Avantasia is the brainchild of Tobias Sammet (Edguy). The idea first spawned 20 years ago in 1999, and he is just about to release the eighth album in the series of Rock Operas – ‘Moonglow’.
Known for having an amazing array of guest musicians and singers, including such names as Sharron Den Adel (Within Temptation), Bob Catley (Magnum) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche), the albums are all epic, story-telling masterpieces.
HRH caught up with Tobias to talk about the new album, his taste in “new” music, and what to expect from the album / tour.
Hi Tobias, welcome, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at HRH Mag.
So, on its 20th anniversary, we have the eighth instalment of Avantasia’s epic series. When you first hatched the plan 2 decades ago, did you ever imagine it would come this far?
Not at all, I didn’t have a plan at all. Back in 1999 I had done 4 records with my main band Edguy and I felt it was getting a bit too narrow and I had ideas that I couldn’t put to life with a band. So I worked on a little side project that back then every so-called business expert tried to dissuade me from, because “who would need such a thing?“. In hindsight I am so glad about how stubborn I was to jump in at the deep end, it made me grow with the challenge and hadn’t I dared to set off on such a highly unreasonable journey, I guess I couldn’t have written albums like Hellfire Club or The Scarecrow later on. I just wanted to do what intuition told me and I guess the success of it all proves that you should honestly do what makes you happy. When you’re in it with your heart odds may be in your favour. And if not so, it’s still better to be unsuccessful with what you love than playing by someone else’s rules and getting an ulcer.
The new album features the usual array of guest artists – some old hands like Bob Catley and Michael Kiske, alongside new additions. How do you pick the people to appear on the albums?
I have a lot of amazing singers in my working environment, my extended Avantasia family. There are many fabulous singers, that sneak into the back of my mind when a song idea pops up in my head and once they knock at the door of my awareness while I’m sitting at the piano they tickle my inspiration in an incredible way. This happens intuitively most of the time. Sometimes I might also write a song and I just have a vague idea, a type of voice in mind. But then once a song is arranged I have to find out which real life person has the voice I had in mind when composing the tune. For instance, when I had written Moonglow, the title track, I knew it had to be a female voice and I knew how she sounded in my head but it took a little while before I realized that it is Candice Night who belongs to that anonymous voice in my head.
Is there anyone you would love to have as a guest?
I try to avoid the bucket list thing. Because sometimes it feels as if people see Avantasia just as a collection of names. And then people suggest Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga and Bugs Bunny. You know, I don’t take for granted to have worked and continue to do so with the best singers of a whole musical genre, but down the line it’s not their names, it’s their voices and their skills that of course made their names known out there throughout their careers. I love to work with those people because they give a song what it needs and some of their own soul. To answer your question, Bruce Dickinson would be great, Rob Halford or Joe Elliott. If I had the right song… and the required change, haha!
Who has been the best person you have worked with? And the most difficult??
Well, the people I’m currently working with are all easy to deal with. No diva’ism, no bullshit, it’s not really a big problem. There have never been real problems I must say. If you treat people nice they treat you nice, most of the time. That applies for Rock Gods too. If you look at the list of people I have worked with, they are all outstanding. I am blessed to work with the best of the best and it all happens on such a high level that you can’t single anyone out. You know, playing music is not the Olympics. They all sound different. Who’s better, Robin Hood or Scott of the Antarctic? An airplane or a tomato? They’re all unique.
You have been quoted as saying that this is the biggest, most lavish Avantasia album to date – what is it that makes it so?
Its size and its embellishments! Seriously, after I had come back from our 2016 world tour, and another album-tour-cycle had come to an end, I made the conscious decision to not continue working like a maniac. I had done 17 albums and ten tours in 15 years, I had written that stuff, organised everything. I wondered for how long I am gonna live according to a schedule that had begun to renew itself automatically annually – without being questioned. If you are a creative musician and you are responsible, you have to have a reason to do things. There has to be belief, conviction, inspiration. I had to reflect and think and ask what I really want to do at what pace? After I knew I wasn’t gonna do anything anytime soon, ideas kept flowing out of me. But I had no deadline, I built myself a studio and began to work just for myself, and all of a sudden I felt there was no stress. I worked for 2 years on the material, I created enough material to release another Moonglow album which I will do at some point. But the time that I had, became a psychological advantage, I knew that theoretically I could be slow, but that made me very effective. I put things aside, worked on something else and got back to an idea whenever I felt I had anything to add. It was a jigsaw puzzle and I could work at my own pace in my own studio and there was a lot of time to embellish everything.
You have also said that the upcoming tour will be the biggest show that Avantasia has ever put on stage – what can we expect when the tour comes to London in April?
We’ll play approximately three hours every night, we’ll have a big stage set that is designed for arenas, but we’ll get it into the O2 Forum in London as well, we’ll squeeze it in. We’ll play most of our Moonglow album and then about two more hours covering all eras of our history. We can play pretty much any song we want because we’ll be such a great line up with such different voices, there will be Bob Catley of Magnum, ex Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate, Jorn Lande, Eric Marin of Mr. Big, Ronnie Atkins of the Pretty Maids, Herbie Langhans or Adrienne Cohen who is an amazing female vocalist. A new addition to the team, our producer Sascha suggested her and said we must take her into the Avantasia family. She is so versatile with her voice and she will give us new opportunities. I am really glad she is gonna join us. Yes, it’ll be not just a show, it’s going to be a night to remember.
You are obviously very proud of this new album. Was it a different process, a different mindset, that made it different to the others?
It’s hard to say for me, literally just after I got out of the studio in a way. I am happy, I am extremely happy, but as far as I remember I was always happy when I had delivered an album. I guess during the whole process I was a bit more relaxed as I knew I had to hit the brake and that conscious decision made the workforce redundant. Paradox, isn’t it?
What new bands are you listening to at the moment? And who do you keep going back to?
The newest thing I listen to must be AC/DC with their new singer Brian Johnson. Does that qualify? Really, I hardly listen to new music, I’ve got so much old music that I enjoy, I simply haven’t discovered new bands recently. The last band that blew me away were H.E.A.T when they were young, but that was 10 years ago. I like Royal Republic, are they new? Apart from that, I listen to Magnum, Dio, Leppard, Saxon, Springsteen or Meat Loaf. I love Kiss’ Crazy Nights and of course Journey. Yes, that old fashioned stuff back from an age when dinosaurs walked the earth and music was great!
Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Wishing you all the best for the release of the album and the year ahead – We shall look forward to seeing you at The O2 Forum Kentish Town in London on 16th April!
Absolutely, I will be there. Armed with a vengeance and a song! I can’t wait!