Metal Discovery interview with John Arch and Jim Matheos (08/05/2011)
By Mark Holmes
Original article: http://www.metal-discovery.com/Interviews/arch-matheos_interview_2011_pt1.htm
Arch/Matheos is the eponymously titled project that sees original Fates Warning vocalist John Arch reunited with his former bandmate and still current FW guitarist, Jim Matheos, to collaborate musically for the first time since Arch’s 2003 ‘A Twist of Fate’ solo EP. And this latest collaboration, which also includes the participation of other Fates Warning members, past and present, has resulted in the forthcoming prog-metal opus ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, set for release this September on Metal Blade Records. Absent from the scene for many years, it’s the first time Arch has taken to the mic since ‘A Twist of Fate’ which, in itself, marked his return to music after a long hiatus after the final album he recorded with Fates Warning in 1986, ‘Awaken the Guardian’. With Arch remarkably still in fine voice despite his relative inactivity over the past two decades, alongside the genuinely progressive writing talents of Matheos, ‘Sympathetic Resonance’ promises to be something rather special. In London for a couple of press days at the beginning of August, Metal Discovery booked out some time with the two guys to learn more about this latest musical venture that established Fates Warning fans have been getting rather excited over…
METAL DISCOVERY: This is the first time the two of you have written and made music together since the ‘A Twist of Fate’ EP in 2003 so how did this latest collaboration arise?
JIM: Well, it kinda started off with the first couple of songs being written for the next Fates Warning record and, for various reasons, that was gonna be delayed. I didn’t really want to sit on the music for a couple of years so wanted to do something else and the first thing I thought of was trying to get John out of the woodwork to come out again and do something, and he was up for it. So that’s the genesis of it.
MD: So was there a songwriting chemistry between you that was instantly reignited or did it take some time to get back into the vibe of working together again after so many years?
JIM: No, it was pretty quick. When we did ‘A Twist of Fate’, it had been so long since we’d worked together, I’d forgotten how well we worked together. But, for this one, it came back pretty quick and felt like ‘A Twist of Fate’ which felt like ‘Awaken the Guardian’. We’ve always had that same kind of chemistry; we’ve always worked the same way. It felt really good.
JOHN: For me, it took a little while to shake off the nerves and get back into it because if you’ve been out of it you feel like you’re out of the element of music. So it took me a little while but, once we got settled in and I got my mind wrapped around what Jim had written and I started writing along with it, it was pretty apparent that when the first or second song started to fall together that we still had something.
MD: [To John] So not so much the chemistry for you but more getting back into the actual music again…
JOHN: It’s both, yeah, it’s both.
MD: Although the music’s very forward thinking was there a sense of nostalgia about the whole thing as well?
JIM: Not for me. I try not to dwell on any kind of nostalgia; I’m always trying to look forward. If anything, I’m personally trying to keep it away from people connecting it to the past. I mean, I know it’s obvious people are gonna do that but I like it to be as much as possible about what we’re doing now.
JOHN: I think we’re so hyper-focussed on… just because Jim and I got together doesn’t mean good things are gonna happen. Because I’d got in front of a microphone doesn’t mean good things happen. You never know. We don’t take those things for granted. So I think we just became hyper-focussed on the task at hand and what’s next, and it’s making music so we take one step at a time. We got so engrossed in it that I don’t think there was any nostalgia; it was just focus on what we had to do.
MD: So you said a couple of the tracks were written originally for a new Fates Warning album but ended up being used for this side-project – was it ‘Neurotically Wired’, ‘Midnight Serenade’ and ‘Stained Glass Sky’?
JIM: Yeah, that sounds about right. You know better than I do![laughs]
JIM: That sounds right though.
MD: Did you feel by not recording them under the banner of the Fates Warning name it gave you a little bit more freedom to experiment with different ideas or do you think they would’ve turned out much the same if you had recorded them in the context of Fates Warning?
JIM: Well, musically they would’ve been pretty much the same I think. Obviously, with John singing, or anybody else singing, it’s a huge part of the sound and could take it in a different direction but, musically, the songs were written. Things change as far as extending patterns for vocals or shrinking them, or moving things around, but the actual direction of it would’ve been pretty much the same.
MD: There are only two tracks that have been made available to press so far, that I’ve heard anyway – ‘Midnight Serenade’ and ‘Stained Glass Sky’ – which sound amazing, by the way…
JIM: Oh, cool.
JOHN: Thank you, appreciate it.
MD: There’s a nice balance in there between the innovative elements and the accessibility in the actual song structures. Do you try to find that balance when you’re actually writing the music to make them progressive but also accessible for the more casual listener?
JIM: Yeah, when I’m writing I try to do that. I don’t like anything that’s just progressive for the sake of being progressive… odd time signatures for just the show-off or technical ability. I think it’s a fine balance usually to try and make it memorable and somewhat interesting and intricate for the musicians as well. That’s kind of a hard balance sometimes, I think.
MD: [To John] And what do you think about that?
JOHN: When I first heard ‘Midnight Serenade’ before it was even worked on or before any lyrics were written, it definitely seemed like a differently structured song. It wasn’t a long song like a lot of the other songs are. So Jim did give me the option; he said if I felt I couldn’t work on something or it wasn’t for my taste then maybe he might be able to present it to Kevin [Moore] for OSI or use it somewhere else. But that was one of the songs that, once I immediately heard it in its simplistic form, melody lines started hitting me right away. It became ‘Midnight Serenade’ and I’m glad that we were able to use that composition for this album because I think it lends itself to the album being dynamic as well as the song being dynamic also. It was pretty cool; it was an enjoyable song to do.
MD: Obviously you’re renowned for being progressive musicians from being part of that scene for so many years – would you say that being progressive is always about challenging yourself as a musician as well as being progressive through the actual songwriting?
JIM: That’s a good question. For me, it’s in the songwriting. Definitely. I think, mistakenly, especially recently, sometimes progressive has gotten connected with being really fast and really technical.
MD: Like Dream Theater in some of their songs then. Not that I’m knocking Dream Theater in any way…
JIM: Yeah, they’re the originators of it and they do it the best and so many people are trying to copy them. That’s another point but I think progressive back in the original day, like with the 70s prog bands, was more about… there was certainly a level of musicianship that was inherent in it but it was more about extending different arrangements, bringing in different kind of instruments and instrumentation, and things like that. For me, it’s all about that.
MD: [To John] How about yourself, coming back into it and pushing yourself as a vocalist?
JOHN: With my voice being my instrument, I suppose the way I look at it is every time I get behind a mic I step outside of the box. Or maybe during the writing process where I take my vocals and it’s almost layering over what Jim has written. You know, not singing everything verbatim as the guitars go because, for me, that’s very uninteresting. So I think the more creative I get with my vocals and layer over the composition, to me that makes it progressive because, sometimes, you have to split your brain in half and listen to what’s going on underneath as well as what’s going on over it. It makes it interesting so if you can define that as progressive then yeah. I think that’s progressive.
MD: I think progressive has become a redundant term now in one sense because people regard it as a genre of music which is a bit of a paradox.
JIM: I’ve been saying something like that all the time.
JOHN: Yeah, exactly.
JIM: When you start to define it within these narrow parameters then it’s not progressive anymore.
MD: I think this new stuff you’ve written is actually progressive though, from the two tracks I’ve heard, because they’re accessible songs but progressing something as well.
JIM: Thank you.
JOHN: I think it has elements of a lot of other things.
MD: [To John] You’re quoted in the press materials as saying, “the man again steps out from behind the curtain without the third person to reveal his human flaws”, which makes the album sound very interesting lyrically. Can you divulge any more details pre-release as to the themes of the lyrics?
JOHN: [laughs] Yeah. I do get asked a lot of questions what the lyrical content is about and, again, ‘A Twist of Fate’ was a little bit more away from the mythological theme and this time here I found myself as I was writing these lyrics… the lyrics are very personal to me and they’re representative of a lot of things that have blindsided me in the last five/six years. You know, life just has a funny way of throwing curve balls at ya and I don’t think anybody’s an exception. But, in past writings I’ve always seemed to create these characters in the third person that, really, I’m hiding behind.
MD: So kind of displacing your emotions onto the third person…
JOHN: Exactly. And now I wanted to make a statement, in all honesty, that I’m not hiding behind. I found myself, in the lyric writing process, with these characters in the third person but, this time, I specifically worded it so I’m speaking from the first person so I’m not hiding behind the curtain. These lyrics are representative of real-life experiences.
MD: So they’re more emotionally honest in that sense, would you say?
JOHN: They’re based on real fact. Although I use the colourful metaphors and a different kind of language, it does represent the real human emotion and real things that have happened to me. I think they’re tastefully done and colourfully done so it leaves it to the interpretation of the fans who like to read the lyrics. They can interpret it in their own way but I definitely have specific meanings behind each and every line.
MD: The cover art looks great from the image I’ve seen which I gather is a light-painted photo by Dennis Calvert?
JIM: It is, yeah.
MD: Is that supposed to be tied in with the lyrical themes on the album?
JOHN: Well, you know, we were searching high and low for something to represent what the lyrics are about and I think maybe indirectly, when I look at the photo now, it’s a natural artist using natural technique which is intriguing to begin with, but just ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, the meaning behind that… it has musical connotations but it does portray the human side of the ‘Sympathetic Resonance’. And I think that photo, with the flames shooting out of the guy, it could be interpreted as fear, anger, any kind of emotion. Amazingly, you don’t see that at first but I think it really does tie in.
JIM: That’s a pre-existing piece too so we didn’t do it just for this.
MD: So you knew of this guy already?
JIM: Yeah, and we went through his portfolio and there were a couple in there that really fit.
METAL DISCOVERY: [To John] Considering you were away from the scene for a number of years pre-‘A Twist of Fate’ and then another eight years before this one, your voice still sounds remarkable, I have to say. Have you kept it well trained over the years?
JOHN: No, not at all! That’s one of the things – I’m not involved fulltime in music so I have other interests, work ten hour days and like any other bloke on the planet where I’ve got bills and responsibilities or whatever… not that musicians don’t but I chose a different path. So I fell out of rehearsing and keeping my voice up after ‘A Twist of Fate’ and went back to my daily routines. So, of course, when Jim approached me on this, that was part of the apprehension because my instrument was not finely honed. That was a whole other process. As we were getting together and I was listening to what Jim had written and tried to wrap my mind around that, I was also, in conjunction with that, was getting my voice back in shape as we were doing the demos. And then we were listening to the demos to see how the music was coming out and what it was gonna sound like because you just never know. So, as far as my voice is concerned… still have a lot of work ahead of me. I appreciate the compliment but I was able to buy some time in the studio and able to sing nine/ten hour days and get some good stuff out of that.
MD: It sounds amazing… [To Jim] What do you think of John’s performance?
JIM: I think it sounds amazing to me. I think he downplays it. I don’t think he does it purposefully… but, to me, it sounds amazing. He sounds as good as he ever did.
MD: So was Ray [Alder] totally cool with the heavy involvement of present Fates Warning members in this project?
JIM: Yeah and, honestly, it’s a little weird for him; it’s a little weird for all of us but he understands. Ray’s probably my best friend in the world. We just had a blast together, all of us in Europe doing those dates, and we’re gonna do a record next year. It’s all good.
MD: A lot of people have been touting this online as like a Fates Warning reunion of sorts what with Frank [Aresti] back in there as well…
JIM: It’s Fates Warning without Ray. I mean, there’s no getting around that but it’s not supposed to be marketed that way; it’s not any intent of John being the new singer and replacing Ray. It’s just the way it worked out that I love working with those guys that are in the band and they’re great players.
JOHN: And all the drama’s on the internet, it’s not between us. Ray and I are great friends and we have a mutual respect for each other – I’m a fan of Ray’s and Ray’s a fan of mine. I just think this opportunity presented itself to make some music and that’s the bottom line.
MD: Absolutely, that’s always the way it should be read.
JOHN: It should, I think.
MD: So have you been reading much stuff online about what people have been saying about this project, like on Blabbermouth for example?
JIM: No, I hate Blabbermouth!
MD: I actually took a look on Blabbermouth at news articles about this project and considering how much trolling and badmouthing goes on whenever any news item’s published on there, there were ninety nine per cent positive comments about you. It was like, wow!
JOHN: Yeah, I never thought I’d be on Facebook but Brian [Slagel] thought it might be a good idea… I signed up for Facebook and was pleasantly surprised. Everything’s been positive and it was a good way to connect with the fans. To make it a little bit more personal, I’ve answered everybody that has posted on my John Arch site. I’ve answered everybody’s question that has been asked.
JIM: And now you’re gonna get more![laughs]
MD: Are we talking hundreds or thousands?
JOHN: Hundreds; it’s been manageable. But everybody’s been great. I won’t be on Facebook forever but I think that now is a good time to sit and get in contact, and it’s been positive feedback. There’s some good talent out there in the Facebook world. There are some good people out there… good fans.
MD: There’s one comment I read on Blabbermouth, to quote one guy: “John Arch is hands down the greatest singer in prog-metal”. How do you react to that?
JOHN: Do you know what? I almost have to be numb to that because I don’t feel that way and I have a hard time with adulation. I can handle a compliment every now and then but those are strong words. It’s a compliment to me but I can never live up to those expectations and I don’t want to live up to those expectations. Some days I sound great, some days I don’t sound so great. So whatever that means, “the greatest vocalist”, if that person feels that way, well, I’m honoured but I’m a little bit more self-critical…
MD: You have no ego.
JOHN: I can’t find myself in that place because when you take things for granted and start to absorb too much of that stuff, you get lazy or other bad things happen. But that’s just an inherent part of my personality. I don’t think like that at all. I’m grateful that I had an opportunity to do something like this and I’m grateful that my voice came back to a respectable level.
MD: Just respectable?! That’s very humble.
JOHN: Any time I’m asked to step in front of a microphone, trust me, it’s not easy for me.
MD: So is this intended to be a one-off project or is there gonna be any further collaborations between the two of you?
JIM: I think, originally, we thought about doing just this one thing but we had such a good time doing it and it seems to be getting a great response… we haven’t discussed it yet because we’re still dealing with this one but I think there’ll definitely be another one.
JOHN: Yeah, I’d definitely be open to the idea.
MD: Can we expect any live shows in support of the album as you have a tour dates section on the website but it’s empty?
JIM: [laughs] Yeah, it’s empty!
MD: But there is a tour dates section, so…
JIM: It’s a start!
MD: You just need to book some shows and fill it up!
JOHN: Yeah, it’s funny as everyone’s number one question is about tour dates and I can completely understand from a fan’s viewpoint that they’d wanna see some live dates. Jim has just finished some tour dates and we haven’t really had a chance to sit down and really talk at length about it but tomorrow we’re actually gonna be talking about the logistics of it… nothing extensive because I’m not able to do that with my current situation. Things would have to change drastically for me and there’s other people to consider, not just myself. But, having said that, we’re talking about that and we’re talking about some select dates.
MD: Maybe just some festival dates or something like that.
JIM: Yeah, yeah.
MD: So there’s a new Fates Warning album due next year, as you said earlier – are you still at the writing stage with that at the moment?
JIM: I haven’t even started actually. When I get home I’ve got a few more things to do in August, then I’ll start in September probably.
MD: So, we’re all seeing Iron Maiden tonight, obviously one of the influences of Fates Warning back in the day…
JIM: Yeah, of course.
MD: So was it a cool thing when they ended up with a song called ‘Fates Warning’ back in 1990 on the ‘No Prayer for the Dying’ album?
JIM: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it was influenced by us in any way but it was cool, yeah.
MD: Okay, the final thing I wanted to ask – if you had to choose five words to describe ‘Sympathetic Resonance’ to encourage people who will be reading this to go out and buy the album, what would they be?
JOHN: A couple of old guys!
JIM: It is really good!
MD: That’s four words. How about – it is really fucking good?! That’s five!
JIM: [laughs] That’s too emphatic though!
JOHN: I’d say “honest”, lyrically.
JIM: I’m going with four.
MD: That’s cool – “it is really good” – good closing words.
JOHN: I think it’s melodic and I think it’s heavy.
MD: Okay, thank you so much for your time.
JIM: Thank you, man. Awesome.
JOHN: Really cool, thank you.