Interviews with Nikolo Kotzev

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Nikolo Kotzev takes the world by storm with his amazing Rock Opera

So often we see artists take on huge endeavors that most of the time they lack the skills to accomplish (a recent Metal Opera comes to mind), and fail miserably. So I was a bit skeptical of the 'Rock Opera' premise of Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus. Man was I fooled. It's an amazing piece of monumental proportions.

Featuring vocal legends such as Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, and Allanah Myles among other accomplished singers, Nostradamus is a wildly precise orchestration of a timeless and epic story. The man pulling the reigns, Nikolo Kotzev, is a classically trained violinist and guitar virtuoso famous for his work with Baltimoore and Brazen Abbot. Nostradamus is his most challenging endeavor and thus far his crowning achievement. Here's my interview with the man himself.

You must be happy that the press has been very positive regarding Nostradamus.
Yes, indeed I am. Actually I was surprised, obviously I was taking a big risk doing a Rock Opera. It's not the type of project that comes around everyday. It was something I thought about doing for a long time and only took it on when I felt strong enough to do a project of this magnitude. Regardless of the risk involved, it is very rewarding that the press and the public have responded so positively. It's just incredible.

And apparently it's even doing well as far as sales.
I think so too. I can only judge from reviews and the number of fans that contact me and I know that the record is available through out Europe, so it's a good sign. The first official reports won't come in for a couple of months, but the record company has printed a large amount of copies so it looks good.

When you started working on Nostradamus, did it ever take on a life of its own or was it very detailed and precise throughout the whole process, from concept to finish?
Well it was very difficult to create the concept and have it make sense. Especially when there's the whole cast to think about. I tried to do everything possible to share the work between everyone. The roles that needed more exposure got it and the other roles were still equally strong. It's not easy. Building everything on a concept like Nostradamus is a huge undertaking. I spent months and months researching Nostradamus and then when I had a story there were other factors. How many songs? What should I concentrate on? What are the tempos going to be? What are the keys going to be? Who's going to sing? You have to make sure the work of all the singers is well balanced throughout the whole opera. Once all these problems were solved the actual studio work was very rewarding. It was nice working because I saw my baby being born. Everyone was very enthusiastic in the studio and at that point maybe it took on a life of it's own because I found myself following the progress instead of guiding it.

Speaking of the cast, in hindsight everything went well and the vocalists on the album were obviously the right people to use, but was there anyone you really wanted that you just couldn't get?
Yes, there are some cases like that. I had some singers in mind and of course some of them you just can't get. Given the results at this point it doesn't bother me but at the time it was a great concern of mine. Originally I wanted Sam Brown to play the role of The Queen but she was touring. Allanah Myles recommended Sass Jordan who turned out to be just wonderful with the part. The biggest problem however was the role of The Inquisitor because it is a short but very intense role. It had to make a statement and required a lot of energy. I spoke with Ronnie Dio about it but he was just very busy with his own concept album at the time. We also approached Alice Cooper but we never got an answer. This is how it is with the Gods (laughs). Another singer I approached was Bruce Dickinson and we actually had it all worked out as far as money and a time schedule, and then Iron Maiden reunited! So you can imagine what happened, there just wasn't time for him to do it. I understand how it is and at the time all I could do was promise that this was going to be very good, but I couldn't prove it. Finally I got Jorn Lande and I am very happy I did because now I could not imagine anybody else doing the part.

Were there any other operas or Rock Operas that you used as a guide to help you build the Nostradamus story?
Well my intention from the beginning was to create something that stood on its own merit, so it wasn't written with anything else in mind. Not only for artistic reasons or because I am bigheaded, but because I didn't want to risk being compared to anything else. The risk I took with this was very huge. If I made a piece that looked like something else than it would hound me all the time. The last thing I wanted people to say was that it sounds like Jesus Christ Superstar or something like this. Works like that are already gems and if you sound like that then I would curse any chance for this to be successful. Also, I think that everything else out there sounds much more like musicals because it's much more poppy and the orchestra is kept to a minimum. I'm familiar with what Metallica did with Michael Kamen but Kamen is the father of orchestration so there's really no way for Metallica to fail with this, even though it basically sounds like he re-wrote Metallica's music. It's no secret that Metallica's music is not symphonic so it must have been very difficult for him because the ground elements are not there. If you listen to what he did with it, if you just played the orchestra parts they would make sense on there own merits because he wouldn't have had much of a choice. He wouldn't have had the (musical) support of the band, so to speak. What I did was I tried to find Tommy but I couldn't. I did find the lyrics and looked at them briefly to see how they used dialogue and tranferred the story into lyrics. I had never seen Jesus Christ Superstar in its entirety but I did see the movie. I think of that however as a musical not a Rock Opera. So I really didn't look at anything else. During the course of releasing Nostradamus I have become familiar with Avantasia (Tobias Sammet's Metal Opera) but that's something totally different from what I've done. So to finally answer your question, I guess my main sources of inspiration is my classical education. I have a serious music education having been playing violin since I was five years old, privately trained for 9 years, then five years in music school. I have played in symphonic Orchestras, I have scored and arranged symphonic orchestras, conducted them and all that. So I have all this baggage in my head when it comes to the 'secrets' of classical music. On top of all that I have been doing Rock music since I was 12, so these are my main influences as they relate to Nostradamus.

As far as the story for Nostradamus its self, is their one book or film that you based it on?
It was very difficult for me. I went to the Internet when I first started and to my horror I found about 3,000 sites about Nostradamus. So I had to go through everything and read all the different biographies and come up with one story that I thought was the most credible. There are the three prophecies for which there is hard proof that they really happened. There are two others that are about the future and we don't know yet if they are true. The singers also did there own research. Coran Edman's role as The Ghost was the most difficult because he was faced with very difficult songs dealing with the wars, prophecies, and history. It is very much based on what we considered facts. I was very careful piecing together the chain of events, names, and the timeline.

What's it like recording an Orchestra? Is it the same as recording the Rock parts?
It was very hard simply because it was the first time I did it and we had to play everything to a metronome. We didn't have the luxury of recording the band and orchestra simultaneously. I had very well done demos that I used to recruit singers with, so using a computer we generated a click and every member in the orchestra had headphones on. We did it in the most professional way possible, using the click and professionally written scores, and we played and played until we had it done right. It was a week from hell actually. We only had a week for full rehearsing and recording. I only had to deal with the technical side, recording the Orchestra, and luckily the conductor handled the artistic stuff quite well. It was a difficult process but I learned a lot from it.

Obviously this is something meant to be performed live, are you making any headway towards doing a live production and will you even think of it as being complete until you do it live?
That's a very intelligent question actually because that was the main goal from when I started writing Nostradamus. It is written to be a live production, which of course brings in other elements in the process of writing it. You have to consider time, costume changes, changes of decor, etc. It is much more than meets the eye in the whole planning. Releasing the record is only a step towards the main objective. Right now we are talking to people who are interested in doing the production. It's a huge project that demands a huge budget so the process of getting investors moves slowly. We are very careful of what we say, whom we deal with, and what freedom we give to whoever ultimately takes it on.

Looking back has the process of writing and creating this been a cathartic experience for you? Did you get emotionally involved with it or are you an artist who can remain emotionally attached from the work?
It's hard for me to be detached from it because I have done so much in it, and for me it is a very special project. I have been extremely picky and very protective when it comes to Nostradamus. That is one reason why it has taken me so long to put it on the market. I just wanted it to feel right. It wouldn't make sense to pour three or four years of my life into something and a whole lot of money and then just hand it over to a worthless company. This is something very special and I have done more than my best with it. It took great personal sacrifice and financial sacrifice to do it so I want to work with people who are ready to make the same sacrifice on their end. People like that are very hard to find. So I am very emotionally attached to it. It's been a burden and a blessing at the same time.

Has it changed you at all as a musician or as a person?
It must have. It was a new experience and I had to do things I had never done before, both musically and as a person. In that sense I must be a better person because I don't feel like a worse person (laughing).

I know you've done some production and recording work recently with Saxon and other bands. Is this mainly just to clear your head a bit?
Exactly, I felt so tired with myself I just needed a break (laughing). It is a very heavy burden to be responsible for every single bloody note on any project. Then when you have a big budget and you're working with well-respected names the burden is very intense to make it come out good. I can't afford to screw something up when I know that maybe Glenn Hughes is going to take the beating, or Joe Lynn Turner's going to take the beating. I want to show my gratitude to all these great singers by making something that they to can be proud of. Once I was done I needed to take a break and work on other people's stuff, clear my head and get refreshed.

Do you think that your work on Nostradamus will affect how you approach your long running Brazen Abbot project, since you've begun working on that again?
I've been thinking about that actually. This is one of the reasons I kept Nostradamus separate from the Brazen Abbot banner. It's a completely different project and I wanted it to stand on its own, and I didn't want to put it on the Brazen Abbot platform because it was too risky, plus if it was as good as I planned it then it wouldn't need the Brazen Abbot moniker anyway. There are Brazen Abbot fans out there and I hope that they like Nostradamus, but it wouldn't be right for me to join these two projects together because they are two different things. It has taken me a long time to gain Brazen Abbot fans and I wouldn't want to strain that. In order to be true to them the next Brazen Abbot record would have to stay within the Brazen Abbot tradition. Of course I will spice it up a bit to keep it fresh but not in the vein of Nostradamus.

How has North America reacted to Nostradamus? It is much more available than anything else you've done.
Before this I never even released a bloody note in America simply because I've never been able to operate on such a large scale. There have been American companies interested in the Nostradamus project because I think they recognize the quality of the work and the idea its self. I first realized that America would be interested in Nostradamus when a very large production company approached me and wanted to buy the world wide rights to Nostradamus and pitch it to film companies and Broadway. I spent 7 or 8 months finalizing this deal and just when everything was more or less agreed upon, some of their other productions failed, a depression set in, and it fell through. I had my time of dreaming that this was going to make millions, and it could and should, but I couldn't wait around with it anymore. I hope this opens some doors for Hard Rock in America. In fact I've never even done a single interview with an American journalist. You're the first one.

What an honor!
Well thanks I take that as a compliment. I don't blame anyone of course. It is a good indication that American fans do contact me via the website and do like Nostradamus very much. America is a huge market so as soon as we have a production in place we will definitely try to bring it to the U.S.

Alan Gilkeson