THOMAS YOUNGBLOOD (Kamelot): “Music saved me”

THOMAS YOUNGBLOOD (Kamelot): “Music saved me

For many of us music is a special place that keeps us safe and protected. Last Thursday in Budapest, I had a chance to have a little talk with one of the people who is responsible for these safe places, havens, to exist – and that person was Thomas Youngblood who more than two decades ago formed Kamelot and dedicated his life to this task – making music that will allow listeners to loose themselves in audio landscapes. Kamelot’s new album “Haven”, which was released last year, is another proof that there are many good things awaiting the band in the future.

Interview: Martina Šestić | martina@venia-mag.net

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VENIA: Thomas, thank you for accepting this interview.
THOMAS: No problem 🙂
VENIA: How was it yesterday in Bratislava?
THOMAS: Good, really good. We love playing there. It was the first show of the final European part of the Haven tour, so it’s bitter-sweet. But, it was cool and tonight it will be fun.
VENIA: You remember your last time here in Budapest?
THOMAS: Yes, we played here like six months ago maybe more. We did a show with Dream Theater. Yeah, I remember… Kinda 🙂

VENIA: As you said, this is the final part…
THOMAS: Yes, for Europe. We’re gonna do 70000 tons of metal cruise in February. Then I think we’ll have couple of more dates.
VENIA: Then, I’m guessing you’ll be heading back to the studio? Have you come up with some new ideas?
THOMAS: Yes, we’re going back to the studio. We started working on the new songs already. We have about three of four triplets for songs and I think that in summer next year we’ll probably record everything. We’re hoping for early 2018 release.
VENIA: Will you also continue with this sound you made for Haven – with escapism, dealing with tough subjects like death, afterlife, love, darker themes but there is always something positive in all your songs. What is the secret? How do you successfully create such an opposed atmosphere?
THOMAS: At the end of the day I would like for people to, after listening to Kamelot, to have some sort of hope, a feeling that there is always a way around a problem. But at the same time we have to deal with reality, things that happen to people and bad things happen…
VENIA: You’ve even chosen the name for the album Haven – which is a safe place, where you feel good.
THOMAS: Yeah, when I was a kid, there were two or three years that were really tough for me and basically I got quite lost in the music. At that time it was heavy metal. I listened to all kinds of music but… Without that kind of escape for me, I could have taken whole another path and I’m glad that I hadn’t.
VENIA: It’s good that you’ve taken the creative path…
THOMAS: Yes! Also in terms to not breaking laws and staying out of jail. Music saved me. And even if one person listens to Kamelot and it somehow makes their life better that’s good for us.
VENIA: That is true – you always create these upbeat melodies and rhythms no matter what kind of topic you’re dealing with.
THOMAS: Yesterday when we played, some man came from Poland and gave us a stack of postcards from fans from Poland that each person had handwritten about how much they love the band. It was just an another reminder how powerful music is for people. A reminder for us to keep working hard and that there are people listening.
VENIA: That is very true. But now that you’ve mentioned fans. I read in one of your previous interviews that you like hiding stuff around the venues for fans to find…
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah 🙂 We do that! There may be a guitar pick somewhere in the bathroom, a T-shirt somewhere.
VENIA: Have you done it here in Budapest?
THOMAS: I can’t say. Maybe. Who knows? 🙂

VENIA: So, let’s get back to the band. You are from several different countries. How does it work for you? Do you connect like people outside music business or..?
THOMAS: Definitely, everybody in the band is a really great friend. We are very interested in certain things – history, science… We have very similar look at politics, we have a lot to talk about very different things. I am interested in different languages, different cultures…
VENIA: Do you speak any Hungarian?
THOMAS: No, I don’t, that’s Olivers thing. He’s half Hungarian. I like Spanish and German. With my interest for different cultures, this has been a perfect job for me.
VENIA: Do you get to meet a lot of local people when you’re on tour?
THOMAS: Definitely! We’re actually going to be back in Budapest in couple of days. We have a day and a half off. So we’ll be going around, hanging out. I also make sure in the last five years, whenever I come to a new city, I used to sleep until the soundcheck, but now I get up and walk around, take a cab right away to the centre. I just soak in.. I just walk in, see what people live like.
VENIA: That is a nice thing you’re doing. Also the opportunity to record the album in different studios allows you to travel even more. How does that go?
THOMAS: Of course! We recorded drums in Tampa, keyboards and guitars in Germany, vocals in Sweden, mastering in Denmark. It’s a digital world now, pretty much everything, all these files are sent through computers..
VENIA: But don’t you miss the organic way of making music? With the whole band in the same studio?
THOMAS: It’s still very organic – the creation is still very organic, it starts with a riff or an idea. It’ s not like we’re making everything electronically, processed music…
Especially with the way record companies drop budgets. Top quality but fiscally responsible.

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VENIA: You collaborated with many musicians who are mostly from metal world. Do you plan maybe in future to collaborate with someone outside the metal world or not so famous?
THOMAS: Doesn’t matter. They don’t have to be famous. I’d like to work with Lindsey Stirling, violinist, Marion Raven is a singer form Norway whom I’d love to have on an album. Not too many people know her but in Norway she’s very popular.
It usually just happens with a song and we get a feeling about and start thinking about it. We don’t have too much of a grand plan when it comes to guest. It’s like you’ve said it earlier – it’s organic.

VENIA: How did Tommy fit in the band? He is the youngest.
THOMAS: He is awesome. He made us all younger. We have to keep up with him. For example I have a six year old son and I have keep up with him, too. Tommy is like my little brother on the tour. He’s great – positive guy, loves doing what’s he doing and I couldn’t be happier to find a talented guy who’s so cool.
VENIA: That’s very important. I must say you are one of those bands that switched band members without a fuss. Because everybody was so emotive about Khan leaving.
THOMAS: Yes… With anything that happens I have a philosophy of always just going ahead, not look back. And it’s five years later. We don’t think about it anymore.
VENIA: And that band is even bigger than it was.
THOMAS: Yeah, it growing. Like in the United States it’s double than it was before. No complaints what so ever.
VENIA: So hopefully with the next album the band will go to next level.
THOMAS: Yeah, I think so. It’s only been two albums. It’s not much and what we’ve been able to do with the last two records is just great. So we’re looking forward to the next album.

VENIA: What do you see as the hardest thing for you as musician?
THOMAS: For sure it would be the tour bus. That’s the worst for me. I can’t sleep properly. It’s a really long distance. Like tonight we’ re gonna drive like 12 hours and I get freaked out by what’s going on the road. That’s absolutely the worst part. If there is a way I could take a train or cheap flight from one city to another, I would do it.

VENIA: How do you see your musicianship growing in the future or maybe on the next album?
THOMAS: I think that on next album we’ll have more diversity, maybe bring back weirdness in some songs, not all, maybe have a couple that are gonna be dissimilar. But I think the whole record will be diverse which is also how we started. Songs with Arabian themes, Irish, whatever might be…
VENIA: I like Arabian elements in your music.
THOMAS: I don’t know why I gravitated toward that. I know that lot of the groups I liked as a kid had a lot of these Arabian themes. I was really into this group, I think one of them was Persian, they made really cool classical, new-age stuff and also middle-eastern themes.

VENIA: Do you remember your first ever performance on stage?
THOMAS: Hmm.. I remember our first gig as Kamelot and the place not there anymore. It was a little bar in city called Holiday, FL. And then our first tour outside, once we had our first album we played at Bang Your Head Festival in Germany. It was our first show with full PA, lights. We were nervous then. Now, we never get nervous. It went OK.
VENIA: Do you still get nervous at times?
THOMAS: No. Never. I mean the only thing that worries me a bit are technical problems. In general none of us get nervous. We’re just excited. We enjoy playing.
I think when you get nervous is when you’re not prepared. You don’t feel.. There’s some insecurities..
Like I said, these technical things, they can bug you…

VENIA: Some of the musicians leave everything behind when they go on stage. They become their onstage persona. Do you maybe have your own stage alterego?
THOMAS: Yeah… You have to have a little bit of alterego. You have to be a performer. You can just stand there and play, that’s good too, but if you want to be a performer, whether you’re doing Broadway or you’re in a rock band, you are channelling a different entity…
VENIA: So that people can make a connection with you through your music.
THOMAS: Yes, that’s probably one of the learning curves for most people. Because when you see a new band, you can see they’re kind of young and fresh and they’re just learning. Eventually you see if they’re feeling comfortable with what you’re doing.

VENIA: I will leave you now to prepare for the show and once again thank you for this conversation.
THOMAS: No problem, thank to you, too!

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