"No, actually I’m lazy...I’m just an artist (laughs)."
With the eagerly awaited 'A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society' set to hit the shelves, and many ears, on October 21st. Tobias Sammet's Avantasia is destined to reach even more dizzy heights of success. Fireworks Magazines Social Media and Webmaster Pete Arnett dipped back through the mists of time, to find Dave Scott's superb interview with the man himself from Issue #57 (May/June 2013).
One of Tobias Sammet’s two musical loves is the Symphonic project Avantasia (the other of course being Edguy). Over ten years as Avantasia he has released double and triple album stories surrounded by all-star casts. In 2011 Sammet decided to end the project but it seems the creative well hadn’t dried up. Dave Scott gave Tobias a call to find out about Avantasia’s return.
Tobi how’s things been for you since you spoke to Fireworks last year?
Well it’s been busy but it didn’t really feel too busy. It’s a very disappointing answer I know because everyone wants to put me in that box of being a workaholic. No, actually I’m lazy...I’m just an artist (laughs). The thing is we were on tour doing shows with Edguy but not too many. It was quite a relaxing schedule and in between there was enough time to just get my head free and be creative on my own. That was the reason why I actually started Avantasia again after I had announced the end of it in 2011. Shortly into the Edguy touring period I realised that it just felt good to come back home on days off and go into my little music basement and just be creative. I wasn’t thinking about what this material would eventually become. It was music without somebody expecting it, without even having people knowing that it would exist. Nobody was expecting anything.
What can people expect from ‘The Mystery Of Time’?
It’s honest and it's epic, I know the word epic has been used many times but I think this album is epic in the purest sense. It is monumental and it sounds big but at the same time it sounds organic and real. It’s an ambitious album but it’s not overambitious. You can hear that we had a real symphonic orchestra on there but we did not push it too far. In some passage it’s very obvious and in some it’s more subtle but we wanted everything to appear where it belongs; the right amount of certain elements is the key to making them work. I think we managed to get the right amount of everything in the album without over doing it. There is a huge concept behind the songs lyrically but you can just grab that album and the songs stand on their own.
I believe this is the first time you have used a real orchestra?
You know when you have somebody like Miro Rodenburg, who is an absolute pro with so many great sounds in his machines; he can make a keyboard orchestra sound like a real orchestra, we always thought it is not worth doing it. But when I wrote the material, especially tracks like ‘Black Orchid’, I had the feeling that there is enough room to make the orchestra unfold using the benefits of a real one. They have been used many times on many productions but I thought if there is a project that is absolutely right to feature a real orchestra it’s Avantasia. So I said okay we’re going to do it. I remember Sascha (Paeth - guitars) asking ‘are you sure you’re going to do this, it’s a lot of money and nobody will hear the difference’. I thought even if I only do it for myself it will be right and good. You will have a different relation to the music if you put all you have into it. That’s why I said okay I am going to do it even if I am the only person in the world that knows it’s a real orchestra but by the time we had recorded it, Sascha said “it’s amazing and I never expected it”.
There are some really emotional lyrics in the songs. What is the overall concept?
The concept is about a young agnostic scientist who realises that most people in environment are caught in a treadmill of chasing material vanities. Having tunnel vision so to speak and burning out from lack of time and stress.That young scientist has the feeling that it is quite deliberate and that something is after people’s time. Something is seemingly trying to force a common pace upon the world and sell this enforced conformity and acceleration as progress. As this young scientist starts to delve deeper into this phenomenon a fantastic trip begins. The basis of the concept is a fantastic story where the agnostic scientist becomes more and more aware of spirituality without actually wanting it, till he eventually finds himself in a circle of occult scientists who want to manipulate people’s perception of time.
Is this a completely new story?
Yes it’s a completely brand new story. A funny thing about it for you is that the starting point of the story was written in England on the last Edguy tour. I have to say without kissing ass, I find Great Britain in general very inspiring. I am huge fan of the UK and I prolonged my stay after the last Edguy tour in England so I could just be creative looking at things like half-timbered houses and write an enchanting fairy tale. I have a feeling that in England people have a different relation to history. I would say people do not scratch of the patina that is attached to everything. For example in Germany people just want to renew and modernise everything but by doing that you remove the soul of a lot of things. I spoke to a friend of mine Uli Jon Roth about it, that’s why he moved back. He used to live in a castle in England then he moved to Germany and he couldn’t stand it so he moved back. The feeling that I have always had in Britain is that it happens on purpose, that this patina is not scratched off and it is celebrated. The story plays out in a small English town during the Victorian Era. It’s just because I love it so much.
Even the artwork has a historical English feel to it, whose it by?
It was painted by Rodney Matthews. I thought this was a real strong album and a real timeless one. I think it is a true piece of art with a lot of craftsmanship in it and I wanted to have some hand painted artwork. I wanted to have something enchanting and beautiful but something that was out there. I said, okay if I am going to ask someone to do it I’m going to ask the best and my favourite painter of all time. By coincidence he was an English guy and that’s Rodney Matthews. I gave him some ideas; I said you don’t necessarily have to paint the story just try to inhale the fairytale spirit. I wanted it all to happen in or feature an English market square. It’s not only the cover artwork; there is the back of it too. The original artwork is twice as big, like a gate fold, and it’s amazing. Rodney Matthews has always been my favourite painter and rightfully so. This album didn’t deserve less than the best, the grandmaster of fantasy painters in the world.
Speaking of including other people, which big name friends have returned and who else have you managed to rope in this time?
There is Michael Kiske and Bob Catley, they are members of the family and it is impossible for me to imagine Avantasia without them but of course there are some new voices on there as well. There is Biff Byford to start with, an English legend and a fellow countryman of yours. We have known each other for a long time. I have been a fan of Biff and Saxon from an early age. We get along very well and I was really happy that he accepted my invitation. Then we have Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids. We played a festival together in the Caribbean and that’s when we got to know each other. After that, he agreed to do this Avantasia album. We also have Eric Martin from Mr Big.
I’m interested to ask, how do you decide and get all these famous names involved?
Well its different each time, some people I do not even know beforehand. For example take Russell Gilbrook from Uriah Heep...yes yet another Englishman! I remembered that with Edguy we had played with Uriah Heep many years ago. I originally went to watch them play one song but I ended up watching the whole show because I was waiting for the moment that poor drum kit would surrender to Russell beating the shit out of it! It was so impressive and he is such a great drummer. I got in touch even though we didn’t know each other, he listened to material and a fortnight later he was here and we were recording the drums. I did not know him before and it is the same with Joe Lynn Turner. I did not know him personally either.
Do your guests have any input on the creative side or do you pretty much lay out exactly how you want it?
I think they do it pretty much to as I want it but the thing is I never really put shackles on them. With Biff it was really interesting because I went to Brighton and we did the recording there in the studio. Whenever I get the chance to go to England I am on board. We worked on the passages together and that way he can make suggestions and I can make suggestions and you build up the material together. With some people I just send demo vocals and say this is the melody just make it with your phrasing, adjust it to fit your vocals and that’s what they do.
Avantasia is obviously not an easy touring entity. Are you planning a tour and are you coming to the UK?
Yes and a yes. We’re going on tour and it is difficult I know and I did not expect it to happen again. I remember from the other times that it’s really hard to organise but for this tour it was different because everyone like Sascha, Bob and Michael were saying we should do it again. So we are going to do a tour and we are going to do only one stop in England unfortunately. That is the way it is, it is really difficult to put a thing like that on the road as you cannot do a club tour. So we just play Bloodstock because it gives us the chance to hit a big stage but I must add that we will be playing a ninety-minute best of set at Bloodstock. We are not going to play the full three-hour show because it’s a festival and the other bands would be pretty pissed off! I’m just really glad that we have the chance to bring it to England at all.
With a recent Edguy album and now a new Avantasia album, what’s next for you?
I think we’re going to do this little world tour (laughs) then I’ll start working on a new Edguy album. I don’t know when ‘The Mystery Of Time Part 2’ will come out, it needs a continuation of the story but I don’t know when I will create and produce that. I don’t expect it to happen within three years.
To finish off, do you have anything to add?
Well I just want to thank everybody and I just hope you enjoy what I am doing because that will secure my chance to come back to England on a regular basis be that for promotion, songwriting or touring. I honestly love the UK from the bottom of my heart and I just want to thank each and every one of you there.
"We are not going to play the full three-hour show because it’s a festival and the other bands would be pretty pissed off!"
Interview by Dave Scott
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