Oliver Palotai, keyboardist of Kamelot and sole composer of progressive power metal band Sons of Seasons is quickly becoming a powerful force in the metal community. With experience as a session musician, a full time member of Kamelot, and a career behind the sound board as a producer in many up and coming heavy metal acts, chances are most have heard something his multifaceted skill set has had a hand in. Palotai has taken the time out of his busy schedule to speak with Powerline AD. Thanks!
First off, tell us a little about your technical musical background. Are you self taught or do you have classic musical training?
Oliver Palotai: My parents put me into early music education, playing the alto flute and the recorder. Classical piano lessons I received from seven on. When I was thirteen, I was lucky to find a teacher who taught me Blues & Jazz – improvised music – and that changed a lot for me. My first band I started with about fifteen, that’s when I picked up the guitar, too. The next ten years I was more interested in Jazz and Classical music than Rock music, studying at music universities in Zürich, Nürnberg and München. Still studying, during my fifth semester, I received a call from Doro Pesch and joined her band. That was the unintentional beginning of my Metal career.
You have been involved in music for some time before joining Kamelot. Tell us about your work with Doro and Uli Roth. How does working with these artists compare with working with Kamelot and your own project Sons of Seasons?
Palotai: Every artist is very different, their approach to music, their way of organizing things. Doro is definitely a child of the 80s, her way of approaching music is purely emotional. Which made it difficult sometimes to communicate, because music always has to be emotional in the end, but it helps to see things from a theoretical point of view when you look for solutions. We were sometimes debating about chords or arrangements in the rehearsal room for half an hour, while we could have finished in two minutes if everybody would have had an insight in theory. On the other hand I learned a lot from her and her band during the first two, three years – just how to play a straight rock beat with balls. Uli Jon Roth is a fantastic guitarist, and his whole way of playing his all about the 70ties and Hendrix. On stage he sometimes changes arrangements spontaneously, and is improvising a lot. Also a great school I went through! Kamelot and Sons Of Seasons are easy compared to those, just because every musician has about the same background, and it is easy to communicate.
Tell us how you wound up joining Kamelot. How has this been, joining an established and very busy metal band of their stature? They have a very rabid, loyal fan base, how was it filling the shoes of your predecessor? What role do you have in the music composition process, given that they have an established sound?
Palotai: Kamelot never had a keyboarder before myself who was a real band member; just hired musicians. So, no real shoes there! The whole touring business I knew from Doro, Blaze, CircleIICircle etc. well enough. But Kamelot’s sound I considered quite specific and delicate right from the start. They offered to me to participate in the songwriting process at a very early point, but I didn’t try before Poetry For The Poisoned. In the future there should be more, since it worked out well.
You have your own project Sons of Seasons. This is your brainchild, are you responsible for all or the majority of the writing process? Your debut album was remarkably mature and focused, pretty uncommon for a sound that is so grand in scale as yours. Was this difficult to achieve? How was working with Simone Simons? Does your personal relationship with her help the writing process?
Palotai: Both on Gods Of Vermin and Magnisphyricon there are songs I write alone. Reason is not some kind of ego- trip, but a specific compositional process where I don’t work in layers – guitars first, then keys, then vocals or similar – but approach the music as a unity. Other songs are based on some great riffs of our new guitarist Pepe Pierez, while about half of the vocal melodies come from Henning Basse. And I see the drum arrangements of Daniel Schild and Jürgen Steinmetz’ bass lines as part of the song writing process, too, even if they get programmed ideas before. The writing comes natural for me; I work pretty conservative, getting up early and composing until late. And out comes something that always has my personal touch, which happens subconsciously. With Simone it is always easy to work. As a producer I try to get the best out of her, which is not difficult considering her talent and vocal skills.
Your new album Magnisphyricon is absolutely enormous in composition. How did you approach writing this release, and how does it compare to your debut? Did you achieve what you wanted to in the studio within the context of your resources? The chorus on Soul Symmetry is staggeringly good, do you have any songs you are particularly proud of? The reception of Magnisphyricon has been nothing less than stellar, how do you feel about that?
Palotai: The writing was much more determined this time, knowing which line- up I was writing for. Also, after a long European tour and many gigs and festivals we grew as a band and friends. Since we are with a smaller label, our budget was again very limited, but we could handle it better this time. We had to improve our producing and recording skills greatly during the production of ‘Gods Of Vermin’, and naturally made some mistakes. So things went much smoother this time, given the experience. I wish I could pick a specific favorite song; I don’t want to praise ourselves, but I think the quality of the songs is very consistent. Right now I like ‘1413’ a lot, but that might change in a few days. And yes, the reviews are fantastic. There will be no chance to exceed that with the third record, haha.
You also have a different role in the industry as a producer. Tell us about your other tasks.
Palotai: I produce other bands and solo artists. Sometimes that means I am involved as song writer, arranger, studio musician and mixing engineer at the same time. For example, I have some young bands with great song ideas, who don’t know how to make their stuff presentable to the labels. So, I try to get the best out of it, and I avoid to put too much of my own sound into it. A lot of bands have the problem that they secretly want to be another, already existing famous band – after listening a minute you know already they try to copy band x or y. Whenever I find something unique on their demo tapes, we talk about it, go back to songwriting and shape their own sound. I also orchestrate for bands, provide them with orchestral arrangements.
How does it look on a live front? Any chance Sons of Seasons will make it overseas any time soon? Any thoughts on the immediate future of the band? Any other projects in the works?
Palotai: We’re just touring Europe. I am especially looking forward to the double- headliner tour with MaYan after the tour with Kamelot. MaYan is a brand new side project of Epica’s mastermind Mark Jansen, cool and complex stuff. It will be a killer package! And, yes and again yes, I want to come over with Sons Of Seasons to the US and also Latin America as soon as possible. And I hate to say that it always a question of budget. But right now we’re growing fast, so I hope it happens within the next few years.
Thanks much for your time, any last words/thoughts for the fans?
Palotai: Always my main advice: Don’t think in categories, kick the mainstream in the balls, have your ears and brains open for new things.
Interview by Marc Garrison