Kamelot – VST Connected
By Eckhard Doll, July 17, 2015
May 2015 saw the release of Kamelot’s 11th studio album Haven. The US-based band was formed in 1991 and over the years became one of the major power/progressive metal bands worldwide.
In 2005, Oliver Palotai from Germany joined the band as the keyboardist. Being a long-time Cubase user, he introduced the band to the Steinberg world and suggested using VST Connect during the creation of Haven.
We had the chance to do this interview right after the end of the first leg of the Kamelot world tour.
Oliver, I hope the tour has been going well so far?
Yes, indeed. The US tour has been the most successful of our career. Actually, all of a sudden, the US market became our biggest one and we can go for another round in November this year. Haven charted the US Hardrock Billboard number 1 and we play venues much bigger than before. So, no complaints, haha.
As a classically trained musician who studied the piano and jazz guitar, what made you choose the metal genre as your musical focus in the first place? Was there some sort of key moment for you?
No, it was more or less the unforeseeable hand of fate, so to speak. I was still studying at the conservatory in Nuremberg when I got the message from a fellow student that I should contact the management of German metal singer Doro Pesch. They were searching for a guitarist and keyboardist for their upcoming tour. It was all about jazz and classical music for me at that time, but I still knew my rock and metal licks from my first band in the genre, which I had at the age of 15. So, next thing was a radical jump up from small jazz clubs to big stages.
When did Cubase cross your way for the first time, and what did you like about it back then?
Recording skills were obligatory in the last years of my studies and Cubase was the DAW the university used. That was in the year of 2000, so don't ask me which version it was exactly. I bought then the beginne's version, Cubasis, because I couldn't afford the pro version.
What made you stay with Cubase?
Let's say I am quite loyal to stuff that works. And Cubase always worked for me and it was the perfect medium to make my musical visions come to life. I had to work with different DAWs over the years when I worked in studios outside my place but I never got completely used to them. Another aspect is Steinberg being a German company, them having a big German forum and support.
Over the years you have been working with bands and musicians like Doro, Uli Jon Roth and Blaze and you had other side projects, too. Was it an easy decision to join Kamelot back in 2005 when they approached you?
To be honest, I didn't know their music before I joined. I was some kind of musical fire fighter at that time. When a guitarist or keyboardist was needed on short notice I could do the job because of my musical knowledge. But Kamelot fascinated me; they combined so many musical styles on a high level and great musicianship. So, when one big clash happened one December — all of my five (!) bands back then wanted to tour at the same time — I decided to go with Kamelot.
You have a very profound musical knowledge and you can play various instruments. Was this something Kamelot was looking for at that time specifically?
Different than in my other bands, the guitar or bass playing didn't play a role in the choice, at least not until I started songwriting for the band. But the keyboard parts needed some skills, so they were searching already for a while before they heard about me.
Could you describe your role in the recording process of a Kamelot album?
Nowadays I produce the demos to a pretty advanced point before I introduce the songs to the band — including guitar, bass and drums. I'd say about half of the demo keys and orchestration is used in the final production then. Like in my other productions I don't clearly make a difference between demo, recording and the mixing stage. I send the songs to our singer, Tommy Karevik, and we meet on VST Connect to work on the vocal lines and lyrics over some months. In Kamelot's case there is also another producer involved — Sascha Paeth. He re-arranges some stuff and asks for specific keys in the end. For the Special Edition I also mixed a lot of songs, all in Cubase.
Three band members live in the US and then there is your vocalist Tommy Karevik from Sweden and you residing in Germany which makes Kamelot a truly international band. I guess that this has changed the pre-production and recording process quite a bit over the years?
We still meet in person as well. Thomas Youngblood, our guitarist, comes over to my place to work on songs and vice versa. Tommy comes to Germany, also the Gate Studios in Wolfsburg. But a lot is exchanged via the Internet.
For Haven you made use of our remote recording solution VST Connect. Could you share some of your experiences when using this tool?
I started using it early on because I was fascinated by the idea. It worked well in many productions. One thing I've learned now, though, is to always have an initial session with my clients to solve technical problems. Sometimes looking for why there is no sound coming through can take hours and it kills creativity. So I always go for a setup session. Point is, I usually deal with musicians which haven't got the slightest clue about recording, software and hardware. One of the most unique questions I got when telling them to buy an audio interface first up was “OK, where can I download it?” So, the bugs I have to kill before being able to work is often something silly on the client's side, especially handling the hardware.
The Haven tour will continue with its second leg in Europe in the second half of this year and will continue at least until the end of the year. Is there any time on tour to come up with new song ideas? Do you have some sort of a mobile recording setup on the road?
I tried that for a while but now I no longer do any production work on the road. Reason is that it is still so limited and clumsy to work on a tour bus or backstage. I just don't like it. There is not enough room, it is too loud or crowded, I never can pack all my libraries on my laptop, stuff gets stolen when you are on stage or doing sound check, etc. I still have a Steinberg UR22 with me because I run my keys via the laptop when I can't bring my workstations to gigs like Australia or South America, but I keep my productions at home.
Is Cubase part of your stage setup?
It will be now, for the first time, but not for Kamelot. I composed the music and produced the CD for a big theater piece, all soundtrack and orchestral stuff. I will also perform live, improvising along the actors. For that I use Cubase Pro 8, combining audio loops with VST instruments.
Do you have any plans for other projects in the foreseeable future?
Many. I usually have 5-6 productions at the same time. I am in the lucky position to be booked well. Whole band productions, soundtrack and orchestration, notation for symphonic orchestras and mixing. Sounds ironic, but I love studio work and I don't fancy the life on the road very much. I work with Cubase 8-10 hours a day at home, doing everything except notation with it.
Oliver, thank you very much for your time and all the best for the upcoming shows!