Dead Rhetoric interview with Ray Alder (9/22/2013)
Original interview from http://www.deadrhetoric.com/features/fates-warning-quite-a-bit-left-to-say/
Fates Warning – Quite A Bit Left To Say
Sunday, 22nd September 2013 by David E. Gehlke
The second-longest tenured member of Fates Warning behind founding member/guitarist Jim Matheos, vocalist Ray Alder has gone from the man who replaced John Arch, to one of progressive metal’s most identifiable frontmen. Alder, who was plucked from obscurity in San Antonio, Texas where he was fronting Syrus, joined Fates Warning in 1987, just in time to record No Exit, the album which had the unenviable task of following the landmark Awaken the Guardian. Not only did Alder weather the pro-Arch storm, so did Fates, resulting in a run through the 90’s that permanently established the band as part of progressive metal’s “big three” alongside Dream Theater and Queensryche.
2004’s FWX was the last proper studio album from the band, so this year’s fresh Darkness in a Different Light is a welcome return. Dark and complex, the album bears all the hallmarks of prime Fates Warning, set to the tune of Alder’s soaring and hummable vocal lines. Clearly, the layoff hasn’t hurt the band’s product, as numbers like “Firefly,” “Kneel and Obey,” and “O Chloroform” rank among their most memorable songs in well, years. With a new album set to be released and American tour on the horizon, we snagged Alder from him Los Angeles homebase to do some BS-ing, and did we ever…
Dead Rhetoric: The band has been active on the live front since the release of FWX, but did it ever cross your mind that as a recording entity, Fates Warning may never record another album?
Ray Alder: Yeah, it definitely crossed my mind. People were doing their side-projects all over the place, and it was never discussed or anything that “We might not get around to doing another album, it’s been so long.” It was always in the back of my mind that we would, though. Jim and I are pretty proud in that way and don’t want to just fade away. I knew we’d get around to do another album, it was just a matter of when. All of these fucking side-projects, but here we are now and I’m completely happy.
Dead Rhetoric: You had a stretch where Redemption was your main thing, obviously.
Alder: I think I did four albums with Redemption. Jim was doing OSI, and they seemed like his main thing. It was never meant to be that way, but I had the opportunity to tour and record with Redemption and I don’t want to sit around and do nothing.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a lot of patience from your fanbase – you haven’t totally fallen off the map. There’s genuine interest in another Fates Warning record. Did that help with getting the album together?
Alder: I think it’s nice and great. We never completely went away, and even if we weren’t touring the States, we were touring in Europe. We’d always go over there and do a few shows and do three-week tours – maybe subconsciously so people wouldn’t forget about us over there [laughs]. Our European fans knew that we were always around; it was American fans that probably feel a little left out. It’s nothing personal – it’s a lot harder to tour in America than in Europe. Everything is so far away and expensive, while in Europe, shows are usually no more than four or five hours away.
Dead Rhetoric: Did the Parallels reunion shows give you a kick in the butt to do a new album, or were they strictly for fun?
Alder: It was fun, but there was a point where we started discussing doing another album, like, “We have to go out and do another album.” At that point, we actually did it [the Parallels shows] with the original band. All of the years, it’s been me and Jim. Joey [Vera] is our permanent fill-in bass player, Bobby [Jarzombek] has been playing with us for years, and Frank [Aresti] has been with us for a while, so we thought it would be nice for everyone to be a unit again, not a bunch of hired guns. Once you’re a part of something, you’re more interested in it and invest much more. I think once we had the discussion that we were all a band now, it kicked everything into gear. Joey is great, Bobby is amazing – so is Frank. Parallels definitely opened our eyes to being a band again.
Dead Rhetoric: This is your first album with Bobby, and it’s not like you haven’t had technical drummers before – Mark Zonder being the first name to come to mind – but Bobby is different player altogether. What was it like working with him on the album?
Alder: Insane. It was great. After working on the demos for so long with the drum machine and hearing it that way – that’s how we did our demos. Once we got it down, it was up to Bobby and Joey adding their parts. Once I started getting demos back from those guys, man, the demo drums sound like crap, but I listened to them so much and I loved the songs and loved the way they were going. Mark is an amazing drummer; technically, he’s more of a jazz player. Bobby is technically more of a rock drummer, so for him to inject that rock feeling into a proggy sound was amazing. He did a great job. When I got the mixes back, I listened to it five times just because the drums and the production was great. I’m happy.
Dead Rhetoric: The nice thing with the album is that it’s so consistent across the board in terms of how it’s both dark and proggy, like “Firefly” and “Kneel and Obey.” Was it important to stick with that approach since it’s a Fates Warning trademark?
Alder: It was. The thing was, when we talked about it, and we were in Europe and I told him I wanted to do something old-school. I use this word a lot: “organic,” which I hate [laughs]. Two guitars, a bass, and drums. No keyboards or anything, just how it was in the old days. That was the main goal, more of a rock-oriented, heavier, dark sound, but with hooks. I wanted catchy choruses that harkens back to Parallels and Inside Out. It wasn’t easy at first – “One Thousand” was the first song we came up with, but when we did “Firefly,” I was like, “Okay, this is the direction we need to go.”
Dead Rhetoric: What’s your preference: The more straightforward style of Fates Warning, or the really complex, progressive stuff ala A Pleasant Shade of Grey?
Alder: It’s funny because I like the straightforward stuff because live, it’s just great. But on the other hand, the progressive stuff always gets me going, and funny enough, A Pleasant Shade of Grey is one of my favorite albums.
Dead Rhetoric: Mine too.
Alder: At that time, nobody was doing anything like that. For us, after doing Parallels and Inside Out, we didn’t know if we wanted to keep going down that road to make a radio hit, so to speak. We made an album for ourselves and [Metal Blade honcho] Brian Slagel was very cool with it. We had no outside influence and no one telling us what to do, and that album just because it was us, is one of our greatest albums, I think. To go out and play that album, do the whole thing live, it worked…we toured our asses off.
Dead Rhetoric: That was a really weird time for progressive and even metal in America in general. What do you remember most about the landscape?
Alder: When Parallels came out in ’91 that was the peak of what was happening. Queensryche was huge, and Dream Theater was about to be huge. We were recording Parallels, we saw Queensryche in Buffalo and hung out with those guys, and right after that is when Nirvana came out [laughs]. When I first heard Pearl Jam, I was like, “Wow, our ride is over.”
Dead Rhetoric: But it wasn’t really over, Ray.
Alder: Right, it wasn’t really over, but as far as the MTV thing, the coverage had shifted. The younger fans were going for something else. It was definitely a weird time; it was strange. Doing A Pleasant Shade of Grey showed us that we could do something risky and fans would still be behind us.
Dead Rhetoric: Where are you going lyrically with “O, Chloroform?”
Alder: That’s a funny one. It’s Kevin Moore’s lyrics. Go back to the Arch/Matheos thing, which at one point were supposed to be the songs for the new Fates Warning album but I didn’t work on them as much as I should, Kevin, Jim, and myself were working on a song, one of which ended up on the Arch/Matheos record. He had written lyrics for that and they were unused, and when we were doing this song, I had my melody, and Jim said, “What about Kevin’s lyrics?” He gave them to me, and the melody was put together and it fit perfectly. It took some weight off my back. It’s such a cool song, but I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s an unconventional song title, even for Fates Warning.
Alder: I know what you mean. I know what chloroform is, but I don’t know what he’s talking about [laughs]. I should ask him, and every time I ask Jim, he tells me to ask Kevin, but good luck finding him.
Dead Rhetoric: Where is he? In Turkey still?
Alder: He’s in America now; he’s going to be a doctor. He’s in his third year of medical school.
Dead Rhetoric: Going back, you joined the band in ’88, so that’s 25 years. The storyline of you replacing Arch is well-known at least from his vantage point, but how about yours?
Alder: I remember being completely intimidated and scared. I was a young kid. They were my favorite band in the world and I had never even left Texas and the only reason I left was to go to Connecticut to audition with those guys. I remember getting off the plane and having dinner…it was the weirdest thing ever, scary. I got through it and did a good job, and Brian Slagel came in and I remember thinking, “Oh God, Brian Slagel!” Now, we’re great friends. It was exciting and new, and I had no idea where it was going to go, but I didn’t care. It’s funny because music wasn’t my dream – I was just doing it in local bands, but once I started, it was amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you remember what songs you auditioned with?
Alder: “Quietus,” a part of the from “Beyond the Ivory Gates.” I remember I recorded that on a four-track.
Dead Rhetoric: Your voice back then was so high…
Alder: [laughs] It was so ridiculous. I was trying to do the John Arch thing, and that was the 80’s – everybody was doing it, so I thought it should do it too. As I got older and before my voice started to change, I just didn’t want to sing high anymore. Chris Cornell, he can sing high now and he doesn’t sound silly to me. It’s not operatic; it’s screaming…I love his voice. Then you have other singers (mimics falsetto)…
Dead Rhetoric: See, you still got it in you.
Alder: I think my voice has changed because I didn’t want to be over the top; probably because of the cigarettes and booze [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Some of the stuff on No Exit is pretty high, like “Silent Cries,” but then you toned it down on Perfect Symmetry.
Alder: I agree. On Perfect Symmetry, I think I found my true voice. I love Perfect Symmetry, and when I got out of doing the high notes, I realized that emotion is much more powerful than the high notes. There’s a lot of singers out there who are great but if you don’t have the soul, you have nothing.
Dead Rhetoric: I have to ask: What’s up with the video for “Eye to Eye?” You’re not bad-looking guys or anything, but that’s not really fitting for your style, even back then. [Click here for total awesomeness.]
Alder: Honestly, that was funny because we were on tour and had to do a video. We were here in L.A., out by Magic Mountain, I remember. The director, when we showed up, there was this girl and we were like, “What is this?” He said, “Oh, we just have her here, we won’t even use her.” It wasn’t what the song was about, that was the other thing. “Eye to Eye” is more about fans of the band, this guy thought it was about a girl, so we just said “Fuck it” and we went with it. And I remember the director saying to me, “Why don’t you come over here and sit on the couch.” I said, “No, fuck it dude.” I remember the girl’s name: Nicole Bella. She gave me an 8 x10 and my girlfriend was like, “What are you doing with this?”
Dead Rhetoric: She was probably not happy with you, Ray.
Alder: She was hot. The whole album is about parallels between the fans and the band, not some girl, although it’s cool to play it off on stage if there’s a girl around, I guess [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You have an American tour coming up. What are your thoughts and expectations for it?
Alder: I can’t wait. The main thing is that thank God we’re playing some new shit [laughs]. We’ve been playing the same stuff for nine years. Totally looking forward to playing some brand-new music with a brand new band is going to be great. Having Bobby behind me playing the drums he wrote for this album, and Joey playing his parts is going to be great.