JON OLIVA’S PAIN - All The King’s Men

May 14, 2007, 11 years ago

By Carl Begai

jon oliva pain feature

Drummer Christopher Kinder and bassist Kevin Rothney are two members of JON OLIVA’S PAIN. Never heard of ‘em? Not surprising if you haven’t, because ever since JOP’s inception the focus has been on frontman and Savatage founder Jon Oliva, and that shadow grew even larger with the unbelievable discovery of demo tapes featuring his late brother and original SAVATAGE guitarist Criss, material which ended up being used in the writing for JOP’s latest album, Maniacal Renderings. Said album is a remarkable return to the classic Criss-era Savatage sound, and anyone who has seen Jon Oliva’s Pain perform live is hard pressed to argue with the suggestion that the band has recaptured and resurrected that band’s spirit. Their Streets medley alone (clocking in at close to an hour) is worth the price of admission. No TRANS-SIBERIAN orchestration, no frills or nonsense, Jon Oliva’s Pain is indeed the new Savatage on some level, even if the diehard fans don’t want to hear it.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” Rothney says of the potential for head-butting with Savatage followers, who aren’t as fanatic as say DREAM THEATER’s fanbase but are incredibly loyal. “They ask questions sometimes, but most of the time they’re pretty cool. They don’t badger us to death with ‘When’s the next Savatage record coming out?’or things like that. They get upset sometime because we don’t play this or that song live, but they’re pretty cool about it.”
“The other thing is I think they reserve most of those questions for Jon because I think they realize we don’t really have any of the answers,” Kinder adds. “But yeah, right now it’s an albatross around our necks. With all the things in limbo about Savatage’s 25th Anniversary, you hear it from the promoters and the writers on down the line. The promoters are trying to decide, do they book Jon Oliva’s Pain for a festival or wait until the following year, because maybe Savatage will be doing something and they don’t want to do both.”

Kinder, Rothney, keyboardist John Zahner, and guitarists Matt LaPorte and Shane French are comfortable with the Savatage legacy hanging over their heads due to the fact Oliva welcomes their input. JOP is anything but a Savatage cover band or a Jon Oliva ego stroke.

Kinder: “When we started working on Maniacal Renderings, Jon told us that he wanted to do it the way they used to work in the old days, which was the band trading music back and forth and working stuff out. He used to come and see us play in these cheesy ‘80s cover bands, so Jon knew we could play a wide variety of styles and he told us that it didn’t make sense for him not to let us help write the record. He wanted us to bring our ideas to the table and we went back to the old style of writing where it wasn’t him and Paul O’Neill doing everything. We’re also smart enough to listen to what Jon does. We’ve been playing with him so long now that we’ve probably spent more time with him writing, touring and working as a unit than any of the last five Savatage records. Those guys were more like ‘Okay, studio time is XYZ…’ and for us it’s a couple days a week. We all live pretty close so we get together at my house or something, we’ll sit around and watch videos, hang out and write songs. It’s a really comfortable environment. Once we figure out the direction Jon is going in with the songs we modify our own stuff to make it work together.”

Rothney: “Jon took Criss’ riffs from those tapes he found and incorporated them into songs that we already had. What happened was some of the songs ended up being written around those riffs, and in other songs we made the riffs fit. We’re gearing our music towards what we think Jon wants. We wouldn’t bring something out of left field. We’re conscious of what he’s writing and we work with that. That makes us think like Jon to a certain degree.”

Kinder: “For the two of us, we spend a lot of time especially in the two weeks before we go in to record really listening to what Jon’s playing and try to find cool little intricate things we can stick in there, but always within the context of the song. Like the beginning of the song ‘Maniacal Renderings’, that’s all Kevin. That’s his and he brought it in one day, so we built the song around it. For the new stuff, the pre-production for the new album, Jon has given us each a CD saying ‘These are my ideas, go home and write some parts.’”

Kinder and Rothney aren’t so arrogant as to claim they’re part of a new Savatage, of course. Oliva, on the other hand, isn’t shy about saying so.

“I don’t get what’s so confusing to everybody,” Oliva states. “Savatage is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra now - that’s what’s happening. Will there be another Savatage project? We’ve talked about it since 2004. Everybody looks at me like it’s my fault, but I’m doing Jon Oliva’s Pain because this is what I want to do. So I don’t know, man, I don’t get it. You’ve got an album out that’s got Jon Oliva and Criss Oliva working together for the first time since Edge Of Thorns; if you’re a Savatage fan and you don’t have Maniacal Renderings you’re full of shit. If you look at what I’m doing right now compared to what Savatage did with Dead Winter Dead, Wake Of Magellan and Poets And Madmen, I should just call this Savatage. The only original guys in that band were me and Johnny (Middleton/bass)…for the last 12 years. I know it’s sad, and what bothers me is that everybody acts like I don’t care. I started the band when I was 18 years old; it’s been my whole life, so how can they even think that? If I didn’t care I’d be calling this Savatage and raking in as much money as I could. I didn’t call JOP Savatage because I didn’t want to insult the fans or the guys who are part of Savatage. I’d make a ton of money a night if I were to call this Jon Oliva’s Savatage because the promoters want me to use the name, but I just won’t do it. I don’t need the money.”

It’s worth noting that Kinder, Rothney and their JOP bandmates have had connections to the Savatage family for quite some time. They were in fact 4/5 of CIRCLE II CIRCLE for the band’s debut album, Watching In Silence, featuring ex-Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens. When their relationship with Stevens went sour, Oliva invited them to join him and record the music for what would become the Jon Oliva’s Pain debut, ‘Tage Mahal.

“Things between us and Zak and his management weren’t working, so we did the gentlemanly thing and walked away and that was it,” Rothney explains. “Jon realized there was a ready made band just sitting there doing nothing, which is why he brought us in.”
“He’d come and see us play local shows, and he was always complimenting us on our shows never knowing what was going to happen,” Kinder continues. “When Circle II Circle was all done for us and Jon was getting ready to do his solo record he asked us if we wanted to play on it. The funny thing is, I remember the day before we were supposed to go in and start the ‘Tage Mahal record, Jon and our engineer Greg came over to my house to listen to some stuff Kevin and I had recorded for one of the songs. Jon liked it and said it was going to be perfect, but when he reached the front door on the way out he turned around and said ‘Do you have a copy of anything you’ve recorded in a studio before?’ I told him not to worry, that I knew he was nervous, so I went and found him some stuff (laughs). We were nervous as fuck, though (laughs).”

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