INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS YOUNGBLOOD BY KELLEY SIMMS
Floridian power metal band Kamelot toured their ass off for almost a year and a half since the release of its 12th studio album, The Shadow Theory. Formed in 1991, the quintet—featuring guitarist Thomas Youngblood, keyboardist Oliver Palotai, bassist Sean Tibbetts, vocalist Tommy Karevik, and drummer Alex Landenburg—has consistently played its brand of fantastical power metal for over 28 years. With the release of I Am The Empire – Live from the 013 coming in August, Youngblood spoke to us about The Shadow Theory, on writing new music, Kamelot’s longevity in the music industry, and more.
Going on almost two years now, will Kamelot still be touring off The Shadow Theory album?
We’ve been touring since actually before The Shadow Theory came out, and that was in April of 2018. So, we’ve pretty much been touring non-stop since that album came out. We’ve been to Europe twice. We’ve done two North American tours. We’ve done Japan. We’ve winded down the whole tour cycle for this album. Then the whole process starts over again in 2021. We’re still technically on this album cycle, but it’s crazy because we’ve been able to do two full North American tours, including this recent one, and six Canadian shows, which we’ve never done in our history. So, we really feel like in terms of the album release and the traction we’ve gotten and everything that we’ve done has been really great for the band.
What have you been doing during this downtime?
Obviously, we’re going to start writing for the new album. That’s pretty much the number one thing. We finished up our live DVD, which was shot last year in Holland. It’s a massive endeavor that we have with special guests like Alissa White-Gluz [Arch Enemy] and Lauren Hart [Once Human]. We really pulled together pretty much all the all-stars from our previous tours to come for that one show. So, that took a lot of work, too, going over all the video footage and making sure the audio is nice and properly mixed. We wanted everything to be as perfect as possible for the fans because we’re really OCD about everything that we do in terms of the packaging for the fans. We want them to be 100 percent happy when they buy a Kamelot product.
“WE WANTED EVERYTHING TO BE AS PERFECT AS POSSIBLE FOR THE FANS”
Stefan Heilemann has done your last three album covers. Did you have to give him much direction for The Shadow Theory?
We’ll give him a rough idea of what we’re looking for, and then he’ll send me different models to pick for the cover. Then I’ll pick a model, he’ll do a photo shoot, and we’ll work from there. He’s been a great collaborator with the covers and he’s got great vision. He’s got a quirky, weird kind of way of looking at things, which we love. So, he’s been a great partner for us in terms of the artwork.
Speaking of all-star guests, singers Alissa White-Gluz and Lauren Hart appeared on The Shadow Theory. It feels like fans actually expect it or really enjoy that you have at least one guest vocalist on each Kamelot album.
We don’t think about expectations in terms of the guests. We’ve done it because it’s been a cool thing to do, to bring in friends of ours that we feel add a nice little spice to a particular song. I’d say when we do a concept record it definitely works great because you have roles to fill. We never go into the record like, “Hey, who are we going to get on this one?” We never go in with that mindset because the core of Kamelot is the five guys now, and we want to make sure that that is always maintained. That’s why we never hired a full-time female singer. I understand I’m sure some people expect it. We might have a male guest on the next record just like we did with The Black Halo. We had Shagrath [Dimmu Borgir]. But we might not have any guests. It just depends on the songwriting and the mood of the day. If a part pops up on a song and we’re like, “Hey, we really want someone else to do this part, let’s get so-and-so to do it.” And that’s how it’s always been. It’s been very organic, never really planned out. With the most recent record, The Shadow Theory, I met Lauren Hart when we did a gig with Iron Maiden in San Bernardino two years ago. And I was very impressed by her energy and her talent and everything, and that’s how that came about. And then we had some songs that I think Lauren would be great for, and she totally crushed it and she was able to do the whole tour cycle with us, which was really cool as well.
Since 2015’s Haven got really high marks and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s hard rock album chart, what was your mindset going into The Shadow Theory? Did you consciously think that you had to top it?
We’ve been doing this for a while, so we don’t really get caught up with expectations and pressure. We put the normal pressure on ourselves just to write the best record for the time that we have. The Shadow Theory was No. 3 on the hard rock charts, which is really awesome as well. If it was No. 1, it would have been great, but we were just happy with the final results from our artistic standpoint. There are so many variables when you release an album—it’s timing with other bands, it’s the record label and what kind of job they did with the promotion. There are so many variables that you really can’t do too much outside of just doing the best you can on the record. Our goal as artists is to make the best record that we can and let everyone else do their job. We were really happy with the results from The Shadow Theory. Haven was definitely one of the top records, but The Shadow Theory is not too far behind it right now.
“OUR GOAL AS ARTISTS IS TO MAKE THE BEST RECORD THAT WE CAN AND LET EVERYONE ELSE DO THEIR JOB.”
In the past, you have usually co-written everything with former vocalist Roy Kahn. But now that you have more writers in the band, does it take some pressure off you?
It does take some pressure off for me because we have our singer Tommy Karevik, who’s a really amazing songwriter. And Oliver Palotai, who has been our keyboard player since 2006, I believe, is now really one of the key songwriters. And then we’re working with Sasha [Paeth], our producer. The cool thing about what I think has happened is there’s been a style that’s been developed that has been songwriters outside of Kamelot that are able to pinpoint the sound and send ideas. It’s cool to work with guys like Bob Katsionis of Firewind for example. He’ll work on a song and know this is a very Kamelot-ish kind of riff or chorus and then he’ll send it to me. But the main dynamics now are definitely myself, Oliver the keyboard player, and Tommy the singer. It’s been really cool since Haven and The Shadow Theory to work with those two guys.
Speaking of Tommy, he’s been in the band since 2012 after Roy’s sudden departure and you’ve managed to forge ahead with the band.
We’ve never really looked back with any changes in the band. I’ve always been a very forward-thinking person. And that includes also the live show. We balanced the live set with mostly stuff from Tommy. Because the important thing to be relevant is to not be a parody of yourself, to not be a tribute band where you’re only playing songs from 20 years ago or whatever. We’ve been a very forward-thinking type of band, and for myself personally, I’m always thinking about the next step. And, of course, when you’re living in the moment, that’s also amazing, but you always have to think of what are we going to do next? And that’s an important aspect I think. Any kind of change, whether it’s a band or a business or whatever it might be, you really don’t want to rest on your laurels. You don’t want to have to always think about what you did before. It’s let’s start this one now and the future.
Kamelot formed in 1991, and you’re still going strong. Whenever you decide to retire, what do you want your fans to remember most about the band’s legacy?
As long as the band is still growing, which we are—the North American tour was our biggest in the history of the band—I don’t see any point in even maybe thinking about retiring because I still love doing what I’m doing. Everybody in the band now is so amped and psyched about what we’re doing musically and also the live show. It was so fun to be able to bring at least a part of the production that we’ve been able to do in Europe. And that’s something that we’re definitely looking forward to for North America, to amp up the production and get it even bigger. We’re not even thinking about retiring. I don’t really want to speculate.
“EVERYBODY IN THE BAND NOW IS SO AMPED AND PSYCHED ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING MUSICALLY AND ALSO THE LIVE SHOW.”
You mentioned earlier about writing a new album. How do you go about with the writing process?
Just having my phone around. I’ll have an idea in my head and I’ll hum a melody into my phone, into the recorder. Or if I’m in sound check and I have a riff, which happened on this tour quite a few times, I would record the riffs and then what I’ll do when it comes time to do songwriting, I’ll go through all of these different ideas that I’ve had. And then I’ll start working on ideas at my home studio. I’m probably going to fly to Germany later this year to work with Oliver on songwriting. So, I’ll pull up all these songs and ideas that I have and talk about whether they would work or not. Then we’ll just start putting it together. It’s all about inspiration. It’s not like I go into my office at 10:00 AM and work on songs until 3:00 PM. That’s not my style. My keyboard player Oliver, he’s totally like that. He’ll go in there and work on stuff just like clockwork. For me, I really have to be inspired in a certain way and be in the right mood to do it. Like on tour for example, the only time that I’m thinking about ideas for music is when I’m on sound check and I have my guitar in my hand. But when I’m not on the stage or doing sound check, I’m not thinking too much about songwriting because I just want to enjoy the tour without thinking too much about working on songs.
What are some of your future plans? What do you hope to achieve or accomplish next? Are there any outside the band projects going on?
We have our live DVD, that’ll be coming out very soon. I am in discussions with some different record labels about releasing my first ever solo record, which would include a lot of live personal friends as singers. I can’t say any names right now, but pretty much some really cool vocalists that I think the fans out there would love to hear. Other than that, we’re slowly working on ideas for the next album. So, it’s a good time.