OK for the second time in the last year, I had my ass kicked. I approached the new Jon Oliva's Pain record with the same ho-hum attitude that I came to know the latest Circle II Circle record. Both times, I felt like a colossal idiot because both records are excellent (and obviously rooted in the same history). And in particular, Maniacal Renderings by JOP is a massively excellent record. This disc is a full course meal, a welcome change from a lot of the fast-food musical luncheon fare out there. There's epic masterpieces like the awesome title cut resplendent with multiple partitions and then more straight forward cruising in the form of jewels like "The Evil Beside You". I confessed my ignorance to Jon Oliva recently. Big thanks to Jon for gracefully listening to my confession without taking offence.
antiMUSIC: Hi Jon.
Jon Oliva: How are you, buddy?
antiMUSIC: Doing great, thanks. Jon, I don't know if you've ever experienced this but sometimes have you ever thought to yourself, Man was I ever a bonehead about something or other? Well with me, I have to admit something off the top. I never listened to Savatage or your first record. I mean I definitely know who you are and casually followed your career but except for maybe a cut or two, I never listened to your stuff.
Jon Oliva: That's okay…
antiMUSIC: I actually turned down this interview twice because I was so swamped with stuff. Your PR people said just listen to the record. Now I feel like the biggest moron on the planet….
Jon Oliva: (laughs)
antiMUSIC: because I think this has to be my favorite record of this year.
Jon Oliva: Wow, thank you…
antiMUSIC: I think it's exceptional. So my apologies for ignoring you in the past and I will be checking out your lengthy back catalogue over the next while.
Jon Oliva: Well cool...you gain new people all the time, man.
antiMUSIC: Absolutely. Your last record was two years ago. Can you tell us what led up to this record and how it all came together? I understand there's an interesting element to this story.
Jon Oliva: Well yeah, the first record I did, I mean I started doing this whole thing mainly because of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra stuff and it was taking a whole lot of time away from the Savatage guys since they all play in the orchestra. So I came up with this idea for an avenue for me to put music out again because I was kinda just sitting around writing a lot and wasn't really doing anything. So the first time was kind of like a rush job. More like a rush job. I didn't really spend a lot of time on it. I just wanted to get something out, because it had been like four years, three or four years before I'd had any kind of release out. So it did ok and then it led up to doing the second one. And, um, you know, the first one did pretty good. You know people liked it and stuff. So it was, it warranted them to do another one. You know the interesting thing about this one is that we found some lost writing tapes my brother had given me a long time ago. And I actually pulled some stuff off of those, things that no one had ever heard before, that we never used with Savatage or anything, and incorporated them into this record. So that's kind of been the thing that a lot of people have been talking about because it's kind of a cool thing. And also it's been a long time since we'd heard anything from Chris.
antiMUSIC: Yeah. That's excellent, that's a really interesting turn of events.
Jon Oliva: It was weird, you know. My wife actually found a box, a shoebox that'd been taped closed. I must have closed it. We used to, when we wrote, we used to trade tapes off all the time. And that's how we used to write together, I would give him my tapes, he would give me his tapes, and we would take them home, and listen and try to see if we could help the other guy finish his song. And that's what these were, they were just a collection of them going all the way back to, God, '83, I think was the earliest one I found, and you know they were just all tapes that he'd given me in the past and that, you know, I'd never really listened to every little single thing on it. There were lots of little things on it that I'd missed somehow, and it was just very strange, [laughs]. It was very strange. Yeah. But it all worked out for the good, though.
antiMUSIC: Yeah. So how much of that, of those riffs or whatever did you, did end up on the record?
Jon Oliva: I think he's got credit on like four songs. There's a little middle section here and a riff here and there. I didn't use most of the completed things that he'd had on there which were stuff that was stuff that we'd done with Savatage already. These things I'd found were just little, we call them 'noodles'. Just little noodles in between things that had just, you know, over the years, just, kept getting, you know out of sight, out of mind. So I didn't even know I had them still, I mean my wife never throws anything away, bless her heart [laughs]. And that's where it came about, she took 'em out one day, when we moved into a new house and we were unpacking a bunch of old things, and that's where we found them.
antiMUSIC: I'd imagine it must have been fairly emotional for you?
Jon Oliva: It was extremely, yeah, very much so. Very much so. It was very strange. The very first thing I put on, the very first thing I heard was him talking to me, you know what I'm saying, calling me an a**hole [laughs]. Cause, we used to insult each other on tapes all the time, just as a joke you know. It'd be like 'Hey, listen to this rip, a**hole,' and stuff like that, so uh, it was very weird, but the end result was very positive.
antiMUSIC: So how did this record all sorta take shape, what songs came up first and how did it all come together?
Jon Oliva: Well, basically, right after the last tour, I did what these guys after the first J.O.P record —we call it J.O.P. for short, it's just a lot quicker—um, you know, what I wanted to do was, I wasn't a hundred percent satisfied with the first record, I thought there were some good songs on it, but I had hardly known and had hardly played with the guys that played on that record. I mean, I've known them for many years but I've never really played with them before so, and the fact that I only had a couple months to do it was kind of weird, because I'm not used to working that way. I've always worked a long time on albums with Savatage and with Tran-Siberian Orchestra. You know, we spend eight months to a year on an album, so I wanted to go back that way because that's where the quality of my work comes out, is when I can spend the time and you know see things through to the end without having to do a rush job, I hate being rushed [laughs]. I'm really bad like that. So I started and then we took every song…you know the songs started coming out, and there were some pieces and things of Chris' that inspired me to pull some other things up and you know we just started formulating. What we really did is we spent a lot of time on pre-production, we spent almost five months in rehearsal just taking each song and going over and over it. We'd do what we used to do in Savatage, we'd take a song a week and we would, in pre-production, and we would work the song for one whole week,
Jon Oliva: I mean just trying every different possible instrumentations, beats, uh, tempos, keys, just every kind of thing you could imagine that you could possibly do to the thing, we would do it. And then, we'd look at everything and then pick the best way to go. And that's what I did with this, we spent a lot of time, especially the title track, the title track was a very painstaking-- [laughs]—painstaking effort because it was a lot of different pieces of things that all of us had, including a little piece of Chris' music, that we had to formulate and put together in one song. So that was a pretty tough one, but it was very satisfying when it was finished.
antiMUSIC: Where does the title come from and is there a theme tying all this record together?
Jon Oliva: Not really, I mean the bass player, the bass player Kevin, came in one day and he goes, 'Aw I just thought of this great title on the way here, Maniacal Renderings.' And I was like, 'I love that!' and that's how it started and then you know, from there it was just, let's go. You know, we had the title, and it was cool and we could work with it. You know, once you get a good title, Paul O'Neill is very famous for great titles, cause he would just give me a title and say, 'We need a song about something like this, and let's see what we can do.' So the Maniacal Renderings thing was just very cool because I figured it could just be like an insane painting or like an insane piece of art, because that's like a rendering, you know. It's obviously like a piece of art, music, whatever, and maniacal is twisted, so it kind of fit, you know, so we just decided to run with it.
antiMUSIC: Yeah. Can you tell us about a couple of the songs?
Jon Oliva: Sure!
antiMUSIC: Maybe either something about them or something that inspired them?
Jon Oliva: Well, well I mean, the album's very deep. It touches base on religion. It touches base on politics. You know the song, "The Answer", for instance, is a song I wrote after 9/11 happened. It's kind of an older song. I was afraid to put it out 'cuz I was worried the lyrics were going to make people think that maybe I was an Atheist or something. But, you know, I lost some friends in that, and it's just a song about a guy just questioning, wanting to know what's going on. Show me an answer here. Why do things like this happen kind of thing. You know, it was a very emotional song; a very deep song. Someone who's playing God which deals with kind of politicians around the world and how things are operating, from my eyes, from what I see. You know, these are obviously my opinions. So a lot of people have been into it. "End Times", again, is another song about the twisted or the corrupt religious things going on in America, where people suck these poor old people for every penny they have, you know. Meanwhile they're living in seven mansions, flying around in private jets, and all this stuff. You know, that song was inspired by that type of thing, and you know I mean I kind of touched base on a lot of different topics that mean something to me or affect me in one way or another. It's a very personal record, very deep.
antiMUSIC: I like the fact the all the songs are so dense and they all go off on their own little journeys but don't sound like a bunch of songs sewed together. Do you really work to expand each song as you're writing it or does the structure come together automatically for you?
Jon Oliva: It's different each time. "Maniacal Renderings", for instance, was one that we structured, where a song like "The End Times", it just played out. I just played it. It just came out, the whole arrangement and everything, so sometimes it happens different ways. I find like the most stuff you try to put into a song like backup vocals, the intricate backup vocal pieces, the harder it becomes to, to finish it. It makes it more difficult. Otherwise, you have to really sit and structure things. When a guy writes a song, it's usually a guy sitting with an acoustic song or a piano, and the guy, he plays the song and sings. It's very simple. It's very one person. When you start adding all the other elements of a band, and orchestra and vocals into it, it changes the original way that he wrote the song. It just has to. Because you're adding more texture, more layers, and more ideas on it, everything...but you have to do it so everything works too (laughs). So sometimes it's really frustrating. I mean I've thrown many a guitar against the wall---laughs---put it that way.
antiMUSIC: "The Answer" has what sounds like a nod to Pink Floyd's "Breathe" in there. Is that coincidental or on purpose?
Jon Oliva: I've never heard the song so no it was not on purpose. I'm not a very big Pink Floyd fan. I like some of their songs, but, put it this way; I only own two Pink Floyd albums: Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here so, is that song on one of those albums?
antiMUSIC: Yeah, it's on Dark Side.
Jon Oliva: Well I probably heard it. I probably stole it, you know…(laughs). Kinda had to get in there somewhere but I'm not very up on Pink Floyd. I can tell you every Beatle song on every side of every album for the first album all the way through but I couldn't even tell you the running order for Dark Side of the Moon.
antiMUSIC: "Who's Playing God" is really prog-ish in parts with vocals that sound like YES. Did you have a big affinity for classic prog stuff?
Jon Oliva: I love it. Yeah, that's my favorite music. I mean, I guess maybe that's when I was learning everything, I mean. Those bands like that, Yes, Queen, the Beatles, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, those are all...I mean, that's all I did when I was (laughs) a teenager and stuff. That's all I did was play to those records over and over, about 10 million times. Dude I played them so much I used to have to go out and buy doubles of the records cause I wore them out. So that's how I kinda learned how to play. Those guys were my teachers basically
antiMUSIC: "Timeless Flight" is really Beatles-esque. I guess they're a big influence?
Jon Oliva: Oh they are, a huge, the biggest influence. That's why I play music. That was my first exposure to music was the Beatles. I started playing drums to Beatles records when I was five years old. Then I started playing guitar and piano and stuff. So yeah, the Beatles and Queen are mainly the two, I'd have to say I listened to the most. I mean Freddie…he just blew my mind, his vocals. Queen's vocals are always a big thing with me because I'm a singer, so I like great vocals and I don't think anybody did a better job of it than Queen did. Along with the fact that I thought they were brilliant musicians. Also, the same thing with the Beatles. The Beatles just happen to have the gift of melody. And anybody, a five year-old kid or a 75 year-old lady could sing the melody of "All You Need is Love" to you. You know what I'm saying? It's just a universal thing. And you know, I think that's a good thing.
antiMUSIC: Your band is really on top of their game with this record. Did it take Shane and Matt very long to work out the guitar parts and solos?
Jon Oliva: Matt is a genius at solos. He doesn't work anything out. We come in and he goes, here you go.
Jon Oliva: Yeah, I know. Spooky. We work together on an in and an out of the solo, so otherwise the beginning of the solo and the finishing of the solo. And then I just basically let him run with the ball from there. I don't think, maybe once or twice, have I ever had to go back and say, no Matt, let's do that again. He's very, very talented like that. He's very spontaneous. And that's very similar to my brother. That's why I think Matt and I work so well together because he reminds so much of Chris in the way he plays and the way he's spontaneous like that. And so, it's good. And Shane came in towards the end of the album so he wasn't really with us at the beginning. He came in when we already half way through recording. So he got to play on some of songs. I think he played on like five songs and he played a couple of solos. But he walked right in too and just boom. You know, just banged it out. I let Shane go, 'Here, take a few passes', and I left the studio. I went with the other guys we went down to a sports bar and watched a little bit of the game and came back and it was done. And he said 'Like this one?' And I say 'Yeah, that's pretty good. You got another one?' And he was 'Yeah, here's another one.' And we just picked one and we went with it.
antiMUSIC: You are credited for keyboards on there along with John. What parts are you playing and how did you divvy them up with him?
Jon Oliva: I played the piano stuff and the single string stuff, cellos and things like that. John plays all the organ. I'm a terrible organ player and then we kinda both do string stuff, but I think John does play a piano solo on the "Maniacal Renderings" song, that's John playing the piano solo in the middle. But other than that all the piano stuff is basically me and all the organ is basically him. And then we split up the orchestration stuff and things. And John also sings too so that's great.
antiMUSIC: How is the material holding up live and how much of the record are you doing live?
Jon Oliva: Well we just played two weeks ago. We had a CD release party here in Florida and we played…what did we play? "Through the Eyes of the King", "Maniacal Renderings", "The Answer", The Evil Beside You", and "Time to Die". I think we played five or six. We're going to play a big chunk of the record on tour, definitely six or seven songs, and mix it in with Savatage stuff, because I always have to play that stuff too. I kinda do a little bit of both and mix them in and out and it's worked really well.
antiMUSIC: Are you a touring kind of guy or do you prefer to just write and record?
Jon Oliva: I'm a studio guy. I love to play for people. But everything that goes along with touring is really a nightmare. Especially going overseas. So it's a sacrifice you have to make, because I love to play and if I could just be like I Dream of Jeannie, laughs, I would just blink and show up five minutes before show time. I'd tour...I'd never stop touring. But it's the flying around, and the s***ty hotels and you know now you have all the s*** with the terrorists going on and the people over there are just a little creepy sometimes. You know, when you go over there…I was just over there when they had the thing where they broke up the plot of blowing up the 10 airplanes flying from Europe to over here? Well we were booked on one of them. (laughs) So that kinda...when s*** like that hits happens, it kinda hits you. When 9/11 happened we were one tour. We were in California at a rest stop in our tour bus. We were on like a whole string of shows coming back to the east coast, and the next thing we know we're stuck at a rest stop in California. The borders are all closed. No airplanes are flying. The phones are all screwed up. We couldn't get a hold of anybody at home. It was like a slap. It was really intense. I'm kinda over the traveling. I've been doing it for 25 years but I love to play, so you've got to take the good with the bad.
antiMUSIC: That's all the questions I have for you Jon. Is there anything else you would like to tell us that I didn't ask you?
Jon Oliva: Nope. I think we covered it. Well thanks Morley. It was a pleasure talking with you and welcome aboard man.
antiMUSIC: Thanks for the time Jon. It was a pleasure to speak with you and congrats once again on this record. All the best with it.
Jon Oliva: Thanks very much. Hopefully we'll see you later in the year.
Morley and antiMUSIC thank Jon for doing this interview.