The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the constantly evolving, hugely successful progressive rock band conceived by the prolific Paul O’Neill. With a history writing, producing, managing and promoting such notable acts as Aerosmith, Joan Jett, AC/DC, the Scorpions and his integral role with Savatage, O’Neill’s success with a band of his own was decades in the making.
After forming and promptly disbanding the prog-rock band Slowburn in the mid-1970s, O’Neill entered the business side of the industry, eventually becoming one of Japan’s most successful festival promoters in the 1980s.
After decades of success from “learning the industry from the inside out,” Atlantic Records asked O’Neill to start his own band in the mid-90s, and he was finally able to live out his Slowburn aspirations, and on a much grander scale. “I wanted it to be something completely different,” O’Neill recalls. “I told them I wanted four guitar players like the Outlaws, two drummers like the Grateful Dead and the Doobie Brothers, a full symphony in the studio like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd-like production and 24 lead singers. Writing a great song is only half the battle. Then you need the right voice for the alchemy to bring that song to life.”
Founded in 1996, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s first record about the Romanov dynasty was passed over, while the band’s first two installments of O’Neill’s pre-conceived Christmas Trilogy were released to great acclaim, with the third released in 2004. While their other albums have also been hailed as rock opera masterpieces, the Christmas trilogy became an undeniable force in the band’s touring career.
“To be quite honest, the success of the Christmas trilogy blindsided everybody,” notes O’Neill. “TSO always does things backwards. Normally you don’t take on Christmas until you have multiple platinum albums before that. In the entertainment world, it is the Holy Grail. You have to compete against art that has to get past the ultimate critic and the only critic you can’t fool, which is time.”
And time has been on their side. For thirteen straight years, TSO played “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” from November-late December. For the past two years they’ve taken on “The Lost Christmas Eve,” and this year, they will debut the final third of their trilogy, “The Christmas Attic.”
With 360 people in their production crew and 40-plus trailers carrying lasers, lights and fireworks, the TSO has become known as the epitome of a truly epic concert experience. TSO’s holiday shows are so popular that in their second year of touring, they boldly decided to split the group into an east coast and west coast touring band to meet the overwhelming nationwide demand for the holidays. Recently they’ve even gone on to offer matinee shows to satiate those parts of the audience previously unable to attend due to work or school the next morning.
Despite being one of the top selling ticket acts of the new millennium, O’Neill has always kept a modest and humanist approach to his endeavors. “No one at TSO is on that flight deck for the money,” he says. “They’re there because no one wants to be anywhere but on that flight deck. And TSO is technically a prog-rock band, but it’s really an idea and an ideal. Our fans are number one. They range from age 7 to 107 and are made up of all nationalities and economic backgrounds. It’s our job to spend our money and our time to give them the best concerts and charge the lowest possible price.”