Kamelot – At the Center of the Universe

Sunday, 26th April 2015

For those who followed Kamelot going all the way back to their fabled 1999 The Fourth Legacy album, their success in North America is nothing short of remarkable. Circa the late 90s and early 00s, the band purposely avoided extensive live duty here, for the simple reason there was no market for a melodic/symphonic metal band of their nature. And if there’s one thing to know about Kamelot and their mainman Thomas Youngblood, it’s that there’s always a plan in place. So when the tide started to turn come 2007’s excellent The Ghost Opera, the NA metal scene has embraced the band in kind, turning them into veritable headliners, as demonstrated by their large club run with Dragonforce that’s set to launch in late April.

The band will be touring in support of their new (and totally awesome) Haven effort, the second with singer Tommy Karevik. Karevik, who had the difficult task of replacing popular ex-vocalist Roy Khan, has turned in a world-beating performance, as evidenced by cuts such as “Fallen Star,” “Insomnia,” and most notably, “My Therapy,” to which DR proceeded to gush about to Youngblood. Ever the professional, Mr. Youngblood took it all in stride…

Dead Rhetoric: The comfort level with Tommy – where was it for Haven? It had to be a little easier than the first go-round.

Thomas Youngblood: I don’t know if I’d use the word “easier,” but you could say there was less pressure. That first initial with a new member, whether it be a singer, or a guitar player, it’s definitely something that is sort of crucial. Once we got through that period and Silverthorn came out, in my opinion, better than expected, that takes a little pressure off your back. You get back to the feeling where you don’t have to prove anything. When it came to working on Haven, we definitely wanted to do something unique, but also keep the Kamelot DNA.

Dead Rhetoric: Did he do anything that surprised you? A song like “My Therapy” jumped out right away for me.

Youngblood: Pretty much every time I got a demo back, the choruses were so strong on all of the songs. It’s really one of the first records in a long that I’ve wanted to play every song. I think that’s a really cool thing. It has a lot to do with the vocal melodies and the choruses being something…I’ve spoken to a lot of different journalists and you picked out “My Therapy” and today somebody else said “My Apocalypse” and “Revolution,” so it’s a really cool thing to hear all of that different songs that you don’t expect to be people’s standouts. The first time I heard “Here’s to the Fall,” I was floored by the vocals. That was one of those goosebumps moments that made me go, “Okay, the fans are going to be eating this stuff up.”

Dead Rhetoric: You mention Tommy doing demos and sending them back to you. How much of a green light does he have to do as he pleases?

Youngblood: He pretty much does what he feels like is the right thing. Unless there is something odd, we just go for it. I also look at lyrics. I feel a bit of responsibility when it comes to lyrical content and making sure that what we’re doing has some sort of message. Maybe it’s a dark message, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t have any signals toward suicide or anything like that. He gets that, so there was nothing I needed to change. In the past, there was some stuff where I was like, “I don’t want this to represent the band.”

Dead Rhetoric: Quality control.

Youngblood: In a sense. Basically, we gave him carte blanche and he crushed it.

Dead Rhetoric: A lot of bands of your stature, they don’t survive a singer switch very well. You’ve made the transition pretty seamlessly. Has it gone better than you thought it would?

Youngblood: With the way Silverthorn came out when it was finished, it went better than I expected. I never looked at the singer switch as something that I worried about. I really felt we have an open-minded fanbase. There’s been a lot of examples of singer switches working. We tried to look at those examples, not the ones that didn’t work. [laughs] If you look at AC/DC or Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, or Bruce Dickinson coming in, these are good examples. My favorite example is Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath. Heaven and Hell, that was my favorite record by Black Sabbath by far. There’s always those kind of things…once we were handed a certain situation, we never looked back after that.

Dead Rhetoric: Oliver [Palotai, keyboards] seems to be more in the songwriting mix these days. Has he become a good sounding board for ideas?

Youngblood: He’s awesome. Honestly, in the past, we had tried to include him and I think at that time, he was more in a prog mindset. His ideas were awesome, but I didn’t want to go too far into the prog realm. When we started working together on Silverthorn, he got it right away. Kamelot has a certain kind of chemistry, so we built even more on that with Haven. He was instrumental in writing a lot of the songs on the album. That’s a really cool feeling for me because I knew with Silverthorn, things we were working really well. To see that with Haven and to think about the years to come is really exciting.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had keyboard players in the past, but no one at the level of Oliver. Is it hard for you to imagine he’s been in the band for ten years now?

Youngblood: No, not until someone mentioned it to me it was his ten-year anniversary. It’s crazy…time is just flying by. We’ve always been so focused on not only, having goals, but enjoying the journey, and not looking back too much. We’re not too nostalgic. That’s another reason why we’ve stayed relevant. We’ve tried to grow and add new elements to our sound. It’s part of the reason why we have the kind of fans we do. They have more of an open mind. They appreciate things like that.

Dead Rhetoric: What about a guy like [producer] Sascha [Paeth]? He’s been with you since the late 90’s. In some ways, he’s the sixth member of the band. Do you feel that way about him?

Youngblood: Yeah. It’s been great. At some point, I’m sure he’s going to be too busy and we’re going to do something different, but with Haven, I wanted to bring him back because he’s been such a great team member. He’s an amazing musician and perfect at knowing how to hone in on the Kamelot sound, which is something he touched on with The Fourth Legacy from that point on. He’s been really good at working with Tommy on both albums.

Dead Rhetoric: What were your first thoughts when working with him on The Fourth Legacy?

Youngblood: I was pretty freaked out, actually. I was so used to dealing with stuff here in Florida. Sascha, when I heard the Rhapsody record (presumably Symphony of Enchanted Lands – Ed.), I was so blown away by all the stuff going on, so I thought, “Let me just send him an email…” I don’t even know if there was email at the time. [laughs] Luckily, he was into it. I sent him Siege Perilous and some of the demos from The Fourth Legacy, and he flew to Florida and we spent about three weeks together. I got a place near the beach, and we spent three weeks going over the songs. That was a special time. From that point on, we’ve become really close friends.

Dead Rhetoric: You haven’t always been happy with the production on Siege, and you bring in a guy like Sascha…

Youngblood: The problem with Siege Perilous was that the studio was overbooked and we got booted out of there. I ended up going to Area 51 to finish the mix and the mastering didn’t come out how I wanted. Also, we were a little bit inexperienced songwriters back then. Working with Sascha and Miro helped us become better songwriters because they had a lot of experience.

Dead Rhetoric: Unlike most American bands, you opted to first focus on Europe, then devote more time to the States. How rewarding is it to finally see all of your work here pay off?

Youngblood: It’s been great, especially when I see a lot of our contemporaries in Europe never being able to come over here. That’s an obviously a nice luxury to play here and to see it grow. Some of the shows on the US tour are going to be 2,500 or 3,000 people. It’s been awesome. We’ve worked really hard for the past ten years touring here, and it’s paid off to a certain extent.

Dead Rhetoric: Circa the late 90s, would have been able to fathom doing tours like this?

Youngblood: Yeah, it’s weird. As things happen, whether you’re a musician or whatever you’re doing for your profession, you forget about all of the hard work and little details. Then you’re like, “Oh, wow, here I am!” There’s been a lot of little things here and there, and decisions that were crucial to career moves. And, a lot of luck. But at the end of the day, it’s been having a great fanbase who is loyal, and who appreciate what we do. One of the cool things about Kamelot fans that is important, is that they still like to buy physical product. Not a lot of bands don’t have that anymore. We’re fortunate in that respect. And we have open-minded fans who appreciate each record being different.

Dead Rhetoric: I saw the Ghost Opera tour in 2007 at the Cleveland stop. What was the moment that you knew you finally had “arrived” so to speak, here in America?

Youngblood: I remember playing The Grove on the last tour, and it being completely packed. That’s in Anaheim. I would go to The Grove during the NAMM convention and they’d have the big Dean [guitars] party. It was this big huge venue. Then when I heard that we were going to be playing The Grove, I was like “Wow.” Then to see it full, it was even better. At Orlando in the House of Blues, that was a venue I never thought we’d be playing. It was kind of surreal. The show last year was basically packed. This year, they’re expecting a really big turnout, especially with having a good special guest. It’s been great to see the progress. I could just imagine the things we have planned coming up, it growing even more.

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