Kamelot interview (11/2007)

With: Oliver Palotai [Keyboards]
Conducted by: GRIGAL (in person)
Published: 14.11.2007

Band profile:



His curriculum looks like pages ripped out of a Metal encyclopedia, having played with Uli Jon Roth, Blaze Bayley, Circle II Circle, Doro and recently joining the ranks of Prog Metal kings Kamelot. Impressive? Sure is, but it doesn't stop there. The chap in question has also won numerous plaudits for his endeavours in Classical music and Jazz. He is academically qualified in composition, music production and arrangement besides having a diploma in music teaching. Going through his list of qualifications becomes tedious, such is its length!

But in reality what makes this person tick? How does he relate to the various music genres? Are there any other hidden aces hidden up his sleeve? These are only a few of the mysteries I tried to unravel when interviewing Mr Oliver Palotai.........


Chris: While currently enjoying a wave of widespread acclaim touring with Kamelot, recent opus "Ghost Opera" is only the first studio-album Oliver has recorded with this band. He really seems to have fit in well with Khan (vox), Thomas Youngblood (guitars), Glenn Barry (bass) and Casey Grillo (drums). But before its actual recording, did the band have a clear vision of how this album should sound like?

Oliver: Before you start with the songwriting you might have some idea of how you want the album to sound like but it is when you actually start writing the songs that everything slowly begins to fall into shape. It's not possible to say exactly what's going to happen before this process but there is some kind of vision, certainly.

Chris: Do you think that the fact that Kamelot wanted to use orchestral elements in "Ghost Opera" had a bearing on the band's decision to recruit you, considering your experience in working with orchestras?

O.: To play the music of Kamelot you do need some necessary skills. Also, Kamelot's music is on a quite high technical level, especially regarding keyboards. So it's probably not possible for every keyboardist to play this stuff. In this sense my university education in Classical and Jazz comes helpful.

C.: Does Kamelot have any plans to carry an actual orchestra on tour?

O.: It would be great but the problem lies in the costs involved. Actually I did that once with Doro, my other band, but it's so hard to finance. I hope this shall happen one day [with Kamelot] but I'm not sure about it right now.

C.: I'm interested in your views on the recent 'The Human Stain' video-clip. Wasn't it awkward to mime in front of a large green screen?

O.: I had already done that a couple of times before. It is actually weird but it's great to later see the same movements you would have done but suddenly there's all that background coming up and you're on a street or in a graveyard or on top of a mountain. It's a great technique for videos.

C.: What do you like most about "Ghost Opera"?

O.: I think the mood of the whole album is a bit different from the previous albums. It's a little bit darker and it's quite heavy and that's what I like about it.

C.: Earlier on you made reference to technique - well in my opinion the greatest virtue of Kamelot is the band's ability to create that ideal balance between technique and songwriting focus. Too often we hear Prog Metal bands use excessive technique at the expense of the actual song.
Is the former a conscious effort from Kamelot?

O.: Absolutely. I also totally agree with you on what you are saying. Neither do I like this tendency to show off one's technical skills, playing fast all the time, playing too complicated. It's not so difficult to use all this technique if you're an experienced musician but to put those skills into a cool song that can be appreciated even by people who are not musicians [is the challenge]. And that's what I like about Kamelot.


C: Oliver was surrounded by music from a very early age. Although his father is from Budapest, Hungary, he was brought up in the southern part of Germany, where his family still lives. It was in fact his parents who triggered his love for music and encouraged him to play the piano, as he himself admits.

O.: It was they who started my education in music when I was four and when I was seven they provided me with piano lessons.

C.: How do you think the music theory you had learnt helped you with Kamelot?

O.: Well, I learned music theory much later, about 12 years after I had started learning the piano. I went through all those composers - Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and others - and later through the Jazz greats. The theory is actually just a little part of the whole music training I had.

C.: From a composer's point of view, how different is adapting orchestrations (such what you did in Doro's "Classic Diamonds") and creating orchestrations from scratch (such as in "Ghost Opera")?

O.: It's easier to do it if the song doesn't already exist. When I had a song which I then had to orchestrate, for me that was a bigger challenge. It's hard to explain why but if there's a song structure already existing which you have to follow exactly in aspects like chord progressions, then you're not so free to do what you want to do. You're more limited.

C.: I think you did a very good job of the orchestrations with Doro.

O.: Thank you.

C.: You've also won a number of awards for your Jazz-related activities. Are awards effective motivations for you to produce good music?

O.: Well it's hard to say what awards really mean also because they reflect the opinions of only a few people. Obviously I was proud back then, but it's more important for me to stand every night on a stage and see the crowd having fun. That's more important than any award, believe me.

C.: In my opinion orchestras represent a great potential for Metal because of their ability to expand Metal's richness. But don't you think orcherstras bring extra risks into the equation since they increase the complexity of a song which thus becomes more difficult to control?

O.: In a way it's hard not to exaggerate. However you should use the orchestra and all the samples and sounds so that they support the song and not the other way round.

C.: You also play guitar. Which came first, guitar or piano? What were the circumstances that led you to pick up the guitar?

O.: First it was the piano. I started playing guitar in my first band when I was 15. Also, in my other band, Doro, I play both keyboard and guitar. That was always very helpful. I like the guitar although I might be more flexible on a piano because it's the composer's instrument - always. After all , all the great composers were piano players. But I love the guitar, because it's closer to the human voice.

C.: Would you describe Progressive Metal as the thinking metaller's music?

O.: You have much more freedom in Progressive Metal because the fans accept much more experimentations and ideas. You are not so bound to a certain style - you can be more creative and more free and that's what I love about it.

C.: Do you think Metal is more structured than Jazz?

O.: No, not al all. 'Jazz' is like 'Classical' music - just a name for a genre. There's Be Bop, there's Cool Jazz, there's Free Jazz.....and it's totally different. There's some Jazz which is as structured as Classical music. Jazz is not as free as many people might think. [grins cautiously]

C.: I think a person like you has the ideal credentials to compose a film-score. Might this ever be part of your plans?

O.: I would obviously want to do it but a little later because at the moment I'm super busy......

C.: In fact I honestly don't know how you cope with all your bands and projects!

O.: [shrugs] Yeah, sometimes I don't know either! You know, I'm actually working on a requiem - a Transylvanian Requiem - with the bass player of Leaves Eyes [band of ex-Theatre Of Tragedy vox Liv Kristine]. He's Romanian and I'm Hungarian, so we thought of exploring that music a little bit.

C.: That sounds really very interesting. Would the music be connected to Rock or Metal?

O.: It will be connected to Metal but with a lot of Classical compositions involved.


Having played with so many influential Metal bands puts Oliver right in the midst of a scene in a position where he's inclined to be at the forefront of this scene's evolvement. It also makes him a sought after personality for the nosey journalist (ahem!). Thankfully he's very much willing to answer my questions on the bands he's been involved with, besides Kamelot.....

C.: At 20 years of age you replaced Don Airey (ex-Ozzy, ex-Rainbow, ex-Judas Priest, ex-Whitesnake) as keyboardist of Uli Jon Roth's (ex-Scorpions) band in a line-up that had also featured Michael Schenker (MSG, ex-UFO, ex-Scorpions) on the other guitar. What were your feelings then?

O.: That was the American (U.S.A.) tour with Uli Jon Roth. Uli is an unimaginably [stresses this word] good musician. He's maybe the best musiucian I've ever worked with. I use the following term very rarely but I really think he's a 'genius'. There are not many musicians about whom I can say this although they may be very good players. Uli is so uncommercial and I don't know if that is his mistake. But he's really fantastic.

C.: Do you think the music is intentionally uncommercial?

O.: I think Uli would probably like to reach the masses a little bit more but he thinks too sophisticatedly and in a too advanced way. He's a great Blues player and he's a good Classical player and there are [only] few players out there who can boast that. And it was a total challenge to share a stage with him.

C.: Talking of Blues guitarists, I believe you had also played with another great Blues player - Scott Henderson.

O.: Oh no. No, that was a workshop. Hey, I'd love to play with him but that might still take some years of practice. [laughs]

C.: I had seen Scott Henderson perform a Blues/Jazz gig at the annual Malta Jazz Festival and he was really amazing.

O.: Yeah, he's really mind-blowing. I love Tribal Tech, his band.

C.: What was it like to work with (ex-Iron Maiden, ex-Wolfsbane vox) Blaze Bayley?

O.: It was a very nice time. When I entered the band everything was falling apart and the commercial success was not really there. So we had slowly started rebuilding the band. Unfortunately just before I and the whole band left Blaze, some really bad decisions were made.

[The acrimonious split Oliver refers to had allegedly been due to unpopular strategies taken by a then newly enlisted management.]

It was unfortunate because we were really close to recording a new album when everything broke down. I still feel sorry about that.

C.: In my opinion, from all the bands you have played with, Circle II Circle [the band formed by ex-Savatage vocalist Zack Stevens] were the closest in style to Kamelot. So was this experience useful when you later joined with Kamelot?

O.: Well I don't think that was the same style as Kamelot's. So I cannot really say it helped in any way as Circle II Circle was different.

C.: Recently I discovered that you're working ona solo project called 'Sons Of Seasons'. I admit I've never heard this band so I'd like you to describe the music.....

O.: It's really funny that you're asking me because I thought that nobody could yet know about the band - suddenly I started reading in some magazines about it.

We will be going into a recording studio in November. It's not just a solo project, it's a real band but it's based only on my own compositions. There's not much to say at this point but the style is also Progressive Metal with some psychedelic influences from the 1970s - which I love. There's also going to be a lot of orchestrations and a lot of musicianship involved but without being too progressive as it's focused on song-writing.


C.: Ok, and now for a straightforward question. Could you recommend to the readers of MetalStorm your personal Prog Metal faves?

O.: [after a long pause for reflection] Well.....it's hard to answer but maybe some of the Kamelot albums, which I liked before I had even joined the band. I also totally love Opeth. I like the new Symphony X album [ĄParadise Lost"] - it has a really good production and good playing.

C.: Is there anything we've not mentioned that you'd like to add?

O.: I hope things go on as they are now because I'm having a lot of fun. I'm certainly grateful to all those who come to our concerts and to our staff. I know this is said so often but I honestly tell them all: "Thank you for your support! All of you!!"



Comments: 5   Visited by: 134 users
17.11.2007 - 05:28
Account deleted
Good interview.
17.11.2007 - 13:03
Nice interview with an interesting musician...he sounds like one hell of multi-talent.

Dreams are made so we don't get bored when we sleep
18.11.2007 - 00:25
I R Serious Cat
Nice interview indeed, very complete, it touches many fields. Really nice interview Grigal.
"Nobody wants to be the weird kid, you just end up being the weird kid. You don't know how you ended up getting there" - Rob Zombie

http://jonas-bs.deviantart.com My dA, mainly photography, go check it out!
09.12.2007 - 18:09
Such an amazing composer, improvisor and keyboardist.

I look forward to hearing him soso when I see Kamelot next year
!WARNING! May talk shit !WARNING!
25.06.2008 - 23:16
Account deleted
Nice interview. Kamelot definitely have a unique sound.

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