With Trans-Siberian Orchestra, first the music is created with no artificial limitations, and then we seek out within the classical, rock, Broadway and R & B worlds, the very best singers and musicians to bring each song to life. This also in many ways forces us to operate on a higher level. This environment has the additional benefit of causing a cross pollenization of musical ideas, creating hybrid forms of music that normally never would have occurred, such as an R&B singer doing a classical style melody and bringing gospel touches to it that causes it to glitter in ways that even the creators could not have predicted. Another very important aspect in the creation of the band, is that there could be no limits on the members; we mix all races and ages.
We interview the man behind the guitar Al Pitrelli!
I just came to realize that Trans-Siberian Orchestra had a real cult following, but there are two different levels of fans. Fans who look deep into the meanings of the song and have followed each record knowing that there is a meaning to each song and those who hear the songs on the radio and buy it just to listen to the songs on a purely aesthetic level.
Music fans have listened and it will touch them—it’s all positive. There are the thinkers who read deep into it and that is what I did with Kansas and Led Zeppelin. Paul O’Neill painstakingly tries to intertwine things. I’m privy to it all and I don’t understand half of it. We have fans that come up and say this means this to them and I’m like ‘okay.’ But part of music is that you draw your own conclusions.
It is interesting that it’s wrapped around a holiday.
Rock operas, Jesus Christ Superstar is my favorite and I know that Paul is a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, or concept albums around the holiday are more poignant because people want something wonderful to latch onto—almost Capra-esque. It’s been a long year and there is a lot going on from the men and women overseas, a bipartisan country and now it is all behind us and we want something good to hold on too.
You said Capra and that sparks the word “tradition” and now Tran-Siberian Orchestra has become part of people’s tradition.
Who would have thunk? (We both laugh) As a musician or artist you hope somewhere in your career that lightening strikes—and not only has it struck but five records into it and sixth year touring it’s become a tradition. We have families returning every year and having a great time.
For people who haven’t made it a tradition, yet, what will they get at a live show?
The biggest rock show they’ve ever seen. That is a general overview. The front half is the Christmas songs and stories told with a narrator. The second half of the show is muzo stuff where we play some of the new music. The visual onslaught is unbelievable.
The first thing I thought when I heard The Lost Christmas Eve was your guitar playing because it seemed with this album you had a lot more freedom.
Paul and I have developed a pretty good relationship over the last ten years where he knows if he gives me a section of music that I’m going to come up with something pretty cool.
It’s a little off topic, but this album reminds of something that has been missing in rock—the dying art of the guitar solo.
Absolutely. Music changes. The focus on the guitar players changed around ’91. People had a darker tale they wanted to tell, but the drummers that came out of Seattle were fierce.
It is interesting to think about the fact that guitars aren’t a usual Christmas instrument—especially rock guitar—in Christmas songs.
Right. The songs are usually calmer. That is Paul’s genius. He told me years ago—as we were sitting around the table at his place in Queens New York—that we were going to take classical, rock, country, and smash it together and put some Christmas motifs in there and I though the was out of his mind. And it worked.
It’s not always easy to get people to accept new Christmas things—they love their nostalgia.
I know. Think of Nat King Cole’s “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” how long that has been around. If my grandson hears my songs and thinks I’m pretty cool then my job is done. But I’m not sure I’m ready to be nostalgia yet, but I’ll take it when it comes.
I know you tour with lots of different artists but it must be a completely different kind of experience with Trans-Siberian because the audience has to be all different ages.
It is. The first show we did was 1999 in Tower Theater in Philadelphia and the lights came up and I thought I was in the wrong theater. Your demographic is from 7 to 70. You’ve got these older gals in their hand crocheted sweaters and kids with Megadeth t-shirts. It was bizarre. That just means the power of the music reaches the people. People want to latch on to something cool and different.
When you were touring with Megadeth there was a rage—a type of energy. With Trans-Siberian it’s different. There is this nature of good cheer and holiday spirit.
Right and they want to be performed for not played at. They want us to entertain them. We feel like we are having a good time with 8,000 people and its low-key and they are in on it.
The name Trans-Siberian Orchestra is brilliant because it creates a mystic about the band that no one knows what to expect and it creates an atmosphere of excitement.
Remember when we were kids and the only time you could see your favorite band was in a magazine or a television show or a concert. There was no MTV so when they played a show that was your only chance. Trans-Siberian is even vaguer than that. It’s like some winter wonderland. For the first few years’ people thought we were from Siberia and coming from Sicily didn’t work well with my mother.
It’s similar to Kiss. You never know anything about them other than the songs. They didn’t seem real.
They didn’t. They were larger than life. We don’t try to come off as that, but when camp closes for the holiday it shuts down. I think that because we only come back at Christmas and aren’t around for the whole year people don’t think about it all year long and that adds to it.
It’s like a Pink Floyd album—there is something but you can’t put your finger on it. There is more than the name—there are songs that are deeper and gain more meaning over time.
A comparison to Pink Floyd is greatly appreciated because they are the masters and David Gilmour is one of my heroes. But what you are saying hit the nail on the head—when Pink Floyd comes around no one says anything but “we have to go.” The visual aspect is legendary and they’ve maintained their music integrity. U2 is another one.
It goes beyond the norm. It’s not something where you come home and explain what you saw; you only say “you have to go.”
You have to be in the building and see it for yourself.
Fans have been wondering if there will be more records or if the trilogy is the end.
There will always be more. Paul has a ton of music stuck in that crazy head of his. This completes the Christmas trilogy, but the new record that we are a third of the way through is called Night Castle. I think we’ll always make music. The only time we’ll stop making music is if it’s no good or we aren’t having fun anymore.
+ Charlie Craine