Tobias Sammet is the living proof that dreams come true if you are willing to give all your blood, sweat, tears and all of your free time to make them happen. How else would a little boy with big dreams from a small German village manage to get people like Alice Cooper, Klaus Meine, Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Sharon Den Adel, Michael Kiske and many others under one name. But before his metal opera project AVANTASIA brought him worldwide acclaim, Sammet started out fronting a band with a rather silly name, EDGUY. This year, his main band is celebrating their 25th anniversary, which was one of the main reasons to chat with Tobias about their upcoming album “Monuments”, the tour celebrating this occasion, his plans for the future and a lot of other topics.
First of all, congratulations on your 25th anniversary with Edguy. I’ve been a fan for 15 years and it seems like ages had already passed, I can’t imagine how it must feel to you. Is this where you imagined you would be 25 years ago?
Tobias Sammet: Thank you very much. It’s hard to tell what I imagined 25 years ago, I am not sure you can expect or foresee or imagine things to be that great 25 years later, I wanted to be a professional musician, basically I wanted to play music all day long without doing anything else, and that meant I had to record my own music and sell it, so I would make enough to earn a living. I guess we accomplished that, but other than that, if you are 14 years old you do not know that one day you’ll record albums with Klaus Meine or share the stage with Iron Maiden and Aerosmith and travel around the world. It’s surreal, and I am endlessly thankful.
You are celebrating this occasion with a release aptly titled “Monuments”, and the press release says we can expect more than a best-of, including new tracks and rarities. Are these new tracks written especially for this album or are they demos and ideas you collected over time and recorded for this release?
Tobi: The new songs have been written and recorded for this album. I approached it like doing a new album, only that there wasn’t more than five songs we needed. At first, I thought doing two would be good because we also want to do a 25-years anniversary release and wanted to celebrate the past as well. But then Eggi had a good idea, Jens took out an old idea that I wrote a chorus for and Dirk had a song as well. But the material has been recorded and produced just for this particular album.
Fans always keep pushing for a return-to-form of sorts, even though Edguy still puts out top-notch power metal tracks like The Arcane Guild or Sabre & Torch. Could this release be when you finally give up and crank the power metal cheese up to 11 with these new tracks?
Tobi: We always did what we did. I never analyzed it as much as other people did. You know, I didn’t even realize we changed our sound, which some people said. We never changed, we developed very naturally in all different kinds of directions and every album has new elements. Sometimes we’re faster, sometimes we’re slower, but we have always cherished our trademarks. I never wanted to be too cheesy, but if it’s good I can handle cheese (laughs). Two of the new songs are quite cheesy, but good cheesy, not bad cheesy. They’re the songs I wrote with Jens and Dirk. I don’t look back that much when I am creative. Things just happen naturally. When I wrote “Vain Glory Opera”, “Theater Of Salvation” or “King of Fools” I wasn’t looking back and trying to do something to somebody’s favor. Things happened. Then, when it’s done it’s done. You can’t write it again. At least I don’t want to, because why steal your own song on purpose? It’s there already and people will always wanna listen to the original. That’s always been my work ethic, be honest and do what comes to your mind. Look for adventure and follow your heart! Then you can’t be wrong. You may be unsuccessful, yes, then that’s quite unfortunate, some people may accuse you of not playing what they wanna listen to, yes – that’s a risk. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t be wrong if you follow your heart. That’s the true spirit of Heavy Metal I believe.
The release also features the video from your 2004 show in Sao Paulo. Out of all the recorded shows of the band, including many at the Wacken festival, is there a reason, emotional, technical or otherwise, why you chose that particular show?
Tobi: It’s a good show, it’s an important phase of the band and it was so expensive to shoot, it would have been a shame to not show it to the public. It’s a great historical document with a lot of energy.
Does celebrating this occasion with the release and a tour this mean we shouldn’t hope for a new studio album for another year or more?
Tobi: Yes, most probably we’ll be busy with that album for the rest of the year, we’ll do some touring with it and then we see. I mean, this thing is in the purest sense of the word: Monumental! It’s so big and so much work. It’s half an hour of new material, which would have been a full studio album in the eighties. Then we opened our photographic archive for a history book. And we’re involved in all of it. I chose those pictures personally, 1000 pictures out of maybe 100,000 in our archive. A 25 years’ period of pictures. Then we have a full DVD to edit. I guess people get so much, it is not to be compared to just a little best-of in between. It’s a full-blown massive release.
Looking back on your career, there have to be so many memories you cherish. What is the one memory that always brings a smile to your face when you think about your career so far?
Tobi: Many, very many. Touring with Aerosmith, or the first US coast-to-coast tour. Going on stage supporting Iron Maiden and having Steve Harris come to our dressing room to congratulate us on a good show. All these things, that’s why you start playing music. Or one night in Israel in 2000, it was the first time we all got drunk together. It was amazing, we were young and ready to conquer the world. There were no limits to our future and if there were, we ignored them (laughs)!
Was there ever a point in your career when you considered giving up on music, the band, and everything? And if so, what kept you going?
Tobi: Never! It’s hard sometimes when people expect you to do something that you don’t feel like. Because people don’t understand that when you are an artist, at least I can speak for myself, I do not know if it is a general rule, but it’s physically and mentally painful for me to do things I am not convinced of. People say do this or do that! Write a song like this one! Why don’t you simply do it that way? Etc… It is not simple. It is only simple as long as you are happily not giving a fuck about anyone or anything else. Then I am happily able to work 25 hours a day. There have been many occasions when I had to realize that you have to be a little ignorant to protect yourself and your own sanity. When labels or press or fans or band mates want you to do something you simply can’t. But I am the happiest man on earth when I can write and play music. And I never thought about giving it up, not for a second!
What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to a new band with a silly name, hell bent on playing a genre everyone considers to be dated and uncool?
Tobi: Ha, reconsider the silly name, it may make things much easier. Besides that: make sure, if you get advice, that the person it comes from is a person whose advice matters to you. A lot of people give advice but are simply not in the position to do so. It may be the right advice for THEM or their vision of things. But what is your own? Follow your heart and be prepared that your heart may lead you to a place that requires a lot of capacity for suffering and deprivations, a place that may be the wastelands from a materialistic standpoint. But do what makes you happy and proud.
Any special surprises in store for the upcoming tour? Can we expect some deep cuts in the setlist? Is this going to be a special tour with few select dates, or are you planning a longer run and visit some countries you rarely or never played before with Edguy?
Tobi: You know, the past twenty years I have spent most of my time in studios or hotels, at airports, in planes and these tiny submarine tour buses with beds that make me feels claustrophobic. We take things a little easier and won’t do a 100 shows tour. I may sound old, and looking at my passport I get older indeed. I wanna do this for the next 30 years, I don’t wanna spend months on the road every year. And I think I speak for all of us in the band, although except Felix who joins me in Avantasia as well the others haven’t had the schedule I have…
Last year was a very successful one for Avantasia – a critically acclaimed album, competing for Eurovision, first solo shows in the US, the biggest live roster so far, many countries visited etc. Were you ever afraid that the younger sibling would overshadow Edguy and become a priority?
Tobi: There are not many things that beat being in a successful band, but the one thing that surely does is: Being in TWO successful bands. It’s all about time management and the right pace. Of course, Avantasia has somehow overshadowed Edguy from “The Metal Opera” on. “The Metal Opera” was super big and without that album, Edguy’s “Mandrake” wouldn’t have become as big. Avantasia pushes Edguy and vice versa as well in some territories I guess. I am a happy and busy person.
Is the story of Aaron Blackwell over or can we look forward to the final chapter of another trilogy? Any ideas on when we might expect to hear it or hear about it?
Tobi: No, it’s over. All done. No more episodes.
In between celebrating the anniversary with Edguy you are going to be hitting the stage with your flying opera in Spain and at Wacken Open Air. You mentioned on one occasion that the shows will be different to those during the Ghostlights tour. What did you mean by that?
Tobi: Michi Kiske is absent for example, and we won’t play three hours at the festivals of course. We may play some different songs also. With Avantasia, the exciting thing is that you never know if things will happen again. Whatever happened in the past always happened at the premise that it will be unique and may be the last time it happens. Nothing is taken for granted, that’s sad but it’s the way it is, and sadly, that’s what makes Avantasia preciously fragile and beautiful.
Since Micheal Kiske will be busy doing the hyped Pumpkins United tour, did you consider who might replace him?
Tobi: We’ll do it somehow. We have so many singers on stage and we have so many songs, we can simply play two more Jorn songs or two more Bob Catley songs. We have all sorts of options. I love Michi, and there is only one Michael Kiske, but the show must go on.
You probably knew this Helloween reunion was cooking for a while now, but from a fan to a fan I’m curious: what was your reaction when you first heard the confirmation that this is really happening?
Tobi: When Michi signed with Helloween’s management back in 2008 I knew it was just a matter of time. Then Michi and Kai got along very well on our Metal Opera tour, so Kai joined Unisonic afterward. Their drummer manages Helloween. It’s an incestuous business (laughs). The whole thing was overdue and planned. Yes, I was a bit sad as I knew it would mean that Michael is not allowed to play with Avantasia anymore, but I have waited for this moment as much as everyone else. It’s the best thing that could have happened to all of them. I wish them nothing but the best for the future.
Fans of both Ayreon and Avantasia have been cheering for either of you to appear on the other musician’s project. You are finally going to be singing on Ayreon’s new album titled “The Source”. Can you tell us more about your cooperation and how you fit the shoes of a quirky captain?
Tobi: Arjen is a super nice guy, a very gifted composer, and artist and I am proud to be his guest and hopefully add something to his amazing songs. It’s very progressive and some of the melodies and harmonies made me sea-sick as I didn’t understand what the fuck was going on harmonically (laughs)! We’ve known each other’s for years and I am happy to be on his record. He told me I was a quirky captain, and I told him if I was to fill the role with life, I have to feel myself into that role, and I have to envision it. And I envisioned the captain to sing with the accent of Pepe le Pew. But I didn’t wanna ruin his record, so I just sang with my own accent (laughs).
Can you give us the answer to the dumbest question you ever got asked in an interview?
Tobi: “Tell me something about the band’s history”. Hold on for a second, WHAT?
Any last words for your fans in Serbia and our readers?
Tobi: Thank you all for your support, I haven’t played live in Serbia although I have shot a couple of videos over there, it is overdue. Let’s see, maybe there is a chance of coming over with Edguy. As said, you’re overdue!