KAMELOT – From Eternity To Empire
September 2, 2020, 22 days ago
On February 11th, 2006 a young and hungry Kamelot descended on the Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo, Norway for a show that would become a live DVD, One Cold Winter's Night. It captured the band in all their glory on The Black Halo tour while hinting at the band's future potential, which has since been realized. Granted, vocalist Tommy Karevik has since replaced Roy Khan - definitely an unexpected turn of events - but that change didn't slow the band's momentum. In fact, Karevik brought his own shoes and hit the ground running with the Silverthorn record in 2012, making Kamelot his own from that point forward. The new live retrospective, I Am The Empire - Live From The 013, showcases the talent and hard work that has gone into making Kamelot one of the strongest live bands on the tour circuit today. The fans have their favourite singer and their favourite era of the band's 25 year career, but guitarist Thomas Youngblood feels Kamelot in 2020 is the strongest the band has ever been, making it the right time to commit the live show to film.
"We've been talking about doing a new live DVD for several years now, and I knew it was going to cost some money for the right production, to get the guests that I wanted for it. Luckily everything fell into place. We actually had a different date set for it and I think one of the guest singers wasn't able to make it, so we shifted everything. My goal was to show the growth of the band since the last DVD, and everything is different now so I wanted this one to be on a different level in terms of everything: production, sound, packaging. I don't think we even did a limited box set for One Cold Winter’s Night. I'm super proud of that DVD but this one definitely raises the bar."
"When we do shows in Holland they're sold out every time and the crowds are super strong there," he says of choosing Tilburg for the shoot. "There are other cities that are good to us - when we play New York City it gets pretty crazy - but the cool thing about the 013 - and people who have been there will tell you this - is that it has a 3,000 people capacity now but it still has an intimate feel to it. The stage is big so we're able to do a proper production. Maybe it was a little risky because we knew that if we were going to do the DVD we wanted the show to be sold out, but it sold out a couple months before the show which was awesome. In hindsight, I think doing it in Tilburg was the right choice. I think it was the right sized venue for this step in our career."
Youngblood is the sole remaining founding member of Kamelot and he certainly does not take the band's continued success for granted. He looks back on the past 25 years with pride, of course, but he knows that Kamelot didn't get this far on its own.
"It's definitely cool, no doubt about it. The success we've had is a combination of several factors; a lot of it is hard work, going with your gut instinct when making decisions, but it's also about having great people around you. That's something I'll never forget, having those people around me. Also, having a fanbase like no other. I think - and you know this - Kamelot fans are open-minded but they still demand certain things. They're very cool people in my opinion. When changes have had to be made, or there are songs that kind of challenge their tastes, the fans are pretty cool about accepting it or at least being constructively critical about it. It's been awesome, and to see the band continuing to grow in different countries is amazing. There is an ebb and flow there; when we go to South America it's bigger than it used to be, but there was a time when it dropped. Different markets come and go, but when you've been doing this for 25+ years there's going to be a generation of fans that does something different. But trust me, I'm very happy with the way things are going, and that's a testament to a lot of different factors."
Kamelot has been through a lot of changes since the 1995 release of their debut, Eternity. Even the passage of time between One Cold Winter's Night and I Am The Empire was marked with significant changes in personnel and sound. For Youngblood, Kamelot nowadays is a very different animal in comparison to the band's younger years.
"We gained a lot of new fans with Silverthorn, and that was eight years ago, so there are a lot of 'new' fans that don't really know the albums before Tommy joined the band. Then you have the older fans, and in a way it's kind of a treat for them because they get two different versions of a band they like. Picking Tommy to join Kamelot was definitely the right choice; not only is he an amazing singer, he's become a dominant and amazing frontman and he's also just a super good guy. At the end of the day this will all be over at some point, so this journey is all we'll have. We could sell millions of records but all that really matter is the memories, so it's important for me - at least it has been for the last several years - to surround myself with good people, with people that have positive energy. We have Alex (Landenburg) on drums now, and he's just the nicest guy in the world. His energy is infectious when it comes down to just hanging out with him. He's always upbeat; you can't be unhappy around that guy (laughs)."
As quick as Youngblood is to credit the people around him as major players in Kamelot's continued success, it's his vision that has always pushed the band forward. He had a very "hands on" approach to the development and production of the I Am The Empire live show and the resulting DVD.
"Basically, everything on the DVD was reviewed by me," he reveals. "I worked a lot with Tommy on the visuals and editing, but Jens (De Vos / Panda Productions) was the director and the head of the film crew. He did an amazing job. The first versions of the show that we had could have been released and nobody would have known the difference. I'm a little OCD so I would go back and change things, so we ended up with eight or nine versions (laughs). From Day 1, everything had to have my stamp of approval, but that goes right back to the first Kamelot album."
As mentioned, I Am The Empire features a number of guest vocalists: Lauren Hart (Once Human), Charlotte Wessels (Delain), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy). Guest appearances have become a Kamelot staple both on albums and live even though it was never part of the plan when Youngblood was getting the band off the ground.
"It started with The Fourth Legacy (1999), and back then I was totally into this new age music," says Youngblood. "Sascha (Paeth / producer) knew this girl from Iceland with an awesome voice (Rannveig Sif Sigurdardóttir), so we added her to the album to give it a new age spice (on 'A Sailorman's Hymn'). It just kinda went from there. I don't know if I was looking at other artists in the pop genre or whatever who were always collaborating. There wasn't a plan back then, but once we got to the Epica (2003) and The Black Halo (2005) albums it just seemed like a fun thing to do. And I always say that with each record, including the one we're working on now, it's not absolutely necessary to add a guest singer, but we like adding these roles to the albums. Somehow we end up expanding it every time (laughs)."
Having guest vocals isn't a necessity for the Kamelot sound, but it's fair to say a lot of fans expect some sort of collaboration from album to album, and on tour in particular given the material that exists to draw from.
"They probably do," Youngblood agrees. "I always like the idea of having a new guest on different tour cycles. When we went out with Alissa, I think she did two tour cycles with us, but I think that unless that person is part of the band it's important to change that up with each album. We'll see what happens with the next one. We're pretty deep into composing and right now I don't hear a spot, at least not for a female vocalist. We'll see how that goes."
As for the next Kamelot studio album, Youngblood says fans will be waiting for a while yet...
"The new album will be out next year, but the issue right now is travelling. Tommy lives in Canada now and we wanted to fly up to see him for some final songwriting sessions, but you can't fly into Canada from the US right now. And with the way the US has been handling the pandemic, we're not going to be able to fly to Europe for quite some time. We want to have the album done by the end of the year and then release it in summer 2021. We were originally going to release the album in February but it makes no sense to release an album if you can't tour on it, in my opinion. We're really, really happy with the new songs so I don't want to just throw them out there because of any obligations. The label is totally behind the logic of waiting, because I don't see any chance of touring the US until 2022."
In addition to a new studio album, Kamelot announced plans to release a book showcasing their career thus far. Fans have been invited to contribute photos to the project, but when asked about the status of the book Youngblood reveals it hasn't gone ahead as planned.
"That's a good question. We were approached by a publisher about doing a book, and it's a lot of work because we have to dig through old photos, they have to interview a hundred people, but honestly, I don't need to have a book for my ego. We went back and forth about it, but since all this COVID-19 stuff has happened I don't think people are really buying books like the one we would put out. I'm focusing on the album right now and promoting I Am The Empire, so we'll probably put the book on hold for at least a year. We'll revisit it later and decide if it's something we really want to invest time and energy into, because the most important thing you have as a person is time and how you spend it. If I spend time on anything it has to bring me joy. I think it could be really cathartic to do a book about Kamelot at some point, but I would do it about where and how I grew up, how everything started, all that kind of stuff. I don't know if I'm ready to do that right now."
Which begs the question: forced to look back to Kamelot's earliest days as a professional band, what does he think of the Eternity album 25 years later?
"(Laughs) It's funny you mention that; I was thinking about it the other day because I got a text message from Mark (Vanderbilt / original vocalist). Honestly, when I think about it, it's pretty cool because we were so young and naive and excited. I remember holding the CD in my hand and feeling like 'Wow, I made it!' (laughs). At the time that's what we thought, and we were just getting started. That was a magical time and I can never talk bad about it. When I listen to the songs and the composition, it's very naive, but there was something there that at least Noise Records could hear that was the genesis of what was to come. I'm proud of that album."
(Photos by: Tim Tronckoe)