KamelotKamelot – Something More Than Rock Stars
By Sara Lambeth and Dave Schwartz 

A few weeks ago DaBelly staff writer Sara Lambeth and I journeyed to the Marquee Theater in Tempe, Arizona to interview Thomas Youngblood, guitarist and founder of the band Kamelot.  I asked Sara to accompany me because, well to be honest, Kamelot was a bit of an awakening for me.  I knew the band by name but hadn’t really immersed myself into their music until we were offered this interview.  Sara on the other hand had been a fan since the release of their 5th record, “Karma” in July of 2001.  

So with about a week's notice I did my research and was rightfully impressed.  What a rich tapestry of storylines were woven into Kamelot’s previous nine albums and soon the release of their 10th record, “SilverThorn,” was due.  What incredible music.  All I kept thinking was-- 10 albums, how did I miss 10 albums? 

On October 7th Youngblood, Sara and I discussed that question and more.  

DB:  Here we are backstage at the Marquee with Thomas Youngblood, guitarist and founder of Kamelot.  Thomas, congratulation on the new record, “SilverThorn”. 

TY:  Well, thank you.  

DB: I have to be honest from the onset and tell you that I’ve heard only snippets of “SilverThorn,” primarily the teaser material that you’ve released online.  We had short notice on this interview and unfortunately there wasn’t time to arrange for and listen to the promotional version of the record.  

TY:  I know that you’ll get a chance to hear it and I hope you like it.  It’s really exciting for us because this album came out way beyond our expectations.  It’s a real luxury to have this great new material, to be on this tour with Nightwish and we’re excited about the video that will be coming out.  Everything is just clicking in place for us right now.  

DB:  So with the new record you’ve decided to tour across America first.  Someone who knows the business might say that - with the changes that have occurred within the band, primarily the addition of your new vocalist Tommy Karevik - some might argue that you’ve decided to play some of the smaller stages to tune up the band prior to playing the larger venues in Europe.  But that wouldn’t be completely true would it?  Where was your first show with Tommy Karevik?

TY:  The first show for Tommy was at the Masters of Rock Festival in the Czech Republic.  There were about 30 thousand people that night.  It was a baptism by fire for Tommy.  He really kicked ass and since that night he’s grown into a really amazing front man.  He’s the perfect fit for Kamelot. 

DB:  We are looking forward to the show tonight.  Whether intended or not, Karevik’s voice is reminiscent to Roy Khan’s and I’m eager to hear Karevik’s interpretation of your older works.  

TY:  One of the reasons we hired Tommy is because his voice had a similar quality and when it came to writing the new record we wanted to keep the Kamelot sound.  But also we want to grow.  We want to show that Tommy is his own vocalist with his own thing going on.  We know the fans will see that.  

DB:  Did you write “SilverThorn” with Karevik or was most of the record in place before he arrived?  

Thomas Youngblood of KamelotTY:  Most of “SilverThorn” was written by myself and Oliver (Palotai), our keyboard player.  We presented the songs to Tommy to work on vocal melodies and lyrics.  So yeah, Tommy wrote all the vocal melodies and lyrics.  I think Sasha, our producer helped a little bit, but for the most part Tommy is already been assimilated into the Kamelot.  To me it’s a really good sign for the future.  I know that we will be able to invest a lot more time into writing the next album. 

DB:  Can you tell us a little bit about the concept of the album?

TY:  The concept was a collaborative effort between myself, Oliver, Tommy and our producer Sasha.  It started with a little idea and just kept growing.  We actually have a limited edition box set and we have a book.  Amanda Somerville is a good friend of ours, she’s a vocalist, she does choirs and stuff, Amanda took the story and expanded it into this cool little book for people to have.  It’s a real nice collector’s album.

The storyline for “SilverThorn” is original, about a little girl in the 19th century named Jolee who dies at the hands of her twin brothers.  It deals with an affluent family that handles tragic events leading to cover-ups, secrets and betrayal.  The album cover is Jolee, the main character and angel of afterlife as an adult. 

DB:  Now I’m guessing that you started from a fresh concept.  You wrote the story first and then built the music around it. 

TY:  No, I always focus on the music and the pacing for the record.  We fit the lyrics and the story within that framework.  Now some of the songs, like the last song was the last song written and it opens with a funeral scene.  So of course the song was built around the idea for this funeral.  But for the most part we wanted the music to always have that Kamelot feel without having to adapt it to fit a concept because I don’t think the music would’ve flowed the same way. 

DB:  The sample of the new record I heard came across to me as a little darker.  Your last album, “Poetry for the Poisoned,” was darker as well, especially in the vocals.  You’ve said that there is a hidden meaning to “SilverThorn”-- is there a right or wrong interpretation to this meaning?  Are you going to share the hidden meaning or will you leave that up to the listener? 

TY:  Once the people start digging into the songs and the story they’ll find the in-your-face meaning, but there’s also different elements to it.  There’s hidden stuff on the record, hidden tracks.  There’s always cool little twists and turns that we try to put into our records.  We have some amazing guests on the album.  Elize Ryd sings the clean female vocals, Alissa White-Gluz is once again on this record doing the growling parts, and she’s actually with us tonight. 

DB:  Going back to the book, are you going to tell the full story including the parts that are hidden on the record?

TY:  The book is an expansion of the story itself.  The lyrics support the story, but the book is giving you more detail.  But you should know that there is still stuff left out.  It’s up to your imagination, you know?  With the book we are including a poster, a bonus disc with a bonus song and it’s packed with all kinds of graphics and stuff.  We always to try to put everything we can into each record so that the people who buy our albums get their money’s worth.  It’s a philosophy this band has had since day one-- when it comes to packaging we don’t cheapen anything down. 

DB:  This was the first time you’ve entered the studio with a new singer in a long time.  What was the preparation like?  Did you approach writing music any differently?  

TY:  My goal from day one was to make a Kamelot record so we didn’t do anything differently.  We wrote the songs in the same keys, the only real difference was that some else was writing the melodies and lyrics and Tommy did an amazing job.  He worked a little with Sasha on it.  I wasn’t in the studio when they recorded vocals.  Once Oliver and I started working together on this album I knew that the music was going to be Kamelot.  The next step was to make sure the vocals fit in with what we’ve done in the past but also that they offered hints of what is yet to come.  

KamelotDB:  I felt your last album, “Poetry for the Poisoned,” was heavier, especially in the lyrics.  It was certainly heavier than “Karma,” my favorite.  The new record seems heavier as well.  The music has the old “Karma” feel, but the vocals seemed more like “Poetry,” do you think that is a fair description on the new record?  

TY:  I think one of the things I missed in “Poetry” was the melody, like you said.  You know, like with “Karma” and “Black Halo,” the chorus had a melodic sense to it that we didn’t have on “Poetry,” it was something that I was missing and it was one of the first things that I talked to Tommy about; bringing more of a melodic sense to the song.  He’s really great at writing melodies.  Almost every chorus on the new record has a significant melodic feel to it.  But at the same time I don’t want to abandon the melancholy undertones that I personally like in our music.  I think it’s an important component that helps make us unique-- blending uplifting choruses with a verse or mid-part sections that are darker and make you feel a little sad.  But at the end of the record I want people to feel good about life, I don’t want to leave them feeling like they want to cut their wrists!  That’s one of the things that I thought we missed on “Poetry” and it’s certainly one of the things that I think people liked about albums like “Black Halo.”  Even though it had some darker elements, it also had this uplifting release as well.  

DB:  Kamelot’s music is rich with drama and tension and so I understand your description of the melancholy undertones in your music.  Your approach to Kamelot’s music lends itself well to your videos which are also dramatic.  Have you started work on any videos for “SilverThorn”? 

TY:  Oh yes, we’ve already shot two videos.  The first one is for our single, "Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife,)" which features Elize Ryd and Alissa White-Gluz.  We shot the video in Serbia and it came out amazing.  We expect to release it just before the album goes on sale.  But I think the drama portion on the music is what makes the show important.  We like to add a little theatrics to our performance as well.  I mean tonight, we are not the headliners of the show (Kamelot was touring in support of Nightwish at the time of this interview), but we try to bring as much theatrics as we can and I think that it’s an important component to the presentation of the music.  As we wrote this album we were thinking of the live shows and so there’s going to be a lot of cool songs to play live.  

DB:  How many of the new songs are you playing live on this tour?  

TY:  Right now we’re just doing one because the new record isn’t out yet.  We’re playing “Sacrimony.”  We’ve also played “Song for Jolee” a couple of times.  I think we want to wait for the record to come out before we start doing too many songs.  We only have 45-50 minutes to play opening for Nightwish so it would be kind of weird to play a bunch of new songs and not play songs like “Forever” or “Rule the World.”  

DB:  Given that “SilverThorn” is a concept album, do you intend to at some point go out and play it from beginning to end? 

TY:  I don’t know. We’ve written two other concept records and we’ve never done that and if you do, that you’re in a position where you have to omit other songs that people want to hear.  Maybe at some point, but for now our focus is to always blend the significant songs from the past with the new stuff. 

DB:  I’m curious of your history with music.  I read that you used to play the saxophone, do you still play? 

TY:  No. When I was 12 or 13 I played saxophone and I remember playing along with this one Stevie Wonder album, but at some point I got a guitar for Christmas and started playing guitar.  The saxophone just went to the side!  Once in a while if I’m in a pawn shop or a music store I’ll see one and think that I might try it again, but it never happens. 

DB:  What else do you play, a little keyboards, right?

TY:  Yes, I play a little keyboards, some drums and bass.  All of those to me are tools.  Even the guitar is a tool.  For me, it’s not so much about being a guitar hero, it’s about using all those things to write music and be creative. 

DB:  So looking forward, in November you’ll be touring Europe and playing some of the larger stages.  Are you looking forward to the transition to the larger venues?

Thomas Youngblood and Sara LambethTY:  Yes, definitely.  This has been our first support tour and I think it was really good because it gave Tommy a chance to really start doing his thing.  I mean he was basically ready when this tour started.  But yeah, we’re looking forward to the headlining tour because we can play 90-120 minutes and do our full production.  In some of the cities in Europe we’ll do the pyros and everything.  So yeah, we are really looking forward to it, but I must say that this has been a great experience.  The Nightwish people have been killer.  The crew, the band, everybody is super cool.  They’ve had their moments of drama, but we’ve tried to support them along the way.  Overall it’s been good, it’s been fun. 

With that the interview came to an end.  As Sara and I were packing up our equipment and thanking Thomas Youngblood for sharing his time, Youngblood announced that Kamelot would be back in America for a headlining tour in 2013-- be sure to watch for that tour announcement.   

Eight hours later I was departing the Marquee Theater.  Kamelot had long since completed their show and Nightwish was in the final couple songs of their set.  As I walked across the parking lot toward my car, I noticed Thomas standing over by the tour buses, chatting with friends.  As I kept walking I suddenly heard my name called-- it was Thomas.  “Hey, how are you doing?  What did you think of the show tonight?” he asked.  I shared my thoughts as we chatted and had some laughs.  

I have to admit that I was impressed that he came over.  It’s just not something that most artists would do.  At the same time it underscores just how much Thomas cares about his music and cares about his fans.  There was a welcome lesson learned that night, in a world of inflated egos, attitudes and rock star mentalities, Thomas Youngblood is something more than just a rock star.

Follow Kamelot online at     http://www.kamelot.com/       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORAc_hx33-Q

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