Kamelot – Interview 2010

The poisoning poetry

After having listened to a few well-chosen parts of an album which has already been severely delayed, it is time for a talk to Roy Kahn about his opinions on quality, old members and new ideas.

2009, January.
The snow rests heavily on a remote cabin called Ottertepp in the Norwegian Winterland, the scene resembling that of the Overlook Hotel in Stephen Kings’ book The Shining.
Inside Jack Nicholson is not at it, murdering his family however, and even though there is hard work going on, the famous line ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ will most likely not be heard, and there will certainly not be any corpses frozen stiff at the end of this story. Or will there…
Inside the cabin sits two black-clad men, one Norwegian and one American, and together they are laying the foundation of what is to become the ninth shooting star on the sky of Kamelot, the CD called Poetry For The Poisoned. Why here though, in the middle of the wilderness?
Now we’ll fast forward a bit…

2010, June.
It has been about a year and a half, and the scenery has changed from a wintery-cold cabin in Norway to a high-tech, modern record company office in a summer-warm Hamburg, Germany.
The day before I was invited to a pre-listening session of Kamelot’s upcoming album, the results of which you can read in another article here at the site, and now it was time for a little one-on-one chat with vocalist Roy Kahn. It felt relevant that the first question should also be about the very beginning of the work-process, and I therefore asked why he (Kahn) and Thomas (Youngblood – guitars and founder) chose to work in such a remote setting.
-There were several reasons actually. The cabin is located the town where I come from (Elverum), which is fun for me, and the forest in which the cabin is used to be owned by the farm from which my family originate, so in a way it’s like coming home. Quite literally.
-We’ve actually always held our writing sessions in this town, but it has been in another cabin. Ottertepp can’t really be called a cabin, it is more like a mansion. About a 1000 square-metres, four floors, a swimming-pool, yeah, what can I say? We also knew we would attract the media’s attention, as it is so famous and all, so it was also a business decision. We had an outdoor gig coming up, where we were headlining in my hometown, so we figured this would give us some good publicity. And of course curiosity also had a finger in it, I’ve always heard about this place, but never actually been in it...
As Kahn seems very enthusiastic about the place, a curiosity arises about whether he feels the cabin as such has had a role on the whole writing process or not.
-Maybe, but I’m sure it would have worked in other places as well. Something which was special about this certain place was that it was so big. Tom and I could sit at opposite ends of the house without disturbing each other, and then I could come over and say;”I’ve written this, can you do something with it” or Tom would come over to me and be like;”I just did this on the guitar, so can you write something for it” and so on. It was a practical way to work.
When you look back at several of the latest releases by Kamelot, there is a strong sense that there is a will to create music with themes here; Epica and The Black Halo were a directly linked story, and the latest one, Ghost Opera, was, if not a coherent story, at least built up around the same themes. Because of this, is there a chance that the new one, Poetry For The Poisoned, will also be a theme album?
-No, Poetry For The Poisoned will not be a theme album as such. I mean, every song will have its own story to tell, but there is no specific thread running through the entire album.
Kamelot have a long-standing history with the two producers Michael ‘Miro’ Rodenberg and Sascha Paeth, both of which are well-known in power metal circles. They have actually worked together for more than 10 years, going all the way back to 1999 and The Fourth Legacy. So when pondering about how often other acts change producers, sometimes as much as between every album, it would be interesting to hear Kahn’s opinion about staying with the same crew, and if he feels there are any special pro’s and/or con’s with this.
-Well, there are some of both I suppose. A pro is that we know who we are dealing with; we know exactly what they can do in terms of producing an album, and we know it works because has worked so many times in the past. A con could be that you risk getting tired of working with the same people all the time. And both Sascha and Miro are very busy people, they always have a lot going on. For this album it has been insane, because they have had three other mayor productions going on at the same time as us; Epica (Design Your Universe), Rhapsody Of Fire (The Frozen Tears Of Angels) and Avantasia (The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon). That of course has a huge part to do with why the album is running so late.

New actors, familiar faces

As we speak and cover most of the conception of the album, it feels like the right time to change the subject, and we move over to the people involved in Poetry For The Poisoned.
The first thing on the agenda is that Kamelot’s bassist through many years, Glenn Barry, who has not been able to attend the bands live-performances for a long period of time, last year came with the decision that he was leaving the band. Instead of him, Kamelot have now taken Sean Tibbetts in as a permanent member. Tibbetts isn’t new to the band through, as he has up to this point been filling in at the shows where Barry hasn’t been present. But there is a much longer story between Tibbetts and the band than that though.
-Sean was the first bassist of Kamelot and was one of the founders, but he quit prior to the first album. Now as Glenn couldn’t play anymore, we had to find a solution to the problem. Sean lives nearby, he’s a good performer and plays well, so he was an obvious choice. Of course, we also felt that the whole idea about getting the original bass-player back was fascinating.
So an old friend rejoins the troops, but has this had any effect on the music?
-Well, he plays differently than Glenn. Sean is more, how should I put it, modern in his approach and his expression.
Apart from the permanent members, Kamelot are enthusiastic users of guest artists from all the drawers of the metal cabinet, and even some from outside it. It is still the vocalists who most easily grab our attention though, and here Kamelot have used as different voices as Simone Simons’ (Epica) airy arias and Shagrath’s (Dimmu Borgir) hoarse black metal croaking, to name but a few. Also on Poetry For The Poisoned we will hear a few outsiders, and it is therefore interesting to hear directly from the mouth of the permanent singer what he feels this constant use of other singers than him brings to the band and the music.
-All singers bring their own character and put their own mark on music. In some songs we bring people in simply because we write things which I cannot do, like the female parts. Now, I could sing most of these parts if I would use a high falsetto, that is actually how we write the songs to begin with, but since they are written for women it would only end up sounding gay.
-Then sometimes we go all the way over to the other extreme, with guys like Björn (‘Speed’ Strid) from Soilwork (sings in The Great Pandemonium on Poetry For The Poisoned) and his really deep, growling voice. I can do something close to it, but not nearly as deep, dark and with as much balls as that which Björn delivers. And Jon (Oliva – ex-Savatage) was perfect for the role in The Zodiac, he delivered a nice edge to the vocals in it.
As mentioned, Kamelot has been around the block, collecting guest vocalists, so one has to wonder if there is anyone they would wish for, but has not already worked with. As I put this question to Kahn, he first lights up with a confident answer that there are several, but as I try to put a little more flesh to it he looks confused and has to admit that he cannot at the given time call to mind anyone at all that he would like to work with, but as he quickly adds:
-The world is full of artists, also in other genres, whom I look up to and like.
Having said that, it is easy to conceive that guest artists is something Kamelot will keep on using in the future.
-The guest vocalists have always been a part of the concept. On Ghost Opera it was only on a single song, where Simone sang, other than that there was no one. It all depends on what type of songs we write.
Here Kahn must think exclusively on lead vocals, as there is backing vocal used on several of the albums tracks, but we don’t delve deeper into this, as it is time to move to the next point on the schedule.

Visual treats

With a vague memory of the latest live-show I had seen at this time, and a much fresher memory of the album covers and music videos I have watched during my research, it hits me that Kamelot seem to hold a very high standard also for the visual side of what they send out as a band. We’re not talking shaky handheld recordings of half-assed shows here, the technique is state-of-the-art and everything has had a grand overhaul with digital effects and the like. So is the band also consciously putting extra energy into the aspects which doesn’t directly involve the music? The answer is swift and confident.
-We make an effort to put a maximum amount of time, energy and money into every little thing we do. We’re famous for driving people mad, because we work with everything we will release for as long as possible, all the way until someone comes after us with a baseball bat and says its delivery time. Luckily, we have reached a point where we have a budget which allows us to work with things for as long as we feel is necessary. There is of course always some little thing we would like to fidget around with a little longer, but you have to deliver sooner or later.
At this point something comes to Kahn’s mind, and he takes a short break to pull out his laptop. I can see how exited he becomes as he tells me he has just been e-mailed the new album cover, created by no one less than Seth Siro Anton, and a video-trailer for Poetry For The Poisoned, made by Ole Lingwall. While we wait for the computer to load, I sneak a little question in concerning the bands policy about who they work with also in non-music related issues, such as cover artwork and music videos.
-We always try to get the best people possible for every little aspect of what we do, given the time and resources that we have available. We are real control-freaks, ha ha!
Here the video begins, and it looks real sweet with loads of effects. It was clearly not a joke when Kahn said they were aiming for the best. The only negative thing to say really, is that it finishes too soon. Kahn explains that the clips that were used are from the upcoming video for The Great Pandemonium, which he had hoped would have been finished by this point, but Lingwall had said that in that case he would have had to cut some corners, something neither of them was prepared to do. Also the cover is really beautiful, in a disturbing kind of way, as it covers the entire screen of the laptop.

Nothing new under the sun, or..?

To further build on this conversation, I ask if this visual consciousness is something Kamelot is also working on implementing in their live performances. I am aware of their special stage attire, and at the time I saw them there was also a lot of pyrotechnics happening, but is there maybe something more which the band has thought about?
-The live-shows is probably the place with the most potential for development, I mean you can always do bigger and better. On the albums I have a hard time seeing how much further we can push things, but we have lots of ideas for our concerts. Again, it all depends on the amount of time and money we have.
As the tour for the album, which isn’t even finished yet, is already well under way, and the future holds a host of festival gigs around Europe, followed by a North American tour which holds among other things a headline spot at the ProgPower USA and after that a South American tour as well, it feels relevant to ask if we will see something new already at these shows.
-No, not really. As said, we are already in the middle of the tour for the album, but there will always be room for changing some songs out and that sort of stuff. There will always be some form of new elements.
-The big difference between a normal tour and festival gigs is, among other things, that most of the audience might not know the band. You also have a shorter time to play, so to keep the show going the ballads go out. Unless you are headlining of course. We have a couple of headlining gigs, Zwarte Cross in Holland for example, which is this huge mainstream festival for about 30- to 50000 people. There will be some wild effects and a lightshow for that one!
After recently having seen Kamelot at the Magic Circle Festival IV (see the review elsewhere at this site), where they played the new song The Great Pandemonium, I must admit that it is one impressive and well organized package they are travelling around with; it has something for every taste. But what else does the future have in store for this onrushing orchestra?
-Right now it’s just more of the same, more touring. Other than that I don’t know. Maybe some new project, like a DVD, or maybe a conceptual album with only cover songs or ballads. It depends on what we feel like doing.
And with these words I chose to round up a very interesting conversation with one of the brightest stars on the modern power metal sky.

(this article was written by me for Metalized magazine, issue 70, prior to the release of Kamelot’s album Poetry For The Poisoned)

Text: Tobias Nilsson

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