Interview with Tobias Sammet
It’s a cool December morning in the busy streets of London, and I’m travelling on the tube towards my first interview for Metal Monk UK. Luckily I’m set to interview one of my favourite musicians in the world of metal – Tobias Sammet – the enigmatic front-man for Edguy – and also the brains behind most of the song writing for the band. He’s here in the UK to talk about Edguy’s new album ‘Rocket Ride’ [out in the UK on Jan 23rd] and – fortunately for us – he’s in a talkative mood!
DS: First of all, thanks for taking time out to speak to us.
TS: Thank you.
DS: Your new album – Rocket Ride – it’s great – I love it!
TS: That’s nice to hear!
DS: Right from the opening – ‘Sacrifice’; quite a bold opening track – it seems to me there’s a more personal feel to the album – more so than Hellfire Club.
TS: What do you mean more personal feel?
DS: Well, Hellfire Club was more about the ‘freak show’, whereas this has more personal tracks like Matrix and The Asylum – particularly in regard to the lyrical content.
TS: Yeah. Well it’s funny that you mention it; I think that’s cool. Many people are irritated or misled by the funny artwork and everything. Everybody say ‘this is a joke album’ or: ‘Aren’t you afraid people don’t take you seriously anymore?’ No. First of all, I’m not afraid of it and second of all – we’ve never been taken seriously! But it’s true. That’s really true. What I answer to people then is that there are some real serious songs. Of course there’s funny stuff like ‘Fucking with Fire’ and ‘Trinidad’, but songs like ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Matrix’ and ‘Save Me’ are really serious songs, just as always:
When I write down feelings it has been like that with Hellfire Club – there have been personal songs like ‘Forever’, for example. I can’t remember any other songs; maybe ‘Spirit Will Remain’. But yeah, now you say it, (Rocket Ride) is more personal. The new album has even more songs that speak about personal feelings than Hellfire Club. That’s funny – you’re the first person to mention that. Everybody else says ‘oh, this time we’ve got a real funny album’.
DS: Like you say – it has a deceptive cover!
DS: When I listened to Rocket Ride I got a feeling that there was a story running through the album. Was that intentional, or just due to the way the tracks are placed?
TS: There’s no story in there. The track list changed I’d say 765 times during the last two months. It was all ‘no we should do it like that’, ‘no we should do it like that’. In the end, metal fans don’t care so much about the track list – I think in the end they just want to have an album with quality from start to finish. They’ve got to listen to the whole album anyway. Particularly in metal, I don’t think it’s important to make a logical or reasonable track list. We can even start with ‘Sacrifice’ – a complicated eight minute track – but there is no real reason why we have put the songs in that order.
DS: On the ‘Superheroes’ DVD you make the very good point that you recorded for the first time together in the same as a group. Was that like going back to the old days of Edguy when you were just starting out?
TS: No – even when we were starting out, we recorded one after each other. It was new for us. Everyone could take time to record on their own with headphones and could focus on playing. That’s what you want to do as a young musician – it’s exciting. You can work on your own. Everyone can record over and over again until its right. But it’s much better for the overall feeling to not work like that. And that’s funny because that’s what every musician has to go through: First of all you explore the technical possibilities and then get together and say; ‘Hey, finally – after all we are a heavy metal band.
We’re supposed to be five people standing looking at each other and just playing’. And the big advantage is when you play in one room – everybody at the same time – you focus much more on the whole entity. You play much more with your heart and your guts, than focussing on your fingers and thinking about your playing. That adds a rough edge to the whole thing.
DS: There’s a lot of theatrics going on throughout the album – something you guys have done from way back on ‘Theater of Salvation’. I’m reminded of Queen – in particular on Judas at the Opera – do you mind comparisons like that?
TS: I like Queen a lot. It was not intentional to do a Queen ‘rip-off’ of course, but when we wrote that middle part it was obvious that it was Queen style, and I felt proud of that. I read one review that really touched me – usually it doesn’t happen – but I read one review where they said ‘Freddy Mercury would’ve been proud of this – he would have loved this’. He was one of the best personalities in music history – I really really love Freddy Mercury. He was a good front man; he was a terrific singer – an underrated singer – you know? He could sing so high and so powerful. He was a very great songwriter; a great pianist; he was a great arranger for choirs. He was a perfect – complete – musician. And that’s why I really felt proud when people said ‘Freddie Mercury would’ve loved this’. And I am happy if people compare [Judas at the Opera] to Queen, because if you are compared to Queen – it’s the best thing you can be compared to.
DS: Which of the songs can we look forward to hearing live?
TS: We are rehearsing right now. I’m not included at the moment(!) because I’m over here in England, but the others are rehearsing and I have been rehearsing with them the week before last. We are rehearsing 10 new songs and a lot of olds song that we haven’t played during the last tour. But it’s really difficult. At the end of the day, you can only play 14 songs or something – especially when they have a running time of 6 minutes or more, as in our case. So – we don’t know yet exactly.
There are songs like Vain Glory Opera, Tears of a Mandrake that you have to play: Lavatory Love Machine, King of Fools – those songs. Then there are some old songs that we want to include for the first time. And from the new album; I think we’re going to play ‘Superheroes’… We have rehearsed ‘Judas at the Opera’ actually. It wasn’t planned like that, but everybody kept asking. It’s a good song and sounds quite great in the rehearsing room. We did all the choir arrangements – we’re going to sing them all together. So – probably we’ll do that one. We don’t know yet, but I was even thinking of including some Queen parts in the middle part of ‘Judas at the Opera’ – in addition. Like you said, it was so reminiscent – it would be cool to have some elements of, say, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ playing in the middle.
DS: That’d be great! Speaking of ‘live’ stuff – you’re on tour later this month with Dragonforce. How did that come about?
TS: We had been asked if we would imagine having Dragonforce as the opening act for us, by their PR man from Sanctuary music – who I’ve known for a number of years. I was listening to Dragonforce and thought it was great stuff, so we said ‘yes’. And in return we were told that there is quite a buzz about them in the UK – which I hadn’t known – and we were asked if we would be interested in supporting them here in the UK. Everybody suggested that it would be a great idea to do that, so we said ‘okay’ and we’re playing as special guest for them in the UK.
DS: Will you still be playing a lot of your set in the UK? Will it be a full sized set or…?
TS: No – we’re going to be the special guests – so we’re playing 45 minutes or so. It’s got to be a very compact set, but it’s their show – their tour – so it’s nothing but fair to leave them the headlining slot and we’re just welcome guests. But, you know – god willing – if people like us, we’re going to be back on a tour on our own. It depends – we’ll see. It’s good to have a chance to prove to many people that we are a quite exciting and entertaining live band and that’s what we can prove to people. We’re going to take the chance and do it.
DS: You first played here in 2001 in the Underworld in London. This year you played at Bloodstock Open Air. Have you noticed a change in your fan base since 2001? Presumably it’s got bigger?
TS: It’s really hard to say. They are two different things – Bloodstock was an open air festival with many bands, London was basically just Gamma Ray and us. I think the reactions were very great the first time we were here. What I can feel is that it’s getting better and better – more and more fans keep getting to know us. But on the other hand I don’t know how many more fans would’ve shown up to the Underworld gig, because it was sold out, so I really can’t say.
DS: What made you come back to the UK? Well – I suppose Dragonforce…
TS: Yeah – Dragonforce. (laughs) But what I really can say – I don’t want to kiss ass, but – I really would give a lot to be successful in England, just to be back every now and then. This morning I was in Oxford Street – you know, sightseeing a little bit – I like the country: It’s a very comfortable country – especially the weather – it’s just nice. I like that atmosphere. Last year we did the Christmas show in Dudley JBs in Birmingham, and I remember it was Christmas time and it was just nice. I said ‘this would be the right place to be’. That’s why I hope it’s going to be better for us in the future here.
DS: Going back to the album – my early favourite is ‘Matrix’. Is there a story behind it?
TS: Matrix? It’s not related to the movie.
DS: That threw me at first!
TS: Yeah. It’s got nothing to do with the movie. For me it’s a metaphor for the origin of the personality. It’s about me discovering two contrary sides to my personality. ‘I’m tracing the matrix’ means I’m just looking for where the real truth is. What’s the real me? Who’s the real me? It’s exploring the reasons; one side of me is living in the fast lane and being a musician – having so much going on and having so much temptation in life, and the other side is being a family-orientated person with a tight bond to my close friends and relatives at home.
So it’s very contrary to lead a life as a musician yet originally be someone else – someone very family bound and family based. ‘Matrix’ is just exploring and asking the question ‘who am I really?’ Somewhere there must be a core to who I really am. So yeah, it’s got nothing to do with movie.
DS: Do you have any particular favourites from the album?
TS: It changes, from day to day. But a real favourite of mine is ‘Catch of the Century’ – just because it is such a great package of a song – music; lyrics; attitude – they all fit together…like a fist in the face. It’s got a lot of impact that song. I love the lyrics – every syllable – I love the music; it’s very strong – very aggressive. I think that’s going to be one of the favourites live as well.
DS: Are we meant to assume the song is about you? There’s a lot of talk on the forums about ‘finding a bride for Tobi’.
TS: (laughs) It’s not actually about the struggle to find a bride. It’s just about when you think a woman’s attractive and you talk to her. Yes, it’s about being turned down by someone who you think is attractive: “Hey beautiful ass.” “No – go fuck you.” Here we go – we have two contrary opinions about the same thing, which is called… relationship! And that’s what the songs about – in a funny way – in an aggressive, ambitious, but also funny way. It’s very tongue in cheek
DS: Especially the ad-libbing at the end!
TS: Yeah, where I’m telling her what she’s going to miss out on. It’s not what I have – it’s what I’m going to be and what she’ll miss out on in the future. I really think it’s a great track.
DS: On ‘Back to the Tribe’ – at the end – you do a unique solo. I have listened to that right, it is you. Yes?
TS: Yes that’s right. That’s me.
DS: How did that come about?
TS: Well – we were in the studio – we’d had a few beers (laughs) – and I was telling Sacha [Paeth - the album’s producer] that I tend to sing guitar solos, and whistle and hum them to Jens [Ludwig], so he knows what I have in mind. I told Sacha that once I sang a whole solo to Jens – exactly – just to make him play, because he didn’t know what to play. I think it was ‘Savage Union’ back on the King of Fools EP. That solo was completely sung by me back then, and Jens played it note for note. So we said ‘okay, we should do that for the album’. So we did – we recorded my voice, ran it through the microphone, through a guitar distorter, into a guitar amplifier, through guitar speakers, back into a microphone and into the recording machine. It sounds ridiculous – it sounds really funny – like a human being singing a guitar solo! It fits – it doesn’t sound like a bad joke, or something. It sounds like a good joke!
DS: Just something not many people would think of doing!
TS: Yeah. So we said, ‘let’s leave it on the album’.
DS: We know you’re touring the UK in late January. Are you going round the world or round Europe?
TS: We’re going round Europe first and then the world. We’re going to start here on the 27th supporting Dragonforce, and then going to continental Europe, then onto Asia. Probably about the middle of the year we’re going go to Brazil, South America, Central America, North America… It’s going to be a long world vacation…
DS: Are you planning on doing any European festivals. Have you been asked to do any?
TS: Well, you know, it’s just starting to happen. I’m hoping we can play Bloodstock again. That would be good – because we want to come back as a headlining act anyway. I don’t know if we’re going to play some German festivals, but I know we’re going to play a festival in the Czech Republic – Masters of Rock – which is quite a big festival. Last time it was 25,000 people and we’re going to headline one of the nights. I know that here in England people really don’t give a shit about us(!), but in Czech Republic – you know – we can headline a 25,000 people festival – No. Shit! (laughs) Apart from that, there’s got to be some festivals, obviously. But I don’t know which ones yet.
DS: Rich – who runs Metal Monk – has asked me to ask you this: Are you worried about any comparison with The Darkness?
TS: (laughs). Well – we’ve both got thin hair… And a thing for big sunglasses… I think ‘The Darkness’ have been a joke before they became a band. And we were a band – once – a long time ago; before we turned into a joke(!). I really like them, but the funny thing is we don’t have anything in common – besides our sense of humour. They are a humoristic band, you know? I wish them all the best. I just bought their CD today – I haven’t listened to it yet – but I just bought it. And I think they’re really funny. I don’t want to judge about their quality – I haven’t seen them live. They have just done two albums, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. They will have to prove they can become an institution in the long term – and I wish it. I wish them all the best.
But we have been around for 14 years in almost the same line up doing 7 or 8 studio albums, doing a couple of world tours, so I think it’s a different thing. They have been an overnight success, somehow, and we have been working hard for where we are now. I think they are a funny band. It’s not my favourite band. But at least they have something a lot of bands lack – they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are quite entertaining. Of course, they push it over the limit. But – it’s okay.
DS: Tobias Sammet – thank you very much for your time.
My thanks also to Dan @ Nuclear Blast, Rich @ Metal Monk, Andy and Chazzy.