Jon Oliva Interview

April 29, 2010

Websites: –
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda

I’ve had the pleasure to interview Jon Oliva twice before, and the man is a fantastic interviewee. He answers everything and doesn’t just give you a stock response. Jon Oliva’s interviews read like a well written story and are just as fun to read as they are to conduct. His band, Jon Oliva’s Pain, have just released their fourth album entitled Festival, an album that differs from the past three JOP releases as this one has a heavy Queen and Beatles influence on it while maintaining the heavier moments of past JOP and Savatage as well. In this interview Jon spoke about the infamous box of Criss Oliva (who passed away in an automobile accident in 1993) tapes, the new CD Festival, and the never ending question… will Savatage ever get back together?

Sleaze Roxx: You just released a new album, Festival, which is a slight departure from the previous Jon Oliva’s Pain catalog. When you started writing Festival was it the intention to write an album like this and throw yet another curve to your audience?

Jon Oliva Sleaze Roxx InterviewJon Oliva: It was really to throw a curve at myself actually. You might recall when I was doing the interview for the Maniacal Renderings album I said that the next album would be very experimental. Global Warning was because there were a lot of pieces of music that I had done with my brother, Criss Oliva, and stuff that I wanted to release. A lot of that material was keyboard based or written on the piano, and for the next record I wanted a more raw type of sound, more of a “Hall Of The Mountain King” type of sound.

It was kind of around the third or fourth album with Savatage when did the exact same thing. It takes that many albums working in a band before you really get to know the band and begin to work as a cohesive unit. I really know these guys now, I’ve worked with them for five years. I went into this album writing everything on guitar like I used to do in the Savatage days with my brother. Most of the music that you hear on Festival was written on the road as we were traveling through Europe last year. I would write and record ideas on a portable recorder and I’d also sort through my Criss Oliva tapes and swipe stuff that we could find on there that we could use. I’m very happy with this record.

Sleaze Roxx: The JOP group has grown leaps and bounds between the ‘Tage Mahal album through the present album Festival, both musically and in the song writing department.

Jon Oliva: I would agree with you there, it does take time. With these guys we don’t see each other every day when we’re not on the road or recording. Back in the day with Savatage we lived together, we ate together, we wrote together, we rehearsed together… we were together all the time. With JOP it took a little while to get that same chemistry going. Some of the guys in the band are teachers, they have their own lives, and I have this and TSO (Trans Siberian Orchestra). I’m really happy with this band, they are really good guys, easy to get along with and they are great musicians and that really helps me as a songwriter.

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of songwriting, do you ever experience writer’s block?

Jon Oliva: I’ve that happen to me before, I’m able to break out of it after a few days though. Sometimes I just have to get away from it for a few days, and for me it’s been hard to do that. If I experience a block I get away for about 4 or 5 days. I usually pack a bag, hop in my truck, and just get away for a few days. I’ve found this to be very helpful because when I get back my head is clear and everything starts to work again.

Sleaze Roxx: You mentioned that you dug into the Criss Oliva box of tapes on Festival. When I first talked to you, when you were doing press for the Maniacal Renderings album, you made mention that you wife was doing some cleaning and she came across this box of tapes with song ideas that you and your brother had recorded.

Jon Oliva: That’s right, it’s very sad because we’re almost out of them. We’re down to the last 9 or 10 tapes now.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m curious how many of Criss’ ideas made it onto Festival?

Jon Oliva Sleaze Roxx InterviewJon Oliva: He’s on four songs on the new album. He’s on the track “Lies”, the verse is Criss’ music; “Living On The Edge”, a lot of that song is Criss’ music, he also has a couple bits on “Winter Haven”. The song “Now” is very special because it’s something that we did when we were teenagers. The chorus was all Criss, I just put new music to it. It’s always exciting when we have a Criss riff to work with and it’s going to be a sad day when we run out of tapes I can tell you that.

Sleaze Roxx: You’re down to the last nine tapes now. How many did you have in the beginning?

Jon Oliva: I had 46 of them when we started work on Maniacal Renderings. Criss has been on every album, even on the first album ‘Tage Mahal there were a couple of things that I used of his. That was obviously before my wife found the box of tapes, so there is less of Criss’ stiff on there. Criss Oliva is all over Global Warning, there’s “Firefly” and “Look At The World”, those were ideas that we had worked on even before we were Avatar (the band that evolved into Savatage). I have found memories of writing those songs on Grandma Oliva’s piano. My family used to have a piano store — Criss sitting next to me on his acoustic guitar and me on piano. I have a lot of fond memories of writing with my brother. There’s a lot of Criss music on the Global Warning album and with Festival as well; “Lies” was a track we started working on that goes back to the Streets album.

Sleaze Roxx: With the remaining tapes will you be using them sparingly or could the rest wind up on the next alum?

Jon Oliva: Through the past three albums, when I get into writing mode, I grab about three tapes, they are all 90 minute cassettes. I’ll make a compilation of the riffs and ideas that I think are usable and then I bring them into the rehearsal studio. We’ll then build around them, it goes from there. It’s hard hearing him talk on the tapes. He’s talking to me all the time on these tapes. That’s how we’d communicate when writing. He’d say stuff like, “Here’s a riff asshole.” He’d play a riff and say, “See what you can do with that.” Then I’d say something like, “Here’s a verse numb nuts, see how we can come up with a chorus.” We’d swear at one another — it was how we goofed around while coming up with song ideas.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have an internal filter when writing a song where you determine that maybe a track is too far to the right or too far to the left? How do you know what works with the overall vision of the album that you are putting together?

Jon Oliva: (laughs) It’s really hard! That’s a very, very good question. It happens differently each and every time. If you over think a song you wind up beating the feel or meaning of the song out of it by overdoing it. It’s very difficult to find that happy medium. Like you were saying, did I go too far to the left or too far to the right? That’s what the magic is of being a song writer, when you are able to know when enough is enough. Also, when are able to know when to push a song to the limit like I did on “Death Rides A Black Horse” on the new album. If you’ve heard that track there’s a lot of brass on that song. I wanted to use just enough melody line upon melody line before it went over people’s heads. If you have the ability to do that kind of stuff you should be thanking God every night.

Sleaze Roxx: Queen and The Beatles are a couple of your favorite bands. I have noticed a number of similarities between what you are doing with JOP and what Queen did in their career. You can play the heavy stuff, you can play rockers, and then there’s stuff on the lighter side and the middle of the road stuff… all of which fits within the confines of the band.

Jon Oliva Sleaze Roxx InterviewJon Oliva: Thanks. That’s what we have found. We’ve been very experimental and tried to reach new limits. That’s one thing that I really loved about a band like Queen, is that you never knew what to expect next. It could be a song like “Love Of My Life”, a beautiful ballad, or it could be a song like “Death On Two Legs”, which was very dark but still great. They were just the best man!

As we’ve progressed as a band I’ve told these guys that I want to style JOP like bands from that era — Queen, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Black Sabbath. There’s no one heavier than Sabbath, but if you listen to the song “Fluff” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath it’s a beautiful song with Tony Iommi playing acoustic guitar with a little bit of string accompaniment. “Planet Caravan” is another one of those beautiful songs from Sabbath that was a curve but fantastic. That’s one thing that I like about music, you don’t know what to expect. If I go out and buy a Slayer album I’m pretty sure each track is going to be pounding my face in! That’s what they do and they do it well. I like to be surprised. Is the next song going to be like “Killer Queen” or “War Pigs”? Is it going to be like “Hey Jude” or “Money”? That’s what music should be all about.

Sleaze Roxx: That’s really the formula I hear throughout the new album Festival. So it sounds like you accomplished your goal.

Jon Oliva: Thank you. Music is an emotional ride, you’ve got to tug on people’s emotions. If you see red all the time you’ll get sick of seeing red. You have to throw a little blue in there, then a little yellow and then a little gold. You have to take the listener on this rollercoaster ride; you go up, then come down, you take some turns, then you’re upside down. That’s what I think it should be like, it keeps people guessing, and it keeps you interested. I like to beat you around for a little bit, then I let you rest, then I kick you in the teeth! I like to torture you a little bit along the way! (laughs)

Sleaze Roxx: JOP has a rabid following in Europe as well as Stateside although it’s more underground in the U.S. Is it a little bit frustrating that you haven’t been able to achieve the level of success in the U.S like you have abroad?

Jon Oliva: Not at all. That’s how Savatage started — we were underground in America for the first four albums. To me this is just like starting all over. We have a band that has a solid line-up with people who want to stay together. Before we set out to do this I got a solid commitment from the guys. It’s crazy this business… I should have been a plumber! (laughs).

Sleaze Roxx: I’ve heard in interviews and read in print that some musicians don’t like to deal with starting up a new band or project because it’s going back the beginning. I guess it’s too much effort to go from an established act to a new project for them.

Jon Oliva Sleaze Roxx InterviewJon Oliva: I find it challenging — it’s fresh and I get excited about it. I knew what I was getting into… I knew what was ahead for me. I know there are the diehard Savatage fans who have been giving me a hard time since I started doing JOP. It gets very aggravating to me. Can’t these guys read? All they have to do is turn the TSO album over and there’s your Savatage! That’s the band that these guys are all bitching about reuniting. We haven’t gone anywhere, we haven’t broken up! We’ve been working consistently since Dead Winter Dead for God’s sake. Nothing has changed but the name, and the name was changed to protect the name. As musicians, and as what we wanted to do, we outgrew the name Savatage as being a heavy metal band that started in the early 80’s. We outgrew the name and it was becoming a hindrance on us gaining the success that we had just spent the best years of our lives trying to obtain. Now we have finally obtained it and I still have people bitching at me! (laughs) I just can’t win! I don’t know what to do… should I buy you guys a drink or something? Give me a break man. (laughs)

Sleaze Roxx: What are your plans Stateside to promote the new album Festival?

Jon Oliva: I’ve been talking to a few promoters here. I’ve got a few commitments to fulfill in Europe in the fall and I’m tentatively planning and doing some North America shows in November of this year. Right now it could be late October into November when we get back from Europe. Right now the North East is in contention for getting the most shows at this time. I’d love to play in the Mid-West, into the Texas area, because we have a pretty good following that way. We’re gonna see what we could put together and hopefully it all works out.

Sleaze Roxx: Festival is your fourth JOP album, isn’t it about time for a JOP live DVD?

Jon Oliva: Funny you should mention that. It’s being filmed in October on our European tour, we’ll be filming the show on the 15th of October in Holland. The entire thing will be filmed, all the songs played that night will be on the DVD release. I’m putting together a special set for that show, it’s easily over two hours. There will be a number of surprises but I’m not going to say because I don’t want to jinx them.

Sleaze Roxx: I thank you for your time Jon, we wish you the best with the new album.

Jon Oliva: My pleasure Ruben, take it easy.

Thanks once more to Jon Oliva for being the class act that he is and to our friends @ Earsplit for hooking us up with the interview.