Tom Youngblood On ProgPower USA: "Glenn [Harveston] Is So Good At Putting Together A Roster That’s Varied, But Still Super Interesting"
I had just landed in Charlotte hours before and driving 3.5 hours to Atlanta to attend my very first ProgPower USA experience. No sooner did I arrive in my hotel and check in, when I called in to Kamelot's tour manager, who asked me if I could come early. First time in Atlanta...and I had an interview with founder/guitarist Tom Youngblood in 15 minutes. I took a quick survey of the city on my walk down to Center Stage, the venue that hosted the first night of the "Silverthorn" North American tour with Nightwish. This second night proved most special, as guest vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) was on hand to provide backing vocals for new track "Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)" and live mainstay "March of Mephisto" (check out Metal Underground.com's review of night two of Kamelot & Nightwish pre-shows kick off at the ProgPower USA at this location).
Youngblood sat down to discuss "Silverthorn," its concept and music direction, the vocal search that led to new vocalist Tommy Karevik and what the ProgPower USA experience is like for a musician.
CROMCarl: So the anticipation for “Silverthorn” is palpable, especially since the release of “Sacrimony.” At least from my coverage, it seems like the song has taken off. Have you seen that reaction and is it more or less than what you expected?
Tom: Yeah, its what you hope, right, when you release a song/single. I wanted to release the song with the video, because the video is gonna be insane. That is going to be another wave which is gonna be cool. We worked hard on the whole record and made sure it was 100% Kamelot. I think that song was a good first taste of the record. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best song, or what, but I mean there are a lot really good songs on the album that we could’ve picked.
CROMCarl: When does the video come out?
Tom: I don’t know right now. We shot footage of Alyssa White-Gluz from The Agonist and she sent it from Canada down to Serbia. So they are waiting for her footage to put with the rest of the stuff that we already did in Serbia. I’ve been waiting for the first draft, so hopefully within the next three weeks the video will come out.
CROMCarl: Tell me a little about the concept story of “Silverthorn.” How did it come about?
Tom: I can’t tell you.... (Laughs)
CROMCarl: You can’t tell me the “secret meaning”?
Tom: I can tell you a little rough synopsis, but we put together this really killer limited box. It has a 44 page booklet in it...
CROMCarl: Yep, I pre-ordered it.
Tom: Thanks man! It has more details, but roughly its about this really affluent family in the 19th century and they are dealing with a death in the family. It is a very mysterious sort of surroundings about this death and the story kind of builds from there with a lot of cover ups, secrets, betrayals within the family....murders within the family. There is a little twist in the end that is interesting.
CROMCarl: Is that the thing you are leaving for the fans?
Tom: Yeah, I mean all this stuff, there is a lot of little details. I was talking to someone about my favorite concept albums...you never really got this humongous play-by-play of what it was about. You had to find out for yourself and interpret it for yourself. Even with the concept records we already done, we kind of just gave out some liner notes and let the fans kind of fill in the rest.
CROMCarl: So the secret that can’t be revealed is the meaning behind the title “Silverthorn”?
Tom: No....you will find that out pretty quick actually.
CROMCarl: There is a song “Silverthorn.”
CROMCarl: I heard the ten minute preview clip offered by SPV to the media and it blew me away. What I recognized about it right away is that it sounds a lot like “Epica.” It has sort of an “uptempo” feel as opposed to a “dreary” feel of “Poetry for the Poisoned.”
Tom: Yeah, it is definitely more melodic. That was the goal, to make it more melodic, but continue to have that melancholy feeling throughout some of the songs too. Never get away from that, because even just minor keys here and there are important to the sound. But going back and making it a little more melodic, make it a little more...bringing back in some of those new age elements before like in “Karma,” “Epica,” “Black Halo.” So yeah, that was a conscious effort to do that.
CROMCarl: Now I have read somewhere that you said that the difference between “Silverthorn” and “Poetry for the Poisoned” is that at the end of “Silverthorn” you don’t feel like slitting your wrists. Is that the sense with this?
Tom: (Laughs) Well, I think a lot of the fans...they really like Kamelot because there is this sort of hopeful feeling in the songs, you know? Taking control of your own life situation, don’t rely on other people...make your own destiny, so to speak, you know...without sounding cheesy. I think that was kind of an element I wanted to bring back too. This more of sort of...you know, the songs are still going to be sad here and there, but hopefully at the end of the record you have a positive feeling... you feel good about it.
CROMCarl: Now when you write, is there a specific way you go about it? For example, on “Silverthorn,” did the story come first?
Tom: No, the story, the lyrics, the melodies come last. The music always comes first with all Kamelot records.
CROMCarl: So you write the music and then all of a sudden it becomes: “Oh wow, we can make this into a story”?
Tom: No, we wanted to do a story, but we knew we wanted the songs on the album to have certain styles. Like “Sacrimony,” we wanted a double bass song with breakdown in the verses, a kind of an open mid-part, so how that song fits into the story was not really difficult. I think the long song, “The Prodigal Son,” was more...that was written after the concept was basically [done]. That was the last song written and that is why we were able to create this funeral scene and this outro part with this uplifting chorus.
CROMCarl: From what I have heard from Tommy so far, he seems like the perfect fit for the band. He sounds a lot like Roy, but a little higher. Now he worked live with you when Roy left along with Fabio [Lione]...
Tom: Yeah, he came out on tour and did backup vocals and would came out and did one song a night. We were just trying to gauge how we would do, you know? We didn’t want to just throw him out there and at the time we weren’t really sure if he would be the guy, you know?
CROMCarl: That’s it. That was my question. When you were going through the process of finding a new vocalist, was he immediately one of the contenders?
Tom: Yeah, definitely. That’s why we had him on the tour. From day one, I got the feeling from Roy that he was definitely done, even though I wanted to give him a couple of years to really, really think about it. So, I went directly into “finding the singer mode.” [Tommy] was one of the first guys...it basically came down to like three guys and Tommy was, all that we want...all the nuances, the criteria that we need was there.
Video footage of Kamelot performing "Ghost Opera" on the night of this interview from YouTube user "jdbandito"
CROMCarl: With no disrespect to Tommy, was there any point where Fabio was considered for the job?
Tom: Yeah. We both talked about that and just feel like his voice is just too connected to Rhapsody [of Fire] and their busy. I think if they work really hard on making a new record, they are going to continue on, cause there is that strange thing with two Rhapsodys now. I really think if he puts his energy and everything into that, then that’s going to work great. We just did a show with them in Bulgaria and everybody is really cool...cool people. It would just be...I think neither band would be taken 100% serious if he was singing in both of them.
CROMCarl: And he has Vision Divine on top of that.
Tom: That too and those other things that he does.
CROMCarl: How did you meet up with him to ask him to fill in?
Tom: I met him a long time ago in Germany, when Rhapsody was doing a record and we were going in to do, I think... “The Fourth Legacy.” Then, it was Sasha’s [Paeth] idea to have him fill in for the tour so he sent me his contacts and it went from there.
CROMCarl: Speaking of Sasha Paeth, what’s it like working with him? I’ve been a fan since he days with Heaven’s Gate.
Tom: He is just super talented. I mean, very creative...respectful. He takes our ideas and sometimes he might change a verse or a chorus or maybe a drum pattern. He also helped write some stuff on this record, so It was great keeping him on the team...keep as much of the team together as possible for that cohesion.
CROMCarl: And he also played on the new album as well...
CROMCarl: Speaking of guest stars, you mentioned that you have Alyssa from The Agonist. How did you end up meeting with her?
Tom: They toured with us a couple of years ago on the North American tour as one of the opening bands and she came out and did “Mephisto” and a couple of songs and I was always just so blown away with her....like when she comes out on stage she is so powerful, you know? She is this gorgeous girl with this crazy voice. It is such a cool thing, so I wanted to have her on the record.
CROMCarl: She does the rough vocals on the record...on “Sacrimony.”
Tom: She does the rough vocals on “Sacrimony.” We’ve done that before, of course, but it’s always been a guy, so its pretty cool having a girl do it. I really like Alyssa for that, she got cool witchy voice, she is not trying to sound like a guy. She has got this crazy...we are going to surprise some people tonight, because she is here tonight.
CROMCarl: Now I know these shows are part of a greater tour, this is really a kickoff of the ProgPower USA festival. If you were to tell somebody what the experience was like as a musician to be part of this event, what would it be?
Tom: In general, whether you are fan, or one of the musicians it is geared towards the experience of being close to the bands. All these people have this love for this type of music and they have this sort of mecca to come to. I think Glenn is so good at putting together a roster that’s varied, but still super interesting. It’s just a great experience if you are into this kind of music. And its not this huge festival where you have an issue going from here to there. It’s really cool and kind of chilled out.
CROMCarl: It kind of intimate too not 85,000 at Wacken...
Tom: Yeah, right...its 1200 people. So, yeah....its cool!
CROMCarl: Fantastic! Thanks for your time.
Tom: Awesome man, thanks.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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