Kamelot Germany had the opportunity to sit down with Oliver Palotai for an interview, shortly before Kamelot’s „Silverthorn South America 2014“ tour. We’ve got a lot of questions, so be prepared for a long read! We talked about Kamelot’s last two years, how it is to become a father and we got a glimpse into the busy life of our favorite Keyboardist!
Kamelot Germany (Yvonne): The „Silverthorn“ world tour is about to wind down with the South America tour. Which things have left the biggest impressions in your memory?
Oliver Palotai: Foremost, the fact that Tommy established himself as our frontman and that he grew into his role even more. Him being in the band is not so new anymore, but it’s not like we’ve done that many tours with him so far. Also, I didn’t accompany the band on the North America tour. So yeah, Tommy as front-man and all the changes that came along with it have left the biggest impression.
KG (Yvonne): How was it for you to sit out Kamelot’s North America tour? This has been the first time since you joined the band.
OP: I actually thought it would be harder, but my trick was to avoid trying to get the latest news all the time. I could’ve easily sat in front of YouTube every evening, trying to watch all the newly uploaded videos. I didn’t do that. I also kept my normal working schedule, and only got feedback from the guys from time to time, telling me it’s going great. This balance helped a lot to not miss it too much. Then Simone Simons and I were preparing and looking forward to the birth of our son, which eventually happened right after the end of the tour. He had a bit of… bad timing. I’m not sure if he’s going to become a musician. (laughs)
KG (Yvonne): Coen Janssen from Epica stepped in for you on the North America tour. What do you think of his „keytar“, which he used on the North America tour? Have you ever thought about getting one of those? Not everyone is able to look cool with such an instrument.
OP: That instrument is, I believe, from a Canadian company. They approached me when we were playing in Canada on the Nightwish tour. They asked me if I would like to play that thing and they offered me an endorsement deal. So I tested it. It’s really a great piece of equipment and well-engineered. I just don’t think I’m the right type of guy for this instrument.
KG (Yvonne): The format is something really special, never seen anything like it before.
OP: Yes. From a musical point, the format brings no advantages. You also have to get used to it, but I have to admit, I don’t think I would have. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Coen is more the entertainer onstage. He does these really funny lead-ins before the Epica encores. Maybe you have seen those. I’m not the type of guy for such things.
KG (Yvonne): You became a dad last autumn. How is your little family doing?
OP: It’s going great. How shall I express it without scaring people away from having babies… it’s brutally exhausting. You can’t imagine how exhausting it is. How close it pushes you to your limits, especially with the first three months. All the rules that exist are correct. Now he’s going for the fifth month. He’s almost four months old and it gets better from week to week. You are able to pick up old habits again, like reading a chapter of a book. That wasn’t possible in the last couple of months. But it’s so worth it in every regard. It’s so amazing to wake up at his side every morning and to experience how he laughs at me. This has a dimension I would not want to miss. Despite all stresses and strains. Admittedly, my productivity is only at 50% at most. Sometimes it’s impossible to do anything, especially since I need at least 2-3 hours to work. When I’m writing a song for example. I’m not the kind of guy who can just sit down for 45 minutes and start orchestrating. Usually I don’t start at all in such cases. Today, for example, I finally had a day, where I was able to really work like it used to be. (laughs) But it’s improving week by week.
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Nicole/France) How has your little rocker changed your life so far?
OP: The time we used to have for our hobbies is now completely occupied by our baby. As artists we have to organize everything as well as possible. On the one hand, it’s easier than in other families, because we are more flexible, but on the other hand, it’s more complicated. Like it is with Simone right now. She just has to work at the moment. A lot of mothers use parental allowance to take a year off – she can’t do that. Epica is a company and it has to keep going. That’s why she had to record a new album now. Due to the pregnancy, the band already paused with the touring. Five guys and their employees can’t just take a break until Simone is back from maternity leave. The little guy will get to know all of this later on. To grow up in an artist family is a little bit different to a regular family. I’m curious what kind of character he will develop. (laughs)
KG (Frank): Maybe he will hate all artists. (laughs)
OP: Quite possibly, maybe he will end up being a completely buttoned-down/straight-laced guy. (laughs)
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Avery/USA) How did you pick the names of your son?
OP: Vincent comes from Vincent Price. He’s this Horror/B-Movie actor from the 70’s, whom I like a lot. I love the very special atmosphere of these bizarre old movies. „The Abominable Dr. Phibes“ for example. Tim Burton also did a short film with the title „Vincent“. It’s a story about a boy with the name Vincent and Vincent Price took over the part of the narrator. Georg is already the 6th or 7th Georg in a row in our family.
KG (Yvonne): From your side?
OP: Exactly. My dad, his dad and so on.
KG (Yvonne): Do you both already know in which language you want to raise your son? German, Dutch?
OP: Both. We already started to raise him bilingual. Simone consistently speaks Dutch with him, and I German. And Swabian. (laughs) He has to learn that too. There seems to always be a defiant phase, when the child refuses to speak the language, which is not spoken in the country they currently live in. But you have to just keep going.
KG (Yvonne): Did you inform yourself beforehand how this works?
OP: Yes, it’s really simple, one parent has to consistently speak one language and the other parent has to consistently speak the other language. So he knows, if he would like to have something from his mom and he’s not asking in Dutch, he’s not getting his candy. (laughs)
OP: But he will grow up with a rather wicked humour anyway. In the end he will have a rather quick tongue himself.
KG (Yvonne): Okay, back to music. Did you already start thinking about the next Kamelot album? Is it going to be proggier, now that you and Tommy are part of the songwriting team?
OP: I have the first idea for a song written down. I start collecting ideas weeks before I begin working on a project. When I watch a movie, for example, and the end credits scroll down, most others would already go back to the menu. I keep watching, hear a phrase and think: ‚that would be cool for Kamelot‘. Something like this, or the set-up of instruments. Therefore I’ve already been collecting ideas for weeks and making mental notes. How complex the whole thing will be is impossible to say. Such things usually evolve during the songwriting process.
But I have to be careful in general. I always have to check what I’m doing, because I usually tend to go into a too complex direction. Things that I see myself as absolutely simple and catchy, are perceived completely differently by others. The typical response goes like this: „I think I have to listen to this a couple more times.“
OP: That’s the typical answer. When I hear it, I know that I have to sit down and revise.
KG (Frank): That’s what I like in music, when it invites you to listen again and again.
OP: Yes, exactly. But these are mostly passages, where you as a prog listener would also say, it’s really catchy. If I would let it rip for real, if I said: „I’m going to write without any boundaries, whatever comes to my mind“, then I would understand such statements regarding too much complexity. I also write a lot of songs targeting mainstream audiences, and I still get into this situation quite a lot. It makes me realize that I lose my grip on reality sometimes.
KG (Yvonne): Since Tommy became the new singer of Kamelot, the band (at least in my opinion) have really blossomed. How were the last 1 ½ years with Kamelot?
OP: It felt like this for me too. You can’t deny that a lot of internal knots got unravelled. With the new singer it was a new beginning for us. That was a super positive feeling and it actually still is. Tommy is, through his occupational background alone, a very disciplined and reliable guy. He doesn’t conform at all to the usual conventions, which I personally recognize from 90% of all singers, and I have played in quite a few bands so far. That is also something that the band itself benefits from. This positive energy gave everyone a boost.
KG (Yvonne): Is it true that you played the guitar on the bonus track „Welcome Home“? Who wrote the song?
OP: The music is from me. I recorded the guitar, sent it to Tommy and he contributed the melody and the vocals. I would like to turn the song into a complete song one day, because I think it’s a very nice one. Not only guitar and vocals. It almost feels wasted as a bonus track.
KG (Yvonne): But that’s the often case with bonus tracks. How are such songs made? Are they just leftovers from songwriting, or do you already know that a song will be a bonus track, when you write it? Sometimes those songs are so good, you wonder why they didn’t make it onto the regular album.
OP: Usually they are written in chronological order at the end, which means, the album is more or less finished. Then you begin writing these songs and often it’s a good opportunity to try something new, experiment a bit. If it’s not working, you can always say it’s ‚just‘ a bonus track. „The Pendulous Fall“ was the result of such an experiment.
KG (Yvonne): That’s one of the best songs on „Ghost Opera“. My favourite.
OP: Yes, exactly. Give it a try and pay attention to the instrumentation, there are a lot more beats involved. It stands as quite a contrast to the other songs on the album. It only happened to be this way because the album was already finished and we thought we could loosen the reins and see where our ideas would drift to. Sometimes you end up with lame results, but quite often it’s the experiments that give you a creative boost, after an album is finished.
KG (Yvonne): You wrote the orchestration for Epica’s „Retrospect“ concert. Would you like Kamelot to perform with an orchestra too one day?
OP: Yes, definitely.
KG (Yvonne): On the other hand it feels a bit like everyone is doing stuff like this nowadays.
OP: We got several offers so far, even from orchestras. Some orchestras have actually specialized in such performances by now. But as you said, it’s nothing new anymore. On the other hand it’s a great thing, if you have the chance to do something like this. It’s always something special, just not that innovative anymore. Maybe that is one of the reasons we have been holding back so far. It’s a huge endeavour, costs a lot of money, is a financial risk in general and the label has to be cooperating. But it would be really interesting with Kamelot. So maybe – one day.
KG (Yvonne): How was it to work for the „Retrospect“ project?
OP: I was working as a consultant during the rehearsals, so to speak. Which means that I just had to be there. Sometimes I had to go up on stage, for example when there were confusing parts in the notation. I wasn’t the conductor, although I was offered the job of conducting. It’s just not my thing. There is so much more behind that job, than standing in the front, waving your stick. (laughs)
KG (Frank): But that’s what it looks like. (laughs)
OP: That’s what it looks like, but it’s the guy who keeps everything together,who’s responsible for the quality of the orchestra.
KG (Frank): Does he have such a huge influence?
OP: Oh yes, he has an enormous influence. You can have the same orchestra with two different conductors and the Mass No. 2 from Bruckner can sound completely different in both cases. For example, it requires piano, which means there is a quiet part. But what is quiet in relation? If he plays very quiet, does he go down 80%, or only medium down to 50%? In classical pieces you seldom have regulations in tempi, which means how fast you are supposed to play. There are no rules like for metal and rock bands. So it’s a really challenging assignment. You have to have the personality, to keep everything together. Imagine having 40-50 egos. All instrumentalists have a certain amount of egoism in them. They have trained for years, all of them are specialists and you are the one to keep them in place. It’s a huge amount of work, can be very exhausting and you have to be mentally able to do it.
So I was simply present during the Retrospect rehearsals, read along the notes and jotted down some things. We had within these hundreds of thousands of notes maybe three errors all in all, which I had made during the writing of the notation. As an example, when I had written the oboe too high, I had to go up to the orchestra, to make corrections. Every instrument has limits how high and how low they can play and sometimes you just forget about it. You want, for example, that the oboe doubles the violin, but the violin can go into completely different highs than the oboe. The big chunk of work I did for „Retrospect“ was writing the notation for the orchestra, which took me three months.
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Andreas/Germany) Were there ever any plans to invite you as a guest musician for one of the Epica albums?
OP: There haven’t been any plans. Of course I could do a solo, but something like this is not that common for keyboard players. We did have Jens Johansson for Black Halo, but I wasn’t a permanent member at that point.
KG (Yvonne): Kamelot didn’t have a permanent keyboard player back then.
OP: Exactly. But we did have guest guitar players like Gus G. Did Epica ever have any guest musicians on their albums, aside vocals? It’s not really a thing within the band and I think that’s not so bad at all. So – no.
KG (Yvonne): Kamelot attracts a very young audience, even though the band has been around for more than 20 years. What are the reasons?
OP: I would like to know that myself.
OP: No, I really would like to know myself. We definitely are not perceived as young by people age 15 to 25. But it’s a fact that there are very young people in the audience, a lot of them actually and there are new ones every time around. On the Asia tour we also had a very young audience. I think it maybe has something to do with our graphical presentation. On the other hand, most people find us through YouTube and other similar platforms nowadays. Maybe it’s the musical/operetta-like touch in our music…
KG (Frank): Tommy is surely one of the reasons.
OP: Yes, Roy didn’t match the metal cliché and Tommy doesn’t either.
KG (Yvonne): Maybe it’s a mix of style and lyrics. I think that especially the lyrics also speak to younger people. During the time of growing up, when everything is dark and problematic, everyone can find something within the lyrics that speaks to them. I hear that a lot when people tell me how much the music has helped them through difficult times.
OP: Yes, that’s possible. Our lyrics often deal with philosophical questions. On the other hand – do you really discover bands through lyrics? But I also hear the things you mentioned, again and again. People tell us about difficult crises or health problems. But I have to admit, I don’t know how these things are with other bands. Really interesting question indeed.
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Nora/USA) How do you approach composing music for Kamelot and Sons Of Seasons. Are there differences? Is one more difficult than the other?
OP: Sons Of Seasons was easier, because I didn’t have to reach the Kamelot sound, just ’some‘ sound, which turned into the Sons Of Seasons sound in the end. In this case it was the reverse order, so to speak. Regarding Kamelot, especially before Silverthorn, I had to ask myself the question – can I even emulate the style? From a compositional point of view it’s not an easy thing. But if you can start from zero and just do anything – okay, not just anything, that sounds so random – but with Sons Of Seasons I had just a piece of white paper in front of me, while with Kamelot I had a whole book that was already written and which I had to follow. Funnily enough it was way easier in the end than I first feared.
KG (Yvonne): It has become rather quiet around Sons Of Seasons over the last few months. (Question from Sylvia/Germany) How is the search for a new singer going?
OP: We do have a new singer. Our problem is, the new singer sounds so very different from Henning. At the moment, actually since many months, we are questioning ourselves, if we should rename the band. If we continue as Sons Of Seasons, the whole thing wouldn’t be so compelling. We really don’t know if we should do the third album of Sons Of Seasons, or the first one with a so-to-speak ’new‘ band, which includes the old band members, except the singer.
KG (Yvonne): So there will be musical changes in the future?
OP: Most likely there will be several changes. Well, there is a ‚basic sound‘ that you can always pick out, when I do something. That happens completely unconsciously. Even when I was twelve years old, writing songs, it was like that. I still have tapes from back then. My first band was called „Fireball“ as far as I remember.
KG (Frank): Fireball? Really? Like the Deep Purple album?
OP: No, it was just the only English word that I knew back then.
OP: Afterwards I thought for years, what a strange band name it had been, until I came across Firewind. Maybe the idea back then wasn’t so bad after all.
KG (Yvonne): Are there any plans for a new Sons Of Seasons album?
OP: Yes, there are. The main problem is my appointment calendar, which is really the only thing that stands in the way of a new album. I hope I will find time sooner or later to do something. But that’s also a problem, I don’t just want to ‚do‘ something. You have to take your time with it. I am working on pretty big productions at the moment, even in completely different areas, like an orchestration for a children’s musical, which is very exciting. And then there is Kamelot of course. That will take up most of the year. On a survival-level all of this has priority…
OP: I really need to buy diapers – in bulk.
KG (Yvonne): Last summer you and your artist group „Das Gespinst“ (The Weave) presented your multimedia book project „Das Kosmophon“ at the Dragon Days in Stuttgart (www.das-kosmophon.de). Did you find a publisher by now?
OP: We actually only asked one or two publishers. Both said it’s ‚very interesting‘, haha. The project is really special, with this combination of three media (novella, graphics, music). Therefore we expected it would be difficult. At the moment we are toying with the idea of publishing it on our own, in a very limited edition. Heile (Stefan Heilemann) did it the same way with his own books. That works very well, but of course there is the problem of pre-financing. We plan the release as a hardcover, with glossy print and a CD. Which will also cost GEMA (performance rights) fees. The presentation is very important for such a multimedia project.
KG (Yvonne): Can’t you handle it via pre-orders and produce afterwards?
OP: With this kind of pre-orders people would also have to pay up-front. We also had the idea of crowd-funding, but I’m not a big fan of such things.
KG (Yvonne): Which other projects are you working on at the moment?
OP: I’m working currently on 10-15 projects – complete madness. And then there is a child on top of that. It’s really a lot at the moment and I’m happy that I have such patient customers. At the moment I’m working on an Italian symphonic rock opera. As usual, I don’t have much information about the final product. The tracks are sent to me, sometimes I know the singers, sometimes I don’t, and I simply orchestrate the whole thing. I also have a children’s book musical in the works, for which I’m doing the complete orchestration. Then I’m producing a new band named Diacrone, from Cologne/Franconian Region. They are very promising. Now Kamelot joins the circle and I try to somehow squeeze Sons Of Seasons in between. Also there is a short-film, for which I’m making the music, and five or six other small projects. I have some ideas that I really want to do one day, but I don’t have the time for at the moment. Oh and then I plan to do my own solo project. That will be something very special and hard to put a label on. Orchestral, but with vocals, groove and electro influences, a pinch of musicals and other things. That is one of the most exciting things that I have plans for, but it will take another 1 ½ years until it will be released.
KG (Yvonne): On your website I read that you also do soundtracks. What kind of soundtracks are these?
OP: Very different types: movies, short-films, documentations, also audio books – I just finished my third one. Also trailer or intro music for different subjects.
But it really depends on the projects. I had a bit of a change in attitude over the last few months, regarding my mindset. A lot of these commissions weren’t really fun for me. In the past I thought it would be great to be able to make a living from producing alone. By now I think it’s better do do more teaching, to not be forced to take production jobs no matter what. Through this I can take on projects in my free time that I really enjoy doing. I notice it with some colleagues, how brutally stressed out they sometimes are. You simply have to bring in the fix costs, and even for people, who are really well known, there are slow seasons sometimes. I’m someone who deals with such things very badly. When the end of the month comes closer and closer and the bills are not vanishing into thin air… you have to take what you can get, sometimes – excuse my French – you have to turn shit into gold, and that is something that brings no fun at all, I can tell you that.
KG (Yvonne): Which music do you like to listen to the most at the moment?
OP: I listen to a lot of classical music at the moment. It’s mostly because, when I pick out a composer, I listen to his music for months. I always have such phases. I listened to Bruckner a long time, now I’m with Schumann at the moment and work myself through his musical works. Also I’m listening to „Er ist wieder da“ – the audiobook, narrated by Christoph Maria Herbst. The story revolves around Hitler, waking up in our time, in the year 2011. It has nothing to do with music, but it’s a nice diversion.
KG (Yvonne): Which subjects do you like to use in song lyrics, what inspires you?
OP: I can tell you what I don’t like. A lot of bands like get up on a moral pedestal, to preach what we do wrong, how bad humanity is and how urgent it is for us to change. Personally I don’t like that at all. I also don’t like to address personal things in songs, even that I did it sometimes, like the dementia of my grandmother. But if I do, I try to treat the subjects in a more abstract way. Apart from the fact that my opinions are way too unimportant to wave the moral pointing finger. I usually try to put my chaotic trains of thought, really wicked stories or reflections, into even more chaotic texts. Thus people can read into them whatever they want.
KG (Yvonne): What drives you to make music?
OP: Mmmh. Because I didn’t learn anything better? For me the most important in life is to learn and to continue learning. I would go crazy otherwise. I can’t even sit still for 20 minutes in the subway, without a book or a magazine in my hands. I was just lucky to discover my musical talent. Nature bestowed me an above-average ability in this regard, but I don’t want to imply that I have total outstanding talent of course. Other people can do this with carpenting, or with penmanship, or constructing cars. I just think it’s important that you grow in your field and reach some spiritual understanding. For me it’s music. Nature cast the dice and I was lucky enough to grow up with music lessons. While doing that I realized „Okay, I’m good at this and it comes more naturally to me than other things.“
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Maria/Brazil) Why did you decide to play the keyboard/piano?
OP: I didn’t, that was my mom.
OP: No, it’s true, it was really my mother. I like to play guitar, bass or other virtual instruments just as much as keyboard and piano. I think the piano is an incredibly aesthetic instrument. Maybe because it’s restricted in its dynamic, and the same with articulation. A violin is much more similar to a voice in comparison. A piano is, in a way, an incredibly perfect instrument.
KG (Yvonne): Is there a musician/artist you would like to work with?
OP: Difficult. The musicians that I look up to, bands for example, I don’t really want to work with. I would have nothing to add on a musical level. They already have their style and I wouldn’t want them to change anything.
I could say, Tim Burton, or Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth… an amazing musician. But they are doing their own thing in a most outstanding way without me. (laughs) You know what I mean?
KG (Yvonne): Yes, I think I do.
OP: I would not want to change anything they do, and I don’t even know if we could cooperate in any form. I do love to work with good singers, though.
KG (Yvonne): Do you and Simone have any plans to for a musical project together in the future?
OP: We’ve been planning to do that for ages. We even have a name for it, something that usually comes last and causes the most headache. We also already have a vision about what we want to do. That’s another one of these projects that are on my to-do list. It’s all a question of time, but this is something that really has to happen one day. I just don’t know when.
KG (Yvonne): (Question from Katja/Germany) You have mentioned sometimes in the past, that you like to read Steven Erikson’s books. Did you ever get inspired through his books while writing songs?
OP: No, other media don’t inspire me. Non-musicians often have the idea that paintings or something like that inspire you. Maybe it is like this with some musicians or composers, but for most of them music stands for itself. When you make music for a movie, then, of course, you have a medium you have to follow. I don’t really need the inspiration, but it is interesting nonetheless when you get such a guideline.
KG (Yvonne): Which books are you reading at the moment?
OP: I’m still reading the fifth part of „Game Of Thrones“ ‚A Dance Of Dragons‘. It’s the newest volume and I find it terribly dull. Somehow it’s a very hard to digest tome.
KG (Yvonne): I thought everyone is praising those books.
OP: The first books were awesome, but this one is just ‚meh‘, I have no idea how they want to put this on screen. It’s boring and super complicated. All the different fractions, I have completely lost track of what’s going on. I have a hard time remembering names anyway and in “Game Of Thrones” there are thousands of them.
I just finished „The Hotel New Hampshire“ by John Irving. That is an amazing book, and John Irving is a great writer anyway. Now I’ve started to re-read all the Terry Pratchett novels and I’m also reading the „Thomas Covenant Chronicles“ by Stephen Donaldson. Aside from that I’m reading the issue ‚Die Germanen‘ from „GEO Epoche“. Magazines like this are also like books to me.
KG (Yvonne): As a bookworm, what do you think about eBooks like Kindle? Or do you prefer to read real books?
OP: It doesn’t really matter on which medium a book is written. I read everything on my tablet when I’m on tour . That’s great. I used to carry five books with me and that was just additional weight to an already way-too-overstuffed luggage. I relish that you can archive books. You always have your bookmarks with you, things like that. I would love to give a more nostalgic answer, but it really doesn’t matter to me. I prefer to read books in book form, when I don’t want to sit again or any longer in front of a computer screen than it feels comfortable. I like the analog feeling, because I grew up with it. And I like bookshelves. Book- and media-shelves are really nice. The fact that they will go away due to digitization is quite sad.
Kamelot (Yvonne): With this we have reached the end of the interview. Thank you Oliver, that you took the time to answer all our questions!
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