Click here to visit the official website of Guy LeMonnier.
November 2011 (e-mail)
In 2011 branches of the underground music grapevine shook with the news that a new group made up of former members of the TSO, eventually to formally christen themselves The Kings Of Christmas, would be releasing an album & making their concert debut this winter ... now but three weeks away from that debut. It was an action not without controversy as a rivalry seemed to spring up between this budding flower & the old tree trunk that 15 years ago set the template of rock-christmas-classical music. Proof being that some of The Kings Of Christmas members eventually withdrew from the project supposedly under pressure from TSO. Whether this is true or not is unknown but the new band soon found themselves with a fan base springing up from the ground wanting to see their boys succeed out of the shadow of their old gig & one might even say inadvertently adding to the band rivalry, if any even existed in the first place. As it was, one bandmember informally said that The Kings Of Christmas were planning more intimate shows that would 'take back Christmas' ... whatever that may or may we will soon find out as their CD is set to be released nearly simultaneously with their first shows in December. The Kings Of Christmas includes former TSO vocalists Tommy Farese, Maxx Mann, Tony Gaynor, Guy LeMonnier & keyboardist Paul Morris.
As a fan of TSO, biographer of guitarist/musical director Al Pitrelli & host of the only weekly podcast dedicated to TSO & all related projects I, of course, took an interest in this new branch of the TSO band family tree. As someone in the music world & a musician myself who stopped playing because I got tired of the hassles of finding gigs particularly in a bad economy this is my little show of support for a new band. I've found the comparison & shadow of TSO unavoidable & the questions belay such but the music itself is completely their own. Guy LeMonnier was kind enough to respond to my e-mail with some great answers. His resume includes TSO's 2000 rock opera release Beethoven's Last Night as the Young Beethoven & toured with them in 1999 & 2000-06. He's performed extensively on Broadway in New York & regionally including Jesus Christ Superstar (as Judas & Pontious Pilate), Jekyll & Hyde (as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Ragtime & Dracula The Musical.
Special thanks to Sandy Serge of Serge Entertainment for making this interview possible & to fellow TSO fan Dan Roth for keeping me up to date on all things The Kings Of Christmas.
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AJ: How did THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS originally get off the ground?
GUY: Well, originally, we were planning a project to take on for the off-season, knowing that we most likely would not be involved in the spring tour. Then, as one-by-one we were let go from TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, we decided to do Christmas!
AJ: Early in the band's life it appeared like the band was only with TSO alumni, but with the debut performances on the near horizon the band has an equal mix of TSO alumni & new faces. Was there ever an intention of making it a band of exclusively TSO alumni or was that more coincidental due to everyone knowing each other from TSO?
GUY: We knew the core 4 members of the group. Of course, as time went on there came to be a plethora of like-minded artists available to us. There have been a number of TSO alum that have expressed an interest, but for one reason or another have not been able to join us.
AJ: Tommy Farese said in a recent interview that "They can expect to see what they saw in the early day's of TSO when we had very little lights, no lasers, no pyro, just a bunch of guy's dedicated to what they do & believing in the message we have spread over the years." There's many TSO fans that say TSO has lost the intimacy of the music over the years as the venues have gotten bigger & the faces have changed. Is there any deliberate thinking on the part of THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS to make this a deliberately more intimate &/or 'theatrically simple' show to deliberately set-up a contrast with other shows on the road ... in an age when bigger & louder & brighter seem to be key words for a concert experience?
GUY: Absolutely. A show of great integrity & quality can stand alone, much like TSO did in its earlier years. It's our belief, that the first years of TSO were the selling points, when the intros were more fun & comedic. The second half of the show was more playful & uptempo. Unlike TSO is now, we never want to take ourselves that seriously. We like to think of ourselves as "A Rat Pack for the new millennium."
AJ: TSO has, without doubt, put a stamp on holiday music & spread a shadow over the rock/classical/Christmas genre. How is THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS different than TSO, on record &/or on stage.
GUY: Our desire was to create an album more pop-oriented, consisting of radio-friendly, solely original tunes. We have no remakes. No rehashed songs from the "public domain." These songs were inspired by the personal stories of the "Fams", to coin Tommy's phrase, (& our own) that have been shared over the years. Our stories are more real-life oriented instead of fantasy oriented. We wanted to concentrate on the circumstances that real people experience during the holidays.
AJ: How does the band deal with the unavoidable comparisons with TSO & is a worry or a prompt to deliberately try different musical avenues one might not do otherwise to make the gap between the bands wider?
GUY: We honestly pay no attention to the comparisons. We've tried to focus on the ideals we believe in; directly written from our hearts & souls. We feel the music definitely speaks for itself. In the end, it will be the Fams who decide whether we've accomplished that goal.
AJ: What's been the writing process? Is it a group process or is there a single wizard (of winter) behind the curtain?
GUY: It's a group process. All songs composed by "THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS."
AJ: Can you explain a little about the theme of THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS debut album?
GUY: The theme is the variety of emotions felt during the holidays. Each emotion represented by one of The Twelve Ornaments of Christmas.
AJ: Why did you choose to go with a story & not just a collection of holiday songs? Will the new album feature any covers of traditional holiday songs?
GUY: In our minds, the only similarity we have with TSO is the characteristic of a story & lyrics in unison, without which, we could not convey the message we present. As far as covers of traditional holiday songs, there are none on the album. However, we will be tackling some of the greats in the second half of our show.
AJ: Your name might include Christmas but has there been any reaching out in your music to other holidays celebrated around the world during the winter time?
GUY: Everyone in our group would be considered a Christian. To approach any other holiday of a different faith would be an insult to that faith. It would be difficult to honestly relate to or write about something we have no knowledge of. It would the equivalent to a brain surgeon performing open-heart surgery!
AJ: In mid-2011 the news came out amongst TSO fans that Tommy Farese was formally out of TSO after being with them since day one & holding a spotlight role on the albums, DVD & stage. The response was thousands of e-mails (no exaggeration) amongst fans that immediately put THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS into the public square for the first time & led to weekly online chats, new websites, & more communication between fans & THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS & lots of fan love to Farese. It was a PR boost not initiated by the band, but on some level not unexpected at some point at time. Looking back months la ter, how did this affect THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS? Has the swirl of controversy been a worry or a motivator?
GUY: Believe it or not, we've been so consumed with the completion of this project, that we have very little knowledge of anything thats gone on in the outside world. It's nice to hear though & we feel incredibly fortunate that Tommy's arrival completed the last piece of our puzzle. & were VERY thankful to TSO for that! LOL
AJ: Following my previous question, TSO fans have really been moved to support THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS, even without much music out there to preview, with diehard abandon. This support has also helped to land some gigs. Has this support been a surprise for the band?
GUY: At the risk of sounding cavalier, no, not really. We've always been aware of the mutual love & respect between us & our Fams. We've never lost sight of who we are playing for. We had hoped for this kind of support, & our Fams have not let us down.
AJ: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
GUY: Tommy would like to thank you personally Aaron for the great Tommy Farese/Daryl Pediford [late singer of TSO] podcast that you did [in November 2011 The World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra Podcast]. To alleviate any recent misconceptions of static or controversy, we are incredibly thankful to TSO for bringing back Christmas & bringing us together. We have nothing but fond memories of our time with TSO both onstage & off. We have noticed some talk of our using our past association with TSO to our benefit, however, given our contribution over the years to them; the many years of time spent without our families, & our efforts to build TSO into what it is today, we feel we've earned that right. We "THE KINGS OF CHRISTMAS" would like to thank you Aaron, as well as our "diehard" Fams for your committed interest & support in our creation, & we can' t wait to see you all soon! All we ask is that you spread the word!