INTERVIEW WITH SPIRITS OF FIRE, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA AND SAVATAGE GUITARIST CHRIS CAFFERY
Date: January 24, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT IN THE MID ’90S, I STARTED TO TAKE NOTICE OF WHAT WAS GOING ON WITHIN THE AREA OF HEAVIER MUSIC. IT WAS HARD NOT TO REALLY BECAUSE BANDS LIKE METALLICA, MEGADETH, WHITE ZOMBIE AND PANTERA HAD BECOME THE MAINSTREAM. IF YOU WEREN’T A FAN OF GRUNGE, YOU HAD TO PLACE YOUR ATTENTION SOMEWHERE.
WHEN SAVATAGE RELEASED THE ALBUM ‘HANDFUL OF RAIN’, I WAS INSTANTLY INTRIGUED. I REMEMBER HEARING THE TITLE TRACK TO THE BAND’S PREVIOUS ALBUM ‘EDGE OF THORNS’ ON MY FAVORITE RADIO STATION, 97.7 HTZ FM.
I BELIEVE MY INTRODUCTION TO ‘HANDFUL OF RAIN’ CAME ON ONE OF MY LATE NIGHT TRIPS DOWN YONGE STREET IN TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA. YOU SEE, AT THE TIME, THE INFAMOUS HMV RECORD STORE WAS THE GO TO PLACE FOR GREAT HARD ROCK AND METAL. AT THIS TIME IN MUSIC, SO MANY BANDS HAD LOST THEIR RECORD DEALS WITH THE BIG LABELS AND WERE RELEASING MUSIC ON SMALLER INDEPENDENT COMPANIES. FINDING YOUR FAVORITE BANDS AT THE LOCAL SAM THE RECORD MAN WAS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE AT THIS TIME. SO A FEW OF MY BUDDIES WOULD JUMP IN THE CAR AND SPEND FRIDAY EVENING CAROUSING SUCH RECORD STORES AS THE MENTIONED HMV AS WELL AS SAM THE RECORD MAN, A & A’S AND THE SHORT LIVED TOWER RECORDS THAT WAS SITUATED ON THE CORNER OF YONGE AND QUEEN. WHILE MANY OF OUR CONTEMPORARIES WERE WASTING THEIR MONEY AT THE BAR, WE WOULD BE FOUND DOING WHAT WE LOVED BEST AND THAT WAS FINDING NEW OR HARD TO FIND HARD ROCK MUSIC.
UPON BUYING SAVATAGE’S ‘HANDFUL OF RAIN’, I SOON BECAME OBSESSED WITH THE BAND AND VENTURED FORTH TO FIND THE BAND’S VAST CATALOG OF MUSIC. IT WOULD BE AT ANOTHER RECORD STORE CALLED ‘CD PLUS’ THAT I WOULD BUY MOST OF THE BAND’S PREVIOUS WORK. AT THE TIME OF THESE PURCHASES, I HAD A JOB WHERE I WAS MAKING GOOD MONEY AND I HAD A BIT OF FREE TIME DURING THE DAY, SO I WOULD FREQUENT THE VARIOUS ‘CD PLUS’ LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THE GTA [GREATER TORONTO AREA].
SO AS WE MOVE FORWARD WITH MY LATEST INTERVIEW, I JUST WANT TO MENTION THE FACT THAT EVERY TIME I GET TO INTERVIEW AN ARTIST SUCH AS THE ONE BELOW [CHRIS CAFFERTY], I AM LIKE THAT YOUNG MAN I SPOKE OF IN THE EARLY 90’S. I AM SURE MOST OF OUR READERS ARE AS WELL. THAT’S PROBABLY WHY WE STILL LISTEN TO THE MUSIC FEATURED ON THIS VERY SITE. WE’RE NOT INTO TRENDS. WE MAKE DECISIONS FOR OURSELVES IN TERMS OF WHAT WE LIKE MUSICALLY. SOME MAY SAY WE WILL NEVER GROW UP. WHY SHOULD WE ANYWAYS? IT’S THIS STYLE OF MUSIC THAT KEEPS US YOUNG. I STILL REMEMBER BACK IN THE DAY WHEN SOME PREPPY ASSHOLE WITH SHORT HAIR AND PINNED PANTS WOULD SAY, “WHY DO YOU LISTEN TO THAT SHIT?” “BECAUSE I LIKE IT! SERIOUSLY? DON’T YOU HAVE AN INXS ALBUM TO GO LISTEN TO?” WHAT MAKES ME LAUGH EVEN MORE NOW IS THOSE SAME PEOPLE, IF YOU RUN INTO THEM TODAY ARE THE SAME PRETENTIOUS, MUSICALLY UNINTELLIGENT, UP TIGHT ASSHOLES THEY WERE BACK IN THE DAY. I COULD GO ON ABOUT THAT FOREVER, BUT WHY? WE HAVE SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT… I GIVE YOU CHRIS CAFFERY.
Sleaze Roxx: Chris, really good to talk to you. Thank you. I took a listen to your latest work — Spirits of Fire — which also features former Judas Priest singer, Tim “Ripper” Owens. It is pretty impressive. It’s pretty heavy. Give me a little insight on how this project all came together.
Chris Caffery: Well, it was one of these things where the guys from Frontiers got a hold of me. It’s funny because in my past, I never wanted to be that guy that got involved with a project band. I was always taking those of being something that wasn’t going to be something that I wanted to do, but Ripper was such a good friend of mine and I’ve always been a huge fan of Roy Z, that when they came up with the idea of doing this, I was like, “Well this is kind of killing a lot of birds with one stone because it gives me an opportunity to work with Ripper but also work with Roy and I can do something that is a lot of fun!” So we just started writing and got the thing put together. About two years after the first discussion about it, the video was shot. It’s just been a lot of fun for me to work on. I mean it’s taken some time. Everybody’s kind of busy in their lives and schedule, so it took a bit of time to throw everything together but it’s been really cool.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was reading the accompanying promo sent by Frontiers, I found it interesting that you stated, “I grew up listening to Judas Priest. Spent thirty plus years working with Jon [Oliva] and Paul O’Neill with Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Spent many years playing Criss [Oliva] music. These influences for me came naturally expecially since I am a fan of all our bands.” As I listened to the album, I think you really hit the nail on the head in terms of the sound in relation to that statement. Are you able to elaborate on that a little bit more?
Chris Caffery: Well, throughout the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great musicians and writers. When you go to do your own thing throughout time, there’s no way that those elements don’t get to be put into what you’re doing. To have them be such a part of this particular kind of music I think is what really helped me off with that. Having Criss and Jon Oliva having been a part of my soul as far as the heavy metal. Paul [O’Neill] just being the overall writing of how to write a song. To put a creative side to a song that’s a little bit different than anybody else. Paul always had these neat little left and right turns that would happen in certain spots in songs that I never heard on other records or have worked on other records of people that would do it. You just use some of those elements and make that happen. It was fun to be able to have a situation where we were putting together and saying, “We want this to kind of sound like these things that you have done so the fans of those bands will really be into it!” It was a chance for me to just open my mind with the things I had inside from the experience I had with these fantastic musicians.
Sleaze Roxx: Getting to the writing portion of the album, Did you come up with the music and Ripper would do the lyrics? How did that all work?
Chris Caffery: Well, I wrote the majority of the music. There were three songs that were written by Roy Z. I believe there were four songs that we were working on with Roy, but only three made it onto the record. There were a few of the songs that I wrote the lyrics for and the melodies, like “Sprits of Fire” and “Light Speed Marching.” “Temple of the Soul” was also one that I wrote most of the lyrics for, but a lot of the other things were all lyrics and melodies that were written by Ripper. He was very busy when I first started writing things so he actually came to me personally and said, “Hey look. It would really make things a lot easier for me right now if you could maybe give me some ideas to work with!” There were a couple of those songs that I had just finished because I was writing for my solo record and I had my studio set up. I enjoy singing, so I did some vocals and background vocals and sent him along some ideas. It was stuff that was written by myself, Ripper and Roy. There was a good chemistry between everybody working together in that sense.
Spirits of Fire “Light Speed Marching” video:
Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album SPIRITS OF FIRE. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/SpiritsofFireFollow t…
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of your gear for the album, I do hear a lot of similarities of the Savatage guitar sound. That’s only natural of course.
Chris Caffery: Absolutely! There was a way we did rhythm guitars that I worked on with Paul and Dave Whitman, our engineer. There was just a sound that we had that Paul would always call the “TSO rhythm sound.” It was just something that I always had. It was just a real solid, straight forward metal guitar sound that was one that would sit in the songs and be really easy to work around. When I worked in Savatage, Criss had a definite, distinctive tone in his playing and a lot of that came from the way he rigged his rigs up. He was using the metal picks and he always had a Rocktron unit thrown in there to kind of pump out the pick sound. That was the main reason he put that in there. He was using those Rockmans and actually cutting a lot of the guts out of them. He was just using them mainly to get the elements of what it did as far as how it adjusted the guitar tone when you were picking on it, which was pretty cool. I used my experience with that and as I get older — not saying I’m deaf, but I will have certain days where things will sound different to me. The thing that I have come to become comfortable with is just knowing the things that I worked with and knowing that they sound that certain way. I’m not going crazy trying to change it because something that I may think sounds really good one day, may not sound good the next day. So I kind of get into using what’s within my comfort zone.
Sleaze Roxx: The track “All Comes Together” — I think that song totally has a Savatage feel to it. The vocal phrasings kind of remind of Jon [Oliva]. When writing a song like that, would you have a picture in your mind? Did Ripper write the melody and the lyrics to that song? Or was that you?
Chris Caffery: That one was one of mine. It was kind of one of these things where I was writing the song and it had that Savatage feel. The main thing that I threw in there to really give it that kind of edge was the “trills” in the guitar notes. That was something that Criss would do. He always did those little half fret “trills” and “octaves”. I threw some of that in there. I think overall that song was just one of the ones where I was saying, “Okay, we want to have something that has a feel combining maybe Sirens and something that had one of the Judas Priest songs that was a little more oomph. Something that had the notes in it!” So I was just kind of going, “What do I think the fans of that would like and relate to?” Then I wrote the lyrics, it was just basically about bringing us all together as musicians and people.
Sleaze Roxx: You nailed it! I listened to it and thought, “Wow, that sounds like Savatage!” That is amazing!
Chris Caffery: Oh thank you. There is some cool music in that song. I really enjoyed watching the little video that Steve [DiGiorgio] did when he was playing his bass. Just to get to watch ’cause you get to watch musicians play but when you’re watching somebody like that, where someone is playing to something you wrote, throwing in his bass, that was something that just made me really happy.
Sleaze Roxx: Spirits of Fire — it’s kind of a cross between Priest and Savatage. It’s one that I think fans of both bands will really dig. The section with the fast double bass as well as the vocal phrasing, it’s almost like a “Painkiller” feel to it. Do you know which section I am referring to?
Chris Caffery: Yeah, yeah. I do! That song goes through a lot of different elements of metal. It was just one that I was kind of looking for something that would fall into that classic metal feeling that were things that I really liked when I was growing up. The Priest, Maiden, Accept kind of feel for things. Actually, to be honest with you, I did a festival in Europe with Doro [Pesch] for an anniversary show way back and Udo Dirkshneider was there. I had spoken to his manager about maybe writing some stuff for an U.D.O. record. I was going to put tracks together and start writing for this thing with Ripper. That initial riff that comes in once the intro is done was something that I had written to finish a song for Udo. So it was actually kind of pretty cool. I was like, “Oh my God! I forgot all about this riff!” So I wrote that song “Spirits of Fire”, around a song that I had written for Udo. I don’t even think Udo knows that it existed because I never got it to him. I forget why I got so busy that I never finished the writing that I was going to send over to him, but that’s where that song had come from. It’s a really powerful song and it would up being the name of the band because we were thinking of something to call it. The Frontiers people said, “Well, what about maybe one of the names of the songs?” That was the one that had the most kind of texture to it to do that.
Sleaze Roxx: There was another section of the song, that I felt had a Megadeth feel to it. There’s so much going on in that song. There’s so many changes. It’s just a very cool song.
Chris Caffery: I look at it like it’s a ‘Heavy Metal’ video game [laughs]. You have that old ghosts and goblins going from the first level to the next level. Everything changes and you’re fighting different demons. That song kind of goes through that kind of different stage of things musically. It kind of warps around in circles with different beats and feels. It’s that type of song.
Sleaze Roxx: Maybe the video game people will pick up on it?
Chris Caffery: Exactly! There you go!
Sleaze Roxx: The track, “It’s Everywhere” – great vibe to that song. That acoustic intro — it came on and it immediately caught my attention. Then it did a complete 360. It leads the listener to believe that that’s what the track [is about] maybe, then it switches gears and becomes this all out metal thing. The acoustic guitar then reappears in the middle of the songs with a little soloing bit. Tell me a bit about the thought process in terms of the song!
Chris Caffery: That one was a creation that was really put together by Roy Z. He wanted to have something that had a different element to it. He was, “We want to have something that doesn’t sound anything like what we’ve done before!” That song has that artsy sort of feel of a modern metal song, but it’s got its own distinct sound and personality. That will actually be the second video with the band performing in it. The video comes out of February 15th I believe. It’s just really cool. The point or the moment where I’m just leaning against the wall playing the acoustic guitar while Ripper is wondering down an alleyway, it’s just a really cool song. It’s definitely got a great personality.
Spirits of Fire‘s “It’s Everywhere” video:
Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album SPIRITS OF FIRE. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/SpiritsofFireFollow t…
Sleaze Roxx: That’s a good way of putting it. I totally agree with you. What are the plans in terms of touring with this line-up? Will it happen and would you mix in Priest and Savatage into the set?
Chris Caffery: I think that’s what we had spoken about when we were together filming the videos. It was kind of exciting at that point to hear that music. That was actually the first time any of us got to hear it through a P.A. system. The room we were playing in was set up in this dark basement with a wet floor to get that really cool lighting we had. There was a P.A. on the side, stacked there so we could hear and do our little performing to it. It was the first time you heard that music through something large. I’ve heard it through my own studio gear, cars and computer headphones, but I’d never heard it that way. It was very powerful. This was the first thing I thought of, “This would be great festival music!” In that sense it would be good if you’re doing a ten song set where you want to have six songs of Spirits of Fire, then have a Testament song, a Priest song, a Savatage song and a Fates Warning song in that set. That’s what I think will be really exciting for people to say, “What will be the coolest Savatage song to add in for Ripper to sing?” With him it can be just about anything. The guy can sing anything you want to put in there. If he was to do something like “24 Hours Ago”, he could do it. Then we’d pick one of his favorite Priest songs either from his catalog or something else. It could be anything that you want to do. I’d love to see us go out and get a few festivals and break the ice with that to see where it goes as far as us playing more.
Sleaze Roxx: That would be so cool! So getting to the current status of Savatage, I take it’s not going to hit the stage again at some point?
Chris Caffery: I really don’t know. I always get asked that question and as a fan of the band, a member and that being a part of my life, I’d love to see it happen tomorrow, but we’ll just have to see what the powers that be in the spiritual world of Savatage. There’s tons of metal fans around the world would love to see that band play. I’m just hoping one day they do and if they don’t, I’m where I am because of that band. I’m always going to enjoy the time that it gave me and the ability to be who I am was brought to this whole entire business because of Paul, Jon and Savatage. I will take what happens and what doesn’t happen as being one of the greatest experiences of my life regardless.
Sleaze Roxx: As I was doing a little bit of research on your tenure in Savatage and there are a few gaps right?
Chris Caffery: [Laughs] It’s called stupidity and weirdness that are the two gaps in my Savatage history.
Sleaze Roxx: Okay, you weren’t on ‘Handful of Rain’ right?
Chris Caffery: That was one of those things where I was on ‘Gutter Ballet’ — I was in a band with my brother when I was a kid. If I had more experience at that time, I would have just stayed in Savatage and tried to work with him and get that out of the way, but I just made the stupid decision thinking I could disappear, do my own thing as a guitar player and get back with my brother cause my brother was getting kind of depressed. I was like, “I’ve got to try this!” So instead of just staying in Savatage and being with my other brothers and staying there, I left. Then I went through the Dr. Butcher stage and the stage of it going into ‘Handful of Rain’. There was a time when I thought I was going to be the one doing ‘Handful of Rain”, but there was some business stuff that was happening. The decisions were made for that band and that record to go through with Alex [Skolnick] on that end. I was still with Jon [Oliva] and Dr. Butcher, so I just continued that, finished it and went out with the line-up that it had, but for whatever reason the cards fell back into the place for me. When ‘Dead Winter Dead’ was being put into the studio, I was called up by Jon and he was getting more involved again because he went on the road for ‘Handful of Rain’. He said, “Well, I’m back in the band. I want to get you back in the band. Then we have the pleasure of Al [Pitrelli] being a good friend of mine, even years before that, but he came to the studio to play for Paul [O’Neill] who said, “We’ve got to have this guy in the band too!” That’s when that whole thing got put together. That was 95’ and since then it’s just been 25 years basically of working with that group of people. It was just great. The only hole in the Savatage history that bothers me at all is the one with leaving Criss [Oliva] for those two records and two tours that I could have been with him because I’ll never get those times back with him. You know, I can always play his music and play the music that was on those albums that I missed, but I can never play them again with Criss. I think that’s the thing that kills me regardless of anything that happened over the business end or whatever decisions were made on who played, who didn’t play, where they played and what happened. That stuff doesn’t even matter to me. What matters to me is the years that I missed with my friend.
Savatage‘s “One Child” video (from Dead Winter Dead album):
Find “DEAD WINTER DEAD” on iTunes Here:http://itunes.apple.com/de/album/dead-winter-dead-2011-edition/id451682741
Sleaze Roxx: So you played on ‘Gutter Ballet’?
Chris Caffery: Basically what happened with ‘Gutter Ballet’ and this is the thing that people do not know. I was in the studio working with a band called Dirty Looks who were on Atlantic at the time. Myself and that singer [Henrik Ostergaard] did not get along very well. God bless his soul, but it’s amazing how many people I’ve worked with that have passed away. I think it’s nine singers alone that I’ve worked with, so I always tell people don’t be a singer and join a band with me. So I was working with this band and as I said, I just did not get along with the singer very well. He was a little bit odd. I said, “God Bless his Soul”, but he was the type of person where I was driving a vehicle and he put a cigarette butt out on my arm to see what it would do. You don’t burn somebody in the arm with a cigarette while they’re driving down the 101 thruway in Hollywood because you want to see how a cigarette burns someone’s arm. So it just wasn’t naturally going that well, whether it was musically or personally. It was just not going great and I did the ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ tour with Savatage. They were in the studio recording ‘Gutter Ballet’ when Jon and Criss called me up and said, “We want to see you!” So I remember going to the roof of The Record Plant studio and they were recording ‘Gutter Ballet’. Most of the stuff was done.
Criss was funny. This was his exact quote [laughs]. He says to me, “Even though we think you’re a dick, we want you to join the band!” That was the exact thing that Criss Oliva said to me. At that point in time, Criss was like, “Look, do you want to go back, open up a track and we’ll let you play rhythm to everything, this, that and the other thing?” I listened to it and said,”Criss, your guitars are done! I don’t need to play what you already played!’ I could’ve and it would have been cool, but the record was done and they wanted to finish things. I said, “You don’t need to put that time in. I just got out of studio recording with Dirty Looks with people I didn’t even know. I played on that record and wrote that album!” So if I had played on and wrote something that people had no idea about. If I just appeared on Savatage and didn’t really play, it didn’t bother me, although you’ll hear Savatage folks, “Well Caffery didn’t play on that album!” Well, that was actually Caffery’s decision. I decided to let the record go with what it had. I wasn’t going to be playing lead. I would have went through a put some rhythm guitars on it. I was just like, “Keep your stuff. It sounds great. I don’t need to do that! That’s fine with me. I’ll work on the next record.” That’s kind of where that was at that point, so when I got into that band it was something really special for me, like I said, I made a decision that happened quickly and I can’t replace it!
Sleaze Roxx: Wow, that’s quite the story. I thank you for doing this interview. I appreciate it. Thank you very much Chris and the best of luck with the album!
Chris Caffery: No, thank you. I’m really looking forward to hearing what people say when they get to hear the songs that you were mentioning that no one’s heard yet. When I hear people excited about stuff like “Spirits of Fire” and “Come Together”, it makes me more excited to know that people have not heard that yet. That’s always a good part of being an artist when you feel that people are going to get a chance to be excited when they hear it.
Sleaze Roxx: I think it’s one of those albums that you really have to pay attention and you’ve got to listen to it again and again because there is so much in there. Which is amazing to me.
Chris Caffery: Well, thank you. I am glad you like it and I appreciate your time.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, I appreciate your time as well and you have a great day!
Chris Caffery: You too! Thank you!
Spirits of Fire‘s “Stand And Fight” song: