Interviewed by Robert Cavuoto (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Jon Oliva – Raise the Curtain – I’m going to take you on a musical adventure!
It took a while: more than 30 years after founding the legendary Savatage, Jon Oliva presents his first ever solo album! Having released albums with Savatage first and Jon Oliva’s Pain later, this first Oliva solo album was about to become different.
Raise the Curtain combines Jon’s early music influences of Prog Rock/70’s with the sound he cultivated with Savatage and Jon Oliva’s Pain. The result is a high-class, thrilling musical journey, something all lovers from (Prog) Rock to Metal shouldn’t miss.
I was able to sit down with Jon to talk about how personal this CD was for him to make and how music has helped him recover from the passing of family and friends.
Tell me about the importance of your new CD, Raise the Curtain?
Jon Oliva: Matt LaPorte’s (guitarist for Jon Oliva’s Pain) passing was the beginning of me doing the CD. I was devastated when he passed. It was like reliving the whole thing that happened with my bother Criss Oliva. My friend Dan Fasciano and I were very close to Matt and it was like therapy for us to write together; to ease the pain and get past it. Dan had lost his Mom a few weeks prior to Matt’s passing. It reminded me of what happen after Criss died; two months later I was doing Savatage’s Handful of Rain all by myself with just Paul O’Neill.
Sounds like there was healing through music.
Jon Oliva: Absolutely, I was having problems sleeping. I ended up going to Dan’s house because my wife was like “get the fuck outta here” [laughing]. So I went there to hang out because we both needed each other. All our other friends worked during the day so we just leaned on each other. We moved into the musical thing very naturally. Dan had some great riffs that he wasn’t able to finish and thought maybe we can come up with something. He didn’t think his stuff was any good but I thought it was fucking amazing. It took our minds off Matt and Dan’s Mom. It was like therapy and we were just like, “let’s write a couple of songs for Matt” so we started writing and it went on. I came to the point where I had the last of my brother’s music. I had four or five riffs left that I wanted to put out. It was a special time for Dan as he was never in a band before. I told him he was lucky [laughing].
Tell me about the significance of the title?
Jon Oliva: When I put these songs in order I want it to be as if you went in a theater, you have a seat, you get your drink, your popcorn, and your girlfriend. The house lights go down and music starts and the curtain rises. In my mind it was like the opening of a performance – now I’m going to take you on a musical adventure. All of Criss’s music is like that; a performance.
Your writing has always been very theatrical. Tell me about this themed approach.
Jon Oliva: I started going down that road because I heard lots of bands and thought they were lacking atmosphere and mood. I want to make my LPs like a rollercoaster ride. You’re not always going downhill at 100 mph there are climbs and curves. I always thought that for people listening, it was important to make the CD exciting so you mind doesn’t lock in to particular style. You keep surprising the audience and make every song sounding fresh like “Soul Chaser” into “Ten Years” with the real horns. Where the song you’re listening to is nothing like the song that came before it.
The beauty of this CD is its cohesiveness.
Jon Oliva: You bring up a great point! With Savatage, Paul O’Neill and I would have legendary battles on the albums song sequence. Both of us realized that that the sequence is crucial with the way you bring the audience into the album. There are a lot of great thrash metal and death metal bands out in the world but to be honest with you, after the first two songs the rest of the album sound the same to me. If you like that type of music that’s great. I have been down that heavy metal road. I solidified my position as a metal artist tenfold. I want to show the other side of what I like and what I can do.
My two favorite songs on the CD are “Ten Years” and “Father Time” – can you tell me about them?
Jon Oliva: There’s a great story about “Ten Years”. I went to Dan’s house with the last riffs that my brother had put on cassette. It was a chorus that I had to do something with it. Dan started playing me a song he wrote which didn’t have a chorus. Oh my God, I know I had something Criss wrote to fit right in. It was really spooky. That song came together just like that. Then we decided using the real horn players after we tried to get the sound on the keyboard. We went through nine million horn settings and couldn’t get it right. Everything came to together with Dan’s part, Criss’s part, my vocal melody, and the horns.
What about “Father Time”?
Jon Oliva: The riff that starts the songs is the second riff that Criss ever wrote when he was 14 years old. The first riff he ever played me sucked (laughing). He said to me, “alright mother fucker I’ll be over your house tomorrow with another one” and this was that second riff. The riff was great but we never really finished it back then. I had 20 seconds of that riff on the cassette tape with Criss swearing at me the whole time (laughing). Now we made it into the song.
How much guitar did you play on this CD?
Jon Oliva: I played all the guitar except for a few parts I gave to some friends because I was so burnt out.
Did you use Criss’s white Charvel featured on the cover on the CD?
Jon Oliva: My parents have that guitar hanging up in their living room and will shoot anyone that goes in two feet of it. It’s not possible to play that guitar.
You have so many great albums, where does this CD rate for you personally?
Jon Oliva: I’m not going to say it’s the best shit I have ever did but this is the most personal stuff I have ever written. It was very sad to me that I don’t have any more of Criss’s music to work with. It’s closing that chapter. I have put a year and four months into this album. I have tortured my dearest friends during countless hours of trying to play solos. It’s personal to me as he was my baby brother and felt I had to get all of this stuff out before I’m pushing up tulips. It became a priority. Coming off Matt’s passing I started to realize that time is precious.
How do you keep yourself satisfied with touring after all these years?
Jon Oliva: Alcohol! (laughing). Touring is a very difficult thing. I have been on the road since I was 17 and now I’m 53. The only thing that makes touring worthwhile is the 90+ minutes you are on stage in front of people. Anything else sucks moose cock at a major level. The traveling, the borders, loosing luggage, the hotels are fucked up, the bus breaks, and the plane is late. Nothing ever goes right with touring other than getting on stage for the show. I love to play but where I’m at with my career and age I really prefer working in the studio because there are a lot of things I want to do before my time is up. It doesn’t do me any good to sing “Sirens” and “Hall of the Mountain King” anymore because I have done it for 25 years. Even though I love to do it. When I was 30, it wasn’t a big deal, but now I have this body clock ticking. I have a lot of musical ideas and adventures. Touring is not much of a priority to be as it was 10 -15 years ago.
How quickly did you realize the anthemic impact of “Hall of the Mountain King“?
Jon Oliva: That’s one of the best questions anyone has ever asked me! I’ll be honest; Paul O’Neill came to me and my bother one night and asked us if we ever heard this opera called In the Hall of the Mountain King? Of course we never did (laughing). He went on to play the famous part of the song to us. Criss kicked me under the table, like “this idea is nuts”. After our CD Fight for the Rock, this idea was just as crazy. Finally we agreed to give it a try. Paul was instrumental in our development as songwriters and musicians. He said if we do it like Savatage, it will be awesome. We rehearsed and one night Criss calls me up at 2:00am carrying on about the riff he wrote. It was a great riff and I put a verse to it. The next day Paul showed up and listened to Criss’s riff and the verse and said this was going to be a masterpiece. With his guidance we made it a classic.
Jon Oliva: To get back to your question, when we recorded the first half in the traditional sense we thought it was cool. At that time we didn’t have Criss’s riff in the song. So when we joined the original part with Criss’s part it was like thunder and lightning. We knew we had something special and we had a lot of fun working on that song.