Thursday, Nov. 15 — When a major record label gives a progressive-rock fanatic an unlimited budget and total artistic control, a few things are certain: pyrotechnics, lasers and over the top light shows. Back in 1993, that was just the case for producer/songwriter Paul O'Neill, founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. After landing a record deal, his extravagant interpretation of prog-rock began to take shape. O’Neill, a 40-year veteran in the rock industry, has been an ardent follower of theatrical bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush and Yes for decades, but he also loves classical music. And it’s not hard to tell.
“To me, Mozart was the world’s first rock star,” O’Neill said. “Beethoven was the first heavy metal rock star. Think of the 5th Symphony: ‘da-da-da DUM.’ If Led Zeppelin did that riff it would be totally believable.”
Almost 20 years since its genesis, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is still growing. It’s promoting the newly released “Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)” EP, a five-song collection featuring the instrumental “Winter Palace” and the title track. The disc, of course, incorporates dramatic classical stylings with a potent rock edge — O’Neill’s signature sound.
“I wanted to take all the bands I admire, like Queen and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and build on that,” said O’Neill, a Brooklyn native. “With (The Who’s ‘Tommy’) in mind, I make sure all the songs on ‘Dreams of Fireflies’ stand up individually but when woven together into a tapestry create a story that gives it an extra dimension.”
While the massive group, which includes a crew of over 300 people, has sold over 7 million records and also millions of concert tickets, some fans may not recognize O’Neill’s name (“We’re musically driven, not celebrity driven,” he says.) But he says the band has more technical things to worry about.
“Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the most complicated touring production, period,” O’Neill says. “We carry more pyro-special effects than most all of the bands in the world combined, I think. The last couple years we added catwalks that ascend out of the ceiling, so no matter where are you are in the arena, at some point there is a musician right there in front of you, even if you’re up in the nosebleed seats. Every seat is first class.”
The massive production rolls into the Breslin Center on Friday, and O’Neill said it’ll be a 50/50 mix of holiday tunes and powerhouse rock ’n’ roll.
“It’s the first time we have a brand new production for the first half,” he said. “The second half is hits from the other albums, which isn’t a new idea. The Who would do songs from ‘Tommy’ or ‘Quadrophenia,’ then songs from their other albums during the second half. We just want to make the show surreal.”
Jack Breslin Center, MSU campus