Interview with Avantasia — “I enjoyed singing again.”

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Tobias Sammet is back with a new AVANTASIA album: “A Paranormal Evening at the Moonglow Society” was released on October 21st, 2022, via Nuclear Blast Records. We had the opportunity to speak with Tobias about the release of the new record, about the paranormal, and about EDGUY. Listen to the audio here or read the complete transcript below…

Hi Tobias! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. The last time we talked was in Helsinki in 2018 with the release of Moonglow,” so quite a while ago, no? How have you been since, despite the changes in the world?

Oh yeah, [there have been] a few changes. It’s all been getting a little bit different and difficult. I think it was late 2018 or early 2019 in that hotel in Helsinki. After that, we did the tour and everything was really successful. AVANTASIA was expanding on all markets when we did the world tour, going to Australia and [we did] our first US coast-to-coast tour, although it was a small tour; US, Canada, Tokyo. Then, the tour and the year 2019 were over and then we were presented with the shit we all know about. What can you do? I had built a new studio after or into the beginning of the pandemic. I was getting away from the world like anybody else and started to keep myself mentally sane by creating music pretty much and locking myself away in my studio.

Is that what eventually became this record or did you write other music too?

Yes, absolutely! I had written some of the stuff before but most of the stuff that is on the album [was] created in 2020, some of it in 2021. Most of the recordings and also most of the writing were done during the lockdown; terrible situation, but I have to admit (and now, it makes me almost feel a bit guilty) that my life – of course, the whole music industry went down the drain – was not so much affected because I’m a recluse anyway. I’m not socializing a lot, so the difference actually was that, of course, besides the whole music industry going down the drain… what was different was that I was presented with so much time because, let’s put it this way, my whole life in the music industry had been paced by expectations and by that natural pace that is put upon you after you have started to become part of the treadmill of releasing albums and touring. All of a sudden, people expect you to keep that pace and before you realize it, you are on a treadmill and you keep doing it over and over and over again. That was something that I complained about when I did the Moonglowpromo tour. I said I can’t take that anymore. With this new album, it was all of a sudden completely out of the question that I was part of any pace, because the music industry was gone, record stores were closing, and record companies said, “Oh we can’t release the album right now,” bands said, “Oh we can’t tour right now.” There were no tours, no festivals, nothing. So for the first time in my life, I felt [that] if I [would] take a little bit more time now or if I am late, get lazy, or if I just hide away from another 6 or 8 months, it’s not going to be my fault. Nobody is going to say, “Oh Tobi please hurry up a little bit,” because there’s no need to hurry up for anything. So I was out of the line of fire. I was not responsible anymore [and] that felt good, I have to admit. Even though I feel guilty [about it].

You shouldn’t! I think many bands shared that sentiment. What’s interesting now is that I feel like the bands who have released a new album, seem to have found a new energy, a lot of albums sound really refreshing. This album sounds like that too, but I don’t know how you feel about it.

I think I have to say it’s a very… I don’t know if it sounds more fresh or exciting than the previous albums I have done. Quite frankly, I think everything I’ve done is out of this world. [laughter] so I don’t know if this one is just… I don’t know how much better you can be than the previous album. Seriously speaking, it’s a very honest album, although the previous album has been honest as well, so forget about that. It’s a very deep album. A lot of the details of this album have been made by myself and have been taken care of by myself. That was a tendency I had also started for the previous album already. This time, it was even more so. I had built a new studio, again, after I had built one for the “Moonglow” album. In January 2020, I had started to have a company build me a real professional recording studio in my house, so I was there in lockdown and I had all the time in the world. I had nothing else to do. I had to do something to keep myself sane. I was reflecting on a lot of things that I think had been brewing up in myself for the past 10 years and that for some reason starting to surface during “Moonglow.” I was really writing things off my chest and musically, I was on my own with my studio and beautiful possibilities and nothing else to do. I re-connected to the basics of playing music: I was making demos from scratch, I really started to [play] with drum layouts. Everything was done from scratch by myself, even before my co-producer would hear the stuff for the first time, so that meant I defined way more of the music from the start that could not be really changed afterwards anymore. So that’s why this album is much closer to my personal vision. It’s exactly my personal vision because I came up with most of that stuff while nobody else was there. Even the arrangements, I did a lot of choirs myself, I was singing seven out of eleven songs, I was singing myself, even the backing vocals, sometimes eighty tracks like Freddie Mercury would do. That was not because I could not afford a choir, but because I was sitting in my studio and sometimes I would just go to the studio and sing JOURNEY songs or QUEEN songs because I just enjoyed singing again. It sounds strange, that’s something that should be normal for a singer to enjoy singing, but in the past 20 years, I had become a machine that was singing whenever it was needed for recording or whenever it was needed for a tour. I didn’t sing because I wanted to sing. When there was no purpose to sing, I didn’t do it. This time, I did it again. I was going to the studio to sing again, I recorded stuff, I was arranging all the keyboards – except two songs – myself because I had nothing else to do and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed little things that I would devolve unto others in the past.

The album’s title is “A Paranormal Evening With the Moonflower Society.” I know you like to work with themes and concepts, so what is the idea behind this record?

I approached the album, not like a musical, but I continued on with the path that I had set on the “Moonglow” album, it’s more of a theme album. It’s more like a song cycle. I approached it like a visit to a magic theater, to a cabinet of wonders, and the gatekeepers who run that magic cabinet of wonders. The strange creatures that also welcome me every night I enter my studio, when I lock the studio door behind me, those invisible friends that I have there… my inspirations, the ghosts that take me and welcome me into my fantastic imagination and the fantastic parallel universe that AVANTASIA is, those folks I called the Moonflower Society. I approached it like a night in a parallel world and that gave me – behind the Moonflower Society, behind that Imaginarium theater so to speak – the chance to put my personal feelings way more upfront into the songs. I didn’t have to care about a plot anymore, I could let a stream of consciousness take over, put it into a beautiful world, paint beautiful individual scenes, and pictures that are always placed in that one world. Even though all those songs deal with escapism – and are a continuation of “Moonglow” in a way – I think they consist so much of self-therapy, of my feelings, and things I had to get off my chest, that it’s a very personal album. If it wasn’t for its fantastic approach lyrically, it could have been a solo record almost.

You explained the idea behind Moonflower Society, but there is also the addition of paranormal to the title. Given that’s is spooky season, what is your relationship with the paranormal. Do you believe something is out there?

My relationship to the normal without the para is actually [that] I often ask myself what is normal and what is not. The norm is what most people do. Then, if you think a little better about it and think twice about it, doesn’t a group of people consist of individuals, so shouldn’t everybody be considered as an individual? If we agree on the fact that normal is “what you see is what you get” and we believe in what we see. If we agree on that, then I have to say that I believe in way more things. I don’t believe that there are a lot of ghosts flying all around me now right here, but I do believe that I don’t know everything that is going on. I have proof for that. I don’t know exactly how algebra works, the relativity theory, and I don’t know much about nuclear science and I can’t explain it to you [either]. I don’t see x-rays and yet, I don’t doubt all those things exist and I’m sure there are a lot of other people who can explain those things and who know they exist. I think there’s way more we can comprehend and there’s way more that our human brain is made to understand and to know. That’s how I approach it. If we agree on the fact that normal means “what you see is what you get,” I do believe in the paranormal, but that doesn’t mean I’m going with an infrared sensor or an infrared locator to old houses and trying to spot ghosts. I don’t do that. [laughter]

Speaking of ghosts, the intro of the first track had a very subtle Halloween-esque feeling to it. Is that something you consciously added to that song to add a little bit of spookiness to it?

It was really funny [how] the song came together. I woke up at night in front of the TV, that’s not spooky… I fell asleep in front of the TV [laughter], no paranormal activity there. So I fell asleep at 10 o’clock, woke up at 2 o’clock and there was John Carpenter‘s Christine on TV. I had seen it probably fifteen times before, maybe seven times. Everybody has seen it a couple of times. I watched it and I was listening to the soundtrack and I was thinking how strange and how interesting [it is] how John Carpenter manages to create such a spooky atmosphere with relatively cheap ’70s synthesizer sounds, right? But it consists of artificial, cheapish, ’80s or ’70s sounds, so I said that’s inspiring. I was going to my computer in my studio and I started to play around with my synthesizers and try to find interesting sounds. I found some interesting sounds and while playing around, the whole song came together in a few hours. It was based on getting up at night and “Oh wow, I have this idea, I should play around with those sounds.”

Usually AVANTASIA is all about the orchestra and about orchestral orchestrations, symphonic orchestrations. I thought, why not do an orchestration with those kinds of sounds? I came up with that song and it sounded so spooky and so weird that I immediately… A lot of what you do in music, is work with associations and I immediately had this picture pop up in the back of my head of Dance of the Vampires, something like Dracula… The working title of that song was Dracula, actually. I had this association, I thought that’s a perfect invitation to the creepy, weird world of the Moonflower Society; surreal invitation to that grotesque world. What I found so funny or interesting about it… I didn’t want it to be a creepy King Diamond kind of song in its totality. I wanted the chorus to have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek approach, like Dance of the Vampires, like Tim Burton would do in Corpse Bride or whatever, you name it. The chorus became something very contrary to the rest of the song, very weird in a way, with this dance-y Rocky Horror Picture Show -feeling. That’s how the song came together. It’s a perfect invitation to that spooky world of the Moonflower Society, but also very peaceful and [a] not really mean and evil world.

A lot of people consider a lot of what heavy metal does and what the entertainment industry does evil. Especially in heavy metal, that’s been a quite strange prejudice. I think from a very young age on, I have felt differently about it. To me those things have never been evil and it’s never been showcasing brutality or anything. I saw beauty in it from an early age on. I was always a fan of fairytales with witches, devils, and to me, it was never brutal. It was theater and imaginative. It wasn’t really scary, but some people thought it’s not good for you and for your wellbeing. I wondered wether I don’t have the right to approach things a bit differently. Don’t I have the right to approach things the way I see them? That’s probably what the song stands for on a different meta-level. It’s a song that embraces that whole topic of the dark, eerie, and Victorian Moonflower Society world, as something maybe a bit eerie but not really fundamentally evil… not at all. That’s what I tried to reflect in the music as well, with those different controversial musical approaches.

I was also surprised to hear that you had never worked with Floor Jansen before. The album includes two songs with her. I read that Misplaced Among the Angels was already written and then that you, later on, realized Floor should sing on it. What about “Kill the Pain Away”?

“Kill the Pain Away” was written after… I had sent her “Misplaced Among the Angels,” after she had said, “yes I can be part of Avantasia,” which I thought was terrific because she’s an amazing singer. Sascha [Paeth] knew it also from a technical perspective, because he had produced all the AFTER FOREVER albums, so I sent her “Misplaced Among the Angels” and I love her for being so honest. She said that maybe it’s not exactly her range and asked if I don’t have anything else. I said, “okay, let me see, I can write something for you.” I wrote “Kill the Pain Away” in a few days and then I sent it to her and she said, “that’s cool, a bit ’80s pop and yeah let me do it.” She sang it and she got back to me, “Hey Tobi, I sang it and by the way, I also sang ‘Misplaced Among the Angels,’ here you have, it’s two tracks now.” It was really funny. It was so uncomplicated and she has a great voice, she’s a lovely woman. She’s also, I think, the best that could have happened to NIGHTWISH. I’ve always said that since she was there, because she does justice to all their material and takes it to an extremely good level.

Yeah, I agree. Now, I know that planning tours is still a little tricky, but do you have anything in the works? Can we expect a tour?

Well, a tour is probably… I don’t really know, some of our tours have been fifty to sixty [dates], sometimes a hundred and fifteen shows, so I don’t think it’s going to be a tour in the purest sense of the word. Will we do shows? Absolutely! I hope so. It’s going to be planned a bit differently. I don’t believe in a 60-day tour on a nightliner back-to-back or whatever. We have to see where this whole situation goes to and what it’s going to be like, but I’m optimistic we’re going to play shows spread out over the world and yeah, I’m optimistic. Nothing is scheduled yet, except for South America.

Okay, well good to hear. I would also like to ask you… in 2020, you posted a statement that you’d be focusing on AVANTASIA and would not concentrate on EDGUY for the moment; do you have any news related to that?

Not really. Not really and not unreally. [Actually] not at all. I know that’s not what EDGUY fans want to hear and I understand everybody. I understand everybody, but bear with us. It’s not always so easy being in a band when you have five different people. We developed so differently, we have different views. We like each other, we wish each other happy birthday, and I’m on the phone with Dirk [Sauer] every 4 weeks, I would say. Everything is good but it was… we had come to a point where it was really better to work separately, individually. Will we play live again? I absolutely hope so at some point, but right now, nothing is in the pipeline.

Alright! Thanks for clearing that up. I promised to let you go in time for the next interview. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share?

I want to thank them for their support and for paying attention to my little music and yeah, I just want to say thank you. I hope you like the album as much as I do. I hope to see you all somewhere on the road. I don’t take it for granted, especially these days with this whole situation. I really hope we will see each other again and see you on the road!

Interview by Laureline Tilkin