Savatage, one of the best heavy, almost speed-metal, bands, played at Rafters on Wednesday night, June 20. The place was packed and the bouncers did a wonderful job of removing the usual drunken assholes from the pit, so the show was actually fun. Before the show, I had the opportunity to speak with the lead singer, Jon Oliva.
SLUG: Can you give us a quick history of the band?
Savatage: We formed in ‘79, we were together for a few years playing bars. Sirens, our first record, came out in ‘83, followed by The Dungeons Are Calling, which came out in ‘84. Then those were bought by Combat and released. And then we got picked up by Atlantic (Records). They saw us play a show and they loved the band, they wanted a band and so they signed us. In ‘85 our first major album came out, Power of the Night, and it did very well for them. We then hammered out on the road with that, and we came back in and went to London to do Fight for the Rock. Which was the fourth album, right, that was in ‘86. In ‘87 we did The Hall of the Mountain King and now this one, Gutter Ballet. In the meantime, we’ve been on the road and keeping busy doing everything that you’re supposed to do in this business, and going out of our minds.
SLUG: Who are band members?
Savatage: Keyboards, Chris Olivia; lead guitar, Chris Caffery; rhythm guitar (SLUG: He’s the new guy right?) Yeah, he’s the new guy. And ah, Steve Wacholz; on drums. Johnny Middelton, bass guitar.
SLUG: How do you like Salt Lake?
Savatage: This is our second time. We did a big show here, like, a couple months ago. (SLUG: That was The Speedway, right?) Yeah, the boathouse or whatever, an old boathouse or something like that. It was packed, a big show, so we decided to come back and do it one more time. We had a great time here.
SLUG: Why did it take so long for the new album?
Savatage: Well, there were several reasons. I mean, we were together for a long time without any kind of break. So, after Hall of the Mountain King and the tour, we took a little break for a few months. A couple of us went, ya know, away for awhile. Then we spent four months writing and seven months recording. (SLUG: The new album sounds really good). Yeah, it definitely paid off. I think that the layoff actually did us good, because, ya know, we got to really spend time writing. All our other records were pretty weak because of time schedule. With this record, we took our time to get it right.
SLUG: What are your favorite songs?
Savatage: Hum … that’s tough, I like so many. (SLUG: Just a couple of faves then). Probably, ah, “Hall of the Mountain King” and “When the Crowds are Gone,” off the new album. Oh, “Sirens,” I love “Sirens.”
SLUG: How many more albums should we look for?
Savatage: We have four more with Atlantic. They keep us busy.
SLUG: What are your feelings about the Explicit Lyrics label on Gutter Ballet?
Savatage: It sells more records. But I care about the reason it was put on there. In the song “Rage in War” I use the phrase “son of a bitch”.
“You better listen to me, you son of a bitch — You better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch — You have no goddamn right to do the things you do — The world would be a better place if we were rid of you!!!”
Meaning the politicians, which is true, it would be fucking hell of a lot better.
(SLUG: Do you think they were more concerned with the political content of the song rather than the actual lyric?) Yeah, I think so. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a thought. (SLUG: What do you think of the freedom of speech issue?) Freedom of speech is like, if you don’t want to listen to it don’t buy it. There’s no one walking up to you saying, “you’ve gotta buy this record or die.” It is just a lot of uptight parents. The whole censorship thing is a complete bunch of bullshit. It’s like, a 16-year-old kid can go to a movie and see Jason hatchet up somebody but I can’t say “son of a bitch.” The kids have to be 18 to buy it.
SLUG: Is there anything you want to say before we wrap this up?
Savatage: We should mention that we’re recording a live album in L.A. and that’ll be out by X-mas. The new video, “When the Crowds are Gone,” will air in July on MTV.
SLUG: Thanks for talking to us. I hope the show goes well.
Savatage: It should, this is the best monitor system we’ve played with yet … And we’re always happy to talk to you or the fans, anytime.
The show was great, Rafters is a cool venue (check it out for yourselves some time). The sound was really loud but well mixed, and the band played a great set of new and old material, favorites all. If these guys come through town again (which they probably will), you should definitely check them out.
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