Dave: I wanted to start this thing off by talking about Damond and Jack. How is the first leg of the tour going with these guys??

Jon: Damond and Jack were recieved very well by the fans and people that came to the shows. All of the response has been really overwhelming. We're really happy.

Dave: I understand that Damond has some of the same qualities that Zach had.

Jon: Absolutely! He also has other qualities that are quite different. Damond is a very interesting character. He's very, very exciting to watch onstage. He's a great performer.

Dave: What other qualities do Damond and Jack bring to the band??

Jon: Damond brings someone that I can go places with the songwriting that we couldn't go before with Zach. He brings his own influences and his own style to the table also. You'll probably hear some of that on the next studio album. Jack is like he has been there forever. Jack brings solitude to everybody. We know that he is the right guy to be there. He just makes it feel so good onstage. We're very happy with everything.

Dave: Let's look at the actual concept of 'Poets and Madmen'. Where did the concept come from??

Jon: It's actually Paul O'neill's story. Paul is the guy who comes up with the story. I work on them with him a little bit. I primarily focus on the music and he primarily focuses on that. We then let each other dip into the pool at various points in the project. For our own sanity we keep it that way. For us, it's a method that we have used that works. The concept is very simple for the new record. It's basically 3 guys going out on a little adventure, a party on a Friday night. They end up learning the great lesson of life with what they find in this place. It starts out as a night drinking beer in an old broken down building and ends up being something that changes their lives. The basic story of the album with the Kevin Carter and the photograph is what these guys discover in there. It's a very heavy story. Anybody who takes his own life over something, you know it was very traumatic.

Dave: I have to tell you, I am a Savatage fan from way back and this has to be one of my favorite stories.  I liked the 'Streets' storyline too, but this one was just kind of spooky.

Jon: I think this album really does have more of a dark feel to it. We were very aggravated and frustrated that the last record label had dropped the ball with 'The Wake of Magellan'. That was a year of our time that pretty much eaten up by arguing about who's fault it was and trying to get onto a new label that wanted to work with the band. When we were writing this material, we were kinda cheesed off. I think that some of that anger comes out on this record in certain songs.

Dave: You are now with Nuclear Blast in America and SPV overseas. How is it going??

Jon: Everything's been great. We can't complain about anything that's gone on so far since the records come out. It's been going really good. The record's doing well in Europe. I don't know how it is doing here yet, but we just got off of the road so we'll see in the next month. Basically, every show we were at, the people had the record. There seemed to be a good buzz about it. We'll just have to see what happens.

Dave: I just wanted to backtrack to Damond one last time. You had sang the material up to the 'Edge of Thorns' era and then Zach took over from there. You did the vocals on the new album with Zach's departure. I was just curious how well Damond handles the 2 different vocal styles??

Jon: Excellent! Some nights if I close my eyes, I can't tell the difference between Damond and Zach. He can get to Zach's world so close. He is just a bit heavier of a singer. Zach was a bit cleaner, more rounder tone. Damond is a bit more aggressive. I think that is the real big difference when Damond is singing in that voice. Damond can also get into my voice which is very gritty, very dark, and very aggressive. What we do on some of those old songs, we sing them together. We go back and forth from low parts to high parts. He's doing some of my parts, I'm doing some of the high parts or the low parts and sometimes people can't tell the difference. It just makes it really cool. It's a lot of fun. Damonds got that kind of versatility. He's a lot more of a versatile singer than Zach was. Zach's a great singer, and is a great singer for what Zach does, but Zach was a little bit more one dimensional. That's why we had the two singers. You had me to got into the darker areas and Zach to do the rest of the stuff. With Damond, I think we're going to do a lot of stuff together. Maybe a lot wierder things on the next record.

Dave: Looking at the tour, you have now toured the East coast.

Jon: We did the East coast, the Mid-West down through Texas, New Orleans and then into Florida. We went everywhere but out West. We're planning on getting out there sometime in the coming months.

Dave: How about the setlist. Where are you pulling from to complete the setlist??

Jon: Everywhere. We are doing songs from just about every album. All, but 'Fight for the Rock'.

Dave: What was the deal with 'Fight for the Rock'?? Was it a commercial push from the label??

Jon: Yeah, it was label pressure and bad management. It was just a nightmare. It was just a really bad year. You have 'em. When a band has a 20 year history, you're bound to have a couple of years that aren't so hot. We've had a couple of them that were really tragic, with Cris. '93 was obviously the worst year, but '86 was a close second. The band almost broke up over all of that stuff. If we hadn't met Paul O'Neill at that time we probably would've broken up.

Dave: So Paul goes back that far??

Jon: We met Paul on the 'Fight for the Rock' tour actually.

Dave: I remember when I heard 'Power of the Night'. It really blew me away. Very heavy stuff at the time. Then later, you started more into the progressions. I guess that is where Paul's influence came in??

Jon: Paul really pushed our creativity to a new level. Paul really encouraged my Brother and I to try different instruments and different tuning, to listen to more classical. He knew that we could go into those areas. He knew that we had that kind of background. We were just very young and inexperienced. Everything happened to us so fast. We were just out of High School and next thing you know we're touring the country in a van. We were like a bunch of College guys out every night without any classes. That's basically what it was like for us. When we wrote songs, it was something we did very quickly. Paul definitely taught us how to spend time and to craft songs. He saw that we had talents that he got out of us that probably wouldn't have come out if it hadn't have been for him.

Dave: So Paul is like the outer member of Savatage.

Jon: He's the seventh Savatage member.

Dave: I'm a big fan of the DVD format. Recently we had some cool releases like Dream Theater's 'Metropolis 2000 and I understand that Queensryche is bringing 'Livecrime' to the format. Has any of the labels discussed with you the possibility of doing a DVD.

Jon: What we're doing is all of the old videos with some footage of Cris from personal stuff that Johnny and I have that no one has seen and a live show from this tour. We're filming 4 shows I believe. We're filming a Greece show and some of the festivals. Should be 4 or 5 shows over the summer and September or October. They wanna release it by next Summer. Maybe next May or June we wanna have this released. We'll probably have a new song with Damond on that also. Maybe a new track recorded live. The label approached us and asked us how we wanted to do it. I mentioned that we wanted to include all of the old videos and a little thing about my Brother and a live show. A good hour or hour and fifteen minute live set. That's what we're going for. SPV is springboarding the whole idea.

Dave: So when can us fans on the West coast expect to see you??

Jon: September sometime. Late August, early September they're gonna get us out there. We are booked through July 14th. We have a couple of weeks off and then go to Mexico and South America. After that they are trying to fill in some West coast dates.

Dave: What are some of the festivals in Europe that you are booked in??

Jon: All of them. We're doing 15 or 16 of them. We're doing every major festival in Europe this Summer.

Dave: I understand you might be doing some dates in Europe with Judas Priest??

Jon: We're doing a few weeks with them between festival dates. They asked us if we wanted to do the tour or be flown home and fly back every week. We figured that we might as well tour. We're getting to some places in England that we haven't been to in a long time. It's good for us because we can get back out in front of some people that haven't seen us. We've got a pretty busy schedule ahead of us. We're gonna be doing a lot of traveling.

Dave: One last question. What can we expect for the future of Savatage. We already discussed the DVD, but what else??

Jon: I think the next studio album is gonna be unique. I think it will be quite different from what we've done before because of Damonds influence. Maybe look forward to some wierdness, 'cause that's what it is all about.

Dave:  Well, I appreciate it Jon. Thanks a lot!

Jon: Thanks.

I recently had the chance to catch up with one of Metal's favorite personalities, Savatage's Jon Oliva. I had a great time chatting with Jon and touched on everything new with Savatage as well as some old. I want to thatnk Jon for taking the time to be a part of this interview. Thanks also go out to the great people at Mazur Public Relations for setting this thing up. Thanks also to Nate Fitzgerald for his help in pulling this thing off in the technical area! I hope you all find it a worthy read and stay tuned for more soon!
Savatage's Jon Oliva Speaks