INTERVJU: Tobias Sammet i Avantasia

Tobias Sammet och hans lekland Avantasia är högaktuella med “Moonglow” där sångare som Bob Catley, Geoff Tate och Candice Night medverkar. Vid ett kort promostopp i huvudstaden tog vi oss ett längre snack med Tobias där han bl a berättade om en misslyckad invit till Blackie Lawless, hans kärlek till Jim Steinman, att inte veta vad man egentligen vill och en eventuell “Moonglow” del två:

Yes, there will be a ”Moonglow part 2” and you´re the first one to not actually ask about it and get an answer. But I don´t know when. In five years, in ten years? I have no idea, but the basic ideas are there. 


You´ve travelled the world, you get to work with something you truly love doing, you´ve sold a bunch of records… have you been able to figure out what true happiness is?

That´s a very philosophical question. I´m happy most of the time. Being a father makes me extremely happy and I´m a ware of that I have a very, very good life, but it doesn´t necessarily make you more sad than others or more happy than others. I´m happy to be able to do what I do, but of course I have my good days and my bad days too. I think I´m happy most of the time. After we finished the last tour and when I was about to face the next episode of my life, which was seemingly predestined, I realized that I was about to lose being happy because I felt like I was not the pilot in my life. It felt like I was the passenger. I didn´t know what was to come next and I had the feeling that everybody else knew. That´s when I realized ”This is very fucked up!” I´m doing all the work and the record label and the fans and my bandmates… everybody knows what I´m doing next, but nobody asked me if I approved it. That´s when I realized I was really tired after the last tour. Not so much from the tour, but from the fact that I had to deliver something new, but I didn´t have a record deal. I said ”No, no, no you don´t have to deliver anything now. If the new record comes out in ten years I don´t fucking care!” That´s when I really made a conscious decision for myself that I had to slow down to not lose control over my own life and not just become a cogwheel in the machinery that I din´t even have an influence on. I solved by finding myself a hobby, which was building myself a studio. I said I´wasn´t going to do anything and that´s when the creativity started to work and I built songs. Two years later I´m here. I have a new album and the treadmill is on again.

When it comes to making a new album, be it Avantasia or Edguy or whatever, what part of it would you say is the most fun? Coming up with ideas or the recording of it…?

The creative process… I don´t dissect it into writing and coming up with ideas. Initially it´s just one blurry bubble and it all happens like that. For example, there´s a bonus track on the new record called ”Heart” and I remember that I recorded the basic ideas for it and I did a layout of the song in my recording system from start to finish and sent it to Sascha (Paeth) and said ”Can you please add guitars and bass!” He put it together and while he was doing that I had already my parts together and I started recording the vocals and I recorded them as they came. The lyrics were very much a stream of consciousness and I recorded them. It´s all just one big mess and I just enjoy doing that. Especially this new record. It was like a catharsis because I created it while I was not sure when I would have to deliver it. There was no record contract. In the beginning I thought it might become a solo record. There were two songs that I had written that ended up on Edguy´s ”Monuments” (2017), ”Ravenblack” and ”Open Sesame”. I had written those songs in that unidentifiable songwriting session of mine and at some point I relaized that it could be a solo record but it sounded like Avantasia, ”and by the way, this would sound much better if Jorn Lande would sing it and this would sound much better if Michael Kiske would sing it”. Then I thought I wouldn´t like to get the record deal myself, so I hired an attorney and of course I ended up with a record label that released the past albums too. It wasn´t really actually that new, but it felt new. It was a very free, unforced creative process.

So you basically started out writing songs and didn´t know where they would end up?

After a certain time I knew where it was going. I don´t know exactly when, but in early 2017 I knew it was Avantasia. Why would I do a solo project? Avantasia is a solo project. I don´t even have to sing everything myself. Great! And it´s very inspiring to write for Bob Catley (Magnum) and Geoff Tate (ex Queensryche).

Are there singers you´ve reached out to that have told you no?

Yes, there are. Bruce Dickinson for example. ”Who does he think he is?” (laughs) For every album, seriously. I asked Rod Smallwood (manager) because everything has to go through him. He´s a nice guy and very protective of Iron Maiden and he said in a very nice way ”It won´t happen.” (laughs) It was a clear answer. On the previous album I wanted to have Meat Loaf, but it didn´t happen. When I was younger I took these things very personally, but it is what it is. The show must go on, even without them.

Speaking of Meat Loaf. The first song on the new album, ”Ghost in the moon”, has a Meat Loaf kind of feeling to it.

Yes, of course! I´m a huge Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman fan. I didn´t try tog get Meat Loaf for the song. I wanted to have a second vocalist as a duet partner on that song, but I have to be honest, it was really funny… I wanted someone to sing the second verse and the mid section and Sasha said ”Tobi, if you ask me, the vocal performance on this song is so outstanding, we should keep it as it is. Just your vocals.” Now, I´m the boss in the band, but who am I to argue if he says something like that. I said ”Sascha, I have to agree. I would love to have someone else, but it´s your call.” But it was very inspired by Meat Loaf and heavily influenced by Jim Steinman.

What is it about Meat Loaf and Steinman that speaks to you? I personally love ”Bat out of hell”. (1977)

It combines epicness with rock and roll and it combines classical and visual elements and soul elements. I mean the backing vocals on the song ”Bat out of hell” is heavenly influenced by soul music and I like how Steinman combines these things. How he combines European music with black music and it´s beyond all borders and that´s something very unique. My music has always been very European, but when you listen to Jim Steinman he has both sides in his music. I like that. The visual aspect and the narrative aspect. It´s a bit like Broadway, but more rock and roll. I don´t know what it is exactly, but I like it. I also like the second ”Bat out of hell” album. The first one is amazing and the second one is really great with songs like ”Objects in the rear view mirror…” and ”Out of the frying pan” and the opening track ”I´d do anything for love”

Would you like to work with a guy like Jim Steinman?

I´ve never reached out to him. I don´t know what he´s up to these days or if he´s still working. Not really. It´s not a political decision. Then you have someone else who tries to interfere with your decisions and I hate people interfering with my decisions. That´s what I´ve got in common with Napoleon or whatever. I can´t stand this stupid democracy thing in music. (laughs)

I thought we´d talk about a few of the tracks. Tell me about ”Ghost in the moon”

It took one and a half days to record the choir, the backing vocals for it. Four gospel singers and great vocalists. Americans and from South Africa as well. Sascha knew them and had worked with them. They work in Hamburg singing musicals. It took so long to record. Not because they were bad, but it was so much, different layers and passages. It´s a great opening track for the album. It also describes the atmosphere of the album right away. It sums up what the album is about. It´s about a misfit. It´s ab out somebody who sticks out like a sore thumb. A creature that is created into a world where it feels it doesn´t belong and therefore it escapes into the darkness. It seeks shelter in the shadows and it wants to be invisible. In that darkness it seems to find a gate out of its misery through imagination. The song is a very great example of somebody who feels like a monster, who doesn´t belong. Who feels misunderstood and who wants to be in a different place. It´s like ”The beauty and the beast” or ”Frankenstein”, that type of story and it kind of describes what the whole album is about.

Tell me about ”Starlight”

It´s a very easy listening track. It has very accessible melodies and there´s not even a guitar solo. It´s a very simple song and at the same time it´s very intense because of the melody. Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) added a real dark, melancholic loneliness to it, which I really like. It´s a song about solitude.

”The piper at the gates of dawn”

It´s not been inspired by Pink Floyd. It´s inspired by a short story of Arthur Machen called ”The great god pan” (1894), but just the title. It´s a very great story and the whole album has been inspired by the great Victorian novelists and the Victorian revival of the dark romanticism ghost story. The song itself is about… ”The piper at the gates of dawn” is a metaphor for a gatekeeper to a different world for somebody who is offering the protagonist in that song a way out of the kelch(?) of expectations. In a way it´s very autobiographic. It´s about my situation a little bit. Everybody knows what is best for you. You have no needs, you have creative freedom and everything is great, but at the same time everybody knows what is good for you. It was meant to be a short uptempo song, but then it got longer and longer and it felt natural. Now it´s 7.30 or something. There are seven or six singers involved in it – Ronnie Atkins, Jorn Lande, Geoff Tate, Bob Catley, Eric Martin (Mr Big) and me and I didn´t want to cut anything. I thought ”Nobody´s going to play it on the radio anyway, so we can keep it and over seven minutes.” (laughs)

What about ”Requiem for a dream”?

It´s been heavily inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach, but at the same time by Helloween. I didn´t know if Michael Kiske was available. He said ”Yes, I´m gonna be available.”, bu the was so busy with Helloween that I didn´t know if it would happen. It happened in the last minute, but it worked and it´s a song I´m extremely proud of. Lyrically it´s about growing up, because I think in the world according to the smart people, growing up is about burying dreams. When you´re young you´re naive and you believe in things. Growing up is being surrounded by people who will ultimately convince you that you should not believe in, for instance, becoming an astronaut. Growing up is about becoming reasonable according to the world of the adults. I think that sucks.

When you were growing up, were your parents supportive of what you wanted to be and you becoming a musician?

Yes, but I don´t think it was because they believed it would happen. I´m the third child and the two previous ones were pretty alright with good jobs and everything. It was probably ”Ok, 66 percent is ok. Somebody´s always gonna fall by the wayside.” They were very supportive. My father is unfortunately not alive anymore, but my mother admitted to me that one day my father said to her ”He´s all gonna make us go bankrupt.” I signed these record deals and there were relatively a huge amount of money involved even back then. I signed it and I didn´t have an attorney, nothing, and that´s why I´ll get the rights back in 40 years. (laughs) I did all these business things, I just jumped in and did it and was not aware of any potential consequences. I was simply doing things. I don´t know if I would´ve been as supportive as they were. They always said ”Can´t you please do something serious, besides being a musician?” I said that if it wouldn´t work, I would always have time to work at a bank. And I said ”These are the most precious years of my life and I will see if this works first and I will always have time to fall back on my feet and do something serious.”

You worked with Candice, Ritchie Blackmore´s wife, on this album. What was that like? Did you have her in mind when you wrote the song?

No. The song was done and I knew what voice it had to be, I just didn´t know who had that voice. The song has a very demanding vocal line to be sung by somebody. I was trying to find the right voice and in the process I realized it was going to be Candice Night. I told someone to get in touch with Candice´s manager, which is her mother I believe, and they were interested. They said it was a beautiful song and that they would do it. I never spoke to Candice and never met her. We know of each other now and I´m sure next time they will play somewhere around my place I will go there. It´s funny, afterwards you listen to the song… when you do something in Avantasia there are not many given parameters which makes it very exciting, anything is possible. There are many directions and you don´t know what will happen and after it´s finished it seems like this was the only way it was supposed to be. Nobody else could´ve done it as great as Candice did it. It´s really weird how everything falls into place.

You´ve said that ”Avantasia is the ultimate playground for a musician”…

Yeah, it is. Of course a solo project is the ultimate playground for a musician, but Avantasia grants me the financial back up to completely go crazy. This is the most expensive record I´ve ever done in my entire life and I don´t know where all that money went actually. We had this huge choir session, we had a Celtic harpist. That alone doesn´t make it the most expensive record, but also the time span and the studio I built for the record. I think this is the most expensive mastering I´ve ever done for a record, because we took all this time. It was mastered over three weeks or four weeks. Everything was done on a very high level. It took so much time to mix the record and to try things again. There were no limits and no boundaries and I was going to London many times to work for the album, but sometimes just to recover, write and get inspiration. When you have the possibility to work like that, it´s unbelievable and highly recommendable. When you have the financial back up from the label, supporting something of that scope… everything works on such a high level and you don´t have to go ”Oh, we should do this in a cheap studio! No, let´s hire a big studio and let´s go into a nice hotel and take seven days instead of two days.” The first time I experienced a record like that was when we did ”The Scarecrow”, because I was granted such a great budget that we did a drum recording that cost more than most bands spend on a whole record. We were in a really expensive studio for three weeks with Eric Singer (KISS) and the nicest hotel. That´s why I say it´s the ultimate playground. I feel I have all the options in the world. The booklet for the new record… in my study I have a replica of the Victorian painter John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) and he painted night scenes in oil. Very intense paintings that are very inspiring. I look at it all the time and it´s so inspiring to me that I thought that everybody should have that experience. Looking at those pictures and letting their imagination go wild. I said ”What can we do? We need to get the rights for those pictures.” I contacted a picture agency who holds the rights, but photographic replicas of the original oil paintings from museums. Those photographers get royalties so I had to get the rights for 15 pictures and I wanted to have them in the booklet. We will have a limited edition of the new album with all these huge pictures in there. It was really expensive to get, but it´s great and I can share it with the audience. These crazy little things are very precious. And recording many songs and recording many more songs than you actually need, trying to work in different directions, taking all the time in the world, taking two years… that is something I wouldn´t want to miss.

Were there a lot of songs recorded for the album that didn´t make the cut? How many did you record?

I don´t know if I´m supposed to say that, because my wife said ”Don´t say that!” I didn´t count actually, but it´s probably more than 25 songs and I didn´t pick the best ones. I picked the ones that I thought were appropriate, so there´s a lot more material, which is not finished. But too good to not be finished. To answer your next question – yes, there will be a ”Moonglow part 2” and you´re the first one to not actually ask about it and get an answer. But I don´t know when. In five years, in ten years? I have no idea, but the basic ideas are there.

Who was the first music hero that you got to meet?

Paul Stanley maybe. The way he said “Tobias” I will never forget that, because that was the only thing he said. (laughs) Gene Simmons was talkative. Paul wasn´t. Maybe he was resting his voice? I met Steven Tyler, but I didn´t talk to him. We were on tour with Aerosmith and they were super cool. No restrictions, nothing. We were allowed to go everywhere and use the whole stage. No security keeping us away. I was allowed to watch their show from the stage. I was in a room next to Steven Tyler and it was in 2007 and I didn´t dare to speak to him. He was tinier than me, I believe. There was nobody else. I don´t know if he knew that I was the singer in the support act for the whole tour? We were standing next to each other and it was a stupid situation. Most of the heroes I met were really cool. Funny thing, I wanted to work with Blackie Lawless (WASP) once. I had an appointment. He was supposed to sing, as far as I´m concerned, on the  – “Scarecrow” album. I sent him the track and we had an appointment at 2 o´clock – “Blackie´s still in the hotel.”, 4 o´clock – “Blackie´s still in the hotel.”, 6 o´clock – “Blackie´s still in the hotel.”, 8 o´clock – “Well, Blackie´s not gonna talk to you before the show… To make a long story short, at 2 o´clock at night I was invited to Blackie´s dressing room after he had gotten off the stage. He was very nice. He said “Tobi, to be honest with you, I haven´t listened to the track, but I don´t do these kinds of things.” I said “Cool! Thank you for letting me know.” He was nice and he said “I won´t do this unless it really impresses me and if it impresses me, you will know. Now I have to take a shower.” and then he pointed at the door. (laughs)

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen