I called Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) a while ago to talk about his new album “Your Heaven Is Real“. It was shortly before the Savatage reunion at Wacken, and he wasn’t allowed to talk about Savatage until AFTER the show.
This is a transcript of the conversation, just plain and simple word by word.
Always enjoyed talking to Chris,my impression of him is that he’s a sincere and non-bullshit type of guy, and I like those people.
And yes, I did speak with him again after Wacken, about Savatage. But that was for a magazine that has not been published yet, so you might find that here later, at some point. Maybe.
That’s the thing about magazines, an article can only fit so much text, whereas you don’t have to restrict the size of a piece online. I don’t know when or IF, but… subscribe and you will be the first to know. ;)
The last time I spoke to you, you were working on House Of Insanity. You said it was to keep busy while Savatage was on a break. Now you’ve got TSO, you’ve got your hot sauce, the Wacken gig… So you are still a very busy man, yet you found the time to record another solo album. Do you still have the urge to do something on your own away from the band situation?
Well…I love creating music. There is nothing in the world that I get a greater high or rush off of I think. That’s only natural, it’s fun for me to create something. In a lot of ways it’s the same feeling that you get playing in front of a big crowd. It’s something that you created, and you know that that piece of work is going to be something that people can listen to. Not everybody’s going to like it, but it’s still something that I’m really proud of.
The one thing I never really thought was going to happen, was the progression of my voice. I loved singing, but I was kind of a closet singer. I kind of thought I stunk, so I stayed in the background and tried to scream along with the music in the car or wherever I was. But as time has gone on, I have actually developed my voice to something that’s a pretty useful tool.
When I make my music now, I enjoy the singing just as much as I do the guitar playing. I think that that’s a great part of what inspired me to do the new music. I really enjoyed making the complete songs. It’s funny, because sometimes, I get kind of anxious to get to the point where I can actually sing the vocals.
I only want to get the other tracks out of the way, because I’m that excited! To me that’s the most fun that I have, making these records. when I get to sing. It’s just something that I really enjoy.
I finished House Of Insanity and I did everything on my own. I was learning about myself and the studio, so in my opinion it wasn’t the greatest sounding record, but there were some cool songs on it.
A lot of things that I learned about the business while doing my solo things, is that it was very difficult to take on that kind of stuff on your own. I just needed a bit of time away from it to get back to the point where I really wanted to have fun with it again. And this record to me was a lot of fun to make.
When I approached Brian Tichy asking if he could play the drums for it… That was the thing that really made this record, because I got a hold of his drum tracks and he is brilliant!
I had to make the rest of the music to rise up to him, because I can’t stink around these drums!
I had to make sure that the singing and the guitar playing, the sounds and everything else that was going on, were the level of what he sent me.
I just sent him some basic quick tracks, some rhythm guitars… just scratch demo versions of the songs so he would know what was the chorus and the song. But when I got those drum tracks, I was like… Wow!
I have to make sure that this stuff rises up to him.
He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest drummers on the planet.. He is probably the best one I have ever worked with in my career and I have worked with some really great drummers.
When did you get to know Brian?
There is a little tour that goes on in America called Randy Rhoads Remembered. The Rhodes family and some people go around playing Randy’s music and it’s usually Bryan and Rudy Sarzo playing the bass and he’s got a few different singers, and a bunch of different guitar players. Last year, it was myself, Metal Mike [Mike Chlasciak, Halford], and Joel [Hoekstra] from my band [TSO], and a bunch of other guitar players: Phil [Demmel] from MachineHead was playing…
And this year they had Jeff Watson from Night Ranger playing with me, Phil X from Bon Jovi and Bumblefoot from Guns n’ Roses… We played those songs, and Brian was the drummer. I just emailed him “can you do drums?“. He’s got his own studio that is set up to do recordings, so I emailed him some tracks and he sent me this stuff back. I was so happy with what he did.
On House of Insanity you did everything on your own, right?
Pretty much. I mean I had John Macaluso to do drums for that record, but the overall sounds and everything on that record was just… it wasn’t on the same level as this.
I have improved my studio gear a lot. You know, the recording of those drums was done in this studio, but they weren’t what I would consider to be studio album quality. That’s what Brian has. Brian gets the sounds just hitting those drums that you would be paying for samples you know! Overall this record just has a better sound.
I really enjoy the songs on this record. I had a lot of positive inspiration going on when I was working on this. My personal life was in a good place. I was really happy while I was working on this music.
Did you work with anyone else apart from Brian?
Actually I still did most of the stuff myself. My keyboard player Lonnie Park, and I did some background vocal work together and arranged a lot of his keyboard stuff. He had also mastered the record, but in the end it was still me. I played the bass, I played the guitar, I was the singer, the engineer, I mixed it… I did the majority of the work the same way I did on House Of Insanity, but it was a happier time and it was a more pleasant creative process getting this done, because I was more confident.
You said that you were in a good place – is there anything you would like to share?
A few of the songs on the record are actually dedicated to and written about… I met somebody. My life changed and I’m engaged. Her name is Kayla Wheeler and we are really happy. I just I wrote a few of the songs particularly about her. There is even an instrumental piece that’s for her, a little guitar piece that is kind of dedicated to the day that we actually announced our engagement to everybody. So it’s just it’s a positive thing, I was happy.
Even when she wasn’t around I was still writing and playing this music and sending her mixes. I wanted to excite her, because she comes from a very musical family. Her sister is a very successful songwriter, her sister’s husband was a very successful singer and she has just always been around really good music and bands. I don’t know, maybe in some ways I was showing off to her.
Did it work?
Yeah, I think so I think it did. You know. in some ways it inspired me to make this better and I think that’s a good thing to have somebody in your life that you want to succeed for.
I felt like… the fact that we’re gonna get married was one of those things that I wanted to make her proud. So it was definitely a positive inspiration and a different one for me, because I have never been in that situation before when I was making music!
Maybe the whole vibe is different from House of Insanity which was the exact opposite?
Exactly. Like I said, I had a lot of positive things going on. TSO approaching its 20th year, there is a lot of positive about that. My hot sauce thing is doing well … Life is just in a good place, and I think that that energy led to the album just having a little bit more of a free spirit and a little bit more of confidence, you know. I did things with a good head I think. That helped a lot.
I was wondering about the title Your Heaven Is Real – is there a story behind it?
Oh absolutely. I had, which I didn’t know, developed an allergy to shellfish.
We were on tour with Trans Siberian Orchestra, in Ottawa, Canada, and I ate a bunch of mussels, and about an hour-and-a-half later I started getting a violent allergic reaction from it. I actually had seizure and died for 5 minutes. My pulse has stopped, I stopped bleeding… I don’t mean to be gross, but my body released its bowels and I was dead.
But in that time I experienced what people say you see – a bunch of bright lights, people laughing and faces around me… I just remembered a voice telling me that it wasn’t time for me yet, and I can go through.
When I was brought back to consciousness again, my face was busted open cause I fell into the desk, and my teeth went through my lip. I didn’t look too good. But it was basically what happened in that song, and that is what the title is about – the experience that there is something there.
Whether or not that was just something in my subconsciousness or whatever, it was… I mean, I’m not particularly looking forward to dying, but I can’t say that I’m afraid of it anymore.
I actually experienced what it was like to go into that stage when your body is gone. My soul obviously still had an energy, for me to still have a recollection of what was going on.
But it was that’s what inspired that song.
So the voices that are in the beginning of the song are recreating what you saw and experienced?
Exactly. I’m basically at the time where I am out of it and I kind of hear the heart beating again and then I’m coming to it and that’s what that situation is.
Any plans for a tour?
I wouldn’t mind touring. We have already spoken about some festivals next year and I talked to Brian about it. I would love to have him play the drums. And the good thing about him is that he’s got a huge network of musicians that we could use if it would ever come down to playing together really quick.
I would love to play some shows butt it would be a happier and less stressful tour.
We have some touring plans, so I will just have to check and see where my schedule is with TSO because I have always let TSO know that I am available whatever comes up.
Just a little side-step extra: Do you have any anecdotes, memories or stories from your time with Metalium?
You know, that time was really really a cool memory for me. I wrote some songs and went over to Hamburg. I spent, I think it was about 4 weeks, living there and working on that album.
I am doing the record, and it was pretty funny because they left me and Matthias [Lange] in the studio, I basically engineered the guitars and produced them myself. I had never even loaded a two-and-a-half inch tape on a tape machine when I did that record! But I was putting the tape on the machine and Lars just left us and I thought “this was kind of strange” but I did it. I was really proud of that record.
That record was actually pretty good. When I listen back to that, it was a really strong metal record, much like the Doctor Butcher record.
Weird things in my back catalogue, that are actual special pieces of heavy metal history. A lot of fans, like in Brazil, people go: “you played on this legendary Doctor Butcher record and that legendary metal record” but the thing that had happened was…. I was in Savatage! I wasn’t in another band. I had no desire to be in another band. But Lars apparently told the labels that I was joining Metalium, Before I even knew I was supposed to be in the band.
At that time I think it had something to do with the amount of money that he had gotten to record or something.
It was like “tomorrow we have a photoshoot and on Friday the press is coming for a listening party!”
I’m like: “A photo shoot? What do you mean?” So he sits me down and says “I have to talk to you”.
And he goes: “You need to do the photos or my house of cards will fall…”
Those were his exact words. You need to do these photos or my house of cards will fall, and I found out at that point in time that I was in the band. Not just producing the record and playing. I was a member of the band. So, I discussed it with my people and they said “you can do photos but you have to appear like you are distinctly different from the band”.
But it was a big pain in the butt. And the only thing that really stunk about it was that the record was great but it never really had a chance to get where it needed to go, cause Lars and Mike Terrana had a fight in the first week of touring and Terrana quit the band during the tour.
So I told them, I don’t want to be a part of this. This is going to be a mess, so... I walked away from the touring and everything. I told Lars I couldn’t do it anymore.
They hired somebody for the tour and that was that. But there was a very interesting story with that. I can still remember that experience very well because I remember how cold it was. I remember the snow, and I remember wandering around McDonald’s after cutting a track or waking up in the morning seeing the hookers in their jackets on the street corner, and I was just giggling cause it was just funny seeing hookers standing outside of McDonald’s. It was just a crazy time. Our apartment was just right up the street from Reeperbahn and I lived there for a while. It was just a really interesting place and an interesting time.
(Small talk off the record that has not been transcribed – and then the talk continues:)
It’s been 30 years since I started working with Paul O’Neill. And we were also discussing that it was very unfortunate that the first band I ever worked with with Paul, was called Heaven and that singer Allan Fryar just passed away from cancer. So we were talking about that.
That was my first professional job ever and I still have a copy of my first professional paycheck which was signed by David Krebs. Basically the biggest rock and roll manager in history was signing my very first ever paycheck. He was my very first ever personal manager and producer and he eventually got me into Savatage – that’s 30 years now in August.
I did my photos last Wednesday actually, and I posted one of them on my Facebook page. Somebody said to me “that’s a great photo how old is it?” Like it was something from the past. And it’s something that I took that week! My photos look better than they did 10 years ago. I think it’s because I’m healthier and happier. I’m taking better care of myself and I think people age differently now.
It’s gonna be good, I’m excited for the future and like I said I think after Wacken there are going to be a lot of questions that will need to be answered. I’m just excited you know. I’m excited for people to hear this record too. Cause I think that Savatage fans are really gonna like it a lot. Heavy metal fans in general are going to love it a lot. I was talking to my radio people about it, and I said please don’t send it to people just like I am the Savatage guy.
Just treat it like it’s a brand new record. But you can’t get away from it. I have a 30 year old history with the band, is gonna come up.
Everything is good, life is good and always consider myself the luckiest person in the world. It’s good. When you listen to the beginning of the record there was a time when I may not have even been here to talk about it. Once you have listened to my album I would like to know what you think.
I’m really proud of this record. I would love to know. The song Why and Your Heaven Is Real, so much went into them, more work in that song than I think I’ve done on some albums. There was 85 tracks of music and that song. Just different vocals and strings and everything that happens is that song.
You released your previous albums on your own label, right?
Yeah, I did too much work on my own. It was very tiring. That inspired me not to do anything like that again, that’s enough.
Got an e-mail from a dear friend today. Rig, the Italian drum-tech who is part of the Jon Oliva’s Pain (JOP)-family. Haven’t seen him or talked to him in a long time, I was so happy to hear from him.
He just wanted to touch base and see what was going on in my corner of the world.
I said that I was trying to decide which TSO (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) gigs I would go to. He mentioned that he was going to Zurich (Switzerland) to get together with Jon Oliva.
I miss Jon, haven’t seen him since the Zwarte Cross festival in Holland last summer. He is a quite unusual man. Fans call him “The Mountain King” – I think that Ronnie Dio and his crew gave him that name years ago when Savatage was out on the road opening for Dio. And he is like a king.
People respect him. He is cool, always smiling, also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
He has been extremely good to me, I love him dearly. I remember once after their gig at the Z7-venue in Pratteln, Switzerland, I drove him back to the hotel and I don’t know exactly how the conversation went, but I guess I just wanted to know if he was okay with me being around them as much as I was, given I wasn’t part of the band or the crew – I was there just as a friend basically.
He said, in his cool Oliva-sort of way: “Daniela, you’re part of the family now...You are always welcome to join us anywhere“.
The “Family” being that unity band+crew+fans. In Jon Oliva’s case, it was all one and the same.
There has never been that feeling that he thought of himself being better than anyone else. The band and the crew were all equally important, everybody was hanging out – it wasn’t band and crew separately like with so many other bands. Everybody’s on the same bus, sharing the same experience. I’m extremely lucky, happy and grateful for having been invited to be a part of that. It’s something I’ll never forget, four of the best years of my life.
Fans weren’t treated as “fans”, you know, there has never been a “you are less worth than me because you’re standing there with a CD asking me for an autograph“-attitude. Jon has always taken time for that, I’ve seen him sign tons of albums, photos without complaining and some fans have become part of the unity and well, the biggest of them all has gone from fan to friend to employee. It’s just a very warm and welcoming atmosphere around Jon Oliva, I’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere else.
So anyway…. Zürich is next on my “tour schedule”. Most of all I’m very glad that I’ll get to meet Rig. A few years ago, when JOP were playing ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Rig, Hanneke (light tech) and I flew in from Italy, Netherlands and Sweden at the same time. We hooked up at the airport and went straight to the hotel where the band arrived shortly thereafter. :)
The trip to Zürich is not so much about just music. It’s more about meeting people that I really love and have missed – Rig and Jon.
Curious to see the TSO-production too, it’s huge in the States and I was going to see it last year in Nashville but missed it, don’t remember the reason why.
Want to go to Japan too – saw the Firewind-dates and checked flights. It wasn’t THAT expensive, but I can’t go cause I don’t have more vacation days until May. Next time.
Maybe if they tour in the fall/winter. Or if Priest decide play there on their Epitath-tour. Unleashed in the East!!
I’m just so excited. I love this life. I simply do. :)