Once you talk to Paul O'Neill, the founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, everything suddenly makes sense.
The elaborate rock operas the group produces, the gigantic stage shows that barely fit into large-scale arenas, the constant touring and recording - the TSO machine never stops working.
And a conversation with O'Neill reflects the non-stop nature of his creation - the former rock producer glides from subject to subject, from thought to thought, at a breakneck pace. But in between O'Neill's - admittedly rare - breaths, you start to get a feel for him as a kind of genius.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra's stage show includes an elaborate light and laser show.
Since it's formation nearly 15 years ago, TSO has taken two strikingly different forms, classical music and rock 'n' roll, and blended them into a sound that has sold out arenas throughout the world.
"The whole idea behind TSO was the band would be able to go anywhere [musically]," O'Neill said in a recent phone interview. "The whole industry has been changing so rapidly, but TSO was designed to be different. When I was younger, bands were more music -driven. In the '80s, they became celebrity-driven.
"The whole thing about TSO was to give [listeners] an emotional impact with the music."
If you go
Who: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 5
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park
Tickets: $28.50, $49.50 and $59.50; available at the Bryce Jordan Center, Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State Tickets Downtown, the Altoona Campus Ticket Outlet, online at www.bjc.psu.edu, Ticketmaster.com, LiveNation.com or by calling 865-5555 or 800-745-3000
The emotional impact depends on the listener, of course, but TSO's music has certainly made a big impact on the music industry.
Since O'Neill formed the group with several members of the rock band Savatage in 1996, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been a tremendous success. The group's debut album, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," was the first of three platinum records from TSO and included the hit single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," a cover of a Savatage tune that has become a holiday favorite. TSO's most recent album, the non-holiday record "Night Castle," debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 last year and is Gold-certified.
O'Neill says that TSO would never get off the ground in today's music industry.
"The first album came out in 1996 and it didn't do that well," he said. "If that had happened in 2006 instead of 1996, I think we would've been dropped [by the record label]. We worked and developed our sound until '99, when we did our first concert. [After the tour] we just exploded and went from there."
In fact, the group's biggest success has been on the road. Since TSO's first tour in 1999, they've performed in front of more than seven million people and were named one of the Top 25 touring acts from 1999 to 2009 by Billboard Magazine. In fact, the group's Christmas-themed Winter Tour has become so popular that it had to split in half - one group plays the eastern half of the United States, while the other plays the western half.
This year's Winter Tour will visit the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State University Park campus at 8 p.m. Nov. 5.
The Winter Tour includes "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" played in its entirety, as well as songs from "Night Castle."
"This is one of the most heavily requested shows we've had in the last decade, and it's taken nearly that long to get it," said Bernie Punt, marketing director at the BJC. "It's worth the wait and we're very excited about it."
One of the reasons TSO has been so popular as a touring act is their elaborate stage show. The group tours with 80 members and uses lasers, pyrotechnics and elaborate lighting to create an otherworldly experience for concertgoers.
"As the band has gotten bigger, as the show has gotten bigger, we've had to skip some places," O'Neill said, recalling a conversation with his management company where the TSO show couldn't fit into a venue in Baltimore.
"When you can't fit into Baltimore? It's kind of forcing us to rethink the [setup]."
The Jordan Center won't have such space concerns, Punt said.
"Luckily, we're one of the four biggest venues in the state, so we'll be able to handle the whole show," he said.
O'Neill is careful to stress that a bigger show doesn't mean outlandish admission prices.
"We added four more tractor trailers [to this year's show]," he said, but when asked about ticket prices, he told bookers to "keep 'em the same."
These days, O'Neill can't go out on tour to play guitar like he did when the group started, but he flies back and forth between TSO's two touring companies to keep an eye on things.
But retiring from the stage show hasn't slowed him down.
O'Neill is currently writing and recording the next TSO album, while prepping the group's first foray onto Broadway, a rock opera called "Gutter Ballet" which he's been working on since the group began.
"My entire life in rock and roll, the prevailing wisdom was that once an artist reached a certain level, they lost the desire to create," he said.
But today's music scene gives him an advantage, O'Neill says, as rock has begun to influence all genres of music.
"For the first time, everyone has rock and roll as a basis," he said. "Now the only thing [left] is to not let them down."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.