|I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Chris Caffery and Jeff Plate of Savatage and The Trans Siberian Orchestra. So instead of taking this as an interview, think of it as a evening with two great musicians as we all talk about a little of everything in a cool local bar. The empty chair at the table is for you. Sit on down.|
Chris it is awesome to meet you in person, good to see you still rocking better than ever. Let’s start with some Savatage stuff, now 2003 really sucked because Criss Oliva is dead 10 years and I had the honor of meeting him.. To me Savatage is vital metal, its real and it has a lot of power to it and it’s always changing and fresh. There is such a die hard core following and I love that. So the benefit happened can we talk about that for a few minutes.
CHRIS – More or less it was something that Jon wanted to get together and instead of everyone just being drunk in a bar and talking about his brother I think that’s what it started as. Then a lot of Savatage fans wanted to come and hang out and that spread into a jam session which lead into the memorial thing. It was a lot of fun going up and playing a couple of those Butcher songs since we never did that before. It was really great to get back onstage with Zak again. The show itself really had those special feelings and it’s weird that it’s 10 years have gone by but a helluva lot has happened.
I consider him one of the most under rated guitar players in metal, I really do.
CHRIS – You know what I don’t necessarily think Criss is under rated I think Criss is under recognized, because everyone who knows him, knows how good he was. A lot of people just don’t know, and if they’re with Savatage and his work then they never really had a chance to sit and listen to what he did. Yet anyone who liked guitar players, liked him and a lot of bands who we’ve toured with-- Metallica’s etc they all loved Criss’ playing. He is very, very well respected, he just never got the popularity that he deserved.
So regarding the Memorial concert, this was a one night only thing. Did you guys record anything that maybe a piece could be released from it?
CHRIS – No nothing like that was gonna be recorded and be released, I know the Oliva family recorded it so they could have it themselves but we didn’t have any plans to release anything from that.
I have a question that goes back to “Poets And Madmen”, the last time I saw Savatage. The talk was that this was being recorded for a release back then. You had Johnny Lee, Jeff, this wonderful singer Damond Jiniva. Was any of that stuff recorded?
CHRIS – We never recorded anything on that tour. We were planning for the end of that tour and trying to figure out whether or not we were going to do a live DVD of a concert from that but that never came together. What we wanted to do first was get a studio record done with Damond singing and then go out record a concert from that next tour but that studio album is taking a little bit longer than anyone anticipated so.
What about some of these live DVDs, I mean there is a “Live In Japan” one which Jeff is on, but Chris you are not on this.
CHRIS – No I was working with Jon in Doctor Butcher at the time.
Sadly I don’t have a lot of background on the Doctor Butcher stuff, but I heard some of it because of some friend of a friend of a friend. It’s the kind of thing you guys should make available again because I think when you have a die hard core following, that they will go out and buy it.
CHRIS – We’re planning on doing the release of the Butcher stuff in the States, it’s still available in Europe.
So is it safe to assume that there is a lot of unreleased material Tage-wise that could form a good boxed set and not like a greatest hits thing, but more a retrospect like Slayer just put out this great career-spanning big box.
CHRIS – We really don’t have a lot of unreleased material; we never did. Savatage usually recorded and released what we had. I know there were extra tracks from “Streets” but the “Streets” master reels were lost so they’ll never come out. There was only the recordings we had from L.A. and Brooklyn and those were the only live multitrack recordings we had and there was only one multi camera filming from the Dynamo Festival that I have a master reel from. Actually there’s gonna be more as next year is Savatage’s 25th Anniversary and what the plan is for there to be a “History Of Savatage 25th Anniversary DVD” and some of that material will be on it, all of the videos, the live in Japan. Then we are going to do a 25th Anniversary record and tour and do one concert somewhere that will have any existing members that are important to the bands history will be playing at least maybe a song here and there we will get together and film maybe a DVD from that. So we will probably have two DVD releases next year.
That’s good - So now I used the phrase “cult status” a couple of times already. Now how do you guys feel about having that kind of vibe with the fans, like where everyone at the show is a die hard Savatage fan.
Jeff – Well as much as the band has changed I mean that’s the only reason it exists I think. You know? I mean the band has completely changed members a couple of times. When I joined I think it was probably the most different it had ever been.
CHRIS – It’s a great feeling for me knowing that Savatage’s core audience is that strong. It gets frustrating for me sometimes because we don’t play for them every year and that’s basically the reason why I started writing and planning on doing the solo thing because I want to go out and play every year and when Savatage is off and TSO’s not working I can just go and we can go play and that’s really what I wanna do with this.
Now, I have always kinda recognized you guys as one of the first power metal bands I mean you have your Iron Maidens and your Judas Priests but they started something entirely different. You guys were doing a lot more harmony inside the metal there was always a lot of different guitar stuff going on.
CHRIS – Savatage was actually I think the first band ever really the first metal band to record with the whole guitarist tuned down lower. It was one of those things I think on “Sirens” or “Dungeons” and we checked into and its one of the first records with the whole guitar down that low to drop C and really the introduction of piano into a heavy metal band had not happened very much at all. There had been keyboards and voice in bands like Rainbow who had keyboard players but other than Queen the actual piano in a metal band was something that kinda got introduced on “Gutter Ballet”. That was a signature thing for Savatage.
Now we were talking about Zak Stevens…
CHRIS – He has “Circle II Circle” right now.
CHRIS – Yeah I don’t even know what the story is with that, but Zak just toured Europe with Doro and Saxon and he had a whole new band put together. John Osbourne from Doctor Butcher played drums with him on that tour and I believe the other members come from a Florida based band called “Smackhead”.
I have been watching the metal scene these days and I am liking a lot of the Eurometal that is there--bands like Nightwish and Sonata Arctica and stuff like that. Itseems like you guys made a lot of that come about.
CHRIS – There is a lot of bands that are out now, we get very flattered by that, when we tour we meet bands that have become pretty successful over there telling us that Savatage influenced them and that’s kinda weird. I mean it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing, because it makes you feel old.
Now Chris, you said this 25th Anniversary was going to be next year, but I can almost swear that Jon said 2007 on his website.
CHRIS – No its 2005.
Good, because I saw that and I was like WOW, it’s a bit of time away and easier to look more forward to that if it is next year. Is Savatage still on Nuclear Blast?
CHRIS – We haven’t decided what’s going on with Savatage in the US.
So did you ever think about taking the band in this direction, where “we will do it this way” and the fan club sort of supports it by funding the decisions that you made.
CHRIS – Savatage has sorta become a little different from that, I mean we the band members, we try to organize a lot and get everything done the same way but sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way we want to. When the Trans Siberian Orchestra came about and that band became so undeniably big that there was a time sharing thing that was becoming a little bit of an issue. Savatage would sometimes get the attention it needed and other times TSO would. What happens in this is the focus sorta drops off of one or the other. I mean Savatage – it’s music that you said is fan music and its history is so important and so special, I don’t think its one of those things where the band really needs to go out and sell board tapes and do things like that . It’s just a different kind of thing. People anticipate the studio records and I think the pattern that Savatage has developed will stay the same; we’ll just keep recording and working that way.
I just found that the die-hard likes to own as much stuff as possible you know?
CHRIS – Well if you look on the Internet I mean somebody forwarded me a website that had about 250 bootlegs from live shows on it. People are recording anyway because something like this as you see (Chris grabs my recorder device which I am using to record the interview) fits anywhere and there is really not much you can do about it. I mean if a band was to take it and try to sell it there’s a chance that it is something that everyone has already anyway.
I still think there is a little cleaner sound when you guys would do it as opposed to a audience bootleg. So let’s talk Trans Siberian Orchestra. Each year it gets better and better in my opinion. When it started out were you expecting to be this big?
Jeff – Not at all, we had no idea.
CHRIS – Nobody knew what to expect from this Christmas instrumental song on a Savatage record that on the “Dead Winter Dead” tour we were playing live as a Savatage song it was just that in Christmas of 1995 that song got a lot of airplay, and then the Christmas Eve and Other Stories record was put together and recorded in 1996 and every year it started selling more and more. 1998 we filmed the “Ghosts Of Christmas Eve” TV Special and we were asked if we were interested in trying to do some live shows. It just exploded from there. We never would have thought that it would turn into two simultaneous arena tours going on with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But it just exploded.
Jeff – Our first show in Philly, Johnny Middleton and I were standing on the side of the stage and watching dry ice roll off the stage on to some 70 year old man and woman’s lap and we thought we were completely fucking doomed at that point. Yet they stayed for the whole show and it was incredible.
Is there ever going to be an International Company of TSO. Now of course we don’t want you to avoid anything in New York, Philadephia or Jersey but is this foreseeable to have?
CHRIS – I don’t think there is ever going to be a a third TSO. I mean there have been talks about it but I don’t ever see that happening. I can see possibly in 2006 you may see TSO go to Europe and do some shows for “Beethoven’s Last Night”, maybe 2005 but I would say more than likely 2006.
The DVD “Ghosts Of Christmas Eve” I love it, but similar to my question about Savatage stuff have any full shows of TSO been filmed so you can do a release?
CHRIS – We film every night but its only just a digital camera for our use. We’ve not done any multi-camera filmings of TSO live shows yet. The whole thing with that is with the filming we wouldn’t film any show on a East or West Show, we would have to have the two meet somewhere and do it like that with the whole original band playing. We have talked about ways of doing it and trying to figure out. Like maybe doing three nights in Cleveland, or New York City on Christmas Eve or something.
I notice that every year it seems that “Beethoven’s Last Night” is coming next year, over and over. What does knock it back? Is this proving that difficult to pull together because it is such a big production?
|"We really don’t have a lot of unreleased material; we never did. Savatage usually recorded and released what we had."|
CHRIS – Well the thing is, there’s a couple of things pushing Beethoven back. Like you said there’s a lot of preparation and we need to get the next TSO Studio records finished. That’s kinda like, put Beethoven out and then we need another couple of years to get a Christmas record and then a non Christmas record done, since we wanna get a record out every year of so. Theoretically.
So now onto the solo record, is it going to have a lot of that Savatage feel or is it gonna be more TSO?
CHRIS – I personally think that there is real small amount of this record is obviously Savatage influenced. I mean there is some Savatage feel here and there. It’s in a riff in the guitar playing, but I really think that this record has a lot more of its own identity than people will realize or that people will expect.
Now it’s called “Faces” and I was able to find a little of the tracklist online and I have listed here “Remember”, “Fright Knights”, “God Damn War”, “Life Crazy Life”, “Saddamize” and “Instrumental Thingie” (Jeff laughs), so what is some of your favorite material off of it, I mean I know its all you as you put it all together but is there anything that stands out?
CHRIS – Nothing particular comes to mind right now. It’s difficult now. I would not say whether it’s good or bad I just have a lot of different favorites for different reasons. It’s real hard to say right now and it will be unquestionably easier to answer when the record is done.
So now, besides you Chris and besides Jeff we have Dave Z. So who else is involved?
CHRIS – Well, right now it’s the three of us who are recording. I was considering using an outside producer for it but I decided not to in the end and I’m gonna be doing some vocal arrangements with Al Pitrelli who is gonna come in. He has a great ear for background vocals. Every once in awhile I like to have people who I know and I trust come in. I’m gonna need some keyboard work done here and there so that could possibly be done by Al’s wife Jane. She is brilliant at that. I think Mark Wood is gonna come in and do some guest strings on it, especially on the instrumental thing that I have and the “Saddamize” song. That has the Middle Eastern feel to it and I want some real strings on it. Get some eerie kind of violin work on it.
So what about gigs? Will there be time enough for gigs to be done?
CHRIS – We were talking about that now, a little acoustic show. We are talking about filming a song or two for DVD bonus tracks and I have started to book shows now, but nothing is 100% confirmed. We’re gonna have a festival date in Greece in July and we’ll have a full on European tour in September or October and possibly a couple of other festivals in August. Nothing in the States very likely until next year. Unless I decide to do a couple of weeks of dates here to just warm things up.
Now Jon has his project also, so what about a double thing? I think that would be like – perfect.
Chris – We’ve talked about that and it’s a possibility that something like that might happen in Europe.
So let me ask you this. We hear you saying that the record is going to be heavy. So who should buy it?
Chris – Well that’s a little difficult to say right now I mean the record is heavy but there’s also a lot of stuff that is very flavorful and different. I think, I don’t know exactly how far this is going to reach, but it might be more than anybody imagined because there is a lot of unique sound and feeling going on with this album. Definitely I think the European, South American and American metal, like real Metal fans are gonna grab it.
So bearing that in mind, are you guys happy to see like a full on resurgence of a couple of things and we are moving away from every band having a DJ. We have Halford back in Judas Priest again and there’s Iron Maiden who never really stopped along with bands like Metallica who has also never stopped albeit it with slightly different material.
Chris – Oh yeah, I was always hoping it was gonna come around again. And I think it is capped by Halford coming back into Priest. Because Headbangers Ball is back, VH1 has the Rock Show, things like Fuel Channel, and even people I knew who had little tiny metal shows in Florida and places I knew in Tampa are now Statewide and with Broadband and Digital Cable this has allowed for smaller stations to become bigger and I think its also coming around because every ten years people get tired of the music that is happening.
There was a time when all the music was getting, I don’t wanna say depressing but it was very somber and dark feeling to the music, the Seattle stuff. I mean it was a heroin scene and that drug and that whole scene played itself into the music that was being brought about. Now I think we are breaking out for more melody. I think bands like Evanescence and things like that coming out and some of what we saw as Eurometal mixing in to the US pop mainstream now which is very exciting.
I just had some general questions for you to give the readers some fun stuff. Now I notice at every show that I have gone to you come out with either the City’s team Jersey or the ball cap.
Chris – Yeah I’m the biggest fair weather fan you will ever see in your life. I love sports and that’s the one thing about that whole scene. Actually it’s probably the only television I watch besides the news. I watch the news and sports and that is entirely it. And maybe Emeril Lagasse. I really don’t watch a whole lot but of course I sometimes find myself surfing the E Channels as there is always some kind of ass on there.
Now some other things on music in general. What’s currently in your CD Changer?
Chris – The new “Iced Earth”. I really love listening to it and Tim Owens is a really good friend of ours so I am really proud of it . It’s exciting for me to finally get to hear I don’t think it is even what he can do as much as a piece of what he is able to do. I personally think that he is the most consistent singer that I’ve ever toured with live. Zak Stevens was great, Zak was brilliant, Ronnie Dio was great. Tim Owens is probably the best every night, out of every singer I toured with.
So I asked Chris what CD he has had on, what about you Jeff?
Jeff – Oh Jesus I don’t know, just lately been listening to a lot of metal old Priest and Slayer and stuff.
So besides the music are there any other generalized hobbies that you like.
Chris – Cooking. Hunting. I like to kill and eat.
OK lets call Ted Nugent up.
Jeff – Survivor.
I felt it after years of playing drums also. So I wanted to say that I do own the Metallium and I liked it. Any chance you would work with them again.
Chris – I would consider doing something with Henning because I think he is a great singer . It was also a lot of fun to work with Mike Terana because it is just amazing to watch that guy play drums.
So, we have the site www.Chriscaffery.com and it’s a great site with a lot of content. A very informative website. You are definitely an open book to your audience.
Chris – Yes sometimes a little bit too open but you know. I enjoy writing, I enjoy writing literature I wanna write books. I like writing and expressing so this has been more than anything good practice
Do you find a lot of the same questions, over and over?
Chris – Yeah it’s a pain in the ass, not always the same questions but it gets to the point where sometimes time is really scarce and I literally slave to do what I do on that website. I was one of the first to ---- as the music gets louder above us --- to really write tour diaries and interact with them in a way. www.Savatage.com was really one of the first functional band websites to do that. It was really interactive and had one of the first band forums. I remember reading back in 1997 that some rock magazine had voted it a great site, and it seems like a lot of bands have run with similar models nowadays.
So I am pretty close to done, and I just wanna ask Jeff a few things. So how did it come about you joining Savatage? Did you just hear that Doc was no longer in the band and you got an audition?
Jeff – Zak Stevens and I used to work in a band together called “Wicked Witch”, this is like 88-90. Zak had previously met Savatage and he stayed in touch with them. Now when Jon Oliva left the band, someone in the Savatage camp contacted Zak. Wicked Witch was a metal band and was doing shit since the metal scene was doing nothing at the time so he joined Savatage. He left and I probably didn’t talk to him for like a year and a half then I heard about the Criss Oliva accident and Zak told me that the band was going to still continue and would need a drummer so I got an audition and there I was.
The work you have done on the records is great, to me you were a welcome addition to the fold. Did you find the public as receptive and supportive when you came on board?
Jeff – Well again as I said earlier, when I joined Savatage it had changed drastically. Jon Oliva was gone, so it was Zak, Johnny Lee on bass, Alex Skolnick and me. It was bizarre, I really wasn’t thinking about that I was just kinda enjoying playing
Jeff your switch to the Roland VDrums was most certainly a noticeable change on the last couple of TSO tours. How easy was the adjustment to these devices?
Jeff – We had to change because a lot of the theaters we were playing we designed to get the best sound because I could talk at this volume from the stage and if you were sitting at the top of the venue you could hear us. So when you would hit the snare drum “POW” it was just so loud. With the VDrums you control the whole thing, and it looks really cool. I am using the tympani kit. It works out good for the TSO.
Any influences drum wise Jeff.
Jeff- Well Neil Peart, Carter Bruford, Mike Terana--I listen to everything.
Chris who inspires you?
Chris – There’s too many. Ted Nugent for one, his “Double Live Gonzo" is great. Malmstein on the very first Alcatrazz album. I think there is some of the most ferocious lead guitar playing that has ever been recorded, it’s an attitude on that record that I think has been imitated but never equaled ever. Michael Schenker is my favorite lead player. Tony Iommi is one of my favorite song writers ever as far as guitar goes. Adrian Smith is I think also great. You wanna talk about under rated guitar players Adrian Smith is completely under rated. That’s from an ability standpoint and this guy is amazing and he never really shows it. He just does what he has to do and plays, Adrian is a brilliant player. Great songwriter.
That brings me to the end of everything and I wanna thank you guys for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me and chit chat. I wish you both nothing but the best in Savatage, TSO and solo endeavors as well as anything else in life. OK, my interview is over, let’s get a drink.
Chris and Jeff – Thanks Ken.