By Carl Begai
This interview took place towards the end of Kamelot’s 2013 European tour in support of their latest album, Silverthorn. By all accounts – band, fans, YouTube footage – it was a successful run that saw the band play to packed houses every night. The show on this particular night, in Munich, went off without a hitch as far as anyone on the floor could tell, with Kamelot attacking the stage like the seasoned veterans they are, playing to the audience rather than merely for them, accompanied by one of the most impressive lightshows ever seen in a rock club (seriously… and without pyro). It was a far cry from the band’s first European tour – their first road trip ever, in fact – back in 1998 with Elegy, which showcased a band that was understandably green performing to half empty rooms. A potentially demoralizing experience on one hand, but the taste was enough to make Kamelot want to push forward. Success at a level where the band became a day job was along time coming, but it’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you focus on and devote your time and energy to something you really want.
“You don’t have any pictures from that ’98 tour, do you?” laughs guitarist Thomas Youngblood.
Actually, I do. I’ll wait to be tapped for the Kamelot biography to publish them.
“When you get started you want to be like Iron Maiden, but then you start realizing how difficult that is,” says Youngblood with regards to the band’s success. “But the way things are nowadays in the industry, there aren’t a lot of bands that can get to that level. I think we’re fortunate we’ve been able to grow and maintain this band over the past 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a testament to working hard and making some smart decisions, and having killer fans.”
Kamelot’s biggest test came with the surprise departure of vocalist Roy Khan in September 2010, mere days before the Poetry For The Poisoned tour was due to begin. The band downplayed the seriousness of the situation at the time – they could realistically have lost their collective shirt financially due to pre-tour expenses and unfulfilled contracts – and managed to save face by finding the best possible replacement for Khan in Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.
“We didn’t think anything bad about that in terms of coming out of it intact,” Youngblood insists. “I’ve seen a lot of bands do that successfully, and I think a lot of people forget how many acts have actually had to do that. We’ve grown into different territories since then. We played Australia for the first time with Silverthorn, we’ve done different parts of Asia like Korea and Taiwan, and the US is a much bigger market for us now.”
Which puts the band’s relevance in perspective compared to when they released their first album in 1995.
“I think the whole music market has changed a lot due to the internet. You don’t get the trends the way you used to. Of course you still have that in pop music, but we still have fans from five years ago in the US coming to the shows whereas it might have been different back in the day. As I said, I think our success has a lot to do with working hard, maintaining our roots and also growing as artists. There are a lot of factors that go into it, and it ends with the fans that have stuck with us.”
“The cool thing is that in the US, Silverthorn has almost caught up to the Poetry record in sales, and if you compare the percentage of downloads now to when The Black Halo came out (in 2005) Silverthorn is by far our best selling record. I think we definitely made the right choice when it comes to the vocals and songwriting direction for this record. We wanted to maintain the Kamelot signature but bring in some small elements here and there without freaking people out too much. Maybe on the next record we can be a bit more experimental.”
Kamelot also benefitted from a lack of drama when Karevik came on board to replace Khan. Sure, the band has a loyal following that mourned Khan’s departure, but the vast majority of fans seemed to warm quickly to Karevik on stage and on the new album. When the change was made you didn’t see the bitching and moaning erupt online to the same extent as when someone brings up the Dickinson vs Bayley or Halford vs Owens debate.
“When people hear the record now and they’ve gotten over any misconceptions, and then they go to the shows, it’s pretty obvious that Kamelot is stronger than ever. That’s no diss on anybody that was in the band before, but the unification of the band and the stage show and everything around it has grown. We played a sold out show in Holland on this tour and it was our second time there; 2,000 people showed up, which is a big stamp of approval. Also in Norway, we played a massive venue full of people which is another big nod of approval from one of our major markets. It’s exciting. We see a huge hole that’s getting filled, and our fanbase is getting younger, too. We played Frankfurt which has a reputation for the audiences being quite cold, but it was like being in South America. The fans were nuts.”
As one of Kamelot’s founders, Youngblood took on the mantle of businessman long ago and the band’s success speaks volumes regarding his work behind-the-scenes. He makes it clear, however, that Kamelot is a band and not the Youngblood Republic.
“We all talk about the different decisions that are made. The first time I heard of Eklipse, for example, is when they opened up for Nightwish on their European tour, and I saw this really cool and different act that I’d never seen before. My first thought was ‘I want them on our next record.’ Once that happened I knew I wanted them in the video, and of course I talked to the other guys in the band about it. Nobody said no (laughs). And when we did the North American tour we had Delain as main support and a couple options for the first band, and Eklipse was one of them. We just felt they would make the package so much different. I was concerned at first because Eklipse isn’t a metal thing, but our fans loved them. It’s an important statement for the future that we still want to do whatever we want, and a lot of our fans realize and expect that.”
In a recent interview here on vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist), the point was made that she has become an integral part of the Kamelot show as a backing singer and guest vocalist on songs like ‘Sacrimony’ and ‘March Of Mephisto’. She made her presence known on the Silverthorn tour, making it hard for a lot of fans to imagine someone else in her place even though Kamelot is known for having different guests show up at any given time.
“Alissa is amazing, absolutely, but I think the fans are used to seeing different people on stage as part of our shows. In Tilburg we did a massive show at the 013, and instead of Floor Jansen (Nightwish, ReVamp) coming out to do ‘The Haunting’ with us like she’s done on this tour, we had Marcela Bovio from Stream Of Passion come out. People went crazy. I think that’s an important aspect of our live show and on our records. We could of course bring someone in as a permanent member, but then you open up a big can of worms when it comes to touring. And personality-wise, we’ve got five guys that get along great, the chemistry is perfect. It doesn’t really make sense to bring in another permanent member. It keeps things fresh this way, and we always have the option to not do it.”
According to Youngblood, the band will begin working on their next studio album following their South American tour in February. He and keyboardist Oliver Palotai will once again take on the bulk of the songwriting, and Karevik will likely work closely with long-time Kamelot producer Sascha Paeth. And while Paeth’s involvement with the band (since 1999 on The Fourth Legacy) has been part of a winning formula, working with the same producer year after year after year can cause a band’s sound to stagnate. It hasn’t happened with Kamelot, but you never know…
“The thing with Sascha is that his own musical taste is evolving, so he doesn’t get stuck either,” says Youngblood. “He’ll even bring ideas to us that we’ll say ‘No, it’s too bluesy…’ or something like that (laughs). He’s been an important part of creating the Kamelot sound. There are different ideas that we have for the future, but we want to keep Sascha in the loop when it comes to framing the record. We could probably do it – Oliver has done lots of productions – but there’s more to it than just the production part of it. Sascha was great working with Tommy on Silverthorn, for example, so we don’t feel that we have to change. We enjoy working with him.”
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