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Interview: Ray Alder (Fates Warning)

Pure metal...interviews

Have you heard of the old saying 'If Muhammad wonít go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Muhammad'? That saying is quite relevant in this case since both I and my fellow journalist Emily had to travel to the Netherlands in order to see Fates Warning headlining the second day of the Headway Festival.

Even though he looked completely exhausted from the preparations for this gig and having just finished with the bandís sound check, Ray Alder was quite happy to answer the questions I had to ask in the few minutes he could spare...

Hi, Ray. I really appreciate the fact that you agreed to do this interview, especially since I know that you guys have not had enough rest the last couple of days. My first question has to do with the reasons which led to Marcís (Zonder: drums) departure from the band, and the many different theories which have circulated with regards to the bandís future. Can you please clarify the whole situation to us?

Ray: The future itself is...nobody really knows what weíre going to do. We donít know what weíre doing right now, but obviously the thing with Marc was that he was too tired with the whole situation. We have worked together for quite a long time, and seeing as things were not going as well as they used to... He really didnít like touring as much as we did, and by the end it was a mutual thing that we both agreed that we should part ways. We all love each other, though, and we are not angry at each other or anything like that - it was a business move.

Right now, we did a new record and we knew that we wanted Marc to play on that record, for which he did a great job. We wanted to go on the road, so we used Nick DíVirgilio from Spockís Beard again who has also played with us during the Queensryche / Dream Theater tour and is a really great guy.

We donít want to pass up any opportunities for playing live, and we do have a lot of friends who are drummers like Mike Portnoy and Nick - people that we always wanted to work with. I donít want to say that the band is in jeopardy right now, but obviously the core is me and Jim (Matheos :guitars) right now. We do not have any plans to stop any time soon - we want to keep on touring as much as we possibly can. If we need to use different drummers every tour, then we will, but we have not yet made any choice as to whether weíre going to get a new drummer for the band. We will see what happens.

Fair enough. How come you decided not to visit us in the United Kingdom this time. I really didnít mind having to travel all the way to the Netherlands to see the band, but I know that there are so many other people that would love to have been here with me now.

Ray: I donít know. It was a short thing this time. We were in Athens about a month ago and we played there and mostly in Eastern Europe. We did shows in places like Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece and it was really fun. The main thing was to go to Athens to shoot our next DVD which will be called 'Live in Athens', so we decided to make a couple more shows in the surrounding countries, since we have never been to Eastern Europe before. That was a lot of fun, and we would be more than happy to do a few more shows there, but unfortunately everybody that played with us like Frank (Aresti: guitars, ex-Fates Warning) and Nick all had different schedules.

It is really difficult, especially since everybody is in something like three different bands. In order for us to have everybody in one place, it was really difficult and these few days were the only ones that weíve managed to do it. Maybe somewhere down the line, we will play other places and come back to Europe with Mike behind the drums. In a few weeks we will do a US tour with Mike, so we may end up coming back here with him.

Fates Warning

How possible is for the European audiences to enjoy a Fates Warning / Queensryche / Dream Theater tour in the near future? I know that the US tour was very successful, and Iím more than confident that it will be equally if not more successful here in Europe.

Ray: Yes, that one sold great. I would definitely want to do it again. I donít know what the actual possibility is for doing something like that. There is no way that I would say that it wouldnít happen, but right now there are no such plans. I would love to do that though, because it was an amazing experience and it was also a great package for the fans too.

Now that you mentioned it, it would be one of my dream concerts really.

Ray: I would love to go to Europe with these guys - I think that weíll do great there, but we will see what happens.

Indeed - anyway, why did you choose my country as the place to shoot your next DVD?

Ray: Last time we played in Athens was during the 'Pleasant Shade of Gray' tour, and one person from our road crew was filming some of the songs from the backstage for a bootleg. Once you watch the footage, you will see that the crowd was amazing. We knew that this was one of the best crowds that weíve ever played for - they sing every word and theyíre so enthusiastic, so we decided to go back then and shoot some proper video this time.

We thought 'letís go back, film this thing and see what happens'. Hopefully it will be great - it was amazing. We also got a lot of footage from Bulgaria, Sofia where we had plenty of cameras and a big film crew too. We are going to use the footage we got from Athens, but possibly add some of the Bulgarian footage too. There is now talk about maybe doing a live music video for 'Another Perfect Day' to play on MTV, and thatís going to be the one from the Athens show.

So I assume that you are generally quite pleased with your last studio album 'FWX' in general.

Ray: Yes, it was actually received much better than our previous album 'Disconnected'. We worked a long time for this album, especially since it came out four years after 'Disconnected' which is way too long. We have also worked a lot on our lyrics.

Each song is very personal, and has lyrics that mean a lot to us - even the ones whose lyrics are not that clear to the majority of the fans. Maybe weíre a little vague, but I think that it was great. The way that we recorded it was also different: we did the drums in Connecticut, and the guitar and vocals were recorded at Jimís studios in New Hampshire which was literally in the woods and that was really cool.

We had a lot of time to experiment, try different things that we did not have to use if we didnít like them enough. We always had the opportunity to start over again. 'Another Perfect Day' was actually done while we were in the studio. When I was doing the vocals, the melodies for the chorus were not really jiving, and that was not a good thing really. We basically tore the song apart, and then chopped it back together and wrote a different chorus which I did then and there. We also did the production of the album all by ourselves.

And what a good production that is!

Ray: Thank you, I think that it came out really, really well. Itís mostly Jim I have to admit, but I also had a part.

Fates Warning

There are a few songs like 'Simple Human' which sound quite a lot like the ones you do for your other band Engine. You understand of course my surprise when I realised that this specific song was composed solely by Jim.

Ray: Do you really think so? Well, maybe my work has influenced him a little bit - who knows (laughs). I donít think that he listens to Engine very much, but I think that maybe it was time for him to do something a little bit heavier, you know? When we were on tour with Queensryche and Dream Theater, we didnít have a lot of time to play, so we started doing shorter and heavier numbers in order to star getting the crowd going. Once we were done with that tour, we decided that we wanted to carry that sort of energy into our next record. You know shorter and heavier songs - not really groovy, but something that will definitely hit you as youíre playing live. Everything we wrote was from a live perspective, so thatís where we got all this energy from.

Well, today we will enjoy you playing for something like an hour and forty five minutes, so which songs/albums have you decided to cover this time round?

Ray: We are going to play quite a lot of songs. We donít do a lot of the old stuff anymore, but weíre actually doing something from the 'No Exit' album, but thatís as far back as we go. We are doing some other stuff though - you know that Mike (Portnoy: Dream Theaterís drummer) is with us, so it is going to sound amazing really. We rehearsed yesterday, and thatís why my voice sounds that bad right now. We have only rehearsed once yesterday which was for eight or nine hours and we all feel quite tired - we really did beat the shit out of ourselves. Hopefully, everything will sound quite amazing. We will honestly try, and there are also going to be a couple of weird surprises there...itís a long set - it really is.

I can see that you are not particularly happy about the long set, but I have to admit that Iím quite pleased about that. Would you agree with me that 'FWX' is in a way part of a trilogy which started with the release of 'Pleasant Shade of Grey' back in 1997? Donít you agree that there is a specific 'vibe' that in a way connects the bandís last three releases?

Ray: I wouldnít say connected...I definitely think that whenever we write a new record itís always trying to be different than our last. I believe that 'FWX' is in some ways a continuation of 'Disconnected', but is was merely a coincidence.

We did not intend to do something like that. Maybe Jim didnít get that full 'bug' out of him after recording 'Disconnected'. Now for instance, I have no idea how the next album is going to sound like and neither does Jim - we are not writing anything yet.

We definitely want to try and do everything that we can with this one. As I said before, if it takes us getting different drummers every time we play out, then this is what weíre going to do. As long as we have Frank with us too - heís playing live with us all the time, which is a great thing too. Itís amazing - itís like breathing a new life in the band and itís fun. We are all old buddies and imagine that we all know each other for the last eighteen years...itís like going out with your high school charm. Weíre definitely having a good time, and we want to continue playing live...letís see what happens.

Which would you say are the main differences between Fates Warning and your own band, Engine? Talking about Engine, are you planning to release any new material in the near future?

Ray: Definitely. We are working on some new stuff for Engine. We have a few songs written, but as to your original question, I think that Fates Warning and Engine are two totally different things. Fates Warning are totally thought out and music wise a lot more progressive at times. The lyrics are also a lot deeper.

When we write the Engine stuff, we go in the studio and simply try to beat the sh*t out of ourselves. Everything thatís written for Engine is written from the live perspective. We record stuff the same way as we play them in the studio and that is as a live band. If a song doesnít manage to move us in a certain way, then it is not going to move the crowd, in which case we move on and try to do something else. As long as the song gets us up and going, it goes on the record. If you want to call that a thought out process, itís pretty much haze, cigarettes and alcohol. We have a lot of fun, and in the studio itís basically me, Bernie (Versailles: guitars) and Joey (Vera: bass) the whole time. There is no pressure from the label as to what theyíre expecting or anything, so... With Fates Warning, people are expecting a lot from the new record, but with Engine things are totally different.

So you must feel a lot more freedom to express yourself as a member of Engine.

Ray: Yes, definitely Iím more free. I feel much more creative working with Jim and Fates Warning, but with Engine Iím also having a great time.

Can I ask you to describe your colleagues in Fates Warning by using a few words which are the more characteristic in your opinion?

Ray: Hmm...I would say that Jim is a very intense person - very deep. Joey is one of the happiest guys in the world. I have literally never met a person that didnít like him...letís just say that he has a joyous personality. the same really - heís happy to be alive and to be able to do the things that he likes doing the most. I think that he really enjoys being back in the music thing. Mike is...pretty amazing (laughs). He is one of those people that has a gift and he was born with it - thatís what heís supposed to do. I am glad that we are good friends and that we can 'use' him a couple of times.

If I remember correctly, this is going to be the only show that heís going to be playing with you guys for this tour.

Ray: For now yes - this will be the only show. We are talking about the possibility of doing something later on in the summer time, but maybe in the States, because we havenít really toured the States for this record at all and I think that people are a little bit p*ssed off with us. Weíre looking at that and in the future it will probably happen - maybe just for a couple of weeks so as to play in places like California, New York or wherever.

Fates Warning

There is a tendency among bands nowadays to play limited shows in bigger venues rather than the traditional lengthy tours in average capacity venues. What about Fates Warning? Do you guys prefer playing festivals like the Dynamo where you recorded your first DVD, or do you find the prospect of playing in front of 2000 people more attractive?

Ray: I actually prefer smaller venues - playing in halls or theatres. I donít really like the sound in outdoor venues because when youíre on stage it sounds like sh*t. Thatís only me though, but it is kind of complicated because I feel lost there with everybody else. I guess that it works better if youíre a really big name, but for me itís all about the smaller venues which somehow make people react better to music. Smaller, more personal types of places are the best - this is my opinion.

Are you normally in a specific state of mind when youíre on stage. Some people like Aaron Stainthorpe from My Dying Bride like to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, and others kind of demand a reaction from the crowd. What about Ray Alder?

Ray: First of all, I try to sing the best I can...I definitely feed off the crowd, if you know what I mean. I think that if the crowd is enthusiastic, then my performance is going to be even better. I just have the time of my life when Iím on stage and I also believe that it is the best part of being in a band. I hate being in the studio - I fuc*ing hate it. I hate having to sit there for ever and ever, but being on stage is what this whole thing is all about. Itís amazing to see how much what youíre doing is affecting all these different people - itís something that Iíd never want to give up. When Iím on stage, Iím usually happy (laughs).

Thank you once again for doing this interview, it has been a real pleasure.

Ray: Thank you. I just want to apologise to everybody for taking such a long time to record 'FWX'. I hope that everybody likes it and also to thank all of you for being there so long all these years.

Album review

Interview © 2005 John Stefanis

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