Back in 2001 Savatage released their last studio album “Poets and Madmen”, since then nothing much happened with that band. However Zak formed his own band Circle to Circle, Chris Caffery made a couple of solo albums and Jon worked with Doctor Butcher, TSO and last year he surprised us with his new band called Pain. “Tage Mahal” was the name of their debut album and now Jon is on the brink of releasing his second Pain album with the intriguing title “Maniacal Rendering”.
So when will the fans be able to buy this new record, Jon?
Jon: “September 1 and I am really excited about it. I hope that it satisfies everyone and I hope that everybody enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it. A very pleasurable record for me, in fact.”
Who played along with you on the new album?
Jon: “Well, all the guys that played on the “Tage Mahal” album, so Christopher, John, Kevin and Matt. On 4 songs you can hear a new guy as well. I found him when we were halfway through the album. So the band stayed quite in tact actually and we call it JOP now, which is of course a lot easier than Jon Oliva’s Pain. So, JOP, ELP, TSO, CCR and I am JOP, ha ha ..”
How many songs are there on the new album?
Jon: “There are 11 songs that are part of the album and there are 3 bonus tracks. I do not know how AFM are going to present those, but the main record is 11 songs, good stuff, man!`
Are the bonus tracks in Europe different from those in Japan?
Jon `Probably, yeah, something like that. I gave them 3 and I told them to be creative, haha..`
Are there ballads on the album?
Jon± `hum…. There is a kind of ballad on it called `Timeless Flight`, but it gets heavy at the end. There is a little acoustic thing at the end of the album, which is a song I wrote for my brother, and it was the first thing I wrote after he passed away, but I never finished it. It is a 2 minute little tune, an acoustic thing and there is a song called `The Answer`, that is like `If I Go Away`or `Believe`, but it also gets heavy later on. So the only real ballad part is the last acoustic thing, all the other ones have ballad moments in them, but they change, you know, getting heavy and there is a lot of raw heavy metal stuff on it.`
From what I heard I would say it really sounds like old Savatage material
Jon `Yeah, there is a lot of that old roots stuff in there, which is good. It is kind of split half in half. I try to do half of the songs, to keep everybody happy, in the old-fashioned Savatage style. The first 3 songs ARE Savatage songs, but a song like `End Times`, which you heard a few minutes ago, is not necessarily a Savatage song. I use 4 to 5 tracks to experiment a little, you have got to do that or else you just end up making the same album over and over again. And I do NOT want to do that.`
Did you write all the songs yourself?
Jon `I wrote 90% of it. Matt contributed on some songs and even my wife contributed on some lyrics in the last song. We all work together and Criss Oliva got music on the record on 4 songs which is really special. I got many more of those things that I found showcasing over the next few records, and I am very happy about that. I hope everyone enjoys it. It is kind of working with him all over, even though he was not here to play all the stuff. It is still his music that no one heard before, so. That alone makes it a must buy for real Savatage fans, stuff that nobody has ever heard before.`
Could you elaborate a bit about the lyrics?
Jon `Well, what I is, when I set the album up in the running order it kind of worked as a concept, although it is not a real concept album, I better not use that word… It starts with `Through the eyes of the King`, which is a continuation, lyrically, of `Hall of the mountain King`. It is kind of what I believe the Mountain King has seen over the last 20 years and then that starts the record. So, that is the setting and on the record I am going to show you things and tell you things about all kinds of stuff. The next song, which is the title track, is me actually telling to the fans, telling you what I am showing you, visions of living hell and the bad things in the world. That sets it up for the rest of the album, which is basically each song deals with different aspects that are going on. A quick example, “The end beside you” song is something that I want people to understand what I am saying, something we all experience. In life you know there are people always right and there is always evil around you that is waiting for the opportunity to fuck your life up and that whole song is like you know that sometimes you have the feeling that the fucking whole weight of the world is on your shoulders. There is always evil stuff around you that can fuck things up. T deals with politicians and all the stuff I have seen in the news and how we, especially being an American, been lied to and just screwed over and it is like I am talking about governments. They are all full of shit; they all lie to their people. It is probably worse for America because we are still a more spotlight country because it is such a huge country. We are more under the gun, but you know there are a lot of twisted fuckers out there. So, there is a lot of deep shit on the new record and it is not about dragons, wizards and fucking Satan and all that shit because that has been covered quite sufficient, ha ha ha ….
Are there also religious aspects in the lyrics?
Jon: “O, yeah, there is a song called “The Answer” which has lyrics like: “Jesus show me the answer, your picture is fading, your image is gone”. All these religions, cults and TV preachers have made it hard to have any faith at all. But the album deals with it, it deals with everything, war, politics, religion….”
Are you a religious person yourself?
Jon: “I do not know actually. I believe in God, I have tried to keep that faith, but I believe there is something. I have been so battered and confused by all these priests – I was brought up Roman Catholic – and stuff which I sing about in the Doctor Butcher song “The Altar”, it is really hard to be a catholic, right now, you know.”
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Jon: “I believe you live once or twice. Death is kind of like getting out of one car and getting into another one. No one is going to convince me that you live here 60 or 70 years, you die and that is it. Your spirit is on a timeless flight as I believe that this is all part of a journey. Once we have been here we are going somewhere else. Nobody will convince me that you are buried in the ground or cooked in an oven and that is the end of it. No way, man. That is too simple; I am not buying that, ha ha ha …..”
When will the JOP tour start and where will you be playing?
Jon: “Holland, of course. We will never come to Europe and miss Holland, never. It is my favourite country for various reasons….”
I know one reason, ha ha ha…
Jon: “That one is up in the top 2 reasons, ha ha , you know me quite well, dude. The number one reason is the people and the fact that it is a liberate country. I like that you can do what you want to do and I like to smoke! I think that it is kind of fucking ridiculous that I cannot sit in my living room at home and smoke a joint and that I can go to jail for that! That does not make sense, that is a nice thing about Holland, you know, but it is also a beautiful country, I love windmills, man. So, you will be seeing us in Tilburg for sure and we will be doing some shows with Doro. We will be doing a lot of stuff from the new record and of course also some classic Savatage material.”
Talking about Savatage, will there be a Savatage farewell tour, or will you release a farewell DVD of the band?
Jon: “There is definitely going to be a DVD, it is in the plans and we are working on it. The only thing I figured out is that it will be a DVD package with lots of live stuff with Criss, concert footage, all the videos that we did, a complete biography thing and some great backstage material. You know, like some rock stars on film throwing up o themselves, ha ha ha.. And then that is the end of it, at least how I wanted it to, but I will never say Savatage is over. Who knows in a couple of years we might want to do a new record, I do not know. The last 5, 6 years however we did nothing with Savatage, because of the success of TSO and the fact that TSO is really Savatage with some extra people. Unfortunately we could not call it Savatage and sell those many albums. But as soon as the Christmas tree album came out there it has been the hottest thing since you know.”
JPO is in fact a so called “reincarnation” of Savatage?
Jon: “Nicely put, yeah. Back to the original concept of Savatage. However we experiment a lot more with JPO. It sounds like “Power of the Night” stuff.”
So, after 25 years of Savatage, what are your personal highlights?
Jon: (after a couple of minutes of silence) “there are really many of them. The biggest impact to us was actually when we first made “City beneath the surface”, our first EP, back in 1982 under the name of Avatar. You know, Dan Johnson showing up in my house with the boxes with all these records. We HAD a record, man. Doing a record was like me becoming president of the USA, it was a dream that we really did not think would happen. The next big impact was when we got signed to Atlantic and we thought we had it made, although we were constantly beaten up by bad managers. It was really hard. Then Ronnie James Dio was a big help, he gave us our first big opportunity to play in the States as a support band with him. I still thank him for that from the bottom of my heart. We were very young and very inexperienced and we were not very polite and drunk all the time. And he was very patient with us. Later on Lemmy was another great guy that helped us a lot. He was the first to bring us to Europe; we would never have come to Europe if it was not for Motorhead. They liked us and we became friends, so that were the big things to remember for us Some shows still stand out, like some at the old Noorderligt in Tilburg, but yeah, there were enough highlights. Things kind of went sour after 1993, but the most magical moment in my career, post Criss Oliva, was the Dynamo Festival in Holland, of course, where the spirit of Criss stopped the rain during our show. It rained on every band except for Savatage! We played and the sun came out and as soon as we left the stage I started raining again, ha ha ha… I remember me and Johnny Middleton sitting in the bus watching each other, going like we DID that one! That was so great, we attributed that all to the spirit of Criss, it was just too freaky, a weird moment for all of us.”
Of course there were also disappointments….
Jon: “Of course, lots of other ones besides the most obvious one being the death of Criss…. The album “Fight for the rock” was huge disappointment because we were just kids that got beat up by every business person we came into contact with. They beat the life out of us; “Fight” was a result of an album done under total stress and confusion, being threatened about our contracts being taken away and I was only 23 years old and I was the oldest one. And they were all looking at me and expecting things fro me. But I said: “I do not fucking know what to do.” After being I the business that long now you know that those things happen, there is a lot of crooked people out there. That would have to be one of my worse moments, bad business people that unfortunately at a young age I got involved with and still to this day I have not recovered from all that stuff. I am just now – with the success of TSO – gotten out of most of those bad things. But Savatage never really made lots of money. We spent far more money on the records then we ever put in our pockets. I did not make a dime out of Savatage till 1996. I put in a quarter of a million dollars, into videos and tour support, out of my own pocket and I lost 2 houses and 4 cars over Savatage. Besides that my marriage broke up for 5 years because of Savatage, you know, no one sacrificed more for S. then me and my brother. We gave every penny we had and Paul O’Neill, of course, He is solely responsible for “Hall of the mountain king”, “Gutter Ballet” and “Streets, because we broke up after “Fight for the rock”, we were down, we had no money, no place to live, nothing, and Paul came in and took us under his wings. He gave us a bunch of money and told us to write a Savatage album and we wrote “Hall of the mountain king” and the rest ….”
Jon: “It is, my friend, it is, ha ha ha..”
“Streets” is still the best Savatage album ever, or not?
Jon: “That is Savatage at its peak. I think that Savatage after that with Pitrelli, Chris Caffery and me peaked with “The wake of Magellan”. I still think that it is a great album; however I still do not know what it is about, except for some boat…. “Streets” was the peak of Savatage with Criss and it is still my favourite Savatage record by far, tough there are a couple of songs on “Gutter Ballet” that I put right there with that stuff, “When the crowds are gone” and “Gutter” itself. Those years (90 and 91) with “Gutter Ballet” and “Streets” were really strong, we had some success with “Hall of the mountain king” and we were really relaxed and did some fine work. Those two albums were the result of having a couple of years not having to worry about how we were going to feed the kids next week. We were able to sit down and just worry about music and the result was really progressive, it was a very important period.”
How well/worse did “Streets” actually sell in Europe?
Jon: “It sold good here, we actually did start selling well, in numbers, after Criss died. In the USA we already sold 200 to 300.000 copies when Criss was still alive, so that was not too bad. We never got the exposure like other rock bands in the USA because first of all we were not a hair band. We were no pretty boys, so we lost that market. We were us, we were just a band. We did not give a fuck how we looked like and then they tried to beat us into being a hair band and it just did not work. Our music was too real to be fake, you know. Those guys from Poison and stuff – they were all great guys, do not get me wrong – they were all fake. Trust me folks, they were not walking around at home with their hair 6 stores high, they were not walking around in their house in leather pants, so to me that is fake. I am who I am, love me or hate me, we were what we were. You loved us or you did not like us. If you like us, thank you, if not fuck off, go somewhere else.”
It should be about music!
Jon: “Yeah, that is the problem with half of the bands in that period. Music was media and MTV; it was all about visual looks, gimmicks and show were more important than the music. That is why what happened to the music in the USA, it has become non-emotional, and it is like a computer, no heart and no soul. Just MTV and things like that. I love Europe because European fans are loyal and dedicated, if they like something, they like it forever. Whether you are a midget, whether you are 90 years old, or dressed like Satan or an angel, no one cares!!”
How is the metal scene in the USA right now according to you?
Jon: “It is an underground scene again, so metal is not really doing well. Death metal and that sort of stuff was big for a while that has also gone underground again. Mainstream and pop metal disappeared from the face of the planet completely. But I do not worry about what I do with JOP because I got TSO, a project that is selling millions in the USA, so I am covered there. I still have my fan base from Savatage and I will not design my records around the American audience too hard. I go with what works.”
Will there be a new TSO album soon?
Jon: “It will be out in 07. It is not a holiday album, it s not a Christmas album, it is more like “Beethoven’s Last Night”. It is called “Night Castle and it will be out right after the X-mas holidays. I hope….”
Will TSO ever perform in Europe?
Jon: Maybe, I would never say never. The problem is the show is so big that we can only bring it in places that are 10,000 seats and above. We are trying to find a way to bring it over on a smaller scale and then do some opera houses. The light show has developed into such an amazing thing that it is the biggest light show in the world right now. We are going to do it eventually but I do not think that the X-mas tour would work here. So we need other things like the “Beethoven” and the new “Night Castle” material. That would be enough stuff to put together a 2 hour performance.”
A couple of weeks ago you turned 46, how long are you planning to go on?
Jon: “You did your homework, dude! I hate the business, I hate the business and I hate the business. I love making music, so I might go on for a couple of years.”
Alice Cooper once told me in an interview that he would like to die on stage…
Jon: “God bless Alice. I do not want to die on stage as it would take too many guys to carry me of the stage ha ha ha.. So, there is a lot of Criss Oliva music that I want to get out. I still got a lot of material that people have not heard yet. I am still working on it and I figure I am going to stop when I do not have the passion for it anymore. So far, I feel I have more passion for it now then I had earlier because I am a lot smarter now. I am not as crazy as I was; my voice feels better than ever. I think that the new album is the best album I have ever sung in my entire career. We will see, I might not go another 10 years, what the fuck, 8 with a vacation in the middle. After that I will do movie stuff, soundtracks you know, crazy stuff. I can get dark, ha ha ha…
Jon, thank you very much for your time and see you on tour.
Jon: “Thank you for the interesting questions, take care!”
Interview by Martien Koolen,