RadioMetal.com interview with Ray Alder (8/28/2013)
FATES WARNING IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT
Interview conducted by phone on August, 28th 2013 by Spaceman.
It is right when he woke up (as he admitted), at 9am (at his home in Los Angeles), that Ray Alder, Fates Warning’s singer, took his telephone to call us. Probably not entirely woken up yet, he still willingly put up with our question/answer game with sincerity and certain composure. And there were loads of topics to tackle! It had been nine years since Fates Warning released an album before Darkness In A Different Light saw the light earlier this year. An explanation was needed, and Alder didn’t hesitate to “make amends,”as he says, and admit the mistake committed by the band members when they all decided to go their separate ways with diverse side projects. This won’t happen again, he insists, assessing how much Fates Warning means to them: “This is our career, this is our life. We’ve been doing this for twenty five years and we shouldn’t not care”.
Over these past nine years, many things may have changed, which brought up many topics to explore with the singer; may this be about the comeback of guitarist Frank Aresti, or Bobby Jarzombeck joining the band on drums to replace Mark Zonder, their departure from Metal Blade – the label which originally signed them – to join Inside Out, etc. Even the album in itself represents a chosen direction, that of “getting back to their roots” and “being back as a rock band.”
As we were speaking, Ray Alder was therefore lucid regarding their mistakes, the hurdles they faced and even the reality of being a musician who needs to pay his bills at the end of the month. But we also talked to a man who definitely aims towards the future with Fates Warning.
Radio Metal: Darkness In A Different Light is coming out nine years after the previous Fates Warning album. That’s a very long time. What took you so long?
Ray Alder (vocal): I think it was a combination of all of us working on our side projects. It got us away from each other, so to speak. When one person was doing something, the others who were available began doing something else. It’s just got to the point where it was ridiculous. That’s pretty much it. And then, you know, there were a few songs on the Arch/Matheos album that was originally intended to be Fates Warning’s songs. I worked on those a long time ago. And it just wasn’t something that was in my heart and I couldn’t really get together with that music. Jim Matheos and I had a long conversation and he asked if I would mind if he did something else with the music we were working on and if he could do it with John (Arch). I said: “No, you do what you have to do and we’ll do the next one together.” So it was just a bunch of stupid things. It wasn’t that we broke up. A lot of people were saying that we broke up, but we never did. It was side project, and they got away from us basically. Now we’ve learned our lesson I think.
In the press release it is mentioned that there was an unspoken agreement that the band needed a break. Why would the band have needed a break?
So we can live this lavish lifestyle that we live! (Laughs) No, I mean, obviously, we need to pay bills and make money, and being a musician is one way to do it, you know. I guess that’s pretty much the main reason: to make money.
OK, but couldn’t you do another Fates Warning album to make money, actually?
Exactly, that’s what I was saying! Once one person was doing something, the other person would move on saying: “OK, if you’re doing that, I’ll do this!” And they would just kind of roll over each other, and before you know it’s turning into this shit show of us doing other things than running our band. It’s really ridiculous. I realize how ridiculous it is. But there’s no going back now. It’s been nine years and now I’m just trying to make amends, you know.
Is this why you have your other band Redemption, to quench your thirst for progressive music? Because the two bands aren’t so complementary…
I guess you could say that, I don’t know if it would be correct. The thing with Redemption is that the guitar player Nick (Nicolas van Dyk) is one of my best friends in the world. They were looking for another singer and at the time I wasn’t doing anything, so I went:“OK, I’ll sing for you guys and we’ll figure out after this.” And it seems like every time Nick wants to do another album, Fates Warning wasn’t doing anything, Jim was doing something on his side or whatever, so I would just say: “Ok, let’s just do another record.” Again, it’s a means to an end, it’s a job, it’s a way to make money, basically.
What was the band’s state of mind while making this new Fates Warning album?
Just a lot of confusion, I’d say. (Laughs) It was a lot of work. Jim and I worked really hard on this thing. When we started working on it, about two years ago, I remember being in Europe and playing “One Thousand Fires“ to the other guys in the band who hadn’t heard anything yet, in 2011 or 2010. The state of mind was to do something that would impress us, I’d say. It took a long time for us to try and figure out what direction we wanted to go in. Once we did “One Thousand Fires”, “Firefly” was the next song, and after “Firefly” we kind of figured out where we wanted to go with the music: shorter songs, catchier songs and things like that.
Was there any pressure, thinking “it’s been nine years since we did our last album, so it better be good”?
Well, yeah, that was definitely in our minds. We didn’t know what people would think about anything we were doing. Actually now it’s more so, Nicolas. The album has come out, so we’re wondering what people might think about it. At the time, actually, we just wanted to write the best songs we could, catchy songs, you know.
This album is very guitar oriented, with no keyboards or samples. Is this a reaction to the OSI albums that Jim does and that are heavily relying on keyboards and samples?
It was a conscious effort. Jim and I talked about this before and agreed on the fact that we didn’t want any keyboards on this album, to just kind of get back to our roots. Basically, we are a rock band. We started out saying that even on No Exit it was just two guitars, bass and drums. So we wanted to get back to those roots, I wouldn’t say necessarily to be a heavier band, but I don’t think there’s really any need for keyboards in what we’re doing. If you listen to the album now, there’s a lot of acoustic guitars underneath everything, a lot of different textures, different colors that we added, there was no need for keyboards. But yeah, we did make a conscious effort to just be back as a rock band, what we were at the beginning. I think it paid off, I think it’s great. I don’t need keyboard! (Laughs)
Apparently this album was composed by Jim and you as a duo. How do you work together?
Well, I’m on the west coast, he’s on the east coast. I live in L.A., he lives in New Hampshire. So, we both have recording gears in our house. Jim writes the music – to be clear with that, Jim writes everything – and sends it to me. Then I write the melodies and send it back to him, and we go back and forth like that. Once we think it is finished, then we send it to Joey (Vera), our bass player, and Bobby (Jarzombeck), our drummer, and the demo starts here. It wasn’t an easy process. Obviously, if Jim doesn’t like something, he’ll tell me. And if Jim sends me something that I don’t really like, I tell him. But yeah, it’s mainly me and Jim, and then we give it to the other guys when we think it’s finished.
But doesn’t working distant from one another take away the spontaneity of the composition?
Well, I’d say that it’s a lot faster than it used to be. (Laughs) In the old days, I remember for Perfect Symmetry, we were sending cassettes back and forth! Literally cassettes through the mail! That’s what we did… Oh, my god I’m so old! I feel like an old old man… But now, I work on something, I load it on my computer, send it to him and he has it in five minutes. So it’s basically as if we were in the same room. There were a few moments where we actually were talking using Skype. Well, it is difficult not to be together, but in a way it’s probably better.
Jim once said about doing original music: “For me it is very difficult, and it feels like it is getting harder and harder. There is so much music out there, it really does feel like it’s all been said and done.” Do you feel the same difficulties?
Yeah, I guess I do. It’s hard to… I don’t even know how to say this correctly. I don’t want to be influenced by any outside source, like other bands. I don’t want to do that somebody else has done, I don’t want to do the same thing we’ve done. So yeah, there’s a degree of trying to do something different in there, but it has to be done naturally. We just don’t want to do the same thing over and over again and sometimes it’s hard.
And how do you overcome this difficulty?
You just hope for the best! (Laughs) I mean, you just hope you don’t do something you’ve done before. We’ve done so many albums already and, when I’m writing something, I literally ask myself: “Did I do this before?” But usually I didn’t… (Laughs)
The album features a ballad which is only one minute and thirty second as well as a long fifteen minutes epic song with big guitars. Does this contrast somehow symbolize the kind of freedom that characterizes Fates Warning?
Yeah, I think so. The label is very cool because they didn’t influence or say anything about anything that we do. Beside the fact that they didn’t like the cover, but we said that we’re keeping it anyway. (Laughs) We’re a progressive rock band and, obviously, we’re going to do different things. The one minute long song was something we didn’t know if we would include it on the album or not. But in the end he figured it was a nice contrast with everything else that we were doing. And of course, the fifteen minutes long song, it’s a Fates Warning staple. I mean, Jim had to write something that was, obviously, an epic song. And I think he did well, it’s actually my favorite song on the album, to be honest.
The album is called Darkness In A Different Light, which is a pretty enigmatic title, in the pure Fates Warning tradition. What’s its meaning?
It was difficult to come up with a title for the album. We had a lot of different titles. Once we looked at the lyrics that I had put together, it kind of made sense. It was very odd that all of the lyrics, or most of the lyrics I would say, had to do with light and dark. I don’t know why. It wasn’t a conscious thing, it just ended up that way. Jim came up with the title and I thought it was perfect. I thought it made sense with everything we were talking about. Somebody could argue: (he takes a goofy voice) “Darkness in a different light? Dark is dark! You can’t light dark!” Whatever. Darkness to me is more like a state of mind, a state of being. In the lyrics, “dark” and “light” have a lot to do with hope and the light at the end of the tunnel. You know what I mean? That’s kind of what we were going for.
This is the first Fates Warning album that features Frank Aresti since Inside Out. How was it to have him on this album?
It was great! We toured with him since forever and we always talked about doing another album together. He actually played on the Arch/Matheos album and, again, a couple of those songs were supposed to be Fates Warning songs. But, yeah, it’s fantastic, I love Frank, he’s great. He didn’t really write anything on the album, he played only guitar, but it’s fantastic to have him back.
This is also the first album to feature Bobby Jarzombek on drums. Mark Zonder had a pretty distinctive drumming style that added a lot to Fates Warning’s musical character. What is difficult to replace Mark?
I wouldn’t say that it was difficult. Bobby’s been touring with us for over five years now. We knew that for the next album we were going to use Bobby. Mark pretty much didn’t want to be in the band. Even after we did FWX, he was kind of wanting to leave at that point but we asked him to do that album. And it’s a funny thing because we thought about using Bobby on FWX and he actually did a couple of the tracks. But we wanted to go with Mark just for the fan’s sake and history. But to answer your question, no, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think that Bobby is amazing, he’s an incredible drummer. Every time I would hear a demo from the guys with Bobby playing, I was completely blown away. I knew that we made the right choice, always. He’s such a great drummer and I think he adds a lot. Mark was very technical. Bobby is technical as well but he’s more of a rock drummer, I’d think. And I think that definitely adds a different sound to us.
Did touring help Bobby in adapting his drumming to Fates Warning’s needs?
I think so. He played with his brother Ron in this really crazy progressive band Spastic Inc, and now he’s playing with Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach and people like that. So for him to go on with us, I think it definitely felt like a challenge for him. And he enjoyed that, I know he did. He’s very excited about everything we’ve done on the album. I talk to him almost every day and, as a drummer, I think he loves the opportunity to play as much as he can. In a progressive band, obviously, you can pretty much do whatever you want, so I think he’s very happy.
And are you still in contact with Mark Zonder?
Oh, yeah! I talked to him a couple of weeks ago. He lives in California.
The album is being released on Inside Out Music. “At last” I want to say because this has always looked like the perfect label for Fates Warning as it’s a progressive metal label that shares its name with one of your albums… How comes you haven’t signed with them before?
(Laughs) We’ve been in Metal Blade since forever. They had a great relationship with everybody in the band. It’s funny because Metal Blade has moved on to so many different things. They’re not really dealing with older bands such as us. Obviously all those newer bands are much heavier than we ever will be. So, we discussed with Brian Slagel (founder and CEO of Metal Blade Records) and we just thought we would try a different avenue and see if there was something a different label could do for us. We asked Inside Out and they were interested. And there is no bad blood between us and Metal Blade. Brian and I are still great friends. I actually spoke with him yesterday. It’s just trying something different, and hopefully it’ll work. We’ll see.
Fates Warning is a major progressive metal band that has always pushed the genre forward. But still not recognized to the extent it should be. Is it frustrating to be such a pioneer in the genre but still be in the shadow of the success of a band like Dream Theater, for example, when you should probably be along side?
Frustrating… I wouldn’t use the word “frustrating”. I would say… It’s our fault. I mean, Dream Theater and all these other bands do albums every two or three years whereas it takes us a very long time to do albums. I don’t know. Obviously Dream Theater is much more popular; maybe they’re a much better band than we are. And they have a broader audience. To answer to your question: no, it’s not frustrating at all. I don’t think about it. If anything, like I said, it’s our fault for taking so long in between.
I know there’s a friendship between Fates Warning and Dream Theater. So what do you think about the new Dream Theater?
I haven’t heard it actually. I heard one song that somebody played for me. Other than that, I don’t know. I don’t really listen to Dream Theater. To be honest I don’t really listen to progressive music. I can’t even tell you what I listen to. (Laughs) I can’t remember the last album that I bought, to be honest. Actually the last thing that I listened to was A Perfect Circle, I can tell you that now. That was the last album that I listened to, it was like four days ago. But I’m too busy to sit down and listen to music, to be honest.
That actually makes me think of something: there’s a bass line in the song “I Am” that reminds me of Tool. Is this an influence of you guys?
I don’t know. I have to ask Joey about that. The funny thing about that song is that Bobby actually has a writing credit on it: he wrote the drum parts and he sent those to Jim who wrote the guitars around them, which is unusual, we’ve never done that before. And it’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, to be honest. But, no, it wasn’t a conscious effort to sound like anybody. I’ve heard that from somebody else. I played the album for a couple of friends and one of them said: “That sounds like Tool!” And I was like: “Man, really? Ok, we didn’t mean to.”
What about the next Fates Warning album: will we have to wait another ten years?
(Laughs) No, I hope not. No. We’ve talked about it already. We’re going to tour as much as we possibly can for this album. The plan now is to go to Europe, come back, go to America and then go back to Europe and do some of the summer festivals and tour in America and then do another album. You know, we’re not getting any younger, we need to take advantage of what’s in front of us, I think. And part of that is writing and recording new music. I’m looking forward to the future. We’ve realized our mistakes in taking nine or ten years to do an album. This is our career, this is our life. We’ve been doing this for twenty five years and we shouldn’t not care. We should take advantage of the situation and write music. So, to answer to your question: no! (Laughs)
I know that you guys have stated that this current line-up is the best Fates Warning has ever had. So, have you thought about recording a live show?
No, at this point it’s too soon for us to think about that. But whether if there’s a possibility: definitely. But, who knows, maybe sometime in the future. We have so many shows that we’re trying to get together, so possibly one of them will be recorded. We’ll see. It’d be fun. It’d definitely be a great thing to have Bobby and Joey play some of the old stuff. It’d be amazing. We’ll see what happens.