Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Conversation with Peter Shaw

Many may know Peter Shaw from his featured acting roles in motion pictures such as Hannibal and Practical Magic, but eventually Peter turned his attention to singing and his dreams of performing for thousands of fans. A chance encounter led to his stint as a featured vocalist with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for four years, just as they were hitting their peak and playing arenas. After performing in front of arena-sized audiences across the U.S. with TSO, Peter started working earnestly on his craft, creating his own music. This year, Peter became the first vocalist from TSO's ranks to hit the radio on his own, as his song "Eyes Open Wide" has hit the airwaves in the USA and has been charting worldwide. With his ever-present sidekick Leo (Peter's very friendly female pit bull terrier), Peter and I discuss the ups and downs of touring with TSO, the realities of the music business today, and his exciting new solo EP More Alive.

Dan Roth:  Your first tour as a featured vocalist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra was in 2005. How did you connect with them?
Peter Shaw:  At the time, I was doing sales for Hilton...doing real well, making six figures. I was working out at the Reebok Gym here in New York one day and I met [TSO Talent Scout] Dina Fanai. Dina asked me to sing something for her and to sing as if I was signing at Madison Square Garden. So I jumped on a bench press and began [sings Queen's "Somebody to Love"]. I did the entire song standing on this bench press. Dina looked at me and said, "You're going to sing with TSO this year."

DR:  Did you know who TSO were?

PS:  I knew who they were; I had seen them on the Today Show and Regis And Kelly
. I knew the one song that was really popular - that year Miller Lite Beer had used Wizards in Winter for their commercial. I remember thinking that they didn't have any singers and wondering what they needed a vocalist for.

So they got this great corporate tie-in and now they had to write a hit song to follow this up. And - write a hit song that was rock, not Christmassy. Not "old rock" either, I am not sure how much listeners follow "old rock" anymore. Generations are changing, tastes are changing - you have got to keep up with the generations. TSO are trying to bring younger singers in, but the younger singers aren't going to do it - it's the song and the sound of the music that makes all the difference.

DR:  Did you still go through an audition process?

PS:  Yes. I met Paul O'Neill at SIR three times. I sang both of the Angel songs (An Angel Came Down, An Angel Returned), Prince of Peace, and Christmas Nights in Blue. 

I also sang Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll, because he was looking for somebody to sing that during their shows. I didn't understand why they would be doing that anyway, when they had their own songs to sing. I sat down with Paul once and we talked about it - he said they like to throw in a classic cover song each year, so I suggested that they do a Tina Turner hit song and he added her Proud Mary one year.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Chicago, December 2005
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

DR:  Andrew Ross has mentioned that when he was hired to sing the Angel songs for the West Coast touring group of TSO, he was given soundboard tapes of you singing for him to learn the songs. Did you listen to any of the previous vocalists that did these songs for inspiration?

PS:  They gave me tracks with Paul singing on them. They also gave me a video, which I didn't watch. I don't like watching other singer's performances because then my performance inevitably becomes theirs. I wanted to try to do something a little bit different, but it's hard with his songs. But I did open my voice up a bit and I became Elvis. I listened to Elvis Presley a lot in the beginning of those tours and then I came out on stage and struck the pose by putting my left foot forward and doing that Elvis hand gesture. I literally became Elvis for those couple of songs. That was it. I would reach out, like Elvis would do. Not too much - they wanted it done much more elaborate. 

Those two songs didn't use my real vocal range. I have a huge range - I can sing soft and beautiful but also scream like Freddie Mercury and Roger Daltrey. The songs were low in my register, and when you sing your voice gets accustomed to singing in that range. I would have to take a whole month off after the tours to let my voice pop back up.

DR:  Did you get a lot of direction from Paul in how he wanted the songs presented?

PS:  Not a lot, because with my Elvis stances I was already doing something that he and Dina liked. The only real direction I would get was not to touch the microphone. That meant just stand there and sing it without really moving. But it was powerful that way I suppose. In my first rehearsals 
I was new and a little scared that I wasn't doing what Paul wanted. They would give me these frivolous notes that was really just Paul trying to micro-manage every moment and movement on stage. Jon Oliva would always come up and tell me how impressed he was with me - Oliva and I got along great.

DR:  How was your take on those two Angel songs different from others who have sung it?

PS:  Rob Evan sings it big, almost like an Ethel Merman kind of thing, very theatrical. I knew I did not want to sing it like that. If Elvis were to sing a lullaby with a pointed voice, that's how I did mine. It was so low though that it hurt my larynx. I sang it as Elvis as I could, totally different from how Rob Evan sang it. I think that's why they gave tapes of my performances to Andrew Ross when he was hired to do the songs on the West Coast tour - the way I sang it fit the song better.

DR:  In a live setting, TSO performs their songs much slower than they were originally recorded for their albums.

PS:  Yes they are! It killed all of us. I remember Chris Caffery once remarking to me how he was getting gray hair from doing the songs at that tempo. Paul slowed those songs down to almost nothing. The click track was like [snaps fingers very slowly] - all just to drag the show out for three hours. These guys all had to play solos through that and extend it; it's tough for the band. If the band could do the show, they would do it in an hour, hour and half and be off the stage. The songs wouldn't have to be five or six minutes long. Why O'Neil doesn't let them play it the way they should be played and let the show be over by 10:00 so the fans can get home at a decent hour is beyond me. I would just let the band run with it.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Photo Courtesy of James Marvin Phelps

DR:  Paul has mentioned that he slows them down so fans can really hear the lyrics and follow the story.

PS:  I hear the lyrics and understand them when I hear Steve Perry or Steven Tyler sing, and their songs are flying. Please, don't give me that shit. The band doesn't want to play that slow. We had Roger Daltrey guest with us, and when he came in for the rehearsals, he immediately told the band, "It's got to be faster. You're playing it too slow!". Paul started telling Roger Daltrey how his song needed to be slower. Roger was pissed. Roger is a rock star - you have him on stage, you play it the way he wants it.

Paul wants to be a rock star, but he can't be. Paul can write hit musicals, but he can't sing and he can't write a successful pop song. Nice guy and generous to a fault, but everyone needs to know their limitations. He is a successful multi-millionaire that had a lot of success with hiring talent and building this show. It will probably go into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame someday as a specialty act. That's an accolade that I am sure Paul would love to attain. Paul always would say, "We've got 32 buses and 36 trucks and we're bigger than Pink Floyd right now by 2 and half trucks." He would say this stuff on the bus. He would tell us, "Great show! I want you to know that we are as big as a Pink Floyd show." He would always compare himself to the legends. 

I do that too though; the only way to grow and become a legend like that is to dream that. Won't that be funny - my name will be on a plaque someday in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for fronting this band for three years.

DR:  I understand that you were the singer on The Who songs that Roger was planning on singing as you and the TSO band rehearsed them in the weeks leading up to his guest appearance.

PS:  Yes! Because I was the only singer in the band that could sing like that. I did "See Me Feel Me", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Pinball Wizard" and I ran the band through the tracks for a few weeks. Roger came up to me and paid me the ultimate compliment - he told me "Keep on singing, man. Your voice is incredible. You do these songs better than me!". That was great to hear, but I told him, "I don't sing them better than you, but I want your songs to live on and on. You and Pete and The Who really did something special with those songs and changed lives with them."

DR:  In your three tours with them, did you ever have the opportunity to fill in and sing one of the other songs in the show?

PS:  No, everybody was always ready and I never had to step in. I could have done any of the songs though, as I learned them all.  I did however once have Jay Pierce step in for me, though I didn't know it at the time, as I missed my cue. We were playing at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, and that arena is buried in the earth - the sound does not travel outside of the stage. When the doors shut, you hear nothing.  I was in the dressing room getting ready, and normally you can hear the band from down the hall. I kept sticking my head out the door and didn't hear anything. I finally walked down the hall and Jay was halfway through "An Angel Came Down"!  I was like, "My God, I missed my cue!".  Bob Kinkel and Mee Eun Kim missed their cues for the start of the second half of the show also in that same arena.  Right after I missed that cue, they started putting a speaker in the hallway so we all could hear what was on stage.

DR:  Did you ever sing on the radio or TV promo performances that TSO did?

PS:  No, never was invited for those. I didn't understand that. My song was the song that would open the show and you would think that they would want to use that for those appearances. But they always did the song with the female dancers. "Wizards of Winter" was a hit because of that beer commercial, so you have to do that, but why not have one of your vocalists sing a song? It would have been Jen Cella, Jay Pierce, James Lewis or
 me. Stevie Broderick's song was a specialty song with the acoustic guitar and way too long for TV. You need a quick song - my song or Jen's song into something else.  They should have done a little medley of their songs and singers for TV - why not use your singers?

Peter Shaw singing "An Angel Came Down"             Peter Shaw singing "An Angel Returned"

DR:  You toured with the East Coast touring company - did you have the opportunity or desire to perform with the West?

PS:  The first time I went to TSO rehearsals down in Lakeland, Florida, I noticed a big difference in the West show. They walked out with a certain panache and chemistry that really rolled. 

Michael Lanning, who was touring with them then, is a rock and roll God - he is one of the truest and most real people I have ever met. The first time I heard him sing was when we were at these rehearsals. Michael got on stage and rocked! I looked at Jen Cella and said, "I want to perform with them!". And that was because of him! And also with Tony Gaynor and his delivery and Guy LeMonnier and his nonchalant way of walking on stage and grabbing the mic and just singing it. 

I remember watching the West group perform and telling my band, "Wow! They put on a great show!". They all looked at me funny. The performers on the West all had this great feel about them and they seemed like they were a family. I looked at our band and thought that everybody feels cold and not close. The West had a family. We on the East had a dysfunctional group;  a lot of them had huge personalities and it was not always easy getting along with everyone. The West would often congregate off stage and hang out; our band didn't do that. 

The West band even grooved the songs differently - Al Pitrelli would put the songs in a whole different frame of mind. Ours would always sound exactly like the record, but slower and bigger. 

My memories of my tours were not like the West Coast group, not jovial, happy, great experience, lets get drunk on the bus and hang out. The East Coast was a whole different ball of wax - they are very clique-ish and I wasn't included in the clique. There were a few. James Lewis and I were close. James is a great personality, talented as fuck and I loved working with him. If anybody should have been a rock star, it should've been him. Nobody else on those tours sang with a realness to their voice.

DR:  Sounds like you didn't always feel a part of it.

PS:  I didn't always feel part of it, except for time I spent with [Electric Violinist] Mark Wood, [vocalists] James Lewis and Stevie Broderick - I felt alone in it. If I were on the West Coast tour, I would have felt like I could have gotten on anyone's bus, hang out and talk with anybody. On the East Coast tours that I was on, it wasn't like that. Keep in mind that TSO isn't a real band - it is a bunch of performers trying to upstage each other, and I couldn't upstage anyone with the two songs that I sang. But I can by having a hit song on the radio!

I respect all of the players for their talent, but you have to have that "it factor". Michael Lanning comes out on stage and has the "it factor". Tony Gaynor, Guy LeMonnier have the "it factor". You saw that more on the West coast tour than the East.  Alex Skolnick has the "it factor". Chris Caffery has the "it factor" but I think he tries too hard to get the audience going. But that's Chris and you got to love him for doing his own thing.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Chicago, December 2005
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

Mark Wood and I got along better than anyone else on the tour - it was an immediate friendship. He is all about the music. Such a difference from the string players they have now - Mark Wood didn't need all the bouncing around like they have now. He could just stand there and actually play like he is a musical rock God, like Dio! Ronnie James Dio didn't have to dance - he would walk up to the mic, put his hand on his hip, and start singing. You could hear right then that he was not a fake.

DR:  You toured with the TSO show for three years, and then you were gone from the stage. What happened?

PS:  It was a combination of things. There was a personality conflict there that involved some egos and politics. Paul O'Neil was gracious enough to give me my full salary - not backup-band salary - to be in their backup band in 2008.  I accepted that because I was still trying to get money to do my own thing - I wanted to do my own record. So I did that for one tour and then I didn't hear from them anymore - I didn't even get a phone call, but I was fine with that though - that tour can wear on you. You can only do that tour for so long before you get bored. I didn't want to grow old and die on that tour. Once you are locked into a role there, there is no change. I have my own thing that I want to do. My life turns faster than anyone else's on that tour - I don't want to be one of those people who grow old on a tour that I didn't want to be on.

But the back-up band was fun for what it was. In there, I sang not just the Angel songs, but also "Christmas Nights in Blue" and a couple others, so I was the backup for them.

Right about this time, Peter's fun and very friendly pit bull came over and showed me her toy and how strong her teeth are. 
After our little tug-of-war, Peter and I got back to our interview...

DR: Are there any moments or times with TSO that stand out or are very memorable to you?

PS:  I was a hired gun, like the rest of the singers, so it wasn't like I was singing anything that I helped create. But, I will always remember walking on their stage with Mark Wood looking at me with his reassuring smile. 

The memory that is stuck with me now is the first time I sang "Eyes Open Wide" to a live audience - their reaction was just incredible and that was my song! I created that moment so I will always remember that.

One moment I do think back on was when we were in Detroit on my first tour in 2005. We did three shows, and no one was applauding for the narrator, Bryan Hicks. At the end of the first act as we all came out to take our bows, we were all in a row: there was me, James Lewis, Jay Pierce, Stevie Broderick, then the girls. I was the one on the outside and Bryan always took his bow next to me. Bryan would take his bow and hardly anyone would be applauding for him. So at one of these shows in Detroit, I went behind him and started waving my hands in the air with my energy as he was introduced - I was jumping behind him and pointing to the audience and the audience started roaring with applause - so finally Bryan could hear and feel the applause. Paul O'Neill came running from the soundbooth, shook my hand and thanked me for doing that.

I did that to make Bryan feel good, and he gained some confidence from hearing those applause. He started performing with more confidence and the applause started coming naturally as the tour continued. Some others in the band looked at me funny that I did this, but I felt bad for him - he had a part in the show that was a lot of work. I never got a thank you from him, which was kind of sad, but I was still glad I did it for him and his ego - it's important when doing a show that your ego is up like the others or else you don't feel a part of it.

Peter Shaw and TSO
November, 2007

DR:  What did you enjoy the most during your years touring with TSO?

The most would be singing in front of the sizes of the audiences.

Every morning for a year, I would watch the video of this Roger Waters show that he did at Portland's Rose Garden Arena. I would watch this every morning before I left for work and I told my girlfriend that my dream is to sing on a stage to that size of an audience.  With TSO, getting up in front of the crowd when my cue was up and walking up to that microphone for the first time every night and looking out at that vast arena of people and thinking, "I dreamed this one year ago and one year later it came to fruition." That is what I enjoyed the most. I used to think, "How lucky am I ?"

You know what the best part of singing with TSO was? The one thing I am thankful to Paul and TSO for is giving me that feeling of fear of singing in front of 20,000 people. Once you are over that, you can do anything - the world's yours. Once that fear is gone, I could play in front of anyone. I could play in front of 50,000 people or play in front of you and do it flawlessly. That experience was invaluable. Ultimately, I didn't even care about the money from TSO. Sure it helped me out, but I was making more doing sales for the Hilton.

DR:  After your time with TSO, you started collaborating with guitarist Angus Clark for your solo project?

PS:  Yeah, right away Angus and I wrote some songs together and we put them up on Myspace. If you go to my Myspace page, we still have nine of those songs up there. We never did any of them live though - didn't have an investor at the time to help pay the band and do the shows the right way. I wanted a song with a Bruce Springsteen feel and Angus wrote "Everything is Gone" for me, which really came out well. Some of these I may take to another level. My current band wants to do "I'm Coming for You", which is one of the harder rocking songs on there.

DR:  Did you work with anyone else from the TSO casts?

David Z is incredible - he and I are like brothers. I love Dave and his brother Paulie. I love their band [ZO2] but it's not happening for them now because rock is just not in right now. David and I did this cool little Christmas song together called "Christmas in New York City" but we never released it.

DR:  In the spring of 2013, you performed with Mark Wood and his band. What was it like working with him again?
Mark Wood and Peter Shaw
Brooklyn, April 2013
Photo Courtesy of Tom Couture

PS:  Mark put on this big show in Brooklyn to help launch his non-profit Foundation for music education. It was a great show, with a huge orchestra of students from New York City. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and I were the special guest vocalists. I had just gotten back from weeks of recording in Nashville, so I was a little exhausted vocally. But, Mark told me to just get up there with my energy and exuberance and have fun. Mark, of course, had his band and orchestra very ready - if you know Mark, he is very prepared and professional. I hadn't performed on stage in a while at that point, but I was with Mark so I was very comfortable and we had a blast!

DR:  Who are some singers that have influenced you?

PS:  To me, you can't get better than that Daryl Hall vocal. Listen to him when he opens his mouth and sings - now that's a singer! Musical Theater singers are okay, but I find that style incredibly boring. When you put your soul into it - [sings Hall & Oates' Sara Smile] - that feel of a song makes me go, "Wow!". If you're busy singing TSO stuff with big guitars, that stuff doesn't play like that. 

I also love all of those soul singers from the '80s: Al Jarreau, Jeffrey Osborne, and James Ingram. I grew up on [sings James Ingram's "How do you keep the music playing"]. Those were some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, they last an eternity.

I love Freddie Mercury. What he did with Queen and solo will never be duplicated. He did a lot of exploring with beats before he died - even Queen's Hot Space album was experimenting with techno beats. And his solo stuff  - [sings Lets Turn it On] - was groundbreaking. You can still hear his vocals on McDonald's commercials, commercials for tires, still getting on because it has a feel of commercial sound without having that old sound to it. This is because he was always exploring. Mercury was exploring sound - if you don't explore sound, you got shit. You have got to explore it, dive into it. 

DR: You mentioned coming back from Nashville, is that where your new EP More Alive was recorded?

PS:  I did part of it in Nashville and part of it in Los Angeles. I did most of my writing in Nashville and got to work with some great producers.
Peter and his female Pit, Leo
recording in a Nashville studio

DR:  Is the band that play on the EP the same that you perform with live?

PS:  No, they were mostly hired guns that were brought in while I was in Nashville. These are pros that come in and play my songs exactly the way I was envisioning.

DR:  Did you write all the songs on there?

PS:  I wrote all songs except "My Love" and More Alive". Everything was written on my acoustic guitar while in Nashville. I actually wrote some of them with a homeless man I picked up while there. I met this guy at a bar and he helped put words down on a few of the songs.

"All I'm Giving You" is one I did with Angus Clark. He and I wrote that together a long time ago and I always wanted to do more with it. It's a good feeling song, with a bit of a country feel.

Leo came with me to Nashville and was at my feet as I recorded this EP. She has been a very integral part of my life.

DR:  A lot of your songs on More Alive have a soulful, heartland feel to me. I hear Daryl Hall's voice in there with songs that also have a Bob Seger feel. How would you describe your music?

PS:  It's all me and my musical idols. When you stand up to a mic and you are vulnerable, alone and naked and just let loose and make it as real as can be. I hear people sing, but I rarely hear them get real. I never hear what I call the "ernst" in their voice. There's got to be ernst. Bruce Springsteen sings with ernst. It's all about singing without a put-on. Pete Townshend sings with the guts and balls. Same with Steven Tyler. Tina Turner too. 

I'm an emotional performer. I'm not a performer who just goes out and fakes his feelings. You have got to really feel it or else you are not a real performer. It's all about being real, bringing in love and passion and ernst - without those adjectives, you've got shit. When you've got that ernst in your voice and the songs are real, they live on. There is not much out there that is original any more, I hate to say it. All you're doing is taking whats been done and bringing it to whatever new level you can and making people feel you in it. You mentioned that you heard a bit of Daryl Hall in my EP - he is one of my musical influences and I take his style that inspired me and now it becomes familiar.

People respond and dance to what is familiar. Mick Jagger told me this. Everything you hear has to have a familiarity to it. If it doesn't it won't be a hit record. It has to have a commercial viability to it or else it will fail - it might be good for a moment, but it won't last. That's the key - writing your own original songs, but keeping them familiar. There are a bunch of riffs and beats that I plan on using in some of my songs which you may recognize, but they will be my own songs that will relate.

I plan on doing some more songs with dance beats underneath of them. These songs with produced sounds are where the hit songs are at now. From what I can tell, rock is on its way out.  Look at the music that is happening right now - Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Jay Z, Beyonce. Great modern rock groups like Kings of Leon are struggling now.

DR:  Your song "Eyes Open Wide" is really catching on with radio listeners around the world. Tell me about that song.

PS:  "Eyes Open Wide" is the first song and first lyrics I wrote while in Nashville. Sings "Look at you lying there soft brown eyes". It was all from a friend of mine named Melissa Bollea. I wrote that while sitting with her at her apartment.

Eyes Open Wide as heard on WDHA FM

DR:  You mentioned that the title track of your EP was one that was not written by you. Can you tell me a little about "More Alive"?

PS:  The lyric in there is "Hard to be More Alive than when I'm with you". For my opening record, I didn't want something that was too heavy. The title of that song was perfect for the EP title because I want to bring people to life with my music. I don't want to bury anyone in sad songs. I want to bring youth, vitality, joy and passion to people with my music. 

DR:  Any interest of shooting a music video?

PS:  Yes!  I want to hire Anthony Mandler, who directed Rihanna's brilliant "Diamonds" video. Watch his videos and look at his vision. His vision is incredible, but he costs a half-million dollars for a weekend. But hiring Anthony will get me an MTV Music Video Award. If you don't work with award-winning people, you will not win awards. Awards beget awards. Money begets hits.

DR:  What have you found to be the most challenging part of the process of launching your solo career?

PS:  One of the hardest things to do is find an investor who believes in you and your music to help you follow your dream. Paul was able to do TSO with a $10 million dollar loan from his wife. You need that money to hire the best for recording and performing live. I have had investors that invested financially in me which helped with studio time in Nashville and hiring top producers and musicians. If you hire award-winning people, what do you think you are going to get? Awards! You will reach success. I'm not afraid to ask for money, because I believe in myself and in my music. Not everyone has a hit song. I do - I have several. I say this not to toot my own horn or be arrogant - I am very humble - but I am just letting the world know. The reviews from fans and radio listeners have been incredible.  I heard from Michael when my record came out. He told me "You're the real deal. I'm impressed. I didn't know you could sing like this.". It's hard to impress Michael Lanning. He has been around and worked with some of the biggest artists in the history of music.

I will eventually sign with a record company, but for now, I am making it happen with my talent and the help of investors along the way. I got investors on board to get this going, and from one meeting with one woman from WDHA FM, they jumped on it immediately. That has led to other stations picking up on it and now it's getting play in England, Thailand and Japan. It has also been a Top 10 smash on the nationally syndicated radio show "Radio Cafe", which has helped get it airplay across the country!

I want to be lifted up in my life. I don't want to be pushed down. I surround myself with people that lift me up. This whole new record has lifted me. It's lifted my spirits from being pissed off at the politics and personalities in TSO and the way things ended there.

I want to be a hit songwriter - I want to leave a mark on this Earth, but not as a guy who once sang for TSO, but as a great vocalist and songwriter. I want to change the world with my songs - that's why I do music - to change the world. I am not a prima donna about music - but I know who I am and what I bring to the table when I sing. 

To give me a hint of what is still to come from Peter musically, at this point he brought out his guitar and sang "So Far Gone", a simply stunning song that he wrote and recorded for the EP, but didn't make the cut, and another lyrically-deep soulful song called "Bound Slave" that he co-wrote with legendary music producer Godfrey Diamond.

For more information and to hear and connect with Peter Shaw:







Peter Shaw's Acting Reel:  http://vimeo.com/39312432

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Conversation with Andrew Ross

Though thousands of fans may know him from his tours around the world with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the last seven years, singer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Ross has been hard at work lately with multiple musical projects. When not touring and recording with TSO, Andrew has been singing lead for his metal band DareDevil Squadron, writing and performing with vocalist Chloe Lowery in their alternative band Chameleon, and working on a forthcoming solo project. I caught up with Andrew while on tour with TSO to discuss all of these musical ventures and much more.

Dan Roth:  I understand you are from Asheville, North Carolina. When I think of North Carolina music, bluegrass and mountain music comes to mind. Can you tell me a little about the music scene there?
Andrew Ross:  I was born in Conway, South Carolina, but when my parents divorced, my mother moved us up to Asheville. My stepfather's parents were into Bluegrass and played banjo, guitar and bass and they would have whole family gatherings, which became musical jam nights. My uncle was in a band called Windsong and they opened for Kenny Rogers on his Australian tour. So, I grew up with all of this musical talent surrounding me from my stepfather's side of the family.

The music scene in Asheville? Bluegrass and mountain music for sure. But there is also a rock scene. [Guitarist] Warren Haynes is from Asheville and he comes back every year and throws this all-star jam at the Orange Peel. It's a really rich and artistic environment up there in the mountains.

DR:  I've seen you play guitar, bass and mandolin. Any other instruments in your repertoire?

AR:  I play a little banjo and I also taught myself how to play the didgeridoo. If you listen closely to the beginning of Chameleon's "Something in the Water", you will hear this droning D ostinato - that's me playing the didgeridoo right there at the top.

DR:  Is that the first time you have played the didgeridoo on a recording?

AR:  No, I have done a lot of recording over the years and none of it has really been released. I used it in a recording for a musical of Where the Wild Things Are that a friend of mine was putting on as well.

DR:  Since you have so much going on musically right now, I would like to dive right in and talk about your various releases. Let's start with the new EP from Chameleon, your band with vocalist Chloe Lowery - The Monster EP. Can you talk about the songwriting process for you guys? Is it a true collaboration between you and Chloe?

AR:  Chloe and I have definitely found our stride in the songwriting process. Our songs usually start off from just her and I sitting in a room - often me with a bass line and Chloe on a piano. Chloe likes to hear the bass line only, not the other notes or chords because those notes will influence what she hears in her head. So we'll get the bass line down first, and she will write the melody to that bass line. Then we will go back and fill in the chords around those bass notes. So typically, what we will do is have a bass line, hit 'record', and then Chloe will start singing in gibberish - some unknown Chloe language - and once in a while it will turn into English and she'll have this brilliant hook. "Put Your Money Where your Mouth is" and "There's a Ghost Living in my Head" came about this way.

So now we have a recording of her singing this melody line over top of the bass line. I will now go in, fill in the verses and lyrics and talk about what the song is about. We usually don't start out saying, "Let's write a song about this or that"; we just start writing the music. How it sounds, the mood of the pieces, and the place we are in all help determine where the song will end up.

DR:  For those that haven't heard Chameleon's music before, how would you describe it?

AR:  I guess I might call it college-rock. There are so many influences in our music - there's a little bit of grunge in there, mixed with pop from Chloe. At its core, its electronic beats meets rock guitar, and now that we have our live drummer in place, we are mixing in the acoustic element to our sound. We're not a technical band - the stuff I am playing on guitar is pretty simple. It's more about creating a mood and an atmosphere for Chloe to really show off what she can do vocally.

DR:  The new EP has sort of a theme here, at least lyrically, with "Ghost in My Head", "Zombie" and "The River". Was it intentional to have all of those on one EP?

AR:  [Laughs] No, we didn't intentionally do that. I guess it was just happening in our minds at the time. When we are singing about Zombies, we aren't singing about actual zombies - we're singing about people under the influence. When we're singing about monsters in "The River", we're singing about evil things that we cannot control in our lives. And with "Ghost in My Head", it's about that devil on your shoulder.

DR:  The Monster EP has six songs and I would like you to comment a little on each one. Let's start with "How the West Was Won", a song that you have been performing since the very first Chameleon concert back in 2011. It also has some really nice, delicate violin work along with some nasty slide guitar work in there.
Chameleon - "How the West was Won"

AR:  Yeah, that was one of the first ones we wrote. Chloe and I wrote "How the West Was Won" in Eugene, Oregon. We both have traces of Native American in our bloodlines, and I have always been fascinated with Native American culture, their stories and proverbs in particular. They have proverbs like It's better to have a handful of lightning than a mouthful of thunder or Those who have one foot in the canoe and one foot in the water will always fall in the river. So when I started writing the verses, I tried to write them in this style: If you keep skipping stones, you'll dam that river and flood your home; Let those big rocks go" Basically what I'm saying is leave it alone - kind of like the Beatles' "Let it Be"

So we're in Eugene and I had the guitar tuned to some strange Open D tuning, and just started writing this in that proverb style. When we got back to New York, Dr. Robert put a beat under it, we called up our friend Aurelien Budynek and he added some slide guitar. Violinist Caitlin Moe was in town at this time, and she came over to the studio. We hit record, she just improvised and what you hear is her first take.

DR:  "Stay Wait" is just a powerhouse of a song and really shows off Chloe's range, with it starting off soft and building into something so huge.

AR:  "Stay Wait" is a Chloe song. That is really her baby on this EP. I walked into the studio one day and Chloe was playing the bass line on my Gibson SG and we started adding in some electronic drums - some totally different hip-hop style beat. We set it aside for a while, but we would always come back to it. We realized that the more we did to it, the further away we got from what the song really was. So we stripped it down so it's just Chloe's voice in the beginning and then it just builds and builds and crescendos. We are really happy with how this one came out. So much so that we decided to make this our new music video.

Lyrically, Chloe and I had both come out of major break ups in recent years, and we drew from that. It's kind of a love song, about wanting to fall back in love with someone. I think that's why it is so powerful, because this song really came from the heart.

DR:  "Anthem" was your first single from this EP.

AR:  "Anthem" is our procrastination anthem. "Anthem" is really all about the things that we want to do: "I want to go on a diet, I want to start reading more, I want to write a new song, I want to do this or that". But no one ever does it today - everyone starts it tomorrow. "We'll get with it tomorrow".

DR:  "Zombie" is sort of a fun and quirky song.

AR:  With "Zombie", were touching on the drug culture in America. I find that there are a few different levels of this culture. There are the law-abiding citizens who will go out and get smashed on liquor or beer, but its okay because its within the boundaries of the law, but they're still anesthetizing themselves. Then there is the second level of people who get depressed and start needing Xanax or anti-depressants just to cope with their 9-to5 job. Then the third level is folks who go completely out of the legal system: the clubbers and ravers who are dropping acid just to go out and be a freak at night. We're not advocating or condemning the uses of any of these things, just a commentary on how so many people just want to 'drop out' and escape. It seems like we're hiding from something, thus the "Zombie United States".

DR:  "Robber/Ghost in My Head" is another song that has been in the Chameleon live set for quite a while. For those that have heard you perform this live, they will notice that a recognizable verse is missing from the studio version - the lines where you sing the verse from Black Sabbath's "War Pigs".

AR:  That is completely due to copyright permission. I tracked down the current publisher of "War Pigs" - the company that owns the rights to it. I sent them the lyrics and the song, and described how we would like to use the opening four lines of "War Pigs".  The deciding factor for the publisher was "How many copies are we producing? How many do we thing we are going to sell?"  Basically "How much money will they be making from them granting us permission?" They didn't like my answer - I explained to them that we are still just starting out and we're not going to make them millions of dollars. So that verse was cut from the studio version at the last minute.

We started thinking - do I write a new verse to go in there or leave it blank? We decided to leave it blank, so when verse three comes up and there is nothing there, just imagine Ozzy singing "War Pigs" right there. [Laughs].

DR:  Will it still be in there when you perform it live?

AR:  Oh yeah. We're going to do it up!

DR:  And then the last song on the EP is another in the "monster" theme - "The River".

AR:  This was a song that I had been playing around with on the acoustic guitar, much like "How the West Was Won", and it just came together really fast. The lyrics are kind of dark, dealing with things that we can't foresee and diseases and all of the awful things that can happen to you. It's basically someone speaking to their loved one who doesn't have much time left.

My favorite part of the song is when Aurelien breaks into the guitar solo and Chloe starts hitting those high notes and it becomes sort of a "Great Gig in the Sky" moment. Originally, it was just going to be a break with Chloe riffing like that. Then we tried it with just a guitar solo in there and we couldn't decide which was better. We finally tried putting them both together and it worked so well.

DR:  Chameleon has been performing live now for a couple years, since 2011. There have been numerous line-ups on stage, from three to as many as eight, with various musicians and vocalists adding their talents. Have these dates been about growing and finding your footing as a band?

AR:  Yeah, absolutely. I think what we thought Chameleon was a couple years ago has changed. Originally, it was Me, Chloe, and Rob (Dr. Robert). When we record, we would keep adding on instruments. We just weren't satisfied with the guitar and vocal. We kept adding all of these players to the mix - Aurelien, [violinist] Asha [Mevlana], Justin Surdyn on trumpet, Lena Lien on sax, and Gabe Marshall on drums - they really dug the music too. We have also had some terrific singers contribute backing vocals - Natalya Rose, Jason Wooten and April Berry. They all wanted to play and add their talents because they believe in what we are doing.

At the core, Chameleon is Chloe and I, but it really wouldn't sound the same without the contributions from our friends, so it's their band too.

DR:  I wanted to ask about the Patsy Cline cover that you performed live, "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray". It was unexpected but still fit in with the Chameleon vibe.

AR:  That's a song I always really loved, and I played it for Chloe and she loved it. We went in and recorded it as well, so there is a recorded studio version of it, but I'm not even going to get into it with copyrights again. [Laughs] This song just seemed to fit her Chloe's voice so well.

DR:  And you now have two music videos. Can you tell me a little about them?

AR:  "Anthem" was the first professional music video that I had ever done. We've done the EPK and some live videos where we cut scenes together, but this was our first big video. We came in contact with Jimmy Negron, who was a film student in New York. He approached us and told us how much he loved our music and that he had a school project to finish for his final thesis. He wanted to make a video for one of our songs for his thesis! He did an awesome job, got an 'A' on his thesis and graduated.

The video was shot on one long 3-day weekend. Luckily, we had good weather, since a lot of it was shot outside. For the outside shots, it was us driving around Queens and Brooklyn, looking for places that looked cool and where no one was around. We were shooting guerilla-style; jumping out of the van, filming a shot, and driving on to the next spot. If you stay too long in one area, you have to get a permit. That was a lot of fun.

The next day, we rented a studio and shot the scenes that you see at the end of the video with Angus [Clark] and the whole band. We had planned to shoot on the roof of the building, but it was over 100 degrees that day and it just didn't work out. And then the third day was when we shot the party scene, which is my personal favorite part of the video. We asked you and some of our other friends to come out to be background actors, and Jimmy found some extras by advertising on Craig's List. I'm really proud of how that came out, it really looks like we are at a bar, having fun.

DR:  And now "Stay Wait" has been released as a music video.

AR:  It's more of a concept video, more plot-driven than the "Anthem" video. We're trying to tell the story of a girl who wants her old boyfriend back. We have a special guest in the video - Chloe's sister Savannah is dancing with a partner, and they are representing the two lovers. Savannah Lowery dances with the New York City Ballet so she was a natural for this.

DR:  Do you have any plans to perform outside of the NYC area?

AR:  Last year we went to Austin during the SXSW festival, we did the Red Gorilla festival. But having all of us piling into a van and going on the road - that's what it's all about. We want to get out there, maybe support a bigger band. A lot of our friends in the band have other jobs and other gigs, so it's not as easy as it may seem to do. We want to be able to financially support our friends so it is worthwhile for all of us to hit the road. For 2014, we have plans to hit more of the tri-state area, with more Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the mix.

DR:  Nice.  Well, in addition to this new release from Chameleon, you have your solo EP about to be released as well. How long has this been in the making?

AR:  The original guitar tracks and scratch vocals were recorded in 2010. I was going through a really difficult time; I was breaking up with a girlfriend of 7 years and was really depressed. Right around that time, I grabbed a mic and started playing and recording some guitar riffs that I had in my head for a while. All the songs on this EP are about girls. The first song on it is about my mother. I was born in Conway, South Carolina and we moved around a bit before settling in Asheville. The first song is called "The Mountain", and I sing about my time in Pawley's Island and moving to Asheville with my new stepdad. The man that I sing about who "shared my middle name" was a friend of my Dad's that lived in Conway whose name is Marion who had a bit of a troubled life.

DR:  I was going to ask if this song was autobiographical, with the mentions of Conway, Pawley's Island, and Asheville.

AR:  The whole EP is autobiographical.

DR:  The next song on the EP is "Ships with Strings"

AR:  I wrote this song while I was in my jam room, which is red  - "The Red Room" - and I was looking at all of my guitars on my wall, and that day they looked like boats or ships up there.

DR:  Ah, Ships with Strings.

AR:  Exactly - "Ships with Strings". The song came about from there and this one touches on Sarah, and our relationship as we are sailing away from each other and drifting apart.

DR:  There is some tasty slide guitar on this track. Is that Aurelien once again?

AR:  Yeah - Aurelien appears on all four songs on this EP. The acoustic guitar and vocals are always me, but everything else is all Aurelien's production. He brings the slide guitar, ebows, delays and everything else.

So the "Ships with Strings" song ends and it segueways into "Sunday" which was basically written when I was depressed - Here I am in this house with nothing to do, my girlfriend is gone, every day is the same. Over the course of the song, I realize that there are other fish in the ocean and by the end of the song it picks up as things start feeling more hopeful.

DR:  Then the EP wraps up with "The Letter".

AR:  This is another autobiographical song about a letter that I wrote to a girl who sent it back and then I wrote her another letter that she couldn't throw away, which is this song. Things didn't work out with this girl, but she was very important to me at the time.

DR:  So why only four songs?

AR:  I thought about adding more, but it really felt complete to me. With this EP, I told my story up until 2010 and anything after that will be another EP.

DR:  All four songs segue really nicely together musically, almost like a suite of music.

AR:  Yeah, that's what I wanted to do from the start. I love albums that do that. Like Side 2 of Abbey Road, how one song flows into the next? I love that. I love the vibe - when I'm listening to a song and I'm in the zone with it, then it's over and there is this big awkward space of dead silence before the next song starts. [Laughs]  When I wrote these songs, I was in sort of a dreamy state and I wanted them to all flow together. I've been doing so much heavy material; with DareDevil Squadron, I'm screaming and Chameleon has a real hard side to it. This is completely different from those, really acoustic and atmospheric. I just wanted to paint a landscape with this collection and not raise my voice ever.

DR:  Yeah, it definitely has a chill vibe about it.  When is the release date for it?

AR:  I am releasing this on my birthday, February 6th, 2014.

DR:  Any further plans to support the release with a video or any live shows?

AR:  You know, Chloe is the one who really got me going with this EP. I was just sitting on these songs and Chloe urged me, saying ,"You have got to release these songs!". Chloe thought I should do a video, but then I started thinking that I should do a video for the entire EP, with all of the transitions. We'll see though.

Andrew Ross & Angus Clark
performing with DareDevil Squadron Oct 2011
DR:  I wanted to ask about DareDevil Squadron as well. You have a new album in the works with them as well?

AR:  We do. This has been a busy year. We got together and decided to make another DareDevil Squadron album and this one will be heavier, more progressive and very melodic. We're going to drop-tune everything down to C-sharp and we will have lots of vocal harmonies all over the place. We kind of found our sound now. Our first record was a mishmash of a lot of different genres of rock, but I think we have honed into something that is uniquely DareDevil Squadron. We already have five songs recorded and will come back after the TSO tour and bang out the rest.

We have made "Chronicles of Sorrow Part 4", which is a continuation of Part 1, which was on the first album.

DR:  "Chronicles of Sorrow Part 1" opens with you playing the mandolin, which is a bit unexpected, but it works. Where did the idea to include mandolin on a prog-metal song come from?

AR:  That came from Angus and I sitting in a room, deciding to write a prog song and wanting to include a different sort of instrument. It was that simple. I brought in my mandolin and our drummer, Jason Gianni came up with that melody line.

DR:  The band did a very popular cover of Mumford & Sons folky hit "Little Lion Man". How did you choose this song to cover? 

AR:  It was Angus' idea. He pointed out how popular the song was and we figured that if we did a cover version of it, people might hear it and discover our band when searching for the song on YouTube. That was fun to put together and came together real fast. We laid down the drums and guitar parts in a day, then everyone came to my studio for me to scream out the vocals. I then left for TSO's spring tour and Aurelien mixed the song and put together the video. A lot of people have been asking us to put it out on our album or as a single, but I don't know if we are going to get the rights for that.

DR:  Chris Altenhoff played bass on the first DareDevil Squadron album, but he wasn't always at your most recent gigs. Is he playing bass on the new record?

AR:  Winston Roye, who is an amazing bass player and is really into the prog side of things, and Pemberton Roach, who has been playing a lot of shows with us, have both been working with us. We're not sure how exactly things will pan out, if both of them or only one will be on the new record.

We loved working with Chris Altenhoff, but he has been taking a step back from the rock and roll lifestyle lately had has been exploring other things in his life. I am sure if we asked him to record this album with us, he would have said, "yes", but we wanted the band that you see live to be the same lineup that made the record and he just isn't in the same place anymore. We talked to him about that and he understood and gave us his blessing.

DR:  Do you have an idea yet of when the new record will be released?

AR:  Not sure exactly, but probably in the spring of 2014.

DR:  With this band, all five of you guys have "call signs". Yours is "Awesome Wolf". Where did that come from?

AR:  When we were forming the band and came up with the DareDevil Squadron band name, Angus wanted us all to have code names, like squadron fighter pilots often do. Everyone came up with theirs, but I had to think on it. Near my house, there used to be an off-track horse racing betting site. A buddy of mine took me in there one day to check out some of the crazy names that the horses have, and one of the horse's names was "Awesome Wolf". So, it's silly, but I stole my name from a racing horse. [Laughs]

DR:  You have been touring with Trans-Siberian Orchestra since 2007, for many years singing "Angel Came Down" and "Angel Returns". How did you hook on with them?

Andrew Ross with TSO
Moline, IL   2007-8 tour
Photo Courtesy Brian Reichow

AR:  Dina Fanai heard me singing in Jesus Christ Superstar. I was doing a lot of rock musicals back then - Godspell, Hair, Superstar - musicals with an edge to them. But with TSO, Guy LeMonnier was out, they needed someone to fill his shoes and Dina had me come down for auditions. I wound up singing "Angel Came Down" and "Angel Returns". about fifteen different times for Paul O'Neill. Dina would meet with me during this process, giving me tips and feedback. I also used to wear my hair in a ponytail back then, and Dina was like, "Take that ponytail out." [Laughs]. Finally, one day, Dina leaned over to Paul and whispered something in his ear - I don't know what she said, but he looked at me and said, "Andrew, you're in. Call your mom; you're joining the West Coast band.". And that's what I did - We were very familiar with TSO and their "Sarajevo 12/24" song, so I called my mom right away and it was so cool to tell her I was in the band now that does that song!

DR:  You mentioned Guy LeMonnier, the singer who you were now replacing. Guy was one of TSO's original touring vocalists and had proved to be a real fan-favorite over the many years that he toured. Was it challenging stepping into a role that he was so well known for?

AR:  There was an amazing amount of pressure taking over for him. He was THE Guy; he was THE Angel. He and I couldn't have looked physically any different, and our voices are different too; he is a little more operatic than I am. It was a big change; Paul definitely wasn't trying to get someone to do a Guy impression.  I did feel some resentment early on from some of the guys in the band, after all Guy was such a good friend to many of them and was a part of their touring lives for many years. But they eventually opened their arms to me - even Tony Gaynor said something to the effect of, "I didn't want to like you - Guy was my friend - but I couldn't help it.".

That first year was the worst. I was petrified on stage. Here I was taking over for this really popular dude, and a lot of fans didn't know he was gone. And here I come out singing "his" songs. But by my second year of touring, a lot of fans started remembering me and I started getting fan mail and finally got really accepted. Including the Spring tours we did, this is now my tenth TSO tour and I am starting to feel like one of the old faces around here.

DR:  When preparing for going out on your first tour, did you listen at all to Guy LeMonnier's performances of those songs?

AR:  I never listened to Guy. Dina didn't want me listening to him so that I wouldn't be influenced at all by the person who I was taking over for. I listened to the studio version and I listened to a lot of Peter Shaw, who was singing those songs for the East Coast touring group. I have since heard Guy's performance of the Angel songs, and they were great, but it's different than how I do it.

The funny thing is, Guy and I met at Disney World a few years ago. He is the coolest, nicest guy. He came to the show and was real supportive. He could have hated or resented me, but I always thought that was really cool and gracious of him. 

DR:  You mentioned the Spring tours. With those tours, you were tasked with singing a couple Savatage songs - "Handful of Rain" and "Chance". Were you familiar with these songs beforehand? And did you enjoy singing these?

AR:  Oh yeah. I had some Savatage records when I was a kid. I went through this phase of getting into a lot of metal, particularly stuff that was played very technical, fast and melodic. I came from the Bluegrass scene, which, if you think about it, is also very technical and fast. So, Savatage was already on my radar.

You know, I had been singing "Angel Came Down" for so many years, and that is only one side of my voice. I was real excited to have the opportunity to show my higher, screaming register. Those two songs really gave me the opportunity to open up and yell, more so than the Angel songs. Those are just great songs as well. "Chance" is my all-time favorite song that I have done with TSO. I am a die-hard prog fan; if there are time signature and key changes, sign me up! 

The 2011 Beethoven's Last Night tour, where I first got to sing those songs, was my favorite TSO tour so far. It was so fun. When we got to Europe, the crowd there just exploded when they heard the opening riff of "Chance". Especially in Germany - Savatage is like Metallica over there - the fans were singing all the lyrics...in English, along with me!  I was just thinking, "I hope they like me!" [Laughs]

DR:  Was that song challenging to you as a vocalist?

AR:  It was. I had some frustrating moments in rehearsals - there was one part of the song that I just couldn't get to flow out of my mouth [sings "I believe in nothing, never really had to, In regards to your life, Rumors that are not true]. I just had a mental block on that one section, trying to get that out. It was challenging to spit those lyrics out in that strange melody that [Savatage vocalist] Zak [Stevens] did.

DR:  Have you met Zak Stevens?

AR:  No, I want to though. Zak came to one of the shows in Florida and sent me a message through Jeff Plate and Jeff said, "Zak said to tell you that you did a great job with the song and he was proud of you." That just meant the world to me. Once again, here I am singing someone else's song.- that was Zak on the record, that was Zak who toured with Savatage for years and laid down that foundation over in Europe. To hear that feedback from him, it really made me feel justified for singing the song.

These things go through my mind. Even when I sang the Twist songs in the Beethoven tours, taking over for Jay Pierce. The poor guy - he couldn't sing anymore. He had his voice taken from him! Jay is the sweetest, nicest guy. He never drank, never smoked. He did such an amazing job with the role of Twist on that first Beethoven tour, and here I was trying to fill that role too. That's three times now with TSO that I am stepping in for an established singer and role.

DR:  You certainly made the role of Twist your own on those next two tours though. Was that tough, since those performances involved getting a little more into the part?

AR:  Jay taught me a lot about Twist, but I stepped in and gave it my own "twist" [Laughs], my own interpretation. It was a lot of fun. I am an actor, and have done this before. Paul's direction of "Get up in his face! But don't be malicious, be mischievous." [Laughs] He would tell me to think about punks from my childhood that would egg you on. I love working with Paul and his off-the-wall imagery that he gives us to help nail the part the way he wants.

DR: It looked like you were having a blast on stage, interacting with Rob Evan.

AR:  Rob is such a character. [Laughs] He is such a nice guy. Every night on that tour, I would whisper something crazy in his ear, just to try and break him. Off stage, He always would say, "Andrew, I'm going to kill you!" [Laughs], but he would not break character. I managed to make his lip quiver a couple times, but we really had some fun up there. He is so tall; I had to stand on my tiptoes to get up to his ear.

DR:  On this current tour, you are singing "Lost Christmas Eve". How does that compare to the other songs you have sung for TSO?

AR:  It's a real wordy song; there are just a lot of lyrics. I remember Opening Night of the 2012 tour, I walked on stage and looked at April [Berry] and asked, "What's my first line?!" [Laughs] Sometimes with all of the lasers, lights, fire and snow happening around us and thousands of people looking at you, the last thing you think of is, "What's the words?". We rehearse so much, it becomes engrained and you let your muscle memory go.

DR:  As far as studio recording with TSO goes, you are listed as "Backing vocals" on the Night Castle album. Which song or songs are you on?

AR:  [sings Here, Believe, A Night Enchanted, Seen]

DR:  "Night Enchanted"

AR:  Yeah. I did the bass line, the baritone, and the tenor line, and then I doubled all of them. There are so many vocals on that song. If you really sit down and listen closely, you can pick out who's who. I did about three different sessions for that song. They brought all the guys in for this...me and Tommy [Farese], Tony [Gaynor], Scout, Kelly Keeling, James Lewis...so many of us. They had us all in this tiny room with a mic in front of us and we sang that song over and over and over. I was then flown back down with Steve Broderick and we added more layers to it.

DR:  Can you say if you are on any of the new TSO albums that are currently being worked on?

AR:  Yeah, I have done some recording. You can expect to hear a little more Andrew on the newer stuff.

DR:  What do you like and dislike about touring with TSO?

AR:  I love the people, and I have friends all over the country now. I have met a lot of people that have really touched my life. There is a girl named Shan Hunter, who lives in Georgia, who has started an Andrew Ross Fan Club, and we talk online every few days. I get to hear a lot of stories from people about how TSO has changed their life. Getting out there and having a real relationship with these fans - that's the best thing.

Least favorite thing would be that I am away for the holidays every year. I'm away for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Year's Eve sometimes. It's tough, but I wouldn't give it up. These people I tour with are like family though, and we have Christmas dinner together.
Andrew Ross with TSO, 2010 Tour
Photo Courtesy of Kelly Michals

DR:  You have now toured with three different TSO stories. Do you have a favorite?

ARChristmas Eve and Other Stories is my favorite story. The whole story is so beautiful. The Lost Christmas Eve is a little darker and hits closer to home, as my sister has had trouble with pregnancies. Beethoven's Last Night was just fun because of the historical value and getting to play the part of Twist.

DR:  Do you ever have the opportunity to work with TSO co-creator Jon Oliva?

AR: Jon Oliva is such a big part of the process of getting us together on stage. He runs the vocal rehearsals; he's an acting coach, a vocal coach. In rehearsals, he is like a cheerleader - We'll be singing a song and we'll see his hands come up doing these mystical waves; He's like our TSO shaman. [Laughs] He is really big into how we say the words and what point we are bringing across when performing. He really helps me; I wish he were out there at every show. [Laughs]

DR:  I wanted to ask about the guitarist that you work with a lot, Aurelien Budynek. Many know him from the proggy jamband Stratospheerius or his work on Broadway musicals, but he works with you in DareDevil Squadron, Chameleon, and your new solo material. Can you tell me a little about Aurelien and why he is involved in so much of what you do?

AR:  Aurelien is a great friend. He is hands-down, one of the greatest guitar players I can think of. He knows music inside and out - he transcribes music for the Hal Leonard-published tab music books. He has put together the books from everyone from Foreigner to Pearl Jam to Cannibal Corpse. When we were putting together DareDevil Squadron, both Angus and I knew Aurelien and thought he would be perfect for the band.  When it came to my solo work, I was just sitting on these acoustic tapes and Aurelien asked if he could take it and work on it - what he sent me back just blew my mind. He added these ebow parts and slide guitar parts that really moved it to a new level.  When we started working on Chameleon, he would hear what we were doing and ask to add various things, and it would come out brilliant. When we started expanding the Chameleon lineup for live shows, he was a natural to have with us to add in guitar and bass parts; he's basically a full-fledged member now.

DR:  To wrap things up today, I would like to ask about your involvement with Music for Autism.

AR:  Music for Autism is a great non-profit organization that will come to communities and bring together families that have children living with autism. A lot of people don't understand what autism is, so often parents are hesitant to bring their autistic child to an event where everyone is expected to applaud or be quiet at certain times. So we create an environment where they can do whatever they want to do while we are performing for them. We play acoustic instruments and we do everything from Katy Perry to Hank Williams Sr.- just fun songs that kids like. Music really connects with people with autism - it really breaks through to them.

I got started with this through Jarrod Emick. He is a Tony Award winner who was doing a Bluegrass show for Music for Autism and he asked Jason Wooten if he knew anyone that could play the mandolin and we got together and put on a country set that the kids really loved. I found doing this really fulfilling, so I talked with the organization and asked to put on more shows. I have done these concerts now with Jason Wooten, April Berry, and Chloe Lowery. The shows are very interactive; they can come up on stage with us, dance around, whatever the music makes them feel like doing.

DR:  Very nice. Well, thanks for taking the time today.

AR:  Been my pleasure.

For more information:

Andrew Ross Official Site:

Andrew Ross Fan Page: http://official-andrew-ross-fanpage.moonfruit.com/

Chameleon: http://www.wearechameleon.com/

DareDevil Squadron: http://daredevilsquadron.com/

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: http://trans-siberian.com/

Music for Autism: http://www.musicforautism.org/