Jon Oliva – The Mountain King Reigns

Wednesday, 26th June 2013

Dead Rhetoric: When thinking about Criss’s riffs/solos, is there any one in particular that stands out? Or how about, his most underrated piece?

Oliva: I think Criss’ greatest riff is in “Hall of the Mountain King”, the riff that comes in after the opera part. That and “Power of the Night” are two of his best pieces. Criss was a great riff guy, he was more of a riff guy than a pure songwriter. He didn’t really understand vocals, he would write a great part and then tell me I had to come up with something that I could sing to it. He would give me these cassettes, and give me riffs from that- he would have a half of a song, a chorus part… Paul or myself would finish it off. I also think on the Streets album the song “Can You Hear Me Now” was one of the songs Criss wrote most of the music for. The weirdness of that, I played the drums and bass on that and Criss did the guitars.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find it troubling that you have a tough time bringing in crowds in America, but in Europe, you play to packed houses? 

Oliva: It’s because things are different here in America, we are lazy. People don’t want to go… it’s hard to play a show on a Tuesday night and people have to get up and go to work early the next morning, and you don’t go on stage until 11:30-12 o’clock at night and you pay money to get in, money to drink. I think it’s more that than anything… in the early 90’s it is where things started to go down, you didn’t get the big turnouts, when the drinking age changed from 18 to 21 in all the states, that’s a big hit that all live performance venues took. In Europe, they seem to be more into the live performance thing, in America people are too busy and it’s too expensive, you worry about getting busted by the cops if you leave having too much alcohol in your system. It scares a lot of people off.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the advancement of technology? Do you believe things are moving too fast for their own good, and people need to balance out this 24/7 instant access/ gratification that cell phones, texting, and social media feed off of?

Oliva: I think it’s annoying to be honest with you! [laughs]. It is progress and you can’t stop progress but it causes problems. With CD sales, the internet is a great thing for bands to get known, but it kills the artist as far as royalties goes because you aren’t making money off of CD sales, everything is downloads or pirated. It makes it a lot more difficult for bands to survive, the income has been severed. That’s why you are seeing more bands having to play more on the road, because they need to make a living in that manner. It’s a double-edged sword, really.

Dead Rhetoric: In your vast catalog of work through the years, what record do you believe hasn’t received the proper amount of respect or attention from the fans?

Oliva: Of my records? Any record, that’s a great question! I would have to say the Streets album was very underrated and should have done way better than it did, but when it came out it was right at the time that grunge started and the record industry was in a weird state of flux, and it got overlooked. I still think that that is the best Savatage album we ever made. I was disappointed that it didn’t do what we expected it to do.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel being one of the upstart bands of the U.S. metal scene, did a lot of bands look to you for insight and advice into how to advance through the trials and tribulations of management, record labels, booking agents, promotion, and publicity?

Oliva: I’ve produced some bands and tried to talk to many bands through the years. My advice is to not sign anything, unless the lawyer is your brother. I signed a lot of bad paperwork early in our career and it ended up costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars. You have to make sure you have someone in your corner that knows and understands the business. Contracts and such that you can trust- I watched many bands that should have made it big and didn’t because they never made it past that stage of getting the record deal together because they didn’t know what they were doing or they signed bad paperwork and only did one record, having to break up because everyone is broke. Taking advantage of young kids who only want to make music, it is like shoving them into a pool with sharks. Record companies back in the early 1980’s, it was cut throat. They were out to get everything, and they did! A lot of bands got overlooked because of those simple things.

Dead Rhetoric: Are you surprised by the longevity of Trans-Siberian Orchestra at this point?

Oliva: I’m shocked and stunned, but very happy. I thought TSO was going to be a three-five year thing, and it’s now gone on 15-16 years and still going strong. I think this is because it’s a good message, a strong message, it’s quality music and we give the people a hell of a performance. The biggest indoor light show in the world and it’s different every year. We make it affordable, we don’t charge people $250 a ticket, and I think that’s why people keep coming back. We are like the Rockettes of rock ‘n’ roll.

Dead Rhetoric: I’ve watched some classic footage of your early days in Avatar (the pre-cursor to Savatage), including some live material from 1981 in front of a Dream House- Sleeper Sofas store in Clearwater, Florida. What are your memories of this show and the crowd reaction?

Oliva: Not the one where I am wearing the fur moccasin boots! [laughs]. At that time that was the biggest audience we had every played to, that was in a K-Mart shopping plaza in the middle of the summer, it had to be 110 degrees, and I am wearing these big, knee-high moccasins and it was so hot on the stage my feet were burning up. There were like 8,000 people at the show.

Dead Rhetoric: What was your favorite tour with Savatage, either in the states or in any part of the world through the years?

Oliva: My favorite tour was when we went on tour with Motorhead. It was our first European tour and we supported them for four weeks. It’s a miracle I survived, and a miracle that Lemmy and the boys are still alive. I thought we knew how to party back then, we were only 21-22 then and they made our drinking look like we were altar boys. I was shocked that they were still able to go up and play every night, and they would be unbelievable. They were very nice to us; Lemmy was the first guy ever to get me to drink Jack Daniels whiskey.

Dead Rhetoric: What do the next 12-18 months look like in the life of Jon Oliva as far as touring, recording, and general lifestyle?

Oliva: Wow. I’ve started working on the next JOP record with Dan helping me out, I’ve got TSO stuff- I am in the studio with them now. I am putting together some more solo material because I want to do another album there eventually. TSO rehearsals are coming up; I am busy and I might as well do it while I am still kicking.

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