Interviews Photos

Tobias Sammet: There’s nothing less appealing to me than a song that describes how the fucking elves get from Forest A to Valley B!

Interview by Adrian Hextall

Pictures (C) Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media

Following on from the very impressive ‘Ghostlights’, the new 11 track album from Avantasia sees Tobias Sammet reunited with some familiar faces from previous albums. Guests include original QUEENSRYCHE lead singer Geoff Tate, PRETTY MAIDS frontman Ronnie Atkins, Michael Kiske of HELLOWEEN, Jørn Lande (ex-MASTERPLAN), Eric Martin (MR BIG) and MAGNUM’s Bob Catley. Moonglow also introduces new collaborators Hansi Kürsch of BLIND GUARDIAN, KREATOR’s Mille Petrozza and BLACKMORE’S NIGHT frontwoman Candice Night in a truly spectacular fashion. 

We spoke to Tobias about the new release and his love of storytelling (as long as it doesn’t involve elves!)

AH: For us, of course, it’s a very welcome return for the band as well. I say, band, it’s more than a band, isn’t it? It’s a project that just evolves as time goes on?

TS: To be honest with you I don’t really know what it is. It is something… It seems like a band, it seems like a tribal thing when we are on tour. Also with the same players being in the band… at the same time it’s also some kind of project with a treasured guest, or it’s a band without the democracy part. I don’t know what it is but it feels good.

AH: I can imagine it does. It’s almost a vision as much as anything else. Isn’t it?

TS: Yes. That’s a good compromise. Not a band without a project. It’s a vision. It’s a life achievement. It is a religion of vision. What else can we say? A piece of art, it’s a seventh wonder of the world. [laughing] You name it! It’s everything, it’s all of it and much more.

AH: And of course that brings us very neatly to the next point – every release going forward becomes quite a challenge. Doesn’t it? Well, normally how can you do as well as if not better than previously but how do you get everybody together at the right time?

TS: It’s just you try not to think of it as a challenge. You try not to think of it as a competition with your own previous albums, because after all even though the industry really tends to compare albums, and I do as a fan as well… Which is the better record? Is it the Number of the Beast or is it Piece of Mind or whatever? But in music there is no better and worse. I try to approach music very very innocently, and very much based on intuition. The will to express myself and to compose, express myself lyrically but also musically… It all happens very naturally.

I didn’t even start this record with a goal of producing a new Avantasia record, it was quite the opposite. So I was composing and recording and doing demos in a newly built studio of mine and I thought maybe it’s gonna be a solo record or something like that, but it sounded like Avantasia. I wrote it and then with all the guesting, some of them are known, some of them I’ve had in my mind when I wrote a certain song. Sometimes they say yes sometimes they say no. You know sometimes some people have better things to do. [laughing]

AH: You mentioned the right voices for the right songs as well, you’ve got two or three new ones this time. I mean Hansi [Kürsch Blind Guardian]– I believe is coming in for the first time to perform with the album?

TS: Hansi Kürsch? Yes, it’s his first first time on an Avantasia record. But I have to say I have been friends with Hansi for more than 21 years. When I had the idea of asking him, I already had a vague idea that he would not decline because we had worked together on one of the early Edguy records. We already spoke about him being part of Avantasia back in ‘99,  2000, but he was super busy back then and well it didn’t happen until now but I had an idea it would happen if I would ask nicely. [laughing]

AH: It does there to show you though just how quickly 18 years can pass before you got to do what you anticipated doing in early 2000.

TS: Absolutely! And you know what, the pace had gotten on my nerves by 2016. I was working too fast, and the expectations were kind of choking me. That was one of the things that I noticed, my life was going by… I mean when you are a kid, your time measurement happens… at least that was the case for me, around Birthdays and Christmas’s. It was, “Oh it’s that time of the year again.” You’re waiting for Christmas as a child, one year passed by, but you don’t think about the fact that life doesn’t go on forever.

AH: I know what you mean, there is that point in life where as a child, you’d never consider what could go wrong. You just think that everything will continue year, after year, after year. But then as we get older we recognise that actually, this could be the last chance to do this, or something like that.

TS: Absolutely! And now I realised that my life is pretty much sliced into album touring cycles, and they began to happen so automatically that I was not even involved I didn’t really have a say in it anymore. You are so stuck in that treadmill that you start questioning it, because everybody else is yes yes okay yes we have already booked a new show for next year, and yeah you can do an album, you can even release it in August… or if you need a little more time we can do it in December.

AH: I do know exactly what you mean though. It’s time to put the foot on the break and look at your options.

TS: Yeah! Absolutely! That’s what I want, I wanted to slow down and you know do more on my thing.

AH: I understand that. Definitely. And of the new people, and the family as we know you’ll turn to for the albums. Who you’ve got coming out on tour with you because of course, we get you in a sort of eight to nine weeks time touring across Europe mainly?

TS: Yes absolutely! We are gonna come to London. We are going to play the Forum.

AH: Well we saw you last time, I remember it well.

TS: Yes, think it’s like flying out of the window, as Eric Martin says or would say, as he phrases things, it’s really going great and we will have a great show we will have a big stage production. We will just do everything to put on a great show but not make it to a final top it’s still going to be a rock and roll show after all. There will be Eric Martin of Mr. Big he will join us. Yolanda will join us, there will be Bob Catley of Magnum, of course, Ronnie Atkins will be there, Pretty Maids, Geoff Tate he will join us this time.

AH: Wonderful.

TS: Michael Kiske won’t come this time. He is recovering from the Helloween tour, and he just wants to relax a little bit so he’s not going to join us this time. 

AH: I don’t blame him I would imagine that’s being quite the most intensive tougher in many years it’s been pretty fall on.

TS: Absolutely and also emotionally I mean, of course, there was a lot of pressure on him I mean all of a sudden he’s back in the band and ticket sales rocketing up you know and I think that’s also for somebody who cares and he is a very caring person and I think that’s also a mental challenge.

Of course, Oli and Sascha, Felix Bohnke is gonna to be on drums same as last time. We are going to have three singers during the backing vocals. It will be a great show, we’re going to play approximately 3 hours, we’re going to do most of the new album and you know two plus hours of old material.

AH: Wonderful.

TS: We are all looking forward to it. We’re putting the stage together right now, putting many ideas and we just see which of those ideas are possible and what’s not. It’s going to be a big show.

AH: You mentioned the stage setting, I mean the thing I remember most from the last tall the way you are introducing the singers they come in at the top of the stairs, in the middle of the stage set. It was always a surprise, and it was the care that greeted them as they made their first appearance, and then it was mixed as who came out next whether it was then two or three of you singing as well. I mean the concept itself is fantastic and it really keeps the audience engaged because they never quite know what’s next.

TS: Absolutely! I think that makes Avantasia so special, and it’s something I’m fully aware of… That magical aspect of it. And I’m really happy about that and I’ve never wanted Avantasia to be a gimmick that kind of out-does or out-shadows? Does that word exist or it doesn’t?

AH: I know what you mean though, overshadows.

TS: Overshadow, yes. I don’t want it to overshadow, I don’t want to show that the gimmick overshadows the music that’s also something for the record. With Avantasia it’s very well balanced I think, and we are putting together a great stage right now. It’s going to be a huge stage set again. It’s going to be a big show but not the final top, it’s on top but not over top. [laughing]

AH: I know exactly what you mean and as I say everything you did last time, worth because it gives the audience that level of anticipation that if it appears we didn’t know what was coming next that was wonderful. In terms of the show and in terms of the album as well I would imagine you have the term rock opera, passed to you many many times as a result to this. Do you look back for inspiration to things like say Bat Out of Hell which of course now celebrated its fortieth anniversary?

TS: I love Bat Out of Hell. In the case of Avantasia, and yes to answer your question, I have been really inspired by Jim Steinman and what he did with Meatloaf. It sounds very operatic and very a visual song, a visual album and it sounds conceptual but it is not. But I never really… Well, in the beginning, I had that approach of doing a rock opera or metal opera when I did the first two records. I think it’s really difficult to do a concept album which is a rock opera, with an ongoing story being told in all its details, and at the same time maintain the poetic aspect in an individual song. To me the smallest unit of a musical album is the individual song.

I think there’s nothing less interesting, I think, or less appealing to me than a song that describes how the fucking elves get from forest A to valley B and what they see… Who the fuck cares? And who likes elves anyway? [laughing] That approach is always too Spinal Tap to me. I wanted always to have an individual song that would be poetic that would leave room to interpretation and that would work on its own. I think I never have that on the first two Avantasia albums they had a different approach.

But with this new album, I think it’s a very good compromise. It’s a conceptual thing. Every song is one aspect of a bigger picture, the bigger picture of a very coherent world which is Moonglow. It is based on a story that I have in my mind. Every song makes sense individually and it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It’s very… I want to believe deep… Based on personal experience. So that makes it… to me much more interesting, and I don’t want to say mature, because I’m not sure if heavy metal and rock music are supposed to be mature… But in that case, I picked mature. [laughing]

AH: I would say it is also more likely to stand the test of time as well when it is that more mature approach as you say. 

TS: Yes, sometimes… I have to be honest, and some probably will hate me for saying that. I love the first two records but sometimes when I’m on stage and I do those songs, I’d go “What did you write back then?” I still love the songs, and I love to do it, but I think a song aged better when you give them something that you don’t find… A Broadway song, or chapter out of Broadway musical…

AH: When it’s grounded a little bit more.

TS: Yes.

AH: Now I get that. Absolutely! That was wonderful. I love the comment about the elves that will make me chuckle for the rest of the day. Thanks for that.

TS: [laughing] Okay.

AH: That’s great! Tobias, listen Thank You very much for your time my friend!

TS: Thank You Very Much! Thank You very much! It was a great conversation. 

AVANTASIA – Moonglow World Tour 2019

TICKETS: http://avantasia.net/
27.03.   SK   Presov – Tatran Handball Aréna
28.03.   SK   Bratislava – Hant Aréna
30.03.   DE   Kaufbeuren – All-Karthalle *SOLD OUT*
31.03.   IT   Milan – Alcatraz
02.04.   CZ   Prague – Forum Karlín *SOLD OUT*
03.04.   DE   Berlin – Huxleys Neue Welt
05.04.   DE   Ludwigsburg – MHP Arena
06.04.   DE   Bamberg – Brose Arena
08.04.   DE   Fulda – Esperantohalle
09.04.   DE   Saarbrücken – Saarlandhalle
10.04.   FR   Paris – Olympia
12.04.   DE   Osnabrück – Osnabrück Halle
13.04.   DE   Hamburg – Mehr! Theater *SOLD OUT*
14.04.   DE   Oberhausen – König-Pilsener-Arena
16.04.   UK   London – The Forum
18.04.   DE   Offenbach – Stadthalle
19.04.   CH   Pratteln – Z7
20.04.   CH   Pratteln – Z7
24.04.   ES   Bilbao – Santana 27
26.04.   ES   Barcelona – Razzmatazz 1
27.04.   ES   Madrid – Palacio Vistalegre
02.05.   SE   Stockholm – Arenan
04.05.   RU   Moscow – Glavclub Green Concert
06.05.   HU   Budapest – Barba Negra Track
09.05.   JP        Tokyo – Blitz Akasaka
12.05.   AU   Sydney – Metro Theatre
14.05.   AU   Melbourne – The Forum
17.05.   US   San Jose, CA – City National Civic of San Jose
19.05.   US   Anaheim, CA – City National Grove
21.05.   US   Chicago, IL – Patio Theater
23.05.   CA   Montreal, QUE – Metropolis
24.05.   US   Worcester, MA – The Palladium
26.05.   MEX     Mexico City – Auditorio BlackBerry
29.05.   RCH     Santiago – Teatro Caupolican
31.05.   RA       Buenos Aires – El Teatro Flores
02.06.   BR       São Paulo – Espaço das Américas

Festivals
11. – 13.07.     D         Balingen – Bang Your Head!!!
11. – 14.07.     CZ       Vizovice – Masters of Rock
14. – 17.08.     D         Dinkelsbühl – Summer Breeze

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