Metal Messiah Radio interview with John Arch and Jim Matheos (07/13/2011)
By J.C. Green
Audio URL: http://heavymetalthunder.podbean.com/2011/07/13/interview-with-john-arch-and-jim-matheos-on-mmr/
JC: Hello metalheads. Tonight, we have here Jim Matheos and John Arch, and they will be talking about their highly anticipated, upcoming album, among other stuff.
Guys, welcome to Metal Messiah Radio. How are you?
Jim Matheos: Good, thank you.
John Arch: Very well.
JC: OK, great. OK, guys. You have a new project named Arch/Matheos, with the upcoming album title “Sympathetic Resonance.” I have been lucky to listen to the songs “Midnight Serenade” and “Stained Glass Sky,” this one clocking almost 14 minutes in length. There is a lot of hype surrounding the album, so what can you tell the fans about it and how do those two songs compare to the rest of the album?
Jim: I think of those two songs, “Stained Glass Sky” is probably more representative of the whole record, because it’s almost an hour long record and there’s only six songs on it, so most of them are the more longer type, heavy, progressive songs. “Midnight Serenade” is still heavy and progressive, but it’s kind of the shorter, more accessible one, probably the one that will go to radio, and a video, that kind of thing. But overall, it’s a good balance I think. There’s a lot of heavy stuff on it. I think old Fates Warning fans and new ones are going to enjoy it.
JC: As fans already know, John was the vocalist for the first three Fates Warning albums and both of you were together on John’s EP “A Twist of Fate” back in 2003.
Jim, I have read that some of the songs on “Sympathetic Resonance” were supposed to be Fates Warning songs and that Ray Alder was unable to work at the moment. So, basically, how was the idea to this new album conceived?
Jim: It was really one step at a time. It’s true what you said the first couple songs for this record started off as material for the next Fates Warning record. And just on a whim one time John was up at my house and I asked him if I could play him some music. I played him a couple of the songs, and he decided to take one of them home and listen to it; I believe it was the song that eventually became “Neurotically Wired,” and that one sounded great so I gave him another one.
It was really just one step at a time. I think we didn’t decide that we were going to do a full length record until we probably had maybe three-quarters of the record written and we didn’t even know at that point what we were going to do with it.
And that’s just really the way we work. We take it one step at a time and we see if there’s something happening there that makes both of us happy, and if it does we go on to the next thing, and that’s the way it happened here.
JC: How was the approach that Jim made to you, regarding the new songs?
John: Like we said, I was sitting with Jim, and he asked me to listen to some stuff that he had. And one step at a time I listened to it and a couple of songs. I was very impressed and the song structure was odd time signatures and very complex, so it took me a little while to get my mind wrapped around exactly what he was doing.
But it was right up my alley, and after listening to it, the compositions inspired me to see if I could not get the melody lines and some lyrics to it. One song at a time. I was in that building process over a period of a year actually, working on it. It was a lot of work. But we just kept on rolling with it, and now we have a full-length album.
JC: OK, that’s great. OK, that “A Twist of Fate” EP gained a lot of excellent reviews worldwide, and fans kept waiting for more from you guys.
John, did you feel any kind of pressure while working on “Sympathetic Resonance”? Also, how do compositions from both releases compare?
John: Yeah, I think in the back of my mind, I think I always try to outdo myself no matter whatever endeavor I’m doing.
Ever since “Awaken the Guardian,” we set the bar pretty high. I think we were in top form; we’d been playing together for a long time. Vocally, my voice was probably in the best shape, so in the back of my mind, I’m always trying to probably outdo myself, which is probably not the healthiest way to look at things.
So there was no plan here as far as what direction we were going in. I would take the music one step at a time.
I think “A Twist of Fate” is a good representation of what you’ll hear on this album. It’s just a lot of the same roots as well as being dynamic and being progressive. Jim and I worked in the same way that we have always worked together. So you have what you have because you have the same two people and the chemistry was still there.
JC: OK, nice. OK, Jim, both of you worked together in Fates Warning for several years back in the ’80s with excellent results. Now, 25 years later, do you have any kind of flashbacks in the studio? Do you feel that working together again was like time never passed away?
Jim: Yeah, it’s always been like that. It’s a real natural working relationship between us. It does feel like it did a long time ago.
We did bounce ideas off of each other. It just is a real natural relationship. I think we feed off of each other, idea wise, inspiration wise.
It wasn’t hard to get back into it at all. There was no awkward phase where we were uncomfortable at first and weren’t sure about where to go. It just fell into place right away.
JC: How about you, John? Do you have any kind of flashbacks that suddenly you think, “Wow, it’s 1986 all over again”?
John: Oh God, I’m not sure about flashbacks, but all I can say is it’s always a comfortable working environment with Jim, so being able to work in an environment where we’re not under a lot of time constraints to get something out.
I’m very comfortable singing in front of Jim, even when my voice is out of shape and I’m trying to get my voice back in shape again. He’s not judgmental, he’s encouraging, so it’s a great working environment.
As far as flashbacks, I’m too busy full of anxiety worrying about things to have flashbacks. All I can say is, the bottom line is, going into this, I never take for granted that just because we’ve worked together, that things are going to turn out great.
And I think that’s part of the chemistry, we just keep plugging away at it and working hard, in hopes that whatever we come up with, the fans are going to like. Yeah, that’s it.
JC: OK. OK, John, you handled the lyrics for the album. What inspired you this time, and how do you manage to work on some songs that were originally planned for Ray’s vocals?
John: Well, again, the music that Jim writes, depending on who’s working with him, it could have came out a thousand different ways. But there’s no lyrics and there’s no melody lines written to what Jim has, so when I do start humming along, and he inspires me with his writing. So, when things start to develop musically and lyrically, it just seems that we had the same chemistry that we’ve had. It seemed to fall into place again.
JC: OK. Speaking about your voice, what special things do you do to keep your voice like this? It’s been a long time, and you seem just like in the ’80s, I have to say, even better.
John: You know what, I’m very surprised at that, because it didn’t come easy this time. “A Twist of Fate,” it took a while to start to develop my voice again. But, of course, after “A Twist of Fate” was over, I fell back into my domestic life, and away from music.
So this time, being a little bit older, and a lot of time has elapsed, I think this was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, trying to get my voice back into shape again. I had no vibrato, my pitch was off, it’s probably painstaking for Jim to listen to it at the beginning. But he was understanding, and it was a building process.
It’s not something that just because I open my mouth, good things are going to come out of it. He’s got a lot of things on tape he could probably hold against me if he wanted to, which I hope nobody ever hears.
But there’s no secret. It was just a lot of hard work, and it took time to develop. By the time we were wrapping this album up, I call it album, CD. My voice was just starting to get back in shape again.
If I let it go again, the same thing’s going to have to happen. So it’s a matter of just practicing, and getting a regimen of rehearsal and then sticking with it.
JC: So there’s no special diet, no egg yolks and stuff like that?
John: Yeah, there’s certain things. I stay physically fit with my bike riding, I don’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t drink. There’s certain things that I’m sure can harm your voice that I stay from.
But it’s like any other instrument. You just have to rehearse, you have to keep practicing.
Going into this, I had no idea if my voice was going to come back or what it was going to turn out to be. But it seemed to work out a little bit differently this time. There were times I felt the pressure of remembering back in “Awaken the Guardian” I wanted to set the bar higher all the time.
But this time, I think I used more of a range. And Jim helped me out where he did some coaching. And said “OK, that’s a little too much, let’s rein it back in.”
I think what it does is it complements the sound of the whole. Rather than trying to showboat as an individual, everybody here that worked on this album I think did a stellar job of actually contributing to the songs and not trying to be a standout.
JC: OK, nice. OK, Jim, on your last collaboration, you and Joey were the only active members from Fates Warning at that time that worked on the EP, but on “Sympathetic Resonance” four out of five members of the actual lineup of Fates Warning are on the album. Which are the main reasons for this?
Jim: Well, first and foremost, I’m really comfortable with those people. And we’re not only band mates, but we’re really good friends. And there’s not anybody else I’d rather play with on this kind of record.
Specifically, Bobby, since he’s been in the Fates lineup for a while now, and some of these songs started off as Fates Warnings songs. He’d been working on them for months. So it didn’t seem like it would be appropriate for me to say, “Well, these same songs that you’ve been working on now for so long now are no longer Fates Warnings songs. I’m going to get a different drummer.”
That wasn’t fair, and I didn’t want to do that, because I like what he was doing. It just seemed natural. These are all people that I enjoy working with. It’s just a natural choice for me.
JC: OK. And are you worried that fans perceive this album as a Fates Warning reunion album with John?
Jim: I don’t know if I’m worried about it. I don’t really worry about things like that.
I’m sure some of the people might. We’ve tried to make it as clear as possible that it’s not. That this is Arch/Matheos. It’s a totally different entity than Fates Warning, even though a lot of the same members are in it.
There’s a totally different dynamic chemistry between John and I than there is between Ray and I. People will think what they want to, but Fates Warning will have a record out next year, and Arch/Matheos will do its own thing as well.
JC: So if “Sympathetic Resonance” becomes extremely successful, there may be additional fans that would ask you to keep working as Fates Warning with John, so do you guys that this will not harm Ray’s relationship with the band?
Jim: Absolutely not. I mean I think John and Ray are friends. They both respect each other. Now there’s no reason why both can’t co-exist and do different records. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
There’s plenty of time in the day for me to write. There’s plenty of people who want to hear a lot of new music, so I think most people would be rather happy to hear Fates Warning with Ray, and Arch/Matheos record, rather than one or the other.
JC: OK. That’s true. OK, John, you left the music business back in 1987 and kept away from it for many, many years until 2003. Then you stay away for almost eight additional years. What do you keep doing all those years, and what sparked you to return?
John: Well, I guess, looking back, at some point in our life, we have to make decisions. We’re faced with decisions every day, and I had to make a decision at some point whether it was music full time or I fell back on my other talents to make a living. I guess part of my personality and who I am led me in the direction to probably take a, I don’t know if I want to say a safer avenue, but I made certain decisions.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy doing music at all. I mean, I really enjoyed the creative process of making music. It’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Again, that type of lifestyle, back in the day, full of crowded barrooms with smoke and all the other temptations, and almost like being a night owl. I don’t know if that lifestyle ever fit who I am.
In having said that, I did miss the creative process of creating the music along with Jim. So the reason I return, it’s like it’s not a big fanfare. What it is is an opportunity that Jim presented me with. I can’t tell you why I take little baby steps with things, but it seems like the time was good, and the conditions were right, very stress free, where I had the opportunity to work with Jim and make some more music.
I’m glad I did. Going into it, you never know what’s going to happen. You always have that fear that things aren’t going to work out, but I think in true fashion when Jim and I work together that good things come of that. I hope that answers your question.
JC: Yes, great. OK, John, you also auditioned for Dream Theater, before they got James LaBrie as their vocalist. There are even some audio bootlegs from those auditions. What can you share with us about that time, and why do you think you were not the chosen one?
John: Well, I had mixed feelings about things back then.
I guess I had the urge, probably, to create music, but to tell you the honest truth, Dream Theater, for what they developed into today, they’re huge. It’s just at that time in my life, I had just gotten married, just bought a house, we had a baby on the way. There were just decisions that I had to make.
Obviously, I had mixed feelings if I’m down auditioning for Dream Theater, and I have a bambino on the way. It was quite intimidating, to tell you the truth, because they are very accomplished musicians.
The way that they write music is totally different than what I’m used to. They’ll sit all together in a room with a chalk board, and kind of navigate music, and I’ve never written that way.
The way Jim and I write is we kind of collaborate, then we go off on our own into our quiet little solitude, where we have a chance to be creative. And that’s not how it’s done with Dream Theater.
I remember doing an audition, we went down there, and that’s where those God-awful demo things came from. I was in a room with the band, and they were playing full blast, and I couldn’t even hear myself sing. I was out of shape doing “The Apparition.” You know, whatever. Of course it gets out, and it’s kind of embarrassing material.
In addition to that, besides their writing style is totally different, I have to say I was quite intimidating.
Something just told me to walk away. Are there regrets? Things could have turned out differently for me? Yeah. But my life as is, I think I have the best of both worlds at this point, where I was able to provide for my family. I was able to live a life that I think my personality is conducive to.
I have an opportunity here at Metal Blade with a new release around the corner. I’m pretty excited about that.
Something just tells you that when you think you’re putting yourself into a position that you don’t belong, you make decisions based on that.
JC: OK, excellent. OK, Jim, besides Fates Warning, you also have the project named Office of Strategic Influence, OSI. Your last album was “Blood,” and it was released in 2009. What’s the current status with this project?
Jim: Yeah, actually, we just finished a record. We’re going to start mixing it next week. It’s going to be on Metal Blade. I think they have it scheduled to come out January 2012.
JC: So do you already have a title for that album?
John: No. No. That will come much later. Luckily, we’re going to mix it next week, and we’ll have a good four months after that, since it’s not coming out until January, to decide on titles and artwork. That always comes last in this project.
JC: OK, and it was recorded with the same lineup as the last one?
John: It is, actually. It’s just mostly Kevin and I and Gavin Harrison on drums.
JC: OK, nice. OK, Jim, speaking of Fates Warning, the last album Fates Warning 10 dates back to 2004, making it the first time in the band’s long career that you spent so many years without releasing a new album. Now I think that maybe your head is on “Sympathetic Resonance,” but what’s next then for Fates Warning?
Jim: Yeah, we’re planning on doing a record, having it come out next year. I’m going to start writing shortly after we do some dates this summer, and hopefully 2012, we’ll see what happens.
It’s just Ray and I have both been pretty busy since 2004. He’s been doing Redemption, and I’ve done OSI and a few other things. We tried to get started on a Fates record a couple of times, and just life intrudes sometimes. Hopefully we’re both on the same page this year, and we’ll get out something next year. I’m looking forward to it.
JC: OK, nice. Great. Moving into the Arch/Matheos album again, many fans want to see you guys touring for “Sympathetic Resonance.” So is there a tour in the works?
Jim: There’s definitely not a tour in the works. I don’t think a tour is going to happen, because that takes a lot of time and effort on everyone’s part, and I’m not sure John’s able to do that. Like he said, he has a life outside music and other responsibilities.
Having said that, we are trying to put together maybe some one of shows, and we’ll see what happens. We hope we can maybe at least do a couple of shows in Europe next year some time.
JC: OK. In Europe. A couple of shows maybe.
Jim: Yeah, we’ll see. It’s really in the planning stages right now. It’s just one step at a time. And we have to go where there’s the most demand too, because, unfortunately, there’s financial concerns and these things too. So we have to see where the interest lies, and we’ll know better once the record comes out.
JC: OK, great. After the experience you had working on “Sympathetic Resonance,” do you think we will get more from Arch/Matheos in the future? If so, do we have to wait for eight more years?
Jim: I’m not sure if either of us will be around in eight years.
John: I know.
Jim: Yeah. I think, personally, just I’ll be real brief for me. I would love to do it. There’s still a lot of music to be written, I think. And we had a good time doing this. So I would say somewhere down the line, we’ll both be on the same page again, and hopefully there’ll be another one.
John: I agree. I forget. I’ve been away from it, and I just forget how much work it really is. It’s very stressful, for me, anyway, and it’s a lot of work. But I guess nothing in life is easy, and then when the end result is good, and the feedback was good from the fans, I mean, all the better. So, you can’t eliminate the possibility we might be making music again.
JC: And like you mentioned before, John, all your working experience has been along with Jim so do you think that there is no chance that you will work on your own in the future?
John: Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities in life; I’m finding that out. But I just don’t know. I can’t say for sure. I can say that I’ve always been comfortable working with Jim because I know the environment. It’s familiar to me. But I can’t say for sure. I don’t know.
JC: OK, the last one. “Awaken the Guardian” is 25 years now in 2011. Now, after all this time, how do you feel about that album?
John: I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s a great album. I like the whole feel and chemistry of that album. It still stands up today I believe. A lot of people say the same thing. They can listen to it and it’s like “wow!” It was a great album for everyone that was involved.
And then on the other end of the token, I have to say that I suppose “Awaken the Guardian” has been a thorn like in my side, in a manner of speaking, because you set the bar a certain way and I sang very high and very hard on that album. My voice was in the best shape it probably ever will be. Of course I was, I don’t know how old I was but, fairly young. So that of course, like you said, you have flashbacks. Well, the flashbacks sometimes can be…
You set the bar to that standard and you don’t want to do anything that is subpar. But, I’m starting to learn that. It is what it is. It was great. It was what we did. But, I have to move on. And I think we have done that with “Sympathetic Resonance.” I think it’s a great mix of our roots and it has a lot of great, dynamic qualities to it.
So, “Awaken the Guardian,” I still think stands the test of time but I’ve learned that I don’t have to make that my standard for anything I do in the future.
JC: How about you, Jim?
Jim: For me, out of everything I’ve done, there are probably three, four records that stand the test of time that I’m still proud of. That would be one of them. That one, “Parallels,” and “Pleasant Shade of Gray” are probably the things that I can look back at and listen to and cringe the least about.
JC: OK. Well guys, thanks a lot for your time. We wish both of you a lot of success. Any final words for our listeners?
Jim: Thank you and hope everyone likes the record.
John: Yeah, please, let us know if you like it!
JC: OK, I will. Well, metalheads, that was John Arch and Jim Matheos. Hope you enjoyed the interview and keep metal.