"It’s cool that we can create new best records"
While Kamelot are steadily becoming a bigger name in the metal scene, their latest album “Haven” offered them the chance for an extensive tour that brought them to Greece, after a few years of absence. Just before an amazing show took place we met Thomas Youngblood and Thomas Karevik relaxing backstage and had a really long and detailed conversation about the band’s past, present and future that includes almost everything a fan of this band would like to know. It’s also a proof that success doesn’t come easy. It needs talent, consistency, a plan, an open mind and humbleness. And this band has it all...
This is the end of the “Haven” tour, so how would you wrap it up? How was it for you?
TK: It has been a long tour cycle, first and foremost. I think, two and a half years. It took us all over the world again. Bigger crowds, more fans and a little bit different demographics also I’d say.
TY: Yeah, I think “Haven” has opened up some new doors for Kamelot. It was saluted by our fanbase, but we have been able to grow. We have people from twelve years old to fifty years old at our shows now. It has been great. We’ve been able to expand what we’ve done and play new countries, so it’s been an exciting tour cycle and it’s bittersweet that it ends, these last few days. But, we’re excited to play these shows and come back to places like Greece, Russia and Israel with this new album.
I guess this tour has been a bit different, as Tommy is now five years in the band now and his previous tour was the first with the band, but now it’s more solidified. Did it make a difference for you? Did you feel that by now fans have moved on to the Karevik era for good?
TY: Yeah! Honestly, we don’t really try to analyze that stuff, cause we’re all forward thinking types, but I guess if you look at it in hindsight definitely! We have fans that discovered Kamelot on “Silverthorn”, so that’s kind of a cool thing about the internet now. You can find out about someone you’ve never heard before and all the sudden it’s all fresh and new and you don’t know what’s happened before. From day one we went on with “Silverthorn”, never looking back, we’re just going forward. That’s how we operate.
For you, Tommy, is it any different as time moves on touring with Kamelot?
TK: It’s more solidified – as you said – as a unit, but I already felt from the beginning. After we had a couple of rehearsals and we hit festivals in the summer of 2012, I just felt everything was going to be great. We only had a couple of shows under our belt and it felt great and it’s been getting better and better.
"If you worry about every little decision you make, you’ll never be happy, you’ll never enjoy the ride"
Well, I have to say that Tommy had some big shoes to fill and he passed the test with flying colors! You’ve managed somehow to keep your fanbase close and as you said before expand it with new audiences. I guess it’s trick to achieve it cause it demands a balance...
TY: ... not really, cause we don’t really... I’m not the kind of person that really cares about it. I do what I think is right, we do what we think is right and whatever happens, happens. If you worry about every little decision you make, you’ll never be happy, you’ll never enjoy the ride.
"It’s always a little bit nerve wrecking to fill someone else’s perception or take over from someone else"
Of course, it can’t be really planned, but it’s still an achievement no matter what...
TK: Looking back now, it could have gone many ways and it went really well. And I’m of course very happy, because it’s always a little bit nerve wrecking to fill someone else’s perception or take over from someone else. But, I kind of had to see it like I had to do my own thing. Try to honor the old songs, but also give the fans something new and my own, so to speak, contribution to the music. I think we did that really good actually.
Now, if I’m not mistaken your new album is in the mixing progress right now. So, every time you enter the studio do you look back to see what your next step would be or do you try to do it all fresh? You do have something to build on and I guess it’s not always an easy decision...
TY: It depends on the time that you have to work on something. You do the best you can and then whatever happens, happens. I mean, obviously, as songwriters in the band we have a certain style, so we don’t really worry about not sounding like Kamelot, but we always want to do something fresh within the album and bring some new elements. And it’s the exact same thing, probably from “The Fourth Legacy” to today, the way that we approach that. The songwriting team dynamics have changed a little bit, but basically it’s the same philosophy. Always try to make an album that’s balanced with certain types of songs, but also maintain that Kamelot feel. So, it’s been my objective…
Is there any info you can share about the new album? About its approach, what we should expect and when it’s supposed to be released?
TY: Well, it’s coming out on April, next year and we have some cool surprises on the record. We’re not going to say anything about our special guests yet, but it’s exciting. This time, with this record we decided to keep it a bit more secretive, instead of doing the obligatory studio reports and stuff like that which is cool, but we wanted to work as hard as we can on this record and then release it.
"I could see in the future if we wrote a record where’s it’s a concept album that is maybe a bit longer than normal and we can say that we will play this in its entirety"
Another thing now, is the trend nowadays for bands to go back and revisit some albums in order to perform them live in their entirety. Have you considered doing something like that? Especially, because you have great concept albums and you could play them from start to finish...
TY: The only record I could think to do that would be with “Silverthorn”. To me, anything before that wouldn’t make sense. But, I could see in the future if we wrote a record specifically with than in mind, where’s it’s a concept album that is maybe a bit longer than normal and we can say that we will play this in its entirety.
I think it fits with your music to do something that maybe combines music and theater on stage. Would you like to do that?
TK: Yeah, maybe. It’s a good idea. We’ve definitely thought of incorporating more theatrical stuff. So, it’s possible that it’s gonna happen. We all like the acting part and the theatrical aspect.
"Musically, I think why it works with Tommy being in another band is because it’s so different"
Also, you have another album coming out soon apart from the one with Kamelot, with Seventh Wonder. Was this kind of double duty a headache for you?
TK: No, not when it comes to ideas and style of music. There’s not any conflict at all. It has another style, another feel. Time wise it’s a struggle sometimes...
TY: Musically, I think why it works with Tommy being in another band is because it’s so different. Even the vocal approach is different, the melodies are different... So he’s able to do Kamelot and keep his own thing going, but also simulate it to what we do. I think that’s great for the fans, to have double dose of Tommy Karevik.
TK: I don’t know if it’s positive... (laughs)
"I have to constantly remind myself that I am actually good enough to be in a band like Kamelot"
I think that it definitely is positive. Now, I want to quote Arjen Lucassen who told me in an interview with did that you are "one of the best singers out there today, at least at your style" and I agree with him. So, firstly I want to ask Thomas if he felt it too from the very beginning when you joined Kamelot and secondly Tommy could this be a burden for you, to hear from so many people that you are up there...
TK: Well, it’s not true... (laughs). Well, it’s great to have someone to say that. Of course, people that’s in the business know about music and that’s great. To me, that’s not the truth at all. I have to constantly remind myself that I am actually good enough to be in a band like Kamelot...
TY: That’s one of the reasons we love him, he’s so humble!
Well, I give my second vote to Arjen and I guess Thomas gives the third one, so we win...
"We live in an era where there’s a lot of talented people and It’s not so much about who’s the best, it’s about what works"
So, Thomas what magnetized you the most when you heard Tommy singing the Kamelot stuff?
TY: Well, we did a demo for “Song For Jolee” and that was it, we just said “that’s the guy” you know. We met at ProgPower and I heard some of the Seventh Wonder stuff, I think it was “Tears For A Father”. So, I knew that he would definitely fit in the Kamelot. And then we did the first show in a big festival in Czech Republic and it went amazing. He totally was in charge of the crowd and from that point on we never looked back. I think we live in an era where there’s a lot of talented people. It’s not so much about who’s the best, it’s about what works.
On the other hand, when there are so many talented people and there’s so much information about music, bands, vocalists etc, there’s some value in standing out...
TY: Absolutely! You have to stand out!
"We’ve been able to create sort of a style that has a certain signature to what we do"
So, do you sometimes see it as a challenge to write music, having in mind to see what Tommy could do with it or you stay true to the music and wait for Tommy to fit in to it?
TY: Yeah... basically [editor: referring to the latter]. We don’t think about it too much like that. There’s stuff that he makes us change the key so as to sound better or he has a melody that makes it sound better or chords. He also writes songs. But, basically, we come up with ideas and we try to work melodies into them and we change some of the stuff and that’s the way we’ve done it for years. I think that also that also keeps a little bit of our consistency. You try not to be repetitive, but you still need to have consistency.
TK: There is a certain formula to the music that just comes together when this group of people just do music together. And there’s a certain feel that I’ve come to adapt to. So, now it’s easier for me to tap into that, to write something. I already know how I want it to sound to make this Kamelot feeling. I had to listen to a lot of Kamelot’s back catalogue to try to get the feel... how the melodies are constructed and stuff. And now it feels like second nature to make something that sounds like Kamelot...
TY: It’s also nice to also have some outside writers like Bob Katsionis for example, who worked on a song and thought “oh, this has a Kamelot feeling” and he sent it to us. We’re kind of fortunate that we’ve been able to create sort of a style that has a certain signature to what we do. Which is one of the things I’m most proud of.
Your music has many layers and great production and stuff. How difficult is it to make it sound clear and balanced like on the CD and still have a live feeling when you perform it?
TY: When I go to a concert I don’t expect to hear the album. Obviously, there’s stripped down parts, there’s a live feel to certain things. Otherwise, it would be another band in this genre that to me is completely boring to watch live, because everybody just sounds like the records. There’s no dynamics, there’s no crowd interaction. To me these are the intangibles that make it a show, it’s not sounding exactly like the album. It’s also sharing certain parts with the fans and making the night something unique for the people to make them want to come back.
Now, mentioning the genre... I think the first time I got in contact with Kamelot was about twenty years ago with a cassette of “Dominion”. You know, tape trading stuff... (laughs)
TY: (laughs) Oh, wow! Tommy, was probably five... (laughs)
Since then Kamelot have been considered a power metal band...
TY: Yeah [editor: agrees]
"It’s cool that we can create like new best records"
I used to love power metal and I still like it, but most of the bands that used to play power metal back in that day either don’t exist or have lost their value through the years somehow. Why do you think Kamelot stayed strong and are now a bigger band than they were ten, fifteen or twenty years ago?
TY: One of the things that you just said about the power metal bands, it’s that we beside the power metal in our DNA we have so much more, that makes it more interesting. I was into bands like Helloween and Stratovarius and I still love these bands. Some other bands just didn’t evolve. They didn’t expand on their sound. We had to do that! For yourself first, to stay interesting. And after that it’s pretty fair to say that the fans will grow with you. That’s a really important thing for me as a person.
TK: Also, it feels like many bands have one album or some albums that came out many years ago and everyone listens to all the time. And they just want to make another new one like these albums. I feel – from all the people I have talked to - that with Kamelot it’s different. "Oh, “Silverthorn” is my favorite”, “”Black Halo” is my favorite”, “”Haven” is the best album ever”. It’s cool that we can create like new best records, which is also strange I think. To not only spin off on one style in the past...
TY: ...To be a nostalgic, review band, that’s not us.
Totally not. Judging by some fan pages on Facebook there’s a lot of fans that weren’t even born when I first listened to Kamelot, I think. And I consider this a win for you. And it brings me back to a previous questions I had. How much can a band evolve so as not to stay nostalgic, but also not to alienate its old fans?
TY: That is a fine line, that is a balance... Like I said, we try to do the best that we can within that period that we have to write-record-release an album. And I constantly think about all of these different things that I want to make sure a Kamelot record has, which include new elements, new things for new fans. And then parts that I think Kamelot fans expect.
Now, you mentioned that in the past you were a fan of Helloween and Stratovarius and stuff. Do you still remain a fan of the music that you make? Do you carry new music with you on the road to check or somehow saturation has come and you don’t feel like listening to that style of music or new music?
TK: For me, it has its ups and downs. Sometimes I like to find new bands, usually not too much in power metal and prog anymore. I even listen to country, pop and everything... cause that’s where I came from. I used to listen to just pop music. The heaviest I listened to was Queen... So, I kind of made a trip from there and started listening to other stuff as I grew older. But, if I really want to relax I listen to Swedish singer-songwriting music, something that has no filter for me, it goes straight to my heart. Of course, I love all these Dream Theater stuff I ‘ve been listening since fifteen or seventeen years ago. To be honest, right now, if I have to listen to music then I will listen to something that’s completely different than what we are creating, actually...
TY: Same here. I listen to actually lot of pop radio. I think that it helps keep the ideas fresh and not copy somebody else...
"That all started with mp3 and it’s basically like that with everything: with food, entertainment... if it’s more convenient you sacrifice quality"
Another debate is how much internet has benefited bands and stuff. I think -again for a reason- Kamelot have expanded their fanbase, or so it seems, through internet, social media, streaming platforms etc, while many bands claim that it actually “destroyed” them. So, where do you stand? What do you think about the whole thing with the music industry right now?
TY: It’s difficult! I mean, the Spotify kind of platform is not going away; it’s just too convenient. That all started with mp3. So many people would sacrifice quality for convenience. It’s basically like that with everything: with food, entertainment... if it’s more convenient you sacrifice quality. That’s what happened with Spotify, it’s so convenient streaming. Still sounds good, but maybe back in the day we were like “Oh man, the CD! I got the CD player, I got the speakers, everything’s got to sound perfect”. And that all mentality is completely gone now.
That all is not gonna change, so if you don’t embrace that and sort of work within that framework all you do is bellyache about how terrible it is. You’re gonna lose for sure. And we were one of the first bands that got an internet page back in the day and really started from day one with forums and things like that. So, it’s not going away and bellyaching about it is just a waste of time, it’s better to embrace it. Spotify is now starting to pay artists more, we see that with our publishing stuff, we’re getting royalties. And as that becomes a main platform we’re going to get more money from it. Hopefully, new artists will be able to benefit from it.
But then, I’m thinking as you say that, that bands like Kamelot and Seventh Wonder and artists like you make albums with a certain sound quality. And I still stand on the side of those who have buy CD or vinyls, have the big speakers and stuff and I appreciate quality...
TY: We still work for you! We still work for people that do that. And that’s super important. We put a lot of time on the packaging and all that stuff. We can’t abandon that either, because it is a large percent of our sales. We still sell physical product. Probably more than a lot bands in our genre, but maybe because our fans expect that and there’s a lot of them that still want to have the CD.
Another thing is that the music you play would maybe sound bad if it wasn’t good produced. Part of its beauty is in the orchestration of it and you don’t have the flexibility to adjust it because fewer people now seem to care about quality...
TY: I don’t know if it would sound bad, cause basically good songs are good songs.
TK: I think what you’re searching for there is to say that the music has a lot of detail. And has to be heard in the production. Also, the imaging and packaging has a lot of detail and that’s what people pay for. So, I think it’s good. We have to do that. Thomas will sit all the time, and think about everything basically... (laughs)
Also, the state of the music industry right now wants you to tour more and more. Does it take something away from the songwriting process when you have to tour that much or does it help it?
TY: I think we switch spots every one year and a half or two years. It’s impossible to write on the road, there’s just too much that you want to do. I’m one of those “enjoy the journey” kind of people. I like to go out walk around, look at stuff, meet people. That’s one of the reasons why it takes longer for us to write albums, cause we want to do it all at home.
So, after all this touring pick the place that is for Kamelot the one to play there...
TY: Well, we’re kind of fortunate now. United States is growing, Canada, Japan... We just played in Moscow yesterday, it’s unbelievable. We’re very fortunate. Also, tonight will be awesome here in Greece [editor: indeed it was]. It has to be in every tour cycle. We have some standouts...
TK: The first thing that comes to my mind is the South American shows. Also, the first thing I think about when I think about Kamelot shows is my first show that was in Czech Republic. But that was a festival, of course. That was kind of my baptism by fire... There are so many great places. Basically, wherever this band comes there’s like a huge reception. People are traveling from all around the world to get together. It’s amazing.
So, when should we expect you back in Europe and specifically in Greece?
TY: Back in Europe September-October 2018, then hopefully 2019 we can come and maybe do something similar to this. We’ll have a new album and maybe we can tour Eastern Greece, like Bulgaria and Greece.