By Carl Begai
At this point in time violinist Anna Phoebe is best known as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a gig and title she gave up in 2010 in the interest of family and exploring other avenues. During her six year tenure with TSO she made two solo albums, the organic Gypsy (2006) and the raging full-on metal assault Rise Of The Warrior (2008); two releases that offered a look at different sides of Anna’s musical personality. After a long stretch of silence peppered with reports that a new album (or two) was definitely in the works, she closed 2013 with the release of a four track EP entitled Embrace. Like Rise Of The Warrior, the music on Embrace was another unexpected turn and marked the first official studio-recorded collaboration with her friends in UK prog metal band Jurojin; a venture that was long overdue. The EP was also the first big step towards a full length Anna Phoebe record due to be released in 2014, entitled Between The Shadow And The Soul.
I recently sat down with Anna and Jurojin guitarist Nicolas Rizzi to discuss the new music and the events that influenced this new chapter of Anna’s career. The first order of business was to clear up a few murky details regarding the collaboration, however. Initially it was reported that Anna was working with Jurojin on her album, which would be followed by a Jurojin album featuring Anna as a guest performer. Now it seems the proposed albums have been mashed together into one production.
Nic: “The idea ages ago was to do a Jurojin / Anna Phoebe album – the typical heavy Jurojin sound with Anna’s playing on top of that – but as we got deeper into the songs and started demoing them, that’s when we decided to go for a much different approach, something a lot more experimental and a lot less heavy. We had some discussions as to how to put the new music out, and even though it’s all of us we decided to go under the Anna Phoebe name, to make it sort of a continuation of her previous two records. We thought it made the most sense to do things this way. We had a 10 track album, and then we removed four tracks for the EP. The idea was to release the EP and spend the time to really develop this new project and new sound. The full length album will be nine tracks, but none of those will be the EP tracks. The only crossover might be a rearranged piano and violin version of ‘Embrace’.”
Looking back on Rise Of The Warrior, which saw Anna take her TSO persona to the next level, she says it was a success even though it may not have sold hundreds of thousands of copies because the album gave her exposure outside the Trans-Siberian Orchestra live spectacle.
Anna: “I guess each album you do is a reflection of where you are in your life at that time. My first album, Gypsy, was made after I’d been touring around the Middle East a lot and had been with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a year or two. Gypsy was my world music sound mixed with a bit of rock – I was dipping my toes into it – and by the time I did Rise Of The Warrior, I was fully into the musical pyrotechnics, the loud symphonic rock / metal world. Those were the people I was hanging out with musically and socially. That album is definitely a blueprint of who I was at that time.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Regardless of whether you like ’em or don’t give a damn, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a big deal. The two-headed troupe’s annual east and west coast road trips through North America – leading up to Christmas and beyond – are consistently ranked as top-grossing concert tours year after year, and the production seemingly gets bigger each time out. It’s fair to say that TSO has become a tradition for many a metal and/or music lover. If there’s one misfire in this success story, however, it’s the lack of attention to the European market. Not that they necessarily need the exposure, but given that the legendary Savatage is the foundation for everything TSO has become and Europe embraced Savatage with the equivalent of a bone-crushing bear hug early on, some folks figure the Orchestra owes those fans some attention. Thus, 2014 began (literally) with an exclusive performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve followed by a stripped down but still impressive European tour; only their second in a 15 year history as a live act. Guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate sat down to discuss the stripped down TSO production when the band hit Nuremberg, Germany…
Jeff: “It’s very comfortable. We came over to Europe a few years ago with the Beethoven’s Last Night tour (in 2011) and it’s a great story, but I think some of it was too much for the European audiences. We had to trim that down quite a bit, and the Savatage element is much more present in the show this time. And for myself, being able to work with Chris, Johnny (Middleton/bass) and Al (Pitrelli/guitars) again is a blast. This is an arena show and we just happened to squeeze it into a theater.”
Chris: “The biggest difference for me is that I’m not nearly as tired as I am during the big production we do (laughs). We do one show a day and it’s stripped down, and we don’t have the wings that we have on the North American stage. The big stage has at least another 30 feet on each side, so you run the arena and do two shows a day. The European tour is more like doing the old Savatage concerts in many ways except the people are sitting. In a lot of ways it’s the same because I put my in-ears in and what I hear is the same as always. I don’t really hear a difference. The band is different in that I’ve got Johnny and Al there, which is always great. I usually play with Jeff and the singers rotate, so it’s not really that different of a TSO show for me.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
During the last quarter of 2013 and into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s North American tour, guitarist Chris Caffery took time out of his busy schedule to tease and please his fans with a few new songs released as digital singles. It was a long time in coming for Caffery’s diehard followers, who have been waiting for more music since his House Of Insanity record from 2009. The new tracks are a precursor to his forthcoming full length album – dubbed The Twisted Truth for the moment – and Caffery’s ongoing development as a do-it-yourself artist. As in, doing as much as possible on his own, creating a down-to-the-bone solo album in fact as well as name.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a businessman and as a musician,” Caffery says of his solo career, which has been on the go since 2004. “I learned a lot of things that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done things on my own. You always respect where you are more when you go off and do things on your own. Now I’m able to approach writing and playing music more creatively. My singing has gotten a lot better, and that’s the cool thing about doing these new songs before the TSO tour. I had people listen to the songs and a lot of reactions were ‘That’s awesome! Who’s singing?’ (laughs). I know now when I do this stuff that my voice is at a level where it’s able to express what’s in my head. My voice has matured, and I’ve matured as a writer and a singer. I know that if I could have taught myself to sing when I was 20 I’d be headlining this arena myself (laughs). I thought singing was something you either had or you didn’t. I didn’t know you could train your voice, so I spent all those years looking for a singer that I already had.”
“People are always asking me about going out and doing a solo tour, but I have a very successful band that I tour with every year. I want to do solo shows, but to put it up and get it going is a lot of pressure. I know what Paul (O’Neill / TSO director and co-founder) deals with; everybody looks to you for everything. It can be stressful when you’re trying to go out there and play music and enjoy it. For me, it’s more important right now to be the artist just making the music. I’m going to finish my new record this year and I want it to be great. If there’s a demand for me to do shows I’ll approach that when the time comes. I’ve got my own studio, I’m doing it myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I just want to make a record that I’m really happy with.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
On January 10th, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra kicked off a short European tour featuring a stripped down version of their monstrous annual North American road trip. It was only the troupe’s second time through Europe – their first time being March 2011 – and I have it on good authority that it wasn’t their last.
I had the pleasure of attending the January 20th show in Nuremberg, Germany and I was NOT disappointed. The performers, the pacing of the show, the pyro, lots of Savatage tunes in the set, and easily one of the finest crews around… it all made for one huge highlight.
So, a picture gallery featuring some half-decent shots below. I’m saving the totally decent ones for a book….
By Carl Begai
When Trans-Siberian Orchestra / Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery refers to Tears Of The Sun, he’s not talking about a new sadboy love song he’s just written, or taking a shot at launching a Broadway play. Nope. Tears Of The Sun is, in fact, a Caffery-created hot sauce that has gone from his kitchen to the stores through a series of fortunate coincidences. And unlike a lot of “celebrity” marketed products – which usually feature little or no actual input from the star in question even though his/her name is slapped on the label – Caffery can lay claim to having created Tears Of The Sun hot sauce from scratch.
“All of it is my recipe, actually, because I’ve been cooking my entire life,” says Caffery. “Steve Seabury at High River Sauces is responsible for getting it out there. The whole idea of making the hot sauce company that he has came about while he was managing some of my solo stuff and dipping his feet into the food business at the same time. I gave him some of the hot sauce I’d made at a business meeting, and he really liked it. From there Steve eventually got into doing it as a business, but this recipe is 100% mine. I measured the ingredients and sent it to the guy that was making it; they cooked it off of that. I had them tweak it a little bit because I wasn’t completely happy with the way it came out, and we ended up with the hot sauce we have now.”
“It’s not like I’m just stamping my name on a bottle,” he continues. “In fact, I didn’t put my name on it at all because I didn’t want it to be presented as ‘Here, a musician put his name on some salsa.’ I wanted to make something that would actually get taken seriously, and it won two really big national hot sauce awards since it hit the market; Best New Hot Sauce Of The Year and Best Fruit-Based Habanero Sauce. I think that if we would have said it’s Chris Caffery’s Hot Sauce, that wouldn’t have happened.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
In North America the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become as traditional at Christmas as Santa Claus, coloured lights and holiday parking. Even if you’ve never attended one of their seasonal shows – which usually hits a city near you anywhere from November through January – you’ve definitely heard of them, as the TSO rock opera format appeals to people from all walks of life, to everyone from children to the elderly. Plain and simple, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has proven for well over a decade that you don’t need to be metal to ride this ride, regardless of the outfit’s Savatage-rooted history.
Producer/composer Paul O’Neill is known for pushing the envelope with every project he devises. It was his collaborative efforts with Savatage frontman Jon Oliva in the late ’80s, in fact, that slowly but surely transformed the legendary metal band into something much more theatrical in nature, which eventually spawned the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And while TSO established itself as a Christmas-themed project when it launched in 1996, O’Neill got rid of the sleigh in 2000 for Beethoven’s Last Night, an album telling the fictitious tale of legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s last night alive. TSO finally toured for the album in North America in 2010, went to Europe the following year, and 2012 sees the band on the road again, this time supporting a fully narrated re-release of Beethoven’s Last Night.
Guitarist Chris Caffery, a long time member of Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, offered his views on the current Beethoven’s Last Night tour versus the annual winter shows during some rare and fleeting post-soundcheck downtime:
“It’s a very different vibe. The winter tour has the holiday and runaway theme to the story line, the music marries that story. This tour is the complete Beethoven’s Last Night album, and it’s not like the winter show isn’t a rock concert, but the Beethoven show has a darker feel because of the story and the theme. Beethoven is battling the devil to save his soul and his music, it’s a pretty intense story. For me personally it feels more like I’m performing a rock concert because of the way the songs and the album is structured. It’s a little bit more to where my roots were when I performed growing up. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Savatage is dead.
The band’s music is alive and well thanks to the existence of Jon Oliva’s Pain, Circle II Circle and guitarist Chris Caffery’s solo career, but as a recording / touring entity Savatage will only ever exist from this point on as a pipe dream. For vocalist / founder Jon Oliva it’s an ongoing battle trying to convince the diehards that the band won’t be making a return in spite of the fact he’s released four albums with Jon Oliva’s Pain in six years. The release of a Savatage compilation entitled Still The Orchestra Plays, issued earlier this year, hasn’t helped matters. So it goes that as Oliva settles in to discuss his new JOP album, Festival, he’s forced yet again to snuff the rekindled rumours of an impending Savatage comeback.
“That compilation is something Paul (O’Neill / producer, Trans-Siberian Orchestra director) helped put together, I didn’t have much control over it,” says Oliva. “I just wanted to get something out there to kind of cap things off because I’ve moved on. Those reunion rumours… some people have been saying things they probably shouldn’t have. There was talk about doing a show to kind of give Savatage a send-off but the logistics of doing so just made it impossible. The guys have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I have my JOP stuff, there’s a lot of other things keeping us busy. It’s pretty aggravating, though, with people always asking about when it’s going to happen and pushing to have one. I mean, Savatage hasn’t done anything in almost 10 years! It’s just a small group of people, but they just won’t let it go and I can’t figure out why. You have the Savatage guys in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was spawned from the Dead Winter Dead (1995) and Wake Of Magellan (1997) era of the band, you have Jon Oliva’s Pain doing a lot of the old Savatage material, what more do you want?” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
As a professional musician violinist Anna Phoebe puts many of her peers, and certainly the wide-eyed Idol industry wannabe stars, to shame. Known best as one of the major crowd pleasers on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s annual holiday season run, she boasts a phonebook-thick resume featuring projects and live shows with a variety of different artists and on her own. Point being, take the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s massive stage, high tech lights and big budget production away and Anna still delivers a memorable over-the-top performance. Prior to her current run with TSO in North America she trekked across Europe with UK folk act Oi Va Voi, quite happy to do the low-budget old school club grind in support of the band’s latest album, Travelling The Face Of The Globe. The fans weren’t disappointed, and more than a handful of new ones were made along the way. And while Anna was thrilled to be able to get back to business with TSO, she’ll definitely be out and about with Oi Va Voi and solo when things wind down for another year.
“It keeps things fresh, definitely,” Anna says of jumping from one band to the other, in this case quite literally from one day to the next over several thousand kilometers. “I love playing in arenas; it’s what you dream about doing as a musician, playing in front of 15,000 – 20,000 people every day for three months. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is an incredible opportunity and touring on that level is definitely different from touring with Oi Va Voi, but sometimes TSO is so different from reality. You always forget just how big it really is, so when you first walk into rehearsal it’s like ‘Wow…’ The reality of being in a band is you’ve got 12 people stuck on a tour bus with no money, you’ve got to set up and take down your own gear, you take whatever’s left over from your rider and cram it on the bus because that’s what you’re going to eat for lunch the next day (laughs). Continue Reading
In a recent interview with BW&BK, Savatage / Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Chris Caffery revealed that when it came time to work on a new solo album he committed himself to doing it on his own. As in locking himself away from the world in the name of his music for months at a time, surfacing occasionally for a dose of sunlight and to conscript a select few musician friends to fill in the blanks as needed. Once the material for the aptly named House Of Insanity had been hammered into a shape he was happy with, Caffery was left with the problem of mastering the record; a potentially monstrous task in its own right. Rather than take it on alone as well he turned to a member of his extended Savatage family, Jon Oliva’s Pain drummer Chris Kinder, both to preserve his sanity and to ensure a quality album. Caffery has gone on record as saying Kinder brought the songs on House Of Insanity together, citing the drummer’s production work with JOP as more than enough proof he was the right man for the job. Kinder is likewise pleased with the end result and considers the album yet another important step in his development as a producer and, ultimately, a musician.