05 July 2017

Interview: Tobias Sammet (Edguy)

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With the release of Edguy’s 25th anniversary collection, Monuments, a little over a week away, main man Tobias Sammet was kind enough to grant us some of his time to answer a few questions from reviewer Kevin McDonald about the forthcoming record, the band’s history and life on the road, as well as providing a handful of brief sporting insights…

 

– You started Edguy when you, Dirk, Jens and Dominik Storch were in your teens. At what point did you decide that this was what you wanted to do as a career?

That was before we started the band. I had the desire of becoming a musician very early as a kid, when I was around 8 after seeing the AC/DC movie Let There Be Rock. It sounds weird, but picking up an instrument, founding a band, playing the first gig, all those events seemed like waypoints of a predestined journey.

 

– At what point in your career did you realise that you’d ‘made it’ and could earn a living from writing and touring your music? Does it ever truly sink in that you make a living this way?

I knew I would have to make money to earn a living if I didn’t wanna be a part time musician. When I did the first Avantasia record I realized that finally I was a professional musician in the purest sense of the word. For the first time I was given a reasonable budget to work with, that gave me the chance to also buy a stereo, a good keyboard, a computer and go on a vacation with my girlfriend. That was more than most musicians would ever be able to buy with the money they make. I thought that wasn’t too bad given the fact that I was doing something that most grown up people would consider worthless day-dreaming. All of a sudden distorted guitars and lyrics about elves and witches helped me to avoid getting up early and doing something that grown up people have to do: Show up at your boss on time and do something pretty dull. The next Edguy record after the first Avantasia album did great too, like all subsequent ones. So all of a sudden we were on tour around the globe and made enough to drive our own cars, one each…

 

– Edguy has had the same line up for around 18 years now (I struggle to think of many longer running line ups in the metal scene). How important has this stability been to the group, and how has it helped the music to grow and evolve in the way that it has?

Honestly, I don’t think the stability of the line-up has got anything to do with our sound or our evolvement. To the contrary, I think my work with outside people as in Avantasia gives you better opportunities to push the bar, try out new things and break out of working routines. Being in a band of five real band members is a completely different thing. When you are part of something as precious as a successful band for longer and longer, why should you leave if? As long as the normal difficulties in a group of people stay within reason, it’s simply not polite to fire each others, haha.

 

– Likewise, Sascha Paeth has produced every record from both Edguy and Avantasia since 2006. How important has he been to your success? Do you ever see yourself working with another producer?

He is a wizard. I know, our sound has developed over the course of the years and especially so, when Sascha came into the picture. I am not sure Edguy would exist today, if Sascha hadn’t come in the picture. Some people glorify the old days when we did Mandrake or Hellfire Club. Yes, great albums of a band that was exploring new territory. But the thing is, we didn’t have that much new to add after that. All was said and we needed new input. I was the only song writer in the band, the others contributed unfinished bits at times. That wasn’t a problem as I love to write, but we had come to our limits within the realms of what I think we stood for. And I wanted to move on, without doing the same thing over, but without denying our roots. Keeping the ingredients but changing the fine-tuning seemed like a good idea. I can speak on my own behalf only, but Sascha was that partner that I personally needed to get new fire into my creativity. To breathe new life into something we came to love and give familiar elements a new paint. Sascha gave me a new view on things, he pushed the bar. I love what we had done in our early years, but we needed to move, it was inevitable, otherwise I would have drowned in a routine, and artists know exactly what I mean. As for another producer, I am 39 years now, maybe one day we’ll go work with someone else, but Sascha is a musical partner that I wouldn’t wanna miss at this point.

 

– You’ve never been afraid to take risks or try new things, such as the tropical theme of “Trinidad”, the dobro in “Pandora’s Box” or planting a cover of “Rock Me Amadeus” in the middle of an album. Has there ever been an idea from you or one of the other band members that has been considered a bit too bizarre / out there to do?

Not really. I mean, I had the idea of riding over the audience on a giant white hamster strapped to a railing system under the ceiling of the hall. We didn’t go for it and then The Darkness did it with a tiger. I love that band, they did the stuff that others shy away from. We couldn’t have done the hamster in the places that we usually play in Great Britain, we would have to have a hamster-sized hamster. But over here in Germany and down in South America it would have worked. Maybe in Japan too. Imagine – a tiger sized hamster! However, I guess in Metal and Rock you are allowed to do everything, there’s been monsters and Barbarians in contest oil and furry loin cloths, only a fool takes everything seriously. It’s seriously silly and the good thing about Rock is: Breaking the rules is what it’s all about. Most of the time I have a gut feeling about what I wanna do and what I don’t wanna do and I guess that keeps me from doing stuff that is overly silly even in the context of being a musician widely considered to be silly.

 

– You’re well known for your all-star line ups with Avantasia, but in your career with Edguy you’ve had guest appearances from the likes of Michael Kiske, Chris Boltendahl, Timo Tolkki and Hansi Kursch. Do you ever foresee more guest stars on future Edguy material?

As Avantasia gives me that opportunity to work with guests, I do not feel the need of doing that same thing with Edguy. But then, never say never. If anything happens spontaneously, why not? And if we need a boost by someone really famous, then… well, we can still make it look as if it was a spontaneous thing, can we?

 

– Some songs you’ve written, such as “Love Tyger”, are ideas you’ve revisited from previous writing sessions years before. What is the oldest song idea that you can remember revisiting and whipping into shape for release?

When something like that happens it’s usually not a full song, it’s a raw idea, an excerpt. In that case of “Love Tyger” it was just the riff and the chorus that was left from an earlier Avantasia writing session. I remember that I also had brought the chorus of “Sign of the Cross” into the rehearsing room of Edguy in the late 90s, but someone in the band wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, so it went back to the archive. Sometimes it’s just the wrong timing for a song. Sometimes you don’t get a connection with an idea at a certain time. It may sound like something really phenomenal in a different situation. “The Eternal Wayfarer” of Edguy was an old Avantasia idea too, but it wasn’t right at the time we did The Scarecrow I believe.

– When did you first get the idea to celebrate your 25th anniversary with a special release?

We knew we’d have to do something for our anniversary, but we didn’t know what it was exactly. A tour? An album? A documentary? A book… Our archives were full and at some point we thought it sounds like a good idea to celebrate the past and the present. That’s when we said: Let’s make it a best of album with the addition of new material and a book and a DVD and put it in one package. The ultimate Edguy anniversary box. I had two songs but didn’t wanna be a song writing slot-machine, so I asked the others if they don’t have some ideas. They had! So we worked on that stuff and out came five new songs. That was a good addition to the old material, the DVD and the book. It’s a great high quality release.

 

Monuments is intended to represent Edguy’s 25 year career. How much input did you and the band have with the song selection? Are there any songs not included that you wish could have made the cut?

We decided everything ourselves. But of course, I guess there are around 50 more songs that should have made it in the list, at least. I am proud of most stuff we’ve done in the past 25 years. On the other hand our goal was to come up with an album package that would roughly represent and portray the part of the road that lies behind us while still making a good flow. We wanted to have a well-balanced mix of fast, slow and mid-tempo songs, and cover all eras of our own history, except Kingdom of Madness, simply because the material on that album has an awful production and we don’t have the master tapes. Anyway, we didn’t wanna replace the albums of our back catalogue and all these beautiful songs that haven’t made it onto Monuments do still exist and are available. The songs on Monuments are representative excerpts of a discography that I am proud of in its entirety.

 

– The live DVD is from a show shot in Brazil in 2004. I believe this was originally intended for release many years ago, but camera problems forced you to change your mind. What made you decide to release it with the Monuments box set?

It was one camera that didn’t work back then, just for the first two songs I think. Back then we wanted to release our first concert film, we were obsessed with the idea of delivering something that was state of the art, as we hoped. When we found out that one out of seven cameras hadn’t recorded we were floored. That was 12 years ago. Now, when going through the material again, I thought it would be a shame if it didn’t see the light of day. It’s a documentary of an era of the band. If you watch an old Deep Purple concert film no one cares if it’s high definition, nobody counts the camera angles… The only question is: Is the feeling there? Is it fun to watch? Yes, absolutely, it is all that in our case. So we went for it, mixed and mastered it, had a film company edit and cut it and it’s a great concert film.

(c) photo: friso gentsch / eye-work.com

– With 10 albums and a handful of EPs to draw from, how do you and the rest of the group choose a setlist?

We try to do the songs that people wanna hear and the songs that translate best into a live version. There are 5-7 songs we have to do every time and the rest changes from tour to tour… Usually there are some songs that we never play live because they are either difficult to play or difficult to sing live, 5 nights a week. Or some of them just don’t make sense when it comes to the arrangement.

 

– Are there any songs you’ve wanted to play live, but avoided because they didn’t work in rehearsal?

I don’t know if we ever came to the point of finding that out only after rehearsing, usually there are songs we know won’t work. Now that I think of it: I guess once we tried “Dragonfly” off of the Tinnitus Sanctus album in rehearsal but it didn’t sound good. It basically consists of a guitar that plays like a clockwork and a 90 piece choir… And that’s it. It’s very basic, but the ingredients are difficult to reproduce on stage to deliver the quint-essence of the song.

 

– Songs such as “Theater of Salvation”, “The Eternal Wayfarer”, “We Don’t Need a Hero”, “Fire on the Downline” and “Down to the Devil” have only been played once or twice. Is there a reason for this?

Yes, “Theater” for instance is a mess of choirs and a sausage when it comes to the arrangement. Great song, we did it once. It didn’t work that well. “Eternal Wayfarer” and “We Don’t Need a Hero” are bitches to sing live when you are on tour and have to do it every night and every night. I remember we did them occasionally. “Fire on the Downline” is a great song that we did on the Age of the Joker Tour, but it was kicked out on the next tour because Space Police had so many songs we had to do too. “Down to the Devil” is a good one, we may do that again one day… We played it in Japan sometimes…

 

– You recently debuted songs such as “9-2-9”, “Out of Vogue” and “All the Clowns” after the initial tour cycle for the albums they came from. What made you go back into your catalogue to dust off these songs for the setlist? Is this something we can expect to see more of in the future?

I think we had done “All the Clowns” before… “9-2-9” was a song I had written for Avantasia and I guess some guys in the band are not overly crazy about it. It’s got a bit of a Journey feel for some reason I think. Sometimes you listen to an old record of yourself and all of a sudden I think: We could do this one too, why not give it a try? Sometimes in certain situations you get a certain feeling about a song, that you never  had before. A new situation can make a song shine in a completely different light. Same goes for “Out of Vogue”. I heard it again after a long time and thought: This would work great on stage. And something like that may of course happen in the future again.

– You’ve toured many different countries with Edguy. Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you would like to play?

Yes, Wembley Arena, London! And Ireland… I have never played in Ireland before, isn’t that strange?

 

– At this point in your career, you must be used to life on the road. What sort of things do you like to do when not on stage? Do you like to explore the town / city you’re in or do you tend to keep it low key and rest before each show?

I did a lot of sightseeing. And sometimes I still do it. But life on the road, and don’t get me wrong – I still love it – is very demanding for a singer. The travelling, the different time zones, jetlag, climate changes, air conditions, lack of sleep. The job you have to do on stage every night is physically demanding, because the human voice is very fragile. In the past 15 years I have done 10 world tours. Proper world tours, sometimes three continents within five days, no bullshit. Usually I try not to talk and be in my room. I know, that doesn’t sound very Rock’n Roll, but what can you do. My body needs to rest, even though I’d love to go out, have a beer and enjoy life…

 

– What are some vital lessons you’ve learnt about surviving life on the road?

Don’t take it too seriously and allow yourself to be a human being. If you’re tired or catch a cold, you suck! And if you suck, well, then you suck. That’s Rock’n Roll. Honest upright ugliness is part of makes Rock beautiful, isn’t it? Especially you Brits know how to attach the label “vintage“ to something disfunctional and broken and sell it for twice the price… It’s called personality or character! Imperfection is beautiful. Anyway, Bon Scott wasn’t a nightingale every night. That goes for all vocalists I admire. Usually vocalists become lunatics on the road, always scared of losing their voice, scared of a handshake in order to not catch a cold. I understand it to a certain extent, but when I got into this music thing it was because I wanted to enjoy it, not be afraid of everything. So, I try to accept the fact that I suck sometimes, and the press will tear me to pieces and say I don’t have it anymore and all that… That’s part of the show! Every singer knows that. All good!

 

– You’re a very creative person, as evidenced by the large amount of material you’ve released in your career. You have previously stated that you’d like to keep Edguy as a guitar focused band. Do you ever see yourself writing or recording music outside of the rock / metal genre? Would you ever consider working as an outside songwriter for other projects?

I don’t wanna become a song writer writing for others while I may be able to use that song myself. I don’t want to become a song writing factory to just deliver. You run the risk of becoming a slot-machine and your fans will realize that and everything will go down the drain. Look at some of the songwriters who write for several bands of the same genre… Most of their stuff sounds mediocre and put together on a drawing board. No, I want to write when I feel like writing, and I want to adjust my output to my creativity, not to my bank account. If I think it’s amazing, I’ll sing it myself as Edguy or Avantasia, if it isn’t amazing why flood the market with it and ruin someone else’s reputation by making him a vehicle of mediocrity. Of course if I really wanna do something, like write with a hero of mine, who knows what the future holds, I may do it…

 

– Your success in music has allowed you to present your own radio show. Would you ever have any interest in doing any other sort of media work – eg writing a column, TV pundit for football ;)?

Absolutely, I am quite a little busy these days, but I am open to anything that sounds exciting to me. Now that I think about it, that’s a great idea. You guys desperately need someone well versed in football, don’t you?

 

– In recent years you’ve alternated between working with Edguy and then with Avantasia. Are there plans for a full length Edguy album after the Monuments tour cycle, or will it back to work with Avantasia? Do you plan that far ahead?

Right now I enjoy looking back and celebrating our Edguy anniversary. After that, I’ll go on vacation and then we’ll see what’s next.

 

– Thanks again for your time. Any final words for your UK fans (and beyond)?

Thank you guys for your support, we’ll be back at some point. I love England, and don’t lie to yourself, England: You love me too, don’t you?

 

BONUS  SPORTS QUESTIONS

– Who do you prefer as manager – Guardiola or Ancelotti?

Ancelotti. Guardiola is a magician, but Ancelotti seems a bit more clumsy and relaxed.

 

– Thoughts on Rosberg’s F1 victory and subsequent retirement?

If that’s what he felt like that’s alright, who am I to judge. Maybe he was tired moving in circles. But of course retirement doesn’t sound like a good idea to me personally.

 

– As a Liverpool fan I have to know – your thoughts on Jurgen Klopp?

He is a great coach, he is very successful, a great motivator and leader. Always trying to be funny, and sometimes he succeeds… He is a good coach. His players need good lungs…

 

Edguy’s forthcoming Monuments box set is released on July 14th, via Nuclear Blast Records. Check back for our review this weekend, and have a glimpse through Edguy’s back catalogue with our retrospective feature here.

A major debt of gratitude to Tobias Sammet for sparing some time to answer some questions for us. Also, huge thanks to Nuclear Blast Records for arranging the interview and for providing photographs (except where noted).

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