An Afternoon Chat with Oliver Palotai of Kamelot on 70000 Tons of Metal
On a sunny afternoon, adrift in the Caribbean, on the 2017 70000 Tons of Metal Cruise, I had the honor of chatting with Kamelot’s quiet composer… keyboardist Oliver Palotai. As one of the premier progressive/power metal bands in the world, Kamelot has been entertaining fans around the globe for over two decades. They have been on my interview “hit list” for quite a while now, and I was thrilled to finally get the chance to sit down and chat. Although we were limited on time, Oliver and I were able to discuss a variety of topics including the cruise itself, fans, work on the new album, the band’s future touring plans, and a ride on the “Crazy train”. Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise with Oliver Palotai of Kamelot. How are you doing?
Oliver: Good, very good. Just had a long streak of the flu. In Germany, it’s really cold. So, now I’m slowly recovering.
Afternoiz: Well, we wish you a speedy recovery! Now, this is the second time that Kamelot has been on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise!
Oliver: For me, the third time.
Afternoiz: Because you were here with…
Afternoiz: Epica, yeah. What made you want to come back?
Oliver: I mean this is so super unique. That whole experience and it’s that mixture of holidays and work. (Laughs) There’s nothing that could stop us from participating again.
Afternoiz: Are you having fun so far, even with the flu?
Oliver: Yeah! Like I said, what with this climate and I’m back 100% almost.
Afternoiz: Good! Obviously, your fans, including myself, are really happy that you came along for the ride. Are there any other bands you’re looking forward to seeing while you’re here?
Oliver: Well, first of all, I’m really here to check out some new bands or at least those I haven’t heard so far. Of course, Arch Enemy. I’ve worked with our good friend Alissa. Serenity I watched yesterday because we’ve known these guys a long time, and the Testament guys, of course. There’s so many friends and musical colleagues on the boat so it’s a nice trip with a lot of friends.
Afternoiz: 70000 Tons of Metal is arguably one of the coolest festivals going. Do you prefer playing festivals or would you rather play more intimate club shows?
Oliver: It has both good and bad sides about it. The technical part is of course easier when you have your own gig; you can prepare all day. And on here we have maybe 45 minutes and everything has to be set up and of course you always run into problems. Hopefully the fans don’t notice. On the other hand, you can play in front many people who don’t know you yet so you can make new fans and you can meet fans. Festivals are unique, so I love this one.
Afternoiz: Kamelot has a long history of “borrowing” very talented female vocalists from other bands to do backup vocals on your albums and to tour with you. In fact, there are at least two, and I think three, that you’ve used on the ship right now: Elize Ryd of Amaranthe, Alissa of Arch Enemy, and I’m not sure, but I think Linnéa Vikström of Therion. Will any of them be joining you on stage?
Oliver: I hope so, yeah! (Laughs) The thing is, we were talking to them and I’m not totally informed about that I must say.
Afternoiz: Well I guess we’ll find out tonight! (Elize and Alissa both performed with Kamelot on both of their sets on this year’s cruise.) You’ve got an evening show tonight and we’re really looking forward to it! Did you guys ever talk or consider, because you always have a female back up of course, of adding one permanently to the band? Or do you prefer mixing it up?
Oliver: At a certain point, we really thought about it… with one of those. But then we didn’t do it for different reasons, you know. In the end, we’re, maybe, just a male core band so we can add new members for a while and the exchange them.
Afternoiz: It does keep it fresh…
Oliver: Yeah, it does…
Afternoiz: As a band, Kamelot has been around for a pretty long time. 26 years since it was founded and 22 years since the first album was released. You’ve released 11 studio albums so far and that is an impressive track record for any band. Many bands, when they’ve been around for a quarter of a century, they kind of degrade into a nostalgia act. They don’t put out a lot of new music, their fan base doesn’t grow, and they kind of make a living off past glories. But Kamelot is still going very strong! You’re releasing phenomenal albums every couple of years, you still tour extensively, and your fan base seems to continuing to grow. What do you think has contributed to your band’s longevity?
Oliver: I think one advantage we have is the style of music that we do. We can add so many elements and the fans like it. We can go for experiments and we do that every time. We’re always running the risk of losing some fans by that, but hopefully we gain some. So the style we do is very flexible. I’ve been in different bands before and I experienced exactly what you described. You kind of put out the same record over and over and over. And that’s also why I quit some of the bands in the past because of that. It just got boring you know. And that’s why I will stay in this band because I can, as a songwriter and also as an orchestrator, I can do so many things and take stuff from styles… like even jazz and classical music which I studied, and that keeps it fresh.
Afternoiz: Your last album “Haven” was released in the spring of 2015. It was a stunning album and well received by fans and it even hit #1 on the US Billboard Hard Rock charts! That was a first, wasn’t it?
Afternoiz: It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since it was released. What is next for Kamelot? Are you going to continue to tour Haven, or is there a new album in the works for 2017?
Oliver: Yeah, we already have five or six songs outlined, so we’re working on it [the next album]. Recordings start in June but until then we have to be finished with songwriting. I hope the new record is there by the beginning of 2018 because we have pretty massive touring plans for ‘18 and ‘19.
Afternoiz: Well that gives us a lot to look forward to… but not much touring in ’17?
Oliver: No. We have one gig with Iron Maiden… and then we might play here and there a little bit, but just for the fun. But it’s mainly the album production in 2017.
Afternoiz: I knew that you were opening for Maiden this summer. But why just one gig?
Oliver: I think that was the offer, and of course, you don’t…
Afternoiz: You don’t say “no” to Iron Maiden!
Oliver: you never say “no” to it! (laughs)
Afternoiz: Is there much you can tell us about the next album, or is it too soon? As far as concept, a feel?
Oliver: It’s a little soon for that but slowly it’s taking shape. It’s going to be pretty modern, I think, all in all. But Tom gave me a lot of freedom to do some progressive stuff. I’m usually the guy that puts too many rock elements in there that have to be softened later in the final production. I would also like to have, like “Elizabeth” back then, the triple song. I’m always experimenting, maybe sometimes a little too much. (laughs) But I can’t tell right now about the character of the album, I don’t know that myself.
Afternoiz: What is an album creation process like with Kamelot? It’s so different between bands; I know that several of the members write. Do all of you write?
Oliver: It’s Tom, me, and Tommy. In the past Sasha, our former producer, also added a contribution. So, Tom was at my place, at my studio in Germany, now for one week and there we were writing. Then, I worked on that stuff a little bit… more at keys. And then I sent it to Tommy and it goes back and forth and back and forth until it’s finished.
Afternoiz: So, you work on it together. People don’t bring a finished product to the table?
Oliver: No, you share it.
Afternoiz: What do you enjoy more? The creative process or the live performances?
O: Me personally, the studio; I’m a total studio guy. I’m not much of a live guy. I like it, but I’m also socially… I’m a bit weird, so I spend all day on my own in the studio.
Afternoiz: Well, most metal people are socially weird, including myself (laughs). That’s a good thing!
Oliver: (laughs). I’m really happy.
Afternoiz: I get that answer from keyboardists a lot. I’ve asked several that question and they almost always say they prefer the studio more.
Oliver: But I’m as much a guitar player and a bass player… and also record that stuff. But I’m happy all on my own in the studio all day (laughs).
Afternoiz: Last summer, the Japanese Olympic synchronized swimming team used a medley of Kamelot songs for their performance at the Rio Olympics. How does it feel to have your music played at an event where millions of people watched all over the world?
Oliver: Yes, some fans actually showed us that, otherwise I would have probably totally missed it. But of course, it’s an honor and a cool thing.
Afternoiz: What is the craziest tour experience you’ve ever had?
Oliver: Well, negative wise it was some tour bus accidents. In the Canadian mountains we were once hit by a car like two times. People falling out of the bunks and stuff. Else, it was probably the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. That was crazy man, it was a weird thing. It was still run by open fire in certain parts for the heating. And in the cabin of the engineer… it was full of porn posters. There were soldiers in the night waking us up and controlling us and they were totally drunk. That was such a weird trip.
Afternoiz: Weird, but certainly memorable! You travel to experience world culture… and I guess you did!
Afternoiz: Well Oliver, sadly our time together is coming to an end. They are limiting us timewise, because you guys have a lot of work ahead of you tonight. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans before we leave you?
Oliver: I’m just happy that the reception of our music and of the experience that we were talking about before is so great and that the fans stay open minded. I hate that thinking into categories… you put people into categories, so… I feel our fans especially are very open minded and sophisticated and I hope they stay like that! And I’m really grateful!
Afternoiz: Well, we hope you guys stay around for a really long time. And we’re looking forward to the next album… and the next tour in 2018, as well!
Oliver: Yes… ’18… and ’19 is going to be massive touring as well. We already have one US tour planned in April/May I think. There will probably be a second one depending on the success of the album.
Afternoiz: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today!
Oliver: Thank you!
Don’t forget to visit: http://70000tons.com