Interview & photo: Nerissa Alison
In the Silence of the Darkness, Kamelot’s Ghost Opera Came Alive
Once Again. . .
Another sold out show. Another jam-packed venue. Another crowd ready to give it all! A dark lighted stage slowly filling with smoke. . . So what’s left? The obvious! A musical quintet made up of vocalist Roy Khan, guitar player Thomas Youngblood, bass player Glenn Barry, keyboard player Oliver Palotoi and drummer Casey Grillo, better known as Kamelot.
From opening song, Rule the World, to the roaring final ovation, it was clear the crowd was not just there to listen to one of their most beloved metal bands. They were ready to live the concert along side Kamelot to the fullest. Singing songs from their two latest albums, The Black Halo and Ghost Opera, they did not leave behind some of their everlasting classics, such as, Forever, leading the crowd in a euphoric unison with the band…
Enjoying every second of what was happening around me made me feel even more special to know that just a few hours earlier I had been interviewing Kamelot’s heartbeat, drummer Casey Grillo. Facing the ghost seated behind the drums, I discovered an easy going, kind natured man, whose love for drumming does not only lead him to give a heartbeat to Kamelot, but also take up any other project which might call for that well coordinated drumming. And so we sat and spoke about the drummer, the band and other related subjects of interest..
VENIA: To begin this interview, how do you become a drummer? How do you decide to go with such a “noisy” instrument?
CASEY: Well, the whole reason why I became a drummer was basically my family, my brother played drums, my sister played drums and so I just followed.
VENIA: So you are the youngest one?
CASEY: I am the youngest one. So there was always a drum set around the house and my brother bought my first drum set. That’s how it started, my mom loved drums, she never really played but she was always a big fan of ours, anyway, for us to play and she loved hearing us. She’d fall asleep while I’d play drums. I don’t know how she did it as noisy as it would be and she would fall asleep. So, that is how I started playing.
VENIA: How old were you?
CASEY: I was probably. . . The first time I ever had a drum set I was probably around ten years old.
VENIA: And how did you become Kamelot’s drummer? Because you came into the band early on but not from the beginning.
CASEY: Basically, they had two records out before I started. I started on the third record, The Fourth Legacy and that was with. . . I’m sorry, that was. The record before that. Siége Perilous.
VENIA: Yes, exactly, but don’t worry, I don’t know the exact order!
CASEY: (Laughing) Yeah, right! Well, it’s been a long time since the composition of those records! So, we did Siége Perilous that was the first record Roy did as well. I was actually playing in a club band in the US, in Tampa, and the bass player came out and saw me play. Tom and Glenn both came out and kept seeing me play. Then they asked me if I wanted to do the recording, I said, “Sure, I’ll be your recording drummer.” And they’re like, “Well, you can do the recordings and if you like the band or whatever you can join.” That’s how it started out.
VENIA: Were you already into metal back then?
CASEY: Kind of, yeah, I’ve been into all kinds of music. I was more into like Shredder guitar metal type of stuff, you know, Tony Macalpine and stuff like that. You know, I like Whitesnake and all these bands from back then, but more classic. . . I was really not tuned into that whole metal scene yet, like what was happening over in Europe, because in the US you were thrown into the type of music, back then, before the internet you couldn’t really go out and search for music. So you had what was thrown out at you, you know, what was thrown down your throat everyday which is what’s on the radio, which is, you know, a lot of garbage.
VENIA: OK, I was going to say that, but you beat me! (We both laugh)
CASEY: Well, yeah, there you go! But, yeah, it’s who’s paying more money at that time of the month.
VENIA: And that’s a pity.
VENIA: Let’s talk a little bit about the creative process.
CASEY: Creative process for me, really kind of starts just when I get into the studio. A lot of times what will happen is that Roy and Thomas will write the songs and they’ll have drumbeats or drum ideas that go into the song which pretty much have to stay the same kind of groove feel, because they write the song around that anyway. And then, when I usually get the song, I get into the studio and haven’t really heard the song much, so. Each album is different on how we create it but, I mean, generally, we just jam, we get together and do stuff like that and sounds come out of that, but it’s mostly between Thomas and Roy. They’ll actually go and get a log cabin or something up in the mountains in Norway and they’ll go up and spend a couple of weeks writing or something like that. So I think it’s pretty relaxed.
VENIA: So I’ll have to talk to them about the lyrics.
CASEY: Oh, yeah, yeah. But I know what goes on. It’s like we sit around a lot and think up stuff, Ok, here I have this idea or I have that idea.
VENIA: Have you ever written any lyrics?
CASEY: Not for Kamelot, no. I mean, I’ve done my own projects you know, where I’ve played every instrument and sang as well.
VENIA: How many instruments do you play?
CASEY: Bass, guitar, drums, a little bit of keyboards but not much, didgeridoo.
VENIA: What is that?
CASEY: The Australian instrument.
VENIA: OK, I think I know which one you are talking about.
CASEY: Very weird, low sounding type of thing, where you do the circular breathing, you never stop.
VENIA: Yes, I got it!
CASEY: Uhm. That’s about it. I don’t play a lot of keyboards, but I can play guitar. I really don’t practice anymore. I haven’t done any of that stuff in a long time.
VENIA: I heard or I read something that you were playing in a Japanese band.
CASEY: Well, I did a Japanese (album) for a Japanese pop artist who was done through an American bass player out in Santa Monica, I believe is where he lives. He used to play bass with Shacacan and he played on two Michael Jackson records. He’s a producer now and he also still plays bass as well. I did some songs with him and a good friend of mine, the drummer from Prince now, John Blackwell, actually engineered two songs for him on the same record, and that’s how I got the gig, cause he told me, “Hey man, why don’t you play some songs in here too?” A little bit different type of music but they wanted a stronger edge with my playing. And that’s kind of how it went and now I am his first call drummer.
VENIA: What do you hope the future holds for Kamelot at this point?
CASEY: I hope there is. Well, I mean, I hope it just keeps growing, you know, I don’t want it to stop. Everyday going to work for me is like it’s not work, it’s just a lifestyle, you don’t want it to end, you know, it’s like going off on tour is like going to camp or something, you know, like going band camping. It’s just an experience!
VENIA: So, it’s not that tough?
VENIA: Well, sometimes it seems tough because it’s day after day, different places, not much rest.
CASEY: Yeah, but you know, everyday is different. Some days are easier than others. Some days are a little bit harder, you know. As people we’ve kind of grown together quite tightly and for me everybody’s my great friend. There’s not one person in this band I wouldn’t take a bullet for, you know, that kind of thing. And everybody’s like that. So I think with that going on, there’s nothing that can hold us back.
VENIA: Cool. OK, in music history what album or song would you like Kamelot to be remembered for?
CASEY: That’s a hard question.
VENIA: Well, until what you’ve accomplished to date.
CASEY: To date, OK. There’s a few songs for me that I really, really, really like and that’s of The Black Halo, March of Mephisto, it’s just an interesting song for me, it’s lyrically and the way the melody line is, I can’t sing the melody it’s so weird, so different and it’s hard to really figure the melody line. It’s just really nice, it’s really cool how it goes and with the rough vocals from Shagrath. That’s for me is one of the (best), drumming wise it’s not really that interesting but just as a song. Then there are other songs that are just like a ballad. Ballads for me are the best, I love all the ballads.
VENIA: I believe in this last album you have one amazing ballad, Anthem.
CASEY: Yeah. Amazing, huh?
VENIA: Yes, the lyrics, how they come together with the melody. Someone once described it to me as a song that transported you to another place, a nice place.
CASEY: Yeah, it’s a beautiful song.
VENIA: Going back to your drumming, what Kamelot song would you say represents your best drumming?
CASEY: Mmmm. Descent of an Archangel, I think or something like that. I like that song. We used to play that song a couple of tours ago but we haven’t done it in a while. That’s one of my favorite songs to play. There’s a lot of different parts in there, you know, double bases, different parts which are pretty hard, but it’s pretty cool. There are so many of the different songs (I like) but I like playing that one live probably.
VENIA: As a drummer, what do you feel you have left to do?
CASEY: As a drummer?
VENIA: Yes, as we all have objectives in our careers.
CASEY: I think for me I just want to play as many types of music as I can and learn as many styles because playing drums is like, you know, it can be so monotonous, there’s only so many different beats that you can play. There’s a lot of them so there’s a lot of different styles of music, just these different latin and stuff like this, that’s really cool. So I think that’s for me what I’d like to do, I want to study more different styles of drumming.
VENIA: Would you like to compose a song?
CASEY: Yeah, absolutely.
VENIA: A Kamelot song?
CASEY: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s for me to do that because my music is a little bit different than what Kamelot would write, I think.
VENIA: OK, from the songs in the last Kamelot album, talk to me from your perspective, anecdotes in the group or anything that comes to mind, Love You To Death.
CASEY: Love You To Death is a beautiful, beautiful song, it’s an amazing song. A really hard song for me to listen to, sometimes.
VENIA: It is a hard song. I still get goose bumps when I listen to it.
CASEY: Yeah, absolutely. That song for me, we just shot a video in January, it was in Serbia, and I believe it was on January 10th we flew out, my mom died on the 8th, so that was a really hard song to do the video on. The video’s not released yet. It was hard because she just died and I actually didn’t go to her, her. Didn’t get to go to her funeral because I was already out. And my mom always told me, “if you’re ever out with Kamelot,” because she was a huge fan, “and you can’t make it,” because she knew she was going to pass away, “do what you’ve got to do and come back later. It’s not a big deal.” She was a big fan of us. It was that song.
VENIA: Difficult moment, difficult video. . .
CASEY: Yeah. It was a hard video to make because of that whole weekend. Rule the World was at the same time. So that whole time was like a real, like man.
VENIA: Delicate. Well it’s a tough moment, a lot of emotions there.
CASEY: Yeah, but you get through it because my family was there, the band, you know, and they helped me through all that stuff.
VENIA: What about Human Stain?
CASEY: It’s a great song. I love it. It’s a lot of fun to play.
VENIA: Lyrics, what do you think about the lyrics?
CASEY: I’ll say it’s always, what they write, for me, is always great to go back and listen to it or read it, find out the real meaning behind it, in the whole song. I think it’s great, I mean, I think the way it’s laid out is perfect. The lyrics are great.
VENIA: What song do you really like from that album?
CASEY: From Ghost Opera?
CASEY: Pendulous Fall. It was brought out on Ghost Opera the Second Coming. That song for me is my favorite song up there. And, again, I don’t reason why, the drums are really simple, it’s nothing to it, it’s just a.
VENIA: A melody?
CASEY: Yeah and I’m a melody guy, I really like the melodies.
VENIA: Maybe you just get a better chance to listen when you are not into difficult drumming.
CASEY: Yeeeah. . . Well, I mean, I listen to a song after I’ve recorded it or even before it’s recorded, I go, this is going to be a great song just because. And when I recorded the whole (album) I recorded that song last, I think, and I’d had it on my ipod, you know, I was listening to all the songs, there’s nothing difficult to it but I’d just listen to it every night before going to bed. This was while I was at the studio, and I hadn’t recorded it yet, but it was the song I’d listen to before going to bed because I liked it.
VENIA: Talking about the studio, when you go in, how does it go?
CASEY: Actually, I go in first. I have gone in last, but it’s in a rare occasion and it’s because of a timing issue, maybe I’m out of the country doing something else or something like that. On The Black Halo I actually went in last, or, I went in when the guitars were done which is not usually that way, because usually you lay down your foundation first, like drums and bass. What happens is that they’ll have scratch guitar tracks that I play to. So everything’s kind of written, I don’t hear vocals, I just hear the music and that’s pretty much it. And a scratch drum track, like a computer program. So I go in first which is kind of hard because if something needs to be changed you can’t change it, so they have to be really concrete with the music.
VENIA: Well, to end this interview, I’d like you to describe the band as a whole and then a brief comment about the different band members.
CASEY: As a whole band we are, it’s a very, how would I say? It’s a colorful crew, you know what I mean? (I nod) I’m not going to use Motley Crew cause it’s already been used, but, I mean, we have different angles of every person in the band. We have, you know, people, I’ll start with Thomas, you know, Tom, he’s like really, he’s a go-getter, he’ll make sure things happen, he’s more of the leader that we’ll go to for questions or whatever. And Roy is the same way, they’re both pretty much the leaders. Roy is just a sweetheart of a person, he’s like a really great friend. Sometimes he can be very quiet, but he has to be because he can’t talk all the time because it’ll take his voice away, but I’ve had many conversations until late in the morning with that guy, over nothing, just fun stuff. Oliver is an extremely brilliant musician, keyboard player and guitar player, and a really nice guy as far as, I’m helping him do an instructional DVD, keyboard instructional DVD, did the video and all that stuff, and had him stay three or four days at my house and it was just great to have him, his my family. The bass player that is on tour with us now, Shawn, is another great, great friend, he’s just one of those guys that you just like to hang out and party with. The girl singer, Anne-Catrin, she’s just another great person, beautiful person, very talented. As far as the whole, we’re all part of the team so it’s a unit that comes together and I think you have to have color to do that, all ends of it to do one beautiful thing, make a rainbow of some sort.
VENIA: Yes. So when all this comes together, at the end of a tour or of recording an album, what is the feeling then?
CASEY: Accomplishment. Yeah, for sure. When I get home, like next week I’ll be home on Monday night, Tuesday I’ll wake up and think something’s wrong because I’ll wake up next to my wife and see the long hair and think I’m sleeping next to one of the guys in the band (we both crack up) that usually happens, I’ll wake up and I’m like, “What? What are you doing in my bed Shawn?” Or I’ll wake up and not know where I am at, because I’m used to being on the bus, that’s one of the things that’ll happen. The next thing that will happen is that I’ll just sit there and reflect on, I’ll look through the tour book and see where I went, because I don’t want to forget, where was that place and so. I’ll reflect back on the memories and I have a ton of video, I’ll start making a tour video and that will bring back a lot of memories. So for the next month I’ll see the whole tour again.
VENIA: Ok, unless you want to add anything else it was really cool talking to you.
CASEY: I think that’s it! Thank you, thank you very much.
VENIA: No, thank you Casey.
As all good things do, interview and concert come to an end, leaving the tasteful feeling of having seen another great performance by Kamelot. And as the band leaves the stage and the venue slowly empties, only one thought runs through my mind repeatedly, Kamelot, sing me a song like the angels rejoice…
Official website: www.kamelot.com