Interview with Bob Kinkel of Trans-Siberian Orchestra
by Steph Perry
November 4, 2008
Trans-Siberian Orchestra just kicked off their 2008 Winter Tour with dates through January 4. TSO has two touring bands and will hit 90 cities in North America in just nine weeks. Bob Kinkel handles keyboards for the East Coast touring band. He is one of TSO’s primary composers and producers, as well as the Musical Director for the tour. I spoke to Bob about the tour, his thoughts on how the band impacts its listeners, and what’s up next for TSO.
I was told you would be calling from tour rehearsals. What type of facility are you using?We’re using an arena. We have two tours so we set up one band at each end of the arena. It’s kind of cool because the lights are so huge this year. There’s a light trussing that goes out over the audience and there’s about a two inch gap between the lights for one band and the other! It’s really awe inspiring this year. We can be playing on the stage, and the lighting designer for the other band is running the lights while we’re playing so we get to actually see what the show looks like, and we’re going, “wow that’s cool, that’s what people are seeing!” So it’s a lot of fun.
Considering the expense, can you conduct a full rehearsal including pyro and lights?
Well you test it out, we’ve seen some of the effects. You have to run through everything for the fire marshals and all that. But we do conduct one run-through with all the pyro. Everything’s tested and everyone has to see it, so you know where to stand so you’re safe!
On past tours you’ve used local string musicians, is that still true?
That’s still true. We now have two violin players on tour and six local string musicians for each show.
In past years the performers have graciously spent their time after each show to meet the fans and sign autographs. Will you do that this tour?
We still do that. That’s a really important thing for us because it let’s us know why we’re there. You know, Paul [O'Neill] always says the audience is the second half of the band and it’s really true. Without the fans there’s really no reason to be there. It’s really great to meet the people. There’s some people that are way back and they get to see us up close and we get to meet them. We see whole families come by, with little kids that are just awed and get inspired. It’s just a wonderful feeling to actually meet everybody. So that’s something we’ll never stop doing. Every evening show we sign afterwards.
TSO is now considered a Christmas tradition. Can you reflect on what TSO’s growth has meant to you personally?
It’s something that’s completely awed me. You always hope that what you create will be embraced by people. You know that’s the ultimate hope if you write a song that people will listen to it. The way that TSO music has been embraced makes us feel wonderful. And it also lets us know that we’ve been doing what we set out to do, which is to give the best performance possible, and have the best musicians and singers you can find, and give the best production for a stage show. And every year try to do better, and not become complacent and rely on the past but always try to top what we did the year before. Looking at the production this year, and hearing everybody play, I think we’ve succeeded again. You know it’s kind of nail-biting and we go crazy trying to do it but it’s really important to us. So I think those aspects and just people getting into the music and the feeling and being able to escape for two and a half hours and just really get into the show have created a word of mouth thing so people will come one year and the next year they’ll bring ten friends and the show has grown that way more than anything else and the tradition has come out of that. one you get to come and hear Christmas Eve and Other Stories and you get to hear all the great music and see the production. and it’s a great night out with friends. A lot of people now have parties before they come to the show. It’s something that has become a tradition. And it just makes us feel great!
The message behind Christmas Eve and Other Stories is so valuable, with its message of hope and faith, I’m sure that also brings people back?
Oh yeah. Some people will tell us the Christmas season has begun when they’ve come to see us. Or they thank us for the shows that are after Christmas, they thank us for keeping that feeling going. It is a special time for a lot of people. It’s a time when people are happy. It’s a time when people tend to do things for one another that they wouldn’t normally.
I read that TSO donates a dollar to charity for every ticket sold?
Yes we’ve done that since the first tour.
Are there particular charities that you guys support?
We let the local radio station pick the charity because they know the area, and they know who needs things most. So in every market we play, the local radio stations will pick the charities. So it’s everything from Toys For Tots, Make A Wish, Ronald McDonald House, local food banks, local hospitals, there’s all kinds of different charities. So the charities vary completely. But again, it’s giving back and we’re part of the community. We’ve donated over 4 million dollars since this started.
Any updates on new TSO material?
Well [the new album] Night Castle is nearing completion. We’re starting to mix everything. Actually we’re going to be opening the show with one of the new songs from Night Castle. It’s a huge song with full choir. So don’t come late!
Is there any concept or story behind this new album?
There is but we’re not talking about it!
Is Greg Hildebrandt still involved with the artwork?
Yes of course. He did a beautiful cover for the tour book this year. And he’s working on the art for the Night Castle album as well. He’s come up with some really beautiful stuff. He’s such a sweetheart and such an amazing artist. It’s just so funny that he discovered us. Someone had given him a copy of Beethoven’s Last Night and he really got into it. Him and his late brother Tim, the two of them really got into it. They started just leaving the CD on all the time while they were painting. At one point Greg started doing Beethoven sketches and then paintings. When we met him for the first time, he opened his portfolio and like twenty or thirty things just came spilling out! We were kind of awed by it.
To inspire somebody in that realm, that’s pretty exciting.
Yeah. When Paul got the call from Greg Hildebrandt, he was just floored!
What was your reaction to being inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame?
It’s just a great honor, to have someone nominate you and then go through the whole thing. That was just a huge honor and it made me feel really good. I was very proud to accept it.
Can you talk at all about Savatage? I noticed on Myspace there’s a little bit of activity happening.
We’re talking about some stuff, there’s nothing concrete right now. It’s definitely being discussed a lot.
Is there any other news or information you’d like to share that I haven’t touched on?
You touched on pretty much everything I think! Some of the Sava-fans will have some good surprises this year too. You can put that out there!