Fighting for Survival

From: Metal Mania 7/88

By: Georges Solmers

Title: "Savatage: Fighting for Survival"

Transcribed and HTMLized by: Tracy Wrona

     Well, here we are at the front of something that could be very cool. See, this new Savatage album, Hall of the Mountain King, is causing quite a stir in the metal scene. One of the reasons is because it is actually a really good album. Don't go looking for brutality on this album, just a dose of the heavies. Yes, this is a fine heavy metal album indeed. The foursome (Jon and Criss Oliva singin' and stringin' respectively, Johnny Lee Middleton on bass, and Steve "Dr. Killdrums" Wacholz on drums) churn out some heavy fuckin' power metal.

     In this interview with the Dr. and Johnny, they talked my ears off! These guys are really so hyped about their band, and they should be. After all, if you don't like your album, then why should anybody else? So this is how things went:

Metal Mania: Why did you change managers? [Savatage was managed by A.M.I. Management, and now they are being handled by Crash Management.]
Steve Wacholz: Well, I don't wanna get into it too heavy, but basically we've changed management for the better. It was time for us to move on to bigger and better things, so we did. I don't wanna get into it too in depth.

MM: Did that change have anything to do with the fact that you've released one of your strongest albums since your first album, Sirens?
SW: Not really. Our change in management has changed the way we are being marketed through Atlantic. We had a year and a half to write the songs for the album, and we went into heavy pre-production, so that's why this album is so strong. A lot of the material came from true life experiences that happened to the band in the past year and a half.

MM: Why was your last album, Fight for the Rock, so wimpy?
SW: A lot of people took us the wrong way with that album. That record is still Savatage, whether they like it or not. It was a side of Savatage that wasn't shown before, but it was still Savatage. Yes, I would have to agree that the material was a bit more polished. But that had a lot to do with the producer of that album. Stefan Galfas had a tight hand on what came across. In fact, we had less involvement on that album than any album to date. We learned a lot from working on that album, so we had more artistic control with this one. We all love Fight for the Rock. We'll also agree that it's not our strongest album. Hall of the Mountain King is our strongest album by far. In future, we're going to have stronger albums than this one. The potential of this band is unlimited. The two Oliva brothers are like the Lennon and McCartney of heavy metal.

MM: Do you feel Fight for the Rock was handled poorly?
SW: Sure, that's why we're working with a whole new team of people. They know how to market our type of metal better than the last team. Obviously it's better for us this time around. Our new staff know the right people in our genre of music. We are priority right now.
Johnny Lee Middleton: Yeah. All their efforts go into working on us. It really makes a difference when you are top dog. It doesn't matter if you're top dog with a small company or a big one, as long as you're top dog.

MM: Are you relying less on Atlantic this year?
SW: Atlantic is doing a fantastic job this year. Our management knows how to motivate them into doing what needs to be done. You gotta have that close relationship with the record company, or else your record will come out and just die. Bands like us have to tour because we can't depend on radio. We have to play out to sell albums. We haven't really done that in the past-sorry, folks-but this year we've gone out for two months by ourselves, we opened for Dio and Megadeth, and we went out with Motorhead. We've been out on the road this year. Plus we did a video, which we never did before. We realized our mistakes, and now we've got nowhere to go but up.

MM: When I spoke to you last year, you said you didn't want to do videos because it would ruin the mystique of the band.
SW: The band has already based its reputation on its live show, so there's no way we'd become a video band. We're a four-ring circus live. The video still holds the mystique of the band. It doesn't come out and show you our live show. It's not a boy-girl video like a lot of other metal bands are doing lately. These days, you have to have a video to get to the masses. It's one of those things you have to do if you want to be big in the industry and sell records. Granted, Metallica doesn't have a video, but they've got a mega-attitude. I bet they do a video this year.

MM: They did a home video that consists of bootlegged shows.
SW: See. That has a lot to do with the way they are. That ties in with their music, and it's great.

MM: What was it like when you first joined the band, Johnny?
JLM: It was kind of flooring. I mean, I went from a bar band that played Journey and Bryan Adams to Savatage. I always wanted to play metal, but in Florida if you wanted to make money playing, you had to play covers. So when I joined Savatage, we rehearsed for four weeks and went to England to record Fight for the Rock. It was all very new to me.
SW: He was the missing link in the band. In fact, I asked him to join the band before we recorded Power of the Night. He asked if we could pay him $250 a week. I told him no, but we had a record deal; but he wasn't into it at the time. Two years later, I walked up to him, and he was playing the same songs, making the same money, so I asked him again. He thought about it for about two seconds and said yes. He was the missing link in the band. We used to have a little bit of a weak spot in our rhythm section because we didn't have a solid bass player before he joined, but since he's joined the band, it's been incredible. He's like a brother.

MM: What was it like working with Paul O'Neill [producer of Hall of the Mountain King]?
SW: He had a lot of influence on the way this album came out. He really helped out. He was like a fifth member of the band while we were in the studio. The fact that he was a musician really helped us a lot, because he pushed all of us to the limit. He's very creative. I mean, the video for the song "Hall of the Mountain King" was his idea. He is probably the best producer we've ever worked with. He may not be as popular as some of the producers we've worked with in the past, but he had a parallel mind with us. We saw the same things in terms of what he and the band wanted the album to sound like. We recorded the album at the Record Plant in New York. The vibes in the studio were very conducive to what we wanted to do. Anybody who is anybody has done an album there, I mean, there's gold and platinum albums all over the place.

MM: Do you feel you're doing something that not too many bands are doing lately?
SW: Well, there are a lot of thrash bands out now. We've never been a thrash band. The music on Hall of the Mountain King is Savatage. Fight for the Rock might not have the edge, but it's still Savatage. There are other bands out now who are doing what we do-power metal-but this album is just a strong album; it's a fucking winner. I mean look at it. The cover's a winner, the back cover's a winner, the piece of vinyl's a winner-the whole thing is just a winner!

MM: Is this your "do or die" album?
SW: Yes and no. Our sales have been so-so in the past. Now we're close to 100,000 shipped in the U.S. I think that if we had put out a weak album, it would have been do or die for the band. This album is so strong that it overshadows what people felt was weak with Fight for the Rock. It overshadows that record and makes up for it ten times over. From "Hall of the Mountain King" to "Devastation" to "Strange Wings," they're all great songs. So, we don't feel this is do or die for us.