Power Metal is a growing genre in the United States and is finally catching some fire over the last few years. With the majority of the bands reaching popularity coming from overseas, Kamelot is one of the main United States-based bands who are getting bigger and bigger lately and guitarist Thomas Youngblood took some time to talk to The Front Row Report about the band’s latest record- Haven and their tour with Dragonforce, which is currently underway.
RR: I had a chance to listen to Haven last night and catch most of it so far. I feel like this is one of the most dynamic records you guys have done so far. Looking back on writing it, recording it, and the overall process what stands out to you about Haven for Kamelot?
Thomas Youngblood: I’d have to agree with you. I think the diversity of the album is one of our most- we wanted to have a lot of contrast on the record between the really, really heavy songs, like for example “Revolution” is probably one of our heaviest songs ever and we have a couple of ballads that are super melodic and one of them is very uplifting, so there’s a kit if big contrast on the record which I think is important. It was one of the goals we had going in to it. When we started writing we basically started working from zero. We had brand new fresh ideas with each song and we built on those original ideas that we started, which was a little over a year ago that we started writing the record. I couldn’t be happier to be honest with you. Those end results, not only with the songs and the lyrics and the overall kind of vibe, but I’m really happy with the sound of the record and also the artwork, so it really came out really good.
FRR: You mentioned the artwork, and to me that’s one of the defining parts of an album. If somebody’s not familiar with a band, that’s what’s going to suck them in. Tell me about the art for Haven because looking at the cover it’s really, really cool. Was there something conceptual that you wanted to do with this cover?
Thomas Youngblood: Originally the idea was based on the song so we had this girl and she’s got a mask and you can look at that however you want to look at it. Maybe she is not so beautiful on the outside, but is beautiful on the inside but I kind of felt that the cover needed more, another element, something darker. So we added a skull and then to me the cover kind of changed to birth, life, and death, so we had these three elements of the human condition captured.
Then we have some different little hidden things on the cover that are also part of the lyrics. We used Stephan Heilemann who’s an artist based in Germany who also did the last cover for us. For this one we challenged him to top anything he’s done and we really feel like he struck the perfect harmony of dark and also beauty, and all the elements that we hope is also on the album.
FRR: This is the second record with Tommy as the singer. Looking back at him entering the band, then coming in and writing that first record and then writing Haven, is there anything different writing the second record with Tommy? Does it get easier to write with a new singer? Did anything change with him entering the band?
Thomas Youngblood: He had more leeway to just kind of go for it and do his own thing. I think touring for 2 years with the band and now everybody gets to know each other a little bit better, we’re not just fresh friends, we’re actually real friends. And I think all those elements definitely gave him more confidence and you can hear on the album a lot of new vocal things that he’s never done with any of his bands before. So it’s just a perfect kind of progression from being a fresh member of a band to being more of a bonafide force in the band as a writer and the fans really helped that whole process by accepting him with open arms. You can see it at shows; you can see it with album sales. It’s just a great thing to be able to have somebody like that new in the band and be able to contribute that much.
FRR: There’s a lot of guests on this record, Alissa from Arch Enemy, Charlotte from Delain, it’s really cool seeing this. How did a couple of the collaboration guest spots come about?
Thomas Youngblood: Yea, it’s been kind of an organic process. There were really no plans for anybody up until probably 2 months before we finished the album. I always had Alissa in the back of my mind for doing some stuff and then the idea came, really, if we’re going to have her on the album we’d like to have her also sing some clean parts so that came up. The fans I think will probably like that within the song “Liar, Liar” one of the choruses without the heavy vocals.
We have a song called “Under Grey Skies” which originally was a ballad that was more orchestral but then we stripped it down to making it more of a folk kind of feel to it, so we had met Troy from Nightwish when we toured with those guys two or three years ago, so I basically just shot him an email and asked if he was interested, and he was totally into it. Then we had a part on the album, on that song actually, that I really felt needed some female vocals, so Charlotte was on tour at the time but luckily she was able to find a studio and do her parts on the road.
FRR: You guys had so much success with Silver Thorn. How do you separate yourself from how well a previous record does and put yourself in the moment to write something new and fresh without thinking about what’s happened in the past?
Thomas Youngblood: I think with every record when you reflect you always think of things you could’ve done differently, not necessarily better, but just differently. So with every album we’ve been able to kind of do that. We’ve been able to reflect on what we felt was a strength and maybe what we felt might not’ve been the best or whatever.
I think for me I never really try to think too much about comparing the older records to what we’re doing currently. I think if you get caught in that whole game of worrying about what you did before then a lot of times you’ll either repeat what you did from before too much or you’ll put too much pressure on yourself. For me I always have a philosophy of just doing the absolute best that I can for that time period and so far that’s worked out well. To get too caught up in comparing or the pressure of topping something then the process because not so artistic, it becomes more like a job.
FRR: It’s been 20 years since Eternity came out. Looking back at the beginning and being around for as long as you guys have, what do you think has been the driving force in keeping the band going and how do you feel you’ve evolved as songwriters and musicians over the last decade or so?
Thomas Youngblood: Back then basically it was a hobby. For me, at least the first five years it was just a bunch of kids goofing off and having fun and not really taking it serious. Obviously when I listen now to the songs there was some charm to some of the parts but the songwriting definitely wasn’t that strong. I think over the years we’ve definitely been able to become better songwriters, better musicians.
I think probably around The Fourth Legacy when we started producing our albums in Germany is when the whole thing kind of started as a professional thing. And time has actually flown by and it’s kind of cool. It’s almost like a restart in a way it’s like a fresh era and we’ve seen the band, you were saying the motivation, the motivation of course is the fans but also that the band is still growing. It’s just cool that after so many years we’re able to do this at a certain level. I think it’s all a testament to hard work but also having amazing fans.
FRR: With the style of music you do are from Europe, so going over and recording that record in Germany, do you think that kind of helped perfect the style of music you play and touring with other bands in that genre?
Thomas Youngblood: I think for us it was actually working with Sascha and Miro, the producers that first started with Fourth Legacy. Those guys have been working with Rhapsody and they’re personally really great musicians that understand composition and I think they were crucial to help us learn the craft and take the Kamelot sound and actually figure out what is special about it and then make that a platform for us to start from. So I think that was the biggest part was working with those guys that are total pros and also super musical theory guys and then building from there. So I think that was the crucial part for Kamelot. I think there were certain albums that were also turning points that kept the band moving in the right direction.
FRR: You’re about to hit the road. You’re going out with Dragonforce, and anybody who is a fan of guitar work is gonna be in absolute heaven with this tour- that’s an awesome lineup. How’s it going to feel getting back on the road, especially with a band like Dragonforce and sharing the bill with those guys?
Thomas Youngblood: Yea, it’s gonna be fun. We’ve been friends with Herman and Sam for quite a few years. We were talking about touring together back at one of the NAMM conferences, which is a big music conference. They had a couple of big records in the States so they have a strong fan base and for us, we think it’s gonna be cool to have a different kind of fan base to play for. It’s cool to sometimes bring a band that’s very similar but I think in this situation we want to give it a shot of bringing a band that’s a little bit different, has a little bit different thing going on. I think it’s going to be an entertaining show for both fan bases.