By David E. Gehlke
SAVATAGE recently returned to the metal news cycle thanks to founding member and frontman Jon Oliva's promises of new music and a final tour. SAVATAGE, of course, hasn't released an album since 2001's "Poets And Madman" and was last seen live at the 2015 installment of Wacken Open Air, so it remains anyone's guess as to when a new LP will arrive, but one person not talking about it is guitarist Chris Caffery, who, with a smile over Zoom said, "I'm sworn to secrecy."
And it's not like Caffery doesn't have anything else going on. He is part of the East Coast installment of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA [TSO], the mega-successful SAVATAGE holiday offshoot that plays North American arenas annually. Caffery has SPIRITS OF FIRE, his metal project featuring ex-RHAPSODY OF FIRE frontman Fabio Lione, TESTAMENT bass legend Steve DiGiorgio and ex-FATES WARNING drummer Mark Zonder. There's also his solo work, which includes the recent "May Day" single and his side-SAVATAGE band, DOCTOR BUTCHER, of which new music is in the works.
"May Day" was the purpose of BLABBERMOUTH.NET's call with Caffery, but the guitarist also touched upon his SAVATAGE career journey, one that is still tied to deceased guitarist Criss Oliva. Caffery even took the time to point out his solid standing among BLABBERMOUTH's devoted readership, a hard-won achievement in these divided times.
Blabbermouth: Aside from TSO, you are most active with your solo work and SPIRITS OF FIRE. Is it just a matter of finding time to do them when TSO isn't touring?
Chris: "It's funny because the SPIRITS OF FIRE thing came to me from Frontiers [Music]. They were asking me to do something with Ripper [Tim Owens]. He was a friend of mine for a long time. Then they mentioned using [producer] Roy Z. so that whole combination was intriguing. I was like, 'This will be fun.' I wasn't looking to do a project/band. I wrote the stuff for the second SPIRITS OF FIRE record because I wanted to do another album and Frontiers and Ripper had a bit of a falling out. They got me to work with Fabio, but that stuff was fun. There hasn't been another BUTCHER record, so I love that stuff.
"My solo stuff is my chance to be myself and to write my music. I enjoy singing a lot more than people realize. Since I got to be known as a guitar player, it's difficult to establish myself as a singer. It's crazy because even somebody who sings as well as Richie Kotzen [THE WINERY DOGS] doesn't get known as a good singer, and he's better than 99 percent of the people who sing. I work in a band that has 20 lead singers. It's hard to get a TSO singing gig if you're a singer; never mind to grab a song. I do it for fun. I have lots of different favorite types of music. I always have lots of things to say. It's easier for me to do it that way. Recently, it was more stress-less to do the singles than to do a record. If you do an entire record, you have to deal with the critical aspect. I didn't want 'May Day' to disappear. There are a lot of things that came to us through the Internet, especially in the last five-six years. Even before Covid, we started going over the edge. Then Covid hit. I think we've gone over the edge into the cyber world. It's taken over many people's lives."
Blabbermouth: You can't go anywhere without seeing people staring into their phones, totally oblivious to the world around them.
Chris: "When I went on tours when I was younger, even when I went out when I was younger, I left my house, then got home and checked my answering machine. I lived life. I like to do that. Usually, I carry my phone to count my steps since I hate wearing a watch. I'll leave my phone somewhere and people will say, 'I tried to call you an hour ago!' I go, 'I didn't look at my phone for an hour.' It's so weird that you have to be that attached. I care for my mom, so I like to have it on me in case she needs help. I also keep it there for notifications from her. It's gotten really bizarre. You have people prioritizing their days by trying to jump off a building into a human body-shaped opening into a piece of plywood to see if they can get a million views in TikTok. That's not what I did when I was younger! I worked at a gas station and cut people's lawns. I wasn't trying to make the funniest home video to make my money. It's a completely different world now."
Blabbermouth: You've expressed reservations about singing, but your voice has a unique, almost haunting quality.
Chris: "That comes from working with people like [Jon] Oliva and [SAVATAGE producer co-TSO founder] Paul [O'Neill]. When I was a kid and playing guitar, I didn't know the lyrics being sung half the time. We sang them wrong. We were all James Brown when I was a kid. [Laughs] Then, when I paid more attention to the meaning of lyrics and watched the way Paul would produce people in the studio and how he would go for the emotion from one vocal line for 20 takes, over the top with it, 'I want you to be this person.' When I sing what I've written, I've learned without trying to get that ability to put the emotion of what's in the lyrics to doing it live. As time has gone on, my voice has gotten stronger. I've trained it a little bit. I did all those vocals myself. There are no pitch changes on it. If anything is not perfect, it is what it is. I can sing it in pitch. It's a little bit more fun sometimes to come up with the completed song on vocals than the instrumental. Part of me wants to do a guitar record. I figure as a guitar player that I want to do it. There are a lot of things I can do on the guitar that nobody has ever heard. I listen to things that have come out and people say, 'This is the greatest guitar solo I've heard.' People that have new records are doing amazing things. I can do stuff like that and probably should. For some reason, when I go to my glass art and music, I enjoy certain other parts of art just as much as the guitar. It's not a bad thing. I really like the singing. I probably could do more if I knew I could train the voice. When I was a kid, I wanted to sing, but my brother and the bassist of my club band said my voice was too thin. It didn't hurt him when you watched exactly how big and famous somebody like Vince Neil [MÖTLEY CRÜE] became with his kind of voice. I'm able to sing the middle and thinner, higher stuff. I often wonder where my career would have gone if I went in as a singer, but who knows? I may be dead by now." [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: You've had a pretty fascinating career journey since you were in and out and in and out of SAVATAGE before becoming a full member.
Chris: "Paul created that idea of getting me in [SAVATAGE]. The '[Hall Of The] Mountain King' tour [in 1987] was an experiment. I got in for 'Gutter [Ballet]'. I left SAVATAGE to work with my brother. I never should have done that. I was 21 years old. I didn't know the business that well. My brother and I had bands. He was getting depressed, almost suicidal. Part of your head thinks that you would be able to do things on your own. I left to try things with my brother. I left the band I wanted to be in. It was a mistake. Time went by really fast before [SAVATAGE guitarist] Criss [Oliva] died [in 1993]. It was less than two years, then Criss passed away. I was not able to get that time back. I wound up back in the band. I was almost back in for 'Edge Of Thorns', but I decided to stick with Jon with BUTCHER. Criss almost left SAVATAGE to be in BUTCHER. We were close in that group of people. I was lucky that the family kept me in it and Paul kept me around. I never really left any of it. Everybody gave me a chance to try. Back then, you were a whore if you played in two bands. [Laughs] No offense, I love him to death, but you could not be [former DREAM THEATER drummer] Mike Portnoy in 1990. It wouldn't happen."
Blabbermouth: Sure. Between the labels and management, it would be hard.
Chris: "You couldn't be in five bands! You were a whore, a musical whore, if you did that. Now, it's great because everybody can fill their time. If there are times of the year when people can't play, you play with somebody else. That whole concept of being in something besides one band did not exist. I named Mike, but look at me: I have TSO, SPIRITS OF FIRE, my solo thing and SAVATAGE. I play and record with other people. I named him because he's the easiest thing to think of."
Blabbermouth: But you have to do what you have to do these days.
Chris: "Now, I'll get the headline that 'Chris Caffery says Mike Portnoy is a musical whore' [Laughs]. Actually, I think I'm liked in the Blabbermouth community. I love the sense of humor. Every once in a while, I'll jump in. When I do, the fans realize I'm right there with them. I do it with kid gloves because I can't live in it, but I understand a lot of that sense of humor. I'm not looking to get nailed, but I know where it's coming from. Some people take it so seriously. It's like a lot of fans on Blabbermouth realize I'm a clown like they are. [Laughs] I try to be correct because TSO and Paul always wanted everybody to avoid drama. I do that as much as possible. I'll rarely talk about anything political. You're always going to find someone who disagrees. If even you say, 'One plus one is two.' someone will go, 'No, it's not! It's three and a half.' Then they'll say, 'Caffery is an asshole.'
Blabbermouth: Speaking of the Internet, you posted a video of you playing some new DOCTOR BUTCHER riffs. Can you share where you are with the second album?
Chris: "I probably need to go and finish the songs, then get Jon somewhere and have him sing. I could have this computer I'm talking to you now and say, 'Come here, Jon.' Or do it at TSO rehearsals for a week. I've had music written for that for decades. There was a lull that I hit with the BUTCHER thing. It wasn't SAVATAGE. It was always hard to do something that would be 'competitive' with the people you are working with. Unfortunately, one of the things had to get put to the side. That was the one. BUTCHER was the red-headed stepchild who could do the one 'game' and never play again. [Laughs] It stinks because it was really good. Not that I'm unhappy about anything in my career, but I think if BUTCHER were able to be the only thing me and Jon had, it would have gone to a high level."
Blabbermouth: The self-titled DOCTOR BUTCHER debut from 1994 still holds up, don't you think?
Chris: "I listened to 'Reach Out And Torment Someone' the other day. [Laughs] It showed up on one of my playlists. The lyrics are ridiculous. We just wanted to have fun. We wanted to be obnoxious and on the edge. We wanted to say all the political and social stuff we couldn't and be a radical metal band. It was fun. Oliva, we did a couple of shows, he came out onstage, we had a giant guy, Big Dave, he was a butcher. He did the butcher thing with a cleaver. We had the table up there and he lifted Jon's head, which was a piece of meat. We put up an electric chair like [Alice] Cooper shows. We were pretty much where things like CRADLE OF FILTH and MARILYN MANSON were headed. Jon had that thing going on. It was a time when bands like PANTERA were starting to break big. We could have stayed really heavy and married the two. It hit a point where 'If you do this. You probably won't be doing this,' which was SAVATAGE."
Blabbermouth: How are you approaching your solo work going forward? Will you release singles or do another album?
Chris: "I was talking about the possibility of maybe doing a record that is called '2020'. It's the most screwed-up part I think will be in our lives. If there were ever a chance to write a record of every emotion on the planet, that would be it. I can include songs I've released already as singles so I can finish it, like 'Sick Of This Shit' and 'May Day'. It was May 2020 when we first decided to attempt to get out of lockdown, which didn't work very well. 'May Day' was right after that first March into April . There's so much you can write to make a cool album. There are so many things that happened that year that are crazy. I got a lot of ideas and lyrics to make it happen.
"It's fun for me to do these singles. My hearing is a little bit challenged. I had a bad accident five years ago and a bad brain injury. I can't take a tremendous amount of time in front of the computer. It's a little bit easier to finish one song at a time. I like it because it allows me to focus and concentrate on it. I'm happy with this single is that even though my hearing is as challenged as it has been, people seem to really like the production. I laughed. There is something to it. I'm wearing what little is left of my hearing down with one song at a time. Plus, some of my past work could come out as a 'Greatest Misses'. If you combine my solo records, you can have the funny songs, ballads and heavy songs. I can do mish-mashes of some things. Write one or two songs for each, then release records focusing on those things. My fans like to hear the difference in the music. People that like what I do realize my stuff is all over the map. It's what I do. I'm not that predictable."
Image credit: squintyt4e