Khan hopes the fans are able to follow their development, which still hasn't taken them too far from their origins. Khan doesn't get too easily influenced by other bands, so that might keep them on sturdy ground too.
Khan - I barely listen to music, it's really very weird. I prefer the sound of silence. The best thing for me is to be up in the mountains just walking and watching the nature. Of course I listen to music and anything mainstream you have to listen to, because it's everywhere, in shopping malls, TV, radio, and I have certain cd's that I pull out and buy new cd's. But I don't think there's any band that we're consciously letting influence us, it's a more subconscious thing, you just get things from here and there, and subconsciously use that.
Khan wrote most of the lyrics to the album, but Thomas also helps out when he feels stuck, along with song titles. It's always good to have an American to lean on for help. Khan is responsible for harmonies, melodies and the lyrics, when Thomas works on the guitar and drum parts. Then Sascha (song structures, arrangements) and Miro (keyboards) are there to lend a helpful hand. Kamelot has written and simplistically arranged every song with keys, Miro taking it all to the next level with his orchestral wizardry. The studio part for "Ghost Opera" took around four months of work from the band, so less time was spent now than on their previous album.
Did your vocal parts go well?
Khan - Yeah, pretty much. But that's not really a problem in the studio anyway, because if there's a problem you just wait till you're good and healthy again.
Was there anything special while making the album and what new elements did you include there this time?
Khan - Amanda Sommerville did background vocals like before. She's an American singer/songwriter, who lives in Germany. Simone (Simons, Epica) also joined us again on the song "Bl?cher". It's kinda hard to say specifically what is different, because it has to do with the songs as such. They're just different. And of course the fact that it's not a concept album makes it different from the earlier two. The orchestra sounds different, because there's a lot more horns, like deep trombones, which I think fit perfectly to the songs. It's hard to put the finger on what is different, but some of the songs are a bit strange, but they're always catchy somehow with a significant riff or a melody line. Maybe it's a bit more trancy, without being compared to trance music, but in a way more monotonous. I kinda feel it's a reaction to these past two years that have been really busy for us. I like to think this record is a reaction to the stress and the hard work that we've been through the last two years. These years have been the most busiest for us, since I joined the band at least, and I'm sure even before I joined the band. Of course everybody wants to sell more records, which is not our goal though. If I wanted to make a lot of money I would've been whatever, just not a musician. I would've been a doctor or something like that, much easier way to make money. But I do have a passion for music and art in general, and I'm very glad that I chose this path, and I feel very lucky that there's a market for what I really burn for. That's a very fortunate thing.
Would you be prepared for huge success?
Khan - Yeah, whatever that would be. I mean we're not seventeen years old, I think it would be hard to take something like that if you're really young, but we've been doing this for years now and money's not our driving force, so I don't think that would turn our lives upside down. Of course there would be even more work and probably even more mainstream TV and stuff like that, which could be really boring. But apart from that I think we could handle more success.
THE OPERA TRACK BY TRACK
What songs are you particularly proud of?
Khan - I would say that the first six songs are amongst the best we've ever written. It's always impossible for me to pick a favourite. Maybe the opening track is my favourite. It's a little bit strange, but it's got extremely driving rhythm all the way through, and the chorus is a little bit avant-garde compared to what we've done in the past. But I like all of them.
You have a historical story here called "Blücher".
Khan - That was actually a heavy cruiser, a warship on it's way up the fjord of Oslo during the second world war or in the beginning of the war, when Germany was occupying Norway. This ship was sunk two hours before it hit Oslo by some torpedo shot from land. The torpedo that sunk it was actually called Moses. It's just a very tragic story. (From the 2,202 German crew and troops around 830 died). The story is about this young soldier standing on the bridge thinking about his girlfriend back home in Germany and wondering if she's thinking about him the way he's thinking about her.
We discussed a bit about diving, which also interests the bands keysman Oliver Palotai. For divers like myself, who are planning a dive trip over to Norway, let it be a reminder that Blücher is not a dive site for everyone. It lies between 60 to 93 meters with strong tidal currents and undertow, so technical diving skills are essential. And besides, the ship still leaks oil to the sea. Back to the album, and "Love You To Death". This title reminded me of Type O'Negative, not only because of its title but the grim idea too.
Khan - The lyrics are based on a Japanese legend or myth, and it's about a young couple, they're both fifteen. The girl has a disease and she dies and comes back to this guys life in dreams and is his guiding light. The oriental melody in the beginning was actually first made on piano, but on the record it's this Chinese version of a sitar. That inspired us to do something with an oriental theme. It's not really that dark, it's a song devided into two parts, with a light version with this sitar and then the whole band kicks in later.
Here's the stories for the rest of the songs;
Solitaire - This is the intro to the (next) song and has no lyrics of course. There's a solo violin, which is very tragic and sad, and also a referance to this girl playing the violin on the cover of the cd.
Rule The World - This song doesn't have anything that is based on the real world, but it's a song how we feel down. You can wake up in the morning and one day feel great, and one day you feel down, eventhough nothing has changed. It's about the phenomenon of the human psyche being so turbulent.
Ghost Opera - It's about an old lady, who's gone crazy. She's in an asylum thinking about her life, how it could've been. She was going to her debut at the opera and on her way got assaulted and raped and missed the show. She's thinking back on her life trying to envision how this night would've been, if she hadn't been assaulted on her way.
The Human Stain - This is about the environment. It's not as much about the environment, as it is about the hopelessness that I feel about not being able to do nothing about it. As an individual you feel so helpless. I'm concerned about the climate and the environment, but my job is travelling the world, and flying is one of the things polluting the most, which I hate. It's about this hopelessness of seing this planet going down without really feeling you're able to do something about it. The song kicks off with machines pounding. The machines are metaphores to anything that pollutes, the plains, factories and so on.
Up Through The Ashes - Based on the event on the bible, where Pilate has the people of Judiah choose between Jesus or Barabbas. Pilate is having doubts about Jesus being evil, but he has to let the people choose, because the crowd is intimidating him.
Mourning Star - A song about being at war. The whole scene is about this guy on the fields in WWI and it's basically about the pointlessness of wars.
Silence Of The Darkness - Quite a fun track. It's fast, with probably one of the catchiest choruses on the record. This was the last song I did lyrics for on the album and I couldn't sleep. It was in the end of the production and I had this one song left to do lyrics for, and I was tired of it, I didn't have any ideas. I had a couple of nights I couldn't sleep, it was really horrible. Then I came onto the idea of writing about the process of writing the lyrics for this song, that's what it's about.
Anthem - It's my hymn to my son, written about six weeks before he was born. It's a ballad with symphony orchestra.
EdenEcho - A more typical Kamelot song and it has an odd time signature, which gives the drums the specific feel. It has classical big Kamelot type choir. The lyrics are about idols that have either disappointed or abandoned us.
The Pendulous Fall (LTD EDT European bonus track) - Probably the most commercial song on the whole album. It's very catchy. We just had to pick one song and for some reason this made it to the bonus. It's for sure the best bonus track we've ever had. It's about a girl thinking about committing suicide. The (Scandinavian) darkness and winter gave the inspiration to that.
A STEP FORWARD
Kamelot has grown as a family during the years. Besides adding a band member, Thomas has a daughter and Khan a young boy now. How do you deal with your work and family lives?
Khan - That is something that has always been very important for the band. We take care of our girlfriends, wives and kids, and try to either bring them on the road or stay home for couple of days when there's days off.
But it's hard to bring the family along?
Khan - Not really. When you grow up in an environment like this you get adapted to it. Thomas' daughter has been on the bus a few times, and I'm married too, with a son.
Khan's son is now celebrating his first birthday. Do you miss him on the road?
Khan - Not really. First of all I'm really focused on what I'm doing at the present, but I guess it's gonna be harder later on. But as a man you don't have that same communication as women, but of course I think about them.
Kamelot is known as a band, that likes reading books. What books did you read lately for fun?
Khan - There's this Norwegian author, Jan Kjärstad. It's a contemporary novel on Norwegian history in a way. The whole concept is very unique. He's probably Norway's most famous author, in addition to the old classics. Then also a book called "The Shadow Of The Wind" (Carlos Ruiz Zafon). But there's so many books, I wish I could read more though. Now I read like maybe ten books a year, there's so many other things keeping me busy.
Khan really appreciated all the people who came to their shows before the record was out. It was the bands most successful tour so far, kinda surprising considering the record wasn't out yet. Khan was optimistic about the future, although they're still quite small in the European metal scene.
Khan - The traditional market for this kinda music is Japan, Germany, Southern Europe, South America, and now these markets are stable. Finland, Norway, Sweden, UK, France, Holland, America and Canada are really going up. We see that when we play there, and that's nice.
Although Finland takes example nowadays from the US metal music market, with death metal bands and alike being popular, Khan still considered bands like Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius have their following over here. Black metal is still Norway's biggest music export though.
Khan - But metal in general is doing good in Norway. Norway's actually our biggest growth areas, maybe because I'm Norwegian, but also because we did the DVD there. That made a lot of fuss, we were on mainstream TV, and that was a nice step forward for us.
The Ghost Opera Tour Part II kicks off from London on April 4th, Kamelot visiting various familiar countries they've been to earlier, ending the tour to Oslo on May 3rd. If you didn't yet see them live, now's your chance. RockUnited might catch the guys again from Helsinki, so come and rock with us, it'll most likely be another night to remember. Get your copy of "Ghost Opera - The Second Coming" too, with videos and other cool stuff included.