Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Conversation with Scott and Sharon Kelly of The Wizards of Winter

If it is the Christmas season and you enjoy progressive rock with a dash of metal, or power ballads with a dash of theater, chances are good that you are listening or going to see The Wizards of Winter. Based out of New Jersey, this 10-piece eclectic ensemble has been rocking the airwaves and filling theaters each year with their take on the Holidays. I caught up with the husband-wife team that helped found the band: Keyboardist, composer and musical director Scott Kelly and his wife, Flutist and vocalist Sharon Kelly. In this sit-down interview, we talk about the band's origins as a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute act, their transition to writing and performing their own original material, joining forces with original TSO members, and their exciting new self-titled CD.

Dan Roth: Before we get into The Wizards of Winter, I want to ask about your musical background.

Scott Kelly: I got involved with playing keyboards after attending an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert in the 70s.  I saw them do Pictures at an Exhibition in New York and afterwards I thought, "That's what I want to do!".  Little did I know how hard it was at the time. [Laughs] I convinced my parents to get me my first Hammond organ and some music books and began learning how to play. I also got a job working at a music store where I worked with a lot of really good musicians and absorbed a lot from them. 

I eventually got good enough - and brave enough - to get involved with a band.  All through college, I played in various cover bands.  I eventually wound up playing keyboards for a band called The Features.  They were a popular cover band in the '80s, mostly playing new wave music.  We opened for artists like Cyndi Lauper, Joe Jackson, David Johansen and many other artists that were touring at the time.  We were playing seven nights a week - I also had a day job and Sharon and I had gotten married, so that did not leave a lot of time.  I wound up leaving The Features to join Dr. Jimmy and The Who Show, which was a Who tribute band.  We mostly played in the North East, from Boston to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. We had the same agent as Twisted Sister so we wound up being on the same bill as them many times, and we did countless gigs with The Good Rats as well. This gig was more like four nights a week, so it was a little bit more manageable, and then it all stopped for me.

DR: Stopped?  What happened?
Scott Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2011

Scott:  We had a gig one night at a popular rock club in North Jersey called Circus Circus. Our next gig was two nights later and when the crew went to open our cases, all of my instruments and equipment were gone.  Someone had stolen everything. At the time we were a young married couple saving for our first house and I didn't have money to replace everything, so literally my music career stopped in one night. I just moved on with my non-musical day job and really didn't get back into things until 1999 when our daughters were in high school.  They were in the school's marching band, they had no one to teach pit percussion and I jumped in and helped.  I eventually helped form and lead their Drumline program and we wound up winning state championships - we would design the show, the choreography, the whole thing. It was a great program that is still going strong today.

It wasn't until 2004 when I got a keyboard again, a Korg Triton. Sharon and I decided we were going to start playing out and we performed as a duet at local restaurants, when the next opportunity came along - we joined this progressive rock band called Contrarian. They were like a cross between Kansas and Dream Theater.  They called me for an audition and I really liked the stuff they were doing; it was challenging keyboard material.  I did this for a couple years, but they never had the impetus to go out and play live.  We played a couple shows here and there, but we spent most of our time in the studio writing and rehearsing.  I really wanted to get out and play live more, so I left and started looking for more opportunities. I wound up in another cover band called Prankster that played locally and met our bass player Steve Ratchen around the same time.

I am not formally trained, and many of the musicians in the band are, so when I present material to the band that I have written, they might question how I have the chord structure laid out. From their trained ear, they might not have gone the same way that I had in a song, but I do and it works out.

DR: Sharon, you sing and play the flute in The Wizards - did you follow a similar musical path as Scott?
Sharon Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2012

Sharon Kelly: I started pretty early on as well. My mother was a singer and both my parents sang on Christian Radio.  My mother was the Musical Director of four large church choirs and had me performing in Holiday musicals and Christmas Cantatas throughout the year. I sang and played flute since grammar school, participating in choir and band right through High School and later,  sang  backup for Dr. Jimmy and The Who Show. I took a long break as well, until Scott and I started going out as a duo and I sang and played flute with Contrarian as well. I also did a short stint with the Sweet Adelines when we lived in Oklahoma. But I kept my musical side on the backburner for a long time as we raised a family and just experienced life as it went along.

Scott: We always kept music in our lives, we just didn't get to do it professionally for a long time. And now it's taken on a life of its own. [Laughs]

DR: Well speaking of taking on a life of its own, can you explain how The Wizards of Winter came about? You mentioned meeting Steve Ratchen when you were out playing locally again.

Scott:  That is really where it started - we were introduced to Steve and we became friends. He was looking to start a new band and I had this idea to try out a Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band. I was always a fan of their music after seeing them live in their early days. In 2008 or 2009, We had gone to see them at the Continental Airlines Arena and I didn't like it.. They had the whole wall of fire going; to me the show had become so impersonal from when we had seen it in the smaller venues.  I felt that it had lost the magic that was there in the beginning. The production was just so over the top and it was becoming more about the fire and lights, and less about the music and audience connection. I had wondered if we could bring the music back to where it started, with doing smaller shows without the spectacle.

This was also at the heart of the recession in 2009; the economy really hit us and everyone around us hard. Even our local food pantry was empty. This really got me thinking as to how I could tie all of this together. I always was inspired by the line in their song Old City Bar, "By helping a neighbor or even a stranger, And to know who needs help, You need only just ask" - that line always resonated with me. So I started thinking about putting this band together to perform this music and raise some money for the food pantry.

We talked to Steve about it and he was in, so we started reaching out to others who were interested in doing this, and doing it for the right reason. The plan was to give most of whatever money we made away, so we had to find the right group of people.

Sharon: We were looking for people that really had the passion for it.

Scott: After some auditions and getting to know some folks, we wound up assembling a dozen musicians and singers that were interested. My original plan was to reach out to some churches, schools and play locally and see where it goes. One of our guitar players introduced us to an agent who has a production company out of New York that books gigs for bands.  We wound up doing a showcase for him and he loved us, told us how he was going to line up all sorts of gigs for us.  We learned a hard lesson here, as it turned out that this agent had lied to us about promising gigs and had strung us along for several months. By the time we had found out that he wasn't lining up shows, it was Fall and I quickly started lining up gigs for us to play. 

DR: What was the audience response like that first year?

Scott: It was terrific. It really inspired us and told us that we were on to something here. After every show, fans were asking to buy our album, and of course we had to explain that this wasn't our own music and didn't have albums to sell.

DR:  You were just doing strictly TSO covers at this point?

Scott:  Yes, we did the Christmas Eve & Other Stories album the first half of the show, and then we mixed in songs from the other albums in the second half. We did "After the Fall", "Requiem", "Dreams of Candlelight", and songs from their other two Christmas albums as well. 

DR:  Today, there seems to be a TSO tribute band in almost every market. Back then, this was something different - getting to hear TSO music performed again in small settings.

Scott:  And not everyone even knew that we were a TSO tribute band. In fact, our very first show - in this wonderful theater in Pottsville, Pennsylvania - many fans there didn't know that we were performing music at all !

DR:  What is the story behind that?

Scott:  We were booked for The Majestic Theater in Pottsville. I called the theater and asked how many tickets they had sold, they told me, "three"! [Laughs] I was thinking, "How am I going to explain this to the band"? [Laughs]  Well, we loaded up the truck drove out there knowing this and we all decided that we are going to play this gig as if we are playing Madison Square Garden and give these three people the best show!  We got there early in the morning to set up our lights and equipment and run through soundchecks.

DR:  Did you have a crew then to install and work the lights?

Scott: No, we did everything ourselves - and still do a lot of it ourselves to this day. In fact, that first year, I controlled the lights with foot pedals underneath my keyboards.

So we have the show all ready to go and just before the doors opened, our guitar player at the time went outside and comes back to tell us that there is a line of people wrapped around the building. I went outside and sure enough, the line was going down the block - the show was sold out!  All of these folks just showed up! We greeted everyone as they came in and then got the show going. After every song the fans were cheering wildly and giving us standing ovations. It was great, but we thought we were being punk'd "[Laughs]

We took a break for the intermission and we started chatting with the fans. They started telling us how much they were enjoying it, but they all thought that they were coming to see a magic show because of the name "Wizards of Winter", but they said, "This is good too!" [Laughs] And that was our first gig!

DR:  Did you still follow through with your mission of donating to the Food Pantry?

Scott: Yes! That first year we wound up donating several thousand dollars. We helped that food pantry, Habitat for Humanity and the Children's Hospital. The one charity that we have really been helping out a lot though is the Choroideremia Research Foundation. One of our young fans has this rare condition that causes blindness and we have donated tens of thousands of dollars in the hope that a cure can be found. And then this year we have been donating to the Wounded Warrior Project, which is near and dear to our hearts.

DR: The band name - is that a play-off of TSO's "Wizards in Winter" song?

Scott:  Yeah. I always liked that song and since the original vision was to be TSO tribute band, we started looking at their song names for inspiration. Plus, I also liked the idea that abbreviated you get 'WoW' - even though at the time our 16 lights wasn't exactly a "WoW Factor" [Laughs]

DR:  At what point did you start incorporating your original material into your set?
Scott: After we finished that first year's tour, we started looking at the idea of putting together our own album - so many fans after the show were asking to buy our album, so I started coming up with some ideas. I was working out the chord progressions for the first song I wrote for The Wizards, which eventually became "Arctic Flyer", and my daughter heard it and remarked that it sounded like a train. That led to the idea that our narrated story would involve a train, and each stop that the train made was it's own story and a song would be attached to it.

Sharon: We started thinking of what Christmas meant to each of the people that we meet along this train ride. Some are happy, some are melancholy. We also wanted to touch on THE Christmas story, with its religious connotations. TSO leaves all of that out.

Scott:  Right, and this way we could change the songs up and not always be locked into performing the same exact story each year. The concept would be the same, but as I would write new songs, we could incorporate those into our story. We sort of equate it to Dr. Who, who travels through time and space. Our little train travels on Christmas Eve and can visit any place or anyone in any time, looking into people's lives.

Scott Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2013
DR:  Who composes the music?

Scott:  Well, I never intended it for it to be me, but it worked out that way. We did try to write together as a band at first, but the music styles just didn't work together. 

Sharon:  We all worked cohesively together when performing, but with writing the music, each person was bringing such different dynamics that it wasn't working with what we had envisioned. Scott writes a lot of the melodies and I help with the lyrics.

Scott: Most times I write the music first and then backfit the lyrics. Then Steve and [guitarist] Fred Gorhau will come in and help with the arrangements. I usually present the melody and basic structure to the song, and they will work with that, adding in their bass and guitar parts in there.

DR:  Was the first time that either of you had written original music?

Scott:  The only other time was when I wrote out music for the drumline that I was working with.

Sharon: "Moments of Wonder" is a song that I wrote and sing lead on. We took an early iteration of that song and submitted it to a contest for Women of Substance, a radio show that was looking for new female talent. Among thousands of entries, that song was chosen and was played between a song by Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion, which was pretty amazing for us just starting out with our own material.

DR:  All of your songs seem to have a moral center to them. One of the differences I find between your songs and TSO's songs are that while TSO often uses metaphors and devised characters to tell their story, your songs are pretty straightforward about feelings. Your songs come right out and say, "Life is a gift", "Hold on to what you believe", "Remember Christmas memories"...

Sharon: We really just want people to think about their own lives. So often our lives are on autopilot and maybe for a couple of hours, they can sit in their seat while we play and think about their own lives and what's important. What it comes to for The Wizards of Winter are family and friends and sitting back, breathing and enjoying life. A lot of our songs reflect that.

Scott:  Our songs are from the heart. Our song "Simple Gifts" is a true story that took place right here in this house. As far as differences between us and TSO, what they put on is such a secular presentation of Christmas. We are not a religious or Christian act, but what is Christmas? We feel that the original Christmas story needs to be included and our train will always stop there; that's the first stop in our story. Yes, we are playing prog and metal like TSO does, but our story and the meaning behind it all is very different. It's not like we are presenting a moral tale, but we want to think about what does Christmas really mean? Why are people so different at that time of the year? 

DR:  You have mentioned that you were in Contrarian together and also performed as a duet together. And now here you are working together in The Wizards. Does working together musically as a married couple always come easy?

Sharon: It has always worked. This is obviously the biggest musical venture that we have been involved with and it can be stressful at times. It has taken off so quickly and the logistics can be overwhelming at times.

Sharon Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2013

Scott:  She comes along kicking and screaming some days [Laughs]. We've been married for 34 years and as stressful as putting all of this together year round can be, I don't think it would work if our marriage wasn't as strong as it is.  I still have a day job, as do all of our band members and it can consume you. It becomes part of one's persona.

DR:  Will we see you in leather jackets and sunglasses soon?

Scott:  [Laughs] No, that won't happen.  But at the end of the day, we enjoy performing together and were proud of each other. When the audience roars and gets on their feet from something that we wrote and performed, we catch each other's eyes on stage. It's a good moment.

DR:  Do you find that your own material goes over as well as the TSO covers?

Scott:  We find that it goes over better than the TSO songs. And that's because we do it better than we do TSO's material. We certainly put our spin on their songs and we do them well, but it is still not like playing your own original material that you wrote and recorded. 

DR:  The production values in your live shows are similar to the early TSO shows. And as TSO's stage show becomes more extravagant and immense each year, there seems to be a growing contingent of fans that miss the intimacy when their shows were more music and personality and less fire and spectacle. Many of TSO's past performers have expressed similar thoughts. Can you relate to that?

Sharon: Absolutely. When we saw first saw them in concert there was such intimacy and you could really connect with the performers. That is something that we have experienced as well - I always recall at one show, I was singing in the audience and this little 6-year-old girl put her hand out and we hi-fived. It was such a great moment and that is what gets lost in the arena shows.

Scott:  We have definitely experienced this as we have grown. We're playing 1500-1800 seat theaters and we see the fans in the balcony, you can feel the separation already. A lot of times I will try to sneak up there before the show starts and shake hands, just to thank them for coming. As much as we are enjoying the growth in popularity, we really don't ever want it to get that big where it becomes a spectacle or a Circus McGurkus. Even as we move up into 3000-4000 seat venues, we lose a bit more of the audience connection - we saw what happened with TSO and it is something that we are very conscious of.

DR:  The group that makes up the Wizards of Winter today is not the same that started out a few years back.

Scott: No, there are just the three of us left. In the early years, we brought in folks that were passionate about it.  As we talked about earlier, we wanted a talented group, but also we wanted them to be here for the right reasons. As the band started tasting a bit of success, the attitudes of some started changing and didn't always fit with the overall vision. There are musicians that we haven't invited back for various reasons, but the band that we are today is very harmonious and the overall talent level is the best we have had.

DR:  You obviously handle the brunt of the keyboard work. Have you always had a second keyboardist on board?

Scott:  No, not in the beginning.  Sharon used to do auxiliary keys, but now we have Mary McIntyre who is a classical pianist, which helps a lot.

DR:  With TSO, some of the keyboard work is the doubling of the string parts. Do you do something similar?

Scott:  Yes, you really have to. We obviously only have the one violinist, and this helps thicken the sound.

DR:   2013 was a pretty eventful year for The Wizards. As your tour got underway, fans saw not just the band on stage, but four pretty special guests on stage with you: Can you talk a bit about how this marriage of The Wizards and four of the pillars of Trans-Siberian Orchestra got together?

Scott:  As a fan of TSO, I was certainly very familiar with their legendary performers, and I knew that some of them had formed their own group, The Kings of Christmas.  They had released an album but their tour dates wound up being canceled. I had wondered what had happened to them, so one day I sent Tommy Farese a message, telling him about our band, how we started, what we are doing now and I invited him to give a listen to our music. A short time later, he responded, "I really love your stuff, if you ever want me to appear as a guest at your show, let me know". Within minutes we were on the phone and we really just hit it off - we just laughed and exchanged road stories for a couple hours. We really connected and he asked me to send him more of our music, and things just progressed from there. He came back and said, "Look, Guy LeMonnier and Tony Gaynor want to come along too".
We talked about a guest appearance, then several shows, then the whole tour!

I now had to talk to the band and present this opportunity to them. I explained that we have three of the original TSO performers interested in touring with us and we had to learn some new music!  Tommy wanted to do "The Snow Came Down" and "Ornament", neither of which were in our show and Guy used to sing "Christmas in the Air" with TSO so we looked at that as well. It was different, because we were just starting to get away from it being an all-TSO show and adding in more of our originals, and now we were adding back in TSO songs with the singers that were associated with them. We had a lot of internal discussion about this, because all it was going to do was put the TSO spotlight on us, and this was something we were trying to move away from. This was going to change everything in how we were doing our shows.

DR:  What was the band's reaction to bringing these performers on board?

Sharon: We took a vote and everyone was in. I think everyone realized what a great opportunity this was.

Scott:  They came down to our rehearsal space in June of that year and we all really hit it off musically. They are all such pros and they really helped us to up our game, and we all got along really well. Then Tommy told us that Michael Lanning was on board as well !  We didn't start booking the dates right away, as they still were still looking at doing a Kings of Christmas tour, but ultimately it was decided that they would all just come out with us, so we were a little behind in setting up the tour.  The response was great; some fans started flying in from all over the country just to see these guys on stage again. And the bottom line was we had so much fun.

Sharon:  Tommy Farese, in particular, made us tighter and better as a band. He would come in to our rehearsals with an iron fist - in a good way though - and contributed so many great ideas and suggestions. 

Scott:  All four guys really loved our original material and I am really proud of that.

DR:   You mentioned a couple songs earlier, but what songs did they wind up performing on the tour?

Scott:  Guy did "Christmas in the Air" and one of our originals, "Special Feeling".  He loved that song so much, and he fits it so perfectly, that he came in to the studio and sang it on our new album! Tommy sang lead on "Old City Bar" and three of the TSO songs that he sang originally: "The Snow Came Down", "Ornament" and "This Christmas Day".  

Michael Lanning sang a beautiful solo of "The First Noel" with just piano backing, and his original "Benny the Christmas Tree" which is a real fun song. He also did "Christmas Nights in Blue" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" which he used to sing with TSO - that would bring the house down every night!  Tony of course shared the narrating duties with the narrator that we had at the time.

Highlights from the Wizards of Winter 2013 Tour
with special guests Tommy Farese, Tony Gaynor, Michael Lanning, Guy LeMonnier

DR:  With all of these songs now added to your setlist, did you change the story to accommodate them?

Scott: Yes. We changed the libretto to include those songs. It still had small pieces of the original TSO narration though, like the lead up to "Christmas Eve Sarajevo".

DR:  You seem to be in a unique situation. You started out as a TSO tribute band, evolved into doing your own music with a bit of TSO inspiration and a desire to move away from the TSO music.  But then adding in some of the original and fan-favorite TSO performers sort of steered you back in that direction again. 

Scott:  It is a mixed blessing. We talk to fans that don't know the difference at times between our songs and their songs. It gets crazy with some fans - these are not the hardcore TSO fans coming to see us for the most part. We still have fans bringing their TSO CDs to us to sign and we explain to them that most of what they just heard was Wizards of Winter music with us paying tribute to a few of TSO's classics. We've had fans tell us how they saw us at a particular arena and we have to explain that it wasn't us, but thanks for the compliment. [Laughs]

Sharon:  I had a fan comment to me about my performance of "Queen of the Winter Night" - she told me that I didn't let her down and that I sounded just as good as when she saw me at the Izod Center. [Laughs]

DR:  It seems like it was a win-win deal for the fans and the band to some extent though. Longtime fans got to once again see and hear the voices that built the TSO live show, doing songs that they were known for, and these fans were all introduced to your own music at the same time in a theater setting.

Scott:  Exactly - there was a certain amount of confusion for some fans, but TSO has a reputation for hiring quality talent, and these fellas were some of the best that they ever had. Fans know the quality and that certainly helped gain interest in our shows last year.

DR:  So after that hugely successful 2013 tour, you headed into the studio, recorded and now released the new self-titled CD for 2014.  I know the band had an earlier CD with limited availability, and it looks like you have re-recorded several of the songs from that earlier disc on the new one. Why?

Sharon:  Because of the quality of that first release. It just wasn't up to par. We didn't really have any money since almost all of it was going to charity, so it was not recorded in the best circumstances; we utilized an in-house member who didn't have the qualifications.

DR:  This new self-titled CD was recorded with all of the current band members?

Scott:  Yes - the band that you see on stage is the band that recorded the CD. And unlike the earlier album, this was done in a real studio with real engineers and mastering.

DR:  The album artwork has been created by Ioannis, one of the preeminent album cover artists working today.

Scott:  It is an honor to be able to work with him because of all of the legendary artists that he has created cover art for. He likes our music and he contacted us. He even came to rehearsals to really get a sense of what we are about and really created something special for our album art.

DR:  I wanted to ask specifically about some of the songs on the new album.  The first single from the album - "March of the Metal Soldiers" - garnered considerable attention when it was released on Memorial Day. The proceeds from those sales were going to the Wounded Warriors Project?

Sharon: Our son-in-law is a disabled vet so the military is very near and dear to our hearts.

Scott:  The original that it is based on is a Victor Herbert classic from Babes in Toyland. The original vision for this song that I had in my head was gladiators marching into an arena with big marching drums, which is my drumline experience creeping in there. And I wanted to make it regal and give it a bit of an ELP flair. There is even some influence from Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon" in there.

DR:  The vocal break in the middle - are they singing in Latin?

Scott:  With our son-in-law being a Marine, we certainly were familiar with 'Semper Fi' - Always Faithful. Each branch of the military has their own slogan or motto, so I took each one and translated it into Latin. The words together jointly are loosely translated as "Always faithful, not self but country. This we will defend. Integrity, service, always ready. These colors won't ever run." This seemed like a fitting tribute to all that sacrifice for our freedom. And yes, since this march is our tribute to the military, all of the proceeds from this song go to the Wounded Warrior Foundation.

DR:  "Toys will be Toys" is a fun instrumental 

Scott:  This song actually started its life as a finger exercise that I was doing in C#. From that, I developed the melody line and presented it to the band. They weren't thrilled playing a song in C#, but it came out great!  The story with the song is that no one sees the toys when they are alone underneath the tree, so this is them having a ball and playing while no one is around!

DR:  For "Night of Reflection", is that a mixture of "Ave Maria" with your original lyrics?

Scott:  Yes. For that one I really got the idea to tell the Christmas story from Mary's perspective. Here is this young, frightened girl who now has this great task imposed on her - to give birth to the Son of God.  How does she deal with that? One of our former vocalists wrote lyrics, and we massaged them a bit to get where the song is today.

DR: One of the songs on the CD is one that certainly brings down the house at your shows: "Once Long Ago". It's THE Christmas story and it has a dramatic 70's classic rock feel to it - was that intentional?

Scott:  The story in that song is being told by sort of a ghostly character, was it an angel?  It is clearly someone that was there to watch the events unfold. So it had sort of an eerie feel as I was writing it, so it also put me in mind of Phantom of the Opera. The organ break and the percussion are very influenced by Emerson Lake and Palmer, once again.

Sharon: When that song came about, we envisioned someone with Vinny Jiovino's voice and now that is exactly who we have singing it! We wanted some drama to it, similar to Phantom of the Opera. The singer that sang it previously never quite captured the drama that we envisioned - it was always choppier in the verses. The version on our new CD is exactly as we had always pictured.                            


DR:  You mentioned earlier that  Guy LeMonnier has recorded "Special Feeling". Is he on anything else on the album?

Scott:  He sings a duet with Mary McIntyre on "Just Believe". I really enjoy working with Guy. That first day in the studio when he came down and sang "Special Feeling", our jaws dropped. It was like, "That's the voice!".  When I sat down to write "Just Believe", it was his voice that I could hear in my head singing it. 

Sharon:  Guy and Mary really came in mind when we were working on "Just Believe".  They just really brought that song to life. And for the tour, he is much more involved, helping with vocal arrangements and backing vocals as well.

DR: I did want to ask about a TSO song that you perform live, but I find it somewhat unexpected - "Whoville". TSO has never performed this one live, but your band seems to have a lot of fun with it.

Sharon: It's so much fun and it really ties our story together, with our trip to the North Pole with Mary as Mrs. Claus and all of the toys. And Tony gets to step away from the narration on this one and he joins us on backing vocals. It's just a really fun song.
The Wizards of Winter - Weinberg Center, Frederick, MD 12/4/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

DR: Do you have a particular favorite song to perform?

Sharon: Of the TSO songs we still include, I like doing "First Snow" and of ours, I think "Gales of December".

Scott:  For me, it's "Once Long Ago", "Sing O'Alleluia" and one of our new instrumentals "The Journey".

DR:  For the 2014 tour, you mentioned that Guy LeMonnier is returning with an even more increased role as he has officially joined the band.  Is Tony Gaynor involved more as well?

Scott: Yes,  The "Voice of Voices", as Tommy Farese coined the phrase. Tony is our sole narrator now, where as previously we split the role between our previous narrator and Tony. An exciting change is that Tony will not be tied to a mic stand - he will be wearing a mic so he can move around the stage a bit more.

DR: Also for the 2014 tour, I see vocalist Joe Cerisano is now on board. Joe obviously has a long successful history in the music business, and has the TSO connection as well, being a featured vocalist with TSO for several years and the voice of their song "Dream Child".  What does he bring to the table for The Wizards?

Sharon: Joe is such a professional and so kind. He is here for the love of the music. He really has enjoyed being part of what we are doing here, and he is another who has pointed out how similar our band and outlook are to the early days of TSO touring. 

Scott: He sort of brings the father figure feeling to the band - he has experienced so much in the music business and he is very assuring and very positive. For the tour, he is singing the songs that he used to sing with TSO, but we have also talked about recording with him as well. We looked at a couple of our original songs that he really likes but we just ran out of time this go-round. We are looking at doing something together in the studio though.
The Wizards of Winter - State Theater, Portland, ME 11/28/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

DR:   Over the last few years, you have played as far south as Norfolk, Virginia, and as far north as Niagara Falls, Canada and Portland Maine. Any favorite places to play so far? Or any places that you really want to play?

Sharon: I really like playing in Maine and I love the State Theater in Easton. I would love to play in Florida, Tennessee and in Texas.

Scott: The audience in Maine is unreal - they are so great. We have had a lot of wonderful audiences, but Maine certainly is the loudest. Over all the years, that small theater in Pottsville, Pennsylvania was one of the most fun places to play.  

DR:  What is next for The Wizards of Winter?
Scott:  It has definitely taken on a life of its own, so we are looking at a number of things. There will be another album, maybe an EP as well. We are looking at various opportunities to tour nationally, but they have to make sense in a number of ways. 

DR:  Could you see yourself splitting into more than one touring group to visit more cities in the lead-up to Christmas?

Scott:  I can. Based on the offers that have been coming in, we could have probably even done that this year, there is certainly audience demand for it. We think there is certainly room for us in the market, as we offer something different from the Mannheim Steamrollers and TSOs of the world.  I am up for the journey, but we will probably need some investing assistance, just like the others did.

DR:  Do you have any plans to do anything outside of the Christmas theme?

Scott:  I do, I have actually been working on something with a pirate story that will be a progressive rock epic. Both the music and the story are in a preliminary form, so not sure when that will happen. Right now we are concentrating on the Christmas show, guiding and building that up.

DR:  Thanks so much for taking the time.

Sharon:  It's been our pleasure!

The Wizards of Winter - State Theater, Portland, ME 11/28/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

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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: