Interview with Tobias Sammet of Avantasia, March 6th, 2016

By Mike Bax

Coming for ONE CANADIAN DATE ONLY (one of only THREE North American live shows in April), Tobias Sammet’s collective tour de force, Avantasia, promises a three-hour long spectacle of metal unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Tobias Sammet (Edguy), along with eleven other musicians, featuring members of Jorn, Masterplan, Mr. Big, Pretty Maids, Helloween, Aina, Sinbreed, Beyond the Bridge, At Vance and Virgo are set to perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Toronto, on April 13th – one of the few stages in Toronto that can physically accommodate the Avantasia live experience.

Become part of metal history by attending what will surely be one of the metal events of the year – the very FIRST Ontario appearance of Avantasia in a live setting, and the very first Canadian indoor Avantasia concert.

Avantasia mastermind Tobias Sammet took a bit of time before performing his third sold-out show of the Ghostlights tour in Bremen, Germany, to talk with Lithium Magazine about Avantasia. The following interview reveals some of the details of what Canadian fans can expect to see at the Toronto show, along with some insight into the world of Avantasia courtesy of the curator himself, Mr Tobias Sammet.

Mike: Have you ever toured Canada before, Tobias?

Tobias: We’ve toured Canada before, but not with Avantasia. Avantasia has just done one show there. On the last world tour, we did one festival over there – the Quebec Festival D’été.

Mike: That’s a great festival.

Tobias: It was a great festival. In front of our stage, which was a side stage, we must have had 8000 to 9000 people. That’s what they said anyway. I didn’t count them (laughter). But it was really awesome there. The crowd was really loud and it was really great. That was the reason why we said we have to come back to North America. That was the first Avantasia show in North America. I’ve done a couple of tours there with Edguy in North America – USA and Canada. We’ve always played The Opera House in Toronto.

Mike: It’s a cool venue. It’s probably not a big enough stage for what you are going to bringing along for an Avantasia show, though.

Tobias: No. True. (laughs) It’s a nice venue, though, very established. But for Avantasia, a bit small. I’ve never been to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre but it looked like the stage was great for our show. I’m really looking forward to it. First time indoor Avantasia show in Canada. And a three-hour long show, as well. The festival we did; I have to say I don’t have great memories of it. I don’t have bad memories of it, either. I don’t have memories at all really, because I was really sick last time. I had a very bad flu for that Quebec show and was taken to the hospital the day of the show. When they x-rayed my lungs and saw how bad I was, the doctor said: “I can make you able to walk out on that stage. You’re gonna feel better but you are not going to be ‘good’.” And that’s what he did. I don’t know what he gave me. Apparently everybody said I was a very happy person that night. (laughter) But I honestly can’t recall much of it at all. I saw some video recordings afterwards and honestly can’t remember doing what I was watching. So I’m looking forward to coming to Canada and doing a show which I will actually remember.

Mike: What are you going to do here for three hours, Tobias? Are you going to play both The Mystery of Time and Ghostlights in entirety?

Tobias: No, this is our seventh album and I think we will do a best-of set. We have so many performers we’re bringing for this. I know it sounds insane playing for three hours. Apparently the drummer thinks that way, as well. (laughter) It’s hard to describe it, but it doesn’t get boring. So many vocalists involved – Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, Eric Martin of Mr Big, and Michael Kiske, who some people will remember from Helloween. So many singers coming and going with different interaction – songs with duets – it’s just amazing. This is our third night tonight (currently Avantasia is on tour in Europe) and every time we are on stage, I find I look at my watch and think: ‘What? It’s already been two hours?’ That’s something that is really special. I don’t want to say that with my other band Edguy it gets boring when we are on stage. But we play just 90 minutes. It’s value for the money, but it’s not extending anything. With Avantasia, even after three hours people tend to be surprised that the show is already over. That’s a great thing.

Mike: When you created Avantasia 15 years ago, did you foresee it lasting this long?

Tobias: Not at all. It was not designed to last that long. It was just meant to be a one-off album / double album project. The first album was designed to be a cliff hanger right from the start. To me, that was just a nice little thing I wanted to do outside of my main band. It was designed to fulfil my dream of creating a piece of conceptual music with my favourite musicians and vocalists that had inspired me over the years. I wanted to get Michael Kiske back to singing speed metal (laughter). He had been such a huge idol to me. I didn’t want to write an album and have him sing as a guest singer; I wanted a valid reason to do this, and why I said I’m going to write a musical. We’d call it a rock opera or metal opera just because it sounded bigger and more epic. That was pretty much what I set out to do: just make an album. I didn’t think I was ever going to do it live at all. When we created that first record, I didn’t think I would be in a position to do this live because we never set out to play live. We could do all sorts of things: make thousands of tracks with keyboards and backing vocals and use all of the vocalists and I would never have to prove that this was ever going to work on a stage. It was only six or seven years later that we started to get almost immoral offers to perform live. The biggest heavy metal festival in the world, Wacken Open Air was asking if we would play there in front of 80,000 people. At that point I had to take that chance. It would be stupid to not try. That was when we started to think about how we might translate Avantasia to the stage. That is pretty much when Avantasia became a real touring entity.

Mike: Ok. So let me ask you this: Now when you are creating Avantasia music, are you thinking both visually and musically at the same time?

Tobias: Um, well I want to create certain atmospheres. When I write music I often think visually when it comes to the lyrics and the mood of a song. But it’s not like I do these kind of things in order to write a script for a musical movie. Some people say to me: ‘Can you imagine this becoming the script of a movie? Making a novel or a movie out of my songs?’ I would say no. The music is what counts to me. But still I love to tickle the imagination of the listener, so to speak. So it is visual, yes. But if you mean that I’m thinking about how we are going to do something onstage while we are doing an album, then no, that is something we think about afterwards.

Mike: Do you think that you are going to play the entirety of Ghostlights while you are touring?

Tobias: No. I want to play a lot of Ghostlights songs. But as we are playing over three hours, of course, there is enough time to be doing old material and new material. I want to be current. I want to do something that is valid here and now. I want to prove that the new album can live up to the quality that we have become known for delivering. We will play seven songs or so from Ghostlights. But it’s not like I want to play the album from start to finish. We are playing something like 24 songs on this tour. Seven new songs and seventeen old songs. I think that is a pretty good mix.

Mike: Are you able to speak to any of the challenges that Avantasia faces trying to tour as an eleven-piece band?

Tobias: (laughs) Probably the booking agency would have more to say on the logistics. It is a bit weird though, yes. I realize how difficult it is when it comes to finding the right timeframe to get this juggernaut on the road. I think that is the most difficult part of it. Everybody has got their own bands. Magnum is touring. That’s is why Bob Catley doesn’t come to the Asian or American leg of the tour because he will be out with Magnum. It’s really difficult to align everybody’s different schedules. Once we are all on the same tour bus and standing in the same motel lobby, then it gets a little easier. You have eleven different people with eleven different personal spleens – everybody has their own crazy habits on the road. But that is in every rock band. Avantasia is like two rock bands combined when you do the headcount. But everything is very comfortable for us. Once we all get into the same room together, then everything is quite easy. Of course, we are bringing a great stage production as well, but we have to improvise a little when it comes to shows abroad. Here we have trucks following as around wherever we go. Outside of Europe we have to do things a little differently. But those kinds of logistics, thank God, somebody else takes care of all of that.

Mike: Given that Avantasia albums are story driven, and are broken into chapters or parts, if you will; can you ever see yourself doing a residency somewhere and playing all of these albums in sequence in their entirety?

Tobias: Like going to Vegas and doing the thing 14 times back to back? NO!! (laughs) I don’t want to see myself onstage in a weird costume or anything like that, pretending to be a scientist from the eighteenth century or something. That’s when it becomes a little bit too close to Spinal Tap. I don’t picture myself being that guy (laughs). I just joked about it yesterday with Oliver Hartmann, our guitar player. The first two records were like a fantasy story taking place in 16th or 17th century Europe, during the time of witch trials. I was joking with Oli that one day we will do this, and go on stage and he will be pope Clement VIII. (laughs) And he said “Oh, that’s probably when I won’t be available to join you on tour unfortunately (laughs). We were joking about how that would be very Spinal Tap. I don’t see this happening. Behind the scenes maybe, but not on stage. I don’t want to go onstage being a monk. (laughs)

Mike: How have you recorded with your guest musicians in the past, Tobias? Is that done by file sharing, or do you get to do things in the studio together while recording?

Tobias: It wasn’t all file sharing. Jorn (Lande), Herbie (Langhans) were in the studio. Geoff Tate and Dee Snider were doing it abroad in the United States. I think Geoff Tate did it in his home studio. Dee Snider did it in a studio in New York. So they were not all there with me. It’s a very romantic way of thinking that it’s best to have everybody in the room when you record, but it’s so easy nowadays to work this way around. You still have all the time in the world to go over things meticulously and tweak anything you might not like. It’s very easy to say, ‘Why don’t we do this part again?’ if we don’t like it. A lot of contributions and co-operations wouldn’t happen if you worked without those internet connections. Of course, it’s great to be in the studio together. I remember working with Eric Singer for 20 days in Hamburg for the 3rd & 4th Avantasia albums. The mood was great. But that was recording drums. That’s different. That is something where you have to rely on the room you record in. For vocals you can record in a booth anywhere in the world and it doesn’t have a huge impact on the sound. It doesn’t sound that much different if you are recording in a vocal studio in New York or in Los Angeles.

Mike: Ghostlights is your highest charting album the world over. Were you surprised by that?

Tobias: I’m thankful. I’m not sure about being surprised. Certainly in some territories I didn’t expect it to have that great of a chart position. In a way that sounds very cocky, doesn’t it? But I honestly think we deserved that, finally. We toured our asses off so many times and travelled for album after album. We always gave 120%. We never did anything half-heartedly. And I think people appreciate the blood, sweat and, maybe not so much the tears, but the energy and the passion we bring to whatever we do in Avantasia. I’ve never had a moment creating music for Avantasia where I’ve thought: ‘This is just too expensive; I’m not going to do it.’ I’ve done things that were thought quite unreasonable making Avantasia music just because I believe in the longevity of the music. People realize that we deliver quality no matter what the price is. I think this pays off. That’s why I expected the album to be successful. I knew the quality was there. And I knew that we had done so much work before in the past years that I think our fans waited for the album. And they got something really good for their patience.

Mike: You have hinted that Ghostlights could be the final Avantasia album. Is there any truth to this?

Tobias: No. (laughs) I didn’t really hint this, but I don’t see that I’m going to make another Avantasia album very soon, either. I don’t have any plans to do something else right now. I play music first and foremost for myself. I don’t want to deliver something because I HAVE to deliver something. I want to play music and make albums because I love to do it. I see music as something very spontaneous. Whenever I feel like writing a song, I write a song. I’ll get ten or songs or so together and formulate my storyline and it will be a new album. These are the patterns in which I think. I’m sure it doesn’t make sense now to say that I would never do it again because I am sure I will. It’s just a matter of when. It was so much fun to put this album together that it would be really stupid to say that I won’t do it again.

Mike: Let’s say you are out at a social gathering with a bunch of people and they have no idea you are a musician. So when they find out and they ask you what Avantaisa is, what do you tell them?

Tobias: I’ve been asked that question before, but in a different way. I have no idea, actually. It’s an all-star band. It’s a conceptual project. It’s a band and a project and a solo thing all mixed up together. Most of the time when I describe it to somebody in North America, I say it’s like the mean, dirty little black sheep brother of Trans Siberian Orchestra. (laughs)

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