Chris Caffery is no stranger to the rock scene. From Savatage to Dr. Butcher to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, his solo work, and much more, Chris Caffery has been part of the rock and metal scene for almost 40 years. His band Spirits of Fire, featuring Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death), Mark Zonder (Fates Warning), and new vocalist Fabio Lione (Angra, Rhapsody of Fire) is about to release their second record, Embrace the Unknown, and Chris recently took some time to talk about it.
Please press the PLAY icon for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Chris Caffery.
On Fabio Lione replacing Ripper Ownes – Well, actually, the first record came together by Frontiers approaching me to do a record and they had the formula they wanted to use because they have a lot of those different bands and members. They said, “How would you like to do a record with Ripper singing? We’d like to use Steve DiGiorgio and Mark Zonder”. Ripper is a very good friend of mine, so it was a big part of the selling point to get me to wanna do Spirits of Fire in general, was to have Ripper. Not that I don’t like playing with other bands, but I really wasn’t looking for anything to do at that time. They wanted to have Roy Z produce it, who I’ve always been a huge fan of. So I was like, “Yeah, that would be great”. That’s how that whole thing came about. When we came to do the next record, they came back to me and said, “Would you like to do Sprits of Fire 2?” I was like, “Yeah, it would be a lot of fun”. I wasn’t aware at that particular point in time that Ripper was not gonna be involved, but for whatever reason, he and Frontiers parted ways on this record. They said, “Well, we’re gonna be finding another singer. Do you still wanna be a part of it?” I wanted to make more music, I thought that the first record was very good, but I really wanted to try to get a chance to make a second one. I didn’t wanna leave things with just having that one record out. At first, we were looking for different singers, I did some work with Todd Hall, he was actually doing some writing and was considering being a part of it, but he had some reasons personally and musically that he didn’t have the time that he wanted to put in so Frontiers said, “You wanna try using Fabio?” I think he did a wonderful job and he showed a side of metal in him that I don’t even think anybody realized he was in there. The coolest thing about it is when this record was done, I played it to a lot of friends and a lot of people like you who have a lot of knowledge and experience in the whole entire genre of metal and rock, and nobody guessed who it was that sang. That was the coolest part about it. So Fabio, in my words, put the metal to the pedal and he became the singer of Spirits of Fire on this record, and he really did a great job. He wrote the lyrics and melodies and put them together with our producer, Aldo (Lenobile). I just did mostly writing the music on this record, so I’ve let that go into their hands and I’m really super happy with the final product. To me, it’s just a really fun listen. I tell people that all I wanted to do with this was to make a really cool metal record, something that people would be able to play and like, and I think that’s what we did. For me, I like listening to it, which is kind of rare sometimes that I’ll put on my own stuff and really be into it as like a driving thing or something I wanna put on, and this one has that for me. It’s just a fun metal record and I think a lot of that comes from the fact that when I wrote the music, I didn’t know what the lyrics and melodies were gonna be. So when I got the finished versions of these songs, it was like listening to the new record, and I think that’s why I put it on and listen to it like that, and I think the metal fans are really going to enjoy this one. 1:08
On creating an old-school metal record – Exactly, and that’s what I think people will like with this one. It’s not the greatest record that’s ever been done, but it’s a fun listen. Front to back, it’s a cool metal record, and that’s all I think any of us wanted to do with this. I’m noticing the reaction, we had close to 160,000 views of the first video on YouTube in 10 days, and that’s more views than any video off of the last record in three years, so it’s definitely showing that there’s a reaction happening. I’m looking at the comments and its metal fans all over the world, Peru, South America, and Greece, and these kids are really enjoying what they’re hearing, and that to me is the important thing because that’s why I did this. I didn’t do it for any other reason other than to make some good music and hopefully get some people that would like it, so that’s why I’m really happy about it. 4:37
On if it was weird to hand his songs to Aldo and Fabio having never met them – Maybe a little bit weird, when I heard what was coming back, I liked it, so I had a confidence factor on it. The distance thing is how we did the last record, even without the pandemic, tracks were done all over the place. With this one, obviously, we had to do it a certain way. What I was able to do with this one was something that didn’t happen with the last one I did my final rhythm guitars to the final drums. So where on the first record Mark did his drums to my guitars, and that’s what wound up being in the mixes, this one I kinda took the drums and re-wrote myself to marry him, which was where I considered to be like the rehearsal. I got into this rehearsal room with Mark Zonder and I played along with Mark Zonder and put myself down is to be like, “Alright, here’s this drum beat, which is a little bit different than the initial riff I have, how do I make it still have that?” So I gave it a live feel and just kinda re-wrote myself around him because he’s such an artistic drummer. I wanted to have the music be really driving with that, so I made sure I kinda re-wrote myself to lock-in. When Steve came on top of my new kind of plan, he locked in, and to me, this record sounds more like a band when you hear it. It’s got a really full cool sound to it, The bass is so incredible, and the drums were always incredible, but now I think it’s a whole big circle, it really sounds that way. Not having Ripper involved, really the only thing I wanted to make sure was that people weren’t disappointed. So I was like, “Well, I just wanna have the best metal music I could possibly have”. When Aldo started working on this, he was like, “Oh, here’s a couple of song ideas”, and he would send me the music, and I was kinda like, “Well, I don’t know how to say this, but I’m not using anybody’s music but mine”. Roy had written some stuff for the first one, but my whole thing was like, “Look, we’re gonna get a tremendous amount of pressure about not having Ripper because Ripper is Ripper, one of the greatest singers that I’ve worked with, and it’s been around in my generation, and there’s gonna be a lot of eyes and ears going on to this record. Now, if the record sucks, I want it to be my fault”, and that was it. It was more coming from like, if people aren’t like this, I don’t wanna turn around and go, “Dammit, I should have done that”. So I was like, ” I’m just gonna go and put my foot down and say, No, I’m gonna write the music”. That’s where I kinda did that, so that’s the only real kinda power play. It’s what I just said, I’m like, “Look, I wanna have that go down, you guys could put the lyric maladies on top of it because I don’t want it to sound like a Chris Caffery solo record. I want it to sound like Spirits of Fire. Do what you need to do on top of it, but I’m gonna give you this base. I’m gonna put in the frame in and the basic artwork, and then everybody can finish it from there”. It was cool. I had all my guitars I pretty much put out myself, and the only thing really (Aldo) produced with my guitar has a couple of solos, and it was kind of cute because he was being kind about it, he was like, “These three songs, just don’t know how to say it, exactly. I think the solos could be better”, and it was just like, “Alright”. I went back and I was like, “You know what, he’s right” because I did a wall of guitars. The rhythms, I had three different guitars. They were always different for each song. It would be like V and Rhodes and Les Paul, or Strat, and this one, and that one. I had two tracks of three different guitars as the rhythms on each song, so there are six rhythm guitar tracks. I put a ton of time into that, and I had my leads and I put them on top, and a lot of times I thought it worked right away. But I heard what he heard when he had those songs, as far as, I don’t think the leads were strong as the vocals or the bass and the drums and the other guitars. So I wouldn’t really hear that. I was like, “You know what, he’s right, These do kind of suck. Let me take it and move it forward”, and I did that, so that’s where his production came in. Then we listen back and forth with the production and the mixing. He’s got a great ear and I would just listen to it and give my opinions on things, but he did it. Aldo did a tremendous amount of work on this record, and it’s something I’m really proud of front to back, I think this is really cool listen. 6:03
On if Spirits of Fire will be able to play live – Well, my whole thing with that is this, I’m watching so-and-so’s crew shut down and this person’s dates from February, moved to October, and this person’s dates from June to 2023, and I’m going. “It’s a new band. We were in different parts of the world”. It would cost money to get us together, rehearse and put a whole thing together. If I book a show and they can’t happen, I’d rather take the time to know that we’re going, and it’s hard to say if that’s gonna happen next to be his whole next year isn’t the same, but I think it’s safer right now just to let the record come out and let people digest that. Maybe if we got an opportunity to do a festival and people’s schedules were open around to get together and spend a few days where that is rehearsing before we play. Whatever we do, it’s gonna take time to get it together because we never played together live. So it’s definitely one of those things that I want to happen, but I can’t assume that anybody would wanna take the risk on that right now, financially. Even if you wanted to make merchandise if you print it up, all that stuff and you didn’t play and you got a box of shirts that never get sold, and you playing flights that never get used, hotel rooms, so I think it’s just the assumed risk factor is so high right now that with a brand new thing, I think it’s safer just to wait. 11:08
On returning to the road with TSO – It was amazing. I was blessed with the opportunity to have the live stream the year before. Unfortunately, we lost Paul (O’Neill), a lot of what TSO did was Paul’s visions and ideas and scheduling. If we did a Beethoven tour, Paul put it together, if we did Wacken, it was Paul putting it together. When Paul passed, a lot of what was happening with TSO outside of TSO stopped because there was no Paul. So, my January until the Winter Tour was kind of open in the clear at that moment. So when 2020 went down, it wasn’t until I saw the TSO announcement that we’re not playing that the reality of what was going on hit me, which was probably later in the summer when I was like, “Wow, we’re not gonna play”. Then management and the O’Neill family called up to say, “Hey, we’re gonna do this live stream”, it was like your heart started beating. So we got to go and rehearse. It was different, but it was kinda like going to get together for a tour that only had one show. But we at least had that. I got to see my friends and my family, and I got to be in 250,000 households, millions of people, we got to watch TSO. We still had a chance to be a part of it, but obviously when 2021 came around and we saw that live shows were happening again, and they said, “We’re gonna go for it”, and again as I said, you wanna talk about assumed risk, imagine having to put on the show TSO did. So we went out and we did it, and it was such a great feeling to get up back on that stage. Top to bottom and you gotta name every person from our management or production people to everybody in the band and the crews, to get out there and to get through it, it was a real task and a challenge, and I’m so proud of everybody, proud of being a part of what happened. It was amazing to see the fans again, and I was so happy to be a part of their holidays and their time of year again, because that’s what we do, and the O’Neill family and everybody with Nightcastle, we put it together. You gotta think of it like this, it’s not just about you individually. Any one of us could have taken that whole tour down the way this thing was, so we all went out there and you have the lights, the sound, the pyro, the lasers, the mirrors, the video, the catering, the hotels, the buses, the trucks, the crew, all these venues, all these people are relying on us to go and play, and we all had a mission, which was the focus and do what we needed to do to get through with it. I’m really, really so proud of everybody involved with TSO that we took on that challenge and we successfully made it through this tour in one of the most difficult times to be on the road ever. So I think that it was a blessing for us to be able to do it, and we were blessed to have the fans show up to watch it, and all of us together, we have this amazing group of people that made it all happen. We got to keep Paul’s legacy and the music alive and be out there, like I said, in the most difficult time ever. If I was to call you up yesterday and say, “Oh my God, you wouldn’t believe the dream I had last night. We were on a road and shows were fine, but I got off stage, there was no backstage, and then there was a no signing line and we put masks on and we went right to the bus, and our days off, we didn’t leave our hotel rooms and there was a pandemic around in the world as the weirdest dream ever”,\that’s what we lived, and we successfully made it through it. I hope next year tour get to be back to more normal for us by the time we get to November, December, but it’s something that we’re a part of together, and like I said, the TSO family, from top to bottom, all came together and did something really special and like I said, the fans, we obviously wouldn’t have been able to go do this if they didn’t show up, so we all came together, I think as one big, large giant TSO family this year. 12:53
On the legacy and future of Savatage – Well, I mean, we did the Wacken show in 2015. It’s amazing to me, but when you think about it this way when I first started playing with Savatage, look how old I was, I was 19. Now, at that point in time, 20 years after that, there was a one-year-old person that was 21, so 20 years after my first Savatage sow, somebody was 21. I’m now approaching, I think, 35 years since I’ve done Savatage things. So you think of all the people and metal fans that have never seen Savatage, they have never got a chance to experience that, and their parents were into the band, and their uncle’s or somebody. The videos are there and everything shows up, and I think we’re one of the few bands that hasn’t played, but we’re all still there, so there’s that. We did that Wacken show. For some reason, are not leaving the new fans, they’re all hearing it and we’re just staying as a part of…you have classic rock, when Zeppelin stopped playing, young kids still listen to Zeppelin and it’s still an important part of everybody’s music from age 8 to 80. I think that that’s kind of what Savage has reached with metal. We’re just one of these bands that the music’s growing well with time. Songs like “Believe” and songs like “Mountain King”, and songs like “Morphine Child”, and songs like “Chance”, they’re aging in a way that’s going from generation to generation, and that’s something that is really special. It’s something I’m really proud to be a part of and Paul and the Oliva brothers and all of us, we put together some great music. We all still listen to everything that Freddie Mercury did, we all still listen to things that the Beatles that I’m not saying we’re Savatage is the Beatles or Queen, but the music is a generation gap and layers are extending like that, we’re going to different generations. We’re talking now, we’ve been writing. Chris Caffery’s the biggest Savatage fan in the world and Chris Caffery would love to see Savatage play tomorrow, that’s all. Whatever Chris Caffery says is always over the top optimism because that’s my band and my life. If it plays tomorrow, I’ll be there, but if it doesn’t, I lived a dream with Savatage being a part of my life. I’ve been writing stuff with Jon for the first time in a long time, which is exciting. I have a stack of the new vinyls, I get them as they come out, management gets them as they come out, so I’ll get them in my mail in the same order. The little “Hour Glass” thing, and then all the way up the line. My Mountain King’s not here yet, so they’ll come in for me as they come out to the people, and it’s exciting to watch people still love that band. It’s just really great music, Jon and Criss Oliva, they’re musical geniuses. Which is true. So it was Paul, they created some timeless things. Paul O’Neill, his lyrics gathered people together around the world. I always tell people that I was a guitar player that, no offense to singers at the time, I didn’t really pay attention to every lyric when I was coming in. Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen, and Michael Schenker and you’re a guitar player, your main focus is on, what is “Mr. Crowley’s” lyrics about? Your thinking about what Randy Rhodes is playing. When Paul started talking to me and I started listening to more of his production, and he said to me these words, “Chris, anybody could write a song about a car or a girl”, he says, “But when you could write music that changes people’s lives, I always thought that was something that was very important”, and he wrote these like “Believe” and these other ones, with the Christmas music, a song like “Ornament”, where everybody in that audience relates to that song and it’s something that happened with Savatage. We would go play in Europe, and I see these kids there from Egypt or from Brazil where we hadn’t played yet, and there would be like, “You saved my life”. Not meaning me, but basically meaning Paul and the lyrics and the message of Savatage, and I was like, “Wow, the Oliva’s and Paul O’Neill had done something with this music that was literally keeping people alive and giving them hope”. Kids were saving for six, eight months to get enough money to travel to a festival in Europe to watch us play, to get the opportunity to maybe be able to tell us that. That was before the internet and stuff to where they couldn’t message you, so what they had to do it was to be at a show and hopefully see you roaming around a crowd at a festival or something. Now I think that the bridge of the generations that happen with Savatage is incredible, and I think it’s the same thing is happening with TSO. I’ve watched TSO for 25 years now, and there are people that are 24 that were not born when we started, and they are having kids, and there were kids that were two, or they said, “I want to see you for the first time when\ I was five”, and they’re 27 now and they’re married is not have their kids and they’ll be bringing them in. It’s a great thing, and I think TSO is crossing into everybody’s lives musically like that as well. It has to do with the brilliance of somebody, like Paul. He had a magic about him to where he just had to figure it out. I don’t know how he had it figured out, but he just knew it. Paul was a special person. People like that don’t come around very often. I was blessed to have him not only be my boss, but almost like my dad for over 30 years, so I was 17, he was my first boss ever. So it was pretty crazy. 17:50