Let the Mayhem begin - Jon Oliva' speaks out!
Jon Oliva is properly known for his work with Savatage, the band that also featured his brother Chris Oliva to which the band record several albums throughout the 80's and 90' through Music For Nations (MFN) or either Atlantic Records and of the last releases through SPV. Jon left the band to form Doctor Butcher and then later on return with Savatage to were the band recorded more albums and supporting Judas Priest in 2001. Now that Savatage haven't done anything in a while Jon formed what is now Jon Oliva's Pain. To this date the band have recorded 4 albums but Jon has also recorded several albums with Savatage and well as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band that is still going strong. Jon speak out about his new album for AFM which is basically called 'Festivals', which is 1 of Jon's finest albums to date. I managed to have a chat with the man himself about the new album and a little bit about Savatage as this was my 1st encounter with Jon. So sit back, read on and play your music loud whilst reading this interview. What a nice and happy chap Jon is, you rock man!!
So it's a pleasure to final speak to you Jon, I'd like to start the interview off by asking you about your musical influences as a child, who were you influenced by and were there also any member of your family who inspired you and your brother Chris?
"Well I have to say Jason that 'The Beatles' pretty much did everything for me as far as musical influences go. I saw the band when I was 5 or 6 yrs old on a TV show here in the U.S. and after that my parents bought me a drum set so I first started to play the drums when I was 5 or 6 yrs old and as I got a little bit older Jon Lang became a big influence as far as how I wanted to play the guitar and piano. So I kind of learnt how to play to The Beatles records where I would put the record on and try to find the music pretty much by ear were I would figure things out and I learnt how to sing to The Beatles records. As I got a little bit older I started to get into more different kinds of stuff and Black Sabbath was the next big thing for me, so I went from The Beatles to Black Sabbath which is rather a vast jump (laughing). For me those 2 bands really did it for me but I really learnt how to play from The Beatles but for the heavy side its Black Sabbath which instantly blow me away. Then came 'Queen', they were my next favourite band who really did influences me a lot. Freddie Mercury was a massive influence impact on me as I loved his voice and the versatility that Queen had but I also like the dark and heavy side that Sabbath had too. Bill Ward is my favourite drummer of all time, and to me Sabbath is the heaviest band that have ever been put on the face of the planet!! Bands like Slayer are great and all that, but no one is heavier than Black Sabbath. My father to your question was a classical pianist so that is were it all came from and my old brother played the guitar, and he kind of taught Chris & I our basic guitar chords and we just kind of took off from there. I was mainly influenced by the UK bands like Sabbath U Heep, Queen etc... I also grew up with the older UK bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Priest etc..."
I didn't know you were a drummer to start off with, so why drums?
"Well I liked the drum and I cried and my parents got me a drum set the next day after see in The Beatles on TV. I learnt to play the drums very quickly and as I got a little bit older I pretty much got sick of lugging drums around and also been behind the drum kit I decided to try something else."
So I guess Savatage was the first band you formed with your brother Chris, did you do anything else before that?
"Well we did some cover
bands before that, and when we did the Savatage stuff we were originally called
'Avantar' but soon changed it because the day before we released the 'Sirens'
record there was a band in Europe had the same name so in the night we dropped
the letter 'r' and came up with Savatage and a few other letters and I guess
Savatage ended up been our name. (Ed: I remember see in the original album
cover with the ship on it, a blue cover, is that worth any money?). Well yes
it is worth some money, even I don't have a copy of that."
Looking back at all your previous albums with Savatage, which do you remember been the best ones and your least favourite albums you recorded?
"Well for me, the 3 albums that I really enjoyed recording were 'Streets', 'Gutter Ballet', 'Hall Of The Mountain King' and those albums were recorded when we were at our peak as a band with Chris alive and we just started working with Paul O'Neil. Paul was very important to us as a development. I would have to say that 'Streets' is really my favourite album and I think with those 3 albums it was the best work we had done as a band. I think with the earlier album we really didn't know what we were doing and we were very young and the 1st 3 albums were recorded in 24 hours and we had never been in a recording studio up till we did those records. When we recorded the album 'Power In The Night, with Max Norman we learnt a lot from him and we at that point knew we were in a real studio with a real producer who really did teach us a lot of stuff. It was released on Atlantic and it did really well for us, and in the same year we released that album we later on found out that our management and people who were working for us had stole all of our money. At that point we almost broke up and so we came to London to recorded 'Fight For The Rock' and we were totally broke, no cash, nothing!! Recording that album was the lowest point within the band career. At that point we had no places to live, it was a nightmare and the year later we met Paul and we did the 'Hall Of The Mountain King' and that was our big comeback album and we just went up and up until Chris pasted away. My least favourite album is 'Fight For Rock', because we were very miserable at that time as we were ripped off a well over a $10000 over a 4-5 year period and we had no money and the album was total mis-done and we had no time to do it, we ran out of money when we tried to mix it. Everything sucked about that album, expect the fact that we recorded the album in London were The Beatles had recorded their albums."
Damn that was such a sad time for the band and metal in general, how long is it now since Chris pasted away?
"Well it had been 17yrs since he died. It only seems like 2-3 yrs ago and it is so weird Jason, I still feel is presence."
So how did the idea of having Zack in the band come about? We it becoming to difficult for you to handle the keyboards and all the vocals?
"Well yes it was, at first I took time off from the band as I had lost my voice. The 'Edge Of Thorns' album didn't feature myself, Zack did the vocals and the plan was that I was going to take time off, get my voice back in shape and rejoin the band with Zack doing most of the vocals. I actually wrote most of the material for that record even though I didn't play on it. So with Chris dying after that album was recorded thing just kind of got thrown out of the window."
That album was a great album but it really did suffer with the overall production as there were too many fingers in the pie sort of speak, too many producers and engineers involved.
"Yeah well I wasn't involved in that album and I wasn't a big fan of that record. It was weird because I wasn't there and Chris was very insecure about me not been in the band. The only other choice was to take a year off and just after 'Gutter Ballet' & 'Streets' we were on the rise especially in America we were doing really well. So at that point we really didn't want to stop and the idea was that I was going to write and play keyboards and piano on the album and then I would take the time off to get my voice back in shape and then join a year later. I would be back for the album 'Handful Of Rain' which would of had Zack, myself split the vocal duties."
Moving on, wasn't you involved with the Dr Butcher albums?
"Yeah I was involved, but mainly it was Chris Caffery's baby, and he asked me if I would be interested in doing the vocals and maybe writing some of the lyrics. So I wrote a lot of lyrics for him, but he wrote pretty much most of the music and I did a little bit for him. It was mainly his project and it was basically going to be a 1 record deal and not a band as such. After which Savatage got back together again."
Tell me a little bit about the 'Trans-Siberian Orchestra' band, which is really popular and still going strong.
"Well after the Dr. Butcher thing, we decided to start the 'Trans-Siberian Orchestra' and the albums like 'Dead Winter Dead' or 'Wake The Magellan' could of been the Trans.... albums, and this band is 1 of the biggest bands in America. Well the last album made it in the top 5 bill board charts here in a America out of 100 and it started out as a Christmas things but soon got bigger with each album and now we are very successful. So when we play live half the set is holiday type stuff and the other half is not. We sell out shows with about 20.000 stetted arena's in a day. We are planning on taking it out on the road outside the U.S. to Europe. I don't go out on the tours, I just record in the studios with them and write some of the lyrics."
Just before we move away from the Savatage stuff, I saw you live in 2001 with Judas Priest here in the UK, where did you find that singer Damien? He had a really good voice and what is he doing now?
"Well he came to us when I heard him doing a demo of us a Molly Hatchet song but his voice reminded me of Zac's for some reason. I met hi when we needed somebody to do the tour and because I couldn't do all the vocals live as well as all the keyboards. We auditioned him and he sounded great so we hired him and he did a great job on that tour. I think if we had of kept going we properly would of kept him in the band, and I really don't know what he is doing right now."
So will Savatage ever get back together, that's for $1000 question?
"Well we've been asked 10.000 times about this, we may but it will never be as Savatage was, as Chris is no longer in the band and as for as the band from the 90's is concerned that band is still together. We really didn't break up, we just changed the name of the band and broadened our musical horizons and to keep the Savatage guys as the nuclear us of 'Trans....' but to bring in a new level of vocalists & musicians so we could play any type of music."
It was a shame about your old label SPV/Steamhammer going under, they had some really big bands on their label.
"Yeah it was a shame to be honest, I was shocked to hear them going under."
OK so lets talk about 'Jon Oliv'a Pain', so why the name for the band been the one you chose?
"Well the name was actually going to be called ''Tage Mahal' but a name that a blue's guitarist actually had the rights to, so I told the band that 'This is a pain in my ass' not having a name we wanted. So I thought about the names 'Emerson Lake & Palmer' and I wanted something short so the name 'J.O.P.' came up, meaning 'Jon Oliva's Pain', so we call the band 'J.O.P.'."
Your music is pretty music along the line of that of Savatage, do you agree?
"Well yes I do, and if Savatage had of stayed together then all of these songs I have wrote could of been used for them. The only difference is that it is me with different musicians that didn't play on albums like 'Dead Winter Dead' but it's basically in the same song writing structure. I'm never going to change the way I write this is now my style."
I believe you have recorded 4 albums to date, how's the new album doing so far?
"Yes we have done 4 albums to date, this new album is doing really well, it made it to the top 100 in Germany & it's the 2nd best CD in Italy and the response and been very well so far. The 1st album was released through SPV and they still owe me money!!
The 2nd album on AFM was called 'Maniacal Renderings' in 2006, how did you hook up with AFM?
"Well actually I met Nil's at the 'Rock Hard' festival in Germany when I was doing a guest thing with Zac for 'Circle II Circle' and I had sat down with AFM and I just liked them because they were young and hungry and ego and I really liked that about them and so I decided with the J.O.P. thing it maybe better for me to get off the big labels and sign to a label like AFM to were I would be put as a priority and not just another artist of a big label not getting the support they needed. I am very happy with AFM and every year J.O.P have got bigger thanks to AFM Records. I'm getting back to the level were Savatage were at, which is a good thing."
Looking back at the bands 3rd album 'Global Warning' differ to that of the new album 'Festival'?
the 'Global Warning' album was very much an experiment album in a way, I was
trying to do a lot of different things and I wrote a lot of that record on
keyboards and piano and the big difference with this album is that I wrote a lot
of that album whilst on tour for the last album. I wrote a lot of that album on
guitar and I wanted a darker album to that of Global Warning' which was more of
a Progressive album, and this new album is a little more in the raw sound, and
more directed towards the early Savatage albums."
So how does each of the albums differ from one another for the J.O.P. releases?
"Well every album has progressed because I have got to know the guys with each album been recorded and with each tour we have done. The nuclearous of the band is Matt (guitars), Kevin (bass) and Chris (drums) and myself."
Does everybody get involved with the song writing or is it just you who writes most of the music and lyrics?
"Well it is basically me who does most of the writing and I put my ideas to the rest of the band and I demo my own ideas for the guys to check out. I ask them to listen to my ideas with my bass or guitar lines I have recorded and if they like them we use them, or if they have ideas which will improve the songs then I am up for any good ideas to make the songs betters. The guys who contribute a bit to the writing of each songs."
Which of your past albums with J.O.P. do you like and why?
"Well I like all the albums really, but I think the new album 'Festival' is defiantly the peak of the 4 albums, because of the relationship between me and the band over 3 albums and I am very happy with the way the album turned out."
So why the title 'Festival' for the new album? Also what are the songs about?
"The title for this album had come from been on the road last year, we did a lot of festivals and that was in my mind and I had nightmare that I was at a twisted carnival which has some strange things in it like guillotines and torture devices etc.... So I woke up and just wrote down what I could remember from my nightmare. So later on I spoke to the artist and explained it to him and when he sent me the picture it totally blow me away!!! The lyrics on the album are mainly about dreams or nightmares that I have had. Some of the songs on the CD are not about nightmares or dreams, but 60% of the songs are based on the mentioned subjects. The 1st song was wrote about all the managers who have ripped me off when I was young and then it goes into the dream type of stuff. The last album lyrics were very fact based and thing which were actually going on around the world so for this new album I wanted to get back into a se-real thing."
So what songs on the new album stand out for you and why?
"Well Jason, that's a tough question, I do like 'Death Rides A Black Horse', because its about a dream I had about a war and the Grim Reaper comes into this dream whilst he is riding his black horse with his eyes like fire. I also the 'Festival', where the cover is like 'Welcome to the festival' type thing and I also like 'Afterglow' which I really like because there is a lot of instrumentation going on in this song. The album is one of those were you have to listen too it a couple of times to get a feel for it."
How long did it take to record this album and were you happy with the end results?
"Yes I am very happy with the way the album turned out, it took about 6-7 months to recorded including the pre-production & the writing, 4 months in the studio and I am very excited about the album and happy with it. The album was done by Chris the drummer Tom Morris and myself at Morrisound in Tampa (Florida)."
What about touring, when do you plan on touring the UK and Europe?
"Well we are coming over in June, I will be playing 'Bang Your Head' festival in Germany & Graspop in Belgium and we have plans for other festivals which are not confirmed yet. We are planning on coming to the UK in September where we will be playing in London and Manchester so far."
If you had the chance, who would you like to play with on stage?
"That is a tough question, my favourite bands that I toured with was Motorhead, I had more fun with those guys than any other band on tour. I run into them almost on every tour."
Are there any plans to record a live DVD yet?
"Well yes we are Jason, we plan on doing a DVD on 15th October 2010 in Tilburg (Holland) so come and check us out if you can!!"
Well Jon, thanx for taking your time out & for doing this interview, best of luck with the tours, and the DVD as well as the future. DO you have anything to say to your fans?
"Yes thank you Jason, it's been a pleasure speaking to you. Best of luck with the Webzine. I hope my fans like the new album and I hope to see you all on the road in September or any of the festivals were playing in 2010."
Thank's to Mike @ AFM UK for the interview set up.