Thomas Youngblood of Kamelot

by Greg Prato

You have to give the lads in Kamelot credit - when they first appeared on the scene, with 1995's Eternity, heavy metal was at a low point in popularity and as a chart presence, and prog metal was possibly at an even lower point.

But that didn't stop guitarist Thomas Youngblood and company from following their preferred stylistic path, sticking it out through eleven studio albums including Haven, their 2015 set that has gone on to become one of their most successful.

Youngblood spoke with Songfacts shortly before the release of the album. He was up for discussing the band's far-flung collaborations, the stories behind some of Kamelot's most renowned compositions, and how he describes their sound.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's discuss the new Kamelot album, Haven.

Thomas Youngblood: We started with the songwriting pretty similar to the previous record, Silverthorn - we had our own ideas that we were working on at home, and then I flew to Germany in the summer of last year to work with our keyboard player [Oliver Palotai], to start putting these ideas down as songs.

We probably had about seven or eight songs done through those sessions in the summer, and then we sent all the musical ideas to the singer [Tommy Karevik], to start working on vocals and melodies and lyrics. And then he could go work with our producer [Sascha Paeth] in Germany, and finalize all those parts. That's pretty much the way the songs were written. We recorded in different studios, including Tampa, Florida; Stockholm, Sweden; and Stutgart, Germany. A lot of different studios, a lot of long nights, but in the end, we're really happy with the product.

We would send mp3's of demos to Karevik in Sweden, and also, our keyboard player and him worked together via a program that's kind of like Skype but it's for musicians, because you can record audio from the singer in Sweden to the keyboard player in Germany. So it's a new technology that I think will definitely help in the future, without having to fly all over the world to do the songwriting.

Songfacts: Do you prefer the whole band to be in one place to collaborate on songs, or at this point, it doesn't matter due to modern technology?

Thomas: For me, there's no substitute for sitting in the room together and bouncing ideas back and forth. I will probably always want to do that. And to some extent, we probably will always do that. Of course, people's time gets smaller and smaller, since we're touring a lot and everybody's got families. Your personal time gets a little bit more crushed.

But the initial songwriting for me always has to be getting together in the same room, bouncing ideas back and forth. That's the way we've always done it, from day one. The little things, like maybe an idea I come up with after I get home, I'll send it over - that's easy to just discuss over the phone. But the initial creation, I think it's really important to be together.

Songfacts: As far as writing lyrics for the band, do you have any input?

Thomas: I go over all the lyrics with the singer, who's basically been writing all the lyrics. But we discuss what each song is going to be about. For me, it's really important that the lyrics have a certain "moral compass," so to speak. I don't want to have any kind of lyrics that borderline on things like suicide and stuff like that. For the most part, we discuss all the songs' subjects and the lyrical content, but Tommy, the singer, he's writing the lyrics. And so far, there's never been any issues. Sometimes there's some grammar stuff, but being from Sweden, he probably speaks English better than half of the Americans I know! So it's not really a problem.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind the song "Veil of Elysium"?

Thomas: It was based on this whole idea of afterlife - most religions believe there is some kind of afterlife. Me, personally, I think when you die, you're gone. But there's always that hope that when you do pass, you're going to see grandma or your favorite dog or whatever.

But that's kind of the inspiration. And the whole album has this dystopian theme that we wanted to paint, and really portray the dark and light parts of life.

And also, the way the world is turning right now in terms of technology, I think we're losing a lot of our personal freedoms. This whole "big brother" thing. People share their information online without even thinking twice about it. So there's some of those elements within the album. But at the same time, we also wanted to have songs that are uplifting, so when you listen to the whole record, at the end of it, you hopefully feel better than you did before you listened to it.

Songfacts: "My Confession"?

Thomas: That was from the Silverthorn album. That whole album is a pure concept of two brothers and a family, and basically the brother confessing that he was responsible for the death of his sister. That's where that song comes from.

Concept albums and heavy metal have crossed paths several times over the years, with varying results. The most celebrated of the bunch are Rush's 2112 (from 1976) and Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime (from 1988) - both of which served as each band's commercial breakthrough at the time.

One of the more underrated conceptual metal albums is Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (also from 1988), which was the last studio album from the band to feature the classic Dickinson-Murray-Smith-Harris-McBrain lineup, until reuniting for Brave New World in 2000, with Janick Gers in tow.

A notable misfire is the 1981 Kiss album Music from "The Elder", the poorest-selling of the band's albums up to that point.
Songfacts: "Ghost Opera"?

Thomas: That one I remember distinctly, because it was an idea I came up with of this opera singer that was really working hard to become famous. And on her way to her debut, she was assaulted by a bunch of thugs. So her debut never happened. So as an old lady, she is kind of reminiscing. And that's part of the video - of what that night "might have been."

Songfacts: "Love You to Death"?

Thomas: That was a song about a young couple - a teenaged couple - that were totally in love, and the young girl got this disease, and they vowed that they would love each other into the afterlife.

All of the songs you picked have a little bit of a dark element to them! But part of what we do is a little bit of that play on the dark stuff, but with a lot of melody.

We have a song on the new record called "Beautiful Apocalypse," and I think that's a good description of some of the songs for Kamelot. Because we try to mix some of these beautiful melodies, but sometimes, with dark elements.

Songfacts: Over the years, it seems like reviewers have described Kamelot's music as either "prog metal" or "symphonic metal." Which description do you prefer?

Thomas: For me, I don't really look at it as one or the other. I think it's a total mixture of progressive, symphonic, rock, power metal... there's so many different things that we blend into what we do, that I would hope that we never really fit into any of those categories completely.

I would say we're probably closer to symphonic metal, but those kind of tags - I know they're important, but it's important that we're free to do what we want. And I think that's pretty cool with our fans, that they expect weird things here and there throughout our albums. I think that's one of the cool things about being in this band - having that freedom.

Songfacts: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?

Thomas: I was a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan when I was a little kid - my mom had their records. I loved Queen, Freddie Mercury. For musical composition, I love Hans Zimmer. Those guys have always been big influences on me. I would say those are my tops right there.

June 5, 2015
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Comments: 1

  • Dave from Greer, ScI love Kamelot, especially The Haunting (Somewhere In Time).

    They were the band that turned me on to "symphonic metal" which became my favorite music genre and still is to this day.

    Kamelot stands out to me from other symphonic metal bands because of their dark themes and the amazing "guitar-symphony" relationship that no other band seems to have figured out yet.
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