Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Conversation with Scott and Sharon Kelly of The Wizards of Winter

If it is the Christmas season and you enjoy progressive rock with a dash of metal, or power ballads with a dash of theater, chances are good that you are listening or going to see The Wizards of Winter. Based out of New Jersey, this 10-piece eclectic ensemble has been rocking the airwaves and filling theaters each year with their take on the Holidays. I caught up with the husband-wife team that helped found the band: Keyboardist, composer and musical director Scott Kelly and his wife, Flutist and vocalist Sharon Kelly. In this sit-down interview, we talk about the band's origins as a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute act, their transition to writing and performing their own original material, joining forces with original TSO members, and their exciting new self-titled CD.

Dan Roth: Before we get into The Wizards of Winter, I want to ask about your musical background.

Scott Kelly: I got involved with playing keyboards after attending an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert in the 70s.  I saw them do Pictures at an Exhibition in New York and afterwards I thought, "That's what I want to do!".  Little did I know how hard it was at the time. [Laughs] I convinced my parents to get me my first Hammond organ and some music books and began learning how to play. I also got a job working at a music store where I worked with a lot of really good musicians and absorbed a lot from them. 

I eventually got good enough - and brave enough - to get involved with a band.  All through college, I played in various cover bands.  I eventually wound up playing keyboards for a band called The Features.  They were a popular cover band in the '80s, mostly playing new wave music.  We opened for artists like Cyndi Lauper, Joe Jackson, David Johansen and many other artists that were touring at the time.  We were playing seven nights a week - I also had a day job and Sharon and I had gotten married, so that did not leave a lot of time.  I wound up leaving The Features to join Dr. Jimmy and The Who Show, which was a Who tribute band.  We mostly played in the North East, from Boston to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. We had the same agent as Twisted Sister so we wound up being on the same bill as them many times, and we did countless gigs with The Good Rats as well. This gig was more like four nights a week, so it was a little bit more manageable, and then it all stopped for me.

DR: Stopped?  What happened?
Scott Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2011

Scott:  We had a gig one night at a popular rock club in North Jersey called Circus Circus. Our next gig was two nights later and when the crew went to open our cases, all of my instruments and equipment were gone.  Someone had stolen everything. At the time we were a young married couple saving for our first house and I didn't have money to replace everything, so literally my music career stopped in one night. I just moved on with my non-musical day job and really didn't get back into things until 1999 when our daughters were in high school.  They were in the school's marching band, they had no one to teach pit percussion and I jumped in and helped.  I eventually helped form and lead their Drumline program and we wound up winning state championships - we would design the show, the choreography, the whole thing. It was a great program that is still going strong today.

It wasn't until 2004 when I got a keyboard again, a Korg Triton. Sharon and I decided we were going to start playing out and we performed as a duet at local restaurants, when the next opportunity came along - we joined this progressive rock band called Contrarian. They were like a cross between Kansas and Dream Theater.  They called me for an audition and I really liked the stuff they were doing; it was challenging keyboard material.  I did this for a couple years, but they never had the impetus to go out and play live.  We played a couple shows here and there, but we spent most of our time in the studio writing and rehearsing.  I really wanted to get out and play live more, so I left and started looking for more opportunities. I wound up in another cover band called Prankster that played locally and met our bass player Steve Ratchen around the same time.

I am not formally trained, and many of the musicians in the band are, so when I present material to the band that I have written, they might question how I have the chord structure laid out. From their trained ear, they might not have gone the same way that I had in a song, but I do and it works out.

DR: Sharon, you sing and play the flute in The Wizards - did you follow a similar musical path as Scott?
Sharon Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2012

Sharon Kelly: I started pretty early on as well. My mother was a singer and both my parents sang on Christian Radio.  My mother was the Musical Director of four large church choirs and had me performing in Holiday musicals and Christmas Cantatas throughout the year. I sang and played flute since grammar school, participating in choir and band right through High School and later,  sang  backup for Dr. Jimmy and The Who Show. I took a long break as well, until Scott and I started going out as a duo and I sang and played flute with Contrarian as well. I also did a short stint with the Sweet Adelines when we lived in Oklahoma. But I kept my musical side on the backburner for a long time as we raised a family and just experienced life as it went along.

Scott: We always kept music in our lives, we just didn't get to do it professionally for a long time. And now it's taken on a life of its own. [Laughs]

DR: Well speaking of taking on a life of its own, can you explain how The Wizards of Winter came about? You mentioned meeting Steve Ratchen when you were out playing locally again.

Scott:  That is really where it started - we were introduced to Steve and we became friends. He was looking to start a new band and I had this idea to try out a Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band. I was always a fan of their music after seeing them live in their early days. In 2008 or 2009, We had gone to see them at the Continental Airlines Arena and I didn't like it.. They had the whole wall of fire going; to me the show had become so impersonal from when we had seen it in the smaller venues.  I felt that it had lost the magic that was there in the beginning. The production was just so over the top and it was becoming more about the fire and lights, and less about the music and audience connection. I had wondered if we could bring the music back to where it started, with doing smaller shows without the spectacle.

This was also at the heart of the recession in 2009; the economy really hit us and everyone around us hard. Even our local food pantry was empty. This really got me thinking as to how I could tie all of this together. I always was inspired by the line in their song Old City Bar, "By helping a neighbor or even a stranger, And to know who needs help, You need only just ask" - that line always resonated with me. So I started thinking about putting this band together to perform this music and raise some money for the food pantry.

We talked to Steve about it and he was in, so we started reaching out to others who were interested in doing this, and doing it for the right reason. The plan was to give most of whatever money we made away, so we had to find the right group of people.

Sharon: We were looking for people that really had the passion for it.

Scott: After some auditions and getting to know some folks, we wound up assembling a dozen musicians and singers that were interested. My original plan was to reach out to some churches, schools and play locally and see where it goes. One of our guitar players introduced us to an agent who has a production company out of New York that books gigs for bands.  We wound up doing a showcase for him and he loved us, told us how he was going to line up all sorts of gigs for us.  We learned a hard lesson here, as it turned out that this agent had lied to us about promising gigs and had strung us along for several months. By the time we had found out that he wasn't lining up shows, it was Fall and I quickly started lining up gigs for us to play. 

DR: What was the audience response like that first year?

Scott: It was terrific. It really inspired us and told us that we were on to something here. After every show, fans were asking to buy our album, and of course we had to explain that this wasn't our own music and didn't have albums to sell.

DR:  You were just doing strictly TSO covers at this point?

Scott:  Yes, we did the Christmas Eve & Other Stories album the first half of the show, and then we mixed in songs from the other albums in the second half. We did "After the Fall", "Requiem", "Dreams of Candlelight", and songs from their other two Christmas albums as well. 

DR:  Today, there seems to be a TSO tribute band in almost every market. Back then, this was something different - getting to hear TSO music performed again in small settings.

Scott:  And not everyone even knew that we were a TSO tribute band. In fact, our very first show - in this wonderful theater in Pottsville, Pennsylvania - many fans there didn't know that we were performing music at all !

DR:  What is the story behind that?

Scott:  We were booked for The Majestic Theater in Pottsville. I called the theater and asked how many tickets they had sold, they told me, "three"! [Laughs] I was thinking, "How am I going to explain this to the band"? [Laughs]  Well, we loaded up the truck drove out there knowing this and we all decided that we are going to play this gig as if we are playing Madison Square Garden and give these three people the best show!  We got there early in the morning to set up our lights and equipment and run through soundchecks.

DR:  Did you have a crew then to install and work the lights?

Scott: No, we did everything ourselves - and still do a lot of it ourselves to this day. In fact, that first year, I controlled the lights with foot pedals underneath my keyboards.

So we have the show all ready to go and just before the doors opened, our guitar player at the time went outside and comes back to tell us that there is a line of people wrapped around the building. I went outside and sure enough, the line was going down the block - the show was sold out!  All of these folks just showed up! We greeted everyone as they came in and then got the show going. After every song the fans were cheering wildly and giving us standing ovations. It was great, but we thought we were being punk'd "[Laughs]

We took a break for the intermission and we started chatting with the fans. They started telling us how much they were enjoying it, but they all thought that they were coming to see a magic show because of the name "Wizards of Winter", but they said, "This is good too!" [Laughs] And that was our first gig!

DR:  Did you still follow through with your mission of donating to the Food Pantry?

Scott: Yes! That first year we wound up donating several thousand dollars. We helped that food pantry, Habitat for Humanity and the Children's Hospital. The one charity that we have really been helping out a lot though is the Choroideremia Research Foundation. One of our young fans has this rare condition that causes blindness and we have donated tens of thousands of dollars in the hope that a cure can be found. And then this year we have been donating to the Wounded Warrior Project, which is near and dear to our hearts.

DR: The band name - is that a play-off of TSO's "Wizards in Winter" song?

Scott:  Yeah. I always liked that song and since the original vision was to be TSO tribute band, we started looking at their song names for inspiration. Plus, I also liked the idea that abbreviated you get 'WoW' - even though at the time our 16 lights wasn't exactly a "WoW Factor" [Laughs]

DR:  At what point did you start incorporating your original material into your set?
Scott: After we finished that first year's tour, we started looking at the idea of putting together our own album - so many fans after the show were asking to buy our album, so I started coming up with some ideas. I was working out the chord progressions for the first song I wrote for The Wizards, which eventually became "Arctic Flyer", and my daughter heard it and remarked that it sounded like a train. That led to the idea that our narrated story would involve a train, and each stop that the train made was it's own story and a song would be attached to it.

Sharon: We started thinking of what Christmas meant to each of the people that we meet along this train ride. Some are happy, some are melancholy. We also wanted to touch on THE Christmas story, with its religious connotations. TSO leaves all of that out.

Scott:  Right, and this way we could change the songs up and not always be locked into performing the same exact story each year. The concept would be the same, but as I would write new songs, we could incorporate those into our story. We sort of equate it to Dr. Who, who travels through time and space. Our little train travels on Christmas Eve and can visit any place or anyone in any time, looking into people's lives.

Scott Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2013
DR:  Who composes the music?

Scott:  Well, I never intended it for it to be me, but it worked out that way. We did try to write together as a band at first, but the music styles just didn't work together. 

Sharon:  We all worked cohesively together when performing, but with writing the music, each person was bringing such different dynamics that it wasn't working with what we had envisioned. Scott writes a lot of the melodies and I help with the lyrics.

Scott: Most times I write the music first and then backfit the lyrics. Then Steve and [guitarist] Fred Gorhau will come in and help with the arrangements. I usually present the melody and basic structure to the song, and they will work with that, adding in their bass and guitar parts in there.

DR:  Was the first time that either of you had written original music?

Scott:  The only other time was when I wrote out music for the drumline that I was working with.

Sharon: "Moments of Wonder" is a song that I wrote and sing lead on. We took an early iteration of that song and submitted it to a contest for Women of Substance, a radio show that was looking for new female talent. Among thousands of entries, that song was chosen and was played between a song by Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion, which was pretty amazing for us just starting out with our own material.

DR:  All of your songs seem to have a moral center to them. One of the differences I find between your songs and TSO's songs are that while TSO often uses metaphors and devised characters to tell their story, your songs are pretty straightforward about feelings. Your songs come right out and say, "Life is a gift", "Hold on to what you believe", "Remember Christmas memories"...

Sharon: We really just want people to think about their own lives. So often our lives are on autopilot and maybe for a couple of hours, they can sit in their seat while we play and think about their own lives and what's important. What it comes to for The Wizards of Winter are family and friends and sitting back, breathing and enjoying life. A lot of our songs reflect that.

Scott:  Our songs are from the heart. Our song "Simple Gifts" is a true story that took place right here in this house. As far as differences between us and TSO, what they put on is such a secular presentation of Christmas. We are not a religious or Christian act, but what is Christmas? We feel that the original Christmas story needs to be included and our train will always stop there; that's the first stop in our story. Yes, we are playing prog and metal like TSO does, but our story and the meaning behind it all is very different. It's not like we are presenting a moral tale, but we want to think about what does Christmas really mean? Why are people so different at that time of the year? 

DR:  You have mentioned that you were in Contrarian together and also performed as a duet together. And now here you are working together in The Wizards. Does working together musically as a married couple always come easy?

Sharon: It has always worked. This is obviously the biggest musical venture that we have been involved with and it can be stressful at times. It has taken off so quickly and the logistics can be overwhelming at times.

Sharon Kelly with The Wizards of Winter 2013

Scott:  She comes along kicking and screaming some days [Laughs]. We've been married for 34 years and as stressful as putting all of this together year round can be, I don't think it would work if our marriage wasn't as strong as it is.  I still have a day job, as do all of our band members and it can consume you. It becomes part of one's persona.

DR:  Will we see you in leather jackets and sunglasses soon?

Scott:  [Laughs] No, that won't happen.  But at the end of the day, we enjoy performing together and were proud of each other. When the audience roars and gets on their feet from something that we wrote and performed, we catch each other's eyes on stage. It's a good moment.

DR:  Do you find that your own material goes over as well as the TSO covers?

Scott:  We find that it goes over better than the TSO songs. And that's because we do it better than we do TSO's material. We certainly put our spin on their songs and we do them well, but it is still not like playing your own original material that you wrote and recorded. 

DR:  The production values in your live shows are similar to the early TSO shows. And as TSO's stage show becomes more extravagant and immense each year, there seems to be a growing contingent of fans that miss the intimacy when their shows were more music and personality and less fire and spectacle. Many of TSO's past performers have expressed similar thoughts. Can you relate to that?

Sharon: Absolutely. When we saw first saw them in concert there was such intimacy and you could really connect with the performers. That is something that we have experienced as well - I always recall at one show, I was singing in the audience and this little 6-year-old girl put her hand out and we hi-fived. It was such a great moment and that is what gets lost in the arena shows.

Scott:  We have definitely experienced this as we have grown. We're playing 1500-1800 seat theaters and we see the fans in the balcony, you can feel the separation already. A lot of times I will try to sneak up there before the show starts and shake hands, just to thank them for coming. As much as we are enjoying the growth in popularity, we really don't ever want it to get that big where it becomes a spectacle or a Circus McGurkus. Even as we move up into 3000-4000 seat venues, we lose a bit more of the audience connection - we saw what happened with TSO and it is something that we are very conscious of.

DR:  The group that makes up the Wizards of Winter today is not the same that started out a few years back.

Scott: No, there are just the three of us left. In the early years, we brought in folks that were passionate about it.  As we talked about earlier, we wanted a talented group, but also we wanted them to be here for the right reasons. As the band started tasting a bit of success, the attitudes of some started changing and didn't always fit with the overall vision. There are musicians that we haven't invited back for various reasons, but the band that we are today is very harmonious and the overall talent level is the best we have had.

DR:  You obviously handle the brunt of the keyboard work. Have you always had a second keyboardist on board?

Scott:  No, not in the beginning.  Sharon used to do auxiliary keys, but now we have Mary McIntyre who is a classical pianist, which helps a lot.

DR:  With TSO, some of the keyboard work is the doubling of the string parts. Do you do something similar?

Scott:  Yes, you really have to. We obviously only have the one violinist, and this helps thicken the sound.

DR:   2013 was a pretty eventful year for The Wizards. As your tour got underway, fans saw not just the band on stage, but four pretty special guests on stage with you: Can you talk a bit about how this marriage of The Wizards and four of the pillars of Trans-Siberian Orchestra got together?

Scott:  As a fan of TSO, I was certainly very familiar with their legendary performers, and I knew that some of them had formed their own group, The Kings of Christmas.  They had released an album but their tour dates wound up being canceled. I had wondered what had happened to them, so one day I sent Tommy Farese a message, telling him about our band, how we started, what we are doing now and I invited him to give a listen to our music. A short time later, he responded, "I really love your stuff, if you ever want me to appear as a guest at your show, let me know". Within minutes we were on the phone and we really just hit it off - we just laughed and exchanged road stories for a couple hours. We really connected and he asked me to send him more of our music, and things just progressed from there. He came back and said, "Look, Guy LeMonnier and Tony Gaynor want to come along too".
We talked about a guest appearance, then several shows, then the whole tour!

I now had to talk to the band and present this opportunity to them. I explained that we have three of the original TSO performers interested in touring with us and we had to learn some new music!  Tommy wanted to do "The Snow Came Down" and "Ornament", neither of which were in our show and Guy used to sing "Christmas in the Air" with TSO so we looked at that as well. It was different, because we were just starting to get away from it being an all-TSO show and adding in more of our originals, and now we were adding back in TSO songs with the singers that were associated with them. We had a lot of internal discussion about this, because all it was going to do was put the TSO spotlight on us, and this was something we were trying to move away from. This was going to change everything in how we were doing our shows.

DR:  What was the band's reaction to bringing these performers on board?

Sharon: We took a vote and everyone was in. I think everyone realized what a great opportunity this was.

Scott:  They came down to our rehearsal space in June of that year and we all really hit it off musically. They are all such pros and they really helped us to up our game, and we all got along really well. Then Tommy told us that Michael Lanning was on board as well !  We didn't start booking the dates right away, as they still were still looking at doing a Kings of Christmas tour, but ultimately it was decided that they would all just come out with us, so we were a little behind in setting up the tour.  The response was great; some fans started flying in from all over the country just to see these guys on stage again. And the bottom line was we had so much fun.

Sharon:  Tommy Farese, in particular, made us tighter and better as a band. He would come in to our rehearsals with an iron fist - in a good way though - and contributed so many great ideas and suggestions. 

Scott:  All four guys really loved our original material and I am really proud of that.

DR:   You mentioned a couple songs earlier, but what songs did they wind up performing on the tour?

Scott:  Guy did "Christmas in the Air" and one of our originals, "Special Feeling".  He loved that song so much, and he fits it so perfectly, that he came in to the studio and sang it on our new album! Tommy sang lead on "Old City Bar" and three of the TSO songs that he sang originally: "The Snow Came Down", "Ornament" and "This Christmas Day".  

Michael Lanning sang a beautiful solo of "The First Noel" with just piano backing, and his original "Benny the Christmas Tree" which is a real fun song. He also did "Christmas Nights in Blue" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" which he used to sing with TSO - that would bring the house down every night!  Tony of course shared the narrating duties with the narrator that we had at the time.

Highlights from the Wizards of Winter 2013 Tour
with special guests Tommy Farese, Tony Gaynor, Michael Lanning, Guy LeMonnier

DR:  With all of these songs now added to your setlist, did you change the story to accommodate them?

Scott: Yes. We changed the libretto to include those songs. It still had small pieces of the original TSO narration though, like the lead up to "Christmas Eve Sarajevo".

DR:  You seem to be in a unique situation. You started out as a TSO tribute band, evolved into doing your own music with a bit of TSO inspiration and a desire to move away from the TSO music.  But then adding in some of the original and fan-favorite TSO performers sort of steered you back in that direction again. 

Scott:  It is a mixed blessing. We talk to fans that don't know the difference at times between our songs and their songs. It gets crazy with some fans - these are not the hardcore TSO fans coming to see us for the most part. We still have fans bringing their TSO CDs to us to sign and we explain to them that most of what they just heard was Wizards of Winter music with us paying tribute to a few of TSO's classics. We've had fans tell us how they saw us at a particular arena and we have to explain that it wasn't us, but thanks for the compliment. [Laughs]

Sharon:  I had a fan comment to me about my performance of "Queen of the Winter Night" - she told me that I didn't let her down and that I sounded just as good as when she saw me at the Izod Center. [Laughs]

DR:  It seems like it was a win-win deal for the fans and the band to some extent though. Longtime fans got to once again see and hear the voices that built the TSO live show, doing songs that they were known for, and these fans were all introduced to your own music at the same time in a theater setting.

Scott:  Exactly - there was a certain amount of confusion for some fans, but TSO has a reputation for hiring quality talent, and these fellas were some of the best that they ever had. Fans know the quality and that certainly helped gain interest in our shows last year.

DR:  So after that hugely successful 2013 tour, you headed into the studio, recorded and now released the new self-titled CD for 2014.  I know the band had an earlier CD with limited availability, and it looks like you have re-recorded several of the songs from that earlier disc on the new one. Why?

Sharon:  Because of the quality of that first release. It just wasn't up to par. We didn't really have any money since almost all of it was going to charity, so it was not recorded in the best circumstances; we utilized an in-house member who didn't have the qualifications.

DR:  This new self-titled CD was recorded with all of the current band members?

Scott:  Yes - the band that you see on stage is the band that recorded the CD. And unlike the earlier album, this was done in a real studio with real engineers and mastering.

DR:  The album artwork has been created by Ioannis, one of the preeminent album cover artists working today.

Scott:  It is an honor to be able to work with him because of all of the legendary artists that he has created cover art for. He likes our music and he contacted us. He even came to rehearsals to really get a sense of what we are about and really created something special for our album art.

DR:  I wanted to ask specifically about some of the songs on the new album.  The first single from the album - "March of the Metal Soldiers" - garnered considerable attention when it was released on Memorial Day. The proceeds from those sales were going to the Wounded Warriors Project?

Sharon: Our son-in-law is a disabled vet so the military is very near and dear to our hearts.

Scott:  The original that it is based on is a Victor Herbert classic from Babes in Toyland. The original vision for this song that I had in my head was gladiators marching into an arena with big marching drums, which is my drumline experience creeping in there. And I wanted to make it regal and give it a bit of an ELP flair. There is even some influence from Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon" in there.

DR:  The vocal break in the middle - are they singing in Latin?

Scott:  With our son-in-law being a Marine, we certainly were familiar with 'Semper Fi' - Always Faithful. Each branch of the military has their own slogan or motto, so I took each one and translated it into Latin. The words together jointly are loosely translated as "Always faithful, not self but country. This we will defend. Integrity, service, always ready. These colors won't ever run." This seemed like a fitting tribute to all that sacrifice for our freedom. And yes, since this march is our tribute to the military, all of the proceeds from this song go to the Wounded Warrior Foundation.

DR:  "Toys will be Toys" is a fun instrumental 

Scott:  This song actually started its life as a finger exercise that I was doing in C#. From that, I developed the melody line and presented it to the band. They weren't thrilled playing a song in C#, but it came out great!  The story with the song is that no one sees the toys when they are alone underneath the tree, so this is them having a ball and playing while no one is around!

DR:  For "Night of Reflection", is that a mixture of "Ave Maria" with your original lyrics?

Scott:  Yes. For that one I really got the idea to tell the Christmas story from Mary's perspective. Here is this young, frightened girl who now has this great task imposed on her - to give birth to the Son of God.  How does she deal with that? One of our former vocalists wrote lyrics, and we massaged them a bit to get where the song is today.

DR: One of the songs on the CD is one that certainly brings down the house at your shows: "Once Long Ago". It's THE Christmas story and it has a dramatic 70's classic rock feel to it - was that intentional?

Scott:  The story in that song is being told by sort of a ghostly character, was it an angel?  It is clearly someone that was there to watch the events unfold. So it had sort of an eerie feel as I was writing it, so it also put me in mind of Phantom of the Opera. The organ break and the percussion are very influenced by Emerson Lake and Palmer, once again.

Sharon: When that song came about, we envisioned someone with Vinny Jiovino's voice and now that is exactly who we have singing it! We wanted some drama to it, similar to Phantom of the Opera. The singer that sang it previously never quite captured the drama that we envisioned - it was always choppier in the verses. The version on our new CD is exactly as we had always pictured.                            


DR:  You mentioned earlier that  Guy LeMonnier has recorded "Special Feeling". Is he on anything else on the album?

Scott:  He sings a duet with Mary McIntyre on "Just Believe". I really enjoy working with Guy. That first day in the studio when he came down and sang "Special Feeling", our jaws dropped. It was like, "That's the voice!".  When I sat down to write "Just Believe", it was his voice that I could hear in my head singing it. 

Sharon:  Guy and Mary really came in mind when we were working on "Just Believe".  They just really brought that song to life. And for the tour, he is much more involved, helping with vocal arrangements and backing vocals as well.

DR: I did want to ask about a TSO song that you perform live, but I find it somewhat unexpected - "Whoville". TSO has never performed this one live, but your band seems to have a lot of fun with it.

Sharon: It's so much fun and it really ties our story together, with our trip to the North Pole with Mary as Mrs. Claus and all of the toys. And Tony gets to step away from the narration on this one and he joins us on backing vocals. It's just a really fun song.
The Wizards of Winter - Weinberg Center, Frederick, MD 12/4/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

DR: Do you have a particular favorite song to perform?

Sharon: Of the TSO songs we still include, I like doing "First Snow" and of ours, I think "Gales of December".

Scott:  For me, it's "Once Long Ago", "Sing O'Alleluia" and one of our new instrumentals "The Journey".

DR:  For the 2014 tour, you mentioned that Guy LeMonnier is returning with an even more increased role as he has officially joined the band.  Is Tony Gaynor involved more as well?

Scott: Yes,  The "Voice of Voices", as Tommy Farese coined the phrase. Tony is our sole narrator now, where as previously we split the role between our previous narrator and Tony. An exciting change is that Tony will not be tied to a mic stand - he will be wearing a mic so he can move around the stage a bit more.

DR: Also for the 2014 tour, I see vocalist Joe Cerisano is now on board. Joe obviously has a long successful history in the music business, and has the TSO connection as well, being a featured vocalist with TSO for several years and the voice of their song "Dream Child".  What does he bring to the table for The Wizards?

Sharon: Joe is such a professional and so kind. He is here for the love of the music. He really has enjoyed being part of what we are doing here, and he is another who has pointed out how similar our band and outlook are to the early days of TSO touring. 

Scott: He sort of brings the father figure feeling to the band - he has experienced so much in the music business and he is very assuring and very positive. For the tour, he is singing the songs that he used to sing with TSO, but we have also talked about recording with him as well. We looked at a couple of our original songs that he really likes but we just ran out of time this go-round. We are looking at doing something together in the studio though.
The Wizards of Winter - State Theater, Portland, ME 11/28/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

DR:   Over the last few years, you have played as far south as Norfolk, Virginia, and as far north as Niagara Falls, Canada and Portland Maine. Any favorite places to play so far? Or any places that you really want to play?

Sharon: I really like playing in Maine and I love the State Theater in Easton. I would love to play in Florida, Tennessee and in Texas.

Scott: The audience in Maine is unreal - they are so great. We have had a lot of wonderful audiences, but Maine certainly is the loudest. Over all the years, that small theater in Pottsville, Pennsylvania was one of the most fun places to play.  

DR:  What is next for The Wizards of Winter?
Scott:  It has definitely taken on a life of its own, so we are looking at a number of things. There will be another album, maybe an EP as well. We are looking at various opportunities to tour nationally, but they have to make sense in a number of ways. 

DR:  Could you see yourself splitting into more than one touring group to visit more cities in the lead-up to Christmas?

Scott:  I can. Based on the offers that have been coming in, we could have probably even done that this year, there is certainly audience demand for it. We think there is certainly room for us in the market, as we offer something different from the Mannheim Steamrollers and TSOs of the world.  I am up for the journey, but we will probably need some investing assistance, just like the others did.

DR:  Do you have any plans to do anything outside of the Christmas theme?

Scott:  I do, I have actually been working on something with a pirate story that will be a progressive rock epic. Both the music and the story are in a preliminary form, so not sure when that will happen. Right now we are concentrating on the Christmas show, guiding and building that up.

DR:  Thanks so much for taking the time.

Sharon:  It's been our pleasure!

The Wizards of Winter - State Theater, Portland, ME 11/28/14
Photo courtesy of Vicki Bender

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