Interviewed by Thomas Schwarzkopf (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Tobias Sammet, the mastermind behind the German Power Metal band Edguy and of course the head of the Metal Opera project Avantasia, has reached a lot in the last 20 years. Playing shows in over 40 countries and countless chart entries are just a few of them. His biggest achievement seems to be the work with his own heroes on Avantasia. In just a few days the next masterpiece, called “Ghostlights”, will hit the stores and just a month later Tobias Sammet will attend the preselection round of the Eurovision Song Contest in Germany. So there were several reasons to talk to him again. But this isn’t just another interview out of hundreds. This time it was important to me to involve the Avantasia/Edguy fans, so I asked those people in a fan forum for their questions and the resonance was great. Thanks to all those people from all over the world who sent in their questions! There were so many, so I couldn’t use all of them, but I selected a few and combined them with my own questions. Read the result below.
Hey Tobi, great to talk to you! How are you? You seem to be very busy these days.
Tobi: Hello Thomas! Yes, currently it’s quiet stressful, but overall it’s more positive stress. I did over 400 interviews already, I’m doing promotional tours in between … that is a lot, but it’s also a sign that we did something right with the new record otherwise people wouldn’t be so interested. That’s why I don’t want to complain. I’m totally fine. Thanks! (laughs)
A new Avantasia album, called “Ghostlights“, is on its way. What is the meaning behind the title”Ghostlights”? Why did you choose this name for your new album?
Tobi: Because the whole concept of this album deals with questionable ideals you have in life. It depends on which philosophy of life you have. Such ideals can be very different from each other. And it’s about distractions to find cross-fires on the way to find out what you really want from life.
Does “Ghostlights“ conclude this phase of Avantasia, or is it going to be a trilogy like “Scarecrow”, “Angel Of Babylon” and “Wicked Symphony”?
Tobi: No, it’s not going to be a trilogy. It’s just about those two records. It’s a concept that started in novel form on “The Mystery Of Time” and “Ghoslights” is based on that one, so it finishes the story. The twelve new songs represent twelve stations on the protagonist’s journey. It’s a journey where he is looking for answers for some questions about his own existence and that leaves its mark on his philosophical worldview as well. Those twelve songs represent key moments on this journey and then it’s done. There is no happy end indeed, it’s a very open ending, but I didn’t want to continue the story in fairy tale form. Instead I wanted it to be more universal, so that people can think about the things that happen in the story. You should be able to interpret it for yourself in the end. So this concept and topic is definitely finished. I’ve also no plans to do another Avantasia album in the near future. I won’t make the mistake this time to say that it is completely over, but … oh God … I think there won’t be another Avantasia album in the next five years or so. I doubt it. But I don’t really know, maybe I feel like doing one more in three years, who knows? I can’t say it, exactly.
I’ve listened to “Ghostlights“ for quiet some time now and to me it feels like this record spreads a darker and more mysterious mood. Was that a concrete decision based on the events that happen in the story?
Tobi: No, that’s just how the song material developed during the whole process. It’s very spontaneously. I’m not that kind of person who sits down after a large market analysis and says “the next album has to be faster, darker or softer”. That will never happen and that’s good, because you can keep it interesting for yourself. I never really know in which direction it will lead. I just have a rough idea in mind when I develop a concept and of course there is a certain quintessence that is always present during the whole process, but I never really know how it will turn out. You never know if a song gets more dark or something like that. These are simply nuances. So many things are happening during the development process, so because of smallest changes a song can go into a different direction in the end. Let me give you one example. There is one song called “Draconian Love” that sounds quiet dark, but that just happened in the studio. Originally this one was a typical Avantasia track in the vein of “Dying For An Angel” or “Avantasia” from the very first record. At the end of the day Sascha Paeth came up with the idea that my duet partner Herbie Langhans from Sinbreed could sing his part an octave lower than me to get a bigger discrepancy between our two voices. And suddenly this song got this kind of – many people call it “Gothic” touch. I really can’t compare it, since I’m not into this style of music, but because of that little change this song got a more darker tone.
I was pretty impressed when I saw Dee Snider in the line-up. I also read that Meat Loaf was supposed to be part of this album. How hard is it to convince such icons like them or Alice Cooper to be part of Avantasia? How does that work?
Tobi: It was very difficult to convince Meat Loaf to be part of Avantasia. You’ll notice that when you’ll listen to this album because you finally won’t hear him sing on “Ghostlights” (laughs). But to be honest, it’s very different. Some people really want to do it, some don’t. In case of Meat Loaf I just can say that his management reacted very positive at the beginning, but for some unknown reasons they finally decided to keep away from it. With Alice Cooper it was a very different story back then. I wrote this song that was predestined for him and my friend Eric Singer just asked Alice to sing this song. Then Alice Cooper wanted to listen to the song first and in the end he was convinced to do it without any question.
OK, so sometimes it’s quiet easy.
Tobi: Yes, sometimes it is easy, but if you want to have people like Geoff Tate on an album it’s more difficult, because he is very, very busy. So we needed to find a certain date within his timetable where he was still available. Sometimes there are issues in finding an appointment and then the whole thing breaks up. It’s not that easy, but if you produce such an album over a longer period of time and if you stay smart then you have the opportunity to be a bit more flexible in finding an appointment.
The first single you’ve released was this kind of “Meat Loaf” track, called “Mystery Of Blood Red Rose” and you do some great things with your voice on this one. Why did you choose this song as the first single?
Tobi: There were several reasons. There were two songs to choose from: “Draconian Love” and “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose”. Those songs had a solid playtime to release them as a single. You can’t release a seven minute song as first single. Ok, maybe you could, but you won’t do yourself a favor, because even the Rock radio stations won’t play such long tracks and they would cut it down, so there won’t be much left from the original song. Furthermore “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose” and “Draconian Love” are both very catchy in my opinion. It was just the right feeling that one of those songs could be the first single. At the end my record label preferred “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose” and I also liked the decision, because this tune is actually more daring. If you compare the sound of this one with other songs it is very timeless … cynics would say “old-fashioned” (laughs). So even on Rock radio this song stands out, because many people don’t know these kind of songs anymore. Of course I know that current radio stations are not interested in playing my songs, but at least some Rock radio stations in Germany, South Europe and England play them from time to time and therefore it’s cool to have such a tune that is kind of controversial. “Draconian Love” instead has this kind of melancholia that you hear pretty often in the 21st century. “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose” is sumptuous and sounds like Meat Loaf around 1979 or at most 1990. That’s exceptional and that was exciting for me.
This track will become one that will go down in Avantasia history, because with that one you’ll participate in the pre-selection round of the Eurovision Song Contest in Germany. Maybe you’ll represent Germany in Stockholm this year. What does it mean to you to be part of this huge show? What are your expectations?
Tobi: To me it means that I can play my music in front of an audience that conceivably don’t know that an act like us still exists. And this is a beautiful, selfish motivation (laughs). How the result will turn out is written in the stars, but that isn’t important to me. Primarily I like the idea of keeping the flag high for this kind of music and it is a great opportunity when it comes to promotion. No more, no less. My record label came to me and asked me if I can imagine to do this. I don’t know if they expected me to say “Are you stupid?”. I thought about it and said “Yes, why not?”. I mean, I already attended a morning show on TV in Germany, we also did some TV stuff in South America, as well as in Asia. So, as long as I don’t have to do stupid things on TV why not singing my song, which I’ve recorded anyway? That’s great and it is a music genre, that doesn’t get much attention in the mass media. So, therefore it’s pretty cool.
Did you ever consider that the participation in this show could damage the image of Avantasia? You know the Metal community can be very conservative. I can imagine there are some metalheads out there who don’t like to see a Metal act in such a commercial show.
Tobi: What kind of Metal band are we, if we would worry about what is proper or not ?(laughs) Seriously, my favorite bands also didn’t ask me for permission on doing such things. Iron Maiden attended “Top Of The Pops”, as well as AC/DC back then. This had no bad influence on the sound of AC/DC or on their career. At the end of the day the Eurovision Song Contest won’t have any influence on the things I’m doing. We’ll go out on world tours, we’ll play our stuff, Avantasia will always be Avantasia, I will always be me, Edguy will always be Edguy and three minutes in television won’t change that … and our fans know that. Those people who don’t know it are probably not our fans. Someone, who deals with us, knows that I see such things in a very pragmatic way. Puff is part of the trade.
With all that media stuff around you, is there anything that bothers you in case of your fame? Can you still live a normal life, especially in Germany?
Tobi: Sure, never mind! It always depends on what you finally make out of it. I’m always friendly when someone comes my way and speaks to me on the street. It’s quiet easy, I’ve no problem with that. Actually I’m a pretty shy person, but if somebody is nice to me and asks me something I’ll always answer them. Sometimes I would love to have a little bit more free time, but otherwise I’ve started the whole thing, so I have to live with the consequences (laughs).
Talking about fame, what was the most beautiful thing you’ve read about yourself in the paper?
Tobi: Oh, I don’t really know. I’ve read lots of nice things about me and if the journalists aren’t assholes they always show their readers who I really am and that is pretty nice.
Avantasia will also do a huge world tour that will lead you to North America for the first time. With just a very few shows American fans are a bit disappointed. Is it that hard touring in the US? Is it a lack of a good promoter or the demand for this type of music in general?
Tobi: It is simply because such a venture like Avantasia is extremely expensive on the road. With Edguy you can easily do a tour in smaller clubs with 500 or 800 people per night. That is possible and is financially viable. With Avantasia you would easily burn thousands of Dollars on each night, if you are not selling out big theatres. I’m not that naive to believe that we are a “big number” in the USA. I know we have a solid fanbase in North America and there is much more work to do, but in contrast to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra we are not so “high gloss” and we are flying more under the radar. That’s why I said, OK we go there, we play on the West Coast, we play on the East Coast and we play in Canada and the people have the opportunity to see us. I know it is connected with three or four hour flights for some fans, but that’s just the way it works. Otherwise it would be impossible to see us in the USA. It’s kind of a test. We’ll see how everything will turn out and how these shows will work. Maybe we’ll do this once more in six or seven years and then we will draw a resume out of the shows we played on this tour. Maybe we can convince other promoters from different cities to bring Avantasia in larger venues, instead of small clubs, in the future. So, at least we have the chance to come to North America without making too many financial losses.
Bob Catley won’t perform on the US dates. So, will you change the setlist? And is there any chance to get other special guests like Bruce Kulick or Eric Singer on the North American shows?
Tobi: I wonder if it would be a good idea to let Eric Singer or Bruce Kulick sing songs like “The Story Ain’t Over” (laughs), although Eric Singer is a good vocalist, but I think he is on tour with KISS at the time. I don’t have any clue, we didn’t talk about it so far. It is Bob Catley, I would have loved to have him with me during these shows, but Bob is touring with Magnum at the same time and I’m the biggest Magnum fan under the sun, so I wouldn’t dare to convince him to cancel his tour. I don’t want to be the reason for tensions between the band members. Therefore I love this band too much. That’s why I said to Bob “you can do the tour with us until the Magnum tour starts and then you have to do Magnum” and that’s the only right thing.
With Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, Eric Martin, Michael Kiske and many others the live line-up is still stunning. Are there any plans to capture some shows for a new live DVD/Blu-Ray in the future?
Tobi: There aren’t any plans so far. We wanted to do that on the last tour, but the interest from our record label Nuclear Blast was so low, that I would have lost much money. So I didn’t do it. I mean I’m ready to do many things, but if you have to go to your bank branch and you have to withdraw a lot of your money, just to lose it because you don’t have the support you need, I won’t do it. I’m ready to invest in some things, but in this case that wouldn’t work out very well for me.
When it comes to playing live do you prefer huge stadium shows (like Wacken) or more smaller venues?
Tobi: I like both. It depends on the people in front of the stage and if the spark is up all the time. Mostly I’m trying everything to light up the spark and if it don’t work from the very beginning you just have to put more energy into your show. I still remember when we did a Christmas show in Germany. That was just a small club, called “Rockfabrik Ludwigsburg”, with just 750 people in it and it was one hell of a show. This was one of the best shows I did in my entire career. I had so much fun, otherwise playing in front of 80.000 people at Wacken is also not a bad feeling. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many people attend a show, some magical things can also happen in small clubs.
At the time we are speaking Avantasia is considered to be more successful than your main band Edguy. Why do you think this is happening? Some people even say that you keep the best songs for Avantasia. What would you say to those people?
Tobi: I would say that they have no idea what they are talking about. It’s simply bullshit! I also try my best when I write songs for Edguy. Writing a song is always a very personal thing to me and every song has to be good. Of course there are some tracks I like more than others when you look at your own discography, but I don’t separate this between Avantasia and Edguy. Everybody has the right to like or don’t like some things, for example I think that “Space Police” is one of the best albums I’ve ever recorded. I think “Rocket Ride”, “Space Police” even “Tinnitus Sanctus”, which is somewhat neglected by some people, or “Age Of The Joker” come up with some great songs. So, it is not true that only Avantasia gets the best songs. For sure the two bands sound quite different from each other, but that’s not just because of the songs. It’s the fact that there are different singers and musicians. Avantasia has a bit more of my handwriting all over it, simply because I can decide everything on my own. With Edguy it is different. Although I’m also the leader of this band it is still fact that we discuss everything within the band. I give 100 percent for both bands. That means 80 percent out of 100 go into the discussions, while on Avantasia 100 percent go into the production (laughs). But I’m still loving the work with Edguy. I’ve never said “this song is too good for Edguy, I save it for Avantasia” in my entire life. That’s bullshit and everybody who knows me knows, that I give 100 percent at everything I’m working on. I was also asked if I’d like to write songs for other artists and I refused, because if I write a cool song it is supposed to be an Edguy or Avantasia song. I also concentrate on only one thing and I never work simultaneously on two things. If I would have a cool song idea tonight I know exactly that this is going to be an Edguy song, because that is what will come up next: a new Edguy album. That’s for sure and if I have an idea tonight I will write it down with the same passion like I’m doing it for Avantasia.
Speaking about Edguy: 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Edguy, and the 20th anniversary of your ‘official’ debut. Do you guys plan something special?
Tobi: No, we didn’t plan anything so far, because an anniversary always sounds so old. Most people today are saying “Edguy – these Grown Ups”, but when you would tell them that we are already 25 years around they would say “oh these old grandfathers, are they already that old and run-down, like others?”, that’s why we won’t do it (laughs). I actually don’t think it is that important, because you’ll get old alone by yourself. Some others are also around for 30, 40 or 50 years. I mean, it isn’t a huge achievement to keep a band name alive over a longer period of time. What I think is more amazing is the fact that we make music for twenty years with the same band members, because there aren’t so many bands around who have the same line-up for such a long time. In 25 years of our career just one band member left Edguy and that was our drummer back in 1997.
Let’s get a little bit back to the beginning. When you made the decision to live your dream and become a musician, how did your family react to this? Did you have their support back then?
Tobi: I think so. I was 14 years old when we started with Edguy, we were 17 when we recorded our first album. So, you simply needed the support. For sure my parents were not that satisfied when their 19 year old son signed some contracts where it was all about the money. I think they thought I would ruin the whole family (laughs). But all in all it was very easy and I got my support. I didn’t get everything I wanted but a certain basic support was there … although they told me three times a week I should think of going to an university or something like that and concentrate on the music later. But I always said that wouldn’t work, because you have to do what you like to do. Otherwise it’s just crap, otherwise you won’t do things that good and I would have been a worse economist (laughs). That’s why I thought I have to build up my band and I can also study later.
What was the most important thing you’ve learned from your parents?
Tobi: That’s a good question. I would say: a lot … although I can’t say something concrete now that would give a cool headline. I would say I’m quite honest. That is something I learned. I’m honest and straightforward. I don’t really know if that comes from my parents, but for sure you take a look at your partens and they were always cool to me.
You are considered to be one of the best songwriters we have in Rock/Metal because you seem to have so many song ideas all the time. But what would you do if you would lose your inspiration? Any plan B?
Tobi: Sure, I would try to get my inspiration back (laughs). No, there is no plan B. That’s always just an excuse to neglect plan A and so plan A won’t work. That’s crap. I’ll think of a plan B when the time will arrive to do it. You can’t be prepared for all eventualities. Beside this I think the basic requirement is how much fun you have while doing these things. I have lots of fun and I won’t let it be taken away from me. I think I just would wait. After we recorded our first demo I was afraid that I could lose my creativity, but somehow I’ve lost this fear over the years. The worst thing that can happen to me is to record an album where I had so much fun recording it and the whole public thinks it sounds like shit. But I could handle it, I even could survive it from an economic point of view (laughs).
Tobi, thank you very much for taking the time. As you know some of the questions were asked by your own fans, do you have a message for them?
Tobi: Yes, I think it’s great that all those people follow me in what I’m doing and that they think about questions you could ask me, because that shows me that those people are obviously interested in my music and everything I do. I think that’s pretty nice and I’m sorry that sometimes I do the things in a different way than they would hope for and if they think I wouldn’t work on Edguy with the same passion like I do it on Avantasia, so I’m pretty sorry for that. But overall I’m very happy that all those people exist, because without them I couldn’t do the things I love, so thank you!
That’s a nice closing remark. Good luck for your new album, tour and of course the pre-selection round of the Eurovision Song Contest, Tobi!
Tobi: Of course, thanks for having me! Bye!