Attending a Fates Warning gig has been anything but an easy task in the recent past, with getting there involving taking a train or a plane. With a that in mind, you understand how happy I was when I realised that, this time round, it would only take a twenty minute drive to reach the London Underworld - the venue where the US Progressive Metal Wizards were to give their first gig on English soil in years. Prior to attending that amazing show, I managed to get the band's frontman Ray Alder to tell me a few things about the latest re-issue of "No Exit", the band's plans for the future and express his frustration for the maltreatment of his personal project Engine.
Ray, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. Much as it's kind of late for me to welcome you to England, I have to ask why it took you guys so long to come here.
Ray: Well, I don't think that we sell that many records in England. Every tour we've ever really been, we never had a promoter who was very excited to have us in London. So, it's not our fault really. We are excited to be here finally - the only tour we did here was with Dream Theater, a long, long time ago. If we were ever invited to come here, of course we would and we did finally manage to make it here, fifteen years later (laughs).
Also a good opportunity to celebrate the re-release of "No Exit". By the way, is that the reason behind you guys being here?
Ray: No, no. I think that everything just coincided. It was not our intention to come here and play just for "No Exit" It is a very big coincidence really, seeing as we do not do much stuff from that album anyway. Basically we were all talking about this and it's been a long time since we've done anything and we thought that it would be nice to come and play for a couple of weeks in Europe and just let people know that we're still around. We are still making music and we are also still interested in making music.
So what is the real case with Fates Warning? Last time we spoke, almost two years ago, in Holland you didn't make me feel that there was much future left for this band. Has anything changed since then?
Ray: I mean, everything is busy doing different projects: Jim (Matheos/guitars) is working with OSI and I am working with Redemption. Jim is also writing some other stuff for his next solo album at the moment, Frank (Aresti/guitars) has his daily life and Joey (Vera/bass) is working on a million different projects, producing, recording and engineering...everybody is doing something right now, so it's really hard to pin yourself down and do something particular, but...I am optimistic, but I don't want to make a bunch of promises I cannot keep for everybody else.
We are talking about doing another record right now but nothing is really set in stone, so we really have to think of what we want to do. Nothing really happened to the band - nothing really stopped with us. I really want to make another record and I think that we will - it's just a matter of getting us all together in the same place and have our minds actually set to make another record, cause we don't make to make another record just for the sake of doing it.
We want to make something that people will really enjoy and will convince them that we're back and still interested in making good music. We have Bobby (Jarzombek/drums) playing with us now and I personally feel that he's the best drummer that we've ever had...
That is quite a statement, Ray!
Ray: He's incredible - he's amazing! He fits in really well with everybody. Everybody has said so far in the tour that it would be a huge waste if we would not use the talents that we have with us now to do something...we're definitely talking about it.
The other two drummers who helped you out on your past tours, namely Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), are of a more Progressive Metal background whereas Bobby has participated in Hard Rock/Classic Metal bands recently, so I'm curious as to what kind of vibe he will bring convey to us tonight.
Ray: Trust me, it's a great vibe. When we get on stage, everybody is really comfortable. Fans and journalists both in the US and Europe claim that this is the best line up that they have ever seen...I believe that music will speak for itself tonight - just stay and watch the show and you'll see (note: of course I will, are you crazy???). It will be amazing. He is like a mimic - he can play anything that he wants. He listens to something and he can play it on the spot. He plays Mark Zonder's (former Fates Warning drummer) perfectly, if not better (laughs) - it's just weird. He gets along with us as well - we're all kind of dorks and geeks anyway and really fits with us. It's funny, cause we had this conversation yesterday: me, Frank and Joey, saying how well he fits with us and how great of a drummer he is and also how bad it will be not to do anything with this line up. Again, we're all talking and we're very optimistic that something is really going to happen - we just have to think and set a date, that's all.
"No Exit" has been re-released recently and I wanted to ask you a few questions in relation to that album. That was your first ever album as a frontman of Fates Warning and probably a very difficult task to front a band that has only been through an Epic/Classic metal era and just embarking on a trip towards a more progressive direction. Was the whole experience as intimidating as I imagine?
Ray: Yeah. I mean, I was really young and only been to a professional studio once before. Fates Warning were my favourite band at the time and John Arch my favourite singer, so there were obviously really big shoes to fill, but once I got over the fact that I was going to be in the band, I think I relaxed a bit. I went to rehearsal for a week and a half or two weeks and then went to the studio right away. Again, I've never really been out of the state of Texas and all of the sudden I'm in the state of Connecticut and that all really felt strange and weird - still, it was both fascinating and fun! It was an adventure. I believe that I did the record in five days or something. That was scary at first, but as soon as things started falling into place, everything started becoming exciting and fun. It was also a great change in the musical direction of the band in comparison with albums such as "The Spectre Within" and "Awaken The Guardian". The music was now much heavier and more groovy - it wasn't anymore about dragons and wizards...I liked where the whole thing was now going.
Do you think that you were partly responsible for this change?
Ray: No. The record was totally written by the time I got into the band. They just gave me the music and said to me "here, do what you can with it". I didn't have that much time because, as I said, we were in the studio all day recording. I had a four-track to write melodies and stuff while they were working and that was kind of hard. I wrote a lot of melodies in the studio behind the mike too...I think it sucked (laughs).
I was listening to the demo version of "Quietus" that is featured in the re-release of "No Exit" and your performance was amazing.
Ray: (laughs) It was simply a four-track. I pushed the button and sang on my microphone...it was funny...yeah, it was a long, long time ago but again it was an adventure - a very exciting thing for a young man.
So, are you going to play any of these songs tonight?
Ray: We will do a little bit of something from the "No Exit". Last time we were here, long back in time, we recorded a live record and did the whole "The Ivory Gates Of Dreams" and stuff. I don't know how far back we intend to go, but we will do a few things from "No Exit", just because of the nostalgia and the fact that people are expecting to hear something.
Do you believe that the material featured in "No Exit" is still relevant today, after almost twenty years? I know a few people who certainly feel that this is the case and also I, as a fan, feel that the production and music still comes across as really fresh and strong as it did back in 1988.
Ray: I personally don't agree with all that. I think that it's a little dated and aged and most people agree with that. Anytime in the past we performed material from that album or the John Arch releases, people were just slightly confused (laughs). That is one reason why we don't go that far back in our live performances - this was part of a band that Jim created before he found his niche and knew what he really wanted to write. This was a totally different era with a totally different singer. I still like the music and I do still listen to it every once a year (laughs)...it was a totally different era for us and I personally think that it sounds somewhat dated.... that's my personal view, I don't know what everybody else feels.
A somewhat hypothetical question: any ideas what your next album will sound like, when you do decide to begin working with your collective ideas?
Ray: Well, Jim writes the music and then sends it to me so, whatever he has in his mind is pretty much what we will do. I cannot speak for him, of course.... my job it to write the best melodies that I can come up with, but he really does all the writing, so he will have to answer that question for you.
What happens with Engine, your own project then? Again, last time we spoke, you said that you might do another record with Bernie (Versailles/guitar) and the rest of the guys.
Ray: We wanted to do something, but the second Engine record didn't sell as much as the first - I think it did something like 2000 copies or something. As far as I know, here in Europe they said that they didn't want to release another record under the Engine name (note: what???) and Metal Blade America seems to have agreed with them, so...it was Europe's call, I guess. Well, I think that that's fu*king stupid, but...our first album was album of the month in many different countries and the second record got third place and all of a sudden we are a fu*king sh*t band...that's stupid - it makes no sense to me., but...fu*k it, fu*k it, you know? I can do something else one of these days but just now it is hard to be inspired to do something of my own. Back then, it was a lot of fun, you know? Bernie and I had a great time writing these songs and having somebody coming and saying to you that you're not good enough...I need to start again and I got a lot of sh*t going on, so...
It's actually very annoying to see an artist that's really willing to bring out good quality music being denied the right by an executive sitting in an office on the other side of the Atlantic...we both know how the music industry works, but you would expect things to be much different in the year 2007.
Ray: Yeah well...who knows! I still want to do something - I have a lot of ideas of where I want to go musically. I don't know if I want to make another heavy record like that, though. I like melodies and I like to sing mellow stuff and I feel that I want to do acoustic music with strings and some cool sound effects. I am sure that nobody will buy it (note: I will - I swear I will!!!), but it will be fun for me to do, as soon as I find the right people to work with. Even if I cannot put it on a record, I will definitely put it on a website or something.
It seems that quite a few artists are going towards that direction nowadays.
Ray: Yeah, because that way you are the one to sell your own product - there is no loss really. You do everything yourself, financing yourself, putting things on the website...people who will find out about it through Myspace or something will be willing to pay for it. It's going to be easy, I think!
So what are your other plans apart from this short European tour with Fates Warning that you are currently undertaking?
Ray: Not a lot. I did the tour with Redemption which was something like five weeks, took a lot of time off after that and I did a lot of travelling in the States to see friends and stuff and now we are doing this tour, so I don't know what I will do when I get home actually...I don't know...watch some TV, play some video games and become a kid again (laughs).
Ray, I am not going to torture you any more with my questions. Thank you for doing this interview and I hope that everything will work out well for you in the future, regardless of what you plans are!
Ray: You have not tortured me at all (laughs)! Thank you.
Interview © November 2007 John Stefanis
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