Interview with Avantasia — “I’m blessed to work with the best.”


Avantasia, the all-star rock opera spaceship piloted by Edguy singer, songwriter and producer Tobias Sammet, are releasing their eighth full-length album, “Moonglow”, through Nuclear Blast Records on February 1st, 2019.

We had the opportunity to talk to Tobias Sammet about the release of the new album. Watch the video here, or read the complete text below. 

First of all thanks for taking the time. I thought after Edguy’s “Monuments” and the tour, you would have a break from all of this. What happened?

Tobias: The break was broken. (laughs) I don’t know, I came home from the “Ghostlights” tour and I knew it was time for a break. I was looking back at what I had done. I had written 17 albums, had done 10 world tours in 15 years, 5000 interviews and I had organized everything. So, I was the driving force behind everything, and the driving force was running out of gasoline. I said okay, “I’m gonna have a break”. You have to realize that you have to make sure as a musician that you don’t become part of the machinery, that you don’t fall into a routine, where others set a pace for what you do. You can’t do something just because it’s not in the schedule, but it automatically happens after a while in a band, and in the music industry. It’s taken for granted. Oh, he’s done an album last year, he’s done one a year before that, he’s gonna do one next year, the year after, the year after. No, and I had no record deal, not with Edguy, not with Avantasia. I felt I needed a break. I said I wasn’t going to do anything, we were going to celebrate the 25th anniversary with Edguy, we were gonna do “Monuments”, and we were gonna do a brief “Monuments” tour, which wasn’t so brief, it was like 25 shows or something like that, so relatively brief. I thought okay I gotta find myself a hobby, I gotta recover a little bit, and relax. I wondered what I was interested in. so I thought okay, what are you interested in, So, I build a studio at home. Of course, meanwhile I still had ideas,  I still had the decision that there was no deadline, no record contract, no obligation, no schedule, I had ideas all of the sudden, which is not fair. You get ideas when you don’t need them, and sometimes when you need them you don’t have ideas. I kept capturing those ideas, of course, I was building the studio, I had great fun collecting tube equipment and Sascha helped me with it. All of the sudden I had built a very nice recording studio at home actually with all the necessary equipment. I knew how to operate it and I had great ideas. What do other men do? They go play with their toy train or go to a football pitch, watch other people play football or do it themselves. I wrote music, recorded it and realized it didn’t even feel like work. After a while I realized, in brief words, it was a new Avantasia album in the making. I calmed down and I said, “Now that you’re recording it, you could also sell it and make some money with it”. (laughs) So, I needed an attorney to get myself a record deal, which we managed to do and here I am, back in the mill! (laughs)

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So, you kind of answered my question about the creative process, what was the main difference with “Ghostlights”?

Tobias: Well you know, what was different for me this time was that I had a lot of time, and Sascha[Paeth] as well. There was no pressure, no deadline. Usually, I try to push pressure aside and I don’t think of it, I don’t think of the deadlines and such. I always make sure that I don’t rush, that the album is something I can live with. I always take the responsibility, being it with Edguy or Avantasia, it’s always me who is responsible in the end, it’s me who’s gonna be blamed if something is wrong. So, I always have to be happy with it and I try to take the time that is needed for it. In this case, it was easy because there was more time. In other cases sometimes you simply have a deadline, you have other people who want to make money, you have spent a budget on it, there are people who want that budget back. You know in the industry no one really pushes you, but you feel that there is pressure on your shoulders, so you should really rush this. Somebody wants to book a tour and then you need to release the album before that tour is being started, so in that case, I had all the time in the world, and I took the time, it’s been 2,5 years. I had so many ideas that I already have another new album done because it kept flowing and flowing. The material is so embellished because there was so much time putting it together and adding new things, taking little things away and considering little things.

I’m really familiar with Avantasia. When I was listening to the first song of the album “Ghost In The Moon”, I found this little line where you sing of Mystery of the Blood Red Rose. A reference to the previous album. What is the link between both? 

Tobias: Not at all, it was just that this song was so in the vein of “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose” that when we did the arrangements, I was singing blablabla along to it in the beginning, and suddenly for fun was singing “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose”. Sascha said that’s great I’m getting goosebumps and I was like “What, is he nuts? What has he smoked?” Miro said the same thing, “That’s great that’s a reference to the last album, yes, that’s very smart”. So I said to myself, “Okay how can I get that into the lyrics?”. It actually makes sense, of course, you can bend everything so that it makes sense, but that’s the only line I kept from my blablabla, Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose. We thought that what is great is that it’s the beginning of the album and immediately it refers to the previous album, but lyrically they are two different pieces.

What I also thought was interesting, nowadays when you listen to new albums there’s always a huge introduction. Avantasia has never had those long intro tracks, but with this one, you just start with the vocals, straight away. I almost thought I missed a song. How did that come to be?

Tobias: That was a coincidence, the song started that way, and we thought it’s a great opening song. It’s really funny that the album starts very very atypical in a way, it’s very different. It starts with vocals actually, but as the vocalist is the songwriter (laughs). No, seriously it was not a conscious decision, it just happened and there are no rules in music in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not very common, but that is not necessarily something bad, so we kept it like that.

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You also mentioned that lyrically the albums are totally different from one another, can you talk a bit about what Moonglow is about?

Tobias: The subtitle of “Moonglow” is “Narratives of a misplaced entity”. It’s about a creature, an entity or a homunculus sorta speak that is created into an environment that he doesn’t find a place for himself in. The creature doesn’t really get along, doesn’t connect to the beautiful world around it. It doesn’t really arrive emotionally in the world of the bold and the beautiful and therefore he escapes from the beautiful light, bright day world and it seeks shelter in the dark. It finds peace in the dark in the hope of opening up or being at peace with itself and opening a door to a parallel imaginative world that grants him peace and arrival in a place that is made for that creature. So, my intention was not really to create a novel, I wanted to create a coherent world and I wanted to create ten poems that would deal with the feelings and the mental world and the experience and the points of view of that creature. To me, the concept of the story offered a great way to incorporate my personal thoughts and my personal experience and what I felt like as a kid and still do. I always felt a little different and I never really felt like I belong in my environment, that’s why I became a musician, but after you have done 2 records you again stick out like a sore thumb because you don’t do what people expect you to do. I don’t try to be offensive on purpose, I just wanna be me. I often felt that there is no place for me, not in the metal world, not in the normal world. I do think that everybody sometimes feels like that probably. I don’t feel that special. Anyway, I wanted to create a Victorian dark era, Tim Burtonesque, grotesque, fantastic world that would leave space for my emotions. So, I created an alter-ego of mine, a homunculus, a creature that cast into a dark victorian Hammer Film Productions world inspired by Tim BurtonArthur MachenEdgar Allan PoeAlgernon BlackwoodWilliam Somerset MaughamE. T. A. HoffmannHammer Film Productions and all that.

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So, is this album, in a way, more personal than anything you have done before? 

Tobias: It is very personal. I mean I try to do personal stuff every time, even the more hedonist things I have done in my life, like for example “Space Police”. Those were very heartfelt lyrics. It was meant like that, it wasn’t goofy. Only goofy people would think it is goofy. There is something in them. They have always been honest my lyrics, they’ve always been heartfelt, but I think this album is more therapeutic than any album I’ve ever done before. It deals with the pressure that you have in the music industry. It deals with the pressure that you have when you don’t want to live up to a pace, when you don’t want to live up to a schedule, when you simply don’t want to let other people down, but at the same time you feel that it is impossible to live up to their expectations. I’ve been through that, I try to keep the tongue-in-cheek element, and I try to see everything not so heavy-hearted. Sometimes I face these difficulties and these challenges with a certain kind of egomania and sometimes tongue-in-cheek I have to say, but sometimes egomaniac and sometimes arrogant, just as self-defense. I had to let out a couple of things and I didn’t want to write them blatantly open but wrap them up in a fantastic world, it just felt good. It’s like a letter you write to somebody but you never send it, you get things off your chest. Those who are interested in it will find something between the lines and who isn’t will just find, hopefully, poetic words. I feel very close to the lyrics and it’s very personal, but as I said I’ve always tried to deliver personal stuff and to do personal music.

How does the cover song “Maniac” fit into that concept?

Tobias: Not at all (laughs), well you know you could bend it towards fitting in the concept because down the line my album is about a nocturnal outsider who’s only at peace with himself when darkness falls. “Maniac” is about the same thing; she’s only in peace with herself when darkness falls when she’s allowed to dance. Then, she’s becoming herself. So, in that way, you can bend it, it fits. But the story behind covering that song is meant for pure joy, I like the song, I wanted to do a cover version. Sascha thought it was not really a good idea because it’s been done so many times. I said please let’s do it. So, we did it and he admitted that actually, it’s his favorite version so far. It’s a really great song, so we got in Eric Martin to have the duet character and also to have his voice because it fits that song perfectly. He said oh yeah I know it, it’s been a huge hit over here in the US  in the 80s too, so everyone knows it. He said he’d do it. Then, once the song was done, it was planned to be the bonus track. We decided to put it on there because the rest of the album was so sophisticated and almost on the verge of being progressive. Not everything was easily accessible so it wouldn’t do any harm to the album to have one light-weighted track.

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Now that you’re talking about inviting Eric Martin, and guest vocals. How much of a say do the vocalists have in these songs? Is there a melody ready for them to follow, do you decide about their phrasing? Take for example “The Ravenchild”, I’m also a big Blind Guardian fan, the way Hansi Kürsch sings there is extraordinary, I was surprised by how his voice sounded on the song.

Tobias: Well, you know, if you invite legendary, experienced, amazing, and unique artists like for example Hansi, who by the way is one of the nicest people you can ever meet. You probably met him, he’s one of the nicest. He’s just a cool guy, and a great musician. We have a lot of things in common, we speak on the phone. When you work with people like that you, of course, do that to give your song something of their expertise, their skills, their experience, their personality because it’s a gift. You would not invite somebody like Hansi Kürsch and say: “Hansi can you please sing it the way I sing it?”, that’s disrespectful. Why ask Hansi Kürsch then? So, I sent him pretty much the melody, I sent him the song, and he followed my melody, but just by opening his mouth he made it his song. It’s funny because he sung on two tracks, one is very aggressive and one is very calm. It’s funny he said: “Wow, it’s a very diverse thing you are giving me. I can bring out the bard in me and the screamer”. I thought that was funny. Hansi is also very funny. You have to know him to know what I mean. He’s very special. It was great when I got it back, it’s a very clean, very silent passage, especially the intro of Ravenchild, it’s very demanding. When we got it back Sascha and I were just like: “We expected Hansi to be good because otherwise, we wouldn’t have asked him, but that’s [tips hat off] that was just simply amazing!”. I’m blessed to work with the best.

You mentioned “Moonglow” is inspired by so many writers, and I also read you found inspiration in Victorian paintings. How important is art for Avantasia?

Tobias: Well, I don’t go to galleries in my free time. Or actually, I do go to museums in my free time, sometimes when I’m on tour. The Louvre. And watch all these pharaohs and mummies and whatever they had there when there was this Egyptian exhibition at the Louvre in Paris. Anyway, I’m not a person who wonders: “Ah what did this painter think when he painted that black triangle”. (laughs) I’m not one of those persons, but of course, I’m very sensitive to my environment and I am very grateful when my inspiration gets tickled and stimulated. For example in my study, I have replica oil paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw because I like the way he paints. He inspired “Moonglow” in a way, big time because I looked at those paintings when I wrote those lyrics or parts of them. When I sit at the piano I have a painting of him right over my piano. He is basically known for painting “realistic” Victorian night scenes, and the funny thing about him is that back then people were discussing it if his work is worth being called art because he was coloring photographs and he was panting them in oil. He had a blueprint as a photograph of a moonlit night scene mostly wintery trees without leaves and I love it, the atmosphere is great, he just colorized the photograph. Of course, it’s art. It’s hard work and he had big skills, huge skills, great skills. So, that is inspiring to me. Also, I read an article about psychogeography. Some other musicians laugh at me or some people say he’s nuts when I say I can’t work in that environment, of course, I can, if you put a gun to my head, I will say okay in misery. Don’t break my legs. But it’s when you’re in a certain atmosphere. I can write different types of things but I function better when I’m in the right atmosphere when I’m in the right mood surrounded by the right buildings, the right light situation and there is a term called psychogeography. Scientists came up with that because they found out that actually, the environment influences you. You don’t have to be a scientist to find that out, but they found out that the environment has a huge impact on certain novelists, writers, painters, it’s just you know you write differently if you’re in a certain environment that you click with. And that’s very important to me, that goes for art, I can have a great imagination if I’m in the right environment if I feel happy if I’m not under pressure. I wrote most of the album in England, in London, not most of it, but some of it, while I’m sitting in a pub, while I have those Victorian buildings around me and I’m sitting there with a beer in front of me. All of a sudden I’m in a different world, that’s something I need, that has a huge impact on how I work, I cannot simply go into a smelling rehearsal room with egg cartons on the wall and then start writing something, of course, it would work, but I don’t function very well in these environments. I’m a spoiled brat! (laughs)

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It seems like we almost came to the end of the interview. One last question though, you have a tour announced, are you also hitting the summer festivals?

Tobias: We’re doing 10 weeks or 11 weeks of world tour first and then, subject to demand and of course, there have to be festivals that have to be interested otherwise it doesn’t make sense. We have to play a headline slot and we have to play two hours, otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. You cannot play 45 minutes in the afternoon with 10 singers on stage, so it depends, if you’re asking because of Finland, I hope so but I don’t know yet. It’s all up to the demand. I’m open to anything.

Thanks a lot, Tobias for the interview! Do you have any last words to the people out there?

Tobias: Hello people out there! Thank you for your support. Hopefully, you will like “Moonglow”. It’s an amazing album, I know, don’t say anything, I know it’s an amazing album. We did a great job. But I hope you do a great job too and get the album actually and thank you for your support, hope to see you somewhere on tour, or somewhere else! (laughs)