Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas with a twist

12/02/2012 1:10 AM

08/08/2014 10:33 AM

After producing Aerosmith and Savatage and promoting tours by Sting and Madonna during the ’80s, Paul O’Neill was wondering what the ’90s would bring.

“Then I received a call from Atlantic Records, and they asked if I would want to start my own project,” he said.

It was like handing a 16-year-old the keys to a Ferrari. O’Neill, a composer and guitarist, accepted the offer, but his mind raced about what type of act he would put together.

“I wanted to take the absolute favorite forms of music I grew up on and meld them together for this group,” O’Neill said while calling from New York. “I told Atlantic I wanted four guitar players like Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wanted a symphonic sound like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I wanted 24 lead singers so I could have a soprano, and if I needed someone with a four-octave range, I would have it. I wanted to make Christmas albums.”

To O’Neill’s surprise, Atlantic was down with his ambitious concept.

“I have to give Atlantic credit,” O’Neill said. “They gave me a blank check and, even more importantly, they gave me complete artistic control.”

Their faith was rewarded since Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become a massive success. The band, which melds orchestral, symphonic and progressive rock elements into hard rock and metal, has sold more than 8 million albums and 9 million concert tickets.

TSO, which will bring its “The Lost Christmas Eve” tour to Intrust Bank Arena on Wednesday, is a musical and visual powerhouse. Lasers, pyrotechnics and an elaborate light show complement the soaring songs.

“We try to give you the most stimulating show that you can see,” O’Neill said. “It’s something that complements the music.”

The 60-piece Trans-Siberian Orchestra has released a number of prog-rock Christmas albums, such as 1996’s “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” 1998’s “The Christmas Attic” and 2004’s “The Lost Christmas Eve.”

The albums are like books filled with songs that help tell a holiday tale. Savatage members, vocalist Jon Oliva, guitarist Al Pitrelli and keyboardist Robert Kinkel, help flesh out O’Neill’s grand sonic vision.

“Having a strong, long-lasting relationship with these guys helps make what we have special,” O’Neill said. “We’re on the same page. It’s almost like we’re telepathic, since we’ve worked together on this project since day one and I worked with Savatage before that. We all love Christmas, and we have connected with a base that wants Christmas with a new twist.”

In these uncertain economic times, O’Neill does all that he can to keep costs down.

“We have a lot of people to pay since we’re such a huge production,” O’Neill said. “But I think it’s important considering how things are today to keep it reasonable. Tickets for our shows range from about $25 to $65. You’ll never see us do golden circles or premium seating. We want to be fair in every way.”

That extends to their music. The new TSO five-song EP, “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night),” is selling for $5 at shows. “That’s our little thank you to fans before we come up with our next rock opera,” O’Neill said. “Don’t worry, the next album is coming. It’s just a matter of when there is time to do it.”

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