Avantasia’s Tobias Sammet – “heavy metal and Rock n’ Roll is not about making sense”

Posted by on January 31, 2019

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia project’s new album Moonglow will be released on February 15th via Nuclear Blast (pre-order here). The record is the follow-up to 2016’s Ghostlights, which brought the heavy metal project to North America for the first time. We spoke to Sammet on the upcoming record, touring plans, dissect a few songs, and more.

I listened to Moonglow at least 50 times already, and it’s very different from Ghostlights. It took me a few rounds but tracks such as “Ghost in the Moon,” “The Raven Child,” and “Starlight” stands out the most. With that being said, can you explain the overall process?

Well, it all came together very naturally and innocently, and in the beginning, I have to say, also maybe a little bit unintentionally. I didn’t know if this was going to be a new Avantasia record. I was composing for pure joy without anything in mind. I came back from the Ghostlights tour in 2016, and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. At that time it was getting a little bit on my nerves that I was composing and creating, working on an assembly line and I said, ‘I’m going to interrupt this, I’m going to have a little break. I’m not going to do anything in particular, no goals, no deadline, no record contract.’ Then I started building my own studio, and I worked on the song ideas and music.

Then for a short time, I don’t remember when exactly that maybe this would be a solo record. And I composed some things, collected ideas, for no reason I composed. Then I realized if I ever do a solo record, who would be the guitar player? It would be Sascha Paeth. OK, who would be the producer? Oh, I would call a producer called Sascha Paeth. And I listened to the material and then I thought, OK, this is a solo project, your producer is Sascha Paeth, your guitar player is Sascha Paeth, the material sounds like Avantasia, I have to say, and of course, is in a way a solo project, that’s when I knew this would be an Avantasia record.

Compared to earlier records, the difference was, I wasn’t working on a deadline, no goal in mind, nothing in particular. I had all the time in the world. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, things were coming together, and they fell into place very naturally. A lot of things were all based on my intuition. I think it was around 2017 when I knew this was going to become an Avantasia record and still, there were 18 months until I delivered the final record, which was during the end of 2018. It was a very relaxed working process; I have to say (laughs).

That makes sense about the process because what surprised me most about Moonglow, was hearing the cover of “Maniac” at the end of the record. It was a huge curveball, and I didn’t expect to listen to it, what made you decide on covering that song?

Pure joy. I always loved that song, and I told Sascha that we should do a cover version of that. And of course, it had been done, and it’s been overdone. As I did not have a specific goal with it in mind, I thought, OK we’re going to do a cover version and see what happens. I don’t need to use it on the record. It was absolutely not planned to use on the record. Because why would you want to have a cover version on a conceptual Avantasia record? Once the basics of the song was recorded for “Maniac,” it sounded so great that I thought OK, if we would have a duet partner for the song, I immediately thought of Eric Martin. I thought this would be a great Avantasia song and also a great counterbalance to the more sophisticated material on the album because some of the songs are quite long with 11 minutes running time like “The Raven Child” and the 10 minutes in “The Ghost in the Moon,” I said it might not make sense to put the song on the record.

But heavy metal and Rock n’ Roll are not about making sense; it’s about fuck it and follow your intuition, and doing the fuck that you want to do. We put it on the album, and it worked. It’s a great song. It feels like it’s a part of the album. Story-wise, or conceptually put it this way; it’s not.

You made it original as well; you didn’t copy verse by verse, you added different parts to it.

Absolutely. Thank you very much. Yeah, I really love it and when we sent it to Eric, because when he recorded his parts in San Francisco, he also said, “I could do this song.” We asked him very carefully, I said, “Eric would you mind doing a cover song with me as a duet” and he said “yeah sure! It’s a great song.” He said, “oh it played over here on US radio all the time in the 80s, everybody knows that song. I love it, let’s do it.” He was very positive about it.

I admire your creativity and ambition; you maintain a high creative energy for each project. What’s your secret to creating such incredible material with both Avantasia and Edguy over the years?

Thank you, first of all. I think there is no secret, I think if you do what you love to do and if you follow your intuition, and if you’re a little stubborn at times, and you have the capacity for suffering when not living up to certain expectations; I think then you can come up with something that has quite a potential to be appreciated but by others as well. You have to appreciate it first by yourself. That’s the most important thing.

That’s my goal. I know that you cannot always do what every fan likes it’s impossible. There will always be somebody who dislikes a certain song you write. That’s very normal. But the best that you can give your audience is your honesty and to be honest, as an artist, you have to be stubborn at times. And say, well this may not be catered to a certain target audience, but I have conviction and belief in it, and I believe that this is great this is all I can give, and this is the best I can give according to my humble opinion. I want to maintain that work ethic because it gives you the biggest chance to do something that would mean something to others as well.

This reminds me, in Ghostlights, there’s the song “Let the Storm Descend Upon You.” I think it’s a classic and timeless track. It was beautifully put together, and I was curious if you would make a song as ambitious as this song again?

I didn’t think that track was so ambitious. I don’t want to downsize it, I think it’s a terrific track, there wasn’t any other approach and then starting some other song. It was a song. Some songs turn out to work more appealing to the listener and to me as well, and some less. You never know when you started, and the secret to such a massive and extraordinary song. I think the secret in quotations marks is that you just let it flow and do something very natural. Of course, it’s also good when you don’t have to squeeze a song in a specific format. I let the song take its own direction once I started writing it. It sounds very cliche and cheesy but, let me explain it, the song will tell me what to do. What is so funny about “Let the Storm Descend Upon You,” or strange, in a positive way, odd grotesque you name it, that it has a very long intro and build up and once you think now it will explode into a song, it just mends into a second overture, so to speak. I think it takes almost four minutes until the first chorus steps in and I didn’t do that to come across aristocratic.

I didn’t want to come across posh or sophisticated, no I just did something unusual, and to me, that’s what the song was demanding and wanted to have a second overture, and we did it. Also, Sascha said, wasn’t it a bit long in the beginning the whole build up. I said no, listen to Richard Wagner. He build up passages over 3 or 4 minutes, providing an arc of suspense by increasing the tension. You would think, now it would explode, and it doesn’t. It went on and on and on, and then when it finally explodes, it’s a real heavy explosion. That’s what “Let the Storm Descends Upon You” was about. We gave the song what it needed. I really like that track. It’s a process that sometimes you have to be stubborn and do things that are quite a little bit out there and follow your own vision and dream up something that hasn’t been dreamt up yet.

I agree. Anything goes when you write. The creative work will eventually write for you.

Absolutely. There’s also the lyrics, sometimes people ask me to dissect certain passages, and they say “Ok what did you want to say with that particular line. And I swear, I never do things just so they rhyme. They have a meaning to me. Sometimes, it’s even tricky to dissect things afterwords, and it’s not an excuse, saying the song dragged me, the song made me do it. It’s really true, things do make sense in a certain frame of mind and a certain situation. It’s hard to explain sometimes, it’s truly the song that takes what it demands.

I understand. Ghostlights brought Avantasia to the United States for the first time for a 3 hours extravaganza. I know you’re coming back this spring with Moonglow, what should fans expect this time around?

We’re going to play approximately 3 hours; we’re going to play most of Moonglow and then another two hours, a best of set. All the other seven albums or songs from all different eras of the band. We’re not going to strip down the stage presentation, which means, you will get all of these singers. It will be a great lineup of amazing, fantastic singers, and musicians and instrumentalists as well. But the vocalists will be taken by Geoff Tate. There will be Eric Martin of Mr. Big. There will be Jorn Lande. There will be Ronnie Atkins of the Pretty Maids, Bob Catley, the singer of Magnum will be there, Herbie Langhans, Oliver Hartmann, Sascha Paeth; it will be a massive, massive night, and you will get to see some of the best singers in rock history, singing Avantasia songs. I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to it. I know only four shows in the U.S and one show in Canada. Of course, we have to rush a little bit because we have the time frame of 10 weeks to cover the whole world of that tour because everybody has their individual schedules with their own bands as well. But, we will do those five shows in North America, that’s more than what we did last time. I think that’s a positive thing. I’m excited.

Same here. I’m planning to fly out to see you in Chicago or LA. I’m excited myself to see this.

That’s a perfect choice, both great cities.

Would you ever take Avantasia to 70000tons of Metal?

You know, I never say never, but the thing is: I hate ships.

I understand.

It’s as plain as that. We’ve done the cruise once. We were treated nicely; everything was perfect. No worries at all, it was a relaxing experience. Have I gone on that cruise, I wouldn’t have become friends with Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids. And he’s a very dear friend of mine now. We met at that cruise, he had a couple of beers, I had a couple of beers, and we were speaking about anything about music and about touring. He told me about playing in Greenland, which I think hardly any band has done that and he did it with the Pretty Maids. He said, it was an eternal night, where it was cold and dark.
I met him at 70000tons of metal, and that’s why I will never regret having gone there. But I get a little bit claustrophobic, in those small rooms and you’re stuck there, and you’re on a boat. It’s a boat. Everybody says “oh cruise ships are so amazing! You have a library, and you have a gym, and you have three restaurants.” Yes, what the fuck, I have three restaurants, a gym, and a library in my little village. I don’t have to go to a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Of course, I don’t have dolphins over here in my little village, but that’s a different story. There are only very few occasions in my life when I said, “oh it would be great to see dolphins in my garden now.” You know, I don’t really miss dolphins here in my country. In brief words: if there’s enough money, I will do it.

Avantasia has collaborated with so many artists over the years, is there anyone you wish you can collaborate with that you haven’t yet?

Put it this way, of course, every musician would work with their heroes. Brian Johnson, Paul Stanley, or Bruce Dickinson, Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Elliott. There are a couple of Vikings I want to work with, but I also say, I don’t have a bucket list because I don’t want to make Avantasia gimmicky. I am blessed to work with some of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock. I mean Michael Kiske of Helloween, Geoff Tate of Queensryche, he’s been influential to tens of thousands of classic theatrical metal singers around the world. He has influenced generations of heavy metal vocalists. Michael Kiske as well. I work with these people. I work with Bob Catley, Eric Martin, Ronnie Atkins, amazing singers. I work with them for the right reason because they’re great voices and they make a great song. I believe, even greater, and better, and that’s why I don’t really miss anything.

Of course, if you ask the little boy in me, I would definitely say, ok Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. But, it’s not that I am unhappy with my lineup. I am very thankful, and I don’t take anything for granted. I’m thankful to have these great vocalists are contributing to my musical dream. I am blessed and really flattered and honored. I don’t take it for granted.

That’s awesome. You should never take anything for granted. You’ve worked with so many talented artists. With that being said, is there anything else you want to add or say about the album?

I think it’s an amazing album, of course. This year’s album, coming up, 15th of February, Moonglow in stores. OK that was the promotion bit. I really really like the album. I think we’ve all done a great job. I know that’s our profession and responsibility, and what we have to do but, I’m really happy with it. I think everybody’s a little old school, a little grotesque and abnormal, and lives in the past who is as uncool and unfashionable as me, and who loves classic metal and rock like Ronnie James Dio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, and all that stuff, and James Steinman. If you fall in those categories, you will love it. And I can’t wait to return to North American soil.

I agree with you on the album. I think it’s fantastic.

Thank you very much.

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