Right from the impressive first minutes of their new album, Fates Warning proves itself to be one of those rare veteran bands capable of delivering new material as poignant and powerful as their many high points of the past.
One listen to the textures, momentum, attack and emotion in “From The Rooftops,” and it’s apparent that the band who defined progressive metal with albums such as Awaken The Guardian, Perfect Symmetry, Parallels and A Pleasant Shade Of Gray has plenty of new paths to travel…
Performed by the core lineup that returned to form with 2013’s Darkness In A Different Light (guitarist Jim Matheos, vocalist Ray Alder, bassist Joey Vera, and drummer Bobby Jarzombek), Fates Warning’s twelfth album, Theories Of Flight, is a new facet of the band’s signature mix of melodic finesse, high-level performance and brooding melancholy. It even pushes the goalposts of the previous album out a bit further in each direction.
Blanca Voyager talked with Ray Alder about the upcoming album and many more things few days ago:
Pic by David Ortego
Q: So I see you're on a promo tour now, how's it been going so far?
A: Well, I'm not exactly on promo tour, I've moved to Madrid recently and since I'me here, I thought, why not do some press work?
Q: Why not, indeed? That's amazing news! Well, you're back with another album! After "X", with so many other bands and projects going on, there were rumours that you were done with recording for good, or that Fates Warning was done with recording, but that obviously wasn't the case.
A: No, obviously not. After we did “X”,it was 9 years later that we did "Darkness in a Different Light", which came out in 2013, and then we did this album... I know what you mean, because we hadn't had an album out in 9 years, but we were still touring and everything. There was some confusion with people thinking that it was maybe reunion shows we were doing , but we were still a touring band, we just hadn't any new music, so when we did "Darkness in a Different Light", it was actually so great to come out and play new music again, and be on tour with new music, that of course we wanted to do another album. We wanted to do another album right away! So while we were touring for "Darkness in a Different Light" we were writing for this next album.
Q: "Theories of Flight" took only 3 years to come out, so when did you start working on it? it's quite a long album, so had you got older material ready, or were you just extremely creative during that time?
A: Everything was brand new, there was nothing left over from anything. On some albums we did that - there were some parts left over from different albums, little things here and there that we would use - but this album was all brand new, which is great. While we were touring, Jim and I were talking about writing a new album, Jim was sending me some music during a break while I was home for a little while, and telling me, work on this, so, before I knew it, I had like three songs that I was working on at one time. So it was probably a little more than a year and a half ago that we began writing, till now. The album's just finished and mixed... i't's a month and a half since it's finished.
Q: So that went really fast...
A: Yeah, for us it's really fast.
Q: I think this album goes in a hard rock/ heavy metal, classic direction. It's progressive of course, but it's got lots of strong melodies and hooks and everything... was it a conscious decision to write it that way?
A: Everything was more of an organic thing. Jim would send me music, and I wouuld write melodies and send them to him. I think the structure of the songs is different - most songs would be intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-out. This is a lot different, we sometimes use a chorus once, and then we walk away from it, and there's several different melodies in the songs we don't return to. The formula is different, and that's unusual, but when I write, I want to put melody into everything, I want something that's catchy . We worked really hard. Whenever I wrote a melody , I would send it to Jim, and Jim would say: "I think you can do better" - and I was never offended by that, I said, "I probably can do better", so we did everything in a way that we all agreed with . "This is good", "this is great", it was never like "that'll do", we worked really hard on it every day for at least 12 months.
Q: Jim has a reputation for being a perfectionist, so you can confirm that?
A: Yes, absolutely! And I get it. I understand, being in Fates Warning, we have a lot to live up to, it's not that we put out an album just to put an album out. I'm not saying that bands do that, but for us ... we wanted to be perfect. And I'm proud of what we did, I'm very happy.
Q: You'bve been living apart from each other for quite a long time, so how does the songwriting work? I guess nowadays with the internet it's easier.
A: I'ts been our formula for a long time. We've always lived apart from each other, sent parts back and forth. That's just how it's been. In the old days, before the internet, I remember I lived in Arizona, when we were doing "A Pleasant Shade of Grey" - we were sending cassettes back and forth! That's how it was, we've never really lived in the same state, so we're totally used to it. The difficult thing is that you don't really hear the album until it's completely finished... once the mix is done, its like "Oh, that's what it's supposed to sound like! Now I get it!", it's like you have a box full of Legos, and you never get to see the final product.
Q: What about rehearsing, for example?
A: No, we don't ...
Q: You don't rehearse?
A: No , we don't rehearse, even if we go on tour. Whenever we tour, even new songs, - say, we have to play Saturday night -, we fly to Europe and get here on Thursday night, meet up with each other and and maybe that day, that night before, on Friday we'll rehearse. That one day, and then we'll start the tour. But after all these years, we know how we work, everybody knows to rehearse on their own. If we get together it doesn't happen like "Oh, I don't know how to play this part", no! Everybody knows their part, we have lke six hours of rehearsal and that's it. It would be nice to be able to rehearse for a week, but who has the time?
Q: On the double CD edition of the new album, the second CD cotains some acoustic tracks you recorded. Were they recorded for the occasion, or had you played them live before, or how did you choose them?
A: "Firefly" was from the last album, from "Darkness...". We did an early morning show once in Connecticut, at like seven in the morning, and they wanted us to play an acoustic song. So we said, let's do "Firefly". We loved the way it sounded, so we did it again for this album. We actually recorded it in the stucio, and we did "Another Perfect Day" - we had never done that before, and there's a song by Toad the Wet Sprocket, which is funny. After we had recorded everything we did a song by Uriah Heap, "Rain", and we have a song by a Spanish guitarplayer, Joaquin Rodrigo, which is the craziest, hardest thing I've ever done in my life. To sing in Spanish, and move the song from opera to actually sing it. The song is only less than two minutes long. And the vocals are less than a minute. So, after seven hours we still hadn't finished the vocals , we had to finish it the next day. Anyway, in the end we finished everything.. At night Jim and I were hanging out and had a glass of wineand started thinking like ...hey, we have another day, so we started digging through CDs and just looking around and we just decided to finally do the Toad the Wet Sprocket song, so that was extra. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Talking of something completely different, I just recently was a Keep It True, and I saw another version - so to speak - of Fates Warning, with John Arch.
A: The older version.
Q: Yeah, hehe. That's a bit strange, it doesn't happen very often, that an active band suddenly plays a show with another singer ... don't you think it's a bit confusing for fans?
A: I think it is. I think it's a little confusing , I answered questions where they say, "So you're doing another show in September or something, for "Awaken the Guardian", where do you find time, and I have to say, I'm not doing it, it's John.
Q: Yeah, ProgPower.
A: It's confusing becasue they're using the name Fates Wraning for it, but well, how does it affect, the band, I don't know... it's a little unfortunate that it''s so close to the release of our new album, but... there's nothing you can do about it.
Q: On the other hand, the Arch/ Matheos album could've been a Fates Warning album...
A: Originally it was supposed to be a Fates Warning album. I was working on it for a whlie, I think I wrote three songs or so, but I was busy working on some other things, and in the end I think I wasn't able to really grasp the music. I think what we did in "Darkness in a Different Light" and what we do with this album is more my style.
Q: O.K., so you can satisfy the new fans, the old fans, and everythign in between. Especially in Germany I think there are many fans of the first three albums... that's why they probably played "Awaken the Guardian" at Keep it True, bu I read that Prog Power was also sold out.
A: it's sold out every year. It started in a tiny little place in Chicago, and then it moved to Atlanta. It's cool because they put up a big screen and scroll down the bands that're gonna be there next year and people watch that like a concert! It's a lot like Keep it True... but Keep It True is like a lot of bands come together to play there, but Prog Power is more bands that don't really play in the States, like their first time in the States, or they haven't been there in 5 years or something.
Q: Going back in time a little bit... you just told me you had relocated to Madrid, you already relocated when you were starting with Fates Warning from Texas to Connecticut.
A: Yeah, and to Phoenix, to Los Angeles, I moved a lot.
Q: Why did you decide to start singing with Fates Warning, as in Texas you had a very active metal scene at the time ?
A: Yeah, there was a big scene actually, Watchtower, Syrus... good God, there were a million bands there at the time. Juggernaut, SA Slayer, yeah, there was a big scene! Funny to think about it, how great that was, in a city like San Antonio, having a metal scene like that! But it was never my dream to be in a band. It kinda happened. My brother was in a band, so I begged him to let me sing for his band. I had never sung in my life, I was a fourteen year old kid. So he said, "Yeah, let my brother sing". From there other bands would come and recruit me and say, "Hey, do you want to sing for us". Then I had a conversation with my brother, and said, "I wanna stay with you", and my brother said, "No, you go, they want you, go sing with those guys". That's where it all started, and when I had the chance to audition with Fates, which was my favourite band at the time... the rest is history. Here I am now. I thought I'd be working at a grocery store or something now, but I'm here.
Q: Could you imagine doing a "No Exit" special show for Keep it True or Headbanger's Open Air or some such special occasion?
A: I don't know, maybe, who knows what's down the line... I don't know if I can sing that shit anymore. I could find my way to doing it, but we did that kind of thing for "Parallels", and we wanted to do it for the re-release of "A Pleasant Shade of Grey", but Mark Zonder didn't want to do it, so... we really were looking forward to do that, and we even wanted to bring Kevin Moore out for a couple of shows, which would've been amazing, but since Mark didn't want to do it, which just put it to the side. But we actually played with the idea of having Bobby come out and do it, but Bobby wasn't very happy about it, he didnt' really want to do it - so you have to respect everybody's wishes. Maybe, who knows. maybe some time in the future.
Q: What about touring? From now on will it be without Frank Aresti?
A: Yeah, he's got a really good job now, a very important position, and it's not something you can just get up and leave. We're using Michael Abdow now, he's been with us for around two years,. He's a great guitar player. And as long as he gets along with us I think we can use him.
Q: So I guess your'e kind of an extended familiy or something like that right now...
A: Yeah, Frank is always welcome, he can come back anytime he wants. If he ever wants to come back and tour with us, of course he can, absolutely. I hope he can come in now and do a couple of shows, or at least guest shows.
Q: What about youur other bands? Redemption has probably kept you pretty busy, you released an album earlier this year...
A: Yes, that was weird, because that was in between the little time off we had in Fates, where kind of nothing was really happening, so Nick, the guitar player from Redemption had just some ideas floating around , so I''d go and record some stuff with him. A lot of times it was with no drums, just the guitar, he was like "I have an idea", and put it down. and next thing we konw, the idea became a full album. So what do you mean, your'e tracking drums tomorrow? Literally it was a bunch of ideas, but it was still work. Those guys put albums like nothing, they've put out four or five albums in between our albums. That's keeping me busy in the last couple of years. Thats nice!
Q: And what about Engine? Do you have any new ideas?
A: When I talked with Joey when we were recording this album, we talked about it a lot. He brought it up and actually Pete Parada, who's now in Offspring, he briught it up too, when are we doing another album, come on, let's do another album. I don't know, we'll see. Right now all I want to do is concentrate on Fates. Now I'm in Madrid, music is all I'm gonna do... a man's gotta eat, pay the bills, so, maybe somewhere down the line, when Fates calmes down a little, but after touring this album. If Bernie Versailles gets better ... I don't know how well he can play guitar now. If we do do an Engine record, it won't be without Bernie.
Q: You talked about touring with Fates Warning, so what are your next tour plans?
A: None yet, actually. Right now the original "Awaken the Guardian" line-up is doing the show in Atlanta in September, so I don't think anything's gonna happen before that. But I think everyone wants to tour this album. It's gonna happen, we're going to tour, but not until after September, maybe in Fall.
Q: Going back in time again... and talking about Syrus, an old band of yours The demos were released a few years ago, in 2008 I think, did you listen to that compilation?
A: I had to sign those a lot of times. I signed the CDs, and I'm going... Who the fuck's getting paid for this - because I`m not. Yoou know what I mean? They are selling them for $ 10 apiece, and they've sold how many? They made a 1,000 for sure, that makes $ 10,000. I need a new stero and stuff. But it was shit I didd a long time ago and I will always sign everything, but it was funny, because, who's getting paid for this? But I have a CD. We recorded it on a four-track, you could probably tell by the sound of it.
Q: But the songs were great!
A: Yeah, like "The Hunter"... I liked them, that was my first time actually writing new stuff. I heard they're getting back together now.
Q: Yeah, I read that on metal-archives.com
A: Yeah, Syrus are reforming in San Antonio. I wonder whether Mike's singing for them again... I'll see when I go over for Christmas... and where's my money???
Q: Before we end, just a few more questions about the evolution of Fates Warning I was always curious about. "Parallels" was maybe the most succesful album you've ever released, besides I consider it a fucking masterpiece, I love this album!
A: Muchas gracias
Q: At that time, when you released Parallels, maybe there is a little "parallelism" with Queensryche - they very popular, and you were not as popular... Do you think that by doing a ballad like "Silent Lucidity" you could have achieved a similar (commercial) success?
A: I know what you mean. The thing which is really weird is, we had videos, we had "Point of View", we had "Eye to Eye". We worked so hard on that fucking album, we lived in Toronto, Canada, for almost six months, writing and recording that fucking album. That was the hardest we've ever worked on an album. And the album comes out, we did the videos, and it was obviously right away our biggest-selling album ever. We did an American tour, and 95 % of those shows were sold out, in places we'd never played before. We're talking 2000 - 3000 seat places, the biggest audience we've ever had. And then it became time to do the European tour, and to keep the ball rolling and keep it going, and basically, from what I remember, the record company stopped all support. I think what was happening at the time was that Metal Blade was also with Enigma Records, and Enigma was being distributed by Warner Brother Records. Metal Blade at the time had the Goo Goo Dolls, and I think that they had the choice to either keep pushing us and giving us money or get the Goo Goo Dolls and put everything into them and push them. So, whatever happend, they stopped funding us and pulled everything away from us, and everything stopped. We had no money to tour, we didn't promote the album anymore, and the Goo Goo Dolls had their biggest album ever. So it started out as a great idea, and then it just went to shit. So I know what you're saying, I don't think it was the fault of the band or Queensryche, I think someone just dropped the ball, you know. It sucks, because it was our most successful album, we were so happy and proud , everything was great. Just imagine you get a brand new car, and all of a sudden, someone takes the engine out! That's basically what happend, and that just destroyed us, as a band, we were so unhappy and pissed!
Q: Totally frustrated, probably.
A: Yeah, absolutely, that's why we kind of like gave up, and nobody talked for a long time. We were basically about to break up. It wasn't even our fault. We weren't mad at each other, we were just frustrated with the industry in general. And then we just slowly started thinking, well, let's just do another album, let's be grown-ups about it, and we did "Inside Out". The thing with "Inside Out " was, we were trynig to still do the Parallels thing with catchy songs and not exactly pretty, but commercially viable type of music, and it just wasn't us. It did ok, but it wasn't our favourite album in the world, which led to "A Pleasant Shade of Grey". That was that point where we said, we're gonna do what we want to do, we're not gonna try and write music to be popular. That was what "A Pleasant Shade of Grey" was - fuck it, fuck it all, let's just do what we want, and it ended up being a really successful album of course.
Q: You did a tour in Germany with "A Pleasant Shade of Grey", I saw you in Cologne!
A: We did so many tours with that album... except Spain! Last time we played in Spain, there was only like 40 people here...
Q: Yes unfortunately. Another questions I have is, I can't understand that members of Dream Theater state in a lot of interviews how much they love Fates Warning, but then the Dream Theater fans don't listen to it?
A: They ask me that question alll the time, I really don't know.
Q: But it's really very good publicity for you...
A: I dont' know, we toured with them a bunch of times, too, and they didin't do anything for us, they have a totally different sound, too... but maybe things will change this time!
B: Thanks a lot for your time, hope to see you back on stage soon!