This interview was conducted in 2000 by Martin Popoff of HardRadio.com
by Martin Popoff
“Well, as you know, Fates Warning has a bit of a dark cloud over us,” laughs Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder, intimating more about the band’s career than he would like to admit.
You see, the perception out there is that this New Hampshire/L.A./Long Island conglomerate has long suffered just to the left of bands like Queensryche, Dream Theater, Rush, even Savatage. But the fact of the matter is that Fates has run a solid, deliberate ship, clocking sales of 100,000+ worldwide each time out, and more importantly, methodically garnering and gathering the respect of fans and industry insiders as their catalogue grows to epic proportions.
Hence the title of the band’s 12th album, Disconnected, which given the band’s generally positive disposition, points to as many connections as it does disconnections. Especially when it comes to Alder’s lyrical work, a rare occurrence given the dominance of guitarist Jim Matheos in that department.
But Alder agrees with the observation that this is one of the doomier Fates Warning records, at least musically. “The music has always had a dark vibe or aura. It’s somewhat depressing, although we are the opposite, generally fairly happy individuals. And this record is much darker than A Pleasant Shade Of Gray, which had a lot more ups and downs, so to speak, faster parts and slower parts. I think this album is generally a lot heavier and like I say darker. Although the lyrics on Disconnected are not so dark; they are actually a little more uplifting.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. Jim had always asked me to write lyrics, and I just never felt it was my place within Fates Warning. I love Jim’s lyrics, I think they’re great. So when I was asked to do something for this album I guess I have a little more confidence in myself, so to speak, after I did the Engine project.”
“‘One’ was going to be the first song on the record and I knew it was going to be the first song we were going to open with on tour, so I wanted it to be an audience/band-related type song, something we could both connect through. And it speaks for itself: when we play live, we take a part of each other home when we are done with the show, or with the tour. It’s a memory that lasts forever. Basically it’s sort of a thank you.”
‘Pieces Of Me’ is interestingly, written along the same lines. “That one was strange. That was a collaboration between Jim and I. In the studio, we had the song written, but not the lyrics, and it was coming down to the wire and we said what are we going to do for the lyrics? So I penned the lyrics for the verses and Jim came up with the lyrics for the chorus. Again, ‘Pieces Of Me’: being on tour, doing what you have to do. It also has to do with the title of the album, Disconnected. Sometimes you are with the fans, sometimes you aren’t with the fans, and sometimes you are disconnected from writing and the music industry. We all felt that way at one time or another.”
Which also leads into the theme of ‘Something From Nothing’, which Alder explains as “that empty feeling inside, looking for something, and you don’t even realize what’s there. I realize that I’m actually really happy doing what I’m doing. It’s an absolute gift in life to be able to write and record music and have people enjoy it. You are making something that will be around forever and ever.”
Throughout the album this idea of being disconnected recurs, an idea the band continued through the album graphics, one depicting the idea that we are all disconnected from the march of time, another featuring puppets disconnected from their puppeteer, another of a girl losing grip on a balloon, and another being an old photo that Jim had found, which had to do with disconnecting telegraph wires during the war. A shot they didn’t use that almost made the cut was of a dog with leash attached, wandering off down a country road. The cover shot depicts a couple with gas masks on, disconnected from each other.
The final photo of the package is the requisite band shot, featuring only three guys: Jim, Ray and drummer Mark Zonder. Is there also a theme of disconnection associated with this picture? Why isn’t Joey Vera featured as a full member of the band?
“Joey is an enigma, he’s a musical entity unto himself. He’s got Armored Saint, Fates Warning, Engine, he plays with other little bands, and he’s producing, engineering; there are a lot of things he does. Over the years, Fates Warning has had Joe, Frank, Steve Zimmerman, it’s like we’ve been through a lot of members already and when it came down to it, when the last album was being written it just came down to Jim and Mark and myself. Everything just seemed that much more focused. Even though the record took a long time, it was just that much easier. There weren’t as many cooks in the kitchen. It’s easier to deal with three people than five or even four. I think Fates Warning is pretty much Jim and Mark and myself. It just works out better that way. But again, Joey has great ideas and he is a permanent member as long as he wants to play with us.”
And ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore? “Yes, funny you should ask. He did keyboards with us way back on Perfect Symmetry in 1989 when he still was with Dream Theater. Again just a long-time friend, lives in Los Angeles. Mark played drums on his Chroma Key record as well. It’s kind of like a big huge family. I don’t think he will be a full band member. Kevin is definitely his own guy. He likes doing his Chroma Key thing. I don’t think he is ever going to join a band unless it’s his own thing. We even asked him to come out on tour with us and he said no. It’s not his bag. But again, I think he is another full-time studio musician for us. At least I hope so.”