When Paul O'Neill first conceived Trans-Siberian Orchestra, his goal was as straightforward as it was ambitious. "The whole idea," he explains, "was to create a progressive rock band that would push the boundaries further than any group before, following in the footsteps of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, the Who...but take it way, way further."
With more than 7 million albums sold TSO has inspired generations of fans to rediscover the multi-dimensional art form of the rock opera. On the road, meanwhile, they have become one of the world's top acts including a recent mention in Billboard magazine as one of the top touring artists of the past decade. With a $20 million-plus production that has played to over 7 million people in 80+ cities, selling more than $280 million worth of tickets.
O’Neill, a New York City native grew up "with a wide-ranging world of musical influences around me," particularly the previously mentioned rock 'n' roll titans. But O'Neill also soaked up sources such as Broadway musicals, Motown and singer-songwriters such as Jim Croce and Harry Chapin, while authors such as Oscar Wilde and Robert Graves fueled his literary tastes. He began his career playing guitar for touring productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, then went to work in the late 70’s for Leber-Krebs Inc., the Manhattan management company whose clients included Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Def Leppard, the Scorpions, the New York Dolls and scores of others. In the 80’s, O'Neill became a major promoter in Japan as well, but returned to the States to start writing and producing full-time.
O'Neill helmed Aerosmith's CLASSICS LIVE I and CLASSICS LIVE II albums before beginning a fortuitous relationship with the band Savatage that led to conceptual pieces such as HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING, GUTTER BALLET, STREETS: A ROCK OPERA and DEAD WINTER DEAD. It also introduced him to Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkel and Al Pitrelli, as well as reconnecting him with legendary studio engineer Dave Wittman, who all became key original collaborators in O'Neill's grand vision – Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
"I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style," O'Neill says. "Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like the Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd...I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 18 lead singers.
O'Neill took the idea to Atlantic Records which, to his surprise, went for it and financed the creation of Romanov which was initially to be TSO’s first release. "We were very fortunate," he says. "It was one of the only labels left that still did an “old school” kind of artist development." My original concept was; "We were going to do six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two regular albums."
However, when Romanov got temporarily put on the back burner, the first installment of the Christmas trilogy, CHRISTMAS EVE AND OTHER STORIES became TSO’s debut album. Fueled by the socially conscious single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," the album went double platinum. More platinum certifications followed with 1998’s THE CHRISTMAS ATTIC, and the final installment of the Christmas trilogy, THE LOST CHRISTMAS EVE in 2004. In the midst of completing the trilogy, TSO released their first non-holiday rock opera the gold certified BEETHOVEN'S LAST NIGHT.
But TSO really cemented its following in concert. The group hit the road in 1999, beginning an annual November-December extravaganza that O'Neill takes pride in being "as over the top as we can make it.” “We have, two stages -- with pyro, light and lasers -- on both sides of the arena, as well as in the crowd and the best sound we can find...There's no second-class seats at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. I want people to walk out of our shows speechless and...still not believing what they have seen was possible."
O'Neill plans to dazzle TSO's fans even more in the future. The new album NIGHT CASTLE released in October of 2009 debuted at #5 and was certified gold by year’s end. NIGHT CASTLE is a sweeping two-discs of genre-blending epics and an affecting story that takes you around the world, through time and to points beyond. O'Neill and company will eventually give NIGHT CASTLE its due in a live setting just as they have BEETHOVEN’S LAST NIGHT in Spring 2010 with a new hybrid form of concert they are calling “Rock Theatre”-- and that's just one of many multi-media avenues TSO will be exploring in the near future. The details are forming right now; suffice to say that TSO's foreseeable future is a busy one.
"We spend a lot of time planning," O'Neill confesses with a laugh, "and people are always telling me, 'Paul, stop writing and start recording!' It's working out great, though. I feel lucky that it's gone this long and that we get to do what we love for a living. The arts have incredible power, and with that comes incredible responsibility. Someone once said that if you want to change the world, don't become a politician -- write a book, write a great song. I believe in that, and that's what Trans-Siberian Orchestra is about."
"I've always believed that music has the power to transport and transform," O'Neill explained. "The original concept of Trans-Siberian Orchestra was how to make music have the most emotional impact. We always try to write melodies that are so infectious they don't need lyrics and lyrics so poetic that they don’t need a melody, but when you combine the two together they create an alloy where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Once those songs are woven together into a tapestry they create a story which gives each song a third dimension.”
"That was so much in the spirit of Trans-Siberian Orchestra," O'Neill explains. "This is a group -- a constantly morphing group -- of extremely creative and talented individuals who are always trying to raise the bar of where a band can take its audience sonically, visually and emotionally. With that as our core ideal, the possibilities are endless."
Part 3 of the Christmas Trilogy
by Paul O'Neill Music By Paul O'Neill, Robert Kinkel, Jon Oliva & Al Pitrelli
It was the night of Christmas Eve and somewhere on the other side of eternity (which is somewhere after today but before tomorrow) a tear of incredible sadness slowly welled up within the eye of a beautiful young lady. The sorrow within the tear was so great, that though it desperately wanted to stay with her to give whatever comfort it could, the weight of the pain it contained eventually caused it to fall. It fell through eternity, across countless galaxies, star systems and universes until it found itself entering the atmosphere of our own world. There, while falling through the clouds, it was slowed for a moment as it landed on a strand of the Princess of Winter's snow-white hair. The tear ran to the end of that strand, where it lingered for a moment, before continuing its fall. The Princess, having noticed her small visitor, had blessed the teardrop transforming it into a snowflake, which allowed it to continue the remainder of its journey in a gentle descent among countless other snowflakes, until it finally landed in front of an old toy store in New York City.
Now, while the snowflake was nestling in amongst its fellow winter travelers, downtown in the business district on Wall Street, all was unusually quiet. The streets were empty of people and cars and a thick layer of still falling snow muffled everything, even the footsteps of dreams on their way to tomorrow. Everyone had gone home early to prepare for all the promised magic of the next day and the lights were out in every office window. Well, nearly every office window. Up on the fifty-eighth floor of one massive office building, a single office window was still brightly illuminated in cold fluorescent light. Within that office sat a businessman going through legal documents. He was a gentleman, in his early sixties with graying hair, but still in excellent physical condition. Calling for his secretary, the man was visibly annoyed to have received no response. Getting up, he looked out his office door only to see every desk and cubicle empty. "Christmas," he muttered disgustedly as he realized that everyone had long since gone and he would be getting no other work done this night. Putting on his coat and scarf, he grabbed his briefcase and left. Stepping out to the street, his frustration mounted as he soon came to the conclusion that his probability of finding a cab was extremely low at best. Resigning himself to the situation, he pulled his coat a little tighter and started walking home.
Meanwhile, across eternity, the Lord called before Him His youngest angel and once more requested him to return to the world of mankind and to bring Him the name of the person that best continued the work of his Son on Earth. His mission had to be completed in one night, and unlike all his previous journeys to the world of humans, this time he would only be allowed to use his wings twice, once when he descended, and once more when he would leave (not unlike the souls of humans). So, with the nightfall having already started on Earth, the angel quickly unfolded his wings and began his quest, all the while wondering how he would be able to find this individual. Humans were such an extremely varied lot, a seemingly infinite mixture of rich and poor, successes and failures, young and old, that he wondered exactly where he could land that would allow him to see as many of these individuals as possible within his allotted time. As he thought, his mind recalled how on the day his Lord's Son was born that all roads on the Earth seemed to eventually lead to Rome. Every individual or idea of note seemed to make its way to that eternal city. He wondered what was the present day equivalent of that glittering jewel from mankind's past. Then, all at once he found himself whispering the words, "New York." Within moments, he found himself hovering over that city feeling the gentle rhythm of millions of heartbeats, but still unsure of exactly where to land. Suddenly, he noticed an old Grand Hotel, with a toy store on its right, a blues bar to its left and a nineteenth century gothic style cathedral directly across the street. Also in this city that often had guards at nearly every door, this hotel had a sign that said, "Vacancies. There is always room for one more." Thinking to himself how that sign seemed so appropriate for this night, he landed on the roof of the cathedral across the street from the hotel. Within a few minutes he realized that people of every race, creed, and age inhabited this block and he slowly took in the scene.