The Americans (and one Norwegian) Kamelot joined forces with Finnish (with one Swede on keys) Kotipelto and Dutch Epica on a short European tour in March and April 2005. We reported about two shows earlier from that tour in Germany and Switzerland, but now it's time to check out what else was going on then with Kamelot and the tour. We interviewed their guitarist Thomas Youngblood just before Epica hit the stage in Z7 and the backstage atmosphere was getting quite hot with the bands getting excited about their shows. Their drummer Casey Grillo was drumming away right next to me sharing a bench after the interview, doing some warming up before the show and the other guys were doing their own warming things, like walking around pointlessly and drinking tea. I opened up the interview with a typical question how was Thomas feeling tonight.
Thomas - I'm doing great, we had a great supper, it's always good food here at Z7. We had a good soundcheck and everybody's rested and our singer's feeling much better today than yesterday, so we're excited. We have a big stage tonight and it's gonna be fun.
RockUnited - How's the tour gone so far ?
Thomas - Oh, it's terrible. Everybody's an asshole and...I'm kidding, but it's gone great. I mean it's exceeded my expectations like the attendance we've gotten on some of the shows and the way the bands have gotten along. There could've been a lot of ego problems, but everybody's real cool and it's been great, I have nothing to complain about.
RockUnited - All the bands went to a bar last night after the shows in Speyer, did you have fun there ?
Thomas - Yeah, definately. When we can hang out it's not gonna be too bad if you're not gonna drink too much, though it's fun to do that. On our previous tours we've drinken too much and the next day we didn't feel too good and that always shows in the performance, but I think now that we've done a few tours we know when to stop and when it's time to get back to the bus, no more beers thank you. But yeah, last night was nice.
RockUnited - You stayed up quite late last night.
Thomas - Nah, three o'clock, three or four o'clock or something like that. It wasn't that bad. As long as we get about eight hours of sleep. For me six hours is enough, six to eight hours and I'm fine.
RockUnited - In which hotel did you sleep last night ?
Thomas - We have a hotel everyday, but we don't sleep in it, 'cos we have to go to the next city. We have the regular bus, single decker. But there's only one band, which is nice, 'cos on our previous tours there's been like eighteen to twenty people on the bus. We have kind of a mellow bus, there's not that much partying going on as it is on the finnish bus (laughs).
RockUnited - I can imagine. You're playing shorter shows now because of Roy's (Khan) voice.
Thomas - Last night we did, but tonight we're gonna do the normal hour and a half. Last night we played an hour and twenty minutes, that was to sorta help Roy and other bands to play a little longer sets than they normally have. And it's cool that we have those kinda bands that can do that and it was good for their fans to hear more from them.
RockUnited - How much has your set changed from the longer ones ?
Thomas - We take out maybe a song or two and add a thing like last night we had a keyboard solo, which we normally haven't done. Little things here and there, every night the set is different, which is something we've never done before. We've always had one set which we've stuck to, but on this tour basically we've done the set every night a little different. It makes it more interesting and fun for us, more spontaneous. And a lot of times fans come to many shows, so it's cool for them to hear a different set every night. Tonight we're gonna do a song from "The Fourth Legacy"-album called "The Inquisitor" and then we're gonna do the japanese bonus (Epilogue) on the new record "The Black Halo", it's a ballad and we'll do that on one of the encores. And it's a nice break for everybody, other than the keyboard player (Oliver Palotai) and Roy. But we try to put in little things in the set to make it interesting for the fans and for us, so it gives each member in the band a break from the constant playing within the hour and a half.
RockUnited - What do the fans think about when you play songs like the Japanese bonus track here in Europe, since they have to order the special cd from Japan to get it.
Thomas - It's a little bit weird, but a lot of the fans have it. They buy both additions or download it for example. But it's such a nice ballad and the way Roy sings it. I don't know if they care if they never heard it before, but it's such a nice song.
RockUnited - Any special experiences from this tour then ?
Thomas - There hasn't been any big time drama yet. There's a lot of girls in the busses and I'm waiting for something to happen you know. Not for me, you know, because I'm married. But so far everything's been so smooth and non-eventful in terms of things, but we'll see.
RockUnited - Last night Roy was climbing in these steel pillars in Speyer.
Thomas - Yeah, every night it's something different. I don't know where he's gonna end up. I'm like "where you at tonight". I don't know how high that was, maybe ten meters or something, but oh no, a steel gurder !
RockUnited - Yeah, it's like hopefully he doesn't fall.
Thomas - Yeah, he told me the same today, 'cos he was thinking about what he's gonna do if he falls. He's got his gothic rings on his fingers and sometimes it's not as sturdy as it should be. When we were in Spain there was this kinda like a catwalk that comes out and that was really cool, 'cos the spotlight caught him and in Spain we did "Don't You Cry" in spanish and the whole place was singing with us, so it was really cool. It's always good to add some spices to the show to make it unique instead of just standing there playing the songs.
RockUnited - How are the Kamelot fans usually, do they grab you a lot or are they easygoing ?
Thomas - Kinda depends on where we're at. In Switzerland it's usually kinda subtle, like subdued. But in Spain people are crazy. They're more passionate in a way about things, but I was surprised last night in Germany that the fans were pretty loud, 'cos usually in Germany it's not like that. And they were really loud for all the bands, which was really good.
RockUnited - I was one of the screaming fans there.
Thomas - Excellent ! I wanna hear you tonight.
RockUnited - Ok ! Now, I saw you in Sweden Rock in 2003, how was that for you ?
Thomas - That was exciting, because of several reasons. One of them was because we were on the main stage, which was really cool, so we were happy to meet Queensrÿche and Whitesnake and all these guys who are sort of like idols to us when we were growing up. But we were surprised since we've never played in Sweden before, that the fan reaction was really good and after the show a lot of people were talking how the performance was great and Roy did a great job. So we were very happy about that. I think we're gonna go back to Sweden Rock in 2006.
RockUnited - So you got to meet these bands there. How were they personally ?
Thomas - They were cool. We sat in the hotel, where all the bands were downstairs at the bar, hanging out and talking. Casey and one of the guys from Queensrÿche became great friends and they're corresponding now. We would love to do a tour with Queensrÿche, we've been trying to set something like that up for the US for example. I think that would be a good package for the fans in the US. There's a lot of influences in Kamelot that come from Queensrÿche. They were one of my favourite bands in the late 80's and the early 90's.
RockUnited - Actually your song "Wander" comes really close to the mood of Queensrÿche. It has the same emotion.
Thomas - Yeah, I don't know. You see I got that from Scorpions. But there's a lot of parallels, like Roy's voice has lots of influences from Geoff Tate. I think a lot of the influences that the guys from Queensrÿche had were the same ones I had, bands like Rush, Judas Priest, Crimson Glory I think. They had the same influences that I had as well.
RockUnited - Have you toured in Europe before, other than Sweden Rock ?
Thomas - We started doing our headlining shows with "Karma", so last time with "Epica" we did shows with a band called At Vance and other bands. In Spain we toured with a band called Saratoga, so we've been touring Europe I guess since 1998 or 1999. We've been able to built on each tour and we do things in small steps, but they're very significant steps I think. And the same goes with the albums, we've started working with Sascha Paeth back in 2000 with "The Fourth Legacy" and we've built this team that feels really significant to Kamelot sound.
RockUnited - I think your albums are well produced, eventhough "Eternity" doesn't sound that good.
Thomas - (laughs hard) Tell me how you really feel. This is our very first album. The sound is ok, it's just that the songs aren't that good (laughs).
RockUnited - Well, a little bit different, but I still like them.
Thomas - We were really young and we didn't know how to write songs. But there's some cool stuff on the record, there's songs like "Call Of The Sea", which I like and also the "Black Tower", which I would love to play live. But I'm still happy with this album, concidering what we were doing back then. But there's definately been growth and that's important for us and the fans that we always grow and add new elements to our music.
RockUnited - Do you still play some of the old songs live ?
Thomas - Not really, we used to do "Call Of The Sea", which is fun 'cos it has a great singalong, but we've been doing that song now for four or five years and we thought maybe people want to hear something else. And there's a different singer on this record.
RockUnited - How well can Roy sing these songs ?
Thomas - He could, but he's not really interested in singing them. He doesn't feel connected to them and I can understand that. We have a lot of fans that have these first records, but the majority of our fans are from those times when we've had Roy with us.
RockUnited - "What About Me" is a really sad song. What is it really about ?
Thomas - Actually the drummer (Richard Warner at the time) wrote the lyrics and it was about me. It was about my life at the time. I was kinda going through these tough times with my personal life and he wrote the song about me and my girlfriend and everything. It was kinda dramatic, but when I look at it now I think how insignificant that problem was, it wasn't a big deal, but back then I thought so with these things I was going through with my girlfriend and stuff. That's ironic, but that's what the song is about.
RockUnited - How do you feel about writing songs about your personal life ?
Thomas - I used to not really like it, because nobody really asked me about that song for example. This is the first time I've even told anybody that the song was about me. I think as we've gotten older with each record like "Karma", the song "Don't You Cry" is about my father, it makes it more special when we're performing them, because when people know the story behind the song when we're playing it, they'll look at me and have a different compassion I think, when they know what the song is about. So it's nicer to open up a little bit more to the fans of our personal life, if they're interested in it.
RockUnited - It gets the fans much closer to the band.
Thomas - Yeah, exactly. But of course I'm not gonna publish my address or anything like that, but...
RockUnited - Yeah, you can visit me here.
Thomas - Yeah, come on over and we'll have hamburgers in the backyard tonight.
RockUnited - Now how did you end up playing with the bands you have on this tour ?
Thomas - Epica is the band which was named after our last album, so I kinda heard about them when they were doing their record and our producer said there's a band that calls themselves Epica. Then we saw them in the studio when we were doing "The Black Halo" and they were doing their new album and we started talking of having them on tour with us. And we were in contact with Kotipelto's management and we heard he was looking for some touring around europe and one thing led to another and here we are today. I think it's a great package for the fans, it's like three different types of metal, but it's still three types of metal that I think fans will enjoy.
RockUnited - Last night I noticed that the people wearing Kotipelto t-shirts weren't partying that much when you were on stage and the other way round.
Thomas - Sure. That's sort of this pride that people have, being a big fan of Kotipelto or Kamelot. But for me as a fan of music, I don't really care, if I like it, I like it. It would be easy to say let's get two bands that nobody's ever heard of and bring them on tour with us, but I don't think that's the best way to do it. And it's worth the risk of bringing two bands with us that have their own fans and that are gonna bring more people in to the tours.
RockUnited - Now back to the band Epica. How did they decide to name their band after your album ?
Thomas - I think Mark (Jansen) and Simone (Simons) are fans of the band. They were looking for a name for their band and our album "Epica" had just come out and they liked the title of it. It just kinda went from there. That's cool, 'cos they're fans of the band and we had Simone on the new album and she performs on stage with us and on "March Of Mephisto" Mark comes on stage and does a great black metal, Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) impersonation. So it's been fun. We've been talking about adopting Mark and Simone in the band.
THE BLACK HALO
"The Black Halo" is the second and the final part of the "Epica"- saga. Both "Epica" and "The Black Halo" are loosely based on the story of Faust (J.W.Von Goethe). "The Black Halo" has a little bit darker side to the story with more romantic tragedy, since the main character dies. Thomas mentioned they're not gonna do more concept albums for a while and they'll go back doing non-concept albums for the next records. But it's been a lot of fun for the band doing these albums. But surely it's more easier writing single songs ?
Thomas - Yeah, definately. Especially for the lyrics, it's much easier. And thinking about us we needed a break from the whole concept thing. I don't know when we'll do another one, but for sure the next one's gonna be along the lines of "The Fourth Legacy" and "Karma", mixed with a sorta musical thing.
RockUnited - Where do you get the ideas for the stories, do you read a lot of books ?
Thomas - We read a lof of books and we get a lot of inspiration from travelling, talking to each other about religion and politics, everything you know. I've been reading the book called "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, it's a really cool book and it's got a lot doing with the Catholic Church and religion. But influences are everywhere.
RockUnited - Can you tell us a little bit about each song on the album ?
Thomas - "March Of Mephisto" is the first song and it has Shagrath as Mephisto. It's a mid-tempo, grinding song. "When The Lights Are Down" is the one with Jens Johansson, "The Haunting" could be called as our most commercial songs. We also shot a video for it and the "March Of Mephisto" with Patric Ullaeus from Sweden and Simone sings a duet there with Roy. "Soul Society" is sort of a statement on the world today, the way that the religion is really taking over the way people are making decisions, especially like in the US and the muslim countries. "Abandoned" is a ballad and I think it's a really beautiful ballad, Roy does a fantastic job on that and my wife Mary actually sings on that song. "This Pain" has a main character going through this, basically a pain but a pain that he's brought into himself. "Moonlight", it's dark and mysterious. "The Black Halo" is the title track, where the main character is accepting his faith, he knows he's going to die and he no longer fears death. He's not afraid anymore and in the end of the story the character dies. "Nothing Ever Dies" is sorta playing with words and saying that anytime something dies and there's always something born. And every door that closes another door will open. "Memento Mori" is a longer song, it's my favourite song and it's where all the characters come together, Mephisto, Ariel and Helena. The final song "Serenade" is sort of a hymn to hope and always having a positive attitude. That's more of an upbeat song.
RockUnited - You have a lot of guests on the new album like Simone and Shagrath, but how did you get involved with Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) ?
Thomas - We asked Sascha if he could contact Jens, 'cos we wanted him to play on the record and Sascha was in contact with him on the Aina-project, the rock opera. So we went from there and Jens heard the songs and he liked them and sent us back the keyboard lines and we put them in the songs and they fit. We've used guests ever since "The Fourth Legacy". We started using guest musicians, 'cos we wanted to sorta fulfill a certain musician for a song. And working with Sascha and Miro they have the ability to get professionals that have talent. And that's kinda what we did with the last album and I think the names are a little bit bigger now, like Jens and Shagrath, but it's not so many more than we've used in the past. It just seems that way 'cos they're a little bit more famous.
RockUnited - Was it an easy album to write and record compared to the rest ?
Thomas - No, definately not. It was very difficult. It probably took us a year on the writing, arranging and everything and another two or three months to finish the recordings, two months of mixing. So it's been like a good year and a half of work we've put into it in addition to doing concerts. But it's definately been a labour of love and we're very happy with the outcome.
RockUnited - What do you like the most in doing a new album ?
Thomas - Writing for sure. Studio to me is tedious, I don't like it really. I would just rather give this job to someone else and say record it, but I can't do that. So the writing part is the funnest and the playing part is always fun.
RockUnited - Do you write at home ?
Thomas - I write at home and go to Norway and we'll write there. Sometimes we make special sessions where we'd go to a whole different place like we did one in Spain, where we rented a place. We didn't have any television or internet for two weeks and just worked on the songs. So we always try to do different things to maybe add different influences to the songs.
RockUnited - You and Roy did some producing on the album also, you probably wanted to have some own input to it ?
Thomas - We just did a lot more than we have in the past in terms of recording processes, pre-production. And we just felt like we've done all this which normally the producer would do. We didn't get paid for it, we just wanted to sort of give ourselves a little bit more credit than just being the guitar player and the singer.
RockUnited - Will you be doing this in the future also ?
Thomas - Definately. We would like to get to the point where we produce our albums ourselves. But we don't feel like that's the time for it quite yet. We're still learning a lot. We still feel there's a lot of things Sascha and Miro can do for us musically. And until that time comes we're gonna continue doing it like we did with "The Black Halo". I have an own studio now, I just finished building it, a new thing to my house. I have a pro-tool studio, so I'm gonna be doing a lot more recording from now on at home, but I'm not ready to do a full production, it's not that kinda of a studio. It's more like I can do my guitars there, maybe do some vocals. That'll save me some time from going over to Germany so much. We go to Germany like two to three months out of the year. So it's nice to stay home a little bit.
THE WAIT IS SOON OVER ?
The rumours have been circling around the forthcoming Kamelot DVD for far too long. Thomas explained they've been trying to find the right venue and talked to the record company about its details. A possible filming was planned in Paris, but the band didn't have things done in time to make it happen. They've got more shows in November, where they hope to capture a show on DVD, that will also include the two videos of "The Haunting" and "March Of Mephisto", with a lot of backstage, festival and rehearsal stuff and studio things.
Even that Kamelot has been around for so long, they still only have those two videos out. They've talked about doing videos earlier in their career though, but the budget was too small at the time and there was no sense making a crappy video that nobody would play, just to say they have a video. So the band waited this long to get something out. The filming experience for those two videos was great for the band, since they got Patric Ullaeus to film it, a guy they wanted for the job. Patric has filmed at least Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, Lacuna Coil and Children Of Bodom from the metal side and has shot as much as a few hundred videos. Kamelot shot the two videos in Sweden in about a week. The outcome pleases them. Where did they get the ideas to the storylines then ?
Thomas - We just sat and talked about making the video like the song or something complitely unique. Like on "March Of Mephisto" Roy's playing sort of a mixture between the main character on "The Black Halo" and also the devil and he's trying to lure this girl off of a building and Roy is actually walking on air. Actually the girl on the video is also with us on the tour, she's doing backup vocals. So we've worked together on the ideas and also the director had a lot of cool ideas. Most of "March" was shot on green screen, so all this world behind us is digital. So we shot them in about five days, so it wasn't too long when you think about we did two videos, but the work really goes into it after you leave, the guys working on the computers and making this fake world behind us. But we were like excited (doing the videos), the first time we ever did a video and it wasn't like one of those things where you gotta keep playing, like in the studio the producer will say let's try it again. By the time you actually keep something, you're really sick of it. This time we just did a lot of shooting, but we didn't do a lot of things redundantly, we just made them so there was enough energy on each shot.
RockUnited - Some people say the video "March" is brilliant, but some don't like it at all. How do you feel about it ?
Thomas - I think it depends on the video. I like "March" much more than "The Haunting". But the purpose of doing videos is not for the fans you already have, but to get new fans to discover about the band. So of course some of the old school Kamelot fans think "The Haunting" is too modern. But you do the videos to attract new audiences. But I understand the both sides of it. I understand some of the fans might not like them, but the alternative is not to have them. I like having a video that maybe a lot of people like and only a few don't like, than having none at all.
RockUnited - You've been around for a long time. It's strange not to have any videos.
Thomas - That's one of the reasons we left Noise, they didn't want to put money into videos. And SPV did, they understood that these days it's important to have a video. Actually we only had one video in the contract, but we talked to them about doing two videos and talked to the director and it worked out that way. But we were releasing our albums when heavy metal was just dying. But back then (1995) nobody was into heavy metal and the past five years it's been growing again. We're just doing what we do, we haven't really changed that much in terms of the basic core of the songwriting, but we've developed and gotten new influences and it's been great, we're very happy.
RockUnited - It's really great that the heavy metal scene has grown stronger again.
Thomas - Yeah, but the downloading isn't really helping. But it's weird, the bands are still selling a lot of records and we're still doing good. We don't really have a lot of complaining about. We're excited about the future.
PUDDLE OF BLOOD
The album covers of Kamelot are well illustrated, so I ran through them to find out what Thomas thinks about them. "Karma" and "The Black Halo" turned out to be his favourites, "The Fourth Legacy" didn't fall much behind either.
Thomas - I think ("Karma") has a sort of elegance to it, but it's simple. Obviously we like beautiful women. But there's the tattoos and the blood, she's basically standing in a puddle of blood, which is a referance to the song "Elizabeth" on the album. This has a different kind of elegance to it than for example "Epica", which I'm not totally happy with. It's a little colourful in a way. It's still a good cover. The first one was done by my sister back when we still didn't have a budget.
RockUnited - You get to travel a lot. How do you compare Florida to other places and countries then, the fanbase and everything ?
Thomas - There's not a whole lot of heavy metal in Florida, but I really love Florida, that's where I live. It's just a nice variation to Europe, because of the beaches and everything, nice weather. I like travelling too. Sometimes it's tough when you're away from your family, but I've been very fortunate to see a lot of different countries and we went to Japan for the first time in our lives a year ago. That was a really cool experience. So it's been a great ride.
The band went to Japan again with Silent Force in April. Aside from touring with the band, the guys have been travelling by themselves too. Like I mentioned in the tour report earlier, Casey used to play in ferries between Sweden and Finland. So he's now a little more wiser when it comes to Sweden and Finland. But this was back when Casey was still a teenager, one that has been playing drums forever. How did he end up with Kamelot then from playing out here ?
Thomas - He played in a band in Florida actually and we saw him playing. He had his long hair and he was really good. We were looking for a drummer and we asked if he was interested and he was really into our stuff. At the time he didn't play double bass and now he like shreds with the stuff.
RockUnited - For a final question, have you checked out the finnish Kamelot site ?
Thomas - Yeah. I like it. It's not like the official site of Kamelot, but the guy did a good job.
RockUnited - Thank you for the interview.
Thomas - Thanks very much, my pleasure and we're looking forward to coming to Finland some day.
We're looking forward to that too. Hopefully we'll capture the band again in Sweden Rock next year. In the meantime Canada and Brazil are on their bill in the end of this year and they have Epica on tour with them again.
Interview by Satu Reunanen, satu [at] rockunited.com