An Interview With Trans-Siberian Orchestra Founder Paul O’Neill: Bridging Time

Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become synonymous with the holiday season since its inception by transforming classic Christmas hits, already known and loved, into operatic, booming rock ballads. Formed in 1996 by a group of musicians looking to push the envelope, the ensemble continue to tour, pulling performance material from their decades of discography, which includes eight full-length albums.

The symphonic, progressive, ever-changing lineup of Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been anchored all of these years by founder Paul O’Neill. When questioned about the motivation behind how it all began, producer and writer O’Neill responded, “It’s definitely taken on a life of its own. The original plan was, when Atlantic asked us in ’93 to start our own band, I simply said, ‘Well, I want to do something completely different.’ … Trans-Siberian Orchestra was, I believe, the last band to have blank check artist development,” recounted the outfit’s originator.

O’Neill’s initial goals for the signature sound of Trans-Siberian Orchestra have not changed. “I want to be a progressive rock band, but I want to take the best of everybody that I admire,” he said.

The live rendition of the music continues on the 2016 tour, which will stop locally at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on Dec. 26. “A full orchestra in the studio, but not on the road. … The majority of the band is between 25 and 45 at their peak,” he remarked on the revolving-door of individuals that often make a career from or use as a stepping-stone, this platform.

Through the years of international tour cycles, large-scale, and even outdoor music festival slots, the group has maintained a fan base as well as a crowd that is more than willing to come out to see the spectacle for themselves.

“If rock has taught me anything, it’s that kids are kids everywhere,” Paul O’Neill commented on why the band decided to brave playing the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany last year. Utilizing lasers and pyrotechnics, the band aim to wow and create an experience unlike the standard rock show.

“The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is taking the standards of vocals from the rock world, production elements from the rock world, the cutting edge of live concerts in arenas from the rock world, but the coherent storytelling from Broadway, because there was a lot of bands over the decades that did rock operas that even after the band would explain it to me, I was like, “Huh?” said Paul O’Neill on the subject of the band’s performance style.

It can regularly be a struggle for such distinctive live acts to maintain relevancy in the rise of the digital world. On the future of the music industry, Paul O’Neill observed, “Right now, we live in a major changing time. When I started TSO, the one thing I simply did not foresee, was the complete collapse of the label system. … A lot of your readers probably think bands like Queen or Aerosmith, whatever, brought hits out of the box. No, they were nurtured by the label system that allowed you to try to find a sound, and keep making mistakes until you got it right. And once you got it right, they would tour to support you, until you developed your own following and you could stand on your own,” he recounted on the past.

When asked about his composing processes, Paul O’Neill reflected on his musical inspirations, experiences in the studio, and the emotional connection that songwriters strive to bridge. “I worship Bruce Springsteen—he changed my life. Born To Run is great,” he mentioned. He also summed up an extremely complex procedure with, “Writing a great song is only half of the battle,” and, “I was always looking for a way for it to have more emotional impact, you know?” In this case, the scales are greatly varied given the number of musicians and vocalists in the band at any given time.

Having been a self-proclaimed fan of The Aquarian Weekly for years, O’Neill stated, “I would say to a certain level it is as important, if not more important for music in the Tri-State Area. 2,000 years ago, the capital of the world was Rome, and now, it’s New York City. The Aquarian definitely punches way above its weight. I’ve always loved it. … I always admired journalists. I am horrible at deadlines. If I had your job, I would finish just as well as Teddy Roosevelt finished the Panama Canal,” Paul laughed.

As this renowned rock company continues to prosper and flourish, under the guidance of Paul O’Neill, he seems confident in where the industry has yet to go. Upon the future of his own group, he said, “Music, storytelling is the backbone of human civilization. I really believe humanity, modern humans started the first time everybody stood around a campfire and somebody told a story. Basically, storytelling is humanity’s long-term memory. Humanity tends to move forward, then slip back, move forward, then slip back.”

Storytelling is certainly what this troupe has always and will surely continue to do. With that bit of particularly relevant piece of advice in mind, perhaps there is faith to be found in the forthcoming years of music.


You can catch the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on Dec. 26 for two shows: 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For more information, go to