Jon Oliva's Pain
'Welcome to The Festival of Pain!'
Jon Oliva has been a success in the music business since 1978. He, alongside his brother Criss Oliva, formed the band Savatage. He currently fronts Jon Oliva’s Pain, which released their fourth studio album,
‘Festival’ in April.
Recorded on AFM Records, 'Festival' was issued in Europe in February and entered the German Media Control chart at position No. 87. 'Festival' was recorded at Morrisound with Tom Morris.
In addition, Oliva is one of the masterminds behind the hugely popular and successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra - a group whose musical style incorporates neoclassical, symphonic and progressive sorts of hard rock/metal.
Exclusive Magazine's Ashley Trombley recently had the chance to chat with the progressive rock pioneer, and her first question centered around the artists that had influenced Oliva's music? "Oh boy, probably The Beatles. They were the first band I ever saw, and they were kind of like my teachers when I was young. I wanted to be Ringo. I got a drum kit, and I learned how to play drums. As I got older, I became interested in other instruments, but that’s how I learned to sing and play guitar and piano, to Beatles albums."
"A friend of mine played me Black Sabbath’s first album when I was 12, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this stuff?'" he laughs. "Mainly The Beatles, Black Sabbath, and Queen. When I discovered Queen, they absolutely blew me away. Those are probably the three bands that I just kept coming back to."
In 1978, you and your brother Criss formed Avatar, the band that would later become Savatage. What was different about that band than the others you had been in previously? "The big difference was that we were playing original music. The bands that Criss and I had played in before that were basically playing covers. We played everything from Foreigner to Bob Seger to Deep Purple and Alice Cooper, but we didn’t play any original music."
"So we broke up our old band called Metropolis and formed Avatar, which was just Criss and me and our drummer, Steve. The first batch of songs we wrote ended up becoming the first two Savatage albums. Even though they were recorded in 1983, they were actually written between 1980 and when we actually recorded them. And that’s how it all started, we just dropped the cover band."
In regard to the original music, how were the writing responsibilities divvied up? Was it like a Lennon-McCartney partnership? "Criss was more like a riff guy. He got the gift of fluency as a musician. He was a better player than I was. I got the songwriting thing, I guess because I studied it more. He would help me finish songs. We used to call him The Finisher because I would give him a song, and he’d take it and come back to practice the next day and say, ‘I fixed your song'," he laughs. "And that’s how we worked until we met Paul O’Neill and then the three of us formed a writing partnership until Criss passed away, and since then, it’s just been me and Paul."
Savatage’s 1991 album, 'Streets' has been hailed as a rock opera of sorts. Do you view it in that respect? "Absolutely. It was definitely our first - my first - go at something like that. It was Paul O’Neill’s idea. I think it was the best Savatage album out of all of them, just because of the work we put into it. We spent a year and two months working on that album. We probably recorded fifty songs and had to condense it down to the fourteen or fifteen that are on it. It was a very creative period for us, I think."
Speaking of opera and theatrical endeavors, what is 'Romanov'? "‘Romanov’ is another opera that Paul put the story together for. It’s based on the 1914 Russian Revolution. We’ve had it written since 1994. We sold it to a Broadway company, and they had the rights to it for six years, and nothing ever happened until finally the contract ran out and we got the rights back, so now we’re doing it with Trans-Siberian Orchestra next, starting next week, actually. It’s a very dark, dark album, but there’s some good music and a good story on it."
Any plans to release it any time soon? "Sometime within the next five years. We’re going to try to get it recorded and finished by the end of the year. So hopefully after the Christmas tour, we’ll go back in, finish that up and try to get it out for next springtime."
In 1993, your brother Criss unexpectedly and tragically passed away. How has your music attempted to honor his memory in the years subsequent his death? "On every album I’ve done with Jon Oliva’s Pain, I’ve used music of his. I have a huge box of tapes of his, and I’ve been able to find riffs and pieces he wrote that we never used with Savatage that I’m using on the current stuff I’m doing with JOP. And in concert, I only play the Savatage stuff that I wrote with him. In every show I dedicate a song to him. So in that sense, I think I’m keeping his spirit alive."
You currently front your own band, Jon Oliva’s Pain. How did that band get its name? "It’s pretty funny. I was going to call this band Taj Mahal based on Criss’ idea for what he wanted to name Savatage. I thought it was a cool dedication to Criss, but a few weeks before we were going to get started, I got a call from my manager saying ‘You can’t use the name Taj Mahal. There’s a blues guitar player named Taj Mahal based out of London, and if you use the name, they’ll sue you for copyright infringement'."
"So I was like, ‘This is a pain in the ass.’ Jon Oliva’s Pain. Just call it JOP. People ask ‘what’s that stand for?’ Jon Oliva’s Pain in the Ass. It was just a joke, really, but that was it."
And JOP released their fourth album, 'Festival' last month. How does the styling compare to your past records? "It’s a lot nastier and darker. The previous album was a very experimental album for me, I did a lot of weird keyboard things and this album I wanted to bag all that and go back to my roots. I basically wrote the whole album on guitar, which I haven’t done in a long time. That’s what give it its sound, because it was all new and fresh to me again. The last album was a little more melodic and more prog-rock, but I was very happy with the sound."
Any plans for a 2010 tour? "Oh yeah! They’re actually working on it now for November, hopefully getting all across the country. It’s presently being worked on by my agents. Hopefully I’ll have an update soon as to what’s going on, but that’s kind of what we’re looking at."
Finally, you were one of the co-creators of the behemoth that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra. What gave you guys the idea to infuse modern rock music with classical music? "It was actually Savatage that started it. The first song we did with Paul O’Neill was a classical piece called ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and he came in and said ‘We’re gonna come up with an intro, play this piece, then write our own song to finish it.’ I remember Criss and I looking at each other and looking at him like ‘Are you mad? Are you out of your f**king mind?’" he laughs. "We did it, and it worked. We dabbled with it throughout the career of Savatage, but it was really Paul was the one that pushed us to it. He has such a large knowledge of classical music. The end result is awesome."
Interviewed by: Ashley Trombley
'Festival' CD Purchase Link
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